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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Are You Ready For the Zombie Apocalypse?

Warning! I am obligated to mention that this article is solely for entertainment purposes. As far as I know there is no Zombie Apocalypse at this time. Were this indeed a Zombie Crisis, the usual sarcastic piece you are about to enjoy would be replaced with actual instructions for you to follow in order to survive. This is only a post…

With the legalities out of the way, I have to pass along my thoughts after reading Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide. Yes, the book was published in 2003, but I’ve read three books since college and that was 15 years ago. If you get a chance pick up this book. It’s an easy read. It got me to thinking, though, as we head further into the recession. “This book makes a lot of sense.” I mean you could totally substitute zombies for anything like pandemic, economic collapse, robots….kidding. While, it reads like a mock survival handbook it offers a lot of good tips for any survivalist. One great thing is that Brooks treats this as science and not science fiction. There is a truly logical explanation for the appearance of zombies and it’s neither supernatural or extraterrestrial. Like I said, the book got me to thinking about how we could end up in a parallel situation and I thought, “What a great television show this would make.”

Now, I’ve thought long and hard about a potential zombie movie as has probably any novice filmmaker in the Southwestern Pennsylvania area. We are home to the Evans City Cemetery and Monroeville Mall, which were locations for Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, respectively. Pretty much every zombie movie deals with an infection back story and subsequent breakdown in society. Survivors make costly mistakes that lead to further infection and reanimation and usually zombies are great for moral object lessons about society.

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Strange we can believe in.

My own movie would actually start after the outbreak and pickup with a survivor, kind of like I am Legend and would detail what happened but it would run two parallel stories about our protagonist and patient zero as their destinies intertwine leading to them both being cryogenically frozen and thawed out a thousand years into the future when society has rebounded and eradicated the threat. Of course, arrogance would rear its ugly head and instead of listening to the protagonist and destroying the zombiesicle, it reanimates and starts the infection all over again. Since this new society is devoid of any historical information about what had happened, they are FUBARed.

Zombies? Future societies? Give me a break, it’s science fiction.

Now, back to the idea about a television show. With the success of such shows like LOST and Heroes relying on a core cast of characters who are basically damaged goods and through flashbacks and metaphorical storytelling, we get a slow reveal, solving some central mystery that keeps the show moving for a few seasons. The same would go for a zombie series. You have a core group of survivors who come together to live in some microcosm of society whether it be a shopping mall, isolated island, or whatever, and through a series of character centric episodes you find out how they survived they outbreak and how they figure into the overall show. Were they fairly skilled with a weapon? Did they cower in a corner until it was safe to run? Did they sacrifice innocent people for their own safety? Are they the one who broke the world? When you’re dealing with heightened tensions and close quarters, trust is a hard thing to come by and sometimes the monsters may not always be reanimated corpses.

As the show progresses, attempts to find a cure present themselves and like shows about displaced characters ala Gilligan’s Island or Land of the Lost, rescue or escape is usually within fingers grasp only to be snatched away. Following believable scenarios survivors attempt to restore society, reclaim territory, defeat insurgency much like a real war, or at least like Red Dawn or Jericho. You’re talking about a very tech heavy society being reduced to coconut radios. I think it’s a fascinating character study. Civilian versus Military rule, run and hide versus stand and fight tactics, and can-you-shoot-a-loved-one-who-is-infected-but-not-turned questions of moral/religious/survival ethics play out over the course of the show.

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Shows like LOST, Heroes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and True Blood have proven that audiences are willing to watch shows with fantastical and even horror elements central to the plot. It’s the compelling storytelling and character development that drives the bus and people are willing to get on board if you treat them like intelligent human beings. Not everyone wants a reality show. Now, to truly do a show, about the living dead, justice, you would have to produce it on a pay cable channel like HBO or Showtime, complete with some gore and adult language. I mean who, in their right mind would say, “Oh darn, a zombie” if faced with a shambling corpse in their path? No. They would be, “What the F***?!?” at least three times before the notion to run would hit them. As much as I like FX network’s edgier shows like The Shield and Rescue Me, this kind of thing needs to be able to exist in a real sense. Don’t pander for ratings. Shows like True Blood and Deadwood have proven popular and profitable, even with a reduced audience. Besides, there doesn’t have to be a decomposing zombie or horribly gruesome death on screen every episode. The overall arc of the show is about survival in a changed society. Zombies are just the catalyst.

