[Long] Simulated PR Crisis Response Drill

Rohit Khare (rohit@uci.edu)
Tue, 9 Mar 1999 03:59:09 -0800

Man, this is fascinating late-night thriller reading, especially in
its banal details. This cover story from last year on a simulated
Chevron spill is a real eye-opener on what a *real* PR crisis can
look like... unlike, say a standards tempest in a teacup over XMI or
SMIL support...

They've also got pieces about how FedEx coped with the UPS strike
(they had contingency PR plans on file years in advance), how the MIT
spun the Lemelson prize, working reporter's perceptions of good and
bad gov't PR, you name it. The subscriptions are actually quite
pricey, but tons of info goes online regularly. They have quite a
trove of case studies at http://www.prcentral.com/bodyofk.htm.




Wednesday, Early Hours

At 3:45 A.M., John Hughes picks up one of the two dozen telephones in
the control room at the Marine Spill Response Corporation's Everett,
Washington, offices and places a call to Dirk Vermeeren, the plant
manager at Chevron's asphalt plant at Richmond Beach, about 13 miles
north of Seattle. Hughes is an emergency response specialist with the
San Francisco-based oil company, a demanding, sometimes testy
individual with a background in shipping who is the exercise

"This is a drill." (These words precede every communication during
the exercise.) "You have just heard a loud noise outside your window.
On looking outside you see that a small airplane appears to have
flown into a tank. It appears to have impacted at the base of tank
number two. The tank has failed completely, and the tank's contents
have completely discharged, either into the berm or into the sound.
There is no fire, and you will be pleased to learn that no one has
been injured. There are no marine vessels in the area, as far as you
can see. The weather is as you see it to be."

Richmond Beach is a small facility, and at four o'clock in the
morning there are only two people on duty. They begin the
notification process, calling the relevant individuals on this
facility's crisis response team, including the environmental, health,
and safety technician; a compliance specialist; the site safety
officer; and local public affairs officer Dean O'Hair. In addition,
the plant begins to contact outside authorities such as the National
Response Center, Washington State Department of Emergency Management
and Department of Ecology, the Coast Guard, emergency services, and
the Marine Spill Reponse Corps.

The notification process is already under way when, seven minutes
later, Hughes makes a second call to Vermeeren. "Upon a visual
inspection, it appears that about 10,000 barrels of oil have washed
over the berm. It is obvious to you, based on a visual inspection,
that the pilot of the aircraft could not have survived. It is also
obvious that a massive response will be required."

At 4:23 a.m. Ben Drew, an employee of San Francisco public relations
firm Kamer Singer, makes the first media call to the asphalt plant.
"I'm with KOMO Radio. Can you tell me what's going on there?" Drew
reaches a training safety coordinator, who tells him that there has
been a plane crash and that there is oil in the water. A couple of
minutes later, a reporter from KIRO radio (played by the author of
this story) calls with a similar question. The safety coordinator
estimates the amount of oil in the water at about 50,000 barrels, or
about 2 million gallons.

That's the first breach of protocol. In theory, all plant personnel
have been trained to pass media inquiries along to public affairs
people or, in the absence of public affairs people at the site, to
take messages. But Chevron also has a company-wide aversion to
offering "no comment" responses to the media. The culture prizes
openness and honesty, and in this case the company will be made to
suffer the consequences of such good intentions. The first radio
report to mention the spill goes out over the airwaves at 5:00 A.M. -
no one from public affairs has called to clarify the situation in the
interim - and states, wrongly, that 50,000 barrels of oil have been
released into Puget Sound.

At 5:14 A.M., Richmond Beach gets a call from the Seattle
Post-Intelligencer. The very helpful training safety coordinator has
been replaced by an equally helpful plant operator, who at least is
able to correct the size of the spill. Although the tank that was
ruptured by the crash contained a total of 50,000 barrels, all but
10,000 were successfully contained by the berm. The reporter asks
about the condition of the pilot. He's presumed dead. Was there
anyone else on the plane? No one knows. Was anyone on the ground
injured? Thankfully, no. What's the threat to wildlife? The plant
operator volunteers that the spill might be headed for the nearby
Edmonds Wildlife Refuge, a particularly helpful contribution to the
development of the story, since neither of the two "reporters"
working the phones in the control room had any prior knowledge that
there even was an Edmonds Wildlife Refuge.

By now, the absence of any public affairs people at the site is
clearly an issue. O'Hair, based in Everett, is about 40 minutes away
from the spill. His first choice, once notified of the spill,
involves a judgment call: Should he proceed to the site, where he can
get a sense of the scope of the incident firsthand but where there is
no real communications infrastructure, or to the emergency response
center at the MSRC, which is closer. Whichever choice he made, he
should have been in place by now, returning or at least responding to

What no one in the control room knows - although it is rapidly
becoming apparent - is that the notification process is going
unusually slowly. (MSRC gets its first notification at 5:40 A.M.,
almost two hours into the drill.) O'Hair was not notified until an
hour into the drill and then ran into his own difficulties contacting
Chevron's corporate public affairs staff in San Francisco. While some
of the issues that arose would not have happened if the incident was
real, that does not appease Kamer Singer president Larry Kamer, who
designed the public affairs component of the drill in partnership
with Chevron's senior media relations representative, Bonnie Chaikind.

