I refer to the recent Hougang MRT Station incident where a suspicious bag was left unattended, which resulted in the temporary shutdown of the station, where commuters were evacuated and trains skipped their stop.
However necessary this response may be to a threat (whether real or not), we must be very wary of how such an overreaction by the authorities can be as deadly as a successful terrorist attack, and how our response to perceived threats by reacting exaggeratedly may be used to our disadvantage by terrorists or pranksters to hinder the proper functioning of our transport network.
Imagine a scenario where terrorists are certain or are highly confident in
our response to an unattended, suspicious bag left at an MRT station. They
know our standard response would be to shut down the station, evacuate the
commuters and have trains bypass their stop. They know how we would react
because we had done the same in the past.
Now think about how this could be used to the terrorists’ advantage. They
could create false alarms by leaving empty bags in MRT stations in order to
funnel evacuating commuters into certain areas of the station where real
bombs could be placed to cause the most destruction.
Or they could place empty bags in multiple MRT stations to create false
alarms that could shut down our entire MRT network when the authorities order
a mass evacuation of every single one of these stations. Imagine a situation
where a large terrorist cell does this false alarm tactic on the entire
East-West MRT Line.
There will be either of two responses when such a large-scale false alarm
event occurs at the same time across all stations on a Line:
1) The authorities shuts down all stations on the EW Line, resulting in no
trains stopping at any stations and crippling our MRT transport system
islandwide for at least an hour. Although this may mean no lives are lost,
terrorism is not simply or only about taking lives. The terrorists also seek
to disrupt our daily functioning as one of their goals. Even if no lives are
lost, the disruption to our transport system, if this false alarm tactic is
done often and on a large scale frequently enough, they could cause large
2) If the authorities deems this to be a false alarm and does not shut down
any station (or only shuts down a few) for a thorough inspection by bomb
defusal teams, the terrorists, anticipating this move, may place real bombs
randomly in some of these bags, while leaving others empty. Such a response
by the authorities will surely miss some of the real bombs, allowing them to
detonate and cause widespread devastation in stations that the authorities
did not shut down or evacuate.
Either way and either response the authorities take, the terrorists would
still win. Therefore, the government should look into better ways to detect
the contents of bags to quickly determine if they are real threats or false
alarms specifically engineered by smart terrorists to destroy our transport
network through our certain overreaction to real and/or perceived threats.
This could be done in one way by bomb detection sensors at the entrances of
MRT stations. Or by having compulsory bag checks on every single commuter
that steps into the station, since there are other threats besides bombs,
such as knives which could be used in attacks similar to those that had taken
place in foreign countries.