Secret police bunker in Chinatown opens to public

A vintage police car on display in the secret police bunker.
A vintage police car on display in the secret police bunker. ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN
Former police officers revisiting the place where they used to work in the Combined Operations Room, on Oct 19, 2015.
Former police officers revisiting the place where they used to work in the Combined Operations Room, on Oct 19, 2015. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
The view from the Chief Police Staff Officer's room, which has a large glass window overlooking a map room, where staff would update incidents across the island.
The view from the Chief Police Staff Officer's room, which has a large glass window overlooking a map room, where staff would update incidents across the island. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
From left) A telephone set box, radio transmitter and current supply regulator on display at the bunker's exhibition.
From left) A telephone set box, radio transmitter and current supply regulator on display at the bunker's exhibition. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
A replica of a teleprinter, which is a typewriter used to send and receive messages, on display in the bunker.
A replica of a teleprinter, which is a typewriter used to send and receive messages, on display in the bunker. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Visitors to the bunker will be able to view an exhibition on site as part of the Home Team's SG50 celebrations.
Visitors to the bunker will be able to view an exhibition on site as part of the Home Team's SG50 celebrations. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - Perched on Pearl's Hill Terrace in Chinatown, amid housing board flats and the People's Park Complex, lies a top secret police bunker.

The windowless one-storey building was where the 1956 Chinese Middle School riots were managed, and later where all of Singapore's 999 calls were answered.

Called the Combined Operations Room, it served as the nerve centre for police communications from 1956 to the 1980s.

Now, for the first time in its history, the British-built bomb proof facility will open to the public for three months, starting on Tuesday (Oct 20).


The exterior of the police bunker. ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

The public will be able to sign up for tours of the historic place. Visitors will be able to view an exhibition on site as part of the Home Team's SG50 celebrations, and walk through eight refurbished rooms with furnishings which were recreated based on when the bunker was operational.

The eight rooms include the Chief Police Staff Officer's room, which has a large glass window overlooking a map room. The map room was where staff updated incidents across the island on a tote board and map in real time.


There are eight rooms in the bunker, which have been recreated based on when the bunker was operational. ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

The exhibition is a joint effort by the Ministry of Home Affairs, National Heritage Board and Singapore Police Force.

Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin, who officially opened the bunker, described it as state of the art. For instance, its walls are two-feet thick with an emergency power plant installed on site in case of outages.


There are eight rooms in the bunker, which have been recreated based on when the bunker was operational. ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

He also paid tribute to officers who served there. "The exhibition is dedicated to our pioneer officers who worked tirelessly to build a strong foundation for the safety and security that we enjoy today," he said.

The National Heritage Board started work on the project last July. It delved into archival records and did oral interviews with police personnel who worked there.

The board's assistant director of research Dr John Kwok said: "Many of us had no idea about the existence of the bunker and what stories it held. The air was thick with dust when we first visited.

"But it has turned out to be a gem that has witnessed Singapore's chaotic and turbulent past, reflecting the work of the police force in ensuring the country's internal security," he said.

Operations at the bunker ceased in 1988. In 2001, the Singapore Land Authority took over the space as a storage facility. The bunker is not conserved although it sits alongside the former Upper and Lower Barracks, both of which are conserved.

Email fcor@mha.gov.sg or call 98935140 to book the tour which will run from Tuesday till Jan 31. Tours will be conducted from Tuesday to Sunday, excluding public holidays, at 10am, 10.45am, 11.30am, 2pm, 2.45pm and 3.30pm.