Terrorism and Violent Crime

Sadly, being in the media, arts or film industry, you are increasingly likely to have to deal with terrorism and violent crimes, be that reporting it or physically being involved within a situation. The chances of being within a situation are not as high as you might think, but it is always a good idea to know what to do. This guidance is certainly not intended to cause alarm or suggest that such incidents are on the increase. This is a small guide as to what you should do, if the unthinkable happen...

*  The use of the words Police and Army along with emergency services relate to law enforcement agencies, Bomb Disposal, Police, Fire, Ambulance and other similar response services.  Also some sections might be different in some countries.


What to do if you find yourself in a terrorist attack?

Remember that quick thinking and your actions can save both your life and others...


If you are ever told to evacuate an area, do so and follow the emergency services advice. If in a venue that has designated members of staff to act as marshals, follow their instructions. Yes, if you are a reporter or photographer, you might want a scoop, but if you stay, not only do you put your life in danger, you put others in danger as well!

As with any emergency, stay calm and use the designated routes and exits, unless told otherwise by emergency services or marshals. You might be directed to an assembly point, so that everyone can be checked before being released from that area.


If the threat is real, you will probably be moved to a safer location and emergency communication systems might be deployed if you can't be moved.

After care:- counselling might be required for anyone who may feel anxious following the incident. Don't be shy to see help.

See our links page for information on people you can talk to in confidence.

What to do if you're caught up and can't evacuate?

1. If possible, and safe to do so, leave the area to a place of safety. If you are a photographer or reporter please see additional notes.

2. If not possible, or not safe to do so, then consider what cover is available to you. You need to ensure your safety and make sure that the Police can be called and respond with appropriate resources.

3. There are 2 types of cover – 'cover from view' and 'ballistic cover.'

4. 'Cover from view' means that you place yourself in an area where you cannot be seen by the attacker. This may be as simple as being behind a curtain, behind a door, concrete or brick wall or vehicle. This type of cover is limited in that you may be found, and / or harmed. Indiscriminate firing may penetrate your cover and injure you. This includes most internal partition walls, vehicles or mobile treatment centres which are actually very thin and will not stop a bullet from a gun or rifle. Also, as with bombs, they often do not provide any real cover, but can limit the effect of shrapnel and the blast, if there is a reasonable distance from a blast.

5. The best and safest type of cover is 'ballistic cover.' This is behind something hard that will stop a bullet or shrapnel reaching you - eg:- a substantial brick wall, a large growing tree or earth bank. If a vehicle is the only available cover, then you should be behind the engine block.

6. If you are trapped inside a building, try and get into a room with no internal windows. If on the ground floor, try and get to a place with no external windows either. If you suspect a bomb and if you are near windows or any other glass surface, put something over you, in order to prevent shards of glass hitting you.

7. Lock yourself in and keep well away from doors and windows. Try to get behind any substantial furniture. Keep quiet and calm. Use phones or mobile phones to call for help, then put them completely on silent, so that neither ringtones nor vibrating sounds give away your position. You may be asked to keep the line open so the Police can speak to you and hear what is happening. Only use Skype or other similar message system if it is the only thing you have access to and only if the country you are in accepts emergency calls via that system. Most, including the UK do not, at this time, accept calls via that type of application.

8. If you are deaf or blind, you might want to put a note on saying your blind or deaf to help emergency services. That way, if you do not comply with a demand, they can try to get your attention another way. But remember that putting information on about yourself in a foreign language could make you a target and also could make you be seen as a threat by emergency services.

What information do the emergency services need?

► How many of attackers are there?

► Can you describe them and / or their clothing?

► Where are the attackers now?

► If they have guns; are they hand guns with short barrels or do they have long barrels?

► When they fire, is it with single shots or rapid fire?

► Are they carrying rucksacks?

► Have you seen extra ammunition / other suspect packages?

► Have you seen them reload?

► If they are moving around, where were they heading?

► Did you hear them speak; if so, was it in a foreign language? If they spoke in English, what did they say?

► Alert them should you have anyone with mental, physical health issues that could be misinterpreted as a threat. For example say:- "We have a chap with Tourette's syndrome with us and he has a tick that means random movements that he has no control over."

► Alert them should you have anyone who is blind or deaf with you, so that responders can deal with them, without misinterpretation.

► Alert them should you have anyone with you not speak the native language of the country you're in.

What to do when the Army or Police arrive?


► Do not walk or run towards the Army or Police, unless told to do so via them.

► Do not make any sudden movements or go to pick up anything, unless told to do so by them.

► Are you carrying a bag or rucksack? Be very aware that if you carrying anything like this, you might come under closer scrutiny. Do not make any sudden movements and do exactly what you are asked to do!

► Are you in a costume? Does it have anything that looks like a weapon or explosive device? Sometimes you might not have been told there is a threat or be aware of any until suddenly you are faced with armed emergency response. If this happens and you hear commands shouted at you, do not make any sudden movements and do exactly what you are asked to do! If you do hear that a threat has happened or heard gun shots, always put down anything like that and move well away from it, before Army or Police arrive!

