The Lac-Mégantic Disaster
(6 pages of text)
In July 2013, the chairman of Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway is facing a public outcry as well as possible bankruptcy and the revocation of his operating licence. When one of the company’s trains derailed in the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, several of its cars carrying crude oil exploded. The explosions and subsequent fires destroyed the downtown core and killed several dozen people. The oil spill also contaminated the local lake and river, leading to an environmental disaster for the community. The company was slow in issuing a press release, which pointed the finger of blame on the train’s engineer and the fire department that had responded to an earlier engine fire on the train. Someone had powered down the train and that had released the brakes. Since the train was parked on an incline, without brakes it had rolled into town, gathering speed until it hit a crossroads and derailed. Five days after the derailment, the chairman finally visited the town where he spoke off the cuff and without French translation, further angering the grieving citizens. Now he faces the kind of public and professional censure that might end his career.
- To illustrate the importance of crisis communications, media relations and/or issues management.
To tackle the challenge of crafting a strong single message for various stakeholders in the middle of a crisis situation.
- To explore the difference between large companies that can devote budgets to large public relations departments versus companies that are too small to do so.
- To consider cultural issues that can be discussed in terms of differences in culture between Canada and the United States and between francophones and anglophones.
Transportation and Warehousing
Canada, Small, 2013
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