Leading Czech security expert publishes survival handbook

Andor Šándor, photo: Adam Kebrt

Andor Šándor, former head of the Czech Military Intelligence, is a respected security expert. In connection with the growing security threat he makes frequent appearances on radio and television and lectures on what to do in the event of a crisis. Mr. Šándor has just published a book sharing some of his know-how. In an interview for Radio Prague he explained what led him to do so.

Andor Šándor,  photo: Adam Kebrt
“The title of the book is How to Survive Not Only a Terrorist Attack and it deals with all threats that are relevant to this country. Why did I write it? It’s simple, because the question is not whether we will face a terrorist attack but when it will be, we don’t know the place and we don’t know where it will happen. This is my basic philosophy, the reason why I decided to write the book. I lecture at high schools and universities, I’ve been lecturing ordinary people for more than two years and when I ask them ‘What would you do if you were caught in the middle of a terrorist attack or if you were a victim of a blackout” they are not able to answer because there are no simple rules for the citizens of this country to tell them how to behave if something nasty happens. So I decided to write that handbook, it is simple, there are simple things that people should do and I included things like what they should do when choosing their holiday destination, which areas they should avoid entering and things like that.”

What are the basic mistakes people make?

“I would say that in our country people make two basic mistakes. Our citizens do not obey the orders of the police or firemen, that is the first thing, we think that we have freedom and freedom means doing whatever you want. The second thing is that we tend to observe what’s happening and I keep telling people in my book that if something nasty happens you either run away or lie down on the ground and do not observe anything, wait until you are absolutely sure that the attack has ended. Do not go to the place of the first bomb explosion, because others may follow in a short period of time. These are the two things that people underestimate and they tend to make these mistakes.”

“You either run away or lie down on the ground and do not observe anything; wait until you are absolutely sure that the attack has ended.”

I believe you also mentioned an incident with a colleague of yours who survived an attack at Brussels airport because he knew what do to…

“Yes, because he was smart enough to realize that the best thing to do was to lie down on the ground and not observe anything and the man standing behind him, or beside him, was just surprised by what was happening and there was a second blast and the man next to him was killed.”

I suppose people would tend to panic when something like this happens and of course it may be sometime before they actually get instructions from a police officer. What do you do if you haven’t got the instructions yet but something has happened?

“I realize that, like in Manchester arena, when there is something happening people tend to panic and there should be someone from the organizers who will try to calm them down because panic is one of the worst things you may witness and when there is panic people can hurt themselves and others. ”

One of the things that you mention in your book is that people should avoid eye contact with a kidnapper, why is that?

“Because you may unintentionally provoke him, you may do something that he wouldn’t like. The rule is for people to avoid eye to eye contact with kidnappers.”

Right, and witnesses of an attack should not release any information on social networks?

Andor Šándor - 'How to Survive Not Only a Terrorist Attack',  photo: Autreo publishing
“Correct, because if there is a kidnapping and if the organized group of kidnappers, organized group of terrorists, are hiding somewhere and the police is chasing them or has surrounded the place where they are, then if people who are watching that make videos and put them on social networks, the terrorist or the kidnappers may be on the social networks too and can see the police arrangements or other things that the police do outside of the area that they are hiding themselves in.”

You also address the question of risks of cyber-attacks, how to avoid those. What is the main advice there?

“My book deals particularly with the fact that kids are on the Internet far too early, the average age of a kid on social networks should be about 13, but in reality we have kids at the age of 9 surfing the net and we should tell these kids that the life on Internet is as dangerous as the real world, that they may be hurt by those on the other side, who may try to abuse them sexually, and in other ways. So basically, I try to tell the parents this ‘Do not give your kids smartphones or mobiles or iPads instead of your love. If you talk to your kids about their problems they will not communicate their problems on the Internet with others’. So there are not many things we can do, but we should take care of our kids in particular at the age where they are growing up and are very vulnerable and if we don’t do that properly we may find that our kids discuss their problems with people that we have no idea who they are and what their intentions are.”

“People should be prepared, because the state does not have the capacity to deal quickly with the consequences of a blackout if it affects the whole of the Czech Republic for a longer period of time.”

Some of the advice you give also concerns a blackout. What is important to keep in mind there?

“It is important to realize that a blackout can happen anytime; even as we speak there can be a blackout. It is a realistic threat and we can predict in a detail what will happen and realize how dependent we are on the electricity. We can prepare ourselves in advance to deal with the consequences of a blackout and I try to give advice to ordinary people about what they should have at home, the amount of water per person, how much food they should have, how they should prepare all other things like medicine and things like that. People should be prepared, because the state does not have the capacity to deal quickly with the consequences of a blackout if it affects the whole of the Czech Republic.”

Would you say that people are woefully unprepared for such crisis situations nowadays?

“I believe that the people are not prepared, they are not told what to do if the blackout were to last longer than 3 or 5 days.”

What would happen then?

Illustrative photo: Camerafiend,  CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported
“In the winter, after three days people could not live in their flats because of the freezing cold. If you do not let the water drain out of the heating system it will be frozen inside the heating system and it will burst the pipes so that even when power is renewed people could not use their heating because it would be broken. Everything that we send via the sewage system after three days will come out again on the pavement and on the streets. There are many things that are so nasty; on the first day of a blackout in Prague people will be trapped in elevators. We have about 10,000 elevators, we don’t know who will be caught in them or how many hours they will spend there. In Prague we have approximately 1,200 people who are totally dependent on medical devices that require electricity. Even if the firemen knew where these people are they would not be able to help them at all because we only have 196 firemen on duty every 8 hours and 1,200 people that are dependent on these electric devices that let them breathe or something like that. You see this disproportion. If the blackout were to occur at 8 am we would have 150,000 people trapped in the metro. There is only one ambulance equipped to transport newborn babies for the whole of Prague, just one. I don’t know how many children are born every day but definitely many more than one. So it’s really frustrating how the system is not prepared well enough to deal with the consequences of a severe blackout.”

So you would say that the emergency services are not prepared for something of this scope?

“They are prepared, very well prepared, our firemen have more than 110,000 actions during the year but the problem is there are not enough of them to deal with a crisis like a blackout on the territory of Prague or a larger part of the country. I don’t doubt that these people are professionals; they are very well professionally prepared but the numbers are not enough to deal with a crisis of this scope.”

Illustrative photo: Menendj,  CC BY-SA 2.5
Mr. Šándor you lecture on the subject frequently, is the public concerned about the possibility of a terrorist attack, of a blackout or do you feel that basically people underestimate the danger and think ‘oh this won’t happen’?

“I don’t think that they underestimate it. They watch what’s going on in France, Belgium and Britain, and are afraid of that. On the other hand, when they choose where to go for the summer holidays they go to Egypt without asking a single question about how dangerous some parts of Egypt can be. It is a matter of choosing a holiday that is relatively cheap and it is a nice place to go but at the same time they do not realize that the Sinai Peninsula and some of these summer resorts are not perfectly safe. This is the problem. Our people underestimate the threat because the price of the holiday is relatively cheap and they can afford it. I understand that not everybody can go to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, the Maldives or Seychelles but they choose to go to places that are not perfectly safe.”