In January of 2006, the world watched as the Sago Mining tragedy unfolded in Upshur County, West Virginia. Governor Joe Manchin made the decision early on to travel to the mine site so he could be with the families as they waited for word on their loved ones. Having lived through a somewhat similar situation more than 35 years earlier when his uncle perished in a mine explosion, he hoped to be able to provide them with some form of comfort and understanding. However, as all who followed this event know, and despite the best efforts of everyone involved, the situation took a turn for the worse that no one could have expected.
As Governor Manchin’s director of communications, I spent a great deal of time at Sago. While it started out as a somewhat predictable emergency situation, it quickly turned into a crisis unlike any our state had ever faced before. The scope of the tragedy, and the attention it received on both a national and international level, created several unexpected challenges—especially from a communications perspective.