As millions of zombie fiction enthusiasts eagerly await season six of “The Walking Dead,” government and nongovernmental organizations alike prepare for a potential zombie invasion.
Since its debut in 2010, AMC’s “The Walking Dead” has garnered over 16 million returning viewers and over 32 million likes on Facebook. While some viewers are die-hard fans of zombie fiction, others experienced their first dose of zombies with the start of season one while a select group of people believes such television shows only glorify the imminent zombie apocalypse.
In the five years since the premiere of “The Walking Dead,” zombies have taken an especially strong hold over Hollywood, the media and doomsday preppers alike. Even a couple Cornell graduate students, Alex Alemi and Matt Bierbaum, jumped on the bandwagon to calculate zombie outbreak patterns and safety zones among U.S. regions. Eventually they put their findings into an interactive map which allows users to pinpoint a city to begin the zombie apocalypse and watch a darkness swallow the nation as the disease spreads according to their calculations.
While Hollywood has greatly capitalized on the zombie craze, the Pentagon and the CDC have not remained completely silent. The CDC used an elusive zombie apocalypse to inform the public about survival tactics and emergency preparation.
“The CDC’s approach to all this is kind of brilliant,” Joanna Turner-Reyes, writer for Zombie Guide Magazine, said. “They are completely addressing the possibility, but doing it with enough jest not to cause any serious worry.”
The CDC is ready to conquer zombies the way they would any other infectious disease. Though CDC scientists generally deny to possibly of the dead rising from their graves, in the event of a cannibalistic outbreak, they are ready to provide infected regions with consultation, analysis, patient care and infection control. They would also likely investigate the source of outbreak to learn how the disease is spread, how to prevent it and how to best treat patients. The CDC even assembled a Zombie Task Force to help spread the word about becoming prepared for such an outbreak or natural disaster.
One of the best ways the CDC and zombie survivalists suggests individuals prepare for an apocalypse-type situation is to create a bug-out bag.
“It’s your bag that, when shit hits that fan, has about 3 days worth of supplies to get you from where you’re at now to where you want to be,” Ben Wacker, cofounder of the Arizona Zombie Defense Force, said.
In this bag should be water – as much as can be carried, three days worth of easy-to-prepare food, medication, extra blankets, a flashlight and other necessities. Games, the CDC suggests, could also be an important addition to a bug-out bag for families with children.
In April 2011, the Pentagon created the wildly popular Counter-Zombie Defense plan. The unclassified document begins with a disclaimer: “This plan was not actually designed as a joke.” The disclaimer goes on to identify the political fallout that would ensue if a training scenario is released and mistakenly believed to be a real military action plan. Zombies, the disclaimer argued, are so far-fetched that not only would the general public understand the humorous nature of the plan, but students would also enjoy the training session.
The Pentagon’s zombie defense plan includes eight classifications of zombies, environmental effects of zombies on the surrounding landscape and legal military action against the undead. A large portion of the document includes, of course, descriptions on how to effectively kill a zombie:
“The only assumed way to effectively cause causalities to the zombie ranks by tactile force is the concentration of all firepower to the head, specifically the brain. The human brain will still be functioning in the zombie state, but it is universally agreed that the only part actually active will be the brain stem.”
The document further suggests burning the corpses to ensure the zombie will not, once again, rise from the dead.
Ian McClellan, a writer for Zombie Guide magazine, wrote that without destroying the brainstem, a zombie could still continue on. In his article “Destroying the Brain(stem),” McClellan argues that without destroying the cerebellum, which controls the spinal cord and voluntary motor skills, and the medulla oblongata, which controls more involuntary motor movements such as swallowing, hearing and eye movement, a zombie will not be deterred.
“If, when the dead rise, only the brainstems are reactivated, it may not be enough to just shoot or stab them in the head,” he wrote.
This is where he finds discrepancies with “The Walking Dead.” In only one scene was a zombie purposely shot in the brain stem. Most other zombies are killed by another form of brain trauma.
“Throughout zombie history, there are many kills that would not destroy the brainstem and thus not actually result in a dead zombie,” McClellan wrote.
However, without test subjects, McClellan said, there is no way to know before the zombie apocalypse begins how to kill them.
Though the Counter-Zombie Defense plan is admittedly primitive and based on fictitious depictions of zombies rather than scientific calculations, the government’s attention to zombies is met with encouragement.
“There’s finally someone in the government that’s actually willing to accept ‘Hey, if things do go south, if this can happen we’re not going to freak out like in every zombie movie,'” Arizona Zombie Defense Force cofounder Brodie Phillips said.
Government involvement, though not always reliable in times is natural disasters per Phillips and Wacker, should start now before the apocalypse hits. Despite the lack of scientific proof of an upcoming zombie outbreak, they said, the government should be preparing for the worst.
“If you’re in a room with 10 people and nine disagree, the tenth person is obligated to say ‘Well assume this is real; assume zombies could happen. What do we do?’ Because if you get to that situation, you don’t want to not have anything,” Phillips said. “Even if it doesn’t happen to be real-life cinematic zombies, if you have something similar a lot of the stuff can still apply. And in that case it’s good to have some sort of plan.”
Beyond governmental organizations, hundreds of smaller organizations across the nation have began their own zombie defense training courses while writers and zombie enthusiasts warn to prepare the for the worst.
The Zombie Eradication Response Team, based in Las Vegas, is an international group that provides tactical training for any man-made or natural disaster. The organization began in 2011 and quickly exploded to include over 10,000 members in 13 states and 35 countries. Though ZERT uses the term zombie metaphorically, the goal of ZERT to teach basic firearm and personal safety, how to identify edible plants, how to pick a lock and other skills that could be found useful in times of crisis.
The Zombie Survival Camp, much like ZERT, also works to prepare individuals for the worst. While Mark Scelza, founder of the Zombie Survival Camp, said he doesn’t believe the zombie apocalypse will occur, the camp includes instructors who are trained to educate students in a variety of skills such as self defense, firearms, first aid and creating shelter. These skills are designed to prepare people for the worst of scenarios from hurricanes to blackouts to zombies.
While ZERT and the Zombie Survival Camp aim for national recognition and retention, local enthusiasts can find the Department of Zombie Defense. The Arizona based group strives to prepare Arizona citizens for the impending zombie outbreak.
DOZD is run by Commander Shaun Hayes. DOZD shares training videos and attends events to promote zombie defense in Arizona. The group actively searches for new recruits to join their team to help educate and train others across the state.
“The biggest cause of death in the zombie apocalypse will be people who just can’t get away,” Turner-Reyes said. “And then it is just a matter of how bad you want to survive.”
Preparation will be the only way, Turner-Reyes said, for an individual to survive. Without prior knowledge and research, without prior training, it would be difficult to survive a zombie apocalypse.
The biggest zombie-preparation obstacle will be the lack of knowledge. Without knowing how a zombie outbreak could occur and without knowing specifics of zombie characteristics, zombie preppers have no concrete information to use for trainings and rely on fictional depictions, said Turner-Reyes.
“There are some things to take seriously. Movies and books and that sort of thing aren’t it. If you want to take some aspect of it seriously, it would be more of the survival thing and what to do in the eventual zombie apocalypse,” McClellen said.
In May, Arizona zombie enthusiasts can experience a live, tactical training course which will include life-like zombies. The courses will be held May 15, May 16 and May 17 at Fear Farm in Phoenix. Tickets are available now at zombieapocalypselive.com/fear-farm/.