Informing my plot: in case of disaster, what would YOU do?
January 16, 2017 3:21 PM   Subscribe

This year, I'm turning 50 and my goal is to finish one post-apocalypse novel before my birthday (given that I started writing in that genre age 12). So, without telling my story here, and thus rendering it unnecessary to write, please tell me...

If there was a global disaster affecting everyone, causing chaos and removing easy access to necessities (power, fuel, food, water, communications), what would be your priorities (head to country, get weapons, stockpile food, find family)? If you don't mind sharing some demographic details (age, marital status, children, education, childhood experiences, religion) that you think impact on your decision, that would be good. Morbid answers welcome (like how unsuited you think you are - and your specific concerns), but mostly I want non-prepper risk management plans.

If you have idly discussed this over dinner with your delightful but clearly insane friends, feel free to share their pontifications here, and demographics if relevant.

I will not cut and paste / plagiarise your words - and if i do use your reasoning, and the book gets published and the publisher allows me, I will certainly acknowledge your input. Oh, my story is set in a place on a coastline where there is never snow, and though I hesitate to let this cat out, it's a virulent airborne plague because that might change what you would do.

No weblinks thanks - I'm okay for that, and other threads and research (including here) has given a list of novels/movies that I will check out so that I'm not too similar.
posted by b33j to Writing & Language (57 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I would definitely concentrate on finding family. My friends and I have also talked about which special skills (gardening, hunting, knowledge about how to build/make things) might come in handy in the event that society collapses.

I would also stockpile medicine.
posted by christinetheslp at 3:31 PM on January 16, 2017

I'm 26yo, female, single, no kids, MA degree, close to immediate family (emotionally, not geographically), atheist.

I hate hate hate commotion and being in the city (on a coastline) in an emergency seems terrifying. (This seems ESPECIALLY true in a case with an airborne plague.) So I would probably grab some high-calorie, non-perishable food from my pantry, plus some dog food, and get into the car with my dog.

Then I would start driving to where my parents live, about 11 hours south. Obviously i would not want to drive on 95 in an emergency, so I would drive out west into the countryside first, before heading south. I would text my mom when I left, telling her to expect me within 16 hours and explaining my planned route. Then I would shut off my phone to preserve the battery.

I keep a small survival and first aid kit in my car. Would they be useful in a real emergency? I have no idea. I wouldn't have thought of weapons if you hadn't mentioned that in your Ask, and I would try to get my parents to stockpile food/resources before my arrival.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 3:34 PM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would try to make sure I had enough of my essential medication. It would also be important for me to safeguard my cats - make sure they had food, litter, and safety.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:35 PM on January 16, 2017

Oh, my story is set in a place on a coastline where there is never snow, and though I hesitate to let this cat out, it's a virulent airborne plague because that might change what you would do.
It's funny you mention that, because one of the things I was thinking would be a priority for me would be a working sail-powered vessel and enough spare hardware to keep it in repair, because I live along a remote coastline (though not one where there is never snow) and if the support network in the outside world falls apart the sea will be our biggest source of food for subsistence.
posted by Nerd of the North at 3:37 PM on January 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

In a scenario involving an airborne plague I imagine that my first instinct to try and help my neighbours would be out. I would most likely serve them best by staying out of sneezing range, and even further.

So to begin with I would end up trying to help on line, chat rooms and suggestions to people with infrastructure issues, but when the electricity went I would end up holed up with my family, trying to survive on the supplies we had.

After awhile they would absolutely drive me lunatic because they would be both bored and distressed so I would leave the house and go somewhere all alone, as far from other people as I could find and hunker down. I would be much more afraid of spreading the plague than of contracting it, so I would not be afraid of approaching people who were dead at this point, so I might very well try and get supplies from where dead people were, water, and such, or start tending to burials and recording the deaths. If I found people who were dead in a position to contaminate water supplies or obviously spread the plague I might move them to somewhere that they would not be as severe a hazard to survivors.

If the plague in question were limited to primates I might try to work to make sure that surviving animals survived, such as by letting cows out of barns.

But after leaving notes of who died, when and where, so that later survivors would be able to find out what happened to people they might come looking for, I would probably run out of stamina and supplies and curl up somewhere alone to die. I assume if there was a terrific plague I would get it and die of it, and the idea does not distress me very much. My biggest distress would be the concept that all these poor people (and animals?) were going to die or had died.
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:40 PM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Well, I'm pretty sure my guiding principle would be what it usually is: perceived risk.

I'd assuming my non-present family members are trapped under something and screaming, until proven otherwise. I'd probably not think about food or drink until the hunger/thirst came knocking, and then I'd work that problem. If shelter was an issue, I'd work on that as inclement weather or sundown came in-- ditto warmth. If there were roving bands of predators (human and non-), then physical security would take priority, either by isolation, hiding, or guns and ammo. If I have a bone protruding from my leg, well, not dying from that, or something that gets me because of that, would be my priority.

In each case, I'd try to get each thing taken care of not just for now (though that's the minimum), but also a bit for the future, so I can work on the next thing. Eventually, I hope, I could have a few things taken care of for the medium/long term, such as shelter security ( a good roof and walls), food and water supplies, some control or escape from the predators; whatever so I can devote more and more of my day to the bigger picture, like improving my fortification, working on agriculture so I'm not dependant on the diminishing piles of MREs, thinking about how I might pack up and travel to some place that remains civilized.

