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Posted on Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 2:51 p.m.

Zombie invasion shows University of Michigan students what to do when disaster strikes

By Kellie Woodhouse

Carey Dombecki is not really a zombie.

She's actually a graduate student enrolled in University of Michigan's School of Public Health, but on Tuesday she dressed up like a zombie —fake blood and all— as her school orchestrated a zombie apocalypse to illustrate the tenets of emergency preparedness.

"Everyone's into zombies these days," Dombecki said in a brief break of character Tuesday. She wore white face paint streaked with fake blood. On her stained white shirt was a large orange sticker claiming her status: 'biohazard.' She was one of roughly 50 zombies.

"It represents the unimaginable," said Eden Wells, who teaches epidemiology and staged Tuesday's zombie invasion as a preparedness exercise for a real public health emergency.

The exercise is modeled after a curriculum designed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those not 'infected' Tuesday worked to assess the problem, devise a way to eliminate it and figure out how to handle the existing zombies.

"We laugh and tease and say 'Why zombies?'" Wells said. "It really represents our deepest fears, and it represents something that is not real. If we can prepare for something that's not even possible, then we can prepare ourselves for anything that might come our way."

Added Emily Rynda, a U-M staffer-turned-zombie:

"It's fun, but it's a really important message as well. It's a way to take something serious and that is probably kind of boring and make it more exciting."

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 7:56 p.m.

In looking at the coverage of this thing, it seems that it is literally global. Probably resulted in more interest in UM and is great publicity for the school...neither of which is a bad thing. I'm sure some will find a reason to abhor any reputational increment the university accrues if it doesn't meet their criteria for seriousness of purpose, but this is a good story for the U.


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 1:51 p.m.

This was a fun event, and a good way to get out information about disaster preparedness. Thanks for reporting on it! Of course, then I read the comments. "You should never read the bottom half of the internet!"

Patty Bradley

Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 11:33 a.m.

One small correction: It's Emily Renda, not Emily Rynda


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 10:55 a.m.

There is a lot to disaster preparedness, and a huge chunk of it is knowing how relief is organized and who handles what aspects of recovery when disaster strikes. While each effort is fine-tuned depending on the circumstances, any preparedness exercise covers the basics that would apply in any situation, tornado strike, flood, flu epidemic, zombie invasion. From one who has participated in some very dull preparedness programs, I give kudos to the CDC and UM for thinking of a creative, fun way to impress upon the participants what they would be called upon to do in a real disaster. P.S. I thought Zombies had to be burned to properly end their threat, but others say this is not the case. Silver stake to the heart? No? Wrong dead population for that scenario? Gotta brush up on my zombie defense, just in case ...

Tim Hornton

Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 1:03 a.m.

I can smell your brains!


Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 11:11 p.m.

Well, wasn't this just fun! Let's do a mock Locust attack!


Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 8:22 p.m.

Luckily for all of us, training kids/students to deal with a contagious disease that causes necrotizing wounds and the singular desire to spread the disease by biting flesh and or seeking out brains will definitely translate well into dealing with the next avian flu (Which is according to Chinese Gov currently approved press releases "is not a big deal"). I am glad that tax dollars and decades of compounded student loan interest payments are not being wasted on having a good time. Why not just tell them to download 28 days later or the walking dead… it would be almost as effective… then the kids could play make believe on their own time and own dime?


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 7:38 p.m.

You and djacks should go have a pity party about not being invited to speak at the event. Since obviously neither of you were there, and you have nothing but negative things to say, we have to wonder about your motivations to bash something you clearly don't understand.


Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 8:27 p.m.

Our tax dollars hard at work!


Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 7:53 p.m.

Infected zombies...hmmm...exactly how does that work? Aren't they already dead? No containment or triage needed...just dig a big hole

free form

Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 10:25 p.m.

You two REALLY could have benefited from this lesson. Clearly, you know very little about about zombies. *smh*


Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 8:26 p.m.

You have to burn them before burying them also.


Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 7:43 p.m.

"Those not 'infected' Tuesday worked to assess the problem, devise a way to eliminate it and figure out how to handle the existing zombies. " I imagine triaging living victims of a disaster is vastly different than handling existing zombies. So if everyone is playing dress-up being "infected", who were the ones actually dealing with the crisis? This seems more like an exercise in pleasing students to earn great reviews and keep those tuition dollars rolling in, rather than teaching folks anything useful. The pictures posted so far don't show anything other than people playing dress-up. Might have helped the case of this being a valuable exercise by posting some images that at least made the impression something was being learned by somebody. Is it the University can't keep students focused on something real, so they must go with pop culture to get any kind of rise out of these people?


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 7:52 p.m.

