I’m guessing most of you missed the news back in May that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put out a blog on preparing for disasters—this time on how to prepare for a zombie pandemic.
Of course, included in the list was water, food, needed medications and first aid supplies (not for zombie bites but for non-zombifying infections), tools, documents, and clothing. Not surprisingly, the standard items needed to prepare for any disaster.
It was a clever way to get people to pay attention to the boring topic of disaster preparedness and the post led to so much attention that it crashed the CDC’s server.
This significant attention by the media and the public—the CDC was ‘trending’ on Twitter—gave the agency the leeway to take this edgy idea to the next level.
Long story short, the CDC has now created a graphic novel—Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic—that tries to make disaster preparedness engaging to a different demographic. And while the comic might turn out to be a good way to draw attention to disaster preparedness, unfortunately it isn’t very good, so probably won’t spread virally very well. And more importantly, while a nice idea, there were some significant flaws in the approach of a graphic novel produced by the CDC.
First, as Chris Good pointed out about the original blog post in The Atlantic, you can’t prepare for a zombie attack without weapons. But the CDC has stated that it doesn’t want to advocate for adding handguns, shotguns, axes, baseball bats and the other key implements in protecting yourself from the undead into preparedness kits, so we’re stuck. It is not realistic (if that word can be used in this context) to exclude these, so perhaps CDC should have stopped at the blog and not try to take it to the next step themselves.
Instead, the CDC should organize something like Trailer Trashed (as discussed last week), where the agency offer a $5,000 prize to the best short zombie video that incorporates creating or using a disaster preparedness kit into the film. This contest would outsource all the work (and perhaps pull in some very creative budding writers and film directors), and more importantly, it would give the CDC the political cover they need for including the necessary unpalatable elements, like weapon use. Note: back in May, The Wall Street Journal noted that a video contest was announced by the CDC for disaster preparedness (more broadly) and it has just completed with an honorable mention going to a zombie preparedness video, however this was much more rudimentary than Trailer Trashed with no cash prize and minimal publicity rewards–offering little incentive to participate.
Second major problem: the CDC portrayed its staff more like wizards than scientists. They map out the zombie virus genes in days and create a vaccine in a few weeks. The zombie virus—a mutated flu—also follows the rules of magic and somehow doesn’t spread beyond the Southeast United States, even though it’s a flu virus! It’s also convenient that the virus is in the same region as the CDC (or is it not coincidence at all but did another division of the CDC engineer it?!? That would have made for an interesting plot twist.)
It’s also pretty magical that CDC’s logistics department is fully up and running and can distribute these vaccines when the zombies are surely all over the roads, along with abandoned cars and wreckage that would make highways useless. Probably better to call on bike couriers—something that has been tried in Africa over the years.
A few more critiques:
- Zombies that are so pathetic that they can’t break through glass windows and have to hide during the daylight?
- And soldiers that don’t shoot the zombies trying to eat them because “These are our fellow citizens!”?? (Again this shows the limits of government in discussing the ‘truth’ about a zombie pandemic.
- And then (spoiler alert) just as the shelter is about to be overrun the whole damn episode turns out to be a dream (which I guess explains the magical abilities of the CDC and the extreme weakness of the zombies, but then again it’s tragic that humanity succumbs to even these miserable excuses of the undead). And by the way, if you never came across it, one mathematical model found that even slow moving zombies would quickly overwhelm human society unless the zombies were put down very quickly.
So here’s the conclusion:
The CDC should absolutely use creative social marketing efforts like this to improve the citizenry’s preparedness—especially as disasters will increase in frequency and destructive power in years to come due to climate change. And zombies are en vogue and a good tool to exploit (a recent analysis found they’ve generated $5 billion dollars of revenue—not bad for brain-eating, shuffling monsters).
But recognizing the constraints of government agencies will strengthen these types of efforts significantly. Skip the self-produced graphic novels and follow your original gut instinct to get zombie-philes (there are hoards of these!) to produce higher quality content at much smaller cost and with much more powerful outcome. Unlike a CDC-produced graphic novel, each short film produced will be shared with the many social networks of the artists and amateur filmmakers, and the CDC might even find interesting partners that will help to promote the contest and winners, like AMC’s The Walking Dead. In exchange for the pro-social marketing glow that would come with supporting the CDC, the show would probably supply the meager award money as well, and maybe even add a new product placement on the show, not for Hyundai or Bing—as discussed in The New York Times—but for the CDC’s Disaster Preparedness Guide (perhaps the cast finds a survivor that’s still alive “thanks to my trusty disaster preparedness kit.”)
And more so, I could imagine Andrew Lincoln, dressed as Sheriff Rick Grimes, introducing the zombie preparedness film award ceremony, which of course, would be interrupted half way through by a zombie trying to eat his brains (how about this guy?). That would certainly draw attention to Disaster Preparedness! But then again, no doubt that Sheriff Grimes would put the walker down with any weapon he could find, his sidearm if he was wearing it, the sharp edge of the award trophy if he was still holding it, or even his CDC Preparedness Kit if that was nearby (now that would be cool).
UPDATE: Originally I thought the video contest was nixed but an email on Nov 17th from the CDC pointed me in the right direction so I’ve updated the original blog and added the link to the announcement of winners. I apologize for thinking originally that the CDC had scrubbed its “website clean of any mention of the contest—yes, like the floor should be scrubbed clean of contaminated zombie blood and flesh after an attack (see page 72 of Worldwatch Institute’s Complete Guide to Permaculture and Zombie Defense).” In reality, I just couldn’t find it in the huge CDC website.