Friday, March 14, 2014

How not to handle a Crisis

In a crisis, accurate information and facts will often be lacking, and the absence of accurate information will mean that rumours and gossip will attempt to fill the vacuum. Information management and misinformation management is key. There is no simple answer as to what is the correct way of handling information and misinformation, except to say, coordinate your efforts, check your facts, and clear all communications through a central authority.

Here is an example of how NOT to do it.

MH370: Malaysian officials poor communicators, or incompetent

Mar 13 2014

KUALA LUMPUR — The credibility of Malaysia’s leaders took a further battering today (March 13) when CNN reported that a top American transport official had described local officials as being either “poor communicators or, at worst, plain incompetent”.

Former US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) managing director Peter Goelz said this was the worst he had ever seen in disaster management, the Malaysian Insider reported today.

“There has been misinformation and corrections from Malaysian authorities on the whereabouts of MH370,” Mr Goelz told CNN. “Did passengers check in but not board the aircraft? How did the two men use the stolen passports to board the aircraft? Is the wreckage of MH370 near the last location where their radar was detected?

“At best, Malaysian officials have thus far been poor communicators; at worst, they are incompetent.”

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, carrying 12 crew members and 227 passengers, dropped off the radar at 1.20am on Saturday. Despite a massive 12-nation search and rescue operation, there have been no clues as to the whereabouts of MH370.

“There is a reason for this,” Mr Goelz said. “As you know, every time there is an accident, especially an international one like this, there is chaos during the first 24 to 36 hours. That is why there is a treaty which everyone has signed, including the Malaysians.

“The treaty explains the necessary steps and measures which are carried out to handle an investigation of this magnitude. It also explains how to involve other countries which have a vested interest, how to control rumours and release factual information.”

Mr Goelz said that, to this day, Malaysia has not followed the treaty, hence the contradicting information being released by various quarters.

The former NTSB head is the latest to take Putrajaya to task over the way the crisis is being managed.

Writing in The New York Times today, US journalist Thomas Fuller, who specialises in South-east Asian affairs, said the lack of coordination among Malaysian agencies and the conflicting updates on the search shows how the country’s leaders are simply reacting to growing criticism of the way the situation is handled, and they do not have a firm grasp on the situation.

“But worldwide bafflement at the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has challenged the country’s paternalistic political culture and exposed its coddled leaders to the withering judgments of critics from around the world,” Mr Fuller wrote.

That authoritarian trait, according to critics, is now reflected in Malaysia’s management of the mysterious disappearance of MH370, which went missing last Saturday shortly after taking off Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing. THE MALAYSIAN INSIDER

[Here is an attempt to finally put some rumours to rest. Perhaps the best summary so far... until the Malaysian contradict themselves again.]

Conflicting remarks from officials add to confusion over plane

March 13.

As the search for MH370 enters its sixth day today, confusion has surrounded details of the missing plane, with discrepancies over its last position and the time air traffic control lost contact with it, among other things.

Has any trace of the plane been found?

Sightings of debris and oil slicks have been reported, but they have so far proved to be unrelated to MH370. Crews are searching a vast area of sea and are bound to spot flotsam and slicks from vessels; establishing that they are connected to the missing flight is another matter.

Where and when was the plane last detected?

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) repeatedly said Subang air traffic control lost contact with the aircraft at 2.40am, almost two hours after takeoff, but later revised its last known contact to 1.30am.

This appeared to make more sense, since its last recorded position was 120 nautical miles (222 km) off Kota Baru on the east coast and online flight data showed it at that spot at about 1.20am, heading towards Vietnam across the South China Sea.

Officials said the plane might have turned back, but it was unclear why search teams were combing the Malacca Strait, on the western side of the peninsula, until the air force chief said on Tuesday that military radar had picked up a signal showing the plane near the island of Pulau Perak off the west coast at 2.40am — the time initially indicated by MAS. Yesterday, the military said the plane was last picked up at 2.15 am.

Who were the four passengers with suspect identities?

Only two are known to have been travelling on stolen passports. Both are thought to be Iranian, probably seeking asylum in Europe, Interpol’s Secretary-General has said.

