Public relation officer’s agencies are very important people to any organisation as they are the ones who in my opinion keep the ball rolling day in day out. Being a public relations officer, he or she must learn how to handle the media learn how to get clients to keep the business running and most importantly learn how to manage a crisis. There was crisis which took place in 1986, the Hotel New World collapse.
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15 March 1986, at approximately 11.25 am The Hotel New World, which is also called the Lian Yak building, located at the junction of serangoon road and owen road, collapsed killing 33 people with 17 survivors. This collapse was a major factor why buildings in Singapore now are much more versatile and less likely to collapse. This was a major disaster which could also be classified as a crisis. And I believe there could have been more effective ways where they could have reacted better and save more lives.
2. Crisis management
First and foremost what is crisis management? Crisis management, also known as ‘firefighting’, is where you know how to avoid the crisis if it’s possible and appropriately react to the crisis if it cannot be solved (Bernstein, 2011).
During a crisis having a crisis team would be essential. Also the members of the team should be able to tell the higher officials in their organisation what to do during a crisis with no fear. The team members should consist of two spokesperson who are the mouth. One will be a backup. A leader who is the brain, someone who will make the important decisions and are accountable for those decisions, such as the CEO or owner of the organisation. And a lead in-house professional and the full PR agency team also known as the hands, for breadth of reach and redundancy reasons (Anthonissen, 2008).
The spokespersons, also known as the mouth are representatives of an organisation. How many spokesperson an organisation needs depends on the size of the organisation as they might have many outlets in many countries. But the basics are two spokesperson. The first one would be the primary spokesperson. He or she would represent the company while handling the media. The second one would be a backup He or she will represent the company if the first spokesperson is not available or if is need to explain the crisis in another location. Also these spokesperson need to be media trained. They should know how to handle the media as it’s the organisations reputation which is at stake. Thus making a wrong move in front of the media would further add to the crisis hence the spokesperson need be a specialist but must be able to handle the media well.
Next is the brain which is the crisis committee. This crisis committee is led by the leader who might be the CEO or owner of the company. The committee`s first job is to make a decision on how will they be operating during a crisis. A very simple way to operate is to make sure majority of the team agrees on the decisions made. But this might not be the best option as ex British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher said, “Consensus is the negation of leadership”. The team must co-operate with the leader to make it an effective committee.
Also in the team one person has to be in-charge of all the communications taking place during the crisis This person has to be responsible for-
getting the team together during the crisis
Communicating the needs of the committee to the mouth
Approving all communication messages before they go live
Reporting the situation as it develops to the crisis committee
Reporting the total crisis once it`s all over (Anthonissen, 2008).
Usually the people who are in charge of communications point are the lead in-house communications professionals.
During the crisis having a media contact team is also vital. As during the crisis calling up the media and updating would be time consuming thus this team would handle the information being given to the media. The team will need to inform he media about press conference etc. To have a good media contact team they must-
Have good press contacts
Have a clean and updated full media list at any given time
Understand how journalists and editors from different news media work
Be practised at media tools
Have facilities to translate documents and provide simultaneous translations at a press conference or media interview, if required
Have ability to move very quickly(Anthonissen, 2008).
Therefore having these qualities would make the media contact team much more useful and essential to update the media about the crisis. Thus that would be one burden of the shoulders of the leader and therefore concentrate on how to resolve the crisis much more efficiently.
A good public relations officer will not think that crisis would not happen in his or her organisation and would be well prepared for it. Therefore they must be well prepared for a crisis by looking into what could be the possible areas that might cause a crisis.
Next they must come up with a crisis plan. A good public relations officer will plan out everything in detail on what to do when a crisis occurs. This crisis plan can include information such as what are the steps to take by the staffs, crisis management team members.
Lastly they must implement the action plan. Planning for a crisis is one thing. But facing a real crisis will be very stressful and it will be a much tensed environment thus no matter how hard an organisation plans out a crisis plan it would be tougher when faced with a real crisis. Therefore it is important to select members of a crisis team for their ability to remain calm and in control while under pressure (Ali, 2011). Also during the crisis every member of the crisis management team should have a copy of what the crisis plan is. Also they should know what their roles are during a crisis. Therefore ensuring a smooth crisis management during a crisis.
