BANGOR, Maine — What if a pandemic hit Maine? Who would respond? What would they do? Where would they get vital resources that likely would be in short supply? What if there wasn’t enough antidote to go around?
These are just some of the questions that about 100 emergency responders from eight Maine counties grappled with Thursday during “Zombie Apocalypse,” a daylong preparedness exercise conducted by the Northeastern Maine Regional Resource Center at Spectacular Event Center.
During the exercise, representatives from several hospitals and nursing homes, public safety and emergency management agencies, the Maine National Guard, amateur radio operators and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention gathered to think about how they would respond to a worldwide outbreak of an infectious disease — in this case a “zombie” pandemic that originated in Jamaica and spread throughout the globe by bites from zombies.
“This gives us the opportunity to do something a little bit different, but it still has the same principles that would apply in a real situation,” said Kathy Knight, director of the Northeastern Maine Regional Resource Center.
Participants who were “bit” by zombies had stickers affixed to their name tags.
“If they don’t receive the anti-zombie drug, they progress to stage two and then on to the ‘undead’ stage,” Knight said.
To give the exercise a realistic feel, Knight brought in Don Wade, a well-known moulage expert from Orrington, who applied makeup, wax and fake blood to create zombies of varying degrees of illness.
Wade said he has volunteered his service for a variety of mass casualty planning exercises over the years. He also has made up actors who appeared in public service videos about drunken driving and other dangers.
“Usually, it’s cuts, burns, amputation and heart attacks and that kind of thing. I have all the props for that. Today was the first time I ever had to do zombies. [Knight] asked me and I couldn’t refuse,” Wade said with a chuckle.
Another realistic touch was “press conference” footage from the cult classic zombie movie “Dawn of the Dead,” which exercise organizers downloaded from YouTube and projected on a large screen.
During the exercise, people responsible for the well-being of others in their communities also were thrown the occasional curveball, including stolen antidote, vigilantes and zombie infections among their own.
Knight said the idea was to get responders to “think outside the box. They need to figure out what they need, how they’re going to respond and how they are going to share their resources to respond to the disaster. They need to know who to go to outside their community to find the resources they don’t have, so it’s a different twist.”
“This exercise, yes it’s very entertaining, but it’s using the same tools and preparing for any kind of widespread illness,” added Allison Geaghan, an administrative assistant with the regional center.
The Zombie Apocalypse scenario was the idea of Jordan Buck of Brewer, a nurse who graduated from the University of Maine in May and now is employed at Eastern Maine Medical Center. Buck also is a science fiction buff.
“I did my community rotation with Kathy Knight and she asked me what I wanted to work on and I told her I like the whole zombie thing and then she decided to use it for this,” Jordan said.
In the exercise, Jordan portrays the first person in the region to be bit by a zombie.