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 theatre 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.

Retractable bollards

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. Being in “fly-over” country, we aren’t much of a target (yet) for these kind of attacks.

    But, things like shopping malls, sports complexes, and other soft targets were people congregate are, IMO, going to be increasing targets.

    The true objective is to get us to fear then and change our way of life. If you do, they win.

    • My four sons says:

      I think YET is the key to this JP. Ever increasing security measures in larger metro areas will eventually push them to softer and softer targets. It doesn’t have to happen in New York or LA anymore with the news as it is anywhere they strike will be huge coverage and thus meet their immediate goals. And they specifically want to strike “White heterosexuals” or so was reported after the night club attack in Florida so no one can excuse it for hate crimes they want everyone to know why it happned. What is fly over country full of white heterosexuals. I agree we have been insulated for now but Michigan has the largest Islamic population in the country I believe.

      • Yes, we do. And the mayor of Hamtramck is a Muslim, which worries the older Polish population that live there. In fact, there was a reality show a couple years ago (I’m not sure of the time since I don’t watch TV) about Muslim families living in Dearborn. I believe it was an effort to normalize them. I’m not sure how it worked out.

  2. j.r. guerra in south tx. says:

    Yup, I would be worried if I were along a parade route in the city, too many in the crowd with too little exits from street level.

  3. As part of my job get to read the articles put out by ISIS and AQ. They are simple, to the point, and easily done. If a terrorist wants to end their act with suicide, this method can be a great way to do lots of damage. Just think, a truck bomb at the end of a run.
    The only way to avoid being in this mess is to not be in a place that would be a target, and good luck with that if you have to be in any number of urban or suburban locales. This is one of those cases where you really only have situational awareness as a defense tool.

    • Why the KISS principle is so popular. Simplicity works and in this case, it unfortunately works.

  4. things being the way they are right situational awareness is VITAL to every day life

  5. Prepared Grammy says:

    Most people are looking down at their phones. This gives them zero situational awareness. We need to make sure that we don’t do that.

  6. Good luck in getting the governments of this world to construct something so cost effective as a bollard (or bollock for you Brits).

    What we could do is ban together (for those who have the money and can afford to do so, which I can’t) and offer to foot the bill for the cost of putting up bollards in our area.

    The other thing we can do is to help disadvantaged children have hope, get a good paying job and get them invested in World Peace and why terrorist lie and are never about World Peace. For example, Hamas means Chaos. After they are through bombing Israel, they are just going to move on and bomb something else. ISIS isn’t interested in anyones freedom. They just bomb everywhere and anywhere. Its not about the so-called “evil west”. Its about chaos. Any terrorist group who would bomb Muslims is not bombing because they do not like the “the evil” that is in the West. They are bombing because they want chaos. Children need to be taught this, and shown proof as to why this is true. We don’t teach these things in school, and I have yet to hear of a homeschooler who is being taught this from their parents. I dare say that the preppers are the most likely to teach these things to their children. I don’t have children, so I can’t directly teach these things.

    • Yep, the ISIS and related groups seem to be more about pure hatred and violence than anything truly religious. Sure, they’ll give lip service to Islam and use that as an excuse to kill people, but what I’ve come to see is that these organizations are full of people who just want to kill. There are a lot of angry people in the world everywhere, many of them rebels without a cause. Now here is a “cause” that these people can “fight” for. They flock to the Middle East to join these organizations merely so they can fight and kill, and the reason for it really doesn’t matter to them so much. “Islam? Oh yeah, sure, whatever – just give me a gun and a target.” You end up with an army of psychopaths.

  7. patientmomma says:

    Having managed people for years I can say most have no situational awareness. Those who have been in a war zone or foreign countries are the exception. I used to give “holiday safety” briefings warning the folks about crowds, mob mentality, road rage, fire safety, defensive driving,,,etc., etc., The younger they are the more they believe “it won’t happen to me.” The attacks in France and the Orlando club attack have awakened some 20 to 30-somethings, but the even younger adolescent and teenage groups need to be taught over and over again. Parents and grandparents need to make up board games and/or take these youngsters to the mall (at down times) and do “what if” scenarios with them.

  8. It’s not just terrorism. Many people in the sidewalk don’t think ever on the possibility of a car loosing direction and climbing over the sidewalk, hurting or killing the pedestrian. That could happen for many reasons. A distraction, a cell phone ring, a wasp, a burning cigarette, etc. could be one of them.

