September 19, 2005

Southeast Asia mounts first joint disaster drill

By Jahabar Sadiq

SERI KEMBANGAN, Malaysia (Reuters) - Rescue workers used
sniffer dogs and thermal-imaging devices to search rubble on
Monday in Southeast Asia's first coordinated disaster-response
drill, which simulated a building collapse after an earthquake.

Sirens wailed and beacons flashed as fire trucks and
ambulances raced in heavy rain to the Malaysian site of the
drill, which also involved rescuers from Brunei and Singapore,
fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations


"The execution of the exercise is conducted only by the
three countries," Erie Trisanty, an ASEAN official, told
Reuters by telephone. "But other nations will be there as

Spurred by the tsunami that devastated much of Asia last
December, ASEAN is boosting efforts to tighten cooperation on
disaster management across its borders. Its members signed a
pact on coordinating rescue efforts in Laos on July 26.

Last week, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand
launched air patrols of the Malacca Strait to deter piracy, in
another sign that Southeast Asian nations want to tackle
problems jointly to resolve decades of mutual suspicion.

"This is the first such ASEAN-level exercise after the
ASEAN agreement," said Nadzrin Siron, a security official in
the state of Selangor, where the drill was staged at a
construction site about 30 km (20 miles) south of the Malaysian

In the scenario, rescuers pretend the quake strikes before
dawn, with Malaysia declaring an emergency soon after daybreak.
Its deputy prime minister later calls on neighbours Singapore
and Brunei for help as the extent of devastation becomes

When simulated rescue operations began, about 180 Malaysian
rescue workers used shovels, crowbars, pick-axes, mallets,
pneumatic jacks, power saws and breathing equipment in their
search for survivors of the building collapse.

Later they were joined by 27 more from Singapore, and six
from Brunei. They "rescued" one person who had been hiding in
the rubble and were still looking for another. Several people
draped themselves among the rubble, pretending to be dead

A further step in the exercise involved a fire breaking out
in the basement of a nearby building, trapping 50 people.

"Apart from testing mobilization of cross-border assistance
and deployment of urban search-and-rescue capabilities, the
three countries will also take the opportunity to test their
own preparedness and internal coordination," ASEAN said on its
Web site.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations groups Brunei,
Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines,
Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

(Additional reporting by Clarence Fernandez)