By Josh Elmer
Kyle Ladd is a board member and website administrator for the Zombie Squad, a St. Louis-based “disaster survival task force,” which teaches its members survival skills to use in the event of a large-scale disaster such as a hurricane, tornado or… zombie attack. At first glance the Zombie Squad looks like a band of lunatic militia preparing for an unlikely zombie apocalypse. The premise: if people are prepared for a zombie attack, any other catastrophe seems insignificant. The organization fundraises, teaches about disaster readiness and makes charity work fun in the St. Louis area. Starting after a group trip to see the film 28 Days Later, the organization has grown to include three official chapters in the United States and Canada. Ladd spoke with Buzzsaw editor Josh Elmer about the organization, his goals for the Zombie Squad, and traded secret zombie defense knowledge.
Buzzsaw Haircut: When I heard about Zombie Squad I immediately understood the tongue-in-cheek humor. Do you think people respond to the humor?
Kyle Ladd: I guess people do respond to it. The charities also respond to it. There are some people who don’t really get it. They look at the face value and think that we are a bunch of crazies who really think that zombies exist. [But] most people do get the humor, what we’re doing, and the tongue-in-cheek aspect of Zombie Squad. Why we like it is if you can survive a zombie apocalypse, you can be prepared to survive about anything. It could just as easily be robot squad or tornado squad, but zombies are fun, I guess.
BH: How many people were initially involved in Zombie Squad?
KL: In the group that went to see the movie originally, there were six of us. Then [there were] anywhere from 10-15 people, hanging around just watching movies, and then more would come. Then we got too big for the living room so we rented a local community center. We figured we had all these people, we’ll just charge a small admission and donate it to a local charity, and that became a fun trend. We just got bigger from then. Now we rent out bars, or many of these bars will give us the space to show movies, hold events, zombie trivia nights, games and stuff. People come and pay admission, and we use admission to hold larger charity events and donate to local charities. We raised close to $3,000 for a local charity group called Youth in Need, and around the same amount for the American Red Cross right after Hurricane Katrina. Our chapter in New Jersey just gathered over a ton of canned food, and in St. Louis we hold blood drives. We always make them zombie-themed and fun, We have post-apocalyptic movies. We’ve grown quite a bit.
BH: What are the day jobs of the Zombie Squad members?
KL: It varies. I’m a software engineer, a Red Cross volunteer and a student. William manages a couple of tattoo shops, Jen is a photography student, Michele works at St. Louis public library and Gary works for Chrysler. We’re pretty diverse, we do have people involved in everything from store clerks to military officers.
BH: Explain the ZombieCon event.
KL: ZombiCon is a 5-day camping trip we do, and it occurs on a private property in Missouri. Zombie Squad members from all over North America get together, and we have events. The first day is set-up, and there is an entire day of seminars. People come with different skills – we have an orienteering seminar, hand radio seminar. The next day we go to a local shooting range. Camping seems to bring on people interested in hunting, so we have people who teach about firearm safety. At night we actually build a movie theatre in the woods. We show Zombie films. One day we go canoeing, and every night we watch zombie movies. It’s [for] a good reason; all of the Zombie Squad guys from all around North America get together and discuss what we’re going to do in the future with the organization, and that’s where we came up with the new chapters. People around the country want to continue what we started in St. Louis, and it’s becoming a phenomenon.
We hope to change the demographic of those who get involved with charity work. There are a lot of youth organizations that get younger kids involved. Then there are established organizations such as the American Red Cross who have an older demographic, but there aren’t a whole lot of charities that encourage people our age to get involved. But the event changes every year, and we’ve only done it for two years now. There’s plenty of information on the Web site, www.zombiehunters.org.
BH: Does the Zombie Squad get funding from any sources?
KL: No. In fact [that’s] one thing we pride ourselves on when we do a charity event. Because we’re all volunteers no one gets paid. A lot of charities, like the United Way, usually have administrative costs, where we cover all of our costs through selling T-shirts and through membership. Every charity event we do, all the money we make, goes to charity. Even during our online charity events such as the Hurricane Katrina event where we would give away dog tags for those who gave a certain amount of money, but we paid for the dog tags and we paid for the paypal fees, so every penny that went through went directly to the charities. People like what were doing and support us; we make enough to cover the web fees, and the trademark. We own the rights to the name, because once a lot of copycats started using our name. We were concerned because we didn’t want anyone using our name, and doing something stupid, and us being liable for it. We wanted to control the rights to all the work we put into this. We also have to pay for business licenses. When we originally started we were not a non-for-profit, because we didn’t really know where it was going to go. It is a pain to start a 51t3 [non-profit organization], but things have changed and we’re in the process
BH: How many charities do you work with?
KL: We’re always adding new ones. There is a list on the website, up to 10 now.
BH: Are there certain charities you prefer to work with?
KL: Preferably disaster themed. We prefer to go to local charities, because a lot of the bigger name charities, such as the Red Cross, get a lot of funding. We do support them - we still do a lot of blood drives - but we prefer to donate to smaller charities where our money will make the most impact. We do also try to avoid any charities with a political motivation. It’s hard to avoid anything with a political or religious motivation, but we try to find something that doesn’t. You may see some stuff about firearms on the forum, but we’re not a political group at all. I think one thing that gave us a big following is that we make a point not to have any political stance, so you’ll see a whole slew of people from all walks of life involved with us. They all come to the same place, because they have a love for zombie movies or disaster preparation.
BH: It says on the website there are three chapters.
KL: The three official chapters we have right now [are] St. Louis, the New Jersey area (it’s a broader area because there are a lot of people in that area) and Toronto. We also have chapters starting in Florida, Colorado, Kansas City, Arkansas, Texas, and there are more of them starting. They’re not official because they haven’t worked out the details, and they haven’t signed the charter agreement. We are very particular about new chapters. Right now the only people we’re talking to, we know well and know they have done local charity events. We have to be able to protect ourselves, if a chapter does something stupid, we don’t want it to hurt us or the other chapters. We’re being slow about the progress, it is a new thing, and we’re doing this outside our free time.
BH: With a name like Zombie Squad, you could run into trouble with people joining for the wrong reasons. How do you avoid this?
KL: We can’t really stop them. We do make it a point to make it very clear what our stance is, and we have had to kick people off the forum. We’ve been lucky enough to not have people who have actually joined doing or saying anything that would harm our reputation. I think usually people don’t get involved if they don’t agree with what we’re doing. Agree with our stance, being apolitical and/or the charities we worked with. We haven’t had many problems. Our forum is one of the bigger things, and it is on the Internet so we do have a lot of idiots, and the Internet is packed full of idiots.
BH: What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
KL: I would like to continue what I’m doing. I’m hoping it doesn’t loose momentum. What we do is a lot of work, and I think that at some point we may become burnt out. I hope someone can carry this on eventually. We’re going to want to retire, I guess. I want to continue the movement that the organization is doing right now - start new chapters that can continue doing what they’re doing across the country, North American and eventually outside North America.
A concern I have, and I think a lot of people have after events like Hurricane Katrina, is that people rely too much and have gotten soft in the modern world. We’ve accepted that the government is going to be there to help us. We’re obviously not against government aid, we actually do our part to volunteer and get involved. But we also are aware enough to know that it’s physically impossible for these emergency responders to get to us if there is actually a big disaster. In fact the Red Cross teaches that we’re on a meridian fault here in the Midwest and the more people that are prepared, the less chaotic it could be if something like what happened in New Orleans occurred. People will all have a week’s amount of food and water at home, an electric generator, etc. I want people to make people more aware to make people more self-sufficient, and I want to have fun doing it.
There is a lot of seriousness to Zombie Squad, but if it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing. We have parties, zombie movie nights, go to horror movie conventions. We hold zombie survival seminars, and it’s a lot of fun. As far as the future goes I hope that it keeps continuing to be fun, and hopefully I can meet more of the really cool people that we’ve met over the years in this organization.
Josh Elmer is a sophomore cinema and photography major who enjoys slaughtering hoards of the living dead. Email him at jelmer1[at]ithaca.edu.