“Survival of the fittest” is one of the main concepts behind the Darwinist school of thought. As the challenges of tomorrow grow in unpredictability and scale, organisations need to evolve and take advantage of the tools at their disposal.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) has taken steady steps in this direction. It’s looking at “how to prevent incidents from happening in the first place, rather than just getting better tech to fight the fire,” says Teong How Hwa, SCDF’s Deputy Commissioner of Future Technology & Public Safety.

GovInsider spoke with Teong to find out how SCDF is using tech to stay one step ahead of their challenges.

Smart emergency response

“The use of technology is no longer an option” for Singapore’s civil defence, Teong says. Only the best will do when it comes to saving lives.

The force unveiled a new generation of ambulances earlier this year, equipped with solar panels that allow vehicles to be charged on the go. This provides a more reliable energy source for the multiple electronics on ambulances, Teong says.

With the extensive data collected by the ambulance, SCDF can activate emergency vehicles more accurately. This can help teams adjust where and how their manpower is deployed, he adds.

SCDF also analyses data to identify potential fire hazards before they happen, Teong says. The force collects data from CCTVs and building management systems to identify anomalies such as frequent power trips.

The new Punggol smart fire station which is expected to open later this year will incorporate the newest innovations that SCDF is developing.

Many of these tools will help to simplify routine processes at fire stations. For instance, IoT sensors will help to support maintenance of the emergency vehicles, helping firefighters closely monitor the status of equipment such as fuel and foam tank levels, The Straits Times reported.

SCDF is also looking to equip paramedics with data that can help them make informed decisions. This includes smart glasses, which can give them access to real-time advice from medical experts with teleconferencing. A medical network will also be integrated with ambulance systems, allowing paramedics to quickly access critical medical information about patients.

Safer for rescuers

“At the end of the day, the technology must be able to serve the officer in the mission”, Teong says. The safety of their staff still remains a priority for the force.

SCDF is deploying robots into the heart of fires to support firefighters. That brings the “extinguishing medium as close to the fire source as possible, without endangering our people,” he says.

An example is the Pumper Firefighting Machine, which sports the ability to climb stairs and propel a high-pressure water mist, reported GovTech.

It is also important for officers in the field to be able to use these tools well. SCDF has established an Ops-Tech department of officers to help bridge frontliners with the engineers from the Home Team Science and Technology (HTX),  Teong shares. They use design thinking to create simple, effective tools suited to officers’ needs.

Other countries have also looked into unmanned robots to reduce the safety risks for their frontliners. In the 2019 Notre Dame fire, a fire-fighting robot named “Colossus” was deployed to help lower the temperatures inside the church – likely saving the lives of many firefighters, reported the Washington Post.

Apart from robotics, SCDF will be rolling out smartwatches to all their frontliners by 2022, according to Channel News Asia. These wearables will allow officers to track the heart rate of their trainees and identify signs of overexertion, creating a safer training environment for cadets.

Citizen frontliners

SCDF has a vision to build a “nation of lifesavers,” Teong says. The force is the “second line of response” after the community, and SCDF hopes to equip citizens with life-saving skills as well.

The force recently partnered with ride-hailing app Grab to train drivers to save lives. It has outfitted 50 vehicles with portable defibrillators that can save heart attack patients outside of the hospital, and trained 64 Grab drivers to use the equipment, reported The Straits Times.

They may be mobilised through SCDF’s MyResponder App, which has been in operation since 2015. When an emergency is reported, the app notifies nearby users and guides them to provide basic on-site assistance.

The force is looking into ways they can improve the tool, according to Teong. The app is currently “demand-driven” as it only alerts users when there is an incident.

His team hopes to also make it a platform for citizens to interact with one another and share their experiences as a life-saver, he explains.

By taking full advantage of the power of tech, civil defence organisations around the world will help reduce the degree of risk for valiant frontliners. Tech innovations will also shift their focus to prevent incidents before they happen.

Photos from the SCDF.