07/24/2012 01:12 pm ET | Updated Sep 11, 2012

What Are Some Simple Ways I Can Protect My Home and Family from Zombies?

This question originally appeared on Quora.

By Mark Hughes, screenwriter and Forbes blogger

This is a very long, detailed, and complicated plan. Which means it's awesome. So anyway, sorry about the length, but not about the awesomeness.

I'd like to provide some additional thoughts and perhaps a few alternative perspectives, since it's important to realize that during a zombie outbreak or apocalypse, MOST people will in fact be relying on most of the same basic ideas and principles, and that means that some inventive folks might want to capitalize on that by seeing where it provides opportunities for the person willing to be the exception to the rule. Also, I'm going to write assuming someone is pursuing this alternatives at the time an outbreak begins, so either you live in a city and will be staying there and settling in for the long haul, or you don't live in the city yet but will be immediately GOING there to set up camp and remain for the long haul.

That's right, I said you'll be going to the city.

[A note here -- it makes a huge difference if we're talking about fast zombies or slow zombies. I am of the opinion that since zombies lack a working circulatory system, the lack of blood flow to their arms and legs means they will move stiffly and slowly. Yes, I know we're talking about zombies so it's silly of me to think TOO much about realistic biological reactions, but I do believe that reanimated dead people will not remain fast for more than a few minutes and then will get stiff and slow and uncoordinated. So my answer is assuming actual living-dead zombies -- not "rabies-like-virus" pseudo-zombies -- and assumes they will be mostly slow and stupid and uncoordinated.]

Most people will avoid large cities and population centers, a cornerstone to the typical advice on surviving a zombie outbreak/apocalypse. Consider for a moment that this means most survivors and people trying to survive will be fleeing away from cities -- and what do we know zombies do? They chase fleeing people. Many cities, then, are likely to go through periods of (a) zombie-population explosion, (b) a growing exodus of survivors out of the city, and (c) a slow-moving mass exodus of a significant portion of the zombie population out of the city in pursuit of the fleeing survivors.

Each stage mentioned above offers potential to exploit the scenario to the advantage of yourself and your family. In the (a) stage, as the zombie outbreak begins in full swing, cities will be in chaos. Rather than being a bad time to venture out, this could be a very GOOD time for the daring person seeking to be the exception to the rule. Because a street filled with chaos and screaming, running survivors is a street full of alternative targets and distractions that lead zombies away from YOU. If you are a fast runner who can take advantage of cover to dodge and weave through the ensuing chaos, and if you remain single-minded in pursuit of your goals (and don't get distracted trying to intervene in the chaos around you, a hard thing to avoid if you see poor bystanders being eaten alive by zombies), then now is the time to go out and gather needed supplies.

In a city where most people are running for their lives and being eaten, most will be either fleeing the city or trying at first to lock themselves indoors, so in the early stages you will have a chance to get to the grocery stores and gun shops before they are cleaned out. Don't drive unless you have a tank. Go on foot, with a good backpack and a duffel bag. Wear layers of clothing, especially on arms and lower legs where you might be grabbed and bitten. Avoid shirts that are too long or unbuttoned, to reduce the chances a zombie can grab your clothing and stop/trip you up. Wear a scarf/bandanna around your lower face and glasses/goggles (if you have them), to avoid breathing aerosol blood spray from zombies (which could infect you if you inhale it or get it in your eyes). Wear gloves. DON'T wear a football helmet or anything that might restrict your field of vision -- your sight and awareness of the environment around you is of utmost importance, so don't obscure it. Instead, for head protection, try a tight hat into which you put a folded up washcloth for padding in case you fall or get hit on the head.

Run. Run through the streets and chaos, but don't run so fast you get out of breath or risk falling down. Remember, the more chaos around you, the less attention you will attract, and if you run at a steady but average pace, stopping at safe spots to rest a moment and take stock of the situation around you, you will make good time and avoid being caught while not wearing yourself out too fast.

