West Fertilizer Company Case Study
In April 2013, one of the largest industrial accidents in Texas history occurred, resulting in significant destruction and loss of life in the small town of West, Texas, situated north of Waco. West Fertilizer, which had been established more than 50 years beforehand, was destroyed by a fire and resulting explosion. Emergency services personnel who responded to the fire were tragically killed and approximately 150 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Governor Rick Perry declared McLennan County a disaster area, and President Obama issued an Emergency Declaration. DPK Public Relations was engaged to manage the crush of international media and protect the reputation of the company’s owner.
DPK Public Relations immediately got to work collaborating on an initial statement that read:
This has been a terrible week for everyone in West, Texas and I wanted to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt sympathy for those affected and my appreciation for those who responded.
As a lifelong resident, my heart is broken with grief for the tragic losses to so many families in our community. I know that everyone has been deeply affected by this incident. Loved ones have been injured or killed. Homes have been damaged or destroyed. Our hearts go out to everyone who has suffered.
The selfless sacrifice of first responders who died trying to protect all of us is something I will never get over. I was devastated to learn that we lost one of our employees in the explosion. He bravely responded to the fire at the facility as a volunteer firefighter. I will never forget his bravery and his sacrifice, or that of his colleagues who rushed to the trouble.
This tragedy will continue to hurt deeply for generations to come.
My family and I can’t express enough our deep appreciation for the loving service and selfless sacrifice from within and around our community responding to the urgent needs of those affected. I am proud to be associated with West Church of Christ, which has opened its doors to the State of Texas to provide grief counseling services. My family and I will continue to assist in relief efforts through our church family.
The genuine kindness we have witnessed will be the hallmark for all of our children’s children.
Going forward, the owners and employees of Adair Grain and West Fertilizer Co. are working closely with investigating agencies. We are presenting all employees for interviews and will assist in the fact finding to whatever degree possible. We pledge to do everything we can to understand what happened to ensure nothing like this ever happens again in any community.
We brought together a team of crisis communications experts and established a rapid response infrastructure to ensure timely response to every media contact. We closely monitored social media channels and used tools such as Twitter and others to communicate compassion and support for various activities throughout the effected community. Behind the scenes, we also conducted our own research and contacted journalists immediately when questionable or inaccurate information was reported as fact.
The statement was published around the world and was included in reports reaching hundreds of millions of people. Martin Savidge of CNN said, “I’ve heard statement from companies in aftermath of disaster before, never have I heard one so heartfelt.”
DPK Public Relations’ rapid response strategy built trust with media and ensured accurate reporting. Our efforts generated positive coverage, such as the Reuters story, “Texas town holds no grudge against exploded fertilizer plant owner.” We positioned the company as caring and insulated the owner from aggressive media tactics.
Photo: The White House