Lessons Learned vol 3: Stephanie Survived the 2005 London Bombing
April 15, 2013
I was a student at the University of London, scraping my way through school by working as a software tester in a building on Tavistock Square. On July 7, 2005, London was attacked by suicide bombers who set off explosions in the London Underground (London’s subway system) and on a bus. In addition to the bombers, 52 civilians were killed and 700 more were injured. This is part of an email I sent to my brother:
The bus bomb went off about 60 yards away from my office. It was scary. We'd heard rumors of bombs but I didn't believe them until I heard the boom. I got scared when people ran back into the building yelling, “Get back! Get back!" I thought for sure we were goners; that someone with a gun was headed our way. (It's a terrible feeling to know there is nothing you can do to protect yourself or those around you.) We also thought there might be another bomb. Our office faces the street and has huge windows so I knew if there was another explosion, the glass would shatter and we'd get injured that way. I dove under my desk but it felt so futile. My desk was one of the few exposed; any debris would’ve hit me.
They evacuated us out the back door. We had no idea what was going on. The supervisors were rattled, but did a pretty good job of making decisions.
One thing that was tough to see was the worry people experienced when they couldn't get a hold of their relatives or friends. In the panic, I had forgotten that there was another set of employees in the basement; I thought maybe they were stuck down there still... they got out all right though.
At first I was upset because we waited a long time for someone to make a decision about where we should go. Also because we had no idea how big the attacks were we didn't know how to get to there safely. On maps London looks very big and spread out but most of the places in Zone 1 (central London) are within walking distance. So no matter which direction we took, we'd be running into an area that had been bombed or threatened... basically we didn't feel safe.
Some of the guys in our group, when we were waiting around in the park, went into a few shops and bought water, crisps, biscuits, and candies to pass around. And everyone was very calm and relaxed; patient too. I think people were a bit upset that the supervisors asked us not to leave, we all just wanted to go home (!), but overall there was a sense of support and patience.
A few hours later my company got us to their headquarters (we walked) and made sure we had food, water, toilet, cash, a place to stay, and counseling. I think they're a great company and really admire the way they handled this situation, and even more how they treated us.
All transportation in Central London shut down for a while, so I offered my place to those who couldn't make it home. I don't consider this a particularly large gesture, but some people were quite moved. There were also two kids who had been evacuated from Euston Station that were wondering how to get to London Bridge (where I live). I heard them asking and said we were going there later and wouldn't they walk with us... somebody called me a hero for helping them out and I felt like snorting. If that's all it takes then we're all heroes really, because everyone was helping everyone else. We hugged people we never met who were shaking or crying. We tried to cheer up each other and offered sweaters or coats to strangers. People were encouraging the supervisors and supporting their decisions.
I'm a little rattled, but safe and sound. I feel really blessed because I realize that if things had been timed a little differently I would have been caught in the middle of two, if not three, of the bombings. I could have been on the Russel Square train that was bombed. If I had left home a little later I would have been trapped in the underground, or if the bus bomb had gone off when we were on break I would have been standing right in front of it.
Emergency Essentials: For whom were you responsible?
Stephanie: I was only responsible for myself, but I picked up two teenage boys who were headed to my area. They were with our crowd outside of the office building.
EE: Were you prepared?
S: I was not prepared.
EE: What didn't work for you in this emergency? What do you wish you would have had on hand?
S: I wish that I would have had more information on hand, and more communication ability so I could know what was going on. I needed to decide whether to leave or stay. I wish I’d had a map, so I could plot out alternative routes on it.
EE: What will you do differently next time?
S: I hope there isn't a next time! I would like to keep an emergency kit/backpack at work. I might also keep a bicycle or scooter for when other transportation is not possible.
EE: Anything else you'd like us to know?
S: I’d also like to let you know that in an emergency situation, it’s really important to be able to make decisions. Find out as much information as you can and make the best decision possible. Usually that’s going to be to return home. If you’re in a large group it’s important to let people know you are leaving. Tell the supervisor in charge of head-count. Don’t leave without notifying several people – always tell more than one person.
Note: Originally published 12April2013.