Saturday, April 6, 2013

Korean crisis may test Singapore's National Emergency System (NEST)

Job done for the day, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) sergeant glanced at his work station one last time. What he saw on plasma screen displays would tell him the fastest way to get home on his motorbike because the multiple screens indicated the traffic situation all across Singapore island in real-time.

With his route home plotted out in his mind, the sergeant waved goodbye to his relief shift before making his way past the vault-like steel doors, then up tens of metres by stairs and elevator to surface level where he emerged in an ordinary looking parking lot.

What it concealed deep beneath ground level was far from ordinary.

This was Basement 3 of one of the SCDF's most prized facilities: an underground command complex that is at the heart of the city-state's National Emergency System (NEST).

If things get hot on the Korean peninsula, Singaporeans entrusted with NEST are under no illusions the Lion City's national emergency drawer plans may be put to the test.

Trouble in North Asia may disrupt or delay trade movements by air and ship, and may catch import-dependent economies wrong-footed unless they have stockpiles of essential items.

The NEST checklist reads like a doomsday survivalist's manifest, but upsized enormously to protect and save Singapore's population of more than 5 million should the worst happen, whether due to natural or man-made calamities.

Food security, energy security and the continued running of essential services such as fresh water, electricity and transport are among items addressed under NEST. And these are more than just paper plans.

Several times a year, key building blocks of NEST are put to the test under a nationwide initiative titled (somewhat unimaginatively) MONOC. It stands for Maintenance Of Nest Operational Capability. These emergency preparedness exercises bring together professionals from Home Team agencies like civil defence, police and immigration, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) as well as companies that manage essential services to test out emergency plans.

What may have sounded paranoid during peaceful times now look like sensible precautions that toughen up our island nation during uncertain times.

The security of rice - a food staple for Singaporeans of all races - is an example of the extent that the Singapore government is prepared to go to protect the wellbeing of its people. Warehouses at several locations around Singapore ensure that Singaporeans will have more than two months' supply of the grain, even if food ships cannot reach our shores. If rationing is imposed, that rice stockpile should stretch several weeks longer.

The energy stockpile, sufficient to keep our island's generators humming for a double-digit duration in days, is insurance against any disruptions in fuel supply for our power stations.

In the SCDF's Basement 3, each peacetime shift of around 10 operators is kept busy with or without the crisis in Korea or (name your regional hotspot).

Over a span of 24 hours, Basement 3 would have answered around 1,000 phone calls for emergency services. For all their effort, about 5 per cent of the calls turn out to be false alarms.

Every call is logged, tracked and assessed to ensure the service standard of getting a fire appliance out on the road within one minute and to the scene of emergency around eight minutes later can be maintained, round the clock, all year round.

Here's where the traffic monitoring desk pays dividends. It allows SCDF despatchers to activate the fire station or smaller fire post closest to the scene of incident. It also indicates every fire hydrant in the vicinity and is smart enough to alert despatchers when multiple calls for the same emergency, observed by different people, flood the 995 emergency number.

The command and control system was developed by Singaporean defence engineers from Singapore Technologies Electronics more than 10 years ago under Project Cubicon.

It gives SCDF crisis managers an island-wide view of Singaporens in trouble, day and night, with the help of multiple wall and desk mounted screens.

Cubicon dutifuly logs and displays every request to put out a fire, every call for an ambulance crew, all reported road traffic accidents and displays movements of all SCDF emergency vehicles as these life-savers are tracked by satellite.

Basement 3 is built for peace, troubled peace and war. The hardened facility, encased underground in reinforced concrete and steel to protect it from air attack, has more office space than is required for peacetime situations.

Another part of the room is responsible for more than 250 sirens that form Singapore's Public Warning System (PWS) to alert Singaporeans to tune in for emergency broadcasts, warn of impending air/missile attack or sound the all-clear.

One the first day of every month at precisely 12 noon, every siren sounds a 20-second melody. To the uninitiated, this melody may not mean anything. But civil defence engineers at strategic parts of the island use the chime to test if sirens are ready for duty.

The PWS also has a long genesis. It was commissioned more than two decades ago in 1991 and builds on plans laid in the mid-1980s that recommended several measures to harden Singapore against air raids.

To keep the network running 24/7, engineers are rostered to service around seven PWS sirens every day. Crisis planners have also built in several fail-safes to ensure that the sirens will blare when they have to. Each siren is powered by electricity from the national grid and has a back-up battery. The system to sound the siren comprises landlines and radio back-up.

