New programme to prepare religious groups to handle crisis, including teaching members first-aid skills

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu at the launch of the Crisis Preparedness for Religious Organisations programme on Jan 14, 2020.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu at the launch of the Crisis Preparedness for Religious Organisations programme on Jan 14, 2020.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Having faith groups assess their own crisis readiness, equipping members with improvised first-aid skills, and putting together detailed emergency response plans.

These are just some of the measures to prepare religious organisations here to handle a crisis - such as a terrorist attack on their premises - under a programme rolled out by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) on Tuesday (Jan 14).

The Crisis Preparedness for Religious Organisations programme will help these groups better protect their premises and congregants, and assist the larger community when a crisis strikes.

It is the latest initiative under the ministry's SGSecure Community Network, which aims to connect religious organisations and get places of worship to be ready in an emergency.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, who launched the programme at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre, said religious groups play an important role in safeguarding Singapore against the threat of terrorism.

"Around the world, we have seen terrorists and extremists targeting places of worship. These places are easy and soft targets, enabling the perpetrators to inflict pain and damage.

"Such attacks can easily incite hatred and conflict, and sow animosity between the different faiths and races," she said.

"Therefore, religious organisations must stay vigilant against the threat of terrorism, be ready to respond to a crisis, and help the community stay resilient by providing the physical and spiritual support in a crisis."

As part of the programme, participating religious organisations can quickly gauge their crisis readiness and identify operational gaps by completing a self-assessment checklist.

Then, their staff and followers can attend training courses to equip themselves with relevant skills, such as crisis contingency planning, community mediation, first aid and the use of automated external defibrillators.

These groups will also be able to take part in scenario-based crisis exercises, where they can try out their crisis response plans and share best practices with one another.

 
 

About 100 religious organisations are expected to complete the programme by the end of this year. They will then receive a certificate from the ministry recognising them as being crisis-ready.

Ms Fu urged religious organisations to sign up for the programme and encourage their followers to attend the various training courses.

"Through (the programme), our communities will be well-prepared to respond, and well-connected to support one another... Only then can we stay united and not allow terrorism to tear apart our social fabric," she said.

Her ministry worked with representatives from more than 30 religious groups to develop the programme.

These representatives, who are in charge of the security and operations of their places of worship, shared insights on crisis preparedness and their experience in handling emergency situations in a series of focus group discussions and workshops.

MCCY also partnered public agencies and community organisations, such as the Singapore Police Force (SPF), Singapore Civil Defence Force, Temasek Foundation and OnePeople.sg, to come up with the programme's courses.

Ms Fu said Singapore has been a target of terrorists on numerous occasions, and it continues to face the threat of individuals becoming radicalised by terrorist propaganda.

She was speaking at a counter-terrorism seminar for religious groups organised by MCCY and SPF. The seminar was attended by more than 200 religious groups.

Ms Fu said these groups play a key role in building trust between the different faith communities.

Last June, more than 250 religious organisations here signed a commitment to safeguard religious harmony in the wake of growing inter-ethnic tensions across the globe.

Today, the number of groups that have pledged their support to this commitment has doubled to over 500, said Ms Fu, adding that it is a clear stand for a multiracial, multi-religious Singapore society.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese's communications director Andre Ahchak said communities must be prepared to stay resilient during a crisis.

"We are fortunate here but we must not take the peace for granted. It is during peacetime that we should be ready, not just to protect our own religious communities but also to contribute and support wider community efforts," he added.