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The Zombie Apocalypse, Part 9: Back to the ’40s!


the 1840s! ~

Jonathan Glazer, 18 February 2016

One of my favorite slogans found on an internet meme states “The hardest part about a Zombie Apocalypse is pretending not to be excited”.   I know several people who are stockpiling weapons and ammo because they truly believe it will happen and they need to be ready.

The problem is that the ZA is not just a shooting party where you get to continue your everyday life, but shoot zombies instead of going to work. This is the proverbial crap on the fan situation. In the original move Dawn of The Dead, there was a scene where the local rednecks were described as having a good time while they were shown having cookouts and stopping to snipe at ghouls unlucky to approach across an open field. It won’t really be like that. Life will change for everyone (if it even continues) forever. TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World as We Know It) will become a reality.

There will be exceptions. People who truly live off the grid in remote areas and provide for all of their own food probably will not see a huge change, other than having to take more head shots than in the past. But for the rest of us, life will not be so rosy. Eventually, the power grid will fail. That is because the power plants and transmission facilities required to distribute the electricity around the continent need to be maintained. And the people responsible for said maintenance will be eaten. The power shuts down which means no refrigeration, air conditioning, internet, cell phones, land lines, lights, microwaves or iPads.

I can hear you scoffing at me. It’s ok. I can take it. “But Jonathan, I have a generator, extensive fuel storage and lots and lots of batteries on hand. My family will live a life of luxury while we wait for order to be restored.” Generators run on fuel. If it is gasoline, there is not an infinite supply. It must be trucked to stations, many of which may or may not have generators themselves. After Hurricane Sandy, many local gas stations were closed due to lack of power for the duration of the cleanup. Those with 55 gallon cans of gasoline in storage (in my suburban neighborhood, that is not exactly an option) will still eventually run out of gas and need to replenish it. Natural gas as a generator fuel needs a working supply system to be practical and when the dead walk the earth, natural gas flow will not be a priority.  Plus, the sound of a running generator has a way of attracting attention, and not the good kind, especially when your neighbors have not had power for a month or longer.

My neighbor across the street from me has solar panels on her roof. Unfortunately, the power companies have the system arranged so that you can never be truly self-sufficient. Those solar panels are hooked into the grid. If the power goes down, nothing works. You need a lot of extra equipment to run your own solar power generating system, and the companies that install those panels don’t provide that type of machinery. Is it possible to get it and install it? I am sure it is. Is it practical to stock the spare parts that you would need to conduct long term maintenance of the equipment? I am not so sure about that. As we have talked about in other contexts, suburban (and urban) survival will most likely be dependent on mobility and you will not get far while carrying around your generator and your solar panels.

In the short term, stockpiling batteries will be helpful. You can power lots of things with them. You can have lights and other small electronic gadgets (at least the ones that are not dependent on a functioning civilization, like computers and cell phones). Between flashlights, lanterns and barbecue grills, not to mention food and other survival items stockpiles you may compile, you can live for a while like you are camping out, even in your backyard. But those batteries will die. You can scrounge new ones. But they will eventually die. The Walking Dead Television show is currently on the air and people who know such things estimate the timing as being two years after civilization collapsed. The characters still seem to have plenty of batteries, bottled water, ammunition, food and gasoline. I think we would be extremely lucky to have all of these resources in adequate supply two years after the rise of the undead.

Let’s talk about all the things we won’t have. We mentioned fuel and food. Most estimates of the amount of food in supermarkets and other retail stores run in the range of about two days for the surrounding population. Pantries in private homes will have an average of another two to three days’ worth of food. In my area, there are deer in suburbia. Cars hit them all the time. They eat hostas and backyard gardens regularly. If our food supply was depleted and hunters took to the woods to harvest the wildlife, all the deer and squirrel would not add even one day to the total amount needed to feed our population. Forget about specialized diets or baby food and formula. Such items will be memories and the idea of being gluten free or vegan will be difficult if not impossible.

