In popular culture, it's sometimes referred to as "apocalypse porn" -- the proffering of imagery and scenarios that depict end-of-the-world catastrophes. You know the routine: Crumbling monuments, abandoned cities, desolate wastelands. Think recent movies like "The Road" and "I Am Legend," or older classics such as "Mad Max" and "Planet of the Apes." One of this season's most popular TV series, "Revolution," posits a planet-wide blackout that tumbles civilization back a few centuries.
Movies and TV often reflect cultural anxieties, and we're clearly terrified of this stuff. But what do we actually do on an individual, practical level to prepare for disaster scenarios? Click around online and you'll find plenty of survivalist outfitters willing to sell you alarming things. A more sober assessment can be found at Ready.gov.
The following is a list of basic items as recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for general disaster preparedness. However, if recent entertainment fare is any indication, our biggest concern is actually the walking dead. So we've also added a bonus category: In Case Of Zombie Apocalypse (ICOZA).
When disaster strikes, water is a first priority. In extremely hot weather, dehydration can set in within hours. Even in ideal conditions, a healthy person can only survive 3 to 5 days without water. Bottom line: We need H2O, and a lot of it.
For home emergency planning, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends storing away at least 1 gallon of water per person per day, and to put away at least a 3-day supply. Children and nursing mothers may need more, and in hot climates or summer weather you'll want to double this amount. For long-term storage, FEMA recommends using retail bottled water or chlorinated tap water stored in sanitized 2-liter plastic soda bottles.
ICOZA: Water can also be used as an offensive weapon against the resolutely unhygienic walking dead.
After water, food is your next priority. Humans can go without food for weeks and even months, depending on health and stored body fat. (So long as there is water to drink.)
Again, FEMA suggests a 3-day supply of non-perishable food. You want foods that don't require refrigeration, cooking or special preparation. Recommended foodstuffs include dry cereal, peanut butter, unsalted crackers, dried fruits and nuts, protein bars and canned meats and vegetables. (Don't forget the can opener.) For perishable foods, keep in mind that if the power goes out, a typical refrigerator will keep food cold for only about 4 hours.
ICOZA: The undead are not likely to raid your food stores. As you may be aware, zombies prefer brains.
Commercially available first aid kits come in a variety of sorts and sizes, but a basic kit should include first-line defense against the immediate dangers of bleeding, infection and contamination. Make sure you have sterile dressings, adhesive bandages, soap, antibiotic towelettes/ointments, eye wash solution and sterile Latex gloves (or non-Latex, in the case of Latex allergies.)
A home kit should also have a 3-day supply of any prescription medications or any specifically required items like asthma inhalers or epinephrine injectors (EpiPens).
ICOZA: Be sure to lay in a good supply of zombie repellent soap.
A critical decision in all disaster scenarios can be summed up with the question: Should I stay or should I go? Local officials have evacuation plans in place for various contingencies. The trick is that, if the power goes, getting the word out is a challenge. All emergency supply kits should include a hand-cranked or battery-powered radio.
Even better, a dedicated NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert is designed to monitor the "All Hazards" radio network of more than 1,000 transmitters across all 50 states.
ICOZA: Zombie movies have taught us that, if you here a distress call over the radio, you should immediately split up and have the most expendable members of the group investigate.
Emergency community shelters are part of all local disaster plans, though the safest locations to seek shelter naturally vary by hazard. In certain instances, civil authorities may issue a "shelter-in-place" order. The idea is to put a physical barrier between you and the potential danger until help arrives or evacuation is ordered. In the event of a release of hazardous airborne materials, FEMA recommends dust masks to filter contaminated air, and plastic sheeting with duct tape to seal off windows, doors and air vents.
ICOZA: While not strictly necessary, zombies prefer to bust through flimsy wooden planks hastily nailed across doorways and windows.
Other items FEMA suggests for a basic emergency supply kit include waterproof matches; candles; a first aid manual; flashlights (with extra batteries); sleeping bags; extra clothes; a wrench or pliers to shut off utilities; an extra cell phone with batteries or a solar charger and local maps.
ICOZA: Additional anti-zombie items are available at sporting goods stores in a wide variety of calibers.
Emergency supplies are best kept in sealable plastic or metal containers -- like a storage bin or unused garbage can. Keep supplies in a cool, dry place and sealed off from bugs or pests. Stored food and water should be rotated out every 6 months. Items that need to be kept dry should be put into airtight plastic bags.
If you want to make your emergency kit mobile, you can put stores in a large duffel bag or wheeled storage container. For the car, FEMA recommends keeping a smaller disaster kit with 24 hours worth of supplies, plus jumper cables, shovel and road flares.
ICOZA: The good news is that zombies are typically slow and indecisive (insert Congress joke here) so outrunning them is not a problem. The bad news is they tend to swarm and feed with savage abandon, so you have to be careful. (Insert second Congress joke here.)