So far we’ve covered the preparing, surviving the early days, getting out of Dodge, who to save (or invite) for your group and who not to, and what kind of groups you’ll run into. Now let’s talk about how to decide where to set up your group’s base of operations so you can ride out the zombie apocalypse in relative safety, good health, and quiet with an eye towards re-establishing order and a stable (and sane) social base. You’ll want to do this in at least three stages because trying to do it all at once will be virtually impossible.
Firstly, look for a place that is almost already secure but would be passed over by most groups because it’s psychologically tarnished. Do not go after valuable or historically significant landmarks here. Look for prisons, abandoned armories, schools with fences or palisades (the modern high school, architecturally and structurally, differs little from a prison), state mental institutions, old forts, trailer parks, or vast stretches of farm lands surrounded by forests. Depending on which you find, your security details will be different. Avoid residential areas, suburbs, clusters of homes close together, neighborhoods and subdivisions, hospitals, historic landmarks, or areas of any cultural significance.
Prisons, armories, schools, mental institutions, and forts will all have pre-built fences. They’ll usually be double-rows of fences along the outer perimeter with another internal double-row around the buildings. There will be guard towers, look-out points, and the access roads will be easy to cut (meaning you can control access to and from the area). However, they will generally be passed over because these places are not built for comfort or privacy. You may have to clear any zombies inside them but if no one else has claimed the place, take it and make it your own. You can use its own defenses to help you take it over with a little careful planning.
Trailer parks can be easily secured by dragging the trailers closer together (don’t worry about the electrical access because, by this point, it’s shot with the grid down) or by selecting a few trailers near each other and using others as watch-out points. A rural area where you can see for a good distance is also a wise choice since you can secure a small area within it to live and let the rest act as a barrier.
Why pick these places? Because they have negative psychological value. No warlord or tin-penny dictators are going to want them. No restorers are going to fight you over them. You are deliberately choosing a shit-house (but a defensible shit-house) over a mansion because doing that gives you a greater chance of being ignored by the living while letting you focus your energy on defending against the zombies.
This is phase one. Phase two is finding some place that doesn’t suck quite so much.
With your first secure area down, start scouting for a place nearby that has access to a source of running water (a river is ideal), farm-able land, and forests with a lot of mature trees. You no longer care about how accessible it is by car — the further it is from any road, the better, actually. You’re going to be doing some very intensive subsistence-level farming and, if you’re in the South, you can probably feed about five people per one acre of farm-able land. Now, the fun part is that the land doesn’t have to be where you’re going to live — it just needs to be within a two hours’ walk. No, you’re going to live in the forest.
Specifically, up in the. damn. trees.
TO. THE. TREES. ALREADY. GUYS.
This is the part that drives me up the wall whenever I watch The Walking Dead. They spend so much time securing the prison. They spend so much time trying to repair those fences. They spend so much time building fucking walls and it’s stupid. I’m waiting for my man Daryl to have a light bulb moment and say “Hey, Rick…the dead can’t climb trees. Hell, they can’t climb ladders. Why in the hell are we living on the ground? Let’s build a bunch of tree houses all Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves style and be done with it.”
Any episode now, he’s gonna realize it and then go all “and E=mc², asshole!” and then, that’s it. I’m not sure what “it” will be but that will be it.
Seriously, I’m sure there’s some equation to demonstrate this but the larger the perimeter’s surface (re: the circumference of the fence) then the more zombies can surround it and the greater force they can enact upon it. Hell, they don’t even have to surround the thing, just get a sufficient mass at one point and the force will cause that point to buckle. One entry point does lead to a cascade of failure points as the herd forces its was through their opening, sending shockwaves and vibrations through the weakened fence. You’d have to bury half the damned fence, making it twice as “tall,” to diminish this and it would still eventually happen. (Physics peeps and math peeps can probably back me up here).
Trees, on the other hand, evolved to deal with this kind of crap because they had to put up with the wind and floods and thunderstorms and tornadoes. The circumference of a tree trunk is not sufficiently large for a herd to cluster around it in great enough numbers to build up the momentum and energy they would need to knock the tree over. Factor in the root structure and the fact that, for all that trees seem rigid to us, they’re really flexible, and you’re a chump if you’ve not moved back into them during the zombie apocalypse!
So, to kick off stage three, select your forest near a river, not too far from where you’ll be farming. Then start digging a deep trench from the river around the initial “city trees” you’ll be building in. Instant moat. Outside of that, dig another series of staggered trenches and line them with spikes. Cover that stuff with branches. Pit traps. Inside the moat, build a fucking double palisade and inside the gap — another trench with spikes. Then start building your homes up in the trees and connect them with suspension bridges. You can use waterwheels and modified aqueducts to get water from the river up to the tree-house level. You’ll probably want to look into building a “public” bathing house and setting up latrines outside of each house (use soil to absorb the “leavings” and guess what? You have fertilizer!) You can keep domesticated animals inside the palisade and, since you’re living in the forest now, hunting is easier.
Once that’s done, expanding your settlement to include more “city trees” is easy and does not require expanding the moat or palisade.
The great thing about this is that no one is going to want this set up. Restorers won’t go for it, warlords won’t want it (too damn much work). Scumbags would have a hell of a time finding it, let alone getting in. Your community will be forced to work together doing some fairly back breaking labor (don’t wax poetic to me about the nobility of subsistence farming. My great grand-daddy was a subsistence farmer). That will help you weed out trouble-makers and idiots. However, with this set up, you will have some leisure time and you may be able to spare some resources if you have happened upon some lone wolf types who are like Milton Mamet and would be wasted in the fields but could instead invent ways to generate electricity or improve aqueducts or the like.
Another bonus — everyone can sleep a full night. The rest will help out a lot in terms of health, energy, and cooperation. Since you don’t have to worry about the zombies breaking in since they can’t climb up and get you, you don’t have to post guard as much. You’ll still need some guards but they’ll be mostly watching for humans, not zombies.
In your own tree fort city of awesome, you can begin planning how to reach out to others, get news of what else is going on in the world, and start rebuilding a civilization. We’ll touch on that next time!