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Crisis Management Advisory Board

Averting a Potential Catastrophe

The Challenge

A medium-size chemical manufacturing company was accused of releasing toxic by-product residues into the river adjoining its production facility. Convinced that the accusation was baseless, however, realizing the potential firestorm it might be facing, the company and its public relations firm recognized the need to act quickly by gaining external expert perspectives on how to effectively assess and manage the situation.

The Solution

Within 72 hours, a Crisis Management Advisory Board of 11 experts was assembled. They comprised 2 PhD marine biologists specializing in chemical spills; 2 nationally prominent environmentalists; 2 industrial chemists; 2 medical experts; 1 former EPA official; 2 outside attorneys specializing in chemical spills.

After a statement from the company's CEO and briefings from 2 company officials, an intensive, facilitated discussion ensued that was driven by 8 key questions posed to the Crisis Management Advisory Board.

  1. What other source, unrelated to the company, could account for the detected levels of residue - What was the EPA’s upper safety limit (ppm)?
  2. What was the margin of error and lab-related variances in water sample testing?
  3. Regardless of the source of the chemical, and based on the levels found in the samples, what was the toxicity profile and potential impact relative to the river's ecosystem - plants, animal life?
  4. What were the direct and indirect health risks to humans?
  5. What would be the time and cost of a cleanup?
  6. What was the burden of proof under state and federal laws, and conversely, how could the company "prove" it was not responsible?
  7. What were the key elements of an appropriate crisis response plan?
  8. What formal statements could be issued to the media?

The Outcome

From the information and guidance provided by the Crisis Management Advisory Board, and particularly from the prepared Report and Analysis of the meeting, the company and its PR firm developed a comprehensive plan-of-action consisting of key strategies and tactics for effectively diffusing the situation.