Survival Guides

Hostage Survival

You were at the bank applying for a small business loan, when a group of masked men came in to make an unauthorized withdrawal. Or you were walking home at night from the sushi bar, when a man with a pistol grabbed you from behind and held you between himself and the police officers he was fleeing. Either way, you have just become a hostage.

Some studies estimate that an average 200 people are taken hostage each year across the globe, while other research places this figure a bit higher, depending on how the term “hostage” is defined. Regardless of the actual figure or definition, this is a situation that Hollywood does not adequately prepare us for. If you become victim of this crime, your primary goal should be survival, so that is what this article will focus on.

Hostage Survival

How to survive hostage?

We will focus on three primary entities: hostages, hostage takers, and rescuers. The interplay between these entities is complex, and strongly determines the outcome of the situation. The three broad categories of hostage situation resolution we’ll cover are acquiescence, capitulation, and confrontation. Acquiescence is a peaceful resolution, by which the hostage takers’ demands are met, and hostages released. Capitulation is a peaceful resolution, by which the hostage takers resign their cause and surrender to authorities. Confrontation is a non-peaceful resolution, by which one of the entities involved initiates violent actions. As a hostage, you have binary outcomes: life or death.

Some research suggests that the hostage takers’ motivation influences the outcome. Religious fanaticism tends to trend toward the confrontational outcome, as this often becomes classified as a terrorist act after-the-fact, and the hostage taker may have had no intentions for personal survival from the start. Other motivations, such as political or financial, show a higher probability of peaceful resolution.

What to do in hostage scenario that you cannot escape from?

If you find yourself in a hostage scenario that you cannot escape from, do not panic. The initial moments of a hostage-taking are the most volatile, and they set the stage for the relationships developed between hostages and their captors. This is no time for ego: resist the temptation to control the situation yourself, as any aggressive action jeopardizes the safety of your fellow hostages. Lie face down, remain calm, and follow your captors’ instructions. Be observant of your surroundings, and attempt to gain as much information as you can without drawing attention to yourself. 

Once the initial moments of panic settle down, mentally prepare for some endurance. Law enforcement response could take from minutes to hours, depending on location. They will take some time to establish a cordon, set up surveillance, and establish a negotiation. Their first priority will be for your safety and sustenance, so give them time to do their jobs while helping your fellow captives remain calm.

Chances of survival

You are now in a waiting game that could take hours, days, or even weeks. The good news is that your chances of survival have increased by this time. One study suggests that the dominant variable in your survival equation is now the introjection you form with your captors. By recognizing one another as human beings with dignity and value, you become less objectified as a pawn in the game. Regardless of how distasteful you find your captors or their cause, attempt to build some rapport within the bounds of the rules they have put in place.

Professional law enforcement will work day and night toward a peaceful resolution through acquiescence or capitulation. They will monitor the captors’ psychological condition and will barter for your release. They also have a set of criteria by which they predict that a peaceful resolution is improbable. One of the entities involved, either the hostage takers or rescuers, may initiate a confrontational resolution. If this occurs, the chances of a hostage fatality rise to approximately 33%.

Hostage Survival

If conflict begins, do not attempt to assist the rescue team. Not only will you draw attention to yourself as a target for your captors, you might actually be mistaken as an aggressor by the rescuers. It is best to find cover and concealment (away from glass), cover your ears, and look away from the action—indoor gunfire and flashbang grenades are a bit overwhelming to the senses. If irritants, such as tear gas, get employed, cover your face with a cloth and keep your eyes and mouth closed.

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For the rescue team’s own safety, they may search you and bind your hands while they continue clearing the scene. Do not resist or take it personally; they need to search for wolves in sheeps’ clothing before they declare the situation contained. Be patient while they tend to medical needs and conduct lengthy interviews with all captives.


Congratulations, you’ve survived your first hostage event! In this life-or-death scenario, you should now be equipped to choose the path leading toward survival. Make use of online banking, and always remember not to walk down a dark alley at night.

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