As readers and viewers of The Walking Dead well know, secluded farms, penitentiaries and gated communities will only protect you for so long from the undead hordes shambling across the post-apocalyptic landscape. But short of plunking down $113,000 for a zombie-proof log cabin, what's a person to do?
According to researchers from Cornell University, you should start packing for the Rockies.
Inspired by Max Brooks' novel World War Z and a graduate statistical mechanics class, the team explored how an "actual" zombie outbreak might unfold in the United States. As we know from other, similar zombie studies, the approach allows researchers to employ many of the techniques used to model real diseases ... without it being so boring.
The Cornell team's model examined how a zombie outbreak might spread in a human population of about 300 million.
In works of fiction, graduate student Alex Alemi explained, "if there is a zombie outbreak, it is usually assumed to affect all areas at the same time, and some months after the outbreak you're left with small pockets of survivors. But in our attempt to model zombies somewhat realistically, it doesn't seem like this is how it would actually go down."
Cities would fall quickly, the researchers determined, but it would take weeks for the undead to make their way into less densely populated areas, and months before they arrived in the northern Mountain Time Zone.
"Given the dynamics of the disease, once the zombies invade more sparsely populated areas, the whole outbreak slows down -- there are fewer humans to bite, so you start creating zombies at a slower rate," Alemi said. "I'd love to see a fictional account where most of New York City falls in a day, but upstate New York has a month or so to prepare."
The researchers will present their findings Thursday at the 2015 American Physical Society March Meeting in San Antonio, which, with its population of 1.4 million, will probably be overwhelmed by the undead in no time at all.
Sleep well, San Antonio. Sleep well.