The Seven Phases Of A Zombie Apocalypse

15 Apr

When we think of a zombie apocalypse, we generally consider it to be a single event, yet if you examine it more closely you’ll see it can be divided into a number of distinct phases. Within each phase the responses of both the authorities and of the people around you will differ, and so will your best strategy for survival. This means it’s important that you understand these phases and are able to tell the difference between them. This will give you your best chance of surviving a zombie apocalypse if you are unlucky enough to find yourself caught up in one. So what are these phases?

Phase One – Mutation: Here I’m assuming that a zombie apocalypse is most likely to be caused by a previously unknown disease that either causes living people to become zombie-like infected (my preferred scenario) or kills people but takes over their bodies, causing the dead to walk again. In such a scenario, the first phase of the apocalypse will be the mutation that changes the disease from whatever it previously was (whether that’s an existing human disease, such as rabies, or a disease that currently only affects animals) into something that causes people to turn into zombies. No one will know when this phase begins (unless someone does it on purpose using genetic engineering in a research lab!) and it’s likely that you, the authorities and everyone else on the planet will remain completely oblivious that a zombie apocalypse has begun. This means there’s little you can do in this phase to increase your chances of survival. All you can do is hope it hasn’t happened yet!

Phase Two – Patient Zero: Patient zero is the first person who contracts the disease. How they contract it may never be clear and it’s quite likely that this will go unnoticed by pretty much everyone except those closest to this person when they fall ill and then turn. They may report what happens to the authorities only to be rebuffed or ignored. If only they were more receptive to reports on unusual events any burgeoning zombie apocalypse could be stopped in it’s tracks in phase two. Yet, this is unlikely to happen. This is because the policies and practices of those in charge are based on past experiences and are not designed to deal with something completely different from any challenge they’ve ever faced before. It’s also unlikely that the general public will become aware that a zombie apocalypse has started during phase two unless they are amongst the unfortunate few to be directly associated with patient zero. However, if you keep your ear to the ground and carefully sift through all the gossip and rumours that are forever circulating you might just get lucky and pick up on it. If you do, this will give you your best chance of surviving. Grab your gear and put your zombie apocalypse survival plan into action. You’ll be way ahead of everyone else so the roads will be clear and there will be nothing to get in your way so your plan will run smoothly. You do have a zombie apocalypse survival plan, don’t you?

Phase Three – Outbreak: This phase begins once patient zero starts infecting others and they, in turn, infect still more. It’s only once the authorities get multiple more or less independent reports of the same thing happening that they’ll finally realise something unusual is going on. They’ll most likely send in police and medical personnel to try to get to the bottom of what’s happening but these poor people will be unprepared for what they are being sent to face. This means many of these first responders will either get killed or become infected, greatly reducing the authorities ability to get the disease under control. However, the infection will still remain localised around wherever patient zero was when they first turned. At this stage it’s likely that reports will start appearing on local news channels and internet sites but they’ll be confused and poorly informed. This means that while people will start talking about it, most will remain unconcerned and few will respond unless they are directly affected by it. If you realise what’s going on at this phase, you still have time for a well-planned evacuation. A few other people may also have twigged that something is happening and the roads might be slightly busier than usual but you should still find escape relatively easy.

Phase Four – Containment: Once the authorities realise exactly what they’re up against, containment will almost certainly be their primary response. They will attempt to seal off the affected area using police and military personnel. The aim of containment will be to stop anyone getting in and, more importantly, out. The presence of gun-totting soldiers on the streets means people will start to panic, especially if they don’t really understand what’s going on. There’s a possibility that the soldiers won’t understand either and they may have trouble telling those infected with the disease from the uninfected who are just trying to get out and some will respond with what is euphemistically known as excessive force. This makes being in the containment zone incredibly dangerous as you have to face not just the ever-growing number of zombies but also a panicked populous and a military that’s unsure of exactly who their enemy is (as history has repeatedly shown us this is never a good situation). If you find yourself within the containment zone, you must get out by any means possible. This is not only because it’s dangerous but also because as soon as the military realise they cannot simply keep it sealed off and treat those who are infected, they are very likely to resort to trying to put a stop to the outbreak by destroying every living thing within the containment zone. They’ll do this with whatever types of ordinance they have available (think bunker-busters, fuel-air bombs and possibly even nukes if the containment zone is a sufficiently large area). Even if you’re outside the containment zone, you should try to get as far away as you can. This is because containment will almost certainly fail and it’s likely that the zone will be expanded repeatedly as the disease escapes and spreads and whatever happens you don’t want to be caught on the wrong side of any defensive line.

Phase Five – Uncontrolled Spread: The shift from containment to uncontrolled spread will be marked by outbreaks in multiple locations and the abject failure of all attempts to keep the disease in check. During this phase, the authorities are likely to start losing control both of the population at large and of the military. The disease will have reached a tipping point from which there will be very little chance of the world recovering. Being out on the streets in this phase will be incredibly dangerous as there will be ever-increasing numbers of zombies roaming the streets looking for human flesh to feast on. The time for implementing any pre-prepared plans will be long gone and if you haven’t already made it out to your preferred safe house your best option will be to find the nearest place you can safely hole up and barricade yourself in. In this phase, you will owe your survival more to luck that planning and there will be little you can do about it.

