Between January and April 2012, the province of British Columbia was hit with a double shot of tragedy. In three months’ time, two sawmills exploded and burned to the ground, killing four workers and injuring 42 more.
Many people involved in the wood processing industries are familiar with the story. On Jan. 20, 2012, the Babine Forest Products sawmill in Burns Lake suffered a catastrophic explosion and fire that razed the mill, leaving two dead and another 20 injured. Three months later, on April 23, an eerily similar explosion leveled the Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George, taking the lives of two more workers and injuring 22.
Companies involved in resource industries all face the prospect of an event similar to the experiences in British Columbia. Biomass producers, like lumber producers, operate in an environment where the byproducts of the manufacturing process create potentially explosive consequences.
In Canada, during the past two years, considerable attention has been paid to the issue by government, regulators and industry. But there has been a vacuum in the area of crisis response and risk mitigation that companies have been slow to react to.
Truth be told, organizations with well-thought-out communications strategies fare better in the face of crises: The duration of the crisis event and public scrutiny are reduced, reputational impacts are minimized, social license to operate is maintained, and bottom line impacts are mitigated.
So what do you do when tragedy strikes? A preplanned, coordinated strategy is a must in responding to the overwhelming demand for answers from all quarters: government, regulators, the media, employees and others. Whether you have a plan or not, there are some key steps to follow.
First of all: don’t panic. Start by assembling a team. This should include senior management and emergency response personnel. Establish lines of communications to each of your key stakeholders. Designate a spokesperson and other key points of contact.
Next, you need to assess the situation. Find out what happened, where it happened, when, who was involved, and, most importantly, what you are doing about it. Determine a communications strategy to ensure people are getting the information they need when they need it. If you allow an information vacuum to develop, people will fill it with rumor and speculation. It’s important to get in front of the media as soon as possible. Stick to the facts. Don’t speculate, and certainly don’t lie. Commit to openness and transparency. Acknowledge the negative, but emphasize the positive things you are doing.
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