Terror attacks unpreventable, but it's how we react that counts: experts

Terror attacks unpreventable, but it's how we react that counts: experts
Officers from the Emergency Response Team, Tanglin Division and Ground Response Force from Toa Payoh Neighbourhood Police Centre securing a public space next to a hawker centre in Toa Payoh Lorong 1 during a counter-terrorism exercise on 6 August 2016.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Terror attacks cannot be prevented totally, but what matters is never to stop trying and learning how to respond when they do happen, terrorism experts at the Milipol Asia-Pacific homeland security conference said yesterday.

They also told The New Paper that temporarily shutting down Hougang MRT station on Sunday after an unattended bag was found was the right move and not an overreaction.

Professor Alexander Siedschlag, who chairs the Pennsylvania State University's homeland security programme in the US, said: "There can be no total homeland security if we maintain a value-based, democratic approach that doesn't intrude on our privacy and freedom. Even then, we have (the problem of) limited resources.

"So what we can do is to improve the capabilities of our people in how they respond," he told TNP, citing how the US has trained its people to treat injuries in the event of an attack.

He was among about 30 speakers at the trade conference, which brought together delegates and exhibitors from across the world to discuss and showcase homeland security issues and technology.

Man left unattended bag in Hougang MRT station causing it to be closed for an hour

Referring to Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam's comment that a terror attack "can take place any time, any place", Professor Rohan Gunaratna, who heads the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said this is why Singapore should not take any chances if there is a sign of an attack.

Describing the closure of Hougang MRT station as appropriate, he said: "The security of Singapore is non-negotiable.

"Each terror attack is a failure of intelligence and a lack of public awareness. If the public is fully alert, no attack can take place."

Mr Koh Hong-Eng, Huawei Enterprise Business Group's global chief public safety expert, agreed.

Mr Koh, who was a policeman for 10 years, said it was vital that government agencies, private sector companies and the people work together to ensure public safety.

"The police can't be everywhere. When an attack happens, it's the first 10 minutes before they arrive that is crucial," he said.

Prof Siedschlag said Singapore's national service system is one key area in keeping citizens vested in the country's public safety.

He also noted that Singapore youth are exceptionally savvy in using the Internet and the Government could look to tap on their potential to help detect and stop extremist ideologies from spreading online.

"Instead of warning everyone to be careful of extremist propaganda being spread online and pulling everyone back, you could use them to help fight against this.

"Every risk could be turned into an opportunity," he said.

rloh@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Apr 05, 2017.
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