20 Nov 2018

Wrap-Up Speech of the Civil Defence and Other Matters Bill – Speech by Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Home Affairs

Introduction

 

  1. Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank Members for speaking in support of the Bill. They have raised salient issues, which I will now address.

     

    Public Warning Sirens and Other Civil Defence Emergency Devices

     

  2. Mr Christopher de Souza asked whether the Public Warning System will be upgraded to incorporate detection capabilities. The answer is yes. SCDF is studying the feasibility of installing devices that can detect hazardous materials in the air, such as chemicals or radiological substances. SCDF will provide more information at a later stage.

     

    Access to Fingerprints and Other Identifiers of Patients

  3. Next, I will address the questions on SCDF’s access to the personal information of EMS patients which Mr Melvin Yong asked about, specifically how the information will be accessed, and how it will be protected.

     

  4. SCDF will equip the ambulance crew with a mobile device that can scan the patient’s fingerprint and check it remotely against the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority’s (ICA) database. If there is a match, the patient’s NRIC or FIN number will be provided to obtain the relevant information from the National Electronic Health Record system.

     

  5. SCDF is keenly aware of the need to safeguard patients’ information.

     

  6. First, access rights will be strictly controlled. There will be SOPs to specify the officers who can access the information, as well as the circumstances under which they are authorised to do so. The information that the officers can access is restricted to what is necessary to provide timely and effective care to the patient.

     

  7. Second, robust measures will be implemented to reduce the risk of unauthorised access. Examples include measures against hacking; encryption of information; password protection; measures against multiple unsuccessful log-ins, such as the auto-lockdown of the account and the auto-wipe of data stored on the device; and regular purging of data from the devices.

     

  8. Third, a robust logging and audit regime will be put in place. Access to ICA and MOH’s databases will be logged, and regularly audited. Any person found to have abused his access to the information will be severely dealt with. Persons who commit offences under the relevant legislation, such as the Computer Misuse Act, will be charged in Court.

    Powers and Protection

  9. I will now proceed to address questions on the powers and protection for SCDF officers and authorised individuals performing civil defence operations. Mr Louis Ng and Ms Joan Pereira sought clarification on the circumstances under which the powers and protection will apply.

     

  10. I would like to assure Mr Ng that the proposed powers are scoped tightly, to cover only those necessary for SCDF’s operations. Such operations include not only Emergency Medical Services (EMS), but also rescues.

     

  11. On a day-to-day basis, SCDF conducts a broad range of rescue operations, in response to industrial and traffic accidents, HazMat incidents and suicide attempts. In all these operations, SCDF officers sometimes have to enter private premises without permission, remove objects that impede operations, evacuate endangered persons, close roads and shut off utilities supplies.

      

  12. Mr Deputy Speaker, the protection from legal liability is not unconditional. It will apply only when the officer concerned has acted in good faith and with reasonable care. Let me explain what these two terms mean.

     

  13. An officer will be judged to have acted in good faith, if his actions were coherent and consistent with the intent to save lives, prevent harm to health, or protect property.

     

  14. He will be judged to have acted with reasonable care, if his actions were of a standard commensurate with his skill and experience for that particular situation.

     

  15. I would like to assure Ms Joan Pereira that as long as SCDF officers and authorised individuals act with integrity and competence, they will have no difficulties meeting the bar of “acting in good faith and with reasonable care”. The Fire Safety Act has a similar protection for SCDF officers who perform fire-fighting operations.

     

  16. SCDF will equip its officers with the competence to make the necessary decisions during operations. SCDF will continue to put its officers through rigorous training and constantly refine its SOPs, to guide their actions during operations.

     

  17. That said, we are also cognisant that no training or SOP can cover the full range of operational contingencies. Hence, any evaluation of whether an officer has acted in good faith or reasonable care will also take into account whether his decisions were reasonable under those circumstances - for instance he may be working with incomplete information and dealing with severe time constraints.

     

  18. Mr Murali Pillai asked whether the proposed protection will apply to SCDF as an institution. Mr Deputy Speaker, the protection extends to SCDF as well by virtue of Section 6 of the Government Proceedings Act.

     

  19. The Government remains liable for wrongful torts committed by SCDF officers if the SCDF officer did not act in good faith and without reasonable care.

