PARADISE, Calif.: Authorities on Sunday sifted through the charred wreckage of California's deadliest ever wildfire, searching for any signs of the 993 people now listed as missing after the Camp Fire tore through the mountain town of Paradise.
The number of believed missing fell 283 late on Sunday, down from 1,276 people, the Butte County Sheriff's Office said in a statement, but gave no other details.
The remains of 77 people have been recovered, officials said late on Sunday. The blaze ignited on Nov. 8 was 65 percent contained, up from 60 percent earlier in the day.
Rain is forecast for the area this week, potentially helping douse the flames, but raising the risk of floods and mudslides that will swell the misery of 46,000 people under evacuation orders.
Many refugees from the fire have taken up temporary residence with friends and relatives, while others have pitched tents or were camping out of their vehicles.
The death toll far surpasses the previous fatality record from a single California wildfire - 29 in the Griffith Park fire of 1933 in Los Angeles - and already ranks among the deadliest U.S. wildfires since the turn of the last century.
Eighty-seven people perished in the Big Burn firestorm that swept the Northern Rockies in August 1910. Minnesota's Cloquet Fire in October 1918 killed 450 people.
In Paradise, the flames moved so fast that some victims died in their cars in a chaotic evacuation as gridlock formed on the two exit routes out of town.
The Butte County Sheriff's Office said the list of the missing is compiled using information received from a special hotline, as well as emails and emergency-911 calls that came in during the first chaotic hours of the blaze.
Authorities said some of those listed likely survived but have not yet notified family or officials, either because they lack phone service or were unaware anyone was looking for them.
In Paradise, home to nearly 27,000 people before the Camp Fire struck, two forensic anthropologists for the University of Nevada, Reno, were helping firefighters on Saturday sort through the wreckage at a mobile home park for senior citizens.
Firefighters peeled back the metal sheet of a collapsed roof as the anthropologists picked up charred bone fragments, sorting them into paper bags.
Roger Fielding, chief deputy coroner with the Martin County Sheriff's Office, said each site was treated as a crime scene, with every step of recovery documented with photographs.
"Our job is to pick up any items that might reflect who this person might be," he said.
THOUSANDS OF HOMES DESTROYED
Besides the toll on human life, property losses from the blaze make it the most destructive in California history, posing the additional challenge of providing long-term shelter for many thousands of displaced residents.
At last count, the Camp Fire had destroyed more than 13,600 homes and other structures, authorities said late on Sunday.
Up to 4 inches (10 cm) of rain is expected to fall from late Tuesday through Friday in the Sierra foothills, said Patrick Burke, a forecaster with the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
"It'll bring much needed relief to the firefighters and to the air quality, but there's a potential for dangerous mudslides wherever vegetation is burned away on slopes and hills," Burke said.
Up to 2 inches of rain is also expected to fall on southern California this week, where the Woolsey Fire claimed at least three lives.
That blaze was 88 percent contained on Sunday, authorities said, with full containment expected on Thanksgiving Thursday.
The precise causes of the both fires were under investigation, but electric utilities have reported equipment problems in the vicinity of both blazes around the time they erupted.
PG&E Corp has said it could face liability that exceeds its insurance coverage if its equipment were found to have caused the Camp Fire.
On Friday, the company reported to regulators a second power-line outage that it experienced in Butte County on the morning of Nov. 8 when the Camp Fire started.
During a visit to both fire zones on Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump blamed the recent spate of wildfires on forest mismanagement, and he said he discussed the issue with California Governor Jerry Brown and Governor-elect Gavin Newsom.
Scientists say the growing frequency and intensity of wildfires in California and elsewhere across the U.S. West are largely attributable to prolonged drought symptomatic of climate change.
SINGAPORE: To keep up with an evolving payment landscape and guard against emerging risks, a new regulatory framework for payment services was introduced on Monday (Nov 19).
Submitted for first reading in Parliament, the new Payment Services Bill will streamline regulations of payment services under a single activity-based legislation, while expanding the scope of regulated activities to include both traditional and newer forms of payment service providers.
The proposed amendments will provide a more conducive environment for innovation in payment services and ensure that risks across the payments value chain are mitigated, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said in a statement.
