The CDC is hosting a nuclear preparedness seminar this month

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is staging a training session on January 16, titled “Public Health Response to a Nuclear Detonation” — and given the rising tensions between the United States and North Korea, the event seems eerily well-timed. The “grand rounds,” as they’re called, will focus on what federal, state, and local public health programs have done to prepare for a nuclear detonation. The event is aimed at health professionals, but members of the public will be able to watch via livestream.

The CDC’s website describes it like this:

While a nuclear detonation is unlikely, it would have devastating results and there would be limited time to take critical protection steps. Despite the fear surrounding such an event, planning and preparation can lessen deaths and illness. For instance, most people don’t realize that sheltering in place for at least 24 hours is crucial to saving lives and reducing exposure to radiation. While federal, state, and local agencies will lead the immediate response efforts, public health will play a key role in responding.

A spokesperson for the agency told Scientific American that the event has been underway for months, noting that CDC officials took part in a “radiation/nuclear incident exercise” led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) earlier this year. In New York City, the operation was coined “Gotham Shield.” And indeed, it is the CDC’s job to prepare for the worst, even if that means dressing the worst as a zombie apocalypse. Really.

In 2011, the CDC and FEMA rolled out a plan to help Americans prepare for a zombie apocalypse: They outlined recommendations for putting together supplies — including food, water, and medication — and emergency planning about what to do and where to go in the event that zombies happen. In 2012 FEMA hosted a zombie preparedness webinar, and the CDC still has an entire website dedicated to the matter.

While the zombie apocalypse guidelines might be silly, it’s actually a clever way to get Americans to pay attention to a topic that’s less fun: knowing what to do in a major disaster. CDC communications head Dave Daigle told the Atlantic in 2011 that the idea was born out of a search for new ways to get people to prep for hurricane season. “We have a great message here about preparedness, and I don’t have to tell you that preparedness and public health are not the sexiest topics,” he said. “I thought it would get more pickup if I used zombies.” Very true.

All that said: It’s important to prepare for the worst, especially if the worst comes to seem increasingly likely. That goes as much for the effects of climate change on extreme weather as it does for Trump’s nuclear rhetoric.

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018

On Saturday, Trump seemed to soften his stance at a briefing with press at Camp David, saying that he’s hopeful about re-opened talks between North Korea and South Korea. The president also said he’d be open to speaking with Kim Jong-Un, the North Korean leader himself. “I always believe in talking,” he said. Don’t start building a bomb shelter just yet.

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