Disaster comm, Part 1: Disaster is the new normal

The Y2K "Bug": A colorful stuffed creature with antennae, fur, and goofy face. It says "Y2K" on the front.
TC Talk
Disaster comm, Part 1: Disaster is the new normal

Many organizations focus on preventing disaster from happening, but don’t have plans in place for when disaster inevitably does happen. And as climate change worsens, we need to buckle up for living in an age of disaster. What does this mean for communicating about risk, crisis, and disaster? To answer this question, Benton shares insights from the book The Devil Never Sleeps by Juliette Kayyem. Benton and Abi also discuss their own very different reactions to disaster in their own lives, as well as their favorite zombie media.

Sources and further reading

  • Alexis Nikole, Blackforager TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@alexisnikole
  • Cheek, R. (2020). Zombie ent (r) ailments in risk communication: A rhetorical analysis of the CDC’s Zombie apocalypse preparedness campaign. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 50(4), 401–422.
  • Fleischer, R. (Director). (2009, October 2). Zombieland [Action, Comedy, Horror]. Columbia Pictures, Relativity Media, Pariah.
  • Forster, M. (Director). (2013, June 21). World War Z [Action, Adventure, Horror]. Paramount Pictures, Skydance Media, Hemisphere Media Capital.
  • Goffard, C. (2017, October 1). Dirty John [Podcast]. Www.Latimes.Com. http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-me-dirty-john/
  • Kayyem, J. (2022). The Devil Never Sleeps: Learning to Live in an Age of Disasters. PublicAffairs.
  • Levine, J. (Director). (2013, February 1). Warm Bodies [Comedy, Horror, Romance]. Summit Entertainment, Make Movies, Mandeville Films.
  • Meyer, R., & Kunreuther, H. (2017). The Ostrich Paradox: Why We Underprepare for Disasters. University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Scrivner, C., Johnson, J. A., Kjeldgaard-Christiansen, J., & Clasen, M. (2021). Pandemic practice: Horror fans and morbidly curious individuals are more psychologically resilient during the COVID-19 pandemic. Personality and Individual Differences, 168, 110397.
  • Snyder, Z. (Director). (2021, May 21). Army of the Dead [Action, Crime, Horror]. The Stone Quarry.
  • Sparby, E. (2020). Syllabus: ENG 451 Technical Communication in the Zombie Apocalypse. Retrieved 24 Nov. 2022 from https://www.emsparb.com/courses.html


BHi, I’m Benton.
AI’m Abi.
BWelcome to TC talk,
Aa tech comm podcast.
BI am a non-technical communicator and a non-academic.
AI’m a professor of technical communication.
BYeah. So I’m a little bit nervous. I’m driving the boat today.
ABe careful.
Alest we have a disaster.
BOh, Nice segue? Cheers. What are we drinking tonight?
AA themed beverage called a dark and stormy. It’s a variation on a Moscow mule because it is made with ginger beer and black Rum.
BBlack as the night.
AI think you need to say something in a piratey voice at this point.
BYargh! Avast, welcome to TC Talk, me mateys. We’ll be lootin and plundering about this here book I found. And I’m going to stop that right now.
AThat was adorable though.
BThank you. So our episode today we are going to be talking about disaster. The reason that I wanted to do that is that I picked up this book just for my own reading. And having gone through it, I realized that, wow, this is, this is very communication-oriented. This is a lot about saying what’s happening, saying what could happen, you know. And so I kind of used it as an opportunity to take the wheel on this one.
BAnd the book is called The Devil Never Sleeps, Learning to Live in an Age of Disasters, by Julie Kayyem. I like to read post-apocalyptic type stuff, like what happens when shit goes down.
AYou were weirdly excited when COVID hit and we had the lockdown and you were like, yes, now I get to stock my basement pantry.
ACorrect me if I’m wrong, I’m not a psychoanalyst. But is it a way of feeling a sense of control?
BAbsolutely, yeah
AIn the midst of chaos, perhaps. And I meanwhile prefer to bury my head in the sand.
