Singapore proposes regional crisis center
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (2nd L), Secretary General of ASEAN Secretariat Le Luong Minh (R) and Defense Minister of Singapore Ng Eng Hen (L) April 2, 2014 at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Honolulu, Hawaii - by Alex Wong
"We were obviously struck over the last decade by how many disasters there were" in the region, said Ng Eng Hen, citing earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons that have cut a swathe of destruction from the Philippines to Japan.
"We recognized in the first critical 24, 48 hours, it is actually very difficult for the affected country to be able to set up a C2 (command and control) center, for the very reason they're the ones hit," said the minister, in Hawaii for an ASEAN meeting.
With communications knocked out, governments at the center of a natural disaster often are "overwhelmed" and don't have the ability to manage international offers of help, he said.
"In the discussion we realized what was really needed was a crisis center that was stood up all the time, which of course could be scaled up (as needed)," he said.
At the Association of Southeast Asian Nations gathering in Honolulu, defense ministers welcomed Singapore's proposal to host the crisis center at Changi naval base, Ng said.
The agenda for this week's ASEAN meeting -- focused on improving cooperation for humanitarian assistance -- has taken on new importance in the wake of missing Flight MH370.
Malaysia has come under fire over its handling of the search effort for the jet, which disappeared with 239 people on board after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8.
Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel praised Singapore's proposal for the crisis center to handle future natural disasters, which are expected to increase in frequency and scale due to climate change.
"This could be an important venue for nations in the region to coordinate military responses to disasters and it's an idea that we're going to pursue," Hagel said.
The idea is to "make a coherent picture for everyone to see," said Ng.
"We evolved a concept, we call it 'plug and play,'" he added.
"We set up terminals, you bring in your systems, you give the information you feel comfortable with....We take all that information, fuse it and then pump it out. It's worked quite well."
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