Assuming, for a moment, that this is not just an academic exercise and a zombie apocalypse suddenly took place, one’s survival would be determined by a number of things outside of your immediate control. The CDC used this as an opportunity to educate people about what to do during an emergency of epic proportions. But I suspect the horror of the event will prevent people from asking the questions that might save their lives…
1. How are other people responding to the emergency? If they lose their heads, you might be killed by rampaging humans instead of the undead/infected. First step. Get the hell away from other people who are panicking.
2. How the authorities, (assuming that there are any) respond(ed) to the emergency?A slow response, or an inability to effectively respond and quarantine people would also ultimately lack the controls necessary to keep the undead/infected from spreading. You might also find yourself killed by the very police forces you are hoping might protect you. Second step, if you can’t find people who are keeping their head, get away and find a way to keep yours.
3. How fast the condition spread and the vector for transmission? When it spread, whether it was night or day when the condition was declared out of control. Fast spreading means it potentially burns out of quickly (if its an infection) if you can stop or quarantine the infected. Slow transmission effectively means it would spread everywhere before activating and would likely cover the world meaning you have no real place you can hide. Focus your attention and see what each person who is afflicted seems to be exhibiting. Yes, you are trying to stay alive, but anything that can help you recognize the threat is worth noticing.
4. When you first became aware of the apocalypse? Were you caught off guard or were you aware something was happening, even if you did not know what it was?
5. Where you were when the apocalypse was declared out of control? Were you in your home or were you at work? The answer may make a vital difference in your approach to survival. If your home is properly prepared it is the place to be. If it isn’t, then you will have to make where ever you are as safe as can be.
6. How you responded to the apocalypse and the disaster in general? If you were unable to shed your human responses to the event, you will likely lack the necessary resolve to survive in the days to come. Fight now, weep later. If your family member is infected, keep them isolated. Yes, its cruel, and rough, but otherwise you might as well shoot yourself and be done with it. If survival is your goal, then do what it takes.
STOP AND THINK IF YOU WANT TO LIVE
Any event that completely destabilizes a civilization, especially something like a zombie apocalypse would ultimately require that you get as far away from civilization as possible. The primary reason is that such an event will likely initiate a fuel-air (or thermobaric weapon) response from the military to control and prevent the spread of the infection. If you want to see what the military’s response might look like, I recommend watching a movie called The Crazies. In this flick, the military in an effort to prevent the spread of a psychological pathogen designed to destabilize populations, ends up using a fuel-air weapon to destroy the town hoping to end the spread of the pathogen. (Unsuccessfully.)
If it spread very quickly, it would likely overwhelm any emergency services in a localized area but would likely be contained and/or containable. If it spread slowly but invisibly, it might spread across the entire world before being able to be isolated effectively, if at all.
If, for example, the dead were actually reanimated and could infect the living, it would be quite different than if the living were suddenly converted into zombies who were forced to live on the flesh of the living but would die, of starvation eventually.
If the dead were returning to life, the effect would eventually overwhelm the living as every dead person would become a zombie eventually. There would also be the added issue of an increasing number of zombies as the starving and dying filled their ranks. This would require the living to destroy every zombie they came in contact with and to destroy their own dead immediately.
Assuming that these dead bodies would continue to attack the living until their bodies were eventually overcome by physical forces, one could expect the zombies to be effectively animated for 3 to 12 weeks before physical decomposition and physical damage made it impossible for them to be mobile.
If it were a virus or other contagion spread by contact, it might be possible to contract the condition without even coming in contact directly with the infected, making it very difficult for anyone to avoid become “zombified” without their awareness. If it were a virus, though, it might be able to be recognized by the symptoms as the host sickened and eventually died.
NO GOOD NEWS SO FAR…
The first rule of the zombie apocalypse is observation without contact. So your first mission would be to get clear and find a way to block yourself away from the contagion. Then keep a low profile until you could determine:
1. How zombies hunt – do they have good hearing, do they have a good sense of smell, do they just wander until they bump into something that is NOT a zombie?
2. What is the ratio of zombies to humans – how fast is the contagion spread? Is it merely by contact, by bite, saliva, blood, or is it airborne? It would definitely be to your best interest to determine how zombification takes place. When in doubt, your best bet is to simply stay as far away from them as possible. Touch nothing you do not have to, and dispose of anything that gets zombie fluids (assuming they have any) or matter on them until it is determined how the condition is transferred.
1. Dress for the weather, be mindful of the season. If you can find it, get a backpack that is waterproof, relatively large so that you can keep spare clothing there. Don’t carry too much. In a world of zombies, there should be plenty of shopping to be had for quite some time.
2. Get some good fitting shoes, tennis shoes, Timberlands or other waterproof foot protection for your feet. An injury to your foot is the same as signing your death warrant.
3. Protect yourself with armored clothing if you can find it. Particularly if the condition can be spread by contact. You are not trying to contact it, but if it can be transmitted by a scratch, it would be a shame to get it because you were showing off some skin. Heavy denim would be best, light strong and durable, leather if the weather allows it, consider light hockey gear for location protection. Goggles, to protect one’s eyes, and a medical mask, if the disease is spread by viral or bacterial contagion.
4. Weaponry: no matter what you see in the movies, a zombie apocalypse would be a disaster unlike any seen in human history. Being armed would be a difficult proposition but not because guns would not be effective. They would likely be the most effective means of dealing with them, but guns make noise, likely attracting more zombies.
If you are going to choose to carry firearms, you should understand a particular issue that most people forget when they are watching movies. Ammunition is heavy. It is also cumbersome. If you are trying to stay mobile, you will only be able to carry a certain amount of it. Handguns are lighter, but have less stopping power, their corresponding ammo is also lighter. Handguns also require much greater aim and practice, so if you are not familiar with a handgun, it is as dangerous to you as it is to any enemy.