There was confusion earlier because the Malaysian Home Minister had described them as appearing to be Asian, but was then contradicted by Civil Aviation Chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman who made a reference to black Italian footballer Mario Balotelli when pressed during a news conference on the appearances of the two men. Some journalists took that to mean that one of the men was black, though the Ministry of Transportation later clarified that Mr Azharuddin had been trying to emphasise that ethnicity did not indicate nationality.

Malaysian Defence Minister and Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the authorities were looking at two more possible cases of suspicious identities, telling reporters: “All the four names are with me.”

Chinese state media said one of the passport numbers on the manifest belonged to a man from Fujian, who was safe and well — but a different name, also Chinese, was listed alongside the number. The man told police that his passport had not been lost or stolen.

What about those who checked in but did not board the plane?

On Monday, Mr Azharuddin said the five people who had checked in but did not board the plane had their baggage removed accordingly. On Tuesday, the Inspector General of Police said everyone had boarded, though he then contradicted himself by saying one person had missed the flight because he got the day wrong.

MAS later clarified that there were four people who had booked tickets, but failed to check in at the airport or check in any bags for the flight. AGENCIES

Excerpt from:
Who Can Believe Malaysia Now?

"...we still have ministers like Shahidan Kassim, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, who doesn’t think we are doing badly in handling the crisis. He says we appear to be inept only because the DCA D-G is being “bullied” by the international media.

This not only shows the habit of our leaders to blame others instead of admitting responsibility, but also their own inadequacies when they have to face the world. They are too used to having their way with the Malaysian media, which they themselves have made meek, which they can threaten with shutdown. When they can’t handle the international media, they blame the latter. This is disgraceful.

Clive Kessler, who has been studying Malaysian politics for decades, is right. As he said to Bloomberg about the Malaysian government, “They’re handling a huge global issue as if it was domestic politics.”

He added: “That’s the way they’ve acted for generations and they are starting to find out it doesn’t work any more.”

Excerpts from:

Malaysia rejects reports plane flew a few hours after contact lost


KUALA LUMPUR — Hopes for a breakthrough in the continuing search for MH370 were swiftly dashed yesterday, with the Malaysian authorities rejecting reports that the plane had flown for a few hours after contact with air traffic controllers was lost and that Chinese satellites had captured images of the possible debris.

As scrutiny intensified over Malaysia’s handling of the crisis, the Malaysian government sought to show that it was on top of the situation by suggesting that leads provided by other countries were inaccurate and gave false hope, including the satellite images that were released “by mistake”.

[Standard Operating Procedure. Blame everyone except taking responsibility.]

Yesterday, a report in The Wall Street Journal said United States aviation investigators and national security officials believed the Boeing 777 flew for a total of five hours, based on data automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from its Rolls-Royce Trent engines as part of a standard monitoring programme. Boeing and Rolls-Royce have yet to comment.

But Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told a news conference: “As far as both Rolls-Royce and Boeing are concerned, those reports are inaccurate. The last (data) transmission from the aircraft was at 1.07am (local time), which indicated that everything was normal.”

Yet, when asked if it were possible that the plane kept flying for several hours, Mr Hishammuddin said: “Of course, we can’t rule anything out. This is why we have extended the search into the Andaman Sea.” The sea, which is part of the Indian Ocean, is north-west of the Malay Peninsula.

[Way to go! Contradicting yourself in the same press briefing. If the reports were inaccurate, you can rule them out. If you can't rule them out and you have acted on those reports, then you are either an idiot, or the reports have some credibility, and are not "inaccurate".]

An international search effort has been sweeping the South China Sea, but also focusing on the Strait of Malacca because of unconfirmed military radar sightings indicating the plane might have changed course and headed west after it stopped communicating...

The hunt has been punctuated by false leads, the latest yesterday when planes were sent to search the area where Chinese satellite images taken on March 9 and published yesterday on a Chinese government website showed “three suspected floating objects” of varying sizes in a 20km radius off the southern tip of Vietnam. The Malaysian and Vietnamese authorities, however, found no sign of the airliner.

Mr Hishammuddin said the images were “released by mistake, and did not show any debris from MH370”. He said Malaysia had received a note on the matter from China’s Ambassador to Malaysia Huang Huikang, saying it “neither authorises nor endorses this behaviour, which is now under investigation”.


