Thwarting Terrorist Bombing And Other Threats:
Part 1- Awareness
By Lawrence Kane
Editor’ Note: This is the first in a two part series
on Thwarting Terrorist Bombings and Other Threats. Part 1 of this series
focuses on awareness and assessment. Part 2 will discuss various categories
of threats, their indicators and choices of action.
man willing to throw away his life is enough to terrorize a thousand.”
– Wu Ch'i, Chinese Philosopher (circa 400 BC)
Publicity surrounding the recent attacks on the London transit
system combined with statements by security professionals and government
authorities that it is impossible to completely guarantee safety in
an open society may lead many to feel helpless in the face of terrorist
threats. After all, no matter how well trained a martial artist you
are; you simply cannot fight a bomb or a bullet with your hands or
feet and expect to survive unscathed. It is natural to be fearful,
yet truly not necessary. There things you can proactively do remain
safe from such attacks.
Before we get into the details, however, it is useful to put these
things into perspective. Despite the fact that they get a lot of news
play, terrorist attacks are actually quite rare in most parts of the
world. According to the National Counter terrorism Center, there were
3,192 terrorist attacks worldwide in 2004, for example, with 6,060
people killed, 16,091 wounded, and 6,282 taken hostage for a total
of 28,433 victims. Every death is one too many and 2004 was a particularly
brutal year for terrorism, well above the historical average. Despite
this appallingly high number of victims, it is important to point out
that we average 41,962 automobile accident related fatalities in the
United States alone every year, roughly seven times number of people
murdered by terrorists worldwide.
To put it another way, you are in a lot more danger driving your car
down the street than you are from any terrorist threat. That does not
mean that the threat is not very real, of course, only that it is more
manageable than many folks realize. Furthermore, you can proactively
defend yourself against terror simply by becoming aware of and avoiding
people and situations that are likely to cause trouble. Seems overly
simple, doesn't it, yet the best defense against such attacks is a
good sense of awareness.
On the street it is important to pay attention to unusual behaviors,
particularly anything that makes you feel nervous or uncomfortable.
True fear is a signal in the presence of danger, a built-in warning
system we all have, but too few of us pay attention to it. Unwarranted
fear, on the other hand, is always based upon our memory or imagination.
Always listen when you feel fear or any intuitive signal, and then
take action as appropriate. When you don't feel fear, on the other
hand, don't manufacture it. If you find yourself creating worry, explore
it and discover why.
You cannot walk around in a state of constant paranoia, yet you should
be cognizant of suspicious activities. Behaviors that should be a legitimate
cause for concern can include people who appear to be conducting surveillance
of sensitive areas using a camera, cell phone cam, or video recorder,
anyone abandoning an item then leaving the area quickly, someone openly
possessing a weapon or any prohibited or dangerous item, or anybody
who looks nervous, irritated, or is sweating profusely beyond what
you might normally expect with the prevailing weather conditions.
Awareness has two key components—environment and timing. When
environment and timing converge, your level of alertness should be
at its highest.
Awareness Of The Environment
Awareness of the environment includes being aware of what is going
on around you and listening to your intuition as danger signals arise.
Good situational awareness can let you predict and avoid most any potentially
difficult situation. It is something all of us instinctively have,
yet few really pay attention to it. In most cases, we should be able
to spot a developing situation, turn around, and walk (or drive) away
before anything dangerous happens.
Many self-defense experts use a color code system to help define and
communicate the appropriate level of environmental awareness. The most
commonly used approach, codified by Colonel Jeff Cooper, is primarily
based on the color alert system developed by the United States Marine
Corps during World War II, something which was then later modified
for civilian use. These color code conditions include White (oblivious),
Yellow (aware), Orange (alert), Red (concerned), and Black (under attack).
While it is possible to skip conditions (e.g., Yellow directly to Black)
most encounters cycle up or down all of these levels. Here is how it
Condition White (oblivious):
People in Condition White are distracted or unaware. They are not
only not perceiving any danger in their immediate area, but they are
also not alert to any danger that may be presented to them. A good
example is someone who is engrossed in reading a book, talking on a
cell phone, or listening to music (particularly when wearing headphones).
In this state you become an easy mark for just about any pickpocket,
mugger, rapist, deviant, or terrorist bomber you come across. If you
are attacked you are very likely going to be hurt before you are able
to react appropriately to defend yourself.
On March 11, 2004, thirteen bombs were abandoned on crowded commuter
trains in Madrid (Spain) by suspicious-looking people, many wearing
ski masks, yet no one took action before it was too late. Ten of the
devices exploded killing 191 people and injuring more than 1,800 innocent
victims. Police found three other unexploded devices hidden in backpacks
that same day and a fourth on a high-speed rail link between Madrid
and Seville on April 2nd. Tests later showed that the explosives matched
the type used in the March attacks so it was likely connected to that
This tragic incident is a graphic reminder that you should never operate
in Condition White while in public places. The only acceptable spot
for Condition White is within the confines of your own home and then
only if you are safely behind layered security appropriate for your
Condition Yellow (aware):
Although you are not looking for or expecting trouble in Condition
Yellow, if it comes up you will have a very good chance to know about
it in time to react. People in this condition are at ease, not immediately
perceiving any danger, but generally aware of their surroundings. You
should constantly be scanning your environment and be able to identify,
without re-looking, generally who and what is around you at all times.
