The Chronicle: It would have been a normal morning just like any other ... if not for the breaking news coming out of Portland, Oregon. Frazzled reporters appear on camera to explain the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have declared a state of emergency in the largest metro nearest St. Helens.
According to officials, a viral outbreak that has become impossible to contain is reanimating the dead and turning them into hungry, flesh-eating zombies. A single bite transfers the infection and there is no known cure. Preliminary reports theorize the only way to stop these killing machines is by incapacitating the brains of the "walking dead."
How does your day begin?
Chief Brian Greenway: My day starts like every day. I always check the news media to see what's going on as soon as I wake up. First thing I grab, like most Americans, is you grab your phone because people are addicted to social media and I'm kind of like a news junkie. I'm wanting to know what happened while I was asleep. So at that point, more than likely I would get a notification through the media.
However, the systems we put in place, I would have gotten called by the on-duty officers as soon as they got notice of this zombie outbreak. The officers working that night would have been noticed and would've made the proper notifications to myself and the leadership team here in St Helens. So what we do, we immediately would assemble here at the SHPD and start working on a plan.
Fortunately, one of the advantages of living in Oregon is that there are a lot of residents, especially in St. Helens, that are self-sufficient - meaning that they're outdoors type people. They're very active, so they know the area very well. But we do have an elderly population that we have to worry about.
We have to get messages out to our community letting everybody know the zombie apocalypse is coming from Portland. Hopefully we've messaged out and they have their family plan intact - meaning that they have enough food, water on hand, flashlights, a medical kit, radios and batteries at their houses - and they've already talked with their family members about what their plan is going to be.
They need to have two meeting places: one being somewhere around their house in the immediate area. Let's say that mom's at work and she's sent home from work to get with her family. Are they meeting at the house? Are they meeting down the street? They also need a reunification plan - a place to meet outside of St. Helens in case they get separated.
Our first order of business is how to protect the city. Can we work with the fire department, the National Guard, the Oregon State Police in protecting St. Helens from the invasion of the zombies? And what can we use to thwart them off?
Chronicle: According to an interactive "zombie outbreak" map created by a Cornell researcher, we have an estimated 30 hours before the zombie apocalypse properly arrives on St. Helens' doorstep. Until then, people are beginning to panic. It's only a matter of time before there is looting at local stores and gas stations. How do you proceed?
Greenway: The first thing we have to do is send a message of calm. Calmness is contagious. That is a mantra I live by, "calmness is a contagious," because in the law enforcement world there are times when it's very hectic and unpredictable. If you remain calm, you have other people see you calm. In that moment of darkness across America at two in the morning when there's an issue, they're not picking up the phone and calling a local celebrity or athlete. They're calling 911 and the police are always coming. So if we are a beacon of light in this storm, meaning we're calm, it will be contagious amongst the residents. If we were running around like chickens with their head cut off, they're going to panic because everybody looks for the first responders for guidance and direction, and this is a time when we would give that.
The first thing we would probably have to do is we're going to have to work with the local Portland police and tell them, "We're full. You have to have another route coming north." Because immediately what's going to happen is we're to have a gas shortage. People are going to be filling up their cars. We're going to be out of water and canned goods because, even though we message out to have an emergency kit that can sustain you up the 30 days in your house, more than likely, people don't do it.
That's when we have to remind people not to panic. We're immediately going to work with Public Works to put signage up on the roads, directing people where to go. We can work with our fellow counterparts across the river in Washington to kind of push them north until we can get federal aid, the military to help step in and intervene and prevent. You know, what could we do to stop the zombies from coming here?
30 hours goes very fast, so we have to come up with a plan.
Chronicle: Where would you direct people to go?
Greenway: Well, before we determined that we'd have to determine, "what are we going to do?" So, my first inkling was to maybe get the Navy to come in on the coast and we can put all of our residents on ships and then get them out about a mile out in the ocean because zombies can't swim.
We could work with the local Navy cruise ships, but we don't want a congestion of cars. So what we do is, we probably work with the St. Helen's School District to get buses, and have those buses escorted in on a quick turnaround time. We'd shut every intersection down. What I mean by that, is that we would have green lights all the way. More likely, if we can get to Longview because it's closer, and then we'd have the ships come in and put all of our residents on the ships - get about a mile out to sea until we can figure out what's going on.
But the plan would have to be to meet with the fire department and local officials and we would get maps. Just like in any hurricane, we'd go house to house evacuating people. And if people wanted to stay, we'd let them know that, "You're on your own and you have to fend for yourself and best of luck." In that, I would tell them to make sure that you have food, if you have an animal, a dog or something that might be helpful to fend off zombies - who knows, maybe a dog will scare a zombie or they would at least alert you.
Maybe we'd have flyers printed out and we track how many people are going to stay with the understanding that, "Once you decide not to get on this bus, we're not coming back." We're not staying here because first responders, police, fire, medical, they have families, too.
Chronicle: Is it realistic to think that we would be able to evacuate the whole town inside of 30 hours?
Greenway: Absolutely. It is very realistic, because we could do a reverse 911 system, which is basically we'd use the telephone company to dial all the numbers they have in this general zip code and we'd give an automated message out. You know: it's the zombie apocalypse, we need all the residents to leave their houses now and meet at the St. Helens High School.
Now, we couldn't do it for all 13,000 residents, but we'd break it down in times - for this four hours we're going to do east of Columbia Highway, this four hours we're going to do west of Columbia Highway. And then messaging it out as best we can through social media, through television, even through loudspeakers.
This is where it comes into play with the neighborhood watches and getting to know your neighbors, because some neighbors might know, "Hey, this is Mrs. Johnson, she's elderly and she's not ambulatory so we have to get a wheelchair or something to get her." And then we'd have to come up with a plan for the pets because a lot of people aren't going to separate from their pets. We'd have to make sure that there was plenty of food and everything and make sure that the ships we're getting on understood that, "Hey, we're bringing pets on board as well. Do you have facilities for them?" There's a lot of moving parts to evacuating people.
Chronicle: As with most emergency situations, there will inevitably be something that goes awry. In this case, although the 30 hours was a close estimate, zombies have breached St. Helens before the evacuation can be complete. A few of the "walking dead" have arrived on Highway 30, and several are stumbling off of boats that tried to escape Portland by river. What do you do?
Greenway: We'd have to put our officers on the front line. With zombies, we'd have to use deadly force to prevent the further spread of that disease. We would actually have to draw a line in the sand and go, "They don't get past this point. To continue on for mankind, this is it." And then we just have to start killing zombies.
Whether it's through gunfire, baseballs, through dogs, through working with the National Guard, and not to be funny, but dropping stuff - aerial stuff, you know, boulders - we can use the fire department on hoses on their ladder trucks. I would venture to say that we would have a lot of support from the St. Helens community from a lot of proactive gun owners who would be more than willing to step up in a time of need and help out. So I don't even think that would be an issue.
There's a lot of law enforcement entities and a lot of first responders that can help. We've got the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, plus you have other people who are here on vacation. If it gets to the point that we'd have a checkpoint on Columbia Highway that if you're not a resident of St. Helens, you're not getting past - if it got to that point, we'd never want to turn away a human being.
But when it comes to protecting our town? Good luck, Portland. Keep it weird.