A Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak would have devastating impacts on the agricultural industry, the New Zealand economy, and have severe implications for farming communities. Communication is a vital part of an emergency response, and its effectiveness has a major impact on the overall success of controlling an outbreak.
The question is, are we prepared for FMD in New Zealand, from a communications perspective? This is a disease that is well known, and we know as a nation we would act to stamp it out. With this knowledge, we can, and we should, be prepared.
This report combines a literature review with semi-structured interviews. Research articles, journals and presentations were analysed. As part of the research, several primary industry representatives from both emergency response and communications backgrounds were interviewed.
Learnings from past emergency responses were investigated, including the 2001 FMD outbreak in the UK, 2017 Mycoplasma bovis outbreak in New Zealand, and New Zealand’s communications strategy for COVID-19.
The UK FMD outbreak emphasised the value of scenario planning and having an up-to-date crisis plan. Resource requirements also weren’t recognised, leaving the communications team lacking skilled staff and being short of money.
The Mycoplasma bovis response highlighted the importance of having a well-resourced communications team, particularly at the outset of the response. Politics lead to underutilised channels, including social media.
The COVID-19 response showed the effect that a strong brand can have in banding people together. High empathy and action-based messaging led to a successful elimination strategy.
There is a communications strategy in place for an outbreak of FMD in New Zealand. It is a comprehensive plan, though developed in 2016, it is out of date. The findings of this study show that there are improvements to be made for New Zealand to be ready for a FMD outbreak, from a communications perspective.
I recommend the following actions should take place to help us prepare an effective communications response to an FMD outbreak in New Zealand:
1. Update the FMD communications strategy, keep it live and complete regular scenario testing.
2. Prepare a national brand and messaging ready for regional implementation.
3. Develop a swift sign off procedure so communications can be released quickly.
4. Have a well-resourced communications team.
5. Work to understand, engage and listen to stakeholders.