Kamer and Chaikind show up at the control room at around 5:30 A.M.
Half an hour later, Chaikind calls the Richmond Beach plant,
representing KOMO-TV and looking for a statement. None is available.
No public affairs people are on site. "We will be issuing a
statement," Chaikind is told. "We're sorry for any difficulty you may
be experiencing."

Wednesday Morning

It's 7:03 A.M. when the first Chevron public affairs executives -
Fred Gorrell and James Brown - arrive at what will be the Joint
Information Center (JIC) at MSRC headquarters. They find a dozen or
so messages from the media waiting on their desks, along with
transcripts of television and radio reports already aired. They are
still scanning the transcripts when Dean O'Hair arrives ten minutes

O'Hair runs quickly through what he knows of the incident: A small
plane crashed into the number two tank at the refinery, 50,000
barrels of North West Charge Stock - a feeder stock that is used in
the manufacture of asphalt - has been released, and approximately
10,000 barrels appear to have cleared the berm. There is no
definitive information about the condition of the pilot or whether
there were others on board the plane. The plant has initiated its
emergency plan and called in the appropriate authorities, including
the Coast Guard and the Department of Ecology. The local Kingston
Ferry - a vital commuter link - has been shut down because of the

There's another problem, this one of a logistical nature. Because
O'Hair was notified late, and because of a glitch in communication
with Chevron's corporate public affairs people in San Francisco, no
media advisory has been issued; and because O'Hair has now spoken
with representatives of the Coast Guard and pledged cooperation, any
press release that does go out now requires Coast Guard approval.
That will delay the media relations response even further and will
also place some restrictions on what the company can say in its

Gorrell is assigned to handle the media and James Brown to handle the
community and government relations. Message points are established:
The company has initiated its emergency response plan; the Coast
Guard and the Washington Department of Ecology have been notified;
the company's primary objective now is to contain the oil, a task
that is being accomplished currently through the efforts of two
ships, one with a 2,000 foot beam and the other with a 1,000 foot

At 7:39 A.M., two of the State of Washington's public relations
people, including Ron Holcomb, a contingency planner with Washington
State Department of Ecology, arrive at the JIC. Within the hour, the
Coast Guard's PR people are also on site, and the three organizations
assign specific roles. The first press release is transmitted to the
media. It's a curiously cold document, noticeably lacking any
expression of regret from the company or quotes from senior
executives. It later transpires that the need to put out a release
under the JIC banner resulted in some changes to Chevron's original
copy. The Coast Guard is not keen on what it regards as company
"posturing." It prefers a "just the facts" approach.

Karen Jorgensen is a Chevron investor relations executive, but for
the purpose of this drill she will be - as the occasion demands - an
inquisitive reporter, an angry local resident, the advance person for
the Governor of Washington, and an anxious shareholder. She is
alarmingly convincing in all of these roles. She asks tough
questions, and she won't settle for pat answers. One wonders how she
missed her true calling as an environmental activist. At

7:55 A.M., she's on the phone to JIC demanding to know what the
company is going to do about the oil that's washing up on her

Jorgensen and Chaikind and Kamer and Drew and this reporter are now
working from four separate "scripts" that are essentially lists of
telephone calls to be made by the media, residents, politicians, and
ultimately people with claims against the company. The morning media
calls include queries about the condition of the pilot and demands
for interviews with the incident commander. Politicians, meanwhile,
want to tour the spill site and posture for the media.

The community calls (by far the most entertaining, since they allow
for almost infinite improvisation) range from a guy with a million
dollar view who was planning to sell his home this weekend to an
irate commuter whose ferry was canceled to an elderly gentleman who
broke his ankle falling out of bed after hearing the crash.

Jorgensen is having fun. "My dog just came back into the house after
his morning walk, and he's covered in oil....It's all over my
carpet....It's ruined....Well what about the dog? Do I need to take
him to the vet? How do I get this oil off him?... Who's going to pay
for all this?... You'll be hearing from my attorney."

For the most part, the public relations people from Chevron and the
various government agencies represented handle the calls politely and
patiently and with just the right note of concern. Kamer is unhappy,
however. He would like to hear a greater emphasis on the fact that
Chevron cannot really be held responsible for the fact that some
idiot crashed his plane into one of its tankers (the inquiries of
this reporter - "Well, why did you build your plant on the flight
path?" - notwithstanding) but Gorrell and the others repeatedly
express their regret and promise that the company is doing everything
it can to clean things up as quickly as possible.

The Department of Ecology is even more helpful, providing more
detailed information on the spill's environmental impact. The region
includes lagoons and salt marshes that provide prime habitat for
thousands of sea birds. It's also a major herring spawning area and
home to Dungeness crabs and geo ducks. There are also harbor seals,
California sea lions, and even nesting bald eagles nearby, all of
which could be impacted if the spill is not contained. By nine
o'clock, radio stories are warning of what "could be the worst
environmental disaster in the history of Puget Sound," quoting a
local environmental group (me again) that is predicting catastrophe.

