Foot-and-mouth disease hoax in New Zealand
In 2005 a letter was sent to New Zealand’s minister of agriculture (similar to our federal Secretary of Agriculture) claiming that foot-and-mouth disease had been released on Waiheke Island, a small island just north of Auckland (on the North Island). While the possibility of the threat being a hoax was considered very likely, steps were taken to immediately communicate with farmers and the public regarding the situation. Just under a week later a second letter was received by a newspaper. Shortly after, the threat was officially declared a hoax. No cases of disease occurred, but the response still required a significant deployment of government resources.
The response to the situation is held up as an example of a good crisis communication (Ch. 7 of Effective Risk Communication: A Message-Centered Approach by Timothy Sellnow and others). It is interesting that farmers were upset when the media started calling them before they had heard about the situation from the government. A hotline for farmers to call was established and public meetings were held to facilitate two-way communication about the situation. Veterinary surveillance was conducted and reporting of suspicious signs was encouraged. When the threat was confirmed to be a hoax and no signs of disease had been seen, the crisis was over. While some would say a crisis was averted, my take is that the crisis in this situation did not escalate and was resolved in a short period of time.
If only it was always that easy.Continued on Part 2 of 4