Singapore has proposed hosting a regional crisis command centre that would help co-ordinate governments' efforts after major natural disasters, the city state's defence minister said.
"We were obviously struck over the last decade by how many disasters there were" in the region, said Ng Eng Hen, citing earthquakes, tsunami and typhoons that cut a swathe of destruction from the Philippines to Japan.
"We recognised in the first critical 24, 48 hours, it is actually very difficult for the affected country to be able to set up a C2 [command and control] centre, for the very reason they're the ones hit," the minister said at an Asean meeting on Thursday in Hawaii.
With communications knocked out, governments at the centre of a natural disaster were often "overwhelmed" and did not have the ability to manage international offers of help, he said.
"In the discussion, we realised what was really needed was a crisis centre that was stood up all the time, which of course could be scaled up [as needed]," he said.
At the Asean gathering in Honolulu, defence ministers welcomed Singapore's proposal to host the crisis centre at Changi naval base, Ng said.
The agenda for this week's Asean meeting, focused on improving co-operation for humanitarian assistance, has taken on new importance in the wake of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Malaysia has come under fire over its handling of the search effort for the jet, which disappeared with 239 people on board after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8.
Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel praised Singapore's proposal for the crisis centre to handle future natural disasters, which are expected to increase in frequency and scale due to climate change.
"This could be an important venue for nations in the region to co-ordinate military responses to disasters and it's an idea that we're going to pursue," Hagel said.
The idea is to "make a coherent picture for everyone to see", Ng said. "We evolved a concept, we call it 'plug and play'.
"We set up terminals, you bring in your systems, you give the information you feel comfortable with.
"We take all that information, fuse it and then pump it out. It's worked quite well."