“Yesterday, the operator revealed that Wednesday’s vandalism occurred because security guards from the agency it hired had not conducted patrols as directed” (SMRT: Guards Didn’t Do Night Patrols At Bishan Depot, Mr. Royston Sim, Miss Kimberly Spykerman And Mr. Lin Wenjian).
A first time oversight, granted; in spite of the multiple levels of checks and enforcements, it would be unrealistic for service providers to continuously ensure that its key depots are completely impregnable. Last year’s breach of SMRT’s Changi Depot by a Swiss national – as expounded in the investigative piece “SMRT: Guards Didn’t Do Night Patrols At Bishan Depot” (August 20, 2011) by Mr. Royston Sim – should have served as a timely reminder; unfortunately, at the moment, what worries commuters most is the considerably laissez-faire attitude adopted by the SMRT, and the corresponding ambivalence displayed by the Ministry of Transport (MOT) towards the recent break-in.
SMRT And MOT: Why The Ambivalence?
As Singaporeans had astutely pointed out before, there would be painful ramifications if the aforementioned patterns of nonchalance by the authorities and operators are allowed to manifest. Unattended train carriages are extremely vulnerable to sabotages – in terms of the planting of explosives or the disabling of mechanical components – by individuals harbouring malicious intents. Higher-level infrastructural compromises can potentially bring about disastrous technological disruptions that could affect the day-to-day functioning of the system. Therefore, all respective stakeholders can ill-afford to allow complacency or bureaucracy to blind them from these dangers.
Discussions on the reprimanding of the security guard agency – following the recent lapse explained by SMRT – additional surveillance systems, embedded fencing and other perimeter security measures would be meaningless if the root problems of apathy and lethargy are not recognised. Otherwise, how would one explain the repetitive nature of the consecutive incidents? The Land Transport Authority (LTA) and its administrators must also go beyond regular checks and audits, to include proposals, fines et cetera.
Looking Beyond The Status Quo
Needless to say, the ongoing investigations should take into account how the break-in was conducted, and subsequently analysed to see if there are similarities – possible “weak spots” or oversights – with last year’s vandalism case. Everything must be properly accounted for. After all the recommendations by the Public Transport Security Committee (PTSC) have been adopted and actually implemented, further review, unannounced checks and break-in simulations can be organised for appropriate follow-up. These standards should be comprehensively extended to bus services, depots and interchanges; where accessibility is high because of the sheer volume of the fleet.
Compromise safety and security; compromise lives. Given the country’s reliance upon the public transportation system, SMRT’s responsibility of keeping its premises safe and secure benefits not only its own reputation and functionality, but also the collective well-being of its commuters. So SMRT; snap out of the status quo; psychological assurances of security can, in the long run, be tremendously beneficial for Singaporeans in general.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.