Tomorrow, June 10, 2009, marks a solemn anniversary. It is the day that a gasoline pipeline running through our city of 75,000 ruptured, spilling 300,000 gallons of gasoline into a pristine, tree-lined stream. It erupted into a ball of fire that rolled a mile and half in both directions along the stream. Three young lives were lost in those moments–two ten year old boys playing near the stream and an 18 year old fisherman who had picked up his high school diploma that morning. He succumbed to the fumes and fell into the stream of fuel and drowned.
This event, the Olympic Pipeline disaster, provided a shock to everyone in our community that will live as long as those who have memories of that day. It created massive safety and public information regulations and laws in the pipeline industry. There were millions and millions in legal settlements–a process that went on for years.
I remember telling my wife on that day or in the crazy few days after it that life would never be the same. We certainly knew some of families devastated by this tragedy and grieved with them and for them. I was pulled into the response because I was a public affairs contractor for the company who was an owner and operator of the pipeline. I was deeply involved in the efforts to communicate from the earliest hours and served as the company’s spokesperson for some time.
It was from this experience that the PIER System was born and it has grown to become the leading public affairs and crisis communication technology–in use by a rapidly growing number of federal, state and local government agencies, large companies, major non-profits, universities and many others. In trying to help educate and inform others in crisis management and emergency communications what I learned from this experience and from subsequent involvement in many events and exercises, I have been quite surprised to find myself speaking to groups of professionals, writing in industry publications, and writing a blog that some people even seem to pay attention to.
The journey that was started ten years ago was unimaginable. There has been much joy and much reason for gratitude in all that I have learned and experienced. But I will tell you this for certain, for whatever has been gained, I would trade in a heartbeat to have those three young lives spared. Who can say why such unspeakable tragedies occur? But what we are called to do, is to use them as best we possibly can to make this world a better place. I hope a little of that has been accomplished.