Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Don’t panic, it’s hoax

Don’t panic, it’s hoax
Deccan Herald

Don’t panic. That’s what Bangalore’s policemen are telling the City’s bomb hoax-harried public. As false alarms threaten to hijack normal life, the policemen are endorsing public sensitisation as the most effective counter-measure.

“A panicky reaction to such threats will only encourage those who are spreading false alarms. It’s our responsibility to deal with alarms, true or false, but the public also needs to face such threats with a presence of mind,” said Commissioner of Police N Achuta Rao.

He said the police hotlines were in place and bomb squads on alert. However, while the police seem to have geared up for possible terror attacks, crackdowns on prank callers continue to be a tough task for the force.

High-end malls and entertainment joints have already started bracing for bomb hoaxes. After Sunday’s SMS hoax on bombs being planted in Garuda Mall, the focus is on public management in the event of bomb threats. “Within ten minutes after the information was sent, the police were at the mall. But we decided against evacuation to avoid panic and possible stampedes. Around four hours after the SMS, the situation was back to normal,” said Mahesh Deshpande, Legal Consultant with the Garuda Group.

However, the sensitisation theory doesn’t cut ice with all. Prof K E Radhakrishna, Principal of Surana College in Basavangudi — that was put on alert after a bomb threat (later proved a hoax) on July 13 — said students were evacuated after the call, with no reason given.

“External security measures like metal detectors can defeat one of the basic purposes of education — fearlessness. The bottomline, sadly, is that we have to learn to live with terror,” he said.

Heat on pranksters

Many bomb hoaxes have proved risky pranks, but the police agree that their impact calls for serious punishment. “This is an offence under Section 507 of the IPC. Strict punishment of such offenders can go a long way in checking the menace,” said Mr Rao.


The timeliness of the threat becomes crucial for a caller in spreading false alarms, as reflected in the spurt of hoaxes that followed the Mumbai train blasts. However, threats are not always hoaxes. Three separate warnings were made before the 1998 Omagh car bomb attack engineered by the Real IRA in Northern Ireland - killing 29 and injuring more than 200.

Though some countries slap bomb hoax callers with serious charges under the internal security ambit, police across the world by and large peg their counter-hoax measures to basic level public sensitisation and interactive initiatives like dedicated lines for SMS verification of hoaxes.


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