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Crisis Communications Lessons From West Virginia Chemical Spill

Crisis communications expert Mark L. Behan says there are essential lessons businesses can learn in the wake of the West Virginia drinking water contamination case.

“The West Virginia case is yet another high-profile example of a foreseeable business crisis erupting into a national disaster that destroys reputations and creates long-term liability,” said Behan, president of Behan Communications, Inc., a PR firm specializing in crisis, environmental and risk communications.

“While no one can predict the precise nature of the next crisis, corporate risk managers know what’s possible given the chemical, environmental and operational realities at their facilities. The best ones identify likely scenarios and produce detailed plans in writing for responding,” Behan said.

With more than two decades of experience advising business leaders on effective crisis, environmental and risk communications, Behan said the keys to successfully weathering a crisis are proper planning; strong coordination between corporate, regulatory and emergency services personnel; candid, compassionate communication with impacted community members; and a proactive line of communication with elected officials and the news media.

“Mismanaging a reasonably foreseeable crisis adds long-term reputational damage to the legal liability the crisis itself created and raises fundamental questions about management competence,” Behan said. “The crisis is the problem; don’t let management of the crisis become the issue. A smart, systematic, coordinated, compassionate response requires planning now.”

A more detailed review of lessons to be learned from the West Virginia water crisis can be found at http://behancommunications.com/news/wake-call-lessons-west-virginia-water-crisis/.

Mark Behan is President of Behan Communications and leads the firm’s crisis communications practice. He has handled crises involving evacuations, chemical spills, industrial fatalities, and drinking water contamination, as well as matters involving internal, white-collar and regulatory investigations, litigation support, and financial and political problems.

Behan Communications, now in its 26th year, specializes in public relations, strategic and crisis communications, and serves clients across New York and the Northeast. The firm has major practices in the environmental, energy, manufacturing, health care and non-profit sectors. Learn more at: www.behancommunications.com.

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