Now shuffling into its fourth season, the popular zombie-themed TV show “The Walking Dead” has recently added another obstacle for its survivors: infectious disease. Drawing on the same terrifying trope that animated “Outbreak,” “Contagion,” and “28 Days Later,” the show’s creators have conjured up not only an unidentified airborne pandemic zombie virus, but also a killer influenza virus like the one that wiped out millions in 1918.
In the world of “The Walking Dead,” not even the CDC knows how to cure the zombie plague. But in real life, humanity does know a thing or two about handling infectious diseases. Around the country and the world, there exist biosafety labs created specifically to handle deadly pathogens like Ebola virus, smallpox, and anthrax, using protocols and designs that prevent infections leaking to the outside world.
Clearly, in the event that the outside world does become an infectious zombie wasteland, there’s a simple solution: Turn your home into an inside-out biolab, quarantining the world outside while your family remains safely within. Herewith, the quick-and-dirty Ideas guide to zombie-proofing your home. (Note: Even if you take all these steps, Ideas does not guarantee that the virus won’t somehow seep in. Still, it’s worth a try.)
When the zombie apocalypse and its attendant diseases arrive, you’d better be ready. As rumors start to spread, make sure to grab the following: duct tape (a lot of it), furnace air filters, a generator (don’t forget the gas), a fan or air pump, a snorkel, bleach, a motorcycle helmet, garbage bags, dishwashing gloves, gardening gloves, notebooks, and as much nonperishable food and bottled water as you can fit in the house.
Seal off everything. You’ll have enough air inside the home to last you while you block all gaps with that most versatile of adhesives: duct tape. Apply it to the seams of the windows, doors, air vents, and garage. (If there’s time, board up windows to prevent incursions from zombie hands and heads.)
Next, you need to breathe—but you can’t breathe the outside air. In labs where researchers work on deadly viruses, there are multiple high-efficiency particulate air filters placed in every air duct and suit air supply. Take the furnace air filter, find some metal ducting in your ceiling, and stuff the filter inside. Next, create a hole to the outside world and duct-tape the filter apparatus into it. It’s not elegant, but it’s better than a bandana over your face.
Labs where people work on dangerous viruses are negatively pressured—air is pumped out to keep lab spaces at a lower pressure, so that in a breach, air will rush in and prevent the spread of dangerous pathogens. For your zombie-proof home, you want to do exactly the opposite. High-end snorkels often have a one-way valve, where air or water can go out but can’t come in. You’ll want to MacGyver that into your air filter. Next, put a generator-powered fan or air pump behind it. Eventually, enough air will be pumped into your home that the pressure should rise. Now, any zombie attack will bring with it biting mouths and clawing hands, but at least not air laden with virus.
You can’t stay inside forever—at some point you’ll need more food and supplies. You’ll also need a protective suit. Your best bet is to make a suit out of garbage bags and duct tape and positively pressure it, like you did your house. Open a hole in the back of a motorcycle helmet and tape in some of that HEPA filter from the furnace. Then put on the helmet and duct tape the face and neck openings shut. Finally, on your hands, try dishwashing gloves covered with a pair of gardening gloves. Researchers use two pairs of gloves to protect themselves from possible punctures; you’ll do it for possible bites.
When you venture out, you’ll need an airlock and a strict procedure. First, take off your street clothes. Next, put on a set of clothes that are completely disposable. After that, don your protective suit, gloves, and boots. Finally, into the airlock you go. Inside, douse yourself with a disinfecting shower of diluted bleach. Now you’re ready to face the viruses outside. When you return, again douse yourself in disinfectant, remove the suit, and throw away the clothes. You won’t have an actual airlock in your house, but maybe you can use the duct-tape-sealed garage.
To fight an infectious disease, it’s key to figure out where it comes from—high-security biolabs keep detailed records for exactly this reason. Write down who enters or exits the home, and when; mark down any signs of symptoms in survivors. If anyone does become infected, make a somber note of it and immediately isolate them in a duct-tape-sealed room.
There’s a further upside: If you do ride out the infectious storm, one day that logbook may stand as a record of humanity’s greatest struggle. You may even want to sell it to Hollywood.
Kyle Hill writes the blog But Not Simpler for Scientific American and has contributed to Slate, Wired, Popular Science, and Al Jazeera America’s TechKnow. You can follow him on Twitter @Sci_Phile.