Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Home Affairs (a) whether the Ministry has identified a list of locations or events in Singapore at risk of crowd surge and stampede situations; (b) what are some of these locations or events; and (c) what are the enhanced safety steps that organisers at these locations or events are required to put in place.
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Home Affairs (a) whether SPF proactively informs the public of crowd surge risks and ways to stay safe when participating in large public events; and (b) whether tear gas will ever be used in crowded, confined spaces for the purpose of crowd control.
The Minister of State for Home Affairs (Ms Sun Xueling) (for the Minister for Home Affairs): Mr Speaker, Sir, may I have your permission to answer together Question Nos 9 to 15 in today’s Order Paper?
Mr Speaker: Yes, please.
Ms Sun Xueling: The Singapore Police Force (SPF) works with the relevant stakeholders to put in place measures to mitigate the risks associated with large crowds. Under the Public Order Act, event organisers, otherwise known as EOs, are required to notify the Police of public events expected to attract crowds of 5,000 persons or more, or private events expected to attract crowds of 10,000 persons or more. The Police will, then, engage these EOs on the appropriate measures to be deployed for public safety.
The Police also works closely with the EOs and other stakeholders on crowd management plans for major events, such as the National Day Parade, Christmas festivities at Orchard Road, New Year countdowns and the Formula One Night Race. These plans may include measures, such as the monitoring of crowd size, the deployment of security personnel and the regulation of crowd flow at congregation areas and potential chokepoints. They may also include cordoning off areas with public safety risks, such as narrow pathways and bridges and signages to guide the public on diversions and closures of thoroughfares.
The Police are deployed on-the-ground at these major events to ensure law and order, as well as to provide swift responses to incidents. Contingency plans are also put in place. These may involve catering for emergency lanes to facilitate emergency responses within crowded areas and closing off high-risk areas pre-emptively before they become overcrowded.
As for indoor venues, occupant limits are regulated by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) under the Fire Code and Fire Safety Manager (FSM) Regulations. Under the Fire Code, functional spaces within a building are assigned an occupant load factor which determines the maximum number of people allowed at any point of time and there must also be sufficient egress capacity. In general, the Fire Code requires every storey of a building to have at least two independent exit staircases to ensure timely evacuation. Higher risk premises, such as those with an occupant load of 1,000 persons or more; floor area of 5,000 square metres (sqm) or more; or nine storeys or more, including basement levels, require an FSM to be appointed.
The Police conduct frequent patrols when there are large crowds at locations like Little India and Chinatown, and also deploy various sensors, such as CCTVs and drones to monitor the ground situation. They may be augmented by Auxiliary Police Officers. Members of the public may call 999 to alert the Police if there are safety concerns related to overcrowding.
If the Police assesses that there are disturbances to the mood of a crowd, the Police may seek to remove the source of the agitation. The Police may also provide adequate space for crowd dispersal or provide clear instructions on how the crowd may exit the congested area. To do so, the Police may use voice amplification devices, such as loudhailers, to gain the attention of the crowd.
To increase public awareness, the Police publicise safety measures pre-, during and post-event. The Police may also pre-empt the public on potential crowding and alert the public to avoid areas or events which are already crowded. For example, at National Day Parade 2022, the Crowd@MarinaBay website provided live updates of the crowd situation at hotspots for fireworks viewing in the Marina Bay area. Members of the public can help keep each other safe by informing one another of ground developments.
The Police regularly analyse major incidents, which occur around the world to improve their crowd management measures. They also regularly review their regulatory and policy levers, as well as operational plans. It is equally important that organisers and stakeholders act responsibly, including to adopt sufficient safety measures and to work with the authorities to keep events and the public safe.
Mr Speaker: Mr Gerald Giam.
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song (Aljunied): I thank the Minister of State for her reply. I just have two supplementary questions. What lessons has MHA learnt or drawn from the recent tragedies in South Korea and Indonesia, to ensure that such incidents do not occur in Singapore. I understand as the Minister of State said that MHA does read and understand what happens in other parts of the world. So, will the Ministry be obtaining and studying the detailed investigation reports from the respective governments?
Ms Sun Xueling: I thank the Member for his question. Definitely, the Police, the SCDF do regularly analyse incidents that happen in other parts of the world to see what lessons we can learn through these unfortunate incidents.
First and foremost, many of the questions filed were about the number of persons, the size of the crowd. But I think what is also important to understand and acknowledge is that it is not just about the absolute size of the crowd. You can have a situation whereby the absolute size is not very large, but actually, they are in a very concentrated, very congested area; and that there might not be entry and exit points that are regularly available.
So, I just wanted to clarify and elaborate that it is not just about the absolute size of the crowd, but about the specific terrain that we are looking at. So, before any incident happens, when the Police is aware that there is an event that is about to happen, when they receive notification of the application for the event, the Police actually works with the EOs to understand the lay of the land, to get a sense of what are the entry and exit points, to see whether or not, at least, from what we can understand pre-event, that this is an area whereby pre-emptively, we can ensure that we can have good crowd flow to prevent such incidents from happening.
Secondly, I think the Member had filed a question about the use of tear gas. I would be quite specific about this – that the Police will only use riot control agents, which include tear gas, in very specific situations where there is a serious threat of harm to persons and property or the risk of significant public disorder. Just based on recent memory, I do not think there have been recent incidents whereby we use tear gas because we acknowledge that it can cause public chaos. So, another lesson that we have learnt from looking at incidents that happen overseas is that the actions that we take have to be proportionate and we have to be very careful in the way we handle such incidents.
Ministry of Home Affairs
28 November 2022