Friday, 26 May 2017

Manchester Arena bombing: Lessons in preparedness and unity

By Nur Diyanah Anwar and Norman Vasu, Published The Straits Times, 25 May 2017

At the point of writing, reports indicate 22 people, including an eight-year-old girl, are dead and 59 injured from a terrorist attack on the Manchester Arena in the city of Manchester, England.

It happened as people were leaving an Ariana Grande concert. The authorities maintain it was the work of a lone suicide bomber. This incident is the deadliest terrorist attack on the UK since the 7/7 London bombings in 2005. While the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed responsibility, the group's role in the attack remains far from clear.

Manchester has responded to the incident in a highly admirable manner. Residents and businesses of the city came together almost immediately after the blast to offer help to those affected.

A city rallied together. Offers of support have emanated from the ground, with the hashtag #roomformanchester trending as local residents offered their homes to those unable to return to their own due to road closures and public transport disruptions. The use of a hashtag echoes the immense support shown following the attacks in Brussels in March 2016, Paris in November 2015, and Sydney in December 2014. Similar hashtags were employed in response to the needs of those affected in these prior attacks, demonstrating the power of social media to galvanise a community through expressions of support and matching those offering help to those who need it.

Individuals responded to appeals for food and items for the affected, while hotel chains provided beds to the stranded. Health workers in Manchester for a conference offered assistance to local medical personnel. Many Mancunians as well as others from all over the north-west of England came forward to donate blood to blood banks.

Importantly, the media have also been active in both listing the unaccounted and requesting information which could help locate them, using the hashtag #missinginmanchester.

The government has also been forward with information they have on the attacker, and the investigations being conducted. This transparency gains the trust of those affected by the blasts, and keeps any information vacuum from being exploited.


As an events hub with large concerts, sporting events such as the F1 night race, and our own National Day Parade, what can Singapore learn based on the response of the residents of Manchester?

First, while Singapore has a dedicated and competent security complex, incidents such as the attack on Manchester illustrate how complete blanket security can never be provided. In response to today's security climate, Singapore has recently launched the SGSecure movement to encourage the community to be informed, engaged and mobilised to prevent or mitigate an attack. Singaporeans cannot merely depend on the authorities to provide for their security and should instead recognise and accept that they too have a role to play.

Second, Singapore can only benefit from preparing early. For example, Manchester blood banks could cope with demand as there was a sufficient supply in the reserves. Its health service has been keen to stress that the spirit of blood donation should remain. Singaporeans should take a lesson from this - to be proactive in preparation, rather than reactive.

Third, businesses should prepare to chip in. For example, Manchester City Football Club's ground, the Etihad Stadium, was prepared in advance to be the venue to collect those affected by the blast and offer them aid, support and information. Restaurants and food outlets in Manchester offered refreshments as a form of support. Similarly, private venues and businesses in Singapore should be prepared to offer service and solace to those affected should an incident occur.

Fourth, there is a need to be innovative when instilling skills and roles within the community in preparation for an attack. To use a term from the military, no plan survives first contact.

Manchester - only a month ago - had a large scale emergency preparedness drill, but it would have been difficult then to predict the reactions of the locals during an actual attack. In this regard, Singapore has been innovative in teaching life-saving skills and psychological first aid to groups such as taxi drivers, who would likely be able to attend to victims early during an attack. These types of ideas should be explored and encouraged.

Finally, Singaporeans have to be wary what they read on social media after an incident. There will be a need to verify information with authoritative sources if some details being communicated appear out of place. While social media platforms have been exceedingly useful in communicating information and linking up those in need of aid with those that can provide it in Manchester, there have been reports of individuals making false claims of missing relatives on Twitter in order to attain retweets.

Lyrics from the Mancunian band The Stone Roses - "she'll carry on through it all, she's a waterfall" - are quite apt to describe the resilience displayed in Manchester.

It is unfortunate that societies have to prepare for such horrific incidences. However, it is only through preparation, responding effectively and staying united that a society can be resilient and recover.

Norman Vasu is deputy head of the Centre of Excellence for National Security at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University. Nur Diyanah is a research analyst in the Social Resilience Programme at the same Centre.




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