Zombie 101, by Michael Moss

Michael Moss

History has shown that Mother Nature can be both unpredictable and destructive. Her disasters come in all shapes and sizes, including hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis, earthquakes etc. Scientists and researchers have done the best they can to predict and provide a good heads up to the public before these disasters strike. Unfortunately they can only do so much, so people as a whole have no better protection from these disasters than to prepare themselves for what may come. Many authors and film makers have used people’s fear of and interest in these natural occurrences for entertainment in novels or on the big screen. One of the more popular genres of an apocalyptic pandemic is a zombie apocalypse which is most often explored for no other purpose than to entertain an audience. There is however, more than mere entertainment to gain from what we observe from the fictional portrayal of these events according to both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency of Homeland Security (FEMA).

On May 16, 2011, the CDC launched an online campaign advocating people to ready themselves for a zombie apocalypse. They even published a book Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic providing a fictional story and a checklist of what one might need if an outbreak were to happen. As it turns out, what first began as a tongue in cheek campaign to engage new audiences with preparedness messages has proven to be a very effective platform. Dr. Ali Khan, the Deputy Director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID) notes, “If you are generally well equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack.” Shortly after the CDC launched its blog on zombie preparedness, FEMA shared the post as an attempt to spread the idea of using the popular zombie genre as a tool for successful disaster preparedness. So what may appear to be a farfetched and quite laughable concept is something that has been thoroughly considered by many people in the disaster industry.

One of the main things FEMA wants people to take away from the CDC’s zombie campaign is what and why certain resources are vital for survival. According to the CDC and almost every Hollywood movie based on the zombie genre, there are key essentials that someone would need to survive. The CDC refers to this as a “survival kit.” This includes water, food, medication, tools, hygiene, clothing, documents and first aid. This kit is made to get survivors through the first couple of days until they can locate a zombie-free refugee camp, or in the event of a natural disaster, until they are able to make their way to an evacuation shelter or utility lines are restored. Once the emergency kit is complete, the CDC proposes that the survivors establish an “emergency plan” with the family or friends that are part of their survival group.

This emergency plan has been referenced in many fictional pieces such as the hit television series The Walking Dead and the film Zombieland, which became well-known for turning what is typically made to be a horror genre into a comedic and yet educational film by providing a well-organized list of rules to survive the zombie pandemic. The first step of the emergency plan is to identify the other emergencies that are probable in the area. This may include other natural disasters, electrical fires, illness or even other civilians. Unfortunately not all disasters bring people together. All it takes is a little anarchy to upset the established order, and everything can become chaos; people will do just about anything to survive. This was a popular theme in the show The Walking Dead because it was not just zombies the survivors were running from. It was other people. Since there was essentially no civilization, people were prone to kill each other for resources, shelter, or even just for sport. The reality of a post-apocalyptic world may not be as dramatic as portrayed in the show, but there is no question that any event where the peace is disturbed comes along with instances of looting and murder.

The second step of the emergency plan is to pick a rendezvous point (besides one’s home) for one’s family to regroup in case zombies invade their current location. This step is very rarely practiced in most zombie films, usually resulting in death due to the group of survivors veering off alone to look for each other. In The Walking Dead, the characters often found themselves in predicaments where they were separated from one another. On one particular occasion, one of the characters from the show was separated from the rest of the group. Not knowing if she would return or if she even knew how to get back, the group had no choice but to split up into a search party while some stayed behind in case she did find her way back. They spent the entire season of the show searching for the young girl only to find that she had been bitten and turned into a zombie. They were forced to put her down with a bullet to the head. Picking a rendezvous point can be useful for other scenarios as well. In the event that a town evacuates because of a hurricane, or tornado, survivors should pick one place right outside their home for sudden emergencies and another place outside of the neighborhood in case returning home is not an option. This will avoid confusion and give the survivors one less thing to worry about. This is already widely practiced among public schools all over the country with fire drills and has proven to be successful.

Another step of the emergency plan is to identify emergency contacts, including the police department, fire department, and maybe even someone known and trusted from out of state in case an evacuation is necessary. This step is important because it eliminates the need to scramble and search for people to call in case an emergency happens by having them readily accessible. When something unexpected happens, people can very easily get distracted or lose focus on remembering phone numbers and addresses. The last step of the emergency plan is to plan one’s evacuation route, or as Zombieland would say, “rule #22: know your way out.” The protagonist in the film made sure he never entered a building without leaving a door open. Sure enough that tactic got him out of dire situations countless times. This tactic would be useful in any situation as well. For example, if people were forced to evacuate a building quickly for a hurricane, it is better to know beforehand which exit they are nearest to rather than looking for it when the event occurs.

It is safe to assume that a zombie apocalypse is not something people really need to concern themselves with. That does not mean there is nothing to gain from such fictional pieces as Zombieland, The Walking Dead, and Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic. The rise of zombies in pop culture has caused many people to ask, “Am I prepared?”, and to understand that preparing for a disaster is something to be taken seriously. Not only does the popularity of zombie culture provide a good layout for what resources would be important to have, but it forces people to think outside the box and plan ahead. Having a plan ahead of time or at least having some kind of coordinated strategy where everyone is on the same page gives people a better chance of survival than if they were forced to improvise where nobody really knows what to do or where to go. And since survival will be a number one priority, it pays to be prepared.

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