Close Encounters: How to Survive an Alien Invasion

Close Encounters: How to Survive an Alien Invasion

We’ve seen it a dozen times in the movies—the spaceship hanging in mid-air over the White House, or some other easily recognizable place. Then we see the aliens coming down to announce their intentions, or just starting the destruction without a word. Alien invasion is a go-to plot that has sustained modern science fiction for a century. The idea goes back to such gems as “War of the Worlds” (the 1938 radio show adapted from the H.G. Wells’ novel) and the cult favorite, “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension.” The “Independence Day” movies are a modern standard of the genre. If you’re of a survival-oriented mindset, the interesting part of the Independence Day story begins where the first movie ends. What happens next?

We leave our heroes standing victorious in a world where every city and the planet’s infrastructure has been utterly destroyed and hundreds of millions of people have just been killed. Their problems are just beginning.

But to get to that clear-cut survival scenario, they first had to defeat the aliens.

What Do Aliens Want?

The part that’s unpredictable is what the aliens will want with us when they come. The notion of eating humans leaps to mind, but really, we’re not economical livestock. We take at least 15 years to grow to anything like full size, and in that time we eat thousands of times our final body weight in high quality food. Compare that to a pig, who goes from birth to 250 pounds in 6 months, on about 750 pounds of food. And that doesn’t even begin to touch the issue of whether any alien life form could even digest Earth-borne organisms.

So, if they don’t want to eat us, that leaves two more options, the first being that the aliens want slaves. Here again, that’s a stretch. Think about it – you’ve got the technology to travel across the galaxy and visit Earth. What exactly do you need with a bunch of hungry, unhappy, rebellious slaves to do that you can’t already do?

The most likely scenario is that the aliens would simply want us gone so they can strip mine the planet and use our home for its raw materials. Just to get here, they’d have to be much more technologically advanced than we are, so they might view us the way we’d view an ant colony living in the spot where we’ve decided to build our new garden shed: Nothing there worth noticing. In that case, we’ve really got a challenge on our hands. At least in the slavery or livestock scenarios, they’ll want some or most of us to stay alive—at least for a while. In the strip-mining scenario, we just have to hope their weapons and defenses aren’t too advanced. 

Surviving the Invasion

In the event of any alien attack, the farther you are from the major population centers, the better your chances of surviving to repopulate the Earth someday. We’ll break the survival skills into two phases—surviving the invasion, and surviving the aftermath. To survive a war against a much more technologically-advanced foe, your best bet is to escape and elude. If you choose to stand and fight, you’re pretty much on your own. For most of us, it’s time to go to ground, bug-out, hide out, and keep a low profile for as long as it lasts.

A single human doesn’t present a target very much different than any other comparably sized animal, and it’s unlikely the aliens will waste time looking for individuals hiding out in the mountains. Remember that laying low includes keeping your presence a secret from other humans, who will likely be desperate for the same resources you’re using. Don’t assume that we’re all on the same team in the face of a crisis. So, bring all your outdoor skills to bear in this phase. Work on remaining unseen, and don’t forget to minimize your heat signature.

You may have to live rough for some time, perhaps through a winter, so be sure you know how to keep warm, find food and water, and stay healthy. To survive, you’ll need the same gear you need to survive human wars, including weapons, shelter, stored food, medicines, tools, and clothing for all weather conditions.

You will need to hunt or defend yourself, so consider firearms and ammunition a priority, but if you can use a bow for some or all of that, they’re quieter. The best situation is a well-concealed off-grid cabin far away from civilization, preferably a long way up a difficult road. In that cabin, you’ll want your firearms and well-equipped bow, a supply of shelf-stable food, a source of clean water that does not depend on electricity to pump, some stored firewood, warm clothing, and a full set of tools. If you’re there a long time, the tools may be among the most important things.

You’ll want saws and an axe or two, plus a splitting maul, wedges, and a big sledge hammer if you need to augment your firewood supply. You’ll want hammers and nails, gardening implements, and all the tools of the hunter-gatherer.

Potentially, a great deal of badness could ensue depending on how long it takes to fight off the attackers. We can’t rely on our harmless native germs to kill off the invaders as in War of the Worlds, and really, the notion that we could figure out how to hack into the aliens’ computer system and give their network a virus was never realistic. This could be a long, tough war. But if you’re well equipped and have the skills to go with the equipment, staying alive until the aliens leave or die should be quite possible. But then what?

Surviving the Aftermath

The true disaster of an alien invasion is really the same as most other man-made or natural disasters—assuming we win. If we lose, well, it’s been observed that humans are tasty with ketchup and fries. So, imagine that you’re standing there surveying the wreckage of the invading warship, amid the smoking ruin of your city or town. How do you survive the day after Independence Day? First, you can assume that if your town has been demolished, every other town of that size or greater, worldwide, has probably received the same treatment. Washington D.C., New York, London, Moscow, Beijing—all left in smoking ruins. In this case, the smaller the town you live in, the better off you are. It is reasonable to expect that all infrastructure will have been destroyed, including power, water, and communications, because that’s the first thing that any technologically advanced attacker is going to eliminate.

