how to survive a terrorist attack

How to Survive a Terrorist Attack

There are many types of disasters, ranging from natural disasters to pandemics, to an economic collapse, which people can prepare for in advance. Perhaps one of the more terrifying types of disasters to prepare for is a terrorist attack. Preparing to survive a terrorist attack is a terrifying thing because terrorism is by nature violent, unpredictable, and often random.

While you may believe that a terror attack will never happen near you, the truth is you can’t be too careful. A review of recent events includes numerous and widespread tragic terrorist acts in the news reports, further evidence that terrorists are capable of striking anywhere, and at anytime they want to.

A terrorist attack is one of the deadliest critical events to prep for because its main goal is to cause extensive panic, fear, and death for religious, political, or revenge purposes.  If a terrorist attack happens in your city, you can expect the following:

  • The attack will likely happen, when least expected, on a seemingly normal day.
  • Many people will be wounded or die very quickly.
  • Chaos will reign for several days if not longer. Schools, restaurants, stores, etc. will simply shut down.
  • Law enforcement and military units will swarm the city.
  • Entire streets will be closed off, and sections of the city shut down.
  • Many buildings will be set ablaze or possibly even collapse (if the attack involves bombings)
  • The recovery period will be long and brutal. It will take months for things to return to ‘normal.’ Look no further than the state of emergency announced by France in the aftermath of the November terrorist attacks, extended until July of the following year.
  • Your city, following the aftermath, will be permanently scarred.
  • You, your family, and your neighbors will live in fear that your city will be attacked *again* in the future.

The above is just to give you an idea of what a terrorist attack will look like in your city.  Experiencing the aftermath of a terrorist attack, or being caught in the middle of the attack itself, is going to seem far, far worse than just reading about it.

But remember, your goal will be no different from your goal in any other type of disaster, to survive.  Should a terrorist attack ever happen near you, it’s important to learn exactly how to survive using the following steps:


It is possible to detect a terrorist attack before it happens.  With advanced warning, you will be caught significantly less off guard and be able to respond quicker.

Terrorist attacks are largely random events, meaning you will likely be surprised in some way.  Nevertheless, there are certain things you can be on the alert for in your everyday life, especially if you live in a major city that is a likely a major terrorist target:

  • Look For Suspicious People Who Don’t Fit In With The Environment
  • Someone who looks or dresses differently from most other people in your area should not be seen as automatically suspicious. Rather, it means that people who are *acting* differently from other people in your area should be seen that way.  If a person is asking odd questions, seems excessively anxious, or has been walking around in the same area repeatedly as if they are observing the area, it’s perfectly justified to feel suspicious about that person.  Also, anyone who is packing an unusually large backpack should attract your attention a well.
  • Look for Signs of Tampering
  • This includes any strange smells, a leak, or signs of tampering with security cameras or public transportation. Contact a police officer or your local authorities immediately if you find any signs of such tampering.
  • Look For A Group of People Who Look Coordinated
  • If a group of people seems to be working together by coordinating themselves into position, as if they are preparing themselves for an attack, it’s probably a sign that something big is about to happen and you should alert the authorities as quickly as possible.
  • Avoid large crowds, protests, concerts etc.


The moment that you see something suspicious, you should leave the area, even if nothing comes of it.  Better safe than sorry has merit in the case of a terrorist attack. It’s not imperative to run, but it’s a good idea to put some distance between yourself and the area without looking like a lunatic.

Regardless of whether you were able to detect the attack before it happened or not, focus on getting away from the site of the terrorist attack as quickly as possible. The ability to get out of the area quickly is what will increase your chances of survival.

With chaos and destruction surrounding you, it will be difficult and dangerous to get out of the area. If you know how to respond and can stay focused, your odds of making it out alive are pretty good.

Get Out of Your Building Now

If you are inside a building, whether a restaurant or your office, when the terrorist attack happens, your goal is to get out of the building as soon as possible. It’s critical to know in advance where the exit doors are in any building so that you can get out as quickly as possible. It’s also standard practice to use the stairs instead of the elevators in a crisis. As you move toward an exit, check your corners and hallways before moving down them. Focus on moving from cover object to cover object rather than allowing yourself to be carried by the mass of panicked people also trying to escape.

Keep Your Face Covered…

…but not with your hands. You’ll need them to move around and keep yourself balanced.  Instead, take a piece of clothing and wrap it around your nose and mouth to keep dust and debris out.  It’s a good idea to carry a bandana as part of your EDC for this reason, but if you don’t have one, use a shirt.

Stick Close to Cover

Keep the amount of time you’re out in the open to a minimum. In fact, the only time where you should be exposed is when you’re in the process of moving from cover to cover.  Hiding behind furniture does not count as real cover, as it can’t stop bullets.  Instead, you need to get behind walls.

Play Dead

If you are unable to escape the site of the attack for any reason, the next best thing for you to do would be to play dead. Running around still trying to find cover will make you an open target for terrorists. Acting as if you are one of the fatalities could cause them to walk over you and then give you another opportunity to escape later.

