By Seth Richardson
The federal Centers for Disease Control, a bureaucracy not known for having a sense of humor about disease pandemics managed to lighten up and recognize that humor is a powerful tool for public education. As Halloween approaches, people might think that the CDC’s “Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic” is a Halloween spoof, but it’s not. It’s a deadly-serious, and highly innovative attempt by the CDC to convince people that they need to think about things like the Bird Flu or an Anthrax attack now, and learn what to do in the event of a disease pandemic.
Back in May, David Daigle, of the CDC’s preparedness office and communication specialists Cathrine Jamal and Margaret Silver wrote a CDC blog entry about preparing for a disaster and referenced zombies in an attempt to boost the blogs readership, which hovers around one to three thousand hits per day. The effects were astounding. In less than a week the response to the blog crashed the CDC’s blog server and the page got more than 3 million views and more than 500 comments. “Most of our blogs get maybe five,” says Silver.
So, Silver, Daigle and Jamal went to work on creating a CDC-authorized graphic novel, “Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic” in which the protagonists, everypersons Todd and Julie, hear about a viral disease that turns people into violent zombies and they then go to the CDC for advice on what to do to survive. To read the novel, go to www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombies_novella.htm#.
What’s so great about this effort is that it cost the CDC all of $87 for a stock photo, and some staff time, rather than the millions spent on public information programs that nobody pays attention to. And it’s proven to be far more effective.
Why is this important? Because when the public is uneducated and unprepared for disasters, people die for real.
For decades, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been recommending that people have preparedness supplies on hand that will allow them to survive on their own for up to three days in the event of a natural or man-made disaster, but few people listen. During hurricane Katrina, many people didn’t know what to do or where to go, and even the incompetents who were elected to deal with such disasters,(former) New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and (former) Louisana Governor Kathleen Blanco didn’t have a clue what to do, and more than 1800 people died as a result of ignorance and disbelief that they were in danger. Many hundreds of thousands more suffered because they were ill-equipped to survive on their own until help could arrive.
Public education in proper disaster response is critical, but because most people don’t think a disaster will ever happen to them, most people ignore the risks, much less the educational materials the government spends millions creating.
Anything the government can do that effectively educates and stimulates people into thinking about disasters and how to respond to them is a worthy effort. Self-reliance and preparedness are what will get you through a disaster, be it a tornado, an earthquake, a hurricane, or a zombie apocalypse. Ignorance and sticking your head in the sand will get you killed.
So, kudos to the CDC and to Daigle, Silver and Jamal, three federal government employees who have demonstrated all the good things about our government public servants in a time when government is (largely rightfully) under attack for overspending and wasting money. I only wish all our public employees could manage to get as much bang for a buck as these three sterling examples of our federal workforce.
© 2011 Altnews