Photo by Christoffer Hveding Lund

Preparedness, terror and the largest marathon in the world

Reflections on a recent trip to New York

20-11-2017 \\ Travel Security \\ Christoffer Hveding Lund


– By Chrisoffer Hveding Lund

In this article I will share my thoughts upon my recent trip overseas to run the New York Marathon. My girlfriend and I stayed in New York for a week ahead of the run, and found ourselves just hours away from being struck by a terrorist attack. Knowing that terrorism can occur at any time, it is easy to consider it bad luck and being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Still, I believe there are easy measures to mitigate the risk of terrorism, which potentially could save your life. This article will show how I prepared for this trip, as well as being vigilant throughout my stay. I will reflect upon the importance of social media and information to relatives and friends following a terrorist attack. Finally, I will share my insights about how easy it is to use an understanding of risk management before running a marathon – or attending any other public event, which clearly represents an attractive target for terrorists. This will culminate in three, easy-to-grasp tips for traveling abroad, just to make the trip a little safer.

Before I left for New York, I didn’t consider it an unsafe city. And I still don’t. On the other hand, recent events have shown that terrorists are likely to carry out attacks in USA, with little or no warning. This was my main concern as of what to prepare for. Therefore, I used travel advice from the United Kingdom as my main source for preparedness. They confirmed my risk perception at the time, and gave helpful advice on how to minimize risk from terrorism. I also registered my trip at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, knowing this could be helpful if anything were to happen. This shows how easy it is to make your trip a little safer – at least I felt more prepared and mindful of my travel destination based on an updated risk perception.

To minimize my risk from terrorism I reminded vigilant during our stay, especially in crowded and public places – which there are many of in NY City. I must say, be careful not to let it slip into paranoia – after all, the goal is to be a tourist and experience the city. As I told my girlfriend, which is in a different state of mind, if you see anything that is out of the ordinary or just feels wrong, be vigilant and consider moving to another place. I believe in trusting our gut feeling in these cases. Other than that – remember to have fun. If not, it would have been safer to just stay home.

When the terrorist drove his car into a bicycle path, killing eight people (mostly tourists), we were at our hotel. With the breaking news saying terror in New York, and the situation still unclear, I knew this information quickly would spread to family and friends at home. I therefore decided to send an “I’m okay”-message back home, using social media to deliver the message. This was an easy way to prevent unnecessary stress as those back home received the news. I recommend this approach in the future, knowing how quickly news spread, combined with the uncertainty following a terrorist attack.

A few days later it was time for the main event – running the New York Marathon. With the bombs at Boston Marathon fresh in mind, as well as the recent attack in the city, I ran through a quick risk management in my mind using basic methods. To run the marathon, I would have to be comfortable with the risk of terrorism – the risk criteria had to be acceptable. I initially assumed the probability of a terrorist attack to be medium, and the probability for it to affect me during the 26 mile course to be low. The consequences on the other hand could lead to death – brutal as it sounds. The consequences were therefore set to high. The total risk would therefore be between medium to high, something I couldn’t accept. I continued to consider risk mitigation. I knew that the level of security would be high along the whole course, especially after the recent events. I assumed this, as well as me being vigilant during my run, would reduce the probability of me being involved in a terrorist attack to low. I also made a mental plan to run for cover at any sign of trouble, following the principles of RUN –HIDE – TELL/FIGHT. This was an attempt to reduce the consequences of an attack. With these risk mitigation methods in mind, I assumed the risk of running to be low to medium, which I could accept.

This stands to show how easy it is to use a basic understanding of risk assessment before any public event, which often is considered a terrorist target. That being said, the actual process of thinking through probability and consequences, is more important than the result for the common traveler. It prepares oneself mentally for something that hopefully wouldn’t happen.

Everyone with experience in the field of risk mitigation knows there are no certain ways to be completely safe from terror. Still, the statistical chance of actually beein struck by terror is very low, and it is important that we don’t let terror govern our lives. I would like to sum up this article into three tips to make a safer trip in the future – while maintaining the reasons why you want to go in the first place.

1.Prepare yourself – consider basic risk management as part of your baggage.

2.Be vigilant – not paranoid.

3.Have fun – if not, it is always safer to stay home.

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