Comms About the Oakland Warehouse Fire

Oakland-ghostship1Oakland city officials and others are commenting on the "Ghost Ship" warehouse fire that killed at least 36 people who gathered for a concert party. A refrigerator may have caused the fire, but the building was under investigation for illegal living areas and potentially hazardous garbage on the property. A press release from the City of Oakland gives some history:

The last permitted use of the building was as a warehouse. On November 13, 2016, the City of Oakland received complaints of blight and unpermitted interior construction at the building. On November 17, 2016, a City building inspector visited the property and verified the blight complaint, but could not gain access to the building to confirm the other complaint regarding unpermitted construction. This is an ongoing investigation.

Members of the police department, sheriff's office, and others held a news conference on Sunday: 

Reporting has been painful, as more bodies have been found, most people in their 20s and 30s. We don't yet know whether the warehouse owners or Ghost Ship managers will be charged. One of the managers, Derick Ion Almena, said of the tragedy: "They're my children. They're my friends, they're my family, they're my loves, they're my future. What else do I have to say?" Later, he posted, "Confirmed. Everything I worked so hard for is gone. Blessed that my children and Micah were at a hotel safe and sound ... it's as if I have awoken from a dream filled with opulence and hope ... to be standing now in poverty of self worth."

A New York Times article blames rising housing prices in the Bay Area and in other cities in the United States:

The victims died because they were trapped in a tinderbox. Yet the economic backdrop of the tragedy is also important because it shows how rising rents and fears of eviction can push vulnerable people in a desperate search for housing to unsafe spaces.

For some artists, Ghost Ship offered a rarity: a place to work and sleep. 

Image source.

Discussion Starters:

  • Almena was criticized for his first comment, which sounded cold. What else should he have said?
  • Assess the news conference speakers. What advice would you give them for improving crisis communications and presentation delivery?