Saturday, June 22, 2013

PSI: Realtime indications of air quality needed during haze crisis

Singapore's defence and security services can detect incoming air attack, hostile warships and submarines as well as land-based threats.

The island nation has a comprehensive Public Warning System which is designed to alert residents of impending threats (mainly air and artillery strikes).

But when it comes to smoke from Indonesian forest and plantation fires that is now causing the haze that has blanketed Singapore, the multi-spectrum Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is a bench warmer.

When facing a clear and present danger to our health and well-being (i.e. the haze), we could do better giving Singaporeans better situational awareness.

Indeed, Singaporean residents unplugged from cyberspace have no indication of air quality.

Net savvy individuals who arm themselves with phone apps for hourly PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) updates from the National Environment Agency (NEA) have to contend with three-hourly PSI readings which, by the admission of officialdom, fluctuate widely.

There is a disappointing disconnect between what Singaporeans need to know and an apparent effort by officialdom to put on a stoic business-as-usual, keep calm and carry on mentality.

With the amount of money Singapore has spent in wiring up this island, it is hard to imagine why NEA cannot provide realtime PSI readings.

From a medical and academic perspective, the logic that 24-hour PSI readings are better suited for "calibrating" national responses is hard to argue against.

Those numbers may be fine for the head, but not the heart.

In building a case that Singaporeans fixated on minute-to-minute (i.e. realtime) readings would be akin to "chasing one's tail" (Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Today newspaper, Page 2, 21 June 2013), government spin doctors are missing the forest for the trees.

When Singaporeans look out of their window and see landmarks disappearing at an alarming rate, we need advice and some immediate indication to help us plan our course of action.

What does a PSI of 401 Hazardous mean?

The NEA escalation ladder for its PSI readings indicate action items (stay indoors etc etc) but could do better explaining the health implications of the various health advisories. In other words, what is the impact on your health when the PSI is Unhealthy, Very Unhealthy, Hazardous?

Should we allow mum to walk to the supermarket to buy groceries? Is it safe for junior to go to the playground? Can our loved ones still go for their evening walk?

These are everyday issues heartlanders have to deal with minute-to-minute.

They are judgment calls we have to make, go/no-go decisions that are better served by being appraised of the situation with figures we can trust showing the situation right now, not backdated averages of what had been in hours past.

The information world abhors a vacuum.

In the absence of clear guidance from NEA, what do we resort to as our guiding light?

We probably use guesstimates of the air quality based on what we can see ("Oh, that building was visible when PSI was xxx points, so I guess it must be around xxx points now"), anecdotal advice from self-professed weather experten, noise from the Internet.

If there is some technical hurdle to sharing realtime PSI computations, then please say it, explain it to Singaporeans to help us help you manage public morale.

At the present time, such morale isn't great.

Use of SAF assets in combatting the haze


Anonymous said...

For once I anticipate yr next post. Technology and wealth is to help mankind and not to instill fear n superiority onto others. I only hope that post will no be abt flexing our inflated ego.

Iamdammthefrustratingonelahdeh said...

How abouts go get some aircraft and douse the fire?

Super heavy 747 available, also firefighting system for C130. Thai Air force have trained crews.

Instead garhment talk only.

Action talk louder than words.

Reality minister of environment should be fired (no pun) This is not a new phenomnon what and should oready be anticipated.

SAF can fight imaginary foes but no use if cannot tackle this kind of thing. Got 10 C130 for what? Borrow American National Guard equipment and pass water lah please.

Roppongi kid said...

Put radar on HDB block no use if cannot detect fire.

Can see smoke but do nothing also no good.

Talking only.

Roppogi Kid said...

Oh and change title to "Real Time Action Needed." please.

"Full Spectrum force" still coming up short.

Muthi Dreams of Devan Nair said...

I think we want something like that and quick.

Seeding for rain is a bit up in the clouds.

Also anything out there available, Russian BE200, IL76, French Cl415, Thai C130, US National Guard's expertise.

We should not be afraid to call on outside help. This is the country's health and well being at stake and is akin to a national emergency.

Watch opposition fail to make capital of this in all honesty government fiasco.

What is the point of gas masks from Goh Chok Tong's private collection?

HauPenYo said...

Muthi, don't know meh? You think Zjeng hu so stupid ah?

Gavment clever mah, let Indo make smoke then later sue for damages in civil (International) Court lah.

Of course not asking Indo to pay becuz will be too maluating so instead ask to join develop Riau as Special Economics Zone.

Then ask for Batam and Bintan for lease/singapore legal jurisdiction.

Second hand smoke small price to pay for interst of nation development mah?

Muthi Also sometimes Dreams of Chandra Bose said...

My friend,

That is too clever for government lah deh.

That can only be a cunning Nair plan.;)

I stick to buckets.

Seriously can organize ASEAN emergency response conference in Brunei but taking so long to fix this problem.

Enemy want to smoke Singapore out so easy, just burn Marijuana and burn in our direction, how to function I ask?

Anonymous said...

So I hear quite a number of the companies doing illegal burning in Indonesia are headquartered in Singapore. True?

If so, why hasn't anything been done all these years? Smells of negligence.

This I presume should be within the realm of legal warfare but certainly has due respect to Defense related matters.

Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure how much our C130s can do with regard the gentleman/or woman making the remark about passing water.

I don't think we have the training or expertise to operate aerial fire fighting tactics at present.

