Terrorist attacks in the UK are rare, although taking into account the increase in activity recently we need to be alert and vigilant to any suspicious activity. The threat to the UK from international terrorism is currently set at ‘severe’, meaning an attack is ‘highly likely’.
Firearms officers are patrolling London’s streets in unmarked cars as part of a heightened security arrangement and the UK emergency responders, including the police, fire, military and ambulance services, have an excellent reputation for their ability to prevent and respond to a terror attack. It is difficult to prepare for this type of attack due to its random nature. Below we share some useful information to help us stay safe and healthy in the unfortunate circumstance of finding ourselves caught up in such an attack.
- Be vigilant and report anything you see as suspicious. If you have information about possible terrorist activity, call the Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321.
- Find out what your place of work offers in regards to managing critical incidents and psychosocial support and make sure you have contact numbers of relevant staff members.
- Organisations need to review their Critical Incident policy each year. International Safety Location (ILS) facilitate a one day Critical Incident Simulation day training for organisations and offer consultancy work – www.locationsafety.com
- Keep key individuals updated of where you are at all times.
- ‘Citizenaid app’ supports individuals making difficult decisions in an emergency – http://citizenaid.org/features/download-citizenaid-app/
- ‘Emergency app’ delivers real time alerts, severe weather warnings and practical advice in an emergency – http://www.redcross.org.uk/What-we-do/Emergency-response/Emergency-app-landing
What to do if you are caught up in a terrorist attack
The UK security chiefs have advised that individuals should ‘Run and hide rather than play dead.’ (Run, hide, tell https://youtu.be/QUCW_mk35Xc)
- If there is a safe route, run
- Insist others go with you
- Don’t let them slow you down
- Leave your belongings behind
- If you can’t run, hide
- Find cover from gunfire – In the event that escape routes are cut off, find cover from gunfire behind ‘substantial brickwork or heavy reinforced walls’.‘Cover from view does not mean you are safe, bullets go through glass, brick, wood and metal’.
- Lock the door and barricade yourself in
- Move away from the door
- Be very quiet, silence your phone
- Dial 999 when you are safe
- Give your location
- Give the direction the attacker is moving in
- Give as much information as you can
- Can you safely stop others from entering the area?
Ref: National Police Chiefs’ Council NPCC)
Common trauma symptoms
Individuals will be impacted after having experienced a traumatic event. It is important to note that all the symptoms listed below are ‘normal’ reactions to an ‘abnormal’ event. As part of our recovery process our nervous system needs to regulate back to a calm state and our brain needs to make meaning and create a narrative of our experiences, therefore it is common for symptoms to last up to four weeks.
- We can be impacted directly or indirectly from a traumatic event. Therefore whether we were directly involved, we live with someone who has been impacted or we have been exposed to events through the media we may experience some of the symptoms below.Our normal survival response will be activated when we feel threatened. This includes the Fight, Flight, Freeze response. Although our security service advise us to ‘Run, Hide and Tell’, we may find ourselves running towards danger to help others, running away to protect ourselves or freezing on the spot. When we are in danger we often ‘react’ rather than ‘respond’. Some people feel judgmental or ashamed about how they reacted, all the above reactions are ‘normal’.
- It is common for individuals to feel jumpy and on edge, as if watching out for constant danger.
- Flashbacks can be triggered, by images, smells and sounds linked to the event.
- Reoccurring thoughts, sometimes leading to nightmares, can become intrusive.
- Often individuals experience difficulty sleeping and relaxing after a traumatic event.
- High levels of anxiety, panic and terror can be felt.
- It may take some time to begin to feel safe in the world again.
- These incidents can impact us physically such as, headaches and/or migraines, digestive problems, exhaustion and lack of concentration and poor memory.
- Some individuals might want to isolate themselves, others may fear being alone.
- Emotional outbursts including feelings of, anger, blame, guilt, loss and sadness.
How can individuals support themselves and each other after an attack?
Often during the first 72 hours after a traumatic incident individuals can experience some form of shock. This can also lead to a ‘delayed’ response, so someone may seem like they are coping well but don’t experience symptoms for several days or weeks after an event.
Supportive measures in the early days and weeks include:
- Being with family and friends. Spend time with those who make you feel better, be mindful of talking to people who are just curious or if you are becoming more distressed.
- Simple breathing exercises. Take a deep breath in for four seconds and take an out breath for six seconds, repeat this several times. The count is less important than making the out-breath longer than the in-breath.
- Visualization. Think of a place where you felt relaxed and content, preferably where you were still and alone. Using all your senses try to make the memory as realistic as possible; what did you feel on your skin, taste, see, smell and hear? Try to bring this memory to mind each time you begin to feel distressed.
- Exercise. Getting active can help release stress hormones such as adrenaline that build up in the system after a traumatic event. It also promotes the flow of endorphins and other feel-good hormones. There is a great deal of research stating that ‘trauma is held in the body’, therefore exercise such as yoga and tai chi, can really help to release some of these tensions.
- Nutrition and hydration. It is important to drink plenty of water and eat healthy foods. Some individuals may lose their appetite or binge-eat after a traumatic incident. The digestive system can shut down and therefore it is useful to keep it active by eating at regular periods.
- Triggers, such as watching the news or anything that reminds us of the event may make us feel worse. Therefore it may be worth avoiding, as much is possible, these triggers for a while.
- Some people will self-medicate after a traumatic event, be mindful of your alcohol, nicotine and caffeine intake as these can all heighten trauma symptoms.
Specialist trauma support
Most people will recover naturally from traumatic events. If symptoms are particularly intense or persist for more than four weeks, then it is likely that specialist support will be needed. It is also possible that past ‘unresolved’ traumas can be triggered or someone may experience a ‘delayed’ response to trauma several weeks or months later.
The following services can be offered:
- Psychological First Aid – Individual or group sessions exploring trauma awareness including, symptoms, what resources can help, normalising and monitoring individuals if they need signposting to more specialist support.
- Trauma specialist counselling – Specialist trauma counselling sessions for individuals who may be experiencing severe symptoms or still struggling after one month.
- Training in Psychological First Aid (PFA) – Training individuals to be able to offer PFA within an organisation will provide immediate support for staff in the aftermath of a critical incident.
Other forms of support available
- Specialist trauma counselling, Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) – http://emdrassociation.org.uk/
- Pro bono support offered to those involved in the London and Manchester incidents, Trauma Aid UK – http://www.traumaaiduk.org/ (Global service)
- British Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP) – https://www.bacp.co.uk/
- NHS (referrals through GP) – https://www.england.nhs.uk/mental-health/adults/iapt/
Updated June 17 – FD