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How to save lives during terror attacks

COMMENTARY
By Dominic Pkalya | December 21st 2015

Police have warned that 11 terrorists are planning to carry out attacks during the festive season. With this new security alert, it is important to revisit some of the basic "what to do" things in the event of a terrorist attack particularly in shopping malls, public transport hubs and other social places frequented by holiday makers.

A good starting point is to learn some valuable lessons from the recent Paris terrorist attacks. The Paris case study is appropriate since Kenya faces similar terrorist threats as France.

France and Kenya are deeply involved in counter-terrorism operations against Islamic State (IS) and Al-Shabaab respectively. They have also contributed a significant number of jihadi fighters within IS and Al-Shabaab rank and file.

A BBC report in December 2014 estimated that "Kenyan Mujahedeen" accounted for 25 per cent of the estimated 7,000 Al-Shabaab fighters in Somalia.

Importantly, however, there are a number of lessons that the two countries can learn from each other on terrorism.

For starters, Kenya needs to learn several important lessons from the recent Paris incident on how to manage a terrorist attack.

One, swift response by elite units of security agencies can significantly limit fatalities and casualties during a terrorist hostage situation. More often than not, Al-Shabaab have demonstrated that they are ready to die; they are not the typical hostage takers interested in dialogue or prisoners' swap, so to speak.

Two, if you are a trained security personnel, it may pay to confront and fight the terrorists with whatever weapons you may lay your hands on, including metal bars or broken glasses.

If successful, you may now use the terrorist weapon to fight other terrorists that may still be in the vicinity. This is a high-risk, last resort especially for those trained in combat and when the only choice remaining is death from the terrorist weapon.

Three, you should be calm during a terrorist situation. It is admirable that during the Paris attacks, particularly in the stadium and the concert hall, no single life was lost as a result of stampedes. People were calm, watched their spaces and approached the exit points or converged in the middle of the football pitch.

This is a major lesson especially for us Kenyans who are known for rushing to a "trouble" spot and running aimlessly, thus causing stampedes. When you hear the sound of an explosion, the best thing to do is to move away from—not towards—the scene of the explosion. Curious people who dash to witness what is happening may be targeted for subsequent attacks.

Four, if a building is attacked with a bomb, it is advisable that you move away from such a building as it may collapse on you. Falling objects, including glasses, metal rods, bricks or building blocks, may hurt or even kill you.

Five, it is advisable to follow instructions given by security and emergency personnel during attacks or evacuations. In addition, keep cool when such personnel arrive to limit collateral damage. The National Disaster Operation Centre and Kenya National Focal Point on Small Arms and Light Weapons, among other State agencies, have a duty to inform and educate Kenyans on what to do whenever faced with a challenging terrorist or disaster situation.

Finally, and as a country, we should continuously tighten our border controls, surveillance and policing. Better border management will make it hard for terrorists to enter or flee the country after a terror attack.

After September 11, states have managed to prevent terrorist attacks by tightening their border management and enacting security-related legislations.

Recently I was in Ethiopia and security checks, including frisking of passengers in major roads leading to major towns are thorough. All vehicles, including those with diplomatic plates, are not spared.

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