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30 Days, 30 Ways: Day 1

30 Days, 30 Ways: Day 1

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The origins of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge are unclear. The details aren’t important here, other than to note that what started as an awareness raising campaign in the United States reached ‘viral’ levels in July/August 2014; even I recently joined in.

But what does any of this have to do with emergency management I hear you ask?

Well, September is national preparedness month in America. It’s an event that I’ve been keeping an eye on for the last four years but has yet to make the transition across to the UK in the same was as the Ice Bucket Challenge.

With a relatively benign risk environment and high degree of political reticence I can’t imagine the same type of event would have much traction this side of the pond. However, that doesn’t make it any less interesting to follow the activity of stateside emergency management colleagues and consider what could be appropriated!

One of my favourite elements is the 30 Days 30 Ways preparedness game, which invites members of the public to undertake 30 relatively simple readiness tasks, one for each day of the month. This year, rather than simply being a voyeur, I’ll be joining in the game and using my blog to capture how I get on!

Today’s task is right up my street…

What do you think is the best “pop culture” reference to disasters in our current culture?

My answer would have to be Zombies. In true zombie style, the undead have popped all over the place

Pervasive across all media, if I had to choose one specific thing it would be AMC’s The Walking Dead. I still have some episodes of Season 4 to watch, but I’m hooked.

To watch from the perspective of an Emergency Manager is perhaps unique. Is it just me that sees the examples of information vacuum, constantly evolving strategy, improvised response and differences mismatch between capacity and capability? These are elements can be common in ‘real’ emergencies and therefore to see them portrayed in such an engaging television series is interesting.

The thing I think The Walking Dead teaches us the most – that people actually have a greater capacity for resilience than we often give them credit for. That Rick and the gang have survived four seasons in the face of zombies, resource constraints and other survivors is a reflection of their resilience.

At the movies: World War Z

At the movies: World War Z

Reading Time: 5 minutes

This post needs three caveats. First, I’m by no means a zombie expert. Second, I have not read Max Brooks’ novel, although appreciate the narrative device is dramatically different.

wwz cropped

Finally, at just shy of 1000 words, it turns out I have a lot to say about zombies! My guess is that this stems from a traumatic experience as an 8 year old watching a cannibalism story on BBC’s Crimewatch. I still get the shivers on hearing the theme tune.

Valerie over at Emergency Management suggests that Zombies could be considered a Disaster Preparedness Meme; having appeared on official channels such as the CDC blog.

I’m not sure I’d go as far as to say that we’re in meme territory here, but we’ve certainly got a lot of zombies about at the moment. Here’s my take on what World War Z tells us from a resilience perspective.

Establishing what happened

  • There are several hints throughout that the government (in itself this is interesting, usually it’s a scientist or a conspiracy theorist that the Government don’t take seriously) knew that there was a potential for something significant. This isn’t confirmed in dialogue, but a spattering of lingering looks between government officials provides enough to read between the lines.
  • Despite the disruption to phone networks, we still see traces of international surveillance. Quite why so much of this had to be first hand data collection from Brad is a mystery, but I suppose it’s difficult to dramatise an exchange of emails.

Prior Levels of Preparedness

We begin in the middle of the action – as a result, examples of emergency preparedness are scant, but I did make a few observations

  • That said, there are one or two examples of emergency preparedness. The best example is probably the family in New Jersey who have stockpiled food (and weapons) and have candles on hand for when the power goes off.
  • The film also hints at some of the perils of not being prepared. As new of the outbreak becomes common knowledge, we see supermarkets ransacked – a reminder to have a stockpile at home perhaps?
  • Thankfully for us, the protagonist has a history working with the UN, which stands him in good stead for the rest of the film, adapting to circumstances and being resourceful with equipment


With much of the US Government taken out early on in the film (the film makes a stong mention of the UN – an organisation to which Pitt is connected) it’s down to Brad and dude on the boat to try and save humanity. Whilst this is probably a stretch of the imagination, it reinforces the point of ensuing resilience and sustainability of your own team, an important business continuity consideration.

I did think it was interesting to see cordons being used for containment. There are very few occasions where this is permitted in the UK. However, a double line of police cars is no match for Pitt’s RV, which effectively conveys the lengths people will go to not to be contained.

Unlike other disaster films, there are no casualties. You’re either alive or undead. This means we don’t see too much in the way of how medical facilities cope with a surge in demand.

The Science Part

As is often the way in these films, the young virologist who is confident of finding the solution, manages to accidentally shoot himself. A reminder about the risks associated with a single point of failure.

