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Lock Blog

A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals

5 Things You Can Do For Personal Protection In the Era of Terrorism

by Ralph April 19, 2017

With the growing popularity of lone-wolf style attacks, terrorism is becoming harder to predict, and therefore almost impossible to protect against. There is no longer such a thing as a safe space or a sanctuary. Every building and every institution are fair game for a terrorist attack. At any point in your day, things could escalate to a life or death situation. Specific instances of mass shootings and terror attacks of varying sizes can shed a little light on tips for the best personal protection before and during one of these attacks.

1. Lock Your Doors While Driving

Ignition Cylinder Replacement

Almost everyone knows that it is a security hazard to leave your car doors unlocked when your car is unattended, or even while you are parked, but this is also a good idea while driving. When a vehicle is on the road, there are many points where they will essentially stop all forward movement. Instances such as traffic lights, stop signs, crosswalks, etc., can leave you vulnerable to taking on unwanted passengers.

In the case of the 2013 Santa Monica shooting, the shooter entered a woman’s vehicle forcing her to drive him to the College where he would continue his rampage. During the driving from local to the other, the shooter continued to fire at other vehicles and pedestrians. In this tragic instance, a locked door may have been enough to distract the Shooter so that the driver could speed away. The driver in this circumstance was waved down by a man with a machine gun. With this warning, you should try to escape or neutralize the threat. Carjackings are a large concern in light of the many recent truck and car attacks in Europe.

Even if the car is being fired at, or you are being waved down to stop by your attacker, you do not want the terrorist to enter your vehicle. You place yourself at risk of personal injury or even death. Make sure that your car door locks are working so that you are not relying on your memory to lock and unlock passenger doors. You must try your best to maintain a barrier between you and the terrorist. The chance of getting hit with a bullet or otherwise falling victim to life-threatening violence goes up astronomically once the threat is sitting inside your car.

It is important to remember that a car will not stop a bullet of almost any caliber unless you have gone through the process of bulletproofing your vehicle. This is not to say that you cannot take cover within the car. Hiding behind the dashboard will still prevent a terrorist from being able to knowingly aim at you. Make sure that the doors are locked to prevent easy entrance, in both cases where there is no warning of an impending threat, and you will be much safer while driving. This method of protection does not take much forethought and does not dramatically change the way in which you live your life.

2. Sit Strategically

The most common advice for choosing your place to sit is that one should always elect to sit in close proximity to an exit. This exit can be a standard door or an emergency exit. This advice, although accurate, is not always helpful in situations. Instances of assigned seating, or when these seats already being occupied as a result of freedom of choice, can preclude even the most security conscious individual from a clear exit path. However, this does not mean that you cannot get the most out of your seat.

In the cases of restaurants, and even movie theaters, you can sit so that you can monitor entrance points and even the other patrons. By sitting with your back against a wall, corner, etc., you effectively allow yourself to survey the entire area. In cases where the architecture does not allow such surveillance (many walls, high booths, large decorative items, etc.) you must use the terrain to your advantage.

When you can’t be by an exit, and cannot easily view the room you are in, try to use the cover to your advantage. Consider the best option between covered evacuation and cover while staying put. Evacuation is a must if obstructions are things like paper walls (or other thin dividers). Digging in and staying put is more of an option with large stone/concrete, thick metal, and sizable trees/wooden pillars. You can sit in a way that places you in close proximity to cover, or with an exit path that gives the most consistent cover.

3. Use Personal Protection Devices

Depending on the location of an attack, you may not be able to carry certain items. Events like concerts may prohibit otherwise legal pocket knives, pepper spray, stun guns, etc. Government buildings may have similar restrictions. But in any case, where you are not restricted, you are only subject to the governance of your local laws.

In the most extreme cases and most liberal laws, returning gunfire maybe an effective way to neutralize the threat to your personal safety. In the 2015 case of the Draw Muhammed Contest in Dallas Texas, it was the quick response of the police gunfire that ended the terrorist threat before any innocent people were harmed. Their professional training and quick response demonstrate that there are some instances where guns are the best security.

