In The Event Of A Zombie Apocalypse, How Quickly Could The Military Be On The Streets?

13 Mar

I was reworking a scene in the book I’m currently working on which involves a military checkpoint being set up, complete with barricades, well-armed personnel and even a tank, shortly after a zombie outbreak begins in a city. I always like to try to make things as realistic as possible, but on re-reading it, it occurred to me that I had no idea what-so-ever of how long it would take to mobilise all the men and equipment required to lock down a large city during a major event, such as a zombie apocalypse.

The thing is, when it comes to stopping a zombie outbreak becoming apocalyptic, speed is of the essence, and containment would almost certainly be the first strategy which would be tried. Yet, containment only works under two conditions: the people you’re trying to contain are more scared of you than staying where they are, and you have enough personnel to control them.

The first responders will always be the police, but, as evidenced by almost any urban riot in recent years, they can generally only control a population by mutual consent. That is, if enough people decide to just ignore them (and let’s face it, if you’re being chased by a zombie, you’re not exactly going to freeze, just because the nice policemen asks you to), there simply isn’t enough of them in any city to be able to do anything about it.

This means that in an outbreak situation, only the army can mobilise sufficient manpower to actually contain such large-scale event. Yet, how long would this take? Are the conspiracy theorists right, and there’s secret (or perhaps not secret, but rather unnoticed, as you will see later) military bases in our major cities, filled with heavily-armed men, ready to roll at a moment’s notice? Maybe, but only if the government is expecting trouble, and if we’re talking about a zombie apocalypse, it’s going to come out of the blue with little or no warning. So, does that mean it would take hours, possibly even days for the army to mobilise enough people and equipment, and get them in place to contain the situation? If this is the case, then they’re going to be too late.

Maybe it’s somewhere in between, and maybe it’s different for every city, depending on what military resources happen to be close at hand. For my own city (Glasgow), I can look back to 1919 when the British Government ordered 10,000 troops, complete with tanks and howitzers, to suppress rioting workers striking for a shorter working week which they feared (given Glasgow’s naturally socialist leanings and the events of 1917 in Russia) would develop into a Bolshevic-style revolution (it’s retrospectively referred to as the Battle of George Square, and represents a little known episode in Scottish history). In this case (I think it’s the only time that tanks have been deployed in anger on the streets of mainland Britain), it took several days to get the right personnel in the right places to make it happen.

Of course that was back then, and I thought it would be hard to find out what the situation would be today. I don’t ever recall seeing any sort of military bases, beyond a few cadet units here and there, and I presumed it would still take several days to get the right men in the right places. Yet, when I typed ‘Army Barracks Glasgow’ into Google, I was surprise to find there is, indeed, an army barracks in my own back yard, ready to respond, should the need arise. Great, I thought, if there’s a zombie outbreak, then here are the men and women, right on my doorstep, ready to contain it. Then I looked into it in a bit more detail: it’s home to a single company of infantrymen, armed with nothing more heavy-duty than a standard assault rifle, and consisting of only three platoons. How big is a platoon? 30 men. That makes 90 infantrymen to try to contain an outbreak in a city of half a million people. That isn’t going to work, is it?

That brings me back to the beginning, wondering how long it would take to mount the type of military response needed to contain something like a zombie outbreak? Could they do it fast enough to stop it turning apocalyptic? I suspect not. You see, for all their might, soldiers rely on the same tactics as the police. A few men can control a whole city only if the populous of that city lets them. And let’s face it, when the zombies are coming up behind you, you’re going to storm the barricades, just like everyone else.

What does this mean for containment as a strategy for preventing a zombie outbreak turning apocalyptic? Well, if the local police can’t suppress it, don’t think you can count on the military coming to the rescue. Even if they were ordered in immediately, the chances are they wouldn’t be able to get enough men and equipment mobilised in a fast enough time to get their boots on the streets before the situation had spiralled far beyond anything they could ever hope to control.

So, where does this leave us? The bottom line is the military are meant to protect us, yet in the event of a zombie apocalypse, the only thing they will be able to do is too little, too late. This is because our military rely on predicting where the next attack will come from and aiming their guns in that direction, and despite all their planning, they’re just as vulnerable to the rest of us if something truly unexpected happens.

This is the problem with military strategy, it’s always based on the last war fought, and not the one which is coming next, whether it’s containing a zombie outbreak, or something more real, like Russia annexing the Crimea, someone half the world away ordering planes to be flown into tall buildings or Japanese Zeros appearing, without warning, out of North Pacific skies. And just to tie this article up, at the time of Pearl Harbour, the Allied forces didn’t call these aircraft Zeros (their Japanese name), but Zekes. If that term sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same term soldiers in World War Z use for zombies. Given the geo-political undertones in the book, I suspect this is no co-incidence.


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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 www.forthoseinperil.net 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.

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