By David Klucsik, Executive Communications Director/Crisis

Communicating clearly, accurately, and effectively during a crisis is never simple or easy, especially when there’s a human toll and the cause(s) are not immediately apparent. Both factors apply in the immediate aftermath of the tragic Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore on March 26.

Everyone mourns the loss of six workers maintaining the bridge roadway during the container ship collision. Everyone acknowledges the quick action of others who kept motorists from unknowingly approaching the crumbled span and first responders who quickly mobilized to attempt a water rescue at night. All are heroes.

Over the years, I’ve worked on industrial crisis preparedness in the Curtis Point area of Baltimore, an industrial area of rail yards and bulk commodities near the bridge, which I crossed many times. My work was unrelated to the bridge but underscored the context and challenges that spokespeople face in an industrial setting.

The Key Bridge collapse highlights several important challenges to anticipate in a crisis. Consider these pointers:

From the outset, address first things first: Governor Moore rightly focused on the human loss and deferred discussion of the bridge’s economic impacts on the port. He also met with the grieving families of the victims.

Second, spokespeople should resist the temptation to blame or credit the role of technology or human interactions in a crisis event. Curious journalists will ask, but immediately after a tragic event, it’s often impossible to know what caused or contributed to the problem. Sometimes, a crisis unfolds from a series of human and technical actions that might be incredibly unlikely, even if they occur separately, let alone concurrently. With that in mind…

Don’t guess; don’t speculate.  Early conjecture is often wrong, incomplete, or downright misleading and can quickly erode credibility once the facts are known.  Stick with what you know and confirm, not what you think you know.  Let the armchair experts speculate from a distance instead of a spokesperson at the press conference podium.

Finally, a crisis involving risk to workers or the public might be mitigated if public safety teams are familiar with a company’s operations, hazardous materials, site layout, etc. It’s always best to include those teams in a company’s emergency planning. Their knowledge, experience, and bravery can save lives, save the day, and perhaps save a company’s reputation.

To learn how you can prepare for and respond to a crisis, contact David Klucsik, executive communications director/crisis, at david@princetonsc.com

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