Lessons from a Chilean Mine Disaster

Rescued miner Florencio Avalos (left) hugs Chile's president Sebastian Pinera. Photograph: Hugo Infante/Government of Chile/ Rex FeaturesAfter 10 weeks trapped underground, 33 Chilean miners safely emerged one-by-one in a capsule aptly named Phoenix. There are a lot of valuable lessons to learn from this disaster-turned-miracle, including how to manage a serious crisis.

In its blog, Crenshaw Communications listed eight crisis management lessons, which we would like to share in ours:

  1. Take responsibility. In stepping in to take over the rescue operations, Chile's Sebastian Pinera took an enormous calculated risk. The decision could have been influenced by criticism of his government's slow response to the March earthquake near Concepcion. Whatever the reasons, the Chilean actions contrast sharply with what we in the United States. saw post-Hurricane Katrina, and after the BP disaster, where the government chose to leave BP in charge. For Pinera, it clearly paid off.
  2. Manage expectations. Remember the initial estimates that the miners might be out by Christmas? Whether simple caution, or communications strategy, this was a masterstroke. It took some of the pressure off, enabled the government to succeed beyond all hopes, and made it look supercompetent in the process.
  3. Have a plan. Early on, the Chilean government communicated a Plan A and a Plan B for the rescue in a clear, methodical way. It looked organized and in control. Compare their performance with that of BP, which lurched from one solution to the next, even crowdsourcing ideas for stopping the spill in a way that suggested uncertainty and incompetence.
  4. Accept help, but maintain control. A fascinating aspect of the rescue has been the technical helpand advice the government sought from private companies and experts at NASA and elsewhere. The authorities made it clear that no effort would be spared to ensure a safe resolution to the crisis. Yet, they kept tight control over communications, ensuring that the government was the chief source of updates. This is the first rule of crisis PR.
  5. Sweat the small stuff. One of the biggest stories around the rescue operation has been the focus on the smallest details of the plan, from the construction of the tube, to the monitoring of each miner's health. The government's meticulousness conveyed not only competence, but caring.
  6. Be transparent. The Chilean PR machine was proactive, consistent and transparent in providing updates to the media. They never seemed to be obscuring facts or delaying disclosure, which often happens when the pressure is on.
  7. Be social. The government also used social media to support its communications, setting up a Flickr page of photos that documented every dramatic moment as the miners began to emerge into the light.
  8. Be there. Chile's Minister of Mining was at the site virtually around the clock, and President Pinera appeared frequently as operations shifted into high gear. Sure, the head guy can get updates from his office, but when lives are at stake, optics really matter. Sometimes you just have to be there.