Actions of everyday citizens most important in terror attack, says DPM Teo

SCDF personnel carry out height rescue and K9 operations during Exercise Northstar.
SCDF personnel carry out height rescue and K9 operations during Exercise Northstar.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
SCDF personnel rescue a casualty from a building during Exercise Northstar.
SCDF personnel rescue a casualty from a building during Exercise Northstar. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - In the event of a terror attack what is most important is that regular citizens know what to do and how to react, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has said .

If they are alert and vigilant they might be able to prevent and deter would be attackers from carrying out a strike, said DPM Teo.

"And if you are caught up in an incident, you have to know what to do. Run, hide, tell, help those around you," he added.

DPM Teo was speaking to reporters on Saturday (Oct 28) after observing a counter-terrorism drill - Exercise Northstar - which saw community volunteers and professional first responders work together to respond to a simulated attack.

The four-hour exercise, held at the Home Team Tactical Centre in Mandai, involved about 500 officers from various agencies responding to the scenario of twin car bombs exploding at a mixed-use building housing a shopping mall, a bus interchange and residences.

Such exercises allow various agencies to test their coordination, said DPM Teo, adding that it was "a very important part to restoring normalcy after an incident".

Led by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), the exercise also involved key agencies such as the police, People's Association, water agency PUB, the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Singapore Armed Forces, amongst others.

It was phase two of the 10th edition of Exercise Northstar. Phase one was held last week (Oct17) at Changi Airport's Terminal 3 and involved security forces neutralising hypothetical armed gunmen in a packed terminal.

Saturday's (Oct28) simulated attack saw two cars laden with explosives detonate outside the four-storey building dubbed Pandora Plaza and Residences.

One bomb went off outside a pedestrian entrance to the mall, while the other exploded next to a structural column near the bus interchange. The blast was so powerful it caused the building to collapse.

Within an hour, SCDF officers were on scene, racing against time to search through the rubble for survivors. Response efforts were coordinated from a command post on-site.

Elite troops from the SCDF's Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (Dart) used high-powered drills to punch holes through concrete walls to get to survivors trapped inside.

Meanwhile, search and rescue dogs were also sent to comb the wreckage for signs of life.

Some of the rescue operation's heavy lifting was also done by about 200 men from SCDF's 51 Rescue Battalion.

Men from the operationally-ready NSmen (ORNS) battalion used wooden beams to shore up unstable walls so rescuers could extricate the casualties.

This is the first time an ORNS battalion has been involved in the exercise.

The battalion's commander, Colonel Andrew Tan, said the exercise scenario was realistic. He said it was challenging to cut through the rubble and get to casualties.

He added that he was confident his men were up to the task given the additional preparation from going through this exercise.

"I think my men are fully aware (of the current security risks) and we need to be prepared to support such emergency operations," said Colonel Tan, 46.

Those injured were brought to one of two first aid points on site, where emergency medical help was administered by SCDF officers and community volunteers.

The importance of community first responders was highlighted by DPM Teo, who said their actions make a difference.

One community volunteer who took part in the exercise was Madam Chan Shui Ying, 72, who helped administer first aid to casualties.

Madam Chan started learning lifesaving skills about 10 years ago, and helps out regularly at grassroots events where people learn such skills as CPR.

"I tell them, take it up, it's good for your family, you never know when you might need it," she said.

The exercise was also observed by Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam and Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo.

Mr Shanmugam said that while Singaporeans better understand the threat from terrorism today, more still needs to be done.

"Awareness is increasing. Whether all of our people are fully prepared I think we are quite far away from that. It's going to be a lot of hard work," he said.