The tornado that struck an Amazon distribution center on Friday is the latest example of the deadly, destructive and random nature of a weather-related crisis.
The responses by the online retailer and authorities to the impact of the dozens of tornadoes that swept across several states are providing business leaders with important examples of the best practices for managing and communicating about a crisis.
The U.S. National Weather Service issued tornado warnings on Friday night for areas in several states including Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois.
CBS News reported that, “About 33 tornadoes were reported across several states overnight, as of Saturday morning, according to CBS News meteorologist and climate specialist Jeff Berardelli…The strongest tornado went through four states and may have been on the ground for 250 miles, which, if confirmed, would be a record.”
Tornado Hits Amazon Warehouse
According to Reuters, “Many people were trapped after a roof partially collapsed at an Amazon.com Inc. warehouse near the U.S. city of St. Louis late on Friday, after tornadoes and strong storms roared through the area, local authorities said.
“The Colinsville Emergency Management Agency said it was a ‘mass casualty incident’, adding that multiple people were trapped inside the warehouse in Edwardsville, southern Illinois.”
MORE FOR YOU
Based on news reports as the impact of the crisis continues to unfold, here are the best crisis management practices that Amazon and authorities in the states where the tornadoes struck are following.
Issue A Statement To News Organizations As Soon As Possible
Amazon released this statement to Newschannel 20 and Fox Illinois shortly after midnight: “The safety and well-being of our employees and partners is our top priority right now. We’re assessing the situation and will share additional information when it’s available, said Richard Rocha, Amazon Spokesperson.”
Cheryl Dixon is an adjunct professor of strategic communication at Columbia University, a communication strategy consultant and a former marketing and brand executive. She observed that, “Amazon’s response to the media is very appropriate: acknowledge the severity of the situation, share concern and care for those impacted, state their action plan and share a commitment to follow up when possible.
“It struck the right emotional tone by acknowledging the devastating tragedy and offered condolences to all who were impacted; however, the company made it clear that their priority lies in the safety of its employees and partners,” she said.
Tell People What You Are Doing
Dixon noted that, “Through [their] statement, Amazon also acknowledges that it is still assessing the situation—this is best practice to avoid spreading misinformation while taking action. This response satisfies the need for a quick response and active involvement while giving it the room to focus on investigation and recovery, allowing emergency management officials to take the lead in sharing information on the damages and impact.”
Assess The Damage
The New York Times reported that, “Thirty workers made it out of the building safely by themselves, the police said…About half of it’s missing, it’s gone,” Captain Mayfield said of the building, which is about 400,000 square feet. The other half of the building remained standing on Saturday morning, he said, adding that workers were able to safely evacuate from that area.
“Captain Mayfield said that the remaining part of the building would probably have to be demolished. “I don’t see anyway that they can salvage it,” he said.
Address The Crisis
Reuters reported that, ‘’President Joe Biden on Saturday directed that federal resources be surged to locations with the greatest need after a series of tornadoes and severe weather ripped through seven U.S. states, the White House said.’’
Get the Facts
“An Amazon spokesperson said the company was assessing the situation and damage at the facility,” the news organization reported.
According to the White House, Biden was briefed by FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, White House Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jen O’Malley Dillon, and White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Julie Chavez Rodriguez.
“Because damage assessments are ongoing, further briefings will be provided to the President in the course of the day,” according to a news release from the White House.
Tell People What You Know As Soon As You Know It
According to news reports, “Police Chief Mike Fillback at a press conference early Saturday said there was “more than one fatality… at least two.”
“He said authorities are still working to confirm how many people were at the facility when it was damaged. He said he believed the number was about 50.”
Have The Right Priorities
Andy DiOrio, Amazon’s regional PR manager, told me this afternoon that, ‘The clean-up and recovery efforts are being led by local law enforcement and officials. Our focus right now is on assisting the brave first responders on the scene and supporting our affected employees and partners in the area’.
Express And Show Your Concern
Amazon issued this statement: “We’re deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family passed away as a result of the storm in Edwardsville, IL. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones, and everyone impacted by the storm. We also want to thank all the first responders for their ongoing efforts on scene. We’re continuing to provide support to our employees and partners in the area.”
The White House announced that President Joe Biden spoke with Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear this morning ‘’to express his condolences for the lives lost and the devastation that Kentucky experienced as a result of the extreme weather that impacted multiple states overnight.
‘’The President indicated that he has directed FEMA and other Federal agencies to provide the speediest assistance possible to impacted communities. The President and the Governor agreed to stay in contact throughout the day as search and rescue operations and damage assessments are ongoing.’’
In the afternoon, the White said Biden spoke with Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, Missouri Governor Mike Parson, and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee to express his condolences for the lives lost and the damage impacting their states as a result of the tornadoes and extreme weather overnight. The President asked each Governor what his state needs and how he can be most supportive.
‘’The President expressed his commitment to delivering assistance as quickly as possible to impacted areas via FEMA.’’
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker tweeted: “My prayers are with the people of Edwardsville tonight, and I’ve reached out to the mayor to provide any needed state resources.”
Advice For Business Leaders
As I wrote in March, “If they have not done so already, companies should account for weather-related emergencies in their crisis management plans.
‘ If they don’t have those plans in place now, they should take steps to prepare and implement as soon as possible. Given recent extreme weather events and the continued impact of climate change, being “weather-ready” is more important for business leaders than ever before.’’