TL;DR – Being kiasi isn’t enough.
You are in the train cabin and suddenly you hear a very loud pop followed by a bright white light. What do you do? Scream and run? Run where?
Human instinct will tell you to flee but what if you’re trapped?
There have been counter-terrorism exercises in retail malls, office buildings, schools and heartland areas. What happens if Singapore faces terror threat in our public transport system?
We spoke to Mr Rosmani Juraini, 53, President of the National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU), who has been a train captain for 30 years to find out how he is likely to react in the first ten minutes if a bomb goes off in a train.
While there is no formal training on how to respond to bomb threats in trains, train captains will apply the SOPs (standard operating procedures) for such incidents.
“Chances are, the first reaction is to inform the control centre so that they are aware of the situation. Then I need to assess the extent of the damage, the number of casualties and then I need to report back to the control centre. Anyway, you can’t do much alone. You need to mobilize some of the passengers who will help you”, he said.
If there is an active shooter onboard, the best solution is to drive the train to the nearest station so that the train doors can open for all passengers to evacuate. It can save many lives.
According to Rosmani, there are live tracks and if people attempt to jump out of train, they will be putting themselves in a dangerous position (read: electrocution).
If the train is underground, there will be insufficient space for several people to walk along the side of the tunnel at one time.
Rosmani feels that it is not advisable to pry open the train doors and break windows as that could further endanger lives. He hopes that people could stay calm while the train captain drives to the nearest station to seek help.
The National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU) together with its tripartite partners – the police, SCDF and management from various transport operators held the first counter-terrorism seminar for the transport industry last Friday (2nd Dec 2016).
Transport workers from rail, bus and taxi were present to learn how to prevent, react and respond to terror attacks here. Tower Transit operations director Stuart Thomas was also there to share some crisis-management learning following the London 7/7 bombings in 2005.
11 years ago, four suicide bombers detonated four devices – three in separate underground Tube trains and one on a double-decker bus in central London.
52 people were killed and 700 were injured.
Thomas Nairn, a Tube train driver recalled that he applied the emergency brakes after he heard an “almighty, metallic bang” on board his train which carried between 1,000 and 1,500 passengers.
He then tried to make a Mayday call on his radio before addressing the passengers over the sound system but both systems failed to work.
He then made his way to the first carriage and shone a torch to assess the situation.
He could only see blackened faces with frizzy hair. He then went to switch off the current on the track.
He stayed with passengers with severe injuries and even helped Paul Glennerster, an injured passenger who “picked up his own leg and hopped” onto the tracks.
Thomas used his belt to apply a tourniquet to Paul’s damaged leg and stayed with him for 20 minutes before the police carried him out.
In another scene, George Psaradakis who was the driver of the bombed bus, saved about 50 lives. As the tube was already affected, hundreds of passengers were waiting for buses.
His bus was already full so he made an announcement that he could not drive off unless some passengers alighted as it would not be safe.
He also suggested that if passengers’ destination was nearby, it would be quicker to walk as the bus was on diversion due to the traffic-clogged road.
A lot of people got off and in this split second, those who alight were saved while among those who stayed, 13 were killed while the rest were seriously injured.
London 7/7 bombings taught us that terror threats can happen to any forms of public transport.
General-Secretary of NTWU, Mr Fang Chin Poh, who is 56 this year, continues to drive buses on weekends to understand concerns that bus captains face at work. He found the counter-terrorism seminar meaningful.
He said that perhaps many people think that we are quite safe in Singapore but we need to prepare ourselves as terrorism can strike anywhere, anytime.
According to him, there are many exercises to train bus captains to be alert.
For example, sometimes the management would intentionally leave bag packs or unknown items in the bus to test the alertness of bus captains. After some time, such frequent exercises will help bus captains to be naturally sensitive to suspicious items or persons.
Executive-Secretary of NTWU, Melvin Yong, said that transport workers may soon have to attend compulsory training such as improvised first aid skills.
“It’s important that all our transport workers are trained to a certain level of first aid because they can be potential life savers”.
This ranges from helping with evacuations to performing CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).
At the seminar, SCDF did live demonstrations to teach transport workers how to perform CPR.
Transport workers are trained in first aid but not all received the same level of training. He cited an example on how first aid could be taught as a module at the Singapore Bus Academy to all workers.
The Public Transport Tripartite Committee which includes representatives from NTWU, government and transport operators, will further discuss security for transport industry next year.