What can history teach us about being prepared and staying resilient? For this, we will turn to 3 events in history.
At about 4am on the 8th of December, Singapore encountered its first air raid.
Naval bombers attacked Seletar and Tengah airfields, Chinatown, Raffles Place and Keppel Harbour. Within two months, invading troops had crossed the Strait of Johor and into Singapore, which fell soon after, on Feb 15, 1942.
On the 26th of March 1991, SQ 117 was hijacked by members claiming to be part of the Pakistan People’s Party. Commandos of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) mounted a rescue operation at 6.50 am on 27 March 1991, killing all four hijackers and bringing the passengers and crew to safety.
The outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Singapore began in February 2003 when a young woman who had been infected while holidaying abroad returned to Singapore. She set off a series of transmissions that spread the SARS virus to 238 people, 33 of whom died. Besides Singapore, more than 20 other countries also reported SARS cases during this global epidemic. After the implementation of various stringent measures, including home quarantine, blanket screening of incoming travellers and school closures, the outbreak in Singapore was finally contained in May 2003.
These, and other similar crises teach us several lessons.
The first lesson is that it is important to be prepared – even though no amount of drills or emergency exercises can prepare us for the actual horrors of a disaster when it comes. When the terorists took over control of the SIA aircraft, the commandos only had a very short amount of time to react.
This is also the same scenario for the hospitals. Although there had never been a similar crisis for Singapore, the hospitals were able to re-jig their setups and create outposts to manage and contain the situation. All this was done on the go.
Second: We need to know how to reach as many people as possible in a very short period of time. Be it full scale war, an act of terrorism or a biological crisis, there is a need to send messages and instructions to a large number of people in a short time.
The new SGSecure movement, which includes the smart phone application can do just this. It gets citizens ready to deter and deal with a terror attack, and ensure society remains united in such an event.
Third: It is not just the military that will do the work. Whilst a strong Singapore Armed Forces can deter attacks and afford us the ability to defend ourselves, defence is not the work of the military alone – it requires a whole-of-society effort, especially psychologically. And more so these days, even economically as modern wars are fought by exhausting the finances of the enemy.
Fourth: There must be an internal defence mechanism to prevent citizens from both self radicalising and to sow discord. During the Japanese Occupation, there were accounts that told of attempts to incite discord between persons of different races. Occupying soldiers made no secret of their animosity towards the Chinese and, at the same time, sought to treat some Malays and Indians better.
The scourge of self-radicalising is ever more prevalent in this digital age. There must be defences in place to whistle blow or to prevent material from being served to pliant minds. There is a need to stem these rumours and attacks from the start.
The last lesson, and the overarching lesson that we can glean from all of this, is the need to stay resolved, resilient and to respond to these events with calm and thoughtfulness. For this reason, it is imperative that we all row in the same direction and all work together as one body. Everyone plays a part in this show and every actor that falls out of line can wreck havoc on the entire system.
A favourite metaphor amongst politicians for Singapore, is that of a sampan. Be it Sampan v.1 or v.2, it is still a sampan and requires rowing. We will get to our destination faster, brave the winds stronger and survive crises better if we all sung the same tune.