What I Learned About Terrorism While Living Abroad … Resilience As A Way of Life

Almost 30 years ago, I lived in the Republic of Turkey and worked as a field administrator for the City Colleges of Chicago at the joint NATO Air Base at Incirlik. At that time, Turkey had just come out from under military law that was put in place to control the dangerous conditions wrought by terrorist and separatist factions.

It was the early 1980’s, and the collective mood in the country was fairly optimistic as the economy was growing, resources were abundant, and government policy made education and employment opportunities accessible for residents throughout the region.

Don’t misunderstand. Conditions were decidedly different from the U.S., and our family observed a more restrictive lifestyle than back home. But, all in all, we traveled throughout the country with relatively few restrictions, visiting ancient ruins and historic sites, shopping for carpets and copper keepsakes, and connecting with the warm and welcoming population.

The experience was vastly better than I expected. Before I moved there, I had concerns about how much, or little, freedom I would have as a woman in that culture. I worried about security. I also wondered if I would feel “different” to an extent that would make my time there difficult and uncomfortable.

So we planned. In an era without digital communication (or even fax machines) we had a telephone tree. We had a dedicated neighborhood “watch” system, traveled in pairs whenever possible, and checked on each other. We established meeting places in case of any incidents, like bombings, and, throughout, we remained vigilant.

As it turned out, the main hazard we confronted during my time in Turkey (besides water-borne stomach illness) was seismic. So, we added earthquake safety to our overall, real, yet subtle state of readiness. As a result, we maintained physical and mental resilience in the face of known and unknown threats.

No doubt, my nearly four years in Turkey played a formative role in how I live my life today. I am risk aware, risk averse, and a professional risk communicator and disaster resilience advocate. I can’t imagine a more empowering way of living.

After Turkey, I spent a dozen years in the corporate world of insurance (a natural homeland for the risk conscious) working disaster preparedness, catastrophe claims response, and billion-dollar catastrophe exposure reduction initiatives. And, after that, I had the opportunity to help create and lead our organization where I’ve dedicated the last 17 years to promotion of risk awareness, mitigation, planning, and leveraging resilience strategies to improve life for all in harm’s way.

As I joined the world last weekend as a witness to the horrors wrought by the murderous Paris terrorist attacks, I reflected on what we can do in what some predict will be our new normal. It’s clear that we may not be able to prevent future terrorist strikes. But what we can do is be aware, plan, and prepare to be a helpful part of a solution no matter what happens.

We must follow the call to arms, “If you see something, say something”. And in all settings, whether entertainment or travel or just around our hometowns, we must make contingency planning our new normal. It’s really not complicated, and with a bit of practice, it becomes second nature. For me, it comes as easily as breathing. No matter what I’m doing, I always have a plan “B”.

Sadly, as our time in Turkey came to a close, the era of optimism was ending. Terrorist bombings took place in Ankara and Athens, and threats to other military installations were on the rise. As an expectant mother, I implemented my ultimate contingency plan and left the country.

Today, we cannot and will not leave our country. And we cannot be intimidated by terrorists to stay home or be afraid. We must be resolute, and we can be resilient.

All it takes is a bit of practice.

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