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Nick Booth: Forget the grandstanding. We need practical tips on how to respond to a terror attack


There’s a good piece by Douglas Murray in The Spectator about the standard responses to a terror attack. Personally, I’d describe them as stock responses because many of these actions seem pre-prepared. It’s as if many of the characters Murray describes have anticipated an incident of mass slaughter and planned how to exploit it to the max for self promotional purposes.

Not many minutes after the Paris killings The Guardian ran an opinion piece that attacked “far right groups” who the writer expected to “fuel more hatred”. Luckily, she was to be disappointed and the opportunity for further moral exhibitionism didn’t materialise. Still, the speed at which the piece appeared – given the amount of editing, proofing, layout and passing involved in a lengthy article that didn’t have any time specific references – suggests to me that the condemnation of response piece was prepared in advance. Break out the opprobrium, there’s been a mass murder!

Similarly, LBC Radio’s James O’Brien seemed to have a grandstanding speech ready, which he duly delivered on his show, as news of the Belgian murders unfolded. Again, he chose to attack the people who might be a bit nervous about all the random, indiscriminate nature of all these mass killings. Blame the ‘phobics.

There’s a whole cast of similarly gruesome characters ready to exploit every tragedy for self promotion, as Murray points out. He neglected to mention that local authorities are ready to exploit terrorism too, by using the new powers granted to them. Rather insultingly, each new piece of anti terror legislation seemed to be exploited to inflict moreterror on the public. Councils will use the new legal and technology powers to take away your money and children and leave behind your bin bags. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard’s billion pound celebrity shaming squad will find dozens of detectives, see through plastic boxes and helicopters for show raids on famous people’s homes.

It’s weird, everyone else seems to know what to do in a tragedy, but I’m buggered if I know what the correct response is. Surely rushing out and hugging a hijab would be as schmaltzy and bogus as James O’Brien’s modern version of the Reverend Jimmy Swaggart’s act.

Does anyone know what the proper response is to a terror attack? What should we do? Which way do we walk? How do we help each other? Anyone know how to dress a wound? How do we apply a tourniquet?

Apart from the recovery position, I’ve forgotten everything about First Aid from that induction course one of my employers gave me. I dare say modern medicine has moved on in the last two decades.

A bit of information gives people a sense of control and helps them to stabilise their rising sense of panic. If a tube train driver bothers to tell bewildered passengers why they’re stuck underground, for example, just knowing why you’re there and for how long can give you a massive psychological boost. Just flicking that intercom switch and communicating a tiny bit of information makes a huge difference. By the same psychological logic, a four-hour wait in accident and emergency is much less stressful than 45 minutes of desperate expectation that your name is about to come up.

In those circumstances, I’ve found that any information helps me feel little bit more in control and helps to counter the sense of powerlessness. There’s millions of us that aren’t natural leaders and we’re all desperate for some guidance on what to do if a bomb goes off or a man is rampaging through Waterloo station with a machine gun.

Terrorism works if we’re all terrified. If we’re plunged into uncertainty, that is pretty unsettling. All the usual media loudmouths seem to have accepted that mass killings are inevitable. They’ve worked out how to exploit it for their own purposes. But it would be helpful if we had some information about how to respond constructively. It would be quite empowering if we had some information about how to help ourselves and each other.

I can’t see any of our national broadcasters ever doing that. Why on earth not?

Your advice, in the comments section below, would be most welcome. Thank you.


(Image: Yortw)

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Nick Booth
Nick Booth
Nick Booth is a freelance writer.

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