Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Home Affairs (a) what is the cause of the failure of the back-up power generator at Woodlands Checkpoint on 9 October 2022 despite having been serviced and tested the day before; and (b) what measures, including manual workarounds, does the Ministry have in place to ensure that all border checkpoints are able to continue performing their essential functions, including immigration clearance, in the event of an extended power outage.
Assoc Prof Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim: Mr Speaker, my response will also cover the matters raised in the questions by Mr Shawn Huang1, which are scheduled for a subsequent Sitting. I invite the Member to seek clarifications today, if need be. If the Member feels that his questions are addressed today, it may not be necessary for him to proceed with them during the future Sitting.
Mr Speaker, on 8 October 2022, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) was conducting a scheduled maintenance of the power source at Woodlands Checkpoint at around 11.40 pm. This timing was chosen as it is typically an off-peak period at the checkpoint. As part of the maintenance, the back-up power generator was activated to provide power during this period. However, at 12.20 am on 9 October 2022, the back-up power generator failed, resulting in a power outage that disrupted the checkpoint operations.
The back-up power generator was maintained according to the technical specifications and assessed to be in good working condition during routine weekly and monthly checks, as well as on the day of the scheduled maintenance on 8 October 2022. A full load test on the generator had been conducted in August 2022. In the morning of 8 October 2022, it had been subjected to a 30-minute test-run and was working fine. While the back-up generator has been in operation since 1999, its usage is low. It is only operated when the building power source is undergoing maintenance or during a power failure. It is scheduled for replacement in 2028, according to the specifications.
The cause of the failure of the back-up power generator was a fresh tear in the air duct, causing hot air from the generator to be discharged into the room instead of outside the room. As the hot air re-circulated in the room, the generator engine overheated and shut down. The condition of the air duct is inspected visually and was assessed to be in good condition in the morning of 8 October 2022. As a precautionary measure, ICA will consider if the air duct should be replaced periodically in the future, even if no tears are detected.
There was no data breach or loss during the power outage. The Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) system had kicked in as designed and provided sufficient time for a proper shutdown of the servers, preventing any data breach or loss.
ICA has put in additional layers of redundancy to protect our operations from power disruptions. There are back-up generators for the main power source. In addition, UPS is provided for key systems to ensure operations continuity if the back-up generators fail. These systems are regularly upgraded during planned maintenance.
For an extended power failure which UPS cannot support, ICA has SOPs in place to ensure operations continuity. This includes activating additional manpower to assist with manual clearance, communicating and advising travellers via multiple channels to avoid non-essential travel and diverting traffic to the other land checkpoint. These contingency plans were activated during this incident.
Prior to this incident, ICA had already planned to further enhance power resiliency at Woodlands and Tuas Checkpoints by building a secondary electrical infrastructure, in addition to the existing one.
Mr Speaker, learning from this incident, ICA will be deploying additional generators as back-ups during future maintenance periods. We will share the lessons learnt from this incident with stakeholders of other critical infrastructure.
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song (Aljunied): Mr Speaker, I wish to thank the ICA officers for the hard work that they do under very trying conditions to clear, sometimes, more than 400,000 travellers per day through the Checkpoints, every day. I am sure the individual officers are doing their very best and their work is very much appreciated.
However, I would like to ask the Minister of State if there are systemic bottlenecks that ICA can look into to tackle the long waiting times at our land checkpoints. If there are 300,000 travellers a day and each takes one and a half hours to clear immigration, that is 450,000 manhours of productive time lost every day. One observation by travellers is that sometimes, not all the immigration car counters are open. I understand because of limited manpower, ICA dynamically deploys officers to counters in busier zones, leaving counters closed in another zone.
Can I ask the Minister of State, then – can ICA prioritise its recruitment and training of more officers so that all car counters are manned to clear travellers in all zones? And secondly, can ICA increase the number of automated clearance counters for vehicles, especially motorcycles, to relieve some dependence on manned counters?
Assoc Prof Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim: Sir, I thank the Member for the supplementary questions. These are issues that we continuously look at and we also train our officers for regularly. In fact, while we were preparing for the reopening and easing of travel, these were things we were doing with our officers.
I want to assure the Member that we are continuing with this process of continuously looking at how to improve how we handle the situation and how we run the operations. Our officers are very committed to doing this because they understand the needs of the people, especially when they are travelling and especially during the peak periods.
Ministry of Home Affairs
20 October 2022