Author Archives: JT Eberhard

Abandoned mall for sale. Is it really a good place to hide from zombies?

Hiding in an abandoned mall?  Get used to looking at this while you starve to death.
Hiding in an abandoned mall? Get used to looking at this while you starve to death.

I’ve been getting sent this article about an abandoned mall in St. Louis.  I’ve already written about other structures that were up for sale that may be ideal for surviving the apocalypse (a prison and an underground train station), so I guess that’s why people are sending me the story about the mall.

For the love of god, all of you.  What possessed you to think an abandoned mall would be a good base of operations?

For every possible structure there are pros and cons.  What is the pro that makes everybody think of a mall?  Supplies, right?  There is food, sporting goods, a firearms store if you’re lucky, etc.  So before we get into any other considerations, because the mall is abandoned you’ve already lost the biggest pro of making a dash for a mall.

However, all the negatives are still in place.  Any place that wants to sell you something wants you to be able to see inside which means lots of glass on the outside, and glass ranks between hope and a strong breeze in its ability to keep intruders out.  Yeah, there are those rickety gates you can pull down which might deter a thief who worries about getting seen if he spends too much time trying to break in.  But when you’re up against zombies, which can beat on it and throw themselves into it constantly, it will eventually come loose.  What’s more, if you’re on the other side, where are you going to run once you’re blocked in at your only exit?

It does have one advantage though!  People will be interested in a place with resources (which is why malls and grocery stores are so appealing).  Without any resources there, you at least won’t have to interact with the human element much.

Forget the abandoned mall.  There will be plenty of abandoned buildings that will serve you much better.


UC Irvine offering a course in zombie survival – for free!

BandageOk, so the CDC isn’t going to help you to prepare (at least not yet), and there’s only so much that I can do to prepare you.  If humanity is to survive the inevitable, experts somewhere are going to have to step up to fill the void.  Finally, that has happened.

The course will deal not only with how to keep your physical body alive and in decent shape in the wake of disaster, but also how to keep your mind sharp in conditions that can cause insanity or panic.  The course will touch on:

  • Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—is survival just about being alive?
  • Social order and structures—from the farm and the prison to Woodbury
  • Social identity, roles, and stereotyping—as shown through leaders like Rick and the Governor
  • The role of public health in society—from the CDC to local community organizations
  • The spread of infectious disease and population modeling—swarm!
  • The role of energy and momentum in damage control—how can you best protect yourself?
  • Nutrition in a post-apocalyptic world—are squirrels really good for you?
  • Managing stress in disaster situations—what’s the long-term effect of always sleeping with one eye open?

Preparing costs time though (laziness or other commitments, it turns out, are the biggest impediment to preparedness).  This is about what you’ll be in for as far as a time commitment, and what you can plan to get out of your investment of time:

We recommend that you plan on spending about two (2) to four (4) hours per week on this course, though we believe the course is compelling enough you’ll want to spend more time.

At the end of this course, you will be able to:

  • Describe how infectious diseases—like a zombie epidemic—spread and are managed
  • Apply various models of society and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to existing and emerging societies as a means for understanding human behavior
  • Analyze existing social roles and stereotypes as they exist today and in an emerging world
  • Debate the role of public health organizations in society
  • Describe how mathematical equations for population dynamics can be used to study disease spread and interventions
  • Apply concepts of energy and momentum appropriately when analyzing collisions and other activities that either inflict or prevent damage
  • Summarize multiple methods for managing stress in disaster situations

The course will be taught by experts on social sciences, astronomy, public health, and mathematics.  The course is being taught online, so there’s no excuse for not signing up.  There’s an optional textbook: The Walking Dead and Philosophy: Zombie Apocalypse Now.  Admittedly I’ve not read it, but I will fix that just as soon as I get back from the hardware store.  I’ve recently moved in with my fiancee and need to zombie-proof the house.

World’s first zombie survival store opens.

How nice would it be if you didn’t have to run between hardware stores, sporting outlets, and grocery stores to find everything you will need to survive when the outbreak finally occurs?  It seems that may be a reality now with the opening of the world’s first zombie survival store in Las Vegas.

