ASEAN Strategic Policy Dialogue on Disaster Management 2019 - Speech by Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Home Affairs

Published: 21 August 2019

Your Excellency Kung Phoak, Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN,


Ms Barbara Anna Gonzenbach, Chargé d’affaires a.i., Embassy of Switzerland in Singapore,


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


Distinguished Delegates,


Ladies and Gentlemen,


1. Good morning and a very warm welcome to the 5th ASEAN Strategic Policy Dialogue on Disaster Management (SPDDM).


2. The SPDDM is a signature event of the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management.This is the 5th run of the SPDDM, and I am glad to see that it continues to be a key platform for professionals and experts from different countries to meet, discuss and chart strategic directions relating to disaster management in the region.


Building Resiliency to Disasters


3. Our region had to deal with a series of natural disasters in 2018 –earthquakes in Lombok and Central Sulawesi; volcanic eruptions in Sumatra and Bali; super typhoon Mangkhut in the Philippines; and flooding in Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.


4. The adverse effects of climate change include the increased likelihood of natural disasters and extreme weather events. Apart from natural disasters, our region also faces non-traditional threats, including health pandemics, terrorism and irregular movements of people, which can precipitate a disaster. In the face of these threats and occurrences, both state agencies and non-state entities and responders that are dealing with the aftermath of these disasters need to be resilient.


5. What does it mean, however, to be resilient?


6. Resilience is about ensuring that relevant public services, such as healthcare, energy and water utilities, air, land and sea transportation, as well as security and emergency response services, continue to run even when disaster strikes.It involves equipping people with knowledge of the threat that disasters pose, and how to deal with them.


7. Communities and relevant stakeholders should be empowered, and have the capability to effectively mobilise available resources and established mechanisms, to deal with and – I cannot over-emphasise this – recover from a disaster as quickly as possible. Recovery is key to the spirit of the community, the sense of well-being.


8. Resilience means that we can return to normalcy in the shortest time possible.


Efforts to Enhance National Resilience

9. Let me take this opportunity to share with you Singapore’s efforts in building up our national resilience, in partnership with the community.


10. Spearheaded by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), our vision is to build “A Nation of Lifesavers”. We enable and empower the community to become “Community First Responders”, or CFRs, who are an integral part of an emergency-ready nation.


11. During an emergency, every second counts.CFRs are trained in key life-saving skills and essential emergency procedures, including basic fire-fighting, and evacuation methods and procedures.


12. For example, the “Save-A-Life” initiative aims to enhance first response by the community to cardiac arrest cases through a three-pronged approach.


13. Firstly, the “Hardware” to save lives must be available and accessible. We are installing Automated External Defibrillators, or AEDs, at public housing estates across the country. I think some of you know that about 80 per cent of our population live in public housing estates, so the installation of AEDs makes a difference to a large number of our population.


14. We are also working with transport operators to carry AEDs on board public transport, such as taxis. The drivers will be notified of a cardiac arrest case within 1.5 kilometers of their location, and can deliver the AED to the scene, improving the chances of survival for the victim. Because having the AEDs at fixed locations is helpful, but there will never be enough of them to cover every possible cardiac arrest case. So you need to supplement it with a moving force, and taxis can be mobilised to help.


15. Secondly, we need to ensure that the “Heartware” is in place. The community must be equipped with the necessary skill sets to respond to cardiac arrest cases.We provide training to the community in the “Triangle of Life”, which includes first aid, CPR and on the use of the AEDs, as well as basic fire-fighting skills. The “heartware” also requires the people to feel that they are a part of the solution, and want to chip in. But they can only chip in if they have the skills.


16. The third prong is the “Software”.We have developed a mobile application called “myResponder”, which utilises geo-location technology to alert CFRs of cardiac arrest cases or minor fires within their vicinity which they can then respond to quickly.


17. As of July this year, we have onboarded over 46,000 registered CFRs.Since the launch of the “myResponder” app in 2015, these CFRs had responded to more than 2,700 out-of-hospital cardiac arrest incidents and saved lives. It is 2,700 – really not a small number if you consider the size of our city and the size of our population. These CFRs did make a difference.


18. I would like to bring up the noteworthy example of one of our CFRs, Mr Rex Ang. He is a nursing student who had responded to over 20 cardiac arrest cases through the “myResponder” app. He even brings along his trauma bag when he responds to those cases. He is putting his skills to good use in the community, even when he is not on duty.


Volunteerism in Singapore

19. To achieve this vision of a Nation of Lifesavers, we do need a strong spirit of volunteerism amongst our people.I am pleased to share that this year marks 150 years of civil defence volunteerism in Singapore.


20. The first official Volunteer Fire Brigade was established in Singapore way back in 1869. We only became a Crown Colony in 1867 so this is two years after we became a Crown Colony. Today, volunteers continue to play a pivotal role in SCDF’s work. Volunteers from the Civil Defence Auxiliary Unit serve alongside our regulars in responding to fires and medical emergencies.


