When Washington, DC Metro’s new General Manager Paul Wiedefeld announced the complete shutdown of the nation’s 2nd largest subway system on a work day last Tuesday with only 9-and-half hours’ notice, he sent two unequivocal signals:
- Safety first
- He is ready to take whatever actions are required to safeguard the public and salvage the crumbling system regardless of the consequences
It turned out the caution was warranted. Inspections during the 29-hour shutdown revealed significant damage to several cables similar to those that had started two underground fires within the past year, one of which resulted in a death. Criticism of the shutdown was muted after revelations of 26 instances of severe cable damage.
In contrast to other infrastructure crises we have seen, CommCore applauds Wiedefeld’s action and sees several lessons for communicators:
- Swift, decisive action may be inconvenient but it may be the best way to prevent accidents and a much more expansive crisis.
- Stakeholders want leadership in a crisis. Wiedefield weighed his options and made his decisions.
- Metro utilized multiple channels to communicate the messages about the shutdown. Metro used email, website, text messages, traditional news media (radio, TV and print) and Twitter.
- The clear, direct communications resulted in inconvenience but helped Metro recover some of its lost credibility.
Time will tell if it was the safe and smart play.