It’s winter, it’s cold, and the laundry’s still wet, so you move it a little closer to the fireplace, to get your clothes toasty warm in no time. You leave the room briefly and, the next thing you know, it's engulfed in a sea of flames. As panic swiftly sets in, what should you do?
Thankfully, you can relax because the scenario is a fictional one that's the basis for Fire and Emergency New Zealand's campaign, Escape My House.
The online virtual reality technology and 360-degree video, created in conjunction with FCB and production companies Kaleidoscope and Staples VR, lets users experience what it’s like to escape a house fire, including features that demonstrate the emotional and psychological barriers that those caught in the event are often faced with.
The confronting scenario flows through to the ‘Escape Planner Tool’, a mobile optimised website (with no app to download) that prompts users to walk from room-to-room, quickly and simply, generating an escape plan for their home. Users then commit to fix any barriers, to be followed up with an automated reminder email to practice their plan.
The project came about following qualitative research undertaken with frontline firefighters and members of the public. It found most people only had a plan consisting of “I’ll just run out the front door, no worries”. They hadn’t stopped to consider what they would do if their first exit was blocked, let alone how other household members would get out, or where they’d find them.
In essence, there was no escape planned.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand needed an innovative, and cost-effective, way to show people why they need an escape plan, along with an easy way to convert education into action.
For many years, the company has tried to overcome this problem with their Home Fire Safety Visit initiative, involving sending a fire truck with four crew members to check smoke alarms, and make escape plans. However, Home Fire Safety Visits cost upwards of $250 per household, and reach about 1,600 homes per month.
"With Escape My House, apathy is overcome by empathy; by showing everybody what it’s like to escape a house fire. Virtual reality offers the ability to do this safely, and at scale."
With Escape My House, apathy is overcome by empathy; by showing everybody what it’s like to escape a house fire. Virtual reality offers the ability to do this safely, and at scale. Fire and Emergency New Zealand is now engaging more than double the number of people in making detailed escape plans than they previously were with their ‘Home Fire Safety Visits’ initiative, at just 40 percent of the cost.
Since its March launch, the online tool has been experienced by over 120,000 users and the video on Facebook has been viewed more than 10 million times and shared by more than 86,000 people.
The success of this innovation has prompted international fire services around the world, including Spain, UK, Australia and France, to look at replicating what has been achieved in New Zealand.
As Peter Wilding, Fire and Emergency New Zealand's manager of fire investigation and arson reduction, says: “We’re not just preaching at them anymore; we’re giving them an experience that will save their life.”
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