Crucial to be alert and prepared to stay safe

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 24 Jun 2012

Increase in the number of snatch thefts and attacks at shopping mall car parks has caused concern among women. Here are some tips on how to stay safe.

HAVING done all your shopping, you walk towards your car all the while thinking of calling your best friend to tell her about the bargains you got at the sale and how envious she'd be. Suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, a guy rushes at you. What do you do?

Having a pepper spray in hand and using it, then making a run for it would be one of the best ways to escape the dicey situation.

If you do not carry a pepper spray but have your car keys in your hand, you can press the small button on your car key remote. This, according to safety activist and expert Capt K. Bala, is in fact a panic button.

“This will trigger the car alarm and your car doors will lock. The noise will draw the attention of others and hopefully scare the attacker away.”

Most people here only use that button to locate their car if they can't remember where they've parked, but it's really a panic button, says Bala.

But he stresses that you shouldn't have been in that vulnerable position in the first place.

“Being alert and prepared is crucial,” he says.

Bala categorises the level of safety into green, yellow and red zones.

“When you are in a mall with everyone else there, you are in the green zone and therefore safe.

“Once you get into the elevator to go down to the basement car park, you've entered a yellow zone because your (level of) protection has been reduced.

“If there is just one other man in the elevator with you, then you are already in the red (danger) zone so you have to be extra alert,” he says, adding that the best place to be in an elevator is near the button panel.

If you are attacked, you can lean against the panel, which will touch the buttons and make the elevator stop at the different floors, Bala explains.

If there is no problem at the elevator, the moment it reaches the floor your car is on and you open the door to enter the car park, you are in the red zone.

“You might be alone and vulnerable to attack so you have to be extra aware. Being prepared is very important,” stresses Bala who has been conducting “City Survival Women's Only” and “Road Survival Skills” courses for both genders and a number of other safety courses all over the country for almost two decades.

He is director of training with the Code Red Survival Academy, president of the Road Safety Marshal Club and chairman of the Malaysian Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.

In the car park

One of his safety tips is that when you get to the car park and see your car, look or walk towards the next car instead.

As you walk, he says, you should be on the look-out for people lurking around, hiding behind cars or pillars, and also see if there are people in the car next to yours.

“Do not look at your car. Walk as if you are going to another car and as you reach your car, you should quickly unlock the door, cut to your left or right (depending on where you're parked), get into the car fast and lock it immediately.

“If someone is targeting you and you are looking at the next car, they would be running towards the car that you are looking at and this would delay them and give you time. Be smart to trick people,” says Bala who believes it is good to trust one's instincts.

“If you sense something is not right, like you notice your tyre is flat or your side mirror is broken, go back into the shopping complex and get help because you are being targeted,” he warns.

When you pull into an empty lot to park, look around before getting out to see if there is anyone hiding behind the pillars or other cars or if people are sitting in the next and nearby cars (who might be waiting to grab you).

Bala feels there are two things people should know about crime someone stands to benefit from it, and it requires time and opportunity.

If someone attacks or comes after you for money, your handbag, ATM PIN, jewellery or car, “just give it to them,” he says. “The most important thing is life.”

Unless you are trained, avoid taking on the perpetrators, going after them or even swearing at them because they can turn around, come back and harm you, he advises. “It's just not worth it.”

With women, he says, they can also be attacked for sex.

“If the intention is not to take money, the moment they grab you, scream, bite, struggle and put up a fight. If you manage to escape, you should know how to run for your life.

“But if you can't run and you see a parked car, get under it. They can't drag you out easily and there also will not be enough time to pull you out.

“No matter what, don't get into the car because, chances are, you will not come out alive.”

He believes people should also be more careful when paying their parking ticket.

If you are one of those who leave their parking ticket in the car and go back to retrieve it when it's time to go, think again, cautions Bala. You might in fact be giving perpetrators opportunity and time.

“You have identified the car so I (the perpetrator) know the car belongs to you and I know you are going to pay and come back so I can lie in wait for you. And I've already got a paid parking ticket yours,” he says, citing an incident that occurred about 10 years ago.

“Canny Ong was attacked when she went back to her car to get her parking ticket,” he recalls.

Ong was abducted at knife point from a shopping complex car park on June 14, 2003. Her attacker forced her in her car, drove away and then raped, strangled, stabbed her to death, burnt her body and dumped the remains in a manhole.

He was later caught, tried and sentenced to death.

If you are holding a paid parking ticket when you are being attacked, crumple it so that its magnetic strip will be damaged and it can't be used to make a quick exit.

While the TouchnGo card is a convenient way to pay for parking, it also makes it easier for a criminal to grab you in your car and use it to get out.

A manned pay counter is definitely the safest choice because you'd need to pay a physical person at the exit booth to get out, Bala points out.

“If a girl is fighting or struggling in the car, the pay counter guy can alert the police,” he adds.

