Meet The IRL Survivalists Who Really Fear The Walking Dead
For fans of The Walking Dead, preparing for the zombie apocalypse is as easy as clearing your calendar for Sunday night, or setting your DVR.
That’s when zombie enthusiasts everywhere will be glued to our televisions for the big premiere of Fear the Walking Dead, watching the first days of the undead pandemic that will ultimately bring about the end of the world as we know it.
But while the stars of that show are going to get a trial by fire when it comes to surviving in zombieland, in real life, a community of survival enthusiasts known as zombie preppers are already fully prepared in the (admittedly unlikely) event of a world-ending zombie plague.
In advance of Fear the Walking Dead hitting the airwaves, MTV News talked to two members of the zombie prepper community, to find out what it really takes to be ready for the undead apocalypse.
INTERVIEW #1: THE VETERAN SURVIVALIST
Jonathan Green, who runs the popular Zombie Preppers website, is an Air Force veteran who’s seen firsthand what happens to communities in the absence of organized government and society—which is why he’s prepared for the worst.
“In an apocalyptic situation, if you’re going to survive, it’s because you’re willing to go and take what you need.”
MTV News: What was your entry point into the prepper lifestyle? How did you get started?
Greene: It’s a sort of a natural outcropping from my military training—I was in the Air Force, and survival training was an interesting topic to me. When I got out, I started doing some consulting, doing threat assessment and threat mitigation for the government, and I was sort of astounded at people’s lack of knowledge regarding how to protect their own stuff, how to be safe and secure. You bring up terms like standoff distance, key avenues of approach, key terrain, and people just don’t know what you’re talking about.
MTV: Right, it’s not exactly part of your typical public school education.
Greene: That’s why I started writing, trying to bridge that gap with practical, approachable advice.
MTV: And is it cool to refer to you as a prepper? Is that the preferred term?
Greene:That’s the industry vernacular. It basically describes anybody who takes it upon themselves to be prepared for any apocalyptic event.
MTV: But for you, that event is specifically the zombie apocalypse—or at least, some sort of pandemic, a disease that wipes out the world as we know it.
Greene: Yeah, this is always disappointing to reporters, but I’m actually not a crazy person, and I know very well that there’s probably not going to be a zombie apocalypse. But whether it’s a pandemic or a nuclear holocaust or some sort of massive grid failure, you’re using the same skill set. It’s just more fun to talk about zombies.
MTV: Totally. So has this focus on preparedness changed the way you live, day to day?
Greene: I’m probably more conscientious than most, but it’s not an obsession for me like it is for some people—people who build bunkers. It does permeate my thinking, though. I just bought a house, and I did put some thought into what would be a defensible position in the case of some sort of apocalyptic event. So it’s in a place where people can’t rapidly approach it, it does have some good standoff distance. With a little work I could probably make it fairly impregnable. And it’s Florida, so I have guns, and I have ammunition. I also have small children, so that’s all locked in a vault that’s biometrically coded. Nobody can get in but me or my wife, via handprint. So we’ve made preparations, but maybe not what you’d expect.
MTV: So it sounds like you’re in good shape in terms of having a home that could double as a fortress. Are you training in other ways?
Greene: I’m a brazilian ju jitsu fighter, so there’s a certain level of cardio and physical fitness. My girls, they’re 9 and 7, also train in brazilian ju jitsu. My wife doesn’t, which is fine. I’m not going to be browbeating her into doing things she doesn’t want to do, you know. Happy wife, happy life. [Laughs.] We do go to the range. My family owns some property out in rural Putnam County, and we have a little sand berm out there. You probably wouldn’t know this — in most cities that have shooting ranges, you can’t do tactical drills in the shooting range, because it makes their insurance more expensive. To be proficient with firearms you need to do rapid reload drills, failure drills—if the weapon is malfunctioning, how do you clear it and fix it. And safety drills, how do I clear a weapon I’ve found, where I’m not sure if it’s safe or not. The safety drills are especially important for training teenagers, because you don’t want them to actually use weapons, but you want them to understand how to be safe around them.
