Following the success of the Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse blog in May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response (OPHPR) recently created the Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic [PDF] graphic novel to teach the importance of emergency preparedness.
We caught up with author Maggie Silver, letterer and layout person Mark Conner and penciler and inker Bob Hobbs to discuss their contractor ties, contractor contributions to the project and how they might handle a zombie attack.
GovWin: Besides being a member of the Zombie Task Force, what is your position at the CDC? Have you ever been a contractor, or have you always been fed?
Silver: I’m a health communication specialist; my main job is to produce health messages to the public and our stakeholders (e.g., folks on the Hill, public health partners) about how to prepare for emergencies as well as what to do during an emergency. I also help with media relations and internal communication projects. I was lucky and landed a job with the feds right out of grad school and have been working as an full-time equivalent (FTE) ever since.
Conner: Visual information specialist. I was a Northrop Grumman contractor for eight years before I became an FTE. I’ve been an FTE for about a year and a half.
Hobbs: I’m a visual information specialist in the Division of Communication Services. I’ve been a federal employee for over 25 years and at the CDC since 1997. But I left the federal workforce briefly and spent about a year as a contractor with Lockheed Martin and Electronic Data Systems (EDS).
GovWin: Of the people in the credits of the graphic novel, are any contractors, and what are the names of the companies?
Silver: None of the graphic artists who worked on the novella were contractors; however, we do have several contractors who work in our “Creative Service” office. Graphic artists we’ve worked with in the past include contractors from the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) and Lockheed Martin.
GovWin: Has the team been asked to contract its comic services out to other agencies?
Silver: After we launched “Zombie Pandemic,” we got calls from a lot of different groups excited about the project, including other federal agencies that want to explore partnerships doing similar projects (comic books). We think this is a huge compliment and speaks to the quality and innovative work. It’s definitely something we’d like to see the government doing more of.
Conner: No. Not yet. However, I feel that with the success of this project we will be working on a lot more projects like this. The idea of working on more projects like this zombie graphic novel is very exciting. Not to mention, it will save taxpayers lots of money keeping this kind of work in house here at the CDC.
It would make a less confusing movie than “Watchmen.” Art: CDC [PDF].
GovWin: Do you think “Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic” will follow “Sin City” and “300” to the box office?
Silver: We would love for our comic to be converted into a full-length feature film, although we aren’t holding our breath! We are working on animating the current book and making it available online. The plus side to that is people can watch it in the comfort of their own home with a bowl of popcorn that doesn’t cost 10 bucks.
Conner: Why, is Frank Miller interested in making it a movie? That would be pretty sweet (just joking). I’m not sure if it will be a blockbuster like “Sin City” or “300.” However, I could see it being a really cool animated short film. I think that “Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic” is gonna win a lot of design and social media awards this year. That’s my prediction.
Hobbs: LOL! Oh, that would be rich, wouldn’t it? But I doubt it. Our graphic novella was created to simply get a health message across. For it to become anything that’s box office material, it would need a more fully developed story, script and artwork. Then it would have to compete with the success of “The Walking Dead,” the upcoming zombie film starring Brad Pitt, and all the other zombie films that have been done.
GovWin: How do contractors contribute to the OPHPR?
Silver: The OPHPR works with several contractors, including Lockheed Martin, McKing, Deloitte and Booz Allen. James Manning, a Lockheed Martin contractor on our Web team, has been key to getting our zombie materials up and running on the Web. That’s just one example of what contractors do here at the OPHPR: They can work in any one of our four divisions in a variety of roles, including program analyst, logistics or IT professional, just to name a few.
GovWin: The original zombie blog post was obviously a major social media victory. What advice do you have for government contractors and agencies to make a similar splash?
Silver: The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to find something that’s relevant to both you and your audience. People aren’t going to share what they’re reading unless it’s interesting to them and their lives.
Luckily, people love zombies, so while they might not have forwarded an article on general emergency preparedness, they did forward an article about zombie preparedness to their friends. Find out what your customers are interested in and what will motivate them to share.
Hobbs: Bottom line: Think outside the box. That’s what Dr. Ali Khan [author of the original zombie blog post] did. All too often, government agencies approach things with a very narrow vision of what works and what doesn’t. If they want to reach a certain segment of the population, they need to present things in a way that the target audience will understand and pay attention to.
The normal preparedness messages would have been largely ignored by 75 percent of the population. But putting it out like this with zombies, the site received millions of hits. What does that tell you?
GovWin: You’re giving a presentation in Washington, D.C., on Halloween at the American Public Health Association (APHA) conference. Will that focus on social media or emergency preparedness in general?
Silver: I’ll be talking about the campaign, why it worked and how others can get out important health messages to the public using a sense of humor and some social media savvy. Since this conference isn’t specifically about emergency preparedness, the presentation will focus mostly on general health communication.
GovWin: What kind of contractor opportunities exist for emergency preparedness?
Silver: As I mentioned before, our office works with several contracting companies and we have contractors in nearly every role within our office. If you’re interested in working in emergency preparedness, I’d suggest contacting one of the companies we work with — there’s something for everyone!
The comic ends with a checklist that does not apply solely to zombie attack. Art: CDC [PDF].
GovWin: Has the CDC assigned you security contractors for the trip in case the zombies decide D.C. on Halloween is a good starting place for a zombie apocalypse?
Silver: (laughs) I am curious to see what Halloween is like — something tells me the walking dead are going to be out in full force. Luckily, I’ve got my zombie plan committed to memory and I’ll be packing some emergency supplies just in case I have to make a quick escape! Of course, it might not be a bad idea to get some zombie security guards. I’d like to hang on to my brain a little longer.
Hobbs: LOL! I haven’t been asked to go and if they did, I have my own protection against zombies! I’ve been a practicing witch for over 10 years now and we have specific spells for zombies.
GovWin: There have been many comparisons this year betweens feds and contractors. In case of zombie attack, which group has the tastier brains?
Silver: Whether it’s true or not, I’ll say contractors. It never hurts to start spreading the rumor now; maybe if it ever happens, zombies will think FTEs taste like brussels sprouts and they’ll leave us alone!
Conner: I don’t think it would matter. Zombies just want to eat you. They would go after both contractors and FTEs. I guess it would be a matter of who was the slowest runner. Or how much cardio do you average in a week. It’s like that saying for camping in Alaska where there are bear attacks, “You don’t have to be the fastest runner, you just have to be faster than the slowest person at the campsite.” That could get interesting with multiple zombies, of course.
However, I think if they were to invade Atlanta, everyone here at the CDC would be ready for them. Hopefully, the country is now better prepared for emergencies and they are also entertained at the same time. 🙂
Hobbs: Hmmm…good question. Personally, I prefer fed brains…with a nice Chianti.
If you are a D.C.-area contractor and want a further zombie fix (or want to learn more about social media and publicizing public health messages), check out Silver’s “Going Viral: CDC Zombie Apocalypse” [PDF] presentation at 10:00 a.m or 2:30 p.m. on October 31 at the APHA Annual Meeting.
Anthony Critelli follows the latest GovCon developments as news editor for GovWin, a Deltek network that helps government contractors win new business every day. He can be reached at [email protected].