No one in emergency preparedness circles really believes the dead will rise and come looking for living people to devour -- that weird face-eating incident in Florida aside.
But they do see zombies -- the moaning, flesh-eating stars of a plethora of horror novels, comics and movies -- as a brain-grabbing way to get people to think about preparing for large-scale disasters.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency became the latest federal government agency to shamble onto the zombie bandwagon, following in the footsteps of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency that captured the hearts of internet geeks everywhere when it unveiled its "Zombie Apocalypse" preparedness page and social media campaign last year.
"We need something that gets their attention, so I applaud that," said Richland Fire Chief Grant Baynes, who is involved in local disaster planning.
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Baynes likened getting the public engaged in emergency planning to "trying to sell an umbrella on a sunny day."
In a place that's relatively disaster-free -- the Tri-Cities doesn't get catastrophic hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes or floods as other parts of the United States -- residents can become complacent and forget that a flu pandemic or some other disaster might be around the corner.
Baynes said it's good that people feel safe, but he'd also like them to be mindful that life is unpredictable.
"Preparedness isn't just a technical thing," he said. "It's mental. It's an attitude. It's that same attitude that says, 'I know there is that potential, so I'll buy this umbrella now while I have the opportunity.' "
Robin Allbrandt, regional emergency preparedness and response coordinator at the Benton Franklin Health District, said public agencies can and do make meticulous plans for what to do in case of a variety of types of disasters or crises, but those plans work best when individuals also prepare for the worst.
"That's critical," she said. "We try to remind people they need to be responsible for their own preparedness. We can't do our jobs effectively if our community doesn't do their job to make sure their families are safe."
The Associated Press reported that among FEMA's recommendations during a "zombie preparedness" webinar Thursday were to have an emergency evacuation plan and a change of clothes, plus storing fresh water, extra medications and emergency flashlights.
Brian Calvert, emergency planner for Benton County Emergency Management, told the Herald that a key part of preparedness for individuals or families is to put together a disaster kit with food, water, blankets and other supplies to get through the first 72 hours of a disaster until public agencies can mobilize and help comes.
He said another important piece is having a plan for reuniting a family if something happens while parents are at work and children are at school, and a communication plan that includes an out-of-state contact who can help relay messages.
"Sometimes it's easier to coordinate with someone out-of-state than trying to make calls within a disaster area," Calvert said.
Allbrandt said supplies in a disaster kit should be replaced once a year to make sure food isn't expired or flashlight and radio batteries haven't died.
In addition to food, water and blankets, the kit should include spare cash, copies of important documents and an extra supply of medications that a family member may need if suddenly cut off from the outside world.
She also recommended thinking about what pets might need -- food, water, medications, leashes or collars -- and that residents should consider that pets might not be able to stay in the same shelter as the family if the family is evacuated from their home.
She added that zombies aren't something officials actually plan for -- but that preparedness tips apply to all kinds of disasters.
"A zombie invasion would be ... I haven't quite figured that one out yet," she said. "But one thing that's exciting about the zombie thing is that it's getting the younger population engaged."
Baynes said he doesn't foresee a zombie apocalypse coming to the Tri-Cities anytime soon.
"I think we're in a safe zone," Baynes deadpanned. "I haven't seen a single zombie since I've been here."