If zombies ever start taking over the planet, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says we'd better be prepared for it.
If the undead really start roaming the earth looking for fresh brains to eat, we can't rely on our ability to shoot 'em dead the way people do in video games or in horror flicks. Instead, the agency says, we need to treat it like any other disaster.
"So what do you need to do before zombies…or hurricanes or pandemics for example, actually happen? First of all, you should have an emergency kit in your house," Dr. Ali S. Khan, assistant surgeon general of the United States, wrote in a blog on CDC's web site. "This includes things like water, food, and other supplies to get you through the first couple of days before you can locate a zombie-free refugee camp."
While the zombie stuff may be tongue-in-cheek, the overall message is serious: It's critical to be ready for real disasters -- from storms to diseases to terrorist attacks. The problem, experts say, is that no matter how many earthquakes, floods or other disasters happen, people still don't make an effort to prepare for them.
"Numerous studies have shown that uptake of preparedness messages has been minimal," said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York. "We haven't gotten much above 10 of 15 percent of the public being aware of the need for preparedness." Redlener said other pressures, such as the economy, unemployment and day-to-day challenges make it difficult for people to focus on preparedness.
Khan said he hopes the blog can change that.
"We hope that it's translating into more people understanding what the role of public health is and that they have a personal responsibility for preparing for disasters." Using the zombie apocalypse scenario, he said, was an effort to get people engaged to get ready for hurricane season, which starts June 1.
The readiness message is especially important, experts say, in light of federal budget cuts that slashed more than $100 million from public health preparedness programs when they say much more money is needed.
"It means that fewer people can respond and fewer people can help prepare for response, which requires planning and training so that the response is meaningful and automatic," said Robert Pestronk, executive director of National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), an organization that represents more than 2,800 local health departments. "Without sustained preparedness funding, continued progress is unreliable and the risk of being caught off guard increases."
Vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly and the chronically ill could suffer worse than others without the means to help them.
"Tremendous resources have to go to attempt to help these populations cope with the challenges of a disaster," said Redlener.
With local health departments being squeezed financially, anything that will help people take a more proactive approach to disaster readiness can help.
"The 'Zombie Apocalypse' scenario is a great way of getting information out so people can understand the need for preparedness," said Pestronk.