Book on engineering feats that transformed Singapore launched

Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Heng Chee How (centre) launching the book together with IES President Edwin Khew (left) and chairman of the book committee Mervyn Sirisena (right).
Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Heng Chee How (centre) launching the book together with IES President Edwin Khew (left) and chairman of the book committee Mervyn Sirisena (right).ST PHOTO: LIN ZHAOWEI

SINGAPORE - During the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) crisis in 2003, a team of engineers and researchers from the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) and ST Electronics risked their lives to set up data collection systems in hospitals.

Working against a tight deadline, the engineers had to also conduct trials and collect data for the development of an Infrared Fever Screening System, which could screen large groups of people to control the spread of Sars.

Mr Tan Yang How, who was then division manager of the Sensor Systems Division at DSTA, said a rudimentary prototype was developed in less than 36 hours, but the team required more data to fine-tune its performance.

These units, which were later deployed at immigration checkpoints, served as Singapore's first line of defence against the spread of the respiratory infection, added Mr Tan, now president of the DSTA Academy.

"With the system, it alleviated the load on medical healthcare personnel from having to conduct manual fever screening, significantly reducing the number of staff needed to screen passengers of each arriving flight from six to two."

The risks borne by the engineers are among feats captured in a book titled "Engineering a First World - 50 Feats that Transformed Singapore" launched by The Institution of Engineers, Singapore (IES) on Saturday (April 7).

The book recounts the untold stories of engineers who addressed Singapore's various needs over its first 50 years, from the arduous task of cleaning up rubbish from the Singapore River to being experts in membrane technology during the development of NEWater.

Mr Tan Lay Beng, vice president of operations at Stelop, which is part of ST Electronics, was among those involved in the development of the screening system during the Sars outbreak.

"Little was known about Sars then, not even sure how the disease was transmitted," he said, adding that the team had to work under a cloud of uncertainty.

Mr Tan said that the book highlighted such challenges faced by engineers.

"In our case, we had to do our part - both as engineers and as Singaporeans - to help the nation overcome one of the worst epidemics that had hit the country," he added.

Mr Edwin Khew, president of IES, said Singapore's engineers had answered the nation's call in various areas, from sanitation to housing.

Their work "has essentially transformed Singapore into a first-world economy" and raised living standards for Singaporeans, he said.

Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, Heng Chee How, who attended the book launch at the National Library Building, thanked the engineering community for their dedication in building Singapore.

The book, priced at $48, can be purchased through IES. It will also be distributed to schools, junior colleges, institutions of higher learning and public libraries.