Because popular culture has brought this topic to the forefront, I’ve occasionally found myself pondering a clichéd thought experiment—even comparing notes with others during downtime. It goes something like this: If there was a zombie outbreak (or input an earth-encompassing disaster of your choosing) at this very moment, what would you do? Two obvious answers come to immediate mind. First, you’d want to find and protect your loved ones. Second—and likely the initial one people would be able to put into action—determine how to survive in that very moment. Assuming transportation and access to loved ones is cut off, how would you make it through the next day, month, or year?
If you’re in a more populated area and outward migration is difficult, the answer might be to look up. Rooftops and upper floors of buildings are likely safe spots. Stairwells and elevators can be barred to ensure no one else joins you. Water would of course be difficult to come by as services fail, but collecting rain and snow in rooftop containers should work (as shown in 28 Days Later). Though as time wears on and food runs out, you’d inevitably find yourself having to abandon safety in order to scavenge supplies from the building you’d chosen, and then the nearby area.
Malls and stores might also prove suitable habitats. If you could sufficiently block the door, a Walmart would be a small paradise, with food and weapons to last years into the distant future. The only problem here would be other survivors. Surely you wouldn’t be the only one eyeing that real estate. And even if you’d been first to establish your home in one, it would only be a matter of time before others—driven to dangerous behaviour by the situation—would come knocking for a cup of sugar. In movies that follow this solution, like both 1978 and 2004’s Dawn of the Dead, even a mall can only harbour survivors for so long before an escape is required.
Being stuck in the open would make the prospect of long-term survival slim. The Walking Dead handles this, and budget constraints, by having their survivors wander rural landscapes for what feels like way too long (not too long for survival, but for the attention span of the audience). Rick’s crew does eventually make camp in a prison, but like with the mall solution in 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, others come to covet the space and *spoilers* carnage inevitably ensues.
No matter what your choice, you’d want to be hunkered down well, have enough supplies to last, weapons for protection, and a form of post-apocalypse leadership that isn’t oppressive. That’s where Rapture from Bioshock fails. In the 2007 video game you find yourself drawn to an underwater city called Rapture, where the rich have escaped the world to live in seclusion. Rapture is a haven for those that want to build a city and personal wealth without the constraints of regulation and law—the man reaching in to take a share. Their perceived apocalypse isn’t driven by zombies—it’s economic. Except this Objectivist utopia eventually falls apart due to class struggles between its inhabitants and the man who started it all, Andrew Ryan. Ryan reacts to leadership challenges by building an army of behemoth monsters in diving suits called “Big Daddies,” as well as altered citizens turned soldiers called “Splicers.” By the time you arrive, the entire affair has fallen apart and Rapture more resembles a madhouse.
The one thing this thought experiment hasn’t taken into account is you—or, more importantly, your preexisting level of wealth and preparedness. Movies and video games have again and again shown us that those trying to survive on the fly will fail spectacularly. But there has been a popular real-life movement towards doomsday prepping, especially in the United States. Partially this is driven by a kind of conspiracy theory thinking which posits that larger forces are working towards the destruction of civilization—and that such destruction is imminent. The other part must be sheer boredom, turning the pursuit into an overly serious hobby.
Should you have more money than you know what to do with and want to wait out the apocalypse in relative comfort and style (like the vault system in Fallout 4), there’s always Vivos Europa One. Their main promotional video isn’t at all a corny scare tactic grasping at your most basic, unrealistic fears:
This underground bunker is carved into the side of a mountain somewhere in Europe. They refuse to say where until you flash some money their way, stating on their website: “Additional information is on a ‘need to know’ basis for qualified parties.” What we do know about Vivos Europa One is that you’ll have all the space you want, with each unit coming in at 2,500 square feet, and a possible 5,000 square foot build-out space. They assume on their website that you’re going to want to customize your unit decadently, adding pools and theatres, as these domiciles don’t come finished or furnished in any way. From what I can gather, they’ve simply purchased a defunct soviet military site, divvied it up into units, and are hawking them bare-bones—placing the ownness on you as a purchaser to make the space habitable to your luxurious standards. Just check out those possibilities at the end of their video.
The real problem with Vivos Europa One might come into play when you realize that there are only 34 units available in the sprawling complex. Less voices to challenge a dictator might mean that someone grabs the mantle of leadership and can’t be overthrown. In a situation where your stay in Vivos Europa One becomes amply prolonged, and breeding for the sake of survival is required, I’d also have to assume that you’d be working with a very limited gene pool. How many of those that had purchased units would even have kids, and be willing to use them to create future generations of, to borrow a term from Fallout 4, vault dwellers?
If you’re not mega wealthy, Vivos still hasn’t given up on you. There’s a poor man’s version of Europa One called Vivos xPoint. Located in the Black Hills area of South Dakota, it’s more like long-term camping than a real survival experience. For just 25 grand you can purchase an individual ammunition bunker that was decommissioned in 1967, and live alongside 574 other survival enthusiasts. Each unit has ample room, but if you can only muster 25 grand, you’re likely not dropping a ton of money into further construction.
Their website happily eases our fear of losing everyday life during the apocalypse by letting us know that: “Onsite amenities are planned to include, a General Store, a members-only Restaurant & Bar, BBQ areas, a Community Theater, Hot Tub Spa, Gym, Medical Clinic, Hydroponic Gardens, Meeting Rooms, Classrooms, a Chapel, Horse Stables, Shooting Ranges, a Vivos Equipment and Construction Supply Depot, a Woodworking Shop, Maintenance Shop, Metal Fabrication Shop, and a fully built out showroom bunker to demonstrate how each bunker can be outfitted and equipped.”
Alas, a few disturbing design facts did stand out to me. The units are relatively exposed, despite being buried under some earth. Vivos states that part of their safety comes from the fact that they’re located far from any nuclear targets, but what about our hypothetical zombies, or biological agents—or even anarchists, as their website warns us to be prepared for? An army of Mad Max style warriors might want to specifically seek out survival bunkers to scavenge supplies. Also, they’re mostly built to contain dangerous events (they held bombs). To again quote their wonderful website: “Each bunker was reportedly built and fortified to withstand a 500,000-pound internal blast.” The key word here is internal.
So keep daydreaming, pondering, or pontificating on the best way to survive when a Resident Evil style virus goes on the lamb. Even if you do drop loads of money on it, and can survive in a super-special Rapture style complex without all that pesky Ayn Rand philosophy to guide your life, you might not be better off.
Featured image credit: Forbes