School Finance 604: Keeping Students Safe: School Security at SAS

School Finance 604

Keeping Students Safe: School Security at SAS

Families new to SAS are sometimes surprised by our security precautions. We strive to maintain a friendly, welcoming atmosphere at SAS by keeping our security measures as unobtrusive as possible. However, as an international school and a visible symbol of the United States of America, we know that we must err on the side of caution in today's uncertain world. This week we explain the history and current state of security at SAS.

During the school's early years, its campuses were open to all; students, parents, and even dogs and chickens could come and go at will. Over time the school installed fencing and hired watchmen, but it was the September 11th attacks in 2001 that launched a new era in school security. The Singapore government deployed Gurkha soldiers to the American Club and SAS, and SAS engaged certified security guards and invested in physical barriers, technology, and professional advice. Since 2003, security manager Isaac Benjamin has overseen the school's security staff. With twenty-seven years of relevant experience in the Singapore Armed Forces, Ret. Major Benjamin ensures that all security personnel are fully trained to carry out their responsibilities professionally and politely.

Physical campus security measures include 24/7 security deployment and CCTV surveillance. SAS upgraded its fence and barrier system extensively between 2004 and 2006 with a grant from the U.S. State Department. Hundreds of security cameras can spot problems throughout the school and around its perimeter. Yeap Transportation conducts pre-trip maintenance checks on all buses and monitors bus interiors. Another critical security measure is the SASCard system, in place since 2011. Besides providing many conveniences for cardholders, the chip-based SASCards allow guards to manage campus access and Yeap Transportation to track bus riders. This system also underpins our vehicle access arrangements.

SAS pays close attention to longer-term security issues as well. The school commissions respected security firms for advice about campus safety, cyber security, off-campus trips, and bus security, as well as an annual security audit. Periodically, a separate company reviews our security measures for a fresh perspective. We also receive advice from the U.S. Embassy's Regional Security Office (RSO) and U.S. navy experts. RSO personnel and visiting U.S. government experts conduct on-site inspections, and the RSO provides advice about student trips. Tabletop exercises with various professionals allow us to test our plans and revise them to meet current conditions.

The Singapore government also contributes to our security arrangements. We work closely with the neighborhood police, and patrol cars frequently drive through campus. Police officers and Police Tactical Unit specialists (recognizable by their maroon berets and visible weapons) conduct perimeter foot patrols. For big functions like the International Fair, we collaborate with the police. If a specific security threat arises, the government provides us information and helps us design our response. We are confident that the Singapore government, sensitive to our visibility and our proximity to the border, also takes its own steps to protect our campus and neighborhood.

Within the school administration, security-related matters are managed by the safety committee. Composed of deputy principals, security personnel, and representatives from the school nurses, human resources, and facilities, the safety committee oversees all relevant protocols and procedures. It sets, evaluates, and updates fire and lock-down drills, emergency plans, and guidelines like the SAS haze policy. The committee also ensures that staff in each division understand what to do in an emergency to keep students safe and calm.

SAS recently organized and hosted the inaugural conference of the Asian Schools Institute for Safety and Security (ASISS). This two-day symposium featured presentations on campus security, cyber threats, terrorism, school trip security, and medical issues like the Zika virus. Over eighty participants from schools in Singapore, Asia, and the Middle East came together to learn from expert presenters and share best practices. We are very proud of the leading role played in this initiative by SAS staff, led by facilities director Anthony Wong and health and safety specialist Sebastian Wong. We also thank two SAS parent presenters, Damon Coppola and Frederick Wong, as well as bus company CEO Adrian Yeap, each of whom presented a session.

When the threat level is assessed as low, we aim for minimal disruption to our community. Parents should be confident, however, that if the threat level rises, SAS can quickly respond by tightening access controls, barring taxis from campus, raising security barriers, and taking other measures to ensure our students' safety. We aim to balance the warm, open feeling of a neighborhood school with the security precautions necessary in our place and time. As always, we welcome comments, questions, and suggestions for future articles, to wscarborough@sas.edu.sg. We look forward to hearing from you.