Airborne plague is a bad one, because of the potential for infection would stick around for a long time whenever you're outside. So, maybe developing a good filter/vent system for my (otherwise sealed) house would be a good ongoing, long-term project. But none of that matters if I run out of food on day 5 and havent' found any a few days later.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:48 PM on January 16, 2017

Once a need becomes acute, by the way, it's hard to think about anything else. In "Down and Out in Paris and London," Orwell writes about the new depths of nuance his hunger seemed to take on during the times he was starving in the day-to-day.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:50 PM on January 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

I always joked I would break into the walmart and steal the glasses lens grinding machine - everyone with vision problems would need glasses when civilization is putting the pieces back together, so I'd just wait til the dust settled and open business.
posted by Dmenet at 3:56 PM on January 16, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'm on the other side of the country from my family and hours away from anyone I know so. If it's a virulent airborne plague I think I'm hunkering down for as long as possible and waiting it out. I've seen Shaun of the Dead and all those movies. I have food and water and no reason to leave the house unless something else happens. I would expect that eventually the chaos would end, relief would arrive and everything would start back up again. Having grown up in the US in relative comfort and with a low tolerance for risk, I don't have any frame of reference for things never getting back to normal.
posted by bleep at 4:23 PM on January 16, 2017

I am in my late 30s and female.

Mr. Motion and I have planned out our emergency meeting spots for disasters of various scales (house burned down -- gas station down the block, block on fire -- fire station at city hall, city on fire -- his Aunt's house in the exurbs, Yellowstone erupts and/or Trump renames U.S. to Republic of Gilead -- relative's house across a land border).

If it's looking like a SHTF situation, we'll hit a local Fleet Farm to stock up on food, gardening supplies, camping equipment, fishing equipment, and yes, firearms (more for hunting/keeping them out of other people's hands than using them on others). The logic of the Fleet Farm choice is that hopefully most people will be thinking Walmart for the same things so Fleet Farm should be safer. Either way, this is relatively early on the list because even if we had enough at home to survive a few days, I'd expect the places to be emptied out if we waited too long.

I used to think that holing up in a big box store would be the best option, but then I rewatched Dawn of the Dead, and I think that getting to a "home" base would be better (especially as far as regrouping with neighbors/family members).

Our collecting missions would also include checking up on local family members. Local friends would be welcome at our house but, tbh, they are younger than the family members and so I would expect them to be able to manage better in the short term.

Mr. Motion is more handy/outdoorsy by nature than I am, but I am the better gardener, cook, and beer brewer. I've been trying to becoming a better naturalist lately (in fact, there is a MN Mycological Society meeting on my calendar for this evening), so I think that would help too. The most important skill though is that we both know that libraries exist, and contain books that include information that could help us survive a disaster that we wanted to live through*.

On reread of your question though -- in the case of a plague, I'd prioritize drinking water, fuel, and non-perishable foods and plan on having as little contact with the outside world as possible for a few weeks. If it becomes clear that "society" has ceased to function, I would hope that the priorities of those around us would include pooling resources to deal with body removal. We should have enough garbage bags and duct tape around to hopefully be able to make small piles safely, and from there it's a question of rounding up snow plows/pickup trucks/tractors/etc. to bring the smaller piles to a more central area for burning/burying (I have a local park in mind, but there's also the literal cemetery that might be appropriate too).

*there are many many reasons why I don't want kids, but the fact that I wouldn't want to feel conflicted about making the choice that the Mom from The Road did is one of them.
posted by sparklemotion at 4:33 PM on January 16, 2017

*rubs hands together* aha my chance to shine with my crazy theory: I would do many of the things posted here, but one working theory I've always held is that in the event of some break down of society the person I would reach out to, try to protect, etc. etc. is my real estate agent.

Unlike so many of the preppers with their loner fantasies I actually grew up on an isolated rural area where sometimes due to weather we were cut off or other things happened that caused us to be self-reliant. And the biggest thing I learned from that is you can self-reliant as a community but not on your own - nobody has all the skills/knowledge/equipment/labor it takes to do all the things, even if it's as simple as getting everyone's fields hayed.

So in my mind a real estate agent would be great to reach out to because they would a) know the area super well; b) be super great at working with and connecting with people; and c) would know all kinds of people and have a rough idea of the accessible knowledge base. (I've had good real estate agents.)
posted by barchan at 4:36 PM on January 16, 2017 [11 favorites]

I'd hunker down in place until the first initial dust settled then make a break south to a warmer climate. Post Apocalypse survival in the snowy Midwest does not sound fun, assuming this is after any plague has killed itself out. Having said that I'm not a prepper per se but I do like to keep a stockpile of food around I like canning & preserving stuff I've grown in the garden. I live maybe 100metres from a river so I'd be OK for water assuming no roving bands of things out to get me.

I am a pretty good gardener so would look at building up food supply storage in the after math where ever we ended up & getting to my inlaws to get my hands on their guns. Funny I just realized as I wrote this, how now I live in the US I think about guns in an emergency situation, but if I was back home in Australia the need for them would never have crossed my mind.

Now I am also a foreign national so if the plague hadn't reached the entire planet I might be looking at ways to get back home, hell I'd probably want to do that anyway as I know way more about surviving in Australia than I do in the US if I have to hunt/fish/grow food.
posted by wwax at 4:36 PM on January 16, 2017

Exactly middle-aged woman. I'd be picked off so easily, I can't tell you. I think I'd assume I would, after some pathetic initial efforts. Maybe I'd last a week?

I'd be worried about losing the ability to see (have glasses/contacts, major vulnerability); I can't run; I'm not physically aggressive, so would find myself at the back of a pack of people rushing stores for water, for example, never mind that I'd be incompetent to protect myself if actually attacked by a human or energetic raccoon. Did not attend Girl Scouts or similar so have zero survival skills (e.g. no idea about knots or how to purify water).

I think my instinct might be to hide, also, ie stockpile; duct tape every door and window, and live off toilet water, probably. Because if I tried to make my way to family, given no public transport - I have no car or bike - I'd put 9/10 odds on getting lost on the way, since I get lost often enough with Google Maps at my disposal. Basically, I'd be dead almost immediately, minor character, maybe someone bad could trip on my decaying femur.

(I wouldn't be strong enough to actually kill myself in the worst moments, either. I'd die a coward, just waiting for the end. Maybe I'd be spared pain by some kind of dissociation or hallucination at the end.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:38 PM on January 16, 2017 [10 favorites]

First thought: Well, I'm not going to work.
Second thought: Should I call in sick?
Thought 2.5: Nah, screw 'em
Third thought: Is my Y2K water still good?

