Mapping a Zombie Outbreak: It’s for Science!

Charlie Kaufman, a geographer for the U.S. Army Corps in Charleston, SC, gave a highly amusing and entertaining presentation about using the Geographic Information System (GIS) to map a zombie outbreak. Charlie used GIS—a tool to create, manage, analyze, and map all sorts of data—to show a zombie outbreak that began on the College of Charleston and spread outward until it wiped out the city within 72 hours. The presentation was given on Saturday in the Science Track at the Hilton hotel.

The real model that Charlie used in GIS to create his zombie outbreak map was originally designed for scientists needing to map animal migration patterns. When creating his model, Charlie assumed the zombies were the slow-moving, classical variety, could move 500–1,000 steps in chasing prey, would encounter at least 1–3 human prey per hour, that victims would succumb to

Photo by Jared Austin

bites quickly, and that the population would be unprepared to handle the sudden outbreak. From there, a series of slides showed a time lapse of the zombie outbreak, starting with one sick individual, rapidly spreading throughout the campus, before spilling out into the city of Charleston to overwhelm the local population. The natural water barriers around Charleston helped contain the zombie outbreak long enough for authorities to quarantine the city and end the threat. No global disaster on Charlie’s watch!

After the time lapse of the outbreak, Charlie provided zombie outbreak preparedness information, noting that to avoid being a victim in a zombie attack, “You need to practice good social distancing” from any zombies you encounter. Additionally, Charlie listed potential future studies that could be conducted on a zombie outbreak, to include incorporating his model into a mathematical epidemiological model, and also adding in “human hunters” to kill zombies and hopefully reduce the scale of the outbreak. He finished with a conclusion to “Use Your Head. Cut Theirs Off.”

From there, the audience asked a series of questions about the model to better understand the study and make suggestions on how further studies could refine our understanding of zombie outbreaks. For example, someone asked about incorporating law enforcement response to a zombie outbreak. While that would need to be part of further studies, Charlie noted he’d had discussions with an expert in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) responses to natural disasters. If FEMA was sent by the Government to handle a zombie outbreak, and the zombies still looked human, then they would retain their rights and privileges as a human. The zombies would have to be restrained and treated for their illness.

Charlie also asked what would happen if a zombie outbreak started in a rural area, and he concluded it would likely stop on its own because there are just too few victims for the outbreak to spread.

As an expert in emergency management, Charlie has conducted many other disaster models, to include a Godzilla attack on Charleston (akin to an earthquake), and a Sharknado attack, which is a hurricane storm surge, but with sharks in it! Charlie has also mapped a meteorite strike. In addition to mapping such events, Charlie must determine how likely an event is to occur, in addition to severity. For example, Charleston lives on a major fault line. If a major earthquake were to occur it would wipe out the city, but it has been a long time since a major one occurred. However, hurricanes affect the city all the time.

Charlie also provided advice on handling a zombie outbreak. “My goal is to take out two. That should be everyone’s goal, because if you take out at least two and then get turned, the net number [of zombies] is going down.”

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