The hour-long fire that crippled essential services from banking to health records retrieval across Singapore was caused by the use of an unauthorized blowtorch by a SingTel staff when performing maintenance works. It sparked a slow-burning fire that went undetected as a result of further fire safety lapses and human error.
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Here is the full statement from the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore:
The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) has completed its investigations into the service disruption caused by a fire at the Bukit Panjang Exchange on 9 October 2013. The fire damaged optical fibre cables and affected telecommunication services in the northern and western parts of Singapore, including fixed voice, broadband Internet access and mobile services. The service disruption also affected close to 270,000 telecom and broadcast subscribers, including residential users, some government agencies, businesses, financial institutions, and multi-application kiosks providing e-commerce and payment services. The affected services were fully restored on 17 October 2013.
IDA has found that SingTel, CityNet and OpenNet had not fulfilled their respective obligations, such as to provide sufficiently resilient telecommunication systems and services, and to restore services to affected end users as quickly as possible when the service disruptions occurred.
As a provider of fixed line telephone services, SingTel was found to have breached its obligations under the Code of Practice for Telecommunication Service Resiliency (Service Resiliency Code) for the severe disruption to its services from 9 to 14 October 2013.
Based on IDA's investigations, IDA has concluded that the service disruptions were due to a fire in the cable chamber of the Bukit Panjang Exchange, which was most likely caused by hot works carried out by SingTel on its cables on 9 October 2013. IDA also found that the service disruptions could have been prevented had SingTel enforced its standard operating procedures and work safety practices. These included but are not limited to a lack of proper supervision when hot works were carried out at the Exchange.
IDA also noted that SingTel had certain business continuity management (BCM) policies and processes in place, and that SingTel had implemented these during the incident. However, SingTel's BCM did not have specific contingency plans to address serious service outage situations of such a scale as the Bukit Panjang incident.
IDA additionally observed weaknesses in SingTel's network and practices, such as: (i) having outdated work practice of using lead sealants in the cable chamber which required hot works to be carried out; (ii) a single point of failure in the Exchange where cable rings were temporarily rerouted due to construction work in the vicinity of the Exchange; and (iii) wrongly assuming that fibre paths were diverse for certain enterprise customer services without fully testing them. This is in spite of the fact that SingTel's network architecture is generally in line with international standards.
Accordingly, for failing to meet its obligations under the Service Resiliency Code, IDA has imposed a financial penalty of S$6 million on SingTel. Mitigating factors were taken into consideration by IDA in determining the financial penalty. These included SingTel providing affected users with alternative services during the incident and its offers of compensations to such users after the incident.
As the owner and manager of the Exchange, CityNet did not meet its licence obligation as a Facilities-Based Operator to maintain and operate telecommunication systems, which included the cable chamber in the Bukit Panjang Exchange, in an adequate and satisfactory manner. In particular, IDA found that there were procedural lapses on CityNet's part, such as a lack of robust approving process for hot works in the Exchange, and the failure to ensure the safety of the work area and compliance with proper operating procedures. These lapses contributed to the incident. Accordingly, IDA has imposed a financial penalty of S$300,000 on CityNet.