Last week, a story surfaced about a zombie outbreak in southern Scotland. The cynics of social media called bullshit from the get-go, and they were totally right to - the article very quickly turned out to be a PR stunt for a nearby theme park. But it did get me thinking about our level of preparedness: the Pentagon has an actual military response plan to deal with an undead epidemic; we have a stockpile of lame Twitter jokes.
With that in mind, I decided to ask a British zombie expert how to best survive a zombie apocalypse. Upon realising "zombie expert" isn't really a thing, I got in touch with Steve, who runs the popular UK Preppers Guide website. For those unaware of what a prepper is, here's the Wikipedia page. But, in short, they're the people most likely to outlive you during any kind of societal collapse, because they've spent a good deal of time preparing for it.
Part of their preparations include stashing supplies for any eventuality, and Steve asked that we withhold his surname so as not to put his personal stash at risk. After he'd explained to me that preppers only plan for real disaster scenarios and that zombies don't actually exist, Steve applied his real-world survival knowledge to my silly questions.
A zombie Metallica fan (Photo via)
VICE: Hi Steve. Are you a fan of zombie lore?
Steve: I'm not a great fan of it. [I'll enjoy it] if it's a decent movie - and normally by decent I mean humorous - like Shaun of the Dead. But I don't go into it in depth because it's not considered to be that high up on the list of priorities of any prepper.
Okay. Isn't it crazy that the Pentagon wrote a 31-page report on how to tackle a zombie uprising?
My reply to that is: "Only in the US." Only the Americans. But then, I guess that's what it's all about - just being prepared. No matter how weird or strange the threat may be, there's always that odd chance. So, to some extent, it's sort of thumbs up to them, really - at least they're confronting what might be a possibility, albeit way down on the list. There's nothing like that with our government, I can assure you of that.
Speaking of the UK government, if there were a zombie outbreak here, how do you think they'd react?
To be honest, denying it is the first point of call for the British government, no matter what it is. But if you get increasing and confirmed sightings of zombies, the government have got to come clean.
As far as I'm aware, the UK government itself has no plans for any type of outbreak, though I personally feel their response would be something very similar to when we had what was known as "mad cow disease" quite a few years back. They would be pretty quick to bring in the police and armed forces to control it at first, but if you had a pandemic style of attack where you have up to 30 percent of the population infected, then without a doubt borders would be closed and quarantines would be enacted. And then it would be full on major panic for everybody.
In such a panic, how long until society breaks down?
It's dependent on two factors: the actual threat level to the public, and the press. Because once it's over-hyped by the press - no matter the actual threat level - general panic will be immediate. Most of the British believe anything they read in the papers. The panic would result in rushing to get supplies, food, fuel… That would be fairly quick, which would in itself add to the general breakdown of society.
Then there would be a point where the government are basically admitting, "Oh yes, there's a problem; we're trying to sort it out." But the people on the streets can see that they've been overwhelmed by the problem. Without a doubt, society would break down very fast once we'd reached that plateau. That's just the British way - there's this stiff upper lip, but when it gets to the point where it's every man for himself, I think that would kick in rather quickly.
Once society does break down, are you better off in the cities or in the countryside?
That's the million dollar question, really. The main thing is how much notice do you have? Is it a slow build-up or is it instant? In a zombie attack, I would like to think that it would probably be considered a slow build-up, as opposed to a nuclear attack, which is instant. So in a zombie scenario, the build-up would be slow, which gives you time to assess the situation - assuming you're prepared for a disaster in the first place. But if you're just the general public, who have never considered it, then you're on a downward slope already.
That's even more true if you find yourself in a city - then the odds are against you right from the start. There would be too many people and not enough supplies. If you decide to stay and fight, or try to survive in a place where you can't, then you're going to perish. If you had a pandemic situation, whether it be biological - or in this case a zombie outbreak pandemic - affecting maybe 30 percent of the population or more, this would easily spread and reach an overwhelming level. This is especially true if you're in a built up area of the city, because the more people there, the more germs; more viruses are going to spread. In this case, the zombies are going to start biting more people, so in a city you're probably in a lot more danger than anywhere else.
And do you bug out alone or travel with a group of people?
Bugging out alone… I probably could do it and I could survive very well. But there's a lot to be said for having a group of people, to increase your mental capacity and your thinking level, your decisions and, if something was to happen to you - an injury or whatever - you've got other people to back you up. So I would go by myself as a last option. I would try to take a small group of likeminded people who, before the outbreak, had got together and planned together.
What about children and pets? In zombie movies kids and the family cat always get the adults eaten because they inevitably risk their lives trying to save them from a zombie. So do you abandon junior and Felix?
No, not necessarily. The reason I'm saying this is because I know a quality prepper where the whole family is involved. He includes the children, and their whole prepping plan is based around family survival. If they were to bug out, the members of the family have specific tasks to make sure they bug out correctly, quickly and properly. So my personal opinion is that taking children and family with you is not a disadvantage - and taking certain pets can be an advantage, too.
For example, pets like rabbits - you can use them for food. You can breed them and you've got food. Dogs are good at warning you if you've got impending danger, or noises that the human ear can't hear, and they can sense things that humans can't sense, so they're a warning system. But if you've got a budgie or a cat, then they're a waste of time. They can be left behind.
Given the fact the US has more guns per capita than any other country, would they have a better chance of surviving than us?
That's an absolute resounding "yes". Though there are an awful lot of firearms that we can legally have here in the UK, you've got to jump through hoops to prove that you have a reason for owning them. So really, we're left with hand weapons, which aren't particularly good, because they require close contact. If you're dealing with a zombie, you don't want to get close to them. Any decent weapon is better than no weapon, but without a doubt, a firearm is a resounding yes. If it was a worldwide attack, far more people would survive in the US - because of the firearms - than they would here.
A cybergoth zombie (Photo via)
You're low on ammo. A member of your group is bitten. Do you waste a bullet and put him out of his misery, or do you leave him to slowly die?
I think the whole ethos of prepping is preparing for any eventuality that you can, and that one is probably quite high on the list. There would have been a group decision as to what happens if any member of the group is affected by the disease, or in this case bitten. The group would have made a decision as to what they will do prior to anything like this. If you're talking a contagious disease and someone knows they've got it, they would have already said, you know, "Shoot me," or "Bury me," or, "Get rid of me for the good of the group."
Though actually doing it is a different thing, obviously. But it's the old thing: it's for the good of the group. If someone is definitely infected, they're going to die slowly anyway. And it wouldn't be a case of wasting a bullet. It's a moral decision, and the kindest thing to do in an unavoidable situation that would have been pre-planned in the first place.
Final question: you're surviving on your own. You get bitten in the ankle. Do you cut your own leg off so you don't turn?
I think that would take some guts, don't you? To be honest, you can equate that to a severe survival situation: it's the will, the mental ability to discipline yourself to do what you know is better for yourself. I don't know if there are many people who would chop their own leg off, but I'm sure there have been people in the past who have done that in survival situations.
Whether I could do it or not… I don't know, actually. You've got to be mentally very, very strong to make that decision, and of course medically qualified to some degree. I personally… I don't know. I've had some close calls in survival situations, but nothing that really would match up with that. I have to pass on that question because I think that's an "only time would tell" type of scenario.
And hopefully we'll never have to find out. Thanks, Steve.
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