Heavy construction vehicle tearing down the wall of a house with the scoop in the foreground

Demolishing the Wrong House – A Lesson in Crisis Communication

This past winter, parts of North Texas suffered from a string of tornadoes. There were a multitude of homes damaged, or completely destroyed, due to this extreme weather. Several companies and community groups pitched in to help those who suffered extreme damage with rebuilding their lives.

However, there was one company that didn’t necessarily help out. A local demolition company was contracted to tear down a home in Rowlett. Instead, they went a block too far and demolished a duplex awaiting repairs.

When a local TV station got hold of this story, they contacted the demolition company and a representative said the company had “no comment.” The employee later texted photos from Google Maps that showed the map had directed them to the wrong address a block away. The station tried repeatedly to clarify the company did in fact demolish the wrong property, but received no response.

This was on a Tuesday. Flash forward to Thursday when the station obtained copies of the demolition permit with the correct address, confirming the company tore down the wrong duplex.

The CEO refused an on-camera interview but said the crew assigned to the project thought they tore down the correct home, until they realized they made a mistake.

He also added the situation was “not a big deal.

It was not until Sunday the demolition company finally apologized to the owners of the duplex that was accidentally leveled. While the company would still not go on camera, the CEO said via phone the company was overwhelmed by the worldwide news coverage their mistake generated.

With no one in the company versed in PR, they said their “mom and pop” small business didn’t know how to react, so they said nothing publicly.

While the demolition company now says the company is committed to doing whatever it takes to make sure both duplex owners are taken care of after the mistake, this brings up some good pointers for all organizations to consider when faced with a crisis.

  1. Every company, regardless of size, needs a crisis communication plan in place. Consider adding several scenarios that your company could potentially face and develop general talking points ahead of time. This allows you to act quickly and respond swiftly.
  2. Assemble your internal crisis team (usually consisting of senior level executives) and develop a statement to put out ASAP. The longer you wait, the more the media will dig for dirt and the public will rant, making your story go viral.
  3. When responding, I was always taught in my college crisis communication classes to not apologize as that lays blame. However, in this case when you know you are in the wrong, admit to your mistake.
  4. Be honest and transparent about what happened. Do not try to hide the truth, but get out ahead of it if possible. As the crisis situation progresses, be sure to reissue statements or updates, as necessary.
  5. Communicate to your stakeholder groups about next steps, such as committing to fixing the mistake. Your response and immediate action after the crisis will determine the amount of reputation damage your company suffers.

While it is understandable that this local small business made an honest mistake, they learned a valuable lesson on the importance of hiring someone who can swiftly develop messaging, statements and even help coordinate with the media on their behalf.

Remember, preparation ahead of time is key. The moment you don’t think you need a plan is exactly when you’ll have a crisis on your hands.