Make room for doom

Should we do a little light doomsday-prepping?

Hey, that smacks of being a kancheong spider, you may say. That's not you because, in Singapore, something like a terror attack or disaster (the Pokemon zombie apocalypse doesn't count) has not hit us in recent times.

SG Secure is a national movement being launched this month to prepare Singaporeans in case of a domestic terrorist attack. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned during his recent National Day Rally speech that terrorism is an imminent and serious threat, with groups active in South-east Asia. The Government has been acting quietly to deal with terrorist plots, he said.

Less quietly, counter-terrorism exercises were held recently around the country, at places such as Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, with "blanks, thunder flashes and fire and smoke simulators" used.

Well, there you go, why prep at all when the Government is handling everything? Crack squads of specially trained police officers will stand in clouds of bomb smoke to protect you Swat-style; public servants fighting Zika and dengue will stand in fumigation clouds to swat mosquitoes for you. Why do anything so uncool as to prep for bad things that may or may not happen?


A lone “gunman” being subdued by police officers at Esplanade Park in a terror attack simulation in Singapore on Nov 18, 2015. PHOTO: ST FILE 

Well, to hold on to a bit of self-respect by taking care of yourself. If something awful happens, you have a mini plan to do something first, instead of sitting down wailing among the ashes and smoke, waiting for the authorities to do an A to Z rescue (then complaining about the Government hovering like a kaypoh parent).

That sense of helplessness feels real, though, when you think about how terrorists are trying to get to us where we work and play. The Straits Times reported that the Indonesian police this month arrested another suspect in connection with the terror plot to fire a rocket towards our Marina Bay. Other suspected members were arrested last month.

That sense of helplessness also feels real when it comes to the really big bombs. Last Friday, North Korea tested its "most powerful nuclear device", said Reuters.

The Straits Times reported that South Korea's Mr Kim Hong Kyun, special representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs, said last Thursday: "The continuous multiple test launches of various ballistic missiles are rapidly advancing North Korea's capabilities to realise such nuclear strategy and threats."

Bloomberg News reported that US presidential election candidate Hillary Clinton has said rival Donald Trump "cannot be trusted with nuclear weapons". Mr Trump has said she is "close to unhinged".

Bloomberg asked Mr Bruce Blair, a former Minuteman missile-launch officer and research scholar at Princeton University's Programme on Science and Global Security, to spell out the procedure of the United States launching a nuclear strike. According to the report , the US president has the sole authority to use nuclear weapons. He or she consults the top brass. Then more steps are detailed in the report, including this bit: "About five minutes may elapse from the president's decision until intercontinental ballistic missiles blast out of their silos, and about 15 minutes until submarine missiles shoot out of their tubes..."

If we find ourselves caught up in a nuclear war as potential collateral damage, you mean we have only minutes to dig our household or bomb shelters clear of the years of crap we've stuffed inside and hurl ourselves into them?

How would I know when I can crawl out? Yes, I blame myself for not knowing exactly what to do. The shelter seems to weaken phone and radio signals. I found myself one night holding up a mobile and an analogue radio powered via hand crank/USB, hoping the signals would stay strong inside the shelter. Then I peered at the wall sockets there, wondering what on earth I could do with the one for a phone plug when I have long abandoned a landline, and what to do with the TV socket when I have pretty much ditched watching shows on TV.

I am so not prepared for a world of leaders with unconventional hair and a finger on the nuclear button.

Deutsche Welle reported last month that Germany's Cabinet approved a new strategy meant to provide better protection for citizens during catastrophes and crises. "For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the German government plans to encourage its citizens to prepare for a catastrophe or an armed attack by stockpiling food, water and other supplies," the German broadcaster reported. The plan included the government requiring people to "stock 10 days' worth of food and five days' worth of drinking water".

I clearly need more canned food.

Here is another reality check: On separate occasions, groups of my friends were unable to find one another quickly despite being in well-sign-posted touristy spots with physical maps, and having the Google map app on all our mobiles and lots of people to ask for directions. How do we find our way to safer ground or water distribution points without an Internet connection in more chaotic times?

Here is one more reality check: We don't take personal responsibility for our garbage. For example, look at the 70 bags of rubbish left per night at the recent Pokemon zombie apocalypse Hougang hot spot. If the waste management system breaks down during a crisis, and with garbage piling up and rotting in the hot sun, disease and death may come galloping soon after. Perhaps our dirty habits will be the death of us, not a dirty bomb.

How prepared are we to save ourselves? Maybe a lot of us are already inadvertently light doomsday-preppers. Have you accumulated a stash of mosquito repellent for Zika from the past week, N95 masks and thermometers for the haze/Mers/Sars scares from the past years and air-purifiers waiting for the PSI reading to shoot up? Have events over the years made a doomsday-prepper out of you?

Even if we don't believe anything bad is going to happen, maybe we should prep for what deadly serious doomsday-preppers might do to the rest of us. They could be extremists who - triggered by terror warnings - will hit out at any person or race or religion that appears alien to them.

I have lost track of how many times people have mistaken me for being a non-Singaporean. So if a catastrophe explodes upon us, I would probably find myself being chased by a horde of xenophobes who imagine that I the "foreigner" am the cause of their problems. I would have to throw my canned food and analogue radio at them to slow them down as they bay for blood, spray mosquito repellent and wave pitchforks.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 11, 2016, with the headline 'Make room for doom'. Print Edition | Subscribe