If you've been anywhere near a newspaper or television news over the last couple of days, you will have heard about the terrorists attacks in Mumbai. While the horror and tragedy of it all usually make the top of the headlines, I was pleased to read the following article, as instead of giving the gristly details (ie: 'if it bleeds, it leads'), it provided a number of lessons on what to do in such an event. Here's some lessons and some commentary:
- No matter what these people did to survive, it doesn't mean that the people who died in the attack did the "wrong" things. Living through an unexpected attack has a lot to do with luck and only a little to do with skill. You can have the best military training in the world and die in such an attack, or the worst survival skills possible and still live, so like life, surviving such an ordeal is a crap shoot.
- Just because the attacks happened in Mumbai, it doesn't mean that one should never travel to this beautiful country or that one should never travel overseas; you can just as easily be killed in your Barcolounger in your living room should a tree fall on your house or a stray bullet hit you. Random attacks are, um, random, which means you never know when or where such a thing will happen.
- They used their cell phones to text for help. I always bring a not so new (so the unlock codes are available) cell phone with me when I travel. Simply pay a few dollars in nearly any country to have the phone "unlocked" and buy a local sim card for it and you are ready to call or text.
- They had the contacts they needed in their cell phones. Another travel lesson, as soon as you get to said country, save a bunch of numbers to the phone memory including a number for the nearest US embassy, the number to the local CNN or other news outlet, the number to emergency contacts in and outside of the country, the number to your hotel, etc.
- They stayed put during the attack. This could have gone either way but generally, if it is safe to do so, you should stay where you are at, as running through a barrage of terrorist bullets and grenades is likely to get you kidnapped or shot. On the other hand, staying put could make you a sitting duck--you need to use your best instincts at such a time.
- They did some simple things such as locking the door and barricading it, putting tape over the peep hole so the light wouldn't be seen by the attackers, putting towels around the door to block out light and smoke, and keeping the curtains closed. I would also consider checking into the hotel with a local-sounding name (or at least one that doesn't scream "American tourist!').
- Be ready to be mobile. Some people travel with a few heavily-laden suitcases and fancy dress shoes. I, for one, like the one-backpack and sturdy shoe method of travel. As it said in the article, they could only leave with what they could easily carry.
- They devised a plan. The only way they would know if the person who was knocking on their door was a rescuer or attacker was with a code word. Good idea.
- They had food and drinks on hand. I never travel anywhere without a bag full of food--you never know how long a layover will be or how long it will take to reach a decent restaurant.
- They weren't armed. While I am all for being armed in the US, I highly recommend against such a thing in a foreign country. You think it is a major hassle if you shoot someone here, you ain't seen nothing until you get into an armed combat situation overseas. If you feel the need for added protection, hire a local (trusted) security detail.
- Some other ideas not mentioned in the article: stay away from the tourists spots, they make a prime target for this type of attack as well as for local pickpockets, kidnappers, and the like. Develop relationships in the area you are staying at--become known to the hotel staff, the local restaurant staff, etc--in a time of trouble these people will be much more likely to help someone they "know". If possible, have a local contact who can show you around the city/act as your bodyguard/show you where to and where not to go/introduce you to the local culture; they can be found through friends and relatives, associations, etc. and can teach you how to stay safe (or at least haul your ass to the embassy in a hurry if need be).