Risk assessment should reflect the likelihood, severity and consequences of an accident/event. Acts of terror carried out with conventional weapons pose a limited threat to the society, and a minimal personal risk, still many people are worried. Anxious people have a heightened threat perception and risk evaluation. Their attention is directed towards potential threats, and many situations are perceived as threatening, which can lead them to choose less constructive preventive measures.
Fear can, unlike anxiety contribute to improved emergency preparedness as it makes you alert and ready to face real dangers.
People manage to cope better in a terrorist attack when the situation is:
If these conditions are not present, the vulnerability of those affected will increase.
One of the prerequisites for handling the psychological reactions triggered by terrorism is understanding the methods and goals of terrorism. The main aim of terrorists is to make fear and anger dominate us. They either make us feel scared and use strategies of submission, withdrawal or escape, or feel angry and engage in strong and violent counter-measures. Most of us do not like to consider ourselves as passive victims of danger, and want to take action. People often find it more comfortable to perceive themselves as a participant in a conflict, instead of a passive spectator.
External danger makes people seek togetherness. When people are exposed to danger, a strong feeling of belonging may evolve, and people’s resistance increases. Team building and strengthening of the us-feeling is important. In order to make threats more manageable we must have:
- relevant measures of preparedness
- confidence in our leader
- strong motivation
- supportive healthcare
Managing dangerous situations requires a feeling of predictability, recognition and control. In situations where actual control is not possible, a perception of control will be helpful – even when you cannot influence the outcome.
It is challenging to handle terror threats. Personal control is not achievable, and there is no guarantee that the terror attacks can be prevented. Nevertheless, it is helpful to have knowledge about your own, others, and the community’s measures of preparedness. In order to evaluate the risk for terror it is also important to know how challenging it is to plan and carry out a major act of terror. Terrorism requires considerable resources in terms of technology, finance, logistics, network, public support etc.
Terrorism attacks some of our fundamental democratic values, like freedom of speech and movement, e.g. when media or public transportation are affected. This threatens our “illusion of invulnerability” and may reduce societal participation. We tend to be more willing to accept risk and withstand stress if values of great importance are attacked or threatened. If terrorists attack the underground, people may defy the terrorists by using the public transport as usual.