A Montana county with only three public health department employees used a zombie scenario for a mass dispensing exercise around Halloween, in part because of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) success with a similar campaign several years ago.
“Drill of the Dead” engaged the whole community and involved multiple agencies, local schools, the university, non-profits and private sector organizations. Volunteer fire department and hazmat teams conducted decontamination exercises, and local students acted as zombies — complete with moulage — and received zombie bite triage tags and “treat”-ments depending on their costuming and level of infection.
Though it may be seen as a gimmick, using a made-up novel outbreak like “zombie-ism” has a benefit of removing participant expectations or preconceptions they may otherwise fall back on if training for something like influenza.
In 2011, the CDC published an online campaign making correlations between preparing for a zombie apocalypse and disaster preparedness. The CDC took some heat for it, though, as some thought it was a waste of time and resources. However, the campaign drew so much traffic that it crashed the CDC's website.
Disaster preparedness is mundane, and agencies struggle to get people to care. The CDC campaign provided some lessons in success: thinking outside the box and using humor can get better results than sticking with the “same old, same old.” Also, the CDC successfully targeted a younger audience using different outlets.
The very detailed “Drill of the Dead” exercise in Montana met all the criteria for the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation program. Officials talk about exercise planning and execution details in a free 1-hour webinar through the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice.