'Run - Hide - Fight'. On security with dr Piotr Robakowski

After years of working in special services, dr Piotr Robakowski decided to use his experience in science. Currently, at the Institute of Political Sciences at the University of Gdańsk, he deals with security issues broadly, including security in medical institutions. We talk to our specialist about the causes of the recent attack on the premises of Charles University in Prague and the prevention of such incidents.


dr Piotr Robakowski

Marcel Jakubowski: - Educational institutions are increasingly common sites for attacks, such as the one that took place at Charles University in Prague. Is this because they are an easy target for attackers?

Dr Piotr Robakowski: - Certainly yes. Here, it is not entirely predictable whether it will be universities or, as in Slovakia, a hospital. The attacker is often concerned with a spectacular effect that will be talked about. At universities, we have clusters of people that anyone can join. Even though there is security, anyone can still enter and, among other things, carry out an attack there. Even though such incidents happen, we won't close the university because that would defeat its purpose. So, the risk is always there. However, I would not say that public units or universities are objects of interest to assassins; simply because of their organisation, it is easier to carry out an attack in such a place.

- Are we talking about terrorist attacks here?

- I would not link these attacks directly to terrorism but to a specific ideology. Increasingly, certain people identify with a particular political current and want to manifest this in some way. I advocate not closing universities and areas where we can expect threats but consistently educating society. We often deal with people who have had something turned on their heads and decided to attack. If it is a terrorist who has been trained beforehand and has come to Europe to carry out an attack, there is a good chance that he will be caught somewhere and will not achieve his goal. On the other hand, if a person influenced by some extremist idea wants to carry out such an action, they will probably carry it out. What we can do is minimise the impact of such an attack.

- So, does it all depend on educating the public? Should we know how to behave?

- Yes. We should remember that we are operating in an environment that we know. We can recognise if someone is new here and if they are behaving as if they have come to visit a friend or perhaps for another purpose. We should certainly not be indifferent to such behaviour. If someone enters somewhere they are not allowed to be or behaves strangely, we should report it. Many times, acts of violence do not occur thanks to someone reacting. One can ask, for example, 'Good morning, can I help you? What are you doing here?'. As regular visitors to a place, it is easier for us to assess the natural state. In the event of a deviation from accepted norms, we can act somehow.

 - You deal with security professionally and academically. You mentioned the attack on the hospital in Slovakia. Was it also politically motivated?

- During that situation, the father of a child who was admitted to the hospital and died attacked the facility and the medical staff. The incident was not exactly terrorism-related, but the methods the attacker used were strictly terrorist. There is a certain dehumanisation in society. Some people want to publicise their problems so much that they choose to behave this way.

- What to do then? Run away? Try to organise?

- Surely, we should accurately assess the situation. There used to be a belief that we did nothing and waited for the services to arrive. However, the services are not usually there. Nowadays, they talk about three steps: Run - Hide - Fight. The first step is to flee the scene of danger and warn others. You see that someone has a knife and shout that someone has a knife. Such a clear shout of 'Attention, he has a knife!' or even 'Fire!' will result in other people fleeing the scene of danger. I once analysed an attack in Tunisia, where the attacker walked on the beach and specifically shot only tourists. Some people were unaware that something was happening, others stood paralysed, and there was also a group who were taking videos with their phones. Sometimes, however, there is no way to escape, and then hiding is necessary. It is vital that this hiding place does not become a place with no way out. The third element is, of course, fight. We are talking about a situation where we can neither escape nor hide. We are alone with the attacker and must defend ourselves in every possible way. Whether it be a chair or something else - it is important to repel this attack and run away. In such situations, it is worth mentioning the necessary defence that everyone is entitled to in order to repel an unlawful attack on their life or health. 

- Would you recommend any martial arts that might be useful in such situations?

- Even if someone has practised to defend themselves against an attacker for years, this type of confrontation still puts them at risk. At the same time, knowledge of martial arts can often create the illusory belief that we can cope. We should treat confrontation as a last resort. I once ran a workshop where I was asked about defending ourselves against a knifeman. We had an assassination attempt on the President of Gdańsk a few years ago, and the participants wanted to know if it was possible to defend against that. There is probably nothing more dangerous than an attacker with a knife; even an attacker with a firearm is less effective.  The US Marines once prepared a clip on what to do in a confrontation with a knife-wielding attacker - you should just run away. After all, we can defend ourselves against a single blow, but each successive blow can be fatal - remember that the attacker may be well-prepared and determined.

- So even marines run away?

- Yes, they do; there are many police videos where the knife-wielding attacker stands on one side and the policeman on the other. Even though the law enforcement officer draws his gun and stops the attacker, he still gets fatally wounded. Often, such persons are agitated and under the influence of intoxicants. Regardless of strength and skill, it is difficult to resist such an attack in this type of situation. We should rely on prevention, alerting and warning others, and running away. If I run away and call 112, I will do more than if I were to throw myself at the attacker and struggle with him. It happens that a group of people are trying to stop an attack somewhere, and the services don't even know about it.

- You co-authored a paper on whether the European migrant crisis will affect terrorist threat assessments in Europe. What were the conclusions of this work?

- The main conclusion was that certain cultural differences make us react differently to social problems. When confronted with inequality, some will perform the heroic act of shouting and making their case. In other cultural circles, this often manifests itself in more radical ways. There are simply different social norms adopted. This does not mean that the problem lies solely with immigrants who are unable to adapt to new realities or are experiencing some trauma, such as those associated with fleeing war zones. We, too, should be aware of these problems and the resulting risks. For example, the vulnerability of such people to extremist ideas or falling into conflict with the law.

- So it's all about welcoming migrants properly?

- Yes - and about adjusting the environment; after all, we cannot measure everyone by our own yardstick. We need to be sensitive to the problems of these people, but also to set certain boundaries and educate them.

- Thank you for the interview.


Marcel Jakubowski/ Press Office UG