Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Malls, crowded places advised to gear up for terror threats; Singaporeans must 'stand united in face of terror threat'

Police will engage management of buildings to develop contingency plans, conduct drills to enhance readiness
By Cheryl Teh, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2016

In recent weeks, attacks have taken place at a nightclub in Orlando, a restaurant in Dhaka, and on crowds at a promenade in Nice.

With Singapore also facing the threat of terrorism, the police want some of the more vulnerable and crowded establishments here - especially retail malls - to shore up their defences.

"Moving forward, the police will be engaging the management of commercial buildings, including retail malls, to develop contingency plans and conduct joint exercises to enhance their readiness to deal with any attack," said Mr Melvin Yong, an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC.

He was speaking yesterday at the first of several counter-terrorism seminars conducted by the Singapore Police Force for the business community.

Mr Yong said increased vigilance is especially necessary in the wake of recent terror events, such as the attack in Nice that claimed 84 lives, and, closer to home, a grenade explosion at a Selangor nightspot that left eight injured.

The necessity to mount counter-terrorist defences locally is even more pressing, in the light of the attacks in Orlando and Dhaka, which point to a shift in modus operandi among terrorist groups, with increasingly brutal, drawn-out killings taking place instead of bomb attacks.

Dr Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman, an assistant professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, noted that there have also been more "lone wolf" attacks in recent years. He said: "Right now, Singapore is beginning to see enhanced security. The fact that we are one of the most global cosmopolitan cities that have not seen an attack shows that our security system is very much in place."

But more needs to be done. This includes the need for retail establishments to work together and share information within a tightly knit network.

Mr Yong cited an anecdote from his time as an assistant commissioner of police, when he found to his alarm that every building in the city centre had designated a small area for evacuation, rather than communicating with one another.

However, associations such as the Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) have taken steps to implement counter-terrorism measures. ORBA currently recommends that its stakeholders increase the presence of monitoring systems to deter and detect intruders.

Said Mr Steven Goh, executive director of ORBA: "We are working with the agencies, perhaps to have a joint exercise for mass evacuations, or in-house training for different complexes."

Excessive security could impede the day-to-day operations of retailers, but the presence of bag checks at every mall entrance might nonetheless be inevitable, said retail expert Sarah Lim, a senior lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic. These are already a common sight in the Philippines and Thailand.

"Bag checks are feasible and have been practised. It is a matter of getting used to them - and it will take time, but shoppers, in the long run, can accept it," said Ms Lim.

She added that the difficulty in making bag checks common here lay in finding a good balance between smooth and customer- friendly operations and tight security measures.

"It is a matter of getting used to a security trend. But to find trained security personnel, and manpower to man entrances for heightened security, and the costs involved - that is the tough part," said Ms Lim.

Meanwhile, the Singapore Civil Defence Force will continue to educate Singaporeans on what to do in the event of a terror attack. These include tips on how to escape and stay safe during a mass evacuation, and the important numbers to call during an emergency.

Said Mr Yong: "We need our community to do its part in keeping Singapore safe, for it is not a matter of 'if' a terror attack will happen here, but a matter of 'when' it will happen."

Singaporeans must 'stand united in face of terror threat'
Three ministers stress importance of racial and religious harmony in preventing, and dealing with, a possible attack
By Felicia Choo, The Straits Times, 18 Jul 2016

Singaporeans should continue to stand united and live in harmony at a time when terror attacks across the world seek to divide societies, three ministers said yesterday.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean emphasised the importance of racial and religious harmony in preventing, and dealing with, a possible terror attack here.

"We focus on what we have in common and what unites us as Singaporeans, rather than be drawn apart by what makes us different," he told residents in a speech at the 12th Punggol North Racial and Religious Harmony Street Parade and Family Carnival.

"The intention of any terror attack is not just to take lives, but also to strike fear and to divide society.

"We cannot stop every possible way in which terror attacks can be carried out, without locking down our whole society and preventing ourselves from living our lives as normally as possible," said Mr Teo, who oversees security matters across various agencies as Coordinating Minister for National Security.

"The solution has to come from our hearts, and from our minds, that we have decided that we want to live together in peace and harmony and that we will make sure that our society, our neighbourhoods, remain that way," added Mr Teo, an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

His comments come a day after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Singapore reporters that the recent spate of terror attacks globally underscores the severity of the threat.

Singaporeans have to be prepared to hold together as a society and carry on as one nation in the aftermath of an attack, he added.

Yesterday, some 12,000 Punggol residents attended the parade in Punggol Field Road, which featured musical performances, a multi-religious food fair and a showcase of festivals and weddings from different nationalities.

Mr Teo's words were echoed by Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng, also an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, who cautioned against taking racial and religious harmony for granted.

"We must always be mindful of the delicate balance necessary to maintain racial and multicultural harmony," he said.

"This is something we must not take for granted and we should build on the many years of friendships and solidarity. We must constantly remind ourselves of the need always to be tactful and respectful of each other's race, culture and religion."

DPM Teo also urged residents to alert community leaders and the authorities if they know of anyone who might be going astray in this regard.

"Tell someone, and we will work together to help to save him from doing damage to himself, his family, the society and our country," he said.

At a separate event to recognise the contributions of volunteers for Malay/Muslim self-help group Mendaki yesterday, Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim also highlighted the need to promote racial and religious understanding.

"Racial harmony is a work in progress," he said. "We don't wait for an event to jump into action, we have to continue to reach out to others to strengthen the core."

"Credit must go to the various communities - we've been working together, we've been running programmes for inter-faith understanding," added Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.

Pressing on with such efforts to deepen trust and understanding between people from various communities is especially crucial, he added, as Singapore's population is constantly changing and becoming more diverse with new immigrants.

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