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How To Survive a Zombie Apocalypse - Part 1

Updated on January 21, 2014

Tips to survive an attack of the undead

This lens is inspired by many conversations with friends about the best way to survive in the event of large sections of the worlds population being turned into zombies, not to mention the films of George Romero, 28 days/weeks, and the hilarious Shaun Of The Dead. As large sections of the population get ever more addicted to Pop Idol, The X Factor, Big Brother etc the chances of being overrun by hordes of mindless drones is an ever increasing possibility. This guide will show you how to protect yourself.

Definition of a Zombie

Forewarned is Forearmed

Popular culture shows us many different faces of what a zombie attack might look like though there are many common traits that allow us to build up a basic zombie profile. First of all, zombies are not human, they are not even alive. A zombie is essentially a dead body that has retained its basic motor functions (movement) and a basic motivation to feed, how this happens is the result of an undefined virus or bloodborne disease which kills the victim yet retains the use of its host body in order to attack other people and spread itself to new hosts. Whether this is a result of the virus utilising a primitive part of the hosts brain associated with the instinct to feed, or the virus itself directly operating the body is a question for the evolution theorists to debate, however the film 28 Days Later suggests the former as the captured zombie soldier displays basic signs of recognition which suggests simple neurological processes still take place in the zombie brain.

Zombies main motivation is to feed, they will recognise the closest source of food (ie YOU) and move towards it until they are in grabbing/biting distance and start to feed. Zombies do not have any powers of logic or reasoning beyond approaching the nearest foodsource. If you were to climb a tree to escape a zombie and there was an axe on the ground, the zombie would not attempt to cut the tree down though it might try to climb up after you. Zombies also display basic social behaviour, when there is no food source available they will congregate in groups and moan. Although this moaning could not be considered communication it could be a signal to assemble. ie when there is no food source to follow the zombie will follow the sound of other zombies. Zombies will also never attack each other. This group behaviour is one of the biggest risks associated with zombies, while one zombie on its own is easy enough to fight or run away from, a large group of zombies, particularly in an urban environment, can easily surround and overwhelm you and survivors need to be very aware of this.

The lifespan of a zombie is also a hotly debated topic, although the consensus is environmental factors play a large part. A zombie living in the arctic may last many years as the cold slows the natural decay whereas in the tropics it may only last a few weeks before its tissues decay to nothing.

The last thing to discuss here is how zombies move. There are two trains of thought here, the classic Romero zombie, slow and lumbering, and the 28 Days Later zombie which is lightning fast and terrifying. I refuse to believe the 28 Days zombie is possible as once a person becomes a zombie, brain function (as already discussed) becomes very basic which will reduce the motor control efficiency of the brain, not to mention the onset of necrosis which wastes the muscle tissue. If the 28 days zombies are the reality then God help us all.

The 28 Films - a must see for all horror addicts

Survival Basics

What Not To Do

Most survival experts will tell you there are three things you need as a priority in a survival situation - food, water, and shelter. In the event of a zombie attack you will also need weapons and your shelter had better be zombie proof!

Romero's Dawn of the Dead depicts a group of survivors holding out in a large mall which on the surface seems like a sound suggestion, there are ample supplies of food, water, weapons (from sporting goods stores), secure shop units with steel shutters. This however is flawed as the water will only last as long as the municipal supply keeps working, steel shutters are only useful as long as there is a working power grid to supply the motors which operate them, sporting goods stores wil not stock the kind of firepower required to put down a large group of zombies safely, and while there may be plenty of food it is not an infinite supply.

Day of the Dead suggests hiding out in an underground military bunker as an alternate means of survival however this is still far from perfect. While there is access to better weapons and easily guarded entrances there is still a need to send out scavenging parties which is the weak link of this operation. There is also the risk of mental problems arising from the lack of sunlight as displayed by the doctor, not to mention the danger of becoming trapped and starving if the limited entrances become impassable.

Unfortunately the movies have only ever depicted survivors surviving a zombie attack and never how to fully defeat the zombies and rebuild society, so here's how you do it.

How to Fight a Zombie Hand to Hand

The golden rule is aim for the head, this is the zombie's most vulnerable spot. Necrosis has left its tissues weakened and a well aimed blow with a blade or bludgeoning object will either kill it, or put it down long enough for you to make a getaway. You should NEVER try and fight more than one zombie hand to hand at a time.

The First Few Hours

Zombie Avoidance and Evasion

The first few days after the population is decimated by the zombie plague are your most critical and if you successfully get through these your chances of survival are far greater as this is the time most people will be either infected or eaten. Society as we know it will break down, there will be no television, radio, internet or phones. You will be utterly alone and forced to think on your feet, don't bother trying to contact friends or relatives, you have to quickly develop a survivor mentality and that means looking after yourself and those immediately around you first and foremost.

