Hong Kong MTR

Hong Kong needs to be more vigilant and better prepared after firebombing on MTR

Public should be more informed on what to do during dangerous situations

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 February, 2017, 1:50pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 February, 2017, 11:26pm

The petrol bomb attack on Hong Kong’s MTR on Friday evening has highlighted the need to be ever more vigilant when it comes to personal and public safety. While this appears not to be a terrorist attack, and everyone involved was admirably calm and collected throughout, it does expose the city’s overall lack of public awareness of what people should do in similar life-threatening situations.

In countries which have experienced terrorist attacks and mass shootings, a much greater effort has been made to improve public awareness and education on what to do in dangerous situations than in Hong Kong.

Following a number of high-profile incidents in other countries, the citizens in those places have become more conscious of the need for better situational awareness and, more importantly, what to do when there is a risk of danger. In the UK, the public are advised to “run, hide, tell”, while in the United States they tend to prefer the “run, hide, fight” approach.

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Even in a place like Hong Kong, where the very professional emergency services are usually able to respond within minutes of an incident, as was seen in yesterday’s case, a lot of damage or injuries can be sustained before they arrive. It is therefore essential that the public have some sense of how better to protect or defend themselves in similar situations.

Of course, it begins with situational awareness, especially in crowded places with limited options for movement. According to eyewitnesses, the culprit in this case shouted his intentions a few times before throwing the petrol bomb. Clearly, we can no longer accept odd or abnormal behaviour in public places and these people must be reported to the authorities immediately.

At the same time, it is essential that the authorities are more sensitive and responsive to such reports coming in so that they can provide, hopefully, earlier mobilisation of resources or intervention.

Second, the public needs to have in mind a suitable guideline or sense of what immediate action they should take. While the “run, hide, tell/fight” strategy has its proponents, running blindly might actually put you in more danger if you head for the wrong direction.

That is why the concept of “escape, evade, engage” may be more appropriate. By using the word “escape”, you know you are meant to get away from the danger. Even if you do not know where that danger is, you will be constantly prepared to re-evaluate your escape route if it needs to be changed.

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Sometimes, as in Friday’s incident, where people were trapped inside an MTR train compartment, there is literally no way to escape. But you may still be able to “evade” the problem by attempting to move away from the immediate danger, and maybe throwing items such as bags onto the ground to make it harder for the subject to follow or to hopefully halt the progress of any approaching flames.

Evading might also mean adopting best practices in a fire situation, such as crouching down to minimise the effects of smoke inhalation.

Lastly, it might be necessary to engage the subject, as waiting for the authorities to do so may prove deadly if lives are at stake. Engagement might mean attempting to subdue, incapacitate or delay the subject, or buying extra time for others to either escape or evade the danger.

In this case, the suspect was a 60-year-old man, more than likely with only one petrol bomb, and it may have been possible to rush at him and envelop him with bulky clothing in order to pin him to the ground. After that is done, it might then be possible to address any danger from the flames or other dangerous items.

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Ideally, engaging the man before he was able to throw the petrol bomb might have helped prevent the incident in the first place.

Complacency in crowded public areas is no longer an option and everyone now needs to be looking out for possible threats and danger so that we can all help to protect one another.

Peter Morgan is a retired Hong Kong police assistant commissioner and a crisis management and critical incident specialist.