Terrorist attack first aid training for citizen: part of a well-rounded counter-terrorism strategy – by Maria Alvanou

UK newspaper ‘Independent’ has revealed in an exclusive article a UK program designed to give people knowledge on how to provide first aid to victims of terror operations[1]. The need for such a program was already a topic for discussion in the British society[2] and even the British Red Cross had issued some guidelines for citizens prior, during and after a terrorist attack[3]. UK has a long history of terrorism and in the context of jihadi terrorist violence the country has been hit by attacks of «middle eastern» operational methodology. Suicide attacks, knife and vehicle attacks, all have been used against targets in British soil and the state of alertness for new terror attacks remains troubling for the competent authorities. The initiative should be congratulated as an indispensable part of a holistic counter-terrorism strategy and there are several reasons why other countries should develop similar programs:

  1. Adopting a realistic approach to terrorism threat and its countering options: preventing terror attacks or thwarting them in a way and at a stage that the deadly operational plan does not fully develop is the ideal goal and dream of counter terrorism authorities. Nevertheless, despite the vast efforts of law enforcement worldwide, even the countries with the most efficient security and intelligence forces cannot guarantee that a terror attack won’t take place. Given the fact that nowadays the world is facing security threats from both international terrorism (in most cases from jihadi groups) and domestic extremist violence, just from a statistical point of view, unfortunately some attacks are bound to be successful. Additionally, it takes even one successful terror attack, with victims dead or injured to inflict pain and produce fear in society. For all the above reasons a state must be ready to deal with the results of a terror attack and it is of utmost importance to look timely and efficiently after the injured victims. Human lives are most valuable and saving them ought to be a priority. If citizens can help in saving lives, then by all means they should try to do so and any training towards this direction must be seen as welcome.
  2. Reflecting the rights and role of citizens in society: in an organized society the state has the responsibility of providing security and safety to citizens, of safeguarding their lives. This is why societies have been formed and citizens pay taxes, so that the state takes cares certain of their needs. But this does not mean that citizens do not have the right to contribute to their safety and security and do whatever is possible to help themselves and their fellow citizens in times of need. It is not a matter of ‘individuality’, or ‘private initiative’, but a basic recognition that citizens can offer to society and their fellow human beings. The training for medical care should be taken in to account with relation to common sense[4] of course. There is no reason to play brave and wrong moves can lead to death. Countering an attack should be left in the hands of the trained law enforcement. Indeed there are stories about some individuals (usually trained as former/off-duty military or police officers and able to use weapons etc) able to stand against terrorists and even neutralize them. But the general public is untrained to face such a situation, can get paralyzed by fear and has no knowledge about how to react effectively. Thus, most individuals should better try to stay “under the radar” and wait for authorities to handle the case. Offering first aid is something different. Once the situation is safe- -and until medical authorities are on the spot to offer assistance – there are things that can be done (and things that should be avoided) in order to help victims and possibly save their lives during those critical moments or hours until the ambulance arrives. This can be done in safety, after the danger has gone, but still in critical time for the victims.
  • Countering terrorism and deconstructing terrorist propaganda in a wider perspective: terrorism aims to shatter social fabric and change societies as we know them. Terrorists want to diminish our resilience and our trust in society. They want to impose the reign of fear, they want people scared and without power. Being in a position to help a fellow citizen actually fosters solidarity and helps the bonds of society remain strong and close. People don’t get scattered by fear and also the terror event does not leave them helpless, labeled as ‘victims’. Having the power to help means that fear has not paralyzed you, it has not removed humanity from inside you, you are not a helpless victim of terrorism. And here the term ‘victim’ is used in a broader sense, because we should not consider victims of a terror attack only those who have been killed or injured. People who were present in the terror scene and have survived an attack are also victims and in a sense the broader population (not confined within the borders of the country that has been targeted) is in several ways affected negatively after a terror attack. For example the images of 9/11, of the London bombings and the attacks that have followed in the UK, Belgium, France, Spain etc, the images of destruction and death have made the public all over the world feel anxiety and fear. This is why people have accepted legislations and countering measures that challenged human rights and liberties. A terror attack somewhere can mean fear everywhere. And we should not forget that terrorists want to instill fear to the living, the dead are only an instrument. Empowering people is in itself an answer to terrorists.

As authorities globally strengthen intelligence, surveillance mechsnisms etc they should also aim to train citizens as part of the response to terrorism. It will be seen of course in the future how the UK program will develop, get implemented and what results it can deliver in case of future terror attacks. Yet, generally the British approach should serve as an example also for other countries. And let us not confine the spirit of this initiative only to cases of terror attacks. There are mass shootings and several other crime activities that can leave victims and injured behind. These situations are also a security problem.  Basic training for the public to help with first aid in violent situations could save lives also in those cases.


[2] See several articles on the issue: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-43556392

[3] http://www.redcross.org.uk/get-help/prepare-for-emergencies/how-to-prepare-in-case-of-a-terrorist-attack##

[4] For example in the UK there has been standard advice given to British people when faced with a terror attack in development. About the “run-hide-tell” National Police Chiefs’ Council advice see http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/video/2017/jul/10/run-hide-tell-police-release-advice-on-how-to-survive-terror-attack-video