Zombies Attack? Buy Water!

May 19, 2011, 8:56 PM, Posted by


How do you get people to pay attention to information on emergency preparedness--without a concrete emergency to push urgency? Tell them they’re actually preparing for an attack from the undead.

The office of Public Health Preparedness and Response at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote up a post, Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse, to the CDC Health Matters blog on Monday. Tips included items such as, "Plan your evacuation route. When zombies are hungry they won’t stop until they get food (i.e., brains), which means you need to get out of town fast!"

Then the staff sat back while the post was tweeted, retweeted, Facebooked, commented on and reported on by a growing list of mainstream print and online publications.

Who knew preparedness--when framed within the possibility of a zombie attack--could be so popular?

NewPublicHealth talked to CDC spokesman Dave Daigle, who dreamed up the zombie post, about the attention he sparked for emergency preparedness.

NPH: So, what kind of traffic have you seen?

Daigle: We’re trying to keep up with the metrics. We typically get 1 to 3,000 hits on this site, but by Wednesday morning, two days after we put it up, we were at 30,000. Facebook and Twitter were like flooring the accelerator. And then the server crashed. It’s back up and now, but God knows how many hits we’re getting. Yesterday, I’m told, there was a tweet every second.

NPH: How effective do you think the campaign was?

Daigle: That’s the question. When the dust settles, we want to do a good evaluation to see if people were really inspired to make a preparedness plan... We have seen some encouraging thing; great postings “CDC is talking about zombies, and I’ m making a [preparedness] kit.” I’ve seen a lot of positive things on Twitter, Facebook and on blogs that show that people are putting together emergency preparedness kits.

NPH: What’s next?

Daigle: We won’t keep this going much longer,--that is, the blog post will stay up, but we’ll stop tweeting ourselves—last night we were still tweeting at midnight. But I think we have to catch our breath and talk about it.

NPH: What could you have done better? That’s not to take away from the success you’ve had, but what are the lessons learned?

Daigle: The blog should have been on a different server with more capacity. We did not anticipate it going viral so next time we’ll look at it. Never in our wildest dreams did we thing we’d have such success.

NPH: And what are you particularly pleased with?

Daigle: We’re pleased with it all, but I’m glad for the crossover to the mainstream media today including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. That helped move this to the widest demographics and even got cross generational talk going.

NPH: Will the zombie post help preparedness resonate going forward in a younger demographic?

Daigle: We hope so. Preparedness and public health are not the sexiest topics. We hope more people of all ages are thinking about this and that more people make kits, but when the dust settles we can take a look at it. I have a director in Dr. Kahn [Ali Kahn, M.D., M.P.H., director of the CDC’s Office of Preparedness and Emergency Response] who allowed me to draw the concept and he’s quite happy to let us try different things, so keep checking to see what we do next. We’re going to look back and say, how do we build on this huge success? We’ll be looking for more things own the road. Aliens, anyone?

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.