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Public Relations Thought Leader

Unfortunately, we’re easily reminded that crises occur daily

Watching Good Morning America Monday morning while I got ready for work, I was captivated by the recent tunnel collapse in Japan. I sat with half-blow-dried hair and watched George Stephanopoulos report on the tragic scene.

Nine people – eight of them burned – were pulled from vehicles crushed in the collapse 50 miles from Tokyo. An aging “anchor bolt” that came loose, according to ABC News, likely caused the accident. The bolt caused the 1-ton concrete slabs, as many as 150 of them, to collapse. When rescue workers initially tried to reach the victims, smoke hampered their efforts. One firefighter told reporters they heard an explosion inside the tunnel and decided they had to retreat.

After saying a prayer for those affected by this catastrophe, I began to think about how absurd it was that one bolt caused such a horrific scene. One small piece of the infrastructure faulted and the entire thing was compromised.

I was instantly reminded of an incident that occurred here while I was still in college. In 2009, a parking deck in Midtown collapsed – because of one bolt. The June 29th Centergy Parking Deck fortunately had a different outcome – surprisingly, no one was injured. I didn’t know about the collapse at the time, but upon joining the Schroder PR team, I quickly became very familiar with it.

A Schroder PR client happened to be the property manager of the building and parking deck, so Chris was immediately on site to assist the client and other stakeholders involved. He worked with reporters, making sure they were given timely, accurate and detailed information. He also had to focus on another audience – the owners of the damaged cars from the deck.

Chris advised the client to keep each audience updated as much as possible, sending emails and making intercom announcements the first day and distributing a fact sheet the second day. Our client’s transparency through the entire process proved to be important in gaining the confidence of all parties involved and they were ultimately cleared of any liability.

During a crisis, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. We recommend clients prepare communication strategies before a crisis happens, but there are some things for which no one can prepare. When tragedies occur, we advise clients gather as munch information as possible before releasing anything, but you have to communicate early, even if you merely have to say,  “It’s too early for us to know the cause of this crisis.”

As Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just said in this weekend’s AJC: “Expect a fog of war environment. It’s always going to be a little confusing … The final thing is communication. You’ve got to be upfront with the public. You’ve got to over-communicate. You’ve got to tell them what you know, what you don’t know and when you’re going to find out what you don’t know. You’ve got to do it in real time.”

The accident in Japan brings to light just how easily a cog in the machine can do so much damage. Companies need to be prepared for a quick response to best assist those affected when things do go wrong. Victims need information during a crisis, either via media or direct contact. If companies fail to provide information swiftly – the repercussions could be disastrous.

Each of my colleagues is trained and prepared to help our clients through any crisis that may arise. In a little more than the year I’ve worked here, I’ve seen clients have employee crises, shootings and even social media fiascos! Crises happen every day – are you ready?


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