How to Respond and Cope in an Emergency
Experts Advise What to Do When Terrorism Strikes
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
And when terrorism strikes farther away, how do you stay compassionate
without becoming overwhelmed by or numb to horrific events?
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.
"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
Predicting how someone might respond would be "very difficult," he
"I think to expect that some people will be calm and some people will be
terrified and panicked is probably consistent with reality," says
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.