4th ASEAN Strategic Policy Dialogue on Disaster Management 2018 – Speech By Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 17 August 2018

Your Excellency Fabrice Filliez

Ambassador of Switzerland to Singapore,

Your Excellency Vongthep

Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN,

Heads of the National Disaster Management Offices (NDMO) of the ASEAN Member States,

Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,




  1. Good morning. We welcome you to the 4th ASEAN Strategic Policy Dialogue on Disaster Management.


  2. It was only right that we started out by observing a minute of silence. Our condolences to the different communities affected by the earthquakes and the aftershocks in Lombok, Indonesia, the recent tropical storm Son-Tinh
    in particular which affected both Lao PDR and Myanmar, and the dam collapse in Champasak Province in Lao PDR. All these took place in the space of a few weeks. It is tragic and our thoughts and prayers are with those affected.


  3. A few of us including myself, had personal experience in Lombok on 5 August 2018. We were there to attend a security conference when the 6.9 magnitude aftershock hit us. We saw first-hand the casualties and the impact. The death toll is officially at about 400 to 500.


  4. In addition to that, we are seeing the impact and effect of climate change and the threat of natural disasters is likely to worsen. There are also security challenges – terrorism, which can also cause massive damage and loss of life. Given these challenges, it is ever more critical that this region - ASEAN - is vigilant and we are prepared to deal with natural disasters, and any type of disasters that strike us.


  5. Since 2015, we’ve held this Dialogue annually here in Singapore. We seek to give a platform for stakeholders from different sectors to come together to discuss our challenges, to try and formulate long-term strategies and to sharpen our disaster management policies.


  6. The theme this year is: “Strengthening a Disaster Resilient ASEAN Through Effective Cooperation and Innovation”. That is in line with the theme for Singapore’s ASEAN Chairmanship this year, which is “Resilience and Innovation”.That represents our vision for ASEAN to be united in the face of uncertainties, to be adaptable, to be forward looking so that we can better overcome challenges and better deal with disaster management.



    Strengthening A Disaster Resilient ASEAN through Effective Cooperation


  7. How do we build a resilient ASEAN against these sorts of disasters? No single entity can do this. We have to get the stakeholders coming together. We have to look at it at the different levels. At the national level, different countries, we all need to have a clear definition of the roles of government bodies, NGOs, the private sector, community leaders, roles they will handle before, during and equally importantly, after a disaster strikes. At the regional level, ASEAN Member States, ASEAN Sectoral bodies, ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA) Centre need to work closely together. That will help us realise ASEAN’s vision of “One ASEAN One Response”.


  8. One example of this collaboration is how ASEAN responded to the tropical storm Son-Tinh. At the national level, the disaster management agencies of Laos worked with the military, local NGOs and regional partners. They conducted search and rescue operations, provided medical care and distributed relief items. At the regional level, the AHA Centre provided regular monitoring and assessment reports. Senior officials from the AHA Centre, including the Director as well as ASEAN, went over and mobilised ASEAN relief items and Laos received some assistance during that very critical period.


  9. We were among the countries that provided some help. We sent three teams to support Laos. The first team comprised Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and Singapore Armed Forces officers and they went in two C-130s to deliver relief items. The second and third teams comprised SCDF, Police and K9 dogs and they supported search and rescue operations in the affected districts. Other countries including Malaysia and Indonesia also provided support.


  10. The ASEAN Committee for Disaster Management is looking at implementing several initiatives to try and better coordinate regional response to such disasters. The ASEAN Emergency Response and Assessment Team is one such initiative. The Disaster Emergency Logistics System of ASEAN (DELSA), and the ASEAN Joint Disaster Response Plan are other initiatives.


  11. We have to bring in other sectors to add to these initiatives. The social welfare sector can provide social protection and counselling for the elderly, the disabled community, youths and people who are affected deeply and emotionally by loss of lives and loved ones. The education sector can help train young people to assist in emergency preparedness and disaster management efforts. From the private corporate sector, they can help governments implement disaster risk financing tools, manage economic losses and support rebuilding efforts after a disaster strikes.


  12. So this year’s Dialogue seeks to bring in people from these different sectors and it is good that we get a healthy participation.



    Strengthening A Disaster Resilient ASEAN Through Innovation


  13. Strengthening cooperation is one aspect. We also need to try and do more with what we have and to be innovative about how we do things. Innovation has a number of different facets, if I can just share a couple.


  14. Technology is obviously important. It can provide early warning about what might happen and it can help to reduce the loss of lives. It also helps to increase the efficiency of the response.


  15. If we can share our own experience in terms of use of technology, today, you talk about the use of Artificial Intelligence, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and robotics. We use them in our rescue and firefighting operations. For example, SCDF’s Life Detection Robot is designed for use in rubble and debris. It is equipped with life detection sensors which pick up sound, heat and chemical releases from the human body. We let loose this robot in a building that has collapsed, and it will pick up signs of life. SCDF has also brought into service a light fire attack vehicle that carries a fire-fighting robot. Its size is compact and in an urban landscape, the robot can be sent into a situation with fires or hazardous chemicals and the robot can help to extinguish fires. This also helps us to save manpower. That’s innovation and technology and we are happy to share what we do. I am sure ASEAN countries as a whole, working together with the private sector, can upgrade our disaster response efforts.


  16. Secondly, I think there can be innovation in the way we work with our partners and the way we build community partnerships.We try to find new ways to reach out to as many partners as possible such as businesses, schools, community organisations. Equip them with the skills and knowledge so that they all become participants in the relief efforts to recover.


  17. In 2015 for example, SCDF introduced a mobile app
    - myResponder. This app alerts users when there is a potential cardiac arrest case nearby. The app also tells SCDF HQ who are the respondents to the case who are near the cardiac arrest victim. People who have downloaded the app can volunteer to be trained and we have trained many of them in first aid, how to respond and how to administer help to the victim before the ambulance arrives.Most of you would know that the first few minutes are vital even before the ambulance arrives. We, in Singapore, have had more than 28,000 registered responders and they have responded to over 15,000 cases using the app. This year, SCDF expanded the app to cover minor rubbish chute fires which can be found in our high-rise Housing Development Board flats. The fires in the rubbish chutes are a fairly common occurrence but they are minor. We try and train our people to deal with them. Our experience with the myResponder app shows that applied in the right way, innovation and technology, participation of the community, can yield very powerful results and not depend on just the emergency response forces.





  18. As I had said earlier, we would be happy to share our experiences. This is not an area where anyone has all the solutions. We all have to share our experiences and try and help each other. We will continue to take part in disaster risk management training with regional partners. We have programmes like the annual Senior Executive Programme in Disaster Management at our Civil Defence Academy, and so do others. We will also continue to organise this annual Dialogue to enable networks to be formed, encourage discussion and the sharing of expertise.


  19. We thank the AHA Centre and the ASEAN Secretariat for co-organising this event with SCDF, as well as the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation for supporting this Dialogue. Switzerland’s contribution to regional development is manifold and this is one of the significant ways that they are supporting this region. So we thank the Swiss Government, represented here today by the Ambassador, for their assistance as well.


  20. So I wish you a constructive and fruitful dialogue. Thank you.