Preparedness lessons from the Tunisia terrorist attack inquiry: Run, Hide and Tell?


I had a series of good exchanges on twitter recently regarding the new smartphone app to help people  to respond in the event of a terrorist attack. Although I think that the medical advice on the app is very good, the problem with using a smartphone in an emergency such as a marauding terrorist attack (particularly involving a shooting) is that it reduces people’s situational awareness.   Looking for advice on a phone, even when treating people, reduces awareness of the immediate situation.  In  my c0-authored book on City Evacuations, which looks at social media in emergencies, I am less positive about social media in a disasters than most academics partly because what it does to attention.

The app also includes the UK government advice for responding to an active shooter situation: run, hide and tell.   In the inquiry into the 2015 Tunisian terrorist attacks the first two parts of the advice seemed to work.  Running and hiding seemed to be a good strategy for the survivors  Of course, sometimes even that is  not enough (luck plays a huge part in this) and the achingly slow response by the local police in Tunisia was also a factor.  In an active shooter incident time and isolation seem to be factors in terms of the number of casualties.   For example, Anders Breivik’s terrorist attacks in Norway occurred over a long time in an isolated place resulting in many casualties.

All of this has made me think about the scientific base for the advice to Run, Hide and Tell.  There is this article which seems to be based on common sense, but being a social scientist I like to see the evidence.   I am not against this advice as such, but it would be good to see why this has been chosen.  Some questions that I have:-

Why not Run, Hide and Fight as in the United States?  Is that a cultural difference (the US has a more militarised culture and it is possible that someone other than the active shooter might have a gun)?  What are the safety implications of fighting?   Is it ethical to ask people to put their lives at risk to save others?  What happens if it is their choice to do so?

Why not a two word slogan (Run and Hide).  Two words are easier to remember than three.  Duck and Cover is a good strategy in a number of emergencies and in certain circumstances, such as the Columbine attacks where students hid under tables.

Why not just Run (or Run!).  Apparently people tend to freeze under gunfire and Run alone might be better than nothing.

Is it possible that improvisation is the best strategy?  People tend to be altruistic and help each other in an emergency quickly learning as a community of circumstance.  In the Bataclan shooting many people helped others (also some people hid rather than ran).  Does the advice have to be in that order?

If Run, Hide and Call becomes successful won’t terrorists change their tactics accordingly?  In the attack on Brussel’s airport, the terrorists seemed to plan their secondary attack on the basis that some people would run.  Perhaps that is over-thinking the situation.

What is needed here is evidence based policy and the views of experts in this field.


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