So there you are, standing over the wreckage of the flying saucer, kicking that dead alien in the head. Or, that part that looks kind of like a head, anyway. It could be hard to tell. But the point is, you have survived the  invasion and Battlefield Earth. Congratulations. Now you have to get back to work. There’s a planet to rebuild.

The survival scenario now shifts dramatically. Where other people were a threat before, now a good team and a community represents your best shot to jump-start the world. There’s a reason that just about everything in the world you can think of was built by teams of people working together. A larger group of people will have individuals with specialized skills—doctors, engineers, mechanics, and so on. All the skills you need to get utilities up and running again, evaluate dangers, and keep a guard up while you work. People with useful skills will be highly prized in this phase of recovery, so it will help if you have something to offer besides a hungry belly.

It may sound like a paradox: the loner survives the war, while the team player survives the aftermath, but both those characteristics are part of being a resourceful survivor. To thrive, be willing to pitch in and help in any way you can, and be capable of learning new skills to increase your value to the community.


Stories of alien abduction also go back to ancient times, and tend to be similar in nature. The person or persons are taken up into the alien ship, where they are observed or tested. Few have reported the kind of gruesome experiments popularized in fiction. Obviously, all who have related these stories have been returned unharmed—but of course, any who did not return would never be able to testify to their experience. In recent years, the case of Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker is often recounted. The two men were fishing in Mississippi when they say they were taken up in an oval-shaped aircraft by strange-looking aliens who communicated with them  telepathically. 

The two men were returned to Earth, and told their story to the police. They were left alone for a time, but their conversation was recorded and neither man gave any hint of perpetrating a hoax. Indeed, they seriously discussed what had happened to them. A few years later, Betty and Barney Hill were driving their car in New Hampshire when they encountered a UFO. Later, they realized that they had each lost several hours of their memory, and when they regained their senses they were 35 miles from their last remembered location. They believed they had been abducted by the crew of the UFO. They claimed that their watches froze and could not be restarted, and their shoes and clothing were scuffed. Both of the Hills were interviewed under hypnosis and sustained their story. In every case reported, humans who have been abducted have been subject to far greater power and technology than they could resist. Survival seems to have been entirely in the hands of the abductors, so sensible compliance seems to be the smart play in these mysterious cases.

Alien Invasion: Roswell, N.M., 1947

The best-known case of alien contact concerns the well-known events that are alleged to have occurred near Roswell, New Mexico. The artifacts and perhaps even bodies or survivors of an extraterrestrial crash landing are believed to be stored in a secure facility in Nevada known as Area 51. If that was an alien invasion, it wasn’t much of one, as the aliens either died or were captured and held by government forces using 1947 technology. But if you just look back further, there are many accounts of mysterious flying ships dating back to biblical times.

People described what they saw as best they could, in the terms that they knew. That’s why when people read about fiery chariots swinging low to carry people off to heaven, they wonder if this could be a description of an alien encounter. In the year 1290, William of Newburgh wrote about a strange UFO that appeared over a  monastery: “The abbot and monks were at a meal, when a flat, round, shining, silvery object flew over the abbey and caused the utmost terror.” Over 170 years later in 1461, the Duke of Bourgogne related the story that “an object appeared in the sky over France… It was as long and wide as a half moon; it hung stationary for about a quarter of an hour, clearly visible, then suddenly spiraled, twisted and turned like a spring and rose into the heavens.” Then in 1479, a large “comet” was observed over the Arab peninsula. The people who saw it stated that
the object had windows. These stories are not hard to find, and similar observations have been reported periodically right up to the present day.

What a Hostile Alien Invasion Might Really Look Like

As hard as it may be to believe, there are real historical records of the same kind of invasion. Before you scoff, this isn’t about flying saucers – in these cases the aliens came in sailing ships, some commanded by Christopher Columbus and others by Captain James Cook. But to the people they encountered, the strange white-skinned people with their firearms and iron tools were as strange and advanced as galaxy-traveling space aliens would be to us.

The first situation was faced by the Arawak tribe on the island of Hispaniola, now home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Christopher Columbus arrived in 1493 and used his advanced technology to subjugate the island. He took slaves and plundered the world known by the Arawaks. He brought European diseases to which the Arawaks had no historical immunity— but it’s also thought that the Arawaks may have transferred syphilis to the Europeans. On repeated trips to the Caribbean, Columbus demanded gold as tribute, plundering the islands to pay off his Spanish financial backers. Further conquistadores spread out throughout the new world, using the advanced technology of firearms and ironwork to plunder the civilizations they encountered.

On Hawaii, history took a different turn. The Hawaiians were a warlike people, and when they determined the purposes of the English, they fought back effectively and turned Cook’s fleet away, preserving their independence for a time.


Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the Doomsday 2016 issue of American Survival Guide. 

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