The Monster Mash – What’s with the Zombie Thing in Emergency Management?

In May of 2011 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) unleashed its Zombie Preparedness campaign upon the world.  This campaign took off like a flesh-eating monster, encouraging preparedness throughout the nation and prompting similar campaigns in other countries.  My guess is that the CDC took a creative prompt from the current pop culture zombie craze (mostly fueled by AMC’s The Walking Dead series – yep, I’m a big fan – note: season 3 starts on October 14th) as well as from the common sense, yet tongue-in-cheek group known in Zombie Squad.  Zombie Squad, whose website says they have been around since 2003.  ZS (as they are known) “… is an elite zombie suppression task force ready to defend your neighborhood from the shambling hordes of the walking dead.” “When the zombie removal business is slow we focus our efforts towards educating ourselves and our community about the importance of disaster preparation.”

So how does this all make sense?  Actually, it fits very well.  Contrary to the other monster fad currently sweeping the globe – vampires – which seems to be intent on teenage-level love stories, this zombie business is serious, really.  The Walking Dead has spurred many conversations in on-line discussion boards and in my own home about people functioning and surviving when society has crumbled around them.  Zombieism is also a disease, so all the concepts that go with a major disease, such as transmission prevention, isolation and quarantine, treatment, vaccination, etc. all apply.

From a preparedness angle, the zombie concept works well. On the CDC website, their director, Dr. Ali Khan explains “If you are generally well equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack.”  They then further encourage people to get a kit, make a plan, and be prepared.  It’s great that we’re all using the same message!  The Zombie Squad website also encourages the same.

Now how about from the prospective of emergency response and emergency management folks?  Surely, we can’t be swayed by this pop culture silliness as well?  We sure can – and I think it’s great!  For many of the same reasons explained earlier, we can draw many similarities between a zombie attack and an actual incident.  Sure, we take some liberties and we have a little fun with it, but why can’t we?  A successful exercise is one that tests our objectives, is it not?  Drawing the scenario similar to a pandemic or hazardous materials type of incident, agencies are testing objectives related to mass casualties, mass fatality management, isolation and quarantine, public messaging, incident command, crowd control, looting, disease prevention, points of distribution, etc.  So many times I had heard from those who taught me ‘the art of exercises’, that the scenario really doesn’t matter, it’s all about the objectives.  Sure, in the past we’ve always given consideration to the scenario being realistic so that the participants buy into it, but I think many can totally get into the zombie thing.  This local exercise is using the zombie theme later this month (they are even giving prizes for things such as ‘best zombie walk’ to encourage volunteers to come for this, and yes, they are holding a ‘Thriller’ dance!), and you’ve probably seen articles on National Guard and Department of Defense units using a zombie attack as their scenario.

Bottom line, it’s fun, it’s effective, and it’s a graveyard smash!

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