BIs it nice and cozy.
AGets in my eyes and is all scratchy. It’s not that I buried my head in the sand. It’s that I fully immerse myself in the awful and then become paralyzed, if that makes sense. I think this is a good time to tell the story about the Fargo flood.
BAh, the Fargo flood in the spring of 2009.
AThat’s, wow. I would not have been able to tell you the year. Yeah. We were both attending NDSU at that point. I just remember being a grad student, being really overwhelmed with that to begin with. Like they canceled class. Well, here’s what I remember. Everybody went home for spring break. And then they came back. And like that Monday or Tuesday, they announced there will be no classes. And they did it strategically to make sure the college students came back so that they could volunteer to sand bag.
BIt was that Sunday night that they called off a week of classes because they were they were watching the, the flood levels, like the river was coming up like a foot a day. A foot a day, a foot a day, which is a problem, you know, when you run out of feet.
AYou were a hero.
BI was mobilized by it. I was ready to help.
AI was also working a separate job at that point too because
BOh yeah,
Awe served clients from all over the country and
Boh, yes, that’s right.
AWe were open 24/7. We did work for lawyers,
Bincluding the Lehman Brothers. It was a good time.
Aright? Yeah. Yeah, we expanded to financial firms. And we had to say our work might be delayed because we’re like in a literal flood here. But they still had us coming in. Some workplaces were paying their workers to go volunteer. Like that was actually was a…
BThere was so much amazing stuff going on in Fargo. Like Buffalo Wild Wings would just bring trays and trays of wings to one of the sand bagging centers where, which, so they had, they had a few facilities not on the river where they would, where people would come just to fill, put sand into the sand bags, put them on a pallet so they’re ready to move out. So there were a number of restaurants that would just bring like pans and pans of food to the volunteers to help fight the flood.
AYep. We did both. We filled and tied up the sand bags. And then there was also, once those sand bags are filled, you create a wall, you use them to create a barrier. So a bunch of people would stand in a line and it would be like the
Bjust like the bucket brigade.
AExactly that
BOf cartoon fame.
AYes. To move the sand bags. Which is great. Unless you’re me who is a wimp and you’re stuck between like two football players who think it’s fun to see how hard they can shove the sand bag at the next person. And I’m like, can we not?
BFootball players are so insensitive. Those two football players,
Athose two specifically. Anyway. So the point here is that you and I had very different reactions.  I was living close to campus at that point, which was not at risk. But it’s no good when your community goes underwater, like
BNo, it isn’t.
ASo I remember getting all in my head about it and ultimately being not very helpful, which I’m embarrassed to say. You responded to it differently.
BI honestly feel like it was one of the most inspirational things I have been through.
BBecause of, well, spoiler alert. The flood was contained. There was certainly damage and loss, but it wasn’t like,
AOn the whole it worked.
BOn the whole it worked.
AAnd all the free wings didn’t hurt.
BAll the free wings were pretty nice. That experience like it gave me a hint of what it would be like supporting a war effort, like, like what World War II might have been like. Because the city was like all together. Businesses were figuring out ways to help. Like when I’m putting sand bags on the wall, putting it next to the river. A lot of times like the homeowners right there, they would just have food for anyone there.
AI mean that’s the least they could do.
BThe volunteering and the generosity and like the community coming together was amazing. And it truly kindled like a flame of solidarity in me.
AAnd now you’re socialist.
BI now I am a die-hard socialist, who wants to take back the means of production. I won’t say anymore about that, but
AI figured it out. I’m not an ostrich with its head in the sand. I’m a chicken running around with its head cut off. Well, all that to say. We have responded differently to the prospective disasters in our lifetimes. And I think as the book title suggests, this is the norm now with climate change and with the erosion of democracy.
BClimate change and the effect that’s going to have on migration. And the de-stabilizing things that come up in various societies when
ADomestic terrorism.
BDomestic terrorism. Are you, are you kinda getting to the chicken running around?
AUh, yes.
AI’m flapping my wings ineffectually as we speak.
