Malaysia should adopt a safety culture like Japan in light of the rising threats caused by climate change and terrorism, say experts.
"When a disaster occurs, the people on the spot are the first responders, and they are usually from the community. What they do or do not do will determine the effectiveness of the response and the rescue and relief effort," says former director-general of the Fire and Rescue Department Datuk Dr Soh Chai Hock, stressing that this is one area to look into when reviewing the country's disaster management.
"The more prepared communities are, the better they can deal with emergencies and disasters. It will help reduce accidents and loss of lives," Dr Soh adds, pointing to the disaster-resistant Japanese.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on Monday said that Malaysia would conduct an in-depth study of the Japanese model for dealing with disasters, specifically its flood mitigation efforts.
In Japan, "disaster education" has boosted community awareness and emergency preparedness, and they hold regular emergency drills for the people, says Dr Soh.
"We can look at how Japan does it. If you involve the community, people will feel ownership for the emergency response plan. They will not panic and know what to do in a disaster or emergency."
In the recent floods that ravaged the east coast, some 200,000 people were displaced. According to National Disaster Committee chairman Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim, many residents had refused to evacuate their homes and be relocated to the designated shelters.
Centre For Environment, Technology and Development Malaysia (Cetdem) chairman and founding executive director Gurmit Singh agrees that an early warning system is only effective if it is heeded by the people.
"People need to be more aware and alert of the early warning system and move out immediately once the warning is issued.
"So, other than regular drills, we need to have a more effective evacuation plan with clearly marked areas where people can go to and the location of the shelters all structured in," he says, stressing that the community also need to take the initiative to prepare for the floods and any other disasters instead of just waiting for the authorities to do something.
Mercy Malaysia president Datuk Dr Ahmad Faizal Perdaus believes the collective psyche and mentality of the community need to be changed.
"We are very far away from being like the Japanese who take it upon themselves to be aware of disasters and prepare for them.
"The Government needs to impart information and collaborate with NGOs and the private sector to conduct programmes that make Malaysians aware that we are responsible for ourselves, our families and communities to be more prepared for disaster," he says.
Dr Ahmad Faizal emphasises the importance of ensuring that everyone in the disaster-prone areas is connected to the early warning system."We need better connectivity between the different levels, from the national to the state and the individual level.
"This is where we can collaborate with the private sector and maybe we can partner with the telcos," he says.
"They can play a role along with TV and radio stations to communicate to the public warnings of any emergency."