As the most-watched television drama in cable history, AMC's The Walking Dead has fueled a nationwide fascination with zombies.
On the eve of the show's season four premiere, the Delaware County Emergency Management Agency is looking to benefit from that zombie craze.
For a second time in three years, the EMA is asking for people dressed as zombies to be part of a disaster training exercise from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Oct. 12, at Zoombezi Bay water park.
The training that the EMA is calling the "Zombie-zy Bay Exercise" will teach local first responders and Columbus Zoo and Aquarium staff how to deal with the repercussions of a tornado. During the exercise, zombie participants will play storm victims and rescuers will focus on the three T's of disaster response: triage, treatment and transport.
When participants arrive at the park, they'll receive a card that explains the extent of their injuries. Some won't survive the tornado because they won't heed the zoo's safety warnings, some will leave unscathed and others will need medical assistance for varying degrees of injury.
Since introducing a zombie theme to the annual training, volunteer participation has increased 30-fold. This year, the EMA is looking forward to 600 zombies taking over the water park, while in the past, the volunteer numbers typically topped out at just 20.
"It has always been a challenge to get enough volunteers to do a good test for the fire departments and haz-mat teams so the office kind of came up with the idea of the zombie theme to add a whole new element to it," said EMA interim director Sean Miller.
In 2011, more than 200 zombie volunteers took over Ohio Wesleyan's campus to demonstrate a hazardous materials spill, but when the office invited zombies to take part in a safety open house and a 5k run last year, participation dropped down to about 50.
The Oct. 12 event will combine the best of both previous zombie gatherings, the training and the safety open house, Miller said, so the office is hoping for its largest turnout ever. Prior to the training, participants can visit tents set up by local agencies that will be presenting information on safety preparedness.
With more volunteers come more opportunities for local first responders to be included in the training, Miller said. An increase in participation also means the EMA can train for massive disasters that could affect a large number of people at once.
"It's important to test an exercise and plan for mass-casualty events, especially in Delaware County, because it is growing so quickly and it has facilities like the zoo," Miller said.
"The zoo has been a great partner and put forth a lot of effort in this," Miller added. "It's not just going to be the EMS providers learning from the exercise, but zoo staff will also be able to take away some safety procedures and incorporate those into their internal plans."
Breaking out the Halloween costume early won't just benefit emergency responders and zoo staff, though.
At 9:30 a.m., before the exercise kicks off, plaques will be awarded in male, female, children and group categories for the best zombie costumes.
Registration is required and limited to the first 600 zombie impersonators. Anyone age 8 and older is welcome to participate. Each zombie will receive a T-shirt and two zoo passes.
To register for the Zombie-zy Bay Exercise, visit www.delcoema.org.