NATIONAL REPORT—Legionella can make people ill and has been linked to dozens of deaths. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Legionella bacteria, normally found in fresh water such as lakes and streams, can infiltrate water systems and colonize in showerheads, sinks, water heaters, cooling towers and even fountains if they are not treated properly.
Twelve guests recently contracted Legionnaires’ disease, a form of pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria, at a Sheraton hotel in Atlanta. One of the guests subsequently died, and another 61 “probable cases” were identified by the Georgia Department of Health.
After three days of unsuccessful attempts to determine the source of the bacteria, hotel management temporarily closed the entire hotel and relocated all guests to nearby hotels. An entire month passed following the shutdown before investigators determined the source. The contamination was resolved, and the hotel finally reopened.
Eight Fatalities in First Six Months
There were 84 reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the United States during the first six months in 2019, eight of which resulted in death. These incidents are not only happening in hotels but also in hospitals, senior living facilities, prisons and spas, among other public facilities.
Every public facility should have a Legionella management plan that includes a risk assessment, proper maintenance of all water systems, water sampling and monitoring procedures, testing by a certified lab, mitigation of problems, removal of dead ends in water systems, a schedule to flush water taps, record-keeping and training.
Has your organization contemplated a Legionella crisis? Have you included your service contractors, lab-testing vendors and city or state health officials in your crisis exercises and drills?
Comprehensive Management Plan
Many facilities that rely on third-party service providers to sample, monitor, test and treat water in their facilities lack a comprehensive crisis management plan that includes in-house maintenance staff. Given that a Legionella crisis will affect your reputation, not the service providers, this is a critical failure.
Crisis communications is an integral part of a crisis management plan. Failure to communicate effectively can cause unnecessary fear and suspicion and permanently erode an organization’s credibility. Principal elements of a crisis communications plan include the following:
- Commitment by the senior leadership to put a plan into action;
- Definition of what constitutes a crisis;
- 24/7 digital media monitoring;
- Established communications channels to convey information, in real time;
Training at all levels; and
- A recovery campaign to rebuild trust.
Even the best-intentioned companies with crisis management plans in place can fall short by neglecting to review their plans frequently or failing to provide training at all levels and ensuring reinforcement with periodic crisis simulation drills.
These precautionary measures are a small price to pay in comparison to the immediate loss of valued customers, declining share value and expensive lawsuits that are likely to drag down the organization for months or years.
Paul Frederick is principal of Integrated Crisis Management Solutions, an organization composed of security operatives and communications professionals offering risk assessments, streamlined emergency protocols, management training, customer/media relations and recovery programs.