How CEOs Might Survive Mumbai-style Terrorism

The bloody carnage at the hotels in Mumbai raises the question of what CEOs should do if they are caught in a terrorist hostage trap. So far 145 people including Israelis, Americans and others, have killed and hundreds more wounded.

No easy answer, security experts say. If attacks are well-planned and the terrorists are disciplined and motivated, not many options are available.

Keeping a low profile helps and fighting back can be an option. But doing so is extremely risky. Just after the 9/11 attacks, I asked Julien Patterson, head of the security firm Omniplex World Services just outside of Washington in Chantilly, Va., if fighting back were an option.
Patterson, a former CIA security officer, told me: "The problems are always of doing it under stress and in a confined space. It takes extraordinary presence of mind to make the right moves, and no one knows how they will do under stress. People with military training have developed a way to handle themselves under stress, so they'll have an immediate point of reference to go to."

Obviously, if one is facing several well-motivated terrorists cradling Kalashnikovs, the fight-back mode is a bad idea. But keeping one's head can be the only ticket to survival.

In the Mumbai case, terrorists actually screamed at hotel guests with British or U.S. passports to identify themselves. In fact, experts say, keeping a low ID profile is merely common sense. Some other ideas:

  • Don't speak openly in public areas in ways that will give you away.
  • No "bling-bling." Leave the Rolex and the diamonds at home.
  • Don't get so distracted by your Blackberry that you aren't aware of what is going on around you.
  • Limit what's in your wallet.
  • Ditch the Yankees cap. You might as well paint "American" on your forehead.
  • Keep in touch with your home office and always with your security people.
If it comes a life or death situation, Patterson told me that the best option is to flee. If you do need to get physical make a hammer fist and chop down on the assailant's clavicle. If he drops a weapon, do not pick it up unless you are expert enough and prepared enough to use it.

Judging from the limited news out of the Mumbai hotels, it seems that victims didn't have any choices.