Despite its location in a region hard-hit by disasters of varying scale, the Republic of Singapore is somewhat insulated from natural disasters. The country is nominally exposed to earthquake, tsunami, and cyclones, but there is little historic data suggesting large-scale incidents caused by these kinds of hazards. The country is primarily exposed to flooding as a result of monsoon season rains. As part of its development as a society and economy, then, Singapore has steadily moved to reduce its vulnerability by building up coping mechanisms and proactively establishing adaptive frameworks and policies, particularly by addressing infrastructural weaknesses and inculcating a sense of public responsibility to respond to emergencies of all types, from community-wide flooding to individual medical incidents.
The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has shown that Singapore’s preparedness has not entirely protected the country from all hazards. Epidemics are a key area of concern where policymakers continue to develop plans. Moreover, anthropogenic hazards, such as industrial accidents, loom over this highly industrialized and developed state, and the potential impacts of such an accident – water contamination, air pollution, fires, and explosions – are a key concern.
For emergencies in Singapore, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is the lead agency with its subsidiary Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) the main incident manager. These agencies are joined in a whole-of-government process by health, information, policing, and other experts as required by each event. For responses outside the country, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs plays a key role as it manages bilateral and international organization communications and relationships that bear upon requests for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) in affected states. Most importantly, Singapore is a member-state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has its own policies, processes, and structures to respond to a disaster that strikes any member-state. ASEAN member-states’ National Disaster Management Organizations (NDMO) liaise via the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre). SCDF represents Singapore at the AHA Centre and is also the main agency that will respond to incidents that strike ASEAN neighbors.
It is not only SCDF that can deploy overseas to support HADR operations. The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) also participate in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping, peace support, and humanitarian missions. Of note is the Exercise Coordinated Response (Ex COORES) series that builds upon already expanding cooperation between the United States (U.S.) and regional allies. Ex COORES involves SAF’s Changi Regional HADR Coordination Centre (RHCC) and brings in USINDOPACOM’s Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance (CFE-DM) along with other militaries and international groups such as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, World Health Organization (WHO), and others.
The involvement of SCDF and SAF in regional and global HADR operations underscores the importance of government buy-in to coordinate and deconflict humanitarian responses that, in cases of large-scale disaster, involve many civilian and military organizations. UN Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination (UN-CMCoord) officers and processes facilitate dialogue and interaction between civilian and military actors and regional groupings – including in the AsiaPacific region – that have formed both to provide input to UN-CMCoord and to rehearse it.
Singapore is very active therein.