LETTERS: Safety and security key in war on Covid-19


Riot police patrol Kibuye open air market in Kisumu on March 22, 2020, following a ban market day to curb spread of coronavirus. FILE PHOTO | NMG

On February 28, President Uhuru Kenyatta issued Executive Order No. 2 of 2020, establishing the National Emergency Response Committee (NERC) to deal with the threat of coronavirus (Covid-19).

In January, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the viral disease a public health emergency of international concern.

Alarmingly, what started as a local public health incident in Wuhan, China, has swiftly transformed into a pandemic, with confirmed cases in more than 160 out of 197 world countries.

A pandemic is defined ‘as a disease epidemic that has spread across a large region, continents, or worldwide’. As a public health threat, a pandemic is a safety concern, but with a spontaneous ripple effect on security as well.

There is a thin line between safety and security in the preservation of public good, by the national security agencies and private protective safety and security providers.

Safety refers to reactions meant to protect against, or minimise impact from abnormal natural, or man-caused incidents, (such as fires, diseases, accidents or earthquakes), in the preservation of human life and property.

Security refers to reactions meant to prevent, detect, delay, respond, interrupt and neutralise malicious or criminal human acts such as theft, physical attack or damage to life or property. To the extent, therefore, that Covid-19 is a viral disease, safety intervention and mitigation response measures, especially as set out in a recent WHO circular, primarily fall under the safety cluster.

That explains why NERC, which is chaired by Health minister Mutahi Kagwe is initially focused on containment of the disease as early as possible, to forestall invoking other drastic measures which could attract security measures.

Usually, effective critical incident management would largely be informed by the known nature of such incidents and the known management and contingency plans.

However, in most instances, spontaneous incidents are challenging to plan for effectively, especially if there is, either no known previous occurrence to draw understanding on what to do before, during and after the incident, or no known incidental aftermath to guide contingency measures.

In the circumstances, Covid-19 could rightly be placed under such classification of incidents, let alone its unprecedented escalation in just three months, and widespread deaths reported in its wake.

Little wonder then that the pandemic has sprang a new learning curve in the management of spontaneous critical incidents for security players globally from both safety and security perspectives.

Truth be told, security agencies, even in the most developed countries, were all caught unawares by the pandemic, with their standard incident and disaster management protocols found wanting on best management practices, simply because there is no known history to refer.

The situation is exacerbated by the highly contagious and quick spread nature of the pandemic that spares no one including first-line responders comprising security agencies and other key players in public health safety.

Besides, security agencies are generally ill-equipped to handle the pandemic in terms of tactical response training, and provisioning of special protective equipment and facilities to effectively enforce control measures, or offer requisite infrastructure and logistics support to public health authorities’ initiatives, such as mass quarantine, social distancing in public spaces, and the extreme, lockdowns.

Going forward, there must be a deliberate paradigm shift to reorientate critical incident management thinking regarding scourges latent in the public health sphere.

And, as the country braces itself for a possible worst-case scenario in the coming days, the commendable efforts by the NERC team should be fully supported.

Hopefully, the security apparatus shall be properly resourced and accorded due prominence in the protection and preservation of collective public good which outweighs any cost outlay. Secure security well, to secure us well.

Peter Mwangi, Law enforcement and security management consultant.