Dan’s note: I read that some people survived after playing dead. I believe at least one was during the Paris November attacks in the Bataclan theater.


Once you’ve safely escaped the immediate area of the attack, your next priority will be to get in touch with your family.  Having a written emergency communication system in place in advance, instead of relying on memory, is so important because of the impact that stress, panic, and shock have on your memory.  Everyone in your family should have written emergency contact information for everyone else in the family, to maximize your ways of connecting following a terrorist attack or another widespread emergency.

Whether by phone call, by text, social media, e-mail, or even via walkie-talkie, you need to get in touch with family members and confirm the safety status of all family members. Hopefully, you have agreed in advance upon an emergency meeting place. Meeting up at your home is a good idea because everyone knows where it is and your supplies should already be there. It’s also good to agree in advance upon a backup meeting place in the event your home is compromised or inaccessible due to the attack.

Once you’ve gathered your family at your house, choose your next course of action, such as bugging in or out.  If you have children in school, you should already have a plan in place to get them out and to your house as well (assuming your children don’t have a car to drive home from school).  Either you or your spouse/significant other needs to be in charge of getting your kids home.


In a terrorist attack, be prepared for the possibility of having to come face-to-face with a terrorist member and fighting for your life if you have to.  A terrorist is going to show you no mercy and will kill you, but only if you let them. If you know how to fight back, you stand a much greater chance of survival.

  • Have a Concealed Weapon In Your EDC (if legally allowed)
  • Carrying a concealed weapon as a part of your EDC is a great way to fight back. You may need to draw and fire it to save your life should you come face-to-face with a terrorist.  Make sure your gun is reliable and chambered with a round capable of stopping someone.  A .38 Special or 9mm hollow point is often recommended as the lowest caliber to carry for self-defense.
  • Improvise If You Have To
  • If you don’t have a concealed weapon, or if it gets knocked away, you’ll have to improvise to save your life. Go for the terrorist’s weapon, pick up something to use as a weapon, such as a rock or a fire extinguisher. Use your bare hands if you have to. Investing the time and effort into learning hand-to-hand combat skills in advance, will come in handy in this scenario.
  • Control Your Breathing
  • With your heart pounding and adrenaline pumping, it will be extremely difficult to control your breathing, but allowing panic and fear to control you will only work against your survival. Learn and practice techniques for breathing control, so you can keep yourself calm nd utilize common sense to get you out of this situation alive.


Let’s say you’ve run or maybe fought your way out of the attack area and meet up with the rest of your family at your home.  Your only priority at this point is to keep everyone in your family safe.  Remember that in the aftermath of the attack, your city will be on lock down, authorities will be searching for any remaining terrorists still on the loose. The danger is far from over following the actual attack itself.

Only you can decide whether bugging in or bugging out is the safer option.  Your decision also needs to be largely based on what the authorities recommend. If the authorities order an evacuation, then obviously bugging out is your only option.

Hopefully, you already put an evacuation plan in place. Your evacuation plan should include a clearly defined bug out location, a safe but drivable distance outside of your city and several different evacuation routes for getting there. You also need a bug out vehicle that is capable of holding everyone in your family and your gear. The best bug out vehicle will be reliable, well-maintained, and capable of going off-road if necessary.

Thousands, if not millions, of other people, will be attempting to evacuate your city at the same time, so having multiple backup evacuation routes is essential.  When one route becomes cut off or clogged with traffic, you must always have a planned alternative route. Without a planned alternate route, precious time is wasted figuring out which way to go.

But if authorities don’t call for an evacuation, or if you feel that bugging out presents too many risks, then bugging in will be the safer choice. By bugging in, you have immediate access to all of your survival stockpile, complete knowledge of the area, you know your neighbors, and you can set up a defense around your home against terrorists, hungry mobs, and raiders, rather than allowing yourself to be exposed out on the open road.


In conclusion, a terrorist attack is extremely hard to survive, but thankfully it’s less likely to affect most people. But it’s not impossible to survive it if you know what you’re doing.  It all comes down to the preparations you make to increase your chances of survival.

As we have explored in this article, your chances of surviving a terrorist attack increase if you:

  • Are alert for the signs of a terrorist attack before it happens
  • Know how to remain calm and get out of the immediate site of the attack quickly.
  • Get in touch with your family once you have escaped the immediate vicinity of the attack
  • Be prepared to fight your way out if necessary
  • Decide whether bugging in or bugging out will be safer for your family’s survival

One last thing worth noting is that it’s also imperative for you to remain calm and use common sense during a terrorist attack.  While the goal of terrorists is to spread fear and panic, by controlling your adrenaline and using your head to think, you will do what the terrorists don’t expect you to do, and thus your chances of surviving will automatically go up.

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About Nick Oetken

Nick Oetken

Nick Oetken is a prepper, outdoor enthusiast but, most of all, he is our in-house firearms expert. Look out for his articles on guns to find out which ones you need for your survival.

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