As a zombie apocalypse enthusiast, I am often asked about survival plans.
Admittedly, I have not read The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks. I draw my zombie plan from a variety of media sources. Among the movies I reference: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, I Am Legend, The Road, Omega Man, 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Resident Evil, Zombieland. In books: “I Am Legend,” The Walking Dead, The Passage. In TV: “The Walking Dead” has been on lately, not to mention all the spoofs of zombie on Halloween specials. The recent “Community” Halloween episode comes to mind. Also, a variety of video game influences, Resident Evil, Dead Rising 2, and Left 4 Dead in particular.
I’m not sure what it is about zombies that is so compelling. Maybe it’s because I frequently have nightmares in which I’m the last man on Earth. It wasn’t until I played my first round of Left 4 Dead did I realize shooting these creatures in the head was awakening some deep-seeded desire to kill zombies. But the fascination is more than just inconsequential and indiscriminate violence. Zombies are fascinating from a philosophical perspective. They speak to the great existential fears of complete human extinction. Unlike vampires, werewolves, or benevolent aliens, zombies signal annihilation of society and death. And of course, as George Romero can show you, they are a frequent allegorical device for slavish adherence to just about anything.
The remainder of this post is basically my general survival strategy in case of zombie apocalypse. It is very rough and surely open to critique and refinement with some contributions from my friends. It is also in the context of a lengthy email thread.
First, you need to know what kind of zombies you’re facing. Rage zombies might have some modicum of intelligence and reasoning so you might not be able to keep them out be sheer force. Most of the defenses we’re envisioning are based on certain assumptions about zombies, mostly that they are a) slow-moving, b) dim-witted, c) killable, d) not airborne contagious, e) can’t swim. My idea of gathering supplies and going out to open water is under the assumption they can’t swim, fly, or operate watercraft. But with any type of epidemic response plan, you have to keep in mind that maybe the virus will get you before the zombies do. Going out into open water is partially as a self-quarantine to avoid infection. It won’t do you any good to lock yourself up with weapons and supplies if you just breathe in a virus and become a zombie anyway. But let’s just assume that you only become a zombie upon direct exposure or dying and reanimation. If these are the only methods, physical isolation may be sufficient.
Second, you should probably have several response plans. Most importantly, you need to have an emergency evacuation plan and a long-term plan. It might be prudent to escape from a heavily populated area. Given that we’re all in major cities right now, it’s probably best to get out of here as soon as there are signs of an outbreak. The sheer mass of people would make survival unlikely once the majority of the population turns. If you want to escape though, you need to do it before the military installs some sort of quarantine zone. Otherwise, you’re stuck…with zombies. So for an immediate plan, I’d suggest getting away from a densely populated area. For the long-term though, depends on your confidence in the government restoring order and containing the infection. In the modern world, you can see how difficult it is to contain an epidemic, but movies like Night of the Living Dead and Shaun of the Dead have shown some ability of the government to beat the zombies. Either way, I’d escape into the wilderness and try to wait it out indefinitely. First with supplies, but eventually developing some sort of self-sufficiency. Think fortified cabin in the woods.
The problem with my open water idea is that eventually I’d have to come back for supplies, but perhaps I could go across the ocean and find a deserted island somewhere. In The Passage, all communication has broken down in the country so no one knows if there is anyone else left. Think Kevin Costner in the Postman. Perhaps a few years in the wilderness and this drive to find other survivors will pull you back into a journey for civilization. We should also consider the possible responses by the government in case of outbreak. If the infection becomes severe enough, staying in an infected zone might put you within blast radius if the military tries to burn out the infection one city at a time. Wherever I hole up, I’d just make sure I had a radio or some other type of information source. The worst part may be not knowing.