After that I will probably start thinking about things that will not help me because I am usually in denial about big, life-altering crises, in this case leading to death either by delayed panic or sustained nonchalance.

If I think I can outrun it, I might try that, but I'll make sure my house is clean before I leave, because sooner or later someone is going to have to get inside, probably because I am dead or else they're just breaking in, and either way I don't want people thinking I was a slob. In the end I would probably stay put, put plastic on the windows with tape and eat canned food for a while.

I probably would not have a good outcome in most crisis scenarios.
posted by sageleaf at 4:43 PM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm a complete realist/defeatist. My priorities would be:

a) Immediately walk to the local veterinary clinic, break in, and steal a specific set of drugs.

b) Go home and humanely euthenise the dogs.

c) Humanely euthenise ourselves.

age, marital status, children, education, childhood experiences, religion

45, married, no children, college educated, atheist from a mix of whacky shit. My relevant childhood experiences include watching The Day After at the age of 11; growing up surrounded by very damaged Holocaust survivors who had passed their damage onto their adult children; and routinely pondering how I am too fat, too tired, and too unfit to have survived a single forced march in history.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:03 PM on January 16, 2017 [13 favorites]

Single guy, no kids, early 40s, although I don't think family status would change my answer.

My first priority would be weaponry, both for hunting* and self-protection. You can own a gun and help your neighbors. But people get awful when they get scared.

*although if it's an airborne virus, are animals going to be infected? can eating them infect you?
posted by AFABulous at 5:08 PM on January 16, 2017

First, tools: pistol and rifle with same chambering, ideally interchangeable magazines, hand tools (hammer, couple saws, screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, etc.), fishing tackle, a couple good multi-tools, a couple good pocketknives. Cash might be considered a good tool; people will cling to what they knew, and they knew these little green pieces of paper had value. Get a few lighters and boxes of waterproof matches, to use while I learn how to use flint and steel.

Second, drugs: antibiotics, antivirals, enough of my most critical medications to last a year, lots of Benadryl, Tylenol, and Motrin. Sunscreen. Isopropyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide.

Third, pimp my ride: replace all four wheels on my chair with some sort of solid (no more flat tires), all-terrain wheels. Attach holsters for pistol and rifle, water bottle.

Fourth, food: skip Walmart, Kroger, etc., as they'll be wiped out by the time I can get there. The convenience stores all have canned and dry goods. My neighbors who died have pantries. There's the community garden downtown, along with the Little Food Pantry. All the military surplus stores have MREs - that'd be my first choice if the roads aren't blocked a la The Stand. They probably also have water purification tablets, "camping" cookware, tents, sturdy backpacks, all kinds of good stuff. Hit up a nursery for some food plants, figure out where I could find seeds, depending on the time of year the plague hits.

Fifth, books: There's probably no Surviving the Apocalypse for Dummies, but there are books on gardening, home repairs, carpentry, animal husbandry, hunting, raising chickens, fishing, canning and other food preservation methods, and first aid. I want them all. Library, Barnes and Noble, indie book stores, I'm a book lover, so I'd know where they all are.
I'd have to work out some sort of towing system to rig up to my chair, to get gear back to my home base. I wouldn't want to rely on anything that runs on gas or electricity.

I would not try to hook up with my family. They'd be burdened enough just trying to survive without trying to deal with my medical needs. They're all smart, resourceful people, and I'm confident they'd survive. And if they didn't survive, well, I don't want to know that. I'd want to cling to the idea that they were living for the sake of my mental health.

39, female, some college. My teen and tween live with my parents because my health persists in being fascinating. I grew up upper-middle class, and from the time I was three, I wanted to know everything. I had a set of encyclopedias by the time I was four and had read them all before I was five. Did stupid, mental illness-driven things in my late teens, and have been broke and broker ever since.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 5:17 PM on January 16, 2017

I am middle-aged, Canadian female and have no family. I might try to see how friends were doing, but I wouldn't want to be a burden to any of them, so I'd probably end up hunkering down in my apartment and eventually dying of hunger, plague or cold.
posted by zadcat at 5:18 PM on January 16, 2017

My husband is on very specific medications and has told me when we nerdishly discussed this to expect him to not put up a fight and to be on my own fairly quickly. He also told me that the biggest danger once the crisis passes will be that when the electrical grid goes, the pipes will freeze and the city will quickly flood and become uninhabitable.

So I would head for whichever local shopping mall is on highest ground and I would try and live there. I have a baby and would need food, water, formula etc. I think I could be quite comfortable with making my camp in a mall.
posted by ficbot at 5:29 PM on January 16, 2017

I have given this a lot of thought because The Stand is one of my favorite novels and I love the part at the beginning of the book when he's talking about all the different ways people react. I'm a late-30s white single woman living in a city geographically far from immediate family I love a lot. My plans are based on a Stand-like apocalypse (i.e., the virus has killed 99.5% of the population).

Assuming I could get the timing right (i.e., far enough advanced we knew things were falling apart, but still with enough time to do something about it), I would call around to my most resourceful friends and put together a crew to survive with (assuming I could find enough who weren't afflicted). I live in Seattle, so I would find a boat somewhere (my fictional self has already inventoried boats in the neighborhood and learned how to sail!) and gather said resourceful friends to sail to the Olympic Peninsula or one of the San Juan Islands. I have family on the peninsula in a farming area, so their house would be my first choice. I like the peninsula and the islands because they are populated enough to have people and supplies (I agree with those who say survival is communal) but rural/remote enough to avoid a lot of the secondary problems of these apocalypses (arson, diseases that come from sanitation issues).

I would worry about my far-away family, enough that I might be tempted to try to find them later on.

