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.
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Brussels Attack, Another Western Soft Target Hit: What You Need to Know

Brussels Attack, Another Western Soft Target Hit: What You Need to Know

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Anytime I hear of a terrorist attack, whether it is in Nigeria, Turkey, Syria, or a western country, as a security practitioner, researcher and peace advocate, it is hard to digest. I immediately think of mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters who will never return home. Today, to hear of the terrorist attack in Brussels, it had a personal impact because it was the first city I visited in Europe many years ago. Brussels was where I had my sweet sixteen birthday party.  I was there playing in an international basketball tournament representing the United States. It was an incredible experience to visit Brussels, then Paris, for the first time as a teenager. I loved interacting with young girls my age and exchanging gifts before each game as a symbolic gesture of honor and respect, something we never did in the United States. I loved my time there and I could remember was how peaceful I felt. It also solidified my love for travel. That memory is very different from the experience Belgians had yesterday where 34 people were killed, 214 wounded, and dozens are still missing. ISIS has claimed credit for the two attacks: one at Brussels International Airport and another on a subway car near the European Union.

The truth is no law enforcement department, or physical location, can have enough security guards, gates, technology or guns to stop terrorism. The only foreseeable thing the government can do is implement community programs that engage the Muslim community to weed out extremists, in a collaborative way, and to intercept information early on though human and signals intelligence.

Currently, the top concern by western leaders in Europe and the U.S. are copycats. At the moment, federal and local counterterrorism officials state there are no credible terrorist threats on American soft targets. There are airports around the country that are on high alert as well as cities such as New York City and Washington, DC. Through there was increased security in Europe as a result of the recent capture of Paris terrorist attacker, Salah Abdesalm, in Belgium on Friday, Belgian counterterrorism officials had no hint to a specific threat.  In the U.S., there has been an activation of extra resources such as the National Guard in New York City, use of vice teams, special advanced screening technology, radiation detectors and bomb sniffing dogs. The Department of State has added travel alerts for Americans traveling aboard.

There is no 100% answer to keep anyone safe, but here are a few tips to help you respond in case of an emergency. Below is a list of the top three things businesses can do to protect themselves and the top three things individuals should be aware of when in public transit locations:

Top 3 things for individuals to be aware of:

  1. Pay attention to your surroundings near public transit areas: Paying attention to your environment, specifically ticket counters, drop off or pick up areas of trains stations, airports, subways and airports. Training yourself to consciously pay attention when walking down the street or in public places is important. You may be surprised at what you see that could help you or someone next to you.
  2. Have a Personal Response Plan:  For places, like bus terminals, shopping malls, subway stations, and grocery stores where anyone is welcome without passing through any security measures, an incident response plan is critical. If an incident occurs don’t panic! When in places that are unfamiliar to you take note of stairwells, hallways, entrances and exits in case you need to make a move to a safer location. Stay low and look for cover below, or behind, a solid object, assess whether you can move to a more secure location, and check yourself and others for injuries.
  3. Heed the current State Department Travel Alerts: The U.S. State Department has issued warnings for Americans traveling abroad. Use sound judgment, avoids large crowds of unknown origins, minimize your profile when in public, and always have a charged cell phone

Top 3 things to know for businesses:

  1. Have a plan: Having proper technology like digital camera systems and access control measures can be helpful in prevention of, and in response to, violent incidents. For any brick and mortar business, having an Emergency Response and Disaster Plan is essential.
  2. Be aware of daily changing threat alerts for your area: Know what’s happening each day. The threat levels have not been elevated since there are no immediate threats. The elevation, or de-escalation, of threat levels could change at any moment. Make a point to know what is going on in your city.
  3. Keep updated with law enforcement communication: Living in New York City, the New York City Police Department and the Metro Transit Authority are constantly engaging New Yorkers with their campaign “If you see something, say something.” Have the same mindset wherever you are. Share information that you think would be important for law enforcement to know. Stay current with local law enforcement or Department of State updates. Follow them on social media for the most current information.

Jessica Robinson, is a writer and Founder & CEO of PurePoint International. She has worked with a top 40 company and with the 2015 US Open. As a security & risk management expert and outsourced CSO (Chief Security Officer), she advises and consults with small and medium sized businesses on threat prevention and response. Learn more at