LAURA SULLIVAN, HOST:
You're listening to WEEKENDS on All Things Considered, from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan. Earthquake? Outbreak? Zombie apocalypse? From movies to television to books, we seem to be obsessed with the end of the world. And you know what? It's common, people, and author Sam Sheridan wants to teach us how we can survive it.
His new book is called "Disaster Diaries: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse." And if anyone is going to make it, he's going to make it. Sheridan has already survived wilderness firefighting, martial arts combat, and construction work in the South Pole. I wondered if he had some tips for those of us who feel slightly less equipped, and started by asking him what drew him to the apocalypse in the first place.
SAM SHERIDAN: You know, it never really came to a head until I had a son - which was really the catalyst for this book - really coming to grips with the responsibility I felt and, you know, if the big one hits and I'm not there, and if there's a zombie apocalypse and I'm not ready, to kind of hope for the best and tough-it-out attitude wasn't enough anymore, you know? It was - I had to be responsible.
SULLIVAN: So you - it was about feeling vulnerable.
SHERIDAN: Yeah, absolutely.
SULLIVAN: So you, as part of your survival skills learning experience, learned how to build a fire from scratch. I mean, not even flint. I mean, you just - with some sticks. Is it harder than you expected it to be? I mean, are...
SHERIDAN: It's much harder than you think it is. I mean, there's a guy named John McPherson, who I trained with in Kansas, who teach (unintelligible) the military instructors in these primitive skills. And he's all about, you know, working without any modern tools. So he actually, you know, will flint nap and break rock to get sharp edges and use those sharp edges for his knives to cut wood and make a bow drill to get fire. And it takes a long time. Yes, it's tough.
SULLIVAN: Another thing you said was going to be critically important was transportation and that we should all know how to steal a car.
SHERIDAN: If there is a huge outbreak, and, you know, 99 percent of people are killed by the flu or whatever, then you can go around stealing cars to your heart's content. And it's pretty easy with older cars, and it's pretty impossible with newer cars. I mean, most modern cars have so many electronic. They all have some switches, and they have chips in the keys, so you're never going to steal anything that new.
But, you know, like a 1993 Honda Civic, that thing, you just jump in there and pop out the stuff on top of the ignition switch, and you can reach in and start it.
SULLIVAN: You stick the screwdriver in and turn it. It's a little bit distressing because, you know, it's a post-apocalyptic world, and there aren't any speed limits, and we're all stuck driving 20-year-old Hondas.
SHERIDAN: That's right. I'm sorry about that.
SHERIDAN: Well, I think the roads will be cluttered with (unintelligible) cars anyway, so...
SULLIVAN: The other critical thing you wrote about: medical care. If you're going to have a heart attack - you're toast anyway - nobody's coming. But you said that there might be some things that we can fix ourselves.
SHERIDAN: Well, sure. I think there's a lot of very simple, you know, first-aid things that you can get into and that you can have success with.
SULLIVAN: You wrote something about the way you can set a broken bone is by pulling it all the way out and snapping it back in.
SHERIDAN: Yeah, yeah. Pull traction in line, which - it makes sense. I mean, you think of the bone being broken, and you just sort of, you know, you want to extend it inside the skin and let it slide back together and...
SULLIVAN: And you can recover from that.
SHERIDAN: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah.
SULLIVAN: You know, one of the things you spent some time talking about in the - in your book that we don't often hear much about is that if such a day were ever to happen, that all of us, whoever remained, whoever ended up living, would be suffering from so much post-traumatic stress, from seeing the death of every single person that they know - their family, their friends - that whoever's remaining is probably not going to be functioning on any sort of real level anyway.
SHERIDAN: Well, absolutely. I mean, that became very clear and very obvious. You know, it was said to me in passing that, you know, hey, mental health's an issue too. And - but you're exactly right. You sort of think about it, and you go: Oh, my goodness. You know, it's going to be a huge issue. Moving from denial into acceptance will be a big part of who lives and who dies.
SULLIVAN: If there's no real way to prepare for the apocalypse, because you don't know which kind of apocalypse it's going to be or what skills you're going to need, what do you hope people are taking out of your book?
SHERIDAN: Hurricane Sandy is a perfect example. If you have, you know, the ability to kind of camp out and live and survive in your own apartment without power for a week or two, you just take the pressure cooker off the emergency. Basically, you should be able to take care of yourself for a couple of weeks or a month, in my opinion.
SULLIVAN: Do you feel like you're ready to face the apocalypse? I mean, are you prepared?
SHERIDAN: You know, you're never ready. It's like having a baby or getting a puppy, right? You're never ready for it. I feel a lot better about it than I did. You know, again, the difference between paranoia and preparation, you know, I think paranoia is something that makes you more anxious and more worried and hurts your quality of life, whereas preparation can be something that makes your life better. You know, am I ready? I hope so.
SULLIVAN: Having you teach us how to steal a car and forage for food in your book, you know, at least you and me and NPR's listeners are going to survive the apocalypse. And, you know, frankly, I think we could do a lot worse, so I appreciate that.
SHERIDAN: Well, you know, it'd be a shame to survive the initial, you know, meteor or whatever it is and then not be able to start a fire. So you should learn how to start a fire.
SULLIVAN: Sam Sheridan's new book is called "The Disaster Diaries: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse." Sam, thanks so much for joining me.
SHERIDAN: Thank you.
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