Hong Kong rail operator ramps up anti-terror drills ahead of expected Xi Jinping visit
MTR also steps up security measures in the wake of the firebomb attack on a train in Tsim Sha Tsui in February that left 19 people injured
Hong Kong’s rail operator has stepped up large-scale, anti-terror drills as it prepares for a higher threat level during the visit of state leaders in July to mark the 20th anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule.
According to a source, security measures have also been ramped up in the wake of a firebomb attack by a 60-year-old man on a train at Tsim Sha Tsui station in February that left 19 injured. The MTR Corporation has enhanced fire-fighting and safety training for frontline staff, including the use of fire extinguishers.
The MTR usually conducts 12 to 15 large-scale counter-terrorism drills with police and the Fire Services Department every year, but more are being held this year due to a series of major events to celebrate the handover anniversary. President Xi Jinping is expected to visit the city in late June to mark the occasion.
“The number of drills will be particularly more than usual this year to cope with the upcoming events,” the source said.
The drills and safety training were aimed at keeping railway staff alert and prepared for any disturbance or threat across the network that provides the city’s primary mode of public transport, including suicide attempts, the source added.
“The training, jointly conducted with police, helps frontline staff identify terrorists, dangerous people or those with emotional or mental health problems,” the source said.
“Police say some typical kinds of behaviour are common among terrorists such as lingering around one place and wearing an oversized coat to conceal weapons.”
The training has also helped MTR staff prevent at least 10 suicide attempts a year.Suicide-prevention group the Samaritans Hong Kong has a presence at various stations to offer counselling.
“Those with suicidal thoughts are likely to linger around aimlessly and stare into space. Frontline staff have been trained to be particularly alert to these people. Our staff will offer them assistance and ask their families to pick them up,” the source said.
The MTR staged a joint anti-terrorist exercise with police at Kowloon station early last month. The exercise simulated a scenario in which police received intelligence of an impending attack at the station. Railway staff evacuated passengers from the scene.
The corporation said the drill enabled staff to be familiar with emergency procedures, ensured the proper functioning of equipment and systems and enhanced communication and collaboration with various government departments.
Last week, the rail operator submitted to the government an investigation report on the firebomb attack in February.
The review panel suggested a host of measures to enhance risk management but ruled out security checks on passengers, concluding that it was a deliberate act on the part of the suspect and could not reasonably have been avoided.
Hong Kong has just concluded a major security operation during the visit of Indonesia’s president.