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Former Combined Operations Room

A replica of the saucer-shaped podium in the Radio Control Room where the ‘999’ calls used to be answered from.

Hidden behind a rather nondescript building at 195, Pearl’s Hill Terrace was a bunker which used to be the Combined Operations Room of the Singapore Police Force. The bunker was the nerve centre for police communications during 1956 to 1988. The bunker was where riots such as the Chinese Middle School riots of 1956 was managed from, and also where 999 calls were answered.

Non-descript building where the bunker is.

The windowless bunker was built by the British with 3-feet-wide walls, it’s able to withstand a 500 pound bomb. It was also the first facility in Singapore to have air conditioning—a necessity for ventilation given that there are no windows or other means of natural ventilation in the bunker.

An illustration showing how thick the fCOR building wall is (3 feet/900mm) vs. a typical building wall of just 100mm.

After the bunker ceased operation after 1988, it was taken over by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) who used it as a storage facility. As part of the SG50 celebrations, the National Heritage Board (NHB) and the Singapore Police Force has spruced up the bunker, and added recreated the various rooms within to what it would have been back in the 1950s when it was still in use. The public can now view the rooms in the bunker as part of a SG50 exhibition organised by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Singapore Police Force.

The narrow corridor within the bunker leading to the various rooms.

Along with a few other bloggers, we were invited to a tour of the bunker, where John Kwok, a researcher with NHB and Senior Staff Sergeant Evelyn Wong, a veteran policewoman who handled the 999 calls, took us on a tour of the facility. Mdm Wong shared with us her stories and experiences during her time, including one of people walking in with arms chopped off!

Mdm Evelyn Wong, a former Senior Staff Sergeant with the Police Force, shares her story working as a 999 girl.

It’s quite an eye-opener to see how things were done back in the pre-digital days: analog telephones with manual switchboards where the operator have to manually plug in to the currently ringing line, paper records, teleprinters where the operator can’t see what he’s typing and a manually-updated tote board in the map room where incidents and deployment were posted. Outside the bunker, a Volkswagen Beetle police car is also displayed.

A Volkswagen Police Car used from 1970-1982.
The steering wheel and dashboard of the Volkswagon police car used in the 70s.

Here are some more photos from the tour.

The tip of the radio mast that used to stand atop a 90ft tower outside the bunker.
Log sheet used to record all the incoming calls received and actions taken.
The keyboard of a teleprinter, which was modified from a mechanical typewriter. As there was no screen, the operator wasn’t able to see what he typed.
View of the Map Room from the Chief Police Staff Officer’s room. The former is where police car and other resource deployments are manually updated in real time on the tote board and the map.
Chief Police Staff Officer’s Room
Another view of the Map Room.
A closer view of the tote board where incidents and resource deployments were updated in chalk in real time.
A pair of red phones linked directly to ministers and the Prime Minister. If it rang, it meant an emergency and everybody had to work overtime.
Police Officer’s rest room, which was unfortunately never used as they had no time to rest.

The exhibition and tour runs from now till 31 Jan 2016. It’s open from Tuesdays to Sundays and admission is free, but pre-booking is required, so don’t just turn up. You can book a slot by calling 9893-5140 or emailing fcor@mha.gov.sg.

 

 

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