Other than that, the standard rules with handguns apply. Revolvers don’t jam, but carry less ammunition. Automatics carry more ammo, but have a chance of jamming. Knowing how to clear a jam is a skill. Learn when there aren’t hordes of hungry zombies attacking you. With that said, my highest recommendation would be a combat shotgun (see AA 12).
A combat shotgun is a shotgun that is intended for use in an offensive role, typically by a military force. The earliest shotguns specifically designed for combat were the trench guns or trench shotguns issued in World War I. While limited in range, the multiple projectiles typically used in a shotgun shell provide increased hit probability unmatched by other small arms.
The pros of the weapon are its devastating close range firepower. The cons are its very short range and need to reload regularly. Since we would likely not understand the causes of the Event, it would make sense to destroy as much of the target as possible. Smaller firearms might be useful but may only aggravate the zombie without stopping it. Work the head-shot for stopping power.
No matter what you see in the movies, confronting zombies with firearms would be my last choice.
Barring the shotgun, there are numerous devices being promoted in the world today for the zombie apocalypse. My favorite would be the aluminum baseball bat. Strong, durable, relatively lightweight, effective for damaging limbs or knocking off heads, does not require power, and is relatively quiet. Able to be found at any sporting goods store. Along with that would be the hunting crossbow or if you have the skill, the hunting composite bow. All three are easy to learn (but to be effective, will still require you to maintain your health, fitness and to practice when possible.)
A large knife, axe or machete would round out my personal weaponry profile. Blood would be undesirable, but having my limbs torn off would also be a bad thing as well. Each of them has a technique for use, and it is worth your while to figure out which attacks work best for each. If you find a knife, axe or machete that works well, it behooves you to find a means to keep it sharp. Take the time and find a whetstone.
IF THIS IS THE END OF THE WORLD, LOOK BOTH WAYS…
Terrain – it can work for you as well as against you. Put as much terrain between you and the zombie hordes as possible. Stay out of places with only one exit, unless you are confident that that place can be securely defended. That said, banks and office buildings while having little food would be excellent places to hole up temporarily.
Health – there are no doctors, so you cannot get sick. Get rested, stay rested, stay warm and dry. Change clothes when you can, be mindful of what you eat, bury your wastes far away from yourself and your camps. Raid a pharmacy if you can get, first aid supplies, simple antibiotics, and painkillers. You might want to read up on those in advance. Here is a quick list of the most well known. Print it while printers are still available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_antibiotics
Mental Wellness – your mind or the minds of others you ally yourselves with are vulnerable to shock and instability. Be mindful of strange behavior in yourself and others. Remain confident in your ability to survive. Be upbeat. If you can find musical technology that you can keep running (using batteries or rechargeable solar technology) use that to keep your mental health in order. Find a hand cranking radio to keep an ear out for official broadcasts. In the event of a zombie apocalypse the world as you know it has ended. It will behoove you to consider choices you may have never thought about before. Be assured others are thinking the same thing too.
The Living or Uninfected – The living or uninfected may be as dangerous as the zombies as their resources dwindle and their sanity likely unraveled. I would be as cautious of the living as I was of the dead (undead). Maybe I would be paranoid but I would definitely prefer to be alive. If you can’t be sure of their intentions, it is best to stay away from everyone unless all of your lives depend on your cooperation.
Food and Water – seems like such a simple thing, but the longer the event goes on, the more likely it is that food stores will continue to diminish. Easy to find food at supermarkets and stores are going to be the first hit and first empty. Remember, most major cities store only about 3-5 days of food on hand. Trucks bring resupply nearly every week. So after a week without support services, cities will begin to run dry at a steady pace, depending on how much of the populace is uninfected. Find dried meats and fruits, military rations, if you still live near a military facility, canned foods are undesirable as a whole, both in terms of flavor or quality but will keep you alive. Avoid dented cans and cans with rust at the seals, both are dangerous to your health. Avoid wild mushrooms unless you are an EXPERT. Water will be equally difficult to come by so you will need to get used to boiling, filtering and/or chemically treating water to prevent infection from e-coli, cryptosporidium, and other potentially dangerous water-born infections. Do your best to stay clean and dry, because dangerous staph infections would also be on the rise. Antibiotic-resistant staph would be even more dangerous without potential medical facilities. You can survive it, but only if you are very, very careful.
Survival Training: Now would be the time to consider a wildlife survival course because ultimately, you will have to move away from major metropolises if you want to have a chance of survival. The zombie affliction would affect cities first due to dense population.
This seemed to be such an innocuous question but the more I thought about it the more I realized that the world as we knew it was over and that normal thinking was so not going to cut the mustard. I know there are books about how to survive the zombie apocalypse but actual survival would be much harder than people know, no matter what they have seen in movies.
My final advice: Take nothing for granted. Assume threats are all around you, because in the Zombie Apocalypse, they are. Zombies, disease, food poisoning, starvation, dehydration, survival, environmental issues, distances, tight spaces, lack of birth control. (Yes, that is an issue, you just didn’t think about it…) Think fast, stay frosty, remain calm, be ruthless, run fast, and most importantly, for God’s sake, DON’T LOOK BACK, THEY MAY BE GAINING ON YOU.
This essay was originally written on Sodahead on July 17, 2010, when the Zombie Apocalypse was getting into full swing. I have rewritten for all of you zombie maniacs who believe a Zombie Apocalypse is a good thing. Perhaps, but I suspect it only makes for compelling television, the reality of it would really suck. Dodging man-eating zombies and fighting against the crazed and suicidal hordes of formerly civilized human beings mourning the end of life as they knew it does not fill me with renewed confidence.