The Moscow Terror Attack: The Tactics That Saved Lives and How You Can Use Them

The Moscow Terror Attack: The Tactics That Saved Lives and How You Can Use Them

by Kiril Krastanoff

On March 22, 2024, four heavily armed ISIS-K terrorists stormed the Crocus City Hall in a suburb of Moscow and attacked concertgoers attending a performance of a popular band. The terrorists fired automatic weapons and hurled explosive devices at the crowd, causing the venue, part of a larger commercial and shopping complex, to erupt in flames. The attack killed 143 and wounded hundreds more.

Many of the dead were victims of smoke inhalation. Some were trampled to death in the chaos and confusion. Those who overcame the disorientation and panic and navigated their way through the flames while successfully evading the terrorists survived the nightmarish ordeal. Their quick thinking and coolness under great duress demonstrated how quick thinking and staying calm during an attack can mean the difference between life and death.

There are invaluable lessons to be learned from this tragedy. Being psychologically prepared to react decisively to such an incident is key to surviving such an ordeal.

We will examine the tactics and instinctive tools employed by the survivors of the Crocus City Hall concert attack and offer actionable takeaways that can significantly increase your chances of making it out alive from the hell of a catastrophic attack.

Table of Contents

  • 01

    First Steps to Take During Active Shooting

  • 02

    How to Survive Being Trapped Inside a Burning Building

  • 03

    Sheltering In Place When All Escape Routes Are Cut Off

  • 04

    Extending a Helping Hand to Others (When Safe to Do So)

  • 05

    First Aid During Mass Shooting

  • 06

    Heightened Situational Awareness

  • 07

    Essential Emergency Response Equipment

  • 08

    Frequently Asked Questions

First Steps to Take During Active Shooting

Emergency personnel are pictured near the scene of the terror attack (AP)

Imagine the music abruptly stopping at a concert or a movie theater, suddenly going dark, immediately replaced by the terrifying sounds of gunfire. In the split seconds that follow, confusion reigns. The chaos and panic are magnified by screams. Do you race to the nearest exit or race to seek cover? Knowing what to do in an active shooter situation can significantly increase your chances of survival. These choices have become even more common as active shooter incidents have evolved into a growing threat.

Tip: The American Red Cross offers helpful resources on bleeding control techniques.

Step 1: Identify the Source of the Gunfire

Image courtesy of Envato

Listen for the direction of the gunshots. This will help you determine if you should run or seek cover.

If the gunfire is far off but coming closer to you, try to assess the approach path of the attackers and their approximate distance. Immediately run in the opposite direction until you are in the clear, and preferably make your way to an emergency exit

If the source of the gunfire is close, then lay down and seek cover. Making a run for it might not be possible, and it might paint you as a target.

Step 2: Avoid the Visual Line of Sight at All Cost!

During your escape, never, under any circumstances, let there be a direct line of sight between you and the attackers! If they cannot see you, they cannot chase you down.

If you do not see any possibility of escape, find a sturdy place to hide. Look for concrete walls, pillars, or anything substantial that can shield you from gunfire.

Understand that there is a difference between cover and concealment. Concealment simply breaks the visual line of sight, while cover gives you a protective barrier to shield you from the impact of gunfire.

Thin walls, furniture, or seats are NOT bulletproof or bullet-resistant, so always try to get behind the sturdiest object you can find.

Step 3: Leave Any Belongings Behind

Do not waste time grabbing your belongings. Fumbling for your purse, phone, or other items can delay your escape or make it more difficult to find a proper cover. It sounds cliché, but seconds can mean the difference between life and death.

Note: If others, even those in your group, do not agree to follow you, evacuate anyway.

Step 4: Silence Your Electronics

Image courtesy of Envato

Once you have secured your escape route or found cover, make sure to silence all your electronic devices.

The last thing you want is your phone notifications, giving away your hiding position.

Note: Always be aware of secondary threats: There may be additional attackers or explosions, so staying vigilant is important.

Step 5: Call 911 After You Have Established Cover and Feel Safe

Image courtesy of Envato

When you have found a measure of protection and safety, immediately report the incident to 1. Provide as many details as you can, such as the number of shooters, their location, and what they are wearing. Also, try and report on the number of victims and any other pieces of information that can be important to the first responders. The better informed the emergency response forces are, the better equipped they will be to manage the situation.

Follow any instructions or updates that the dispatcher gives you, and only hang up if you must.

You can move out only when and if law enforcement has secured the location and if the attackers are no longer a threat. You do not want the police to confuse you with one of the gunmen.

Step 6: If You Are Carrying a Weapon, be Prepared to Use It

There have been dozens of active shooter incidents and terror attacks that have been stopped by law-abiding citizens who deployed their concealed carry firearms. If you find yourself in such a situation, the most important thing to remember is the tactical decision of deciding when to act.