In Condition Yellow you may spot a suspicious person, situation, or
object that warrants further scrutiny.
Body language is important. Predators typically stalk those they consider
weaker prey, rarely victimizing the strong. By simply walking confidently
and remaining alert you will not only have a good chance of avoiding
terrorist bombers but also common criminals and mundane troublemakers,
the kind of people you are most likely to tangle with on the street.
Anything that stimulates your intuitive survival sense, suspicion,
or curiosity should be studied more closely. Examples might include
a crowd gathered for no apparent reason, someone wearing heavy clothing
on a summer day, a person studiously avoiding eye contact, anyone whose
hands are hidden from view, a person moving awkwardly or with an unusual
gait, or someone who simply stares at you for no apparent reason.
Condition Orange (alert):
People in this condition have become aware of some non-specific danger
(via Condition Yellow) and need to ascertain whether or not there is
a legitimate threat to their safety. The difference between conditions
Yellow and Orange is the identification of a specific target for further
attention. You may have stumbled across a suspicious package, heard
a nearby shout, or become aware of an unidentified sudden noise where
you would not have expected one. You might also have seen another person
or a group of people acting abnormally, someone whose demeanor makes
you feel uncomfortable, or somebody whose appearance stands out as
In this state you should focus on the nebulous danger, but not to
the exclusion of a broader awareness of your surroundings. Trouble
may be starting in other places in addition to the one that has drawn
your attention (e.g., ambush situation). If the danger is real, you
will elevate to Condition Red. If it turns out to be a false alarm,
you simply revert back to Condition Yellow.
Condition Red (concerned):
People in this condition have been confronted by a potential threat
or adversary or are in close proximity to someone who is becoming very
aggressive and is near enough to confront them quickly. Condition Red
means that you have every reason to believe that someone or something
poses a clear and present danger to you or someone with you.
At this point it is prudent to begin moving away toward escape routes,
locations with strategic cover, or areas of concealment if you can
do so, being prepared to fight your way to safety as necessary. Concealment
(e.g., a bush) keeps bad guys from seeing you but does not provide
very much physical protection, while cover (e.g., a stone wall) can
keep the bad guy and/or his weapon from getting to you should he or
she wish to attack. Many types of cover can insulate you from a bomb
blast or at least offer a degree of protection against shrapnel. If
the threat is a person rather than a suspicious object you may be able
to withdraw or otherwise diffuse the confrontation through verbal de-escalation
Condition Black (under attack):
People in this condition are actively being attacked. Verbal challenges
and de-escalation attempts are no longer useful. You must flee or fight
back, using any appropriate distractions and/or weapons at your disposal.
If the threat is a person, your intent must be to stop the assault
that is in progress so that you can escape to safety or otherwise remain
safe until help arrives. Your goal is to be safe, not to kill your
attacker or teach him/her a lesson. If the attack is an explosive device
it is too late to find cover since it has already gone off, another
reason why early awareness and avoidance are so important.
Awareness of Timing
Awareness of timing has to do with the time of day during which attacks
are most likely to occur. Terrorists are very conscious of media attention,
timing attacks carefully to achieve the highest possible level of public
impact. Consequently, attacks typically occur during “rush hour” when
and where the highest numbers of potential victims are congregated.
For example, the April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City bombing and the September
11, 2001, attacks (in the United States) both took place during the
workday. Similarly, the London subway and bus bombings on July 7, 2005
and the Madrid train bombings on March 11, 2004 also took place during
peak traffic hours. A crowded mall in daytime, therefore, is much more
likely to be hit than the same location late at night or just before
closing simply due to the presence of more potential victims during
Copyright © 2005 Lawrence Kane posted on FightingArts.com
with permission of the author.
About The Author:
Lawrence Kane is the author of Martial Arts Instruction: Applying Educational
Theory and Communication Techniques in the Dojo (YMAA) and co-author
of The Way of Kata: A Comprehensive Guide to Deciphering Martial Applications
(YMAA, September 2005). Over the last 30 or so years, he has participated
in a broad range of martial arts, from traditional Asian sports such
as judo, arnis, kobudo, and karate to recreating medieval European combat
with real armor and rattan (wood) weapons. He has taught medieval weapons
forms since 1994 and Goju Ryu karate since 2002. He has also completed
seminars in modern gun safety, marksmanship, handgun retention and knife
combat techniques, and he has participated in slow-fire pistol and pin
Since 1985 Lawrence has supervised employees who provide security and
oversee fan safety during college and professional football games at
a Pac-10 stadium. This job has given him a unique opportunity to appreciate
violence in a myriad of forms. Along with his crew, he has witnessed,
interceded in, and stopped or prevented hundreds of fights, experiencing
all manner of aggressive behaviors as well as the escalation process
that invariably precedes them. He has also worked closely with the campus
police and state patrol officers who are assigned to the stadium and
has had ample opportunities to examine their crowd control tactics and
Lawrence lives in Seattle, Washington. He can be contacted via e-mail
For more information on Kanes two books see:
The Way of Kata