California State University, Northridge (CSUN) is one of the nation’s largest single-campus universities, with over 42,000 student enrolled this academic year. The University is located in a dense, urban setting with a history of exposure to large earthquakes including the 1994 Northridge earthquake and the 1971 Sylmar earthquake. With a majority of the current student population born after 1994, the institutional memory of historic resilience to these earthquakes is beginning to fade. This local earthquake exposure, coupled with the increase in active shooter incidents at Universities nationwide, necessitates a heightened level of multi-hazard readiness for all sectors of the campus population. CSUN Emergency Management has traditionally targeted staff utilizing conventional “get a kit, make a plan, be informed,” preparedness presentations. While the key tenets of this mantra are proven, creative approaches are needed in order to repackage the message to reach the new generation of millennial students on campus.
In 2011, the Center for Disease Control launched a web campaign encouraging the public to "prepare for the zombie apocalypse," because if you're prepared for that you'll be prepared for other types of natural and man-made disasters. The campaign was extremely successful and the website received a record number of visits. CSUN's Emergency Manager Jenny Novak wanted to take the idea of zombie preparedness and implement it at the University, in order to pique the interest of students by utilizing this strong pop culture theme. Rather than simply aiming to provide education and enhance awareness, we wanted to actually assist students in creating their own starter disaster preparedness kit through the event.
Using a scavenger hunt concept, students would visit different check points on campus and receive one preparedness item for their disaster preparedness kit. Each station would be staffed by a different CSUN department or organization, who could use the opportunity to promote their own services and programs. If they visited all stations and completed the disaster kit, they would be entered in a drawing for zombie & Halloween themed grand prizes.
Collaboration - CSUN's Preparedness Coalition
After gaining somewhat skeptical approval from the Chief of Police, CSUN Emergency Management pitched the idea to the campus Cross Divisional Programming Committee, which includes marketing & program managers from across campus. Despite the fact that many of these marketing professionals had never been involved in emergency preparedness efforts previously as they were from departments such as Athletics and the Career Center without traditional disaster planning connections, several were interested in participating due to the fun theme of the event. The event was organized by this truly collaborative team over a 2 month period, and CSUN's Preparedness Coalition was born. The following were the primary partners on this event:
- CSUN Emergency Management
- CSUN's Dining Corporation
- CSUN's University Student Union
- CSUN's Residential Life Department
- CSUN's Matador Involvement Center
- Matador Athletics
- CSUN's Career Center
- CSUN's Student Health Center
Additional departments provided support for the event through social media advertising and donation of grand prize incentives for the winners:
- Valley Performing Arts Center
- CSUN Associated Students
It was absolutely integral to the success of the event to partner with these organizations as they were already well positioned to reach students and had established marketing channels and relationships with the student population. Soliciting buy-in from these departments was mainly focused on the advantages of participation:
1. An opportunity to have many students visiting their location on campus, where they can provide additional information about upcoming events / services offered and gain exposure to students.
2. An opportunity to provide students with branded items containing department logos, if there are leftover items they can be used in future departmental events.
The Resilience Factor
CSUN Emergency Management wanted to incorporate the promotion of resilience in the design of this event. In order to truly prepare a community to be able to adapt to and recover from adverse events, a holistic approach to community resilience planning is needed that goes far beyond acquiring supplies. The creation of the on-campus coalition allows CSUN to step beyond the classic preparedness principles into the emergent whole community framework of approaching emergency management. The coalition not only acts as a force multiplier in communicating messages, but also serves to strengthen the social fabric of the campus community through resource sharing and exposure, therefore enhancing overall resiliency.
Rather than utilizing the typical 'preparedness fair' format for this event, we chose to engage students by drawing them to locations on campus where they might not have ever gone on their own. Once at these locations, they were exposed to a new community resource. Departments that do not have an obvious connection to emergency preparedness, such as the Career Center and Matador Involvement Center, do have a strong connection to enhancing community engagement and capacity development within CSUN's student population. By making students aware of these additional resources on campus, we aimed to enhance resilience through the creation and growth of strong local social networks and an involved campus community.
The Planning Process
Our team met every other week for 2 months leading up to the event. Once partners were solidified, we had to determine which items departments would provide to go into the kits and where they would establish their check points on campus. The next step was designing artwork for advertising. A graphic design student in the Career Center took on this project, creating zombie artwork to entice the campus population.
Advertisement consisted of several methods, including the following:
- Lawn signs on campus
- Quarter sheet flyers handed out at other campus events in the 2 weeks before the scavenger hunt
- Social media advertisement from many partners on campus, a social media toolkit was created with suggested content, images, and timing of posts for different platforms
- Flyers on campus
- Collaboration with faculty to pass the information along to their classes
Make-up students were also recruited for extra credit opportunities to provide zombie make-up to some students & staff who were manning the checkpoints on the day of the event. This added to the fun and excitement of the event.
Grand prizes were also purchased and solicited by team partners in order to provide fun incentives for the students. Each grand prize pack was named after a different character from AMC's the Walking Dead and included the following prizes:
- Tickets to Magic Mountain's Fright Fest
- Walking Dead DVD Box Sets
- Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead DVDs
- Zombie pencils, pillowcases, playing cards, shirts, etc.
