Friday, August 21, 2009


Sunday’s evacuation aboard a Via Rail train bound for Ottawa has sparked a war of words, so to speak. By all accounts, the emergency response to a fire that broke out in the train’s engine was quick and effective (if a bit trying for those passengers who had to walk along the tracks in the dark to reach the waiting buses). It’s the communication effort that has brought the company under fire, however, in the days following the incident. From passenger reports of a lack of clear communication on board the train, to complaints from worried family members waiting, uninformed, at the Ottawa station as hours passed without updates from Via staff, all tracks seem to lead to a communication Fumble. To make matters worse for Via Rail, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages has received a complaint that francophone passengers were unable to understand emergency instructions they claim were delivered in English only. Responding to the complaint, Via Rail spokesperson Claude Arsenault defended the English-only instructions, saying one needed to take into account that the emergency took place between Toronto and Ottawa. The next day, however, Via spokeswoman Julie Durocher backpedalled – saying that in fact, the company's policy is to offer service in both languages at all times. Now, anyone who has employed our TAKE Command crisis communications service knows that there are some communications fundamentals when it comes to managing a crisis: communicate early and often, and speak in one clear, consistent voice. And, in this case, in both official languages.

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