An example of a crisis situation that has appeared in the media recently was the oil spill at the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico, which started on April 20, 2010, after an explosion. Eleven workers who were on the platform at the time were killed in the accident. Seventeen more were injured.
Unfortunately, it was not until the spill flowed for more than three months did the company effectively deal with the flow. It was not until July 15 that the well was capped, after it had leaked approximately 4.9 million barrels, or 185 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Experts estimate that at the time of the explosion, approximately 62,000 barrels of crude oil was escaping into the Gulf each day. By the time the well was finally sealed, 53,000 barrels of crude oil was escaping into the Gulf each day.
To the company’s credit, its response was very prompt, using all of its media outlets to reassure the public that they were working to stop the flow and repair the damage being caused by the spill. The reality of the situation might have, in fact, been the same. The public’s perception was far different (Cutlip 46).
BP’s public image suffered greatly when it came to the public’s perception of how the company was working prior to as well as after the explosion and in the short run after the flow started. In fact, BP became the brunt of jokes and satire of late-night comics and YouTube videos made by amateurs as well as professional comic groups.
The images the public saw on their televisions daily also told the story of a disaster made worse by a bungled effort to fix the problem. Dead and dying birds and other Gulf wildlife covered in crude oil appeared on screens nonstop. Another image that was continually playedfor the public was that of Gulf-area fishermen, crabbers and others dependent on the crops of the coast for their living.