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Going Beyond Face Value: Threat Intervention
It starts with a nervous twitch or a mumbled response, but nothing escapes the eagle-eyed Threat-Oriented Person Screening Integrated System practitioners within the Home Team and our community partners.

It was March 2017 when Ms Mageswari Ramasamy, a SATS Ltd Customer Services Officer at Changi Airport Terminal 1’s Transfer Desk, first noticed the suspicious behaviour of a traveller. The man – who Ms Mageswari described as well-dressed – needed a boarding pass for his flight, but couldn’t give satisfactory answers about his itinerary.

“After asking him several questions, I found that his answers weren’t relevant in terms of his travel purpose and why his itinerary was routed a certain way,” explained the 56-year-old. “He also didn’t have the appropriate visa for travelling to Europe.”

Besides giving irrelevant responses, the man also appeared overconfident of his itinerary. Instead of taking a direct flight to his destination, he was planning to make several stops along the way, which further aroused Ms Mageswari’s suspicion. So she flagged the traveller to SATS Auxiliary Police Officers. After further investigation, the man’s travel documents were found to be fraudulent.

This incident wasn’t a one-off for Ms Mageswari; her team at Changi Airport Terminal 1’s Transfer Desk has encountered other similar cases. Ms Mageswari credits her team’s TOPSIS training for helping her identify suspicious behaviour among the high volume of travellers at the airport.

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Ms Mageswari (left) with Mrs Josephine Teo at the TOPSIS Forum 2018. TOPSIS training has boosted Ms Mageswari’s confidence and made her team better-prepared about what behaviour to look out for. PHOTO: Mabel Yap

During the TOPSIS Forum 2018 on 13 February 2018, Ms Mageswari was among 90-plus individuals who received the TOPSIS Award for positively detecting suspicious persons. “We look out for customers who are nervous and give unsatisfactory answers, or who lie. We also watch for facial expressions and body language,” she said. “As non-security staff, we can also be watchful. We can act as the eyes and ears of the Police, and we’re very proud to do so.”

Partners in Threat Detection

TOPSIS complements conventional security screening measures by helping non-security staff detect suspicious behaviour and other Tell-Tale Indicators (TTI). Employed by check-in officers and cleaners as well as retail and Food & Beverage staff, TOPSIS means more “eyes and ears” on the ground, improving the chances of threat detection.

“Non-security staff can often help identify TTI and flag them out to us for further checks,” said Deputy Superintendent (DSP) Koh Chek Keng from the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority, an Assistant Commander for Protective Security and the Coastal Representative for the TOPSIS Work Group.

The 40-year-old recalled a case where ICA officers observed an arriving male traveller trying to blend into a group of travellers while queueing for clearance. “He was fidgeting and tried to engage in small talk with the group once he saw ICA officers approaching,” recalled DSP Koh.

After ICA officers questioned the man and conducted further checks, he was assessed to be ineligible for a Visit Pass, and denied entry into Singapore.

13 Feb 2018 DSP Koh Chek Keng at TOPSIS ICA Forum
Helping to build our TOPSIS capabilities: DSP Koh Chek Keng joined ICA out of an interest in border security 14 years ago, and is now working to strengthen our network of TOPSIS practitioners. PHOTO: Mabel Yap

Establishing More Eyes and Ears on the Ground

Having established TOPSIS at our checkpoints, the goal is now to bring it to public places within Singapore. “We’ll enhance our outreach to implement TOPSIS in inland locations, which could be attractive terrorist targets. This includes critical infrastructure such as power and water treatment plants, and buildings with high human traffic, such as malls and theatres,” said Second Minister for Home Affairs Mrs Josephine Teo. “The people working at these locations can play an important role in security, in being alert to suspicious persons and activities.”

Among the public agencies who have stepped forward to play a part is Sentosa Development Corporation, which saw a 50% increase in suspicious persons detected after implementing TOPSIS in 2015. “Almost all our frontline staff have been trained in the TOPSIS programme, and we’re progressively trying to roll it out to all our island partners,” said Mr Lee Cheow Hiang, Security Director and Head of the Sentosa Resilience Department. “We’re very heartened that our staff insecurity and non-security roles, take pride in being our eyes and ears on the ground, to make sure that Sentosa remains safe.” 

13 Feb 2018 Lee Cheow Hiang Sentosa at TOPSIS ICA Forum
Embracing TOPSIS: Mr Lee Cheow Hiang is committed to helping staff in Sentosa learn to recognise risk, develop situational awareness and sharpen their approach-and-interview techniques. PHOTO: Mabel Yap

Read Mrs Teo’s speech at the TOPSIS 2018 Forum.

© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.


  1. by Desmond Ang
  2. 22 February 2018
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