I have always thought the hardest thing would be knowing when to stay put and when to venture out, for supplies, or company, or to get out of the city.
posted by lunasol at 5:34 PM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had a zombie apocalypse dream once and I was terrified. But I ended up surviving because I'm good at getting people together and following a common goal. In the dream it was survival, and when I woke up, I realized that was true irl too.

A friend would follow the animals.
posted by A hidden well at 5:37 PM on January 16, 2017

Late 30s, F, PhD. I'm pretty conversant in the skills needed to survive if cut off from processed fuel/groceries/etc (especially in a place with mild winters) in a peaceful scenario, BUT I'm also weakling. I think a regional crisis might have a chance of being a peaceful sort of scenario where people would cooperate to get along until things can start coming back together. Maybe that's Cascadia Subduction Zone optimism speaking.

But I think a global catatrophe would usher in a new and spectacular disregard for social niceties, and anyone trying to get along solo, or as a small group, would be at the mercy of inevitable bands of thugs roving for either their own survival or for brutality lulz.

So my strategy would be to connect with as many of my local resources as possible, to coordinate resource sharing with protection being a key resource. I suspect a dozen to 20 people is probably the right size, and we'd ideally all do some scavenging and hoarding*, and observe some protocols for not infecting one another.

*I'd raid a pharmacy for an unbelievable cache of first aid supplies and manuals, and narcotics for palliative care. And then a hardware store: so many problems can be prevented or solved with bleach. Canning lids. Containers for storing water, and raw materials for a still. Seeds. Food plants, if it is that time of year. A smoker, if I saw one handy. Tarps, tarps, more tarps, rope, tarps. Buckets, buckets, buckets. Bolts of fabric (any kind). If my neighbors have chickens (they do), I'd chat them up and hunt for a rooster... Similarly goats or sheep, which are somewhat rarer in my immediate vicinity.
posted by janell at 5:45 PM on January 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

My plan would be to depend on charisma and social skills, trained intellect, and prior knowledge of gardening, ecology and low tech machines. Basically hook up with the right crowd and be useful in exchange for benefits.

Demographically I am a little under 40, white, American, and have a PhD.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:47 PM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Of course, the order of priorities depends on what you know, and what you have. But if there was a need to get away from where I was, I would have the option of taking my sailboat. The ocean is an opportunity for travel, but also for isolation and sustenance. One thing about traveling by sailboat: it is very slow. Small boats usually make about 100 miles day on the open ocean. Mostly you have to be in contact with the land every few days for food and fresh water. What's possible depends on how the boat is equipped, but preparing a boat for weeks at sea to cross a ocean takes time and resources, but people have gone far with little in survival circumstances.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:52 PM on January 16, 2017

Personally I would try to make my way to Chicago, which I've always thought would become a powerful post-apocalypse city-state due to its proximity to tons of fresh water.

You should definitely look at the top-rated posts from Mefi user Dee Xtrovert, who survived starvation and violence for several years during the siege of Sarajevo. In particular this one.

If you meant you didn't want examples of post-apocalyptic novels, would a non-fiction book be ok? For a similar project I'm planning to read A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. A good general search term would be 'disaster anthropology.'

I definitely think real stories from people who've survived similar situations would be helpful for you here, because most of the plans in this thread, including mine, are almost guaranteed to fail in the face of actual disaster. (But if you're looking for things your characters would decide to do that might fail, this is perfect.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:58 PM on January 16, 2017 [7 favorites]

Note: All y'all saying you'd raid pharmacies for drug stocks are going to be beating off all of the rest of you also raiding pharmacies for medical supplies. You'll be a lot better off raiding veterinary clinics. Equivalent drugs, less competition. Plus I'll be dead so I don't care who scores what.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:01 PM on January 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

My dad (now in his mid-60's) was a medic with the Air National Guard and used to have to run disaster scenarios. He then went into programming and worked his way into upper management.

He's thought about this a lot: says he'd hole up in a library or bookstore with some weapons. You need to know something? He's your man.
posted by jrobin276 at 6:20 PM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

White, male, 42, married, two kids, atheist, masters degrees. Grew up on a steady diet of nuclear paranoia and Red Dawn re-runs.

Fill as many containers as I can with fresh water. Defrost and cook, dry or cure all of the meat in the freezer, boil all of the eggs. Hide all of our medicine and alcohol. Turn sheets into bandages. Make weapons from kitchen knives and broom handles. Board the windows and doors. Move into a room I think I can defend. Use the 20L of tails from the still for cooking over soda can camp stove. Stretch out the rice, pasta, pulses, sugar, oil and canned food in the cupboard as long as I can. Drink cold-steeped coffee. Stay home and wait for the crisis to pass and for law and order to be imposed. Stay very, very quiet. Probably die.

I'd worry about what to do with / for the cats, and what would happen when prescription meds ran out.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:25 PM on January 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Well, since you mentioned being worried about similarity...

The 100 Year's War continued all though the years of the Black Death. The King of England reigned peacefully throughout; the King of France died in his bed, I believe of old age, and was succeeded by his son. I actually got curious about this and tried to find out: So far as I can tell, no government fell because of the Black Death. 30% to 50% of the population of Europe died; the economy was permanently altered; they passed a bunch of laws and the lives of the peasantry changed in some big ways. But there was no anarchy.

Wars. Wars cause anarchy; wars cause societies to collapse. Illness and natural disasters, not so much. Corruption can lead to failed states. But these things are not instantaneous.

Post-apocalyptic works as a genre and prepper-ism as a cult always seem to start from Hobbes, and handwave away the actual process of getting to Hobbes. But Hobbes is a philosophical exercise; in other words, bullshit.

If you really want to write a different post-apocalytic novel, start with the army. Tanks don't get head colds. Even if a 90% of the population dies, that still leaves 200K active duty service members alive in the US, and more among the vets. Somebody's going to be driving the tanks. A really different post-apocalyptic novel would be one which recognizes that lots of people dying doesn't mean there's automatically no government and no laws anymore. Brutal governments and martial laws, maybe.