BI’ll get back to my script then.
AThis is really weird for me.
BIt is.
AI don’t have any paper in front of me.
BIt’s all mine. The paper is mine. My precious clipboard.
AYeah. It’s a neon yellow clipboard at that. But I am along for the ride. I will say, I want to do some reading in tech comm to kind of supplement what you have to say about disaster communication. Because there is some good and interesting work that I’ve been wanting to explore. So tonight, you’ll kinda introduce us to your book.
AThen we’ll take a break. I’ll do my research. We will reconvene,
BSo having read this book, it seems like no disaster has ever sneak by the author. She collected them all. Even the you remember the ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal, right?
AOh yeah.
BYeah. She had a picture of it and like talked about it in part of the book. Like minor disasters like that. I’ll touch on that when we get there. She seriously brought up so many major and minor news events that it kind of felt like reliving most of my adulthood.
AAnd is the case for anyone listening, I’m sure.
ALike 9/11. Is that?
BOf course. It’s one of the major disasters in our lifetimes. As any person who spent a lot of the last six years keeping up with the news would know, it seems like there has been a never ending cadence of disasters during this period. Also before we get too deep into talking about disasters, what do you think these terms mean?
AOoh. Quiz.
BScandal, disaster, crisis, and catastrophe.
AWow, okay, Scandal. The first thing I think of is
Bthe last administration?
AActually Bill Clinton came to mind and Monica Lewinsky because that is I mean,
Bit was the first one that hit our radars, dating us.
AYes. I think of pearl clutching.
BOh, yeah.
ASo maybe in that sense, scandal has to do with public reaction?
ADisaster and catastrophe. I don’t see any meaningful difference between those terms. I would consider them synonymous. Crisis, I see that that term as distinguished by urgency in a way that the others maybe aren’t?
AHow did I do?
BSo the way that Kayyem lays it out, scandal is the only one that does not involve actively harming people in an unfolding kind of way,
Aright? It’s the aftermath of something that has happened.
BAnd for the other three, she lays it out in a continuum. A crisis is a time-bound situation.
ASo it is about time.
BWhen you come to a point where things could go one way or another, they could get really bad. Like think of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was a very touchy time. We came very close to ending civilization in nuclear war.
AAs one does.
BAs one does. We are in the debt of a Soviet sub captain who decided not to listen to the political officer
Afor real?
BYes. The political officer, officer said fire the missiles and he said no. And so did his X O. And so they did not
AI did not know that.
BIt was very close.
BThings move into a disaster when harm occurs. Like we’ll say, a hostage situation is a crisis.
AA shooting is a disaster.
BWhen one of the hostage takers decides to shoot fatally or not, it becomes a disaster because there’s been harm done. Things move into a catastrophe when the way that the authorities manage the situation makes it worse.
AOh, interesting.
BSo that would be like hostages are taken. They shoot a hostage. And then the police or FBI decide that. Alright, we’re going to send people in. And then after they blow the doors in, the hostage takers execute 20 more people. That’s a catastrophe.
AOh jeez.
BYeah, sorry, I just made that all up. Human mismanagement makes the situation worse.
AOkay. Is that like a technical definition or is this just what this author has kind of,
BI’m not sure if that’s in the disaster industry, what they call it.
ADisaster industry? That’s a thing?
BThat’s what she calls her line of work is the disaster industry.
AThe disaster industrial complex.
BThe more you know.
AOkay. I have a question for you because I can’t help it.
BQuestion me.
AHow would you distinguish risk and crisis?
BRisk is something that happens before a crisis. So risk can be assessed
AOr doesn’t happen as the case may be.
BRight? Yes. You can assess and mitigate risk before a crisis. Risk is something that it’s out there and it takes place, but you can think about it before any crisis happens. And
AUnderstanding it and managing it ideally avoids disasters. Here’s why I ask that. There’s sort of a scholarly thread in tech comm of risk communication and crisis communication. They’re often talked about together, but they are distinct obviously. I’m not an expert in this because I haven’t done my reading yet, but I see it as a matter of, you know, at what point in time are you intervening?