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Getting back to the idea of a collapse in society, here are a few things that are essential. Now, Max Brooks' outlines a lot of steps based on the severity of the emergency from a local to disturbance all the way to complete and utter apocalypse. As I read the book I saw parallels between his topic of choice and the possibilities for social breakdown in today's reality. Look, you're just going to have to go with me on this.

Don’t Panic!
Ok, panic…just a little. It’s inevitable. Let it in for five minutes and then focus. The best strategy is to ready yourself ahead of time, but if you can’t the second best strategy is to keep a cool head while others panic.

Be Prepared or At Least Be Smart.
No one is ready truly ready for this kind of thing. However, you know how some people tell you to be prepared for a recession or unemployment? It’s an always moving target but the last one I read said that you should have nine months worth of salary saved up in case of an emergency. Anyway, who really has nine months worth of salary saved up, not to mention, who thinks that money is going to matter if there is a true breakdown in society. We’re going to be reduced to a goods vs. services level of economic value. Can you grow food? Can you hunt? Can you build shelters? No one cares if you can run a bank. They’re more concerned if you can handle a hammer or a hoe.

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If you have the room in your dwelling for an emergency shelter, build one that can either be reorganized, moved, and fortified. But be careful to not make it a dead end. If your defenses don’t hold, you have nowhere to run. If you underestimate the length of your stay, you could run out of supplies. Now, as much as I like Twinkies and Doritos, those are not going to fly for long sustaining supplies.

Stock up on the essentials - Not everything can go with you, so be smart on what you take.

  • Dry Goods (Flour, Sugar, grains) If you have the essential components to make dishes, you can live awhile. Watch Survivor and see how they live.
  • Non perishable items - If you have to ask, check with local food banks that accept donations, copy them.
  • Water – Portable containers with plain old water. You can always run some from your tap if you don’t have the ability to buy bottled.
  • Mixes – While you probably won’t be making a cake. Simple bread mixes or drink mixes can give you a bit of luxury in your now meager surroundings. Just remember, expiration dates are a bad thing.
  • Utensils and plates – Keep a separate set of cooking and eating utensils in your shelter. Depending on the nature of the catastrophe, your usual silverware may no longer safe. While you can stock up on disposable flatware and containers, remember waste has to go somewhere. Styrofoam plates aren’t that washable and garbage pickup might be delayed a few….years.
  • Games and Magazines – There’s no reason why you should go stir crazy while waiting out the worst. Playing cards and board games may help to break up the monotony and keep your sanity in check. Reading material can also keep your mind sharp. Now may be a good time to take up Sudoku.
  • Toiletries – Does your shelter have adequate facilities or should you pack hip waiters? Remember, space is at a premium, so the less waste the better. Toiler paper is okay to have but be sensible when it comes to brand and ply. If you have plumbing in your shelter, that’s great, but remember that in a total collapse of society, simple utilities like running water and waste management may be limited.
  • Communication – Cell phones are nice but if the providers are gone or the cell towers aren’t working you are out of luck. Walkie Talkies are still useful in this situation. Also, make sure you’ve got plenty of batteries for radios, lanterns, and any other devices that may come in handy.
  • Power – If you were one of the suckers that bought a Y2K generator. Convinced that the year 2000 would usher in a new dark age, you may still get the last laugh. If you have a good supply of gasoline or can get to some, you can keep the lights on for awhile. Just remember, in the event of a zombie outbreak or any other collapse of society, you may not want to advertise that you have power. Conserve fuel and only use power for essentials.

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Boomstick
If a zombie outbreak were truly to occur you might find yourself the center of attention, depending on your surroundings. If you are the kind of person that can handle leadership and decision making, you might be perfect to rescuing and sheltering survivors. If you aren’t, then either follow or get out of the way. The same would go for any disastrous event. If you brag to the neighbor about having a bomb shelter and years of supplies, you may have a knock on your door when the sirens start wailing. Is that okay with you? Now, of course, you want to ensure the safety of friends and family. Perhaps you already have a Dick Van Dyke inspired escape plan in place if there is ever a fire in your home. Let’s think of this as an escape plan on a bigger scale. Does your family have property, like a camp that could be a meeting place in case of emergency? Does someone in your family have the means to shelter numerous extended family should a crisis arise? Is this public knowledge to Nebby Nancy next door?

