Tevi Troy writes for Politico that if you can get past the whole flesh-eating zombie thing, Brad Pitt’s latest movie actually offers some valuable real-life insights.

[T]he film is not so much about the zombies as it is about the ability of governments to prepare for and respond to a lethal, extremely contagious virus. In the movie, government comes up short, at least initially.

The first third of the film is about the failure of most countries to deal with an unknown and deadly virus. This is probably an accurate reflection of where we would stand in similar circumstances. As the film notes, “Airlines are the perfect delivery system,” allowing a virus to spread quickly around the world.

The film also shows how fast societal breakdown could take place. After Pitt fires a rifle in a looter-filled supermarket, a policeman appears, prompting viewers to wonder how the protagonist will demonstrate that he acted in self-defense. But the policeman ignores Pitt and joins the looters, highlighting a real challenge disaster planners face: First responders cannot always be counted on in a crisis. Most will bravely do their jobs, but planners must assume that some will not. Some estimates had one-third of the New Orleans police department deserting during Katrina, for instance.

When Pitt hears an emergency broadcast over the radio, it only says to stay indoors and try to maintain a supply of water. This information is wholly inadequate. In a crisis, government officials need to provide helpful and honest information to citizens without inducing panic. During the 2009 swine flu outbreak, Vice President Joe Biden said on “Today” that he “wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places,” a misguided comment that could have driven people away from air travel and public transportation had it not been walked back by the White House.

Governments’ responses to pandemic outbreaks can vary widely. During the 1919 Spanish flu, St. Louis wisely called for social distancing, warning against large-scale gatherings that could spread the virus. Philadelphia did not, and suffered a much higher death rate.