What’s better than a lifetime supply of food, an unlimited source of water, and a stockpile of weapons that can reduce any zombie to dust?
A human being you can trust.
That’s right, the most important resource you have at your disposal at the end of the world is a person who has your back – someone who is willing to die by your side, instead of slitting your throat and adding your meager supplies to their own. Even if you had all the resources you need to live for a hundred years, without a strong group behind you to protect them, you’re just a pampered cat, waiting to get eaten by a pack of wild dogs that are more desperate than you to survive.
You’ll need other people to survive.
So how do you tell if someone is trustworthy? During the apocalypse, you won’t have the luxury of resumes and interviews. (And who knows if anyone is even telling the truth!) Besides, most people don’t reveal their true nature until they finally snap, and by the time you see it, it’s far too late.
Anyone who has watched The Walking Dead religiously can recite Sheriff Rick Grimes’s three questions for joining his group:
1. How many [zombies] have you killed?
2. How many people have you killed?
But are these questions enough to help you determine who belongs in your group and who needs to take a hike? Well, that depends.
At the start of the apocalypse, you’re unlikely to find that many people who will have had a need to kill other humans, and even fewer who have been brave enough to directly combat zombies (and live). Most people are likely to be avoiding all conflict and just running, hoping to find a safe zone. Further into the apocalypse, as resources become scarce and society taboos break down, these questions are indeed essential. But are they useful at the start? Not so much. You’ll probably just scare away your potential ally.
Well, if that’s the case, then why bother with any questions at all?
Because the first true group you form determines how well you’ll work together with people for the rest of your post-apocalypse life, and how likely you will successfully join another group once your first one falls apart. You’ll want to get to know them as quick as possible to determine if they’re worth a spot in your group.
Here are some guidelines that will help you sort out potential friends from potential fiends:
Seek out people with skills, not tools
All tools eventually break, but skills are valuable and can be passed down from person to person. Survival skills are the best, but if you don’t find anyone like Bear Grylls (Man Vs. Wild) or Les Stroud (Survivorman), don’t panic! There are plenty of other useful skills that can serve you well:
Cooking – especially someone who’s good at using whatever is at hand
Basic first aid – a doctor, nurse, EMT, or even a lifeguard or a veterinarian can help
Clothing skills like sewing, knitting, and crochet (especially in the winter months when warm clothes are essential to survival)
Food skills: farming, fishing, hunting, and knowing what plants are safe to eat
Runners/parkour experts/athletes. Find brave, daring souls that can scout dangerous areas, access unreachable places, and distract enemies from the group.
Science/Tech experts – they can help bypass old-world security systems, analyze your defenses and problem-solve difficult situations. They behave logically and think calmly, even in stressful situations.
Acting / Storytelling – if your group is in a tight spot, having a negotiator who can bluff and quickly read a situation can help you avoid fighting, especially with other groups. These people can defuse tense situations with humor, and they’re great for keeping up morale.
Scavenging/Inventing/Repair experts – These people can find and make anything out of a few spare parts and are the key to keeping your group safe at night (and your vehicles running longer) and will keep you prepared for whatever comes your way.
Military or special forces training – it’s likely that you’ll eventually bump into some remainder of the armed forces. Having one or two of them on your team is essential, so long as they don’t view you as zombie fodder.
Age does matter
Avoid having anyone younger than five and anyone so old that they cannot keep up with the group’s pace. Avoid infants because they are often loud and will attract zombies, and avoid people who travel more slowly because they are more likely to lag behind, get sick, and die in their sleep, which can cause a sudden zombie outbreak. There will always be exceptions to these, but never forget the risks. If you take in that family with a grandma and a 3-month old baby, make sure someone is always awake monitoring them.
Don’t force people to join you, even if they are in danger
If you encounter someone who refuses to join you or who is in utter denial of the apocalypse situation, leave them behind. These people will not be grateful that you saved them, and their intense depression will often spread through your group with disastrous results. If they don’t want to be saved, they’ve already made their decision and you should respect it. You are a group of survivors, after all. Some people do not want to live in the new world.
Avoid people who:
Have a temper
These people are a zombie outbreak waiting to happen. They are more likely to kill without reason and can often get themselves so worked up that they can actually die and turn themselves.
Hate anyone who isn’t their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc
People who can’t tolerate other people are unlikely to survive in the apocalypse, and they are likely to get you in trouble for it. These people will only get crazier as society breaks down. As a side note, if they hate something about you, you can’t hide it from these people. They will find out, and they may kill you for it.
Have to have their way all the time
If their only talent is bossing everyone else around and if they won’t listen to reason, there’s a good chance they’ll lead your group into trouble. Natural leaders will emerge if you let them, but don’t let someone run a dictatorship over your group. Remember, the best leaders are those who seek the opinions of others and who openly admit when they don’t know something.
Look for people who:
Have strong family or friendship bonds
Chances are, they’ll consider you family once you earn their trust.
Are willing to help
People who are willing to learn and become productive members of your group are worth keeping, even if they don’t know any useful skills at first.
Lone wolf survivors have a lot to offer your group, including tips for survival. If you’re ever split apart, you know they’ll survive and you’ll be likely meet again. Just don’t expect them to be social butterflies. Sometimes they need their own space.
Want to rebuild society in the long term
These people are visionaries and you will need them once you’ve found a safe spot to settle down. Look for people who don’t want to restore the bureaucracy or rule the world, but want to start over and live peaceful lives. It will take many years to rebuild society, so you want the people who know how to start small and think about the big picture.
Don’t forget that you may also leave a group at any time, at your own discretion. This may need to be done, especially if you deem a group dangerous to your health or your mental well-being. Likewise, you may make a mistake and invite a person who turns out to be a detriment to your group. You’ll have to make tough calls to remove them. Do you choose exile or execution? Remember to look at all the sides and carefully weigh your options. It’s just as dumb to let someone live who will murder your group in revenge as it is to execute an innocent group member. Whatever happens though, don’t beat yourself up over these decisions. Ultimately, you’re only human, and these are certainly not the only mistakes you’ll make during the apocalypse. Just remember to learn from them and build healthier communities going forward. It’s the only way to survive.
Ultimately, your survival depends on how you can interact with the new society that rises up after the zombie apocalypse. You’ll want to build strong relationships in your group that will carry over into this new world, whatever it may turn out to be.
In the end, your group will become your family. Choose them wisely.
Written by: Joanie Rich