In a recent incident, Chin Xi-Ci was loading her shopping bags into her car at the Curve car park when, to her horror, a man held a meat cleaver to her throat. He and his accomplice then forced her into the car but she managed to escape as they neared the parking exit.

Bala commends Chin, saying that even in her panic, she planned it well and was thinking all the time that she needed to get out.

“The awareness of what happened with Canny Ong saved Chin's life because she knew she had to escape,” he says.

If you are abducted and on the road, the best opportunity to escape is when the car is at a traffic light, traffic jam or toll booth. The driver has to slow down or stop, Bala says.

Tighter security in malls

On shopping malls, Bala stresses that more need to be done to improve security.

For one, he doesn't understand why the security counter is invariably placed in “some secluded corner in the basement and manned by foreigners who can hardly speak Malay or English”. “In an emergency, if you run to him (foreign security staff) for help, he might not even understand you.”

Having uniformed security guards on motorbikes patrolling the car park will work. Their visibility and speed at getting from one spot to another will be a deterrent, Bala says.

Some shopping malls, including the Pavilion in Kuala Lumpur, have installed emergency buzzers in their car park. In the event of an emergency, a person can run to the buzzer to trigger an alarm and security personnel can see which buzzer was activated and quickly send a guard over to check.

“This is a very proactive measure. Sure, there is the possibility that some children may play the fool and trigger the buzzer but we can't take such cases as an excuse not to provide added security,” says Bala.

“For example, we do have crank calls on emergency phone lines but we can't shut down the emergency lines because of these,” he says, adding that parents can do their part by telling their children how the buzzer is helpful for their mothers, sister, or aunts.

Where putting up CCTVs at malls is concerned, Bala says it is simply not enough.

“If the camera is of very low resolution, you can't catch the criminal. A high definition CCTV camera is necessary,” he says, adding that the camera angle is also important.

If the camera is too high up, it will only catch the top of someone's head, or cap if he is wearing one. “Cameras should be 6ft to 7ft lower than the roof so you can see faces.”

He also suggests that mall owners /operators install convex mirrors along pillars in their car parks to make other people more visible. He believes this would not cost much and would instead reap benefits for the shopping malls.

“If customers feel good and safe there, they will keep coming back. They will also tell their friends to go to that mall,” he says.

On the road

Bala has also noticed that people put way too much information on their cars.

They have their condo car sticker that tells other people where they live, their office car park sticker which shows where they work, their club sticker which indicates where they go to after work, a fitness centre sticker that gives the location of the gym they go to, and even a sticker that shows where they have their car serviced.

All these, he points out, can be used by a perpetrator to plan how and where to target you.

If you are on the highway or an empty road and a car knocks into you from behind, Bala advises against getting out. It might be an attempt at car jacking, he says.

“Look into the mirror. If you see a few guys in the other car, they would have knocked into you on purpose and they would not have banged into your car too hard.

“If you are hit from behind, you can still drive off. Don't argue, and don't get down. Just drive to the nearest police station and make a report.”

If it is a genuine accident, the police should be able to match your report with that of the other party based on the place, time and type of car even if you didn't manage to get down the number plate of the other car.

But, he says, if you get knocked at a traffic jam, then it's okay to stop because it is probably a genuine accident.

If you think you are being chased by another car, it is best not to get to a highway because all the cars there will be speeding and it will make you less visible, Bala says.

“It is better to go to smaller roads or roads that are jammed. If a road bully is after you, drive up to a fire station, police station or run into a hospital or a 24-hour clinic “whose job is to protect lives”, or a restaurant or coffee shop where people can see if something is going to happen.”

Recently, a 12-year Dutch student, Nayati Shamelin, was kidnapped while walking to school. Fortunately, he was released after ransom was paid.

But there have been other instances where children like Nurin Jazlin (2007) were abducted and not returned alive.

Bala suggests that parents “train' their kids to be streetwise.

The parent can go on the school bus with his child to see where he is dropped off at school, or walk with him and help him plan for an emergency along the route.

“For example, if you pass a house that's full of bachelors, tell him not to stop there.

“If a car stops and the driver or passenger asks for directions, tell your child not to answer but to run. People shouldn't be asking a child for directions.

“If the school bag is heavy, tell him to drop it and run, or throw it into someone's compound and run.

“Plan for where the child can to run to for help. You can point out houses that are good to run to, because, for example, a retired couple lives there so there are always people there.”

You can also advise your child to get under a parked car and shout for help, he adds.

Bala also cautions parents against revealing information about their finances in front of their children. The child might unknowingly share the information with friends on Facebook or in school and then become a target for ransom kidnapping.

“Engage the brain before you engage the tongue. Don't simply tell people of your wealth,” he stresses.

Bala also encourages ladies to pick up self defence techniques and attend safety awareness talks by police or other relevant organisations or groups.

“Dying is not an option,” he says.

Related Stories: Making our streets safe Be alert to stave off attackers

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