Also please remember that the fact you may have an ID badge on or in your uniform does not ensure your safety, as emergency responders might not know that you are not involved. They will not take any chances and might even arrest you and/or man handle you! That is why it's vital to alert the emergency services should any of your party have any issues that could result in them being seen as non-compliant and thereby being treated as a threat.

For example, in the UK, Armed Officers when they arrive might not know who is a victim or an attacker... For that reason they will be taking no chances concerning any threat to themselves. They may well be shouting; 'firm language' is designed to intimidate. They may also be pointing firearms at you! Once the Police are satisfied that you pose no threat to them you will be evacuated from the area, if safe to do so. Always listen and follow all instructions given to you.

After the incident, you might need to talk to someone, so take a look at our links page for advice.

Bomb threat or threat of a terrorist act, via phone

► If you can, record the call!

► Make a note of who is calling, eg:- Name of individual, terrorist group, etc.

► Do they give you any code words?

► Make a note of the time of the call!

► Log where the potential threat is and what type of threat is being given. For example the address, name of the building and in which area, say top floor, room 6.

► If appropriate, try to get any information as to any demands they might have.

► When is the threat going to take place? For example, if a bomb, when will it be detonated? Also if it's a bomb threat try to get information on the type of package or container, etc. But do not push the caller, if they will not tell you!

► Indicate that you have received a threat and, if you can, alert anyone with you. Get them to notify the emergency services immediately, but don't do it in a way that the caller can hear!

► Make a note of the incoming telephone number if you can.

► Do not put any information out to the general public until you're told it's safe to do so via the emergency services, and only put out what they tell you!

► Keep your telephone line clear and await further instructions; you may be telephoned for further clarification.

► If the threat is in your area, follow next step below.

Bomb threats and/or suspicious packages or substances

The chance of receiving a package or letter containing suspicious substances or a bomb is very remote, but sadly it is worth knowing what to do, should it happen to you.

Even if any threatening or suspect item might be a hoax or false, you should take all instances seriously. Most organisations have strict procedures to deal with these situations, so it is a good idea to ask and find out what they are, should you be in a role that could put you in that position. After the incident, you might need to talk to someone, so take a look at our links page for advice.

Biological or chemical threats and explosive device should be treated with the upmost care. Most countries also require businesses and educational establishments to have procedures documented as what to do, often under Health and Safety regulations.

For media organisations, sporting and entertainment venues, it is foreseeable, therefore, that individuals could receive telephone call or calls which suggest a bomb threat. Other threats you might face might be receiving suspicious packages, be that a parcel or an envelope, sent normally via a dedicated courier or delivered in person, which arouse suspicion.

Discovery of a suspicious package

► Stop what you are doing!

► Do not pick it up, if you haven't already and do not try to open or move it, to see what it is!

► If you have picked it up, gently put it down, if safe to do so!

► Get everyone to turn off all mobile phones and radios. In the media that might include radio microphones!

► Contact the emergency services and indicate you have a suspicious package.

► If safe to do so evacuate immediately.

► If you have any foreign substance on you, go out last and keep people away from you and the area you are in.

► If you can evacuate, make mental note of any information you can about the package, for example:- size, shape, colour, weight if you handled it. Does it tick? Has it got wires or a countdown clock etc?

► Some of us in the media carry cameras, it might help to take a shot as you exit, but do not use a flash under any circumstances! Also, only do this if your camera is at hand and you can do it as you exit! Don't worry about composition etc, it's for the emergency services to look at only!

► Follow any instructions given to you by the operator.

► If you have a camera, tell the operator you can get a photo, if it helps. But only if the camera is next to you and you might have to keep your telephone line clear and await further instructions; you may be telephoned for further clarification.

► Keep your telephone line clear and await further instructions; you may be telephoned for further clarification.

Opening letters and parcels

► The chances of anything happening are extremely remote, but it's still worth being cautious.  

► If the package is from an unknown sender, or looks or feels wrong, use common sense!

► It's always recommended to open post with the minimum movement using letter openers or other implements.

► If you see a wire or tinfoil or other conductive material that should not be there, stop and put the object down, slowly and with the minimum movement. 

► Do not to blow into envelopes or shake out the contents.

► Keep your hands away from your noses and mouths while opening mail.

► Always wash your hands after opening mail.

If you opened a letter or package and discovered a suspicious substance (e.g. biological, chemical or radiological material), place it in a double sealed bag, if safe to do so and call emergency services as soon as possible! Make sure that the person/s who handled it must avoid contact with others, until told they are ok to interact by the emergency services.  This also includes anyone who could have been in contact with that substance or powder. This is to avoid cross contamination.

Have a set procedure in place.

