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Safety of tenants, shoppers a top priority for malls
Recurrent terrorist-inspired bomb threats around the world have heightened the awareness of potential danger in innocuous-looking bags and packages left lying in public places. Such threats make exceptions for no one. It thus comes as a comfort to find malls in Singapore doing what they can to ensure the safety and security of their tenants and shoppers. Angeline Yeo reports.
Although safeguarding against terrorism may be the current global buzz word, many mall
operators and security-solution providers in Singapore still regard fire safety one of the most important issues for malls.
Under the Fire Safety Act, stipulated by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), it is compulsory for mall operators to ensure that their developments are fully equipped with fire-safety devices, including automatic sprinklers and fire alarms, automatic smoke-control systems and a car park smoke-extract system, complete with easy-to-find fire-escape routes and exit doors.
Convinced that these systems can work cohesively to step up security and convenience, Bosch Security Systems in Singapore has designed the Building Integration System (BIS) to maintain security in large areas like malls, where first-rate security is imperative to prevent damage to merchandise.
The Bosch BIS' tailored solution integrates CCTV, fire detection, public address and a wide range of third-party systems like extinguishers and elevators. This integration, the company believes, provides the best way to monitor and respond to any emergency situation.
"In the event of fire, the Bosch BIS can activate cameras at the scene of the fire and feed live video images to the security officer's monitor," says Juergen Alz, product marketing director of Bosch Security Systems. Such visual information helps security officers in malls to better deal with the incident.
In addition, the BIS system can be programmed to unlock emergency doors automatically as well as print out escape routes to assist the fire brigade.
Besides the installation of security systems, the SCDF also stipulates that malls conduct bi-annual fire-evacuation drills.
Centrepoint is one mall that is taking no chances. It has added two ad-hoc evacuations to what is required to ensure an even higher level of safety.
Abdul Kalam, its fire safety manager, reveals that the additional evacuation exercises were meant to test the response of staff and tenants - none of the tenants, with the exception of the manager of major anchor Robinsons - are informed of when the exercise will take place, or where the "emergency" will be activated. Centrepoint believes this practice will keep the crisis team constantly on its toes.
"As and when there is an emergency in the building, a crisis team will coordinate the evacuation according to the threat at hand. The team will determine the safest assembly area, [before] getting the mall tenants evacuated safely.
"We have four specified assembly points as far as 400m away, depending on the gravity of the emergency," says Kalam.
"For each exercise, Centrepoint maintains an 84%-85% evacuation rate," says Ong Swee Kee, the mall's safety and security manager. "That is very encouraging participation on the part of staff, tenants and occupants."
While the evacuation rates achieved by the Centrepoint team is impressive, Bosch's voice-activated evacuation system aspires to further enhance the smoothness and swiftness of the process. This automatic evacuation system will assist the coordinating team in disseminating escape plans to fellow shoppers and tenants.
"The evacuation announcement is made automatically by the connected public-address system [within the BIS]," Alz explains.
In addition to a fully automatic announcement system, the voice evacuation system also allows mall operators to record their evacuation plans in many languages, which is nifty and appropriate for the multilingual fabric of Singapore. "For a multi-racial society, voice evacuation systems with pre-recorded multi-language announcements are essential to [carry out] smooth, fast evacuation without creating panic," Alz explains.
In fact, Centrepoint, which has been winning the biennial Fire Safety Excellence Award since 1999 and plans to vie for it again this year, is taking its safety responsibility to a higher level by not only addressing the threat of arson but also of terrorism.
Located in Orchard Road, it is one of Singapore's older retail malls serving both locals and tourists, and features a good mix of well-known retailers anchored by the Robinsons department store.
Crisis management in the face of terrorist threats
On top of training to deal with fire-andemergency situations, the safety and security staff under the direction of Kalam are also equipped with additional training to handle bomb threats, anthrax threats and other hazards posed by terror acts.
"Previously, emergencies were limited solely to fire but now, with increased terrorist threats in the world, they have been extended to other [dangers], even bomb threats - which can come in many forms such as small parcels and truckloads," says Kalam.
Centrepoint is geared up with counter responses as varied as the emergencies that can arise, he reveals. One of these stems from its membership with the Security Watch Group (SWG).
The SWG, a community project, can be traced back to Singapore's response to the August 2003 bomb blast at Jakarta Marriot Hotel in Indonesia, which saw the republic's Ministry of Home Affairs set up the Home Team, tasked to tighten security and raise community awareness.
The team comprises the Singapore Civil Defence Force, Internal Security Department, Prisons Department, Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, Central Narcotics Bureau and the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises.
These factions of security upholders jointly launched the SWG programme to uphold security in places like shopping malls. More than 50 SWGs have been formed among geographical clusters of malls and other buildings to facilitate mutual assistance and support.
For Centrepoint, being part of the SWG is one of the ways to ensure premium security for its shoppers. Membership has enabled it to form a close alliance with the police force and obtain crucial information pertaining to security in the country.
"Our liaison officer will provide us with information or updates on whatever the situation is in Singapore, with regards to terrorist threats," says Ong.
"So if there's a threat, we would know first hand," Kalam adds.
Furthermore, through this alliance with the SWG, Centrepoint has managed to get uniformed policemen to patrol its premises twice daily as a precautionary measure.
"[Across] a larger spectrum, Singapore is able to maintain security because we have been showing such strength in security - for example, the gurkas at immigration checkpoints and armed soldiers at MRT (mass rapid transit) stations. This helps ... to prevent security breach."
Alz of Bosch agreed that "the Singapore government's initiatives to raise public awareness of potential threats is a good form of deterrence".
Safety in a pleasurable shopping environment
It is undeniable that although operators' key concern is to ensure safety and security in their malls, the fundamental need to create a warm and welcoming environment for shoppers takes precedence.
"In general, operators want their malls to be welcoming. Hence screening measures like those employed in the airports are virtually impossible," says Alz .
Bosch has responded with a solution to effectively hide safety devices away from public view. Its FAP 500 fire detector is designed to be mounted flush with a given area in the ceiling, leaving an unnoticeably smooth-scaled face plate above shoppers.
"Bosch spends a lot of effort designing products that blend more easily with the interior design [of a store or mall].
"Now, retailers and mall operators can install high-performance smoke detection [that is unlike] conventional fire detectors, which may not complement their interiors," says Alz.
Preventive measures are nothing without cooperation
"What building management can do is limited. To ensure security, there has to be cooperation from everybody," Kalam asserts.
Without the help of tenants and shoppers, even the latest technology from the most distinguished securitysystems company and most stringent of safeguards implemented by mall operators will not suffice as safety measures.
Fortunately for Centrepoint, its tenants are very cooperative; they understand the gravity of establishing and maintaining security, as well as the roles they need to play to help the mall attain this end.
Alz's belief that "one of the most effective measures to ensure safety is to encourage vigilance on the part of customers and staff" may serve as the best advice yet.