The lives and property lost in the Resorts World tragedy would not be in vain if we recognize, and learn from, the lessons it brought.
One is a lesson in disaster preparedness. Many died because they were asphyxiated from the smoke caused by the burning of carpets and other items by the suspected gunman. Because those in rooms heard numerous loud gunshots, they did not know whether to run out to escape or hide in their rooms. No one was leading anyone out even if the gunman wasn’t firing at people. If the managers on duty and the staff of Resorts World had prior training on disaster management, they would have been able to check all the rooms as the chaos went on and led the way out to trapped people. They would also have known that the gunman was not firing at people and therefore what needed to be done was to lead people to exits. This reminds me of the day the strongest earthquake hit the Philippines—the one that destroyed Baguio, La Union and other provinces in the north. I was then a young lawyer working in a law firm in Makati. When the tremors started I took cover under my desk. What amazed me was that our boss was going around the rooms checking on each of us instead of taking cover himself as the quake was so intense things were falling from tables and it was difficult to keep one’s balance while standing. If only someone like him were in the Resorts World when the tragedy struck.
Another lesson from the tragedy is the need for better security management. What begs to be answered is how the gunman was able to bring into the casino hotel high-powered firearms. There was obviously a lapse in the system of screening incoming guests. And this lesson should cascade to all establishments because there is no longer any safe place on the planet against all sorts of disasters, whether caused by terrorists or plain lunatics and psychos. It has crossed my mind many times that malls, supermarkets and grocery stores are ticking time bombs. The security systems in many such establishments are far from reliable. Very often, guards in entrances use a small stick—rather than a metal detector—to peer routinely into handbags and backpacks as though their sticks have eyes and noses that can detect deadly weapons and metals.
Third, when disasters happen, the families of victims should not be left outside waiting for news, or worse, the bodies of the confirmed dead. I saw on TV how the parents and next of kin of those who were trapped inside Resorts World were railing and crying in anger, disgust and frustration outside the premises. Media persons had a field day interviewing relatives of victims many hours after the incident as they were all just standing outside, in grief. In situations like this, parents and relatives of victims should be brought to a comfortable holding area with a person of authority who can explain to them what is going on as well as professional coaches like psychologists who can help them through their agony. Leaving them on the streets aggravates their suffering and worsens their anger and frustration.
Finally, the biggest lesson should be learned by news reporters and media practitioners, including those who write for social media. In the Resorts World tragedy, a social media-news outfit immediately reported that the casino hotel was under attack by the ISIS. This news spread like wildfire such that even the airports locked down. All flights were canceled. A ground crew of the Philippine Airlines narrated that there were talks of hiding the planes as these might be targeted by the terrorists. The flight cancellations caused needless losses to airlines and undue stress and inconvenience to passengers.
Worst of all, because the tragedy happened at a time when Marawi city was still under siege by the Maute band of terrorists which traces its links to the feared ISIS, the false media reports immediately sent a message to the rest of the world that truly, the Philippines is an unsafe place to be. Thus, several countries immediately sent out advisories to their citizens against traveling to the Philippines. The media, both mainstream and internet-based, must learn to check and double check the accuracy of their facts before shooting out reports that can cause panic.
For the sake of those who lost their lives, this tragedy must be studied and remembered for the lessons it brought. And such lessons must lead to new protocols in disaster preparedness and leadership, security management, dealing with victims’ relatives, and media responsibility.