Monday, May 24, 2010

Navy Open House 2010 Report Card

Sea sights: Warship  cruises were a popular attraction at the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN) Navy Open House 2010 as they provided land lubbers the rare chance to be on a moving deck. Seen here at speed in the Singapore Strait are the missile corvette Valour (89) and the patrol vessel Dauntless (99).(Photo: David Boey)

The Navy Open House 2010 has set the bar high for future Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) open days, which is why the event deserves an A-grade.

Don't take my word for it. Look at how some visitors voted after attending one of the attractions (a Sea Cruise aboard a Patrol Vessel) at last weekend's Navy Open House (22-23 May 2010, Changi Naval Base, Singapore).

Going by the poll cannisters around Changi Naval Base (CNB), an overwhelming number of visitors rated the two-day event a Fruitful Experience. It must have been satisfying for the sun-baked RSN personnel to see the votes gradually pile up in their favour as visitors swamped the base, even though they had to repeat the same guided tour, explanation, or answer the same questions repeatedly to new visitors.

The open appraisal system, where everyone can see how well or how badly a certain attraction performed, is praise-worthy. Only an organisation with a high level of confidence in its product or service levels will attempt this.

It says something about the Navy Family when the RSN, the smallest of the Singapore Armed Forces three Services, comes together with to host an open house for a projected visitorship that is some 20 times the RSN's active personnel strength.

The Army has tens of thousands of active, Operationally Ready and full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) to call upon. The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) is smaller, but its active strength is several times that of Singapore's Navy.

So it was all hands on deck for the Navy during the two Preview Days and two Public Days last weekend.

Here's a summary explaining why it earned the A and why I will also award it a "B".

The RSN coped well with the crowd surge and certainly assimilated learning points from previous open days, one of which was beset by serious transport woes that left visitors stranded for hours. The SAF is indeed a learning organisation and the Navy Open House 2010 organising committee, plus members of previous organising committees who chronicled hard-won lessons, have reason to be proud.

Crowd management was excellent throughout. It was good to see theming start in the queue line at the Singapore Expo Hall 1, where an RSN Fast Intercept Craft and a RHIB were displayed along with a A.244S Whitehead anti-submarine torpedo, Mistral surface-to-air missile, Barak SAM, and a variety of small and medium calibre gun ammunition. Though the queue moved at a fast clip, a number of visitors broke away from the bus queue just to see and photograph these exhibits. My bus ride from the S'pore Expo to CNB took 24 minutes.

Theming is used by theme parks to put visitors in the mood for their experience, be it taking a ride or watching a show (hence the name, theme park). It calls for the right mix, placement and number of exhibits, and most importantly, duty personnel with the right attitude to explain the exhibits and put visitors in the right frame of mind.

From a professional standpoint, it was good to see similarities in the Navy Open House queue system and the systems used at the theme park at the place I work for. Our systems are based on best-of-class practices developed by theme parks and were given much thought. The systems we have are of course more extensive, because the company has been in business for decades, but seeing elements of it in use shows that others see value in these too.

Future theming:
At one point, the plasma display told visitors to expect a 2 hour 30 minute wait for a ride on a LARC-V amphibious vehicle. Having a captive audience for this length of time is an advertiser's dream and the RSN may want to consider exploiting this attention window in future.

The Duck Tours crew worked their hearts out. This was clear to anyone who watched them despatch and recover each LARC-V. I spent some time watching them go through their paces, as did CNV, whom I had the pleasure of meeting as he watched the Duck Tours in action.

The Duck Tours attraction could be improved by theming the ride from the queue area. With some realignment of the queue area footprint, a LARC-V could be integrated within the queue so visitors can have a good look at one while waiting for the ride. My work place did this for Battlestar Galactica and visitors can have a look at a Viper or Cylon Raider spacecaft while in the queue.

The vehicle could be loaded with combat stores, for example pallets of ammunition, to demonstrate the role LARC-Vs serve in supporting logistics-over-the-shore missions. This would tell visitors that LARC-Vs are more than joyride vehicles. If the vehicle was labelled, people could also understand how it moves in water and how the hull form contributes to its amphibious capability.

I am not sure how many visitors understood, or even appreciated, the existence of the Maritime Security Task Force (MSTF). Future organising committees may like to think about using the theme park approach to weave a story into the ride.

Why not theme the Fast Craft Utility ride into a Non-Combatant Evacuation operation, with people in the queue line told that the FCU will sail through pirate-infested waters with MSTF Sea Marshals/Naval Diving Unit special forces personnel to protect them? That way, it becomes more than a sight-seeing trip. The journey is interactive and promotes the visitor recall rate whenever MSTF/NDU is mentioned. The FCUs should be armed (as these fast landing craft will be during operations) and MSTF personnel can protect the craft as it sails past a "pirate base" with guns blazing.

