Q&A with Eric Rutherford, Leader of Zombie Awareness International

This past week I had the opportunity to speak with Eric Rutherford: military Sergeant, photojournalist, and leader of Zombie Awareness International. He had some great responses to our Q&A interview, which will be the first in a new series hosted by Don’t Get Bit!, providing insights and quips from the people we look to first for guidance and advice in the zombie apocalypse.

~ Chef


Personal Information:

Name: Eric Rutherford
Age: 34
Location: Salem, Oregon
Marital/Family Status: Married, no children

On Zombie Awareness International and Your Team:

Q: What influenced you to choose the name “Zombie Awareness International”?

A: So, a friend and I were joking around that we should offer Zombie Apocalypse Insurance. You know like the people that offer lame insurance for things that will never happen, like rapture insurance and nuclear war insurance. ZAI was the acronym from that. I decided to keep the acronym, but decided that the best insurance is preparedness, and you achieve that by being aware. So, under the premise that we want to spread “awareness” of the impending Z-poc (our term for Zombie Apocalypse) I went with Zombie Awareness International, and ZAI was born.

Q: How long has ZAI been in operation?

A: ZAI was founded early 2011 officially with our launch of a FaceBook page, but really, the concept and idea has been in my head and way of life since probably 2005.

Q: What is your position within ZAI, and in your own personal survival team?

A: I am the owner of the page, and lead admin. I recently added two other admins. Tim and Rich. They do a good job of posting and monitoring when I am not around, which seems more and more often these days. I’m really glad to have them on board. Within my team, like everyone, I would like to say that I am the leader. I don’t know though. I am pretty sure when it happens, it will be me and my close friends and family just trying to stay alive. Most of us are either current or former military, so I am pretty sure the structure will work itself out. One way or another.

Q: What is the goal of ZAI?

A: The goal? Mostly to provide a tongue-in-cheek look at the concept of the Z-poc. As you know, the whole Zombie thing is a metaphor and all that junk, but really, for us, it is about preparedness.

Q: Do you have a set of rules or creed that your team and its followers must abide by?

A: I am not really a “mission statement” kind of guy. As far as the page goes, my rules are really, no politics, no religion, be respectful. Aside from that, pretty much anything goes. As far as the team goes, the goal is survival. I know a lot of people talk about hunkering down and all that jazz, but for me and most of my team, it is more about restoring a real life post-Zpoc. What good is hiding in a hole for 3 years if when you climb out, there is nothing left?

Q: If so, do you feel that these rules could/should apply to other survivor groups?

A: I think other groups can do what they want, and operate how best suits them. Eventually though, everyone that is left will have to come together to rebuild some form of society, whether that is a new government, or a bunch of third-world tribes, I guess that remains to be seen.

Q: If you could choose any three people, fictional or real, to be a part of your team, who would they be and why?

A: Honestly, My wife, my best friend Matt, and my brother Ted. My wife is an obvious one, but also because of her tactical and technical skills. She is pretty hard-core. My best friend Matt, because he is one of the most rock solid reliable people I have ever known. Former Marine, and a paramedic, he is totally locked on. My brother has a ton of knowledge on all sorts of things from carpentry to guns to gardening.
Q: How many individuals are there in your group that you consider core members of your survival team, and what are their rolls?

A: I would say that including the above mentioned three, probably another dozen or so. Roles range from domestic stuff like cooking and logistics to mechanic type stuff to straight up line shooters.

Q: Describe a typical “Day in the Life” scenario for your team during the zombie apocalypse.

A: Don’t get dead. Seriously though, everything from rotating roving guards, farming, cooking, scouting patrols, and reloading ammo, to finding other survivors to bring in. The last one there is a tough one though. How do you know that you aren’t picking up a madman who will compromise the group? I mean, obviously a strip search to ensure the person hasn’t been bitten or is turning, but once you are past that, it will be a tough call to just bring anyone in. But to rebuild society, everyone that is alive will need a chance.

Q: Do you or any other core members of ZAI participate in zombie-related events/activities? If so, what are they?

A: Nothing official. I went to a Zombie rally in Salem a while back. People dressed up like zombies and picketed for “zombie rights” on the capitol steps. I thought it was pretty irresponsible. Yes, I took a gun with me.

Q: Does your group follow a chain of command, or is it decision by majority?

A: There will be a chain of command I’m sure, but nothing set in stone.

Weapons and Tactics:

Q: Do you prefer more of a defensive or offensive strategy when it comes to combating the hordes of undead?