Third, is a zombie world the kind of world you even want to live in? Most of these escape plans are awfully lonely be design. You don’t want to pull an I Am Legend, being the last man alive. So any escape/long-term plan I have will involve a companion. As of now, it’ll be my girlfriend because she is someone whom I can rely on. Emotional support is going to be tantamount in any kind of end-of-the-world scenario. Sometimes, it’s not worth the fight anymore. I have recurring zombie apocalypse dreams, and sometimes I just give up. You fight the good fight, but maybe it’s not worth it anymore. You don’t want to make the value judgment that being a human is somehow better than being a zombie.
The issue I see with a barricade idea is that two to three weeks may not be enough. An apartment building or house is hardly self-sustaining. Even if you could forage for supplies among the other units and potentially keep all zombies out of the building, it can’t last indefinitely. See Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. In a city like New York, I doubt three weeks will be enough time to contain a zombie outbreak. There are simply too many people here. An evacuation is probably safer for now. Though of course storing food and water for three weeks isn’t a bad idea for other disasters, namely real ones.
A rooftop standoff is certainly noble and quite thematic. But we have to think more survival and less action-movie climax. Let’s be realistic here. If there’s a zombie outbreak you want to trap yourself on a rooftop with no where to go but up? Sure there is one entrance, but what if there are hordes of zombies? What if there’s no helicopter to take you away? I think in an outbreak scenario, you can’t rely on someone to save you. A hospital isn’t a bad place to stop for supplies, but you might want to avoid hospitals in general when there’s an epidemic. You can’t tell how quickly the virus will spread. It could lay dormant. If it hit a city like NY, considering the density, it would spread fast (assuming the virility of fictional zombie viruses). Self-containment is probably the most realistic thing you’d do. If suddenly you heard on the news that there was a mysterious disease spreading throughout the city, you wouldn’t just abandon everything and escape the city. However, this is precisely the kind of early response you probably need to survive and escape, before the virus reaches critical mass. So forever be on the lookout for health advisories.
I mentioned before the issue of companionship. Ideally you’d want someone with a compatible skill set, perhaps a doctor or an engineer. Even someone handy with a shotgun would be an asset. However consider the possibility of power control in a small-group dynamic. In Night of the Living Dead, you have two alpha males disagreeing on the best barricade. This leads to people turning on themselves. As many post-apocalyptic movies show you, humankind, at the brink of annihilation, does some despicable things. Again, see The Road with looting, rape, cannibalism. So in any kind of survival companion, primarily you’d want trust. Someone you can work together with will be infinitely more useful than someone who has a great skill set. Of course, in most zombie situations, you’re stuck with whatever survivor group you’re in. Just beware of the internal threats as much as the external. I think survival is best with a small group, perhaps two or three people. Sure, you may be paranoid about your companions, but loneliness is a killer too. Besides, if you’re going to die, you don’t want to die alone. Also, in a group dynamic, if you’re not the boss, someone has to be the boss. Only a dictatorship will work. Don’t think dictatorship like Stalinist Russia. Think dictatorship like martial law and suspension of habeas corpus. Abraham Lincoln didn’t take shit from no body, and you don’t see any slaves today in the Union, do you? But yes, there can only be one dictator. As I said, the other members have to agree to cede their own authority for the sake of survival, trust in the leader’s decisions for the group.
For things you can do now to prepare for the end, I’d suggest increasing your survival skill set. Worst-case scenario handbooks are useful for picking up a skill or two. Having some sort of basic medical care, like EMT training would be a valuable asset. The other set of skills really is about wilderness survival. Make sure you know how to live on your own for a long time. In the long-term it might be good to pick up something about farming and construction. As far as skills in fighting the zombies, go out to the gun range and get some proficiency with firearms. But also think about unarmed self defense and physical conditioning. Be handy with a knife, axe, cricket bat, anything really. On the issue of transportation, depending on the amount of chaos caused by zombies, it wouldn’t be much of an issue to simply steal a car. Your morals might go out the window if it is a zombie apocalypse. I don’t think it’s necessary to “boost” a car involving any type of hotwiring know-how. Just find a set of keys and drive away. It’s actually not that hard to steal things when you’re not concerned about the consequences.