Expect tight security 'bubble' around VIPs for Trump-Kim summit: experts

Nicholas Yong
Assistant News Editor
Police take part in a simulated gunmen attack demonstration for the public at a housing estate on 10 December 2017. (PHOTO: Reuters)

With the luxury Capella Hotel officially confirmed as the venue for the highly anticipated meeting between US President Donald Trump and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un on 12 June, security arrangements for the event are well under way.

The Tanglin area and Sentosa island – where Capella is located – have already been gazetted as special event areas for the summit. Within them, special zones have also been declared within which the police will have powers to conduct checks on persons or vehicles as deemed necessary.

The areas covered by the gazettes also include the Shangri-La Hotel, which will reportedly host Trump during his stay in Singapore.

Security experts told Yahoo News Singapore that while the pressure is on, they are confident in the local authorities’ ability to pull off the event.

Many security factors to consider

The Capella Hotel’s location in a “secluded area” makes it a good choice for the event, said Kelvin Goh, who is the general manager of Soverus, which provides security services at MRT stations and other facilities.

“Access into the island is also quite controlled, since there is only one physical linkway in,” he said.

“But one concern I see is that Capella is near the sea, so the authorities will have to secure the waters as well,” added Goh.

Given the “physical distance” between the Capella and Shangri-La hotels, he noted that there will be “quite a bit of coordination” involved for the police escort if Trump is indeed staying at the latter.

“But I don’t see him him travelling at peak hours, it will likely be off-peak hours and the police will escort him all the way to Sentosa,” said Goh.

The Capella Hotel on Sentosa island. (PHOTO: Associated Press)

Another expert who expressed confidence in Singapore’s ability to provide high-level VIP security was Nick Crouch, the director of international security operations at Oath.

Having spent a decade with the Special Duties Unit of the Hong Kong Police Force, Crouch was involved in the security arrangements for the visits of three world leaders to the island: then-US president Bill Clinton, then-UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and then-Chinese president Jiang Zemin.

“Singapore has a good history of running events at a very high level, so this is nothing new. (Singapore’s) a gated community anyway, so it’s a terrific place to facilitate the safety of heads of state. The land and sea borders are very well patrolled and secured,” he said.

Crouch reckoned that tourists coming to Singapore next week may also find it difficult to get a visa, with a “furious” amount of background checks likely to be conducted on those looking to enter the country.

“There is a lot of implied pressure. It needs to go well because it will reflect well on Singapore,” he added.

“An exceptionally large amount of resources is needed for these events as there are a lot of moving parts,” said Crouch, who recalled that Jiang’s 24-hour visit to Hong Kong in 2001 saw the island’s 30,000-strong police force activated along with several reservist units.

He added that there will be a tight security “bubble” around the VIPs, with the use of jammers or signal blocking devices.

And while Singapore can put “robust measures” in place at short notice – such as the gazetting of Sentosa and the Tanglin area – there will be some “interesting paradoxes” to deal with, given that many tourists will be coming and going.

“They can’t just restrict everyone or shut everything down. Everyday activities have to continue, and that’s part of what makes the event a success,” said Crouch.

But Goh is certain that “strict access control” will affect tourism in the special event areas.

“It’s going to be similar to when we first started hosting (the Formula 1 races) about 10 years back, and they boarded up the Suntec area,” he said.

“Businesses were badly affected then, and I foresee that this is likely going to happen again.”

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