Civil Defence urges New Zealanders to ‘get gone’ if the shake is ‘long and strong’

Huddling under a desk in the event of an earthquake is an encounter many of us would have experienced at some point in our lives. Whether that earthquake was a real life natural disaster or just a routine awareness drill at school, New Zealanders know that the best move to make is simply ‘drop, cover and hold’.

But what about the not-so-far-off dangers that lie beyond the initial shake? In an effort by the government to increase public awareness on what to do in the risk of a tsunami, Civil Defence has teamed up with Y&R in its latest campaign ‘Long or Strong, Get Gone’ in an effort to promote tsunami readiness.

“When we had the 7.8 magnitude earthquake near Kaikoura, the tsunami and aftershocks of those earthquakes really highlighted New Zealand’s risks,” says Civil Defence director Sarah Stuart-Black. “We were also aware that not everybody knew the correct lifesaving actions to take. When there’s a local tsunami that could arrive within minutes, there won’t be enough time for an official warning. That’s why it’s really important that New Zealanders know what to do and can make those decisions quickly to keep themselves and their families safe.” 

Despite the terrible tragedy of the Kaikoura earthquake, the event opened up a rare opportunity for public education. Stuart-Black states that research has shown that one of the most effective times to convey safety information is immediately after an event like an earthquake or tsunami. Therefore, in order to make the most of that freshness in people’s minds, it was paramount for the campaign to be launched quickly, which meant ‘Long or Strong, Get Gone’ rolled out in weeks, not months. 

“Y&R was amazing. The [team] came up with a crisp, clear and distinctive concept at great speed. From deciding we wanted to have a new campaign ready by Christmas to it actually being on TV was four weeks,” she says. “It took a week to come up with the concept with Y&R and our communications team, and three weeks to basically put that through production and have that available on TV, radio, and online. Following Christmas we did some full-page ads in all the major newspapers. Then in the New Year we’ve been doing Adshel advertising through bus shelters to really emphasise the message in a consistent way, making sure we’re reinforcing the message because people are seeing it in different ways, not just on one medium.” 

Over the years, Y&R has done its fair share of public safety messaging, working on campaigns for both the Health Promotion Agency (HPA) to promote healthier eating habits, and the Earthquake Commission (EQC) urging the public to ‘Fix, Fasten, and Don’t Forget’ their household items. The latter caused controversy when it was first released back in 2014 due to its shocking imagery showing a concrete block hanging over a baby and a teenage boy being hit by a speeding car.  

‘Long or Strong, Get Gone’ is also an extension of Civil Defence’s previous campaigns, such as the now well-known ‘Drop, Cover, Hold’, as well as last year’s ‘Never Happens? Happens’ initiative launched in July. Stuart-Black says Civil Defence used this opportunity to focus on tsunami readiness as a way to help people make good decisions without thinking that “somebody will tell me if I need to take action”. 

“What we wanted to get across is there may not be time, especially if the earthquake occurs close to the coastline. So it was about making sure New Zealanders understand that, ‘Wow, that was a really big earthquake that last more than a minute! I should take my family and immediately go inland or uphill’,” she says. “We wanted to make sure New Zealanders have the confidence that if it’s long or strong, don’t wait. Just go.” 

The need for the public to be educated on tsunami readiness was further highlighted by the public confusion that ensued after the Kaikoura earthquake. Residents in areas such as Wellington, Napier and Christchurch complained about the lack of clarity around the risk of a tsunami in the aftermath of the earthquake, prompting calls for an overhaul of tsunami alert procedures.

“I think what it emphasised was that some people didn’t know if they should wait to be told or not. We realised we had to be clearer in terms of public information, and what New Zealanders should do,” says Stuart-Black.

“Our top priority was making sure that if there was misunderstanding about what people should do, we’ve provided them with information in a really clear and coherent way, using a little catchphrase as a way to help people remember. The catchphrase is memorable, it’s easy to do, and what we’re finding is we’re getting great feedback because it’s stuck in people’s minds.”

Stuart-Black also adds that in a positive development, the number of New Zealanders rushing to shorelines in the event of a tsunami alert has decreased over the years, a behaviour which former Civil Defence minister John Carter once described as “dangerous” and “stupid”.

“We’re increasingly seeing that people don’t go down to the shoreline anymore and that the message has gone through that it’s not a safe place to be,” says Stuart-Black. “That’s a real positive change in action that we’ve seen, so we now just want to make sure that people understand what the right action is to keep themselves and their families safe. Don’t wait to hear an official notification. People should immediately take action.”

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