A: I think it is situation based. Dynamic vs. Static combat operations would largely depend on how big the group is, what the Z’s are up to, and what our current mission posture is. Early on, I think it would be mostly offensive, until we get set up and can take the fight to them.

Q: Which is better: to hunker down in an impenetrable fortress or stay light-footed and on-the-move?

A: Again, this is situational dependent. I think in the early days, it will be hunker down. Not because of Z’s, but I think there will be a ton of idiots with guns running around pretending to be Mad Max. They won’t last long. Either they will get killed off by their own groups, other survivors, or more than likely, get bitten. Once the initial outbreak calms down and the infrastructure is toast, I think it will be necessary to hit the road.

Q: When navigating the post-apocalyptic world in search of supplies and safety, what characteristics should survivor teams look for when choosing a temporary or permanent safe-house location?

A: It needs to be defensible. But it also needs to be a place you can get the hell out of in a hurry if need be. In Iraq, we would take over a house and sleep on the roof while providing overwatch for small kill teams and stuff. In the morning, we would move out and find another place. You stay in one place for too long and you are going to get compromised. I’d look for a concrete structure building with good visibility and more than one avenue of approach/retreat. That also means that you need more people to watch more doors, but having a position with a choke point works well in video games, it also means you only have one way out – through the Zombies.

Q: Are you a proponent of Bug Out Bags (B.O.B.s)? If so, what would you say are the top 10 items everyone should carry with them in their B.O.B.? If not, what is the main reason you disagree with this tactic?

A: I have been really annoyed with this whole recent popularity of the term “Bug-out-Bag” or any of the other things people call them. Get out of Dodge bags, SHTF Sacks and so on. It’s stupid. I think there are a lot of people out there just itching for a reason to “bug-out” okay, what then. You throw a pack on your back that has some water, bullets, licky chewies, and a pair of undies and head into the woods. Congratulations, you just killed yourself. First, there is navigating hordes of undead, government checkpoints, and raiders and just people who will kill you for your water. Then, there is living in the woods. I grew up in Oregon, where the “woods” are some really unforgiving places to be. Camping is fun for a night or two in the summer. Try it when you have no real shelter and it is snowing on you. How are you going to eat? I’m making an assumption here, but how many people really know how to catch/kill and skin/butcher animals? Not many. The movie Red Dawn is a great example. If the Patrick Swayze and pre-crazy Charlie Sheen characters hadn’t been there, those other kids would have been hosed once the baked beans ran out. So, I am rambling now, but I am an opponent to “bug-out-bags” what I am a huge proponent of though, is an Extended Fight Bag. The idea here is that you have some water, maps, protein bars of field stripped MREs and a ton of ammo and stuff. The concept isn’t to help you get out of dodge, the idea is to allow you to, if need be, fight your way back to your house/car/family/stash of Zpoc porn, whatever.

Q: What is your primary weapon of choice?

A: My wits, so I might be screwed. As far as a physical weapon? Any gun will do. I am a fan of the AR platform for several reasons. 1. I know it intimately. 2. It is light. 3. There will be plenty of ammo for it lying around. 4. It is versatile. They make uppers for the AR in just about every configuration you can think of. Aside from my stock M-4 Style AR, I also have a 10.5 inch pistol version. I know a few guys who have them in pistol calibers, and I have even seen a company that makes an attachable upper that fires .50BMG.

Q: Secondary?

A: Handgun. I like the 1911. However, I usually carry a Beretta M9. For the same first 4 reasons listed above. Realistically, I like the triple threat: An assault/battle rifle, combat pistol and shotgun. For shotgun, I like the good ole Remington 870, although, that new Kel-Tek KSG is really appealing. I also carry a Cold Steel two-handed machete. I named it “Black Betty”

Q: Molotov cocktails: a fiery “yes,” or an explosive “no”?

A: Absolutely not. Picture this, you are standing on the roof of your house and light up your last bottle of vodka and toss it onto several Z’s. Couple scenarios: It breaks on the ground and causes a fire in your yard and does no real damage – or—you break it on some Z’s and they are now walking around on fire and into your granny’s curtains. Now your house is on fire. Ever try to actually burn any kind of body? It takes serious heat and time.

Q: Are there any particular brands you trust and recommend for providing optimum survival gear and tools? If so, what are they, and what are your favorite products?