Let’s take a peek at some of their products to see if they are the sweet ambrosia they purport to be.  First up is the 3 day, 2 people grab ‘n go kit for $47:

3 day two people. 6 water pouches, 2 – 2400 calorie food bars, first aid kit, 2 – rain ponchos, 2 – solar blankets, super bright survival flare, 2 – light sticks, hand crank flashlight, hand sanitizer, and tissue pack.

Oh hell to the yes.  This isn’t everything you need to survive, but it’s a damn good start.  You may be wondering why you’d want water pouches and not just a canteen.  Well, you’ll also want a canteen…but only when you know the water you’re drinking is pure.  Having water set aside and sealed will hold you over until you find a reliable water source.  I give the grab ‘n go kits a gold star for sure.

Next up is the Israeli gas mask for $45:

Issued by Israeli government to protect citizens of Israel from terrorist attacks. This item is regarded as the benchmark gas mask for civilian protection. NATO Approved. Never used. Intended for use during the EVACUATION from a contaminated area. Will filter out All Nuclear, Biological (Anthrax and Small Pox) and Chemical Agents. Comes with NBC filter (lasts up to 8 hours depending on level of contamination) Made of soft rubber and fits snuggly and comfortably protecting the face, eyes and respiratory system.

Seems good on the surface, and will certainly perform the task for which it is intended, but I’m going to say it will likely be unnecessary.  Gas masks work on filters.  They’re designed to either give you enough time to get away from the source of the gas or for brief excursions from a base where more filters are available.  They are not designed to protect a person indefinitely, which is likely what you will need.  If the virus is airborne, you need to hole up somewhere and keep it sanitized and on lock down.

In a zombie overrun scenario one of the things with which you will have to content, that many people don’t even think about, is the stench.  The stench of decaying flesh from one body is enough to make most people vomit.  Add into that the stench of millions of corpses loosing their bowels (as well as the fact that there are millions of corpses, not just one) and the odor may be so repugnant as to make you pass out.  A gas mask would be good for dealing with that, but it would come at a price: gas masks severely obscure vision.

A better solution would be a handkerchief worn over the nose and mouth with a sweet smelling cologne or something drizzled onto it.  Cheaper and you’ll be able to see just fine.

I give the Israeli gas mask a silver star.

CDC continues to deny the existence of zombie vectors.

through window smallerOne needs only read the news on a daily basis to see what is coming:

The zombie craze seemed to start with an attack in Miami on Saturday, when Rudy Eugene, 31, was killed by cops while in the process of eating almost the entirety of a homeless man’s face off. The victim, Ronald Poppo, miraculously survived, but doctors are having a hard time figuring out how to put his face back together.

Then, on Tuesday, 21-year-old Alexander Kinyua of Maryland allegedly admitted to dismembering his roommate and then eating his heart and brain.

Cops in Canada are also searching for a low-budget porn actor who allegedly killed a young man with an ice pick, dismembered the body and then raped and ate flesh from the corpse. Luka Rocco Magnotta is being hunted after he allegedly mailed some of the body parts to Ottawa. He’s also accused of killing cats on video and posting the footage online.

Gawker fingered a “mysterious rash” breakout at a high school in Hollywood and other parts of Florida — which hazmat and disease control teams still can’t explain — as further proof that zombies are taking over.

Zombie-like characteristics have been confirmed in the animal kingdom, just not in humans. A newfound fungus in a Brazilian rain forest — called Ophiocordyceps camponoti-balzani — is known to infect an ant, take over its brain so as to move the body to a good location for growth, and then kill the insect.

So far, it seems that the WHO and the CDC have managed to keep it under control.  The strange thing is that they have released a statement in the past in response to stories like these, outright denying the existence of a zombie virus.

“CDC does not know of a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead (or one that would present zombie-like symptoms),” wrote agency spokesman David Daigle in an email to The Huffington Post.

I would say they are doing so to avoid panic, but that’s never been the CDC’s style.  When the swine flu broke out, the CDC slathered its website with all sorts of precautionary steps they wanted people to take, all while admonishing us to not panic.  The CDC has a history of going overboard, apparently living by the axiom that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

So why the denial of a zombie virus even though it’s obvious that more and more cases are surfacing and that it’s only a matter of time before an infected person gets loose?  If I had to wager, I’d say it’s because unlike the swine flu and other outbreaks, the CDC and the WHO don’t know what to do about it.

