In just the last month, terrorists held hostages in Sydney’s central business district, gunmen killed 11 journalists of the weekly newspaper “Charlie Hebdo,” and ISIS militants executed scores of prisoners. Terrorism is rampant. However, living in a country where even gum imports are illegal can make it easy to believe that these kinds of attacks would never happen in Singapore.
While Singapore may be the most stable ASEAN country, the Malaysian Insider wrote that it is also a “first-tier target” for terrorists. Jemaah Islamiya (JI), for example, is an Indonesia-based terrorist network linked to the Al Qaeda whose aim is to create an Islamic state across Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, and the Philippines.
According to the National Counterterrorism Center, members of the JI were arrested in 2001 for planning to bomb and attack targets in Singapore associated with the US Navy. Then in 2008, Singapore JI leader Mas Selamat escaped his prison cell, only to be recaptured the following year. He had planned to bomb Changi Airport.
But what does all of this mean for our school? As an American school, SAS maintains stringent security measures. But apart from the guard force, vehicle checks, and card-scanning system we see every day, there is plenty of behind-the-scenes security efforts taking place.
“The US embassy gives us ongoing advice and support, and we have a strong relationship with the local police – they drive through pretty much every day,” William Scarborough, Assistant Superintendent for Operations, said.
In addition, SAS has a professional security consultant and an annual security audit. Tabletop exercises are also performed to map out reactions to potential attack scenarios.
While unlikely, attack situations are still a possibility. Even the ISIS conflict currently unfolding is one that Singapore is not completely isolated from. A recent article in the Straits Times wrote that “the Government confirmed that a few Singaporeans had travelled to Syria to take part in the conflict there; hundreds of Malaysians and Indonesians have done the same.”
To combat terrorism, Singapore’s cafes recently stepped up their camera systems, security at train and bus stations got heavier, and stricter gun and border controls were implemented, according to the Straits Times. Under the 1998 Civil Defence Shelter Act, it is even mandated that every new residential house or building must have a bomb shelter in it.
An especially heavily monitored region of Singapore happens to be SAS’ own location, the Woodlands area.
“The government pays a lot of attention to this area. That’s because of SAS’ proximity to the Malaysian border, because of the military grounds just across the SLE, and because huge water pipes from Malaysia run through one end of our campus,” Scarborough said.
The government’s interest and concern for our school was especially clear when they placed two gurkhas in SAS in December 2001 shortly after 9/11. These gurkhas were later removed once it was decided that the threat level had been reduced. It is clear that every time an issue of worldwide concern arises, the security adapts, changes, and improves.
Students who have attended SAS since kindergarten have seen the evolution of security. Never has the camera system been so extensive, the badge-checking so thorough, and the fire and lockdown drills so precisely executed.
Scarborough concluded by saying that while we cannot afford complacency, we can be self-assured that our campus is as safe as it can be.
“Our security consultant tells us that we have the best security out of any other international school in Singapore,” Scarborough said. “It doesn’t mean that we rest or don’t make changes, but we feel pretty confident in what we’ve done so far.”