Public Safety & Homeland Security

In Today’s World of Terrorism, a ‘Mental Rehearsal’ Could Save Your Life

In a wave of ‘low-tech’ terrorism, lack of situational awareness can get you killed.

by Jim McKay / June 16, 2017
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The usual suspects, like the difficulty that law enforcement agencies still have in sharing critical homeland security data and the mistrust of some communities, along with the ease with which terror groups can recruit, continues to make stopping “low-tech” terror a difficult proposition.

A new wave of terror, a more low-tech version such as guns, knives and vehicles, has become the common threat and so difficult to prevent. There is often no network of affiliates and the perpetrator is often acting alone, having been radicalized locally, perhaps via the Internet.

Collection of intelligence is the best way to try to prevent this type of attack, which is the most likely in the United States, but it is still fraught with difficulties, according to Bill Sullivan, assistant professor of Homeland Security at Eastern Kentucky University and a former major with the Kentucky State Police.

“The way that’s being tried now, the collection of intelligence of potential threats, is our best hope, but the problem is developing those effective relationships and that trust in communities; will they come forward with information?” Sullivan said. “That’s the struggle, especially if you have a community that may not like a particular entity or authority.”

He said it’s true in terrorism and in law enforcement that people may be hesitant to tell on each other for cultural or other reasons, such as a fear of retaliation or just general mistrust.

“It’s building those relationships with the community and community leaders and then effectively sharing that information, which is another obstacle. “I was always amazed [during his law enforcement career] at how reluctant different agencies and entities were to share information with each other,” Sullivan said. “That’s one of the things we can significantly improve upon, the mindset of agencies to share information. It’s really not there.”

He said also that the information is still in silos, making it even more difficult to share even with the intent to do so. “Everyone has their own database that they push and they really aren’t connected.”
There are things that can be done to protect against new threats like the vehicle. Sullivan said constructing barriers, such as giant planters or trees that can protect pedestrians is a strategy.

One key is identifying what the threats are and taking the environment into consideration,” he said. “What are you trying to protect against, a person with a gun or maybe someone running amok with a vehicle?”

One key that needs to be discussed is the personal responsibility of having situational awareness. Sullivan said hesitation or lack of awareness, such as being glued to a phone, can get people killed.

People should be aware of their surroundings, what the possible dangers could be and do a “mental rehearsal” of a plan in case of the worst-case scenario like being in a movie theater and confronting an active shooter situation.

“If I’m in a theater and a shooter comes in, where are my primary and secondary exits? If getting out of there is not an effective solution, what am I going to do? Am I willing to fight, can I seek cover somewhere?

Having that situational awareness and that mental plan of what my actions are going to be is going to decrease or eliminate the hesitation, and the hesitation is quite often what ends up getting you killed.”