Strategies for Defending our Healthcare Heroes from Terrorist Attacks

This audio was created using Microsoft Azure Speech Services

Coauthored by Steve Nibbelink

In light of the recent events that have plagued our cities, I would first and foremost like to extend my condolences to the victims and families of those that have been lost or injured due to terrorist attacks around the world. Now, more than ever, we need to be cognizant of the actions of those around us, and willing to help protect our families, friends, neighbors, coworkers, or even just the person you shared a seat with on the bus.

In addition to the horrible consequences for the immediate victims, a larger toll continues to be exacted through the suffering of secondary victims, especially for those that are first on scene, such as emergency responders, law enforcement, and hospital trauma nurses and surgeons. These brave people see and hear things that cannot be unseen and unheard. And whether they are on the scene or in an operating room, we must ensure that they are protected to the highest extent so that they can continue to provide care for those that need it most.

Upset nurse sitting on the floor in hospital ward

Terrorists reach a far wider target through media’s real-time coverage of these events, increasing the impact far beyond the immediate victims. The psychological damage from ongoing fear amplifies the actual attack, as people responding with panic allow the perpetrators to obtain maximum exposure. There is no doubt that terrorism must be reported. However, limiting one’s exposure to media coverage not only prevents terrorists from using publicity to create global fear, but also prevents countless viewers from becoming vicarious victims who suffer from ongoing severe mental and physical health problems.

It is easy to feel helpless given the unpredictability of terrorists, however, we do have control over whether or not we become vicarious victims. The most powerful components of this risk are not the terrorists per se, but are our choices about how to move forward after a tragedy.

We must unfortunately use each new instance as an opportunity to learn and fine-tune our strategies for defending ourselves against the rippling effects of terrorism. This extends all the way into the hospitals where medical professionals must treat the victims and suspects with equal care and life-saving measures.

Physical Security

Healthcare organizations need to continually strive to create a welcoming, safe and secure environment to fulfill their life saving mission, regardless of what is going on inside or outside the doors of their hospital.  At the same time, they must also remain vigilant with employee training, for both caregivers and support staff, in recognition of aggressive and violent behavior. Hospital Security Directors need to assess their campus and buildings for security threats, proactively audit their security response plans, and work with law enforcement to better understand the threats to their facilities from ongoing criminal activities and trends.


For continued hospital security excellence, hospitals should:

  1. Assess and evolve the security and safety policies and procedures
  2. Educate and train employees as to potential threats or adverse events
  3. Develop and refine emergency preparedness and response plans
  4. Develop and coordinate communications plans
  5. Work with law enforcement and emergency responders in establishing well-practiced emergency plans

Emotional security

  1. Limit your time watching news coverage of terrorist events. The psychological damage from trauma scenes makes us feel helpless and fearful—emotions which create chronic stress and the associated illnesses.
  2. Take part in hospital-provided counseling to deal with the acute aftermath of event
  3. Get back to your normal routine as you continue to integrate your memories of the traumatic event
  4. Try active mindfulness or other meditation to calm your thoughts
  5. Exercise for stress relief
  6. Keep the lines of communication open with your family about how you are REALLY doing

Sadly, violence is part of the human condition. Terrorist attacks are going to continue to happen as militant groups and individuals use violence to try to influence governments. Nevertheless, by being prudent and by being aware of our surroundings we can and avoid becoming secondary victims.

Just as we monitor the safety and functioning of our buildings, we can monitor our levels of personal awareness and our exposure to frightening media. Each of us can be observant of our surroundings and identify potential threats from a relaxed mindset without high adrenaline levels from continually bombarded senses. Chronic fear is too stressful for our minds and bodies, and dangerous to our physical and mental health.

Stay safe.

Tags: , , ,