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Examining our community’s zombie preparedness

Sun., Oct. 31, 2010

Since it’s Halloween, what better time than now?

An uprising of zombies is unlikely.

In fact, most rational observers of the line between reality and science fiction would say there isn’t the remotest possibility that we will wake up one day to discover the undead staggering around Manito Park and Costco looking to feed on living flesh.

But who would have predicted erectile dysfunction commercials or drivers texting while behind the wheel? So, seeing as how this is Halloween, let’s suppose.

What if Spokane was attacked by zombies? How well would our community be prepared?

“The first step would be to assess the cause,” said Susan Sjoberg, program manager for emergency preparedness at the Spokane Regional Health District.

Her team would attempt to determine if this apocalyptic development was the result of bioterrorism or some sort of pathogenic mutation.

Once public health officials had a handle on the nature of the disaster, a press release would be issued offering inoculation information and zombies-avoidance guidelines.

Staying out of convenience stores might be one of the tips, said Bill Edstrom, infectious disease epidemiologist at the health district. That’s where zombies in movies sometimes lurk.

But not being bitten would be the No. 1 survival tactic, said Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich. And remembering to wash your hands would also be important if you have come in contact with zombic ooze.

“As with any disaster, it is important to have a good 72-hour survival kit on hand,” said Knezovich. “We need to remind folks that regardless of being asked to shelter in place or evacuate due to a high number of zombies on our streets, it is important to have enough food, water and clothing for at least three days.”

He also stressed that garlic won’t ward them off. You might try salt, he suggested.

But could we count on law enforcement to suppress an uprising of reanimated corpses intent on turning Spokane into one big all-you-can-eat buffet?

Sgt. J.J. Gundermann of the Washington State Patrol would make no promises. He would only acknowledge that a localized zombie infestation would trigger the implementation of emergency response protocols.

There can be little doubt, however, that ravenous people-eaters stumbling around on sidewalks and in shopping malls would be bad for business. Just imagine.

“A zombie attack would be horrible for the restaurant and nightlife industry, driving away locals and tourists alike,” said Rich Hadley, president and CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated.

On the upside, an unprecedented cataclysm of this nature could be good for cemetery operators who might suddenly find themselves with an abundance of newly available “gently used” gravesites.

One other commercial sector might benefit: gun sales.

An uptick in firearms purchases would be almost certain, said Greg Gairson at the Sharp Shooting gun shop: “You definitely would want to be able to defend yourself.”

Perhaps a similar surge would occur at retailers offering swords, sledgehammers or miscellaneous blunt instruments.

Therapists might find all of their time booked as Spokane residents grappled with troubling memories of having shotgunned grandma after she got nipped by a brain-eater and then went over to the other side.

That could give a person bad dreams, even without considering the possibility that the Gonzaga basketball season could be canceled.

Assuming the zombiefest was not a national occurrence, the Lilac City’s image would unquestionably take a hit.

For one thing, having the living dead lurching about with malevolent intentions would make it harder to sell Spokane as a “walkable” city.

“Zombies would definitely keep people in cars, cabs and off the streets after dark,” said Cheryl Kilday, president and CEO of the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Of course, once word of the outbreak spread, many residents could be expected to avoid going out altogether. That’s even though one online site dedicated to preparing for this unlikely threat cautions that “ninety percent of zombie-related fatalities occur in the home.”

If the incident was not resolved in short order, Spokane might have to shift into a sort of siege mentality.

“In the days following the uprising, we would set up a safe room in each school,” said Pat Shelley, a counselor at University High School. “This is a room in the school where students can come and talk about their experiences, share their concerns and fears, talk with other students who also experienced the zombies, and just feel a part of the community.

“We would provide them with techniques and resources for dealing with such a traumatic experience as being chased by zombies.”

Other questions arise from contemplating the unthinkable.

Would zombies have rights?

“It’s uncharted legal territory,” said Doug Honig, communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.

He noted, however, that the U.S. Constitution is “a living document” and that the application of the Bill of Rights has evolved. For instance, said Honig, the framers’ vision of free speech was shaped long before the existence of radio, TV and the Internet.

Would social justice advocates urge us to refer to zombies as “persons of rigor” or “life-impaired individuals”?

Would zombies attempting to re-enter the work force be entitled to the minimum wage?

Could zombies vote, or do Bloomsday?

Would their presence at yard sales drive down prices?

Would medical insurers consider being one of the living dead a pre-existing condition?

Would Spokane TV news even bother to mention the onslaught of former grave-dwellers if snow was in the weather forecast?

STA bus driver Joe Elison said he would not object to having them as passengers, “If they behaved themselves.”

Presumably, that would include having the correct fare and not munching other passengers.

Fellow driver Guy Perham agreed that he wouldn’t ban them from his bus. “But it would be nice if they bathed,” he said.

In a broader sense, the presence of the snarling, moaning undead might challenge our sense of humanity and, in some cases, our faith.

The Rev. Jeffrey Neuberger, an Episcopalian priest, wouldn’t automatically rule out ministering to zombies.

“Our mission imperative is to ‘the least, the lost, the lonely,’ ” he said.

Still, tolerance might be hard to come by in a city ravaged by crazed cannibals. If, say, one of them has eaten your spouse or child, there is every possibility that you will take it personally.

One Gonzaga University law professor said his best advice in terms of dealing with zombies would be “aim for the head.”

In truth, there’s really no way to know how we would cope with this admittedly long-shot scenario.

With any luck, we’ll never find out.

For the record, though, not everyone thinks this is totally far-fetched.

Spokane’s Bob Beare has been driving taxicabs for 20 years. He has pretty much seen it all.

Asked to speculate about the hypothetical appearance of zombies in Spokane, he had a ready answer:

“They’re already here.”

He has seen a few in his rear-view mirror.

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