Monday 28 March 2016

Terror strike ‘only a matter of time’ say Singaporeans in survey

3 in 4 Singaporeans believe terror strike here 'only a matter of time'
Changi Airport seen as likeliest target
By Danson Cheong, Benjamin Tan and Rebecca Tan, The Sunday Times, 27 Mar 2016

Three in four Singaporeans believe that it is only a matter of time before the country comes under a terror attack, with Changi Airport the likeliest target. But a third of people surveyed worry that not enough is being done to prepare its citizens for the eventuality.

These figures came out of a Sunday Times poll last week of 500 people across all ages and demographics who were surveyed at locations across the island, including transport hubs, shopping areas and Changi Airport.

The survey was carried out after a coordinated attack in the Belgian capital of Brussels killed 31 people and injured 300. Two suicide bombers detonated explosives in the departure lounge of Brussels airport, before a third blew himself up on the subway at the end of rush hour.

Nearly nine in 10 of those The Sunday Times spoke to had heard of the attacks in Brussels, and most were worried of something similar happening here, pointing to Singapore's position as a travel and business hub for Asia, and its support for the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS).

Some also highlighted how ISIS has already hit close to home by attacking Indonesia, and that members of the jihadist group had also been arrested across the Causeway while planning to carry out terrorist attacks in Malaysia.

When asked, those surveyed said they were most worried about attacks on "soft targets". Around 130 highlighted tourist attractions such as Sentosa, while 183 thought MRT stations and bus interchanges could be targeted. Over 200 each pointed at Singapore's financial district or its malls, especially those along Orchard Road. But nearly half of those surveyed believed Changi Airport would be the likeliest target.

Said private tutor Fred Tan, 57: "We are a centre for air travel, and people can go in and out of the airport easily. You can't tell who's a terrorist by how they look."

About 54 per cent surveyed believe Singapore is prepared for an attack, highlighting the vigilance of the country's security forces, the number of armed patrols they see at key nodes such as the airport and train stations, and the recent remarks on how the country was stepping up its measures.

I visited Changi Airport to get a briefing on security measures. We have over 55 million passengers passing through...
Posted by K Shanmugam Sc on Wednesday, March 30, 2016

On March 18, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said the terror threat level facing Singapore was at its highest in decades, and announced the formation of a new fast-response police team and the beefing up of CCTV coverage at common places across the island.

There will also be efforts aimed at better securing private buildings and major events. "It is no longer a question of whether an attack will take place, but really, when is an attack going to take place in Singapore, and we have to be prepared for that," said the minister.

Here's how the Brussels attacks could totally change airport security
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Two-thirds of those surveyed also said they were willing to undergo more thorough and increased security checks at places such as the airport, MRT stations and shopping centres. "I don't mind bag checks and car checks because these are for security purposes, and it is honestly better to be safe than sorry," said Mr Karan Deep, 30, a waiter. "At the end of the day, if people have nothing to hide, then they should have nothing to worry about either."

But a small group said they were worried about privacy. "My right to move about without being questioned is important," said Ms Anne Lemoine, 35, a Canadian engineer who has been living here for seven months.

But while the country may have the hardware, around 35 per cent wondered if citizens had the heartware to deal with an attack. Many of them believe Singaporeans still are not taking the terror threat seriously enough. "Physically, we are ready, but psychologically, no," said Mr Nathan Huang, 27, a consultant. Events manager Jasmine Teo, 26, added: "There's a lot of complacency. Even when we hear a fire alarm in the mall, few would actually react."

Others worried about the unrest that could arise after an attack.

Mr Daniel Rajan, 57, who is in between jobs, said: "Once there's a terrorist attack, there may be a reaction against a particular race or religion, and this will definitely threaten our social stability."

Added Ms Wong Fang Chin, 50, a financial consultant: "Deterrence is definitely a community effort but I feel that many of us keep to ourselves."

Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng, who is also on the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Home Affairs and Law, believes government initiatives such as SG Secure, which Mr Shanmugam announced, can play a part.

SG Secure, which would be launched later this year, aims to organise and train residents to guard against attacks, and maintain social harmony in the aftermath. "I think we need more drills on the ground, perhaps in the schools, to see if students are ready; and on the ground at the grassroots level - because in case of emergencies, these people will be the liaison officers," said Mr Ng.

