In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) removed their blog on zombie preparedness.
Originally launched in 2011, “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse” covered such topics as how to stock an emergency kit and how to prepare an emergency plan. The CDC, of course, was merely drawing on the zombie as a metaphor for such disasters as earthquakes and hurricanes, and while their use of the zombie metaphor for emergency preparedness was not new, the public response to it was.
Prior to “Preparedness 101,” many groups and organizations, such as the Zombie Survival Camp, the Zombie Squad, the Zombie Outbreak Response Team (ZORT), and the Canadian Zombie Outbreak Response Team (C-ZORT), drew on the zombie metaphor for conceptualizing real-world disaster and how to prepare for it. However, these organizations were not met with the same level of shock, fear, and academic response.
Do they know something we don’t?
CDC’s blog prompted a study in 2015 that sought to determine whether the use of the zombie metaphor increased retention of information when it comes to disaster preparedness; sadly, the study suggests that it does not. However, this may be due to exactly which aspects of the metaphor are absorbed by readers and how we gauge the idea of “preparedness.” For instance, a similar study conducted in 2017 determined that the zombie metaphor was useful, but the participants in the zombie scenario were 15.84 times more likely to stock their survival kits with firearms instead of food, water, or medical supplies. However, gun sales also spiked during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, “disaster preparedness” itself might be too broad of an idea to really respond adequately. For instance, criticism about “Preparedness 101” noted that while the advice may be helpful for a hurricane, it would not be of much assistance were we to actually face a horde of the undead. This is, of course, no surprise given that the blog was created with the looming hurricane season in mind.
Responses to “Preparedness 101” also speculated that the CDC knew something it wasn’t telling the public. However, despite the CDC insisting that they were merely trying to help with disaster preparedness, the case of the “Miami Zombie” a few months later did not ease the tension. I’m sure it also didn’t help the CDC’s case when, a year later, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security jokingly announced that “the zombies are coming!” as they released their own campaign on disaster preparedness. As such, by the end of 2012, “zombie apocalypse” was the second most searched topic on Google.
“Retiring” zombie preparedness
Notwithstanding the fact that “Preparedness 101” was one of the most visited pages on the CDC website; the fact that it crashed the server within two days of its initial release; and the fact that engagement with “Preparedness 101” increased in 2021 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC still “retired” their blog soon after in favour of something they deemed more immediately relevant to the pandemic: “Prepare Your Health.”
The retiring of “Preparedness 101” might suggest that the CDC no longer considers zombies a threat; it might mean they wish us to be unprepared should the zombies ever attack; but the more likely scenario is that living through a pandemic makes the zombie apocalypse feel a little less humorous.
We need zombies now more than ever…
In response to the idea that COVID-19 has the potential to shift from pandemic to endemic, Dr. Stephen Parodi argues that endemicity requires being better prepared. Thus, preparedness is not meant to be eschewed regardless of which metaphorical tactics we draw on to make it interesting and understandable. As I’ve previously stated, “we need zombies now more than ever.”
While the “Preparedness 101” blog may be gone, the CDC also published a graphic novel of the same name in 2011; there are still numerous organizations and zombie preparedness websites dedicated to the topic; and, at least the Red Cross’ Zombie Apocalypse guide suggests they still have our backs.
So, if the zombies do come…at least you’ll know what to do.