So the answer to you question, what would I do if there was a highly virulent airborne plague? I'd maybe go somewhere up in the mountains where the population density wasn't too high with my family and bring plenty of bottled water, batteries, and gas. Batteries for the radio to listen for emergency bulletins from the CDC or equivalent to find out when it was safe to return home, gas to drive myself/my family to the nearest emergency field hospital if they get to the point where I can't care for them, bottled water to drink in the meantime. Hobbes is a myth. You're much more likely to get the Pilgrims over again, even in the case of somebody hitting the hard reset button: Contracts and governors and commonweals and town meeting and the pillory in the public square, right from the get-go. There's no starting from scratch. There's always precedent.
posted by Diablevert at 7:13 PM on January 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

Just found this post, which might provide ideas: Imagine there's no people
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 7:20 PM on January 16, 2017

I'm pretty sure I would sit down and die. I'd like to think that I'd want to find my husband, my dog, my friends. I'd like to think that I'd help people. But given how I react when my travel plans go awry (an unexpected layover? oh no!), I think I'd probably sit down to think about things, not be able to make a decision, and I'd either get sick or a mob would kill me.
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:52 PM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

As a point of reference for you as a real person it would have never occurred to me to stockpile weapons in the case of a real bad plague. Zombies sure.
posted by bleep at 7:54 PM on January 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm 33, male, raised and living in Southern California, bachelor's degree, an atheist, no kids.

When I consider the relative deprivation of life in a scenario like you're describing as compared to my life before, and considering the chances of even abject survival, even if I were willing to do anything—court starvation, watch friends die, kill other people—it seems unwise to strive for any goal more ambitious than a quick and humane death for myself and my loved ones. Pills if available, bullet in the head otherwise. Dignity intact. But perhaps that's not the most interesting novel.
posted by The Minotaur at 8:28 PM on January 16, 2017

I'm a 30 year old female and weaker and smaller than a large dog. My survival skill is attempting to get people to do things for me. So, I would definitely die immediately on my own but luckily my husband loves me.

When we've talked about this our plan is to head for the middle of the bay in my husbands lobster boat with a butt load of water. Hunker down until people on land are getting desperate. Then, trade lobster for other supplies. Unfortunately the other lobstermen probably would do the same thing and they are batshit crazy and scary and fearless so they would probably all kill each other.
posted by pintapicasso at 8:41 PM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

A while back (2009, 2010) Discovery ran a reality show called 'The Colony' about how a set of experts would survive in a simulated post apocalyptic situation. They each had a listing of skills that they would bring to the table - carpenters, doctors, infectious disease specialists, mechanics - even the artist knew how to weld. At the time I was building econometric models, so the joke at at work was if we were in it, we could either define their proper marketing spend, or well... the decision on how to describe/introduce myself to the group would be, "I make charts..."

Point being, the best laid plans can be humorously derailed by the unskilled.

Also, describing myself as "I make charts" really undercuts the other stuff I know. Electronics, rebuilding engines, light carpentry, model rocketry, a host of skills from backpacking and holding a WFR for a few years... but yeah, I think I could make a collective group of highly functional people pale with the three words, "I make charts..."
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:43 PM on January 16, 2017

Response by poster: Omg, I love you guys, you are fantastic. I have been thinking about this a very long time so I am very pleased that many of you have completely different approaches than those I'd already considered for a multitude of characters. I am reading and rereading every one of these while I am on (post-surgery) "house arrest" for next 6 weeks, so feel free to keep adding to the thread until it closes.
posted by b33j at 8:46 PM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

My basic hope is to sufficiently well-armed to be able to drive several hundred miles to where people I know who are much more self-sufficient live. As a strategy it's pretty paltry but it is what I have. I don't have the resources to have the elements of a post-apocalyptic compound, but I know people who do and I would just have to rely on their generosity if I were actually able to make it that far.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:07 PM on January 16, 2017

The only thing my wife and I have discussed about some human-ending apocalypse is that we'd cut every barbed wire fence we saw and release any and every captive animal we knew about or discovered. Use, well, we'd probably do some pointless and ultimately futile shit like steal a camper van and park it down by a river until we froze to death or starved.
posted by Sternmeyer at 9:17 PM on January 16, 2017

I'm in my 50's with a husband and two kids, 11 and 14. My priority would be to keep my kids alive. We live on 11 acres bordering a river on the outskirts of a small town. It's further north than where your story takes place, but let's assume I live in the same kind of place, just further south. Early on, when the plague was just starting to kill people off and services were still available, we'd buy as much food as possible and then just try to stay on our own property, away from other people.

My sister and her family live a few miles away, and I'd try to stay in contact with them even while avoiding other people. I assume our family and hers would help each other out and agree to check on each other regularly. Assuming some type of long distance communication was still possible at first, I think my sister and I would invite our siblings and parents who live in other states to come stay with us if they wanted to. Chances are they'd never make it there, though. If we started to run out of food while the plague was still spreading we'd probably try hard to find food on our own rather than doing anything that involved going into town or teaming up with people other than family - trying to catch fish or crayfish or kill a deer, gathering berries or beechnuts, growing things in our garden. If we were starving I would probably try walking to the nearby dairy farm, whose owners are acquaintances, to beg them to share some meat with us.

It probably wouldn't be long before the plague was done killing everyone it was going to kill, and then if we found ourselves still alive we'd start trying to team up with other people - any friends of ours still alive, plus anyone else who lived nearby who seemed at all willing to cooperate with us. We're in an area where farming, hunting, fishing and foraging are practical ways of getting food, so I imagine those of us left would manage to do pretty well, with everyone contributing whatever skills and resources they had. Our family wouldn't have the skills to make it on our own, but we wouldn't need to. I expect everyone would naturally start forming tribes and helping each other and local government on a larger scale would quickly re-emerge.

