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Schools conduct emergency drills at least twice a year, says MOE after 'Run-Hide-Tell' used in RVHS incident

Schools conduct emergency drills at least twice a year, says MOE after 'Run-Hide-Tell' used in RVHS incident

A police car arrives at River Valley High School on Jul 19, 2021. (Photo: Calvin Oh)

SINGAPORE: Schools conduct emergency drills such as fire and lockdown drills for students and staff at least twice a year, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said in response to queries from CNA.

Lockdown drills, which include the “Run-Hide-Tell” response, are activated when there is a terrorist threat on school premises, although they can be applied to other forms of security threats, such as the River Valley High School incident on Jul 19.

Non-MOE staff members like canteen stallholders, security guards and cleaners also take part in these drills, a ministry spokesperson said.

MOE also conducts emergency preparedness exercises together with Home Team agencies in different schools each year, the spokesperson added.

The "Run-Hide-Tell" response is part of the SGSecure movement, which was introduced in 2016 as Singapore's community response to the threat of terrorism.

On Jul 19, River Valley High students performed the “Run-Hide-Tell” response when a schoolmate holding an axe outside a toilet told them to call the police. It is believed to be the first time that the response was carried out for an actual situation in a school.

The students went into their classroom, locked the doors from inside and quickly called their form teachers for help.

A 13-year-old student was found lying in the toilet and pronounced dead. The 16-year-old student who held the axe has been charged with murder.

The MOE spokesperson said the emergency drills and exercises teach students how to look out for tell-tale signs of potential security threats.

The drills and exercises are reinforced by SGSecure and schools’ efforts to raise awareness on the need for vigilance and community resilience, the spokesperson said.

"Students are also trained to use the 'Run-Hide-Tell' response – to move quickly and quietly away from danger using the safest route; to stay out of sight and be quiet; and to inform the authorities about the danger, such as their teachers or school leaders – when they find themselves under threat in schools or public spaces," the spokesperson added.

How the River Valley High School incident unfolded

  • Near the end of their lunch break at about 11.35am, a group of students saw a 16-year-old student outside a toilet holding an axe. He told them to call the police. The students returned to their classroom and immediately informed their teacher
  • The 16-year-old student made the same request to another group of students in the classroom next to the toilet
  • The students immediately applied the “Run-Hide-Tell” lockdown drill – they went into their classroom, locked the doors from inside and quickly called their form teachers for help
  • A teacher who first arrived at the scene told the 16-year-old student to put down the axe. The teenager complied and was escorted away to a meeting room
  • Other teachers called the police and checked the toilet. Police arrived within 10 minutes and took the 16-year old student into custody
  • Police officers and Singapore Civil Defence Force paramedics found a 13-year-old student lying motionless in the toilet with multiple wounds. He was pronounced dead
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Education Minister Chan Chun Sing told Parliament on Jul 27 that while the “Run-Hide-Tell” response was designed for a terrorism scenario, the River Valley High School students and teachers had the "presence of mind" to apply it to a different situation.

"So, I think we will need to continue to have a variety of scenarios to alert our security managers, students and staff to the range of threats that might happen," he said during a debate following his ministerial statement on the incident.

"Despite that range of threats, some of the basic fundamental drills, the principle behind the drills are applicable. And that has been demonstrated in this particular incident."

HOW TO BARRICADE AND HIDE

Self-defence expert Leon Koh, founder of the Cadre Academy, said while lockdown drills in school usually start with an announcement from the school's general office, the reality would probably be more hectic.

"The people who didn't see (the attacker) or started to hear screaming, where and in which direction are they running? In a school environment, it's great because you can actually structure your drills in a way where students actually go through the route assessment of the school," he said.

Mr Koh said students who run into a classroom should take note of how the door opens and whether it can be locked from the inside without a key. A door that swings outwards cannot be barricaded effectively, he noted.

In the debate following his ministerial statement in Parliament, Mr Chan said that not all schools right now have classroom doors that can be locked from the inside and reassured that these will be installed for all schools in tandem with the school renovation programme.

"For those schools that have yet to have this type of door installed in their system, the teachers and the students are also taught the drill to barricade themselves working with what they have at this point in time," he said.

Mr Koh said students should use heavy tables to barricade the door and hide near the door so they can respond quickly but away from any windows where they could be seen.

They should also silence their phones and adopt a posture that allows them to move fast, like an athlete's ready position with knees slightly flexed, he highlighted.

"If you're hiding in a space on your bum or in a fetal position, it's very hard for you to run at that point in time," he said.

Mr Koh said students could also consider preparing a heavy book, chair or fire extinguisher to be used as a shield in case the attacker manages to breach the door. The items could be used to block any dangerous weapon until help arrives.

Students should only leave the room once there is an official announcement or after security agencies sweep the area, he added.

EMERGENCY PREPARDNESS EXERCISES

Beyond the drills, MOE said the emergency preparedness exercises are sometimes conducted with community partners like community clubs, and are observed by teachers and staff from other schools who are part of the School Emergency Structure (SES).

This helps teachers and staff from other schools familiarise themselves with the emergency procedures, the spokesperson said.

"Each year, MOE also provides training for teachers and staff who are newly appointed to the SES, as well as those who require a refresher," the spokesperson added.

The SES covers areas such as first-aid, search, trauma management, evacuation, handling of casualties and managing the emergency operations centre.

While Mr Chan said teachers and other MOE staff get posted and rostered to different schools, the schools have to ensure they have an intact incident management team and enough trained people to execute the drills with students.

"If there is a shortfall (because of the posting exercise), we will quickly remedy that by making sure that the necessary people are trained to execute the actions accordingly," he said.

Mr Koh said it is crucial to conduct these drills and exercises frequently as some might take Singapore's safety for granted.

"The practice of this brings it to the forefront of awareness," he said. "It's educating individuals with specific strategies they can do."

Nevertheless, Mr Chan said MOE intends to have more teachers who are trained in security incident management "so that every school can have the confidence to respond adequately should such an incident happen".

"We would of course like to have more of our teachers cross-trained in security incident management," he said.

There is room to train more teachers in self-defence techniques as they might have to protect students during a security incident, said Mr Koh.

"They are the knowledgeable adults; they are more mature and in control," he added.

"To be able to take something hard to hit somebody takes a lot of psychological make-up and preparation."

Source: CNA/hz(ta)

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