New law to shield buildings, key installations from attacks

The Emergency Response Team shooting a "terrorist" during a drill in May. Under the new law, owners of strategic buildings will have to work enhanced security measures into building design.
The Emergency Response Team shooting a "terrorist" during a drill in May. Under the new law, owners of strategic buildings will have to work enhanced security measures into building design.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Regulatory framework to ensure security of strategic infrastructure

Owners of strategic buildings will be required to work enhanced security measures, like high-tech video surveillance, into the design of their property, under a new law passed by Parliament yesterday.

The Infrastructure Protection Bill, which establishes a "clear regulatory framework" for shieldingsuch buildings, is part of Singapore's comprehensive strategy to fight terror.

The new law comes at a time when the terror threat in Singapore is at its highest level, and attacks elsewhere show iconic landmarks and government buildings are prime terrorist targets.

Their aim is to make a statement by attaining maximum casualties, Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo said when she presented the proposed changes for parliamentary debate.

"Their aim is to create fear and upend our way of life in the ideological battle between their and our values," she added.

She cited the vehicle-ramming attacks in Spain in August that killed 16 people, noting the terrorists behind them had also planned to bomb iconic buildings in Barcelona.

The new law comes at a time when the terror threat in Singapore is at its highest level, and attacks elsewhere show iconic landmarks and government buildings are prime terrorist targets.

  • Changes at a glance

  • Key infrastructure must factor security into design:

    • The security plans must be approved by the Commissioner of Infrastructure Protection before construction or renovation.

    • Owners who start construction without an approved security plan can be fined up to $200,000, jailed for up to two years, or given both punishments. The commissioner can issue directives to building owners to put in place measures such as vehicle barriers or better CCTV coverage.

    • Owners of designated buildings who fail to comply can be fined up to $100,000, jailed for up to two years, or both.

    • Owners of non-designated buildings can be fined up to $50,000, jailed for up to two years, or both.

    Security officers of protected areas and places such as army camps and immigration checkpoints will get more powers:

    • They can ask for identification, inspect belongings, direct a person to leave, and order a person to stop taking pictures of the place and delete the photographs.

    • Those who refuse can be fined up to $20,000, jailed for up to two years, or both.

She also pointed to the Marriott Hotel bombing in Pakistan in 2008. A truck carrying a bomb was stopped by a security barrier 40m away from the hotel, and this "blunted the attack".

Such incidents testify to the importance of ensuring there is adequate protection for infrastructure in Singapore, she added.

Last year, militants linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria planned an attack on integrated resort Marina Bay Sands from Batam, but the plot was foiled by Indonesian security agencies.

Under the new law,the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) can designate new buildings as "special developments", and existing buildings as "special infrastructure".

Their owners will have to put them through a "security-by-design" process, which means they have to integrate security into their designs before they are built or renovated.

The security plans have to get the nod from the new Commissioner of Infrastructure Protection, a position that will be filled by an MHA senior civil servant.

The designated buildings will include those that provide essential services, have heavy human traffic, or iconic or symbolic significance.

They must be located in certain planning areas, classified for commercial, community or mixed use, and their gross floor area must exceed 100,000 sq m.

Mrs Teo assured the House that only a handful of new developments would be affected each year.

The criteria for such developments will be published in the Government Gazette soon.

The ministry will also be updating existing guidelines for building security, in line with the new rules.

Mrs Teo said the commissioner has the power to issue directives for building owners to install security measures to mitigate the risk of an attack. This could include improving closed-circuit TV camera coverage or installing vehicle barriers.

These directives will be a "last resort", she added.

Yet another new measure involves giving security personnel at sensitive installations - such as military camps and immigration checkpoints - powers to deal with threats in their vicinity. These include the power to question suspicious persons and inspect their belongings, and to require them to leave the area.

It will also be illegal to take photos or videos of these installations without permission, a move to prevent surveillance by terrorists.

Security personnel can examine the footage and have it deleted.

The Bill was supported by all eight MPs who spoke on it. They included Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) and Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC).

Their chief concerns were whether the new measures would increase costs for building owners, and whether security officers would receive adequate training.

Mrs Teo said security officers who guard protected areas and places now have to attend a counter-terrorism course, and plans are afoot to make it a licensing requirement for more officers.

Addressing the cost issue, she said that in earlier buildings designed with security, the cost of security measures ranged between 0.2 per cent and 3 per cent of construction costs.

"Given that MHA will try to make known as early as possible which buildings need to undergo security-by-design, developers will likely factor in the cost of security measures in their bid price for the land," said Mrs Teo.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2017, with the headline 'New law to shield buildings, key installations from attacks'. Print Edition | Subscribe