BThat’s very prescient. That would make a good transition too. But before I do that, I wanted to touch on the etymology of disaster and catastrophe. Fun fact, the aster in both of them comes from star.
ANo way.
BLike the thinking behind even the labels for this really bad situation is that it’s in the stars, the stars aligned for a really bad thing to happen.
AWoah, that’s interesting because it’s very responsibility-shirking. It was fate. It couldn’t have been prevented.
BLot of times, yeah. So what you were saying about risk communication and crisis communication fit very neatly into the frame that Kayyem puts in her book.
ABut it sounds like we now need to add catastrophe communication and scandal communication, but I think that’s just PR.
BScandal communication is just PR, yes. So her frame is that you’ve got your timeline of left is past, right as future. And so every disaster is, she calls it boom. So mitigation or risk communication in your case, occurs left of boom
ABoom as in explosion?
BBoom as a stand-in for whatever the disaster is.
BIt could be an explosion, the Boston Marathon.
AWhat about something like COVID, where it’s not like a single moment, it’s like a buildup?
BAn unfolding. Yeah.
BShe was actually teaching that semester
Aand you’re like, damn, I didn’t want my material to be this relevant.
BNo joke. So she lays out this framework of when you’re trying to avoid disasters that, that’s all left of boom work. And in this continuum, that’s where the lion’s share of energy seems to be focused, is like, don’t let bad things happen.
AAnd that’s a good thing, right?
BIt is definitely good to avoid having disasters happen. The argument she makes is that it is very often to the detriment of focusing on what to do when disasters do happen. And so the right of boom, crisis communication, or what she would call it, consequence minimization, so the goal is less bad.
BLess deaths, less damage.
AIt’s a fundamental shift in how you’re looking at disaster because you are, in a sense, preparing for it, which is different than preventing it.
BYeah. Yeah.
AI mean, you do both, but wow,
Bthere is very little preventing you can do about hurricanes and most other natural disaster sorts of things.
AI can see the temptation to focus on the left of boom
BOh, yeah.
AActivities, though, because it feels like it’s a resignation to say this is going to happen. It’s a form of denial in a way. I get that.
AI don’t want to prepare for the worst because I don’t want to acknowledge that the worst can happen.
BWhen you prepare for the worst, you’re actually preparing for the not as bad. Just looking at what the last six years have been like,
Athe word unprecedented has way too many times
Bsince a certain precedent has happened.
AYeah. My point being there’s a point at which you gotta say, Okay,
Byeah, It’s an age of disasters that we’re living in. And so what she says, I’m sorry. Go ahead.
AI was just gonna say I think Phoebe wrote the word
Apoo on the wall.
BShe was trying to write her name. I think I saw that. And I was just like,
AYeah, she’s learning how to spell and read and write. And her favorite word right now is poop. Understandably. She also wrote the word poop on the TV
Band then crossed it out. I think that she was using pencil because it erased fairly well.
AOh. I’m sorry. I just saw it out of the corner my eye and totally distracted you. But you were talking about how we’re living in an age of disaster.
BWe’re living in an age of disasters. And so she was, what she’s saying is that we need to just own it. A major theme of this book is essentially shit happens.
ANot just on TV either. That was a callback. That was on purpose.
BI see what you did there. I see that, yeah. Or maybe shit happens. So always have toilet paper.
Aor an eraser.
BKayyem starts by pushing for us to live in the real world and accept the disaster is coming. And we can’t stop it. And I’ll quote her again here. “I feel that the fact we can’t seem to get our heads around the potential for disaster and prepare for it in rational ways is a testament to the power of positive thinking.”
BYes. That is a, that is a solid stab in the eye of positive thinking right there. That quote, and I love it.
AWe have talked before about, we were talking
BToxic positivity?
AWhen we’re talking about cults. I think there’s value in framing things in positive ways. But not to the point that you are in denial,
BRight. That being what toxic positivity is. So this kind of gets into the preparedness paradox, which is twofold. First, successful prevention measures can intuitively seem like a waste of time.
