The Time Safety Factor

Brigadier P.J. Norton [Footnoted: "Brigadier Norton previously contributed to the Army Journal in a somewhat more serious vein. He is at present (1978) Chairman of the Regular Officer Development Committee in Canberra."]
Defence Force Journal; A Journal of the Australian profession of Arms; July/August, 1978

A soldier must never be late. It is not so important what he does, as long as he does it on time. He is trained to arrive five minutes early for an appointment. This explains the number of soldiers seen cluttering up corridors or loitering outside huts, tents and railway stations. Senior officers also must not be late, but it is even worse for them to be early. If they are, there is liable to be confusion amongst guards, mess supervisors and others concerned with their reception. However, they do arrive early and go into hiding close to their destination, appearing again exactly on time. The casual observer may detect expensive cars in back alleys or senior people on lonely side roads in the country, adjusting their medals.

To achieve this punctuality, a Time Safety Factor (TSF) is added to all estimates of how long it is going to take to get there. The TSF is part of all Army activities, the more complicated the activity, the more TSF's. In some cases they are duplicated; any person with any authority will create one. They are endemic.

A common example of the application of the TSF is a regimental parade. "I want a regimental parade at 0900 hours on Friday", the Colonel tells his Adjutant. By this he means that at 9 o'clock on Friday morning he expects to find on the regimental parade ground, all those of the regiment who cannot find an excuse to be elsewhere; arranged tidily in three ranks and all wearing the same sort of clothes. He will then inspect them, march them around a bit, and if they are very lucky, make them a short speech. A simple exercise, but the problems arise in getting everybody there on time.

The Adjutant breaks the good news to the Second-in—Command who says, "You can hand the parade over to me at five to nine". Before the Adjutant has reached the door he is told. "You had better make it ten to nine". The first TSF has appeared. The phrase, "You/we had better make it …", readily identifies most TSFs.

It is interesting to examine the Second-in-Command's motive for a TSF at this stage. He has two simple acts to perform between the time the Adjutant hands over the parade to him and the time the Colonel appears. Firstly, he receives the Adjutant's parade state. The Adjutant reading from ballpoint pen notes on the palm of his left hand, tells him how many soldiers are on parade and where he thinks the others are. The Second-in-Command can accept these figures or he can set about proving to the Adjutant that they do not balance with the unit strength. This sort of mental arithmetic is beyond most Seconds-in-Command particularly at 9 o'clock in the morning and the figures are usually accepted. He then has to 'post the officers'. This entails all the officers saluting together and marching to their places on the parade. Given the difficulties involved in getting a group of officers to do anything together, it is still a simple process and very little should go wrong, although recently arrived junior officers have been known to get temporarily lost at this stage.

These actions take two or three minutes at the most, yet the Second-in-Command has demanded ten. His TSF is not designed to allow for something going wrong during the act, the more common type of TSF. He is apprehensive that if he does not tell people to be early they may be late. This TSF allows for any previously undetected inefficiency in the organization, and is usually only originated by senior officers.

The Adjutant next passes the Colonel's wishes to the Battery Commanders and the Regimental Sergeant Major. From here planning proceeds down two distinct chains of command. Each chain adds its own TSFs and where the chains meet, an extra TSF is liable to appear. The problem is complicated by one chain, the Sergeant Majors, working to precise timings plus their TSFs, and the other chain, the Battery Commanders, working by rough estimates plus their TSFs.

Take for example one battery. The Battery Sergeant Major suggests a time for a battery parade. The Battery Commander, knowing his Sergeant Major to be a most reliable NCO, but with not much idea of how long things take, replies, "We had better make it . . . . . .".

If the Battery Commander had watched the movements of his Sergeant Major over the last few hours, he would realise how unnecessary this TSF was. Some people would take it as an insult. It is fortunate that most Sergeant Majors are very hard to insult.

The Sergeant Major has done his sums in great detail with a blue pencil on the back of Gunner Jones' application for weekend leave. He has allowed time for everything which must happen before the battery arrives at the regimental parade ground, and what is more, he has walked the course, accompanied by his good friend the Sergeant Major from the battery next door. Each of them armed with a stopwatch drawn from their battery Q Store. The Regimental Sergeant Major, returning from the unit workshops where he satisfied himself that the craftsmen and mechanics had exhausted their supply of reasons for not being on the parade, joined them in their progress to the regimental parade ground. This group made up an excellent instrument for what it was doing. It measured the total time, it counted the number of paces taken in each minute, and also checked that the paces were the correct length. The Regimental Sergeant Major having brought his pace-stick into action.