Currently, the MAS regulates various types of payment services under the Payment Systems (Oversight) Act and the Money-Changing and Remittance Businesses Act, enacted in 2006 and 1979 respectively.
However, the payment services landscape has changed considerably in the past few years, leading to new risks from activities that fall beyond the scope of the current regulatory regime. New payment business models have also blurred the lines between activities regulated under these two Acts, the MAS said in previous press releases.
The Bill is set to replace this existing payments regime and when it comes into force, both Acts will be repealed.
The new legislation comprises two parallel regulatory frameworks: A designation regime that enables MAS to regulate systemically important payment systems for financial stability and efficiency reasons, and a licensing regime that focuses on retail payment services provided to customers and merchants.
One of the key changes fall under the proposed licensing framework where providers of payment services will only need one licence to conduct any or multiple payment activities.
There will be three classes of licenses, however. Depending on the type of payment activity engaged and the level of transactions done, a provider can be categorised as a money-changing licensee, a standard payment institution or major payment institution.
For instance, a major payment institution will be defined as permitted to conduct more than S$3 million in transactions on average per month, as well as having an average daily e-money float of more than S$5 million a year.
Payment activities have been broadened to encompass a wider range and are categorised into seven groups: account issuance, e-money issuance, domestic money transfer, cross border money transfer, merchant acquisition, purchase and sale of digital payment tokens, as well as money changing.
Each activity carries different risks and the Bill will differentiate regulatory requirements accordingly, instead of implementing a uniform set of rules.
Tailoring risk mitigating measures to specific payment services that a licensee provides will better safeguard customer and merchant monies, said the MAS in its press release. It will also ensure adequate controls against money laundering and terrorism financing risks, reduce fragmentation and strengthen technology and cyber standards in the payments space.
The introduction of the Bill will impact financial institutions, such as banks, merchant banks, finance companies and non-bank credit card or charge card issuers.
To cushion the impact for these entities, MAS will have a 12-month grace period for all payment services, except digital payment token services – an extension from the earlier proposed six months following requests to give new entities more time to adjust to the new framework.
Previous rounds of consultations also prompted MAS to insert provisions in the Bill to prohibit e-money issuers from any conduct similar to a deposit-taking business, such as money-lending, or prohibiting all licensees from conducting consumer lending. By requiring entities conducting such activities to have relevant licenses, the financial regulator said it seeks to ensure that risks are appropriately regulated.
“The Payment Services Bill will enhance the regulatory framework for payment services in Singapore, strengthen consumer protection and engender confidence in the use of e-payments,” said Mr Ravi Menon, managing director of MAS.
“The Bill also illustrates our shift towards regulation that is modular, activity-based and facilitative of growth and development in the Singapore payments landscape.”
SINGAPORE: The existing Choa Chu Kang bus interchange will move to a new location at the junction of Choa Chu Kang Loop and Choa Chu Kang Drive from Dec 16.
The relocation is meant to facilitate the construction of the Jurong Region MRT Line, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said in a press release on Monday (Nov 19).
All 13 bus services currently operating from the existing Choa Chu Kang bus interchange will operate from the new Choa Chu Kang bus interchange, with the current bus interchange ceasing operations on the same day.
Services 925 and 927 will be adjusted to enter and exit the new bus interchange through the junction of Choa Chu Kang Loop and Choa Chu Kang Drive. With this change, the two bus services will skip Choa Chu Kang Avenue 4.
The new bus interchange will feature barrier-free sheltered boarding and alighting areas, and linkways connecting to Choa Chu Kang MRT and LRT stations.
Close to 100 bicycle lots will be made available "to facilitate active mobility and first-and-last-mile connectivity", the LTA release said.
It will also feature "commuter-centric facilities like priority queue zones, nursing room and barrier-free toilets to better cater to the needs of the elderly, less mobile and families with young children", added LTA.
Instead of a conventional ticket office, an e-lobby and a seated waiting area for face-to-face commuter engagement with TransitLink service advisers will be set up as part of a One Stop Service Centre, a first for a bus interchange.
The interchange will also come with upgraded facilities for bus captains and other staff, such as an air-conditioned staff canteen, dedicated toilets and a staff lounge.