In any case, there is rarely a restriction on wearing a bulletproof vest almost anywhere. Granted suiting up in this way can raise some red flags. And to anyone you are with, you may appear a bit paranoid. But if you ever anticipate a threat (for example you are going to a Draw Muhammed Contest in Texas… or anywhere in the world), it is a personal protection device that almost no one will object to.

The biggest issue to using personal protection devices is training for effective real-world implementation. Other obstacles include the issues of consistent carry. Not just when you can’t bring them, but when you elect not to bring them. Whether it is some form of self-censorship or the shame of being perceived as paranoid, inconsistent implementation leads to forgetfulness and a general inability to rely on these devices.

4. Report Suspicious Behavior

One of the easiest things that you can do to improve your own personal safety is to raise awareness of a potential threat. You don’t have to have the crazy security plan of an Israeli airport in order to perform the necessary profiling. All you need to do is look out for some troubling behavior.

The biggest red flag is if someone is dressed inappropriately for an event or the weather. Inappropriate dress is a key indicator of an oddity. It does not mean someone is guilty of anything. What it does mean is that they are violating certain social norms. An inability or unwillingness to blend in can be a result of trying to conceal weapons or a clashing of culture. This culture does not need to be religious. Besides Islamic terrorism, there have also been several recent incidents of communist terrorism. The cultural differences could be economic just as easily as they could be religious.

When someone looks out of place, this is usually not enough to be considered suspicious. You are also looking for certain behavior patterns and social cues. Any type of nervousness (ex: looking around constantly or touching a part of themselves repeatedly), isolating behavior (ex: avoiding conversations or eye contact), aggression (ex: scowling at others enjoyment or no respect for personal space), etc., demonstrates an unwillingness to interact. Out of place spectators should always be pointed out to relevant employees, security, or police.

Even if the person that is behaving oddly is not a terrorist, they may still be breaking the law. And in cases where no laws are being broken, there is the chance the individual in question needs some sort of health service that the police may be able to provide. If it turns out that none of these things were true, you still took precautions to raise alerts about a potential threat. Most people say nothing out of fear of seeming prejudice. But if you do not make these types of judgment calls pre-terrorist attack, then you are sacrificing a large part of your personal safety.

5. Get Self-defense Training

One thing that can never be confiscated, is you. Wherever you go, you are there. And if you are the protection, then you are always in the company of safety. Take for example the case of two US soldiers aboard a french train. The two military men, assisted by their civilian friend, successfully subdued a terrorist armed with firearms and a boxcutter.

Sometimes all that needs to be done in order to stop a tragedy is to fight back. But it does not do anyone any good to fight if you do not know what you are doing. Basic self-defense training courses are rather easy to come by. Some colleges and community centers offer bare bones introductory courses. These are good for getting a feel for the type of training and skills it would take to confront an attacker.

It is not recommended that anyone with insufficient training attempt to subdue a terrorist unless given no other option. This is for your own safety. Without a martial arts or self-defense background, you are potentially placing yourself in more risk than you would by trying to escape. In instances of hijacking, hostage taking, or escape routes being blocked, there may be no other choice but to fight. That is why it is so important to have some knowledge (however limited) about self-defense.

Even with training, you are likely to suffer some injury. Not even the French train heroes got away from their altercation without some cuts and bruises. Violence is always dangerous. The more training you have the better your chances of not only subduing the terrorist successfully but also of leaving with the least amount of harm possible.

Areas of Concern

There are many locations and events that have been targeted by terrorists over the years. And some of these places have been targeted not only by terrorists but also by other lone wolf shooters or bombers. The advice remains the same because once a method of mass murder has proven successful, it continues to be used. Pay special attention when you are in settings such as:

The Theater

An event like the Moscow theater hostage crisis showed the world that even high profile and exclusive upper-class events are not immune to terrorist threats. Similarly, the shooting in Aurora Colorado demonstrated that even a local movie theater can be targeted successfully by a gunman.