Phase Six – The Fall Of Humanity: The only way the uncontrolled spread phase can end is with the fall of humanity. This is marked by the point at which almost everyone has been turned into zombies. There will be a few pockets of survivors here and there, all struggling to stay safe and remain uninfected. If you didn’t implement a apocalypse-preparedness plan before the zombie apocalypse entered phase five, the chances are you won’t be amongst them. For those few humans that remain, life will be extremely hard and they’ll be able to concentrate on little more than keeping themselves, and those around them, alive.

Phase Seven – Reconstruction: Reconstruction is the least certain phase of a zombie apocalypse and it may never be reached. If all remaining humans are killed or infected, or if the zombies themselves don’t start to die off, the reconstruction phase simply will not happen. This is because it can only begin once the threats from zombies and infection have receded to a point where people can start thinking about things beyond their day-to-day survival. It’s also very uncertain exactly what will happen during this phase. It may be that those who remain alive will happily work together to rebuild a fully-functional and equitable society. However, there’s also the real possibility that a few would-be megalomaniacs will make a grab for power. If they can get themselves established, there will be little that can be done to bring them down. Therefore, if you see this starting to happen, you need to do everything within your power to stop them (unless of course that’s you – in which case good luck with your plans for world domination!). There’s also the possibility that the disease will break out again, sending the world back towards earlier phases of the apocalypse, particularly phases two or five. This may happen again and again, gradually whittling away at the remnants of humanity until the world is permanently trapped in phase six. Either way, if a zombie apocalypse happens and you somehow survive long enough, entering phase seven is unlikely to be the end of your struggle for survival.

From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.


7 Responses to “The Seven Phases Of A Zombie Apocalypse”

  1. Jack Flacco 15/04/2013 at 16:31 #

    I love this, Colin, and bookmarked it. I think the reconstruction phase is a no-phase. Once humanity falls, it’s over. The only ones left will be the zombies. With so much that’d happened, zombies will eventually spiral into a death knell. Without any food source, that’ll be the end of the zombie. This is to say if zombies rely on a food source to remain alive. Quite frankly, though, if it’s a virus-zombie (not old-school, which came back from the dead) then I would think they’d die. And with no one left, it’ll be a perfect time for the monkeys to take over the world! It’ll be a real planet of the apes then!

    • cmdrysdale 15/04/2013 at 18:02 #

      Hi Jack,

      Glad you liked this posting. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently because each of the four books I’m planning in my series will take place in a different phase of my specific ‘zombie’ apocalypse (caused by a genetically modified rabies vaccine). The first (For Those In Peril On The Sea) was set firmly in the middle of phase 6 – although there’s ‘flashbacks’ to earlier phases, while the second (the one I’m working on at the moment) will start in phase 3 and end at the start of phase 6. The third will take place at the end of phase 6 with people trying (and failing!) to move into phase 7 and the last will go right back to phases 1 and 2 (with someone accidentally creating the mutant ‘zombie’ virus in a biotech company – I’m looking forward to writing that one as I’ll be able to let my inner science geek run free!).

      This, I’m hoping, will separate my series from those which tend primarily stick to a single phase (usually phase 6) and so can become a little same-y (I’m thinking of ones like Day By Day Armageddon here which I lost interest in by the time it got to the third book). On this front, as far as I’m aware, World War Z is the only zombie story that covers the whole expanse of a zombie apocalypse from phase 1 to phased 7 (although it’s coverage of phase 1 is very limited as far as I remember).

      Speaking of phase 7, you’re right it would probably never happen (I added it just for completeness and because everyone keeps accusing me of being a bit bleak in my outlook!). I hadn’t thought about the possibility that the reconstruction phase could actually involve the evolution of something new to take over the empty ‘niche’ left by the disappeared humans. I’m not too sure it will come from the monkeys or the apes as we have decimated their populations so much that it’s unlikely many of them will survive even if humans were to disappear tomorrow. Instead, I’d plump for the rise of the domestic cats (along the lines of that seen in BBC TV series Red Dwarf!) when they realise they no longer have any humans to wait on them hand and foot and that they have to do things for themselves.

      All the best,


  2. jimmy 17/11/2014 at 20:12 #

    this is sort of unrelated to your post here, but could you write a blog post about “places to weather an apocalypse”? discussing the ideal (islands, bunkers) and the realistic for most people (attics, basements)? thank you.

    • cmdrysdale 17/11/2014 at 20:21 #

      Hi Jimmy,

      Thanks for this idea for a post. I’ve done a few posts which have touched on this subject, but none that have covered it in detail. Give me a few week and I’ll see if can put something together.

      All the best,



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