HK people need to strengthen safety awareness

Updated: 2017-02-14 07:14

(HK Edition)

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Hong Kong people have taken great pride in the city's reputation as one of the world's safest places to live. Being a safe city is inarguably a good thing. But last Friday's disastrous arson attack on a running MTR train exposed at least one disadvantage: the loss of safety and security awareness among local people because of complacency.

This is conspicuous in that safety measures taken for the MTR system are clearly not enough to prevent or cope with emergencies such as the one that happened last Friday.

In the first place, no security checks of any form are in place to ensure passengers do not carry dangerous goods onto trains, despite an MTR by-law banning such goods on the subway. This leaves the core part of the city's public transport system totally unprotected against attacks of any nature.

The absence of CCTV cameras on half of the city's trains - including the one involved in last Friday's arson case - also highlighted this weak security awareness. It has emerged that the train driver was unable to get a full grasp of the situation inside the train car. Had there been an effective CCTV and communication system on the train, the driver would have been able to instruct fellow passengers to make good use of the fire extinguishers mounted on the train car and the MTR staff would have known what had happened immediately. They could have had the fire extinguishers ready by the door before the train arrived at the platform of the next station.

The fact that one passenger had to pull out a packaged beverage to put out fire on fellow passengers makes the absence of sufficient firefighting equipment all the more conspicuous. There might be technical difficulties in installing sprinkler systems like those installed inside buildings. But some simple water tanks could have been easily mounted on the ceilings or walls of the train cars. This would have proved to be very helpful in fighting last Friday's fire.

There is also a lack of safety awareness on the part of the passengers. The eight-carriage MTR train is equipped with 18 fire extinguishers, which are dispersed on the carriages. Had the passengers on the train known how to operate fire extinguishers and helped out those on fire the consequences of the incident would have been much less disastrous. It turns out that many local residents do not know how to use a fire extinguisher.

A more obvious indicator of the absence of safety awareness and of a sense of crisis in Hong Kong is that we have not paid enough attention and appropriated sufficient resources to helping the mentally ill. As a result, we have repeatedly witnessed violent attacks on innocent people by mentally ill patients, including a previous arson attack which injured more than a dozen of passengers on an MTR train in 2004.

(HK Edition 02/14/2017 page7)