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Monday, January 9th, 2006

Time Event
12:38a
Have you seen Bruce Richard Reynolds he's a man you must detain

The first bomb blast was on a train at the platform at Raffles Place, at approximately 6:30 am. This was the anticipated surprise Civil Defence exercise ``NorthStar Five'', testing the response of passengers and emergency crews to a mass terror attack on the trains and buses. They planned a disarmingly plausible sequence of attacks: at 6:34 am came a blast on a train 70 meters from Marina Bay; at 6:37 one at the North-East Line Dhoby Ghaut station, and simultaneously the Toa Payoh MRT station. At 6:40 a blast and fire ``hit'' a bus at the Toa Payoh bus interchange, and at 6:45 another device ``released'' chemical agents at Dhoby Ghaut.

Raffles Place and Dhoby Ghaut are both interchanges between lines, always very busy; Toa Payoh is a major MRT/bus interchange and center of one of the larger suburbs -- frankly, an excellent choice to attack. Were I planning it I wouldn't have picked Marina Bay, though; it's an odd little terminus without much use or activity. I'd have picked Jurong East -- another interchange, and on the west side of the island, instead of a few moments away from the downtown Raffles Place and Dhoby Ghaut stations.

The amount of simulation planning impressed me; it included even a mock suicide bomber also at Raffles Place -- captured by passengers -- and increasingly angry and short-tempered ``relatives'' demanding information when it'd been hours without hearing anything. Service was disrupted over much of the North-South line for about three hours, and the center of the East-West and a key point of the North-East line were closed.

Most surprising to me was the number of passengers disrupted -- about 3,000 people at the first three stations. Granted Singapore's a good-sized city, but I wouldn't have guessed there were that many people at just Raffles Place, Dhoby Ghaut, and Marina Bay at 6:30 am on a Sunday. Evacuation of one train through the rear exit took about ten minutes. I couldn't help pitying the commuters indirectly involved, having lives that forced them to be awake at an indecent hour like that and then having this disruption on top of it. Plans for future exercises include not holding it at a deliberately odd, low-traffic time.

Trivia: The name Toa Payoh derives from the Chinese for ``big swamp,'' descriptive of the pre-development geography. Source: Street Names of Singapore, Dunlop Street.

Currently Reading: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January 2006. Gordon van Gelder, Editor.

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