Tampines GRC MP Desmond Choo said counter-terrorism preparation is not just the domain of the Government.

"The fast-evolving threat and modus operandi mean that we need everyone to help in identifying potential ill elements," said Mr Choo, who is also on the GPC for Home Affairs and Law. "By standing united, we will show that Singapore cannot be defeated by terrorists."

Additional reporting by Alexis Ong, Ng Keng Gene, Wong Shiying and Veena Vinod

33% of people surveyed feel that not enough is being done to prepare Singaporeans should an attack occur, Changi Airport was also named as the likeliest target.
Posted by The Straits Times on Saturday, March 26, 2016

Bag checks at MRT stations the new normal?
Post-Brussels attacks, security experts highlight likely steps and warn against complacency
By Danson Cheong, The Sunday Times, 27 Mar 2016

Stricter checks at MRT stations may soon become part of everyday life in the face of increasing terror threats. Security experts say Singaporeans should ready themselves for inconveniences such as bag checks and screenings at key installations, especially transport hubs.

Associate professor Bilveer Singh of the National University of Singapore said terror attacks over recent years at metro or train stations in London, Madrid and Brussels show that these have become a target of choice. "We have to make these installations tougher to crack. Security checks will create inconvenience, but there is no choice, and people will have to understand this," Dr Singh said.

While there are already security checks at MRT stations, these are random and sporadic. Since the Brussels attacks, The Sunday Times understands patrols have been stepped up at key installations such as transport nodes, and security enhanced at checkpoints.

Experts said attacks on other "soft targets" such as shopping malls, schools and hawker centres are also worrying because these are "impossible to fully protect".

Mr Toby Koh, managing director of Ademco Security Group, suggested that random checkpoints be set up as a "visual deterrence".

This could mean circulating security checkpoints around the different MRT stations or transport hubs at random.

"It would remind citizens that security is important and to keep it in mind," he said, adding that complacency was Singapore's greatest weakness.

"We are a victim of our good policing, we always think this is not going to happen to us."

He added that commercial building owners could do more, noting that less than 10 per cent of such buildings were designed with security considerations in mind. Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam flagged this concern on March 18, and revealed that the government would be asking developers of large projects to factor in security considerations at the design stage. Building owners could also be asked to install CCTV cameras.

Mr Paul Lim, chief executive of Secura Group, said buildings could be designed such that CCTV cameras could reach larger areas, and have fewer chokepoints to reduce the risk of stampedes in the event of an attack.

"How buildings are designed can also mitigate the after-effects of a terror attack, for example, if you have shatter-proof glass or pillars that withstand certain levels of explosive. In buildings that are badly designed, the damage can be 10 to 100 times greater," said Mr Lim.

Security studies academic Antonio Rappa from SIM University said more stringent checks should also be carried out on foreigners after they enter the country.

He pointed out that in the 1920s and 1930s, Japanese tourists who travelled to Malaya would take pictures of beaches, installations and utility pipelines. These later became part of an intelligence trove when the Japanese invaded.

In calling for vigilance, Dr Rappa said: "The security situation in Singapore is under control but the fact that arrests have been made recently, and more arrests are likely to occur, in my view, show the number of supporters for overseas terror networks is growing."

Tampines GRC MP Desmond Choo, who is on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, said much of the "counter-terrorism work is done behind the scenes for obvious operational secrecy reasons".

"Singaporeans can be assured that the HomeTeam and security agencies are silently protecting our homeland," he said.

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How prepared are Singapore businesses in dealing with terror threats?
"Every incident out there is a lesson for us. We must take it as if a bomb has exploded in Singapore, not just that a bomb has exploded in Brussels," says the president of the Security Association in Singapore.
By Loke Kok Fai, Channel NewsAsia, 27 Mar 2016

A new national movement to get Singaporeans ready for a possible terrorist attack will be rolled out later this year, and in the wake of the terror attacks in Brussels recently, how prepared are businesses here to deal with such situations if they arise?

Shangri-La Hotel said whether it is the hosting of major occasions or just the running of day-to-day operations, it takes a calibrated approach to security, amid heightened global threats. The hotel was the venue of the historic meeting between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou last year.

"Typically in high-risk countries, we would scan cars; we would deploy canine bomb sniffing dogs," said the hotel's general manager and vice-president Reto Klauser. "We would have luggage scanners at the entrance, as well as walk-through metal detectors.

