Highland Towers: Lessons learnt from the disaster

Highland Towers: Lessons learnt from the disaster
Rescue workers at the site of a massive landslide at Bukit Antarbangsa in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The landslide crushed homes and blocked the only access road near the top of Bukit Antarbangsa. The devastated site is just hundreds of metres from the abandoned Highland Towers, which collapsed in a 1993 landslide.

MALAYSIA - Rescue agencies are today better prepared for any worst case scenarios as a result of lessons learnt from the Highland Towers collapse.

Fire and Rescue Department director-general Datuk Wan Mohd Nor Ibrahim said there were disaster management contingencies put in place to ensure coordination among all agencies.

Wan Mohd Nor, who was commandant in charge of training, was at the scene during the 1993 tragedy and witnessed this lack of coordination.

"The lesson I learnt is that management and coordination are vital to the success of any rescue work."

All disasters relief measures are now managed by the National Security Council (NSC).

NSC would issue an order called "Directive 20" to coordinate all agencies, which would include the civil defence and welfare departments.

"Each agency knows its role," he added.

Wan Mohd Nor said the tragedy two decades ago was a catalyst that transformed the fire department into a multi-skilled rescue organisation.

"We realised that we needed to move beyond our traditional role of fire-fighting to prepare ourselves for any disaster," he said.

"There is now greater emphasis on urban search-and-rescue and there is a specially trained elite team."

The Special Tactical Operation Rescue Malaysia (STORM) team comprises 140 personnel who are based in the department's headquarters located in each state.

"They can be mobilised to respond to an emergency as a single unit anywhere in the country within 24 hours," said Wan Mohd Nor.

He added that these units could also complement the 100-strong Special Malaysia Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (SMART), which was set up in 1994. SMART is a separate entity under the NSC.

The STORM team, for instance, was there during the country's worse accident, which claimed the lives of 37 passengers when a bus carrying 53 plunged into a 60m ravine near Genting Highlands in August.

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