Backstory and Setting

I'm forging an alternate history set in the year 2012, a horrible zombie virus is sweeping across America, it spreads extremely quick and is incurable. The infected are basically Dawn of the Dead zombies that are smart, a deadly threat. The Center for Disease Control has decided to save as many of the American people as humanly possible. While the states on the West Coast and central America have already fallen into chaos, the remaining states of the East coast can still be saved; over 100 million people. The government has decided to set up shop in the North-Easternmost states of New York, and have already blown up the bridges and entrances to the island. Now Military rescue Helicopters are spreading across the "Survivor Zone", based on Aircraft carriers. enter image description here

The Question

While figuring out a number for survivors that would come to live in the safe zone, I hit a mental block as population density and survival (at least in terms of food and water) are one of my many weak spots. The safe Zone is over 350000 km squared and has a current population of over 40 million after riots. Assuming that each person is allowing an average of 1000 square feet and the rescue missions have a 6 in 10 success rate, how many people can the government realistically house, feed and keep alive in the safe zone?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Manhattan can't survive, there's no food supply $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 6:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix there, edited $\endgroup$
    – TrEs-2b
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 7:00
  • $\begingroup$ Depends... How long do you want to keep people safe ? And I don't think you would have such a well-drawn line between zombie/no-zombie lands, but I guess it's for clarity's sake... $\endgroup$
    – user20258
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 8:03
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It's not clear if this question is about the number of people who can be rescued and processed in to a safe zone using an unspecified number of helicopters or what the carrying capacity of the land is given an unspecified means of producing food for a population with a certain density. Either way, I'd suggest that there's information missing that would make the question(s) clearer and more answerable, and the question should probably be split into at least two parts. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 12:13
  • $\begingroup$ Is the question about how many people could be rescued, or fed and supplied long term, or how hard will it be to defend the boarder? You also need to state government capacity for rescue (how many working helicopters and does a failed rescue kill the crew) $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 0:23

2 Answers 2



By this article

Jeavons has a model for a vegetarian diet and the short answer is summarized as approximately 8,000 sq.ft. for a complete diet for one person (you need 4,000 sq/ft. of actual growing space and at least 4,000 sq.ft. for pathways and access).  That is also assuming you have four growing seasons per year, and your harvest is 100% (no failures).

Let's assume we have only one growing season, harvest efficiency $80\%$ and all area of Maine. So you need $40,000$ square feet ($0.00371 \text { km}^2$) per person. Maine area is $91,646$ square kilometres.

Simple math reveals: you can feed up to $24,702,425$ vegetarians ($24 \text { million}$) from agriculture of Maine size. This agricultural area would be distributed on many states in your case.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Luckily they don't actually have to be vegetarian as they should have access to the fishing fleets $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 20:01
  • $\begingroup$ Note also that meat can be raised on weeds and other, undesired/inedible plant life. Composting is great, but running vegetable waste through a ruminant is both faster and usually does a better job of killing weed seeds, plus you get some quantity of meat and/or dairy products so there's less waste. $\endgroup$
    – Perkins
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 22:26

By giving up a bit of standard of living you will have no problem supporting however much of the US population you can get behind your barrier. Cut greatly back on meat, if necessary supplement with stuff from a chemical plant.


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