"High-volume low-speed fans" will also be installed at the concourse area to provide a comfortable environment for commuters, LTA said.
Information on the bus routes will be available at the affected bus stops, bus terminal, and on buses, LTA said. Commuters can also look out for more information on LTA’s online and social media platforms.
PORT MORESBY: If you are travelling to Papua New Guinea, you don't need to pack a phrasebook, you need to bring an entire library. With 841 living tongues and a colourful creole lingua franca, this Pacific nation is the undisputed world champion of linguistic diversity.
From Pii in the mist-cloaked highlands to Toaripi on the shores of the gleaming Coral Sea, Papua New Guinea is a linguist's paradise with one in 10 of the world's languages found here.
The number of speakers of individual languages can range from a handful of people in the jungle - not much more than an extended family - to millions spread across provinces and terrains.
Experts point to the country's relatively weak central government, deep valleys, almost impenetrable vegetation and roughly 600 islands to explain why a country of eight million people and smaller than Spain has such a bounty of languages, when 46 million Spaniards - for all practical purposes - make do with a dozen or so.
Many of these diverse tongues have developed undisturbed over tens of thousands of years, making Papua New Guinea something of a linguistic Galapagos.
To get by day-to-day, Papua New Guineans typically speak three to five languages, and understand many more dialects.
But ironically they can sometimes struggle to render a simple sentence in one language into their mother tongue - particularly when discussing numbers more than 10 or when rural-based languages are deployed to describe life in the big city.
When asked to say "there are more than 800 languages in Papua New Guinea" in Vula'a - which has a couple of thousand speakers in the central province - Port Moresby office worker Sonia Pegi has to call her dad just to make sure she has it right.
The country's most widely spoken language is pidgin English or Tok Pisin, although this being Papua New Guinea, Tok Pisin only claimed its lingua franca status after beating out a pretender in the form of semi-creole Austronesian language Hiri Motu.
Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu and English are the country's three official languages.
"Tok Pisin is derived 80 to 85 per cent from English," said Jenny Homerang who is starting a pidgin language course at the Australian National University in Canberra. "But you also have bits of German and bits of Portuguese."
In fact, Tok Pisin is something of a linguistic sponge, soaking up words from languages as distant as Taiwanese and Zulu, which dominates the southeastern corner of Africa.
Suspected sorcerers - who in Papua New Guinea can often be the victims of extreme violence - are referred to as "sangoma", a word familiar to anyone living in Johannesburg or Durban.
Tok Pisin is also a deeply expressive language: you can "bagarap" your car in an accident, or relieve yourself in the "sithaus".
But sometimes things get lost in translation. "Ol" means "they", not "all", which can confuse a first-time visitor.
Similarly, "lukim yu bihan" is not an instruction to turn around, but a way of saying "goodbye".
SINGAPORE: Sales of new private homes in Singapore fell 36 per cent in October from a year earlier, as there were barely any new launches in the month.
Developers sold 487 units last month - excluding executive condominiums (ECs) - compared with 761 units in October 2017, according to data released by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on Thursday (Nov 15).
On a month-on-month basis, sales fell by about 48 per cent in October from the 932 units sold in September, URA data showed.
A total of 202 new homes were launched by developers last month, an 83 per cent drop from the 1,169 units launched in September.
Despite the low number of transactions last month, buying sentiment in Singapore remains resilient, said analysts.
"The decrease was within expectations, as there was no major new launch in the month," said ERA Realty's Eugene Lim.
"Despite the lower number of units launched, demand from buyers remained resilient. Units sold were 3.7 times that of units launched," he noted.
According to OrangeTee's head of research and consultancy Christine Sun, demand for new homes at existing launches has seen a general pick-up three months after cooling measures were introduced.
"In fact, many existing launches have seen an increase in sales or maintained their sales performance when compared to September," she said.
"Buyers who were waiting on the sidelines may be returning to the market since there is greater market clarity and prices seemed to be stabilising or consolidating at certain market segments."
Analysts also said November's sales figures are likely to pick up, in line with the launch of several projects.
“With the numerous new launches in November such as Parc Esta, Whistler Grand, Belgravia Green and an upcoming Ken Ridge Hill Residences, we expect that transactions will likely reach 1,000 units for November 2018,” said Mr Ismail, CEO of PropNex Realty.
