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Special Agent Survival Tactics – How To Survive A Hostage Situation

Two days deep in a mission based in Turkey, I went out with a fellow agent. I was briefed before going out that if gunmen tried to stop us, don’t stop. Do what we can to barrel through them and get away, or we would surely be taken hostage and perhaps killed. I was also told the story of an American who had recently tried that tactic and was shot and killed.

So, when a gunman stepped into the roadway with his machine gun pointed towards us, I was torn as to what to do. I decided to take our chances and stop. After we stopped, another gunman stepped from a bush. They took us out of the car, and after some debate between the two of them, decided they did not want trouble from the American military and let us go.

We could have become hostages, but, luckily, we were not. Since then, I have learned quite a bit about hostage situations. You can be taken hostage anytime and anywhere. In this article, I want to discuss what to do if you ever find yourself in a hostage situation.

Let’s begin by examining the dynamics of hostage situations.

During hostage situations, the emotions of both parties (the hostage and hostage taker) will run the gamut between despair and euphoria.

Understanding the fragile emotional dynamics that take place in these situations can increase your chances of survival. There are four phases in every hostage situation no matter the length of time or outcome; alarm, crisis, accommodation, and resolution. Each affects how hostage takers and hostages interact. Knowing which phase you are in can make the difference between life and death.

Alarm Phase

The alarm phase is the most traumatic and potentially dangerous time in any hostage situation. It does not last very long. Usually only about an hour in length. However, during this hour, the potential for violence is high. Everyone’s emotions are running high, and the hostages and hostage-takers are likely operating on pure adrenaline. The situation will likely be chaotic at this point. The Hostage takers are hyper-vigilant and may react aggressively towards any perceived threat.

This is a critical time for hostages. It is during this phase of the crisis that captors are most likely to harass, abuse, or kill hostages to consolidate their position and demonstrate their control of the situation. It is during this stage that you should try your hardest to remain calm and not antagonize your captors.

Crisis Phase

During this phase, the hostage-takers attempt to consolidate their positions. This is usually the starting point for the negotiators that will be brought in to try to resolve the situation peacefully. There is a lot of emotional energy flowing during this time, and sometimes there is also a lot of physical altercations as well. Hostages may be separated and moved to different locations. Hostage takers may be on edge due to their fear of assault by police or military tactical teams.

As you have probably seen in countless movies, this is the point where the hostage takers will often make demands or give impassioned speeches. For you, this is the most critical phase of the event and will set the tone for all future interactions with your captors.

Like it or not hostage/captor interactions at this point can either enhance or reduce your chances for survival. You should take the opportunity to rest and eat if food is offered. You should assume a position of patient compliance and in no way challenge your captor’s authority or control of the situation.

Accommodation Phase

The Accommodation Phase is the longest phase in a hostage crisis. You will feel like time is dragging on, punctuated with moments of sheer terror. It is during this phase that Stockholm syndrome begins to manifest. Hostages start to feel forgotten, or that the hostage-takers would leave if the police would just pack up and go home.

During this phase, negotiators are hard at work trying to bring the crisis to a peaceful resolution. Meanwhile, tactical units plan and deploy in the event they need to assault the building.

Emotionally and psychologically, this is the most challenging time for hostages. The loss of freedom of movement and communication, coupled with the fear and stress of the situation, can take a huge emotional toll on you. You should try to conserve as much energy as possible and do everything you can to follow your captor’s instructions.

Resolution Phase

In the end, both you and your captors may be emotionally and physically exhausted as the hours or days/months go by and begin to take their toll. This is the second most dangerous time in any hostage situation. Hostage takers realize that they’ve lost most of their bargaining chips and may become desperate. How things play out from this point on is primarily determined by the ability of the negotiator to bring the crisis to a peaceable conclusion.

How to Survive If You Become a Hostage

Now that you understand the four phases lets discuss exactly what you should do to survive.

  1. Don’t be a hero. Resign yourself to the situation and wait patiently. Under no circumstances should you attempt to control an armed hostage taker physically. Life is not a movie. Underestimating the physical skills of the hostage taker (especially if armed) could cost you and others your lives. If you are not alone, your actions can impact others.
  2. Follow Instructions. Regardless of who you were before this all began, you now have zero authority or control of the situation. Listen to what you are told to do and then comply. Don’t give your captors a reason to harm you as a means to demonstrate their control of the situation. Remember the hostage takers are under a great deal of stress and may not be thinking rationally.
  3. Only Speak when spoken to. You need to sit down, shut up. You attempt to initiate conversation may be interpreted as testing the hostage-takers control of the situation. Unless it is an emergency, it is best that you don’t say a thing. It will avoid drawing attention to you. If they start killing hostages, you don’t want to be the first person, with the big mouth, that they think of.
  4. Don’t offer suggestions. Attempting to be helpful will generally only antagonize your captors and make things worse for everyone. Leave the negotiations to the professionals and let the police or military do their jobs.
  5. Stay Calm. I know this will be incredibly difficult to do under the stress of being held hostage, but that is why you are reading this so that you can be prepared as this must be done. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by panic. You should rest and eat if possible. You have no idea how long it will take to resolve this situation, and the emotional ups and downs can be debilitating.
  6. Always Evaluate your ability to escape safely. The opportunity for you to escape must be carefully weighed against the chances of success vs. the possibility of being caught. If you are caught, you may be severely injured or killed. As I said earlier, life is not a movie, and you’ll only get one chance to do it right.
  7. Ask for help when you need it. After the crisis phase, it may be appropriate to request aid such as medication if you require it. Your life is a bargaining chip to the hostage takers, and there is no percentage in them, allowing you to become ill or die.
  8. Never argue with hostage takers. Arguing with your captors will only make you stand out in their minds and focus their attention on you. If you are perceived as a threat, you could be harmed as a message to the other hostages.
  9. Avoid drawing attention to yourself. Try to blend in and be as unobtrusive as possible. You absolutely do not want to stand out in your captor’s memory.
  10. Treat your captors with respect. This, along with not challenging their authority or attempting to embarrass them, will go a long way towards ensuring that hostages are not mistreated. Don’t downplay the seriousness of the situation.
  11. Never attempt to trick your captors. Trying to manipulate the situation for your advantage is a dangerous game. If you are found to be lying, the hostage-takers may make an example of you to demonstrate their control.
  12. Be patient. Hostage situations are often long, drawn-out events. Police are hard at work, trying to bring the situation to a peaceful resolution. The longer the situation goes on, the higher your chances are for survival.
  13. Be a good witness. Pay attention (Situational Awareness) to the hostage takers. Who is in charge? How many of them are there? What kind of weapons do they have? What is the disposition of the hostages? Have they been harmed? If you are released before the other hostages, these and many more questions will be important for the police tactical units and hostage negotiators to know.

That’s it. I hope you never find yourself in this type of situation. But if you do, these tips could save your life. Read them and remember them.

Click here for more life saving tips and self defense instruction taught by Derek Smith.

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