AI have the perfect example, but is it when people stayed home at the start of COVID
BAnd then the curve flattened.
AThe curve flattened and people were like, see, we never needed to stay home after all.
BThe classic example is Y2K,
BBecause there was all this like, oh my God, we are not ready for the millennium. We’re not ready for zero-zero. And billions of dollars of effort were put into going over old code that was written by dinosaurs. Programmers worked their butts off. As you can see in the movie office space. That’s what they were working on.
AY2k? For real?
BYeah. He explained it.
AIt’s been a long time since I’ve seen it.
BThe second part of the paradox is that there is a superstition that preparing for a possibility makes it more likely to happen, which touches on like that feeling that you had of like ah, but don’t want to prepare for managing a disaster because then it’s like giving up.
BBut it’s, it’s like a built-in superstition that like, if you get ready for it, it’s going to happen.
AIt seems like certainly an individual cognitive bias or whatever. But it happens at an organizational level, I’m guessing.
BProbably more at an organizational level, which leads right into this next topic. She then refers to the six leadership biases that were mentioned in the book The Ostrich Paradox, which was written by Kunreuther and Meyer. Myopia, amnesia, optimism, inertia, simplification and herding. Myopia is, I’m not going to think about anything beyond my next election.
BShortsightedness, amnesia is when you forget the bad stuff.
AWhat kind of leadership bias is preventing our nation from taking any action on gun control? Is it the asshole bias?
BI think there’s probably a lot of all of these.
AYeah, that’s fair.
BBecause there’s the myopia, like not wanting to look far enough ahead to make a real plan. Amnesia, like forgetting the five mass shootings that happened yesterday. Optimism. “You know, I think that incremental change is going to get us where we want to be.”
A“Mental health is the problem.”
BMental health, except they don’t pay for that either.
BJerks. Inertia like “it’s the way it’s always been.” Simplification. Oh, yeah, that’s the NRA having very good messaging to its people saying, say no to any legislation about guns.
AFear, stoking fear.
BWell, that’s that’s herding.
AOh, okay. H-E-R-D?
BYes. “Alright. Come on. Let’s get together and fight the gun grabbers.”
AHerding sounds like leadership though. How is that negative?
BI mean, it does sound like leadership unless you think of them as being like a shepherd where you’re herding sheep into the slaughter house? Um,
BHerding is not necessarily a good thing. It could be. It could be where you’re like, alright, let’s go over here because we don’t want to be all spread out and get eaten by wolves. Anyway, that was kind of like a really quick run through of those leadership biases.
ALike simplification. I mean, that’s. See our episode on conspiracy rhetoric. I mean, the whole, the whole point of conspiracy thinking is the world is black and white.
BOh yeah.
ANo room for nuance, no room for contingency.
BAnother thing that she mentioned in the book was that I found to be very interesting is that overreaction as a term and a concept used to be completely stigma free. It was just viewed as reflexive. Like just something that happens. Like, oh, well, that’s natural,
ARight, it doesn’t necessarily have the value judgment placed on it.
BIt didn’t until, until in the 1960s, psychologists came along and made it a disorder,
BIt seems a little bit like an overreaction to me, doesn’t it? Project much psychologists?
AI’m going to take a wild guess that these psychologists were white men. Because I’m thinking of how so often women, people of color,
B“Calm down.”
AExactly. Who gets to say what is an acceptable amount of reaction and what’s too much and what’s not enough, right? It’s the people who have the most power. But there is such a thing as overreaction in that you can create fear and anxiety around something that doesn’t, that isn’t necessarily evidence-based. I don’t think that was the case with COVID. I think
BUnder-reaction was the problem.
AAnd I think that we need to be willing to hold our judgments in suspension when we have such a lack of information. You know, it’s really, really hard for people, for human beings to do that. There’s something about uncertainty that, I don’t know what the right reaction would have been when the COVID news started coming out. I don’t think, I don’t think there was such a thing as the right reaction. I mean the only the only wrong reaction would be to be insisting that it couldn’t possibly be a problem despite
B“It was a hoax.”