At the regimental parade ground, there was a brief conference and a time agreed upon. This was the only precise, scientifically arrived at timing in the whole exercise and what happened to it? —a TSF was added. Thus allowing for unforecast cyclones or attacks by wild elephants.

At some stage of the preparations a coordinating conference may be held. Whether it is or not depends on personalities, usually that of the Second-in-Command. It is a meeting of all interested parties where each checks the others have not forgotten anything. The person who detects the most faults in the other's planning is the winner. Timings are all important at this sort of conference and TSFs while never being acknowledged, get a tremendous boost. If one person questions a time, the person who has suggested it may be furious, but he will always agree to an increase. Imagine how silly he would look if he did not and something went wrong.

The final TSFs appear in administrative arrangements, culminating in an early reveille and breakfast.

On Friday morning the Colonel is staring at his reflection in the shaving mirror, wondering why he decided to have the parade, and Gunner Jones is standing outside his barracks filling in one of the TSFs with speculation as to what could have happened to his application for weekend leave.

The Colonel is interrupted in his reverie by the Adjutant who makes an enigmatic statement, "What about the parade, Sir?"

"What about the parade?" echoes the Colonel.

"It is raining", replies the Adjutant, water dripping from his raincoat and cap. He has already mentally cancelled the parade along with the rest of the regiment; all he needs is confirmation from the Colonel. The Colonel. not believing the Adjutant's sodden appearance. goes to the window where he is confronted with grey landscape and rivulets of water running from the roof. The Adjutant waits for the decision he knows he is not going to get.

The Colonel knows very well that decisions about parades and wet weather are always wrong. If he says it will go on as planned, it will still be raining at 9 o'clock. If he cancels it, the sun will be shining at that time.

As it is much too early in the morning to make decisions, he tells the Adjutant he will give him an answer about the parade at 8 o'clock. In the meantime he had better find out what the weather is going to do. One would imagine that the rain and its interruption to the inexorable process of getting to the regimental parade ground on time, coupled with the delayed decision would pose a threat to the whole exercise. Fortunately it doesn't, but all the TSFs are used to the last second. This should not be taken as an excuse for wholesale TSFs. Nothing was further from the mind of the TSF originators than a wet and windy morning. They all know that nobody in his right mind holds a parade in the rain.

The Colonel has carefully prepared the ground so as to cover himself if his final decision is wrong. The available sources of weather information at this short notice are likely to be quite useless, and can be interpreted any way you like. But the Adjutant must contact them and get their ideas on the matter. The instant oracle is the number in front of the telephone book labelled 'Weather'. The information recorded here is best described as a general idea of what may happen. If the recording starts off by wishing you a "Merry Christmas" early in January, the remainder of the message should be ignored. The Weather Bureau is a little better but very cautious about definite answers. No doubt they are worried about possible legal action in the case of a wrong forecast. Questions such as "Will it be raining on our regimental parade ground at 9 o'clock?" are not well received. The Air Force are very good if you are holding the parade at 40,000 feet over Dubbo. The Adjutant once rang the Navy and was struck by the similarity of their forecast to the Merry Christmas version.

By 8 o'clock it has stopped raining and a weak and watery sun is struggling through the clouds. All around the regiment faces are getting longer, with the exception of that of the Regimental Sergeant Major which now carries what passes for a smile. The Adjutant presents himself to the Colonel with his carefully edited weather report. No matter how hard he tried. he could not eradicate the note of optimism in all the reports. The Colonel does not even ask for the report, "Cancel the parade" he says, brushing the first fly of the morning from his forehead. Then noting the look on the Adjutant's face, goes on "Can't you see those clouds over there. The bad weather always comes from that direction".

At 9 o'clock it is a very nice day at the regimental parade ground. The sun is shining and the patches of blue sky are getting bigger. Instead of the regiment in three straight lines, the parade ground is occupied by one person, the Regimental Police Sergeant. He is still very wet from his last visit at 7 o'clock. His thoughts, as he collects the little red and blue flags stuck into upturned flowerpots, vary from insubordinate to outright mutinous.

Back in the barracks there is a state of controlled pandemonium as the regiment reorganises itself for activities other than planned. There are soldiers being late all over the place. At this stage it does not matter, at least not for an hour or so. Gunner Jones is waiting outside the battery office, having been told to see the Battery Sergeant Major in ten minutes.