The Straits Times says

Staying vigilant to counter terrorists

Rectifying the security gaps evident in many buildings is a necessary task that all owners should undertake despite the costs involved. Pervasive and up-to-the-mark security systems must be as ubiquitous as the maze of fire detection sensors in buildings. To cope with terror threats, the thinking must change. It's not just about securing one's own premises but also about being part of a web of operations to help monitor disparate acts, detect links and respond to any attacks in a snap. The security architecture being developed by the Home Affairs Ministry, working with the police, Singapore Civil Defence Force, Building and Construction Authority and Urban Redevelopment Authority, would be incomplete without the active participation of the private sector.

While it's true that terrorism claims far fewer lives than major urban ills (like guns, car accidents and falls in bathtubs in the United States, as President Barack Obama observed in the context of broad strategic concerns), terror exacts economic, social and human costs that simply cannot be ignored. In its Global Terrorism Index last year, the Institute for Economics and Peace counted 32,685 deaths from terrorism in 2014, leaving a global trail of economic costs that peaked at US$52.9 billion (S$71 billion). Worldwide, US$117 billion was spent on national security agencies set up to thwart terrorism. As a prime target for terrorists, Singapore cannot afford to have a less-than- comprehensive strategic approach to the threat.

Building owners paying tens of thousands of dollars a month for security guards might think they are doing enough. But their closed-circuit TV cameras might be antiquated and lack the clarity to allow facial recognition. Furthermore, old systems might not be able to share security data with others to allow real-time analysis to track threats.

There might be concerns over privacy among occupiers and visitors who are subject to constant surveillance and searches at busy places and major events. In working out guidelines, a balance should be struck without unduly compromising public safety. Similarly, while some spending on innovative security features is necessary, one should not go overboard.

Where appropriate, each layer of precautions - like barriers to prevent vehicle ramming, screening of visitors, and scanning of carried items - is an additional shield to deter terror groups. One has to also appreciate the interconnectedness of security measures. If checks are strict in only some high-traffic spots, that could shift the threat to soft targets that are visibly less stringent. Hence, a national system is needed to ensure baseline technical and safety standards are in place. Together with a public that takes security checks in its stride and is able to respond aptly to possible contingencies, these steps can help to put off terrorists eyeing Singapore.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2016, with the headline 'Staying vigilant to counter terrorists'. Subscribe