This long-term approach to national emergency preparedness planning could be better appreciated by the average Singaporean as we live in a country better prepared than most for crisis situations.

It is a wake-up call one hopes Singaporeans will not be forced to heed.

When that wake-up call arrives, NEST will be ready. What about you?


Anonymous said...

Singapore counts on SCDF!!!

Anonymous said...

The best agency we can count on to protect us. This article really allow Singaporeans to sleep in peace regardless what happen tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

I honestly hope that the SCDF remains forward looking and has been since the 1980s as the article portrays it to be, unlike the other government ministries and agencies which has now shown that they have been on auto-pilot and laid back mode such that past policies put in place have been carried to extremes or not updated to keep pace with the times.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, we are counting on SCDF for our survivial!!!

Anonymous said...

Government need to give more recognition to SCDF on national platforms such as National Day Parades. Will be interesting if SCDF get to be part of the Guard of Honour at NDPs; not many members of the public get to see SCDF personnel in their Number 1 in public.

David Boey said...

In terms of brand awareness, the Singapore Armed Forces appears to have a stronger image than SCDF.

This is not surprising, indeed expected, when one considers the amount of money SAF spends every year on recruitment ads. Ask any big ad agency and you'll learn that the MINDEF/SAF account is one of the most lucrative and sought-after accounts.

For the amount of risks the Home Team shoulders every day - many times without even one word of thanks from the people they save -they deserve better recognition.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Armed Forces always have bigger budget & more manpower. But who respond first in the event of any incident or disaster? Who risk their lives to brave fire? crawl into collasped tunnels? Suspending at heights?

Will anyone risk their lives to go into such lengths to rescue a stranger?

Unknown said...

The SCDF goes softly but far and deep and wide. And as been said, still runs the water where the well is deep. There is no need for too much publicity. The backbone of infrastructure Singapore remains hidden from public view. This is survival Singapore. This is one meritocracy supreme. I salute thee SCDF.

Anonymous said...

Where is the place? Can anyone share?

Harro said...

Good job boys and girls! Keep it up.

Harro said...

@David From a brand awareness perspective the SCDF is generally positive responding to the public. The key negatives is when a perception of mis-management or corruption begins to take a hold.

Such situations like a speeding vehicles, or damage caused by SCDF vehicles to other vehicles, and of course the all famous current court-case.

But SCDF is not alone in this. It is impacted by the larger perceptions of mis-management by other larger agencies, and the PAP.

Soo said...

Why are we spending so much on this? There is no war or threat to Singapore!! Who is the enemy? No one will harm Singapore!! Might as well spend those money on those unemployed.

Anonymous said...

Soo successfully made by far the most redundant comment..

Anonymous said...

Off topic: RSAF is buying an additional 12 F-15SG (for US $1.5 billion) while we wait for the F-35B (expected for sale to SG in 2018). Is the current security situation in SEA so tense that we can't wait till 2018 for more fighters?

Anonymous said...

Why are we spending so much on SCDF? Singapore got fire meh? got typhoon, earthquake or hurricane? Got building collaspe? Tsunami? We should spend the money on giving people, subside car instead!!!

Anonymous said...

Of course is the govt job to protect us otherwise why we pay so much taxes?

Anonymous said...

This latest F-15SG deal is really too much.

Anonymous said...

Just throw 1 grenade Singapore will sink!!!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 11 April 2013

Who the hell are you?
Making this sort of comment !

By the way, a grenade did go off in a public before and Singapore did not sink.

Are you aware of that?

Lim said...

Do we need to spend money on all this? What threat are we facing? Who is invading Singapore? If Singapore is kind to others, others will not attack us.

Anonymous said...

Not I say but this is what is shared in Temasek Review. Go & read if you are still a green horn.

Anonymous said...

To protect who? Foreigners? Rather good expensive system!!!

Anonymous said...

@Lim 08:14 "if singapore is kind to others, others will not attack us"... Oh my goodness. Either a not very good troll, or sheer complacency/idiocyat work...

Anonymous said...

Thank You for helping me solve a long standing curiosity for me, namely the melody that sounds at 12pm on the 1st of every month! Should have thought of that.

On another note, seriously some of the comments here are really ignorant and naive. Its not so much about what will happen but whether Singapore is prepared and poised to deal with any national incidents.

Seriously, save the money on SCDF to subsidise cars? Really? *roll eyes*

Anonymous said...

Anon of April 11, 2013 at 8:34 PM

You said that "a grenade did go off in a public before and Singapore did not sink."

Are you referring to an incident around 1994 in Jurong? What exactly happened in that incident?