Chocolate-Factory Blast Highlights Duplicate-Channels Need

Thom Weidlich 03.30.23


The tragic explosion at a chocolate factory in West Reading, Pennsylvania, in which seven people were killed, is a reminder of the need for redundant communications channels in a crisis. While the company has taken strides to provide information, it seems its effort has been something of a scramble.

The blast occurred 5 p.m. local time last Friday at R.M. Palmer Co.’s factory, which makes specialty chocolates, including Easter Bunnies, Santa Clauses and those for other holidays. It destroyed one building and damaged another. The cause is still unknown.

Many, including the police, the mayor and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency have done a decent job of keeping the public informed. But on Saturday there were conflicting numbers of the known death toll. And the company itself has been hampered by losing its communications channels in the explosion.

R.M. Palmer, established in 1948 and employing about 850 people, put a statement on its Facebook page at around 4 p.m. Saturday, almost 24 hours after the blast.

‘Impacted Families’

“We are anxious to be in touch with all employees and the families of employees who have been impacted, but the company’s email, phones and other communication systems are down, and therefore we are relying currently on first responders and disaster-recovery organizations to provide any available information to impacted families,” it wrote.

It noted its devastation at the incident, thanked first responders and said it would provide further information when available (all important parts of such initial messaging). It included a media-contact email, which was a Gmail address. At some point, that statement was also put on the company’s website. R.M. Palmer’s Twitter account has been inactive since last Easter.

Less than three hours later, the company posted a second statement on Facebook providing employees with a crisis email and phone number and noting that it would offer grief counseling. “We have always viewed our employees as family, and are focused now more than ever on providing any support we can to you and the families of employees directly affected by this tragedy,” it wrote.

Corporate Citizen

R.M. Palmer’s statements seem heartfelt. The company has been a good corporate citizen, including donating candy for West Reading’s Easter hunt, according to The New York Times. Obviously, the incident’s most urgent aspect is the loss of life. But many crises are dreadful, and communicators must learn from them. While the delay of the statements’ issuance might be blamed on the calamity, that’s the point of crisis preparedness — to be ready when even catastrophes befall an organization.

A candlelight vigil is planned for the victims this Friday night.

Image credit: Krasimira Nevenova/Shutterstock

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