Kelly McCann, Mike Gillette, Tom Gresham, John Riddle and Michael Janich weigh in on soft targets, increased awareness and whether it's even possible to "be safe."

QUESTION 4: As high-profile targets get extra security, is there an increased likelihood that soft targets — and civilians — will be attacked by lone-wolf terrorists? John Riddle: Our military and government agencies have beefed up security on installations and embassies around the world, making them harder to attack. Due to this, we have seen a trend of softer targets being hit around the world — hotels, schools and marketplaces, to name a few. This is usually due to the fact that they are frequented by foreign tourists, journalists, military officials, and government and business leaders.

Photo courtesy of John Riddle


Mike Gillette: Soft targets have historically been the target of choice for terrorists and will continue to be. They are easy to get into, get around in and get out of. And they also provide the potential body count that yields the maximum psychological effect. As an example, in 1920 a horse-drawn wagon filled with explosives was detonated in front of the J.P. Morgan Bank on Wall Street. The blast killed 38 and injured 143. Attacking soft targets is nothing new. Michael Janich: One of the most basic rules of nature is that predators seek prey. Tom Gresham: Soft targets are always the priority, but what is or isn’t targeted should have no bearing on how individuals prepare. To change your preparedness or your behavior based on news reports means only that you were not paying attention and were not doing what was necessary. The risk of being attacked by terrorists is incredibly small, but it’s not zero. It’s worth a couple of minutes to think about and come up with an action plan to escape should you be caught in a public place when there is an attack. Other than that, your commitment to safety does not change.

Photo courtesy of Tom Gresham

QUESTION 5: In light of all this, what measures can people take to stay safe? Gresham: First, understand that you cannot “be safe” or “stay safe.” You can only manage risks. Toward that end, be aware. Talk with your family. Have an action word for your family, and when you say that word, everyone does what you tell them — with no questions. Kelly McCann: The most important thing most people can do is to stay situationally aware in their day-to-day lives. This will protect them against being co-located where a terrorist incident may occur and, more important, significantly reduce their chance of being victimized by crime.

Kelly McCann photo by Robert W. Young

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Gillette: You need to understand the threat and that the threat is relative. Densely populated areas carry a certain amount of risk. Areas which bring in large groups of visitors such as the Mall of America, Universal Studios, Times Square or LAX carry a certain amount of risk. Symbolic locations such as the Washington Monument, the Las Vegas Strip or the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City carry a certain amount of risk. Wherever you go, be mindful of that location’s potential strategic significance and exercise the appropriate level of vigilance. Janich: You need to realize that if something does happen, you will have to do something to save yourself and your loved ones before help arrives. Don’t be paranoid, but don’t bury your head in the sand, either. Once you treat something as real, you naturally change your behavior in appropriate ways and start learning the skills necessary to fend for yourself.

Michael Janich photo by Rick Hustead

Riddle: Basically, have a plan. If traveling outside the United States, check with the State Department website. Don’t travel alone or go into areas that are unknown to you or on the warning list. Be knowledgeable of the customs and culture of the area you will be visiting. Be careful about whom you speak with and how much information you give about why you are there and where you are staying. QUESTION 6: Is increasing one's awareness the most important precaution a person can take? Janich: The first line of defense is awareness. Although that term is often interpreted as being actively conscious of your immediate surroundings, it goes much deeper. Awareness should also mean developing a clear understanding of the nature of potential threats and the ability of the authorities to protect you from them. You may be aware that a person is behaving suspiciously and see the telltale signs that he is about to draw a gun. However, if you are aware of the difference between cover and concealment and make a habit of referencing available cover — something substantial enough to actually stop bullets — in your environment, you will have a real survival option. Gillette: While it can sound trite, being aware is your most critical survival skill. It’s as true when you’re scuba diving as it is when you’re walking in downtown Newark. Nobody survives an attack they don’t see coming. You need to adopt the attitude that nothing takes you by surprise. Your life is important, and it’s equally important to pay attention to what’s going on around you. The easiest way to do this is to ask yourself questions that begin with the word “why” — as in “Why is this nervous-looking person walking up to me so quickly?” or “Why would someone leave their backpack next to the bus stop?” Asking the right questions could save your life.

Photo courtesy of Mike Gillette

Gresham: [There are] actions which should be part of everyday behavior. Awareness is key. Look. See. Listen. Think about what you are seeing. Learn to stop in traffic far enough behind the car ahead of you so you can see where that car’s rear tires contact the pavement. This gives you room to drive around that car, if necessary. Know where the exits are in any restaurant you are in. Understand that in a mall, you can exit any store to the rear, which is the preferred way to go if there is an attack in the common area. (To be continued.) Read Part One of this article here. Click here for Part Three.
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