And bring a WEAPON. If you have a gun, bring it. But save the bullets, you'll need them later, and the sound of gunfire attracts unwanted attention from zombies and from survivors who might want to take your gun. Bring the gun, but carry a baseball bat or some kind of long, solid stick. Don't try to kill zombies, it takes too much time, and you're on a mission to avoid contact as much as possible. You know what stops a zombie who is coming at you? Tripping them. Because zombies are stupid and not very coordinated. You know what else works? Running a bit. Because zombies are stupid and slow. Or you know another good way to stop a zombie or horde of zombies chasing you up the street? Tip a trash can in their path. Or go behind a fence, or any obstacle that's between knee-high and waist-high. Or throw something heavy into a pile of nearby stuff to make noise that will distract them. Because seriously, zombies are really stupid and slow.

The point is, it will seem scary at first, until you realize you can Mall-walk faster than an attacking zombie horde, and that tipping over a trash can in their path will trip them or slow them down considerably. Don't freak out and don't try to engage them in combat unless you literally have no choice (example: One is standing in the doorway of the building you need to enter, or one jumps out and tackles you to the ground). Avoid them, and just remain aware of your surroundings and always see your path ahead and out of the situation.

Get to the store and pack up as much instant mac & cheese, Lipton Sides, instant oatmeal, Ramen noodles, and other lightweight prepackaged instant food items as you can. Avoid canned goods for now -- they are heavy to carry, take up more room, and typically have no better calories or protein (an important part of your diet in a zombie apocalypse) than these other foods. You can fill a backpack and duffel bag full of enough of the above items to last a very long time (on a rationed diet, of course). Add to this a bunch of bottles of vitamins and certain emergency medications like pain killers and NyQuil nighttime pills (and perhaps as many antibiotics as you can fit into an extra bag if you happen to be in a store that has a pharmacy). Remember, only lightweight simple dry good foods, no cans and nothing big or heavy, you may not enjoy eating oatmeal and noodles and rice all the time, but it's better than the alternative -- eating brains because you're a living-dead abomination.

This trip is just to grab necessary "stay alive for two weeks" supplies, and now that we've gotten food out of the way, it's time for you to make a last stop at the gun store. Or pawn shop, if there's one nearby and no gun stores. Or a Wal-Mart or any such store that you know sells some kinds of firearms. You want to grab at least one shotgun or rifle, and one handgun. People will tell you all kinds of exotic firearms to get, but the fact is that you need something easy to handle, easy to take care of, and -- this is crucial -- something for which it's easy to find ammunition.

You can find a simple pump shotgun at almost any store that sells guns and ammo, or any "mart" that has hunting supplies including guns. Shotgun shells are easy to come by in the world, almost any place that sells guns or ammo has them, and most homes that have some kind of non-handgun firearm will have a good chance of having a shotgun or ammo for a lost/sold shotgun.

If there's no shotgun, get a rifle -- I actually recommend .22, because the ammo is easy to find, plus it's small and thus you can carry a lot more of it, and you can (I've heard...) convert .22 ammo easily into a more deadly sort, and I'll simply leave it at that. But also, remember that there will probably be other armed folks around in the apocalypse, and you may need to defend yourself against some crazed gang bent on taking your family and food, and crazed gangs of attackers in post-apocalyptic settings sometimes wear bullet-proof vests. Guess what kind of ammo can sometimes penetrate a crazy armed gang's bullet-proof vests (due to size and velocity)? Bingo. So having a .22 rifle with a scope is not a bad idea eventually anyway, as a defense of your long-term dwelling in the post-apocalypse.

For your handgun, pick a 9mm. I know that a .45 is more powerful, more fun, etc -- but you can find 9mm ammo practically everywhere. I think they even have it at McDonalds.

[Note: Not really, that's a joke and not meant in any way to disparage McDonalds, who make delicious delicious fish fillet sandwiches. Although just a thought, Mr. Ronald McDonald -- in a zombie apocalypse you might want to put 9mm ammo in happy meals as the special prize!]

[Note #2: Not really, ammo in happy meals would be a bad, terrible idea, and no rational, responsible person would actually put ammo in happy meals.

But still, think about it! No, I mean don't!]

