Updated: November 20, 2010
The idea is not new. There is already a fantastic book called The Zombie Survival Guide, by Max Brooks, which tells you everything you need to know about zombies. It even builds an elaborate story that completes the alternate reality. What I want to do today is to NOT repeat anything you've seen in the book.
Instead, I will give you a pocketbook of survival rules based on whatever the mass media has told you about zombies. We will take the Hollywood interpretation of the living dead and derive the best tactics for uncertain survival.
Problem 1: There won't be any time for extensive planning
If you've watched as little as one zombie movie, you will have realized that zombie attacks always come as a surprise. One day, it's quiet, the next day, it's total chaos. Zombie epidemics manifest in lightning-fast outbreaks that leave the populace and the authorities with their pants down. Humans have no time to study their foe and adapt.
Therefore, analyzing zombie anatomy, the cause of the disease, the best way to kill zombies, and the best way to avoid zombies cannot be done in advance. It can only be done after the fact. In our case, the only source of information we have is Hollywood and a few sci-fi slash horror books.
The existing data does not bode a bright future. We will be up against a mindless, cruel foe that disregards pain and logic. We will be up against an epidemics that spreads faster than a fart in an elevator. It will be a cruel fight for our survival, but if you manage to come by food and water and your own human friends do not barbecue you for dinner, you might, you just might live to see the bright dawn of future.
Know your enemy: Zombie characteristics, Hollywood-style
Zombies are either dead or living dead or alive yet infected with some weird virus. They exhibit human-like behavior. Zombies might mill around senselessly and utter cretinous noises, but they do use their senses to interact with the environment. Zombies can see, smell and hear humans. They also avoid fire, which means their thermoception is active, too.
Zombie like to move around a lot, although there is no general rule what they should do. Some are slow and morose and walk with their hands extended, others are fast, brutal and agile. Their condition does give them super-human strength. Finally, zombies like to devour human flesh.
|We have seen this guy before; he used to follow his wife around, on deadly shopping sprees, but then he turned into a living dead|
|This image is taken from Flickr and is distributed under CC BY-SA license; courtesy of ioerror|
Although biologically, the state of the living dead defies quite a few rules, we will take it for granted. For instance, if zombies need not breathe, how can they produce sound? If they are dead, then their flesh should stiffen and decay rather quickly. Likewise, if they are kind of dead, their senses should be dead, too. And why would they eat human flesh all of a sudden when there are perfectly healthy and delicious substitutes like pork or venison?
But no matter, this is our reality. Shaun of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later, I will show you what I think are the best ways of surviving the outbreak and being one of the pioneers of humanity who rebuild a ruined world afterwards. The emphasis is on being modular and not relying on any specific tools or tactics.
Protection against zombies
In movies, humans always make the tragic mistake of wearing their normal clothes, which tear up oh so easily, allowing zombies to feast on delicious sushi. Regardless of what happens, someone will be left behind or snatched by zombies, then eaten in slow motion while his/her comrades watch helplessly.
The idea is to avoid being eaten if caught. Since zombies are many and persistent, we must assume there will be physical contact between the human survivors and the hordes of the living dead. Therefore, we must make sure that we are inedible even if zombies butter us in olive oil and sage.
Humans should wear clothes that do not tear easily and won't permit biting or scratching.
Solution: Shark chainmail scuba diving suits - or medieval chainmail
This is the first layer. Although not an elegant solution, the tightly meshed suits are specially designed to prevent sharks to nibble on the divers. The metal links will not permit shark teeth to sink into the flesh beneath and will absorb much of the crushing force of the shark jaws.
The chainmail suit is a perfect solution. Let's face it, humans have a much weaker bite than sharks. A survivor wearing such a suit would be pestered by zombies, but his skin would remain intact. So we need a complete suit, tip to toe, including shoes, gloves and coif.
Next, we want to wrap the suit in a light, airy material that will muff the clinking noise of chainmail and prevent the tiny loops from snagging. An overall of silk seems a good option. It's a good heat insulator and does not tear easily. It would also prevents drops of blood and zombie saliva from coming into contact with the humans, stopping infections.