The first moment you realise the zombies have taken over is most likely to be the first time you see them roaming the streets unchecked, how you use the next few hours is critical because by this stage the authorities have already lost control of the situation, you can also expect phone networks, tv channels, internet etc to start shutting down in the next few hours if they haven't already. Your first priority is to find a secure building to use as a temporary base of operation, if you are fortunate enough to be in a rural location you can think about using this as a more long term shelter, however if you are in a city you will need to get out as quickly as is practical. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly in densely populated areas you are far more likely to encounter large groups of zombies as the disease will have spread rapidly in urban areas, and secondly, although the communication networks have shut down you can be sure governments are still in session in underground bunkers and planning solutions to the crisis which will most likely involve deploying serious military hardware to city streets, possibly even chemical weapons. There is a good chance in the event of a serious outbreak that the soldiers will have orders to neutralise anything that moves and you don't want to get caught in the crossfire.

If you are lucky enough to be in or near your own home when the outbreak happens then this is probably your best choice for a base of operation. You are familiar with the building, its entrances and exits and should have a good idea how to make it secure. You should also know what is in the building that could be of use to you as you prepare to leave the city, this could save you precious hours. If you are away from home then you will need to scout for a secure base to use. This should be a building with at least two ground floor exits to provide you with an escape route should one exit get blocked or cut off by a group of zombies, ideally a bed or bedroll in case you need to spend the night and you should be looking for the kind of place that will already contain some or all of the tools and supplies you need such as supermarkets or workshops. The more supplies your base already has, the less you will have to scavenge for and thus the less time you will have to spend out in the open. Don't bother trying to outfit your new pad with creature comforts, you will want to be there for less than 48 hours and ideally less than 24. You don't want to focus on anything other than gathering your essential supplies at this stage, anything else is a distraction that will cost you hours.

Be Prepared

With the impending zombie apocalpse its probably a good idea to start stocking up on basic survival supplies. Here's some ideas to get you started.

Gathering Supplies

Beginners Guide to Scavenging

Once you have made your temporary base secure, it is time to start gathering the supplies you are going to need over the next few days. Some of these things you will find around your building or neighbouring buildings, others you may need to travel further afield. Before you leave your building for the first time you need to arm yourself. You have no idea what you are going to find once you leave the security of your base so you need to be prepared. If you can get your hands on a firearm then great - provided you have ammunition and know how to use it, alternately grab yourself a good sturdy kitchen knife, the bigger and heavier the blade the better. Even if you have a gun you should also carry a knife, a gun is next to useless if it jams and you should have a backup. Your strategy when out scavenging should be all about stealth, try and keep to wide open spaces and avoid narrow alleys, passageways or anywhere with the potential to be surrounded and trapped by zombies. You should also keep your scavenging to daylight hours only, there is no evidence to suggest zombies are less effective at night so you should take advantage of daylight hours to minimise the risk of zombies sneaking up on you in the dark, you will also be at a psychological disadvantage at night as it is easy to imagine seeing things in the shadows and panicking yourself. You should be trying to avoid conflict wherever possible, either with zombies or other scavengers, in the first few hours supplies should be easy to find so if you see a zombie, stealthily head in another direction. Similarly if you find yourself face to face with another scavenger and they start aggressively protecting their find then leave them to it, people will behave unpredictably under extreme stress and you could end up in a pointless fight that will only attract the attention of nearby zombies. If you do find yourself cornered and have to do battle, use your knife first and your gun as a last resort, any gunshots will attract the attention of nearby zombies and could make a bad situation a whole lot worse.

The last thing you should do before setting off is to plan your trip. If you have local knowledge of your area than this will be very helpful as you should know where to find things you need, otherwise use a phonebook to identify local businesses that will have what you are looking for. When you leave your base make sure you secure it properly, you don't want to come back after a long day to a house full of zombies. Also be aware of the time, wear a watch and always leave yourself ample time to get back to safety before dusk.

What to do if you get bitten

There is no known cure for a zombie bite, within a few hours your lifeless body will be roaming the world attacking other survivors. You must do the honourable thing and end it in such a way that your body has no chance of reanimating. I recommend using explosives to disperse yourself over a wide area. If you can't face that then lock yourself in a jail cell so you are easily dispatched by the first survivor to find you.

Shopping List

Things you will need to survive

First thing you will need is a vehicle as the chances are you will have to travel many miles to find safety and the only realistic option is to use motorised transport. Ideally this should be a 4X4 as it is likely roads will be blocked on your way and it may be necessary to go offroad to get yourself out of trouble. Large cities like London will have literally thousands of 4X4's to pick from but you should choose carefully as many modern 4X4's are for show only and are next to useless on soft ground. You want something with big, rugged, wide tyres, a difflock, and a low range selector. Landrovers (NOT Rangerovers), and Toyotas are a good choice, BMW X5's and Porsche Cayennes are a bad choice. If you can find one, the Mercedes Unimog (pictured) is literally unstoppable on just about any terrain but they are difficult to come by, and whatever you do, don't opt for anything with a soft top. While you are out in the open your vehicle also doubles as a lockable emergency shelter and a soft top will leave you exposed. In a city environment abandoned vehicles will be easy to find, however unless you are a seasoned car thief, starting them will be more of a challenge so you should always look for something that has keys. There are two other advantages to this, your vehicle will be easier to start when you need to make a quick getaway from a crowd of zombies, plus it is also less likely to be stolen by other survivors. The best places to look for a vehicle are businesses like builders who are likely to have vehicles on the premises and will generally store keys in a key locker in the office. You can also try car dealerships as the keys for their vehicles will be on the premises, but be aware that most dealers display vehicles with near empty fuel tanks so you will have to fill up before too long.

