Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Forum Page letter on National Service
The 90 cents newspaper's Forum Page presented the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) with its first action item yesterday.
The letter by Mr Chew Guan Sun is a good example of how parents of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel may react whenever military personnel are involved in an incident and clear information is lacking.
This is evident in Mr Chew's description of the "small incident" during the Basic Military Training Graduation Parade when two recruits allegedly fainted on parade in full view of spectators.
Mr Chew wrote: "During the address by the guest of honour, two recruits fainted. There were some anxious moments for parents as each wondered if it was his or her son."
The takeway from Mr Chew's description would give you an idea how parents of SAF servicemen might react when they read, hear about or witness a military incident (death of serviceman, plane crash etc) and fear the worst. During such situations, the reactions of next of kin would mirror the situation at the BMTC Graduation Parade described in the Forum Page letter.
Parental instincts to fret over their sons underscores why prompt and unambiguous communications is vital during crisis situations. Next of kin must be informed in a timely manner and must not be left to guess or rely on hearsay.
In the age of new media, defence information professionals must realize that MINDEF's information-gathering cycle must move at top speed to remain a credible source of information. The clearance processes inbuilt into a bureaucratic government machinery should not impede or hamper clear and concise messages that the public yearns for during crisis situations.
In the recent past, it was the new media (Hardwarezone.com) which first broke the news that a soldier (Dave Teo) had run away from camp with a rifle.
And it was the community of plane spotters who first released the news flash that a Republic of Singapore Air Force AH-64D Apache attack helicopter had made a forced landing. Please check the earlier postings on this blog.
During operations, especially those conducted overseas in places such as Afghanistan, MINDEF's defence information apparatus may face situations when news agencies work faster than its OODA loop.
Should Singaporeans get wind of developments from online news sites - including those of dubious reliability - MINDEF will have to quickly wrest the initiative to allay concerns on the home front.
As the Forum Page letter shows, an information vacuum (i.e. parents who were unable to see who had fainted) will lead to uncertainty which in turn triggers anxiety and possibly panic.
If managed ineptly, this could erode that magic sentiment called C2D or commitment to defence.
During such situations, the defence information apparatus must ensure it is first with the news.
Posted by David Boey at 7:51 PM