This article uses an in-universe perspective.


Illustration from The Zombie Survival Guide

Although each zombie epidemic is different, given the number, terrain, reaction of the general populace, etc., its level of intensity can be measured in four distinct classes.


This is a low-level outbreak, usually in a rural area. The number of zombies in this class of outbreak ranges between one and twenty. Total human casualties (including those infected) range from one to fifty. The total duration, from the first case to the last (known), will range between twenty-four hours and fourteen days. The infested area will be small, no larger than a twenty mile radius.

In many cases, natural boundaries will determine its limits. Response will be light, either exclusively civilian or with some additional help from local law enforcement. Media coverage will be light, if present at all. If the media is present, look for common stories like homicides or "accidents." This is the most common type of outbreak and also the easiest to go unnoticed.


Urban or densely populated rural areas are included in this level of outbreak. Total zombies will range between twenty and one hundred.

Total human casualties may reach as high as several hundred. The duration of a Class 2 attack may last no longer than a Class 1 outbreak. In some cases, the larger number of zombies will spark a more immediate response. A rural, sparsely populated outbreak may extend to a hundred-mile radius, while an urban outbreak may encompass only several blocks. Organized.bands of civilians will almost certainly be replaced by local, state, even federal law enforcement. Look for an additional, if low-level, military response, the National Guard in the United States or its equivalent abroad. Most often, so as to ease panic, these units will take a more noncombatant role, providing medical assistance, crowd control, and logistical support.

Class 2 outbreaks almost always attract the press. Unless the attack occurs in a fully isolated area of the world, or one where the media is strictly controlled, the story will be reported. This does not mean, however, that it will be reported accurately. Class 2 outbreaks will commonly be referred to as 'riots' or 'mass murder',


A true crisis. Class 3 outbreaks, more than any other, demonstrate the clear threat posed by the living dead. Zombies will number in the thousands, encompassing an area of several hundred miles.

The duration of the attack and a possible lengthy mop-up process could last as long as several months. There will be no chance for a press blackout or cover up. Even without media attention, the sheer magnitude of the attack will leave too many eyewitnesses. This is a full-blown battle, with law enforcement replaced by units of the regular military. A state of emergency will be declared for the infested zone, as well as the neighboring areas.

Expect martial law, restricted travel, rationed supplies, federalized services, and strictly monitored communication. All these measures, however, will take time to implement. The initial phase will be one of chaos as those in power come to grips with the crisis. Riots, looting, and widespread panic will add to their difficulties, further delaying an effective response. While this is happening, those living within the infested area will be at the mercy of the undead. Isolated, abandoned, and surrounded by ghouls, they will have only themselves to depend on.


What if the unthinkable happened? If zombie hordes grew large enough to dominate the entire planet? This would be a class 4 or a doomsday outbreak, in which humanity is driven to the brink of extinction. Improbable? Yes. Impossible? No. Governments of any type are nothing more than a collection of human beings as fearful, shortsighted, arrogant, close-minded and generally incompetent as the rest of us. Even in perfect conditions, containing anything larger than a class 2 outbreak is extremely difficult.

Those in power along with families and associates hole up in bunkers and secure areas around the country. Secure in these shelters, they survive though for all practical purposes they are a government in exile. Raiders prey on survivors. The military and police will either serve as protection for the remaining government, desert to save their families, degenerate into thugs themselves or die out altogether. Isolated cities become open battlegrounds, with scattered groups of survivors defending barricaded areas from both ghouls and human renegades. Industrial accidents become common and the area is polluted with toxic chemicals and byproducts, the country will flourish with zombies as the cities are picked clean; citizens flee, stand and fight or wait helplessly for the undead to take them. The carnage is not limited to humans; the air is thick with the screeches of farm animals locked in their pens and family pets bravely trying to defend their masters.

As time passes, the fires die, explosions cease and the screams subside. The groups that do survive will be forced to face their undead attackers in foraging missions, evacuations or battles driven by desperation. Many well protected areas will fall to starvation, disease or shear despair as many well supplied but weak willed humans take their own lives. Raiders will fare no better than anyone else, these modern day barbarians became as such because of their disrespect for law and order, their hatred of organization or choosing simple destruction over creation. As they feed off others like parasites, they will always be running, fighting, never building and never settling down. Their need for anarchy will lead them to turn on each other; many of these groups will break down once their leader or strongman dies, these groups and their members cannot survive forever, after several years, little will be left of these human predators.

