Created on Sunday, 19 June 2011 00:00
Written by Samuel Yeoh
Imagine waking up one morning to find your water tap dispensing yellow, frothy liquid. No, it isn’t free beer day, but a dead body in your water tank.
Just last month, residents of a certain unfortunate Woodlands HDB block were in for a rude shock when a corpse was discovered to be the source of contamination.
In the flurry of outrage that followed, many pertinent issues were raised. Will there be health issues arising from using the water? Why was there a delay in communicating the contamination? Will there be a new water tank? Did the town council perform their duties appropriately?
Yet the issue that resonated most with me was why was the security of the water tank so poor? Granted that a water tank isn’t normally regarded as a high value target that requires 24 hour security patrol with armed guards, it is still a little disconcerting that someone can drag a dead body up to the rooftop and stuff it down our water supply – without notice.
PUB has announced that come first of July, stricter security will be in place to secure our water tanks. As a reactive measure, there will be checks on all buildings with water tanks to ensure compliance, instead of the annual spot check on 30% of the buildings.
However, I can’t help wondering how effective that will be. Sure, there will be a scramble to meet the initial checks, but what about maintenance subsequently? Moreover, this is not the first time something similar has happened, with some boys dumping washing powder into a water tank back in 2002.
The fact is, despite the best intentions of any governing authority, it is near impossible to foolproof any system. There can be a multitude of security checks and measures in place, but there will always be some cracks that may allow something to slip through.
Unfortunately, it simply isn’t cost effective nor practical to implement a high security system on the 14,000 odd water tanks across the island on the off chance that a similarly gruesome incident will recur again.
What can we do about it then? Perhaps we could sign more petitions for CCTVs or raise funds to hire our own CISCO guards.
Or maybe, just maybe, we could practice community vigilance.
Living in the (usually) safe environment of Singapore, there is a tendency for most of us to be lulled into a false sense of security. When we notice something amiss, we might dismiss it as our imagination because we find it incredulous for it to happen here.
Just like the MRT graffiti incident in 2010 that took more than 48 hours to be reported, SMRT staff thought that the vandalism was an advertisement or artwork of some sort done by SMRT itself. In retrospect, it’s easy to condemn the staff for not realizing it sooner, but how many of us would even have thought such graffiti possible given how strict Singapore is?
The staff probably thought it as a top down initiative, figuring that if any alarm bells were to be rung, someone higher up would have noticed it already. That in itself is the main fallacy that leads to many lapses of security.
It has become a common habit for us to rely on authorities to act on our behalf, protect us from harm, and generally care for our welfare. When all is fine, we lead our daily lives and expect them to watch out for us. When something goes wrong however, we start pointing fingers at them, lamenting on why they couldn’t do their job better.
The problem though, lies in the fact that authorities cannot always be finely tuned to what is going on at the ground level. Over-reliance on them will only lead to increasing incidents of more lapses as they are stretched thinner with each new resource- and time-consuming measure they implement.
Since they can’t be everywhere at once, it only makes sense that those who can, help in the work of policing. Why wait till the annual spot check for a 30% chance that PUB might come around and see if your water tank is secure? Why not form a small taskforce that help to check your HDB unit for any lapses in security or safety on a regular basis?
Even if your neighbours are too anti-social or couldn’t care less, you could still take an evening walk up the stairs just to check if your unit is secure. And you get a good workout going up the stairs.
Seriously though, community vigilance requires the participation of every member in the community, taking an active role in staying alert and preventing mishaps from occurring instead of complaining after every unfortunate incident. Even a harmless rusted lock or a small hole in the fence of a restricted area, which usually will be dismissed by a nonchalant resident, can be a precursor to bigger problems. Taking action to get them fixed early before they spiral out of control is always better than broad stroke reactive measures.
Rather than worry about when the next big disaster that might strike, perhaps we should start looking out for the little things that are out of place around us. After all, a nice neighbourhood doesn’t degenerate into a slum overnight.