Apocalypse: Now What? Skills For a Never-Ending Pandemic

By Ted Alvarez / Crosscut.com

Coronavirus has changed our reality for the foreseeable future, prompting questions from you about how to navigate our strange new normal. In this weekly column, we hope to answer them with practical advice, ideas and solutions. Ask your question at the bottom of this story.


Question: What kind of survival skills are most useful in a pandemic? Building fires? Finding solitude? Pooping in the woods? I really want to be prepared for the worst.

Oh, you’ve certainly barked up the right tree, fellow survival enthusiast. Where to begin? Shall we carve feather sticks? Forage up a mess of hopefully nonlethal fungi? Build a helicopter out of a cereal box and a paperclip? As someone who once wrote a book on the subject (one person called it “good”), I’m legitimately excited. I’ll rustle up my favorite camo loincloth and we can get to it.

But before we grab our bug-out bags and alight for our respective underground bunkers, we should probably take a few steps back. Learning basic survival skills is a fantastic way to instill confidence and capability. It can also be especially meditative and relaxing: Building shelters in your backyard or in a park (no cutting down anything off-limits, please) can ease stress and give kids something fun and outdoorsy to do without leaving town. Plus, there are few bigger thrills than conjuring fire — whether that’s a never-fail campfire or a primitive blaze made from nothing but wood and friction. (Just check fire restrictions in your area.)

You can disappear down rabbit holes learning all the fun stuff that builds confiden*ce in yourself and being outdoors. But it’s worth returning to the root of your question: What kind of survival skills are useful in a pandemic? Sure, the wilderness stuff could come in handy if you get lost or injured in the wild, but beyond instilling some calm and peace of mind, it might not be directly applicable for this type of disaster.

The feds actually provide guidance on how to prepare for disasters — including pandemics. Most of the tips therein are old hat: handwashing, maintaining distance, stocking up on supplies. In some ways, we’re living well beyond those recommendations — there’s no mention of masks, for instance. But it’s a decent refresher, especially the reminder to check in on people you know and love, which brings me to my next point.  

Disasters and world-changing apocalypses are often depicted as the downfall of society: roving bandits, water wars, only the strong survive, etc. But most research and the preponderance of human history points to the opposite: In times of crisis, we tend to support one another. Kindness and altruism are better ways to lift each other out of the mire, from medical personnel and essential workers to the regular folks who often serve as first responders.

What does that mean in practice? It can take a lot of shapes, but mostly I think it means not bugging out. It means sticking around to check on neighbors and strangers alike, keeping local businesses afloat if you can, sacrificing pleasures like travel to minimize risk of spread. 

Employ and fine-tune your risk assessment abilities as you engage in all these activities. If you’re interested in shaping the contours of how this pandemic might end from the top down, you could join a campaign like Vote Forward to increase voter turnout ahead of November’s fraught election. 

Remaining active, engaged and present for your community while staying safe is probably the most useful skill we can deploy to make sure we all survive this. While this pandemic might make it seem like hell is other people, take it from me: Eating rats by yourself in the rain gets old really fast.


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