Cafe puts security cameras in 50 outlets

A security camera at the Ya Kun Kaya Toast outlet in Ang Mo Kio MRT station.
A security camera at the Ya Kun Kaya Toast outlet in Ang Mo Kio MRT station.ST FILE PHOTO

THE Sydney cafe siege has been a wake-up call for some eateries here.

A major chain, Ya Kun Kaya Toast, is installing security cameras in its 50 outlets and staff now look out for “suspicious activity”, such as someone loitering or leaving a bag behind, says executive chairman Adrin Loi.
“There have been so many cases lately. We thought we should do something in our outlets,” says the 60-year-old. “The Sydney incident showed us how vulnerable a society can be.”

The cameras, which will be monitored by managers during opening hours, cost about $1,500 per outlet.
Other options like hiring security guards or installing metal detectors were considered, but they “cost a lot and were impractical”.

Insight contacted 12 businesses – coffee chains and independent cafes, as well as their landlords like malls and hotels – and while none had a specific action plan to deal with a terror attack, most assured us that they had some security protocol in place. However, many were unwilling to elaborate, for fear of jeopardising security.

Even before the Sydney siege, Windowsill Pies in Jalan Besar had put in place measures such as security cameras and ensuring that staff knew who to call in an emergency. Staff are also trained to deal with situations like a fire.

The cafe’s co-owner, Mr Sean Gwee, says: “You can only plan for the common ones. It’s counter-productive to work on the rare possibilities.”

Still, one cafe owner admitted to Insight that staff at her coffee and dessert cafe “won’t know what to do” if a hostage situation occurred on her premises. But now, “we will think about it, come up with some standard operating procedures”.

At Starbucks, with more than 100 outlets here, seating areas and restrooms are monitored by staff on a regular basis to identify safety concerns. Store managers are also briefed to take swift action, such as alerting the building management or police, if anything raises a red flag.

At The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore, which houses several cafes, simulation exercises are held monthly and staff are trained to report any suspicious activity.

CapitaLand, which operates 19 malls here, reviews its security measures regularly.

Security Association (Singapore) president T. Mogan says it is important the basic building blocks are there: Staff must know how to think on their feet, act responsibly in an emergency, and look out for suspicious behaviour.

“Don’t go and be a hero and get shot in the chest. Even a trained person can get injured...,” he advises.

He urges cafe owners to install cameras, train staff to “red-flag” suspicious activity, and brush up on emergency procedures. He also calls on malls to do an “after-action review” in the light of the attack in Sydney.
But some cafe owners say this is not practical.

One says: “You want me to take a bunch of workers and train them? We don’t even have enough manpower for basic production.”