Why Did the CDC Develop a Plan for a Zombie Apocalypse?

You will need more than these recommendations to survive an undead event -- like, for instance, a shotgun

Zombies - Desmond Boylan : Reuters - banner.jpg

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an unusual warning: that a zombie apocalypse is coming, and you'd better be prepared.

Rear Admiral Ali S. Khan, MD, who heads the CDC's Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, wrote:

The rise of zombies in pop culture has given credence to the idea that a zombie apocalypse could happen. In such a scenario zombies would take over entire countries, roaming city streets eating anything living that got in their way. The proliferation of this idea has led many people to wonder "How do I prepare for a zombie apocalypse?"

Khan recommends such standard disaster procedures as keeping water and bleach on hand, and planning a family meeting place if a disaster hits.

Which is great, but it leads us to the question: Why is the CDC telling us to do this?

The zombie warning was the brainchild of Dave Daigle, who heads communications for the CDC's preparedness department, which has a $1.4 billion budget this year and is responsible for addressing public-health concerns in the wake of major disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes. Most recently, the CDC's disaster unit helped out with Haiti's cholera outbreak and with radiation from Japan's Fukushima nuclear meltdown.

"We were talking about hurricane season, which begins 1 June. I think about hurricane season, and we put out the same messages every year, and I wonder if people even see those messages," Daigle said.

As a vehicle for spreading information about preparedness plans, Daigle said the CDC is learning that zombie themes and viral, social-media marketing are effective. The zombie post marked the first time CDC used Facebook and Twitter to launch a preparedness campaign not tied (or reacting) to any specific disaster, Daigle said. So far, it's been a success.

"We have a great message here about preparedness, and I don't have to tell you that preparedness and public health are not the sexiest topics," Daigle said. "We posted it on Monday. By Wednesday, the server crashed." With 30,000 views, the zombie warning has seen triple the traffic a CDC preparedness warning typically gets over a 10-day span. "I thought it would get more pickup if I used zombies ... but what we're seeing is incredible," Daigle said.

The CDC is now hosting a video contest for zombie preparedness messages. The CDC's tactics -- using a popular topic, pushing it out through social media, asking readers to participate -- have been used by media outlets, companies, and political campaigns for years, but the CDC is just now discovering their virtues.

For those who think it may have been a waste of government resources, Daigle insists that no outside money was spent compiling this plan, and CDC staff didn't spend too much time composing it. The additional cost of the campaign, he said, was zero.

The one palpable downside to the CDC's warning is its obvious inadequacy as a real plan for zombie preparedness. If a zombie apocalypse does happen -- and this is important -- DO NOT follow the CDC's guidelines as your only course of action. The CDC zombie plan includes no mention of shotguns, torches, hot-wiring cars, seeking high ground, traveling at night vs. day, or really any worthwhile strategy for keeping zombies out of your house. Parts of it are good, but it probably would serve the public better in the event of, for instance, a hurricane.

"That was one of the first things we got from the zombie crowd ... 'What weapons do you guys recommend?'" Daigle said. "Remember, we're a public-health center, so we're not going to recommend weapons. ... Doctor Khan says we'll leave that to the law-enforcement folks."