Meanwhile, Chevron employees are arriving at the MSRC headquarters by
the busload. Since the first official news release of the crisis
informed reporters that the JIC was being established at MSRC,
Chaikind decides to take a cameraman and ambush emergency workers as
they arrive at the scene. The workers - most of them in
non-communications disciplines like transportation, purchasing,
security, operations, and claims - are friendly and helpful, but it
takes longer than it should before someone thinks to tell the public
relations people upstairs in the JIC that the media are on the scene.
That's the first evidence of what will become a theme of the drill
and a frequent lament of the exercise controllers: that while
individual divisions handle their assignments skillfully and
efficiently, communication between divisions is patchy and, at times,

As the drill continues, John Hughes is joined in the control room by
a handful of Chevron execs who are overseeing the exercise. Their job
is to act as guardians of "the Truth." In effect, they get to play
God. They decide everything from what way the wind is blowing, and
therefore what direction the spill is moving, to the time it takes to
deploy whatever resources the crisis management team wants deployed.
They decide how much oil each skimmer can recover, whether wildlife
lives or dies, and whether clean-up workers slip on oily decks and
fall overboard. Over time they become the Truth. That's how they're
introduced. "This is Lyman Young, he is the Truth."

The Truth has more information about the environmental impact of the
spill. The threatened Edmonds Wildlife Refuge is a spawning ground
for salmon, including ten "critical stock," species whose numbers are
so low they are considered depressed. Other species of fish in the
area include herring and English sole, which are important to the
area's commercial fishermen. Fauna, meanwhile, include eel grass and
kelp beds. If the oil should sink, the environmental impact will be
"devastating," the Truth says.

All of that information arrives just in time to be used as ammunition
at the first press conference, which is scheduled for 11 A.M. and
actually begins at about 11:15. Dean O'Hair kicks things off with a
brief statement of the facts, and a second press release - a bare
statement of the facts that omits any expression of concern. O'Hair
then turns the meeting over to Chevron operations manager Al
Stiewing, who reports that three recovery vessels have already
succeeded in recovering 590 barrels of oil and that the most
environmentally sensitive areas close to the spill have been boomed
off. He comes across as confident and efficient, a technical guy who
is not intimidated by the media.

Stiewing is followed by Captain Chip Booth, captain of the port, who
has little to add to Stiewing's comments except to emphasize that
"this is a team effort" and that "we are doing everything we can as a
team to aggressively attack the spill." Next up is Paul O'Brien, the
state on the scene coordinator - the cooperative effort between
Chevron, the Coast Guard, and the state is obviously the message here
- who tells the assembled media, "our first priority is to make sure
the environmental damage is minimized."

Finally, Dirk Vermeeren, the plant manager for Richmond Beach, takes
his turn. "We at Chevron and I personally deeply regret being
involved in this incident. We have assumed full responsibility for
the clean up."

The first questions, predictably, focus on the environmental impact.
O'Brien fields most of them. Yes, the spill is, to his knowledge, the
largest in the history of Puget Sound. Yes, there will be some
environmental impact; there already is environmental impact. Oiled
birds have been recovered; he doesn't have a number. Other questions
concern the plane and the pilot. Has the body been recovered? Is it
possible that he might have crashed his plane into the plant
deliberately, as an act of terrorism?

The give-and-take is interrupted by the entrance of Bonnie Chaikind,
in character as a local U.S. senator, representing her angry
constituents and grandstanding for the media. She promises a full
investigation into the incident, saying she is concerned that so much
of the oil spilled over the berm and into the water. She does not
rule out new legislation that would force companies to store oil
further from the water's edge. She adds that some of her constituents
feel Chevron was slow in responding to the spill.

The next question, from Jorgensen, is predictable. "Mr. Vermeeren,
why was Chevron so slow in responding to the spill?"

The question is fielded by Chip Booth, who says that in his opinion
Chevron responded swiftly and appropriately. "No matter how fast you
respond, it's never going to be fast enough for everybody."

O'Hair moves to bring the press conference to an end, to the dismay
of the press. He and Gorrell are polite but firm. No one is
downplaying the importance of communication, but Vermeeren and
O'Brien and Booth have a higher priority: They are needed back at the

Wednesday Afternoon

By noon, the exercise is in full swing. There are more than 100
Chevron employees on site at the MSRC headquarters, each with his or
her own area of responsibility. They are supplemented by a handful of
staff from MSRC itself, from Washington state, and from the Coast
Guard. Everyone is busy; there's a sense of urgency. If that sense of
urgency falls short of what one would expect to see in a real crisis
- a feeling that millions of dollars and perhaps the reputation of
the company are on the line with every decision that is taken -
that's only because some things cannot be simulated.

In the command center, Chaikind and Kamer and Jorgensen and Drew are
putting the PR people in the Joint Information Center through their
paces. Kamer's PR firm has prepared four lengthy lists of suggested
calls from media, members of the community, local political figures,
and residents who wish to submit claims. No one follows these scripts
to the letter, but they are a tremendous basis for improvisation.

An environmental reporter from the Seattle Times calls. He wants to
know what techniques will be used to clean up the oil and shoreline.
He really wants to talk to one of the engineers, not some PR flack.
The PR flack is polite but firm, provides the information in as much
detail as possible, but refuses to pull anyone off the clean-up. A
producer from a local television station asks whether their reporter
can go live from the Richmond Beach plant. That area has been sealed
off, the public relations person responds, by the authorities.

No sooner does Kamer hang up from one call than he switches
identities and calls back in another persona with another question.
How many injured birds have been recovered so far? Has the pilot's
body been recovered and, if so, has he been identified? Is it true
that there have been safety problems at the plant in the past? What's
the latest on where the spill is headed? Will ferry service be
restored in time for the evening commute? The activist group People
for Puget Sound, which is increasingly critical of Chevron's role in
the spill and the clean-up, has set up a web page devoted to the
crisis. Does Chevron have a web page? Does it contain spill update
information? Why not?

