Commissioner Peter Lim, Singapore Civil Defence Force,
Mr Alan Loh, Chairman, National Fire and Civil Emergency
Friends and partners of the NFEC
Good evening to all of you.
It is my pleasure to be here tonight, to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the National Fire and Civil Emergency Preparedness Council, or NFEC.
The Beginnings of the NFEC
Singapore has undergone dramatic changes since the NFEC was inaugurated in 1986. In the 1970s and 1980s, industrial development was taking place rapidly in Singapore. Skills-intensive industries and subsequently, knowledge-intensive industries were steadily replacing low-skilled labour-intensive industries. These brought with them new challenges in fire and safety requirements in complex new industrial premises which are increasingly automated.
At the same time, urban development was progressing at a blistering pace, propelled by rapid economic progress and the demand for new and better housing by a more affluent population.
Emergency authorities were confronted not only with new structural challenges, such as much taller buildings; they also had to provide effective coverage for a Singapore with more densely populated centres distributed across the island.
This called for a re-evaluation of Singapore’s fire-fighting strategy. It was not possible for fire safety to depend only on a reactive strategy –with the Fire Service merely responding to fires in increasingly complex and challenging scenarios. Even a huge increase in response capability would not have been sufficient to improve safety and survivability levels. Fire and safety needed to be addressed at source, and become everybody’s responsibility, and not just that of the Fire Service. There was a need for people to step up and play an active role to enhance fire safety, so as to protect their own lives and property.
Against this backdrop, the National Fire Prevention Council (NFPC) was formed in 1986 to engage Singaporeans on fire safety. The emphasis was on prevention, as well as quick intervention to snuff out fires when they are small, before they grow out of control. Initiatives were rolled out to educate the public on safety procedures when handling flammable materials, how to deal with different types of fire, as well as basic first aid. The main objective was to lower the occurrence of fire incidents due to ignorance, poor planning and lack of basic safeguards.
The NFEC today
Today, the operating landscape has changed. On top of the challenges I have outlined, security threats posed by terrorism and other non-conventional threats have become more salient.
In 2007, the NFPC expanded its role beyond fire preparedness, to instilling a greater sense of emergency preparedness among our community and business stakeholders. In line with this broader mandate, the council was renamed the National Fire and Civil Emergency Preparedness Council - NFEC.
Being well-prepared is crucial when incidents happen. The NFEC has therefore been working with its partners to draw up outreach programmes relevant to different target groups, including children, households and industries. Let me give some examples of NFEC’s good work. In April 2010, NFEC collaborated with SCDF to come up with the Junior Civil Defence Emergency Handbook for all Primary 4 students. More recently, the NFEC, the SCDF, and People’s Association embarked on the Civil Defence Ready Homes Programme to educate the public about the importance of emergency preparedness at home, and help them assess their own preparedness through a self-validation checklist.
While much has been done to ready our nation for emergencies, we are faced with a paradox. The safer we are, the more likely we are to let down our guard and be lulled into complacency. The Bukit Ho Swee fire in 1961, the Robinsons’ Fire in Raffles Place in 1972, and the Spyros shipyard disaster in 1978 are all etched in the memories of an earlier generation. The challenge now is how to devise effective yet innovative ways to engage and capture the attention of the public, and motivate them to keep up their emergency preparedness level. We will for example, have to embrace new channels of communication to target the ‘New Media’ generation.
SCDF is also developing an Emergency Preparedness Learning Centre. Targeted to be launched in January 2013, the centre will use the latest simulation technology to offer experiential learning in emergency and life saving skills. I hope that this will appeal especially to the younger generation who are more receptive to such interactive and experiential learning.
Let me conclude by congratulating the NFEC on its excellent work over the past 25 years. I thank all past and present members for your hard work and inventiveness. I would also like to extend my appreciation to our business and community partners for their unwavering support.
I am heartened by the increased fire and emergency awareness and readiness in our community, and the many examples each year of neighbours helping each other during a fire – to evacuate and provide first aid, to minimise the danger or contain the fire in those initial moments prior to the SCDF’s arrival on the scene to deal with the fire definitively.
Preparing for emergencies helps us engender a greater sense of togetherness as we learn to rely on each other, and realise that we need to work together in an emergency. It makes us stronger as a nation.
I trust that all of you will continue to help in our efforts to “ready (our) nation”, as reflected in the title of the NFEC 25th anniversary commemorative book which will be launched tonight.
I wish all of you a pleasant evening. Thank you.