MTV: So in the event that the zombie apocalypse did happen, would your family function as a cohesive unit?
Greene: Eh, I doubt it. We don’t do active shooter drills or anything like that. So, probably there would be some adjustment there. I also own my own company, and I do very well, so part of me does worry that my children are so comfortable now that they wouldn’t be able to adjust to hardship. And of course they’re kids, they don’t want to go out and run around the woods and play war. I doubt we’d perform well initially, but my hope is that we’d survive long enough to figure it out.
MTV: And if you were to tell the average person one thing about preparing to survive the zombie apocalypse, what would it be?
Greene: People should really evaluate their own mentality, and their own psychological preparedness. When I was in the Air Force, I was an anti-terrorism force protection specialist, and I did surveillance, counter surveillance, military interrogation, in all the worst areas of the world. A lot of those areas are functionally without government, and you get a real perspective of what it would be like in a situation where there is no functioning society, as it were. And what most people—most soldiers—have trouble with is the depravity of it. The abject violence, the quickness with which things escalate, the extremes that people are willing to go to, to ensure that their family is fed—including killing their neighbors. They’ll do whatever it takes to live. That’s such a foreign concept to Americans.
MTV: It sounds like the world of The Walking Dead, where you have these roving gangs of predators, and power attracts power, is a pretty accurate depiction of what post-apocalyptic society looks like.
Greene: I would say so. The social structure of it, the weird relationships of necessity, I recognize some of that from Somalia, for instance. In the absence of government, you’ll have warring tribes come together for the purpose of, say, taking and holding a clean water source.
Part of the reason I don’t stock up on food—and this is going to sound really depraved—but part of the reason I don’t stockpile huge supplies of food and water is because we have a large supply of guns and ammunition. And in an apocalyptic situation, if you’re going to survive, it’s because you’re willing to go and take what you need. And that sounds really debased, and almost inhuman, but from experience I know that’s exactly how it works when the government ceases to function. People become predators, and you have to be willing and able to match that level of intensity, psychologically.
If I could tell people anything, it’s that if you’re not going to be that person, if you’re not going to be a predator, you need to run.
INTERVIEW #2: THE PREPPER PROFESSOR
Unlike Eugene here, Professor Brandon Lowery is a scientist, as well as the author of the Not Dead Undead Hypothesis tumblr and accompanying book. And yep, he’s well-prepared for the apocalypse.
“If you can be ready for a biological agent, for a natural disaster, for zombies, then you can be ready for anything. Like, you have a hurricane kit. Well, great. But what if it’s not a hurricane?”
MTV News: I’ve been especially interested in talking to you, because you’re unique within the prepper community. Most people are very quick to explain that they don’t really believe in zombies, but you actually take that part quite seriously.
Lowery: A lot of the community are in it just for the preparation. But my background is in biology, so for me, this kind of kicked off with me and one of my buddies discussing zombies and whether they could be real. In movies you have to have that suspension of disbelief; for science-minded people, it’s like, “Yeah, that’s not really how it’s gonna happen.” I went down the path of thinking, what do we have now that’s similar to that, and how could that lead to something that looks like the zombies we know from film culture? It would have to come from a virus, or some other agent, but probably viral—like something along the lines of 28 Days Later.
MTV: I was just about to say—so we’re looking at a contagion scenario, but not really reanimated corpses. That’s my favorite zombie movie, by the way.
Lowery: It’s a great movie! And it’s one of the more realistic ones in the genre, in terms of the spread of a virus, and the way a nation might handle it.
MTV: On that note, if we’re looking at things from a biological perspective, how does The Walking Dead stack up? Does it seem accurate to you?
Lowery: As accurate as can be, without ever having had something like this before. There’s no way to predict, but I think it’s got to be pretty close. In my mind, from my experience, it’s not going to be—at least at first—it’s not going to be the zombies you have to worry about. It’s going to be other people.