So anyway, you can get 9mm ammo everywhere [but not McDonalds!] and you can also get 9mm pistols practically everywhere (including some public schools). This makes it an ideal weapon in any apocalyptic scenario. Problem is, all this "go get a gun" talk ignores the fact that a store filled with guns might be full of people holding guns who are determined to stop YOU from coming in to get yourself one of the guns. This means you need to look carefully into the store from a distance and determine if it's got a crazy dude with a rifle guarding it inside. If it appears empty, make a pass by the door and get a better look inside, and if it still appears devoid of people (but not of guns and ammo) then see if you can get inside quickly and then immediately duck behind something inside the store. You might have to smash a window, or maybe even go around the building looking for an alternate entry route. It's possible that you might want to get onto the roof (if you can) and see about an entry from there. If the only way in is the front door, and it's locked, go through a window, even if you have to smash it out. Remember, it's the apocalypse, so broken glass is not a high priority when living-dead cannibals have caused a collapse of society, okay?

If the store door and windows are barred, and there's no other way inside, then don't waste time. It's only worth it if you can relatively easily and quickly gain entry. If not, move on. Go to another store, a pawn shop, or a nearby "mart." The key is to identify somewhere you know has firearms and ammo, and acquire one pistol and one shotgun or rifle. If you have to choose between either handgun or rifle (why you'd have to, I don't know) choose a pistol since it's smaller and easier to use for now, and this is just the initial preparation stage. But eventually, you really need to get a shotgun or rifle, too. And eventually, you'll want to get each member of your family one pistol and one long gun.

[Something to think about regarding guns is, when you fire one in the city, the echo of sound makes it harder to determine where a shot comes from, which is to your advantage. Out in the countryside, it's far easier to determine the direction of a gunshot, and sound travels very far -- meaning zombies from all over could hear the sound and start shambling your way, for miles and miles, and out in the country there's less chance of something distracting them, so you might fire your gun to get a deer or something for food, and three days later a giant army of zombies comes limping over the horizon toward you. Likewise, other human groups could hear your shot, and they will know that means there's at least one other human with weapons and supplies hiding out in the countryside, so you could have not only zombies but also armed land pirates coming after you.]

Anyway, if you cannot find anywhere with guns, you will need a backup plan prepared, because you seriously need to try to acquire a firearm on this initial raid. Look for fallen civilians who might have a weapon on them or nearby -- a cop or soldier or survivalist who was unfortunate enough to be killed, for example. If you see a zombie cop or soldier with a weapon, and you are confident you can attack them quickly and really put them down fast and permanent without any risk, go for it and kill them, and then take their gun. But be SURE you know they are a zombie (as opposed to just injured or acting like a zombie to try to avoid the real zombies or something), and be SURE you can get to them and get their gun before you get surrounded or before they can bite you.

If you find no guns at any stores or on any zombies or in the street, you have to try to either go to a police station or military armory or something, but only if you can get in and out easily and quickly. Again, avoid risks from anyone shooting at you. So if none of this pays off, you need a last ditch backup plan to find a gun in a house somewhere. A neighbor, someone whose truck has a gun rack in it, anything that might lead you to find a gun in a house. DON'T raid a survivor's house or take another living person's gun from them, of course -- the idea is to find a house where the people are gone or dead, and go inside to find a gun. This means you will need to have pre-planned a few homes where you might be able to find a weapon. Lastly, if nothing works at all and you cannot in any way get a weapon, look for any signs that might point to a home containing a weapon (an NRA or police bumper-sticker on a truck/car, a "veteran" mailbox, a gun rack in a truck, etc), or a direction from which you heard a lot of sirens and gunfire, so that eventually you can go to those places to look for lost or abandoned guns.

Finally, on your way back home from this raid, take a good look around at where you see the least amounts of activity, especially any places with tall buildings and fire escapes, or buildings that are many stories high and provide good vantage points from which to look around into the distance. Don't go there now, just keep track of which parts of town have the least activity and which have the most, and where you see places that look easier to get to and to get on top of. This will be important later.

So this is what you will be doing in the opening stages as the zombies begin to spread through the city and chaos erupts. If you live in the city already, you will be coming out on this raid to get the supplies needed to keep your heads down and wait for the opening stages of the outbreak to end. If you live OUTSIDE the city, then you will make this raid trip as part of your move into the city. If you live in the city, bring the supplies back home, and cover all windows and put plenty of heavy furniture against them as well, and lock your doors and barricade them as well. But pick the window with the best view of the widest area and one that's also nearest a door, and keep one small part of the window accessible by just taping paper over it, so eventually you can access it without making a lot of noise or effort.