Adespite the evidence that it was in fact a problem.
BShe knew.
BJulie Kayyem.
AShe saw it coming?
BOh, yeah. There was some company, it was like a Fortune 500 company that like she was on a call consulting about COVID-19. And she didn’t realize that everyone was on the call yet and she was using gallows humor with her colleagues and said, “So is it going to fall to me to tell him he’s got to close everything?” And then the CEO of the company piped in and said, “That can’t possibly be.” And then over the course of it, she kinda dragged him kicking and screaming from being incredulous to being like, “Shit, we gotta do this. We gotta have a plan for shutting all of our stores down.” It was something they had never planned for. I’m gonna put in a quote that she had from Jim Clapper, who, if you’re not familiar
BThank you. I think that he was the director of the FBI? Before Comey, before people knew who the director of the FBI was. He said to her that “it’s very hard for people to get their heads around something that’s never happened to them.” And you saw it with hurricane Ian, even. People who had never seen a hurricane or people who had seen hurricanes and they’ve come, they’ve gone, big deal. People who knew that a monster storm surge was coming and what that was like, when they saw water starting to come, they were like shaking their neighbors out of their funk and being like, “Get the fuck in your car and leave.”
BAnd people who packed said like in half an hour the water rose like a foot. Very limited amount of time to do something before you’re screwed. But yeah, if you’ve never seen it happen, you just cannot process like 13 ft of storm surge, what does that even mean?
AIs it almost like a normalcy bias?
BOh, yeah, that’s a great statement of it.
AYou can’t possibly comprehend something so out of the norm that you just kind of,
BOut of your norm. It can be even something that you know happens and you’ve seen happen to other people. But it’s never happened to me.
AOh sure, there are pandemics in other parts of the world.
BIt’ll never happen here. So on that happy note, I’m going to finish off this dark and stormy. Her first chapter was kind of a little bit potpourri.
AWe’re not even through the first chapter yet?
BLittle bit all over the place.
ANow I know how you feel.
BJust a fun note, was that researcher Coltan Scrivner et al, found that quote, “people who watched a lot of zombie movies and other apocalyptic type movies reported feeling more prepared for the pandemic.”
AYou fall squarely into that category.
BThat is my wheelhouse, that is my bread and butter entertainment is being prepared for shit to hit the fan. And I’m not a prepper. I’m really not.
AYou want to be. If it weren’t for me, you would be probably full-blown jugs of water ceiling high in our laundry room.
BIf it wasn’t for you, I would have no checks on that impulse.
ASo zombie stuff is required reading for today’s leaders. Is that what you’re saying?
BIt’s a useful preparation strategy.
AOkay. You know,
AI think if I remember right, there was someone on Twitter who was planning a zombie apocalypse themed tech comm course. I’ll have to double-check shout-out to Erika Sparby. They were the one who tweeted about that.
BThat sounds interesting,
Ayes. Because I remember being like, I can’t wait to see your syllabus.
Abut I mean, it seems too fun to be useful, but the research apparently shows that that would be super valuable.
BZombies make an excellent stand-in for a lot of different types of disaster.
AAlso, I want to say that there was, that the CDC actually made guidelines for surviving in the zombie apocalypse.
BThey did.
AI think somebody wrote a tech comm article about it. I can’t remember now, but if I find it, I will put it in the show notes. This is Abi from the future. I found the article that I was alluding to. It’s by Ryan Cheek. The title is “zombie entrailments in risk communication.” With the R in parentheses. Entailments and entrailments? A parenthetical pun, built into the title
BVery cute.
ANothing cuter than entrails. Subtitle, “A rhetorical analysis of the CDC’s Zombie Apocalypse preparedness campaign.” I read it and I thought it raised important enough points that I needed to raise them. So it’s largely a critique of this CDC campaign from 2011 and at the time, when the CDC put this out it got huge engagement and they got thousands more followers.
BClever stunt.
ARight. And if all you’re looking at is numbers of followers, you can deem it a success, right.
