We often tell ourselves that hostage situations happen to either other people or characters in movies and TV shows. But what if it happened to you? The possibility is indeed rare, but would you know what to do when taken hostage? Being kidnapped or held against your will is likely not a day-to-day worry, but it is one of the scariest scenarios most people can imagine. While the experience would certainly be terrifying, those taken captive aren't entirely helpless - they can use strategies to survive the ordeal.
As with most emergency situations, being prepared in advance is essential. Survival tips for hostages aren't part of the standard curriculum at school. So if you have ever wondered what you should do when taken hostage, this list breaks down what you can expect in such a situation, and offers advice from negotiators, police officers, survivors, and other experts on how to stay unharmed.
Most governments and police agencies offer similar advice for those caught up in an attack or hostage situation. When an incident first breaks out, the consensus: run or hide. If it is possible to escape safely during the initial stages of an attack, you should do so immediately. Try to get others to come with you; leave personal belongings behind since they might slow you down.
If no escape route is available, the next best option is to hide. Barricade yourself in an area where a captor can't find or attack you with gunfire. A room with a locked door is ideal. Stay away from the doorway, and remember: if you can see the attacker, they might be able to see you. Silence your phone, too.
Though a hostage situation is incredibly stressful, it is important to remain as calm as possible throughout the ordeal. An unruffled demeanor could keep the danger from escalating further and calm the captor as well.
MaryLinda Moss, a hostage during the siege at a Trader Joe's store in Los Angeles, CA, in August 2018, tried to calm her captor, Gene Atkins, by telling him, "There's always hope. I know you have a good heart, and I know you don’t want to hurt anybody."
"When you put your hand on somebody's heart, it grounds them," Moss said in a Los Angeles Times interview. "I was trying to ground him, and manipulate him, yes, in the best way."
In some situations, it may be necessary to fight a hostage-taker, but only as a last resort since it poses considerable risk to everyone involved. Official advice from governments from around the world: run, hide, or fight during hostage situations or terrorist attacks involving captors with guns or other weapons.
If escape is impossible or a captor will start executing hostages, you and the group should fight back and try to overpower them. Use any nearby items as makeshift weapons, such as pens, heavy objects, or hot drinks, and try to take down the attacker quickly.
To avoid agitating your captor, you should follow instructions and be compliant. Only talk when necessary or if the captor speaks to you. Don't talk down to or argue with your captor, and avoid hostile looks and belligerent actions.
Abstain from engaging in political or ideological discussions. Be mindful of your surroundings.