Lastly, we want a third layer, a synthetic diving suit, possibly woven from nylon, carbon fibers and Kevlar. This one would be used to stop any clawing or stabbing. Furthermore, it would be oiled and perfumed. We would use oil to make humans slippery, just like fish, so that grappling contests with zombies do not end up in a defeat. The perfume would be used to obscure the human scent, rendering one of zombies' senses useless.
Wearing this kind of outfit, a human would not be an easy prey for the zombies. They would have to work very hard to catch a man in the first place and then gnash their teeth against solid metal. Most likely, zombies would not be able to penetrate the multi-layered suit and would discard the prey as inedible.
Another problem in zombie movies is that ammunition eventually runs out. Humans are few, zombies are many, and there are only so many bullets you can carry. Classic zombies scenes include a wave of unrelenting corpses advancing against a lone survivor who fires his last few bullets and then is torn to pieces. In a few cases, the victim saves the last bullet for himself.
Solution: Use non-depletable weapons
Fighting zombies with guns sounds inadequate. Let me explain. If they are already kind of dead and feel no pain, tiny bullet holes won't make much difference. On the other hand, head shots, which seem to work for some reason, are very difficult to achieve. Most people are not that skilled with guns.
Firearms are also heavy, noisy, require maintenance and skill to operate, and need lots of ammo. For instance, soldiers typically carry 4-8 clips of ammo for their assault rifles, which translates into 200-250 rounds max. If you only carried ammo and nothing else, you might possibly manage to lug around 500-600 rounds, but this would seriously weigh and slow you down.
When it comes to shooting, assault rifles are good up to about 200 meters, pistols to about 25-30 meters. Headshots at these distances are virtually impossible, unless you are a marksman. This leaves you with an uneasy reality of fighting zombies at extremely close range. Even if you might manage one headshot for every five bullets fired, an unlikely situation considering you're frightened, weary and surrounded by mutilated walking corpses, you would be able to take down only about a hundred zombies. Discharging five hundred rounds against a hundred targets at close range - not likely. What you want is a good, sharp Samurai sword.
Katana swords are marvelous weapons. They are a wonder of metal craftsmanship. Japanese swords are so sharp that they can cut through bone with ease. In fact, Japanese feudal lords did not use hand shields like their European medieval counterparts did, because shields would not have been able to stop the sword blade. Furthermore, they need no sharpening.
If you use a Katana against zombies, your odds are much better than a gun of some sort. Katana is quiet, so you won't be disclosing your position when you use it. It needs no ammunition, so you can carry more food, water and medicines with you. And it will cause far more damage than bullets.
Your goal is to stop zombies. This can be done by crippling them or killing them. This means severing their limbs or destroying the head. Using a gun for either task is very difficult. On the other hand, with a sword, you can easily cut arms and legs off. You need not bother with head wounds, although decapitation sounds stylish. While the chances of dismemberment by a rifle bullet is extremely low, Katana is made for this kind of task. Chop, chop. Best of all, the weapon is light and sharp. You will need very little strength to use it and get a killing blow. And it will never run out.
Katana is ideal for close-quarter combat against unfeeling enemies. You will be able to cut their arms and legs off with ease. You won't need to bother with killing them, unlike the guns, which specifically require that you destroy the zombies. The slashing tactics will keep you alive. You will use the sword to extricate yourself and quickly disengage. The guns will pin you down into suicidal, mincemeat deadlocks. When you can't win, run! Save your bacon.
You may want a handgun or two, just in case. In the chaos of a zombie epidemics, law and order will disintegrate. You might be forced to kill other humans to protect yourself, in which case you will want a firearm. Having a rifle for hunting might also be a good idea.
|You will probably die horribly waving an eco-friendly fluorescent light at flesh-devouring zombies, but you will go down with the knowledge that Star Wars light saber hocus pocus probably does not apply when it comes to the living dead|
Zombies are afraid of fire, so you will definitely want some fireworks with you. Incendiary grenades, smoke grenades and thermites all sound like a great idea. They will produce lots of bang and fizzle, allowing you to escape. You may even want to carry around a few light sticks and magnesium rods, which can simulate a burning source and scare the zombies away.