Mr Hishammuddin also debunked media reports that the police had searched the homes of the missing aircraft’s crew. But reflecting the disarray among officials in the aftermath of the plane’s disappearance, Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters that the police had indeed visited the homes of the crew members. Mr Zahid said it was part of the investigation into the missing aircraft, adding that several other locations were also covered. “It is to further probe the case and add value to the investigation,” he said. Agencies

[The media is so biased! The statements are NOT contradictory at all! The Transport Minister said that it is false that "Police had SEARCHED" the homes of the aircrew. The Home Minister said that "Police had VISITED" the homes of the aircrew. These are two different FACTS! The police visited the homes but did not search the homes! Get your act together you bullying international Media!]

[How it is affecting the families. Lessons on how the families are feeling, thinking, and what they need.]

Blog: MH370 confusion too brutal for even hardened Chinese

Mar 14

By Rachel Chang In Beijing

I had been in Beijing for all of 11 days, still living out of a suitcase in a hotel room, when I found myself in the emotional epicentre of possibly the worst aviation disaster to ever hit China.

On Saturday, March 8, a Malaysia Airlines flight with 239 people on board, 153 of them Chinese nationals, disappeared.

On Sunday, March 9, I went to where their loved ones and family members, hundreds of them spilling into Beijing from all over northern China, were gathered.

I've stayed with them at the Metropark Lido hotel in Beijing since, day by day, through the twists and turns of a mystery that still isn't solved.

They are cooped up in a ballroom, with a huge media pack waiting outside 24/7. Flashes blind them every time they leave for or return from meals at the hotel's restaurant.

I was one of the few journalists who found a way to be in the ballroom with the family members over the past week.

It has felt a lot longer than six days.

The most cruel thing is, they haven't been allowed the relief of grief. They still don't know if the passengers are alive, and most remain hopeful that they are.

The moments of intense emotion have been few and far between, considering the scale of the disaster. There is no mourning. The dominant mood has instead been a frustrated, incredulous, furious hunger for information - a straight answer.

The uncertainty has only been compounded by dribs and drabs of contradictory news that they get from official sources.

Was it up to five stolen passports, or two? Are they terrorists, or not? Does the Malaysian military have information it's not sharing? Did the plane turn back on its flight path? Why are the phones ringing if the plane is in the sea?

These questions don't arise from watching the TV news, or reading wild speculation on Weibo, China's Twitter. They are direct products of the daily briefings the families have with high-level officials, which have only made things worse.

The families have no straight answers to all these questions, repeatedly posed to Chinese, Malaysian and MAS officials over the last few days.

The one answer they really want is about the phones and the social media status of some passengers, which still blinked "online" after the disappearance.

The family members are obsessed with these two pieces of evidence, which, to them, point to the fact that the plane is on land and not in the sea.

On Monday, Chinese officials told them that people with real technological expertise had to look at this and explain it. But it has been six days, and no one has given them an answer from someone with real, technological expertise.

They know there's a high chance that it's just a telecommunications fake-out - numbers redirected elsewhere, social media accounts still logged in on different computers. But they just want to know for sure. They just want to know something for sure.

I haven't been in China long, but it's obvious to me that many of them, especially the older ones who come from rural areas, are no strangers to the Chinese concept of "eating bitterness" - "chi ku."

But such sustained uncertainty over a matter of life-and-death is a trial beyond physical discomfort, beyond heartbreak.

Over the last few days, being with them in the same set of rooms, my emotions have risen and fallen with theirs, although I have no right to claim any of their pain, and no real knowledge of its depth.

I cycle through anger, incredulity, frustration, and then back to anger again, especially during those useless briefings with officials.

But one thing that I can escape, that they can't, is that insidious hope.

It has been almost 140 hours since MH370 disappeared. If it was a hijacking, it almost certainly went awry.

The chances of any of the passengers being alive, it is clear to any observer, are close to nil. Miracles do happen, but not really, not like this. The best we can hope for at the end of this ordeal is a clear explanation of how the plane disappeared, and how to prevent what happened from ever happening again.

I know this. Few outside of that set of hotel rooms thinks that the passengers are alive.

But this small bit of clarity is not a luxury - and it would be a luxury, at this point - that their loved ones and family can allow themselves to have.

They cannot leave their hope behind, no matter how many days go by. They carry it with them, a brutal burden, and wait.

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