SINGAPORE: Singapore is stepping up its capabilities to handle chemical attacks as such threats become more pervasive. Defence research organisation DSO National Laboratories has developed a tool that uses weather data to inform authorities' decisions to move the public away from toxic plumes, and a rapid diagnostic kit that can ease the load on hospitals in the event of an attack.
The new technologies were showcased at the 8th Singapore International Symposium on Protection Against Toxic Substances (SISPAT) held on Tuesday (Mar 21).
In the event of a chemical attack, the Hazardous Material (HAZMAT) Decision Support Tool gathers data from environment sensors, weather stations and wind fields to detect what chemical components are in a toxic plume and predict how they might travel.
“This information will help responders to first mitigate the source and second, to evacuate the people who are potentially under threat,” said Dr Ma Yifei, programme manager at DSO National Laboratories.
Another tool is the portable Scentmate Kit, which can detect nerve agents and screen up to 96 people within an hour, compared to 16 hours in a lab setting. “Using this kit in a timely fashion can actually filter out those people who don't need medical attention, so that the hospital's limited resources can be reserved for those people (who do),” said Tan Yong Teng, senior defence scientist at DSO National Laboratories.
DSO National Laboratories is looking to deploy these tools for commercial use within the next three years.
Chief defence scientist at the Ministry of Defence, Quek Gim Pew, highlighted that the use of chemical weapons has increasingly shifted from rogue states to transnational terrorist organisations, whose operations are “typically small and unobtrusive”, making detection and monitoring of chemical weapons “difficult”.
Mr Quek also pointed to the growing use of toxic industrial chemicals (TICs). While these are relatively less toxic than chemical warfare agents, these industrial chemicals are often readily available in large quantities, he said.
“When used in sufficient amounts, TICs can achieve the same mass hysteria and health effects as chemical warfare agents ... (TICs) are not as highly regulated as the chemical warfare agents or their precursors. This is a weakness that the terrorists will continue to exploit to aid their nefarious purpose.”
Mr Quek said Singapore will have to remain vigilant to guard against such threats. “We have to accept the fact that CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives) agents will be ever-present as a borderless threat, fuelled by globalisation and the Internet.”