If the RSN can bring TRADOC into the picture, some of the small arms on the FCU could be fitted with TES, which then injects more excitement into the mission.

Variety of exhibits: A 
These were professionally done and worthy of a proper trade show people pay to attend. There was a good mix of historical, current and future concepts that explained the role of the Navy and what its people do. There was a good spread of new exhibits for those who took time to look around.

Quality of Information: B+
The Navy Open House brochure should have found space for the RSN crest. It should also indicate that the event was held in 2010. Many people keep such brochures as souvenirs and having the year mentioned would help people remember when they last met the Singapore Navy.

Some displays would have gained from better positioning. The Meredith Autonomous Underwater Vehicle's perch (see image above) some 2 metres atop a booth put it out of sight of most visitors and I missed it the first time. Placing the Meredith AUV closer to the ground would help duty personnel introduce it to visitors. If it is sensitive technology, then it has no place at the open house.

The Total Defence exhibit at the exit of the Navy Capabilities tent should have been repositioned. This exhibit coaxed visitors to finish a sentence on an A3 sheet of paper that started with "I will...". For their trouble, the writers could have their photograph taken with their pledge.

The A3 size sheets were pasted on the wall for visitors to reflect on what other people will do for Total Defence. On Sunday afternoon, three lines jostled with one another in the confines of the exit area. The first queue was for people lining up to have their picture taken. Second queue: people waiting to get out. Third line: People reading the display. In my opinion, this choke point represented a fire hazard. Future committees might want to consider avoiding bunching up the crowd flow especially around entrances or exits. 

Sunshade: Visitors braved the sunshine for a tour of Singapore's Formidable-class stealth frigates. Here, the queue line traces the outline of the warship as people wait their turn to board RSS Tenacious.

Overall, the info boards were nicely conceptualised and written such that Joe Ordinary would understand them. Pictures were used generously. But I have one bone to pick: pictures should come with captions to tell visitors what they are looking at. By and large, visitors were left guessing what photo montages were all about. 

Standard of showmanship: A
RSN personnel put up a spirited show during the Sea Display segment, though one of the divers was slow in getting his M-4 Carbine into action as the rifle strap got entangled during Saturday afternoon's show.

I did not like the swastika sign on one of the enemy jeeps. Though it said "kill" followed by the swastika, this sort of symbol is a potential cultural/social powder keg and its use should be avoided whenever possible.

The use of cutaway shipping containers to demonstrate hostage rescue techniques was interesting. But the novelty will wear off if it is repeated at the next Navy Open House. This is why I mentioned that they set the bar high.

Attitude of duty personnel: A
Though sunburnt, all the duty personnel I observed carried themselves professionally and had service levels that a proper theme park would be proud to showcase. The duty personnel were courteous, engaging and showed a commendable level of domain knowledge.

I hope the duty personnel do not feel like the time clocked at the Navy Open House was a waste. The security screen was crucial, as Singapore faces a real threat from terrorism. The ability to roster and chart the bus movements is a real test of logistics - just ask the organising committee from two open houses ago. If you can do this well with a civilian partner, you will probably have less problems integrating your operations with civil resources during an emergency.

Loading/offloading civilians safely for FCU rides mirrors what I saw during the tsunami relief mission. This isn't role playing as civilians came with different mindsets and expectations.

Show venue: B+
CNB is about as inaccessible as you can get, as far as SAF base go. It is on the southermost end of reclaimed land off Changi Airport. But the shuttle service was a breeze and placing the pick up/drop off points at the Singapore Expo put visitors within easy reach of the MRT rail network.

All things considered, this event earned itself an A.

As mentioned earlier, I have also awarded the Navy Open House 2010 a "B" and will pair it with a "Z" to spell BZ. Any sea salt will know what I'm driving at.

See you at the next Navy Open House.


goat89 said...

Pretty fun way to tell your experience. Ppl wont have to go through the trouble of finding and writing the form, just drop a ball. VERY simple, but ingenious!

Izwan Abu Shama said...

I didn't notice it!!!

Ben Choong said...

haha I was happily stuffing the marbles into the 'fruitful experience'...they didn't 'dumb down' the experience for military buffs, and they were quite willing to tell as much as possible without breaking OPSEC, so yes, I concur with your grading, and Bravo Zulu :)

Anonymous said...

Report card of your report card: A++++++

Anonymous said...

Valour is 89 not 92. You can see it from yr picture taken.

Para 7 should be "its" not "it's"

David Boey said...

Many thanks Anon. Typos fixed. Not sure why I kept thinking the first locally built MCV is 92.