By Joe Kiarie
At 10.30am on August 7, 1998, gunshots and a light explosion believed to be that of a flash grenade attracted the attention of curious onlookers outside the US Embassy in Nairobi.
Minutes later, as bystanders in the vicinity dallied or rushed to the scene to establish what was unfolding, a monster bomb detonated claiming more than 200 lives and injuring more than 4,000 people.
By failing to lie down or take cover upon hearing the initial blast, a sizeable number of onlookers ended up as victims of the terrorist attack, curiosity proving to be their undoing.
Fast-forward to 2012 and the explosion that rocked Nairobi last Monday proved Kenyans are yet to pick vital lessons from disasters. With the cause of the explosion yet to be established and the area still unsecured, thousands of civilians, among them top politicians, jammed Moi Avenue.
From rescuing the victims to observing, taking photos, looting, and scoring cheap political points, the agendas were varied. In between the two episodes, hundreds of civilians have perished after rushing to accident scenes, mainly those involving overturned fuel tankers.
But security experts are now making a frantic plea to Kenyans to stop this trend, particularly during an explosion, saying it could soon turn catastrophic with the ever-rising possibility of a secondary bomb.
Emergency response experts on their part caution the jamming of crime scenes not only endangers the survival chances of victims but also the health of bystanders.
Captain (Rtd) Simiyu Werunga, a security expert, warns with the current trend of explosions in the country, chances of more devastating secondary attacks are rising as terrorists could capitalise on the predictable crowd reaction. “Our top leaders and civilians are exposing themselves to untold dangers. The terrorists have now upgraded from grenades to improvised explosive devices and we have seen how destructive they can be.
They understand the human psychology and with the surging of crowds, they could try to claim more casualties by using secondary bombs,” he states.
Werunga notes as much as people have to show emotions and rescue victims, they should only do so after experts comb the vicinity and confirm there are no more explosives around. “Even if it is the Prime Minister, let him wait until he is given a go ahead,” he advises, terming the jamming of crime scenes by civilians as a national psychological problem.