Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Crisis Communication Plan In Action - An Evaluation Of The Beaconsfield Mine Emergency

By Thomas Murrell MBA CSP, International Business Speaker

A crisis communication plan is essential for any organisation. How an emergency or incident such as the Beaconsfield mine disaster is handled can make or break a company.

A crisis is any situation that threatens the integrity or reputation of your company. It is usually a disruptive event, incident or situation with large consequences.

A crisis or emergency is usually sudden, acute and unexpected, just like the incident in Tasmania's Beaconsfiled mine that left miner Larry Knight dead and Brant Webb and Todd Russell trapped in a cage a kilometre underground for 14 days.

Because of the dramatic nature and big impact, it demands the attention of the media. In the case of the Tasmanian incident, Beaconsfield was thrust into the world's media spotlight.

As the dramatic story unfolded the world watched and waited. The fortunes of the company at the centre could have been ruined by adverse or negative media attention.

Fortunately this story had a happy ending.

It is crucial in an emergency to tell the whole story, tell it fast and tell the truth.

A crisis can be planned for but not predicted. But it does demand an immediate reaction and response. It must be accurate and not specualtion.

So in terms of a crisis communication plan, what worked well at Beaconsfield, what could be improved and what can we learn from it?

What worked well?

The two official spokespeople - Bill Shorten from the Australian Workers Union and the resident manager of the Beaconsfield Mine Joint Venture, Matthew Gill were well briefed, credible and accessible. Simple language was used to describe a complex situation.

The media was regularly briefed as information became available. The focus was on loss of life and human casualties. Police and other services were involved. Financial loss was not mentioned.

There was community support. There was humour. Specialists were included in the disaster team. The message focussed on the human element - the spirits of the two trapped miners, their families and the people of Beaconsfield.

Their eventual release was very well stage managed for the media.

What could be improved?

It turned into a media circus. There were updates when nothing was happening. Some of the simplifying of complex mining terms was overly simplistic at times.

So what can be learnt from the disaster and dramatic rescue?

1. Pull Together Your Resources.

As soon as an incident happens set up a crisis communication team, including management, legal, HR, IR, and corporate communication specialists.

2. Determine The Facts.

Gather the facts. Double and triple check for accuracy. Do not speculate.

3. Prepare A Statement.

The order of priority should be a statement concerning loss of life or human casualties. Then environmental damage if appropriate, followed a long way behind by property damage, pay impact and financial loss if mentioned at all.

4. Notify Appropriate People.

Emergency services, rescue teams, police, medical specialists, hospitals, management.

5. Notify Next Of Kin.

Enough said. They want to hear from those in authority not from third parties or through the media.

6. Handle Media Queries.

Stick to the facts. Don't speculate. Stay on message. Provide timely information to avoid the rumour mill.

7. Handle Media On-site.

Beaconsfield and the drama became a big worldwide media story once it was known the two trapped miners were alive. The public were captivated with the story of how to get them out safely. The media descended on the tiny Tasmanian town on the banks of the Tamar and handling them on-site became a major challenge in terms of time, effort and resources.

8. Arrange Regular Briefings.

In a case like this, the media have an insatiable appetite for information. Provide regular updates so you control the message rather than the vacuum being filled by informal and often inaccurate sources.

9. Don't Place Blame or Speculate.

Do not play the blame game or try to judge the future. Focus on the present and now.

10. Evaluate and Learn.

Once the dust has settled - debrief, learn and modify your crisis communication plan for next time. Document the process and plan for the future.

Out of adversity always comes opportunity.

Road-test your crisis plan in a hypothetical scenario so you are prepared before an emergency.

A small investment now will save your reputation later.

Want help? We deliver customised emergency and crisis media communications training. This is an investment to manage future risk.

Email me direct for more information at

For more great PR ideas visit my website.


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