"I don't think that we will have to deploy such technology on a day-to-day basis at this point," he added. "We are focusing on growing the level of alertness and awareness, and we (will) try to deploy the ability to profile the guests as well as our colleagues and look for irregularities."

Shangri-La Hotel does this through a vigilance training programme for all staff. However, it is not just hotels that are stepping up security.

At Dempsey Hill, memos are distributed to tenants on the need to stay vigilant, as well as on what to do when a crisis situation arises. Security patrols have also been stepped up in the area.

"We must take it as if a bomb has exploded in Singapore, not just that a bomb has exploded in Brussels": Everyone has to play their part in preparing for a terror attack, says Singapore's Security Association.
Posted by Channel NewsAsia on Sunday, March 27, 2016

However, such measures are not universal. Channel NewsAsia understands that some businesses have not taken proactive steps to beef up security. Adding to the problem is the manpower crunch in the security industry, with middle-aged and elderly men forming the bulk of the sector's manpower, said one agency.

Some security companies are also unwilling to invest in training beyond what is minimally required.

"Due to the fact that we have to perform duties at site, companies are unable to sacrifice by sending men to do prescribed training," said Mainguard Security Services' managing director Ponno Kalastree. "They have to send men only to do whatever training that is required, but the training is at the moment just the tip of the iceberg.

"If you compare our training with countries, even in the surrounding region, within Asia, our training is only one-tenth of what they’ve been trained (in)."

Mr Kalastree drew comparisons to the security guard training done in Philippines and Thailand, where they perform armed guard duties like their respective police forces.

"In case of any problem, any crisis, they’ll be mobilised to do the job and they can perform the job just as effectively as the law enforcement (agencies)," he said. "But in our case, we have a limitation – our role is limited.

"Our guards are unarmed. We can only do the mopping up operation, (be the) eyes and ears (of the authorities) and be able to play a supporting role."

"I hope the authorities will (allow) the security companies to play a role (like that of) Cisco and AETOS," said Mr Kalastree. 

While the use of CCTV systems can help ease the manpower crunch, Security Association Singapore said everyone has a part to play.

"When we leave the house, we make sure we lock the door and the gate, and we put a separate padlock on it," said president of the association Thavarajah Mogan. "You want to double, triple ensure that your place is safe.

"What about the country as a whole? How much can the Government alone do? The public will have to play its part. That is why I said the public and private security providers, as well as the Government should constantly be in tripartism as far as private security is concerned."

He added: 'Every incident out there is a lesson for us. We must take it as if a bomb has exploded in Singapore, not just that a bomb has exploded in Brussels."

On its part, the association said it organises educational tours for security agencies to study areas hit by attacks. They can in turn share the lessons learnt with their clients.

Do your bit in anti-terror effort
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 30 Mar 2016

Singaporeans know that the terror threat facing the country is a grave and present one. A Sunday Times poll of 500 people last week found that 75 per cent felt an attack here was inevitable.

The Government has been sounding the alarm for some time, so this is encouraging. Earlier this month, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said the threat was at its highest level in decades.

The poll showed that most Singaporeans get the message and are not taking security for granted.

But it also highlighted the fact that many feel we have some way to go to develop the resilience necessary to weather any blow. About 35 per cent felt that Singapore is unprepared, while 40 per cent thought that there is nothing they can do to guard themselves or their loved ones.

More than 10 per cent were unaware of the attacks by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Belgian capital of Brussels last week, which left 35 dead and more than 300 injured.

How society will react to an attack if it happens here is unknown. Singapore has stayed safe over the years even as its closest neighbours grappled with bombings in their cities. A culture of complacency has set in that people must break out of.

For a start, there needs to be even greater community awareness of the terror threat, and people need to equip themselves with the necessary skills - such as first aid or basic firefighting - to work together and survive an attack.

The worst outcome of an attack is for religious divisions to fracture society. This is happening in Brussels, where Islamophobia has led to protests.

SG Secure, a government initiative to be launched this year, will organise and train people to guard against attacks, and maintain social harmony in the aftermath.

It will go some way to help. But Singaporeans have to play their part too.

At the minimum, they should stay abreast of developments in terrorism. If they can, also seek out and learn life-saving skills.

In a time of crisis, that could make all the difference.

Countering terrorism: Enhancing Singapore's response

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