How to Survive a Hostage Situation or Terrorist Attack

How to Survive a Hostage Situation or Terrorist Attack

In the last several weeks, there have been a lot of headlines about hostage situations and terrorist attacks.

On November 13, members of the Islamic State killed 130 people in terror attacks in Paris, France, 89 of which were held hostage in a theater.

A week later, Islamic gunmen took 170 hostages in a Mali hotel.

Seeing situations like this in the news serves to remind us of the importance of preparedness. You need to know what to do in a situation like this, in case the unthinkable happens.

8 Tips to Surviving a Hostage Situation or Terrorist Attack

Although these attacks happened on the other side of the world from the United States, we know from experience that similar things can happen here on our own soil.

Terrorist attacks and hostage situations can happen at any time, anywhere. The element of surprise and unpredictable nature of these attacks make them one of the hardest situations to prepare for.

However, there are always steps you can take to increase your chances of survival. Here are a few of our tips for surviving a hostage situation or terrorist attack.

1. Take cover and hide

The rule of thumb is “duck and cover” – but that doesn’t just mean hiding under your desk. You need to find a good place to take shelter where you will be protected.

terrorist attack, hostage situation, active shooter, survival skills

In a hostage situation or terrorist attack, it's important to find a place to hide.

Ideally, you should hide behind a support beam or concrete pillar, which will protect you from bullets and debris.

2. Try to build a rapport with your captor

It might sound counterintuitive, but this tip really could save your life. It’s very likely that your captor has a form of paranoid psychosis, and you’ll be safest if you appear non-threatening.

At the same time, don’t become too friendly – they may distrust you and think you are “out to get them.”

terrorist attack, hostage situation, active shooter, survival skills

Building a rapport with your captor can help increase your chances of survival.

You never want to make them feel like they are losing control of the situation as this could lead to a violent outburst.

Don’t try to convince them that they are deranged or delusional. Just remain calm and, if you can manage it, be respectful until help arrives or they let you go.

3. Don't speak unless spoken to

Remember: you are only a tool for your captor to get what he wants. Follow his orders and don’t be aggressive and you increase your chances of making it out alive.

terrorist attack, hostage situation, active shooter, survival skills

In a terrorist attack or hostage situation, stay quiet unless you are asked to speak. (image via

If he allows you to speak to the police, only give ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Don’t speak about your country of origin or religion. Don't try to reason with your captor.

4. Escape if you can, and teach your loved ones to do the same

If you can do so without being caught or killed, run away. Don’t feel like you are “abandoning” the other victims; running away might actually help you save them.

terrorist attack, hostage situation, active shooter, survival skills

If at all possible, try to escape.

Discuss this with your family early and often, and make sure your children know that running away and finding help might be their best bet for survival.

5. Keep your cool when rescue teams arrive

In the chaos of a hostage situation, it can often be difficult for troops to tell the good guys from the bad.

Keep your head low, stay hidden, and make sure your hands are exposed – this will let the rescuers know you are not a threat.

terrorist attack, hostage situation, active shooter, survival skills

If a hostage rescue team arrives, try to stay calm and let them know you are not an aggressor. (Image via Wikipedia.)

Stay down until instructed otherwise, and expect to be treated as a potential terrorist until you are cleared by troops. Don’t take it personally – they’re just doing their job.

6. Communicate with fellow captives

If you can, try to pass notes by leaving them in common areas like a holding cell or medical area.

terrorist attack, hostage situation, active shooter, survival skills

In a terrorist attack or hostage situation, it is important to communicate with other captives.

At the same time, be wary of notes you find – you never know if the person who left it is a friend or foe. If possible, try to work out a code or some kind of bona fides with other captives.

7. Use available items as weapons

As we’ve discussed, you should stay calm and avoid making waves if at all possible.

But if the situation does call for a fight, use items you have on-hand as improvised weapons.

terrorist attack, hostage situation, active shooter, survival skills

Keys, pens and other personal items can be used as weapons against a terrorist attack.

A pen, keys, a belt or a tie can all be used as weapons and/or restraints against your captor.

8. Be prepared to take the lead

If you are a manager or uniformed official at the site of the hostage situation, others are likely to look to you for leadership.

terrorist attack, hostage situation, active shooter, survival skills

In a terrorist attack or hostage situation, you may need to become a fearless leader.

Remain calm and take immediate and decisive action. Be aware of your surroundings and any imminent threats.

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Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 1, 2019, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

9 Responses to :
How to Survive a Hostage Situation or Terrorist Attack

  1. TPSnodgrass says:

    Trying to “communicate” with a jihadi hostage taker is redundant and BAD “counsel” or “advice”.
    While you CAN try to have a hostage taker see YOU, as a person, politically(or religious) motivated hostage-takers see YOU as expendable, first, last and always.

  2. Tom Ray says:

    As far as weapons go, do not underestimate the effectiveness of thrown objects, like a heavy salt shaker, a can of food, potato sized rocks or whatever. At they very least they can distract a terrorist, and throw off his aim if enough projectiles KEEP COMMING –at best, a well aimed object to the head could knock him out cold or kill him.

    Risky, to be sure, but a thrown object might let you escape when his attention is divereted elswhere, and a co-ordinated attack by others could take him out. Its hard to selecte a target and shoot your gun when several big rocks are flying towards your head.—But the victims MUST keep it up until the hostage taker is disarmed or incapaitated.

  3. Pepper Pete says:

    Remember “Panic” kills.

  4. Christian Gains says:

    A very good analysis & prep for the NEEDED mindset in such a situation.

    I’ve dealt with, & recieved such training, and the one piece of advice you left out is OFTEN, (of course TOTALLY dependent upon circumstances), the “To IMMEDIATELY attempt to escape if possible” council.

    This can also be coupled with the hide factor.

    If you’re in a large building, these two options are MUCH easier to apply, ESPECIALLY if the “hostage takers” are holding folks in one room (such as a Bank Lobby, or back room). If you saw the recent hostage taking in the news from Australia, you might have noticed that 7 hostages escaped, by FIRST hiding, and then, (once the hostage taker was distracted), by slipping out a back, (or, this particular case), a obscured side door.

    The “E & E” (ESCAPE & EVADE), mindset is ESSENTIAL to maintain throughout the ENTIRE ordeal. FIRST: If you CAN, then DO IT! RUN AWAY to fight another day!

    Aside from the escape option, I think the 8 points you make are FANTASTICALLY well developed, and appropriately detailed & explained.


  5. J.E. Perry says:

    Good information – should be mandatory training in schools and work places or sites just like Fire Drills. -Have everyone on the same page when ever possible or at least be familiar with an overallsetof guide lines.
    Haven’t read whole article yet but a few points to emphasis:
    1. Quickly assess the situation: number and location of perps,their
    weapons,who is leader.Your physical environment:possible routes of
    egress, barriers to escape,possible items to use as defensive
    weapons (Fire Extinguishers, Fire Axe,Flag Staff, Glass Panes).
    2. Best time to escape is usually during the opening minutes when
    there is confusion or mass movement of victims is occurring.
    3. There is nothing like a well executed kick to the genitals to take
    the wind out of a perpetrator’s sails allowing a second to escape,
    disarm or inflict further damage.

  6. Anonymous says:

    olk thanks fsm

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