I actually find myself thinking life could be pretty good, maybe better than now, once the terrifying will-the-plague-kill-us part was over. (Yes, I am a huge optimist.)
posted by Redstart at 9:27 PM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure I'd want to go towards a major city. Which seems kind of opposite of preppers. My reasoning is, sure lots of people are going to be awful. Looting, crime, etc. But I think humans in general are basically cooperative creatures. While awful people are awful, most people are going to be banding together to help each other and plot a path forward.

The cities are where the competent go-getter types are concentrated. While we probably won't need stock brokers and software developers as such, we will need the kind of person who can think through a problem, set goals, break them down into tasks, manage task force teams, and then overcome obstacles and manage the project. I've got some of these skills myself, plus some emergency-response CERT-type training. I want to be on that team, not team "fuck you, I got mine."

I'll probably be disappointed when everybody with the resources has barricaded themselves on Mercer Island, but I'm pretty confident some of the people who think they're on the special elite list will find out otherwise and be stuck with us.
posted by ctmf at 9:46 PM on January 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

This airborne virus - does it survive outside of bodies? If so, for how long? Is contact with largish droplets or something finer sufficient for infection? Are there visible signs of infection before it's fatal? How quickly does it kill? Do we know those facts, have TV/radio/internet survived long enough to share that news, or are we acting in ignorance and discovering how it works by seeing how things fall apart?

I'd like to come up with something better than basically giving up, for the sake of your story, but I think if I didn't have information from some source suggesting I had a shot of surviving a walk, hunkering down alone and dying is likeliest. For reference - single/no kids, have a degree & some other quals, am an atheist irrationally favouring some kind of vitalism, live in a city, rely on transportation, have terrible feet.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:59 PM on January 16, 2017

Response by poster: Cotton dress sock, I'm not saying much, because this lot (mefites) is a wilful bunch, and even though my fictional projections are based on historical events, current academic research, international and local NGO and government risk management plans and my own possibly unjustifiable plot pivots, mefites could argue me out of my entire story (it's happened before).

But for you, let me say it unfolds over a period of time say... about 6 weeks (though this is subject to change), with media attention and government intervention gradually increasing. It's up to each character to make their own minds up as to when it becomes a serious, unavoidable, longterm, crisis (please, please, don't anyone argue this with me - you are all very convincing, and I don't need to be right, just plausible.)
posted by b33j at 12:00 AM on January 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am highly skeptical of the standard prepper fantasy. They fear in crisis what they fear in life: other people. Specifically they live their day to day lives being managed by some superior power (their boss, the government, whatever) they grudgingly acquiesce to. Their fantasy is to be free of this hierarchy, and so their behavior is to isolate. Those guys are all going to die alone in the woods after a few weeks, convienently removing the sort of people who would join "roving bands of thugs" from the population.

In a scenario where a mass percentage of the population gets sick and dies, *people* themselves become the most valuable resource--not bullets or stashed rations. Reinforcing their existing communities is the instinct most normal people are going to have. We see this nearly universally in the aftermath of natural disasters--strangers coming together to help each other.

So I would stay right where I am--in the city--and see how I can help my neighbors.
posted by danny the boy at 12:00 AM on January 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

Like what does "looting" and "hoarding" even mean when your share of every material thing in civilization is suddenly 10x what it was before? Why would there be violence over resources when suddenly there is much much more to go around because most people are dead?
posted by danny the boy at 12:04 AM on January 17, 2017

I'd try to get nearby family to my place. First thing would be setting up how to ration the ~ 120 gallons of water we'd have on hand in our hot water heaters. Then I'd connect with the neighbors I know about how to pool our strengths. Or, I would do that once the virus killed whomever. Until then, I'd really hunker down.
posted by slidell at 1:30 AM on January 17, 2017

Cities rely heavily on supply chain services to get goods. Yes, you'd find smart people in cities, but the question you need to know is how many cans of green beans there are on the shelf and how long it normally takes said can of green beans (and all the other food in the grocery store) to be replaced. In a big enough city, yes - you might have a months worth of canned green beans normally, but that assumes that you have a steady supply of fresh vegetables and meat and semi perishables being trucked in. Lets assume now that they aren't.

Well, grocery stores are going to start with the frozen and the fresh raided, but that is 1-3 days tops for fresh and maybe a week's worth of frozen (assuming the grid is in questionable order and refrigeration is unreliable). Prepared meats would not be rationed appropriately and those would disappear on the same timeline as the fresh food.

Grocery stores don't hold a ton of inventory for dry boxed goods (semi-perishables) unless it is a truly fast turn. So what you see is what you get. You get maybe another week of goods out of this section assuming idiots didn't have to have crackers with their cheese that they raided in the first 3 days of no power....

Soda and canned goods are where the bulk of day 21+ foods in the city are going to come from, and that's assuming that the kids don't go nuts and drink all the soda because - hey, what adult is concerned about your behavior when the world is in chaos. So few mid-process apocalyptic survival stories really give a sense as to what the kids are going to do... and assuming they all die because they are little is sort of a big fallacy - my kids get sick for half the time that I do. They burn hot, kill it, and then get back to raising heck the second I show symptoms... then take that to the bank... And left to fend for themselves? The kids are going to eat the soda and candy in a grocery store as quickly as possible.

So yeah, day +21 in a city? All the good food is gone. you have a stockpile of canned green beans with the occasional bit of Progresso and Campbell's soup thrown in for good measure. Dinty Moore is a treat. Mayonnaise and mustard can be put on everything if you want taste... And there is always the dog and cat food aisle. For a point of reference, dog food is more of a person's requirements and cat food is heavy on the protein and fat. Expect the shits after eating too much cat food.

Oh, and at this point, folks in cities know how dependent on supply chains for basic goods. No more food is coming in. If you are in a city past that day - get out, because that's when the dogs start disappearing.

Now with that said, if you find a packaging plant for something and you can put a generator to it and keep the machinery working - well then, you have enough of a supply of that good.. If you focus on keeping the Wheat thins or Saltines plant up and running, well - then you are printing food... assuming you have a clean source of water.