As some others mentioned, may need outside expertise and quick.

OTOH, it would surely be wise for us to consider setting up at very least a regional quick response firefighting set up after all these years.

Seems slightly myopic that we have not done so.

thegovernmentlobang said...

PSI is Political Sakah Index.

In reality Bo Liow.

What is the point of telling us the hazard level of the smoke. Obvious.

If there is real political will, they should just pay for the (short term at least) remedy.

Air planes with the firefighting capability is a great idea. I believe some countries like Israel have used Russian and other government airplanes in such emergencies.

Why Singapore can't do the same?

Anonymous said...

This recent smoke out throws up the inefficiencies in our government. We have been getting doses of smoke from almost 20 years ago till now and there is no contingency plans when PSI hits certain levels. I cannot imagine when we are faced with more serious problems. I can safely say there were a bit of finger pointing the last week but not much assurance from our MIW, where was the leadership when it is much expected.

Anonymous said...

Civil Defense force have a lot of wayang equipment but don't seem to have enough gas mask for the population.

This calls into question exactly how "Total" our defense capabilities are.

We are still highly vulnerable to CBR attack where we should have had the resources in place by now to at very least reduce such simple effects of haze from Indonesia.

Also in question will be our early warning system (meteorological) and our threat assessment analysis in this regard.

Seems to be a systemic failure which needs to be rectified.

Another area which may help could be proper shelters in HDB blocks with adequate medicine/provisions, air con and importantly air filters.

Anonymous said...

"Inefficiencies" is a polite word.

Opposition are too "inefficient" in thought to challenge the government properly.

Citizens have to bear and suffer, take another one for the cause.

Singapore's Number One Foreign Talent said...

I am taking Singapore's number one defense asset. SIA

Flying to Bali to work from remote till the haze clears.

So sue me.

Anonymous said...


You sure you want to waste money and go to Bali? What if like someone says they start burning MaryJane? Stay at home, shake leg, High, Shiok sial.

Anonymous said...

Save money on rokok.

Basketball put all those horrigible pictures on the packet for mouth cancer.

Why not put Danger 400PSI instead?

Anonymous said...

The government is always right.

Albert Pong said...

IF this is some sort of assymetrical warfare tactic by a none state actor (with surreptitious State sanction), we look rather impotent.

Highlights our vulnerabilities even with major defense purchases in recent years.

Anonymous said...

My NSR this year kenah cancelled. Woohoo!!!

AunitieCannotTakeIt said...

Every year got haze but nothing done.

If this is private sector, someone sure kenah fire already.

Anonymous said...

Smells like the same person trolling the comments
Section... Criticizing the Sg gov for incidents and happenings in Indonesia. Talking about fire fighting planes and fire fighting equipment to fight fires in another nation altogether is just asinine, childish and shows how intelligent the commenter is... Please grow a brain and come up with something constructive first...

Anonymous said...

The haze has been annual for twenty years. If the government could not foresee a high PSI scenario- and this is only the second worst season in history- it is guilty of gross oversight.

If contracts and project schedules are disrupted by the haze, it is because the government has failed to encourage the nation to consider the reality of an annual occurrence. The haze is no different from a flood, heat wave or natural disaster in consideration of the total impact on health and the economy. Properly accounted for, disruption to contracts and projects would be cheap compared to individual healthcare costs which are unquantified, potentially lifelong and which citizens are left to face alone.

The government is zealous in policing everything from water consumption to dog ownership- areas where its interests are concerned. From expensive and cramped public housing to public transportation and now the haze, citizens pay the costs of its indifference.

It shows that our expensive and capable civil service are efficient, but are merely instruments of the top leedership who make all the decisions. They are incentivised to perform to measures and not to results. In cases where the top leedership is disdainful of suggestions from outside, all the wondrous talents of our civil service are for nought. This is why the civil service has acted with an impotent and reactive attitude towards population and infrastructure issues of the government's own making. Unfortunately, the government cannot be removed due to the electoral system and engineering of the electorate to perpetuate the government's stay in power.

This goes way beyond the government's failure to provide free masks and its failure to ensure its own stockpile is a source of profit to private retailers.

Anonymous said...

I don't half mind firefighting planes now to help solve the problem.

Doesn't seem to be any better ideas. Cloud seeding without clouds?

Asking Indonesian government to fight a massive fire with 100 firefighters on the ground and two helicopters sounds ludicrous.

Singapore has the money to throw at the problem.

That the Indonesian government's relation is strained is more down to the fact that our leadership are more civil servants and do not have the tact or imagination to appropriately respond to the situation without stepping on toes.

Just saying.

Anonymous said...

I fully concur.

Asking Indonesians to fix a problem without giving them the 'assets' to do so is a waste of time.

As far as we should be concern, we should leave Indonesia with as little wiggle room as possible.

Malaysia is also involved so there is a sort of extra kaki to help push the Indonesian govt

Now the Indonesians probably are not going to do anything bc they would step on the toes of businesses likely owned by the same political elite.

Therefore they will hide behind a lack of capability.

Singapore has no capability at the moment to firefight aerially. This is a lack of foresight on the part of our leaders.

However, we can easily hire planes and expertise in 'a coordinated effort' with the Indonesian govt to fight the haze (with Malaysia as well)

but putting pressure on them without providing them the means to do it is simply a public relations exercise at best on our part.

The government is content to put our people at health risk and wait for the rains to hopefully come soon.