Police may close high-risk areas before overcrowding to prevent crowd surges: Sun Xueling
Crowd management plans include deploying security, as well as regulating the flow of people at congregation areas and potential chokepoints.
SINGAPORE: The authorities have contingency plans, including closing off high-risk areas pre-emptively before they get overcrowded, to manage crowds at large-scale events, Minister of State for Home Affairs Sun Xueling said on Monday (Nov 28).
Ms Sun was responding to Members of Parliament who asked about the measures in place to prevent stampedes and crowd crushes, following several incidents in the region.
A crowd surge in Seoul's Itaewon district during Halloween festivities killed more than 150 people on Oct 29.
Earlier that month, a football stampede at a stadium in Indonesia's East Java left more than 120 dead after the police and military personnel fired tear gas at spectators.
On Monday, Ms Sun said that the Singapore Police Force works with stakeholders to manage risks associated with large crowds.
She noted that under the Public Order Act, event organisers are required to notify the police of public events that are expected to draw 5,000 people or more, or private events likely to attract 10,000 or more people.
The police will then engage organisers on appropriate measures for public safety, Ms Sun said, adding that major events include the National Day Parade, Christmas festivities at Orchard Road, New Year countdowns and the Formula 1 Night Race.
"These plans may include measures such as the monitoring of crowd size, the deployment of security personnel, and the regulation of crowd control at congregation areas and potential chokepoints," she said.
"They may also include cordoning of areas with public safety risks such as narrow pathways and bridges, and signages to guide the public on diversions and closures of thoroughfares."
Police officers are also deployed on the ground at major events to ensure law and order and to respond to incidents.
"Contingency plans are also put in place. These may involve catering for emergency lanes to facilitate emergency responses within crowded areas, and closing off high-risk areas pre-emptively before they become overcrowded," Ms Sun said.
She added that when there are large crowds in areas such as Little India and Chinatown, officers frequently conduct patrols. They also use CCTVs and drones to monitor the situation on the ground.
"If the police assess that there are disturbances to the mood of a crowd, the police may seek to remove the source of the agitation," she added.
"The police may also provide adequate space for crowd dispersal or provide clear instructions on how the crowd may exit the congested area."
As for indoor venues, capacity limits are regulated by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), Ms Sun noted.
Under the Fire Code, every storey of a building should have at least two independent exit staircases to ensure timely evacuation. Higher-risk premises, such as those with an occupant load of 1,000 people or more, are required to appoint a Fire Safety Manager.
To increase public awareness, the police publicise measures before, during and after the event ends, said Ms Sun.
"The police may also pre-empt the public on potential crowding, and alert the public to avoid areas or events which are already crowded," she added, citing the example of this year's National Day Parade when live updates of the crowd situation at fireworks viewing spots were posted on the Crowd@MarinaBay website.
"The police regularly analyse major incidents which occur around the world, to improve their crowd management measures. They also regularly review their regulatory and policy levers, as well as operational plans," Ms Sun told the House.
"It is equally important that organisers and stakeholders act responsibly, including to adopt sufficient safety measures, and to work with the authorities to keep events and the public safe."
USE OF TEAR GAS
Noting that many of the questions filed on the matter were about the size of the crowd, Ms Sun said there are other factors in place, such as the terrain of the space and the exit and entry points.
In response to a question from MP Gerald Giam (WP-Aljunied) on whether tear gas will ever be used for crowd control, Ms Sun said the police would only use riot control agents - including tear gas - in very specific situations where there is a serious threat of harm to people or property, or the risk of significant public disorder.
"Just based on recent memory. I don't think there have been recent incidents whereby we use tear gas. Because we acknowledge that it can cause public chaos," she said.
Responding to Mr Giam's supplementary question on lessons the Home Affairs Minister has drawn from the tragedies in South Korea and Indonesia, Ms Sun said: "Another lesson that we have learnt from looking at incidents that happened overseas is that the actions that we take has to be proportionate and we have to be very careful in the way we handle such incidents."
MP Lim Biow Chuan (PAP-Mountbatten) then asked who the police would liaise with, in the case of events with no organisers such as New Year countdowns in Clarke Quay or Boat Quay.
Ms Sun replied that the authorities are aware of activities with no specific organisers, adding: "It doesn't change the fact that there will be police security, crowd control, crowd marshals on standby."
Police will consider and assess law and order and public control "as a whole", said Ms Sun.
To MP Murali Pillai's (PAP-Bukit Batok) supplementary question on whether the nature of the crowd will be considered, such as those attending a rock concert compared to the crowd in a place of worship, Ms Sun said the police pay attention to the dynamics of the crowd, as well as the kind of event and fervour displayed.