"I imagine triaging living victims of a disaster is vastly different than handling existing zombies." The above is based on your extensive experience dealing with zombies...or as you suggest, your imagination? Just as 85% of all drivers believe they are above average drivers, pundits with an axe to grind imagine they are experts on every subject under the sun. I have no clue how to teach preparedness, and I admit as much, but how is it that people with no knowledge in a subject area become experts and/or become qualified just by typing? What is your main concern? That other people have the capacity for learning and you have only the capacity for cynicism? That someone is paying for the student's education, and you were not able to finish 12th grade? That someone is having fun, and you are not? Are you feeling left out?


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 7:35 p.m.

Were you there? Because ALL of your comments here indicate you just have something stuck in your craw over this legitimate educational, CDC-inspired exercise. If you had been there, you would have seen the educational components on full display. Perhaps you'd like us all to emulate soviet-style rote recitation instead of creative learning models?


Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 9:46 p.m.

You can resort to name-calling or what you want as you are obviously biased and can't defend something on it's own merit. But the article describes this for all intents and purposes all this "as a preparedness exercise for a real public health emergency". Hardly a blowing off steam before finals exercise.


Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 9:28 p.m.

Well imagine all you want, but some of us have actually done pandemic flu emergency preparedness drills, and can assure you that you could communicate the key concepts in such an exercise (which is just that, an exercise, not the extent of their graduate education) while also having fun. And you mention "stress management" - um, do you wonder if that's exactly what this was? Students are entering the finals season. So sometimes schools do nice things during this time. It's a good thing. Not bad. Good. I wasn't there, but it looks awesome and wish all students could do something like that. Don't begrudge that they're creative and had fun and you just trolled all day. And if by "cash grab" you mean "it's a top 5 school that has engaging activities where students and faculty interact around mutual interests," then yeah, they're the worst. PublicHealthAndAlsoZombie Lover, MPH


Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 8:35 p.m.

I would imagine learning to deal with a real outbreak situation would involve a lot training in of stress management. Learning how to contain a situation without panic. Dealing with very sick (but still alive) people as opposed to fictional undead creatures with no hope of returning to humanity. Highly charged situations, controlling emotions, etc...Hardly looks that way. For what it's worth, I can't fathom playing zombie apocalypse dress-up hardly gets anyone ready for a real situation. I suppose nothing really does, but is it that we are afraid of somehow subjecting them to disturbing content or hurting someones feelings? Guess what...a disaster situation of any kind is usually pretty disturbing. Once again, enrollment cash grab.


Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 8:06 p.m.

Dear Haters, As zombie-and-also-public-health-enthusiasts know, many zombie stories theorize the problem as a viral outbreak. Also viral is pandemic flu, for which professional communities do indeed run emergency preparedness drills (that students might not get to experience unless they're interning at an agency participating in one). So it doesn't really matter if you sub something awesome and imaginary (zombies) for something actual (influenza), you're still exploring the same important concepts of disease control that students can take with them into careers in community health, epidemiology, etc. And there are well over 50 students at the School of Public Health, so even if the some-staff-and-some-students "zombies" weren't listening to the lesson/process (which I doubt is true, as they're not actual zombies, and thus can still understand what's going on), many more could serve in roles as "epidemiologists," "health center managers," "community health workers," etc. Or maybe they just wanted to dress up one day while they learned something cool about their discipline before their finals. SIncerely, PublicHealthAndAlsoZombie Lovers Everywhere


Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 7:21 p.m.

Zombies, really? Did anyone see what happened in Boston last week? No one imagined bombs going of at the Marathon but when they did explode did you happen to notice in the videos and pictures what happened? Not only did police and fire personnel respond without hesitation, so did plenty of ordinary citizens. I saw very little panic, and lots of heroism. It's just my opinion but I feel practicing for something that may really occur, like a tornado or maybe a natural gas explosion would be time better spent


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 1:27 p.m.

@djm Strawman. She didn't say make disaster prepardness fun. She said make learning fun. If something is fun, you're more engaged, and more likely to remember it. No where does she say disasters should be fun (which is what you're really saying with "first responders"...not preparing and learning).

Kellie Woodhouse

Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 8:08 p.m.

I hear what you're saying-- this is a serious subject. But keep in mind that this one-day zombie exercise isn't the full extent of students' learning on the subject. Also, this is an exercise endorsed by the CDC...


Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 7:59 p.m.

@Kellie...making disaster preparedness fun? really? why not just train first responders to whistle while they work?

Kellie Woodhouse

Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 7:39 p.m.

I don't know. I think there's merit in making learning exercises fun and out of the ordinary. I recall a teacher once asking us to put a modern twist to Shakespeare- my group was assigned Romeo and Juliet and we leveraged the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry. It was a lot of fun and, to date, Romeo and Juliet remains the most memorable Shakespeare play to me, despite me playing Desdemona in an actual theater production AND despite the fact that Twelfth Night is actually my favorite.


Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 7:21 p.m.

Even dispossessed tenants have tenets. Some of them, at least. Tenets, I mean, but I guess it applies to tenants, too, if you think about it. Just sayin'