  9. Jesse Mathewson says:

    Always armed, and of course trained…

  10. Me, I just stay out of cities, public venues and away from crowds. I leave the mountain as little as possible (not at all from the week before Christmas until at least two weeks after New Years), maybe once a month we go to town (town, not city). When we do go, my heads on a constant swivel and I follow the advice of Gen. James Mattis.

  11. I am up visiting my Mom and we were shopping on base (Kings Bay Nuclear Submarine Base). Security was ramped up. They did a lengthy search of all vehicles entering the base. There were Marines with M-16s. There were road obstacles entering and leaving the base. Only the main gate was open. I haven’t seen this much security on base since 9-11.

  12. Hey pack,
    Remember we are up against an ideology not a nation. This means the ideologue can come up with ANY idea to inflict mass casualties. Look around you. Anything you see that is potentially unsafe is an opportunity for them. We can only pray they they don’t start getting smart and killing us with out of the box ideas. How many of us have sat around and played the ‘What if’ game? If you haven’t tried it then stop on a hill somewhere and look out over a populated valley. The opportunities will astound you. This is not the Soviets pouring thru the Fulda gap in 1970’s Germany. This is not a nation attacking us. This is a war of ideology with ideologues as irregulars (soldiers, freedom fighters, resistance, partisans, whatever). This is some pretty spooky stuff. They can only win if we get frightened and start doing really stupid things. All they have to do is crack our nation. They will then laugh as we tear each other apart. May God give us strength to remain faithful, strong, and loving to each other.
    On a happier note Merry Christmas to all.

    • Jesse Mathewson says:

      Remember this is only one side if the ideology…and thanks to our gov, its the side we are “allied” with…wahabbis/ sunni –

      My kurd/persian friends detest the wahabbis

  13. They can solve this problem easily by just outlawing trucks.

  14. Jesse Mathewson says:

    For your houses, it is quite simple, 20 yards around it, sunk 18″s deep. “Decorative” pillars 3 feet apart…and 4 feet high, can be made so that bullets pass through (preventing bg from taking cover) but vehicles are hung up…

    Just helped my dad complete his 🙂

  15. I want to express my best wishes for MD & all the pack to have a blessed Christmas & New Years! & if there are any Jewish pack members, Happy Hannukuh.

  16. Jesse , do you have a diagram or photo and materials list?

    My neighbours will like this much more than my chainsawing improvised barriers 🙂

  17. OhioPrepper says:

    I don’t think we can under estimate the threat. I carry one or more defensive tools whenever I leave the house and situational awareness is something I do all of the time and have taught in my classes for nearly 30 years. I also do my best to avoid large public gatherings, since even before this age of terrorism, there have always been potential problems when something happens and a large crowd panics. IMO it’s simply best not to be there if anything happens; but, pay attention if you must be there.
    When you talk about condition Yellow, that is sometimes confusing to some, so what we teach are the 4 basic states of mind:
    • Unaware
    • Aware
    • Alert
    • Alarm
    Except perhaps when you are sleeping, you should try to never be unaware, an when you are sleeping, an alarm or even a little yippy dog can elevate your state in a hurry if you need to do so.
    When the DW and I were first dating, she thought it a bit odd that when entering a restaurant I wanted to pick the table where I could watch the entrance and the crowd as well as making a note to her pointing out alternative exits. That is now just SOP.
    I have also been reading the ISIL magazine Dabiq after being pointed to it by Dr. Sebastian Gorka and visiting his site: often.
    Reading the propaganda of the enemy (note I did not say opposition) can give you an almost scary insight into their thought processes and hatred of any differences to their dogma.
    Here’s a preview of the contents of their most recent issue
    • Feature
    • The Murtadd Brotherhood
    • Foreword
    • Operations
    • From the Pages of History
    • Among the Believers Are Men
    • In the Words of the Enemy
    • Interview
    Everyone out there have a wonderful Christmas holiday and stay frosty.

    • Jesse Mathewson says:

      Always yellow…I run in yellow as does my family. Like any wild animal, alert, ready but not paranoid. Be a wolf not a flighty deer.

    • Prepared Grammy says:

      I go to church with a few cops and adult children of cops. One family (Late Grandpa was a state cop.) with an adult son who’s a cop and his parents, always sit in the third pew from the front of the church. This leaves their backs to all main doors. Today they sat three rows from the back, with a clear view of all doors. It turns out they were concerned about the threats made against churches today. I’m glad they finally woke up. But I’m betting they’ll be up front next Sunday.

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