Propane safety conference focuses on emergency response, crisis communication

January 17, 2019 By    

The Propane Education & Research Council’s 2019 National Safety & Trainer’s Conference brought together propane professionals to discuss the latest in propane safety. More than 125 propane trainers, safety managers, attorneys and state officials attended the conference, which took place Jan. 9-10 in San Antonio.

Emergency response and crisis communication were this year’s hot topics.

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Michael Meath, founder, Strategic Communications
(Photo by Joelle Harms)

Emergency response

Mark Holloway, manager of safety for AmeriGas Propane LP, kicked off the conference by discussing emergency response, drawing from his experience with the 2006 Las Vegas propane explosion.

Holloway, who started his career in the fire service industry and has been in the propane industry for 20 years, walked attendees through the crisis. One of the biggest challenges he and many other propane professionals face, or have faced, is the different modes of communication between emergency response and the industry.

“They speak two different languages,” Holloway says.

Holloway also offered some key takeaways from that particular crisis:

  • Do not place tanks near or underneath the bulk storage tank.
  • Do not keep excess tanks on property.
  • Emergency responders need to be trained for LPG-specific events.
  • Coordinate public education drives to counter negative public perception.
  • Train managers on what to say to the media.
Mark Holloway, AmeriGas Propane LP, Manager of Safety (Photo by Joelle Harms)

Mark Holloway, AmeriGas Propane LP, manager of safety
(Photo by Joelle Harms)

Crisis communication

Crystal DeStefano, Strategic Communications’ director of public relations, hosted an interactive presentation on crisis communication. DeStefano says it’s imperative for marketers to have a crisis communication plan in place.

Proactive communication is another tool propane marketers can use, which includes sharing good news about your company with the media so a crisis isn’t the first time the public hears about your company.

During the breakout sessions, DeStefano helped marketers better prepare with how to handle the media by hosting mock interviews. Here are several ways DeStefano suggests preparing for an interview with the media:

  • Get to know the media. It’s harder for someone to drill you on air if they already have a personal relationship with you.
  • Train your staff. If the media reaches out to you, train your staff to be polite, get the reporter’s name, the reason they are calling and the deadline for the story.
  • Have a spokesperson. Ensure you know who to put in front of the media in all regions your company does business.
  • Write. Down. Messages. Bring notes to reference during the interview and hand them to the reporter after the interview.
  • Bridge. A way to move the conversation away from a question you can’t (or do not want to) answer is through “bridging.” Start by saying “What I can tell you is …”
  • Silence is OK. Answer the question you were asked, and only the question you were asked.
  • Response required. Respond to every inquiry to keep a good relationship with reporters.

“We know that crisis will inevitably happen,” DeStefano says. “It’s not a matter of if, but when.”

John Hansen, Partner, McCoy, Leavitt & Laskey (Photo by Joelle Harms)

John Hansen, partner, McCoy, Leavitt & Laskey
(Photo by Joelle Harms)

John Hansen, partner at McCoy, Leavitt & Laskey, also educated attendees by sharing his experiences defending propane companies at trial.

A common cause for confusion Hansen says he’s seen in court is when a leak check should be performed. Employees should understand the difference between “out of gas” and an “interruption of service.” In several cases he’s defended, the defendant was unknowledgeable about the difference between the two.

“The code references ‘interruptions in service,’ and an ‘out-of-gas’ situation is one type of interruption in service, but there are other interruptions in service,” Hansen says.

If a customer turns off the main gas supply valve, that is considered an interruption of service and a leak check must be done — even if there’s gas remaining in the tank, he adds.

View video interviews from the event:

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