Couch potatoes in Great Falls had a brush with the zombie apocalypse Monday night. Perhaps they were watching shouting matches between teen cheaters on CW’s “Steve Wilkos Show,” or contemplating dropping $19.95 on Marc Gill’s Perfect Pancake Pan during a KRTV News commercial break. Both were cut short with the ominous bleeps and shrill whine of the Emergency Alert System.

Viewers were warned that the dead in central Montana were “rising from their graves and attacking the living.” The alert reportedly convinced at least four people to call local authorities. It seems plausible they’d tuned into the midseason premiere of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” the night before, and were suffering the after effects of undead hype.

KRTV quickly apologized and explained the prank was perpetrated by hackers. The story went viral. Gawker picked it up. So did the New York Daily News, the Irish Independent and Frankfurter Rundschau. Even Politico, with its weak spot for Montana humor, ran the news. YouTube uploads have gotten tens of thousands of hits.

Our airwaves are no strangers to this brand of practical joke. Halloween 2013 will mark the 75th anniversary of Orson Welles’ famed “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast, which conned listeners with news reports of an invasion from Mars. We’ve since learned the Red Planet doesn’t pose as imminent a threat, so the joke’s evolved. We’re now susceptible to zombie fantasies.

The whole thing plays directly into the hands of one local business. Chris Lombardi, co-owner of Missoula blade manufacturer Zombie Tools, says it didn’t take long for people to accuse the company of instigating the Great Falls prank for business purposes. Not so much. He only heard about the hoax after several people posted stories on the company’s Facebook page. Zombie Tools experienced similar buzz last year after a man in Miami ate portions of a homeless man’s face. That turned out to be drug-related and not a case of anyone rising from the grave.

But if the undead ever do decide to visit us, Lombardi doubts Zombie Tools will be in a rush to fill orders. He’s got a different business plan for that scenario.

“We’ll keep them all for barter,” he says, “because they suddenly become much more valuable.”

Maybe he could trade a blade for one of Marc Gill’s Perfect Pancake Pans.

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