Then be quiet -- VERY quiet, as in not even talking unless absolutely necessary, no music and no TV. Always have someone on "sentry duty" to listen and watch, and simply keep your family inside and eat twice per day and take vitamins and sleep a lot. During waking hours, plan your next stage of survival...

You've waited out the opening stages of the outbreak, and outside your fortified home, the city has been overrun by zombies while survivors flee the city. This is the (b) stage, when a fleeing mob of humanity is leaving the city and attracting hungry zombies who join the shuffle. Now, the city is experiencing a mass movement of survivors and the start of movement of zombies, all heading out away from the city. Zombies who aren't in the initial pursing horde or who haven't seen the horde and started to follow it, will hear the sounds of the fleeing and the moans of pursuing zombies, and will set out after them as well. Very few zombies will be so distracted by things inside the city to remain and ignore the flee-pursuit situation out of the city. EVENTUALLY, most zombies that still remain in the cities and don't pursue the fleeing humans will be the ones stuck inside buildings or trapped under/behind/inside things.

You will take advantage of this situation in a few ways. You have to monitor the sounds outside, being aware when the noise in your immediate area has started to diminish over time and keeping track of which directions most remaining sound is coming from. If you do a good job of monitoring, you should be able to tell when the noise has become more from zombies and less from living, screaming people. Less screams, less gunfire, and then eventually less zombie moaning in your immediate area -- this is the signal that survivors have fled, and that the zombies are moving away to follow them. Once this situation (little or no constant noise outside your home, noise in the distance that grows farther away) has started, give it a day or two and then carefully, quietly peek out your window through that special easily accessible spot covered with paper. First, only make a small slit in the paper with a knife and take a quick peek, and if the coast looks clear enough, cut a flap that can be lowered to look around better. When you've surveyed the area and can tell there are no survivors (more dangerous now than zombies) and not a large number of zombies right nearby, put the flap of paper back up and tape it.

Get everyone to help slowly, quietly move the barricades from the nearby door (remember you chose a window with a good view and that is also closest to a door). Take your time, it's worth taking several hours and going really slowly if you have to, because the most important thing is to not attract attention with too much noise. And remember, don't move the heaviest barricades very far, you need to be able to get out the door but you also need to be able to very quickly shove barricades against the door again in an emergency.

Once the barricades are away, take another peek out the window. If the coast is still clear, SLOWLY and SILENTLY open the door a bit and peek out. Assess the environment outside as fast as you can -- is it clear enough for you to slip out unnoticed? If so, go. If not, close the door and wait a little bit. If a zombie saw you, close the door and barricade it again, and just wait -- something will eventually distract the zombie, and they'll be on their way. Drape a bed sheet over yourself when you open the door -- a black bed sheet -- and that way even if they notice the door open, they won't see a human and thus are far less likely to come toward you. Freeze and wait them out if a zombie sees the door open. If they come toward you anyway, don't panic, just keep waiting to see if they get distracted. They move slowly and might stop halfway toward you if they still don't see anything interesting. If they keep coming, close the door slowly and wait them out.

Eventually, you'll open the door and it'll be clear enough to go out. With the bed sheet still over you (like a makeshift ghost costume), pistol in your belt and baseball bat in hand, plus a backpack full of ammo and a knife and some water, you are ready to check your immediate area. What you want to do is very quickly try to get up to a higher vantage point and see if you can tell in which direction the crowds are moving.

Remember that on your way home from your first emergency raid earlier, you took stock of the surrounding neighborhood and places with the least activity and where you could get up higher onto a roof or something. Now, try to get to one of those spots. If you cannot get up high to get a bird's eye view to tell which way everyone has gone, at least try from the street level to look up and down streets to see if you can tell where everyone has gone. You will probably encounter some zombies, but they won't be a big horde and remember -- they are slow, they are stupid, they are easy to stop or trick or slow down, so don't panic.

