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September 16, 2010
BP Spill Recapped for Its Crisis Lessons
Those who want to strengthen techniques of crisis communication – and that should be all of us -- may never stop learning from the BP oil spill. Here, John Moscatelli, APR, Fellow PRSA, and senior vice president and chief operating officer at the Anne Klein Communications Group, gives us a dose of insight into how the spill's Joint Information Center worked, until it was subverted by political pressures.

The lesson is, use the BP experience to promote crisis communication planning and readiness, continually and forever. Tell your CEO, "Don't ever risk being in those shoes!"

"Survey after survey," Moscatelli writes, "shows corporate leaders know their company will face crises. And survey after survey shows they don’t want to invest the money or time (money) or resources (money) in planning. Either from hubris or ignorance or dumb luck in surviving other crises, they are convinced they are smart enough, nimble enough and credible enough to handle whatever the gods throw at them."

Not so, the BP experience showed. 

When the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform exploded and the spill began, there was an almost instant news vacuum. A federally mandated Joint Information Center was set up and, says Moscatelli, "it worked well ... for about two days, until the politicians got involved ...

"For the first few days, the event was titled the “Deepwater Horizon Event” (the law requires each event be named). The JIC included representatives from the responding agencies and the companies involved, including BP, working as a team. The JIC website displayed a screen showing the logos of the federal and state agencies, and the companies involved in the response … until Madame Secretary (Janet Napolitano) arrived and ordered the government logos removed and the event renamed the “BP Oil Spill.” Now two teams were at work … them and us." 

There's more, including a post on the spill's JIC by Gerald Barton on his Crisis Comm blog

So much went wrong in the spill crisis response that it should be an easy sell to a CEO to invest in crisis communication readiness. But then, BP should have learned from Three Mile Island, etc. Still, the evidence is at hand, and John Moscatelli has done a great job of marshaling and providing some early lessons. 

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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