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posted on 20 March 2016

Blunting The Impact Of A Knife Attack


-- this post authored by Scott Stewart

An American man was wounded March 10 in a knife attack in Fintas, Kuwait. A statement from the U.S. Embassy did not specifically label the attack an act of terrorism, but the wording intimated as much, warning of the threat of planned extremist actions against American and Western citizens.

The Fintas incident came on the heels of the March 8 killing of an American graduate student in Tel Aviv, the most recent episode in a long series of attacks in Israel that Hamas is calling the "knife intifada." This is not, however, something that happens only in the Middle East. Since December, there have been several attacks employing edged weapons in and around the New York subway system, and on Feb. 11 a grassroots jihadist wielding a machete attacked patrons at a Mediterranean restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. Most recently, on March 14, a man with a knife attacked a Canadian armed forces recruitment center in North York, wounding two service members.

These incidents justify a close look at edged weapon attacks, strategies to avoid them and ways in which a potential target can protect themselves.

First Things First

It is important to recognize that, like any other criminal or terrorist attack, an edged weapon attack will follow the attack planning cycle. Obviously, the steps of the cycle for such an attack will manifest differently from those of a kidnapping, vehicle bomb attack or other more complex action. Most edged weapons attacks are crimes of opportunity not deliberately directed against a specific target. This means the attacker will operate more like an ambush predator than one that stalks. In an ambush, steps of the attack cycle such as target selection, planning and deployment are condensed - nevertheless, they are still present, and there are points during the attack cycle at which the attacker can be detected and avoided.

As in many other types of attacks directed indiscriminately against random targets, the most obvious warning sign is the attacker's demeanor as he or she selects a target and prepares to launch the attack. Similar to suicide bombers or other assailants, attackers preparing to strike with an edged weapon will usually exhibit behavior that is simply out of place. While not all attackers exhibit the same characteristics, signs such as abnormally tense body posture, a fixed stare, a nervous attitude or abnormal perspiration may indicate ill intent. These cues should then be considered alongside other contextual factors to help determine whether an individual poses a potential threat.

The key to spotting unusual demeanor, and to gathering the additional information required to place that demeanor into context, is practicing proper situational awareness. People practicing good situational awareness can literally see trouble coming and take steps to avoid it. This ability is doubly valuable in a situation involving an attacker armed with an edged weapon because that assailant must be within arm's reach to harm you.

The Nature of Blades

Because knives, daggers, box cutters and other edged weapons are by nature an extension of the arm, their range extends only as far as the attacker can reach, plus the length of the blade. And I am purposefully discounting thrown edged weapons here. Throwing a knife or tomahawk at a moving target at an unmeasured distance to deadly effect is far more difficult than Hollywood has suggested. Novelty throwing weapons such as shuriken are also unlikely to be used to deadly effect. Quite simply, it is far easier to kill someone with an edged weapon you hold on to than with one you throw.

Because of this, an attacker must be within approximately 3 feet to strike you with a knife or box cutter and within perhaps 5 feet for longer blades - although a skilled user can lunge several feet farther with a sword. Still, the best way to protect against an attack with an edged weapon is to simply stay out of the attacker's range.

If you are unable to avoid the attacker, then it is handy to have received some self-defense training - specifically training related to edged weapons. It is also important to understand that in an encounter with a determined opponent armed with an edged weapon, you are likely to get cut. But the good news is that most cuts will not be fatal. So even if you are slashed or stabbed, you must continue to fight. Do not simply surrender at the first sign of blood and allow yourself to be slaughtered.

To defend yourself against a person armed with an edged weapon, carrying a firearm would obviously help, but since doing so is illegal in many places, it will often be necessary to find some sort of improvised weapon. A club is very effective against an assailant armed with a knife - especially if it is long enough to hit the attacker from beyond knife range. An object such as a barstool or restaurant chair can be used to keep the attacker out of range until escape is possible or the attacker turns his attention to another target. In recent attacks in Israel, victims have struck assailants with a variety of improvised weapons, including a metal bar and a guitar. During the Ohio machete attack, an employee wielding a baseball bat and a patron throwing chairs chased the attacker out of the restaurant.

In a worst-case scenario - if there is no viable escape route and no opportunity to obtain an improvised weapon - it is crucial to get control of the hand and arm holding the blade. Notice that I am not saying "get control of the weapon." That is too difficult, even with training. Plus, grabbing a knife blade can result in terrible cuts to the hand. In the case of larger weapons such as machetes, swords or axes, if you cannot get away, it might actually be safer to get inside the cutting radius of the weapon in order to confront and disable the attacker. That sounds counterintuitive, but it makes sense if you think about it. I have no intention of teaching specific self-defense moves here and strongly encourage you to consider taking lessons from a professional.

If You Are Cut

If you are wounded in an attack, it is crucial to stop the bleeding until emergency workers arrive to help. External bleeding - even significant bleeding - can be stopped with pressure. This can be applied either directly with the hands or with some sort of pressure bandage. In cases of extreme arterial bleeding uncontrollable by any other means, use a tourniquet.

There is a difference between venous bleeding and arterial bleeding. Venous blood tends to flow more slowly than arterial, which often spurts. A victim can quickly die from a cut artery; therefore, arterial bleeding requires immediate attention. In such a case, a tourniquet can be a lifesaver.

Slashing cuts to the inner thigh, the inside of the upper arm or armpit, and the neck all could intersect major arteries. Any stab wound to the chest threatens the aortic arch, the heart itself and the lungs. Other wounds may pose equal dangers, but the rapid loss of blood adds an extra degree of pressure to these cuts in particular.

I personally travel with a simple first aid kit that includes, among other items, a tourniquet and hemostatic gauze to help stop bleeding. These items can be purchased quite inexpensively. But if someone is bleeding and you do not have access to such a kit, a variety of items such as belts, scarves or backpack straps can be employed. Even manual pressure using a shirt or other piece of cloth can help stop venous bleeding in many cases. It does not have to look pretty - it just has to stop the bleeding.

In addition to pressure, elevating a wounded limb above heart level can help reduce blood loss. You should also carefully watch a victim - yourself or anyone you are treating - for signs of shock and address it immediately. If shock is not treated, it can kill. Even the most basic first-aid courses teach how to detect and treat shock and how to control bleeding.

Edged weapon attacks can be deadly - and terrifying - and there is no sign that they will stop anytime soon. But with the proper situational awareness, mindset and training, edged weapon attacks can also be avoided or defended against.

"Blunting the Impact of a Knife Attack" is republished with permission of Stratfor.

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