Environmental Crisis Communication Assistance

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"During and after a crisis, organizations are often judged as much by their communication efforts as by their response to the crisis itself,”

Carol J. Forrest

What Is an Environmental Crisis?  

Crises that can affect human health or the environment include incidents, such as:

  • Accidental releases of hazardous substances
  • Fires at facilities that make, use, or store hazardous substances (or could cause hazardous emissions)

Or situations, such as:

  • Discovery of soil, groundwater, surface water, or soil vapor contamination
  • Newly emerging data suggesting negative environmental or health effects of substances a client makes or uses
  • Announcements of fines or enforcement actions from local, state, or federal environmental or occupational safety agencies.

Communicating successfully about environmental crises requires specialized knowledge, expertise, and experience in the following areas:

  • Risk communication & stakeholder perceptions of environmental issues
  • Environmental regulation, technology, and science
  • Media management and news writing
  • Working with local, non-media stakeholders to assist them in meeting their immediate information needs.

The professionals at Rose Hill Communications, Inc. possess these capabilities.  For the past two decades we have helped both private- and public-sector clients communicate with the media, local officials, residents, and other stakeholders when situations such as the following emerge:

  • Hazardous materials spills and releases to the air.
  • Fires involving the release of hazardous emissions.
  • Discovery of or suspicion of environmental contamination--and possible human exposure.
  • Fines and enforcement actions.

Our Approach to Environmental Crisis Communication
Rose Hill Communications, Inc. offers assistance to organizations that could have, or have had, crises that could have an impact on human health or the environment.   Our expertise includes crisis communication planning, risk communication, media relations, preparation of news releases and other documents, and media and internet monitoring during and after a crisis.

Rose Hill Communications offers a unique approach to crisis communication assistance that focuses not simply on “getting through the media coverage” but on providing the information necessary for the public to achieve “closure” regarding the crisis.  “Closure” doesn’t mean that people have forgotten about an incident or situation; rather it means that they are reasonably satisfied that the crisis was handled well by competent parties, and that such an event is unlikely to recur.
Communication to Non-Media Stakeholders Enhances Media Work

Unlike many other crisis communication practitioners, we work with local stakeholders, including local officials and neighbors, during crises. 

While responding to and working with the media is invariably the focus of crisis communication efforts, we have found that—especially in crises of an environmental nature—working with key local stakeholders, who are often interviewed by the media and whose comments and concerns shape news stories, is an integral part of an effective crisis communication response.

Post-Crisis Activities—Review of Crisis Communication Performance

Finally, we provide assistance after crises have occurred.   We work with clients to assess their crisis communication performance with an eye to identifying what did—and didn’t—go well. The lessons gained through this review can be used to revise an organization’s crisis communication plans.

Post-Crisis Activities—Uncovering Remaining Issues That Could Spell Trouble Later

We also conduct interviews of various stakeholders (e.g., customers, neighbors, local officials, advocacy group members) after the crisis incident or situation to identify remaining questions, concerns, misunderstandings, and feedback on the performance of the organization that had the crisis.

This step is often omitted by organization managers who, understandably, would prefer to go back to their regular work after the crisis has passed.   However, such concerns—compounded by the bitterness that can accumulate over time—frequently surface when an organization is seeking to expand its operations, renew a permit, and the like.  

While it is possible to address concerns years later, it is better for everyone involved—the stakeholders and organization managers—to work toward resolving questions and concerns surrounding a crisis as part of the post-crisis review process.

Environmental Crisis Communication services we offer include:

Crisis Communication Planning

  • Vulnerability analysis
  • Helping clients understand what they can likely expect depending on the magnitude of the crisis
  • Preparing effective crisis communication plans that spell out procedures for informing senior management and other relevant organization personnel (e.g., sister facility managers), procedures for routing press statements and other information for public release to senior managers and obtaining approvals in a TIMELY MANNER, responsibilities of crisis communication team members to ensure that important tasks are carried out (e.g., ensuring that inquiries to the facility or organization from reporters, neighbors, customers, etc. are recorded and receive responses), and the like.
  • Preparing “background” materials that can be distributed along with news releases to reporters and local officials.

Crisis Communication Assistance

  • Developing messages that provide confirmed information and that speak to stakeholders’ specific concerns.  
  • Working with local stakeholders as well as with reporters during and immediately after a crisis.
  • Performing Internet and media monitoring and analysis.

Post-Crisis Review and Recovery

  • Analyzing the organization’s crisis response with an eye to improving future responses.
  • Performing interviews with stakeholders to identify remaining questions or concerns and to obtain their feedback on the organization’s crisis communication performance.
  • If necessary, designing and implementing a communications effort to address remaining questions or concerns.

Downloadable Articles on Environmental Crisis Communication

"A Tale of Two Crises,"  reviews how the crisis communication response was handled in two different cases, one involving an accidental release to the air of a hazardous substance, the other involving concerns regarding the presence of carcinogens and/or toxic materials at a public school.


"Practical Environmental Crisis Communication:Process and Procedures," published in the Winter 2011 issue of Environmental Quality Management.  This is the first of a three-part series that offers checklists and forms to help managers plan for crisis communication, develop effective messages, and perform post-crisis assessment and review. 

This article discusses the crisis communication planning process, including performing a vulnerability assessment, developing a workable plan for timely response, and forming a crisis communication team with specific duties to ensure that important tasks do not fall through the cracks.

"Practical Environmental Crisis Communication:Messaging," published in the Spring 2012 issue of Environmental Quality Management.  This is the second of a three-part series that offers checklists and forms to help managers plan for crisis communication, develop effective messages, and perform post-crisis assessment and review. 

LATEST ARTICLE "Practical Environmental Crisis Communication: Post-Crisis Review and Recovery," published in the Summer 2012 issue of Environmental Quality Management.  This is the first of a three-part series that offers checklists and forms to help managers plan for crisis communication, develop effective messages, and perform post-crisis assessment and review.