Finding ways to ease tensions day after 'attacks'

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean (in grey) and (from left) Senior Minister of State for Defence Ong Ye Kung, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam and Senior Minister of State for Defence Maliki Osman observing officers f
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean (in grey) and (from left) Senior Minister of State for Defence Ong Ye Kung, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam and Senior Minister of State for Defence Maliki Osman observing officers from the Criminal Investigation Department (first, third and fourth men in white from left) dealing with a "terrorist" (second man in white) who had handled a bag containing an improvised explosive device in an anti-terror exercise at Tampines Mall in the early hours of yesterday. Mr Shanmugam said such nationwide exercises are crucial in preparing the community, in the light of the growing threat in the region.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
(From left) Tanjong Pagar GRC MPs Melvin Yong (in blue), Joan Pereira and Chan Chun Sing, who is Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, observing the exercise at Buona Vista Community Club.
(From left) Tanjong Pagar GRC MPs Melvin Yong (in blue), Joan Pereira and Chan Chun Sing, who is Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, observing the exercise at Buona Vista Community Club.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

A day after simulated "terror attacks" were staged at heartland malls here, grassroots leaders and community partners gathered at command centres yesterday evening to simulate what would happen if there was a breakdown in communal ties in the aftermath.

Amid a heightened sense of mistrust and anxiety among neighbours, they discussed the various ways to reassure residents and ease tensions, so that society can quickly return to normal.

Termed Project Day After, it was the first nationwide exercise to test the operational readiness of grassroots organisations after a crisis, such as their ability to share timely information and bring the community together. It followed Singapore's largest counter-terrorism exercise that involved over 3,200 personnel for 18 hours until 4am yesterday.

Yesterday's discussion-based exercise, organised by the People's Association's (PA) Community Emergency and Engagement Committees, involved about 800 grassroots leaders and community partners spread across the 16 GRC Operations Centres.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and PA deputy chairman Chan Chun Sing, who observed the exercise at Buona Vista Community Club, said: "The most powerful weapon we have in counter-terrorism is the ability to mobilise the community, to use their resources and energies to bond people."

Mr Ee Chai Keng, a grassroots leader and coordinating vice-chairman for the Tanjong Pagar GRC exercise, said: "We are known to the residents here, so I believe that they will listen to us more."

Such nationwide exercises are crucial in preparing the community, in the light of the growing threat in the region, according to Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who observed the exercise at the Nee Soon South Emergency Preparedness Centre at Block 839, Yishun Street 81.

"As ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) suffers reversals in Syria and Iraq, you can expect that they will focus on other areas, and also you have the significant risk of people returning from the battle zones," said Mr Shanmugam, who is an MP for Nee Soon GRC. "The response from the community is critical because when something happens, you need the community to come together."

Nee Soon South grassroots leader Wallace Chew, 62, said: "The situation is always changing and terrorists have found new ways to attack, such as using chemical agents. We also need to continuously improve and update our plans."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'Finding ways to ease tensions day after 'attacks''. Print Edition | Subscribe