You see the truck barreling toward you and bodies and bicycles flying through the air. You hear the screeching of metal on metal, and the shards of shattered glass tinkling to the pavement. You smell the diesel fumes, you feel the surge of adrenaline and taste dry copper on the dry roof of your mouth.
Time stands still. It’s a moment of truth. What do you do?
It’s a question that every one of us needs to be asking ourselves today, tomorrow and every single day in this perplexing and violent world.
Americans are tough. We show resilience. Americans know when to unite as one. It has been more than 16 years since the savage terrorist assaults of 9/11, and yet yesterday’s attack in New York and the recent Las Vegas massacre remind all of us how vulnerable we can feel at times.
Nevertheless, it is at moments like these that we must find it within ourselves to come together and remember that our lives must not be dictated by those who commit acts of terror; those cowards who rely on fear and prey upon the innocent.
And yet carrying on with our lives and maintaining our daily activities post-attack is only one action that we should undertake right now. Another point of reflection should be dedicated to understanding the most effective way for each of us to react in the immediacy of such attacks.
In the heat of the moment, people often find themselves panicking, without having thought through the various options at our disposal. While it must be acknowledged that no type of simulation or practice environment can serve as an identical setting to a real-life crisis or attack scenario, using our minds to “run through” how we would respond in real-time is an effective way to prepare ourselves.
One of the most pressing things to consider is the need to stay as calm as possible and to react with decisiveness and determination during instances of chaos. It is paramount that people have their wits about them and know that reacting in a frenzied manner can often contribute to a worse outcome.
While there are obviously situations that are far beyond our control no matter the degree of preparation or mental fortitude, there are concrete steps that each of us can take to increase chances of survival and to minimize the impact. Situational awareness is essential.
Personal defense trainers often preach the importance of situational awareness as the single most vital step to defusing challenging circumstances and increasing the chances of survival. Situational awareness means being aware of our surroundings, ever vigilant to threats that may arise. It means avoiding the temptation to bury our noses in our smartphones or encasing ourselves behind earphones that limit our ability to hear and see what is transpiring around us or may be about to take place.
As citizens living in dangerous times, we must assume an ever-increasing degree of responsibility for protecting ourselves. No matter how rapid the response of law enforcement, life or death is often dictated by mere seconds and not the minutes it may take for the police to arrive on the scene to help protect us.
Lastly, an issue that also deserves attention is remembering that hate knows no boundaries. Regardless of our race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, income-bracket, or education-level—an attack like the one in New York illustrates that terrorists often seek to kill and maim without discrimination. No memo went out in advance about the danger facing those on the bike path along the West Side Highway. While his target may have been Americans, this deranged man took the lives of six foreign nationals visiting our country.
When we try to digest what transpired, it becomes very clear that nobody is immune from the cowardly crimes that stem from hate-filled individuals and groups. Recognizing this truth can hopefully allow us to move forward in a way that promotes unity and togetherness, not divisiveness and polarization—which is what we have grown accustomed to in this political climate.
It should not take such atrocities to underscore that we are not vastly different from one another and that at the end of the day we all bleed red and cry the same salty tears. These barbarisms are an assault on our values and a test of our strength. Moving forward, let us not forget to remain calm in the eye of terror and to prepare in advance, for only then can we overcome its challenges, and minimize the carnage and loss of life.