Including ECs, a total of 510 new units were sold in October, a drop from the 972 units in the same period a year ago.
SINGAPORE: The Government has accepted recommendations by the Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners (TCC), which laid out the terms for mandatory bonuses cleaning companies have to pay their resident workers starting from 2020.
The annual bonus for cleaners, which was first mooted in 2016, was passed in Parliament in October. Called the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) Bonus, it has to be given regardless of a cleaner’s performance and is provided as a tool to attract and motivate cleaners to stay with their employers for at least 12 months, said TCC.
An addendum report released on Thursday (Nov 15) spelled out the details of the PWM Bonus to be paid to all resident cleaners, including full-time, part-time and casual workers.
The bonus is payable to all Singapore citizen and permanent resident cleaners who have worked for the same cleaning business for at least 12 months. However, the length of service requirement can be waived for circumstances beyond the worker’s control, such as when there is a change of service provider.
The total bonus paid must not be less than two weeks of the cleaner’s basic monthly wage, and it must be paid at least once but not more than twice a year.
Companies that are already providing some form of variable bonus, such as a 13th month or festive bonus, would be deemed to have complied with the PWM Bonus requirements as long as the amount given is not less than the stipulated two weeks.
TCC said that the payment must be reflected in the cleaner’s salary slip and is subject to Central Provident Fund contributions by both employer and employee.
For part-time cleaners, this bonus will be provided if they have met the 12-month employment period. It will be pro-rated based on the contracted hours they have worked.
TCC said it encourages companies to also pay pro-rated PWM bonuses to casual cleaners to recognise their work as long as they meet the required minimum length of service.
For example, a general cleaner who earns S$1,236 a month in 2020 (projected according to TCC’s PWM schedule) will get at least S$570 as their bonus.
The changes will come into effect in 2020.
3% YEARLY WAGE INCREASES
In addition to the PWM Bonus, the ongoing scheduled wage increases for the cleaning sector will continue. The TCC said that the 3 per cent annual wage hike will be implemented from Jul 1, 2020 to 2022.
This is the third series of scheduled wage increases since the PWM was first implemented for the cleaning sector in 2012.
These recommendations will benefit more than 40,000 cleaners who are employed by about 1,300 companies.
NTUC assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari, who is also chairman of the TCC, said efforts to help vulnerable workers in the cleaning industry are still a “work-in-progress”, but he called the PWM Bonus a “landmark improvement” for their welfare.
“It will put an end to resident cleaners’ common work grievance of not being paid bonuses. It is our hope that the PWM Bonus will serve as a motivational tool to encourage workers to stay longer with the same employer, as well as incentivise employers to invest in training their cleaners,” he said.
“This way, as cleaners become more skilled, this will be accompanied by higher productivity and better wages.”
LAVAL, France: When Joelle Dupas falls ill, she goes to a medical centre in her home town in rural western France where all 12 doctors have come out of retirement.
The 66-year-old tried for months to find a doctor after retiring to Laval, a quiet town of 50,000 residents surrounded by rolling fields. Her search ended at the simple centre managed by the 12 veteran doctors, aged between 67 and 70, on the ground floor of an apartment bloc.
"You need to wait at least a year to get an appointment with an ophthalmologist," Dupas, a former secretary and salesperson, told Reuters in the waiting room. "It was not like this years ago."
The Service Médical de Proximité (SMP), where each doctor works a few days a month with the help of medical interns, is a local response to a national problem that has hit Laval hard.
Although France enjoys a reputation for having one of the world's best healthcare systems, it has an aging population and a shortage of doctors, especially in rural areas. In Laval, only one in five residents is believed to have a family doctor, according to local professionals.
President Emmanuel Macron has put rural France at the heart of an overhaul of the healthcare system which he announced on Sep 18, promising more money and doctors for what he called "healthcare deserts" in areas outside big cities.
The reforms are an important test for Macron. Success could help reverse a fall in his popularity since he was elected in May 2017, and counter leftist criticism that he is a "president of the rich". But with opinion polls showing healthcare is a priority for voters, failure could badly damage his presidency.