It is difficult to say what will happen to the remnants of the government; this will vary greatly on what country, government and resources they had at their disposal. But no matter what happens there will always be the walking dead, many species of animals will face extinction as the undead change the ecosystem. In the end the human population may be anywhere for extinct to 1 billion people worldwide.

(See "Living in an Undead World")Quoted from 'Living in an Undead World': No help will come for anyone as the zombies slowly devour all life on the planet causing the end of humanity and eventually the end of all life on earth due to the rapid removal of so many creatures from the global ecosystem. After a time the zombies will all rot away leaving the earth an empty barren wasteland.


Every undead outbreak, regardless of its class, has a beginning. Now that the enemy has been defined, the next step is early warning. Knowing what a zombie is will not help if you are unable to recognize an outbreak before it's too late. This does not entail building a "zombie command post" in your basement, sticking pins in a map, and huddling around the shortwave radio. All it requires is looking for signs that would slip by the untrained mind. These signs include:

  1. Homicides in which the victims were executed by head shots or decapitation. See if these victims have been mass cremated. It has happened many times: People recognize an outbreak for what it is and try to take matters into their own hands. Almost always, these people are declared murderers by the local authorities and prosecuted as such.
  2. Missing persons, particularly in wilderness or uninhabited areas. Pay careful attention if one or more of the search members end up missing. If the story is televised or photographed, watch to see what level of armament the search parties carry. Any more than one rifle per group could mean that this is more than just a simple rescue operation.
  3. Cases of "violent insanity" in which the subject attacked friends or family without the use of weapons. Find out if the attacker bit or tried to bite his victims. If so, are any of the victims still in the hospital? Try to discover if any of these victims mysteriously died within days of their bite.
  4. Riots or other civil disturbances that began without provocation or other logical cause. Common sense will dictate that violence on any group level does not simply occur without a catalyst such as racial tension, political actions, or legal decisions. Even so-called "mass hysteria" can always be traced to a root source. If none can be found, the answer may lie elsewhere.
  5. Disease-based deaths in which either the cause is undetermined or seems highly suspect. Deaths from infectious disease are rare in the industrialized world, compared to a century ago. For this reason, new outbreaks always make the news. Look for those cases in which the exact nature of the disease is unexplained. Also, be on the alert for suspicious explanations such as West Nile virus or rabies. Either could be examples of a cover-up.
  6. Violence in a hospital, highly documented and yet utterly inexplicable, "hospital delirium" is a rapidly growing phenomenon in which people go insane in a hospital for no apparent reason. If you hear cases of victims going violently insane, find out if they bit anyone, if the cases average more than one a day an outbreak might be unfolding.
  7. Increases in gang violence, we hear about gang violence all the time, but if you notice in your area there are more and more reports of gang violence and shootings become more common, keep track of them. While gang violence alone is enough to cause concern, watch out for cases described in #1 that tie into this as this may be more than a few neighborhoods with a crime problem.
  8. An Increase in Military and police Presence in an area of violence. If the violence in the area increases enough to the point the police send more units with heavy weapons or the military comes in to reinforce the police, keep an eye and see if the violence stops. Usually it does but if it doesn't, and outbreak is most likely happening.
  9. Any of the above in which media coverage was forbidden. A total press blackout is rare in the United States. The occurrence of one should be regarded as an immediate red flag. Of course, there may be many reasons other than an attack of the living dead. Then again, any event causing a government as media-conscious as our own to clamp down merits close attention. The truth, no matter what it is, cannot be good and may be even worse than a zombie epidemic.

Once an event has tripped your sensors, keep track of it. Note the location, and its distance from you. Watch for similar incidents around or near the original site. If, within a few days or weeks, these incidents do occur, study them carefully and, if alarming enough, stock up on supplies and keep your eyes peeled. Note the response of law enforcement and other government agencies. If they react more forcefully with each occurrence, chances are that an outbreak is unfolding.

See also[]

The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead
Max Brooks | Solanum | Zombies | Outbreaks | Recorded Attacks
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