It’s a sad fact that in recent months we’ve been inundated with reports of terrorist incidents across Europe and further afield. Many of these attacks have occurred in seemingly incident places, a beach promenade, a McDonald's restaurant and on public transport. Closer to home we’ve even had articles, in some outlets suggesting women are no longer safe to walk the streets of the capital, because of a fear of harassment.
For any child of the 80’s and 90’s most of us remember being schooled in the Stay Safe programme and most of us remember the heavily emphasised section on crossing the road. But I think it’s fair to say most of us will have forgotten the other useful pieces of practical advice on how to stay safe. Let’s be frank, none of us studied that text book all that closely.
In the aftermath of the Munich attack last month, one victim’s husband told reporters that his wife had phoned him from inside the restaurant to let him know what was going on. He claims to have told her to confront the attacker. His advice seemed bizarre, but who knows what any of us would do, if faced with a similar situation?
So what should we be doing to be safer on the streets?
It’s not about fear mongering or making people paranoid when they walk around every corner, it’s about practical measures we can take, to give us more control in any situation.
Sergeant Brian Whelan of the Garda Press Office says there are a number of simple things we can do to protect ourselves. Key amongst those is to be aware of your surroundings. In other words, be mindful when out and about, and don’t walk directly into dangerous situations. For instance, you wouldn’t walk directly into oncoming traffic, so if you see a fight up ahead, or even just someone who immediately makes you feel uncomfortable, cross the street or alter your route.
Be aware and trust your gut
Security and Defence Analyst Declan Power says it’s important to develop situational awareness. He says it’s equally important when both out and about, and if you’re unlucky enough to be caught up in a serious incident, terrorist or otherwise.
Power says it’s important to sharpen our senses and to trust your gut. He says we tend to turn off our gut reaction to dangers, because we’ve been privileged enough to always have been safe. We have a tendency to believe that we’re just being paranoid, and to ignore mechanisms built into our bodies to let us know something’s not quite right about the situation we’re in. He says if your gut tells you something’s wrong, trust in it and step back from the situation.
Sgt. Whelan says one common thread in many minor incidents is that the victim is on the phone. He says being on a mobile, taking a call, or scrolling on social media makes us more vulnerable to theft or attack. Being glued to the phone also prevents us from being aware of our surroundings. His advice is to put the phone away and actually take notice of who and what’s going on around you.
Assessing the situation
If the worst does happen and you are confronted, Power says we should never be afraid or embarrassed to shout for help. If nothing else, it will distract the attacker.
But what if we come across a more serious scenario? Like a robbery or even a terrorist incident. Gardaí and Power both advise to find a place of safety, get down and become acutely aware of what is happening around you.
Power says firstly you need to find out if it is a simple robbery or something more serious. “Do an estimate of the situation, if you’re going to run, take a moment to ensure you’re running away from danger and not into it.” He says if we “keep our minds in gear” we’re less likely to panic.
In the case of a terrorist incident Sgt. Whelan says it’s not a time for heroics. He says stay down, find a place to hide, and then take the first opportunity to get you and your loved ones to safety. Power says if you do hear shots, get down and take cover. In the case of a robbery he says we should stay calm, hand over the money or items the thief wants, and get away as quickly as we can.
Both men advise against confronting the robber or attacker in any instance. Power says even a trained professional will think twice about taking on an attacker because you really have very little control over the situation.
Sgt. Whelan says: “Overall our streets are very safe and people have a right to walk down any street, feel comfortable and not fearful of an unpleasant encounter. However, people must be aware of their surroundings and cognisant of personal safety.”