More Crisis Lessons In The Aftermath Of Norfolk Southern’s Train Accident


The Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, earlier this month continues to provide corporate executives lessons for preventing, managing and recovering from a crisis.

Don’t Be Hypocritical

Norfolk Southern “presents itself as a backbone of the nation’s economy—a safe and relatively green way to transport freight,” the Washington Post observed.

“At the same time, labor leaders and federal officials say, it aggressively resists proposed regulation by Washington, opposing new safety standards while searching for loopholes through existing rules.,” the Washington Post wrote.

Expect Blowback

Don’t be surprised when those affected by a crisis are critical of your efforts to prevent or address the situation.

Following the February 3 derailment, angry and frustrated residents of East Palestine grilled Gov. Mike DeWine and Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw on key concerns at a CNN town hall.

Their issues included air and water safety, cleanup efforts and whether the chemicals released following the crash could have long-term health effects on their families and children—some of whom have said they are still feeling sick weeks after the massive derailment, the news organization reported.

Jim Stewart, a lifelong 65-year-old East Palestine resident, said he is angry and disgusted about what happened to his hometown.

In response, Shaw apologized and vowed to make it right through proper cleanup and reimbursing residents.

Answer All Questions

Be sure to have answers to all questions that will be asked about your company’s role in causing or addressing a crisis.

Residents “left the town hall feeling frustrated after many [of] their questions went unanswered, despite their repeated attempts to get clarity on safety measures,” according to CNN.

An Ounce Of Prevention Is Worth A Pound Of Cure

Rail workers and union leaders told Fortune the Ohio derailment “is only the latest extreme example of the kind of train accident constantly taking place across the U.S. And they say it’s the result of years of underinvestment, cost-cutting, and pushback against safety protocols in an industry controlled by just a few major companies.

“The industry needs to be brought back under control,” Michael Paul Lindsey, a locomotive engineer and member of Railroad Workers United, a group representing workers from different unions,” said. “We have problems with these massive long trains everywhere along the way, and companies are insistent that it has to work, even if we cut corners doing it.”

Expect Analysis And Calls For Reforms

Depending on the nature, scope and impact of a crisis, there will likely be analyses of the situation and recommendations on how to prevent a reoccurrence.

Sarah Feinberg, who headed the Federal Railroad Administration under President Barack Obama, said ‘the derailment points to a systemic breakdown in the federal safety regulatory process,” the Washington Post reported.

“She said federal safety officials have faced challenges for decades in getting new rules through a vetting process, where critical safety measures can be subject to long delays and are routinely watered down by industry influence or bureaucratic struggles over costs and benefits,” according to the newspaper.

Be Prepared To Pay

The Environmental Protection Agency ordered Norfolk Southern to clean up any resulting contamination and pay all the costs, the New York Times reported.

The company “will not only be compelled to identify and clean contaminated soil and water, but also must reimburse the E.P.A. for the costs of cleaning private homes and businesses, according to the agency. If the E.P.A. deems that Norfolk Southern has failed to complete any of the tasks it has been ordered to do, the agency will conduct the cleanup itself and charge the company triple the cost, it said.”

“This order represents one of E.P.A.’s strongest authorities to hold a company accountable for jeopardizing a community’s health and safety,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said. “I know this order cannot undo the nightmare that families in this town have been living with. But it will begin to deliver a much needed justice for the pain that Norfolk Southern has caused.”

Try To Make Amends

Do what you can to help mitigate the impact of a crisis.

School Donations

On Friday, Norfolk Southern announced Friday an initial $300,000 donation, without condition, to the East Palestine City School District to support the district’s academics, athletics, extra-curricular activities, and its long-term contingency planning regarding the impacts of the derailment.

“As soon as I heard that the East Palestine Bulldogs were not able to play in revenue-generating games, we took immediate action to help this community. We continue to be committed to helping East Palestine residents get back on their feet. We are in this community for the long haul, and our goal is to see the community thrive again,” CEO Alan Shaw said in a press release.

The company says this initial donation would be followed by additional future financial support.

Fire Department

On the same day, the train company reimbursed the Village of East Palestine Fire Department approximately $ 825,000 for fire equipment used in the derailment response. This followed a $220,000 reimbursement to replace equipment for the first responders, according to Norfolk Southern.

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