The US military's disaster preparedness efforts recently experienced a kind of zombie outbreak. During a hurricane response rehearsal this week at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, the US Army drafted World War Z author Max Brooks to share his thoughts on managing big unfolding crises. And according to an account published by the Army, his lessons apply whether soldiers are confronting a Category 5 hurricane or a civilization-threatening zombie apocalypse.

"We are teaching people what to do when the lights go out," Brooks said of his work, which also includes The Zombie Survival Guide. "If I can get people thinking, even just briefly, what it takes to keep the lights on and what it takes from the people who keep the lights on, then I will have done my job."

Speculative fiction is the new military intelligence

Wired notes that Brooks has a huge fan base in the military, thanks to his focus on the tactical challenges presented by the walking dead. (He also takes a dim view of Army leadership, to the apparent delight of the rank and file.) Like a good Boy Scout, Brooks' work focuses on getting potential disaster victims to prepare for trouble far in advance. As he puts it in The Zombie Survival Guide, "If you believe you can accomplish everything by 'cramming' at the eleventh hour, by all means, don't lift a finger now. But you may think twice about beginning to build your ark once it has already started raining." Not bad advice for participants in a military exercised designed to plan the response to simultaneous storms making landfall in Mississippi and Virginia.

Still, there is little in Brooks' background to suggest he would some day be advising the military in matters of civil defense. Prior to his emergence as a thought leader in zombie defense tactics, Brooks — the son of comedy legend Mel Brooks — was perhaps best known for his Emmy-winning work on Saturday Night Live. Inviting him to discuss the undead with military leaders feels akin to asking novelist Orson Scott Card to consult on alien-defense strategy.

Not the first time Brooks has talked zombie tactics with troops

But this wasn't even the first time military officials have asked Brooks to share his thoughts on preparedness — he has twice addressed the Naval War College on the same subject, he told the troops. And he praised the Centers for Disease Control for its mock-serious zombie-defense campaign, which he lauded as a clever way to encourage disaster preparedness.

For the first time, you have young people being interested in being prepared, being 'tricked into' taking care of themselves, really, because even if the zombie apocalypse does not happen, they will be ready for the next hurricane or next disaster," Brooks said. Zombies, it seems, can take a boring old subject like disaster preparedness and make it infectious.