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How to Respond and Cope in an Emergency

Experts Advise What to Do When Terrorism Strikes
WebMD Health News

July 7, 2005 -- In the wake of the explosions in London, people may be asking themselves an unsettling question: What would I do if I were there?

Dozens of people were killed and hundreds injured in bombings on London's subway trains and a public bus.

It's a problem no one wants to face. But life is unpredictable, and terrorism is no stranger to many countries.

If you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, what should you do?

And when terrorism strikes farther away, how do you stay compassionate without becoming overwhelmed by or numb to horrific events?

Safety First

The first tip probably mirrors your gut instinct to put safety first.

"You want to exit the area as quickly as you are physically able," Howard Klausner, MD, tells WebMD.

Klausner is medical director for emergency medical services and disaster medicine at Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital.

"Your overriding response, I think, is going to be your own personal safety and the safety of those around you -- trying to assist people to get out of harm's way or out of ground zero," says Alexander Isakov, MD, MPH.

Isakov is an emergency medicine physician and assistant professor of emergency medicine at Emory University.

Staying Calm

"Stay calm and be patient" tops the American Red Cross list of general disaster guidelines.

But how do you do that in the face of terrorism?

"As a government or a responding agency, of course, the desire would be that people remain calm because the alternative is panic," says Isakov. "Panic isn't going to be really conducive to regaining control and order of the situation."

Predicting how someone might respond would be "very difficult," he says.

"I think to expect that some people will be calm and some people will be terrified and panicked is probably consistent with reality," says Isakov.

Following Directions

If you're on the scene, follow instructions from local emergency service providers when they arrive, say Klausner and Isakov.

If you're in another part of a town hit by terrorism, you should also comply with government orders, says Isakov.

For instance, he says authorities may ask people to avoid certain areas, minimize their use of personal communications equipment, or stay out of hospitals unless they're victims or in dire medical straits.

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