     

  20. In the English case that the Member has cited, it appears that the English ambulance service had been negligent. In the event of negligence, the protection from liability will not apply to both the officers concerned and to SCDF as the condition of “acting in good faith and with reasonable care” will not be met.

     

  21. SCDF is funded by public monies, and has a responsibility to safeguard them from frivolous claims, which the protection will help to prevent.

    Medical Examinations and Treatments

  22. Next, I will address questions on the proposal to make it a service offence for SCDF and Police officers not to comply with orders to go for a medical examination or treatment.

     

  23. Mr Melvin Yong was puzzled as to why the relevant provisions cover dental treatments. I would like to clarify that these dental treatments will only pertain to those required by the SCDF and the SPF.

     

  24. This will ensure that the provision is comprehensive. Currently, we do not have any required dental examination or treatment. But we cannot rule out the possibility of such requirements in future. This will all be in support of operational readiness. A similar provision requiring dental examinations and treatment can be found in the existing SAF Act.

    Unauthorised Production, Distribution or Use of Uniforms and Insignia

     

  25. I will move to the unauthorised production, distribution and use of uniforms and insignia. Mr Melvin Yong asked whether there were cases where ill-intentioned individuals had impersonated Home Team officers. The answer is yes.

     

  26. There have been a few cases. For example, in 2014, SCDF received feedback concerning four scammers. Dressed in uniform and identifying themselves as SCDF officers, they had demanded to see the fire certificates of several shops at Jalan Bukit Merah, and tried to sell fire extinguishers to the shop-owners. In 2016, a man wore a uniform and posed as an ICA officer, to steal contraband cigarettes.

     

  27. Mr Melvin Yong expressed concerns about the impact of the amendments on retailers who are currently selling SCDF, ICA and Prisons uniforms. He asked whether it is possible to allow the retailers to continue selling the items, albeit only to bona fide Home Team officers.

     

  28. Mr Deputy Speaker, the impact on retailers is not expected to be significant at all. When SCDF informed retailers of plans to prohibit the sale and distribution of the items some months ago, the retailers told SCDF that they did not have large inventories of SCDF, ICA and Prisons items, as the sales volumes for such items were low. This is because most SCDF regulars and NSmen prefer to purchase their items from SCDF’s own e-mart.

    Community Partnership

  29. Mr Christopher de Souza cited SCDF’s vision of building a “Nation of Life-Savers” by 2025, and asked how SCDF intends to realise that vision.

     

  30. Mr Deputy Speaker, the “Nation of Life-Savers” vision stems from a simple fact - that the key to dealing with many emergencies is timely action. Timely action will allow an incident to be managed before it becomes more serious.

     

  31. SCDF has a high standard of emergency response. But it will still take around eight to 11 minutes for fire engines or ambulances to reach any location. In comparison, a family member or member of the public in the immediate vicinity can provide more immediate assistance.

     

  32. Hence, in 2015, SCDF launched the Save-A-Life initiative to encourage community first-response to cardiac arrests in the HDB heartlands. Under this initiative, SCDF is installing automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in HDB blocks island-wide. SCDF also launched the myResponder app, which alerts first-responders of cardiac arrests in the vicinity and where the AEDs are located.

     

  33. Mr Speaker, we are on track to complete the installation of AEDs at the HDB blocks by March 2019. SCDF is now exploring the extension of the Save-A-Life initiative to private condominiums.

     

  34. In April 2018, the myResponder app was also enhanced, to alert first-responders of minor fires in the neighbourhood. This has allowed the first-responders to help SCDF put out rubbish chute fires, or provide photos and videos of the fires to SCDF for better sense-making.

     

    Protection for Members of Public

  35. During a state of emergency or state of civil emergency, SCDF officers have the powers to direct any member of public to render assistance to save lives. Mr Murali Pillai asked whether SCDF officers should be allowed to exercise such a power for day-to-day civil defence operations.

     

  36. Mr Deputy Speaker, the power the Member cited is a significant one. The refusal to comply with an SCDF officer's direction is a criminal offence. An offender is liable for an imprisonment term of up to three months and a fine of up to $2,000.

     

  37. The power is necessary during a state of emergency. In such a situation, Government resources are likely to be stretched. Under such extraordinary circumstances, SCDF must have the levers to mobilise any civilian resources available, including members of the public.

