Held ‘hostage’, I saw how the police’s Emergency Response Team would save me
I put on protective headgear and sat in a dilapidated room in a high-rise building, ready for a signal.
A whistle blew, and a “gunman” pulled me up and threatened to “shoot” me as four Emergency Response Team (ERT) officers stormed the place.
I put my hands up as they engaged the “terrorist”, adrenaline coursing through me despite knowing none of it was real.
When the “gunman” pushed me aside to escape, the ERT officers saw an opportunity and “shot” him.
“Subject down” was the last thing I heard before running to safety.
The whistle blew a second time, marking the end of a hostage scenario I hope I will experience just this once.
On March 6, the media was invited to attend a demonstration by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) at Special Operations Command to get a glimpse of the role ERTs play in such deadly situations.
They are among the first line of response to a terrorist attack.
The demonstration was done in the lead-up to Exercise Northstar XI on March 22. The national-level exercise, which will be held on Jurong Island, will showcase the Government’s capabilities in handling major crises and possible threat scenarios.
When activated, the ERT must swiftly engage the attackers to minimise the number of casualties.
On Jan 9, ERT officers confronted a man who held a 60-year-old woman at knifepoint at Block 108 Yishun Ring Road.
The stand-off lasted around 20 minutes, before officers disarmed and arrested him.
Mohamed Faizal Mohamed Ariff, 42, was charged on Jan 10 with possessing an offensive weapon in a public place.
Citing this incident, the police said the ERTs have been keeping the streets of Singapore safe by deterring and responding to armed and potential armed attacks.
The ERT was formed in June 2016 following the terror attacks in Jakarta that year and in Paris in November 2015.
The Paris attacks killed 130 people and hundreds more were injured after gunmen and suicide bombers hit a concert hall, a stadium and restaurants almost simultaneously, shocking the world.
Two months later, in January 2016, multiple explosions and gunfire near a shopping mall in Jakarta saw four civilians killed and at least 23 others injured.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an extremist group, claimed responsibility for both attacks.
An SPF spokesman said: “The terror attacks in Paris and Jakarta have demonstrated a shift in the modus operandi of terrorists, which is to indiscriminately inflict as many casualties as possible in the shortest time, with no intention to capture hostages or negotiate for their release.”
ERT officers are equipped with greater firepower and protection, like ballistic-resistant helmets and vests, and undergo both tactical and physical training.
At the media feature, journalists were given the chance to don this gear.
We could also fire training rounds from an MP5 submachine gun.
It was heavy and difficult to hold up. The gear, which weighed about 17kg, was tough to walk around in.
Having to manage long-drawn, high-stakes situations in all this gear, when innocent lives are at stake, made me respect these ERT officers more because fatigue could lead to bad decisions being made, which could lead to bloodshed.
Like when firing a weapon.
Standing 5m away from a target, I struggled to raise the MP5 and fired off 10 shots.
I thought I had missed, but a police trainer said I had hit the target with nine rounds.
I briefly congratulated myself on a job well done, but quickly remembered how the ERT officers lined up to show us how it should be done before we gave it a go.
They fired at targets from 15m away, much farther from where I shot.
They did not miss.
I was relieved then, that if terror strikes here, it would be them, and not me, who would be hunting down the bad guys.