Security expert: More can be done to make hospitals safer
The deadly attack in Ostrava’s university hospital in which a gunman killed six people and injured three others on Tuesday, shocked the nation and opened up many questions regarding security around so-called “soft targets”. I spoke to former Czech Military Intelligence chief Andor Šándor about the present state of security in Czech hospitals, what more can be done to increase it and the lessons to be learnt from Tuesday’s attack.
“There are obviously problems in the protection of hospitals as such. First of all, there are too many entrances which are not guarded, not monitored. Then there are security agencies which are not fit to face up to such a challenge, which are not good enough to protect hospital staff and patients in the event of a serious crisis. Security agency employees are often older people who are not physically fit for this kind of work. And the primary reason why this is so is money. Because if the hospital pays the agency 120 crowns per hour and the employee gets 70 crowns from that sum, then what kind of protection do you get for that? What professional would work for that kind of money?
“Also hospital staff should be appropriately trained in how to react when something like this occurs, for the hospital to have panic buttons and many other things. One or two hospitals in Prague have a small rapid-reaction unit on the premises that can be very quickly on the spot when a nasty situation develops.”
So are you saying that, in general, security in hospitals needs to be heightened – around the country?
“No doubt about that at all. I have seen the situation in many hospitals, I have worked for some hospitals, although obviously I cannot name them, but none of them is suitably protected and perfectly safe. Admittedly it is a soft-target that is difficult to protect if it is to serve its purpose and provide medical care. But I believe that there are things than can be done. Staff should be trained appropriately, should practice responding to this kind of situation.”
The people were shot from close up – the attacker aimed at their heads, their necks. Did they have a chance to disarm him, as we saw in London, although that was an attacker with a knife. Was there any possibility to fight back, here?
But under the circumstances, if this hospital had had a small rapid reaction unit, as you mentioned, would it have changed anything?
“If they had one, it would have helped to catch the gunman within the premises of the hospital. In this case the culprit was able to run away. That is not the fault of the police but of the security agency that was not able to surround the building and to prevent him from escaping. Because when he escaped he could have shot other people on the run. So such a unit would not have prevented him from shooting, but it would have prevented him from escaping and doing further harm.”
The police managed to identify him very quickly and catch him due to the fact that his face was caught on one of the security cameras. Are there enough security cameras around? Often people oppose them on the grounds of privacy. Just a few days ago the police floated the idea of testing a facial recognition camera system in Prague and the idea was rejected by the Prague City Hall. Are cameras something we will have to accept in the near future and would you like to see more of them?
“Mind you, there are possible pitfalls here as well, because in this case the police posted a photo of the likely suspect on Twitter and at the end of the day we saw that it was not him. So you have to be really careful when putting out that kind of information. The police said the public had been very helpful in tracking the man down largely due to the posted photos, but the man who was wrongly labelled as the possible culprit must have had a very difficult time.
"If he had met someone carrying a weapon that person could have shot him, because the police said he was a likely murderer. So, one has to be careful. I personally do not believe that too many cameras will solve the problem with security. I believe that the system of organization and training of people is the main answer to the security threats and problems we have in this country, but not only here.”
We are in the run-up to Christmas and security in public places is tighter, as it is every year. What works best in terms of prevention? Would it be more people stationed around every soft –target?
“We will always have a shortage of manpower. There are so many soft targets and not enough officers to guard them. Even if the military were to be deployed -and there is no reason for that- it would be near impossible. That is the life we are living, in a free, democratic society. But even in North Korea –to name a different type of society – you cannot afford total protection. So people should be careful, should be vigilant, take note of abandoned luggage and be aware of what is going on around them. Because under the circumstances you have just two options: you can stay at home relatively safe, but your life will not be worth living or you go out and live a full life, while being on your guard. This means not going out to meet the danger, but trying to avoid risky situations as much as possible. We need to adopt that way of life. There is nothing else we can do.”
This kind of incident always sparks a debate about gun license laws. In this case the man did not have a gun license. How easy is it to get a gun illegally in this country?
“I can’t say how easy it is, but it is certainly possible. There were two gun amnesties in this country in the past twenty years and during those gun amnesties people returned thousands of weapons and I am 100 percent sure that some were not handed in. There is a black market and if you know the right people to ask you can get a weapon. That’s the reality.”
Are these incidents more frequent or is it that with the Internet we get to hear more about them?