How to blow up a network and go for lunch

SINGAPORE - A SingTel worker used the wrong blowtorch and started a fire that crippled networks across Singapore in October. Then, he went off to lunch, an inquiry revealed yesterday.

The inquiry panel also exposed how badly equipped the telco was to deal with the fire at the SingTel Internet exchange in Bukit Panjang.

The room where the fire occurred had only two fire extinguishers. It had no water sprinklers.

But the mess started with human errors.

A worker borrowed a contractor's blowtorch to soften the lead-based sealant on manholes in the cable-filled room. He had forgotten his SingTel-issued one. The blowtorch generated about 800 deg C of heat, almost double the 450 deg C the SingTel one emanates.

As per standard procedure, the worker deactivated the smoke detectors to prevent false alarms, finished the job and went for lunch. He forgot to reactivate the alarms, said inquiry chairman Bobby Chin, who added that the sealant was smouldering when work was done at about 1pm.

This, presumably, ignited the blaze. The fire at the facility affected services at DBS branches and ATMs, along with 60,000 SingTel home broadband users. StarHub and M1 home fibre-broadband services were also disrupted.

SingTel will replace lead-based sealants with a mechanical sealing system that does not require heating. The panel recommended that fire-fighting equipment be installed in all chambers and that SingTel monitor its fire-detection system centrally.

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