Grassroots ‘Heart’ teams to help residents in times of crisis

Grassroots ‘Heart’ teams to help residents in times of crisis
PM Lee taking a photo of Community Emergency Response Team volunteers attending to a ‘casualty’ during a simulated terrorist attack held during Teck Ghee’s Emergency Preparedness Day on March 19, 2017. Photo: Jason Quah/TODAY

Grassroots ‘Heart’ teams to help residents in times of crisis

SINGAPORE — To help those traumatised by a terrorist attack or emergency, each of the 89 constituencies will set up teams of volunteers trained in giving psychological first aid and emotional support, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Sunday (March 19), as part of two new enhancements under the SG Secure movement.

Dubbed “Heart”, which stands for Human Emergency Assistance and Response Teams, these will each have four to five psychologists and counsellors who will train grassroots leaders and volunteers on basic skills to overcome psychological trauma post-attack. The number of volunteers in each Heart will depend on the constituency’s size.

“People will be nervous, anxious, stressed, and you need to be able to help them, reassure them, calm them down, bring them back to become normal again, and give them emotional and psychological support,” said Mr Lee, who was speaking at the Emergency Preparedness Day in his Teck Ghee ward, where an anti-terror exercise was staged. Grassroots leaders and volunteers from his Ang Mo Kio group representation constituency are among the first to be trained to be part of Heart.

They will learn how to identify post-terror stress reactions, listen and respond to specific concerns, and link affected persons to the relevant agencies within the community, among other things. Refresher courses will be held every year.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said: “The psychological effects experienced by individuals and communities following terror incidents can surpass the pain and trauma of the physical injuries they sustain. Understanding and preparing for the impact of these psychological effects are critical for developing psychological resilience in the community and to limit the adverse psychological consequences of a terrorist attack.”

The other enhancement is an upgrade of the SG Secure app to allow users to configure settings to receive alerts on their mobile phones on emergency incidents that happen in specific locations. Users can key in the postal code of locations they are concerned with, such as their home or their children’s school, and alerts will be sent should there be emergencies in the vicinity of these places.

The SG Secure app, which has been downloaded more than 340,000 times since its launch, will also send news alerts on terrorist attacks happening in regions where Singaporeans have a special interest in, either because of work, travel or where loved ones are based at. These include South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, USA, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

In his speech, Mr Lee noted that while Singapore has not suffered an attack so far, it was been targeted. For instance, a group in Batam recently plotted to launch a rocket at Marina Bay Sands. 

He also warned that if ISIS was defeated in the Middle East, some fighters who survive may come back home to Southeast Asia, therefore presenting a threat close to home. 

Should a terror attack happen here, strong community bonds would be key, he added.

“The terrorists’ objective is to divide, to break our society. If you have friends (of) different races and religions, you will stay close together ... you can prevent them from doing that,” said Mr Lee. “And every little bit counts. If you hold the lift door open, looking out for your neighbour when he’s away, offering snacks or food. The stronger our kampung spirit, the less able the terrorists will be to break us.” 

Singaporeans can also learn skills useful in an incident, such as operating an automated external defibrillator (AED), to resuscitate casualties in an attack, he added.

Giving an update on SG Secure movement, which was started in September last year, Mr Lee said residents of more than 45 constituencies would have had the chance to learn life-saving skills like CPR and using AEDs during their respective Emergency Preparedness Days by the end of this year.