What to do if you are caught in a bomb blast

Published: August 19, 2012

While there is no magic formula to protect you from acts of terrorism, one can always follow some common sense steps to reduce the risks. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

Suicide bombing is an operational method in which the very act of the attack is dependent upon the death of the perpetrator. Though only 3% of all terrorist attacks around the world can be classified as suicide bombing attacks, these account for 48% of the casualties.

Pakistan witnesses a suicide bombing attack on every 6th day on average. While there is no magic formula to protect you from acts of terrorism, one can always follow some common sense steps to reduce the risks.

The following things you can do during and after an explosion to make the horrible event less painful for you and for others around you. These recommendations are based on experts’ analyses, interviews, and basic science of blast waves and explosions.

During the attack: 

  1. Stay calm. You are the only one who can help yourself.
  2. Crawl under a sturdy table or a solid object if things are falling around you, and remain there for at least one minute.
  3. Stay away from glass or fixtures, like windows, mirrors, cabinets, and electrical equipments.
  4. Follow the orders of police or safety personnel. If an evacuation is ordered, leave the building as soon as you can.
  5. Do not forget handicapped people who may need your help in exiting.
  6. Do not move seriously injured persons unless they are in obvious, immediate danger, such as a building collapse or fire.
  7. Do not go near gas lines, fire hazards, or kitchens.
  8. Once out, keep as far away from the building as possible.
  9. Do not use elevators.
  10. Lay flat. Most explosives used by suicide bombers are designed to burst in a flower bouquet pattern to throw the shrapnel horizontally between two and six feet above the ground. This pattern increases the chances of hitting the human torso and head by a shrapnel. Therefore, the best place to be in an event of an explosion is to lay flat on the ground.
  11. Keep your mouth open and breathe in small intervals. The most lethal aspect in an explosion is not shrapnel or heat, it is the blast overpressure. The blast wave travels at supersonic velocity and severely affects the air-filled organs like lungs, kidneys, and bowels. We naturally tend to take a deep breath and hold it in emergencies. However, this proves lethal in a bombing situation, since our lungs become like a pressurised balloon to be ruptured by the blast wave. The majority of victims in a typical suicide bombing die from internal bleeding in the lungs. Only 6% on average die from shrapnel wounds. Your chances of injury with empty lungs are far smaller compared to holding your breath.
  12. Reduce your lateral profile – while laying on the ground, try to lay on one side and use your arms to protect the exposed eye.
  13. If you know an explosion is coming, the best thing to do is to dig a hole or find a place below ground level and hide there. 

Under the debris:

  1. Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.
  2. Tap over and over on a pipe or wall so that rescuers can hear where you are.
  3. Do not shout. Or shout only if there is no other choice. You inhale enormous amount of dust when yelling.
  4. Stay calm and think of things that relax you and make you happy.
  5. If possible, use a flashlight to signal your location to rescuers.
  6. Avoid unnecessary movement so you don’t kick up dust.
  7. If possible, use a whistle to signal rescuers.

After the attack:

  1. Duck and cover.
  2. Leave the building as quickly as possible. Do not stop to retrieve personal possessions or make phone calls.
  3. One event can be followed by another, so do not rush towards the blast scene.
  4. Open doors carefully; watch for falling objects.
  5. Do not use matches or lighters. Sparks might trigger explosions.
  6. Avoid using telephones, mobile phones and hand radios. Electrical sparks or signals could trigger other bombs.
  7. Move away from side-walks or streets to be used by emergency officials or others still exiting the building.
  8. If you or others have life-threatening injuries, such as severe bleeding, difficulty breathing, chest pain or burns, provide or seek first aid and get help from officials or others at the scene.
  9. If you or someone else has minor injuries, seek first aid as a first step until those more severely injured can be cared for first. If possible, go to a hospital that is not in the immediate area of the blast. Hospitals closest to the blast(s) will quickly become crowded.
  10. Listen to emergency officials at the scene. If no one is near you to give instructions and you are in the immediate area of the blast(s), leave as soon as you can.
  11. To keep safe, move away from the area. Avoid crowds, unattended cars and trucks, public transportation, and damaged buildings.

Blasts have become an everyday occurrence in Pakistan. While these are simple and general suggestions, I hope by exercising these we can have a big impact on casualty count.

Follow Zeeshan on Twitter @zeeshanusmani

Zeeshan-ul-hassan Usmani

Zeeshan Usmani

A Fulbright Scholar and an Eisenhower fellow, Zeeshan works at a private company and lives in Islamabad. He is fascinated by anything that has a direct impact on the lives of a common man. He tweets as @zeeshanusmani

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Muhammad Mehdi

    A very needed one in Pakistan. Every Pakistani has to read this..
    Thank you bro for such a great piece. However, in the list of (Under the debris) The 4th precaution made me laugh so hard. How one can keep feeling happy or recall things that amuses them in such a severe condition. Recommend

  • unknown

    Practice makes a man perfect, unless you are a suicide bomber.Recommend

  • Arsalan

    “13. If you know an explosion is coming, the best thing to do is to dig a hole or find a place below ground level and hide there.”