21. This strong spirit to serve extends to our young volunteers, who serve in the Civil Defence Lionhearter Clubs and National Civil Defence Cadet Corps. These youths are trained in essential life-saving skills.They also help to impart emergency preparedness knowledge and skills to their peers in schools, and to members of the public.


Expanding Volunteerism to the Region

22. In addition to enhancing our nation’s resilience, we have also put in place initiatives to expand our volunteerism efforts to the region. Local non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations in fact have played a significant role in supporting regional disaster management.


23. In particular, the Singapore Red Cross and Mercy Relief have been active in raising funds and providing humanitarian aid to countries affected by disasters.


24. Every year, the Singapore Red Cross conducts more than 25 overseas humanitarian assistance missions. Mercy Relief on its part has partnered SCDF in organising overseas disaster relief and rebuilding missions, involving youths from the Civil Defence Lionhearters.


25. During such missions, the volunteers taught emergency preparedness skills to the locals, including basic first aid and evacuation drills.They also assisted with building schools, shelters, and hygiene facilities. The volunteers have also helped to raise funds for the victims of regional disasters.


26. For example, Mercy Relief and our volunteers jointly organised a 10-Hour Cycleothon which raised over $16,000 for the Lombok earthquake victims in August 2018. This shows the sense of wanting to help and wanting to contribute. This is especially remarkable amongst the youths.


27. SCDF has since formalised collaborations with the Singapore Red Cross and Mercy Relief, through the signing of Memorandums of Interest in May this year. The partnerships will better enable Singapore youths and other volunteers to support post-disaster relief and rebuilding efforts in the region and beyond.


Achievements under the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management


28. Our region is unfortunately one of the most natural disaster-prone regions in the world.[1]Natural disasters are often transboundary in nature, with cross border seismic episodes, transboundary flooding and super storms impacting more than one country. Transboundary threats require transboundary responses.


29. ASEAN has put in place frameworks to enable these transboundary responses and collaboration. The ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response, or AADMER in short, for example, has been facilitating regional cooperation between ASEAN Member States since it came into force in 2009, about a decade ago.


30. The AADMER Work Programme has successfully put in place regional mechanisms for joint response and disaster risk reduction.These mechanisms includes the ASEAN Emergency Response and Assessment Team (ASEAN-ERAT); the Disaster Emergency Logistics System of ASEAN (DELSA); and the ASEAN Joint Disaster Response Plan (AJDRP).


31. Another key achievement under the Work Programme is the partnerships established with regional and international stakeholders. Notably, the AADMER Partnership Group (APG) forms the bridge between National Disaster Management Organisations and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). Through the APG, CSOs have cooperated with the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre) to develop and roll out preparedness programmes, and supported disaster responses in the region.


32. Our ASEAN dialogue partners, in particular, Japan, EU, China, Australia, Republic of Korea, New Zealand and the US, have played a critical supporting role by funding projects under the Work Programme. They have also provided valuable consultancy services, developed the training curriculum for disaster responders, and facilitated technology transfers to enhance the disaster monitoring systems in the region.


33. We have also successfully developed the ASEAN-United Nations (UN) Joint Strategic Plan of Action on Disaster Management with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which sets out our commitment to work together.


34. The AADMER Work Programme for 2015 to 2020 will be drawing to a close soon. It is timely for this particular meeting to take stock of the progress made under the Programme, discuss anticipated future challenges, and chart the way forward for how ASEAN can address these challenges collectively.

Singapore’s Strong Commitment to Regional Efforts in Disaster Management


35. Singapore, I can give you the assurance, is fully committed to contributing to regional efforts in Disaster Management. We will continue to organise the annual Senior Executive Programme in Disaster Management (SEPDM), to develop thought leadership in disaster management in the region.I am also pleased to note that this Senior Executive Programme will have its 5th run this year.


36. SCDF will also be organising the inaugural “First Responders Safety & Performance Symposium” in November 2019. The symposium aims to connect top-tier leadership of first response agencies, leading researchers, international volunteer organisations, and industry and technology leaders involved in first response. We hope to cultivate innovation, collaboration and capability development in emergency first response through this symposium.


37. We look forward to active participation by ASEAN Member States and our partners in these upcoming events.




38. Let me conclude. Effective disaster management requires multi-stakeholder collaboration before, during and after a disaster.ASEAN must continue to work closely with our partners - both within and beyond our region - to ensure we are more prepared for disasters, better equipped to respond to them, and that our people remain resilient in the face of adversity.


39. Let me once again express my sincere appreciation to the AHA Centre and the ASEAN Secretariat for co-organising this event with SCDF.I would also like to thank in particular the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation for supporting this Dialogue.


40. I wish everyone a very fruitful day ahead.Thank you.