Reporting terrorism or serious attacks

As a member of the media we have huge responsibility to the public. A photo or footage of someone killed might get the views, but you need to think hard about the relatives who might not want to see their loved ones dead! This is an extremely hard judgement call to make. As media we are meant to show what's going on, but in such a way that it is respectful. Your delivery must not undermine your reputation for objectivity and accuracy by fanciful information when the truth is unknown nor must you resort to sensational speculation.

Think before reporting! In some countries, reporting acts of terrorism might be a criminal offence in itself. So again, stay within the law of the nation you are working in. For example, China has very strict rules on reporting and press freedom.

Remember to go with the correct equipment, not just your journalistic gear, but safety gear as well. But check to see what you are allowed to use within the country or state you are working in, as for example some places you are not allowed bulletproof vests!

If you are going to a location, think hard. Will you be obstructing evacuation or otherwise be getting in the way? Will the roads be blocked and if so, will you be adding to the congestion? If you do attend, you must make yourself know to the emergency services, if safe to do so. They will often direct you to an area or person who can assist you in your reporting of the situation.

If you're on location as it is happening, remember as media you might become a target. Never put yourself or others in danger. If asked to evacuate an area, do so! Yes, we see on TV, shows and films that have journalists hiding to get the scoop, but in reality all you would be doing, if you did that, would be putting yourself and others in danger! You do not want to be caught in any crossfire!

As media it's our responsibility to remain impartial and report in ways that our audience can make their own assessment of a situation. But when giving information out, never release any footage, information or stills that could undermine an operation by emergency services or the safety of anyone hiding. If in doubt, do not use it!

Keep calm and collected. Sounds easy, but it is extremely hard thing to do in reality.

Ask yourself what do we know and what do we suspect? Never give out what you suspect is happening, only what you know is happening, then only if it's not likely to inflame the situation.

When reporting to the public or other media outlets the use of language is extremely important. For example, when breaking a news story, ask yourself, is the use of the word "terrorist" accurate? If you do have to use the label terrorism, it may be better to talk about an apparent act of terror or terrorism than label individuals or a group. But media must try to avoid the use of the term "terrorist" without attribution. Terrorism is a very emotive subject with significant political overtones and care is required in the use of the word. Only use the words:- 'Terrorist Attack' if it's confirmed to be a terrorist attack, or even the words:- "Suspected Terrorist Attack." Only use the word:- "suspected" if official sources use it! A miscommunication could result in a panic and also result in emergency services getting false information given to them. For example, an explosion happens. A newsreader says:- "We are getting reports of a suspected terrorist attack." In reality it was a gas explosion, but the use of the terms "terrorist" and "attack" might create tensions within communities that could quickly lead to other issues. It would be better to say just "explosion." Choose your words responsibly!

When reporting, it might be better to use words which specifically describe the perpetrator such as:- "suspect," "high jacker," "bomber," "gunman," "kidnapper," "attacker," "militant" or "insurgent" than the word "terrorist."

As the facts become clearer we will also wish to describe what has happened as accurately and as clearly as possible. Give as much information as possible. "Bomb attack" conveys more information more quickly than:- "terrorist attack," similarly "suicide bomber," "bomber," "assassin," "gun man" help fill in what has taken place or is taking place.

Never use wording that could be inappropriate. You must not use words that over sensationalise a situation or any that could inflame a volatile situation.

Remember complacency can lead to missing vital cues. Stay alert to potential threats around you, especially when concentrating on a particular issue, things may change very rapidly and catch you unawares. 

Always keep exit options open and clear for you to retreat safely, if it becomes necessary.

Photographers, video crews should never get in the way of emergency services to get footage or stills. Keep a sensible distance away.

Only go into areas designated for media access and have your ID with you at all times! Remember, if approached by armed officers or military personnel, just because you have an ID on you it does not tell them you are not involved! In those situations, do not make any sudden movements and do exactly what you are asked to do!

If you have radio microphones, mobiles and other electronic devices that transmit, turn them off near any areas that have had or have suspected explosive devices or gasses within them. Ask emergency services if it is safe to use them, if you must!

Carrying equipment might put you in danger! The fact you know it is a camera you have or a tripod might not be seen that way by those responding to a threat. Be aware that carrying things that might be seen wrongly might result in you getting arrested or worse!

Never report exactly where you are located, if you're in the area under attack. This is a recipe for disaster.

As media we should stay objective at all times.

Footage and photographs might be requested by Police or other Law Enforcement bodies, rules on what can be taken from you vary from country to country, so it is worth knowing what your rights and responsibilities are.

When getting information from social media, be very careful what you use. Sadly, people like to put out fake reports, photos and other items, which can sometimes be picked up by people and go viral. These posts can, and often do, cause harm and upset, plus it undermines your reporting! So if you know a trusted, trained journalist is on site, or you are getting information from official sources, go with that! If you do take posts from social media, you must make it very clear that this is an unverified item and that you cannot verify its authenticity.


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