Mining company responds to previous blog

    Editor’s note: Today’s Milwaukee Biz Blog is a response to a previous blog about corporate crisis communication strategies.

    The Milwaukee Biz Blog by Bill Zaferos on crisis communication in the Oct. 23 web site edition of Small Business Times contained critical factual errors.

    Mr. Zaferos used the Sago Mine accident as an example of "mishandling of facts" by company officials and asserted that "mine officials announced that 12 trapped miners were alive after a mine collapse, only to later have to announce that 12 men were killed." Mr. Zaferos himself has mishandled the facts. 

    In a mere two sentences, Mr. Zaferos makes at least three factual misstatements. First, the Sago mine accident was an explosion, not a collapse, in which 12 miners barricaded themselves to await rescue in the face of smoke and carbon monoxide resulting from the explosion. Of the 12 miners that barricaded themselves, one survived and has made a remarkable recovery.

    More importantly, however, as one of three company spokesmen for International Coal Group during the Sago mine accident, I am able to speak with personal knowledge about the circumstances Mr. Zaferos so clearly misstates. Company officials made no announcement about the fate of the trapped miners. Indeed, when mine rescue workers called out of the mine to state that 12 workers had been found alive, company officials chose not to make a statement until more facts were available and the physical condition of the miners was known. The first statement that company officials made was to announce the correct information once it was determined and checked for accuracy.

    State and federal regulatory agencies investigating the Sago mine accident later essentially exonerated the company in concluding that its actions did not contribute to the fatal accident and that the explosion was triggered by a lightning strike.

    While ICG’s management does not profess to be crisis management professionals, our goal at all times was to provide factual information, not speculation, first to the families and then to the media. Indeed, we believe that our statements during this trying time and our commitment to the goal of providing correct information should bolster, not diminish, our credibility.

    I understand that the families rejoiced upon hearing news of a miracle, only to be crushed by the correct information delivered by company officials later.
    However, company officials were not the source of the incorrect information, and I can assure you that, to a person, company officials and all rescue workers likewise were anguished to learn of the actual fate of the miners later. On behalf of all employees of International Coal Group, I would appreciate an immediate correction of Mr. Zaferos’ error through the publication of this letter.

    Very truly yours,

    Roger Nicholson
    Senior vice president, general counsel and secretary,
    International Coal Group
    Scott Depot, W.V.

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