Live fire drills (Image courtesy of MIRA Safety)

Engaging a heavily armed terrorist or mentally deranged active shooter is highly dangerous, so if you have the option of escaping without employing lethal force, it is also worth considering. Just remember that practicing your shooting skills on the range in a calm and controlled environment is very different from accurately engaging human targets in combat-like situations.

To shoot or not to shoot is a complicated choice to make. It is always best to make a run for it. As a disclaimer, always be aware of your local laws regarding self-defense and the use of lethal force. Never deploy it unless it is your only option to survive.

Note: Every situation is unique. Use your best judgment based on the circumstances. Always be aware of any laws in your area regarding the use of lethal force.

Even in gun-free zones, there are alternative self-defense tools that you can use to protect yourself. Having some type of non-lethal weapon like pepper spray can be used to disorient and slow down an attacker, but using it depends on numerous factors and intangibles. They should only be deployed if you are cornered and have no other choice. It is always best to attempt to flee or find cover and hide. Your primary objective is to escape or seek cover and not confrontation.

Note: Always assume there is more than one attacker, and remember that an active shooter incident only concludes when you have successfully evacuated and are safe and the authorities have declared the area secure.

How to Survive Being Trapped in a Burning Building

Burning building roof (Image courtesy of Envato)

During the Moscow terror attack, the attackers threw grenades and improvised explosive devices, causing the concert hall to erupt in flames. This fire spread rapidly; the resulting smoke claimed many lives.

However, some of those attending the concert were able to evacuate successfully. They followed proper emergency protocol during a building fire. Here are a few suggestions as to how you should respond if you find yourself involved in a terrorist incident or inside a location that is on fire.

If the alarm sounds or you discover that there is a fire in your building, the most important action is to evacuate immediately. Here is what to do:

  • Feel the Door Before Opening: A hot doorknob or handle could indicate fire on the other side. Use the back of your hand to feel the door. If it is hot, find another escape route.
  • Look for Emergency Exits or Fire Escape Signs: Head to the nearest designated exit and follow the evacuation plan.
  • Stay Low to the Ground: Smoke and heat rise. Crawl or stay low as you move towards the exit. This will help you avoid smoke inhalation and navigate better in low-visibility conditions.
  • Use Stairs, and never the Elevators: Elevators can malfunction during a fire. Always use stairs to evacuate a building.

Tip: Close any doors behind you, as this helps contain the fire and smoke.

If a fire starts, the hot air will always move to the highest point; cold air settles lower. The biggest threat during a building fire is not the heat itself but the chemicals and gases released during a fire.

Firefighter running through smoke (Image courtesy of Envato)

As a Last Resort, Shelter in Place: If escape routes are blocked by fire or smoke, stay in a room with the door closed. Seal gaps around the door with wet towels to block smoke from getting in. Call 911 and signal for help from a window.

Should I Make a Run Through a Burning Environment if I am Trapped?

There are times when sheltering in place is simply not an option: fire has engulfed your location, and you can only escape by going through the fire.

Note: Flashovers are sudden bursts of intense heat that can occur in an enclosed space filled with smoke. Be aware of this danger and avoid areas where a flashover might be imminent.

It is important to emphasize that passing through burning surroundings to escape a fire is an absolute last resort and should only be considered in the direst of situations when all other escape routes are completely blocked by flames or smoke.

Here is how you can approach this scenario:

  • Always look for alternative escape routes before considering going through the fire.
  • Only attempt this if there is no other egress and if the fire is small and contained in a specific area, not a raging inferno.
  • Protect Yourself: Cover your mouth and nose with a wet cloth or piece of clothing to minimize the effects of smoke inhalation.
  • Drench your clothes with water before making a run for it, moving quickly through any flame.

When you have made it through the fire, seek immediate medical attention! Even if you do not have signs of burns, you could still be suffering from the inhalation of toxic fumes or large doses of carbon monoxide.

If you are on the upper floors, always escape toward the lower floors. Never go for the roof of a building (as it's likely the first thing to collapse or get engulfed by fire).

If Your Clothes Catch Fire:

A blazing fire in a building (Image courtesy of Envato)

After making a run for it, you might have caught fire, in which case you need to follow these basic firefighting rules:

  • Stop, Drop, and Roll: Immediately stop moving, fall to the ground, and cover your face with your hands. Roll over and over to extinguish the flames.
  • Cool the Burn: Once the flames are out, cool the affected area with water for several minutes.
  • Seek Medical Attention: Even minor burns can require medical evaluation.