Special Considerations:

  • Low lighting
  • Event requires extended/uninterrupted focus directed toward particular area
  • Possible assigned seating/limited seat choice
  • May restrict certain personal protection devices


In Paris, during an Eagles of Death Metal concert, there were gunshots and explosions that claimed the lives of 89 people. Someone attending the event said “At first we heard gunshots… They were quite high-pitched. At first, I thought it was a joke”. Which may be attributed to the uniqueness of the attack, the loudness of the event, or the anticipation of pageantry for a live performance.

Special Considerations:

  • Loud environment
  • Distracting lighting
  • Possible standing crowd
  • Possible assigned seating/limited seat choice
  • May restrict certain personal protection devices
  • Event requires extended/uninterrupted focus directed toward particular area

At The Office

In the case of Charlie Hebdo, the workplace did have armed security guards at their building, and this was still not enough to stop the terrorist attackers. Even though they were anticipating a threat, they could not stop it. In the case of the San Bernardino shooting, there was no obvious warning that the building would be targeted.

Special Considerations:

  • Limited to know choice in your working area
  • Lack of control over visitor screening
  • Distracting environment

Public Events

Incidents such as the Boston bombing and the truck attack in Nice France remind us that wherever there are a group of public spectators, there is a risk of terrorism. These events are not restricted to ticketed patrons, nor is there any way to screen the attendees. Even observing the crowd yourself is difficult as an attack could come from anywhere. Shops, residential buildings, roofs, and the street could all be areas where the attacks come from. During an emergency, it is almost impossible to know where to run. With no clear way to disperse, the crowd will be chaotic and hard to move through.

Special Considerations:

  • No crowd pre-screening
  • Possible standing crowd
  • No clear evacuation route
  • Unclear areas of concern and danger

Clubs and Bars

Similar to concerns about concert venues, clubs and bars have been targeted due to the presence of a sizable and distracted crowd. In the case of the Pulse Nightclub Shooting, the bar was targeted due to the type of patrons it catered to. Minority groups are likely targets of terrorist threats if the group has been singled out by the ideology of the prevailing terrorist group. But in the case of religious extremism, such as what comes from Islam, the very act of drinking alcohol can make you a target. That is why places that encourage social drinking may be a more explicit concern. But no matter the reason the bar has been targeted, there is an issue of decreased cognitive function as a result of drinking.

Special Considerations:

  • Low/distracting lighting
  • Chaotic crowd environment
  • High chance of intoxication
  • May restrict certain personal protection devices

Schools and Colleges

Schools and colleges have been the targets of many shootings, carried out for a multitude of reasons. In the case of the 2015 University of California, Merced stabbing attack, the event was fueled by terrorism. The high presence of special events and diverse groups on campuses can make for political and social targets. With all of the young people, there is also the perfect demographic for those who commit terrorist attacks (single impressionable young men).

Special Considerations:

  • Many unchecked bags
  • No crowd pre-screening
  • Chaotic crowd environment
  • Unclear areas of concern and danger
  • May restrict certain personal protection devices

Places of Worship

Areas such as churches, temples, and mosques have a high likelihood of being targeted by terrorists. Schedules for events are reliable, and most of the time, these buildings are very welcoming to outsiders. Terrorist groups often determine that their enemies are other groups (often religious). And these areas, where there is a high population of said enemy, are likely targets.

Special Considerations:

  • Open and inviting atmosphere
  • Limited to nonexistent security presence
  • Open floor plans offer little cover
  • Direction of seating prevents monitoring entrances

While in Transit

Whether it is by plane, train, car, bike, or while you are walking, you could be targeted. The recent truck and car attacks in Europe have made the streets dangerous, but even before that, taking the train or a jet was also risky. These attacks are very hard to anticipate, as they interrupt the everyday routine of getting from place to place.

Special Considerations:

  • Potentially confined in a moving vehicle
  • Lack of personal mobility
  • Danger of as a driver, pedestrian, and passenger
  • Vulnerable anywhere a vehicle can reach


These attacks could happen anywhere. What do you do when you are outside of your sphere of control? How do you plan for the unexpected? What does personal security mean in the age of lone wolf Terrorism? It means you need to be aware, plan, and consider what you would do in these situations. You cannot be immobilized by fear. Be ready to protect yourself no matter where you are, and don’t let preparation make you paranoid.

Category: Crime, How To's, Safety & Security

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