Time to go out and buy a new pair of running shoes.  You’ll need them.

Preparing for an evacuation: stay cool, stay comfortable, plan ahead.

shutterstock_100849096(1)A recent study by Essex University used the idea of zombies to test how people tended to act during evacuations.

Researchers at the University of Essex have created a computer game in which players must escape from a crowded building that has been breached by zombie hordes. The scientists, whose findings have been published in the journal Animal Behaviour, used the simulator to gather data about how stress affects decision making.

The team asked attendees at the Science Museum’s ZombieLab event to find the optimal route out of a virtual, zombie-infested environment. Whilst some participants were allowed to complete the task at their own pace, others were told that they had to escape the building in record-breaking time.

The researchers discovered that when participants were placed under additional pressure, their decisions tended to be poorer than when no extra element of stress had been introduced. Far from focusing their minds, stress caused people to resort to questionable tactics. Rather than attempting to identify novel, more effective exit strategies, for example, individuals attempting to beat target times were more likely to retread familiar routes.

This isn’t terribly shocking.  When we’re in an evacuation or any other rushed situation we want to do what is familiar to us.  This is actually smart.  You don’t want your brain’s limited processing power distracted with plotting new terrain.  We simply think more clearly when we’re comfortable.

So what’s the take home lesson here?  The lesson is that we can lose control of our thoughts, and that even if we spend time collecting ourselves and getting to a point where we can think clearly, even if we’re under time pressure, then that time has almost always been well-spent.  Decisions made in a panic can snowball quickly into other, more serious mistakes.  A few minutes preventing that are almost always worth the lost time acting.

If the goal is to get out of a crowded building in a limited amount of time, it may not be the wisest course of action to go your normal route if that route is likely to be used by everybody else.  How else could you get out of a building like that?

  • Is there a window you could open?  If the window doesn’t open, is there something heavy you can throw through it?  A blanket or towel draped over the remaining broken glass will help keep you from being cut as you exit.  Even if you’re lacking a blanket or towel, a few cuts are preferable to being the equivalent of canned food with no escape in a clogged hallway.
  • Is there a fire escape?
  • Is there a service entrance/exit?

In no industry has more evacuation studies been done than in the airline industry.  Those studies have found that an evacuation run by a person of authority being firm in their commands is most effective, because then people evacuate in an orderly fashion.  However, in a rapidly developing situation in a shopping mall or a skyscraper, where nobody is an acknowledged authority (and even if they were, where they were likely untrained for how to manage such a scenario), it may be better to avoid places where there is a panicked mob.

The even bigger concern is what to do once you’ve gotten out of the building.  What are your goals?  Where do you need to go?  Are you separated from people you need to be with?  The outside will be full of panicked people and possibly the undead.  Your job is to be neither of those things.  In order to succeed, you need to have done a lot of the work ahead of time.

  • Have a place to meet with friends and family arranged ahead of time.  In an emergency the phone lines will be clogged, so don’t wait until the dead rise to decide on this location.
  • Never let your car’s tank fall below half.  If you’re in the middle of a city, don’t even try to get out using a vehicle.  You’ll wind up in a traffic jam that will make you a sitting duck.  But if you live on the outskirts of a town facing an isolated incident and if your reaction time is fast enough, you may be able to put the town to your tail and not look back: providing you have enough gas to get you away.
  • Have a battery-powered radio handy at all times.  Listen in for emergency instructions and updates.  Knowledge is worth more than anything to you.
  • Leave a note if you suspect people will come looking for you.  Leave it on your desk or someplace people know you would have been.  If you must pin it to the door and hope for the best, be somewhat cryptic.  You want your friend to find you, but you don’t want to let a freaked out survivor who may want to take your supplies find you a few days later.
  • Check your dress.  Comfort may be fashion, but comfort is also often achieved by wearing looser clothing.  Loose clothing provides something for the undead (or panicked living) to grab a hold of.  Keep your hair cut short or tucked tight so it’s not dangling and wear skin-hugging clothes.  For many Americans this will make us self-conscious.  However, self-conscious is a load better than dead.  Wear such clothing under your other clothes if you must, but don’t plan on having enough time to do a full clothing change when the alarm bells first ring.

