Long-time Digital Trends readers will likely recall a story we published in June regarding an initiative started by the US Centers for Disease Control that hoped to harness humanity’s modern obsession with revivified corpses to educate the populace on how best to prepare for a disaster situation, such as a massive flu epidemic. The idea was that by taking steps to prepare for a fictional zombie apocalypse, people would actually be setting themselves up to survive any sort of disaster as the same basic steps apply to almost every large-scale emergency we might face.
At the time it seemed like a silly idea spawned by pop culture obsessives and a canny government PR team, but after all was said and done the project was a huge success. It was so successful in fact, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has decided to adopt the idea to better prepare US citizens for natural disasters. According to ABC News, FEMA’s most recent monthly online gathering of emergency management personnel attracted over 400 different individuals to discuss the potential of tapping fictional zombies to educate the common person on how best to stay alive in the event of a disaster.
“Zombie-preparedness messages and activities have proven to be an effective way of engaging new audiences, particularly young people who are not familiar with what to do before, during or after a disaster,” said FEMA’s Danta Randazzo. “It’s also a great way to grab attention and increase interest in general.”
Further, Maggie Silver, one of the people behind the CDC’s original zombie campaign, claims that she hears reports of different government agencies, both in the US and abroad, attempting to replicate the CDC’s success. According to Silver, the idea has “spread to health departments, libraries and universities as well as Canada’s version of the CDC.”
“People were starting to realize they need to work outside the box a little bit and try some new ideas,” Silver said. “They saw the CDC as an example of something that worked. We’re all trying to get our message out there.”
But why zombies, specifically? Why not prepare people for non-existent vampire attacks or the threat of roaming packs of werewolves? Blame George Romero. Ever since he kicked off the modern zombie craze with 1968’s Night Of The Living Dead, these voracious, ambulatory ghouls have come to represent almost every possible negative aspect of modern life. Rampant consumerism, mob mentality, viral outbreaks, man’s inhumanity to man; at one time or another the zombie (or, more accurately, hordes of zombies) have provided a handy allegorical stand-in for all of these societal ills, so it just makes sense that they might also offer a useful analogue for something as vastly destructive as a hurricane.
Plus, given the deluge of zombie movies, video games and comic books that have emerged over the last few decades, most people can immediately identify the walking dead as a threat. If you tell the average person that there’s a zombie outbreak most will start mentally sketching out a plan for long-term survival. Gathering food and supplies, finding safe shelter, working with other living people to better one’s own situation; these are the kinds of things one also ought to do in the event of a non-fictional emergency. While the CDC, FEMA and other government agencies may be effectively tricking people into learning about disaster preparedness, they’ve chosen a rather clever, efficient method of exploiting our modern tastes. If it leads to more people surviving future disasters then the zombies have done their job.