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There are three types of crisis. They are creeping crisis, slow-burn crisis and sudden crisis. Creeping crisis is where a crisis is foreshadowed by a series of events that decision-makers don’t view as part of pattern. An example of a Creeping crisis is when the steps take to save a person’s life in an emergency situation is not clear. Slow burning crisis is where the signs or warning has been given about the situation but it has not caused any damage to the organisation yet. An example of slow burning crisis is when the organisation goes thru a lawsuit, discrimination complaints or when the organisations reputation is at stake. Sudden crisis is where the damage has been already inflicted and the crisis will get worst if the damage is not contained well. An example of sudden crisis is when a fire breaks out in the building or when the building collapses.
The Hotel New World disaster is classified under the category of sudden crisis as it the building collapse was an unexpected event which took place too quickly for anyone to react in time.
The Hotel New World crash shocked everyone in Singapore. It killed a total of 33 people. The crisis is considered to be one of the worst in Singapore history. Before the collapse the building was also in the headlines as it left 35 hotel customers unconscious in August 1975 due to a carbon monoxide leak. The building came down within less than a minute. It was completely demolished. There were 17 people stuck in under rubbles still alive who were eventually the survivors. The building was occupied by an industrial and commercial bank and a night club. But major parts of the building were taken up by The Hotel New World.
On 15 march 1986 at approximately 11.25 the lian Yak building came crashing down to rubbles. The building was brought sown within less than 60 seconds. The first call to the SCDF was made at 11.33 sending out their men to the area. First to arrive at the scene was station officer Abu Bakar. He was in charge of the first two fire engines which arrived at the scene with the thought of just nothing more then just a fire outbreak. Upon reaching at the location he then realise its way worst then what he had expected. There was not enough time for anyone inside the building to have escaped in time.
Once the rescue team had arrived at that place they started planning on how to operate this mission as this building collapse was the first of its kind in Singapore thus the rescues team were not well trained for this situation and also the equipment’s were not the appropriate ones used for this type of rescue mission. By noon most of the ministers had arrived at the scene too and almost all the available rescue officers were deployed in order to help the survivors escape thru the rubbles. On first 2 days they tried removing the rubbles first then finding for people. After that on the second day the rescue officers consulted experts whom were at that time tunnelling for the MRT lines in Singapore. Then with their assist the rescue team had work intensively to find for survivors. On 19 march 1986, the rescue mission was called off. A total of 50 people were trapped under the rubbles of the building. 33 people died at the scene. There were only 17 survivors.
Then president, Mr Wee Kim Wee had then set-up a group on 22 march to investigate why the building crashed without any warning. This team which was assembled consisted of Mr Justice L. P. Thean, Dr A Vijiaratnam, Professor S. L. Lee and Professor Bengt B. Broms. On 16 February 1987 the final report was submitted to the president. It gave the full details about the building the building owners and especially on why the building crashed was revealed. The main cause of the collapse was in the structural design. According and to the Report of the inquiry into the Collapse of Hotel New World, “Analyses of the structural design showed that the dead weights of many structural elements were underestimated and that a large number of individual structural members were grossly under-designed”. This is quoted directly from the report. This shows that the building is in fact a ticking time bomb. And the mistake was indeed made 15 years ago when the drawings of the building were made was the. Next was the construction. The quality of the way the building was being constructed was “unsatisfactory” according to the report. Reinforcements were less than what was stated in the R.C drawings.
Also there was no professional supervision in the construction site which was one of the many factors leading to the collapse. And finally three of the pillars in the building had cracked thus bringing the Lian Yak building down on 15 March 1986. It could stand its own weight because the building was like a time bomb waiting to collapse and when there were new installations placed in the roof the Lian Yak the building it could not hold any longer thus collapsing.
