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Opinions of Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Columnist: Richard Mensah

Can Ghana’s emergency service respond to terror attack?

On Sunday 24th September 2017, news of an alleged terrorist attack at the Accra Mall made waves on social media, sparking fear and panic countrywide.

The alleged terrorist attack eventually turned out to be a huge hoax.

On a number of occasions, countries across the globe have had cause to warn, and continue to warn their citizens against imminent terror attacks. The latest caution was the alerts by the United Kingdom and Canada in August 2017.

Not long after their alerts to citizens, terrorists struck in Burkina Faso, Ghana’s northern neighbour.

So far, no terror attack has occurred in Ghana. The fake news of a terrorist attack at the Accra Mall, however puts Ghana’s emergency response plan/measures, if any, under the spotlight and a number of questions are begging for swift answers.

Does Ghana have any specialised unit or force that will respond to a terror attack in any part of the country?

If there is such a force or unit, have members received the requisite training on anti-terror operations?

Is the unit or force adequately equipped to respond to a terror attack of any kind or it is also plagued with the same set of known logistical and resource challenges facing Ghana’s traditional security institutions? Where is the unit or force located?

Is the unit or force part of the regular military, the police service or a separate entity on its own?

How is the unit or force, if any, funded?

In view of serious challenges such as terrible road networks in many parts of the country, crippling traffic jams, poor response time, etc. does such a unit or force have air transport capabilities? (Ability for a unit/force to be deployed by air)

It is safe to say that Ghana is a country blessed with so much human and natural resources. The country, therefore, has so much potential to make huge strides in economy. However, a single terror threat or attack can hugely affect the country’s economic progress. It will further shake investor confidence in Ghana.

The question to ask now is; Are our policy makers interested in protecting the country, and placing us on a path of unparalleled economic growth?

It must be pointed out that Human Security plays a key role in the growth of any Economy. I will, however, not stray into explaining the technicalities involved. All I am trying to ask is, are we prepared as a country to handle any unfortunate situation?

Let’s take for instance the recent Atomic Junction Gas explosion, which has claimed 7 lives so far, and injured some 132 people. From my perspective, two questions arise out of that tragedy.

Firstly, did our emergency service providers respond adequately and into a good time to the tragedy? Secondly, what existing safety protocols were deployed on the day to save lives? Answers to both questions, are what my friend, Ataa Gbeii, often responds to by shouting I don’t know.

In all honesty, I hold the view that our emergency services are not in the right shape to adequately handle massive disasters or emergency situations. Is it not curious that a day after the recent LPG explosion, the 37 Military Hospital, a UN-certified medical facility, was asking for basic medical supplies to help treat fire victims who were rushed there from the scene of the blast?

Days later, I heard a medical officer from the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, Ghana’s premier medical facility, lamenting ‘we don’t as a nation have a well-equipped facility to deal with disasters resulting from LPG’.

Also, in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, people had virtually no safety protocols to observe in order to save live; i.e. how to flee to safety.

Even students from University of Ghana, whose residencies are close, were seen running helter-skelter, resulting in avoidable injuries. According to reports, speeding vehicles driven by panic-stricken drivers run over a number of people fleeing from the scene of the disaster, resulting in aggravated injuries. It is my candid view that if Ghana had robust safety protocols known to her citizens, perhaps, the injuries and deaths recorded would have been fewer.

Some two weeks after the Atomic Junction LPG explosion, I have still not heard from the relevant security agencies as to how they intend to educate the public on how to properly respond to such emergencies in the future.

The most sickening truth about the recent disaster is that police officers, with little or no education in emergency care and disaster management, were the first respondents. I only have two questions for whoever cares to read from the nation’s security apparatus:

Is the Police Service well-resourced to deal with such things? Is there any structured training module for them on how to engage the general public in dealing with same?

While I wait for appropriate answers, I shudder to think of what the consequences would have been if the incident was a massive terror attack on Ghana.

It is a pathetic fact that the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) has been reduced to responders who carry rice and oil to disaster scenes. How shocking!!!

While we consider these critical issues, let those in positions of authority, know that the security threats to the country are many and varied and that we have gone past conventional security threats, and so we must be seen to be acting appropriately.

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