Friday, November 20, 2009

Weather Information in complacent Singapore

Having spent a great part of my time in foreign land, I am used to very detailed weather forecast provided in other places. They have weather alerts such as color codes for typhoons and rain.

For example, if the rain that flooded Bukit Timah is to happen in Hong Kong, it will be Black Rain Alert. It would mean that schools will be closed and students will not be required to travel to school at all. The Alerts will be broadcast by the mass media.

There are times when the Hong Kong Observatory did not make timely and accurate warnings, the community and the mass media would have criticized the authority for the mistake made. This is because adverse weather may result in floods, strong winds and storms that could endanger lives, especially those elderly and young children. You can take a look at the various warnings that the Hong Kong Observatory would issue here.

The Alerts include very hot weather warning because many elderly cannot take heat. It also warns those who are outdoors to take extra precautions during hot weather (normally 33 degrees and above). The system of information provision in Hong Kong is geared towards public safety and interests.

Maybe the authorities in Singapore do not think that weather information or adverse weather alerts are important to public safety. However, if the information about the heavy rain is announced along with the relevant alerts that warrant the closure of schools, those students who were trapped in the flood at Bukit Timah would not need to risk their lives walking in the flood. Furthermore, it would help to alert the elderly not to step out of their houses during this period.

Are we becoming complacent? Or just that our government is so used to the way they manage information? Or that our government simply don't take citizens' interests at heart?

Some may take such issue as "small issue". It is just weather information, no big deal. But the truth is, our government has been keeping a lot of information out of citizens' reach. Every information seems to be "national secrets". The PAP government has been calling out about "Open Society" for so long but yet it seems that the way they handle information is rather opaque. Most of the time, Singaporeans have to rely on foreign sources to tell us how much GIC and Temasek made or lost instead of our very own government.

From the look at the way they manage weather information, we could see the same attitude or simply worse attitude. It simply shows that they do not really have public interests at heart, even though they have been crying out National security and public interests in defense of secrecy of many vital information.

I guess it has to be our fault, the citizens' fault again. If we read the newspaper reports here in Singapore about the floods, they will just exclaim this is an extraordinary flood, worst situation in 50 years, caused by high tide and heavy rain etc etc. But no Singaporeans, no reporters have ever question whether the government could do better in providing adequate information and warnings to avoid citizens risking their lives in the flood. Whether the government should send out early warnings and have schools closure, cancel classes and asking schools to disallow students to travel back home if they were already in school...etc.

No, nothing was mentioned about the responsibility of the government in providing timely warnings. Just reports on how students were seen traveling through floods and some fallen into drains etc. Just excuses about why PUB should not be blamed for the flood as they have done so much drainage work in the past. Every reports you read is about why the government is not to be blamed for the flood but never about how things could be managed better.

This is in sharp contrast to a place with true freedom of speech and expression like Hong Kong. If this happens in Hong Kong, all the commentators in radio talk shows will start criticizing the Hong Kong authorities for not taking precautionary actions and giving the right alert warning. Hong Kong reporters will start to question about the relevant authorities in their efforts of improving the drainage system. The Hong Kong Observatory would have come out and apologized for not giving the right alert warning. The government authorities will start to respond to the queries on the drainage improvement works...

Well, this is just Singapore. The tightly controlled SPH and Mediacorps will not question their bosses up there, would there? However, I am kind of disappointed that no Singaporeans on the net have raised questions on whether the government should have ordered the schools to cancel the classes and adverse warnings cum advice should be issued over the media prior to the floods.

Singapore has spent huge sum of money on many world class weather forecast systems. I believe they could at least provide warnings 3 hours in advanced for adverse weather condition, if not earlier. The problem is that they have not set up the proper alert warning system in place to cope with erratic weather conditions.

I have heard over the radio while driving about the possibility of floods about half an hour before the heavy rain came. Well, but how severe is the conditions? The mere mention of the possibility of floods is just not enough. We need to know whether it is just heavy rain or very very heavy rain. Should our children go to school? or return from school under such heavy rain?

I hope the NEA should take my criticism and suggestion seriously. Weather forecast alone is just not enough. You have to make proper judgment and issue relevant alert warnings to the people for them to take necessary precautions or even enforce closure of kindergartens and schools in Singapore whenever it is needed. Even for hot weather forecast, a certain alert level will enforce warnings to schools to cancel most outdoor activities and such warnings would be useful for many people, like the army, in taking adequate precautions to avoid heat injuries. In Singapore, proper lightning alerts should be issued to warn Singaporeans about staying in open areas. Such lightning warning would be useful for those construction workers whom may work in places without proper lightning protection.

There are so many areas that NEA's Meteorological Services could improve upon the way they provide crucial weather information to the public. I hope they would seriously look into this suggestion of mine for the sake of REAL PUBLIC INTERESTS.

Goh Meng Seng


Vincent Sear said...

I would agree, geologically Singapore is in no risk of typhoons or earthquakes. However, that doesn't mean no risk at all. People have died in rainstorms because of taking things for granted and unprepared.

cy said...

i think NEA is afraid that if they issue warning and nothing serious happens, it looks like they are crying wolf. so, the "safe" thing to do is just issue a safe statement of possibility of floods.

another possibility is that they really don't know abt what will happen, didn't yacoob say it is a "1 in 50 years event" that they couldn't plan for. actually,he had used the same excuse 3 years ago during the east coast flood if he remembered.