Preparing for Zombies
By Lauren Foote
Christopher Woolverton, professor of environmental health sciences at Kent State University, delivered a lecture entitled “Prepping for Zombies, Ebola and More” on Friday.
Chet Cooper, Youngstown State University professor of molecular biology and microbiology, introduced the lecture and said the timing wasn’t accidental.
“Given the topic, I had tried to get him to present his talk on Halloween, but it didn’t work out,” Cooper said. “The next best date seemed to be April 1, which obviously worked for us both.”
Woolverton opened his lecture with a discussion of the doomsday prepping movement. He said people are concerned about a potential apocalypse that would destroy the world’s infrastructure and leave them to fend for themselves.
He discussed research on the Human Genome Project, finding that we have viral DNA in our chromosomes. This grants some level of legitimacy to concerns regarding zombies.
“There is one author out there that says that the virus DNA is already encoded in our chromosomes waiting for the right signal to come out and do whatever the sequences codes for,” Woolverton said. “Does it turn us into zombies? Good question.”
Woolverton said the Center for Disease Control was worried that the public health community seemed concerned about an apocalyptic type of event, but there was a lack of collaboration in creating a solution.
“Number one, no one is talking to each other,” Woolverton said. “And number two, it’s all 80 percent the same way to prepare.”
He said they prepared a course meant to be delivered in a weekend called “The Modified Zombie Outbreak” with the premise being “if you were prepared for zombies, you were prepared for everything.” The idea was to determine whether people would be prepared to deal with an infrastructure collapse.
“The CDC said, ‘We are not waiting for it to happen. We are going to prepare first responders, so they can help the average person survive,’” Woolverton said.
Woolverton teaches a similar class at Kent State called “Zombie Outbreak.” They also offer a course called “Ebola Outbreak.” They wanted to provide tactical solutions to a doomsday scenario.
“We took a hybrid of ‘World War Z’ and ‘The Walking Dead’ and conglomerated it into a super story,” Woolverton said. “How would we, at Kent State, survive? There were zombies who ruined the infrastructure. The power plant was destroyed, so no electricity. The power plant was taken down, so there was no clean water.”
He said they mimicked the story of “One Second After,” a novel by William R. Fortschen, about an electromagnetic pulse attack directed towards the U.S.
The students discussed the implications of destroying a virus, the difficulties of preventing infections, how to kill zombies and viruses and create a solution that was evaluated by a committee of city officials.
“The whole goal was to get engagement,” Woolverton said. “If you cannot get students involved with zombies, then what else would you be engaged about?”
He said students involved in the class did real problem-solving design, and they felt more competent at handling a disaster.
“People felt like they could put something together in their home,” Woolverton said. “If there was an emergency, they could help their family.”
Woolverton said these tactics can be put into practice in real-life scenarios, such as when a nurse traveled through the area and was later diagnosed with Ebola. Woolverton, who was involved in the event, said we were unknowledgeable about the virus, which scared a lot of people.
“Knowledge really is power,” Woolverton said. “Whatever possibility we have to educate people, so that fear doesn’t rule the day. We have to help people realize what truth is and how to respond with truth.”
Cooper said he heard Woolverton give the presentation at a conference and has wanted to bring it to YSU ever since. He said students and faculty responded well to the lecture.
“He spent nearly 30 minutes answering questions after the seminar,” Cooper said. “Many students came away with a different perspective on infectious diseases and epidemiology. Some were even inspired to ask him how to begin a career in these areas.”