The Quebec government has stepped in to scrub plans for a zombie-themed emergency training exercise.
Participants at an annual symposium on civil security had been planning to use a hypothetical living-dead attack to test emergency preparedness.
Such a theme has been used elsewhere. The logic behind it is to use something that could never actually occur, as opposed to a flood or an ice storm, because that way emergency-preparedness officials might think of new problems and solutions.
News of the plan had elicited considerable guffaws this week, along with some complaints about wasteful government spending.
So now the provincial cabinet has stepped in. Public Security Minister Stephane Bergeron announced in a press release Thursday that he has ordered a change of plans.
The new scenario will simulate a flood.
"I thought ... the theme of the workshop had taken on a greater importance than its goal and that it was better to change it," Bergeron said in a statement.
He said he took the decision "so as not to undermine the real purpose of the activity, which is and remains a very important exercise for civil security."
Bergeron said he needed to act to preserve the credibility of the symposium and decided to avoid controversy by changing the theme of the exercise.
He noted the zombie workshop was just one of two dozen subjects on the schedule.
"It's not the zombie theme that's important here — it was circumstantial," Bergeron said in an interview.
The idea of a zombie apocalypse even made its way to the House of Commons on Wednesday, where the NDP asked the Conservatives about the country's level of zombie preparedness.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird assured that "Canada would never be a safe haven for zombies."
A civil servant with Quebec's civil security department had told The Canadian Press earlier this week that the zombie exercise, used in the United States and elsewhere in Canada in recent years, is designed to get officials to think outside the box.
A spokesman said that when officials discuss an issue they've already lived through, it's easy to get caught up in old habits.
Hypothetical zombie attacks are becoming a popular emergency preparedness teaching tool. Even the Centers for Disease Control in the United States has used the tactic.
Last September, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security held a similar exercise as part of a campaign to encourage better preparation for genuine disasters and emergencies.
In Canada, British Columbia conducted a similar exercise last May, offering tips on how to prepare for and fend off a fake zombie apocalypse.
The B.C. government said at the time that it hoped the exercise would generate awareness of social media tools that could help the public in real emergencies.
Quebec's three-day symposium, into its 13th year, brings together several hundred first responders, civil-security experts, fire-fighters and municipal officials.
Each day deals with three different phases: the emergency itself, the aftermath, and the recovery. The decisions taken one day will fold into the next.
But now, instead of zombies, officials will pretend to be dealing with large-scale flooding frequently created by the annual spring thaw.
In an interview, Bergeron said that when he first heard about the exercise, his reaction was one of incredulity and amusement.
"Once the disbelief passed, I asked a number of questions," Bergeron said, explaining the process that led to the programming change.
He said planning for the workshop started last June under the previous Charest Liberal government.
- with files from Alexandre Robillard in Quebec City
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