Dorothy Crenshaw October 13, 2010 | 09:41:55

Crisis Management: Lessons From The Chilean Mine Rescue

As the world watched, the government of Chile showed not only leadership, but remarkable PR and communications savvy as it sought to free 33 miners trapped underground for over two months. Its handling of the ordeal was like a mirror image of the BP disaster. Here are some crisis management learnings we can unearth from the management of the rescue.

Take responsibility

In stepping up to take over the rescue operation, Chile’s Sebastian Pinera took an enormous calculated risk. The decision could have been influenced by earlier criticism of his government’s slow response to an earthquake near Concepcion. Whatever the reasons, government action contrasted sharply with what we in the U.S. saw post-Hurricane Katrina, and after the BP disaster, where the government chose to leave BP in charge. For Pinera, it clearly paid off.

Manage expectations

Remember the initial estimates that the miners might be out by Christmas? Whether simple caution, or communications strategy, this was a masterstroke. It took some of the pressure off, enabled the government to succeed beyond all hopes, and made it look very proficient in the process.

Have a plan

Early on, the Chilean government communicated a Plan A and a Plan B for rescue in a clear, methodical way. It looked organized and in control. Compare their performance with that of BP, which lurched from one solution to the next, even crowdsourcing ideas for stopping the spill in a way that suggested uncertainty and incompetence.

Accept help, but maintain control

A fascinating aspect of the rescue has been the technical help and advice the government sought from private companies and experts at NASA and elsewhere. The authorities made it clear that no effort would be spared to ensure a safe resolution to the crisis. Yet, they kept tight control over communications, ensuring that the government was the chief source of updates. This is the first rule of crisis PR.

Sweat the small stuff

One of the biggest stories around the rescue operation has been the focus on the smallest details of the plan, from the construction of the tube, to the monitoring of each miner’s health. The government’s meticulousness conveyed not only competence, but caring.

Be transparent

The Chilean PR machine was proactive, consistent, and transparent in providing updates to the media. They never seemed to be obscuring facts or delaying disclosure, which often happens when the pressure’s on.

Be social

The government also used social media to support its communications, setting up a Flickr page of photos that documented every dramatic moment as the miners began to emerge into the light.

Be visible

Chile’s Minister of Mining was at the site virtually around the clock, and President Pinera appeared frequently as operations shifted into high gear. Sure, the head guy can get updates from his office, but when lives are at stake, optics really matter. Sometimes you just have to be there.

8 thoughts on “Crisis Management: Lessons From The Chilean Mine Rescue

  1. Chile be proud and happy….thank you for teaching the whole world in the proper way of implementing crisis management..God Bless you all.

  2. You’re right, Jonathan. Chile faced a completely different situation, including a far smaller scope and stakeholder community – it’s truly tiny by comparison. Another big advantage the Chileans had, as another blogger pointed out, was very well-trained employees. Still, it was a financial risk for the government to take over the rescue (the millions they spent relative to the country’s economy) and an even larger reputational risk. And, I think the principles hold up.
    Thanks for the link, great stuff.

  3. I agree with the article, liked Jonathan´s insights, but kind of disagree with Dorothy´s comments that it was tiny by comparison to BP. It was a “Crisis Management Reality Show” during 30+ days, with live CNN coverage and other major venues during the rescue. It´s a different story, for sure, but there was a lot at stake: 33 human beings, the stability of the presidency of Chile and the country´s reputation. While BP, despite all its resources, managed so badly the crisis and its CEO showed tremendous lack of ability to manage the crisis, Sebastián Piñera, Chile´s president, demostrated being in charge from the very first minute, with a great plan and skilled team. One came out as the villain, and the other as the heroe, so I guess the article is very useful to try to compare different things because, in its essence, they are very similar(specially when it comes to the importance of leadership and planning during a crisis). Keep up the good work!

    1. Ha! Crisis Management Reality Show is pretty accurate. Thanks for the comment. I do think there are parallels between the two incidents, which is why I wrote the post, of course, but I take some of Jonathan’s points, particularly about the potential environmental impact of the oil spill. The mine collapse didn’t have those environmental repercussions, although the human risk, of course, was very large. But the greatest risk for Piñera, I think, was reputational, and he definitely came out on top there. It played out like a case of doing everything right. So, brava for Chile. Sad that we don’t have more examples like that one.

  4. @admin: I must say your blog is the first I’ve come across today that doesn’t have spelling errors every other sentence. Thank you for taking the time to write something that doesn’t look like a 6th grader put together. I apologize, just had to vent.

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