Sheltering In Place When All Escape Routes Are Cut Off

When an active shooter incident or fire cuts off escape routes, sheltering in place becomes the safest course of action.

This involves finding a secure location within the location to minimize your exposure to danger until help arrives. Here are helpful tips for sheltering in place effectively:

  • Find a Sturdy Room: Look for a room with a solid door that has only a few windows. Interior rooms are preferable to those on the perimeter. Bathrooms and closets can be suitable options if no other secure space is available.
  • Secure the Room: Close and lock the door if possible. Use furniture or other heavy objects to barricade the door for added security. Seal any cracks around the door with towels or clothing to block smoke or fumes.

As mentioned earlier, sheltering in place could be a viable option if you are uncertain where the active shooters are located or if you cannot make a run for it without being discovered.

Note: Playing dead gives you no guarantee an attacker will stop shooting someone who appears motionless. Focusing on playing dead might also prevent you from taking advantage of a chance to escape if the opportunity arises.

Extending a Helping Hand to Others (When Safe to Do So)

Emergency care after an injury (Image courtesy of Envato)

While prioritizing your safety is crucial, there may be situations where you can extend a helping hand to others after securing yourself. Here are some guidelines to offer aid responsibly to those in need:

  • If you see someone struggling to evacuate, help them move toward a safe exit, especially those with mobility limitations, children, or those who appear disoriented.
  • If you are familiar with the building’s layout, you can help guide others towards safe exits.

One of the most memorable images from the Moscow attack was footage of a heroic young man helping others nearby by showing them the path to safety and running with them as a guide through an emergency exit. Having even the most superficial familiarity with the building layout can be a lifesaver.

Note: Do not Be a Hero! Your safety is paramount, and you should only help others if it can be done safely and without putting yourself at significant risk.

First Aid During Mass Shooting

Medics apply emergency care to injured man (Image courtesy of Envato)

  • Assess the situation and only help others if it is safe to do so. Do not put yourself at further risk by entering an active danger zone.
  • If you have first-aid training, you can assist with CPR or apply pressure to wounds to stop the bleeding until medical professionals arrive.

Dealing with Gunshot Wounds:

Rescuers taking care of patients (Image courtesy of Envato)

While immediate medical attention is crucial for treating gunshot wounds, there are steps you can take to increase your chances of survival:

Stop the Bleeding:

Apply Direct Pressure: The most important immediate action that must be taken is to stop the bleeding as quickly as possible. Use a clean cloth or gauze pad to apply firm, direct pressure to the wound. Maintain pressure until help arrives.

Image of applying a tourniquet to stop bleeding (Image courtesy Getty Images)

Tourniquet as a Last Resort: Tourniquets are effective for stopping severe bleeding from limbs, but their use should be a last resort. Improper application can cause tissue damage and other permanent damage. If you are not professionally trained in the application of a tourniquet, prioritize direct pressure on the wound.

Tip: The American Red Cross offers excellent resources and training programs in basic first aid and CPR.

Note: Be Aware of Your Limitations: If you are not trained in first aid, prioritize basic support and emotional reassurance while waiting for medical professionals.

Heightened Situational Awareness

Being aware of your surroundings is the cornerstone of personal safety in any situation and can help you spot the early signs of a developing active shooter incident, like in the recent Moscow terror attack. Here is how to develop heightened situational awareness skillsets:

  • Be Mindful of Your Environment: Take note of exits, potential hazards, and people around you. Avoid distractions like headphones or cell phones when walking alone in unfamiliar areas.
  • Trust Your Instincts: If something feels off or makes you uneasy, it probably is. Do not be afraid to change plans and move away from a particular situation if you feel threatened or unsafe.
  • Maintain a Safe Distance: Keep a safe distance from people who appear suspicious or erratic. This allows you more reaction time if needed.

Essential Emergency Response Equipment

First aid kit (Image courtesy of Envato)

Having a well-stocked emergency kit in your home, place of work, and car is key to being able to survive life-threatening danger until help arrives. Here are a few key items to consider for your basic kit:

  • First-Aid Kit: A basic first-aid kit should include bandages, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, and other supplies to treat minor injuries. The American Red Cross offers excellent resources for building a first-aid equipment bag.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Depending on your location and the potential hazards you will encounter, a gas mask, gloves, and eye protection might be beneficial. These can be helpful during dust storms, chemical spills, or other situations where airborne particles pose a risk.
  • Communication Devices: A portable radio or a battery-powered cell phone charger are essential tools for staying informed and contacting emergency services during power outages or natural disasters.

Note: The specific contents of your emergency kit will vary depending on your location, risk factors, and individual needs. Regularly review and update your kit to ensure it remains functional.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I do if trapped in a room with no windows?
Should I fight back against the shooter?
What should I do after the situation is over?