Category Archives: pipeline disaster

Breaking News–Pipeline explosion kills 34!

OK, I’m doing exactly what I dislike about most media–writing a headline intended to grab your attention. It is true. It happened today (Wed, Dec 26). Here’s the BBC report.

That’s the trick–it happened in Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, and therefore it will probably never be big news in the towns and cities across North America or even Europe. I got into the business I am in now because I was involved in responding to a tragic pipeline explosion in my town that killed two 10 year boys and an 18 year old young man. That incident, the Olympic Pipeline accident, resulted in huge legislative changes, international media coverage, tens of thousands of hours of pipeline safety activism, hundreds of millions in damages paid and many many more millions in legal fees, and probably a half a forest of trees turned into paper that ran all the newspaper stories. I would say nothing to diminish the importance of this event and the value of the changes made in its aftermath. But why do we pay so little attention to 34 deaths in Nigeria from a pipeline explosion–following closely after another explosion in which at least 260 died?

One reason of course is the cause–people are stealing gasoline from the pipelines by boring holes into them. So, these people are engaged in criminal acts and therefore create less sympathy when the disaster that befalls them is to at least some degree of their own making. Yet, if this happened in our town, or any town or city in North America, let alone the capital of the country, what would happen? The companies who own the pipeline would be made to pay. The fact that people could get at such dangerous infrastructure would mean it is their fault. They would be forced by legislation and legal action to make certain such acts are prevented in the future. Is this a bad thing? No. But what is bad is the unevenness of our caring. Why are we not in protest over the lack of action on the part of the Nigerian government, or after the companies that own the pipelines or the fuel in them to take action to prevent such things.

It is very clear that our activism and outrage at such things is biased and self-centered. Should our concern for the environment, for public safety and health be limited to impacts on our neighbors and fellow citizens? We are more and more citizens of the world–with communication that makes this a global village. So where is the news media on this? Where are the pipeline safety activists–even those who made a career out of it based on what happened here in Bellingham? The silence is deafening–and damning.

Phone lines and conference calls–from FEMA to Enbridge

I am more and more convinced that the time of press conferences is over. Either that, or communicators have to get a lot better about the technology.

Here’s a blog post about the crude pipeline disaster currently in the news regarding Enbridge (full disclosure, Enbridge is a client) titled “Worst. Conference Call. Ever.”

The problem: phone lines. Anyone who has tried to run a large scale telephone conference or a web meeting that includes a number of phone participants knows the challenges. Noise on the line, some dumbo goes for a bio break and puts their phone on hold which goes to music that every has to listen to. A siren goes by. Somebody starts talking to someone else in the room and he’s on speaker. So you hit the mute button–now people talk and don’t know they are on mute. Or you hit mute all and your conversation suddenly feels like you are talking to an blank wall in an empty building.

Enbridge staff clearly was having a problem managing the phone technology for a massive teleconference call. Unfortunately, as the snotty blog points out, the reputation damage acrues to the company who was trying to communicate with almost everyone at once rather than the phone company for not solving an all too common problem.

Regarding FEMA, I recently learned from a source very close to the supposed “fake news conference” event that it was the reporters themselves who requested that the phone lines not allow for questions. Yes, that is true folks. The very reporters who later reported that they were not allowed to ask questions requested that the phone lines be on mute. Why? Because they had had previous experiences with phone conferences like Enbridges. Talk about being damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

What is the answer? I think there are several.

1) get up to speed on the best ways of handling the phone technology. Test it, practice it, drill it.

2) Make clear what your approach is going to be re muting and explain the reasons, or give the participants the opportunity to weigh on the best approach.

3) Don’t rely on press conferences as a key element of getting info out. Frankly, for the most part they suck and are an artifact of a MSM-dominated era. That day is long past–although most in PR continue to forget that. What stakeholders, the public and all reporters/bloggers need is a steady stream of information in a variety of formats–fact sheets, situation updates, photos, videos, links to other reliable sources, etc. It should come not in spurts tagged to some long gone newscycle, but fed continually through a special website and delivered in multiple modes to all audiences with a high degree of interest.

This is what FEMA should have done instead of a hastily called and poorly organized press briefing. It is was the world now expects of Enbridge. Let’s hope they can deliver.