The Zombie Apocalypse: Why Emergency Managers are Awesome

A while ago, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) wrote a tongue-in-cheek zombie apocalypse plan. Partly as a PR stunt and partly because if you’re ready for a walking dead epidemic, then you’re just about ready for anything. Since then, it has taken off as a very successful awareness campaign. Cities across the nation are participating in zombie preparedness drills in order to train responders and zombie apocalypse kits are ready to buy (although you might as well use this free list and just make your own. It’s cheaper.) Emergency Managers all over the nation are thrilled. It’s hard to get people interested in preparedness; FEMA estimates that 1/3 of the population don’t even have preparedness “on their radar”. But lately, zombies have captured America’s imagination (Thank you, “Walking Dead“) And getting prepared for a zombie apocalypse usually gets you prepared for the next earthquake, hurricane, or tornado.

This Emergency Manager is all about zombies this Halloween.

If you're ready for a zombie apocalypse, then you're ready for any emergency.
(click the widget you adventurous spirit, you)

Basic Minimum Requirements to Survive Zombies:

Straight from the good folks at the CDC…

  • Water (1 gallon per person per day)
  • Food (stock up on non-perishable items that you eat regularly)
  • Medications (this includes prescription and non-prescription meds)
  • Tools and Supplies (utility knife, duct tape, battery powered radio, etc.)
  • Sanitation and Hygiene (household bleach, soap, towels, etc.)
  • Clothing and Bedding (a change of clothes for each family member and blankets)
  • Important documents (copies of your driver’s license, passport, and birth certificate to name a few)
  • First Aid supplies (although you’re a goner if a zombie bites you, you can use these supplies to treat basic cuts and lacerations that you might get during a tornado orhurricane)
  • And More

Want to know more?

* Here’s a Forbes article with a report from USC Anneberg School of Communication and Journalism

* Here’s a CNN article with lots of quotes from happy people

* the CDC speaks for itself: tons of helpful tips in here. Read this if nothing else.


Solve the Outbreak for Ipad

* 5 Apps for the Zombie Apocalypse –including maps, flashlights, guidebooks…

* Apocalypse Survival Guide— because there’s more than one way the world can go up in flames.

What about you, Reader? Are you prepared? Tell us how below.

This is why, this is why we're hot


What do Emergency Managers DO, anyway?

EMScholar: What do Emergency Managers DO, Anyway?

New and interdisciplinary means unspecialized

The cool thing about Emergency Management (EM) is that its a fairly new discipline. We can trace EM traditions as far back 1881 (1859, internationally) when nurse Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross. But the government didn’t start getting involved in earnest until the 1950s and ’60s with the advent of the Civil Defense brigades (designed to help during blackouts and air raid warnings). FEMA itself was founded in 1979–fairly recently as far as social institutions go. Also right about this time, research into geology and meteorology was gaining steam and, like many disciplines, it’s taken a few decades for the research to mature enough to support a professional discipline. Today, there are many different kinds of EM courses including many certificate programs, 154 Masters programs, and only one Doctorate program (although there are a few more doctoral programs with emphases in Emergency Management–like public health or public administration). As a comparison, says there are 379 doctoral programs in Biology (in America)– a field of study orders of magnitude older. So, because Emergency Management is new, it’s not very specialized. In America, we basically have two concentrations of EMs, : Homeland Security–who deal with terrorism and civil unrest- and everyone else.

Another reason Emergency Management is so unspecialized is because so many different things affect it. For instance, countries who are chronically poor don’t develop good infrastructure or other public services (like disability insurance, food stamps, or even decent hospitals). So when an earthquake hits, their damage is often far greater than in developed countries (think Haiti). Similarly, climate change makes disasters more frequent and stronger than before while new technologies (ex: social media) change how people respond to both the chronic and acute changes. You can see how there are many different sub-areas of research.

Unspecialized means we do everything:

I love that Emergency Management is so unspecialized because it means that my days are always different. I intern at my city’s EM Office and we have hundreds of projects going at any one time. Last summer, we ran a Get Ready campaign to encourage private businesses in the area to develop an emergency plan. We also did a kid’s program for the Boys and Girl’s Club chapter. Then we worked on finding all the fire gates (gates that provide access for fire trucks on to public or private property), identifying who was in charge of plowing them, and marking it all down on a city-wide map. Last winter, we trained and activated Community Emergency Response Team members to help with a local festival and set up “warming sites” for people who lost power during a winter storm. We also updated our Facebook page frequently to keep the community abreast of more storms and other non-urgent information. The fall before that, the department finished its comprehensive emergency plan which took 3 years to complete and describes all the hazards that are likely to occur here and what are plan is for handling them. We also wrote some grant requests to see if we could rebuild our river bank to account for flooding and to buy some trailers to transport our heavy equipment.

Super cool tree is super cool. *click*
Sometimes we donate Christmas trees for a charity auction as a PR thing. This tree was decorated with emergency supplies and caution tape for garland. I personally glued a ton of pasta wheels together to make awesome stars. You can see one right above the beef jerky.