Those are just the media calls. Jorgensen is handling her share of
those, but she's also doing more and more community calls. A local
boat owner says her vessel is covered in oil. She wants an apology. A
professional dog walker wants to know what she's supposed to do with
her dogs, who walk the beach every afternoon. A commuter says she was
three hours late for work and almost got fired. Like many of the
community callers, she doesn't know what she wants Chevron to do; but
she wants to vent, and she wants some recognition of the
inconvenience she has been caused.

Chaikind, meanwhile, seems well suited to the role of local
politician. One senses experiences in her past that have made her a
tad cynical. Governor Locke wants to know how the clean-up is
proceeding, and he will talk only to the highest-ranking Chevron
executive on the scene. Congressman White is requesting a tour of the
spill site. Senator Murray wants assurances that Chevron will
cooperate fully in her investigation. Senator Gordon wants to know
why the tank had no warning lights.

The JIC also gets its share of calls from residents with claims. At
the first press conference, O'Hair and Gorrell provided two numbers,
one for press inquiries and the other for claims, but somehow the
media number was released to the public. Claims come in from
companies and individuals. A logging company wants to know whether
they will have to reroute shipments that traditionally move through
the affected area and if so, whether they will be reimbursed. A vice
president of Charles Schwab wants to know what Chevron will do about
the fact that the company lost business because three of its best
brokers were unable to make it to work. A resident says that one of
the vehicles coming into the asphalt plant to help with the clean-up
ran over the family cat. The cat suffered a broken leg. Will Chevron
pay the vet bill?

If residents have the media telephone number, the media have the
number people are to call for claims. It's not surprising that one of
them gets the bright idea of calling that number - circumventing the
JIC - to find out how many claims have been submitted.

"This is a drill. My name is Paul Holmes, and I'm calling from the
Seattle Post Intelligencer. I'm on deadline, and I need to know how
many claims you guys have received so far."

At this point, the claims representative, Bob Wonderlich, should make
it clear that all media calls are supposed to go through the JIC. But
Bob's job is to be as helpful as possible. And helpful he is. "As of
2:30 P.M., we have received 200 bodily injury claims, 150 property
damage claims, and 300 business interruption claims."

"And can you put a dollar value on those claims?"

"It's too early for that. We need to wait until we have a better idea
of the specific nature of the claims."

"Is it fair to say that the amount will be in the millions?"

"It's too early to say."

But Wonderlich has already given the reporter his lead. That figure
of 200 bodily injury claims makes the spill sound far more serious
than anyone has thus far let on. The last time we spoke with the
company's PR people, the number of injuries was two: the pilot of the
plane and a guy who had broken his ankle falling out of bed when he
heard the initial explosion. Our next call is to the JIC, where James
Brown takes our call.

"This is a drill. Hi, Jim. I just spoke to someone in your claims
department, and he says you guys have gotten 200 personal injury
claims already. What's going on? I thought there were only a couple
of injuries. Are you guys covering something up?"

Jim, not surprisingly, is taken aback. No one has said anything to
him about 200 personal injuries. He wants to know if he can get back
to me. I tell him sure, but my deadline is in 20 minutes, and if I
don't hear differently I'm going with this as my lead. The call back
comes in ten minutes, not from Brown but from Theresa Mitchell in

"I just wanted to clarify the information you got earlier. The fact
is, that we have received only 16 calls. Four were personal injury
calls. Of those, three were minor claims, people feeling nausea. The
fourth was a gentleman who heard the sound of the crash and fell out
of bed and suffered a broken ankle."

"So where did the 200 number come from."

"Well, this is a simulation, of course, so each call we receive
stands for 50 calls. So we take the number of calls we receive and
multiply it by 50, and that's the number you were given. But we've
only had four actual calls."

That doesn't exactly clarify things. For the purposes of the
simulation, there have been 200 personal injury claims. The fact that
most of them seem to represent nothing more serious than nausea helps
explain why the public relations team was as puzzled as we were by
the number of claims, but it is apparent from this exchange that the
right hand (public relations) does not always know what the left
(claims) is doing.

A second press conference has been scheduled for 3:30 P.M., but it
almost doesn't happen. At about three o'clock, exercise controller
John Hughes becomes convinced that we are going too easy on the folks
in the JIC. He grabs a phone and dials.

"Listen to me, you son of a bitch. I've been stuck in traffic for
five hours because of your [expletive deleted] company. I'm losing
[expletive deleted] business and [expletive deleted] customers
because of you guys, and I want to know what you're going to do about
it....Well, that's not [expletive deleted] good enough....I'll tell
you what I'm going to do. If I ever get out of this [expletive
deleted] traffic jam, I'm going to buy myself a [expletive deleted]
gun and I'm going to pay you guys a little visit."

