Few things are as distressing as waking up and learning a terror attack has happened where your friends and whānau are. While our natural instinct is to fear the worst, it’s important to resist the temptation to panic.
Here’s what to do when you hear of a terrorist attack and think loved ones might be affected:
- If you can’t reach your friends and whānau, remember that mobile networks are often overloaded following terror and suspected terror incidents, because lots of other people are also trying to reach their loved ones. Likewise, they might not have time to respond to Facebook, Skype, email, or other attempts at communication right away.
- If following the unfolding events on social media, only follow official or verified accounts. Unfortunately, fake news is rife after terror attacks, including everything from fake missing people ads to calls for donations that are actually scams. Verified accounts, such as those run by police departments, major news organisations or government agencies, are verified (usually with a blue tick) because they are trustworthy. They may not be updated as quickly as less trustworthy accounts, but at least they won’t lead you astray – which can do wonders for your emotional and mental health.
- Use Facebook’s Safety Check feature – often activated in the immediate aftermath of a major attack or disaster – to ask your friends and family whether they are safe. With a simple click of a button, you can send them a notification that someone has asked whether they are safe. You can also see which friends in the area have already marked themselves as safe from harm.
- Remember that the odds of friends and whānau being physically hurt in a terror attack are incredibly low. Millions of people live in cities like London, Paris and Berlin, and millions more people visit such places each year. Even if you can’t get hold of them, the rules of probability tell us that they are likely to be safe.
- If you can’t get hold of friends and family for an extended period after the attack, and no other friends and family have been able to establish contact, call the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on 04 439 8000, or visit its website here. Or, if you are caught up in a terror attack overseas and are in need of assistance, MFaT also runs a 24-hour consular assistance service. Call +64 4 439 8000 to speak to a consular representative who can help you.
- Don’t respond with hate or by stereotyping people that had nothing to do with what happened. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks at the London Bridge, there were reports of Uber drivers of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent being racially abused. Far right groups and politicians like Donald Trump often use terror attacks to further their racist and nationalistic agendas; don’t feed into their scaremongering.
- Don’t give in to fear. Continue living a normal life. Statistically, you’re still far more likely to die from being hit by lightning or stung by a bee than in a terrorist attack.
- Understand that there’s probably not too much you can actually do. Wherever an incident occurred is likely thousands of kilometres away from Aotearoa. If you feel like you want to help from afar, there may be official funds and charities that you could donate to – but always verify that they are legitimate before offering any payment details.
As the name suggests, the whole idea of a terror attack is to instill fear and create hate between groups of people. ISIS in particular uses terror to trigger a harsh response from governments, which feeds into an ‘us against them’ narrative that the group uses to attract more recruits to its misguided cause.
It has been said time and time again, but dealing with the root causes of terror is not easy. The best way we can respond is with love and continuing to go about our lives; after all, it’s the most effective way to show terrorists they achieved nothing. And, one day, they might just finally realise that they can’t win.