As long as civil services like police, fire, and military forces are still operating you shouldn’t have to worry about an immediate plan of action. If a hurricane were predicted to hit, you may want to have somewhere to meet up at a safe distance away from danger and just ride out the event. However, if you find yourself in a national crisis, you may want to make sure steps are taken to ensure the safety of your loved ones. When panic hits the streets it’s easy to get caught up in other people’s problems. Are you able to separate yourself for the sake of survival or is every little lost dog your problem? Speaking of animals, what about your pets? I have pets and they are like family. I couldn’t leave them behind so I would have to take steps to transport and shelter them in the event of an emergency.

Now, let’s say the initial wave of terror has begun in earnest. If you’ve taken precautionary measures then you can ride out the first wave and reassess the situation at a later time. If you aren’t prepared and a crisis hits unexpectedly, you’ll need supplies. As I stated before, with civil services still operating it’s best not to become a nuisance. They’re going to have enough on their hands without having to deal with you looting the local Wal-Mart. If your plan is to take care of your own and not raise awareness, then keep yourself off the radar and just get what you need. If you go guns blazing into the store and start declaring manifest destiny you better be prepared to fight your way out. If it were a zombie outbreak, stealth is a big ally. You don’t want to draw attention to your location or lead a group of living dead back to your base of operations.

Same rules apply for other emergencies. There are certain types of people in this world when dealing with a crisis, those who are prepared and those who aren’t and will try and take by force what they want or need. While it is probably necessary to arm and defend yourself if the need should arise, be sure that you don’t put yourself into bad situations.

  • Weapons – Do you have the right kind? Can you use them properly? Will there be enough for your group and situation? Do you trust them?
    • Guns are nice but require ammo and proper usage. How many times have people died because of stupidity or carelessness?
    • Blades are easy to carry but require close quarters to be effective.
    • Long handled weapons or tools serve dual purposes but they require closer quarters combat and enough strength to be effective.
  • Safety – If firearms are your weapon of choice do you have what it keep yourself and others safe? You’ve got the guns but where is the ammo? Probably not a best practice to keep it all in one place. If you become cut off from your supply you’re screwed. Worse yet, if some kind of accident involving fire or an incendiary device should occur near your storage you could have a bigger problem than intruders.
  • Trust – If you have multiple people in your party, whether they be friend of family, can you trust them? Maybe you shouldn’t give the manic depressive a gun. You might find yourself together for a very long time. If society has gone bye-byes make sure your most level headed companions are in charge of the weapons.
  • Time To Go - Your fortification may become compromised. You may have outgrown your surroundings. Perhaps it’s time to poke your head out and see what’s going on in the world. If you must abandon your base, make sure you pack up all your essentials. As I stated before, your shelter should be ready to pack and go at a moment’s notice like military units. Some field survival manuals might give you some good tips on best practices. Just like normal everyday life, turn out all the lights and extinguish any fires. You might be able to return. And in case normal, everyday amenities aren't restored to working condition yet, a leftover supply of fuel or power could be useful.

Again, if this is not a national or global crisis and civil services are still operating, don’t assume you can just squat anywhere. The more fair players on the field the better the officiating. If you piss off enough people you may find yourself incarcerated. If things should escalate or progress to full Armageddon you’ll be behind bars with no one to come get you.

Now the odds that something disastrous would occur that would require you take extreme measures is highly unlikely. The odds that you could find yourself without power, water, or other utilities due to weather or human forces is more plausible. You don’t have to be Rambo or those guys North Dakota bomb shelters, but a bit of forethought or planning for an emergency can mean the difference between riding out a rough patch with enough clean food and water to last a few days, and using your phone book to heat a small room in your house while wearing all of your clothes at once.

However, if the zombies do come. I’m going to the mall and I’m taking The Zombie Survival Guide with me.


Anonymous said...

Mall always seems like a good idea but you have to think about certain things...malls are highly populated if a outbreak happens there and you run through the doors you are in trouble...if people are unwilling to share the Dick's store with you also a problem, everyone will have looted or chosen a place to hide or are already undead themselves so i suggest finding a medium sized house with stairs to its door, no windows in low easy to reach places, no window panes, and a exit to the roof with a nice landing so you can collect rain and have a escape route should the worst happen

Mongo said...

I agree. That was more a pop culture quip to close the post. No, I think a mall would be a good stop if you knew you could ultimately secure the building, but we all know how that turned out for the folks in Dawn of the Dead. IMO, if I was forced to live through something like this, I'd be at a loss, but it is something to definitely consider.
Thanks for the comment. Peace out.

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