The Tweet That Begins the Zombie Apocalypse

By Alexis C. Madrigal

This is not the kind of Tweet you want to see from a feed that describes itself as "an automated Twitter feed provided by the Illini-Alert System" that is "not actively monitored by a human being." In essence, we have a robot reporting to us that some kind of hazardous material -- what, we don't know and can't discover -- has been released within a biotechnology research center. The Institute for Genomic Biology has a wide variety of research programs including stuff like "host-microbe systems."

For 52 minutes, that was all the information that was available. Then, two tweets came in fairly quick succession. The first said that the "spill" was "contained within the building." The second said that the building had been safely evacuated and "The fire department is on scene."

We still don't know what happened, though I'm pretty sure that this will turn out to be a routine situation. (Not 100 percent: I called the campus police and they said they had "no more information" than what went out on the alert system.) BUT, whoa, this really sounds like the opening line of an updated version of the post-apocalyptic novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War or a plot point in Colson Whitehead's Zone One. There's something chilling about, "Escape area if able to do so." Escape? From what? And why wouldn't I be able to? WHATS HAPPENING?!?!

Ok, sorry. Carry on. I'm sure zombies aren't closing in on Chicago or anywhere else. 

UPDATE 9:28am: @IlliniAlert reports that everything is OK: "The hazardous materials release at the Institute of Genomic Biology has been mitigated and is no longer a threat. IGB will be open tomorrow."

Thanks to Geoff Manaugh, aka BLDGBLOG, for alerting me to this situation and ruining my night of sleep.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/05/the-tweet-that-begins-the-zombie-apocalypse/257742/