Move silently and quickly, look very carefully around you and be very aware of where you are going so you don't turn into a dead end. Be sure that you can see at least a few blocks into the distance ahead of you.  And you can now venture around a bit and, if chased, just lead the zombies a block or two in a direction you know you are least likely to eventually want to go -- walk slow enough they can still see you and keep up, but once you take them a couple of blocks away, run as fast as you can down a clear side street and then circle quickly back the way you came.

Your main goal here is to see which direction the humans went while fleeing the city and which way the zombies are slowly shuffling to follow the humans, and to see the safest paths and empties areas in your immediate vicinity. This is to determine when and where to go scavenging, and when and where to move your base camp.

For scavenging, you'll do it like your first raid, but not running so much and being more stealthy instead. So, you want to know where you're going in advance, but you have more flexibility and don't have to be so focused on sticking to a predetermined route and destinations. Look carefully and see which places look most deserted, have no sound inside (meaning probably no zombies shuffling around), seem least broken into (if all the windows are busted out and the door is wide open and walking by you see little or nothing inside, it's not somewhere worth checking later).

Lastly, look for a building that's at least four to five stories tall, close to an adjacent building, and which you can easily and quickly walk around to determine whether it appears mostly empty and has a limited number of entry points. Your ideal here will be either an apartment complex or a business building -- both need to have some kind of lobby, elevators, and stairwells. Look for booby traps, surveillance, blacked-out windows at the corners where snipers might be hiding and watching, etc -- because I might be in there, or someone else like me who decided to turn an apartment complex into an anti-zombie/anti-apocalyptic-gangland fortress. But if it's NOT already occupied by someone who planned better than you did for the zombie apocalypse, then note the location of this place, because YOU will be turning it into your own fortress.

Now go home, and be sure not to go inside if any zombies are watching. If zombies are on the street and see you, lead them away and circle back, using the bed sheet to help hide your nature as a human, and sneak into the house quickly when you get a chance. You should have a good idea of which way survivors and pursuing zombies have headed, so you know the opposite direction should have the least number of them. And you have some good routes with places to scavenge on the way. Most importantly, you have a couple of buildings in mind that you can turn into a nice fort for your family.

Maybe, though, you are already IN an apartment building in the city. If so, you're in luck, because you skipped right to the easy part. You'll basically be calling the elevators to your floor and blocking them open -- if the electricity works, that it. As soon as the zombie apocalypse starts and you've gone out on your first raid for emergency food and guns, you need to just say "screw the lease agreement" and assume you just inherited ownership of the building. Other tenants might presume to try this themselves, so you need to ignore them and take your own measures first. Call the elevator to your floor and block them open there so they can't be called up or down. Next, block the stairwells -- if the door opens outward toward you into the hall, tie something around it and then tie THAT to the apartment door that's closest to the stairwell, on the side of the stairwell door with the knob.  If the door opens into the stairwell, tie something to the knob and then tie it to either (or both) apartment door(s) closest to the stairwell.

A well-prepared person will have lengths of chain and some padlocks already handy for this door-securing situation. The elevator doors are best blocked open by shoving a couch into the elevator so that it's sticking halfway out, which also helps create a minor obstacle for slow, clumsy zombies who might get into your hallway, as well as a cover spot from which to shoot at any armed intruders who are down the hall. Put the couch in place, and then stack MORE furniture on top of it, inside the elevator. An ideal situation would be to have prepared by having a few bags of Quikrete (fast-drying "instant" concrete) to pour all around the couch in the space of the elevator door, so nobody's going to be moving it any time soon.

You'll notice, by the way, that you need to first make sure nobody is in the apartments near the stairwell, since you're about to chain their doors shut to the stairwell door. This requires remembering your family are your priority, because you are about to potentially seriously screw with somebody else. Knock on the door of the apartment, identify yourself as some sort of military official or something, and announce the building is under siege and that the person inside needs to either flee or come out and help secure the building. If they refuse or there's no response, tell them you will be forced to assume they are hostile and take appropriate action.

If that doesn't get them out, you're only choice is to either go ahead and use the chains to secure the stairwell door (thus preventing your neighbors from using their apartment door unless they break the door down) or try to force your way into the apartment to be sure nobody's inside. I recommend simply securing the doors, because later you will be breaking into the other apartments on your floor, so at that time you can gain entry to this apartment by the stairwell (either breaking right through the wall from the adjacent apartment, or getting risky and trying to go from window to window).

