Group-Think Mentality When Fear Strikes – 5 Tips for Staying Safe in a Terror Attack

Group-Think Mentality When Fear Strikes – 5 Tips for Staying Safe in a Terror Attack


Two explosions erupted fear in the New York City area on Saturday. The first one took place Saturday morning near a Marine Corps charity run in New Jersey; no injuries were reported. The second explosion took place that evening in Chelsea injuring 29 people.

Even New Yorkers, who seem to be immune to much of what is going on around them, had an eerie feeling. As an NYPD Counterterrorism Officer said to me in July, “It’s been a while since there has been an incident in New York City and we are due.” Living in New York City, for me as a transplant, it’s hard to not travel to populated sites or well-known areas like Grand Central Terminal or Penn Station and not think about a potential terrorist attack.

The truth is we do live in a different world than 20 years ago and as we recently marked the fifteen-year anniversary of 9/11 there is no doubt that that incident was a clear demarcation of the America we live in now and the America I spent my pre-teen years. September 11th prompted the war in Iraq, which contributed to creation of the world that we live in today, where people are comfortable canceling vacations to Europe for fears of a terrorist attack or fallout from the war in Syria. Though the two explosions on Saturday were not related to international terrorism, it was a terrorist incident with the intent to cause harm.

Shalini Vadhera-Potts, successful bestselling author of Passport to Beauty and founder of Passport to Beauty and Power Beauty Living, traveled to NYC for New York Fashion Week. On Thursday, when a man with a clever attacked several NYPD officers she was in the area. She described the streets being blocked and the pandemonium of people pushing and shoving each other to watch. Then there was the select group of people that literally stopped, pulled out their cell phones and started taking pictures. In the midst of the sirens, yellow tape, and the growing crowd, she didn’t know what was going on. Should she continue to her destination? Immediately leave the area? Was it kidnapping? Terrorist attack? Shooting? “Its New York,” she said, “Anything can happen at any time and any place in New York City.” The events on Saturday were an example of that.

Mrs. Vadhera-Potts, is an experienced global traveler, spent a good portion of her younger years growing up in East Africa, and lived a number of years in New York City. To say the least, she is comfortable with traveling solo. What shook her most about the incident on Thursday was the responses of people around her. With people, not sure of what occurred, pushing their way through the crowd to take pictures made it more difficult for her to find an exit off the street to a safer area. With the socially-tech culture we live in of posts “going viral”, instant fame, and instant gratification from social media likes, we are experiencing a new version of the group-think mentality that bends to the longing of social desires.

If you find yourself in the middle of an emergency here are a few tips to keep in mind. Now don’t get me wrong.  I am fully aware we get most of our news on social media and that may even be the best way to alert the police and others of an incident. The Facebook Live shootings, most notably that of Philando Castile, has definitely proven that. However, in a crowd, it could be a group-think mentality that could cause more harm than the actual incident.

  1. Remember to pay attention to your surroundings: We are all guilty of texting while walking, talking on our phones, and playing games in busy areas, but ultimately we are all responsible for our safety. That means we all have to actively participate in noticing what is going on around us. In some instances, avoiding large crowds altogether is a good thing to do if traveling internationally.
  1. Don’t be a tourist of life:  When we see a bag left unattended in a busy place, it’s easy to think, “Oh, I am sure the owner is nearby.” If you ignore a potential threat other people may too. If you see something odd, report it to the police.
  1. If you see or hear sirens think: Is there something I should know at the moment? Should I consider moving away from this area? One should not have an expectation to know what is going on in the heat of a crisis as it is progressing. Law enforcement, in many cases, are just putting the pieces together. Nonetheless, finding an exit is important. Just ignoring the sirens, or stopping to take pictures could result in unintended harm.
  1. Sometimes it is not best to follow the crowd: If you are in an emergency situation and you are focused on getting out of the area, that sounds like a reasonable thing to do. If people are hanging around to find out what happened or to take pictures, navigate your way through the crowd until you are out of harm’s way.
  1. Live life: Have fun, travel, see the world, explore, be adventurous! A car accident, freak accident, or a fall, could happen at any time. Generally, don’t let the fear of something happening keep you from living your life to the fullest.