Sunday 14 September 2014

Regional relief coordination centre opens in Changi

It aims to help ASEAN militaries respond to disasters more quickly
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 13 Sep 2014

A NEW disaster relief centre in Singapore has begun operations, with the aim of enabling militaries in the region to get to where they are needed quickly when disaster strikes.

The Changi-based outfit acts as a single contact point which can activate a response team to reach ground zero within 48 hours of a natural crisis.

It will also provide militaries and civilian aid agencies with timely and accurate information, ensuring aid is delivered soonest.

"Militaries have unique capabilities such as strategic airlift and are on 24/7 operational footings, able to rapidly mobilise and deploy," said Second Defence Minister Chan Chun Sing yesterday.

The facility, called the Changi Regional Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Coordination Centre, aims to cut out duplication and red tape during relief efforts in South-east Asia.

"It hopes to do this by providing partner militaries with a comprehensive situational picture before, during and after a disaster that highlights, among other things, both the needs as well as the pledges," Mr Chan told more than 100 delegates at the end of a two-day conference on disaster relief.

The facility, which is based in the Changi Command and Control Centre, was mooted by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in April at the ASEAN-United States Defence Ministers' meeting in Hawaii.

Sharper military responses during emergencies are important, especially in a part of the world which has been prone to natural disasters - as could be seen in the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 and Super Typhoon Haiyan last year, among others.

The crucial task in the immediate aftermath of a disaster is to stabilise the country and save lives - a job which the new centre can enhance, said Singapore Armed Forces' joint operations director Desmond Tan.

"What we want to do is to set up a permanent structure that will allow the militaries to have a single point of contact, a focal point... so we can reach the disaster area faster and more effectively," said Brigadier-General Tan. Previously, military coordination has been "ad hoc", he added.

But the centre will respect the decisions of each country, he stressed. "It doesn't command or decide what nations should provide for the affected nation... It's still the prerogative of the affected country," BG Tan said.

The centre will be manned by only SAF officers for now. Their regional counterparts are expected to join next year when it goes fully operational. The Philippines, for instance, is looking to station a liaison officer at the centre.

The commander of the Philippine Army's infantry division, Major-General Jet B. Velarmino, who led relief operations in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan, welcomes the centre.

He said having a central military-led agency will result in better communication among militaries and civilian agencies.

"Instead of talking to different militaries, it can talk to one outfit... It makes things a lot easier," he said.

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