Are two fatalities not enough to communicate about?

I noted on the American Petroleum Institute’s daily news email that a major oil company had suffered a West Texas wellhead blowout that killed two contractors and injured two others. In the crisis plans I prepare (for quite a number of oil companies, but not this one), I would classify such an accident as a “Red” level event. It requires proactive and aggressive communication.

I saw the news reports, which were limited to local and industry news, and saw that the company was commenting mostly appropriately expressing sorrow and offering prayers for the families and the injured. I say mostly because it seemed to me an inappropriate level of deferral onto the contractor–something the public and the courts don’t appreciate too much, at least not in BP’s case.

Curious about how the company was responding re digital communications, I was surprised (maybe dumbfounded is better to find):

– absolutely no mention on the corporate website–instead a news headline talking about their latest Health and Safety award

– They have a YouTube channel (good!) so I went there thinking they might have posted an update and perhaps further expressions of regret or sorrow. Nope.

– While I didn’t see the little tweety bird logo on their website I thought, they gotta have Twitter, and yep, sure enough, there is a Twitter account. But, the account said “no tweets yet.” Oh my.

Facebook? Yep, they got one. Despite getting 228 “likes” there is virtually no content there except they were founded in 1959. Certainly no communication about the accident.

Now, I rather expect that the position of a company like this is to do and say the minimum and hope that the event quietly goes away. I certainly am careful never to advise clients to do anything to raise the profile of a story or event. However, it seems out of respect for the victims and families and to accurately reflect the reality of the situation and the conversations going on about it, that something ought to be said. I would expect even a small recognition on their website, an official expression of condolence and sorrow, and an offer to provide additional information as it becomes available.

What do you think? Am I out to lunch here, or does this response fail to meet today’s expectations for an event of this nature?


One thought on “Are two fatalities not enough to communicate about?”

  1. You may very well be right about your concerns CrisisBlogger. My crisis training and safety training, for that matter, says in the event of death the CEO is involved and the company responds to family, community, company. But, at what level is that CEO’s response?
    In all cases the level, including social media, should be dictated by the response plan. Since we don’t have access to the plan we can debate if the level of response was appropriate.
    Another issue is these were contractor employees. The value of life does not diminish if a person is a contractor vs. a company employee. However, the contractor agreement may say they handle the response. I checked their website(s) and there is no mention of the April 5 incident on their main page, news pages or social media. So much for that theory. Apparently, the contract employees didn’t exist.
    So, let’s go back to response plan and family, community, company.
    The family response should be private and personal. Send a representative and act one on one. Let’s assume that happened.
    Community can be reached by social media, but usually the first response is to local media. Both company and contractor appear to respond with compassion, care and grief of loss.
    Company is usually internal. We can’t know what was said on the internal website and email trails.
    Is that sufficient? Probably. But let’s go to the company social media. Is there protest and concern? Is there negative? I don’t see anything that says the public is outraged.
    Should we beat the outrage? Normal teaching is anticipate the worst. Post with haste! Usually, YES! However, is response required every time? Perhaps out of an abundance of caution we should. At least post the passion, care, concern and grief, provided the contractor approves or doesn’t do this on their own. Post the same message ONCE in all social media.
    Would posting cause outrage? Another concern!
    That leaves me with this thought. Scenario planning and training is critical. This very event would make a great scenario, with local media, community and company participants. Real time and tabletop would help make this decision. And then, in evaluation, decide what should be placed in the response plan for action.
    I am not sure I debated your view or simply put my analysis to work. But, in the end, I can’t say the company responded inappropriately. Their public response was heartfelt and outreach to families seemed sincere. What they said in company private is not for us to know. Social media? It need not play a role every day.

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