A colleague never got over the devastation. She opened her computer to begin her U.S. government job in a foreign country and sat down to plan a routine day’s work. Since this Middle Eastern location was always hot and dry, she looked forward to the midday lunch break when she could refresh herself with the endless supply of iced tea the cafeteria promised. That day was different. A terrorist bomb exploded as the employees sat down to dine and socialize. The blast hurled people around like dolls, severing limbs, torsos and heads. A chaos of fire, smoke, blood, and debris filled the room, then screams of pain.

Twenty years later, my friend still remembered everything about that day. Those who work with controlled classified information know at some point this could be us. She still had photographs of that event, and we used them to show our office compatriots that the threat is real. Yet this beckoned in another way.  We came to understand that her pain was not that of a soldier, who knows instinctively that his pain can come from an attack due to the nature of military life. Few civilians know that they are targeted along with their uniformed counterparts. This is because almost every political terrorist sees an American presence abroad as a provocation – including civilian and contract workers abroad.

We’ve talked at length, and with great effect, on the initiative that if you see something out of the norm, then you must say something. But what if something does happen, and the bomb goes off? Are we prepared? Just one aspect of this preparation need be addressed here: how to help the colleague who must live with the aftermath of a bombing or similar terror event.


Combat or an attack leaves an impact and sometimes a scar. Do you have someone available to counsel your people after an attack? We read of the prevalence of PTSD among our military, but not as much about resources for the civil population caught up in such disasters. Let’s consider what a post-attack scenario might look like.

1. Establish a civilian response team and involve public affairs staff.

Stress is everywhere. People want information. This is why your response team must provide timely, accurate, and helpful information. So, tell what you know about the incident and defuse rumors. This is critical. Terrorists want fear to be the payoff of their attack and the more rumors, the better for them. The quicker and more accurate your response from authoritative first responders and investigators, the better. Show how the investigation is progressing through updates and ask for any and all input. Show that the information is valued by taking such information seriously, but privately.

2. Offer onsite counseling.

Like counseling in Transition Assistance Programs for our military, be sure to show how members of the affected staff can follow up with resources to allay their fear. Be sure they know who their trained counselors are. These may be religious, social workers, or trained fellow staff members. Such trained staff can help alleviate many of the sensations that will affect those who were targeted. Having professional counselors available can save years of subsequent pain.

For example, we now know that many service members and survivors of trauma find great relief when they can talk about their experiences with someone who understands, and can guide their recovery. Establish a known response team for such work. Bear in mind that though we generally refer to terror attacks or active shooters, the same can be true after major natural disasters. After a major tornado hit our valley, people impacted were left dazed and wandering. Trained Red Cross counselors did not arrive until three days after the strike. Meanwhile, a man was found sitting in his car, engine running, staring as in a daze at the remains of his home. He hadn’t eaten in days. Though his eyes were open, he was unresponsive.  A day later, the Red Cross arrived with a professional counselor. In planning for natural disasters, we are advised to have three days of food and water on hand. As this example shows, not only material needs must be prepared.

Plan for the worst. Ideally, plan to prevent. But remember, if an attack or disaster happens, mitigate its damage by planning to lighten the mental load of your colleagues.

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John William Davis was commissioned an artillery officer and served as a counterintelligence officer and linguist. Thereafter he was counterintelligence officer for Space and Missile Defense Command, instructing the threat portion of the Department of the Army's Operations Security Course. Upon retirement, he wrote of his experiences in Rainy Street Stories.