Small town crisis communications

Recently, I went on a family trip to Carlsbad, Calif.; a charming little town my family has visited annually since I was a kid. While exploring our favorite nostalgic shops and local haunts, we found ourselves at the most popular breakfast stop in town. While enjoying breakfast at the newspaper-themed café – which included three “read all about it” references on the menu (that I could count) – the crowded restaurant was interrupted by a loud CRASH!

To everyone’s horror, a rickety ceiling fan had become loose and fallen down on an unsuspecting table below. Thankfully, the fan fell just right so nobody was truly injured, but one of the fan blades grazed a young woman’s face, leaving her with a bright red cheek and a bump on her forehead.

The whole restaurant went silent in disbelief as restaurant staff raced to clean up the mess, with the manager attending to the injured woman and nearby tables covered in a fine layer of dust. We quickly paid our bill and left, the rest of the day followed by a back-and-forth about what the restaurant could have done differently.

As a PR pro, my brain could only jump to my crisis communications concerns. It seemed clear that there was no crisis precaution in place, as the restaurant manager frantically tended to the woman who was hurt. Would they call an ambulance, just to be safe? Did the whole table get their meals comped? How would they address concerns with the other ceiling fans?

Especially in a small town – with small town gossip – I was worried news would spread and the café would have no plan on how to address it. In the hours after the incident, we were already joking about the headlines that would follow: “Customers not fans of falling fan.”
Later in the day, as we took a stroll around town, we walked past the restaurant and had our questions answered: in response to the ceiling fan falling, all other fans had been removed. Now, we can only wait to see if their strategy was effective.

Want to prepare a crisis communication plan to know what to do in a situation like this? HMA is full of issues management and crisis communication experts who can help.

Written by
at Aug 13, 2019

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