I wasn't surprised to read the Associated Press story that seemed to imply that the BP Crisis Plan - all 582 pages of it, with 52 of them site-specific to Deepwater Horizon - had been gathering dust in a draw somewhere. One of the go-to experts named in the plan died in 2005, links to resources were null and void and all in all, the plans approved by the Federal Government as recently as last year were, to say the very least, wanting.
I have heard no mention of the Transocean plan, the company that owns the Deepwater Horizon rig, who are continually conspicuous by their absence or indeed, America's Halliburton company, also missing in action and which was working down there prior to the explosion that killed 11 people. It seems that BP, however ill-prepared, is happy to take the blame for this one, even though they are not the only players involved.
The trouble with 582 page reports is that nobody ever really reads them properly. Nor would it seem in this case, do they check the detail, for if they did, surely someone would have picked up that at least one of their experts would not be available in a crisis? Or that the risks had been seriously underestimated? Or how hard it would be to 'fix' problems so far underwater? Or the impact on the environment? The list here really is endless.
As this environmental, social and economic disaster has unfolded, it has been obvious to everyone that someone, somewhere, who should have been responsible for crisis planning has failed in their duty, from the response to repair and re-engineering, to communication and culpability. Equally, some blame must lie with the departments that passed the plans as acceptable - or perhaps the size of the report put them off a thorough read.
Any practitioner worth their salt knows that you must run a crisis plan regularly, that you audit-check contacts and details with a pedantic frequency and, at the risk assessment level, ongoing evaluation should inform your plan and the varying degrees of risk faced by your organisation, the community and your stakeholders. How a company like BP, involved in one of the most risk-laden and dangerous businesses on earth could have a plan with apparently so many errors included defies belief.
AP quote BP's spokesman Daren Beaudo as saying: "...the response plans will be reviewed "so that we can determine what worked well and what needs improvement."
"Thus far we have implemented the largest spill response in history and many, many elements of it have worked well. However, we are greatly disappointed that oil has made landfall and impacted shorelines and marshes. The situation we are dealing with is clearly complex, unprecedented and will offer us much to learn from."
I would suggest that they will be learning for years. I also wonder if anywhere else in the BP universe other crisis plans are being checked and overhauled. If I was there today, I would be getting people on to that double-quick-smart. Sadly though, I fear that they are probably oblivious to the need to do this.
I also hope that any practitioner out there who has not created and run their crisis plan gets on to it today and, if there is an ancient plan festering in a draw somewhere, get it out, review it, check it, run it and practice it like a fire drill so you can test if it works, hunt down where the flaws lie and what you need to do as an organisation to make it work. Accidents happen but incompetency is avoidable. Good issues management reduces risk, but sometimes things go wrong, which is why a crisis plan is essential. A good crisis plan should reduce or eliminate the danger to and affect of any incident on the public, the environment and the organisation and lead to swift recovery for all involved. It should be accessible, understood by everyone and practiced often. BP did not have a good crisis plan. I hope you do.