Last week we discussed how Jack Herbein, VP for generation for Metropolitan Edison, had become the company spokesman to the press, which by Friday, two days after the accident, had reached a national audience. Locally, schools had closed early, and the kids had been told to go directly home and close all the windows in the house. The local population was becoming extremely nervous about the events at the plant. By Friday morning, we are already more than 48 hours into the accident, and no one knew for sure what had happened.
We lived next door to the Herbeins, less than 10 miles from the plant. My oldest son was in the same high-school class with Jack’s son. At 11 a.m., Jack Herbein addressed the press core on national TV. His role was obviously to assure the public that his company had the situation under control. He opened his statement by saying that only 300 millirems/hour of radiation had been released, but he was immediately challenged that over 1,200 millirems/hour had already been reported. He became agitated and confrontational. I remember watching his press conference and thinking he wasn’t doing very well under the relentless questioning.
Then Herbein said, “I don’t know why we need to tell you each and every thing that we do specifically…” At that point, both Met Ed and Herbein’s credibility with the press was done. Later on Friday, Harold Denton from the NRC took over the management of this crisis from Met Ed, and Jack Herbein’s career was pretty much over.
This situation was handled so badly that the entire nuclear power industry has been impacted. No new plant has been started in the U.S. since that day. The crisis-management team assembled by Met Ed on Thursday failed to get their arms around what had happened and totally failed to convince the public that they could handle the crisis. Harold Denton of the NRC and his assembled team were able to do this and had the crisis cooled by Sunday. However, to this day, there are those that still don’t believe the whole story was told.
Unfortunately, Jack did not prepare himself adequately on the events and their potential consequences to be able to calmly convey this to the public. Being thrust into this enormous event under these circumstances was not enviable at all. How prepared are you?