Lessons from a Crisis Past

TVA’s Coal-Filled Christmas Stocking
by Eric Seidel, CEO

“The prescription for remedying any disaster is to demonstrate empathy and to communicate those concerns from those at the top of the organization.”

Bull’s-eye! The above quote comes from the June 3, 2009 blog posting (“Thinking the Unthinkable”) by Ken Silverstein, editor-in-chief of EnergyBiz Insider. It’s an excellent piece on preparing for a crisis before one hits.

Silverstein focuses on the Tennessee Valley Authority’s huge spill of 5 million cubic yards of coal ash shortly before Christmas. A crisis that continues resonating.

Late last year, after observing the first hours and days of that unimaginable catastrophe, Executive Rewind evaluated TVA’s initial crisis response. It was our contention that management was virtually invisible and seemingly inaccessible during the Christmas weekend while residents who either lost their homes, or were surrounded and trapped by the oozing mass, or frightened that the spill was heavily tainted with toxins, were left during that weekend to pretty much fend for themselves. There were no deaths, fortunately, but fears were confirmed when water tests indicated elevated levels of deadly pollutants that killed hundreds of fish.

Also, we made the point that this spill and its handling could not have come at a worse time for the utility industry. The new Obama Administration was less than a month away from taking power along with a heavily Democratic Congress, both with a very sensitive ear honed in on the anti-coal forces in Washington. (Silverstein alluded to these facts, as well, in a May 11, 2009 post entitled “Pouring on Coal Waste.”)

I second the advice Ken Silverstein offers in his blog. And, while his area of expertise is in the energy and utility industries, the wisdom of what he says is applicable to any organization/business, whether large or small. Your good name and continued prosperity might just depend on it.

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