Financial Times

Warnings essential but solving conflict equally important – survey

The Sunday Times FT recently invited public views and comments on ways of exercising caution in one’s neighbourhood and public areas like buses and trains given the threat of regular bomb threats and explosions.

In an email communication, we asked for short guidelines (10 points) that could be posted on buses and trains (and easily read) to create public awareness over unattended parcels and bags, and suspicious strangers and vehicles in the neighbourhood.

Responding to our comment that “its not feasible and also practically impossible to depend on the government to (always for 24 hours) provide security to the public” and that “many are of the view that civil society should take responsibility for their own safety and devise a systematic approach handling potential crisis situations, which will supplement the precautionary measures taken by the authorities,” some respondents disagreed saying it was incumbent on the state to protect its citizens.
On this same issue, some respondents said the root cause of the problem needs to be solved and urged that the government and the LTTE get back to the negotiating table.

Here are the views/comments expressed:
Guidelines for warnings/being alert:

1) Take action personally without expecting the government or office management to act on safety issues

2) Keep an eye on unknown vehicles parked in the neighborhood and if required inform 911.

3) Keep an eye on new neighbours who come to reside in the neighborhood.

4) Whether you like it or not, stray dogs are good watchdogs. Be alert if they are not seen or heard in the neighbourhood.

5) Avoid throwing empty bags, etc on the road.

6) After parking your car in a public place check the under carriage for wires, etc before driving away.
7) Avoid crowded places.

8) Form vigilance committees – with the assistance of the police - in neighbourhoods.

9) Beware of strangers appearing beside you or in your area.

10) Beware of unusual vehicles parked.

11) If you notice anything unusual, many of today's phones have voice, video & photograph features; use them diligently.

12) It is important to show the public what a bomb would look like. Show the public how a bomb explodes; in what direction and the best position to take before, during and after an explosion.

13) Prevent garbage and garbage disposal bins and bags being kept on pavements.
14) All shrubs on sides of roads to be cleaned.

16) Police helpline numbers should be regularly and heavily publicized for the benefit of residents. This could be done through notices in public areas, with wording like ‘Look around; detect; call 119’.

17) The police should regularly visit the neighbourhood vigilance committee (weekly preferably), and brief them on things that have happened and how to get over problematic situations, and what needs to be done by them.

19) Media should show clips on ‘How to ensure your security’ and educate and highlight what can be done by the citizens to ensure their safety. This should be on prime time TV.

20) In the tube (railway) stations in London announcements are made continuously for the public to be careful and vigilant and look out for unattended parcels, etc. Maybe we can do the same here.

What businesses can do to improve public security:

1) Allow work from home options where possible - this will reduce vehicles on the road, cut down on crowds, reduce fuel consumption and reduce numbers killed if and when a bomb does go off. This can be done easily with Internet, email, video conferencing facilities.

2) Allow home shopping - supermarkets, food outlets, retail outlets should consider home deliveries.

3) Set up vehicle pools for regions/ share vehicles to work and back. Pick and drop employees, using few vehicles.

4) Prepare soft copy backups daily; back up work daily and save in secondary location, not in office premises.

5) Use services of security agencies who are willing to teach people how to be vigilant and what to look out for (bombs, etc).

Other views:
A) It’s a fundamental responsibility of any government - Sri Lankan or otherwise - to provide for the safety and security of its people. This is a factor any government must take into account when deciding on any particular strategy. In the case of Sri Lanka this aspect should have been given consideration when the government opted for its ‘military only’ strategy. If it’s felt at the time that it was compromising the safety and security of civilians by embarking on a ‘military only’ strategy then it should have looked at other options. Thus I cannot agree with your comment that ‘it is not feasible and practically impossible to depend on the government to provide security for the general public’. The people have no choice; they must be able to depend on the government to provide them with adequate security.

I firmly believe that the only one way out is to eliminate the root causes of terrorism i.e. the minority grievances. Provide a political package that offers the minorities relief from their most pressing issues.

This will help marginalize the terrorists
B) Any ‘suggestions’ to ensure safety of citizens such as those you are seeking only attempt to treat the symptoms and repercussions. War will beget war. And while warmongers flourish, the civilians will perish. The government has shown its inability to protect citizens offering merely condolences and expressions of outrage and more aggression. It’s a pity that our society has been led like a mindless herd to slaughter, while simple common sense escapes us.

The solution lies in the proposition made by the National Peace Council (NPC) which needs to be discussed and debated. When will we have the guts to say enough is enough before we destroy the future and aspirations of our country and its people? What is the view of the business community which should see and address the ‘big picture’ of where we are going and what they recommend we do? Are we resorting to self-interest and self-protection and dealing with tactical fixes?

(Note: In a recent statement, the NPC urged the government to consider modes of de-escalating the conflict to save civilian lives. “As a first step it could obtain the services of trusted intermediaries, either local or international, to communicate with the LTTE its desire to safeguard civilian life in all parts of the country, including the Wanni. We also appeal to the LTTE, to be equally concerned about the fate of civilians, and to consider any governmental initiative to safeguard civilian lives in a positive manner,” the statement said.)

C) The people of Sri Lanka have heard this request to be vigilant for at least 25 years now. Has there been any improvement in the situation? No. What do we do then? We need to eradicate the causes that give rise to insecurity and address the grievances and injustices.

D) If civil society is to be responsible for its own safety, for how long can this be done? It is not feasible for civil society in the longer run because it has come to a situation that they tend to forget everything after an incident has passed. The seriousness gradually reduces until the next terror attack. As long as the war is on we don't have any other alternative but to live with that. Innocent people will have to sacrifice their lives for the blunders make by others who were responsible.

(Business Editor’s note: The above statement by one respondent indicates that warnings and public preparedness are wasted exercises because people tend to forget after an incident is over and remember them only when it happens again. This is a valid point. However it is up to the media and other public forums to keep these issues alive for the public good. Constant reminders could save lives).


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