How to Respond and Cope in an Emergency
Experts Advise What to Do When Terrorism Strikes
In the chaos right after a terrorist attack, many people want to help their
"It's hard to give people advice to not stop and help others, because
that is your natural human instinct -- to try to render assistance," says
"In general, though … you want to help others only after you have really
determined that it is really safe for yourself. That's very difficult to do in
a stressful situation," he says.
Some attacks may include secondary devices, say Klausner and Isakov.
"To stay in the area of an event ... might put you at risk of being a
victim of a second explosion, if there was such a thing," says Isakov.
"I think people [are] going to make personal determinations about what
they think they can accomplish for their new acquaintances at the scene,"
"I don't know that there's a good overriding recommendation for them
except that when emergency service providers arrive to be compliant with their
instructions and their direction."
After a Building Explosion
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) posts this advice about
- Get under a sturdy table or desk if things are falling around you.
- When those items stop falling, leave quickly. Watch for obviously weakened
floors or stairways.
- Don't use elevators in the building.
- Once outside, don't stand by windows or other potential hazards.
- Move away from sidewalks or streets needed by emergency officials or others
still leaving the building.
FEMA's advice for those trapped in debris:
- Try to signal rescuers. Whistle, tap on a wall or pipe, or use a
- Shout only as a last resort. You could inhale dangerous amounts of
- Avoid unnecessary movement, which could stir up dust.
- Cover your nose and mouth with anything you have on hand. Densely-woven
cotton can act as a good filter. Try to breathe through the material.
Thousands of miles from ground zero, the media bring news of terrorism to
our attention. Distance shouldn't exempt us from caring, says Anie Kalayjian,
EdD, DSc, RN.
"The key for mental health is to balance that empathy without completely
absorbing and feeling and going through the pain and re-experiencing the
pain," says Kalayjian.
She is a psychology professor at Fordham University and a Red
Cross-certified disaster mental health specialist. Her books include
Disaster and Mass Trauma: Global Perspectives on Post Disaster Mental
Health Management. Kalayjian also serves as treasurer for the U.N.'s
nongovernmental organization committee on human rights.
Showing Your Humanity
It's important not to get overwhelmed by or desensitized to such events,
says Kalayjian, who was heading to the United Nations after talking to
"It is only showing our humanity when we are affected by it," she
says. "What affects one person in another country will ultimately affect
"We need to be more conscious of that and aware of that and embrace
that, instead of rejecting it by presenting ourselves with our daily tasks and
not reflecting on the trauma," says Kalayjian.