Lifting the curtain on the Singapore community’s response to terrorist threats

In December 2020, a 16-year-old self-radicalized Singaporean boy made headlines for planning to injure Muslims at two mosques with a machete. The news sent shock waves across the country. Once seen as a distant threat, terrorism has arrived on Singapore’s shores and its presence is palpable.

With terrorism closer to home than we think, the Foreign Office has proposed a whole-of-society approach to lead crisis preparedness efforts. The SGSecure app allows members of the public to report suspicious behavior, receive information about security incidents and respond to emergencies.

Edwin Tan, Director of the SGSecure Program Office, emphasizes that community response is critical in Singapore’s fight against terrorism and explains how the SGSecure app helps the country mount a strong defense.

Cultivate the habit of reporting suspicious activity

The SGSecure app allows users to report suspicious sightings to authorities via the “Report” feature. Providing an account is easy: users simply need to take a photo of the incident, provide details of what they saw, and indicate the location of the sighting. The police will then follow up on all reports.

Screenshot of the “Report” function in the SGSecure app.

There are a few red flags for members of the public to watch out for. These include people suspected of being armed with weapons, bags or parcels left unattended, and people showing signs of radicalization or religious extremism.

Sample SGSecure advice poster on how to spot suspicious items and behavior.

Even in cases where it’s unclear whether the person or object is a security concern, “we always encourage citizens to err on the side of caution and report them through the app,” Tan says.

“The key to avoiding crises lies in strengthening community vigilance. We want people to get into the habit of reporting anything suspicious,” he adds. It looks like the collective efforts are only going from strength to strength – the number of reports made through the app has risen from 6,000 in 2017 to 11,000 in 2021.

The threat of radicalization

In Singapore, the terrorist threat comes mainly from self-radicalized individuals who are influenced by violent extremist material.

Global Islamist terrorist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and their supporters remain active in their online recruitment and propaganda efforts. At the same time, emerging threats such as far-right extremism can incite those at risk to resort to violence.

Despite best efforts, authorities may not be able to locate every radicalized individual. This is where members of the public can fill that gap and act quickly if they notice someone showing the following warning signs:

  • Frequently surfing extremist websites
  • Display of insignia or symbols supporting terrorist groups
  • Sharing extremist views on social media platforms and/or with friends and relatives
  • Make remarks that promote ill will or hatred towards people of other races/religions
  • Expressing intent to participate in acts of violence and/or inciting others to do so

“With early reporting, authorities can intervene as soon as possible, while the person at risk can receive timely help, advice and guidance,” Tan says.

Receive alerts on security incidents

Users of the SGSecure app will also receive information about local security and public order incidents through the “Alert” feature. For example, previous reports shared included cases of cuts and perpetrators welding dangerous weapons, among other criminal activities.

Misinformation can trigger unnecessary fear and erode trust in the community. “By only referring to information from official and reliable sources, we can curb the spread of rumors and help the public respond to threats in a calm and united manner,” Tan shares.

Alerts will include links to official news sources, such as Home Office press releases, and direct users to credible reporting from the Straits Times or the CNA.

The app sends alerts of other emergencies, such as major fires, to advise individuals to avoid certain areas as well.

Screenshots of sample SGSecure application alerts.

Engage the public to respond

But SGSecure is more than an app – it’s basically a national movement.

The SGSecure Responder Network is made up of community responders who are trained in emergency preparedness skills such as basic firefighting, first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and even psychological first aid.

In the event of cardiac arrest or a minor fire, these personnel are ready to intervene and provide assistance before the arrival of the emergency services. The “Reply” function of the SGSecure app will notify them of incidents within 400 meters of their location.

“Time is of the essence when it comes to responding to medical emergencies and fire hazards. We hope to have those closest to the situation to provide assistance before official help arrives,” Tan said.

Currently, there are over 100,000 people in the SGSecure responder network. Participation has increased over the years, with the response rate for cardiac arrests and minor fire outbreaks steadily increasing by 30% to 45% between 2019 and 2021.

As the nature of crises and potential threats evolves, strengthening community preparedness will always be a work in progress. The SGSecure app empowers everyone to play their part in the fight against terrorism, whether it’s reporting suspicious activity and staying informed of threats, or providing rapid help to the community in an emergency. .

Photos published with the kind permission of the Ministry of the Interior.