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LCQ1: Issuance of rainstorm warning signals and announcements of class suspension

     Following is a question by the Hon Christopher Chung Shu-kun and a reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (May 25):


     At 7.35am on the 10th of this month, the Hong Kong Observatory (HKO) issued the first Red Rainstorm Warning (RW) Signal of that day. Ten minutes later, the Education Bureau (EDB) announced that classes of AM schools and whole-day schools were to be suspended on that day. Some parents have relayed to me that as most of the primary and secondary school students were already in school or on their way to school at the time when the class suspension announcement was made, coupled with the fact that different arrangements were made by various schools after the class suspension announcement was made, students and parents felt confused and complaints were heard everywhere. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) at what time on that day the EDB received the notification that the HKO was about to issue the Red RW Signal; why the EDB announced the class suspension arrangement only after the Signal had been issued for 10 minutes;

(2) as some parents consider that the relevant guidelines issued by the EDB to schools were unclear as reflected by the fact that some schools continued to run classes for students as usual after the class suspension announcement while some others contacted parents and asked them to pick up their children as soon as possible, whether the EDB can clarify which is the proper arrangement and whether the EDB will review and improve the relevant guidelines; and

(3) as there are views that the RW Signals issued by the HKO at present are too general and give no indication of heavy rainstorms in individual districts, whether the HKO will consider giving, concomitant with the issuance of RW Signals, an illustration of which districts have heavier rainfall so as to remind the commuting public to get prepared promptly and enable the EDB to consider, in light of the actual rainfall intensity of various districts, arranging for suspension of classes for schools in districts with heavier rainfall after the HKO has issued the Amber RW Signal?



     The Education Bureau (EDB) and the Hong Kong Observatory (HKO) have put in place a notification mechanism in respect of class suspension arrangements in the event of issuance of Tropical Cyclone Warning Signal No. 3 or above or Red/Black Rainstorm Warning Signals. Circulars have been issued informing schools of the arrangements to be implemented in the event of inclement weather conditions such as tropical cyclones and heavy persistent rain. Relevant class suspension arrangements for kindergartens and day schools are set out in EDB Circular No. 6/2015. Our reply to the Hon Christopher Chung Shu-kun's question is as follows:

(1) On the morning of May 10, the EDB maintained close liaison with the HKO to keep abreast of the weather condition and forecast so that contingency arrangements could be announced promptly when necessary. When informed by the HKO at 7.30am that the Red Rainstorm Warning Signal would be issued five minutes later, the EDB immediately activated the contingency mechanism. We understood that some students were already in school or on their way to school at that time. Yet, we decided to suspend classes, with the safety of students as our top concern. Under the existing mechanism, the procedures for announcing class suspension involve not only liaison among different EDB sections, the Information Services Department and the media, but also verification of the decision and the wording of the announcement by the authorised officer. Since the decision affects students of all primary, secondary and special schools as well as kindergartens, we must act prudently to ensure the accuracy of the message to be delivered. At 7.35am, the HKO issued the Red Rainstorm Warning Signal. At 7.45am, the EDB made a special announcement via the media and its website that students of AM schools and whole-day schools did not have to attend school that day. Schools were reminded that they should keep their premises open and implement contingency measures to look after the students who had arrived at school. Parents were also advised that they did not need to pick up their children from school immediately.

     We understand that the public are concerned about why class suspension was not announced right after HKO's issuance of the Red Rainstorm Warning Signal on that day. We have subsequently reviewed the procedures with the departments concerned to explore improvement measures. The EDB has reached a consensus with the HKO that an enhanced arrangement will be introduced in mid-June so that the announcement of class suspension can be made simultaneously with the issuance of rainstorm warning signals by the HKO. Before the implementation of the enhanced arrangement, the EDB will take steps to improve the current procedure so that announcement of class suspension can follow closely after the issuance of HKO's rainstorm warning signals.

(2) Whether classes will be suspended after the issuance of the Red or Black Rainstorm Warning Signal depends on when such a warning is issued. EDB Circular No. 6/2015 clearly sets out that when the Red or Black Rainstorm Warning Signal is issued between 6am and before 8am, classes of AM and whole-day schools are to be suspended. Schools are required to ensure that their premises are open until the end of normal school hours and arrange staff to look after those students who have arrived at school. They ought to ensure that conditions are safe before allowing students to return home. Generally, schools should make appropriate arrangements for the students who have arrived at school after taking into account the actual circumstances, such as weather, road and traffic conditions. Safety of students should be the prime consideration. If a Red or Black Rainstorm Warning Signal is issued at or after 8am, AM and whole-day schools should continue the lessons until the end of the normal school hours.

     The circular also requires schools to draw up a school-based contingency plan setting out the arrangements to be implemented under inclement weather conditions. It clearly states that "school staff, students, parents and those involved should be fully informed of the above arrangements and the contingency plan by circular letters". In exceptional circumstances where the EDB has not made any announcement for suspension of classes but individual schools consider it is necessary to suspend their classes having regard to local weather, road, slope, traffic conditions, the schools concerned may proceed on their own after consulting the relevant School Development Sections of the EDB. They should at the same time activate their contingency plan and inform relevant parties according to the established procedures.

     We understand that after the HKO had issued the Red Rainstorm Warning Signal on May 10, we noted that some schools did not follow the above guidelines/announcement. We immediately contacted and followed up with those schools. We also contacted district school heads associations on the same day to remind schools to take follow-up action according to the requirements of the circular to ensure studentsˇ¦ safety. We will further assist schools in understanding and effectively implementing measures in accordance with the requirements of the circular. We will also step up publicity to inform parents of the general class suspension arrangements in the event of issuance of Rainstorm Warning Signals.

(3) The rainstorm warning system of the HKO is designed to alert the public about the occurrence of heavy rain which is likely to bring about major disruptions, including traffic disruptions, as well as major floods and landslips resulting in casualties.

     Owing to the regional difference in and rapid changes of rainfall in rainstorms, which I must emphasis, detailed forecasts of the amount and intensity of rainfall in individual districts are unavoidably less accurate than such forecasts of rainfall in widespread areas. To include the regional amount of rainfall in the rainstorm warning, more frequent updates will be entailed since there may be great changes in the intensity of rainfall within a matter of minutes. Given this, it will be even more difficult for the EDB, the media and the public to get hold of too frequently updated information.

     On rainy days, the HKO provides hourly weather updates on the rainfall records of various districts in Hong Kong for the past hour, which is made known to the public via its webpage and the media such as radio broadcast. Rainfall distribution maps and radar images displaying the latest rainfall status of various districts in Hong Kong are also available on the HKO webpage and its mobile application, and such information is updated several times every hour.

     On weather forecast, the HKO provides on its webpage and mobile app automatic regional weather forecast in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta region, including the two-hour rainfall forecast.

     The above-mentioned information on the actual status and forecasts of rainfall provides the public and the Government with a basic source of reference. The HKO will continue to maintain close contact with the EDB and provide it with weather updates so that it can take action accordingly.

Ends/Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Issued at HKT 16:26


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