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

The Monster Mash – What’s with the Zombie Thing in Emergency Management?

In May of 2011 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) unleashed its Zombie Preparedness campaign upon the world.  This campaign took off like a flesh-eating monster, encouraging preparedness throughout the nation and prompting similar campaigns in other countries.  My guess is that the CDC took a creative prompt from the current pop culture zombie craze (mostly fueled by AMC’s The Walking Dead series – yep, I’m a big fan – note: season 3 starts on October 14th) as well as from the common sense, yet tongue-in-cheek group known in Zombie Squad.  Zombie Squad, whose website says they have been around since 2003.  ZS (as they are known) “… is an elite zombie suppression task force ready to defend your neighborhood from the shambling hordes of the walking dead.” “When the zombie removal business is slow we focus our efforts towards educating ourselves and our community about the importance of disaster preparation.”

So how does this all make sense?  Actually, it fits very well.  Contrary to the other monster fad currently sweeping the globe – vampires – which seems to be intent on teenage-level love stories, this zombie business is serious, really.  The Walking Dead has spurred many conversations in on-line discussion boards and in my own home about people functioning and surviving when society has crumbled around them.  Zombieism is also a disease, so all the concepts that go with a major disease, such as transmission prevention, isolation and quarantine, treatment, vaccination, etc. all apply.

From a preparedness angle, the zombie concept works well. On the CDC website, their director, Dr. Ali Khan explains “If you are generally well equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack.”  They then further encourage people to get a kit, make a plan, and be prepared.  It’s great that we’re all using the same message!  The Zombie Squad website also encourages the same.

Now how about from the prospective of emergency response and emergency management folks?  Surely, we can’t be swayed by this pop culture silliness as well?  We sure can – and I think it’s great!  For many of the same reasons explained earlier, we can draw many similarities between a zombie attack and an actual incident.  Sure, we take some liberties and we have a little fun with it, but why can’t we?  A successful exercise is one that tests our objectives, is it not?  Drawing the scenario similar to a pandemic or hazardous materials type of incident, agencies are testing objectives related to mass casualties, mass fatality management, isolation and quarantine, public messaging, incident command, crowd control, looting, disease prevention, points of distribution, etc.  So many times I had heard from those who taught me ‘the art of exercises’, that the scenario really doesn’t matter, it’s all about the objectives.  Sure, in the past we’ve always given consideration to the scenario being realistic so that the participants buy into it, but I think many can totally get into the zombie thing.  This local exercise is using the zombie theme later this month (they are even giving prizes for things such as ‘best zombie walk’ to encourage volunteers to come for this, and yes, they are holding a ‘Thriller’ dance!), and you’ve probably seen articles on National Guard and Department of Defense units using a zombie attack as their scenario.

Bottom line, it’s fun, it’s effective, and it’s a graveyard smash!