Til next time, survivors.

The zombie apocalypse: preparing to live without power.

BiohazardI’ve already gone into detail on the wisest course of action if you are in a major population center when the apocalypse breaks out:  to hunker down and play defense, as it were.  Eventually either the zombies or the humans will win out.  If it’s the humans, awesome.  If it’s the zombies, at least now you’re only facing one major threat without adding panicky people on top of it.

The problem with this is that we are more reliant on electricity than we notice.  When was the last time most of you even saw a radio that operated on batteries?  Without power, how would you deploy the security doors when locking down a major building?  What if you need a hospital?  Consider trying to go a single day without using anything that plugs into a wall as well as no air conditioning, no hot water, etc.  You’ll come to grips very quickly with how unprepared most people are for living in a powerless world.

So how long can you hunker down before the power goes out?  24 hours at most:

Without human beings around to perform certain routine tasks, the electricity system will quickly cease to function. In regions dependent on fossil fuels for electricity generation (i.e., the entire U.S.), power plants will shut down, or “trip,” within 24 hours (or less) without continuous fuel supply. As soon as one plant trips offline, voltage at various points along the transmission system will drop below preset thresholds, spurring a domino effect as automated protection devices kick in and disconnect additional sections of the network. This cascade of trips would bring the system to a standstill, and a blackout would ensue.

Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide has all kinds of helpful tips for how you should spend this very important 24 hours: fill every receptacle available with water, secure your area (in ways that don’t require power, so destroy the staircase, find somewhere that relies on bars rather than alarms for security, etc.), take inventory of what non-perishables are available and how long they will last, if the internet is up you can email people in an uninfected area (you should not only communicate where you are, but also details of what you see so information gets to the outside), etc.

You should also be ready for additional threats that a failed power structure could bring:

Many critical facilities (e.g., hospitals, military bases) have on-site diesel generators to provide emergency backup power. However, these generators have a 40 percent failure rate, are usually designed to run for 24 hours or less, and require an operator around to babysit them. With no one there to refill the fuel tanks, check the oil, and perform other basic maintenance, most of these generators will not last more than one or two days. Without backup generation, basic services like water and sewage treatment cannot function. During the Southern California Blackout, San Diego’s sewage pumps backed up after less than 12 hours without power, bringing the city dangerously close to a real health crisis.

Or you could hope you live in an area whose power is drawn from a microgrid (or distributed generation).  From the article:

A well-designed microgrid—combining distributed, renewable resources such as solar PV and wind with smart auto-controls and energy storage—would continue to provide reliable power with little human control, keeping the lights on, even under chaotic circumstances.

Microgrids do have their drawbacks.  When we’re not in a situation that threatens the power structure (hurricane, terrorist attack, zombies) they are far more costly per watt to operate and, at their current level of development, they are inconsistent.  They can either have exceptionally low maintenance costs or astronomically (and unacceptably) high ones.

But the pro is that if the macrogrid goes offline, the microgrid can be operated as an independent unit, often free of human interaction for long periods.  That is why they are gaining in popularity.  The government will tell you that it’s because of environmental threats that could tank our power structure, but we all know what they’re really preparing for.

If your area runs on a microgrid, you are extremely lucky.  For everybody else, let’s hope they become the norm before it’s too late.

Texas Instruments (the ones that make graphing calculators) preparing the next generation to fight zombies.

You all know my philosophy by now: survival is the province of the insightful.  If you want to live you need to not only be in good physical condition, but if you’re a lazy or poor thinker all the muscles and endurance in the world will do you no good.  You must also be able to think in the abstract, to think outside to box to see threats and solutions that others might miss.  For instance, if you’re in the South or the Midwest, will you travel at twilight or in the heart of the summer knowing that mosquitoes are about?  What if a mosquito has drank the infected blood of a zed and has the capacity to spread it to you?

There appears to be one company that understands all this and they’ve devised a way to prepare kids for the horrors they are certain to face in adulthood.

