In a crisis situation, effective response communications enables employees, stakeholders, and customers to be informed of the current situation and allows all parties to set realistic expectations of a response. During the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, Hess Corporation, a prevalent fuel supplier in the northeast region of the U.S., published timely information on fuel availability levels at its working gas stations for the public. This effort allowed Hess customers to determine a course of action, while limiting extraneous efforts to attain fuel. Since the emergency situation was not limited to a specific site, the company prioritized broad-based emergency response communications to address the needs of its customers.
A regional emergency event can extend far beyond a facility’s borders. Communicating timely and accurate information to facility managers, critical decision makers, emergency response teams, stakeholders, vendors and contractors, and the public is an important element to any emergency management function. This is especially true in communicating response and recovery operations in the highly regulated oil and gas industry, which is critical to a stable infrastructure and a productive economy. If a company or a region suffers an incident affecting oil and gas companies, the financial and societal costs can escalate quickly. Effects may include, but are not limited to:
- Production loss
- Inventory depletion
- Supply shortages
- Employee safety
- Brand and reputation
- Customer dissatisfaction
According to FEMA, the foundation of an effective disaster communications strategy is built on the four critical assumptions:
1. Customer Focus: After an emergency, there is a need for highly effective communication between company leadership and facility employees. Typically, these facility employees become the first line of communication and main relationship facilitator between customers and the company. Effective and proactive communication can result in positive customer interaction, which maintains company reputations and strong relationships.
2. Leadership Commitment: This commitment must include, but is not limited to;
- Communication among site managers and all business units
- Advancing contact verification procedures
- The development of a communications strategic framework with checklists and response criteria that will guide the communications decision-making process
- Notification procedures for stakeholders, both internal and external.
3. Inclusion of Communications in Planning and Operations: Communication procedures should be included as part of emergency response plans. Each team member should have clear procedures for receiving and disseminating information. Public relations personnel should be included in emergency planning aspects and emergency exercises.
4. Media Partnership: Media has the ability to rapidly communicate public safety messages to communities, potentially reaching necessary resources and affirming proactive measures are in place. Consistent, accurate messages by company representatives alleviate public anxiety and provide a level of credibility and response competency. Public relations planning should be developed as part of an overall disaster management plan in order to sustain a positive and productive relationship with every level of stakeholder and the community at large.
“With a typical oil pipeline pumping more than $3-million worth of oil an hour, effective communications are essential in keeping revenues flowing.”1 If and when an emergency occurs, clear communication is crucial to protect lives, the environment, the surrounding community, as well as profits and reputation. Effective emergency communications should:
- Result from accurate data collection
- Clarify initial emergency response initiatives
- Be timely and current
- Remain concise to accurately define necessary tasks
- Include time parameters and follow up procedures
- Be strategic in how tasks should be accomplished
Establishing and committing to communications and public relations efforts define lines of communications with all partners, enables leaders to communicate response efforts and requirements, and ensures that public affairs staff has the training and the tools to be successful to maintain company reputation and client relationships.
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