Grassroots leaders discuss ways to unite community a day after 'terror attacks'

Public Transport Security Command police officers and SAF soldiers patrolling Jurong East MRT station on Oct 17, 2016.
Public Transport Security Command police officers and SAF soldiers patrolling Jurong East MRT station on Oct 17, 2016.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

SINGAPORE - A day after "terror attacks" rocked heartland malls here, grassroots leaders and community partners gathered at command centres on Tuesday evening (Oct 18) to simulate a breakdown in communal ties in the aftermath.

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

Termed Project Day After, it is the first nationwide tabletop exercise to test the operational readiness of grassroots organisations after a crisis, such as their ability to share timely information.

This comes after Singapore held its largest counter-terrorism exercise from Monday (Oct 17) to early Tuesday morning (Oct 18, 4am), which involved over 3,200 officers.

The 18-hour exercise was led by the police and supported by officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force and other Home Team agencies.


It included joint deterrence patrols by the agencies, before emergency forces swept in to subdue "armed terrorists" at Tampines Mall and Junction 8 Shoppping Centre.

Tuesday evening's tabletop exercise, organised by the People's Association's (PA) Community Emergency and Engagement Committees, saw about 30 community leaders gathered at each of the 16 GRC Operations Centres, across Singapore. In all, 800 grassroots leaders and community partners were involved in tonight's tabletop exercise.

Minister for Prime Minister's Office and PA deputy chairman Chan Chun Sing, who spoke to reporters after observing the exercise at Buona Vista Community Club, said: ""Terrorists are trying to divide our society and rob us of our normalcy. 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."

Representatives from schools, religious organisations and merchant associations in the constituencies were also roped in for the exercise.

Such grassroots level involvement is essential if something untoward does happen, Mr Ee Chai Keng, 57, 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 and trust our words more than any authority who may be parachuted in to tell them the actual situation."

Nee Soon South grassroots leader Wallace Chew, 62, added: "Community leaders act as a bridge between the Government and residents when there is a crisis. It is important for us to brainstorm about what to do after a terror attack, such as helping those injured, giving residents accurate information and solving any conflicts that happen.

"But the situation is always changing, terrorists have found new ways to attack us, such as using chemical agents, so we need to continuously improve and update our plans so that we remain prepared."

Such nationwide exercises are crucial in preparing a community, said Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam, who observed the exercise at the Nee Soon South Emergency Preparedness Centre at Block 839, Yishun Street 81.

"Today is the ground response from the community. This is critical because when something happens, you will have rumours, people looking at each other perhaps and you need the community to come together. There are many different facets, religious leaders, community leaders and what they are doing is working together with the grassroots to see how they can respond," said Mr Shanmugam, who is also MP for Nee Soon GRC.