The Infrastructure Protection Bill 2017, which was passed this month, has two main objectives. The first is to enhance security at protected places and critical infrastructure by granting more powers to security personnel as well as improve security protocols.
For example, the new law empowers security personnel to take action against unauthorised photography/videography of protected and sensitive installations. As if to drive home the point, just two days after the bill was enacted, the authorities briefly detained two men for allegedly taking photos of the MRT depot at Bishan.
While both men were subsequently released, it could well have been a more serious situation.
The second is to encourage developers to adopt ‘security-by-design’ concepts when designing new buildings, as well as to direct owners to enhance the physical security of existing buildings by, for instance, installing bollards and/or CCTV cameras).
Given that a terrorist attack on any major building would be catastrophic, the enactment of this new law is timely and necessary.
Singapore is not alone in adopting measures to mitigate the risks of attacks in public places, which have grown more common of late (Barcelona, Berlin, Paris, and London for example).
In August this year, Australia unveiled a guidebook to help organisations improve security around their premises as well as suggest tangible ways of doing so.
London plans to reintroduce its ‘ring of steel (ROS)’ to protect the financial district. The ROS are enhanced security measures such as “manned checkpoints, rising street bollards and crash-proof barricades” that were first introduced in the early 1990s as a response to Irish Republican Army attacks. Singapore’s approach is premised on thinking more holistically about infrastructure protection where a dynamic balance between the values of cost, aesthetics, security and efficiency - or CASE in short - is struck.
The additional cost of incorporating enhanced security measures into new and existing buildings was not unexpectedly an issue of concern.
Second Home Affairs Minister Josephine Teo estimates that total construction costs would go up by “0.2 to 3 per cent”. Meanwhile the “total assets life cycle cost” would also have to be taken into account, which would invariably increase the direct costs.
Yet, the costs of a terrorist attack are not limited simply to direct costs. There are also indirect costs such as loss of life, tourism, reputational damage, public confidence and so on. These are not easily quantifiable, and may be significantly more than direct costs.
For example, the New York City comptroller’s office estimated that the cost of replacing destroyed and damaged property from the 9/11 attacks was about US$26 billion (S$35.2 billion).
However, the estimates for indirect costs such as value of life (US$24 billion), loss of revenue from airline and other travel (US$100 billion) as well as loss of revenue from business interruption (US$22 billion), were significantly higher.
Infrastructure protection should thus be seen as more of an investment rather than a cost, in light of the indirect costs involved.
Despite a rise in vehicular terrorist attacks, many cities in Europe have shied away from beefing up infrastructure for fear that aesthetics declines when physical security goes up. Some researchers have also argued that enhanced infrastructure protection can increase “fearfulness, suspicion, paranoia, exclusion and ultimately insecurity”.
Infrastructure protection need not be done at the expense of aesthetics however. Singapore’s Sports Hub is a good example of how ‘security-by-design’ has resulted in a secure set of buildings that do not resemble “unwelcoming fortresses”.
That said, existing buildings will require some creative interventions to ensure that the added security features blend in with the aesthetics. This process is not necessarily costly, nor would it lead to adverse psychological effects in the population, as a 2011 Danish study has shown.
In fact, the study suggested that visible security measures actually “reinforced feelings of safety”, and that non-visible attributes such as inclusivity, strong civic mindedness and rule of law were just as important in reinforcing feelings of safety.
The sad reality is that despite such enhanced security features, a terrorist attack will still result in some casualties, even fatalities.
Hence enhancing infrastructure protection should be seen as an attempt to minimise the risk by deterring adversaries from attempting the attack in the first place, and failing which, to minimise the number of casualties caused by the attack.
The installation of SMART CCTVs (CCTVS that use Artificial Intelligence to improve analytics) for example, can deter potential adversaries by increasing the risks of detection before and after an attack.
On a related point, the footage from CCTVs must be usable, and as such, it might be useful to ensure that all newly-installed or existing CCTVs meet industry best standards.
Bollards, reinforced planters and other mitigation devices may not fully protect people from terrorist vehicular attacks all of the time, but they could certainly significantly increase the chances of surviving such strikes. Improved infrastructure protection is thus an investment in risk mitigation.
…AS WELL AS EFFICIENCY
One of the arguments, at least in Europe, against enhanced infrastructure protection is that it creates inefficiencies and inconvenience.
Businesses such as hotels that rely on the free and easy movement of customers and delivery personnel would invariably be affected. For transport hubs such as terminals, train stations, airports and seaports, the efficient and expedited movement of foot traffic is integral from an operations, logistics, customer service and ultimately, economic perspective.
Enhanced security measures could throw a spanner in the works. So how does one ensure minimal delays while hardening infrastructure?
Some urban planning researchers urge that transport operators should mobilise their employees and deploy them to perform security roles.
For example, “train drivers, station managers and platform managers” can be trained to identify suspicious objects and individuals and alert the authorities.
Yet a strict, indefinite regime of round-the-clock checks that would both hugely hamper flows of people and objects, and put an intolerable strain on security personnel should be avoided.
Instead, an intelligence-driven, calibrated regime of security checks could be instituted as the need arises. Needless to say, this presupposes a close working relationship between the relevant security agencies and operators.
ENHANCING SG SECURE
While the latest legislation will undoubtedly assist stakeholders in striking a dynamic balance between the values of cost, aesthetics, security and efficiency with regard to infrastructure protection, one should not lose sight of the woods for the trees.
Ultimately the latest initiative should be seen as another element in the overall SG Secure movement to harden the country physically, socially and psychologically against a terrorist strike.
Given that Singapore has been overtly identified in Islamic State social media propaganda as a legitimate target for attack, prudence dictates that stakeholders should take the new legislation to heart.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Damien D Cheong is Research Fellow, National Security Studies Programme (NSSP) and Associate Professor Kumar Ramakrishna is Head of Policy Studies and NSSP Coordinator at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.