Everyone in the control room is mightily amused by Hughes's
performance, which is both over-the-top and convincing at the same
time. The reaction in the JIC, however, is one of alarm. No one is
sure what reaction is expected. Is this just another angry resident,
or is it the equivalent of a terrorist threat. If it's the latter,
the press conference should be scheduled. Could the exercise
controllers be planning to build an assassination attempt into the
scenario? Something like that would be completely out of left field,
but one gets the sense that with Hughes in charge, anything is

In the end, the press conference goes ahead as scheduled. Vermeeren
and Booth and O'Brien are absent, their places taken by Jeff
Skriletz, with the state's fish and wildlife department, and Mike
Amman, an environmental officer with Chevron. The focus of the
conference is almost entirely on the environmental impact of the
spill, and while Skriletz and Amman don't have much to say - there's
very little information available - they manage to say it with
sincerity and conviction. They provide numbers for residents who want
to report injured wildlife and for volunteers who want to help with
the wildlife rescue effort, and they repeat their assurances that the
company and the government agencies with which it is working are
doing all they can to expedite the clean-up.

Reporters' questions focus on safety at the plant. Chevron, like
every other company in America, has downsized in recent years. How
many people were laid off at the Richmond Beach plant? Did that
include environmental, health, and safety people? Are there fewer
safety inspectors than there used to be? Did any of that contribute
to the spill? O'Hair promises that the JIC staff will get back to us
with the answers to all those questions. The press conference ends -
as most such conferences do - with many questions still unasked and

Wednesday Evening

Kamer decides that it's time to add another wrinkle to the
communications challenge. The Richmond Beach plant has been
negotiating with the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers union for
several months. Now, with Chevron struggling to clean-up this spill
and repair its reputation, the regional OCAW leadership senses an
opportunity to apply some pressure. At 4.30 P.M., the union issues a
press release. Chevron has until 6 P.M. to offer OCAW members an
acceptable contract, or the union will set up a picket line at the
Richmond Beach plant and ask unionized truck drivers not to cross.

"Chevron has dragged its feet since last year and hasn't bargained in
good faith," says the regional OCAW director. "They've made record
profits and refuse to invest in their high-quality workforce. They've
also made tragic cuts in safety. I think that shows in how slow
they've been to respond to this morning's spill. OCAW workers have
been more than patient, but they will picket unless the contract is
settled. Given all the media attention Chevron has had, we hope
they'll feel the pressure."

Chevron's Ed Spaulding, a public affairs manager for Chevron's
southern California operations, takes the call. He's clearly taken by
surprise, but he handles this new complication with aplomb.

"There's no labor dispute at the plant," he says. "There's no
strike." He says the company does not believe that the ultimatum
could have come from its own employees, who are committed to helping
clean-up the Sound. "Our people are totally committed to the clean-up
effort. They would not do anything that might disrupt that effort."

Spaulding also has information about staffing levels at the Richmond
Beach plant. In 1992, before cuts began, there was a trainer and a
site safety manager. Those two positions were consolidated so that a
single person now handles both responsibilities. But at the same time
a safety supervisor has been added at the company's Woodbridge
facility, and he has oversight responsibility for Richmond Beach, so
in effect the plant has the same number of safety personnel, but in a
slightly different configuration. The company does not believe its
restructuring has had any negative impact at all.

Kamer continues to torment the logistics people. He schedules a visit
by the mayor for five o'clock. At five o'clock, O'Hair is ready to
escort the mayor wherever he wants to go. He is prepared to answer
questions from the entourage of reporters that will surely accompany
the erstwhile elected official. But the mayor - Kamer - doesn't show

Jorgensen, meanwhile, has heard that the oil spill might be heading
for an Indian burial ground. Is this true? It's true that there is a
site of some architectural importance on the shoreline, but the spill
is not expected to reach it. A few seats away, Drew is chasing down
another lead. Is it true that a couple of divers are missing? It is.
Two teenagers, not part of the clean-up effort, are believed to have
been in the water when the spill occurred. Their mother has not heard
from them.

Six o'clock comes and goes. No pickets show up. Another issue has
superceded the legal dispute. Jorgensen has heard that the clean-up
operation will be suspended overnight. Gorrell confirms this.
"There's not much we can do overnight," he tells her. "Only a couple
of our boats are outfitted with infrared lighting, and in any case
infrared is of limited use when it comes to picking up oil on the
surface of water. Operating through the night was never seriously
considered," he says.

That sparks a flurry of activity in the control room. People for
Puget Sound condemn the decision. A local elected official - the same
senator who showed up at the first press conference, promising a
public inquiry - issues a news release suggesting that Chevron is
putting the bottom line ahead of environmental, health, and safety
interests, that the company simply doesn't want to pay overtime for
its clean-up crews to work through the night. Jorgensen talks to a
couple of Coast Guard employees who are visiting the control room and
learns that the Coast Guard helicopters are equipped with lights that
will enable clean-up crews to work through the night.

For the next 45 minutes, the pressure mounts for the clean-up to
continue through the night. Then, abruptly, the company announces
that the clean-up will not be suspended after all. Says a JIC
release, "Because of concern about the effect of this spill on the
environment, responders are working through the night to contain and
clean up as much oil as possible. Efforts throughout the evening will
include the use of booms both to contain oil...and to deflect oil
away from environmentally sensitive areas."

The response team will conduct regular helicopter flights over the
spill and use a handheld infrared sensing device that can determine
the position and shape of the slick.

