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Highlights from ASIS Security Conference

John Barham, Senior Editor

Report from Singapore – Day One

The first day of ASIS International’s second Asia-Pacific Conference in Singapore began Tuesday with a keynote speech by Subramaniam Iswaran, the island state’s minister for Trade and Industry. The theme of his introduction was the integration of government and the private sector in a joint effort to further security.  

His basic message was simple: There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Simplicity and effectiveness are best achieved through a cooperative approach to security. It’s a message that resonates in Singapore, a small country that has built itself into one of the world’s most important trading and business hubs. Its port is the world’s busiest container terminal, handling growing volumes of east-west trade between the fast-growing Asian markets, the Middle East oilfields and key European markets.

A second theme that emerged during the day’s sessions was the need for international cooperation to address threats and respond to emergencies promptly and effectively.

Paul Burke, a former British Army intelligence officer presented a detailed analysis of the counterterrorism policies of ASEAN, the regional association of southeastern nations. He ranked the countries by terrorist activity, placing Indonesia first and the Philippines second. “Indonesia has the largest and most effective terrorist Islamic groups,” he said.

Then Burke looked at individual countries’ policies and their execution. In this case, Singapore was ranked first and Indonesia fourth. Singapore has a strong security tradition, political stability, and a compact geography. In contrast, Indonesia and the Philippines both face more complex challenges. Both have a restive political scene, militant Islamic groups, and thousands of small islands to control.  

ASEAN, like other international organizations, is struggling to establish a framework for cooperation. Burke says a more immediate solution would be to set up intelligence sharing mechanisms with input from the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. He says an IT-based platform could deliver rapid results, through force-multiplier effects.  

Another theme in the presentations was business continuity. Asian countries have become the workshop of the world, particularly China. Ensuring robust risk-management and supply-chain-management protocols has become a critical issue. One presentation by Eddie How, regional security advisor at Shell Oil Products East, highlighted the benefits of in-depth, detailed emergency planning and stressed the need to test plans. “A plan alone is insufficient,” said How. “We test it daily with training.”

How explained that Shell, one of the world’s biggest oil companies, invests substantial resources in scenario-based contingency planning. He described how the company develops and tests contingency plans at a global level. Senior management in Houston, London, and Singapore are involved in complex annual exercises. He stressed the importance of involving external stakeholders, such as government agencies and NGOs, in the process.

A presentation by Anthony Lee, CPP, regional security director at Ingram Micro Inc., the world's largest computer product distributor, focused on the security officer’s role in creating financial value. He told security managers that, “We are not just security managers. It’s not just gates, guards, and guns. It’s about having a wider view.”

Lee urged security managers to measure and quantify their contribution to their company’s finances. They should be actively, not passively, involved in budget processes, he said. Giving proof of security’s contribution to a company’s financial performance by showing how they add value, cut costs, and strengthen a company’s brand makes it easier to press for higher security investments. Lee showed how simple financial cost-benefit analyses can demonstrate to senior management the value of security investments. For instance, an investment in upgrading a CCTV network at an Ingram plant paid for itself in two years, an annual return on investment of 50 percent, by cutting theft.

A similar emphasis on the business of security was evident in one of the closing sessions, which focused on port security. Kenneth Christopher, a former security officer at the Port of Miami, explained how best practices in port security can be achieved even under financial limitations. The Port of Miami functions as a stand-alone agency, responsible for generating its own operating revenues. Christopher discussed how he had to be constantly aware of the business realities of the port and its users, principally cruise liners and container ships. He achieved security improvements by strengthening interagency cooperation with local police, as well as the Coast Guard and Homeland Security. This required constant communication, cooperative leadership, and intelligence sharing.

Also discussing port security was Lt. Col. Krishnan Emayavaramban, head of port security at Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority. He discussed how the agency has progressively upgraded security. “There are 1,000 ships in the Singapore straits every day. It is the busiest container port in the world,” he says. That makes Singapore an attractive target for terrorists.

Following 9-11, Singapore created restricted areas in the port, preventing direct access to sensitive installations, such as refineries. Ships can only access the area with a permit and after their crews have been screened by Singapore’s police and security service.  

In addition, Singapore has ordered all boats operating in the port to install transponders. This allows the MPA to monitor traffic in the port in real time and respond quickly to emergencies. Singapore also tracks in real time ships carrying hazardous cargos, such as liquid gas carriers that could cause a massive explosion if attacked by terrorists.

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