Jewish World Review July 23, 2004/ 5 Menachem-Av 5764
Be paranoid, be very paranoid
BALTIMORE Here I am making my list for Boston and the Democratic Convention: notebooks, pens, laptop, cell phone, walking shoes and, of course, my handy portable rope ladder, which I'm told I'll need to escape tall buildings in the event of a terrorist attack.
But first I should practice leaning over tall ledges in order to conquer my fear of heights.
Yes, this was one of many handy tips I picked up during a one-day crash course in personal security that Tribune reporters covering political conventions and/or the summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, were required to attend. This is fortunate for conventioneers because reporters, whom Americans have grown to love and trust, now can administer first aid to revelers trapped in the terrorists' crosshairs.
My session, held at The Baltimore Sun, was led by two former Royal Marines from Centurion Risk Assessment Services of the United Kingdom. Taking turns, they Power Point-ed us through a montage of grizzly wound photos - the sort that make adults go "Ohmigod!" and kids go "Kewl!" - and guided us through some hands-on first-aid exercises in which we got on the floor and played doctor. I'm pretty sure this is against the law, but we were just following orders.
And good thing, too, because we learned many useful skills not covered in J-School, some of which I will share in order to put the Boston-bound at ease. We learned, for instance, how to stabilize objects impaled in human flesh, stifle spurting arteries, open blocked airways, and treat the random gunshot wound.
Bad news, I'm afraid, for those with close-range shotgun blasts to the chest, as well as those standing too close to explosions. Neither of these events lend themselves well to first aid. If you've ever seen a close-up shot of a shotgun blast, as we did immediately following lunch, you don't have to wonder why.
As for explosions, we learned that if you're close by, there's a good chance your lungs will be ripped out of your body. And if the lung-suction effect doesn't get you, the shock wave probably will stop your heart and everything else.
On the happy chance you do not die instantly, you may experience shrapnel wounds or perhaps the tertiary effect of being slammed against a wall and showered with broken glass. What should one do in such case? Why, move to an open area, of course, unless the bomb contains biological or chemical agents, in which case you're better off indoors, though not downwind.
But how does one know, a reasonable reporter might wonder? Given that chemical and biological agents are often invisible and odorless, are there any signs to suggest that a bomb contains such agents? Yes, intoned the former Royal Marine, "People will be dropping dead on the sidewalk."
But not me! Because I'll have a highly coveted mask to protect me, assuming I can remove said mask from its official vacuum-sealed bag, which should not be opened a moment before, even though mask instructions are contained therein. (Note to self: take speed-reading course).
Oh wait, never mind. I don't get a mask. Only those going to Athens get a company-issued mask, from which you can draw your own conclusions about: (a) relative danger; (b) relative value of certain reporters.
We also learned how to navigate a stampede (what, you think I'm going to tell you?!); that you shouldn't use a cell phone immediately following an explosion (you might set off the second explosion); and to stay away from elevators, some of which are cleverly programmed to follow smoke.
Finally, our security instructors urged us to hone our awareness skills. Most of us apparently dwell in the "white zone," largely oblivious to our surroundings, unlikely to notice several Saudi Arabians ages 25-40 packing box cutters and boarding planes they recently learned to fly but not land. This is not good.
We want to move into the yellow zone, alert but relaxed. No fidgeting or staring at Middle Eastern men of a certain age. "Orange" is when your lizard brain tells you something's not right, and "Red" is when you're screaming 'HELP!' at which point you should run for open space. Or indoors, depending on the circumstances.
Or, again depending, toss a rope ladder over the side of the building. If you forgot your ladder - or haven't conquered your very reasonable fear of cascading from tall buildings - you could make a dash and meet me in the nearest pub. I'll be the one breathing deeply into a paper bag and praying.
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