The crisis case I chose to discuss this week is the Tennessee Valley and the Kingston ash slide. On December 22, 2008, Tennessee Valley Authority who uses coal to generate electricity, had one of their containment pods that holds sludge from the ash wall begin to leak. The leak then caused the wall to eventually crumble. The leak then flowed into the Emory River that is located nearby. The river flowed into a nearby community, destroyed several houses, and forced families to evacuate the area.
Chapter 5 discusses the importance of organization members accepting that crisis can start quickly and unexpectedly. Two months before the leak, TVA was informed of a wet spot located on one retaining wall that suggested a leak was present. The moisture was eroding the structure’s integrity, but TVA continued to add ash to the pond. TVA organization leaders ignored the warning signs of a potential crisis. TVA then accepted blame for the spill and began dredging the Emory River shortly after the incident. No other independent party was allowed to assess the dredging plan before it launched. If TVA’s plan failed, the organization would have been at fault once again.
Upon further investigation of the crisis, lawyers were able to identify six primary failures in TVA’s systems, controls, standards, and culture. “Lack of clarity and accountability for ultimate responsibility, lack of standardization, training, and metrics, siloed responsibilities and poor communication, lack of checks and balances, lack of prevention priority and resources, and being reactive instead of proactive” (Ulmer, Sellnow,& Seeger, 87).
Unfortunately, this unintentional crises could have been avoided had the proper crisis management, quality assurance, and procedures been put in place. TVA’s negligence cost people their homes, polluted the river, and the uncertainty of long-term health conditions from being exposed to the ash’s toxins. “The community was not able to locate reliable information about potential short- and long-term health effects, uncertainty about the extent of environmental damage, and feared plummeting property values” (Ritchie, Little, & Campbell, 179). TVA was at fault for several things, but the most significant fault they did not consider is the risk of storing large volumes of fly ash near the Emory River that flowed into a nearby community.
Ulmer, R. R., Sellnow, T. L., & Seeger, M. W. (2017). Effective crisis communication: Moving from crisis to opportunity. Sage Publications.
Ritchie, L. A., Little, J., & Campbell, N. M. (2018). Resource Loss and Psychosocial Stress in the Aftermath of the 2008 Tennessee Valley Authority Coal Ash Spill. International journal of mass emergencies and disasters, 36(2), 179.