Stepped up security at churches, not so for businesses during festive season

Stepped up security at churches, not so for businesses during festive season

Channel NewsAsia·2017-12-23 02:05

SINGAPORE: St Andrew's Cathedral can expect about 2,000 Christians to visit during its Christmas Eve service. 

Its prominent location in the heart of the city above City Hall MRT makes it an attractive target, prompting the cathedral's leaders to introduce bag checks during the festive period last year.

However, the cathedral's security efforts are not limited to bag checks, according to the church's general manager Kenneth Ng. 

The church grounds are also covered by CCTV cameras and patrolled by both security officers and the police.

Together with his security team of volunteers, he is keeping an eye on emerging terror tactics of recent months - such as attacks by lone wolves using vehicles and knives - and remains open to the possibility of deploying vehicle bollards and armed officers in the future.

"Leadership was cautioning that we should have a balance so that we do not cause alarm and we do not cause unnecessary fear,” said Mr Ng.

“We’re going to have to do this in a manner that will ease a lot of these measures in over a period of time so that we don’t all of a sudden have bollards all over the place and too many CCTVs.

“However from our experience from last year, a lot of our worshippers, a lot of our members actually welcomed this (stepped up measures) because they said that at least the church is doing something, especially with things going on outside of Singapore," he added.

Mr Ng said the cathedral has shared its experience with other churches and religious groups, and is also seeking professional advice from both the police and third-party security agencies to review its security measures.

The Catholic Church in Singapore had also ramped up security measures at all its churches, and has sent staff and volunteers for training under the SGSecure national counter-terror movement since November last year. 

Security measures have also been implemented at the Church of St. Alphonsus, also known as Novena Church, which reopened in September. Its rector, Father Peter Wee, said staff and clergy have been trained to keep an eye out for suspicious bags and characters, and rehearsed scenarios since the church reopened. 

BUSINESSES DO NOT HAVE SUFFICIENT FEAR OF TERROR THREATS

But enthusiasm from businesses is lukewarm. The Security Association Singapore said demand for security services has increased in line with the usual surge during the festive period, but added that it has not noticed particular spikes this year. 

Businesses have not requested for additional measures against new tactics either, said its President Raj Joshua Thomas.

"At this point, commercial security buyers do not have a sufficient fear of the terrorism threat. The main considerations that they have are preventing day-to-day, on the ground realities. For example, the prevention of petty theft,” said Mr Thomas. 

“This has to change. As we look at more and more of such attacks happening around the world, it's only a matter of time before it happens here," he added.

On its part, Mr Thomas said the industry has incorporated parts of SGSecure, and functions as additional eyes and ears on the ground to support police efforts. 

This includes downloading and using the SGSecure mobile app and acting as first responders in the event of a crisis by assisting with evacuation. 

However, he added that there can and should be greater sharing of expertise and skills between security firms and their clients in a structured manner.

Police said they have worked with stakeholders, such as the organisers of the Christmas Village at Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza and Flash Bang at Grange Road carpark, to conduct patrols and bag checks on people entering the buildings.

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Singapore Security