In a recent post detailing how to survive a variety of extreme disasters, I explained that there is no way to survive a zombie invasion. Now, from David Hambling, comes a Wired article on how to survive a zombie apocalypse.
Enough already. The information Hambling offers is sound, but his premise--that careful planning and the right weaponry can help you survive a zombie attack--is woefully misguided. This article, like so many others, asks and answers the wrong questions. It's not a matter of how to kill a zombie but how to coordinate a mass defense in the face of a zombie apocalypse. Unless we can find a way to shift the conversation toward the latter, the hope for human survival hovers right around zero percent.
First, the details. Hambling explains that while three major classes of zombie exist,
mostly you're likely to encounter the type of Alien Zombie favored by George Romero. These are reanimated by an extra-terrestrial force; this is an infectious form of zombiedom that seems to be spread via biting. They are oblivious to most injuries but can reliably be taken out by destroying their brain.
When battling this type of zombie, you are basically trying to stay alive and get to a place of safety, as there are likely to be far too many for you to defeat them.
While Hambling's assertion that this type of zombie is animated by extra-terrestrial force is a matter of some debate, he is correct to assert that this type of zombie is by far the most common. So-called "natural zombies" are created through the use of toxins leading to severe brain-damage and are therefore generally harmless. A second category, the "supernatural zombie," is supposedly animated via either angelic or demonic power; if you're faced with this kind of zombie, you have bigger things to worry about than surviving the actual attack. (Hint: hit your knees and get to a-praying.)
Hambling's list of defensive weaponry shows an impressive amount of research. His weapons of choice--flamethrowers and extended-magazine firearms--are the most likely to inflict the type of wide-range destruction necessary to escape zombie hordes. He also makes the important point that a cool head is required, as panicked shooting into a crowd of zombies will not result in the head-shots necessary to kill, and not simply slow, an approaching zombie. He points to a recent analysis of armed encounters with police officers:
The police officer's potential for hitting his adversary during armed confrontation has increased over the years and stands at slightly over 25% of the rounds fired. An assailant's skill was 11% in 1979...
In 1992 the overall police hit potential was 17%. Where distances could be determined, the hit percentages at distances under 15 yards were:
Less than 3 yards ..... 28%
3 yards to 7 yards .... 11%
7 yards to 15 yards . 4.2%
It has been assumed that if a man can hit a target at 50 yards he can certainly do the same at three feet. That assumption is not borne out by the reports.
An attempt was made to relate an officer's ability to strike a target in a combat situation to his range qualification scores. After making over 200 such comparisons, no firm conclusion was reached.
I'm not, in fact, taking issue with any of the suggestions Hambling offers in his article. The question is not whether zombies can be killed by calm, prepared citizens; the question is whether enough citizens can be prepared for the zombie apocalypse to successfully tamp down the invasion.
When it comes down to it, the issue is not one of weaponry; it's one of communication and coordination. After all, all the Glocks in the world are useless unless people know that only a headshot will stop a zombie. And even if everyone in Pittsburgh knows to shoot for the head, it's useless if nobody in Boston figures it out.
Creative new uses of social media tools offer us some hope that mass coordination can happen. As recent fictional accounts of zombie attacks demonstrate (see for example here, here, and here), too much control of information in government hands can lead to mass misinformation and, ultimately, disaster. We also know that traditional media sources like television and radio broadcasts, while useful for providing defense information, are useless for mass coordination. Assuming the internet and cell towers survive the first wave of the zombie attack, an engaged citizenry can share information, coordinate defensive maneuvers, and stake out safehouses for waiting out the invasion. Indeed, the social networking site Twitter already has a vital community developing around several zombie-related hashtags: #zombie, #zombies, and #apocalypse.
Cellphone communication--and especially the kind of mass mobilization through text messaging that we've seen in recent political uprisings (for example, the organizing of tax-protest teaparties through flashmob tactics)--offers an additional avenue for reaching people who are AFK and on the front lines.
Hambling's advice is solid and valid, but ultimately useless without a platform for spreading it. Our only hope--and it's a small one--is to work to shift the conversation away from weaponry and defense strategies and toward modes of communication in the case of zombie invasion.
One last thing: If the zombies invade, we may also have to kill everybody over the age of 50, since these people are known to lack facility with new media. It may be humankind's only hope for survival. Sorry, Mom.