Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mining crisis next-of-kin

It's rare for a US President to directly blame a company and government for a major crisis. President Obama has blamed the country's worst coal mining disaster in 40 years on the Massey Energy Company and government mismanagement. The explosion in West Virginia on 5 April killed 29 men and injured two. The President said: "Owners responsible for conditions in the Upper Big Branch mine should be held accountable for decisions they made and preventative measures they failed to take."

Only four years ago at Sago Mine, also in West Virginia, 12 miners died in another horrific mine accident. This event will long be remembered for the devastating media coverage where it was stated "12 Miners Found Alive" when in fact 12 miners were later declared as fatalities.

Common to both these disasters were the sad and tragic faces of family members searching for information and confirmation. A scene too often presented in these industry emergencies.

Ahead of any major emergency or crisis, a number of essential actions will prepare an organisation to communicate with employees and next-of-kin. They are:

* designate who is accountable for coordinating communication with families
* pre-arrange internal training to deliver bad news to families
* make provision for counselling rooms to manage enquiries from families
* establish detailed records of families' names, addresses and phone numbers
* arrange protection of families from the media and outside stakeholders
* establish guidelines on communication with contractors
* develop a message strategy for spokespersons to update information
* establish a dedicated family call centre and train telephonists

Organisations will be judged on how they treat people in a crisis. Effective communication is the key.

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