BWell I know a certain former president who would.
ASo Ryan Cheek says we need to look at this rhetorical and not just technocratically or likes equals. Specifically he does an apocalyptic rhetorical analysis.
AThat was creepy.
BContinue fair traveler.
AWhat are you doing ASMR now?
BThe background noise.
A[taps microphone]
BDon’t do that.
AThat’s what ASMR is.
BI’m not doing ASMR.
AWhat are you doing?
BI’m trying to be more hearable than the laptop that’s trying to take off over here.
AOkay but I can’t move the laptop because I’m looking at it for my notes.
BGo ahead.
AWhich for him meant looking at the materials for this zombie preparedness campaign and looking for apocalyptic patterns like mass suffering, good vs. evil, and triumph. I don’t think of apocalypse in religious terms, but many people in our country do.
BIt’s true.
AIn fact some fundamentalist Christians are gleefully trying to hasten the end of the world. And we need to be careful anytime we use the end of the world as a persuasive tactic. Not to mention using zombies as a metaphor for a diseased body. That is a recipe for discrimination. If the zombies are a metaphor for you know any pandemic then it’s essentially training us to
BMurder the infected.
ARight. And there is certainly precedent for vilifying people with disease.
BOh yeah
ALike entire groups of people. I’m thinking of the AIDS epidemic. Even with coronavirus, calling it the Chinese virus.
BOh yeah.
ASo you would hope that people would be able to see oh this is a metaphor. We don’t want to take it literally and murder people for being sick. However and Cheeck brings this up. There was a study done that tested students’ actual learning from the campaign. There was a real objective behind it. Teach kids how to be prepared for disaster.
BLike bug-out bags?
AYeah, something like that. So one of the test questions was, what is an item you would bring in case of emergency. How would you answer that?
BProbably a knife.
AAh, that’s what the kids said. Most of them said a weapon.
BThat’s not what I meant.
BA knife can be made tow ork as a weapon of course, but what I would want to have a knife for is utility.
ANice save. But yeah
BAnd if you’re going ot get a weapon, get a weapon that doesn’t run out of ammo like a knife or a blunt object.
AThis is the opposite of the direction we want to go. So here’s the thing. With this kin of overlay of zombie apocalypse it’s too hard to dismember that from pop culture zombie apocalypse references.
BI don’t think that I have seen any zombie movies where the solution was something other than kill them all.
ANow there certainly is a subset of zombie literature that gets a little more nuanced, and begins to explore the zombies’ humanity, etc.
BI take it back. Warm Bodies.
AYes. And the book I’m thinking of is the Girl with the Gifts. All that to say, I’m not 100% ready to let go of the utility of the zombie metaphor for disaster preparedness but I will no longer do so uncritically, thanks to this article.
BI don’t think I made much in the way of notes on what Kayyem had to say about zombie studies. It is a real thing, not that zombies are a real thing, but,
AThank you for that clarification.
BI have no idea what kind of people are listening to this podcast. SO just in case we’ve got an Alex Jones out there, zombies are not real. That was weird.
AWe heard a mysterious thump outside the door just now.
BMaybe I’m wrong? She does talk about zombie studies and how they are actually very useful for diastser management simulation, that sort of what she calls right of boom scenarios because disasters can take on so many different shapes that zombies take on a convenient stand in.
AWhat is your favorite zombie movie?
BMy favorite zombie movie. Okay.
ASo because I’m in your place this time, I get to ask all the questions that derail us.
BI see.
AActually, I do plenty of that on my own when I’m running the show. World War Z,
BI think that one was really good.
AWe need to read the book.
BI liked the movie and it didn’t have anything to do with it being Brad Pitt.
ADidn’t hurt.
BTrue. But what I liked is that his character in that movie was trying to figure out how it worked. I mean, it’s, it’s kinda the back-end of tech comm is getting the technical knowledge about the zombies.
AWhat was the zombie heist movie?
BYou are thinking of Army of the Dead.
