Challenge for Malaysia to give out timely and accurate reports on MH370, says report

Malaysian authorities are facing a dilemma in giving out timely and accurate information to families and the media over the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, and the reports coming out of social media are not helping matters, the Straits Times reported today.

Quoting crisis management expert Rick Clements, the report said that since the aircraft is missing, there was nothing much Malaysia Airlines could say.

"Yet it is important that any information that is given must be absolutely accurate and it should come from the official government source," he said.

Clements, it was reported, had headed the public relations team for Singapore Airlines (SIA) during the crashes of a SilkAir flight in 1997 and Singapore Airlines in 2000.

"There are always rumours and speculation but in MI185 (SilkAir flight) and SQ006 (SIA) there was no social media," he told the Straits Times.

"Here, you have speculation from everywhere spreading all over the place like wildfire. Families hear these rumours and they want the airline to comment and, of course, the airline cannot if it is not sure of the facts."

The daily noted that with the absence of a crash site or any clear clues as to what happened to MH370, the Malaysian authorities appear increasingly harassed.

"In any air tragedy, the primary focus must be family care and taking care of the survivors, if any. This is mainly the responsibility of the airline," said Clements, who now runs his own strategic and crisis communications consultancy agency.

Just as critical is giving out timely and consistent information, which Singapore Airlines was better at than its Malaysian counterparts, the report said.

It said that when SilkAir Flight MI185 crashed into Palembang's Musi River in December 1997, killing all 104 on board, families of victims waited 17 hours before they were taken to the crash site.

Similarly, when a Singapore Airlines (SIA) jet crashed in Taipei in 2000, arrangements to fly the families were made in less than 12 hours.

Singapore Airlines, the report said, had a "more savvy" media response plan on top of better anticipating families' needs.

SIA gave its first media briefing in Changi Airport at 2am, less than three hours after SQ006 bound for Los Angeles crashed in Taipei in 2000.

By 7am, the fourth briefing was taking place and there were four more before the day was over.

SIA revealed to the Straits Times yesterday that in an emergency, a senior management team – comprising all division heads – would be activated.

It said the department in charge of crisis management conducts regular emergency exercises to keep its staff familiar with activation procedures, and their roles and responsibilities.

However, it admitted that with MH370 still missing and details about its whereabouts remainining sketchy, it is a continuous challenge for authorities to manage the growing frustration among family members of those on board the flight. – March 14, 2014.