What to Do If You Are Taken Hostage

In this day and age, hostage incidents have become almost commonplace. Hostage-takers and criminals in general view us as "symbols" of an institution (criminal justice system) or a way of life that they despise.

In this day and age, hostage incidents have become almost commonplace. Hostage-takers and criminals in general view us as "symbols" of an institution (criminal justice system) or a way of life that they despise. Whichever the case, our only response is to be trained physically and mentally to confront the issue of survival. The intent of this article is not to make you paranoid but to make you prepared. What follows is a list of tips to aid in your preparedness.

Be Human

There are no guarantees that I can give to law enforcement and corrections personnel who might fall victim to a hostage situation. If taken hostage, you should avoid turning into the "super cop." Remember, you pose a threat in the hostage-taker's mind simply because you are an officer. Therefore, be human in your demeanor. Project the image of a person who can accept adversity with dignity. Do not display bravado—this may provoke cruelty from the hostage-taker. Nor should you show cowardice—this may provoke contempt. Understand that orders and directions will be issued to you by the hostage-taker and that you will have to comply with them, willingly or by force.


While you are being held hostage, there will probably be times when you and the hostage-taker speak to each other. Generally, speak only if spoken to, and never provoke your captor. Do not become argumentative or give the hostage-taker any reason to grow angry. Attempt to answer any questions truthfully. Above all, do not attempt to negotiate with the hostage-taker. You may inadvertently interfere with trained negotiators from the outside who will be endeavoring to fain rapport with and the trust of the hostage-taker.

Set Goals

Depending upon the total length of the incident, personal goal setting is an essential survival technique. A hostage must place in his mind certain obtainable items that he or she wishes to accomplish. Certain tasks, such as eating and exercising (if possible), are vital in maintaining a healthy outlook and preparedness for a rescue attempt. Although the major goal for a hostage is survival, these minor obtainable goals are also vital.

Have Faith

As a hostage, you must never doubt that you will be rescued. Understand that officers and trained negotiators have perfected their talents to a point where these types of incidents have been brought to a successful conclusion time and time again. Truly believe that given time, the incident will be terminated and you will be safely released.

Time Is On Your Side

The first two hours of any hostage incident are the most dangerous.  Tension, stress and anxiety are all extremely high in the hostage-taker, hostage and rescue personnel. As time progresses, the hostage and his captor have the opportunity to emotionally bond and, in general, calm down. As a hostage, understand that the longer an incident lasts, the better prepared a rescue attempt will be. While negotiations are actively taking place, assault plans are being drawn and reviewed.


Always consider yourself a target for the hostage-taker. You are always a threat. Keeping this in mind, you must not become more of a problem than you already are. Attempt to do the things that you are ordered to do. Simply put, behave yourself and be the best hostage you can be.

Avoid Windows and Doors

Make an effort to locate yourself away from windows and doors.  Naturally, if a rescue attempt is initiated, these two avenues are the most commonly used entrances. Further, if there are additional hostages, try to remain as close together as possible. This facilitates better communication among the hostages and better control by the rescuers if an assault is made.[PAGEBREAK]

Avoid Abrupt Movements

During the hostage-taker incident, continue to mentally record all events that transpire. Note the hostage-taker's general demeanor, weapons, appearance, name, etc. If a crime occurs in your presence (assault, battery, etc.), note all the specifics surrounding the incident. Think twice about attempting to intercede-this may cause you additional problems.

Overpower Hostage-Taker

Every hostage situation is different. There may be times when the hostage has the opportunity to overpower and gain control of the hostage-taker. If this opportunity presents itself, the hostage will have only one chance to carry it out. If you are unsuccessful, prepare for and expect swift retaliation.


As with the previous section, the hostage will have only one chance to execute a plan of escape. Failing will result in some type of retribution. No one can state when or where to execute an escape, but one statement should be made: If a hostage truly feels that he or she has a chance to escape, a total of 100-percent effort must be made.  Anything less will result in failure.

Maintain Morale

Attempt to display a non-troublesome and rational attitude as a hostage.  This is accomplished by maintaining high morale. In doing so, you project order and calm in the center of a bizarre event.

The Aftermath

Hostage incidents may be terminated in one of two ways. A negotiated settlement is the preferred conclusion. This occurs when rapport and trust are built between the hostage-taker and the negotiators. When this occurs, do not be surprised to be secured and transported out of the area before or after the hostage-taker is placed into custody. Remember that the rescue team may not know you and, therefore, may treat you as a possible suspect until your identity is clear, especially if you have been ordered to remove your uniform. The main concept is to follow all directions that the rescue team gives you.

The less preferred method to terminate a hostage incident is a tactical assault. This erupts when there is a breakdown in negotiations or the incident commander orders an assault. Immediately upon the rescuers' entrance, the hostage, if possible, should "hit the deck" and be motionless. Ideally, you should seek cover. If is extremely important for the hostage to comply with any and all directions issued by the rescue team. Once again, expect to be secured and moved out of the area until you are identified.

In all instances, released hostages must be interviewed and debriefed.  Valuable information may be obtained through intelligence supplied by these former hostages. Law enforcement and corrections officers serve as excellent sources of reliable information in these types of situations. After a thorough debriefing, hostages should be examined by a physician and therapist to assess their physical and mental conditions. This is imperative, based upon the future welfare of the hostage officer. There have been instances when officers have been held hostage, released and immediately sent back to work. This is not the ideal situation.

As a freed hostage, be prepared to experience a tremendous release of pent-up emotions. You may laugh or cry; you may be extremely excited or completely drained. All these reactions are acceptable and should be looked upon as normal.

Capt. (Ret.) Cecil Pearson is a nationally recognized consultant and training provider.  He is president of Pearson-Radli & Associates Inc, which provides quality training to law enforcement and correctional personnel. He can be reached at (702) 645-3166 or E-mail: peaccc@aol.com.

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