Guns are of no concern to us!  Science, on the other hand...
Guns are of no concern to us! Science, on the other hand…

Let’s face it, not every young person believes that zombies are a possibility, let alone a near certainty that will one day dominate the lives of whichever members of the next generation are lucky enough to survive.  This program is clever in that it prepares those children for the future with so much stealth that they’re never the wiser.  They think they’re only learning about science, technology, engineering, and math.

“The neural anatomy that we go into is really the jumping off point in this particular activity, and the actual activity is about what would happen if a virus that was turning people into zombies were to spread,” Bialik told WIRED. “This presents the opportunity for modeling, for teaching about graphing, for teaching about disease progression, for teaching about the problem-solving that would be involved if you were to, for example, work for the Centers for Disease Control and had to analyze this.”

Wait. What? Zombies? Yes. It turns out certain zombie behavior can be used to show the effects of damaging certain areas of the brain. Let’s say, for example, you want kids to learn about the group of nuclei at the base of the forebrain known as the basal ganglia. Show them Night of the Living Dead and explain that the loss of coordination the undead display in Romero’s masterpiece can be caused by damage to that region. To teach students about the regions of the brain that handle problem solving and impulse control, tell them zombies have highly compromised frontal lobes. Want to explain the cerebellum? Tell students — or, using the TI software, show them — that we know zombies must have damage to that area because they can’t walk well.

If you’re wondering, it’s over-stimulation of the hypothalamus that makes the undead so hungry for flesh.

Positively brilliant.

Underground works for tornadoes and bombs, but not so much for zombies.

Yeah, you want to be underground when the missiles fly.  You’ll find “launching missiles” filed under “shit zombies can’t do.”

Perhaps after seeing my blog about a prison being a great place to hole up while humanity falls, a friend sent me this link.  Apparently the Brompton Road Underground in London is for sale.  For those who don’t know, the tube station became a command bunker during World War II and hasn’t experienced a human presence in about 60 years.

The platforms were bricked off, machinery was stripped from the lift shafts and floors were laid to create a stack of circular operations rooms, complete with large map tables where commanders could watch as waves of bombers swept over London during the Blitz.

The chambers, which reach 60 feet beneath London, were cleared out and locked up in the early 1950s when the Cold War and the threat of missile attack made the old air defences obsolete.

Sounds ideal on the surface (get it?) for sure.  But just because a building is secure against one threat doesn’t mean it’s ideal for another.  While it’s certainly better than most above-ground buildings, the problem with the tube station is that it’s not very economical.  Zombies are subject to gravity, and so there is no amount of going down that will allow you to ultimately run from them.  Instead, you’d need to buy a very solid, very secure doorways to the area below – the type of doorway that would make an above-ground building secure (barring any other nuisances like ground floor windows).

But the tube station and the door you’d need are very, very expensive.  Compare that to a two story building without a staircase with a knotted bed sheet on the second floor that can be lowered and retracted.  Zombies cannot fly, and so with the two story building you will have achieved even greater safety than the tube station for the price of a sledgehammer (for the stairs) and a bed sheet.

Live in the United States long enough and you’ll soon learn that throwing gobs and gobs of money at a problem isn’t always the best solution.  When you’re surviving, resources are precious.  The ones who make it after the coming plague will be the ones who appreciated efficiency – they will be the ones who got the most out of their resources.

You can start by not dropping £20 million on an underground bunker for less security than you could get for £100 at a hardware store.

Ideal group size following a zombie takeover.

survivorThere is much debate over how many people you should work with in a zombie apocalypse.  In this post I’ll examine the three realistic possibilities and identify the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Duo:  A team of two people is very stealthy.  Aside from the obvious ways in which two people will make less noise than twenty, you should also consider that two people can resolve arguments more swiftly.  A group of two also has the advantage of going solo of being able to run a watch while the other person sleeps.  This should not be underestimated, since your sleep will be far more restful without worrying that a zombie could sneak up on you while you slumber.

The downside of a duo compared to larger groups is that it’s slower moving.  If you’re smart, you’re aware of the need to pace yourself.  You know that fatigue in a survival situation is like driving drunk: it seriously increases the odds that you’ll die.  However, with two people sleeping in eight hour shifts, that leaves only eight hours of travel time per day.

