Zombie fears and fascination drew dozens of teens to the Turlock Library on Wednesday to learn how to be ready for a real disaster. The same presentation aimed to prepare youth in Ceres, Salida and, coming next week, Modesto.
Realistically, attendees were told, the catastrophes most likely to befall them would be caused by Mother Nature or the living, not the undead. But teens held on to hope, or horror, that the straight-legged ghouls might somehow make an appearance.
“There’s a lot of other uses for it (disaster preparedness) if something else happens before that, though, like earthquake or a blackout,” said Angel Reyes, 14, with a grin aimed at sister Katy, 11.
“I like zombies,” said Megan Betancourt, 14, admitting the late-night movies she loves sometimes give her nightmares. Does she expect to meet any? “I doubt it. But if they do come, then you’re ready,” she said.
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Being ready is exactly the point, said presenter David Becker.
“With emergencies, you won’t know what it’s going to be until it’s occurred,” he said. “Fortunately, for most disasters likely in the San Joaquin Valley, the preparation for one will work for another, and another, and another.”
Becker, chief safety officer for Stanislaus County, said he sleeps with his shoes and a flashlight at the ready and a fire extinguisher on the wall. He has a National Weather Service radio that sounds only with emergency notices, and he keeps a bag with food and water in his car.
“Setting myself up to last for a while is really not hard to do,” he said. “If zombies ever come and you have food and water and a place to hide, are you better off?”
Becker drew on the zombie theme, but most of his talk dealt with more common perils: crime, fire, earthquakes and broken elevators. “Be aware of what’s around you. Victims of crime didn’t see it coming,” he told the 40-plus teens crowded in the library for his talk. Know where you are, Becker advised. Tell others your plans.
For fires, plan ahead and know where all the exits are and where the family will meet after piling out different doors or windows, he said.
Elevators have emergency call buttons, and clearing the doors can sometimes be all that’s needed. But if they’re stuck, brakes will automatically engage, he said. “They really don’t fall. It looks good in Hollywood, but in real life, they don’t,” Becker said.
For all eventualities, stay calm and look at the options, Becker said. “Many times, there are small things you can do.” He pointed teens to emergency sections of the phone book, websites of the American Red Cross and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more information.
The presentation wound up with kids making their own mini-kits with donated water, almonds, glow sticks, a list of key phone numbers, hand sanitizer and face masks laid out by the emcee – children and teens librarian Olga Cardena.
Afterward, Becker said the zombie theme came from a CDC campaign. “It’s popular, but the real purpose of the program is disaster preparedness,” he said.
The CDC website offers a zombie apocalypse blog and novella, as well as survival tips. “As it turns out, what first began as a tongue-in-cheek campaign to engage new audiences with preparedness messages has proven to be a very effective platform,” notes the site.
It worked in Turlock, too, bringing kids who said they came for the zombies but that tips to ward off other dangers were welcome. “I like reading about them (zombies). I’m more worried about earthquakes, but it’s always good to be prepared,” said Alexandra Sanchez-Horning, 16.
Another teen said he learned a lot and planned to keep emergency provisions handy. “He said to keep stuff under your bed, like food or something,” said Ben Elder, 13.
Lisa Betancourt, who came with her daughters, zombie lover Megan and zombie worrier Morgan, 12, said the presentation gave her girls some basics. “It’s good information to have,” Betancourt said.