The inquiry also brought to light that the managing director of Lian Yak Realty was the one who was the overall in-charge of the building. But unfortunately he had died in the collapse. It was revealed that he had actually used draughtsman to build the building. And the engineer did not calculate the weight of the building properly thus making the building collapse. Also after this incident, the Singapore government had made all their constructions of building rules much more tighter, did checks on existing buildings and find out which buildings were at risk and also they gave the power of authorising and inspection of the buildings to the Ministry of National Development.
In my opinion this disaster could have been easily avoided. It was due to carelessness which caused 33 people lives. First and foremost I believe the managing director should not have overseen the construction of this building alone and they should have had group or a team which represents the Lian Yak realty company.
Also I believe the communication process which went through the organisation was poor as in the end the managing director was at fault for hiring draughtsman to build the building. This shows that the organisation did not check what was the managing director’s doing or who he was employing at the construction site. This is where a public relation officer would be vital. As they can come with a check list on what can be done when there is a crisis. What are the minor and major things to take note during a crisis.
Also in my opinion I believe the government could have done their part by ensuring all the rules and regulations for construction were followed strictly. The recommendations that were given in the report could have been implemented earlier. They should have learnt from past disasters such as the collapse of Broadway’s Grandest Hotel which took place in the year 1973. Also they could have better prepared the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) in theses type of crisis. They could haves sent them for training overseas instead of taking the hotel new world collapse as a lesson. This crisis clearly shows that nobody was prepared and had the mentality that the building will never collapse thus in my opinion a contributing factor for so many deaths.
There are ways that could prevent this kind of sudden crisis. There are a lot of measures to be taken to avoid such crisis would be vital in life and death situations. Thus one must be prepared to face all kinds of situation. The definition of being prepared here is having a plan ready to be executed when there is a crisis (Anthonissen, 2008). This firstly there must be a check list created on what to do when a crisis occurs. When creating the check list the public relation officer must think of all possible crisis and what are the steps to avoid the crisis or escape the crisis. Like I earlier mentioned one must not be too complacent and think to themselves that the crisis would not happen. As a public relation officer we must expect the unexpected. Thus creating a check list would be beneficiary to anyone who uses it during a crisis.
Also like earlier mentioned having a crisis management team would be very vital. Successful managers are those who work with successful teams (Hunsaker, 2001). Not only that the team should consist of people from various departments thus they would be aware of what to do when a crisis situation occurs. Thus it would be easier for them to escape during a sudden crisis compared to only one person handling the whole situation. This causes more stress on that individual this sharing the workload would be the best thing to do therefore having a crisis management team is definitely a positive impact.
There also ways where we can prepare the people by having drills to for a sudden crisis would be a good solution to better prepare them and make sure they know what to do when having a crisis. There are three types of crisis drills. They are Tabletop exercises, Drills and Full scale exercises (Bernstein, 2011). Firstly the tabletop exercises. These exercises are usually done with the people sitting around a table. It’s a discussion where the key manager explains the roles of the people during a crisis (Bernstein, 2011). Next is the Drill. Drills are where a specific department might be put to test to see how they would react when in crisis. External officers might sometimes do the evaluation. Finally the Full-scale exercise. As the names says it full-scale exercise, the organisation, the people working in that building will be put to test when they re-enact a crisis situation and would then see how quickly they escape and checking if their crisis management has been successful
The Hotel New World collapse could have been a crisis avoided but the collapse has now educated the people the relevant authorities on how to improve their crisis management skills. The SCDF got experience on how to manage a sudden crisis like The Hotel New World collapse. The Singapore government came down hard on the rules of buildings. From a PR point of view, in my opinion the Lian Yak Realty failed in handing this sudden crisis. Yes this was a lesson but I believe the Lian Yak Realty should have been better prepared and should have at least done their part in the aftermath of the collapse. I am sure this crisis should have been avoided if there was a proper organisational structure in Lian Yak realty. This was an incident which changed the future of Singapore in terms of how the buildings were constructed and how to handle a crisis.
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