Whether it's an apocalypse or hurricane season, the author of "The Zombie Survival Guide" knows there's nothing that will prompt living people to get ready for mayhem like zombies do. (Roslan Rahman / AFP via Getty Images)
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JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON — Sometimes it takes the zombie apocalypse to get people thinking about disaster preparedness.
“There’s nothing really specific about zombie survival,” said Max Brooks, author of “The Zombie Survival Guide” and “World War Z.” “It’s simple disaster preparedness survival.”
Brooks, who describes himself as “more of a civilian than most civilians,” was the featured speaker on the first day of Army North’s annual hurricane season preparedness drill.
The exercise took place April 9-11 here, as forecasters predicted an above-average 2013 Atlantic hurricane season.
“Hurricanes are major catastrophes that affect a large number of people and the local economy,” Lt. Col. Michael “Todd” Grissom, who organized the Army North exercise, said in an Army North news story. “Having military forces prepared to respond can greatly relieve human suffering and property damage.”
But most people don’t want to think about being ready for mayhem, Brooks said.
“It’s a downer,” he said. “[But] I think zombies are an amazing way to get people to think about disaster preparedness.”
Brooks said he wrote “Zombie Survival Guide” after the Y2K scare, during which there was fear that all computer systems would stop working after Dec. 31, 1999.
“I’m a nerd,” Brooks said. “I’m a big zombie nerd. [I thought] how would I react to a real zombie attack?”
It was during his research that he realized most people were going to die from dehydration, an accident or crime — all before they even came across a zombie.
Brooks said he never thought his book would get published. “I just wrote this for me,” he said.
But now, he sees his books as a way to build interest in disaster preparedness.
“Through my books, initially, unexpectedly, I’ve found that’s how you get people thinking about preparedness,” he said.
Brooks, who has a dry sense of humor, perhaps because he is the son of legendary comic Mel Brooks, lauded the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for their zombie preparedness guide.
“I’ve lived through a lot of federal outreach programs to young people,” he said. “But now, for the first time, you actually have young people thinking about bottled water, about medical kits, about radios, about a survival plan. It’s the first time young people have been tricked into taking care of themselves. Even if the zombie apocalypse doesn’t happen, they will be ready for the next hurricane, or the next earthquake, or the next disaster, which I think is wonderful.”
The challenge, Brooks said, is at the macro level.
“Since the 1980s, I’ve noticed that there is a cultural divide between the civilian population and the people who keep them safe,” he said. “There’s been such a division that most people don’t really understand how things work anymore.
“Most people don’t understand that the things that were considered luxuries a century ago, and still are considered luxuries in many countries, are now necessities in this country.”
Many Americans don’t understand how vulnerable they are, he said.
“Most people don’t understand where their clean water comes from, or their electricity, or their sewage,” he said. “They don’t understand how dependent we are on international trade, and they don’t understand what would happen if any of that is severed.”
In 1917, most of the food sold was pickled or dried. Today, much of it is refrigerated or frozen, he said.
Today, millions of Americans depend on medical technology and medication to stay alive.
“What happens when they can’t get their medication? Or when the power goes out and they can’t get their dialysis?” Brooks said.
‘What could possibly go wrong?’
In addition, weather patterns are getting worse each year, according to Brooks.
“North America is the only place in the world where major cities are built on major fault lines,” he said. “We come and we say, ‘Wow, look at this peninsula. It’s beautiful. We’re going to call it San Francisco. What could possibly go wrong?’ ‘Here’s a huge desert where nothing is growing and nothing should grow. Let’s pipe all our water down here and call it Los Angeles. What could possibly go wrong?’”
This is why Army North’s role in disaster preparedness is so important, Brooks said.
“We don’t understand what separates us from the abyss,” he said to the audience. “Your job has never been harder. You’ve never had less support, and at the same time you’ve never had a heavier burden. … I wanted to come here to truly say ‘thank you.’ As an author, as a writer, it’s my job not just to entertain, but hopefully, hopefully, to educate.
“If I can get people thinking, just briefly, about what it takes to keep the lights on and what it takes for the people who keep the lights on, then I’ve done my job.”