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How to Respond and Cope in an Emergency

Experts Advise What to Do When Terrorism Strikes

Helping Others

In the chaos right after a terrorist attack, many people want to help their fellow survivors.

"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 Klausner.

"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," he says.

"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 building explosions:

  • 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 flashlight.
  • Shout only as a last resort. You could inhale dangerous amounts of dust.
  • 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.

Emotional Response

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.

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