How to do it right

There was an emergency at the Wells Discovery Museum on Sept. 3 that injured 13 people. During a science experiment to simulate a tornado chemically, conducted for an audience, a chemical flare went out, some of it pouring to the floor like a waterfall. The audience was seated on the floor. Children were among those injured.

It’s an experiment that has been done many times before at the museum to make a whirling wind effect. This time something went wrong.

There are incidents like this from time to time, at museums, campuses, events, and so on. This one, regrettable as it was, set an example for how to handle it.

No one waited to decide how to spin it. News of the trouble went out.

The director of the Discovery Museum posted on Twitter.

The city of Reno sent out news releases.

Renown Hospital set up a website page and posted updates.

These materials contained not only information on the immediate emergency but also numbers, details, assurances of plans for prevention in the future. All this access to information helped quickly quash the story that an explosion had occurred, which is what the first call to 911 reported.

In addition, every indication is that the incident was handled well when it happened. When emergency crews arrived at the museum, the building was already evacuated.

Those in the community who might have had friends or family at the museum event were, if not immediately reassured, at least well informed, and the various sources provided phone numbers and websites where they could find out more.

As a result of the forthcoming conduct of those involved and the openness with which the trouble was handled, it probably got a lot less attention, meaning less bad publicity for the museum. The Reno Gazette-Journal, for instance, ran the story on page 3 below the fold. And it was a two- or three-day story.

There is no minimizing what those at the museum, particularly the children, experienced during the incident. Among the 13 injured, nine—an adult and eight children—were taken to the hospital for treatment. One child stayed there overnight. These kinds of events can be terrifying for children.

But an incident which could have been handled badly was not.

The openness helped create trust. There has been little second-guessing of the museum, which is a relatively new institution in our community. It handled its first major emergency well. It’s likely that staffers will make whatever changes and take whatever precautions in conducting the tornado demonstrations from now on that will protect the spectators.

This is not an age in which trust is come by easily. A lot of individuals and institutions in our community should pay attention to how this incident was handled.