ZA-home8And having access to drinkable water is vital. After three days without water, you will die. And not all water is safe to drink. Filtering, purifying and/or treating it in some way is a “now” not “later” requirement.

An additional note about power is important to consider. The grid is very fragile. There are transformers, capacitors and other complex equipment which not only must be maintained, but are easily damaged and are very tough to manufacture and replace. If the grid was wiped out by solar flare or EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) damage, it is estimated that it would take a full year to replace the damaged machinery and restore the grid. That is if the equipment can even be imported from outside the country.

A global catastrophe will have a much longer timeline for restoration. This means there will be no large scale manufacturing of any kind. There will be no medications. Those meds which are in pharmacies will not last forever. Some, like insulin, must be refrigerated and others have sort shelf lives before losing effectiveness. That means there will be a large segment of society who will be without their lifesaving medications in a very short amount of time. People on psychotropic meds will be unmedicated as well. That is not a good thing during a time of panic, even less so when some humans begin chowing down on family members.   Advil, Pepto Bismol and Bactine will not be waiting at the drug store for us.

There will be no transportation infrastructure nor organized news or entertainment. Information itself will be a valued commodity and rumor will be the primary means of passing news. Even telling time will become difficult as watch batteries die and replacements become tough to find, not to mention people with the tools needed to open the backs of watches in order to replace the batteries. Mechanical watches that wind manually or self-wind are today almost novelties but will once again become prized. The luxury of flushing the toilet may well elude you if you have sewers. When you flush the toilet, that bundle of yumminess heads into pipes in the streets which then run to pumping stations. The lines from those stations go to treatment facilities which do whatever they do with yesterday’s lunch. No electricity means no pumping, which means your downstairs toilet will back up pretty quickly. Those with cesspools will be ok, unless you have the bad luck of experiencing the zombie apocalypse just as your cesspool needs pumping. Water supply in the very short term should be ok since the pressure is created by gravity pushing the water to you from towers. Once those towers are empty, your faucets will run dry. The smart move is to fill your bathtubs and any other spare clean containers once you know badness is afoot.

If you survive the first year, you are in decent shape. Social scientists estimate that a continent wide cataclysm that shuts down the infrastructure will result in a 10% survival rate. That means 90% of the people walking around will die due to starvation, accident, homicide and lack of medical attention. That 90% could arise with a taste for human flesh. But if you somehow survive after the first year, you are most likely adaptable enough, skilled enough, lucky enough and properly located geographically, you will have a better shot at continuing respiration as one year becomes two.

What about the long term outlook? Well, that depends on what you think the future will be like. Computer models place the ratio between the undead and the living during a ZA at around 5,000 to 1. Zombies do not die of starvation, but they do eventually decompose enough not to be a threat. It could take five years for that to happen, taking climate and other factors into account and the newly arisen will also be something with which to contend.

But if you are in a secure location with sufficient natural resources, perhaps you can start anew. That takes knowledge and skills. Topics for survival will include things like agriculture, animal husbandry, construction, security, basic medicine and light manufacturing. Notice how I said knowledge and skills are required. They are two separate things. You may know what is involved in executing an appendectomy, but that is a lot different from being able to actually remove an appendix. You will need to know how to grow your own food. Keep in mind that most vegetables we eat come from hybrid seed. That means we get one generation out of it and no more. You need heirloom seeds which will allow multiple generations of vegetables to be grown. You will also need to be proficient in using fertilizer and pesticides and know how to harvest your produce. Raising animals for food and milk is another field of knowledge which will need to be mastered.

Assuming you have sufficient resources, arable land, potable water, strong walls and sufficient firepower, you and your group will need to have enough organizational wherewithal to build a society, provide for the needs of your clan and begin to reestablish civilization. Don’t just buy it cheap and stack it deep. Learn how to make it from scratch.

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