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Home Team at Midnight: Meet the Guardians of our borders
Every day of the week and under all conditions, a dedicated group of officers work tirelessly at the borders of Singapore.

Just before sunrise, hundreds of motorcyles make their way towards the Woodlands Checkpoint to begin the day's work in Singapore. PHOTO: Benjamin Chua


Ribbons of red and white lights could be seen along the windy road leading up to the Woodlands Checkpoint.

Never-ending streams of motorcycles, buses and cars inched towards the checkpoint as people ended the day’s work in Singapore and were returning home to neighbouring Malaysia.

Gauging the traffic as it piles, officers formed lanes using the orange and white barriers, diverting the motorcycle traffic over to the car zones to ease the congestion.


The weekday evening peak traffic starts at 5 pm and slows down only at 10 pm at night.

The Woodlands Checkpoint alone sees more than 300,000 commuters and about 100,000 vehicles crossing the checkpoint on a daily basis and accounts for 60 per cent of all border commutes in Singapore.

A white car pulls up at the immigration counter; an immigration officer greets the passengers and proceeds with the clearance process which includes passport authentication using various technological tools to detect possibilities of forgery.

The officer then calls out the passenger names and perform face-to-face checks.

An immigration officer greets the passengers and proceeds with the clearance process which includes passport authentication using various light sources and scanners to detect possibilities of forgery. PHOTO: Benjamin Chua


Lorries were being diverted and cleared over at the old Woodlands Checkpoint .

These lorries carry heavy construction materials, produce and a range of other bulky items. 

Senior Assistant Commander of Woodlands Checkpoint Superintendent (SUPT) Kent Goh, 40, has been handling the Checkpoint’s operations the past four years and says that traffic volume has been on the rise.

“With increased traffic but limited resources and space constraints, the only way is to tap on existing resources to maximize their use such as being flexible with lane conversions as and when traffic requires and using the old Woodlands checkpoint to augment the clearance capacity of the checkpoint,” said SUPT Goh.

These measures are constantly reviewed to ensure timeliness and effectiveness of traffic controls.


Moderate traffic ensues over at the arrival lanes as Singaporeans return over the weekend from their travels in Malaysia.

Once passengers are cleared for immigration, all vehicles will be subjected to checks for prohibited and controlled items which include weapons and explosives.

Officers perform stringent checks within vehicles to ensure that drugs and other contraband items do not get past the borders of Singapore. PHOTO: Benjamin Chua

Over at the Red/Green channel, officers check for prohibited items in areas such as the bumpers, backrest and boot of vehicles.

Vehicles deemed suspicious will be subjected to more detailed checks.

Deputy Superintendent (DSP) Tang Fook Yuen, 59, uses the IonScan 500DT’s swiping wand to pick up tiny explosives and narcotic particles which are otherwise naked to the eye.

DSP Tang, who has been in service for 42 years, has a trained eye for detecting suspicious activity.

“Smugglers constantly use new methods of smuggling so we have to keep up. When we conduct profiling, we are trained to use all five senses to decide if this passenger and vehicle should be subjected to further checks, and if need be, we will ‘dismantle’ the whole car,” said DSP Tang.

In the month of October, luxury cars including Peugeot and Lexus models were caught smuggling contraband cigarettes into Singapore.

Using luxury cars in an attempt to avoid detection has been a modus operandi for recent smugglers.

Joint operations between Home Team Agencies take place at the checkpoint, ensuring that no contraband items, weapons and drugs get into Singapore. PHOTO: Benjamin Chua



Over at the motorcycle lanes, we see Home Team officers from the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority and Central Narcotics Bureau.

The officers are also stationed 24 hours a day to conduct checks on passing motorcycles.

“Motorbikes are the easiest to conceal small amounts of drugs – in the exhaust pipe, tyres, battery compartments, helmets, under the seats,” said DSP Tang.

Conducting checks on motorcycles might prove to be a challenge due to the sheer volume which passes through especially during peak hours, but officers like DSP Tang are even more watchful then.

“Some think that during peak hours it’s easier to smuggle things across the borders, but we are always vigilant; doesn’t matter peak or non-peak, we will still be alert,” said DSP Tang.

ICA keeps a strict watch on the smuggling of prohibited items as any lapse in security could result in the entry of weapons,chemicals and explosives that might be used by terrorists.

On 07October 2013 alone, ICA officers at Woodlands Checkpoint detected two cars carrying a total of more than 220 cartons of duty unpaid cigarettes and another car carrying two live pythons.

Deputy Superintendent (DSP) Tang Fook Yuen, 59, uses the IonScan 500DT’s swiping wand to pick up tiny explosives and narcotic particles which are otherwise naked to the eye. PHOTO: Benjamin Chua


Way before sunrise, many large lorries containing fresh produce and construction materials make their journey into Singapore to begin their work day.

A layered clearance process is adopted for goods clearance in the form of pre-clearance, primary clearance and secondary clearance. pre-clearance to ensure that permits are in order, primary clearance to check that documents tally and goods are cleared, followed byasecondary clearance which involved more detailed inspection and interview as and when required.

To expedite the clearance process for huge cargo, each lorry passes through a Integrated Cargo Inspection System (ICIS) which scans the contents of the lorry using gamma ray technology. The ICIS also has the Radiation Portal Monitor (RPM) to detect and alert officers of any lorry that emits high level of radiation.  .

Any anomalies between the declared goods and scanned images which are detected by ICA’s Image Analysts will be subjected to further checks.

“We will look out for the density of the consignment, the shape, position, the way the goods are stacked and see if there is anything suspicious,” said Image Analyst Sergeant (SGT) Salehah Zailani.

“Some smugglers will declare their goods as coasters or hardware but they are in fact putting in contraband items,” said SGT Salehah.


K-9 dogs are deployed at the checkpoints to sniff out drugs and explosives in cargo shipments. PHOTO: Benjamin Chua

At the checking bay, the Singapore Police Force’s K-9 dog work together with ICA officers. 

The dogs board the cargo vessels to sniff out explosives and drugs with their trainers,

ICA cargo profiling specialists would also check under cabins and in smaller compartments near the driver seats.


School buses and public buses begin to stream in hoards as people from across the causeway commute to Singapore for school and work.

Despite the large volume of people crossing the bus halls, ICA officers are able to single out potentially suspicious travellers who will then be asked to enter a Sentinel II Puffer portal.

This portal is one of the many ways ICA uses technology to increase efficiency and effectiveness of checks.

The puffer portal blows out air jets which can then detect traces of narcotics and explosives (if any) on a person’s body.

All these are done within 15 seconds.


All in a night’s work.

The peak morning traffic continues till 10 am as commuters and vehicles stream into the checkpoints.

“ICA officers are a passionate bunch; the work never stops but we see value in what we do—keeping fellow Singaporeans safe by keeping out the undesirables,” said Assistant Commissioner Ong Choon Beng, 40, Commander Woodlands Checkpoint.

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

  1. by Joanne Yan
  2. 14 October 2013
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