A: No, but I’m looking for sponsors. Kidding, but seriously, I have gear ranging from government issue type stuff to “geardo” gadgets. When it comes down to it, they are all tools. If you don’t have the right tool for the job, you are screwed. If you have the right tool and don’t know how to use it, you are screwed. Keep it simple. A couple guns you can wield blind if you had to, a high-quality pocket knife, some sort of machete, multi-tool and protective gear. For clothes, I like the “Carhart tactical” mentality. You start running around in a military combat uniform, you are just begging to get popped. A good pair of Carhart Dungarees, your favorite Iron Maiden T-shirt, and a leather jacket or something like that. Mobility = survivability. Get good gear, learn how to use it, and don’t get overloaded. I have seen guys who never left the base (fobbits) who had every gadget that the PX sold strapped onto their vest/body. Get outside the wire and look at what the shooters are using. It looks a lot like a guy with a gun, ammo, a knife and the willingness to kill.

Q: Do you consider search and rescue of family and friends possible/necessary once the apocalypse has begun, or do you believe it best to move on without them?

A: That is a tough one. It is easy to say, I’m alive, and that’s how they would want it. Well, they want to be alive too. But getting yourself killed trying to rescue them does no one any good. I think it is situational. If you have a cousin that you think you need to rescue, who lives in downtown Chicago, and you live in Denver, you might not want to make a cross-country trek. If they are in your immediate area, and you have the means, absolutely.

Q: If there were survivors trapped in a nearby building as you and your team were moving through the area, would you stop and try to save them, even if the odds were pitted against you?

A: This is a rough one. If you are moving through an area for your own survival, do you really want to get bogged down with a rescue? What if you need to be at a checkpoint before sundown and it is late in the day. Now you have left mission to go help people. What if one of them isn’t ambulatory and needs to be carried? If mission and personnel allow for it, then by all means. If it is going to get you and your team hemmed up, then you gotta move on.

Zombie Know-How:

Q: Braaaiiinnns… most important food group in the zombie diet, or a zombie munchies myth?

A: Myth. I know they would eat brains, but only because they are part of a human that they were eating.

Q: What is your favorite zombie flick?

A: Hands down, the original Dawn of the Dead.

Q: If you could have your very own zombie-related holiday, what would you call it? (You may choose to provide an explanation, or just leave it as is.)

A: After everything was done – Zindependence day.

Q: What will be the #1 most difficult resource to acquire during the zombie apocalypse?

A: Common sense. Clean water.

Q: What is your primary zombie plan?

A: That is OpSec. Can’t tell you.

Q: If there was one thing you could tell others to improve upon so that they are adequately prepared for the zombie apocalypse, what would it be? Do you consider yourself well-prepared for the apocalypse?

A: Commodities. Say you have made it to a time in Zpoc when villages and what not are emerging. How will you trade? Money will be worthless. Will a head of lettuce be worth five shotgun shells? Could you get someone to assassinate a warlord for a bottle of whiskey? People should be thinking long term survival – scratch that. Living. Surviving isn’t living. Know what you and your team need to go the distance and get it. Now. Not later. I equate preparedness to safe sex. Putting a condom on AFTER you have started isn’t as effective as putting it on before. Get your supplies and plans in order now. When the shooting starts, the last thing you need to figure out is that you forgot to get toilet paper. Do I consider myself well-prepared? No. Preparedness is a state of mind. Do I have enough rice and beans? Probably for a month for 4 people. Is that enough? Not if I plan to live longer than a month. But be careful, preparedness is a rabbit hole. Look at the news when a hurricane is heading inland, or when the crazy snowstorms are heading for the eastern seaboard. They always show B-Roll of Zombie Bait raiding the supermarket for jugs of milk and stuff. I look at those people as already dead.

Q: When the zombie virus begins to spread, what type of zombies do you expect: slow and dumb or fast and smart? Or, a combination of these?

A: I went to a lecture by Max Brooks, and I think he summed it up: “Fast zombies suck.” Truth is, no one really knows. Let’s just hope they aren’t fast.

Q: How long do you think it will take for zombies to decompose to the point that they are unable to move or function as required to attack and kill other creatures? Or WILL they decompose?

A: The second the body stops pumping blood, it starts to decay. Enzymes and parasites are no longer held back by blood cells. They will decompose. How fast? I guess that just depends on the climate. If you live in the everglades and it is summer, they would decompose faster than say, Michigan in the winter.

Q: What do you believe is the most common misconception about zombies?

A: That they aren’t real.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add for our readers?

A: Like our motto says: Semper Vigilans – Semper Paratus: Always Vigilant, Always Prepared. That is how I like to live my life. I hope I have made you think a bit about how you live yours.

– Eric Rutherford

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