Crisis preparedness challenges for seveso companies

As a company we got into integrated crisis management back in 2004 when we were involved in a large-scale crisis at a seveso company. At that point we decided to dedicate ourselves entirely to all things crisis. Eighteen years later we still collaborate closely with lots of seveso companies. From those experiences, we learned that a solid and safe policy for such sites involves more than just the seveso requirements. In this post, we briefly summarise some challenges we encountered at seveso companies in the past 20 years and how we shaped our response to those challenges.

Once upon a time

The first seveso case PM ever faced was also our first crisis situation ever. Indeed, before PM was the established crisis agency it is today, current partners and founders of PM, Stijn Pieters and Hugo Marynissen, were strategic communications and PR consultants. In their role, they advised the operator of the Belgian gas grid when the Ghislenghien gas disaster happened. Crisis communication as a discipline did not exist back then and therefore Stijn and Hugo were asked to adapt, improvise and overcome the challenges that arise during crisis. They noticed the huge margin for improvement in terms of crisis management for companies dealing with exceptional risks, and thus PM • Risk Crisis Change was born.

Bringing crisis communications to the war room

Our story highlights what part of integrated crisis management is mostly missing: communications. Clear crisis communications helps protect the licence to operate for companies in a high-risk sector. Yet we often notice that this third pillar of integrated crisis management, alongside operational crisis response and strategic crisis management, does not get the attention it deserves. For PM, crisis communication remains a focal point. Every year, we write and revise several emergency or crisis plans for high-risk companies and always strive to include crisis communications agreements in those plans as well. If these efforts do not suffice, however, they can always count on our acute crisis support hotline, with PM’s advisors taking on the communications role within their crisis organisation.

Making the emergency plan an ally rather than a burden

Every seveso company is obliged to have an emergency plan that complies with the requirements of the seveso directives. The challenge, however, is to ensure that the plan does not become a handcuff when you need it. This too has become a speciality of PM over the years. We have learned that a plan should incorporate robuust structures and methodologies for cooperating during a crisis, as well as techniques that can be practised and which one can unconsciously use in stressful situations. In doing so, we partly eliminate the need of wanting to prepare 20 scenario’s in great detail, knowing full well that a scenario never happens exactly like you predicted it.

Recognise these challenges? Or do you have more to add? Reach out to us and let us exchange thoughts.

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