"France obviously has good fundamentals when it comes to healthcare," said Laurent Chambaud, the director of France's School of Advanced Studies in Public Health. "But like in many other developed countries, the system, which centers around hospitals, has to reform itself to adapt to social changes."
"If it doesn't do so in the next five to 10 years, the system will be totally saturated," he said.
FALL IN GLOBAL RANKINGS
France offers universal healthcare largely financed by government through a system of national health insurance, though many people buy top-up cover.
When the World Health Organization conducted its only global healthcare survey in 2000, it rated France's system the world's best. But the aging population, tight budgets and an increase in burnout among doctors have taken a toll.
France ranked only 10th in a global study published last year by the Commonwealth Fund, a private U.S. healthcare foundation. It had been ninth in the fund's previous report in 2014, the only other time France had been included.
As in neighbors Germany and Spain, and larger countries such as Australia or Canada, France also has an uneven distribution of doctors, with most attracted by work in cities where they can make more money.
Some rural areas also lack hospitals, and hospital doctors staged a strike in 2016 in protest at what they considered poor working conditions and shortages.
"We have been alerting authorities for decades and nothing has changed," said Gilles Ollivier, who serves on a regional doctors' council in Laval.
"Many here live in rural areas where inhabitants, and some of them very old, find themselves in small villages where there are no shops, no post office, no schools and no doctors."
Under Macron's plans, 400 doctors will be deployed to rural areas where coverage is thin. No hospitals will be closed and 4,000 medical assistants will be recruited to handle paperwork and make basic checks to free up doctors.
The president also says he will end a system under which the number of graduates allowed to enter the medical profession each year is limited. Doing so, he hopes, will ensure there are more new doctors interested in working in rural areas.
Laval, on the river Mayenne about 300km southwest of the capital Paris, is one of the communities where the fate of Macron's reforms will be played out. It also shows how big a challenge the centrist president faces.
The Mayenne region has 255 registered doctors per 100,000 residents, one of the lowest rates in the country, official data show. The national average is 437 and Paris has the highest rate, with more than 1,100 doctors per 100,000.
In Laval, the SMP has helped plug the gaps. Fifteen months after it opened its doors, it handles more than 5,500 patients. Its doctors are regulated as others are under the French system.
"I had been looking for a family doctor for years but every time I was turned down because they said general practices couldn't take new patients," Fatou Diaby, 30, said in the SMP's waiting room with her two young daughters.
"When I last became pregnant, I had nobody to go to except hospital emergencies, which are always packed. Here someone listens."
Mayenne authorities have tried to remedy the situation by helping doctors trained abroad, especially in eastern Europe and the Middle East, to settle in the area. Last year, a third of new doctors entering practice in Mayenne qualified outside France.
Laval's 12-storey hospital, built in 1974, has more than 1,000 beds and admits 40,000 patients a year but has too few doctors. A lack of funds means some patients summon nurses with old-fashioned handbells.
"It is true that we are experiencing some kind of depression," said Andre-Gwenael Pors, the hospital's director, citing understaffing, budget constraints and a proliferation of regulations in recent years.
Olivier Guihery, a general practitioner who divides his time between a Laval practice and several retirement homes, said he and his colleagues sometimes work 100 hours a week with little or no time for rest or holidays. It is so tough they call it "war-zone" medicine.
"We are on the verge of burning out all the time but we have no choice but to continue," he said.
Doctors who spoke to Reuters welcomed Macron's plans to overhaul the system but also had concerns.
Pors said the reforms needed to be spelled out in more detail. Ollivier, the representative of the regional doctors' council, was wary about the recruitment of medical assistants for basic tasks.
"Getting help with the paperwork is great but do we really want these assistants to take blood pressure or body temperature, like in Britain? These are highly sensitive human actions," Ollivier said.
"Many of us are skeptical. We feel like all these decisions are taken in cities and offices, away from the reality of rural areas."
Paradise, California had long prepared for wildfires but only in its worst nightmares did it imagine the kind of "megafire" that last week destroyed most of the town and is becoming a common occurrence in the state.
Born of tinder dry conditions and erratic winds, the "Camp Fire" was the latest California megafire, a huge blaze that burns more intensely and quickly than anything the state has experienced before.
