May 20 2011
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) want you to be prepared for the possibility of a zombie apocalypse. Really.
They have started a campaign to educate the public how to prepare for the eventuality of a mindless brain-eating horde slowly but inexorably laying siege to your home. It’s a clever campaign – preparing for a zombie-induced disaster is much like preparing for any natural or man-made disaster. The basic needs for survival are the same, as is understanding how to access the government resources that will likely be available. You probably don’t have to spend as much time fortifying your home or preparing your weapons, however.
The CDC is not the first to key in on the popularity of zombies to promote their work. In 2009 Munz et al wrote an epidemiological paper called, When Zombies Attack! to demonstrate their mathematical model for predicting the spread of a highly infectious disease. They could have chosen any disease, but by choosing zombie infection they turned their otherwise obscure medical paper into a media sensation.
The popularity of zombies is interesting. I admit to a fascination with them myself. I’m looking forward to the return of the AMC series, The Walking Dead. If you like zombies, and you have not read The Zombie Survival Guide or the follow up, World War Z – then do it. (The Zombie Survival Guide will fill any gaps left by the CDC campaign. It has a long chapter on weapon choice.)
Perhaps part of the fascination is a survival instinct – we like imagining ourselves in a disaster scenario and thinking about how we would survive. It is easy to see how such a fascination would have a survival advantage. We don’t want to be the panicky loser who always dies near the beginning of every disaster movie. And we want to learn how to recognize them, so we don’t become one of the other people the panicky loser always takes down with them.
We want to be the guy with the duct tape and hand-cranked flashlight who uncannily knows his way around the disaster. Such characters always seem a little too prepared – like they are happy for the tragic disaster and millions of deaths just for the opportunity to finally flex their preparedness muscles. But that is the nature of disasters – you need to spend a certain amount of time and resources preparing for something that you hope never occurs.
At my daughter’s school they had a presentation on disaster-preparedness. She came home determined to make a disaster-kit – which she has done. She has become a little obsessed with the project, and has been upgrading and maintaining her kit ever since. I turned it into a father-daughter project, and (inevitably, I suppose) also got her fascinated with the idea of a zombie apocalypse. I even bought her a “zombie survival kit” messenger-type bag in which to keep her survival kit.
We spent one afternoon surveying our house and the surrounding terrain for the most defensible positions. It was a good way to teach her about basic tactics. Overall – it’s a fun (if morbid) thought experiment and exercise in problem-solving. The challenge is to identify needs and weaknesses and then develop strategies for defense and survival. She likes to play the game – if you can only take five things with you, what would they be?
So I applaud the CDC campaign for using a clever marketing idea to spread useful information about disaster preparedness. Zombies are a good hook. They are using the same strategy that the skeptical movement uses to teach science – find popular hooks (the paranormal, the latest health fad, whatever) and use it to teach about science and critical thinking. Good job.
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