All of these weapons should be used for defensive purposes, allowing the precious extra few seconds to run away to your next shelter. You can't kill them all; you can't stop them all; it's not your mission. You want to survive. Sometimes, retreat is your best choice.
In movies, cars are always used to run over zombies, get trapped and get eaten, Mad Max style decorations notwithstanding. Riot shields, roobars, floodlights, boudicca spikes, all of which make for handsome camera time, they are completely unnecessary in a transportation vehicle that is supposed to take you to safety. Armored personnel carriers seem ideal, but few people will have them ready when cacky hits the fan. So we needed something else, something cool, strong, durable, and efficient.
Yes, as simple as that. You want a truck. It does not have to be a road monster. Any which truck should so. The cargo area in the rear can double as a living area and storage space for your supplies and fuel. Zombies may be fast and brutal, but they will not be able to run down or stop a truck. Make sure you lock the doors and drive around safely, and you should be fine. Movies often portray zombies shattering the windscreen with their hands, but this is nothing but a cheap stunt. Laminated glass, which is used in cars, is an extremely hard and durable substance. It cannot be easily broken using bare arms and legs. The chances of zombies gaining entry into the truck by shattering the side windows or the windscreen is highly unlikely.
There's also the question of zombie interest. Why would they care about humans riding vehicles? If the visual trigger is all that it takes, then you may expect zombies to attack television sets or posters depicting humans, which clearly does not happen.
Regardless, a decent 300HP truck is a good choice. The aluminum-walled container in the back is an excellent shield against all kinds of attacks, while the vehicle itself is strong enough to plow through a sea of zombies with ease. It should take you, with very little fuss and drama, wherever you need to go.
As always, you should prefer trucks with diesel engines, due to lower fuel consumption and higher tolerance to hybrid or less than ideal fuel mixes, and manual transmission so you have a better control over your vehicle, especially in those Die Hard situations.
You may also want a boat. Zombies don't seem to be able to swim. So just sail a few hundred meters off the shore, drop the anchor, grab your fishing rod, and enjoy yourself. In theory, if there's enough fresh water around, the fish you catch should be enough for a long time. You may want to keep a store of pickled fruit and vegetables on your boat, just in case.
In Dawn of the Dead, zombies clearly ignore a dog. So what happens if you wear a Chubacca mask? Or if you disguise yourself as a zombie, for that matter? Are you still a prey? Will, and how, the zombie know the difference? If it's visual detection, we fooled them; if it's the sense of smell, we can use odors.
|Me disguised as a cuddly puppy slash gremlin; who would wanna eat me?|
Unless zombies retain all of human intelligence - which then, begs the question how are they different from us, except hygiene or culinary habits, and perhaps they are an evolution of the common human, in which case we deserve to perish - zombies should not be able to detect humans in disguise. And that would be all.
Some links to good stuff you may want to check:
The Zombie Survival Guide (you should buy it, it's great!)
I find my survival pocketbook to be ideal. Simple, practical, error-free. Fighting zombies is not about spray and pray tactics. It's about denying zombies their quantitative advantage, their sense of sight and smelling, and making sure you are not easily caught or chewed.
In a way, fighting zombies has everything to do with the Art of War and nothing to do with modern technology. For example, guns, weapons designed to render humans dead, are not the solution to something already dead and stubbornly refusing to acknowledge its state. The importance of Anti-Zombie Warfare (AZW) is to make sure you have no weak links in your defense. And sometimes, brute force just won't do.
I did not talk about any pre- and post-apocalyptic scenarios, but then, I'm not writing a book. This article is all about the first week of your life in a world infested by zombies. If you survive the first week, you should be fine later on. It's pretty much like the University. If you can stand the lectures for about a semester and handle the zombies milling around you, you will be fine.