The unfolding West Virginia mine disaster is a textbook example of poor crisis management. As we now know, the victims’ families were originally told by officials that 12 miners had survived. Three hours later, they corrected themselves and said only one person was still alive. The effect on the families can only be imagined.
As I was getting off my train this morning, I was horrified at the sight of several newspaper headlines. "Miracle!" was featured in large print on the front page of the NY Daily News and USA Today shouted "Alive!" when in fact all but one of the miners had died. From what I’ve read today (who knows what to believe at this point), it looks like the majority of these reports were based off rumors that were spread at the scene from one person who obviously didn’t know what he was talking about. The media, who should know better, were so caught up in the hysteria and meeting print deadlines that they were willing to trust on-site chatter instead of waiting for an official confirmation.
Although the press jumped the gun, the WV state officials are even more at fault. According to several reports, WV Governor Joe Manchin visited a church where the families of the men were gathered, and declared "miracles do happen!" As the church bells rang, family members embraced one another and ran out with tears of happiness in their eyes. This premature announcement certainly generated a wave of excitement and false sense of hope amongst the local community and the entire nation. It will be interesting to see how the governor responds to the surge of criticism heading his way.
Regardless of who made the incorrect decision on the miscommunication, today’s incident is a painful example of the need for all organizations to prepare for different types of crises by doing advance simulations and to be sure the correct policies and procedures are in place BEFORE "the next big one" hits.