Surviving Vehicular Terrorism

by joe alton, md

CNN reports that a man in Berlin used a truck to plow through a group of people at a Christmas market, killing 9 and injuring 50 more. The tractor-trailer appeared to deliberately ram through several stalls at what is estimated to be 40 miles per hour; German authorities are treating the incident, at present, as a terror event.

The attack appears to parallel the cargo truck killing of 86 people and the wounding of 434 others in Nice, France during a fireworks display on a national holiday. On a smaller scale, a Somali student at Ohio State University recently ran down a number of people before leaving his car and stabbing several others with a large knife. A pattern seems to be emerging where a vehicle is used to cause casualties in public spaces.

This pattern is not occurring by accident. The English-language ISIS magazine “Rumiyah” has recently called for vehicle attacks on the West. An article that discussed which vehicles are best to do the most damage was titled “Just Terror Tactics”. Al-Qaeda has made calls for similar attacks, calling pickup trucks “the ultimate mowing machine”.

The article was quoted in the Business Insider: “Though being an essential part of modern life, very few actually comprehend the deadly and destructive capability of the motor vehicle and its capacity of reaping large numbers of casualties if used in a premeditated manner…Vehicles are like knives, as they are extremely easy to acquire…”

Ordinarily, terror attacks are associated with guns, but these items are difficult to come by in most countries. Bombs, another preferred terrorist weapon, require expertise to assemble safely. Owning or renting a vehicle, however, is much more common and requires little skill to operate. Trucks and cars can cause mass casualties if wielded as a weapon; obtaining one elicits no suspicion.

Therefore, would-be terrorists now have a new blueprint for causing mayhem among an unsuspecting public. There are few who pay much attention to traffic unless they’re in a vehicle themselves or crossing the street. The speed at which a vehicle can accelerate and turn into a crowd leaves little time for reaction. Hence, the “success” rate of this type of terror event may surpass even a gunman’s ability to cause deaths and injuries.

The increasing number of terror events around the world underlines the increasing need for situational awareness. Situational awareness is the mindset whereby threats are mentally noted and avoided or abolished. Originally a tool for the military in combat, it is now a strategy for the average citizen in these uncertain times.

The situationally aware person is always at a state of “Yellow Alert” when in crowded public venues. By that, I mean a state of relaxed but vigilant observation of what is happening around him or her. When an action or behavior occurs that doesn’t match the surroundings and situation, it’s an anomaly.

When a vehicle moves erratically or leaves the normal pattern of traffic, it’s an anomaly that requires rapid action. Mentally noting routes of escape whenever you’re in a crowd will give you the best chance of getting out of the way. Just as knowing the location of exits in a mall or theater is good policy, a heightened awareness is now important at any outdoor event or popular public area near roadways.

For vehicular terrorists, the target will be crowds of people near the street. Their objective is mass casualties, and those pedestrians nearest the curb will bear the brunt of the attack. Consider walking on the fringe of a crowd away from the road to give yourself the most options. In the center, the masses, not your own good judgment, will dictate your movement. Take a walk along Times Square and you’ll see what I mean.

Municipalities can protect their citizens by constructing barriers known as “bollards” which would stop vehicles from entering pedestrian areas. These can be seen outside many government buildings and airport terminals. Expanding their use to areas that attract crowds would be an important consideration for the future.

I’ll admit that the likelihood you’ll be in the path of a terrorist using a vehicle, or any other weapon, is very small. Panic isn’t the answer, but these are troubled times; the more situationally aware you are, the safer you’ll be.


  1. I’m sure the security forces at the pres inauguration on Fri have prepared for this possibility, as there will be a large crowd there. So far, we’ve not seen a terrorist vehicle that targeted a home or small business, but I’m sure that some wealthy homes & a limited # of sm businesses have security to prevent that. & I’ve read of rural preppers who’ve combined man-made & natural barriers to prevent vehicles from entering an area.

  2. Bollards are good. My local gun store had it’s own little terrorist attack. Some people stole two pick up trucks, aimed one at the front of the LGS with a brick on the accelerator, stepped out, threw it in gear and ran off to the other waiting truck. The first truck plowed through the front door, was stopped by the security bars but caught fire and burned half of the store. It was a brand new store too, they just finished it. It was almost like a mini bass pro (what a waste).

    Now they have bollards in front of the doorways to prevent this happening again.

    All this was caught on the security cameras. A local ‘animal welfare’ group is suspected but no one has been charged or caught yet.

  3. My DH placed cross ties in front of my office and he is wanting to place bollards there instead. He is also working with a friend to place a switch under my desk that I can flip with my knee if I ever feel threatened by anyone. This is one of the advantages of working from home. 🙂

    Our small town like many others often have events on main st and the traffic is most often blocked while it is going on. I will definitely be much more aware of cars in those situations.

  4. Being in “fly-over” country does have it’s advantages.

    Since we have just broken the 1M population level (with the 4th largest land mass state), these things are rare. Plus they would get very little press coverage – so why hit here?

    However, when I do have to travel to larger metropolitan areas, I am constantly looking for something out of the ordinary. I don’t walk looking at my cell phone; I avoid large stagnant crowds. I don’t go to music concerts, I don’t like large malls (except the food courts); never really have.

    You are your own best security. Be responsible for yourself and have a way out AT ALL TIMES! If things don’t “feel” right, don’t go/stay there.

    Only you can determine if being there is worth your life or the life of your family.

    • I like your comments….you are own best security. I try to be constantly on the lookout and try to have escape routes in place.

      • Jean:

        It is best to plan ahead and be prepared. During a crisis is not a good time to look for a plan.

    • Agreed.
      * No One cares about your safety more than YOURSELF.
      ( that goes for your family too )
      * YOU are the first line of defense for yourself and family, Act accordingly.
      * If you look like food, you WILL be eaten.

    • Like Gen. Mattis said, be nice and polite but have a plan to kill everyone you meet. What he meant was, if the person wanted to do you harm, how could he do it and how could you avoid or neutralize the threat? Similarly, practice looking for at least one, preferably more, escape routes from anywhere you are.

  5. Or just stay away from things that attract crowds.

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