Hope shows its cruel side in mine tragedy
It's a case study in crisis communications that will be talked about for years to come. In West Virginia, state and Sago mine company officials still face glaring camera lights and outraged grieving families. Bad information had given false hope to the families of the 12 men trapped by a blast in the coal mining town of Tallmansville.
Yesterday a tearful Ben Hatfield, president and CEO of the International Coal Group, apologized to loved ones of the dead Sago workers. He said that he should not have let them believe for nearly three jubilant hours that the miners were safe.
Hatfield told a packed news conference that he should have gone to the church where the families were gathered and told them of conflicting reports on the miners' fate. Instead, he admitted to standing by as the families celebrated what they called a "miracle." Hatfield said he regretted the way in which events unfolded.
"Communication problems only added to the tragedy," he said.
A West Virginia official told reporters late Tuesday night that the miners were alive and being examined at the mine. Newspapers on Eastern and Central time zone deadlines picked up the erroneous reports of the rescue. Many papers headlined the "miracle" Wednesday morning.
Hatfield said the initial false report resulted from a "miscommunication" between rescue crews in the mines, the above-ground command center and families waiting in the church.
"What happened is that, through stray cellphone conversations, it appears that this miscommunication from the rescue team underground to the command center was picked up by various people that simply overheard the conversation, was relayed through cellphone communications without our ever having made a release," he said.
He stressed that company officials never issued false reports. But the bad information "spread like wildfire," he admitted.
Aggressive news coverage also figures prominently into the equation. Steven Silvers writes about the deadline-driven media on Scatterbox.
Tags: Mining,Crisis Management, Crisis Communications, Public Relations, PR, Media by Sistrunk