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It won’t stay dead: HALO Corporation responds to 'zombie apocalypse' story

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins

On Wednesday, I posted a story about how the Department of Homeland Security declared that attending a $1,000 seminar that included two live simulations of a zombie attack was an allowable expense for first responder federal grant recipients. The story was based on a report from the office of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

The event — on Halloween, no less — was held by the Halo Corporation. Yesterday they emailed a statement to me claiming  that Coburn’s report was: “misleading and inaccurate, insinuating that grant funds were used to pay for zombie apocalypse training.” The main point of their response was that the event – a five day “summit” at a San Diego resort – was not solely about zombie killing and that those particular shoot’em ups were just a bonus attraction:

The Summit’s approval as a training event under the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) and the Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) in the state of California applied to its course curriculum only. Any eligibility for UASI or HSGP grant funding for state and local law enforcement and first responders to attend the Summit was applicable strictly to the approximately 30 courses that took place daily all five days of the Summit from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.  The zombie apocalypse demonstration, which was a one-hour long exercise produced by Summit sponsor Strategic Operations on October 31, and ALL other Summit activities did not apply to the UASI or HSGP programs. (All emphasis in original.)

Based on this argument, the press release quotes HALO President Brad Barker as saying: “Absolutely no taxpayer money, DHS or UASI funds were spent on the zombie apocalypse demonstration.”

This doesn’t strike me as particularly persuasive. Just because HALO claims that the $1,000 attendance fee was for those other courses and not the “zombie apocalypse demonstration” does not change the fact that DHS ok’ed underwriting the attendance fee for an event that featured what was essentially a cut scene from a George Romero horror movie. The fact that the HALO corporation claims the fees were for the other training offered is irrelevent. Money is fungible after all.

The press release also includes the following:

According to Strategic Operations’ Executive Vice President, Kit Lavell, “The zombie apocalypse demonstration was a very serious training exercise designed to simulate a chemical and biological mass casualty event. The zombie theme was simply meant to add some levity to a demonstration that showcased methods, techniques and technologies involved in triage, decontamination and other complex  medical procedures that first responders need to be prepared for when dealing with a mass casualty exercise.”

Umm, it simulates “a chemical and biological mass casualty event”? Really? How so? As several commenters to my original post pointed out, the simulation has the responders randomly shooting people (albeit made-up as zombies). How does conform any real life scenario? Surely they don’t expect the responders to have to shoot the survivors of a real-life mass casualty event.

One interesting side note to this: Among the “keynote speakers” at the event was Cindy McCain, wife of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. HALO Corporation spokeswoman Sandy Moul told me via email:

Our president Brad Barker arranged to have her as a keynote speaker because she is known for her advocacy work in the area of human trafficking. Human trafficking was one of the subjects covered during the Summit in our course curriculum, and her keynote speech was about human trafficking. We were very fortunate to have someone of her knowledge, experience and passion in the area of combating human trafficking speak at the Summit. She did not receive any compensation for participating in the event, and no, Senator McCain was not in attendance.

UPDATE: John Hart, spokesman for Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., emailed the following statement in reaction to the HALO Corporation’s claims that the senator’s report was “misleading and inaccurate”:

HALO is responding to a report that is different from what was written.  Our report faults DHS for deeming the summit an allowable expense for attendees.  If HALO doesn’t want their events criticized then don’t work with DHS, which operates on taxpayer funds.  Plus, holding events at what they called an “island paradise” is a red flag.  The bottom line is the zombie apocalypse show was in part made possible by summit attendees whose fees were deemed an allowable expense by DHS – fees which could, of course, be reimbursed by taxpayers.

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