But a small budget means we can’t do it alone:

It is an unpleasant fact that city and country budgets are under a lot of pressure from all sides. Decision makers are often not willing to allocate a large budget to EM depts when more salient needs are felt (like economic development for instance). So, EMs have to be creative. Most of our job–in truth–is networking. The more networked a community (the more connections people have with other people in the community) the stronger it is. I see my job as mediator mostly. For instance, in the fire gate example above, most of the gates bordered private and public land. The land owners thought it was Public Work’s responsibility to plow (it’s on a public road), Public Works wanted the land owners to plow (because they have enough to do), and the Fire Dept just wanted them clear in case they needed to get in. Who’s jurisdiction is that? No one’s really, if the city hadn’t had an EM dept, it might’ve been completely dropped.

More and more, American EMs are realizing that disasters are handled better when people who are practiced at a particular task do it. The Red Cross is really, really good at leveraging donors. The Salvation Army is really, really good at inventorying donations. The Army Corps of Engineers is really good at clearing roads and rebuilding levees. Amtrak is really good at transporting refugees. Local church groups have easily-activated volunteers. Why reinvent the wheel? Why not coordinate with other groups to get the work done right and efficiently. That’s what I do, mostly. I coordinate their efforts. I hound decision makers for more money and educate citizens. I make plans and wrangle helpers. I talk to people.

Why I Became an Emergency Manager


Once in a while people ask me how I became interested in Emergency Management. It’s a very small field and so they often wonder how I stumbled across it. I used to tell them this story–this epiphanous story–about how during the Haiti earthquake I had heard that the country was crawling with volunteer doctors, so many they couldn’t use them all, but was absolutely desperate for nurses. That, upon hearing that, I said to myself “someone is in charge of organizing that and they didn’t do a very good job. I could do it better.” and became interested in the logistics of the situation (as opposed to the public health aspect–because I really, really hated my premed courses).

But as I get a little distance from my college-aged epiphany, it begins to look less clear cut. I begin to feel that I had been groomed for this kind of work. I begin to see influences and choices line up in a causal cascade. But I think that’s also a little revisionist. Yes, my story is a complex journey of choices and opportunities–just like everyone’s, but–honestly–I think it came down to a very human personality trait. Cognitive Dissonance.

I’m what my mother calls “tender hearted,” what my brother calls “sensitive,” and what my husband calls “emotionally empathetic.” If someone is crying on TV, I will tear up. I can’t watch rape scenes on Blacksails, I can’t handle psychological thrillers, and I can’t watch too much Gilmore Girl drama at one time without a little Office to lighten the mood. I’d be the world’s worst therapist (which I briefly considered doing) because I get so wrapped up in the emotional content of people’s stories. So I don’t watch (or read) the news. It’s a psychologically-protective habit I’ve developed since I was little. I used to think it was because I was lazy and self-involved. I WANTED to be informed, I just felt so unhappy–and helpless–everytime I perused the news. The sad stories would make me want to DO something. But I didn’t know what to do, so I just remained unhappy. But a series of subtle psychological steps changed my mind.

In high school, I rejected a career in humanitarian work because I was afraid I wasn’t cool enough. I didn’t know enough about the world (see news avoidance paragraph) to discuss it intelligently, so I couldn’t be a part of the groups working hard on these problems. But in college, I began to challenge my fears (and loved it). I joined Improv because I was terrified of speaking in public. I went to Jordan because I was terrified of traveling to the Middle East (not because of the violence, which I carefully avoided, but because I was afraid I would botch their customs and offend someone and get yelled at.)

I was also going through some self-image changes. I was learning a lot about the world through school, so I didn’t feel so ridiculously ignorant. My fear-training was making see myself as someone with a lot of intrapersonal resources to help other people–a champion, so to speak. I found out that I am a good leader under pressure and I can be very calming when other people are worried/scared. And I knew I wanted a job that helped others (up to that point, my choices had been medicine, which I hated, and public relations, which didn’t seem helpful enough).

So, to satisfy all these pressures, I ended up in Emergency Management (which fits like a glove). It’s forced me to face the pain of the world–I can’t be an uninformed EM anymore. I have to know that people are refugees, that they lose both of their hands to mines, that they die from malnutrition, that children soldiers exist with severe psychological trauma, that women are raped in bathrooms by the same men who distribute food to them. Emergency Management touches on all aspects of damage in the world–human rights, advocacy, inequality, political despotism, natural disasters which threaten the stability of an already unstable government–everything. There’s no where to hide. And it sucks. But it’s also freeing. Because now I’m learning how to make things better. I’m learning that there are lots of people helping, that we all have tools to help, that the news doesn’t have to make me feel helpless and hopeless. I still haven’t learned how to disassociate my empathetic spirit from other people’s emotional pain, but I’m sure that will come as I mature.

If you’re like me, worried about your ignorance, stability under pressure, and feeling helpless, then worry not. We’re all in this together. And whatever tool you have is helpful–even if you think it’s not. Believe an expert in the field, you got this.