There’s a big story today in Ontario, with the banner headline:

“Ontario premier’s office was set to back decision to quit Elliot Lake rescue

Emails sent by Ontario premier’s staff reveal shifting views” 

Here’s the story in a nutshell, from a timeline of events published by CBC online.

On June 23, 2012, a shopping mall parking deck collapses in the northern Ontario town of Elliott Lake. By early the next morning, a search and rescue team is on site and beginning to stabilize the rubble to search for survivors.

On June 25, the Ontario Ministry of Labour orders a stop to rescue work, saying it’s too dangerous and unstable to continue. In an intense series of events, the rescue efforts are restarted and crowds of angry bystanders are critical of

On June 27, 2012, two bodies are removed from the rubble.

The news today is that the government of Ontario had prepared a statement supporting the suspension of rescue efforts.

Sorry to say, I think this story is not a story at all. Why?

  1. This was a disaster, and a communications crisis. It is beyond naive to think that governments would not have statements prepared in the event of suspending the rescue operations.
  2. The government was relying on its search and rescue experts to inform the discussion and to prepare for action. Is that wrong?
  3. This sort of activity is a standard part of contingency planning. For example, when Apollo 11 went to the moon, there was a chance that the astronauts would be lost. The US government prepared a presidential speech in the event that Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins were killed during the mission. Is this terrible? It may seem hardhearted. But for communicators in crisis mode, it’s necessary.
  4. I particularly enjoy the story’s subhed: “Emails sent by premier’s staff reveal shifting views.” My gosh, as a situation evolved at a rapid pace, the staff were assimilating input from experts, gauging public opinion, and working on a communications strategy that would serve the most people in the best way? Wow. Would ironclad unvarying views have been a better position for the Premier’s staff to choose?

When bad things happen, difficult choices have to be made, and worst-case scenarios must be addressed. I don’t see anything telling me that this news story is anything more than the portrayal of a fast-moving crisis and disaster management scenario playing out. Shame that it’s being played as it is by the CBC.

Pass on the flacklife:
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