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On April 15, 2013, Americans were shocked to hear of two likely-terrorist blasts near the finish line at the Boston Marathon. And on April 17, 2013, Americans saw the headlines about the grain elevator explosion in the tiny town of West, Texas, after a fire at a fertilizer factory set off an explosion in grain dust in a sorghum silo.
The Boston attacks resulted in three deaths. The Texas grain silo explosion resulted in an indeterminate number of deaths, and massive destruction throughout a small town. Fortunately for most us, we'll never be anywhere near a concussive blast. But what can you do to increase the chances of you and your loved ones' coming out alive and whole if you are?
There is nothing most of us can do to prevent terrorist attacks or to stop explosions and fires, but there are things all of us can do to increase our personal safety. In this article, we will take a look at five ways to avoid being caught in an explosion, terrorist or otherwise, and five things to do in the highly unlikely, but potentially life-changing or life-ending, event that you are.
1. Watch unfolding tragedies on TV, not in person.
One of the more famous home videos of the West, Texas fertilizer plant and grain silo explosion was taken by a father and son sitting in a pickup truck about 1-1/2 miles (2500 meters) from the blazing fertilizer plant fire, at what certainly appeared to be a safe distance. However, a smaller explosion of a fertilizer tank led to a huge explosion in a grain silo, and a shock wave traveling faster than the speed of sound left the father and son engulfed in smoke and soot and fleeing for their lives. It just isn't worth the risk to see fires and explosions first hand. There is simply no way to know what a safe distance is.
2. When you see an unattended backpack or package, steer clear and call the police.
The explosive devices at the Boston Marathon finish line were detonated from backpacks left on the ground in the middle of the crowd. If you see someone leave a bag, a purse, a backpack, or a package unattended in a public place, chances are it's just a matter of their being forgetful. But let the authorities find out for sure.
3. When you witness one explosion, expect another.
At the Boston Marathon, a second explosive device went off just seconds after the first, in the direction in which many people were trying to escape. If you witness the explosion of a small bomb, be aware that another bomb may be detonated shortly afterwards. Make your priority to get away from areas where you would be exposed to flying glass or metal shrapnel. Go into the street rather than along the sides of buildings lined with plate glass windows, if traffic permits.
Don't take cover in alleys or doorways. Small areas can amplify the effects of a blast. You are seven times more likely to die of concussion injuries, a study of bombing attacks in Israel found, inside a closed space than out in the open.
4. Don't take time to Tweet.
When you are in the vicinity of a blast, your priority has to be escape or helping attend the injured, not Tweeting the event to all your friends. Chances are that the news won't reach friends or family for minutes or hours, anyway, so you can always tell them you are OK later, assuming you made safety your priority, not information.
5. Communicate by text message, not by telephone.
Cell phone networks are quickly overwhelmed with calls during catastrophes. Text messages reduce the load on the system and allow more urgent communications to go through. And do we have to tell you that using a pay phone in a blast zone is not a good idea?
Every family should have someone any member of the family could contact to relay messages when communications become difficult. A family friend, a member of the extended family, a minister, or even a building manager can serve as a communicator of vital messages when cell phone service and ground transportation are disrupted.