It was reported in the media that PAP politician, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and National Development Sun Xueling, was at the Pan Pacific hotel on Monday (22 Jul), to help grace an event organised by Genium & Co, a leadership consultancy company founded by former SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek and his ex-SAF staff.
Before Kuek joined SMRT as its CEO back in 2012, he was the Chief of Defence Force, the highest ranking military personnel in SAF.
The one-day event at Pan Pacific hotel was to discuss “crisis leadership” in the digital age. Kuek used the massive SMRT train disruption incident on 7 Jul 2015 which affected some 250,000 people to illustrate how he had skillfully handled the crisis.
On that day 4 years ago, chaos reigned in the Singapore’s subway system. A power fault had led to a system-wide disruption in both the North-South and East-West Lines. Many commuters were angry with SMRT.
TodayOnline reported what’s happened that day:
Mrs Dorothy Chew, who took the train from Raffles Place, said the lights in her train were going on and off. “It was quite scary. I’ve never experienced a breakdown and this just had to happen on my son’s birthday.”…
Ms Janelle Tang, 27, had been waiting for an hour at a bus-stop near Buona Vista MRT station. “It was impossible to board because everyone was rushing towards the buses and the situation was very messy. There were no announcements when I was taking the Circle Line. There could have been announcements so that people can make alternative plans.”…
Engineer 38, Mr Nelson Teh, said he was rushing home to Admiralty from Toa Payoh at 7.20pm when he was notified that the NSL was down. “Their directions (for the shuttle buses) are not clear,” he said. “They said there were free shuttle buses but a lot of people didn’t know which exit to take. We had to ask the officers one-by-one.” He added that the crowd had waited for half an hour with no buses coming. He finally took a bus to Bishan MRT, as he had mistakenly thought only a part of the NSL was down. “I’m not sure what to do now; I think the taxis are also (in short supply).”
Security office Gordon Yeo, 62, whose workplace is at Raffles Place was going home to Toa Payoh. “I waited to board the train at 7.30pm. At first they told us the train journey would take 10 then 20 minutes longer. Then they told us the trains had stopped,” he said. “They provide free bus services but these are just the normal bus services … the queue at the bus shelter is from Fullerton Hotel to HSBC.”
Undergraduate Melody Gibson was at Ang Mo Kio station at about 7.45pm when she had to take a taxi. However, there were about 50 people waiting with just three to four taxis in line, she said. “The bus interchanges are crowded too. This has happened a number of times already – SMRT should make better plans to prepare for this. Why are there no shuttle buses?” she added.
“All trains are down. No shuttle buses in sight. Confusion at the bus stops. Absolute disaster,” said twitter user Kwan Jin Yao.
Kuek: Commuter safety comes first, no one was hurt
At the “crisis leadership” event, Kuek explained what he had decided to do.
Despite the potential damage to SMRT’s reputation, he chose to shut down the MRT lines as he felt that “commuter safety” should come first, said Kuek, as he pointed out that none of the commuters who de-trained during the evening peak hours were hurt.
“Putting people first” was among the lessons Kuek learnt from his days at SMRT, he said.
“Nobody wishes for crisis. But in today’s disruptive world, it must surely be anticipated and prepared for, since it is not a question of if but when,” said Kuek, who is also the divisional vice-chairman for UBS global wealth management.
However, SMRT was later fined $5.4 million by LTA for the breakdown on 7 Jul 2015.
Kuek also talked about his days in SAF. He said that the SAR crisis in 2003 and transnational terrorism after 9/11, together with new technologies and a declining birth rate, set the right conditions for the SAF to bring about organisational transformation and adopt new capabilities that helped it become the 3rd-generation, networked and integrated armed forces that it is today.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary and MP Sun Xueling took the opportunity to talk about crisis handling as well.
She said that digital platforms can be enablers and amplifiers of crises, such as in helping to spread falsehoods. But they can also be used to manage crises as part of a communications strategy.
“As leaders, we know all too well the need to be upfront with the public, with stakeholders when a crisis occurs… A lack of information can lead to panic, disorder and continued danger if the public does not know what to do or what to expect,” she said.
She said that for the Home Affairs ministry, digital technologies help leaders to gather information on suspicious sightings from members of the public using the SGSecure app.
They can also use the i-Witness function within the [email protected] mobile app to provide information about criminal activities to the police.