Wedensday, Overnight

Six o'clock comes and goes. No pickets show up. Another issue has
superceded the legal dispute. Jorgensen has heard that the clean-up
operation will be suspended overnight. Gorrell confirms this.
"There's not much we can do overnight," he tells her. "Only a couple
of our boats are outfitted with infrared lighting, and in any case
infrared is of limited use when it comes to picking up oil on the
surface of water. Operating through the night was never seriously
considered," he says.

That sparks a flurry of activity in the control room. People for
Puget Sound condemn the decision. A local elected official - the same
senator who showed up at the first press conference, promising a
public inquiry - issues a news release suggesting that Chevron is
putting the bottom line ahead of environmental, health, and safety
interests, that the company simply doesn't want to pay overtime for
its clean-up crews to work through the night. Jorgensen talks to a
couple of Coast Guard employees who are visiting the control room and
learns that the Coast Guard helicopters are equipped with lights that
will enable clean-up crews to work through the night.

For the next 45 minutes, the pressure mounts for the clean-up to
continue through the night. Then, abruptly, the company announces
that the clean-up will not be suspended after all. Says a JIC
release, "Because of concern about the effect of this spill on the
environment, responders are working through the night to contain and
clean up as much oil as possible. Efforts throughout the evening will
include the use of booms both to contain oil...and to deflect oil
away from environmentally sensitive areas."

The response team will conduct regular helicopter flights over the
spill and use a handheld infrared sensing device that can determine
the position and shape of the slick.

Wedensday, Overnight

Kamer and Chaikind and Jorgensen have very sensibly retired to the
local Howard Johnson for the night, leaving Drew and I alone in the
control center with the worst coffee in the western world. The JIC,
meanwhile, is staffed by Gorrell and Brown. The other Chevron PR
people and representatives of the Coast Guard and the state are all
catching some well deserved rest.

flow of community calls, from people whose commute took them hours
longer than it normally would and from others who don't see the point
in spending all those hours stuck in traffic and want to know whether
the company will pick up their hotel bills. A lonely senior citizen
calls to find out about the state of the clean-up and then remains on
the line for 20 minutes or so to talk about the state of the world.
Another resident says she can't sleep because of all the noise.

A reporter wants to know why the oil can't simply be burned off the
surface. Another wants to know whether the spill has had any impact
on Chevron's share price. (Gorrell fields this one. "That's not
something we've been paying any attention to. Our priority is the
clean-up.") Another is puzzled about the location of the command
center: Why is it in Everett, when the spill is 30 miles away at
Richmond Beach?

Lyman Young, an emergency response specialist who is the Truth,
throws in a couple of worker accidents in an attempt to keep everyone
from falling asleep. One "responder" has suffered a severed thumb.
Someone else appears to have fallen from a pier at the clean-up site.
It's not clear whether that individual was a responder or just
someone who was trying to see what was going on - consensus in the
control room is that it was a drunk who slipped on the oil and will
probably sue the company for millions.

Drew calls the JIC to find out more about these and other mishaps and
is surprised to hear that there have been three accidents. In
addition to the severed thumb and the drunk, a third man has been
admitted to a local hospital suffering from unspecified head
injuries. A quick check with the Truth reveals that the third guy is
in fact the drunk, who was taken to a first hospital then moved to
the second hospital. Drew makes a half dozen or so calls to the JIC -
"The hospital says it has no record of a third person" - before the
JIC checks with the Truth and gets its story straight. It's a small
issue, obviously, but another illustration of the way in which even
the tiniest miscommunication can cause things to go awry.

Maybe it's the boredom of the night shift, or maybe it's the fact
that the Coast Guard and the state officials have all gone back to
the hotel, but around midnight there's a flurry of activity.

At about 11:30, Gorrell shows up in the command center. He tells The
Truth that he is requesting ten additional public relations people to
help staff the JIC. The Truth computes the logistics and tells
Gorrell that those ten people will arrive between ten o'clock and
midday the next day. Because this is just a drill, and because it
ends at 3 P.M. the next day, the additional PR people exist only on
paper. Half an hour later, Gorrell is back. This time he tells the
Truth he wants the president of Chevron USA Products David O'Reilly
to visit the site. He believes the presence of a senior executive is
necessary to demonstrate that the company is taking the situation

At 12:10 A.M., Jim Brown calls the newsroom. He wants to know whether
the Seattle media have a press pool system. If so, he wants to offer
one television reporter and cameraman, one radio reporter, and one
newspaper reporter the opportunity to take a helicopter ride over the
spill at noon the following day. The trip will take about 45 minutes
and will cover both the shoreline area that has been impacted by the
spill and Whidbey Island.

At 2:45 A.M., a news release is issued. It's notable for two reasons.
It's the first release issued on Chevron letterhead (as opposed to
that of the JIC), and it's the first in which the company expresses
regret and concern. The two are not, one suspects, unrelated.

"Chevron regrets very much that this accident occurred and wants to
assure all concerned citizens that protecting the health and safety
of the public and emergency response personnel is one of our top
priorities." The release provides the telephone numbers and addresses
of three hospitals, and says that Chevron will pay for "one
outpatient visit for those individuals checked for any medical
injuries associated with the oil spill."