Once your floor is protected so only you can unchain the stairwell doors to get to and from your floor and your apartment, wait a week or so, and then check your floor by listening for the sounds of moaning, wandering zombies in apartments on your floor. If you hear them, ignore them and leave those apartments alone. In quiet apartments, though, break the doors down (don't shoot the doorknobs, it can ricochet and kill you -- shoot above the knob, a few times if necessary, and then use a hammer or axe to bust the hole larger to try and get your arm in to unlock it from the inside. Or make simple homemade explosives from cleaning products or something (you can find out how online elsewhere, I'm not going to go into that here) and try to blow the door off -- but be VERY CAREFUL and only do this if nothing else works, because just attempting to make such a thing could injure or kill you if you get a bad "recipe" or make a mistake. Inside other apartments, gather more supplies and take them back to your own apartment. If any of these apartments are clean and usable, you can set one up as an alternate dwelling if you need to move to a different side of the building for some reason.

Now you've got a nice, secure place that only you can enter and exit, high up to see all around, and you have the city mostly to yourself, except for the zombies who are now at the (c) stage and moving out of the city en mass. Settle in, and when it's time to go out and gather more supplies, you can unchain the door to the stairs, go down slowly, and venture into a city with only a relatively small number of slow, stupid zombies ambling about, mostly trapped inside or under things. Bring your pistol and have your spouse or child at the window of the apartment with the rifle, providing you with cover fire if necessary -- ONLY against other humans or if you fall etc and are under attack by several zombies, don't waste ammo on killing zombies unnecessarily.

Go downstairs, and bring some more chain or rope with you, to secure the stairwell door that leads to the lobby or to outdoors. Bring more chains/ropes to secure any secondary stairwell doors, to prevent their use. And bring a couple of cans of red spray paint, and mark the outside of your building clearly to say "infestation, quarantined" where it can be seen easily. Also go up your street to mark a few random buildings the same way, and mark a few others as "clear" as well. Now comes the tricky part -- if you're brave enough, find some zombies and try to lead them into a building next door to your apartment building, and lock them inside that other building, and then clearly mark the building as "infested" etc. Do this to at least TWO buildings on your block. Anyone seeing the markings who takes a moment to check will see that yes, buildings marked "infested" have zombies inside. If there are a dozen or so zombies in buildings around you, then any curious person will think twice about how bad an infestation must be in your apartment building, and might be inclined to leave it alone.

Always be sure to go from apartment to apartment on your floor, checking from the windows all around to get a good idea of the situation outside before you venture out, and every time you can get more guns and supplies, DO IT. Have your spouse and kids watch from different windows for you, with weapons if possible, and try to get some walkie-talkies to stay in communication while you venture out on any supply runs.

If you do this plan right, you should be able to have a nice portion of the city mostly to yourself, living safely in a place where most other folks didn't think to stay and in fact where most other folks assume it's too dangerous to go. You'll have a nice, high place to live and should have access to a lot of supplies around the city for a long time. Eventually, though, gangs and other groups and even military or government squads etc might start to venture into the city, and you may be forced at times to duck and stay quiet until they pass by. You should be mostly okay, and if you can wait for six months to a year, most zombies will have rotted to the point of death or being mostly liquified anyway, and the number of zombies will be dramatically lower and the number of newly converted zombies will likewise be lower.

Within a year or so, you will be able to venture out to gather supplies nobody likely bothered to take -- gardening and farming and seed etc supplies. Because you can start turning the roof of your building, and some of the apartments inside, into gardens. Vegetables and fruits would be a wise thing to invest time and energy into growing. The lack of people in the city will probably lead to lots of animals coming around, so hunting will be decent (albeit of perhaps some animals you aren't used to thinking of as food, but this is an apocalypse scenario where you have to try to keep your family alive, so eat what you can so long as it's not other people).

This is a workable plan that should allow a smart, well-prepared person to survive the zombie apocalypse and keep their family safe, while most other folks attempt the more traditional methods. By opting for the less conventional method, you have far more opportunities available to you, and you will succeed in a place where most others never even make an attempt.

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