You also may be light on skills with only two people.  Societies are able to thrive because they can spread out expertise over an entire population.  If you only have two people in your group, you may lack someone with, say, engineering expertise or you may not have a decent mechanic, should the need for those skills ever arise.

Small group (3-6):  Now you’re getting mobile.  At this point you’re getting to where you can travel for twelve hours per day or more.  You’re also getting a good diversity of skill sets.

But there are still problems with a group this size.  It’s highly likely that your resources will be very limited, and the more people you add to your group the more of a strain that’s going to be.  Also, with every addition to your team, you’re significantly increasing the odds of somebody making a mistake and giving away your location.

And while you’ll travel longer, you’ll be slowed by the fact that decisions are now a group process.  Arguments will take longer to resolve, especially if the people in your group were added because you encountered them at random rather than because you deemed them to be trustworthy and competent.  This is where some sort of government may need to come into place, where people can call a vote that binds the rest of the group or where a single member has ultimate deciding power in all disputes.

Large group (6+):  You may think that the superiority of numbers would make you safer, but you’d be wrong.  While a group this large will likely have somebody with a necessary skill for most situations, you will be bogged down by internal disputes that will wear on both your energy and your morale.  Such a group is also impossible to coordinate unless they have trained together, which makes larger groups clunky and prone to mistakes – mistakes that could ultimately wipe the entire group.

Remember, your goal is to avoid fighting if at all possible.  There may be a time when humanity will have to fight back, but that war won’t be won by a group of ten people, most of which likely have minimal experience with combat, if they have any experience at all.  Until then, going hunting for zombies is a terrible idea.  You might catch out a single zombie or a pair of zombies, but consider the noise required to dispatch them.  That type of racket will probably bring several more zeds to that location in short order and before long you’ll have a full scale battle on your hands – all when you could’ve just walked away from the first zombie.

These guidelines can be modified if you know the potential new addition to your group and have no reason to doubt their reliability or competence.  However, it’s my conclusion that a small group is ideal, barring any other variables.

What will create the zombies? If not a virus, perhaps a fungus.

People talk about zombies as a matter of pure fiction, as an idea completely untethered to reality.  These people don’t know that zombies already exist – just not yet in humans.  But the biological mechanics are certainly already there.  For another example, let me take a moment to introduce you to the fungus Cordyceps.  In many insect species it takes over the brain of its host, altering the insect’s behavior before killing it and using the host to spread more fungus.

Don’t watch this video if you have a weak stomach (or do watch the video if you have a weak stomach, since you’re going to need to get over that shit fast if you want to survive).

One writer at Scientific American describes the killer fungus this way:

Not all of these parasites are the evil zombie-makers you might think. A few species of Cordyceps have medicinal value. One of these fungi, Cordyceps subsessilis, has been used to derive immunosuppressive drugs used in organ transplants. But some species of Cordyceps are indeed body snatchers—they have been making real zombies for millions of years.

And it doesn’t stop with ants and grasshoppers.

Other species of Cordyceps are just as transforming, even if they don’t turn the host into a faithful undead servant. Cordyceps ignota infects tarantulas. Its spores burrow into the spider, extending a legion of wispy fingers—collectively known as mycelium—throughout the body. The fingers are how the fungus grows, and how the spider dies. Once the tarantula’s insides are replaced with the fungus, fruiting bodies again burst forth to create art that could only come from such a bizarre demise.


Much like a disease relegated to a certain species can evolve to add new species to its list of potential victims (see swine flu/avian flu, etc.), it is not unthinkable that the Cordyceps fungus could one day add humans to its list of potential prey.  After all, you heard the narrator in the video say that the greater the prey species’ population, the great chance they will fall victim to a Cordyceps infection.  You’d have to look far and wide for a species that is more overpopulated than humans.

And when the fungus does make the cross-species leap, what can we expect?  It’s possible that victims will merely become disoriented and harmlessly trip over things before dying.  However, when humans become disoriented they tend to panic, and without the fullness of their reason present to check that fear it’s very likely the victims would become violent – even more so as their brains are eroded by the parasite.

Should this be how the inevitable zombie scenario manifests, what can you do?  Not much, as it turns out.  Anti-fungals take a long time to produce.  The best thing you can do is to quarantine yourself for as long as possible and stay sanitary.