An hour or so later, Brown delivers a print ad and a radio ad to the
newsroom. The radio ad is to air every half hour from 5:30 A.M. to
7:30 A.M. and from 5 to 7 P.M., during drive time. "Chevron
apologizes to you if you are one of the thousands of area commuters
stuck in traffic today because of oil spilled in Puget Sound. After
an airplane crashed into a Chevron oil tank early Wednesday morning
Chevron, working with the U.S. Coast Guard and Washington's
Department of Ecology, went to work to contain and clean up oil, and
to protect environmentally sensitive areas. Our objectives are to do
the best we can to get the Puget Sound back to normal - and to get
you, and the Kingston ferry, back on schedule. We will keep you
informed over this radio station. Chevron thanks you for your
patience during these difficult times."

The print ad will run in local newspapers and is a simple tombstone,
"To the residents of the Puget Sound area. Thanks for your patience
during this difficult time. Following the tragic airplane accident
Wednesday morning resulting in the oil spill into Puget Sound, many
of you have been concerned, worried, and inconvenienced. We are doing
all we can to restore the affected areas as quickly as possible. And
we are getting lots of help. We want to especially thank the U.S.
Coast Guard, the Washington State Departments of Ecology and Fish and
Wildlife, and many others who have been part of the clean-up efforts.
Together, we will make Puget Sound the way it should be."

Thursday Morning

By 7 A.M. the control room and the JIC are beginning to fill up
again. Jorgensen learns from an early morning conversation with The
Truth that the overnight clean-up efforts were largely unsuccessful.
Operating in the dark, the fleet of recovery vessels was unable to
skim any more oil. Furthermore, Chevron's estimate of the amount of
oil it was able to collect the previous day was high. It had assumed
that the liquid it recovered was about 60 percent oil, 40 percent
water. It now appears that the mixture contained only about 30
percent oil. Basically, the company worked all night and now has less
oil than it thought it had yesterday evening.

The press corps, which put so much pressure on the company to keep
the clean-up going through the night - "Is Chevron putting profits
ahead of its obligation for the environment? - has no qualms about
reversing its position, especially since at least one responder and
one member of the public were injured during the night.

The first call to the JIC is typical, "Did Chevron put public
relations considerations ahead of the safety of its workers?"

"The decision to work through the night was made jointly by Chevron,
the Coast Guard, and the Department of Ecology. We believed that it
was important to stay on top of the situation, to continue to attack
the problem aggressively, and our assessment was that the risk was

"Did the political pressure play a part in the decision to work
through the night?"

"Not at all. The decision was made on the basis of advice from our
technical people."

"Your technical people believed that you would be able to recover
more oil if you worked overnight?"

"That's right."

"So your technical people were wrong. Do you believe they were
properly prepared to deal with a crisis of this magnitude?"

"We believe that our technical people are among the best in the
world. This is a very difficult situation. It's not always possible
to predict everything that is going to happen. We regret the fact
that this spill continues to inconvenience people and to threaten the
environment. We are taking full responsibility for the clean-up."

A press conference is scheduled for 10:30 A.M..

The next big issue involves the Edmonds-Kingston ferry. Commuter
calls started to flood the JIC at about 6 A.M. and they show no sign
of abating. "How am I supposed to get to work?" "I'm not going
through that again." "Will Chevron compensate me for my lost time?"
"Why is this taking so long?" "I'm never going to use a Chevron
station again."

At 9 A.M., the ferry reopens. It's too late for most commuters, but
it's ahead of schedule.

By 9:30, there's more good news. The two missing divers have shown
up. The boys were not in the water after all. They had told their
mothers they were going diving, but in reality they were spending the
night with their girlfriends at a local college. That means that the
injury count, to date, remains at three: the pilot of the plane, who
is dead; the responder with the severed thumb; and the Chevron
employee - he was not drunk, the Truth insists - who fell off a peer
and has a broken collarbone and a twisted knee.

A few minutes later, a press release reaches the control room. It's
on JIC letterhead but it doesn't have the just-the-facts-ma'am tone
of many of the previous day's correspondence. It opens with a quote
from Dave O'Reilly, now on the scene (and portrayed for the purposes
of the exercise by Larry Kamer), who reiterates Chevron's regret and
concern. The release announces a change in the clean-up strategy,
which will concentrate on removing oil from the water using several
different skimming methods. More than 20 skimmers are on the scene,
and a mechanical dredge will arrive early in the afternoon.

Media calls continue. How long will the oil stick to the beach? How
long will it be before reporters and photographers can get into the
asphalt plant? How many birds have been killed up to this point? How
much environmental damage has there been? Most of the reporters
emphasize the environmental concerns of local residents, but not all
of them.

"This is a drill. Hello, my name is Paul Holmes. I'm a producer for
the Bush Wambaugh show. Are you familiar with Mr. Wambaugh?"

The PR guy who was unlucky enough to have picked up the phone is not.

"I'm surprised. Mr. Wambaugh is considered one of this country's
leading conservative commentators. He's the Voice of the New Right.
Mr. Wambaugh is very concerned that this country is being taken over
by pencil-pushing bureaucrats, feminazis, and tree huggers, and he
wants to know why a giant corporation like Chevron is sucking up to
namby-pamby liberals instead of protecting the interests of its

The PR guy, who has just finished explaining to a local radio station
that the company is doing all it can to clean-up Puget Sound,
regardless of the expense, is not prepared for such an alarming
change of pace. He's not quite sure what Mr. Wambaugh's producer is
getting at, although he has a sense that it can't be anything good.

"Your company is engaged in rescuing oil-covered birds from the water
and from the shore, is that correct?"

"Err, yes."

