Moscow Fire Chief Ed Button said he has no intentions of changing the UFO-zombie theme for an upcoming mass casualty training exercise deemed offensive and confusing by some national conspiracy theorists and a Nevada gubernatorial candidate, adding the motif was meant to be fun and less controversial than a realistic crisis.
The Moscow Volunteer Fire Department and rural fire district have put on such exercises in the past with the idea being to train its volunteers on how to respond to an emergency involving many injuries and casualties, Button said, but given the national climate, he wanted to steer clear of former themes like a mass school shooting.
Enter zombies from space.
"We've got to have a reason for a bunch of people to be injured, and this was it," he said.
While the event is funded by the department and grants, notices were posted on two FEMA websites for interested parties, said Sandy Rollins, director for Latah County Emergency Disaster Services.
"I didn't think it was going to cause any problems," she told county commissioners Monday.
But Rollins was soon inundated with responses from people across the nation who either didn't find the idea of space zombies amusing or were upset about the levity of the scenario.
"I was actually threatened," she said, "I was threatened in one of (the letters)."
That letter came from Nevada gubernatorial hopeful David VanDerBeek, who railed against Rollins in a YouTube video and sent her an email demanding she clarify the context of the event and contact information for her supervisors. Commissioners on Monday told her to disregard the email.
"If I have to come beat someone up after school for ya, I'd be glad to," said Commission Chairman Dave McGraw.
Many angered by the event, set for April 27, believe it is being funded by FEMA, but Rollins said it isn't. The event has also been removed from the two FEMA sites. It will include rope rescue training, but emergency operations center drills have been removed, said Button.
"We'll do zombie UFOs," he said. "I don't see any reason to change that."
Button added that a state Homeland Security agent said an agency in California received a negative response to a similar event recently. Zombies have been trending in pop culture for a number of years, and the federal Centers for Disease Control has even used an undead apocalyptic scenario to promote disaster preparedness in the past.
Brandon Macz can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 238, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonMacz.