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Zombie apocalypse no match for ZASC team

Colton Fiene tries out a makeshift shelter erected by survival instructor John Watson using only a tarp, a pole and ground stakes. Watson was one-half of the team leading the Zombie Apocalypse Survival Camp held at the North Liberty Recreation Center Oct. 25. (photo by Lori Lindner)

NORTH LIBERTY– Are you ready for the attack of the killer zombies?
Even if you don’t believe in that possibility, there are other potential disasters– catastrophic floods, dangerous storms, or a power grid failure, for example– that could devastate neighborhoods, communities or entire regions in a matter of hours.
Whatever the cause, Guy Cain, John Watson and their team of survival specialists want you to be prepared for any eventuality. The two conducted a day-long survival skills workshop at the North Liberty Recreation Center on Saturday, Oct. 25, to an audience of about 20.
Cain, of Wyoming, Iowa, is founder of the Zombie Apocalypse Survival Camp (ZASC). Growing up in a family where hunting, fishing, camping and outdoor exploration was the norm, Cain began learning survival skills as a child. He never outgrew his love for the outdoors, and as an adult, has stayed connected with other avid campers and hunters. A few years ago, he asked a few friends if they were interested in a weekend camping experience as a chance to practice wilderness survival skills and learn from others.
“The next thing I knew, it had grown into this huge event,” Cain said. “There were so many people who were interested, it was crazy.” That particular campout never occurred, because the landowner slated to host it cancelled for personal reasons. But the community of survival campers continued to communicate, convene, hone their tools and share their knowledge base.
The chance for a more formal education opportunity came when Cain’s local library director asked him to present a workshop to children on camping survival skills.
“To make it interesting, we talked about zombies, but we did the same activities,” said Cain, whose team demonstrates various ways to start fires, build makeshift shelters, construct a small animal trap, forage for food and use basic survival tools. “Afterward, the librarian told me it was possibly one of the best programs they’d ever had.” The library director encouraged him to offer more programs, and Cain began giving presentations for the Linn County Conservation Department. Eventually, friends convinced Cain to charge for his classes.
Armed with a lifetime of survival skills practice and a troupe of friends with the same expertise– including Watson, of Anamosa– Cain launched ZASC about two years ago.
“It just has grown from there,” Cain said. The mainstream popularity of the AMC television show “The Walking Dead” has piqued the interest of the masses, and has brought diverse audiences to ZASC workshops throughout the state.
For participants Maddy Thompson and her brother Spencer, of Iowa City, the zombie apocalypse scenario wasn’t the biggest draw when they attended the North Liberty session in October.
“I read the book ‘Hatchet,’ about a boy who gets stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash, and I thought it would be good to have some survival skills,” said Spencer.
“I wanted to learn different ways to start fires,” said Maddy. The Thompson family camps together, and one never knows when it will be important to know how to endure in extreme outdoor conditions, she indicated.
That just about sums up ZASC’s main message.
“Scientists are always telling us we are overdue for the next big disaster, like a meteor (collision) or a solar flare,” said Cain. “Imagine a major disaster in your community. If everyone was prepared with tools and skills that could help people stay safe, think about how much faster the whole community would recover.”
That’s why ZASC instructors advocate packing a bug-out bag, or B.O.B., filled with essentials such as water purification methods, fire-starting tools, first-aid kits, non-perishable foods and other necessities. Each person’s B.O.B. will be different from the next, should be updated from season to season, and is designed to fit the aptitude and capabilities of its owner.
“You should have age-appropriate bug-out bags for each member of the family,” said Watson, who has created portable survival kits for different scenarios and keeps them in applicable locations. A kit in his basement, for example, provides ready essentials for dealing with power outages in storms or the destruction of tornadoes, the duffle he carries in his vehicle is kept handy for roadside breakdowns and weather-related emergencies, while the backpack he carries when camping– even in the winter, when temperatures dip below zero– contains different gear all together.
While being known as a “prepper” might have questionable connotations in some circles, people’s appetite for everything zombie has made prepping more commonplace. Cain said when he first began carrying his survival kit from vehicle to house or to relatives’ homes, people would ask about it.
“I used to say it was my bug-out bag, and that was an immediate conversation killer,” laughed Cain. “Nobody wants to have a conversation with that crazy guy.” However, when he started calling it his “zombie bag,” people would instead nod in grave understanding, like members of a club with an unspoken bond.
Watson’s interest in wilderness survival began at the age of 14, after learning his ancestral lineage contained Blackfoot Indian blood. He bought the book “Outdoor Survival Skills” by Larry Dean Olsen, and began systematically attempting every primitive trick in the book, which was inspired by Native American ways with the land.
“I would just go out and try every skill he taught,” said Watson. “Sometimes I would perfect a skill and then figure out different ways to (accomplish) the same thing.”
Active, hands-on field testing is a must, Watson noted.
“It doesn’t do any good to have fire-starting tools in your kit if you never go out and try them,” he said. “You have to actually practice, so when a real life situation comes up, you know what you’re doing. I call them ‘confidence’ kits, because just knowing you have the tools that can help you get to the next place can give you the confidence to keep going.”
From common emergency scenarios to complete societal collapse, Watson, Cain and the ZASC team intend to show others that being prepared could be the difference between life and death.
“We just want to help people, and give kids a chance to learn these things,” said Cain. He keeps all his sessions family-friendly, his Facebook and website posts vulgarity-free, and invites even the most tender-footed city folk to ask questions and gain experience. “We hope to give you an edge, a knowledge so that you can live through a difficult situation. Every little bit you learn will give you that extra edge.”
Watson, who posts tutorial videos on Facebook and YouTube demonstrating how to make and use different survival tools, concurred.
“If we teach a class of 20, and maybe 10 people learn something useful, and two of those teach it to someone else, and somewhere down the line, that one tip might just help someone stay alive,” he said.
The will to stay alive is the most essential skill of all, Cain added.
“Ninety-nine percent of survival is simply deciding you are not going to die, no matter what,” said Cain. “Prepping is just doing a lot of things that were done way back when, like during the Great Depression, when people had to make do. It’s good knowledge. I’m glad it’s starting to come back.”
Because you never know when the lack of such knowledge might come back to bite you.