SMRT Needs Better Crisis Communications

After many years of being in the limelight for its response (or the lack of it) of their train breakdowns/faults, it seems that SMRT still hasn’t quite learnt how to manage crisis communications effectively.

SMRT(Photo credits: Todayonline)

Just look at the Joo Koon Collision which happened last Wednesday (15 November 2017). From the time the accident happened to the first official statement that came from the company, social media was abuzz with all sorts of reports, rumours, etc.

Three hours was how long it took to issue the first official statement. Anyone who works in the Public Relations field would know this is just too long, and would have given rise to all sorts of unofficial reports or rumours going around; which eventually did.

According to an industry expert on Crisis Communication, “crises require sharp, quick decisive actions and not delayed meandering. The SMRT took three hours to issue a statement when a simple statement in the first hour could have been issued to express deep regret and take responsibility for the incident plus stating upfront – that their first priority now was the care of the affected/injured and that they would work closely with investigators to get to the bottom of the situation and deliver constant, accurate updates as best as possible.”

Doing it the Tony Fernandes way

Comparing this incident with other crisis of other organisations in recent years, it looks like the SMRT team senior management and communications team has a lot left to learn. In December 2014, when AirAsia flight QZ8501 crashed and killed all 162 people on board, CEO Tony Fernandes quickly made himself available to answer media queries and interviews, speaking alongside Government officials.

C(Photo credits:

He even went against advice from many people about going to Surabaya, the site of the accident to express solidarity with families of the victims and his own team as well.

Through that tragedy, he learnt that “in any crisis, you’ve got to be genuine and tell the truth. If you don’t people will find out soon enough”. This was shared at the World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit in Bangkok in April this year.

Waiting too long to weigh in after a crisis has appeared in your backyard is not smart and spells further doom, says the industry expert.

That SMRT took three hours to issue a statement, shows one thing: SMRT prioritized fact-finding over alerting and informing stakeholders.

“It also showed that the SMRT probably did not have a strong crisis communications playbook (they also thought they did not need to) that consisted of all the different scenarios that would happen in their business and the lack of a response strategy and ample preparation was apparent when the collision happened,” according to the industry expert.

“Therefore the lack of mission-critical, real-time updates was appalling. We now have so many digital platforms to help make that happen.  So that is unforgivable.”

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