Commissioner James Tan,
Officers of the Singapore Civil Defence Force,
Ladies and gentlemen,
2. Last year, the world was devastated by nearly 400 natural disasters and 300 "man-made" incidents, including those involving land, sea and air transportation, and which, in their wakes, left behind countless victims. Against this backdrop, the Home Team Departments must continue to work hard, collaboratively, and leverage on their respective core strengths and expertise to maintain a safe and secure home for everyone in Singapore.
SCDF Workyear 2005/2006
3. The Singapore Civil Defence Force, or the SCDF, responded to a multitude of emergency incidents in Singapore last year. It successfully mitigated more than 4,700 fire incidents, one of the lowest in 20 years. This points to a more fire safety conscious community, and are the results of the concerted efforts put in by not just the SCDF but also its active community partners and supporters. This includes in particular, the National Fire Prevention Council (NFPC), Civil Defence Executive Committees (CDEC), grassroots leaders and the community-at-large. We should aim to do more to minimise the number of incidents.
4. The SCDF also attended to some 96,000 ambulance calls last year. Unlike the fire figures, the number of ambulance calls has risen over the years. For instance, five years ago, there were about 75, 500 emergency ambulance calls. In a span of five years, this figure has increased by more than 20,000 cases. I have asked SCDF to explore encouraging the private ambulance operators to augment the national emergency ambulance service in the management of medical emergencies. This is because SCDF's ambulances and crews are costly and highly geared resources designed to handle extreme crises, including biological and chemical terrorist incidents. These critical resources need to be prioritized for security-related emergencies, and cannot be increased indefinitely. With private ambulances coming in to support the Emergency Ambulance Service, the overall ambulance resources to serve Singaporeans will be coordinated more optimally during non-crisis times and national emergencies. This development is one step closer towards SCDF maintaining a more sustainable emergency ambulance system in the long run.
Bolstering Technology and Operational Capabilities
Ramping up Hazmat Capabilities
5. SCDF has been proactively reviewing and re-tuning its policies, strategies and resources, such as in the establishment of the new Hazmat Department and the continuous focus on using new technologies to boost its operational capabilities.
6. For example, SCDF is looking into boosting its ground responders' ability to collect operational data swiftly and efficiently during Hazmat incidents, through wearable sensors and indoor tracking devices. This Future Responder module of the Hazmat Incident Management System (HIMS) will be launched by March next year. SCDF is also developing a prototype, comprising a helmet mounted camera to capture real-time video images and a wearable computer to collect data. This application of nanotechnology will further boost SCDF's Hazmat capabilities.
7. For those in specific industries, there is requirement for workers to be trained to handle emergencies associated with hazardous materials. Under the Fire Safety Regulations 2005, licensed premises with bulk petroleum and flammable materials storage are required to provide an on-site Company Emergency Response Team (CERT). Currently, about 400 companies are required to have CERTs on site. CERTs comprise selected workers in such industries trained and equipped for fire fighting, rescue, hazardous materials mitigation operations and any other emergency operations peculiar to their company; and team members play critical roles as the first responding crews to handle emergencies occurring in their premises. It is therefore important that the proficiency of CERT members is kept up-to-the mark through regular training and drills. Hence, I would also like to see the SCDF putting an audit framework in place to evaluate the standard of these CERT members.
Setting up of Live Agent Training Centre
8. With the increased potential of terrorist sabotage using Chemical, Biological and Radiological (CBR) dispersal devices, it is essential for frontline responders to be provided with adequate live agent training. SCDF is working with the Homefront Security Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs to set up such an infrastructure. Letting our responders train in a live agent environment will boost their physical and mental cohesion and confidence to operate effectively in real CBR incidents. With the new establishment, the CBR operating procedures and equipment capabilities can also be effectively validated without relying on overseas services.
Establishment Of Security Sensitive Materials Data Centre
9. The SCDF is setting up a Security Sensitive Materials (SSM) Data Centre that will serve as an information repository that provides a consolidated map of all premises storing licensed SSM in Singapore. SSM include licensed flammable, toxic, biological and radiological materials. The SSM Data Centre will be able to provide useful information to frontline responders and the National Authorities when responding to incidents involving unknown hazards in such premises. Besides this, it provides a means of notifying the respective National Authorities when irregularities are detected by other government agencies during their site visits. This is possible via an in-built alert system that is triggered, for example, when the storage of SSM are in excess of permissible quantities.
10. A Working Group will be set up for this. It will be led by the SCDF with the support from the Homefront Security Division, Ministry of Home Affairs and the relevant National Authorities, such as the Ministry of Health, National Environmental Agency and the Health Sciences Authority.
Enhancing Infrastructure and operational capabilities
11. The targeted establishment of three new fire stations and one fire post over the next five years would also enhance the operational coverage of the Force, especially at the new land extension for Jurong Island, Marina Bay, Tuas View Industrial Estate and Sentosa. These are timely developments and coincide with the development of the mega projects like the Marina and Sentosa Integrated Resorts.
Broadening International Ties / SCDF and the World
12. I commend SCDF's active role in the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) Team. Members of the UNDAC Team are permanently on stand-by for deployment to relief missions following disasters and humanitarian emergencies that occur. They are responsible for assessing the extent of disaster situation; establishing priority needs of the affected victims and co ordinating the disaster relief response. SCDF's chairmanship in the establishment of standards for info-comms support for disaster relief missions under the Asia-Pacific Humanitarian Partnership (APHP) is also noteworthy.
13. I am also pleased that SCDF is providing courses for and taking up advisory functions with both regional and international counterpart organisations. As at end-2006, the Civil Defence Academy has trained more than 700 foreign firefighting, rescue and Hazmat personnel from 56 countries. Last year, 194 overseas trainees from 17 countries underwent courses at the Academy.
Towards Higher Readiness
14. Indeed, the selection of SCDF's workplan theme this year - Connections - Cutting Edge for Safety and Security, is apt. The triangle of connections among SCDF, the Singapore community and the world is important. In fact, it is the key to sharpening our national civil defence capabilities and systems, thereby further hardening our homefront security shield. It also serves as part of Singapore's efforts to help mould a stronger global disaster-resilient international community.
15. SCDF has, on the whole, done well. Keep up the good work. I am confident that the discussions at the workplan seminar will be fruitful and will yield new ideas and suggestions to the challenges ahead.