More than 20 hours since the horrific explosion that killed 25 and has left others missing at the Massey Energy mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, the company’s web site still shows a photo of a smiling vice president of safety and training, and boasts that 2009 was another “record setting year for safety.” It is amazing that a company listed on the NYSE with sales last year of more than $2 billion does not understand that a web site needs to be a tool to quickly and accurately inform during times of crisis, not a device that seems hideously disconnected from reality. This does a terrible disservice to the families affected. Unbelievably, many still have not been contacted by the company and are not being kept aware of developments on any systematic basis. If there is one lesson gained from previous mining disasters, it is that family members of victims should not just be left to figure things out on their own.
So far, the company has issued only written statements and has not been available to reporters, according to CNN. It will be interesting to see whether Don L. Blankenship, the company CEO who also holds the positions of president and board chairman, comes forward to face the media and what will become apparent in the culture and governance of the company that might have contributed to the deadliest mining disaster in a quarter-century. We know one thing about the board so far: none of the eight independent directors could have bothered to look at how Massey is handling the crisis in its online presence or, if they have, they don’t understand anything about the nature of a crisis. The unease of investors in that connection is also being registered in the stock price, which is down nearly ten percent in morning trading.
Update: April 9, 2010
Massey Energy has finally updated the home page of its web site to remove the inapproprate graphics and text noted above. It is unfortunate that such a large organization took so long to show the sensitivity that should have been evident at the outset of the tragedy.