Our common language: Saving lives

Report and pictures by: 
Benjamin Seetor

Every year, 500 people in Vietnam die from natural disasters such as floods and tropical storms, according to the United Nations (UN) Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. So, it was apt that the country hosted a regional disaster emergency exercise last week. The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) sent eight officers.

The backdrop for the Asean Disaster Emergency Response Simulation Exercise (Ardex), from Oct 21 to Oct 24, was a typhoon in Hanoi.  A collapsed three-storey building, with 30 trapped live “casualties” inside, was the challenge facing SCDF rescuers.

Racing against time, the team had to cut through concrete and metal to free the “victims”. Using ropes and stretchers, the team freed them and evacuated them to the first storey. Around 15 “casualties” were rescued this way by SCDF in the tense 80-minute scenario. The rest were rescued by teams from Thailand, Brunei and Vietnam.

This was one of four scenarios carried out during the exercise. Other scenarios were a rescue in a flooded area, search and rescue in chemical incidents and setting up a field hospital.

While only a simulation, the sight of toppled buildings in Vietnam is not far from reality, as the central coast of the country had only recently been hit by Typhoon Nari, resulting in severe floods. Eleven people were killed and five are still missing.

As South-east Asia is one of the most natural disaster-prone regions in the world, the expertise gained during the exercise will prove invaluable in SCDF’s future overseas operations.

Singapore is regarded as having one of the best urban search and rescue teams in the region. It was the first country in Asia-Pacific to attain the highest level of recognition by the UN International Search and Rescue Advisory Group.

Said Captain Foo Yiing Kai, 35, a Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (Dart) commander: “Back home, the training ground is very familiar, so we know how to approach the situation. But Vietnam is a new terrain for us.”

There have been four Ardex exercises since 2005 and it is conducted by the Asean Committee on Disaster Management to improve the cooperation and coordination among Asean countries in disaster emergency response and relief.

Rescue teams from Vietnam, Brunei, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines were involved in the latest exercise. The men from these countries were eager to learn about the high-tech tools that SCDF brought along for the exercise, such as sonar devices and height rescue equipment.

Vietnam People’s Army Colonel Dang Van Cat, 52, field commander for the Ardex exercise, said: “Our purpose is to rescue people, but we do it in different ways. This is a great opportunity to exchange experiences among all the countries.”

The article related to these pictures was first published in The New Paper on October 29, 2013.