1. Deepwater Horizon. Eleven oil platform workers died and 5 million barrels of oil were released into the Gulf of Mexico when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off the Louisiana coast in 2010. BP’s attempt to blame other parties backfired, and the different organizations became adversaries. BP’s approach was seen as a refusal to take responsibility. Practice, practice, practice, especially with your partners.
2. Exxon Valdez. Exxon Valdez’s 10-million-gallon oil spill in the Prince William Sound in 1989 continues to be a source of litigation and contention. The company initially declined media requests. When the chairman finally gave an interview, he was unprepared and unimpressive. Companies must have a bank of trained, prepared spokespeople to respond to inevitable media requests. Refusing to speak to the media is never an option.
3. Piper Alpha. In July 1988, an explosion on Occidental’s Piper Alpha Platform in the North Sea killed 167 men. Occidental had no local response team, so the local police took the role of informing families about injuries as well as fatalities (under U.K. law, it is always the role of the police to inform families of fatalities, but not of injuries). Because the process was slow, the company was accused of not caring about employees or their families. Major incidents require a coordinated response.
4. Pan Am. The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the town of Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 killed 243 passengers, 16 crew members, and 11 people on the ground. Because the incident was a terrorist attack, Pan Am made a conscious decision that it was not going to communicate about the disaster because it was the “victim” not the “villain.” The media went to bereaved relatives instead. Pan Am’s silence ensured that it became the villain. Whatever the causes, companies need to take part in any rescue and response efforts. Companies cannot be victims.
5. Miracle on the Hudson. In 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 made an emergency landing on the Hudson River, allowing all 155 passengers and crew to be safely evacuated. The airline chose to focus on and leverage the heroic actions of the crew members and publicly praised their “five outstanding aviation professionals.” While the story may have been different had there been fatalities, the incident enhanced the company’s reputation. You can set the narrative for your crisis.
Andrew Griffin is the CEO of Global Crisis Management Consultancy Regester Larkin