Schools worldwide need better preparation against attacks, say security advisers after atrocity. Yojana Sharma reports
Safety experts say more must be done worldwide to prepare schools for terrorist attacks in the wake of the Russian hostage tragedy.
International training schemes should be set up to help safeguard those in high-risk areas, said Yelena Badalyan of the European Inter-regional Centre for Training Rescuers in Armenia. The centre aims to train children what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
"Every incident is different but it is important that children are psychologically prepared and know how to behave with hostage-takers to ensure their own survival," said Ms Badalyan.
"First-aid training is very important to increase the chances of survival."
She believes that teachers and pupils should - at the very least - be trained to assist injured pupils.
"We are examining the conflicting data from Beslan, which is very close to us here. There is no doubt that children and teachers were not prepared at all," she said.
"Some training would have helped enormously to increase survival - I am sure of that."
Commandos stormed the school in Beslan, southern Russia, after explosions detonated and militants shot at fleeing hostages. Part of the school roof collapsed after the initial explosions, causing many deaths.
The European Union this week urged Moscow to share all available details of the Beslan atrocity to avoid repeating mistakes.
A spokesman for the foreign ministry of the Netherlands, which is the current holder of the EU presidency, said: "Any time an event like this occurs, it is useful to exchange information so we can help one another in the fight against terrorism."
The EU is set to extend its Daphne programme, aimed at combating violence against women and children, to make risk-awareness training available to all schools (see right).
Richard Yelland, co-ordinator of a global conference on school safety and security which looked at how to prepare schools for terrorist attacks, warned that risk assessment must be realistic. "If you virtually shut down schools, you have over-reacted," he said.
Experts at the conference, hosted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development last November, said that major terrorist incidents are a matter for the security forces but that communications systems often go down during such crises, in which case pupils could be left to their own devices.
Ms Badalyan said: "If you are prepared, there is no question that training can save some lives."
The training centre in Yerevan, established in the wake of a devastating earthquake in Armenia in 1988, runs courses in how to recognise and respond to more than 30 types of risk to schools, including explosions in streets and confined spaces, kidnapping children and hostage-taking, carjacking and biological and chemical attacks.
Most training is targeted at secondary pupils, but the centre is developing a programme for children as young as three, to teach them survival techniques through play.