    Seriously! what the hell is this?Recommend

  • Tanveer Arif

    come on…do you ever experience such an explosion? i m sure you will not be able to remember any of this instructions for at least 10 minutes!!Recommend

  • hashmi

    really useful. i hope all ppl read this!!an engineer/architect told me that in such situations hiding under stairs is also helpful!!Recommend

  • Sabih Zafar Ullah

    I don’t think any one will have to time to recall these 30+ points if they are caught in the middle of a bomb blast.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Your first suggestion is the most important and the hardest to follow. I wonder if schools carry our fire drills or emergency evacuation procedures because teaching a child discipline under emergency conditions would last a lifetime.Recommend

  • Gratgy

    These recommendations are based on experts’ analyses, interviews, and basic science of blast waves and explosions.

    Err did you mean wiki answers??

    Oh and by the way the “Dig a hole in the ground” advice is for an impending nuclear attack not in the case of suicide bombing

    See link for more details

    Mention the source or you are cheatingRecommend

  • critical

    Instead of being so critical we should remember that someone tried to make some sense and help someone. Even if we do not remember 30 points we might remember at least 3. Such articles, written for the benefit of the public, are much better than the typical “10 types of rishtas”, “10 types of girls”, ” 10 habits” blogs. Great job writer, dont let these critics get to you. AND Eid Mubarak everyone!Recommend

  • curious

    What to do if you are caught in a bomb blast and are not holding the trigger sounds more appropriate.Recommend

  • Imran Con

    People don’t usually know it’s happening until the moment it happens. Even then, if they survive, there will still be a delay in the thinking process while the reality of what just happened sinks in. A normal person who isn’t analyzing every single person they see can’t take preventative measures. There is no defense against a man exploding near to you. That’s why it’s so effective. All you’ve got is your luck.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Only in Pakistan is this such an important article!Recommend

  • Gratgy

    The link I posted does not seem to be working, please google “what to do during a bomb explosion” and click on the first search resultRecommend

  • Harris Hassan

    Seriously dig a hole ??, where on earth would you find a shovel… and if you have enough time to dig a hole why not run away instead. That advise is for a nuclear explosion as mentioned in “wiki answers” with all the “other” tips. Its awful to see a former Fulbright scholar involved in plagiarism.. :( Recommend

  • Harris Hassan


    BRAVO !! :)Recommend

  • Ameer

    One thing is clear. The author has never, in his short [expletive censored by The Express Tribune] life, been anywere near a bomb blast let alone a suicide bombing. Meray dost there’s no planning “during a sucide bombing” – the only thing happening “during” a bomb blast is the yellow liquid going down your legs. There’s no time to prepare. It comes suddenly and without warning. There’s no time to move away from the window because there won’t be any window. The only time you realize that a bomb has gone off is when dust covers you and shards of broken glass are embedded in your skin and you look like a piece of sculpture.

    “Point 13 If you know an explosion is coming dig a hole”!!!??? Get outta here!Recommend

  • Ameer

    Here’s my advice on what to do during a bomb blast:


  • Sufi

    “13.If you know an explosion is coming, the best thing to do is to dig a hole or find a place below ground level and hide there.”

    Hunh? The only people who “know an explosion is coming” are the terrorists or the intelligence agencies and neither of them need your advice.Recommend

  • Gratgy

    Ahh I see a suicide bomber coming my way, let me start digging a hole in the ground with my fingernails.

    I guess the suicide bomber will die of laughter before he reaches meRecommend

  • Rosh

    I agree with Emeer above. Well-meaning this poster might be, but what planet is he living on?

    Assuming that one could do anything to save oneself from suicide bombers, I reckon that Israelis would be the world’s experts in this.Recommend

  • Mumtaz Memon

    I am a physician in one of the famous government hospitals in Karachi and have treated 2 dozen plus suicide bombing patients so far. This artilce is great. In an explosion, first thing that happened is the rupture of ear drum and the victims not able to hear anything. If they can go through these recommendations and practice some of these by some kind of practice-drill, these can definitely have an impact on casualty count. No one usually remembers everything in panic, this is why we have drills.

    I don’t understand why everyone is picking on one not-perfectly-articulated “dig a hole” advise and not reading the rest of the article. And “dig a hole” doesn’t mean the article is plagiarised. This guy knows what he is talking about, check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLng7tBXa1U


  • Laughing

    with due respect for this useful information in article.
    hahahahaha cant stop laughing after reading your comment :D Recommend

  • cash

    …what crap.. stay calm? .. think of something which makes u happy??… article is based on suicide bombing and it is giving instructions from earthquake to nuke bombs.Recommend