May 20 2011

Preparing for a Zombie Apocalypse

Published by under General
Comments: 13

Get A Kit,    Make A Plan, Be Prepared. emergency.cdc.govThe 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.

13 responses so far

13 thoughts on “Preparing for a Zombie Apocalypse”

  1. “(The Zombie Survival Guide will fill any gaps left by the CDC campaign. It has a long chapter on weapon choice.)”

    I know the book is all in fun, and I enjoyed it tremendously, but given the quasi-serious take of the book, it would have been better if Max Brooks had consulted with someone who actually knew much about accurate information about firearms. Most of what he says about firearms is inaccurate or completely wrong.

    Some people (not me) are criticizing the CDC for leaving firearms and other weapons out entirely. In any such even semi-apocalyptic scenario, they are likely to be vital to survival. I often say that in a zombie outbreak, your biggest threat is other survivors. Actually, I usually specify that your biggest threat is the roving, post-apocalyptic biker gangs.

  2. superdave says:

    I live by a simple rule in case of zombie attacks. WWGFD

  3. Elias Saltz says:

    Either this means that the CDC actually has a sense of humor, or that the zombie apocalypse thing has finally jumped the shark.

  4. meiguizi says:

    If anyone is dangerously low on their daily recommended dose of crazy, check out the excellent coverage on this hot button issue over on naturalnews. I seriously had to debate preemptively boarding up my doors and windows, not so much for the zombies, but I think I could use an extra barrier between me and the (even for that site) exponential levels of stupidity.

  5. CivilUnrest says:


    While I’m a bit of an amateur prepper myself, I think it would be very unwise of the CDC to mention firearms in their preparation instructions. The disasters that are actually likely to happen (earthquakes, floods, long-term blackouts) would only be made worse by an armed and panicked populace.

    Don’t get me wrong, I sure as hell want to have a gun myself if stuff hits the fan — but I’d rather have as few people armed as possible.

    Also, having read both of Max Brooks’ books I’d be interested to know what he got wrong about weapons. Are you saying that the crowbar in my bug-out bag is not useful?!

  6. CivilUnrest,

    I mostly agree; that’s why I mentioned that I wasn’t one of those who criticized the CDC for not mentioning weapons.

    My criticism of Brooks is mostly in regards to his firearms information and advice. I don’t want to go into too much detail and totally sidetrack the thread, but his information and advice regarding hunting firearms, .22 rim fire weapons, and the M-16/AR-15 are way inaccurate or off base, for instance.

    I could do an in depth Deconstruction of the firearms information and advice in the Zombie Survival Guide on my blog, but it’s not really very timely, except in the context of the CDC’s recent Zombie preparedness campaign.

    Your crowbar is extremely useful and versatile, both as a tool and a weapon of last resort.

  7. SARA says:

    In a disaster, I’m going to be the person begging the over-prepared neighbor to take me in. I have a disaster kit. But its based entirely on previous disasters, which are mostly related to not have electricity for almost a week. As a result of this bad experience, I am over-prepared for lights out.

    My disaster kit is all about batteries, flashlights, candles and matches. I have no water, no clothing, no medical supplies, and I only have one cat carrier and two cats. I have no idea where a shelter exists nearby. Needless to say, the closes thing I have to a weapon is a kitchen knife.

    Also, I just moved and have not yet determined which of my neighbors is the over-prepared one that I need to beg to take me.

    I will certainly be eaten in the first act of this movie.

  8. Woody says:

    I haven’t read the books, nor have I seen every zombie flick out there, so this may have been covered in detail before.

    Would an island be safe? Assuming we are talking about slow, relatively mindless zombies, wouldn’t they just flounder around aimlessly in the water since they probably lack to the motor coordination to swim effectively? Also, since they are decomposing, they would probably be rather buoyant, so wouldn’t be able to walk along the bottom. Any zombies that happen to luckily drift to the island shore could be picked off individually.

    What am I missing?

  9. Froissart says:

    “A mindless, brain-eating horde ….”

    Note that, based on popular cinematic models, your zombies will either be mindless, or brain-eating, but not both.

    Actually I wish the stupid brain-eating meme had never arisen. It comes from the “Return of the Living Dead” movies, which are absurdist comedies, not horror, featuring articulate, fast-moving zombies (even the ones that seem to be nothing but skeletons with eyes) that somehow bite through human skulls.

    The George Romero movies always got to me because they seemed somehow almost possible, with their pathetic, slow reanimated corpses, barely able to move about and seek the one thing they want, warm human flesh.

    I do applaud the CDC for using a bit of pop culture to remind people of the basics of emergency preparedness. (Though the CDC didn’t do so well in the tv show “The Walking Dead”.) I’m going to work on my evacuation route, but I’ll also keep my crowbar, sledge hammer, axe, machete and swords handy.

  10. BrainFromArous says:

    I love how nearly everyone who says “Well, we don’t want a bunch of panicked people running about with guns” also proceeds to make it clear that THEY will surely be armed.

    It seems to me that the best survival chances would come from grouping up with the right folks. Even if you succeed in avoiding the aforementioned vulgar hordes, lone-wolfing it or hiding out in some bunker seems like a bad plan.

    Regardless of how well trained, tough and prepared you are… at some point you’re going to need help. Even the most elite military commandos work in teams, after all, and those guys are some of the baddest asses who ever assed.

    Give me a couple of reliable, level-headed friends with a good cross-section of skills over a pile of guns any day.

    Of course, we’ll surely be armed. 😉

    PS — I must admit that I raised an eyebrow, as well, at Brooks’ firearms advice.

  11. SteveA says:

    We don’t have ready access to firearms in the UK.

    Do sarcasm and dry wit work on zombies? I’m hoping a cutting comment might get me out of a scrape or two.

    Or perhaps I should just snub them.

  12. locutusbrg says:

    I am glad the CDC does this type of thing but.. Lets face it. It is only a matter of time before someone generates spam or a viral video claiming that the US Gov. is planning to test/use their zombie virus. In an effort to keep the “facts” about 911 from us or some other such nonsense.
    Maybe I should start selling zombie prevention items such as purell bottles with zombie pictures on them. Or my favorite useless epidemic medical device, the surgical mask. I can see it now Zombie stoppers Inc.

  13. jaranath says:

    I work in governmental preparedness/homeland security, and my office would be the one to put together a campaign like this. Both my boss and I have been begging our higher-ups and some of our partners to get in on the zombie action for some time now.

    They refuse to bite. I think they’re afraid of looking silly or being criticized by some opportunistic politician (“$20,000 for ads about ZOMBIES?!? Government waste!!!!”). Maybe this could prod them along.

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