by Tynan Drake, Ball State University

In recent years, survivalism culture has exploded around the concept of a zombie apocalypse. At first it may seem absurd that anyone would take this fictional concept so seriously, but by digging beneath the surface just a little, we can find a thriving community of people who feel ready for any obstacle life (or an apocalypse) can throw at them. New generations of “preppers” have begun to treat the idea of a zombie apocalypse as a catch-all simulation for the vast variety of disasters that can occur. While some preppers still scorn even humoring the idea of a zombie apocalypse, others have embraced it as a real part of their emergency preparedness and survival training, with The Prepper Journal proclaiming it as “one of the most entertaining reasons why some choose to prepare.”

The reactions in the prepper community can vary greatly between individuals when the topic of zombie apocalypses comes up. Some preppers view even the idea as foolish and a waste of time, while others argue that a virus outbreak could possibly cause zombie-like behavior. The Prepper Journal commented on this topic, “Real or not, convincing you one way or the other isn’t the intent . . . if nothing else, zombies are a metaphor for a lot of potential behavior post-apocalypse.” Whether zombies are a reality or not, their impact on our culture is undeniable, with Hollywood and preppers alike promoting preparation for the possible disaster.  Since the booming success of zombies in pop culture from Resident Evil to The Walking Dead, people have been asking ‘would I survive the zombie apocalypse?’ paving the way for the advent of Zombie Survival Camps. These camps provide a low stress environment of entertainment in which the participants can begin learning a number of basic survival skills that could be useful in disaster situations. While these camps are far from serious preparation, they provide a sort of crash course for individuals who might otherwise be caught completely unprepared should a disaster strike. One prepper site, Happy Preppers, identified the zombies as the masses of “people who haven’t prepared for uncertain times,” using the zombie as a metaphor for the desperate and sometimes violent actions people turn to when food, water, medicine, and other resources become scarce.

Many of the threats in zombie apocalypse stories stem from real world disasters, fears, and apocalyptic events. Two of the most common causes for real-world survival situations are severe weather (which we are seeing more often as global climate change worsens) and natural disasters, as was seen with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, or the massive destruction done by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico earlier this year. These kinds of events often lead to a local economic breakdown where supply chains are disrupted, making food, medicine, fuel, and other everyday necessities inaccessible for weeks. Safe drinking water and adequate shelter can become difficult to find, especially as government-run evacuation sites become overwhelmed and their resources stretched to the limit. In many cases, these disasters continue to impact the economic well-being of the affected area for years following the initial event. According to this Huffington Post article by Jesselyn Cook, even 7 years after the Haitian earthquake “there are still about 55,000 people in camps and makeshift camps… Many are still living in unsanitary conditions due to displacement caused by the earthquake. We have a very long way to go.”

The idea of survivalism is to be prepared for anything and everything, so that when disaster strikes, the survivalist knows what to do and how to take action. For some survivalists, the concept of the zombie apocalypse presents a unique simulation in which every single disaster needs to be accounted for and in which every skill for survival can be utilized at some point or another. Essentially, the idea is that if you can survive the zombie apocalypse, you can survive any real-world apocalyptic event.  Whether due to plague, warfare, economic collapse, or environmental disasters, many of the threats of the imagined zombie apocalypse were built from real disasters our world has already suffered and is likely to suffer time and time again throughout history.

For some people, that’s a thought too terrifying and stressful to contemplate, but to many survivalists it’s an inevitability that can’t be ignored. Despite what many may think, most survivalists are not overcome by persistent anxiety and worry over an uncertain future. A common phrase among prepper communities is “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” Most websites dedicated to survivalism stress the importance of maintaining good mental health as a critical part of preparation and surviving any disaster. On this point, Happy Preppers states that, “Survival planning is a psychological first-aid. It is a matter of having hope and determination to survive and having a logical plan to go along with it.” As the Australian Psychological Society says on preparation for natural disasters, “Once the household emergency plan has been set and practiced and the necessary physical preparations have been made, we can turn our attention to psychological strategies for managing the stress of a threatening natural disaster” (1). This means that survivalists who have already devised a plan of action and made physical preparation have more time and energy to devote to their mental and emotional well-being. Often times people choose to ignore a threat due to feelings of doubt, confusion, or anxiety, and consequently they feel unprepared for a disaster and don’t know what they would do. Such feelings can get overwhelming, urging them to shove the worry to the back of their minds where it remains a persistent worry. This is why survivalists prepare for disasters in advance, and many of them chose to do so under the guise of preparing for a zombie apocalypse. While there certainly will always be exceptions, as there are in every community, most survivalists feel confident in their ability to react and adapt to any survival situation, having already prepared themselves both physically and mentally for the potential disasters they are likely to face; in some cases, this training just happens to occur in the more fantastical context of zombie apocalypse-preparedness. Whether that disaster manifests in a natural disaster and severe climate change, warfare, economic collapse, pandemic, or something else altogether, zombie apocalypse survivalists can rest easy knowing they are prepared for it all.


Works Cited

Australian Psychological Society. Psychological preparation for natural disasters. APS, 2013. Accessed 26 Nov. 2017.

Cook, Jesselyn. “7 Years After Haiti’s Earthquake, Millions Still Need Aid.” Huffington Post, 13 Jan. 2017,
5875108de4b02b5f858b3f9c. Accessed 26 Nov. 2017.

Dale. “Prepare For the Worst and Hope For the Best.” Survivalist Prepper, Accessed 14 Dec. 2017.

Martin, Michael. “Zombies: Separating Fact From Myth.” The Prepper Journal, 7 Jan. 2015, Accessed 5 Dec. 2017.

“Survival Psychology: Prepping and the Psychology of Survival.” Happy Preppers, Accessed 15 Dec. 2017.

Zombie Survival Camp. 2015, Accessed 5 Dec. 2017.

“Zombies vs. Preppers: How to identify the zombies from preppers.” Happy Preppers, Accessed 5 Dec. 2017.