BIt’s not comedic in the same sense that say Zombieland was comedic or
AYeah, there was the zombie rom com we watched for Halloween years ago, Warm bodies.
BWarm bodies.
AYou’ve seen more zombie movies than I, so clearly you’re more mentally prepared for the apocalypse than I am. So I’m gonna put a plug-in for a podcast series.
ATrue Crime.
BTrue crime,
Abut the mention of zombies reminded me of this. Dirty John. Do you remember the connection? I don’t want to give it away.
BI don’t right here.
AThis is gonna be like a five-part series by the time we’re done.
BOh, yeah, it will.
AYou know what time it is now, right? Time for
BFun with fungus.
AIt’s been awhile since we’ve had fun with fungus.
BIt’s true. And if I’m being honest, the topic is in fact not fun, although it is fungus.
AIs this because we’re on a disaster episode?
AAlright. Tell me about it.
BAlexis Nicole is also known as the Black forager on all of the socials. She put a reaction video out to someone who had thought she was getting chicken of the woods mushroom, which she was not right about. They were actually jack-o-lanterns, which is a poisonous mushroom. They’re fun because they glow in the dark, but they are not fun if you try to eat them. Anyway. Are we going to play the audio of that video?
 “I accidentally poisoned my family. Thought we were eating chicken of the woods mushroom and no, turns out there’s a lookalike, jack-o-lantern.”
 “Let’s have a chat about foraging safely. Just in case this needs to be said, don’t go be mean to them. Projectile vomiting his punishment enough. Now as fun and as exciting as foraging is, foraging is also dangerous, okay? There are a lot of things we can eat, there are a lot of things we can’t. That family was, I mean not lucky, but lucky that they were jack-o-lanterns which are just bad for your gastrointestinal tract and not something like a destroying angel that could kill you. I need you all to pinky promise me that when you are out there foraging, if you choose to forage, that you are going to use more than one form of ID to confirm what you have, especially with mushrooms. Pretty obvious that, that TikToker thought that jack-o-lanterns were chicken of the woods because they’re both orange. If you do a little bit more research, orange is literally where the similarities stop.”
BHow does this connect to disaster communication? I would say that one connection is, get it right. Don’t be hasty in saying you’ve figured out what’s going on. Get it right.
ADon’t rely on one form of identification.
BExactly. Yep. Redundancy. Let me say it again. Redundancy. So yeah. Verify, verify, verify
AAnd I don’t know if she addresses this, but if that family posted about the chicken of the woods lookalike before they discovered it was poisonous, they’ve potentially endangered many people.
BRight. I suspect that isn’t the case because I imagine if she posted before cooking it,
Asomeone would have caught it.
BHer TikTok would have exploded with oh my gosh, don’t do that.
AI mean, would it have been so hard to be like, Hey folks, what is this? Right? That’s what happens in Mushrooms of Minnesota Facebook.
BYeah, that’s true. Great community.
AI have to say though that I’m glad she posted it because, you know, assuming she didn’t post incorrect information beforehand. But it is a wake-up call. It makes the risk real.
AIn a way that people might brush off if they, you know, think they know a thing or two about mushrooms and then go to forage them.
BYeah. And I had an instance myself where I saw a mushroom that looked to me like it was an elm cap. I grabbed it, I brought it home. I had cut it up and had it kinda just waiting to be cooked in the fridge. And the next day I was thinking about it more. And my confidence was like, just kind of eroded enough that I was like,
ABy the way, I didn’t know any of this.
BYou didn’t know any of this. We never cooked it.
AWell it sounds like we very well could have. Sorry. Continue.
BSo I was like, jeez, was it? Before I threw it out, I had decided that like, I’m not confident enough. But it, it goes back to the first rule of foraging. If you wouldn’t bet your life on it, then don’t bet your life on it.
AOh, okay. This, this has a much better ending than I thought. I thought you were gonna say, “And then I looked it up and discovered it was an angel of death” or whatever that thing was called.
BDestroying angel. That’s the amanita.
ABut no, no. I appreciate that. Better safe than sorry. Alright
BHave fun.