Safe Solutions

Crisis management

Bellamy Roofing Co. had been in business for more than four decades and served a wide variety of customers. Steve, owner of Bellamy Roofing, took great care to ensure his employees worked safely and participated in required regular safety training. Steve was proud of his company's safety record; since he had become president, there had been no serious injuries among his employees. He intended to keep it that way.

One day, a Bellamy Roofing crew was reroofing a school. It was late summer, and the building was empty. Several members of the crew were operating torches during roof system application. As they had been taught, they did not expose combustible surfaces to torch flames. When the work was completed, the foreman conducted a fire watch and patrolled the roof for two hours to ensure there was no fire. At the end of his watch, satisfied that conditions on the roof were safe, the foreman left the job site.

An hour later, a fire started on a corner of the roof. A passerby on the sidewalk noticed smoke on the roof and dialed 911 on his cell phone. The fire department arrived shortly after and was able to extinguish the fire before it spread out of control.

Meanwhile, at the Bellamy Roofing yard, Steve climbed into his sport utility vehicle (SUV) and headed home. As he drove, he turned on the radio. There was a breaking news story about a fire at a school, and as Steve listened, he recognized the job site as one of his. He raced to the job site and arrived just as television news crews were climbing out of their vans. As soon as the reporters saw the Bellamy Roofing logo on the side of Steve's SUV, they surrounded him, shouting questions.

Steve panicked. He never had been interviewed on camera. Despite all the commotion, lights and confusion, he took a deep breath and answered the reporters' questions as best he could. After talking with authorities, Steve, exhausted, went home. Although shaken, he felt he had handled the media competently.

Once home, he switched on the television to check the local newscasts, and as he checked different stations, his worst fears were realized. Each station was broadcasting stories about the fire, and each report carried images of Steve, nervous and defensive, stammering answers to the reporters' questions. Although the fire had caused minimal damage, the newscasts made the event seem larger and more serious than it actually was.

Although Steve had held plenty of safety-training programs, he never had considered having a crisis-management team to handle an accident. In the days and weeks that followed the fire, Steve resolved to implement a crisis-management plan for Bellamy Roofing. He contacted a crisis-management expert to learn how he could respond better in the future.

As the expert explained, there are important steps to developing an effective crisis-management plan. First, a company needs to identify the risks that could lead to or create a crisis. It also is important to determine potential audiences because each crisis has specific audiences that must be addressed, such as family members of injured workers, environmental groups, and building owners and occupants. The expert told Steve to establish a crisis-response team to be responsible for gathering relevant facts about an incident and assign a company spokesperson who would best be able to speak for Bellamy Roofing if there were a crisis.

The spokesperson, according to the expert, is responsible for communicating the company's official message to the media and must be able to remain calm under pressure. Steve realized he had been unprepared for a television interview. He had talked quickly because he was nervous and had not prepared a statement. His arms had been folded across his chest, conveying defensiveness. Steve also realized that because he had not clearly communicated accurate information to the reporters, they had filled in some of the blanks, and the resulting newscasts had portrayed Steve and Bellamy Roofing in an unflattering light.

The expert also suggested Steve train his employees for crisis preparedness. Every employee should be trained for emergency procedures, especially those on the crisis-response team.

Steve thanked the expert, having gained the knowledge to help Bellamy Roofing establish an effective crisis-management team. He was anxious to begin implementing the changes.

Peter Greenbaum is NRCA's director of education and training media.


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