SINGAPORE: A security scare at Woodleigh MRT station on Tuesday (Apr 18) turned out to be a second false alarm in recent weeks, but experts said the response from the authorities was appropriate.
The suspicious substance that was found at the station turned out to be baking flour, sprinkled at several locations on the concourse. The station was shut down for about three hours while investigations went on, reopening at 4.20pm. Police later said that the three men responsible for leaving the flour behind used it to mark a path for their running route. A 69-year-old man was arrested for causing alarm, while two other men aged 53 and 70 are assisting with investigations.
In the aftermath of the incident, some members of the public commented online, questioning if the authorities overreacted. However, experts that Channel NewsAsia spoke to said that the authorities did the right thing in treating the potential threat seriously.
“Every single incident should be investigated as the threat in the region including to Singapore is significant,” said head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, Dr Rohan Gunaratna.
Head of policy studies and coordinator of the national security studies programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies Dr Kumar Ramakrishna echoed that sentiment, adding that it is better to err on the side of caution than dismiss such reports, even if they are false alarms.
Meanwhile, Heng Yee Kuang, professor at The University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Public Policy, pointed out that while it was a false alarm this time, that might not always be the case.
“It is probably better to play safe, otherwise they (the authorities) will also be blamed for not taking the issue seriously enough if the powder turns out to be something more dangerous than baking flour.”
In a case on April 2, Hougang MRT station was shut down for about two hours after an unattended bag was found there. It was found to contain household items, and a 39-year-old man was arrested for allegedly leaving it there.
EXPERTS CAUTION AGAINST PUBLIC COMPLACENCY
Chair of Homeland Security at the Pennsylvania State University's School of Public Affairs in the United States, Professor Alexander Siedschlag, lauded the authorities' response in both cases. “Investigation was completed and return to normal happened within three hours, which is a good time frame also in international comparison,” he said.
From the emergency management point of views, false alarms, if not happening excessively, are also testing and learning opportunities, he added. The police said on Tuesday they treat all security threats seriously and will not hesitate to take action against anyone who cause public alarm.
Meanwhile, the security experts cautioned that the public should not let their guard down despite the false alarms.
“Public education is important to remind all that trains and stations have been targeted by terrorists in recent times as in London and Madrid,” Associate Professor Kumar said.
Complacency could creep in if there are repeated false alarms but at the same time, the fact that someone reported the flour is a sign that the message to be vigilant is getting through, said Prof Heng.