Not to belabour the point about effective information management, as I hear the National Day Parade 2011 Executive Committee (EXCO) is on top of the issue, but Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel tasked with media relations should never feel pressured to answer a media query even when the journalist's print deadline is looming.
Cue tables show that the pyromusical was set to take place around 8:05pm. Assuming the newsroom was contacted soon after, the EXCO had under four hours to respond before the paper went offstone, which is press jargon for sending the paper to print.
When I read the denial in The Sunday Times, I felt something was not right as investigations are seldom wound up in so short a time.
Suggested learning points are as follows:
1. Never comment when investigations are underway.
2. A holding statement that underscores the EXCO's commitment to get to the bottom of things and assure the public will suffice. Something like: "It is premature to comment as investigations are ongoing. Checks will be thorough as the safety and security of NDP spectators and participants are our top priorities."
3. Institutionalise learning points for future committees so younger officers will learn from this episode. It is not a show-stopper but should not be repeated in future as it robs MINDEF/SAF of its credibility: one day deny, next day admit.
4. The MIDAS programme in 39 SCE could be used to plot and predict the debris field from the fireworks display. This would indicate the range rings for the safety zone and also the beaten zone under varying wind conditions.
5. Finally, an environmental impact assessment should be conducted in Marina Bay to ensure water is not polluted by years of repeated fireworks displays. The colourful fireworks are created by adding heavy metals to gunpowder and we need to check what impact such displays might have on water quality in the reservoir.