Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Open Up The Door, We'll All Come Inside

I shopped at Costco for the first time a few weeks ago, and the duration of my visit to the store was consumed by considerations of how to fortify it in the extremely likely event of a zombie apocalypse.*

Costco is a bulk retailer, requiring a membership fee for the privilege of shopping there**. It is particularly notable for the sheer quantity and diversity of products it has for sale. A survivor trapped in a Costco would die of old age before starving for death - a single pallet of foodstuffs could provide basic nourishment for a year (though some diversity of diet would be required to avoid serious malnutrition) and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of such pallets in a given location at a given time. Hundreds of man-years of food is nothing to scoff at in a Class III scenario.

But what happens when you get bored of eating until you die? Costco also sells tools and some materials, and all sorts of useful things could be scavenged from the broad array of consumer products. Some locations sell alcohol, valuable both as a disinfectant and as a trade good.

Architecturally, the building has a lot going for it. It's essentially a warehouse, with heavy doors, concrete walls, and no windows, except for skylights. With proper preparation, you could turn a Costco into a veritable bunker.

However, this is the first hitch. The size of the building is in some ways a weakness. A single person, or even a small group, would have no way to effectively patrol the perimeter. This is not a problem where zombies are concerned, so long as all entrances are properly sealed and secured, but zombies are not the only threat one must face. A hungry human interloper would not be deterred by a simple locked door. And remember those skylights?

The warehouse-like architecture is also a disadvantage in that it offers little in the way of a second line of defense. The majority of the floor space is open and contiguous. When (not if) the outer perimeter is breached, the prepared defender will have ready a fallback location, but the design of the building offers few options. This shortcoming is not insurmountable; one could certainly construct a secondary perimeter from available materials (pallets, shelving, sofa cushions, etc.) or find an office or back room. The local Costco offers a walled-off section refrigerated for fresh produce; perhaps this will serve. But this leads us into the next issue...

Costco has a substantial quantity of fresh produce - meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables. All of this requires constant refrigeration, and we cannot assume that this will be readily available during an outbreak. Within a few days, fresh food will go from being an asset to a liability, presenting serious health concerns. Produce could be quarantined, but this represents a massive undertaking, the feasibility of which depends on available manpower and machinery. It must be done if the location is to be considered seriously as a long-term location, but even then, your fortress will become quite rank in short order.

Costco offers a wide variety of retail products; unfortunately, Costco shoppers have exhibited little demand for weaponry in bulk, and so the supply is likewise limited. Weapons must be improvised from tools; it is unlikely to find anything more effective than a hammer or shovel.

But these issues are seemingly minor. You've secured the perimeter, and established a secondary line of defense. You've eaten what you can of the fresh food and quarantined the rest. You've scavenged for improvised weapons, and are now safe and secure in your fortress until all this zombie nonsense blows over and you can go back to shopping at Costco instead of living there. Right?

WRONG, you stupid wrong idiot dummy. You'd be better off locked in your house with a can of beans.

Retail locations are, by definition, chosen to be accessible. A Class III outbreak might wreak havoc with the commute, but you'll still be in a place chosen specifically so that people could get to it. And get to it they will. There's plenty of precedent for this - retail locations like Costco are often the primary target of looters during real world catastrophes. In an outbreak with no end in sight, the complications are amplified. You can fight off the undead, but could you fight off a starving mother and her children? (Hopefully, the answer is "yes"... but would you?) How about a well-organized, well-armed militia?

At best, your group will be enlarged substantially. A thousand man-years of food seems like a lot of food... for one person. How many can you handle before you simply run out? Will you be able to handle disputes? The likelihood of a dangerous conflict increases factorially with population.

At worst, you'll be killed for a can of peas.

Somewhere in the middle, there's the very real possibility that your defenses will be overrun by rude houseguests who won't close the door behind them, and who will have little consideration for your personal notions of how much is appropriate for a guest to eat.

When considering the viability of any location as a defense, consider the following question: Who else would want to go here?

If the answer is "anyone and everyone", just keep moving. A survivable location should be unappealing to anyone who doesn't think of it as home. If you think that it's a good idea to hole up at Costco, that probably means that everyone else thinks so, too.

So, Costco is a bit of a trap, but don't let that dissuade you from sending out parties from your real secure location to raid the shelves. They have these giant things of fruit snacks for like $10. Beware, however, of those who failed to heed my sage advice - they'll be waiting for you in Aisle 10 with a shotgun.

*For the purposes of this discussion, consider an outbreak of Class III or larger.
**Most of these tactical conclusions can be applied to other general retailers. (Wal-Mart, Kroger's, etc.)

I don't see you laughing

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