MTV: So you really came into this via a professional, intellectual interest in zombies. How did you make the transition into becoming a prepper?
Lowery: We had a series of hurricanes here in Texas, and that was really what kicked it off. When Katrina hit, well, nobody was prepared for that. And when the next hurricane came, it shifted, and all these people who weren’t expecting to be hit ended up in harm’s way. And our town—we weren’t even in the path of the hurricane, but our town just got completely wiped out, you couldn’t get water or bread or anything. People were freaking out because they weren’t prepared. And I realized, I wasn’t prepared. It really kicked me into high gear, and zombies were the outlet: if you can prepare for a zombie apocalypse, if that’s what you’re prepared to handle, then you can handle everything else. Once I was part of the culture, I realized that a lot of zombie preppers have the same idea. If you can be ready for a biological agent, a natural disaster, zombies, then you can be ready for anything.
MTV: So zombies really would be the apex of catastrophe, where there’s not just an apocalyptic event but also an infectious component.
Lowery: Exactly. It’s like, you have your hurricane kit. Well, great. But what if it’s not a hurricane?
MTV: In the event of a pandemic, a viral apocalypse, what would your key priorities be specifically in terms of prepping?
Lowery: Get away from populated areas. Any disease, particularly viral, spreads much quicker in populated areas. By getting away from other people, you can start reducing your risk of infection.
MTV: I’d imagine it also reduces your risk of run-ins with some of the predatory people who emerge in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, too.
Lowery: Exactly. In the first couple days of an outbreak, even if it’s not right in your hometown, it’s people you have to worry about. People make very bad decisions very quickly. We’ve got some masks and stuff—I bought those for my whole family, to limit exposure. And we have a pathway out of town, a couple different ways. So if the main roads are clogged up, I have a path ready.
MTV: How involved is your family? Are you actively drilling together for an apocalypse scenario?
Lowery: The only drilling we do is for our own home, just for fire safety. But I have a go bag, my wife has a go bag, my kids have go bags. For my wife it’s more about having everything packed that she might need; for me, I’m focused on what we’ll do, having a plan.
MTV: So would you say that being a prepper has much effect on how you live, day to day?
Lowery: If it did, it would be minimal. I do have a little bag in my truck that’s kind of a get-home bag. I have jumper cables, a mask, a first aid kit. But that’s really for anything –any emergency situation on the road.
MTV: That seems to be how it works for most people, actually—that being prepared gives you the freedom to not worry about this stuff in your daily life.
Lowery: Yes, that’s the idea.
MTV: What else goes into prepping for you, apart from making sure you have certain survival supplies and plans? Have you developed skill sets, or are you training in any way?
Lowery: Definitely. I’ve been trying to make sure, not just for my health, that I’m going to the gym, working out, staying in shape. I’ve taken quite a few classes on edible plants so that I can go out into the forest and collect food that way. And being in Texas, of course I’m a hunter—not a big hunter, I’m more of a fisherman than anything—but I grew up shooting rifles, riding horses, fishing, so all these things are a little bit like second nature. If my car breaks down, I can ride a horse with a saddle or without. If I need to fish, I can, and I don’t necessarily need a fishing pole. And I also just finished a class, it’s a nationwide thing, called CERT training: community emergency response teams. And that was good because it was about what you can do for your community in the event of a disaster. So that helped me understand not just how to help myself, but how I can help people I encounter on the way.
MTV: So if the average person wanted to take a first step toward being more prepared, what would you suggest?
Lowery: Even if you’re not near a coastline or a faultline, you should have 3-5 days of food or water on hand for emergencies. A lot of people don’t know that in any disaster, it can take 72 hours for the state or federal government to respond, and they assume that you can live on your own for at least three days. Most people aren’t even self-sustainable for that long, especially if the water’s not potable. And I do recommend the CERT program. It’s a good way for people to get started, get in that mindset, and it also helps people organize. So that if something crazy happens, you’re prepared—and your community is, too.