- Tickets to Dracula performance at VPAC
- Tickets to USU's Murder Mystery Dinner
- Campus Dining gift cards
- Zombie Survival Guide Books
A total of 368 students started the scavenger hunt by visiting the main check point on Matador Square between 10AM and 5PM. The event was strategically collocated with the campus farmer’s market that attracts large crowds to Matador Square, a main congregation point on campus. Decorated with zombie signage and paraphernalia, the main check point was staffed by student assistants made up as zombies, creating quite a spectacle. The zombie make-up was made possible through a collaboration with the campus Theater Department. Grand prize packages themed around characters on AMC’s The Walking Dead were prominently displayed in order to attract crowds to the check point. Participants were given three handouts at the main check point: 1) A scavenger hunt map, 2) A zombie check point punch card, and 3) A zombie preparedness bookmark.
Scavenger hunt maps depicted the locations of department check points and the item participants would receive at each check point. The maps included a short description of why the item would be an essential tool for surviving the zombie apocalypse.
Punch cards served as a mechanism for students to confirm that they visited each check point, allowing them to be entered in the grand prize drawing. The cards contained logos of each of the participating department check point, which were punched by check point staff. The completed cards also served as the participant’s ticket for the grand prize drawing and included contact information.
The distribution of zombie preparedness bookmarks ensured that each participant was given the key preparedness messages in a fun and engaging format, so that even if they did not finish the scavenger hunt, they were at least given the information. The front side of the bookmark plays on the zombie preparedness theme, while the backside contains CSUN Emergency Procedures for earthquakes, fires, and shelter in place guidelines.
Through the course of the journey, each participating student collected the following items donated by CSUN departments:
- Emergency Blanket, Department of Police Services
- Bandage dispenser, Student Health Center
- Hand sanitizer, Career Center
- Keychain flashlight, CSUN Dining
- Multi-purpose tool, CSUN Housing
- Rain poncho, Matador Athletics
- Preparedness information, Matador Involvement Center
- Drawstring bag, University Student Union
Student assistants made up as zombies were present at several of the checkpoints, which were decorated with zombie and Halloween themed signage. The Career Center also incorporated additional games and activities at their checkpoint, making it the most popular destination on the journey.
After visiting all stations, students returned to the main check point on Matador Square to turn in their punch cards for the grand prize drawings and show off their new preparedness kits. The journey was completed on foot, by bicycle, by skateboard, and by scooter with a total of 260 students finishing.
A total of 260 students completed the Scavenger Hunt and entered their punch cards in the grand prize drawing. Participant email addresses were utilized to send a participation survey the day after the event, with the completion incentive of a randomly awarded on campus gift card. The participant survey garnered 134 responses, generating a satisfactory response rate of 51.5%. A large majority (85.8%) of the survey participants were between the ages of 18-25, confirming the target audience as the millennial generation.
Of the survey participants, 70% reported that they did not have a disaster preparedness kit before participating, underscoring the achievement of increasing personal preparedness. When asked where they planned to store the disaster preparedness kit, the most popular response was “in my car” (32%) followed closely with “by my bed” (24.6%). Only 1 respondent indicated that he/she did not plan to keep the disaster preparedness kit.
Nearly 80% of participating students reported that they visited at least one location that they had never been to before on campus, highlighting the accomplishment of exposing students to new campus resources. The Department of Police Services (56%) and the Career Center (47%) were the two locations that had the most first time visitors during the Scavenger Hunt.
The event generated an overwhelmingly positive response from the student population, with 97.7% of surveyed participants reporting that they would recommend the event to a friend and 98.5% indicating that they would like to see the event held at least annually at CSUN. All participating departments have expressed an interest in coordinating future events and plan to hold the Zombie Apocalypse Preparedness Scavenger Hunt as an annual event. The following selected quotes were taken from the participant survey to document the positive student reaction to the event:
“Very creative idea, it is also fun and useful considering you never know what may happen!”
“It was fun and keeps the CSUN community active. There should be more events similar to this.”
“It was a wonderful experience and I’m glad to have a school that keeps their students educated, prepared, and entertained on serious matters.”
“The event was fun, creative, introduced me to CSUN facilities, and got people pumped about emergency preparedness.”
The Zombie Preparedness Scavenger Hunt has benefited not only students who directly participated, but also the greater campus community as the event was showcased on social and traditional media formats through many campus channels, including the Sundial student newspaper.
Involving CSUN students in this interactive and creative format has encouraged dialogue around the subject of multi-hazard preparedness in the campus community. While over 365 individual members of the campus community were directly engaged through this single day event, peripheral impacts reach far beyond campus boundaries. The survey results document that participants resided in 75 distinct zip codes. CSUN is not only an educational institution, but also a cultural hub in the San Fernando Valley of the Los Angeles region. While students are members of the CSUN campus community, they are concurrently members of other cities, neighborhoods, and counties in the Southern California, and will bring their most memorable and impactful lessons back to their present and future home communities.
Inspiring young adults to think about natural disasters, preparedness, and resiliency while in an academic environment will have lifelong individual benefits and secondary benefits for the greater Southern California area as our students grow to become productive members of the workforce and can continue to implement lessons learned while at CSUN.
Due to the success of CSUN's inaugural Zombie Preparedness Scavenger Hunt in 2015, other universities are interested in replicating the event on their own campuses. Currently CSU Bakersfield and San Diego State University have plans to debut this zombie preparedness event in October 2016. CSUN will hold the event again on October 25, 2016 with more zombies, more prizes, upgraded artwork, and videography.