Clearly differing opinions on DC train crash communications

June 29, 2009

I have to say, looking at sites like, Amanda Ripley, Breakglass, and the Post and Times news reports about the communications, my judgment about the communications was rather, well, disastrous.

I detailed a series of very serious problems, number one being the interference of DC Mayor Fenty in the ability of the Public Information Officers to carry out their assignments. That’s why I was rather surprised, maybe stunned, to see this action of the mayor praised in the Ragan Communications story on the crash communications.

Of course, there is a very great danger in pundits sitting from afar judging the actions of others (exactly what I am doing of course). But it strikes me that some of these crisis communication experts are evaluating it on the basis of an old paradigm: did the mayor get in front of the camera, did he say no comment, and did he present himself well. Well, I suppose he did all those things fine, I didn’t see them. But the point is the response communication was severely (and rightfully criticized) for essential elements such as what did the passengers know and when did they know. For non-transparent communications from Metro such as the train experience “mechanical” problems. There is far, far more to emergency response communications today than whether a governor or mayor does a great standup. The fact that experts in crisis communication are not looking at the whole picture is concerning to me. But then, maybe I’m the one seeing it wrong.


2 Responses to “Clearly differing opinions on DC train crash communications”

  1. Bill S Says:

    Great post, Gerald. The comms for the DC train crash were horrible. You are exactly correct that there is much more to emergency/crisis communications than a great stand-up. In fact, a great stand-up is pretty far down on the list.

    The poor communications seem indicative of an organization that is content to simply get by and hope for the best.

  2. Gerald unfortunately you are correct. The Media does not understand the difference between public affairs activity and EMERGENCY PUBLIC INFORMATION! They (the MSM) and everyone else better learn because this is dangerous. Perhaps the Anneberg School or someone else should adopt and modiby the FEMA basic and advance courses on EPI and get it out to schools of Journalism. As for the talking heads they need to have someone stand up to them and make them realize lives are being and will be lost due to their ignorance and incompetence. I have referred to your blog on several list-serves and Please please keep up the good work as we enter the complex world of WEB 2.0 and the new social media.

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