"Culturally - - I want to take a moment to talk about the predictive nature of western culture. Given the unlikely and specific path this phenomenon has taken, I wonder if you could tell us something about the predictions made by popular culture prior to the outbreak."
"It does raise some questions. This event, this event that would and absolutely should be uncharted territory already has several cultural associations being dragged behind it. When the dead rise in Hollywood it's generally a sign that we are at a societal endpoint. What we saw on Tuesday on Wall Street I think shows that the public is still getting its information more from the silver screen than the people actually studying this outbreak. We're not unused to dealing with media rhetoric and spin doctors but how can any educational campaign come up against an already well established cultural institution?"
"There was of course the CDC's 2011 undead preparedness campaign."
"You have to understand where the public relations and information distribution arm of the CDC is coming from. You spoke earlier with media analyst Ellen Hume. I'd like to address some of her questions now indirectly. Yes, we do run a blog and we need to somehow compete with pop culture icons. Yes, we tacked our agenda onto a culture obsessed with a horror subgenre to save lives in the college campus demographic. No, we did not have any idea it was actually going to happen. Yes, the rules for undead preparedness have been amended since the first actual outbreak. Yes, all subsequent information regarding this phenomenon will be absolutely reliable."
"You can be sure of that?"
"Charlie, all information we have received points to something completely different from what we've seen in films and movies. Yes, they are essentially animate dead. Yes they do not stop until you disrupt the brain. But there's something I think film overlooks in this sort of thing and that's the human end of the equation. Federal authorities are working in conjunction with local precincts to develop a plan that will contain this problem safely, easily, and efficiently. We are working on prevention more than anything. This is the 72 hour period in the films that they're not going to show because it depends on a side of the equation that Hollywood has never understood well. This is the chance people like you and me have to stop and be level headed and solve this challenge before it begins to build."
"How are you doing that exactly?"
"We're treating this illness on two fronts. During the 1990's and then again in 2003 the FBI and then later the Department of Homeland Security extensively explored the possibility of sleeper agents within a society being activated and then performing acts of terrorism in very public areas. By expanding the scope of that core model, we have a considerable amount of information to work with. Congress is pushing legislation through at the moment to temporarily suspend the Health Information Privacy Act of 1996. Those likely to die within a six month period will be given several options, according to their needs and requirements. In some cases, a low impact quarantine will be offered in a reasonably comfortable and dignified setting. In addition, information about patients with terminal illnesses can be monitored in generalized ways to better appropriate resources regionally and inform local authorities."
"What does this mean for the average viewer?"
"It's very simple, Charlie - and no it's not what certain media outlets are reporting. There will be no death squads, no pre-emptive euthanasia, and no invasive security checkpoints. Nurses, medical professionals, and orderlies are being trained on how to sever the nerves connecting the head to the spinal column as an emergency medical procedure upon termination. Disposable bite hoods will be placed over the head between the point of death and the point of reanimation - never before. Observers at health care facilities will perform this duty in as dignified a manner as possible and from there very little will change."
"Will this be a method that all nurses will be able to utilize?"
"Yes, without exception. The preferred method will be via injection applied just above the cervical vertibrae in the neck. This minimizes the number of new skills required by healthcare workers. We have been experimenting with a variety of reactive chemicals, but at the moment we're using brightly labeled syringes of certain locally available acids. We haven't committed to a single method yet, but there are several considerations to take into account. First, the chemical must be corrosive enough to eat away at the nerves within the spinal column. By interrupting the flow of information from the brain to the body we ensure that only the head will reanimate. Second, it cannot be so effective as to provide a hazard to health care workers during subsequent transportation of the body. Third, if the acid produces gases that could pose a hazard to healthcare workers during the process we will require additional measures such as ventilation hoods and respiratory equipment. This is not preferable as it requires a level of training most healthcare providers will not have and will tie up military and firefighting resources in training them. It will also require additional infrastructure to move them which will raise the cost and provide more opportunities for supply line failure. Finally, all materials necessary must be derived - when possible - from local sources. Once again this is a logistics problem dealing with transportation infrastructure. We can't deal with this problem like a nation-wide Katrina. We must provide local authorities with the resources necessary to handle their own outbreaks safely."
"So you are not applying models from previous disasters to this one."
"No, I think we've learned enough from the past ten years to understand that something this large is just not going to work with a monolithic federal response. There will be federal oversight, but one of the things the president said early on was that this was one disaster that could not be bogged down in red tape. We will be providing assistance, but not taking control in this case."
"How big is this problem really?"
