Reorganization of safety and awareness of passengers encouraged after train attacks

When a 69-year-old man was arrested on November 8 for attempted arson aboard a shinkansen train in Kumamoto Prefecture, he revealed to police his intention to “emulate” another eight day incident. earlier, when a man stabbed a passenger on a Keio Line Train in Tokyo, before setting several cars on fire with flammable liquid.

Although such crimes are rare in Japan, their frequency has increased in recent years, and the mimic nature of this most recent attack has led to calls for additional safety measures on trains and other public transport.

Meanwhile, risk and safety experts urge passengers to be extra vigilant, with some also calling for new approaches to education to raise awareness and better equip the public in the face of an assault.

Train operators in Japan had already been put on alert when in September, the Transportation Ministry issued a notice urging them to step up security following a knife incident on the Odakyu Line in Tokyo on August 6.

Line operators Keio and JR say they have tightened existing security measures by deploying additional security personnel to patrol stations and some trains.

Keio Corp. also introduced training drills for its crews, but following the Halloween incident, when a 24-year-old man disguised as a Joker from the “Batman” franchise injured 17 passengers, the company was among the main operators summoned to a discussion initiated by the government on additional strategies to prevent the recurrence of such an incident.

Subsequently, officials from JR and Keio said internal discussions about other countermeasures, including installing more security cameras on trains and at stations, were “ongoing.”

Meanwhile, the number of security personnel at Keio Line stations and the limited express train on which the October attack took place has increased further, said Keio’s Yasuha Komiyama, who also urges passengers to make a mental note of the location of the emergency. buzzers, which are mostly interactive and connect directly to the crew compartment, and are usually found next to doors between cars.

Implementing countermeasures, however, can be complicated by the nature of the incident, says Mitsuru Fukuda, a professor at the College of Risk Management at Nihon University. The type of attack seen on the Keio Line, for example, is referred to as a “crime of desperation” because it is usually carried out by a desperate individual without too much concern for the consequences, he says.

“They don’t care about being apprehended, so (they) end up dragging a lot of people with them,” says Fukuda, a counterterrorism and risk management expert, adding that this particular crime is also called “suicide. prolonged”. . “

“The perpetrator doesn’t even care about dying, which makes preventing this type of crime extremely difficult. It is impractical, for example, to check the baggage of each passenger.

At the individual level, there is a limit to what passengers can do, other than “calmly” evacuating and, if possible, helping others along the way, which was an “unusual and commendable” feature. of the Oct. 31 attack, when passengers helped each other escape through car windows, Fukuda said.

“If this was a situation where someone had a knife, another weapon, or gasoline for example, very few Japanese would try to apprehend the aggressor,” Fukuda explains. “Evacuation should be a priority – better yet, evacuate while letting others know what’s going on, but without causing panic, which can itself lead to injury. “

Preventive measures that could be taken at a more general level – such as increasing the number of surveillance cameras – are invariably controversial due to the perceived invasion of privacy, he says. However, this kind of so-called miseru keibi (visible safety), which also includes announcements on trains, can serve as a useful deterrent, causing perpetrators to “think twice” before committing an attack.

Fukuda laments the lack of initiatives launched by the state to educate the public on how to react to such events. Even exercises to make sure passengers can use emergency buzzers effectively could make a significant difference, he says.

“But in the absence of a framework, where railways, municipalities and the public come together to discuss (the emergency process) through social education, it just becomes a fleeting problem that does not arise. only after an incident has occurred, ”he said. .

Such oversight prompted Self-Defense Instructor Hirofumi Kuroki’s decision to hold regular public awareness seminars, including those that directly address the issue of how to respond to public transport incidents.

Seminar participants are given practical instruction on how to protect themselves if they are unable to evacuate, using daily “weapons” to quash the threat.

When used correctly, backpacks and bags, for example, can serve as a shield to ward off an assailant and save time, while umbrellas can be triggered to at least deter a knife-wielding criminal. approach, explains Kuroki, a former intelligence officer with the Self-Defense Forces, where he was known as “Rambo Kuroki”.

“One of the problems during such incidents is confusing panic, and self-defense seminars help instill the calm, clarity and confidence to act when evacuation is not an option,” Kuroki said. , president of Tsurugi Goshin-Budo. , which teaches self-defense martial arts to bodyguards, police and security personnel. The company is also giving instructions to visiting students across the country, teaching them basic self-defense skills – even screaming at the top of their lungs can save their lives, he advises.

Muggers like the one in the Keio Line – which he believes is not uncommon in today’s society – tend to choose subjects that seem less awkward, he says, adding if they can see or feel that members of the public are in self-defense. aware, “this could serve as a useful prevention tool and make them think twice before attacking.”

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