The U.S. Forest Service defines a megafire as a single blaze that burns more than 100,000 acres (40,000 hectares).
In recent years authorities in California have reported an increase in such large, explosive and swiftly spreading wildfires over a virtually year-round fire season.
Four out of the five largest fires in California history have occurred in the last six years.
Paradise had not seen significant rain for 211 days, and the town, on a ridge in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, was surrounded by a potential bonfire of dry or dead trees following a five-year drought that ended in 2017.
Less rain and longer droughts are the major cause of the blazes, according to recent research by the US Forest Service and University of Montana.
So too are forests choked with undergrowth, small trees and other fuel after decades of fighting fires in areas where they used to occur naturally, according to former U.S. Forest Service officials and experts.
"Our forests are really overgrown due to poor management across the West and that is largely due, ironically, to putting out too many fires,” said Michael Kodas, author of the book "Megafire - The Race to Extinguish a Deadly Epidemic of Flame." “For a century we’ve had a zero tolerance towards wildfires.”
The cost in lives and property from megafires is growing as more Americans build homes in or around forests and woodlands. This area known as the wildland urban interface (WUI) is the fastest growing land-use type in the contiguous United States, according to a recent study by the University of Nevada and the University of Pittsburgh.
“Despite wildfire being present, we’ve seen an astronomical level of housing development in the WUI," said University of Nevada assistant professor Shawn McCoy, whose study examined the tendency of people to buy homes in areas that had previously suffered wildfires.
'WORST CASE SCENARIO'
After a wildfire destroyed 87 homes in Paradise in 2008, the town of 27,000 put evacuation plans in place and fined homeowners if they did not clear brush and prune trees to reduce fire risk.
But all it took was some kind of spark on Camp Creek Road, west of Paradise, and "El Diablo" fall winds gusting up to 50 mph (80 kmh), to unleash the most destructive and deadly wildfire in California history.
As the blaze roared west, devouring nearly 6,500 homes, it created its own fire whirlwinds or "firenados," incinerating an area equivalent to 80 American football fields (100 acres) per minute.
Former US Forest Service officials such as Jerry Williams say too much emphasis is put on fighting fires instead of thinning forests to minimize their impact.
"Every year we set a new record, we invest more in suppression, invest less in mitigation and wonder why we're not getting on top of it," Williams, a former director of fire and aviation for the US Forest Service, said in an interview.
Cal Fire spokeswoman Lia Parker said more factors were at play than cutting down trees.
"A lot of it is climate related; we've seen a significant increase in temperatures; we've seen an increase in dry and dead conditions," Parker said.
SINGAPORE: Commuters travelling on SBS Transit buses in areas like Bukit Merah, HarbourFront and Shenton Way will have access to Wi-Fi from February 2019, said the bus operator in a news release on Wednesday (Nov 14).
"Come February 2019, free Wi-Fi will be made available on board 300 buses which serve the 18 SBS Transit bus services that are part of the Bukit Merah Bus Package," said SBS.
These bus services include: 5, 16, 57, 93, 120, 121, 122, 123/123M, 131/131M, 145, 160, 170, 195, 198, 272, 273, 400 and 402.
This move is part of SBS Transit's "continuous commitment to enhance commuters' travelling experience", said SBS Transit CEO Gan Juay Kiat.
"We are leveraging on technology to boost our service quality as well as increase the accessibility and availability of information for commuters," Mr Gan added.
Other new features include touchscreen and digital feedback panels that will be installed at the Bukit Merah and HarbourFront bus interchanges from Nov 18.
These panels will provide access to travel information like bus departure times and delays, and will allow commuters to provide immediate feedback on the bus interchanges' facilities.
These are part of the Bukit Merah Bus Package committed obligations, said SBS.
There will also be other features at the two bus interchanges, including: Mobile device charging points, umbrellas that commuters can borrow for free on rainy days, and television screens to display information on community events and activities.
Quarterly commuter chat sessions will also be held to listen to feedback from commuters, added SBS.
SingHealth COI: IHiS’ systems were built for business efficiency instead of security, says CSA chief
SINGAPORE: Cybersecurity should be a key feature rather than “slapped on as an afterthought”, said Cyber Security Agency (CSA) chief David Koh on Wednesday (Nov 14) in the final public hearing of the inquiry into the SingHealth cyberattack.