The next things you will need are a crowbar, screwdriver, and a set of boltcutters. You will need to find supplies regularly over the coming weeks and these tools will be essential to help you gain access to locked buildings, units, cupboards etc. A carjack is also a useful tool for opening locked steel shutters. To find these things think logically, look at the businesses in your area and think who is likely to use these sort of tools in their day to day work and look there first.

You will also need a length of rubber hose (garden hose is fine), a bucket, and a funnel. One of the main things you will regularly need to scavenge is fuel for your vehicle, and these simple items will allow you to siphon fuel out of parked/abandoned vehicles - far easier than trying to break into petrol station storage tanks. These items can usually be found around the home or failing that a hardware store, remember to keep them clean though as any contaminants in your vehicle fuel system could cause a breakdown at an awkward moment.

The next thing on your list should be food and water - as much as you can reasonably carry. As time goes on you will be surviving on a diet of mostly tinned food and bottled water as this has a very long shelf life, however in these first few days there will still be plenty of fresh fruit and veg for the taking in most shops and supermarkets so take advantage - it could be a long time before you get the chance to eat fresh again. Whatever you do take, make sure it is food you are happy to eat cold straight from the tin. Cooking at this stage is a no no because cooking fires could attract unwanted attention. Also it should go without saying, make sure you have a few tin openers - one to use and a couple of spare.

Next up you should pack some medical supplies - there are no more working doctors or hospitals so if you injure yourself you will need to treat yourself. Any high street pharmacy will have supplies you need, bandages, dressings, alcohol solution or antiseptic for cleaning wounds, painkillers, sleeping pills, stimulants, water purification tablets, and grab a good supply of any prescription medicines you use. You should also try and find vitamin tablets and dietary supplements, you will be on a restricted diet for some time and supplements will help keep you healthy.

If you can find one then grab a radio that can receive short wave signals. Although it is unlikely anyone will be broadcasting in these early stages, it is likely other survivors will have the same idea as you and this is your best chance to get in touch with other people. You will also need batteries or preferably an adaptor to work from your vehicles battery.

Last thing you should pack is plenty of blankets and warm clothing. There is a good chance you will have to spend nights sleeping in your vehicle without a heat source and it is vital you wrap up warm.

Weapon of Choice

What is the best weapon for fighting zombies?

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Hit The Road

Finding Pastures New

You've found a tough all terrain vehicle with a full tank, filled it with all the supplies you need, and managed to not get eaten by a zombie in the process. Its time to get out of the city while you still can. The first thing you will need to know is where you are headed and there are a number of factors to consider. You need somewhere sparsely populated but with enough nearby infrastructure to form the basis of a permanent settlement, a natural water supply, arable land you will eventually use for farming, and most importantly terrain that is easily defensible. I would suggest a location like the Brecon Beacons in mid Wales as this has all the features required, with plenty of remote farm building you can use as a permanent base with minimal risk of waking up surrounded by zombies. This area is also home to a lot of military bases (the SAS regularly train in this part of the world) so there is a good chance of getting your hands on some serious military hardware.

You should aim to set out at dawn as this will give you maximum daylight hours for your journey, under normal circumstances you would be able to make the trip in a few hours but in a zombie apocalypse you don't know what is out there so make sure you get a good nights sleep.

Drive carefully! The roads are likely to be full of abandoned vehicles and uncleared accidents so take extra time to pick your way around, an accident at this stage could render your vehicle useless and leave you dangerously exposed. If you have one, scan your short wave radio every hour or so to look for other survivors. If you hear anything they might be giving out useful information like routes which are blocked or areas with high concentrations of zombies. You will also know what frequency to broadcast on when you later get yourself a more powerful two way radio set but this is not a priority for now.

What you should also be doing is leaving signs for other survivors to follow to find you, a can of spraypaint can be used to leave short messages on the tarmac that should be easily visible. If you should happen upon signs left by people who have gone before you then its time to reassess the situation. Don't just follow them because there might be people there, if they have planned badly then they might all be dead (or worse zombies) by the time you get there and you may have gone far out of your way for nothing.

If the journey is taking a long time and night starts to fall then its time to stop and rest. Try and find a truckstop or services with a wide piece of tarmac or carpark you can park right in the middle of, lock all your doors and get some sleep. The temptation to continue will be strong but you are more likely to fall asleep at the wheel and crash at night, plus hazards on the road will be more difficult to see. If the worst happens and you wake up in the morning with zombies surrounding your car then don't panic. Start you engine, put your vehicle in low range, engage your difflock and slowly drive through them. Don't be tempted to floor it as your are likely to lose control and hit something, remember modern vehicle glass is tough, sometimes tough enough to stop a bullet so zombies won't be able to get to you. Calmly drive through them and before you know it you will be through the crowd and heading back to the open road.

Eventually you should reach your destination and be ready to set up your settlement and this is what we are going to look at in part 2.


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