The Futurists

Is Singapore ready for violent tremors?

If you search for fix-its only after nasty surprises arrive, it may be too late. Singapore has leapt into the world of trend-spotting with more centres dedicated to finding ways to reduce its vulnerability to future shocks in today's highly unpredictable world. This is the second of a five-part series on experts in Singapore tackling the future today.

What if an exceptionally powerful earthquake occurs off Indonesia and strong tremors reach Singapore? Can highrises built on soft soil withstand the impact? 

When geologists tell us to expect a strong earthquake off Sumatra within the next few decades, we should not sit on our hands, says Dr Oliver Markley. 

Singapore can set up seismic monitoring systems that will alert the authorities to protect critical infrastructure and protect people who may be affected when buildings collapse or tidal waves arrive them. Anticipating and and making preparations may not prevent the earthquake, but that might go some way in minimising the effect on people and property. 

The American futurist’s job is all about preparing for tomorrow’s problems today by creating probable solutions.

Trained as an engineer and social psychologist, Dr Markley, 77, was a Senior Fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) until May and conducted a futures studies course for students of the think tank’s Masters of Science (Strategic Studies) programme. The programme is part of Singapore’s efforts to raise a crop of experts who can anticipate, analyse and recommend courses of action for an unpredictable and turbulent future.

This year, the Nanyang Technological University set up the Complexity Institute to do multi-disciplinary work in complexity science, with its researchers looking for hidden connections between seemingly unrelated problems.

To study social perceptions and behaviours in Singapore, the Social Lab was started last year at the Institute of Policy Studies.Two other centres in the civil service do futures work: the Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning unit set up in 2004, and the Centre for Strategic Futures created five years later. Problems studied include future trends in governance, climate change and economic survival.

Read the full interview with Dr Oliver Markley in The Straits Times today.