Consulting® MAY 2016 49
hazard response, citizen containment or quarantine,
and safe food and water provision.
While a real zombie attack is improbable, the
preparation for and response to a zombie attack is
very similar to the preparation for and response to
any other type of biological outbreak scenario. Of
the many potential disasters faced today, biological
outbreaks have become an increasing concern. In
recent years, the potential of another Avian Flu outbreak has caused governments at every level to consider the threat of a rapidly contagious virus with an
Biological outbreaks such as Ebola are particularly difficult for governments because they
involve very complex public health issues that directly impact citizen mortality rates. Governments
have responded by developing and exercising
pandemic plans that focus on continuity of government operations, mass care, medical surge, public
information and warning and countless other target
capabilities. An exercise is a method to practice
and improve preparedness, response, and recovery
capabilities in a risk-free environment.
ZOMBIES ARE FUN. So, why use a zombie scenario
instead of a biological outbreak scenario in an
exercise? In the United States, the number of exercises emergency managers, first responders, and
key government officials participate in annually
has increased dramatically following the post-Sep-tember 11 focus on preparedness.
Exercise designers are frequently challenged with
developing exercises that successfully elicit high levels
of participation, keep participants actively engaged,
and provide a creative environment for the successful
accomplishment of participating agency objectives.
The emergence of non-traditional exercises as a means
for examining potential real-world emergency management issues has become a successful framework for
reducing exercise fatigue and increasing enthusiasm.
Zombie exercises have been used by the University
of Florida and at the 2009 Continuity Insights Manage-
ment Conference to focus on real-world topics such as
possible containment options and public information
strategies during a zombie outbreak when the time-
line for infection spread was unknown. Participants
weighed in the needs of non-infected people immedi-
ately caught in a zone with zombies, and the impact
on the rest of the region, country, and world.
Through this type of non-traditional scenario
development, emergency managers and exercise
designers can explore ways to encourage more
participation and creative discussion about “what if”
scenarios that may have been initially dismissed as
unlikely. Think back to the Deepwater Horizon oil
spill of 2010. Oil spill exercises before this event were
focused on oil volumes that mirrored a spill similar in
volume to the release from the Exxon Valdez oil tanker
in 1989 with 10. 8 million gallons released.
Why not plan exercises for more oil than a tanker
could hold and accidentally spill— the worst case
spill scenario imaginable? The Deepwater Horizon
oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico changed this thinking
quickly as it became the largest accidental marine
oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry with
an estimated 172 million gallons lost, an event that
seemed impossible to imagine just one year before.
Consider the Ebola outbreak in West Africa that
started in 2013 and continues today. It is the largest
outbreak of Ebola in history with multiple countries
affected, and the first Ebola outbreak to reach epidemic
proportions. As tragic as this event is, what if a future
Ebola strain is even more highly contagious?
An Ebola virus with airborne transmission from
human to human instead of the direct contact with
an infected person would demand a new medical
framework and would have an even greater effect on
the global economy and travel habits. Preparedness
efforts benefit from these creative “what if” drills
because the results from these discussions can be
integrated into real-world response plans without
having to wait for the real event to occur.
Again, a zombie attack seems highly improbable
and completely silly and kitsch. Yet, zombie exercises
allow us to accomplish the overall goals of exercise
design while letting people showcase their previous
untapped pop culture knowledge of zombies.
Jeff Roth is a Senior Associate, Booz Allen Hamilton.
He has been a leader within the Booz Allen’s Wargame
& Exercise Team for over 14 years where he plans and
executes wargames and disaster management exercises.