Singapore is a city-state with a land surface area of 645 square kilometers located approximately 137 kilometres north of the Equator. The population is about 3.7 million, with a multiracial mix of Chinese, Malay and Indians and a minority of others, supplemented by about half a million expatriates and foreign workers.
Geographically, Singapore is just outside the 'Pacific Rim of Fire' and is thus spared from natural disasters such as earthquakes, typhoons and volcanic eruptions. The challenges for the emergency services, however, are in the form of preventing and mitigating man-made incidents disasters in a highly urbanised environment.
Singapore's infrastructure includes one of the world's busiest airports, the busiest seaport and an extensive network of underground roadways. Land scarcity and high population density has made it necessary to house and locate the population and businesses in tightly packed residential and commercial high-rise buildings. Mishaps thus have a greater potential to inflict mass casualties and extensive destruction to properties. There is also the threat of disasters that could potentially occur in the chemical and petrochemical industries located at the brink of the city-state. A major accident could have off-site impact on population centers. Recently, the threat of terrorism has added a new dimension to emergency preparedness and response.
The Emergency Preparedness Programmes and Disaster Management activities undertaken by Singapore are based on the following main principles:-
The Ministry of Home Affairs is the principal policy and directing authority responsible for civil defence emergency preparedness and disaster management. Under its command is the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) responsible for planning, coordinating and implementing the various programmes and activities. The SCDF is the leading authority that will coordinate the pre-planning activities and command and control all mitigating operations during an incident. Some 18 other Ministries and Statutory Boards are also involved in supporting roles under ana unified framework of Operation Civil Emergency.
The main laws supporting Singapore's emergency preparedness and disaster management activities are:-
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) provides 24-hour swift and effective fire fighting, rescue and emergency ambulance services. Other functions include preparing and educating the population in emergency preparedness, procedures and fire safety. The SCDF also enforces fire safety requirements for buildings and in storage and transportation of petroleum.
The Force is also responsible for the provision of warning and protection against the effects of disasters and war by controlling and managing the Public Warning System (PWS) and Civil Defence shelters. In addition, the SCDF conducts rescue operations to minimise the loss of lives and properties. To meet wartime requirements, National Service Units are established, trained and equipped. These could be mobilised in times of need to augment the regular fire and rescue assets.
The SCDF operates with a 3-tier command and control structure with HQ SCDF at the apex commanding 4 Land Divisions supported by a network of Fire Stations and Satellite Fire Posts strategically located over the island. The concept of operation is based on a multi-tier response. The Operations Centre at HQ SCDF will dispatch the nearest resources to the incident. Additional resources from other fire stations could reinforce this first response if the need arises. In a major incident, further reinforcements can be met by the Standby Unit and the recall of off-duty fire fighters. National Service (NS) units such as Rescue Battalion, Heavy Plant Battalion, Medical Company etc. will be mobilised.
SCDF has developed its capabilities on the need to react to a number of major incidents simultaneously. Major scenarios that have been identified include:-
SCDF has also established some special rescue capability, namely the Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART), a specially trained unit that can undertake high-risk fire fighting and rescue operations. This includes deep penetration, rescue in confined space, collapsed buildings and height rescue, and life detection for wide area search. The DART is also the main component in the SCDF overseas contingent and is capable of rapid despatch for urban search and rescue missions within the region.
Hazardous Material Incident (HIT) Teams are strategically located in 4 fire stations. The HIT is adequately trained and equipped to handle hazardous material (HAZMAT) incidents throughout Singapore.
Another significant role of SCDF is to provide early warning and adequate protection to the population in times of national emergency. The SCDF has in place a Public Warning System (PWS) with an island wide network of more than 240 outdoor sirens mounted strategically on high rise buildings.
The implementation of CD Shelter Programme involves the construction of hardened shelters in the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) underground stations and new apartment buildings. Since 1997, all new residential developments must have apartment shelters. This is an important milestone in our emergency preparedness and readiness.
The prevention of fires is a cornerstone strategy for SCDF to achieve its mission to protect and save lives and properties. The SCDF formulates, implements and enforces fire safety regulations. This includes vetting of Building and M&E Plans submitted by the professionals, on-site inspections of building systems and enforcement checks on the compliance of fire safety standards. To instil greater sense of fire safety culture in the industry, the Force focuses on programmes to educate professionals in areas of fire safety and engaging the professional bodies in the introduction of self-regulation scheme for building plans.
Community involvement and participation in Civil Defence is essential to prepare the Nation to deal with emergencies. Since 1982, the SCDF has been reaching out to the various segments of the population with the objectives of enhancing the awareness of the whole population in Civil Defence.
Under the Civil Defence Public Education Programme, the SCDF aims to have at least one member of every household trained in civil defence skills. In addition, emergency exercises in food, water and fuel rationing, blood collection and shelter occupation are conducted regularly to educate the public on emergency procedures and preparedness.
SCDF places heavy emphasis on training to equip our personnel with the desired knowledge, competency, skills and attitudes. The opening of the Civil Defence Academy in Mar 1999 marked a significant milestone in the history of the Singapore Civil Defence Force. The Academy, with purpose-built features, meets the training needs of regulars, national service personnel, emergency response personnel of the industries, fire fighters and rescuers from other parts of the world.
The training facilities in the Academy include the use of state-of-the-art simulators and modern communication technology to make learning simpler, more interesting and more realistic.
Over the past years, Singapore was involved in the following areas of co-operation in disaster management:
Singapore values public safety and security. It believes in being prepared to face major disasters so as to ensure minimum losses and disruptions. It garners all efforts to promote and institutionalise emergency preparedness among its people, while developing and exercising contingency plans for a wide range of foreseeable disasters to be executed by various emergency agencies in close coordination. Where appropriate, it also learns from the partners worldwide and shares its experience and rescue resources with nearby countries in need of assistance.
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