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'Zombie Apocalypse' Drill Prepares Emergency Responders in Bangor
06/21/2012   Reported By: Jay Field

In the years before 9/11, real-time, disaster preparedness exercises weren't as big a priority for emergency responders around the country. The terrorist attacks, and the anthrax attacks that followed in the fall of 2001, changed all that. Regional, statewide and even nationwide drills now take place on a regular basis. In Bangor today, emergency responders from eight counties took part in an exercise called The Zombie Apocalypse.

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"OK, you're stage 2, aren't ya?" asked Don Wade.

He reached into a large make-up chest for some charcoal rouge and rubs it up and down the arm of the man sitting across from him in this hotel ballroom.

The man, an actor, is supposed to have contracted an unknown virus that originated in Jamaica.

Wade developed a talent for using make-up to create fake injuries, a craft called moulage, during a thirty year career in the U.S. Air Force.

"I do amputated hands," said Wade. "I do amputated feet. I do all that stuff."

The idea is to make a disaster drill like this one more realistic by making people look like they're actually sick, injured or dead.

Across the hallway, in another ballroom EMS workers, hospital staff and other emergency personnel from eight counties sit around circular tables.

Kathy Knight, with the Northeast Maine Regional Resource Center, runs the exercise.

"Is everybody vaccinated?" Knight asked.

One vaccine stops the mock virus in its tracks, before it goes into the brain, where it kills, turning the actors in the exercise into zombies. There's a second vaccine to bring these people back to life.

"The dead people on this side of the room are saying they've not received their vaccine," said Knight.

According to Knight, the teams work together to make key decisions like how to distribute vaccine to the general public, when to evacuate and quarantine people and how to handle large numbers of fatalities.

"The entire thing is very similar to any regular pandemic influenza planning," said Knight. "So we can use what we learn here in the planning for that type of event."

EMS officials who took part in the drill say it was valuable training, even though it's not likely that a pandemic, much less a "Zombie Apocalypse" is going to hit Maine anytime soon.

"A lot of the processes involved in it are the same thing for everyday events," said Michael Hinerman, Emergency Management Director in Washington County. "Anybody would plan for an evacuation in case of a woods fire. But if you have to plan for an evacuation because of a chemical spill, it's still an evacuation."

At the very least, emergency officials say it's important for responders to know each other and know how to work together and solve problems, prior to the pressurized environment of an actual crisis. They say it only increases the chance that things will go smoothly, if something really bad happens.


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