Hogeye County Sheriff Zukie Bonnett helped upright a Slyme-Yu Haulers sludge truck yesterday. It overturned in front of the local elementary school and several tons of waste solids from the Yellow River wastewater treatment plant spilled onto the children’s playground. The spill was caught on video and is now on TheyTube, an internet video site.

Sheriff Bonnett reports that he contacted officials from the Hogeye County Health Department to investigate. He believes there is a possibility that the sludge which contains human waste might also contain pathogens, carcinogens and heavy metals harmful to people and wildlife. Outraged homeowners and elementary school parents threaten to sue Slyme-Yu Haulers. Company owners Sam Slyme and Candy Yu refuse to comment.

Tilting the Scales in Your Favor

Last month we discussed the perceived arrogance of a “no-comment” in the midst of crisis. We noted the perils of trial by default in the court of public opinion and the likely demoralizing effect on company employees who risk being condemned by friends and family along with their employer. How does a thoughtful, effective response emerge from panic and pandemonium? Certainly, not by accident. Well considered crisis communications responses should include:

  • Having a crisis plan and team in place well before a crisis ever occurs;
  • Alerting the crisis team at the earliest possible moment to implement the crisis plan;
  • Securing the site or crisis location to limit access and prevent incomplete, inaccurate or misleading dissemination of information, perhaps separately retaining necessary investigative personnel who report only to outside counsel;
  • Assembling all the facts to ensure accurate information is shared with the media and with employees, while at the same time admonishing employees from commenting or speculating on the crisis, specifically avoiding chatty email and social networking sites; and
  • Having a spokesperson ready to communicate clear, concise, accurate information – the higher up in the organization the better, but not the company’s in-house lawyer or public relations “mouthpiece.”