CF Industries Inc., is the world’s second largest manufacturer of nitrogen based fertilizers. Donoghue and Associates designed and implemented the company’s global Crisis Communications Plan for all its sites as well as the corporate office in Chicago.
On December 7, 2015, the Medicine Hat plant experienced its first fatality in 30 years when a contractor died and another was injured in a major release of ammonia. The incident was devastating for the site and all employees because the site had won many awards for its safety record and had been frequently publicly acknowledged for its powerful safety culture.
Donoghue & Associates President Tom Donoghue immediately traveled to Medicine Hat from Calgary as the site had immediately activated its Crisis Operations and Crisis Communications Plan moments after the incident. The site had contacted the Chicago corporate office to notify them of the incident according to strict Crisis Communication guidelines outline in the Plan and exercised annually for 18 years by site personnel frequently with local police, fire and civic emergency management personnel.
Initially Chicago based corporate personnel tried to take over management the incident and crisis communications instructing the site to conduct no media interviews, remain silent and limit all information coming from the plant. A technique common in the United States, but not common in Canada, especially with progressive companies in Western Canada. The plant had already conducted a dozen media interviews generating timely, reliable and accurate media coverage. The site’s Canadian legal counsel was involved in the process and supported the communications initiative contrary to the company’s U.S. legal advisors who had no experience dealing with Canadian media, or the Canadian legal system.
The media coverage during and after the incident was reliable, accurate and sensitive to the tragic events because of the site’s 18 years of conducting an open communications policy in the community, because of its adhering to a progressive media policy of being first and fast with both good and bad news, and because of it having built a reservoir of good will that the site drew upon during and after the December 7 incident. The site drew praise from the community and the media for it open, honest, helpful and candid communications in the face of and terrible and traumatic event.
Tom Donoghue APR, President, Donoghue & Associates Inc., Calgary, Alberta, Canada.