"It's big, but manageable at its current stage. It was only after a dispassionate examination of the numbers involved that we finally understood what our role would have to be. Annually there is a trickle of somewhere around 2,487,000 deaths give or take within the US. That averages rounded up to about 7,000 per day. From there it becomes an issue of numbers. New Jersey has the highest population density per square mile in the US. They will be seeing an average of one infection case per day per square mile. Rural districts could go days or even weeks without seeing one. Our response has been angled according to that formula with an additional discretionary reserve for events like natural disasters and industrial accidents. Of the areas in question we already know where these cases are most likely to occur. Highways and industrial areas will see a higher ratio of unexpected deaths while assisted living facilities, hospitals, and homes will have a higher ratio of expected deaths. Bite hoods and restraining equipment have been provided to both. Some highway ambulances are having police and national guardsmen along, but we want to keep our response primarily medical to free up resources for unexpected outbreaks and the sorts of things police were doing beforehand."
"What challenges are you seeing here compared to the sorts of things you've seen with... Cholera, Dengue Fever, AIDS, SARS?"
"It's comparable only in the most cosmetic ways. With Cholera we were seeing outbreaks in water supplies. It was also a bacteria, so oversight of food supplies and water made prevention possible. Eventually a reasonably effective vaccine was developed - which also helped. Dengue Fever was a bit different, because while it wasn't airborne the primary means of locomotion for the virus - mosquitoes - were. Still, the genus of mosquitoes capable of transmitting it were limited to tropical regions. The public relations crisis does have some similarity to SARS, but we will have to wait to see how it compares. There is one main difference. Every one of us is a potential 'sleeper' waiting to turn into a murderous member of the living dead. And there are already many cultural associations with what's happening."
"You're talking about the financial market, futures, etc."
"Do you think this will have a significant impact on GDP?"
"It's a good question, but not my area of expertise. From my angle I'm seeing the resource drain this phenomenon would have in the long term. If this keeps happening ten years from now or even indefinitely without a solution, the cost to the common tax payer will be substantial. Eventually, we will have to make a choice. Either find a way to shift these protocols from the domain of the CDC, health care, and law enforcement to private industry or accept a significant increase in tax burdens to an already heavily pressured middle class. We're not thinking about this now, but we're hoping we get to a point where we can spare time to address these issues. And we're hoping to do it soon. In less than a week we've pissed through 18% of our annual budget. That's where I'm coming from here. Of course long-term there's no telling how many lives we could have saved. With any luck we will never know. I can live with that. I think the markets will rally once we show that there has been a response - and I think the president will have to make several speeches between then and now."
"Let's talk about Mexico. Juarez."
"The situation in Juarez is a bit more complicated. The Mexican army has moved a large portion of its troops north to quell public unrest within the city limits, and to prevent further exacerbating what is already a tense situation. General Michael Hayden did a better job at explaining what our respective concerns are. We know precisely what's going on right now at the US Mexican Border and both sides are committing troops to ensure our worst fears don't manifest in this environment. I don't know who leaked and started circulating the reports that anti-air and anti-tank ordinance was included in the Mexican response task force, but I have been told this was likely just a screw up based on procedures that had been in place for decades. Nonetheless, it hasn't helped. I have personally been working with the Mexican Secretary of Health Jose Cordova and... He shared the same concerns that I do."
"What concerns are those?"
"If we do not contain the situation in Mexico it will become geographically more difficult for us the further north it spreads. We have natural barriers, such as the Rio Grande. If things do deteriorate near Juarez we may consider consolidating our containment along geographical borders such as rivers and mountains rather than national ones. Our hope is that the Rio Grande will provide a natural barrier if we see some rain, but at the moment its protective capabilities are greatly reduced due to the drought. However, this is no reason to panic. Even in a worst case scenario we wouldn't see a migration North for weeks."
"There are some other questions people have been asking, some of them understandably delicate given the situation. If the situation were to deteriorate in Mexico, I have heard a few analysts using the words 'preemptive strike' to describe one of our options."
"Two things. First, I'm not the person to talk to about that. Second, absolutely not. This is a rumor that came out of much the same place that the SAM garbage came from. It's state senators and congressional grandstanders trying to drum up support from their base. It's manipulation for political points, and it's absolutely preposterous. And it's only going to hurt us in the long run."
"If things got to that point, though. If they deteriorated in Mexico. We've been making some shipping errors too," Rose looked down at his notes, "Fifteen ships are being moved back to the US from a training exercise in the Pacific. Among them, twelve carriers. Twelve. Out of Twenty-two."
"International politics isn't my job."
"You can have opinions. What do you think is really going on in Mexico?"
During a live interview, the last thing you wanted was silence. And yet there it was. They sat for three minutes avoiding each other's gaze in a world gone mad. The director of the CDC had come to this interview with all the answers, and now he had none left. It was curious, the rhetoric they had been hearing in mixed company. Curious. Finally, after that long someone had to speak. It was David, confidence spilling out of his voice like an open wound.
"They'll handle it. We're still cooperating."