Twice in slightly over two weeks, two MRT stations were shut down because of security scares, causing inconvenience to commuters but also providing lessons on Singapore's response to public security threats.
The first took place on April 2, when Hougang MRT station was closed for 20 minutes after staff found an unattended bag left behind by a 39-year-old man while he ran an errand. He was later arrested.
On April 18, a "suspicious substance" found at some spots within Woodleigh MRT station led to a three-hour closure. It turned out to be baking flour left by a group of joggers to mark its running route. One was arrested and two assisted in investigations.
Security experts say the authorities' response was appropriate as it was not easy to tell a false alarm from a real security threat quickly, and lives were potentially at risk. Many also see the public response as a reflection of security consciousness gaining ground among Singaporeans. It is heartening, too, that the station staff took the initiative in reporting suspicious items in both cases.
But one also wonders whether more could have been done to help prevent false alarms. For instance, if the Woodleigh station staff had followed the trail of flour, would they have seen it lead in and out of the station? A check of running group Seletar Hash House Harriers' social media showed a video of a runner jogging through an MRT station, meaning this was unlikely to be the first time it had marked a trail through public transport nodes. But in the light of the heightened security atmosphere, should the group have given notice of its practice or even ceased it?
Acts of terror seek to rob a city's citizens of normalcy, and there is a need to guard against both real and false alarms that do so. On this, everyone has a part to play - both in considering the impact of one's actions and responding judiciously to potential threats. Such considerations, however, should not discourage one from reporting suspicious items. Refining our responses will help ensure that resources are not stretched too thin when we truly need them.