     

  38. This is not the case for day-to-day civil defence operations.

     

  39. For SCDF's vision of a "Nation of Life-Savers" to be feasible and sustainable, we want members of the public to come forward willingly as community first-responders, and not because they are obliged to.

     

  40. The question then is whether enacting a Good Samaritan Law will assuage potential concerns that individuals may have about rendering assistance to others, unintentionally causing harm and being liable for criminal prosecution or civil claims, as Mr Murali had noted.

     

  41. Sir, I would like to clarify that protection from civil liability is already available under the common law to a Good Samaritan, when he acts out of necessity and with the care that can reasonably be expected of a person having his skill and experience. As for criminal liability, this generally requires malign intent which will not apply to a Good Samaritan who acts in good faith.Nevertheless, we will study this issue further to see if specific legislation is warranted.

     

    Volunteers

     

  42. Mr Melvin Yong asked whether SCDF has enough volunteers in the Civil Defence Auxiliary Unit, or CDAU, and whether first-generation Permanent Residents (PRs) can be allowed to join CDAU.

     

  43. SCDF started the CDAU in 2006. CDAU caters to individuals who are keen to serve as SCDF volunteers in functions such as fire-fighting, EMS and public education. The number of CDAU volunteers has grown from 18 in 2006 to 300 currently.

     

  44. I would like to inform Members that CDAU is also open to PRs. At present, we have ten volunteers who are first-generation PRs. We certainly welcome more people to sign up.

     

    Voluntary Extension of Service for SCDF NSmen

     

  45. Mr Deputy Speaker, this Bill will also allow NSmen to volunteer to serve in SCDF beyond the statutory age in the Enlistment Act. Mr Louis Ng asked about the difference between the roles of volunteer ex-NSmen and of CDAU volunteers, and the circumstances under which volunteer ex-NSmen will be paid.

     

  46. There are two key differences. First, volunteer ex-NSmen serve in NS units, mainly in specialised roles such as Rescue Battalions and Civil Defence Shelter Battalions. CDAU volunteers, who may not necessarily have served NS with SCDF, perform a broader range of roles such as fire-fighting, EMS and public education instructor.

     

  47. Second, there is a difference in the manner in which they are called to serve. In the case of a volunteer ex-NSman, he can be called up for up to 40 days per work year, mostly for in-camp trainings. In terms of scheduling their volunteer duties, CDAU volunteers are given the flexibility to work around their career and family commitments. They typically serve at least 16 hours of duty per month.

     

  48. Similar to NSmen, volunteer ex-NSmen receive service and make-up pay when they are called up for duty. They may also receive additional allowances as key appointment-holders.

     

    Fire Alarm Systems in HDB Blocks

     

  49. Mr Louis Ng asked whether MHA will consider mandating central fire alarm systems in HDB blocks.

  50. Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to clarify that there are no differences in the Fire Code requirements for fire alarm systems for private and public residential buildings - both do not require a central fire alarm system.

     

  51. SCDF’s assessment is that the Fire Code requirements for residential buildings are sufficient vis-à-vis the fire risks. Typically, residents are familiar with the emergency escape routes for their buildings, which are moreover designed to enable effective smoke dissipation in the event of a fire. Residential units are designed to be fire compartmentalised to reduce the risk of fire-spread.

     

  52. Consequently, SCDF assesses that there is no need to require the installation of central fire alarm systems in residential buildings. However, SCDF will monitor the situation, and make adjustments if necessary.

    Technical Amendment

  53. I will conclude by addressing a technical amendment that Mr Murali Pillai asked about. This is the amendment to section 115(2), which allows the Minister to make regulations on any matter that may be prescribed under the Act.

     

  54. Mr Speaker, this amendment makes it clear that the Minister’s power to make regulations under section 115(1) includes the power to make regulations for matters that the Act expressly allows or requires to be prescribed. Examples include the definition of “prescribed civil defence emergency device” in section 2 or “relevant premises” in the new section 103A.

     

    Conclusion

                                                      

  55. Mr Deputy Speaker, the amendments in the Civil Defence and Other Matters Bill will strengthen SCDF’s operational effectiveness and streamline its internal processes. They will enable SCDF to be more effective in saving lives and protecting property.

     

  56. Sir, I beg to move.
Last Updated on 20 Nov 2018
Last Updated on 20 Nov 2018
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