Taipei, Taiwan – A missile has struck Taiwan’s capital and wreaked devastation on an otherwise peaceful park.

Moments earlier, pedestrians were strolling along paved streets lined with brick and stone buildings with slanted, tiled roofs that dot this hilly location.

Now, torn limbs are scattered across blood-soaked cobblestones, and everywhere, the dying and the wounded are writhing on the ground, screaming in pain, calling out for help.

Soon, rattled first responders move to their aid, trying to locate the most seriously afflicted, staunching the bleeding from wounds and carrying people to safety.

It resembles a warzone, but it isn’t one.

The blood and the limbs are fake, the injured are unharmed actors and the first responders are trainees.

The scene is a simulation organised in late January by a civil defence group, Kuma Academy.

The drill lasted eight hours and also included training people how to respond to air defence alarms, use the surrounding terrain as cover and avoid detection by enemy forces.

“In today’s large-scale exercise, we are simulating real-life scenarios to allow our students to get hands-on experience,” Chen Ying, an instructor at Kuma Academy, explains.

Participants take part in a disaster drill organised by the Taichung Self-Defence Group similar to the exercises operated by Kuma Academy in Taipei [Frederik Kelter/Al Jazeera]

One hundred and twenty participants, all of whom had completed basic first aid and disaster response training, took part.

One of the participants says he had initially signed up to gain an understanding of what the situation would be like in the event of a disaster or a war scenario. “If something like that happens, it means that you should be prepared,” he says.

“You will be better able to cope with it emotionally and mentally.”

Kuma Academy has grown rapidly in recent years and now offers a wide variety of courses and exercises spanning topics from cyberattacks and disinformation to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and injury assessment.

The organisation is part of a wider grassroots movement of Taiwan civil defence groups that have sprouted up across the island in recent years and have seen a flurry of civilians sign up for training.

Lessons are primarily about nonviolent forms of civil preparedness.

“We leave combat to the Taiwanese military,” activist and co-founder of Kuma Academy Ho Cheng-Hui tells Al Jazeera during one of the organisation’s training sessions.

The nonviolent training takes myriad forms. Some organisations, like Kuma Academy, arrange realistic, large-scale training exercises with more than 100 participants at a time. Smaller local groups have made civil defence a matter of gathering people to undertake physical training together at a local community centre.

Classes are being offered in subjects such as how to tie knots, administer first aid, maintain a stash of emergency supplies, pack a grab-and-go bag and make a tourniquet. Others focus on civil defence in the virtual realm, teaching participants how to counter online manipulation campaigns and distinguish fact-based information online from mis- and disinformation.

You Chiao-chun, founder of the Taichung Self-Defence Group, demonstrates basic knot tying during a training session in the city of Taichung [Frederik Kelter/Al Jazeera]

According to Assistant Professor Fang-Yu Chen from the Department of Political Science at Soochow University in Taipei, all the civil defence preparations are happening because of concerns about China.

“Taiwanese are concerned about China taking aggressive steps against Taiwan,” he says.

Since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Beijing has regarded self-ruled Taiwan (officially the Republic of China) to be an inseparable part of China itself.

In 2022, Chinese President Xi Jinping said he would not rule out using force to bring the island under the CCP’s control.

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center last year showed 66 percent of Taiwan’s people consider Beijing’s power a major threat to Taiwan. Almost 83 percent believe the threat from China has increased in recent years, according to a 2023 poll by Academia Sinica in Taiwan.

Their fears appear to be well-founded. On Thursday, China began two days of joint military drills involving the army, navy, air force and rocket force in the waters and airspace around Taiwan. The Chinese military framed the joint exercises as deterrence against Taiwanese “separatists” and “external forces”.

According to US intelligence, Xi has instructed the military to be ready to invade Taiwan by 2027, according to news reports.

Kuma Academy co-founder Ho says, like others around him, he has been deeply concerned about future Chinese actions against Taiwan.

“I found that many Taiwanese civilians shared my concern but that they were unaware of what to do or where to go with that concern,” Ho tells Al Jazeera at one of Kuma Academy’s training courses in Taipei. That is why he co-founded Kuma Academy in 2021.

But the growth of civil defence groups like Kuma Academy has not been embraced by everyone in Taiwan. Some raise concerns that the groups are endangering the island by further antagonising China. Others see the new organisations as a symptom of a failing state-controlled civil defence structure and accuse the government of doing too little to bolster and expand the existing system.

Ho sees the state of civil defence in Taiwan as far from perfect but said at least more people are learning how to save lives from groups like his.

“We want to teach civilians how they can protect themselves and each other, so that if war comes, everyone is prepared.”