On May 22, 2017, a radical Islamic terrorist attacked a crowd of concert goers primarily comprised of children and young women. Armed with an improvised explosive, the terrorist detonated his weapon as the crowd filed from the arena into an adjoining foyer. The blast resulted in 22 fatalities. Almost 60 people were injured in the explosion and the resulting chaos.
As is often the case with these types of attacks, we look at them in hindsight to see what we can learn from the event. It is, unfortunately, one of the only ways that we can learn to prevent casualties in the future. As with events such as Columbine and Sandy Hook, the only positive outcome is that we are able to take what went wrong and find ways to fix it.
What survival lessons can we glean from Manchester?
The survivability factor is dependent, of course, upon proximity to the original blast. Given that the terrorist loaded his IED with bolts and nails to increase the killing effect of the device, it stands to reason that being outside the effective blast radius is best. File that observation under ‘O’ for ridiculously obvious.
Assuming one’s number wasn’t called by being too close to a zealot with a death wish, it stands to reason that there are more lessons to take away from this event. Consider the numbers of people who were injured in the attack. Many were injured by shrapnel and blast impact; however, still others were injured in the resulting stampede.
Having survived the original incident, it would be a profound shame to fall victim to a panicked crowd in mass exodus. We know that people are, by their nature, horribly self-centered. That characteristic is magnified under stress. Self-preservation becomes a blinding force that sacrifices others in the name of self-preservation. The outcome? People get crushed against fences or trampled underfoot.
It makes sense, then, to avoid going where the crowd goes. Let’s look at some video:
Check out the way this event went down from the perspective of this videographer. She is waiting for the crowds to thin before she makes her way to the exit. As she sits, the explosion is clearly heard in the background. After a few seconds of normalcy bias, she realizes that some serious stuff is going down. A few exclamations of “Oh my god” later and she’s headed for the exit – along with pretty much everyone else in her immediate area. As she is being crushed into a narrow corridor, she keeps the camera rolling and captures people literally jumping from the stands.
Here’s another look from higher up:
Note that everyone runs for the side exits – generally the public access areas. Makes sense under normal circumstances. Of course, these aren’t normal circumstances.
Now, some takeaways from the incident:
Don’t Follow the Crowd
Herds of people are stupid and dangerous. Under duress, they become lemmings going over a cliff. It is best to avoid the masses and avoid their fate.
Another benefit of leaving the herd is that the potential for being the victim of a secondary attack drops dramatically. While it wasn’t the case in Manchester, it could easily have been the case that additional terrorists were waiting at the secondary exits with additional IEDs. Panicked masses were running to those areas without thinking – a fact that brings us to our next point.
Have a Plan
We can’t live our lives in fear that terrorists will attack, even when we are in a confined populated space like a concert arena. Having an egress plan does not equate with paranoia. As is obvious from the Manchester videos, a plan can prevent not only a dangerous exit (risking being trampled or crushed) but also a slow exit.
Beyond the obvious exit, which is usually the closest one, attendees at such events should know the locations of at least 2 other exits – one of which is an unlikely point of egress for large numbers of people. Well just how do do they do that? Good question. For the answer, we look to the next tip.
Break the Rules
Look back at that first video. See how close the videographer is to the stage. Behind that stage is an exit; it’s how the performer left the building, after all. The only thing between the women and that exit is a short barricade and a curtain.
When life is on the line, the rules go out the window. It is best to use the exit that will provide not only the fastest route out of the building but also one that is entirely unlikely to be a secondary point of attack, even if that exit is technically ‘off limits’.
Carry an IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit)
I don’t know the extent of the injuries, nor am I aware of the numbers of people who bled out while waiting to be attended to. Nevertheless, the Manchester attack exemplifies the degree to which having an IFAK immediately available can have instant positive effect.
That IFAK should contain all manner of trauma treatment supplies including a tourniquet, heavy gauze pads, trauma bandages, and sucking wound seals. Emergency services may be minutes away, but someone just seconds from death may live to appreciate the expediency of that IFAK’s arrival.
Manchester-style attacks are, by their nature, unpredictable. Police and government will try to find new and creative ways to prevent such attacks, but when terrorists slip through the dragnet, it is best that we find ourselves better prepared for the mayhem to follow.