Malls, crowded places advised to gear up for terror threats

Mr Yong said increased vigilance is especially necessary in the wake of recent terror events. He added: "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
Mr Yong said increased vigilance is especially necessary in the wake of recent terror events. He added: "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."PHOTO: SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE

Police will engage management of buildings to develop contingency plans, conduct drills to enhance readiness

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.

FEASIBILITY OF BAG CHECKS AT MALLS

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... 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.

MS SARAH LIM, retail expert and S'pore Polytechnic senior lecturer.

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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2016, with the headline 'Malls, crowded places advised to gear up for terror threats'. Print Edition | Subscribe