CDC's 'zombie apocalypse' advice an Internet hit

CDC's 'zombie apocalypse' advice an Internet hit (AP)
In this Friday May 20, 2011 handout photo released by the Center for Disease Control, a screen grab from the CDC's Emergency Preparedness and Response social media blog webpage is shown. A public health doctor looking for a way to sex up a tired old message about emergency preparedness this week tried something eerie, a zombie attack and sparked an Internet frenzy. (AP Photo/Center for Disease Control)

(AP) -- "Zombie apocalypse." That blog posting headline is all it took for a behind-the-scenes public health doctor to set off an Internet frenzy over tired old advice about keeping water and flashlights on hand in case of a hurricane.

"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," wrote Dr. Ali Khan on the emergency preparedness blog of the federal .

Above the post is a photo of what appears to be a dirty-fingered female zombie.

Khan's postings usually draw 1,000 to 3,000 hits in a week. This one - posted Monday - got 30,000 within a day. By Friday, it had gotten 963,000 page views and was the top item viewed on the agency's Web site, thanks in part to media coverage that began mid-week.

As of Friday morning, the traffic showed no signs of abating.

"The response has been absolutely excellent. Most people have gotten the fact that this is tongue-and-cheek," Khan said.

More important, CDC officials said, it is drawing interest from teens and who otherwise would not have read a federal agency's guidance on the importance of planning an evacuation route or how much water and what tools to store in case a major storm rolls in.

The idea evolved from a CDC session with the public earlier this year about planning for disasters. Activity spiked when dozens of tweets came in from people saying they were concerned about zombies.

Dave Daigle, a veteran communications specialist, proposed the idea of using a zombie hook to spice up the hurricane message. Khan, director of , approved it immediately and wrote it himself.

"Most directors would have thrown me out of their office," Daigle laughed. "Ali has a good sense of humor."

In the blog, Khan discussed what fiction has said about flesh-eating zombies and the various infectious agents that different movies have fingered as the cause.

His favorite zombie flick is "Resident Evil," but his interest in unpredictable terrors is driven more by his decades of work tracking real-life infections like Ebola hemorrhagic fever, bird flu and SARS.

CDC officials said the feedback they've gotten is almost completely positive, including a nice note from the boss, Dr. Tom Frieden.

Almost as rewarding was a nice comment Daigle said he received from his 14-year-old daughter, who has shown little interest in her dad's work but saw the zombie post and said, "This is cool!"

There have been few comments asking whether this is the best way for the government to spend tax dollars. The agency is under a tight budget review at the moment and facing potentially serious budget cuts. But the zombie post involved no extra time or expenditure, CDC officials said.

"We have a critical message to get out and that is CDC saves lives while saving money. If it takes zombies to help us get that message out, then so be it," said agency spokesman Tom Skinner.

Whether the message sticks still has to be determined. The agency is planning a follow-up survey to see if people actually did prepare emergency kits or follow Khan's other advice.

CDC deserves credit for trying something like this, said Bill Gentry, director of the community preparedness and disaster management program at the University of North Carolina's school of public health.

But that doesn't mean the agency should start using vampires to promote vaccinations or space aliens to warn about the dangers of smoking.

"The CDC is the most credible source out there for public health information," he said. "You don't want to risk demeaning that."

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User comments

May 20, 2011
Great job! It pains me to think that people are actually asking "is this the best way for the CDC to spend our money?" - The ignorance of society rears its ugly head yet again. What they should realize is that this ad was produced using the same funds that would be used to produce any number of 'normal' ads that the CDC would have and has produced. It is just that this one was produced using a bit of ingenuity. What is wrong with that? Congrats to Khan for using his head and getting some much needed attention for Emergency Preparedness. Which was the point in the first place. Here is a guy doing exactly what he is being paid to do!

May 20, 2011
The awesome part is that there's good generic emergency preparedness info in there that's reaching people who normally wouldn't read something from the CDC.

here have been few comments asking whether this is the best way for the government to spend tax dollars.

Well given the enormous increase in traffic to the CDC's website I'd say it was worth it.

May 20, 2011
The CDC is not quite clear about their definition of "zombie." If I'm a little messy and noisy when eating brains, does that make me a zombie? After all, brains are considered gourmet cuisine in some places and some people truly enjoy it with eggs or liver with a little A-1 sauce. Surely, you wouldn't call Andrew Zimmern who has eaten stranger things a zombie?

May 20, 2011
It's about time the CDC actually recognized the very real risk of the zombie apocolypse.

You may think it's funny, but in the event of an actual zombie apocolypse, the CDC would be the first to know. Doubtless, during the initial stages of the outbreak, there will be a cover up, the government covering it's tracks, saying it's all a joke - but you won't be laughing when it's too late, and you don't have enough shotgun shells to kill the hoard of zombies breaking down your front door.

Consider this your only warning. The rapture is tomorrow (May 21), and you have to survive until december 2012 if you want to make it to the end of the world.

May 20, 2011
Reminds me a bit of the preflight safety brief on SouthWest airlines. They're always a bit over-the-top or whacky, and people actually pay attention to the material. Much better than the dull verbatim blah blah seatbelt, blah blah put your own mask on first, blah.

Mmm, brains!

May 21, 2011
Sources at the White House have confirmed they are preparing for "Rapture" and a possible zombie attack. All military installati­ons have been put on high alert and as of midnight all bases & posts will be closed and sealed(sim­ilar to 9/11 attacks). The president has cancelled all meetings and has relocated to a secure location(p­ossibly Co. Springs). Government officials are being warned to prepare for public mass panic and to notify law enforcemen­t to be vigilant and ready. FBI & ATF have already confirmed record weapon and ammunition sales in the last 24 hours in such states as Texas, Florida and Arizona. As notified by the CDC it is recommende­d to gather supplies and other provisions immediatel­y(food, water, short wave emergency radio, flashlight­s and battery's)­. First signs of approach are thought to be mass evacuation­s by wildlife followed by an acidic smell in the air. It is still unknown if the President will address the nation or not...

May 22, 2011
@wildshaman: Seriously, u should start writing movie dialogues!

Good article though and commendable ingenuity.

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