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KARACHI: While the security establishment has issued a terror threat warning for educational institutions in the city on the first anniversary of the Army Public School attack in Peshawar, the crucial Emergency Alert System (EAS) project launched for schools security in Karachi has been lying inoperative for the past three months owing to non-payment of dues, said sources and officials on Tuesday.

The information became known on the eve of the first anniversary of the Dec 16 attack on schoolchildren — one of the most brutal episodes in the country’s history — reflecting the Karachi police irresponsible approach towards the safety of schoolchildren despite the looming threat.

In a sharp contrast, the same system that was launched in Punjab around the same time has been gradually expanded to cover every district of the province.

“In the wake of the growing security concerns for educational institutes throughout the country, Karachi police in collaboration with Ufone launched a single-click EAS to strengthen and complement the security operations of the police department,” said an official citing details and background of the project launched in March 2015.

“Amid growing terror threats after the APS Peshawar attack, the mobile phone company collaborated with the police in Punjab and Karachi to launch the mobile-based panic alarm system for educational institutions. The entire exercise was done on the advice of the security and intelligence agencies, which led to other measures as well to secure schools and educational institutions,” the official explained.

The system was launched successfully and all standard operating procedures (SOPs) were being followed by the educational institutions and the law enforcement agencies both in Punjab and Karachi, he added.

When asked about the current status of the system in Karachi, he briefly replied that it had not been active in the metropolis for the past three months. However, he did not explain the reasons behind it.

The sources privy to the development said it was the “non-seriousness” on part of the Karachi police who despite spending a huge amount of money to launch the project and training 200 officers to meet the challenge did not take steps to run the system.

“It was so successful for the first six months that the Karachi police registered over 4,000 schools and deputed 200 officers to receive the panic alerts,” said the source.

“The whole idea was that if any of the schools witnessed any suspicious activity or received a threat, the official concerned would just press a button on their mobile phone sending an alert to the respective officers to mobilise the security arrangements without delay.”

Under the arrangements, he said, the cellular company provided the Karachi police with phone connections and handsets on which the alerts could be received. The police on their part trained 200 officers for this project but the entire exercise proved futile, as the system had been down for the past three months, he added.

“The same system was also launched in Punjab at the same time and currently it is working successfully there with over 140,000 registered phone numbers of schoolteachers,” he added.

“Unlike Punjab, the system has failed to function in Karachi that poses a high security risk. While over 4,000 schools were registered with the EAC, the phone numbers of police which were supposed to receive the alert are blocked due to non-payment of dues.”

The phone numbers, he said, were provided under a centralised billing agreement with the Karachi police and despite not receiving any payments since March 2015, the numbers were kept active for over six months keeping in view the sensitivity of the project.

“However, after more than six months, the SIMs (subscriber identity modules ) have become blocked, which poses a high security risk to the educational institutions in Karachi. The same system is a success story in entire Punjab province reflecting that it’s actually a matter of interest from the authorities concerned and not the resources,” he added.

Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2015