In the aftermath of the Manchester attacks, how do we keep ourselves safe….?
I, like many people in the UK and around the world, woke to the devastating news on Tuesday morning that there had been a terrorist attack at an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena on Monday evening.
So often when horrific events like this occur, the more we find out the more terrifying and depressing things seem. Stories about the victims, their photographs, smiling back at you. The constant rolling news that you desperately want to turn off but are also drawn to. And the frightening realisation that this wasn’t a one-off random attack, but rather a planned, sophisticated operation that quickly raised the UK threat alert to ‘critical’.
As a mother of two young children I have chatted to friends and acquaintances over the last few days, read Facebook posts and Twitter feeds and can feel the palpable fear that hangs over all of us. How do we keep our children safe? Having children has made me yearn for an Enid Blyton meets The Darling Buds of May-esq childhood for them. Lots of long sunny days, constant play and safety. The cornerstone of every happy childhood. I arrogantly assume that I can make this a reality simply by trying hard enough, trying my best to form the world around my children into a stable cocoon of nice people and happy experiences.
But in reality, I, like everyone else, don’t really have that power. I can influence but I cannot control.
So, how do I try and maintain the magic of childhood for as long as I possibly can and teach my children that ultimately most people are lovely and will help you (which I truly and absolutely believe) but at the same time keep a calm and moderate awareness about the threats that surround us in the modern age?
I spoke with David Palmer, Counter Terrorism Security Expert with 30 years’ experience in the police, in order to ascertain how we, as civilians, navigate our way through the fear and anxiety and make reasoned choices when it comes to keeping ourselves and our loved one’s safe.
David and I spoke at length about how this is not a straightforward question to answer. There are obviously lots of points to consider and if it were truly that easy, nobody would ever put themselves in danger.
We spoke about how we can try to limit our exposure to threats:
Is where you are going (concert/festival/town centre/airport) a good target? A good target is likely to be somewhere busy with a high concentration of people that will garner lots of publicity and press attention.
But the threat will be reduced if security levels at the venue are high and people are on alert.
But what does that actually look like in everyday life? Do we simply cancel our holidays, festival tickets and stop going into town? Do we stay close to home and never put ourselves in potentially dangerous situations? That doesn’t seem to make a huge amount of sense when you consider that getting in a car to drive to the shops and crossing the road is a far riskier pursuit.
The terrorists who are currently attacking us are doing so precisely because of our culture and way of life. They are trying to threaten our freedom and democracy which is why they attack it. It has been said many times before, but to kowtow to them and stop enjoying all that makes our way of life happy, positive and progressive would be a victory for them and a loss for us.
We may be nervous about making plans for the forthcoming holidays. But these enable us to build happy and joyful memories with our friends and families. The festivals, holidays, museum trips, concerts and other life-enriching experiences are and shouldn’t be rejected due to fear. What we can do is moderate our exposure when we do attend them. Try to avoid the very crowded areas (ok, this isn’t always possible, but is something to bear in mind) and, if you are unfortunate enough to ever be at close proximity to an attack then know what to do. The National Police Chiefs’ Council urges us to ‘Run, Hide, Tell’ if you are caught in an incident.
• Run – Run to a place of safety, if there is nowhere to go then…
• Hide – Turn your phone to silent and off of vibrate, barricade yourself in and, only when it is safe to do so….
• Tell – Call 999 and tell the police
If you are a trained First Aider then please ensure that the situation is safe before performing First Aid on a casualty.
Often simply knowing what you would do if the worst happened creates calm before going somewhere busy, instead of raising anxiety. Ensure that you and your family and friends have a plan, be it avoiding the more densely crowded areas, checking the venue when you arrive so everyone knows how to exit quickly, or finding a designated ‘safe place’ should an attack happen.
To keep everything in perspective and avoid unnecessary anxiety, it is important to remember just how rare the chance of being caught in a terrorist attack really is. Whenever I feel irrational fear, I usually find it soothing and steadying to look at the numbers.
How likely is it to happen really?
According to the Government figures, in 2016 1,810 people were killed and 182,560 were injured (25,160 seriously), in road traffic incidents in the UK alone. Comparing that with terrorist attacks, in 2016 the number of people killed or injured in the UK was zero. We clearly have the devastating attack on Monday that has created so many fatalities in the UK this year along with the awful Westminster attack. But while we need to be on our guard we also need to ensure that we don’t panic unnecessarily. We would be better placed protecting ourselves from the more everyday threats. Taking care when travelling by car, crossing the road, undertaking daring DIY tasks etc. And always remember that while road traffic deaths look scarily high, compared to the greater population it is a small number. So, drill this down to the likelihood of being caught up in a terrorist attack and you realise that it is very, very rare.
So, although this doesn’t give us certainty, it gives us a balanced way of looking at things. Unfortunately, we can’t stop people with radical beliefs who are hell-bent on creating death and destruction. But what we can do is carry on creating fun and magical experiences for our children, enjoying all the wonderful days out and trips we have planned this summer and live in the moment instead of worrying about an imagined future. Always be aware of danger but not obsessed by it. And also rejoice in the fact that we have an excellent if over-stretched health service, who truly come into their own during times of emergency, brave and put-upon police, ambulance and fire services who genuinely put themselves in danger every day for the general public. And communities who in most cases celebrate diversity and come together in times of tragedy and envelop those who have been affected either directly or indirectly, and show love and support.
Remember this in the tough times, and please, can I also ask that when you are stuck in the never-ending security queue, be it at the airport, football match or concert, don’t huff and moan. They are just trying to keep us safe, which is ultimately all we really want.