How Outbreaks Spread … Or Why I’m Moving To St. Helena Just In Case There’s A Zombie Apocalypse

16 Dec

For there to be a zombie apocalypse, the disease which turns people into zombies must spread. Traditionally, it’s always been assumed that diseases spread geographically, and that the closer you are to the source of an epidemic (whether zombie-related or not), the sooner you are likely to encounter it. For most of human history this was, indeed, the case. However, in the last fifty years or so this has gradually changed, and now things are quite different. This is because, thanks to the ubiquity of modern air travel, the way the world is connected has changed. This has led to a disconnect between the geographic distance between any two points on the planet and the transmission distance (which measures the ease by which a disease can get from point A to point B).

This means it is now easier for a disease to spread from London to New York, despite the several thousand miles of water between them, than between London and Cape Wrath at the far northwestern tip of Scotland, which is only a few hundred miles away on the same island, but which has no direct connections of any kind to London (the two are not even connected by road). Indeed, a disease might find it easier to get from London to Sydney, Australia, on the other side of the world, than from London to Cape Wrath because of the way airlines now connect the world.

While this might be intuitively obvious once someone points it out, it’s only recently that this has started to be incorporated into our understanding of how diseases spread. Of particular interest here is the work of theoretical physicist Dirk Brockmann, who, along with a number of colleagues, has created a mathematical model of how the connectivity resulting from modern air travel affects how diseases, such as SARS, swine flu or (in theory at any rate) a zombie virus, spread around the world, but you don’t have to understand maths to be able to see what’s going on. This is because he’s used his model to produce some really beautiful and interesting videos, like the one below, to show what’s going on.

The video below starts with an outbreak of a disease in Atlanta, Georgia, and shows how it rapidly spreads around the world along the air routes which radiate out from this air hub.

For those of us interested in creating zombie apocalypse stories, these new models of how diseases spread in the modern world can help us create more realistic scenarios for how a zombie epidemic caused by a disease might be transmitted around the world. For those who worry that it’s only a matter of time before a zombie apocalypse actually happens, it can also be very informative as it highlights where in the world you’d have your best chance of avoiding being caught up in the outbreak.

For this reason, I’ve been looking around for possible places to relocate to just in case there’s a zombie apocalypse looming over the horizon, and based on the connectivity suggested by the above model, I think I have the perfect place: the small tropical island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic. It has no airport and is two days by sea from the nearest airstrip (on Ascension Island, which, in itself, is hardly a major air hub!). I think I’d be pretty safe there. As it happens, I’ve also been there as part of my day job as a marine biologist, and I can tell you from experience, it’s a really nice place and I could think of a lot worse places to hole up while waiting for the world to come to an end.


If you want to find out more about Dirk Brockmann’s research on how diseases spread, click here.

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.

5 Responses to “How Outbreaks Spread … Or Why I’m Moving To St. Helena Just In Case There’s A Zombie Apocalypse”

  1. Jonas Waldenström 18/12/2013 at 19:45 #

    Yes! Really nice videos – and depressing for anyone who wants to outrun a swift pandemic. Before you ultimately chose your zombie apocalypse hideout I suggest you try the Plague Inc game. In this game you are the bug and your mission is to end humanity! In my experience, both New Zealand and Greenland are pretty hard to wipe out. In case you don’t want to get stuck on Ascension, Inaccesible Island, or S:t Helena.

    • cmdrysdale 19/12/2013 at 11:26 #

      Hi Jonas,

      I thought you might like this video as it seems to fit nicely with your research. I’ll need to give that game you suggested a go, maybe over the Christmas holidays! I could see Greenland being a good destination, although not as warm as St. Helena. New Zealand would probably be a good option too – but you’d have to keep an eye out for marauding Orcs (or at least that’s how it seems from that documentary I watched about a Hobbit who lives there!).

      All the best,



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