Is the Department of Defense Planning for a Zombie Attack?

No, not really.  But they are using the zombie scenario as highly effective training tool.

I reference, of course, the recent news releases (such as this one from concerning the United States Strategic Command document titled: CONPLAN-8888 – Counter-Zombie Dominance (April 30, 2011).  You’ll see in the Disclaimer section of the document, beginning on the second page, that this scenario was selected because of its improbability of occurring, unlike other scenarios which may be used as the basis for training and exercises, which could be mis-perceived by the public.

The training they refer to is the Joint Operations Planning Process (JOPP).  Typically the word ‘Joint’ in military doctrine refers to activities which include two or more branches of military service. Not only do the US Military Services use joint planning and conduct joint operations, but the Army and Air National Guards do as well.  For as much as it makes sense, the concept of ‘jointness’ has really only seen large-scale attention in the last decade or so.  Having worked extensively with the National Guard in recent years, the ‘jointness’ has become the foundation of nearly all activity.  This is a great accomplishment as there is considerable competition between the branches, sometimes to the level of disdain, and certainly a great many differences, even in terminology and rank structure.  Despite the decades-long existence of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, true joint integration at an operational level rarely occurred and was generally not executed well.

Joint operations are simply a military version of the Incident Command System (ICS), where different disciplines and agencies – some often very different from each other – can function together within one organizational structure for the purpose of addressing an incident.  If you are interested in additional information on Joint Planning and Operations, I suggest you visit the DoD’s Joint Electronic Library where you can find documents which I have referenced often when working with the National Guard on preparedness and response activities – including the Universal Joint Task List (UJTL) (similar to the old DHS Universal Task List, in concept) and the Joint Publications (such as Joint Publication 5-0, Joint Operation Planning – which is the foundation for JOPP).

As mentioned in earlier posts, I love the integration of zombies and other apocalyptic lore into preparedness activities.  While tongue in cheek, they help planners and responders do away with pre-conceived notions they may have with other, more realistic scenarios.  In emergency management, we know that every incident is different.  While we learn from our experiences and hopefully apply what we learned to the new challenges we face, we sometimes go into the next incident with a bias.  The introduction of totally fictional scenarios, such as a zombie attack, help make the situation faced completely new – while many of the specific problems faced are things we do have plans for, such as mass fatalities, hazmat, contagious diseases, etc.  It’s a great approach which I strongly advocate.  The only caution we may have is that the premise of the scenario itself may cause some to not take the activity seriously or may cause a distraction.

Have you used any non-traditional or totally fictional scenarios?  What were they?  How were they received?


Tim Riecker