The construction and facilities industries are prone to accidents, some of which can be severe and headline-grabbing. The reality today is that we as CEOs face threats from even more areas than in days of old, because of technology. These days an “accident” can include our systems being hacked or one of our technicians unknowingly granting hackers a gateway into breaching a major customer’s system. Between physical accidents and digital ones, many things can go wrong, resulting in a need for crisis management to be deployed to address a situation.

Regardless of how rigorous any of our safety programs are, sometimes bad things happen. During the 15 years that I ran Roth Bros., Inc., I had to deal with things like a roofing project that caused a Big 3 auto plant to shut down, one of our foreman hitting another vehicle and causing injuries that prevent the other person from working for the rest of his life, and three extreme workers’ compensation cases, to name only a few. During these crisis times, I used the following to help guide me in what to say—and especially what not to say—to the press, customers, employees and the community:

  • Right after a severe incident, you will not know the facts that you will need to have to accurately talk to the press, your employees or the community. During these times, if addressing outside parties like the press is necessary, the first thing you need to do is establish emotional traction: care, concern, regret and sympathy.

    1. State only the facts that you know. Restate what happened and state the who and what, only addressing the when, where, why and how if you are certain of the facts.
    2. Discuss how quickly you responded to the matter and how much has already been done.
    3. Discuss who or what you contracted/brought in to help.
    4. Indicate if the matter is currently stabilized or stabilizing.
    5. If needed, indicate that you will cooperate fully with all the appropriate federal/state/local authorities to find out what happened, why it happened, and what you can do about it in the future. (Don’t use the word “investigate.”)
    6. State that safety is your top concern, and includes the safety of people, employees, systems and data.
    7. Finally, thank the emergency crews, employees, police, etc.

    During all of these communications, a key thing is to not panic and not to look panicked.

    Once I had this list, I reviewed it with my outside counsel and established a protocol should a future crisis happen. This not only gave me peace of mind; it also increased my confidence when a crisis happened—which takes us back to not panicking. If you have a plan in place, you’ll be calmer should a crisis occur.