Operation Lionheart, the Singapore Civil Defence Force's overseas contingent, is getting a boost to better assist disaster-hit countries.

The team will increase its personnel from 55 to 76. As part of this expansion, it will be able to include up to 12, instead of two, operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) who served with the SCDF.

This will strengthen the unit's capabilities as it can now call on NSmen who are civil engineers and doctors specialising in trauma and emergency medicine. The team will also be able to take with it specialised SCDF equipment to detect hazardous materials, such as toxic chemicals.

Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee revealed this yesterday as the guest of honour at a regional meeting of the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group, a United Nations body which deals with disaster response.

The annual event, which Singapore is chairing for the second time, started yesterday at the Equarius Hotel at Resorts World Sentosa. It involves representatives from 16 Asia-Pacific countries coming together to discuss policy issues and increase cooperation.

Swiss Ambassador Toni Frisch, global chairman of the group, said building up the ability of vulnerable countries to deal with disasters is a key aim.

He said: "We have to support them, and guide them, to build up their local, regional and national capacity in order to respond in a professionalway very quickly after disasters."

Operation Lionheart, made up mostly of SCDF officers and which is on standby at all times, has provided humanitarian aid to disaster-hit countries 13 times since being formed in 1990.

Their past missions include assisting in search and rescue operations after the 2011 earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand, when tsunamis hit Aceh in Indonesia and Thailand's Khao Lak in 2004, and in the 1993 Highland Towers collapse in Kuala Lumpur.