When Zombies Attack
A new CDC blog post is reminiscent of a mock zombie attack plan found on a UF site in 2009.
For Doug Johnson, flattery is spelled “CDC.”
In late 2009, the manager of UF’s e-Learning Support Services received worldwide attention after his mock disaster preparedness plan for a zombie attack was discovered on a UF training website. Within hours, nearly 600 media outlets ran stories about “the University of Florida’s zombie attack plan.”
Nearly a year and a half later, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has now weighed in on the zombie phenomenon. And the message is clear: emergency planning is, in fact, needed.
“It’s about time they caught up,” Johnson says. “I’m delighted I’m not the only person picking up on this theme.”
The CDC’s plan, which was gaining its own national attention this week, is actually a light-hearted attempt to engage the public on the serious topic of emergency preparedness, Dr. Ali Khan, head of the CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, wrote in a blog post.
“You may laugh now, but when it happens you’ll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency,” he wrote.
Johnson’s intentions in 2009 were a little different. A regular sufferer from insomnia, he wrote his six-page treatise — including a two-page “infected co-worker dispatch form” — as a way to pass the time and clear his brain very early one morning, he said. He posted it on the e-Learning Support Services website for fun, and it was used as a training tool for other emergency preparedness exercises.
“It wasn’t something I had worked up during work time,” he said.
That said, there are clear differences between the two plans. For instance, Johnson’s plan calls the potential disaster simply a “zombie attack.” The CDC uses a far more alarmist phrase: “zombie apocalypse.”
Johnson’s plan is also more policy-based, focusing on how the university, its faculty and staff would need to react to protect the campus — including the proper procedure for “dispatching” a colleague infected by “Zombie Behavior Spectrum Disorder.” The CDC’s plan, however, is tailored more to an individual’s needs during a prolonged period of hiding, including water, food, important documents and first aid supplies. Hence, while Johnson’s plan recommends defensive weaponry such as “chain saws, baseball bats, and explosives that have been shown to be effective against zombies,” the CDC’s plan emphasizes evacuation as an effective defense mechanism.
The academic roots of the two disaster plans are similar, however, with both plans citing zombie “documentaries” such as “Night of the Living Dead.”
“My personal favorite is ‘Resident Evil,’” Khan wrote for the CDC.
When the media discovered Johnson’s mock plan on an official UF web page, the story went viral on the Internet within hours. “Florida University has Zombie Survival Plan,” screamed a United Press International headline. “University of Florida ready for Flesh-Eating Zombies” stated another story from National Public Radio.
“I had fun writing the thing in the first place … and I had great fun laughing with the news cycle,” says Johnson, who was glad not to be disciplined for the incident. “It was utterly fascinating to me to find myself on the inside of that explosion.”
And there was some good that came from the plan, Johnson says. Several people, including faculty members, the Nebraska governor’s office and an agency in Taiwan called and asked to use his plan for their own emergency preparedness training.
Since the CDC released its zombie disaster plan, Johnson says he’s received the link from a couple dozen people. He says he can’t help but wonder if someone at the CDC saw his mock plan and used it for inspiration.
“I just think it’s wonderful,” Johnson says. “It’s truly delightful and funny as all get out.”