In the wake of nearly every disaster, fatalities occur long after the event has taken its initial toll. Whether it is a volcano, hurricane, flood, plague or zombie attack, the general pandemonium following a crisis often causes more problems for the survivors than the original disaster. The most threatening aspect of surviving the impending apocalypse is hordes of mindless drones, either in the form of zombies, angry mobs, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Paranoia and suspicion of others are the best ways to avoid being swept up in this deadly pandemonium. As long as quality of life is not part of the issue, staying shut away in an overly sterilized air lock with a lifetime supply of canned food will probably keep you breathing the longest. Of course, if retaining humanity is factored into the equation, your options are far less clear. As social creatures, humans have evolved to react as a group, similar to pods of fish and herds of lemmings. As thinking creatures, we have also evolved to strive toward individuality, beyond our basic group instincts. This unique advancement is what separates humans from the other animals, except during times of duress. People tend to revert to mob instincts in times of uncertainty and fear. Therefore, retaining humanity and higher faculties requires the kind merciless individualism that can mow down zombies, looters and government workers left and right.
The zombie invasion will be similar to an unknown infectious epidemic, due to its inability to conform to one set of characteristics from movie to movie. Varying methods of initial infection, transmission, weaknesses and symptoms illustrate the same variables as a potential pandemic. The mode of initial infection may be the key to ultimately defeating the zombie horde, once and for all. The most common sources are secret government-funded genetics projects, corporate chemical spills and propaganda (a particularly potent form of black magic used for mind control). But unless you are being followed by a camera crew with epic background music, the source of infection is not worth worrying about.
Transmission is a far more pressing obstacle. For example, if the zombie disease is a virus, it cannot survive without a living host, but anti-biotic hand sanitizer will be as useful as wet newspaper. If the infection is a fungus or bacteria, it can exist and persist outside the human body, and can develop into resistant strains very quickly if sanitizers are used in excess. Both viruses and bacteria can be passed from person to person through indirect contact (failure of basic hygiene) and direct contact (traditional zombie-like methods such as biting and blood contact, or even skin contact in the event of a flesh-eating fungus). It should be noted that indirect contact is rarely used in movies; simply because it is not nearly as exciting to watch a character forget to wash his hands after fighting a zombie (even "dead" zombies can still pass on disease!) But the real zombie infection will be far more dangerous and spread quicker if it can be transmitted by air, water or public restrooms.
One of the most variable aspects of the zombie apocalypse is what kind of zombies will arise. The symptoms of zombification most universally include loss of individuality and humanity, as well as insatiable urge to consume (not to be confused with the modern American consumer). They are always most dangerous in groups and for this reason, they hunt in packs. Beyond mob psychology, zombies become more diversified from movie to movie. Some infections target the muscular system, making slow, lumbering zombies. Others only attack the pre-frontal cortex, knocking out conscious and intelligent thought, which results in fast, but stupid zombies.
Another valuable lesson learned from zombie movies is that the government and big businesses will always lie to you. You should be most concerned when the government tells you nothing is wrong. Over the past several decades, the US government has learned that manipulating a worrisome mob-minded public is far easier than attempting to govern a discerning coalition of free-minded individuals. For this reason, as soon as the zombie apocalypse commences (or even beforehand), you must always keep in mind that you are utterly on your own for survival.
On the other hand, a companion or two is probably the best way to retain your sanity under the stresses of murdering the zombified remnants of friends and family (remember: friends kill friends who are zombies). However, other humans are probably the biggest threat to your survival. Looters will flock to cities and create hostile mobs of their own, violently obtaining resources for themselves. Urban environments are definitely the most risky areas, seething with disease (zombies), strangers (potential zombies), and friends (zombies in friends' clothing). While the post-modern city offers the greatest potential for resources, the risk is very high.
Being completely isolated is equally, if not more, risky. Living in the Gobi Desert will probably keep you zombie-free, but you will die of dehydration, starvation or exposure just as fast. Rural environments are your best bet. Residences are more likely to have effective anti-zombie technology, such as shotguns and combines. With fewer people to begin with, there will be fewer zombies, fewer looters and lots of open space. Zombies are easier to mow down in a cornfield than one by one in a maze of alleys. Rural environments will also most likely provide a source of protein, gated off, fenced in, and well-fed without any effort on your part.
Once successfully ruralized, it is still a good idea to scout out the high ground. For example, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, my strategically placed current residence, is the ideal place to survive the zombie attack, mostly because the local max-security prison has sturdy castle-like towers, enough barbed wire to defend the entire US border, and unprecedented lock-down capabilities. The prisoners can either be released as zombie-fodder, or converted as a skilled anti-zombie defense force. In addition, the gun shop and Wal-mart provide excellent resources for a long-term hold-out. The river can provide water and even serve as a natural barrier, assuming zombies are weak swimmers.
If nothing else, remember that preparedness will get you through the initial attack, but mob psychology will get you in the end. Inherent on the definition of "disaster" is that something unfavorable and unexpected occurs. Without falling into the circular logic of expecting the unexpected, this should be the guiding factor in any and all contingency plans. In the onset of catastrophe (or just in general), thinking as a calm intelligent individual, such as the protagonist, will save you far more often than reacting as one of a screaming mob, because in zombie movies, screaming, flailing extras always die.