You can learn a lot from a zombie.
At least that's what a University of Michigan professor hopes her 31 graduate students took away from Tuesday's bizarre, albeit bloody, "zombie apocalypse." The classroom exercise was designed to get School of Public Health students thinking about what the appropriate response should be during a disaster.
Four times as many students who typically attend Epidemiology 651, "Epidemiology and Public Health Management of Disasters," were on hand Tuesday to welcome — or become — the undead. The zombie exercise was modeled after a curriculum designed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a handful of CDC staffers also participated.
"'Zombie apocalypse' sounds a bit silly, but the point of this is to show that if we're prepared for any hazard, even the unimaginable hazards, like zombies — because we know they don't exist — we are capable of preparing ourselves for perhaps anything that might occur," said Dr. Eden Wells, the epidemiology professor who teaches the course and serves as the brains behind the exercise.
Wells initially wasn't sure she'd be able to persuade enough students to dress up as the undead. But by Tuesday, 120 "zombies" and other participants were on hand to take part in the exercise. As the doors to the lecture hall on the Ann Arbor campus flung open, an army of the undead unexpectedly lurched in, their arms stretched forward and their faces painted with faux blood as they aimlessly staggered among the smiling students.
TaNisha Roby, a second-year graduate student at the School of Public Health who also became zombified, said the undead scenario reinforced a very important overall point.
"People tend to think of public health as something they might see on 'Contagion' or 'Outbreak' — these Hollywood depictions of what we do — but a key part of public health is emergency preparedness," she said. "And it's a big part of what we do. So we do take it seriously. This is a fun kind of way to play with those same principles, but it's a really important area."
Once the 90-minute exercise concluded, faculty, staff, students and those sporting fake blood and "biohazard" stickers adjourned to a hallway near the main entrance to the building, where Roby led her fellow zombies in a "flash mob"-style dance to Michael Jackson's "Thriller."
Wells said he thinks many students left with a better "understanding that preparedness is not so simple."
"We can't just tell people to be prepared," he said. "We need to exercise it all the time. And sometimes it needs to be in a fun way like this."
'Zombies' invade University of Michigan campus