From soldiers in South Korea, we’re told that that Jerusalem has isolated itself by building a large wall (surely this is a topical reference to Israeli/Palestinian policies? Turns out Al Jazeera made this connection too).  This reminded me to the small Derbyshire village of Eyam, which successful avoided the Plague. Simultaneous infection of cities all over the globe seems a little unlikely. However, real-life experience from H1N1 flu was that many large urban centres identified their first cases within a week of the declaration of an event of international significance.

The 12 second ‘conversion’ from human to zombie is incredibly quick. The timescales and convulsions shown present more like nerve agent exposure than bacteria or virus. Whilst the ‘flocking’ behaviour of zombies toward the source of noise isn’t new, the collective emergent response to form a pyramid of zombies to breach the wall was interesting (and technically not unfeasible).

Communications were a dominant theme in the film. The trusty satellite phone made an appearance; I must have missed the part where they realise that it’s cloudy so it won’t connect, or how Brad was able to recharge his device. I thought perhaps the filmmakers glossed over the true impact that a loss of telecommunications would have. We’re now so used to texting/emailing/tweeting/skype-ing (and yes, even phoning) that the distress caused when these systems are not available would be significant. It seemed overly convenient that the family groups depicted were all together, rather than being separated.

I did think it would be unlikely for a research facility of that nature to store all their ‘deadly’ samples all in the same fridge, but I guess it makes for an easier storyline.

The part that I found hardest to believe (apart from Pitt’s hair) related to the ‘cure’. Let’s give the whole population a disease to ‘camouflage’ ourselves. Whilst giving ourselves disease is nothing new (vaccination) I’d expect it would be more thoroughly assessed before inducing meningitis. Did they consider just using the pathogen as an aftershave? Eau de Ebola? Perhaps they did, but with Brad beard never getting past ‘rugged’ it was difficult to tell how much time was passing.

Other observations

Brad Pitt’s hair. Need I say more?

Whilst he might have had irritating hair, I liked Brad Pitt’s cautiousness. Too often the leading man just goes in all guns blazing. Brad was a (slightly) more considered hero, resourceful and aware that there were no second chances.


brain  brain  brain  brain (4 brains)

Final Word: Not a cross bow in sight and another innovative use for duck tape (surely a staple of anyone’s Grab Bag?!)


Image Source: Plan B Entertainment



Reading Time: 2 minutes

I realise that it’s been a few days since posting, that’s largely due to some exciting developments behind there scenes here at towers. I’m not revealing anything just yet, but it’ll be worth it so keep checking back; until then, normal service will continue, this time with Zombies…


Last week I went to Science Museum Lates for an adults-only event called ZombieLab: The science of consciousness. Combining my love of learning, my interest in the undead and my appreciation for wine, this seemed like a great way to spend an evening.

Zombies are nothing new, and once I get round to watching some disaster movies, there will be a fair few which are centered around them. However, there has been a rise, in recent years, of zombies being used by Emergency Planners to bring pop-culture relevance to the work we do. I first noticed this a few years ago with CDC’s Zombie Webpages, and Leicester City Council’s admission of unpreparedness. Whilst an outbreak of flesh-eating zombies might be highly unlikely, preparing for such an apocalypse has more than a few parallels to preparing to real emergencies too.

It was this in mind that I went to ZombieLab. Roaming throughout the museum were ‘infected specimens’ and ‘operatives’ who would check the crowd for signs of infection using a range of tests designed to filter out the undead, including

  • Memory
  • Hand-Eye Coordination
  • Stability
  • Accuracy
  • Pattern Recognition
  • Spatial Awareness

Granted, these didn’t have much to do with repairing for emergencies, however, during the course of the evening, members of the crowd were ‘bitten’ and became zombies themselves.

Now, I’d have liked there to have been more on the science of how disease, even unlikely ones, are spread. We’ve already seen examples of how air travel has speeded up the global transmission of diseases such as SARS, and many other bugs are on the horizon.

Emergency Managers (in the UK at least) use the Reasonable Worst Case to develop planning assumptions and conduct risk assessments. Whilst the Swine Flu Pandemic in 2009/10 didn’t reach these planned levels, there was potential, which still remains, for a novel virus to have a massive impact not just locally, but on global populations.

Whether we choose to prepare (or encourage people to prepare) for flooding, flu or flesh-eating zombies is irrelevant. What matters is that they’re preparing. How long we can ride the zombie wave isn’t known (judging by the numbers at the Science Museum last week there’s still a considerable interest), but there will be something else. Something which will captivate popular imagination despite being implausible.


Image Source: Science Museum Flickr ZombieLab Set