Spring 2017

[Alumni News]

Jenny Novak:

Zombie Prep Earns White House Recognition

FEMA deputy administrator Tim Manning honors Jenny Novak for her novel emergency preparedness program.Submitted

A ZOMBIE INVASION and natural disaster, it turns out, have more in common than meets the eye. And one HSU alumna is using that connection to raise awareness of potential catastrophes in Southern California.

Jenny Novak (’07, Geography) is the Emergency Management Coordinator at California State University Northridge. Novak recently visited the White House to receive an award for community preparedness programs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Novak caught the attention of FEMA with a program she developed drawing on inspiration from the Centers for Disease Control’s zombie role-playing scenario.

In 2011, the CDC ran an experimental zombie attack response and captured the imagination of the media and public. According to the CDC, what started as a tongue-in-cheek campaign to engage the public with emergency preparedness proved to be a very effective format that could be repeated elsewhere.

Novak added a new twist to the CDC’s approach by introducing a scavenger hunt to the simulated preparation for a zombie invasion. The combination provided a unique and engaging way for the campus community to start thinking about disaster preparedness. “I loved the idea of taking something from pop culture and making it applicable to something that’s really important,” says Novak.

The scavenger hunt sent participants to eight locations around the CSUN campus, where students picked up items for their starter emergency kits; things like flashlights, emergency blankets, and multi-purpose tools. The hunt had the added benefit of boosting community ties by getting students to explore resources and meet people on campus.

Disaster experts know that communities recover from disasters when people share close ties and are involved and engaged with their communities before a disaster. “If people are more isolated and don’t have those relationships, they don’t know where to go for resources or even just emotional support after a disaster, and they’re not going to bounce back as quickly,” says Novak. She adds that more than three-quarters of the scavenger hunt participants visited a spot on campus they had never been before.

Story update In March, Novak accepted a new position with the California Office Emergency Service as an emergency services coordinator. Her new position begins April 10. In her new position as an Emergency Services Coordinator with CalOES, Novack will be coordinating with counties and cities in Southern California to provide state support in disaster planning and preparedness and serving as a state liaison in local Emergency Operations Centers when emergency incidents occur.