So the point I am making is - find a place where the food stocks outnumber the people.
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:34 AM on January 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

29/F/Tri-state area of US (NY/NJ/PA)
No kids, but lots of family nearby (and they have kids)

First thing I'd grab is my go-bag (I'm not a prepper, I just like survival doodads.) That's got a water purifying straw, various multitools, paracord, headlamp, some nutrient-dense food, firesteel, windproof matches, some lightweight, warm clothing, small bottles of soap, portable powerstation. Maybe some other stuff I forgot about.

I'd grab some stuff off my spice rack, because I remember that from Dee Xtrovert's comments.

Pack a bag quickly with 'performance' clothing, aka workout clothes, basically. Some boots and sneakers. Lots of wool socks. I have a small stockpile of prescription medication such as antibiotics, painkillers, and steroids.

Try to get in touch with family, but whether or not I was able to, I'd attempt to drive to the de facto family compound, my aunt and uncle's home in north NJ.

I think I might not do too poorly if there was a global emergency. I read and nearly memorized the Army Survival Manual when I was a kid (and I still reread it sometimes), I have first-aid training, and I'm decent at staying calm and organized when I need to be. I'm in alright shape, I guess? I'm small and can hide in small places. My downfall would be if I needed to run from things for an extended period of time. I can lift heavy things and I'm fairly strong, but I suck at cardio.

Brb, aggressively incorporating more cardio into my workouts...
posted by rachaelfaith at 6:09 AM on January 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

Befriend the homeless, share things they find valuable- liquor, cigarettes. Stay away from the ones with drug problems. I actually have a room in my home called "The Store". Over the years, it has accumulated enough supplies to keep the house functional for a month or two.

The homeless know their way around, they are also good eyes and ears. They stay away from others and people mostly want to stay away from them. They actually might survive and me and my family might make it to the conclusion of your book because they were able to help.

Lived in same home in suburbs for 18 years, two teen-aged kids, married.
posted by bkeene12 at 9:03 AM on January 17, 2017

(1) I'm an epidemiologist/toxicologist living in a big west coast city, but (2) I grew up on a farm in rural Arkansas.

Given your parameters, my urge would first be to get my self (and my husband and family and dog) as far out to sea as possible. Depending on the nature and duration of this virulent airborne illness, moving west away from population density and into prevailing winds would be priority one. Depending on whether airborne means "infects via respiratory contact" or "floats through the air but can infect through the skin" or some other variant, I'd imagine a good amount of time would be dedicated to coming up with quick and dirty solutions for avoiding infection. A sterilizing chemical rebreather? A full-body coating of petroleum jelly?

Newly emergent, highly virulent human pathogens often are animal pathogens that have made the jump very recently from another species to ours. Intense virulence is not a great long game for an infectious organism, so the tendency is high virulence up front, then a gradual mutation to low virulence (after many people have been infected and selected out as hosts by death or recovery). Unless this is an illness that emerges literally overnight en masse (which is a trope that I encourage you to avoid so I don't have to roll my eyes while reading), I probably would have been reading about early cases in humans (or maybe sentinel animal populations) in CDC's MMWR, or in the U.S. Federal Register, or in any major international surveillance organization. I'd be gleaning those reports for clues: duration of illness? time of onset after exposure? signs and symptoms? susceptible populations or predisposing traits? I'd make a best guess from this sort of information as to when to return to shore and how to navigate the human and animal environment on my eventual way back to the area where I grew up: Arkansas.

I would want to set up shop as a subsistence farmer if long-term apocalyptic conditions bring down our global food network, but most of California if too variably dry for long term reliability. The deep south east of about central Texas gets reliable rains from the Gulf of Mexico's influence. I have and would bring seeds for arugula and other plants that grow quickly and easily in many environments (not complicated grains or fruit seeds that take ages to grow, mostly simple greens to eat as they grow every two weeks, with successive plantings to keep new greens and new seed coming). My family in Arkansas have heirloom seeds for a bunch of different food and cash crops, and I know where they keep them and how to grow them. I would try my hardest, human environment permitting, to network with as many survivors who are also growing food as possible. No man is an island in a subsistence farming community, and trade in essential foodstuffs makes better allies than do handshakes.

I have a chronic illness, albeit one that can be managed without medication, that would factor heavily in where I stop along the way and for how long. I'd probably be really slow or bound to a single location for a month out of every twelve, let's say.

Good luck with the book!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:34 AM on January 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Well, grocery stores are going to start with the frozen and the fresh raided, but that is 1-3 days tops for fresh and maybe a week's worth of frozen (assuming the grid is in questionable order and refrigeration is unreliable). Prepared meats would not be rationed appropriately and those would disappear on the same timeline as the fresh food.

Yeah - I was in Montreal for the ice storm of 1998, and IIRC, at the grocery and convenience stores I went to, bottled water went by day 1, 2ish. Batteries and candles were available a bit longer (but tripled in price). Meat and frozen stuff went off around days 2-3, I think. People started getting irritable in lines at the stores around days 3-4 (but stayed in lines, they were civil etc). (I was a university student back then, and a couple of friends and I camped out at someone else's dorm and drank wine and played games for a lot of it. We knew it'd get sorted out eventually, so it didn't feel scary, but fun (liminal, magical etc). When walking around outside, we dodged falling ice and branches, and marvelled at the spookiness of everything - the total darkness at night, the disconcerting sight of army tanks in the city, etc.)

posted by cotton dress sock at 9:41 AM on January 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Why would there be violence over resources when suddenly there is much much more to go around because most people are dead?

