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

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

Some churches in Singapore have stepped up security measures in the lead up to this festive season, but the Security Association Singapore says businesses are not paying enough attention to the threat.

SINGAPORE: St Andrew's Cathedral – which is located in the heart of the city – expects about 2,000 Christians visiting for its Christmas service. 

It introduced bag checks during the festive period last year, and the grounds are also protected by CCTV cameras and regular patrols. More measures could be in the works, according to the cathedral’s general manager Kenneth Ng.

Mr Ng revealed that the church is looking into the possibility of deploying vehicle bollards and armed officers in future, so as to guard against emerging terror tactics - such as attacks using vehicles and knives.

"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 these (stepped-up measures) because they said that at least the church is doing something, especially with things going on outside of Singapore."

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

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

For instance, over at the Church of St. Alphonsus – also known as Novena Church – staff and clergy have been trained to keep an eye out for suspicious bags and characters, and rehearsed scenarios since the church reopened in September after a three-year revamp, said its rector Father Peter Wee.

To protect the public at other places where crowds are expected to congregate, the police are working with stakeholders like the organisers of the Christmas Village at Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza and Flashbang at Grange Road carpark to conduct patrols and bag checks.

But by and large, businesses have been slower in responding to the terror threat, according to the Security Association Singapore. 

It 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. Neither have businesses requested for additional measures against new tactics, 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."

On its part, Mr Thomas said the industry has incorporated parts of the national SGSecure counter-terror movement, and acts as additional eyes and ears on the ground to support police efforts. 

This includes downloading and using the SGSecure mobile app, and being prepared to step up as first responders in the event of a crisis by assisting with evacuation.

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

Source: CNA/aa