Saturday, 24 May 2014

How To Make Taipei's MRT Safer?

Following the knife attacks that occurred on Taipei's metro system on Wednesday, much of the ensuing commentary has focused on anything and everything aside from the practical question of what to do about it. What can be done, besides posting police officers everywhere, to make attacks like these less likely to succeed in the future? I found a one-sentence nod in this direction in today's China Post editorial...
"In the long term, Taipei and New Taipei authorities should review their MRT security measures in light of this event."
Of course, but there were no practical suggestions offered. To take that question in terms of train design, what could be added or altered to existing carriage designs to render this kind of attack less likely? It occurs to me that there are several relatively simple possibilities...

1) Alter the seating design. This point might be more significant for Taiwan's local trains than for the MRT. I occasionally take trains from Tainan up to Miaoli and elsewhere and I used to regularly take trains from Tainan to Kaohsiung and back again, and I've always much preferred those trains with benches running parallel to the train's longitudinal axis to those trains with rows of seats placed perpendicular to that axis. The parallel benches have three security advantages; first they allow me to look both left and right (up and down the train); second, it is far easier to alight from a bench than to shuffle sideways from a window seat; third, the parallel benches do not interpose in the gangway which means the gangway is wider and thus easier for passengers to move up and down the carriages or into the next carriage. Presently, most MRT trains contain a mixture of both types of seating; one set of individual seats oriented like the parallel benches but interposed at spaced intervals by a second type of individual seats set at right angles to the first.

Were such a knife attack to occur when I am on a train, I would much prefer parallel benches to rows of forward-facing seats. My chances of spotting the killer earlier would be greater due to the better visual scope afforded by parallel benches. I would also not be caught "trapped" between seats and instead I could just immediately jump to my feet. Finally, I suspect it would be easier for me to (a) confront and distract the killer by making myself a moving target (perhaps whilst wielding some kind of improvised weapon) due to the greater space afforded by an open gangway, and (b) escape down the train to the next carriage if need be.

2) Revise the standard emergency operating procedures. In Wednesday's case, perhaps the killer could have been stopped sooner had the driver pushed a button to lock the internal doors at both ends of the carriage that he was occupying. Now obviously we don't want to prevent escape for anyone still stuck in that carriage with him, but since the newspaper reports indicated that the killer pursued people down the train, there may have been a point at which he was in one carriage and the remaining survivors were in another. Had an attentive driver then simply locked the internal carriage doors, then the killer would have been stuck there until the arrival of the cops, thus reducing the risk to all the people crowded in the next carriage down.

3) Equip train carriages with additional emergency facilities. Presently, train carriages contain a fire extinguisher and an emergency hammer behind "soft glass" with which to break open the carriage windows in the event of fire. Why not add something like an emergency baton behind soft glass, or a retractable barricade slid underneath one or two of the parallel benches in each carriage? In Wednesday's attack, a number of passengers ended up stuck at one end of the train with the men wielding umbrellas to fend off the killer whilst the women and children stayed behind them. What if they hadn't had umbrellas on them, or if the killer had been more determined? If I were in that position, then, short of simply shooting the killer with a handgun, I would like to either have some weapon with which to attempt to disarm him or at least some obstacles I could place between him and us in order to buy time until we arrive at the next station.

4) To the existing public notices concerning personal belongings, add further notices to remind passengers to be alert for the rare event of a physical assault. In yesterday's Apple Daily it was reported that one or two of the initial stabbing victims were so busy on their phones that they didn't even notice the killer approach them, but by then it was obviously too late. I don't have much confidence in this measure though simply because a lot of people taking the MRT are going to be tired and fatigued after a full day at work.

What else could be done that would not involve an inordinate expenditure given the presumption that such crimes are likely to remain statistically improbable?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment moderation is now in place, as of April 2012. Rules:

1) Be aware that your right to say what you want is circumscribed by my right of ownership here.

2) Make your comments relevant to the post to which they are attached.

3) Be careful what you presume: always be prepared to evince your point with logic and/or facts.

4) Do not transgress Blogger's rules regarding content, i.e. do not express hatred for other people on account of their ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation or nationality.

5) Remember that only the best are prepared to concede, and only the worst are prepared to smear.