Because of the inability to create new resources, and because much of that food would be perishable. Without power, fuel and potable water, you're back to subsistence farming, and I'm not sure how many people have the knowledge for that (I don't). Is the coastal area even suitable for farming? There's no communications, thus no imports.
posted by AFABulous at 10:57 AM on January 17, 2017

(F 32, single, close-knit family in immediate area) Assuming that this plague clearly means the end of civilization, after the basics of finding family, securing pets, and gathering weapons and food for the short term, we'd organize and divide who go out and gets what. The biggest priority would be looting stockpiles of supplies that are likely to become scarce - first probably go around to pharmacies for antibiotics and other medicines. (Actually, in your scenario, the very first thing would be respirators and other preventative measures for myself and family.) Then attempt to expand the weapons and ammo collection (we'd already start off fairly well armed.) This would be harder, because gun stores and such are obviously going to be well guarded. Also things like seeds and other food growing/procuring supplies. I'd be focusing on making list of supplies of materials we'd need for the long term, and think of unlikely places to look for them that wouldn't be already picked clean -factories, obscure businesses, government supplies if feasible. I'd be worrying about acting fast. Getting generators, and fuel, water purifiers, solar chargers and devices. Trying to steal some heavy equipment, considering things like a fuel tanker truck, vehicles capable of operationing off road. I'm not relying on any sort of basic infrastructure remaining functional for long at all. Also, I'd collect books on medicine, survival, farming, etc. The internet won't last long either.

Then after supplies are gathered, turn to planning where we should go. It would depend on the scenario, but my first instinct would be to head to the most remote and isolated area possible. Maybe an island. In a situation of continuing extreme virulence I'd definitely be focusing on boats and islands as the best bet.

Kind of surprised by some of the more altruistic answers. I'd be in "every man for himself" mode and be very wary of other people. I'd rely on acting quickly and gathering as much as possible for me and my people, and then getting away.

Assuming this is worldwide, I'd be considering long term travel to some other part of the world.

(Why yes, I am anxiously awaiting the day this actually happens and I will finally be free! Or, you know, die immediately.)
posted by catatethebird at 10:58 AM on January 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, I just realized (from the mention of farming) that I totally failed to mention my backup apocalypse plan: beekeeping! Once sugar and electric lighting are unavailable, keeping bees would be incredibly valuable. Honey is also a topical antibiotic, and bee stings can even temporarily relieve arthritis. I would be in demand.

In idle daydreaming times I have thought extensively about how I'd pull this off without modern technology - it would involve making swarm traps (boxes baited with honey and left up in trees), and using top-bar hives if I had access to basic woodworking tools, and skeps (those dome-shaped basket hives you always see in clip art) if I didn't. If I was holed up with a group in a building somewhere, the hives could be kept on the roof to protect them and, in case of attack, could be used as living bee bombs - just toss a hive down into a group of people. No one will stick around for that.

This is obviously a much longer-term plan than you seem to be asking for - but if I thought civilization was maybe going to collapse, I would be sure to take my beekeeping manual and hive tool with me. I would also bring some sort of ruler in order to make top bar hives of the proper spacing to allow for discrete combs.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:07 AM on January 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Personally, If this happened in the bay area, i would pack up my cats and dogs, and my husband and i would head east to the sierra foothills. my parents live on a few acres in the middle of no-where. i'm hoping pot growers have contingency plans?
posted by waitangi at 1:40 PM on January 17, 2017

Being conflict-avoidant and, above all else, lazy as heck, I would hunker until hunkering became unfeasible, at which point I would scavenge corpses. People always seem to forget about those. It's free food just lying around!
posted by Sys Rq at 5:57 PM on January 17, 2017

four person family, two small children, southwest coastal city. here's some stages I'd imagine in a 6ish week progressive disaster timeline
1. infrastructure still largely in place, everyone mostly still assuming that we're looking at temp Katrina level breakdown at worst - start doubling up on shelf stable stuff at the grocery (grains, canned goods, batteries, meds), talk to family in town to see what their plans are
2. it's starting to get a little weird - more food/water/med stores as available, get any remaining parts needed for solar still, check out some how to do everything books from the library, buy an ocean fishing pole, fill containers with water, extra tank of gas for car, maybe rei for a solar generator or whatever, cash in small bills maybe
3. the normal infrastructure is crumbling - depending on road conditions, try to get in town family to come to ours or go to theirs (if that's the plan), put locks on fence gates, connect with neighbors, pick up some crickets from the local pet store for farming them for protein and stock up on pet food (for them or us), maybe pick up a (pump action, the sound is scary!) shotgun and adopt a dog (if we didn't have one) for low level security
4. a. if normal society is fundamentally broken, but it's not like hoards of roving gangs - make connections and start rebuilding "society" at a small scale by coordinating, sharing and trading with others. Resource wise: cultivating existing fruit trees, growing vegetables, farm crickets, collect rain water, build solar stills for salt water during droughts, brewing beer or distilling spirits for trading, ideally have local family come live with us.
4. b. if a new "order" isn't shaking out and people are getting desperate and scary - retreat to the garage/apartment over our garage, seal window, black out garage door windows and reinforce those, think about funneling gutter into the house for collecting rain water, cement broken glass on balcony edge to discourage people climbing in. if that doesn't work, and stealing/getting to a boat doesn't seem feasible (which it doesn't really because they'd be all gone I think), I would hope that we have some way to quickly end it for all of us, but that last part is NOT fun to think of :(

I doubt we'd try to leave the city because I think we would be more likely to die in the attempt - the highways would be a mess, and we'd just be heading into a dessert, so we're definitely in the hunker down and stay close to the ocean.
posted by The Shoodoonoof at 1:03 PM on January 18, 2017

Ah, I meant to get back to this last month. One thing that occurred to me is that right now, my closest friends, my sibling, and my colleagues all live considerably far away from me (and all in different states). I would most desperately want to know how they were and how I could reach them or help them. I talk to them all via chat and email every day. So a priority for me, come apocalypse, would be figuring out how we could communicate, e.g., satellite phones, amateur radio, anything else along those lines.

My immediate family more locally would...almost to a one not fare very well in an apocalypse scenario, for various reasons. So if worst came to worst, before long I would probably need to set out on a journey to find my people. That's how I foresee this going!
posted by limeonaire at 9:30 PM on February 1, 2017

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