Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Zombies and simulating disaster response

In recent years we’ve seen a creeping infiltration of decaying abominations shambling into the academic and professional classrooms of the world, in search of fresh brains to prey upon. I’m not speaking of tenured professors, of course, but rather those ravenous creatures of the undead: zombies.

In social sciences, for example, Daniel Drezner has used the perils of zombie apocalypse to illustrate contending theoretical approaches to the study of international relations (a treatment that has, of course, provoked a paradigmatic riposte from within the field). Scholars have brought zombies into the classroom (well, the course curriculum that is—not actual carnivorous cadavers feasting on undergraduates), while my McGill colleague Steve Saideman has mused about the implications of animated corpses for university hiring, departmental politics, and academic publishing. In the military, the book World War Z has been used on at least a few occasions as a basis for small classroom or staff exercises.

However, according to an article last week in Emergency Management magazine, it is—not surprisingly—in the area of disaster preparedness that zombies are really rising from the dead:

The popularity of zombies has been rising in mainstream culture thanks to a recent influx of books, TV shows and video games. And agencies that cater to emergency preparedness are jumping on the undead bandwagon by encouraging the public to prepare for the zombie apocalypse.


Preparing for a zombie attack requires the same planning as emergencies like natural disasters — from putting together a disaster kit to creating an emergency plan.

The piece highlights perhaps the best known case of this, namely the Center for Disease Control guidelines for dealing with a zombie apocalypse posted earlier this year on the CDC website. The CDC guidelines, unfortunately, were clearly put together by bureaucrats with little actual field experience in surviving decomposing hordes of hungry zeds. In proposing that citizens “pick a meeting place for your family to regroup in case zombies invade your home,” for example, the CDC website appears to suggest regrouping on the street by the mailbox (actual CDC picture at right). However, nothing says “grrrarghhhnomnomnomnom..sluuurp” more than a group of succulent, defenceless young children milling about in the open, waiting for dad.

Above and beyond the value of publicizing the zombie issue to promote general disaster preparedness, Emergency Management also underscores the value of zombie scenarios in professional training:

For those interested in additional undead-related information, Doug Johnson, manager of the University of Florida’s e-Learning Support Services, created a disaster preparedness simulation exercise for responding to a zombie attack. The mock exercise was created in 2009 when the university was planning for the possibility of closing its campus in response to the swine flu. The document cites sources including the movies Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later and provides an infected co-worker dispatch form.

Such simulation-based training is, of course, dear to PAXsim’s heart. The link immediately above is well worth checking out for those of you who might want to develop scenario-based instructional materials based on the scourge of  what the University of Florida tactfully describes as “Zombie Behavior Spectrum Disorder.” Certainly, there are no end to the serious games and printed material available on the topic to underpin any such pedagogical efforts.

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