SINGAPORE: Officers were going about their duties at Woodlands Checkpoint on a Friday morning. They were interrupted by a loud alarm. A gunman was shooting and terrorising travellers waiting to clear immigration and customs.
The officers immediately went into action. The first response team made their way to the scene, while a commander in the operations room issued instructions. They moved quickly to subdue the gunman.
It took an intense few minutes but the gunman was overpowered.
The officers breathed a sigh of relief, got up from their computer terminals and walked into the room next door to review the exercise.
Such command and control simulation training exercises have been taking place since March 2019, with more than 200 immigration officers at the checkpoint taking part in the simulation exercises at least once a month.
It is meant to enhance ability of the ground commanders and first responders to respond effectively to a major incident at the checkpoint, said the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA).
According to the authorities, Woodlands Checkpoint is one of the busiest land crossings in the world. Tuas Checkpoint and Woodlands Checkpoint see a total of 415,000 travellers on a regular day and 475,000 travellers during peak period.
The training, which the officers experience in first-person view, currently has 45 scenarios “encompassing varying complexities”, such as fires, hostage-taking and even suicide bombings.
Additional scenarios based on real-life security developments elsewhere in the world can also be adapted into the system, said ICA, and this ensures training is kept current and officers are trained based on latest developments.
While it is just an exercise, it is taken seriously. There is a structured debrief post-training, where a playback of the session can be reviewed. A transaction log tracks the officers’ actions, and instructors give feedback based on set guidelines for each situation.
And if a team does not perform well during the simulation training, they may be asked to repeat it.
The simulation training has some advantages over live simulations and table top exercises which the officers undergo as well.
For most live training exercises, sections of the checkpoint have to be cordoned off, and they usually take place at odd hours. With the simulation system, training is now “more accessible and convenient” for frontline officers, said ICA.
“Officers are able to undergo frequent training without adversely affecting ground operations and at the same time optimising resources that are typically required for large-scale exercises at the checkpoints,” said ICA.
The authorities will evaluate the pilot trial before deciding if whether it should be extended to other checkpoints.
Assistant commander (ground operations) Au Mei Xian said she has observed that after undergoing the simulation training, officers are more confident when approaching situations in real life, especially because it allows them to practice verbal commands and real-life manoeuvres.
“We can also test our concept of operations and repeat the scenario to better our actions. This would be a safe and controlled environment,” said deputy superintendent Au.
“We do have a lot of unattended baggage, so the officers are now able to respond and we don’t actually need the team leaders on the ground to supervise them. They actually know what to do.”