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A small Canadian town was devastated last month by a train explosion which killed at least twenty people and left a further 30 missing, presumed dead.

The accident happened when a runaway train, carrying 72 cars of crude oil, derailed and burst into flames in Lac-Megnatic in Quebec. The tragedy has had a catastrophic effect on the local community.

At least 30 buildings were destroyed and 2,000 residents have fled their homes. No official list of missing people has been released yet but, many of the victims were so badly burned they are unidentifiable. The cause of the accident has not been established – but that hasn’t stopped people pointing fingers.

Rail World Chief Executive Officer Edward Burkhardt said that an engineer who was driving the train has been suspended. Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, condemned the company’s response, while the behaviour of fire fighters has also been criticised.

This is obviously a tragic event for the local community and those who have lost loved ones. From a business continuity point of view, it is important for us to examine how this could be avoided in the future.
The issues, I think we should be thinking about are :

1. Do we understand what went wrong?

The Canadian rail disaster proved that engineers should not be working alone. Reports have indicated since 2006 that staffing on the train was inadequate. Coupled with poor breaking systems and procedures, this seemed to play a fundamental role in the eventual disaster. We need to understand what went wrong before we can make it right.
2. Why is communication so important?

Quick and clear communication when an incident occurs can prevent further problems for the people involved. In this case, the lack of dialogue between the rail company and the local people proved to add to this incident, as numerous complaints were made in regards to the Rail World CEO, Edward Burkhardt, for his lack of presence after the incident occurred. This caused much aggravation among local residents.
3. Who’s to blame?

In this incident, there has been much speculation over who is to blame. The fire department and the train owners have appeared in recent days to point the finger at one another – the train driver still remains in custody over suspected negligence. From a business continuity perspective, it’s important to assess thoroughly before blame is dealt with. Blame can be very damaging to organisations, individuals or companies involved and can permanently damage reputations. Once assessments have been made only then can we amend our plans to enforce stricter communication policies, procedures and ultimately minimise further incidents occurring in the future.
In conclusion, communication is key in any disaster as it can not only mitigate risk but also bring comfort to those affected. Nobody wants to be kept in the dark at such a tragic and chaotic time.

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