As much as we’d like to relax and just enjoy the holiday season—the shopping, the music, the tastes, and the scents—we unfortunately must not lose sight, even for a minute, of the threat posed by terrorism.
On Black Friday—the traditional opening of the Christmas shopping season—the world witnessed its 58th terrorist stabbing attack in London, where two people were killed.
Then, a few days later in Australia, police arrested a 21-year-old man in Sydney for plotting a terrorist attack. Both incidents had Islamic State written all over them.
Sadly, this triggers a fight-or-flight response. What
are we prepared to do to not allow “them” to hijack “our” joy and remain safe?
Christmas seems to bring out the worst in some people.
The 450-year-old Christmas Market in Strasbourg, France, just reopened after an attack last year by an Islamist with a gun left five dead. In 2016, a truck driven by a terrorist drove into a crowd in Berlin, leaving a dozen dead.
Then there was the “shoe bomber” three days before Christmas in 2001 and the “underwear bomber” on Christmas Day 2009, the latter headed to Detroit from Amsterdam—a flight I could have been on had another flight of mine not been suddenly changed (originally leaving Dubai with stops in Amsterdam and Atlanta, and ending at JFK).
It left me to wonder what I would have done if I had been on that flight. Would I have been like the recent heroes in London who stopped the killing by attacking the knife-wielding attacker, or would I have joined in with the heroes that fought to apprehend the terrorist 10 years ago on the flight headed to Detroit?
Americans are not and should not be deterred from holiday joy by the threat of terrorism. But here are some tips to keep in mind to stay safe.
Reality check and never forget. Remember, terror can strike at any place and time. We live in a time of self-initiating lone wolf and small group actors. Just because terror hasn’t happened in your city doesn’t mean it won’t. We must be preemptive in our awareness and never forget 9/11, the Boston Marathon, San Bernardino, or Orlando.
Prepare by meeting with family and friends. Before you leave home, have some family and friendly conversations about what it means to be vigilant, watchful, diligent, and prepared to be in public places in which terror could strike at a moment’s notice. Understanding this is a crucial if perhaps uncomfortable conversation could be key to getting out of our comfort zones to talk.
Be aware of what’s going on around you and beyond your borders. Knowledge is power, and for most Americans, everything you need to know can be found on your smartphone. Use it.
The buddy system. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. Notify people in your life about your comings and goings. Make sure contact phone numbers, email addresses, and social media handles are exchanged. In the event an incident takes place, you can use a smartphone’s SOS features and GPS locators.
State Department travel warnings and STEP program. If you are traveling overseas during the holidays, check this website often for the security status of your destination. Register your trip with the Smart Traveler Enrollment program, or STEP (https://step.state.gov/step/), which is a free service “to allow U.S. citizens/nationals traveling abroad to enroll with the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate.”
Homeland security advisories. In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security replaced the color-coded alerts of the Homeland Security Advisory System with the National Terrorism Advisory System. Understand these terrorist threat levels.
If you see something, say something. The U.S. government may go a little far with this sometimes, but be aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts. If something doesn’t look right, leave. If someone doesn’t seem right, get away from them and report unusual behavior, as well as unattended or mysterious packages, to police.
Be conscientious when texting. Texting with our heads down hurts our situational awareness. Reaction time and peripheral vision diminish significantly. Should there be an occurrence, or, heaven forbid, an attack on you or a loved one, the opportunity to get to safety in a more timely manner may be lost.
The hero in you. We never know if we will turn out to be a hero. Heroes when interviewed often say they just reacted instinctively in times of emergency. They didn’t think about what happened until after it was all over. Remaining as calm as you can during a situation can better position you to help yourself and others.
American heart and resolve. Being unified is the best gift we can give each other when it comes to our safety. Believing beyond any doubt in America’s greatness, our bravery, and ability to bounce back with our heads held high show the best of who we are. This is what ultimately drives us to face each day with steadfastness and pride, during this holiday season and throughout the year.
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