Published: 02 November 2018
Mr. Alan Loh, Chairman of the National Fire and Civil Emergency Preparedness Council
Commissioner Eric Yap
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. Good evening and thank you very much for inviting me to join you for this occasion. I am very encouraged to see so many people from all walks of life joining in our collective effort to promote fire safety and emergency preparedness.
2. Indeed, every one of us can play a part. We can do so in three main areas - in the community, at workplaces, and in schools.
In the Community
3. First, we are all part of a wider community, the most salient being our immediate neighbourhood. When an accident happens, our neighbours will often be the first to respond on site to render assistance. Indeed, in times of crisis, we count on those who live in close proximity, even when your friends and family are trying to come to your aid.
4. And this way of thinking actually has got good examples, one being the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. We know that the terrorists launched a coordinated series of gunmen and bombing attacks. The targets included several cafes and restaurants. Who were the first responders to the victims? Actually, it was passers-by that gave first aid, blankets and comfort. They had stepped up, even as the paramedics and security forces were rushing to the scene. These passers-by’s actions helped save lives, and enabled the community to bounce back quickly after the attacks.
5. Just imagine if these passers-by were unable or unwilling to act. So it is quite clear that we must inculcate a similar spirit of community response here because it says something about the society. And this is what the SGSecure movement aims to achieve - to prepare the community so that if and when a crisis hits, we are not caught off-guard, unable to react.
6. Our local community effort is important and it is spearheaded by grassroots leaders and the Community Emergency and Engagement Committee (C2Es). They have been working hard on the ground to impart important life-saving skills and knowledge to residents.
7. The C2Es’ efforts contribute in two ways. First, the C2Es reach out to raise awareness and to get fellow residents involved. They do the hard work of conducting house-to-house visits, and they recruit Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT members. This is not always the easiest invitation to make. You are asking people to commit their time and their energies to be CERT members, which means their commitment is not just to be a member, but they will also have to respond in times of emergencies. So they are making quite a big commitment. And our C2Es are the ones that painstakingly try to get people to join them. So this formation of emergency preparedness-related interest groups sounds easy, but takes a lot of effort.
8. At the same time, the C2Es help to build capacity by sharing knowledge and skills within their community. They conduct fire safety inspections at the common areas of residential premises, organise block drills, and encourage residents to participate in the Constituency Emergency Preparedness Programmes, or CEPPs. It is again a lot of effort.
9. For all their commendable efforts, tonight, we are going to honour four C2Es by conferring on them a new Platinum Award. So I want to congratulate all C2Es and in particular these four C2Es that are receiving the Platinum Award. But mainly, the recognition and appreciation go to all our community leaders. A very big thank you, and I hope you will continue your good work to keep our community safe and resilient.
10. Besides our neighbourhoods, we must be ready to respond when an emergency situation arises at our workplace. And of course, we spend a lot of our time at work.
11. One particular study I will share with you concerns the September 11 attacks. Subsequent to the attacks, one particular study found that only nine per cent of those working in the Twin Towers evacuated as soon as the alarm was raised. The vast majority - 91 per cent - did not evacuate immediately. What were they doing? They were waiting for additional information or they were carrying out tasks such as shutting down their computers and going to the toilet. It just did not occur to them that something very serious had happened. They went about it as though they had time. And I think we now know that in many instances, those crucial few extra minutes was the difference between life and death.
12. While quick and successful evacuation in emergencies depend on swift individual response, another crucial factor is the presence of a well-trained safety team. There was another study of the September 11 attacks that found that among those working in the Twin Towers, a third who successfully evacuated the building did so under the direction of co-workers who were also the safety officers. Those safety officers were generally described as calm, directive and knowledgeable about what to do. In other words, they helped to ensure that people were able to systematically get out. And that made a crucial difference to many of the evacuees.
13. In Singapore, the NFEC promotes vigilance in the workplace through evacuation drills. I also want to make special mention of the owners and managers of commercial and industrial buildings who take part in annual Mass Fire Evacuation Drills (MFED), because without your participation, in fact it would be quite difficult to get this going. During the drills, Community First Responders are also put through their paces. They help with the evacuation and apply improvised first aid to help “casualties” prior to the arrival of SCDF.
14. This year, nearly 300 premises and 60,000 people took part in such drills. This is one of the strongest participation we have had in recent years. We should build on this momentum to further enhance emergency preparedness at workplaces so that the awareness is there, and also the skills are available.
15. We also hope to step up our partnership with the schools to inculcate a strong sense of emergency preparedness among students. They should be equipped with basic life-saving skills, such as first aid, CPR, the use of AED and basic firefighting, so that they, too, are ready to respond in emergency situations.
16. I am told that Ong Meng Kiat, who is a Civil Defence (CD) Lionhearter from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, is one of those who has put life-saving skills to good use. In February this year, Meng Kiat received an alert via the myResponder app about a rubbish chute fire in a HDB block near him. He rushed to the block to help the residents put out the fire. Meng Kiat was presented with the Community First Responder Award. I hope his community spirit will spur others to similarly step forward.
17. Our young people can also be ambassadors for fire safety and emergency preparedness within their own circles of influence. Over 1,000 active Junior Civil Defence (CD) Lionhearters are doing exactly that. Junior CD Lionhearters work with their teacher advisers to share with their friends and schoolmates what they have learnt. They set up emergency preparedness booths during recess or school events, where they teach first aid skills and fire safety tips to their schoolmates.
18. I thank the CD Ready School Award recipients for your enthusiasm. Keep up the good work!
19. Finally, I would like to congratulate all the award recipients this evening. Your efforts are important in raising the level of fire safety and emergency preparedness in our communities.
20. I would also very much like to thank the NFEC for 32 years of outstanding work and commitment by all the council members. Without you, we will be less prepared as a society and we can only guess how many more people would have suffered severe consequences from the civil emergencies we have faced over the years.
21. I wish you all a pleasant evening. Thank you.