Boating Industry

February 2014

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[ Prepare for the inconceivable ] Boating Industry spoke with three marine businesses that faced truly unexpected situations for their take on what it was like under the gun, how they mitigated the damage, the importance of controlling of the message, speed bumps in rebuilding their facilities and what changes they implemented to better react in the future. AN ERRANT FIREWORK Disasters don't get much more random than what happened at Seattle Boat Company along the shores of Lake Union on July 4, 2013. Just before 10 p.m., hundreds of the company's customers were gathered near its SkyLaunch Marina to watch the city's annual fireworks display. Trouble fell from the sky when an errant, privately launched firework fell into a customer's boat being stored in the top rack of its SkyLaunch dry dock. The crowd noticed the firework and, almost immediately, CEO Alan Bohling got a phone call while he was watching the firework show from the other end of the lake. "When I got the phone call … I literally said, 'No, that's impossible, there's no way we'd have a fire there,'" Bohling said, adding that the SkyLaunch dry docks had no boats hooked up to electrical power. Reflecting on the freak incident nearly six months later, Bohling summed up the ultimate trial of his career in one line: "We did not prepare for it, because we didn't think it was conceivable." As the flames grew from the boat the firework landed in, one of Seattle Boat Company's forklift operators quickly sprung into action, putting himself at risk, by trying to fork the burning boat out of the rack before it engulfed the rest of the rack. He was a few seconds too late, and the flames ultimately spread to 14 boats that were either damaged or destroyed. While the company appreciated the operator's efforts, it is also reviewing whether that safety risk was appropriate. Bohling tried rushing down to the marina, but the area was quarantined with first responders and surrounding traffic was jammed with people heading out of town after the fireworks. Unable to get down to the site, he immediately got to work by contacting senior management and the company's public relations firm. "Between text message and phone calls, we 28 | Boating Industry | February 2014 P26x31-BI14FEB-Disaster-dv.indd 28 Seattle Boat Company never would have expected a fire at its SkyLaunch Marina dry docks before a wayward firework fell from the skies. It quickly rebuilt in the aftermath, and the insurance claim was officially finalized more than five months after the disaster. "We did not prepare for it, because we didn't think it was conceivable." — Alan Bohling, CEO, Seattle Boat Company were talking about where each person was and who could get down there the fastest," he said. "Our focus at that point was managing the media, making sure we didn't say anything incorrect." Back at home, Bohling and the PR representative began drafting a press release within minutes to make sure the media — which had already made mistakes speculating about the fire's cause — had correct information so employees and customers would receive accurate information. Other first steps in the company's instantaneous response included reaching out to the entire organization with information and assignments, as well as contacting its insurance company just two and a half hours after the firework fell from the sky. Bohling said simple things like having premade, remotely accessible organizational and customer email lists made it easy to alert the staff and inform every one of its storage customers about what had happened at the marina. By 9 a.m. the next day, after a sleepless night for much of the management team, a forensics expert and insurance loss representative from the company's insurance provider were on the site and getting to work. Following a crisis, Bohling advises business owners to immediately focus on communication with staff, customers and the public to make sure correct information is being dispersed. Secondly, lines of communication with key staff members were crucial, allowing Seattle Boat Company to immediately respond and get the entire company on board with the proper messaging and instructions. He also advises companies to always follow their own protocols, including insurance contracts for storage customers that properly establish liability in the event of an incident. Safety certifications for all staff, including forklift operators in this case, would also have become a major problem for the company if they had been allowed to lapse. In the end, after $1.5 million in damage, 1/8/14 12:50 PM

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