Last April, the Gulf of Mexico was impacted by a catastrophic oil spill under embattled U.K. energy giant BP, causing ongoing damage to the environment and those working and living along the coast.
We are all made increasingly aware of the enormity of the spill daily. Never before has the public been able to witness live streaming video coverage of a crisis, with underwater cameras capturing footage of barrels of an estimated 60,000 barrels of oil a day spewing into the ocean and aerial views of blackened, thick water.
One would think that a company as large and as involved in potentially environmentally hazardous activities as BP would have a top-notch crisis team – ready to mobilize should a spill occur.
Clearly, all companies need to have both a disaster recovery and a crisis communication plan in place, well in advance of any negative eventuality.
There are two aspects of crisis planning that all businesses should have documented and well rehearsed long before any crisis occurs. The first is focused on the physical aspects of responding and managing a crisis, for example, salvaging water or fire damaged property, dealing with environmental hazards, and getting the workplace back up and running without, hopefully, skipping a beat. The second is solely focused on coordinating communications. Businesses must be prepared in advance to immediately and regularly communicate their responses to employees, stakeholders, municipalities, customers and the media.
No stranger to oil spills, BP should have had a disaster team in place to quickly attempt to cap, siphon and clean up oil. BP did not appear to have either a disaster recovery or a crisis communication strategy in place. Too much time lapsed between the spill and attempts to cap it using a dome containment system. If a mobile disaster recovery team had been in place to manage the physical effort of capping the well, domes would have been at the ready and tested in advance for effectiveness.
Along with the need for a physical disaster recovery team comes the need for a communications management team that is at the ready to communicate with all stakeholders, including employees, municipalities, businesses, and the news media. CEO Tony Hayward has made appearances in devastated areas along the Gulf of Mexico, however his show of empathy was too little too late. It was a fly by the seat of your pants communication strategy. It comes as no surprise that BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward handed over management of the spill to Bob Dudley, Senior Manager.
BP has spent 2.35 billion to date trying to amend the problem and the price tag goes up by the multi-million daily. As oil continues to hemorrhage, BP stock continues to plunge, reaching 14-year lows. The cost of not responding to this crisis immediately has been a loss of any brand equity that BP strove to earn. As oil drains into the Gulf of Mexico, so is worth draining from BP.