The Straits Times says

An anti-terror reflex at workplaces

Risk management being a well-accepted part of modern business operations, one would expect more contingency plans to be made for a major threat of the times: terrorism. It is not a far-flung menace, as signalled by a steady stream of news.

Singaporeans might form a minority among the over 1,000 South-east Asians fighting for terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Middle East. However, the ISIS-inspired battle in Marawi City in the Philippines has been going on for four months, and another campaign linked to ISIS could arise in Myanmar's Rakhine state, with Malaysians said to be preparing to fight for the Rohingya. Should more fighters emerge in this region, security risks will be heightened in Singapore, which is already in the sights of terror cells and lone wolves.

Applying established principles of risk management, businesses should ask what is the worst that could happen and review areas of vulnerability. For certain critical operations, both a contingency plan and a fallback plan might be needed, should there be residual risks after a planned response has been executed. This is not going too far as the terror threat here is at its highest level since 2001, when the Jemaah Islamiah plotters were rounded up. For most businesses, a general course of action should be the least response to security risks. Implicitly or explicitly relying on state agencies to protect all property and personnel would be unrealistic, given the multiplicity of possible targets. However, in preparing for emergencies, one can depend on the public sector to harmonise efforts and provide sound guidance.

Identifying and developing teams of emergency responders, as emphasised in the SGSecure guide for workplaces, can ensure critical steps are undertaken minutes after an event - like mass evacuation, fire-fighting, administering first aid, using defibrillators on those suffering cardiac arrests, and providing psychological support to traumatised colleagues. During chaotic times, it's the resilience of smaller groups that can make a crucial difference to eventual outcomes. A collateral benefit of such preparation is the trust that can be built within a company's workforce when people sense the seriousness with which co-workers are trained to look out for one another.

As many businesses are embedded in communities, they ought to partner outside groups to enhance vigilance in their area. Additionally, they should help to develop the capacity of residents to respond to emergencies. This national effort is in much need of a boost as a Sunday Times poll found that four in five Singaporeans feel unprepared for a terror attack. Naturally, simulation exercises in the neighbourhood will be more effective when more groups, commercial and civic, collaborate with residents to go through the paces. Such cohesion is vital if terror is to be thwarted.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2017, with the headline 'An anti-terror reflex at workplaces'. Print Edition | Subscribe