During his testimony, Mr Koh said that Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS) – Singapore’s central IT agency for the healthcare sector – had a “relatively low level” of security oversight.
Employees who worked on cybersecurity were embedded in the service delivery group instead of having their own reporting line, he added.
These two points led him to believe that the senior management of IHiS had little line of sight of cybersecurity issues.
“Given that the core mission of the delivery group is to provide IT services to the different clusters, security-related workstreams might be overlooked in favour of service delivery objectives,” Mr Koh said.
Delivering technology to a large governmental healthcare system is a “huge task” in itself. It needs to be managed dynamically and with “due care” since IHiS is holding large amounts of personal and medical data, he added.
As such, the first of three recommendations he made to the Committee of Inquiry (COI) is for IHiS to review its organisational and reporting structure to ensure that cybersecurity considerations are escalated to the appropriate decision makers.
Mr Koh likened cybersecurity to the brakes of a car. One will only go fast when there are good brakes. That’s what protects us, he told the committee. It is a key enabler for tech adoption.
Mr Koh also said stronger, multi-layered security mechanisms should have been in place around IHiS’ “crown jewels” - the electronic medical records of all SingHealth patients.
It would be similar to the measures taken to protect a physical space such as a bank, he said, adding that that these instincts should be ported over when dealing with cyberspace.
“Like a safe in a bank, privileged access to these records should have been behind closed doors, only accessible to a tightly-controlled group of people. A cyber-equivalent of tripwires, surveillance cameras and alarms should have been in place to monitor access, and to look out for suspicious activity,” he said.
During the data breach, the abnormally large number of queries to SingHealth’s electronic medical records database was not flagged until performance issues arose, Mr Koh said. This was because the outdated computer systems were designed from the business efficiency perspective without the right cybersecurity measures, he explained.
Mr Koh recommended that IHiS adopt a “defence-in-depth” approach when developing or upgrading their systems and networks. He added that they should regularly review their systems to ensure that the necessary security and mitigation measures are in place.
His third recommendation was focused on raising the level of awareness and cyber hygiene of healthcare personnel as well as improve training and adherence to standard operating procedures (SOPs).
He added that IHiS and all public healthcare clusters have to improve the level of cyber hygiene among front-end users such as doctors, nurses, pharmacists and administrators.
As for cybersecurity personnel, Mr Koh said that there was a “lack of clear understanding” of SOPs and reporting protocols for security incidents. There was also an initial failure to recognise that a malicious attack had occurred, he added.
IHiS should conduct a thorough review of its processes to ensure that there are no gaps, followed by a “thorough and systematic” training of staff to make sure they know exactly what steps to take in the event of a cybersecurity incident, he said.
Despite those criticisms, Mr Koh added that the gaps uncovered as a result of the cyberattack are in the midst of being fixed. Mitigation measures such as the 18 additional security measures introduced in November are in line with CSA’s technical recommendations and will help to enhance to cybersecurity posture of IT systems within the public healthcare sector, he added.
“In my view, they should not be a sweeping indictment of the overall cybersecurity posture of the healthcare sector, nor does it call into question the capabilities or commitment of IHiS management or staff as a whole,” he said.
He added that IHiS is aware of the evolving threat landscape and is headed in the “right direction” cybersecurity-wise.
“IHiS needs, and has demonstrated resolve to learn from the SingHealth incident, and take the necessary to make improvements within the organisation - technical, operational, structural and process improvements,” he said.
The online attack is Singapore’s most serious breach of personal data to date. A total of 1.5 million patient records were accessed and 160,000 individuals had their outpatient dispensed medicine’s records taken, including that of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
The COI has concluded all scheduled hearings for the fact-finding phase of its inquiry process, the committee said in a statement.
The hearings, which started on Aug 28, took place over 20 days. The committee heard evidence from 37 witnesses including five experts, and received 26 written submissions from individuals, organisations and industry associations.
The closing submissions from the Attorney-General’s Chambers, SingHealth, IHiS, MOH Holdings and the Ministry of Health will be heard on Nov 30, said the committee.