"Those birds are then transported from wherever they are found to
clean-up centers?"


"Then they're cleaned up. And your company pays for the cleaning
materials and the cost of the centers themselves, and pays people to
supervise the clean-up?"


"Isn't it true that even after being cleaned up, more than 90 percent
of these birds will die anyway?"

"I'm afraid I don't have that information. I'll have to look into
it." It is, in fact, true. Almost all the birds "rescued" after being
covered in oil die anyway. The main advantage of cleaning them off is
that it makes local volunteers feel as though they are doing
something useful. It's also an effective way to convey the company's
environmental sensitivity, even if it is largely a symbolic gesture.

"Do you know how much you're spending on this effort?"

"I can't give you a precise figure. It's going to be a while before
we get our arms around the numbers."

"But you're obviously spending a lot of your shareholders' money. And
if you're spending that money to clean up birds that are going to die
anyway, wouldn't you agree that that's a waste?"

The public relations guy doesn't agree, but he doesn't disagree
either. He says he will have to check the facts before commenting.
And no, he doesn't think anyone from Chevron would be interested in
appearing on Mr. Wambaugh's morning talk show to explain the
company's position. Thanks for calling. Have a nice day.

At the 10:30 press conference, most of the reporters' questions are
more typical. There's a lot of attention being paid to failure of the
overnight clean-up effort and to the direction of the spill, which
appears to be heading toward environmentally sensitive areas of
Whidbey Island. The only flashpoint comes when one of the reporters
asks how long the clean-up effort is going to take, and who will
decide when it is complete. That decision, O'Hair says, will be made
by the company in consultation with the Coast Guard and the state's
representatives. Won't local residents and environmental groups get a
say? the reporter wants to know. No, they won't.

Kamer is there, in character as O'Reilly, and as the questions turn a
little more hostile he takes charge of the press conference in a way
that none of the previous participants have been able to do. He
stands and delivers the company's message - essentially the same
message all of the company's executives have been conveying from the
start of the crisis - with clarity and authority. He makes the point,
occasionally lost over the past day and a half, that the spill is not
Chevron's fault. While the company will do everything in its power to
clean-up the Sound, it will not allow itself to be attacked for an
accident that could not have been foreseen or prevented.

Thursday Afternoon

The end of the crisis is in sight, and after 33 hours everyone is
getting a little punchy.

A local resident calls the claims hotline. "I play a little poker on
my way home on the ferry every night, and I play with my own deck, if
you know what I mean, so I always win a few bucks. Is Chevron going
to compensate me for lost winnings?"

"Well, we can't compensate you for illegal gambling winnings,"
Theresa says, reasonably enough.

"Well, they're not illegal winnings, honey. It's just a friendly game
between friends."

"Okay. I'll have to get back to you on it."

Jeff Klein, the company's manager of claims who is sitting in the
control roo, is not happy. The claims people are trained to be
helpful and friendly, but there are some claims that can be rejected
out of hand, and this was one of them.

Another local resident reaches the JIC. "Hello...hello...yes, I have
this bird...I think it might be dead...It's covered in oil. It's very
still...I can't tell if it's breathing...It's dead...What should I
do...Oh, my...I think it's dead. It's very sad."

And another. "Some of your oil washed up on my property, and I
scooped it all up, and I wanted to know, can I put it in my car."

"No, sir, I'm afraid not."

"Why not? It was on my property. It's mine."

"I'm sorry, sir, but you can't use that oil in your car."

"I can do whatever I like. It's my oil now."

"But sir...."

"You can't stop me."

And another. "Can you tell me when your people will be coming to
clean-up my house? My dog came in from the beach this morning, and
now there's oil all over the place."

"Excuse me?"

"You have clean-up crews working, I saw it on the news."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Well, can you tell me when they'll be getting to my house? It's
number 22, Shoreline Drive."

"I'm sorry, but the clean-up crews are only cleaning up the shoreline."

"That's all right. My house is on the shoreline. It's 22, Shoreline Drive."

"I'm afraid you'll have to take care of the clean-up yourself.
Chevron will reimburse you for any expense. Let me give you a number
to call."

Under the circumstances, the fact that the PR people remain polite
and friendly is remarkable.

Kamer and Chaikind, meanwhile, are keeping up the pressure until the
last minute. KSTW-TV wants to know whether the oil might reach the
Pacific Ocean KIRO-AM wants to know if the oil has reached Whidbey
Island. KING-TV wants the incident commander to do a live interview.
(With the drill scheduled to end at 3 P.M., suddenly anyone who wants
a senior executive to appear on the 5 P.M. news is finding interviews
easier to schedule.) An executive from the Seattle mayor's office
wants a briefing so he can handle media inquiries. A state senator
wants to tour the site.

It's alarming to realize that in a real crisis, these calls would
continue for days, weeks, perhaps months. Can a 36-hour drill really
approximate what a crisis of that length is like? Would the PR people
in the Joint Information Center, still unfailingly polite at the
eleventh hour, be as helpful to the 200th local elected official who
wanted to tour the site, the 500th reporter who wants to know why the
clean-up is proceeding so slowly?

At 3 P.M., the simulation ends.

Karen Jorgensen, the investor relations exec who missed her calling
as an environmental activist, can't resist writing one last headline
for the evening news. "Chevron Gives Up," she types. "We're Going
Home, Says Senior Exec."