When we think of survival and disaster preparedness the images most people conjure up are basically rural. Preparedness is all about being ready to harvest the essentials from the land, and there’s a distinct echo of pioneer families about it all. But is this realistic? The latest figures, from 2015, show that 82% of Americans now live in urban areas. If you’re one of them, being ready for the worst brings a whole new set of challenges with it.
In rural America space equals time. People are more spread out, and that buys time in all sorts of ways. Civil disorder will take longer to spread, giving you time to prepare. You probably stockpile essentials anyway, rather than buying them a few times a week from the convenience store, so you have at least some reserves to fall back on. In a city it’s different. You’re in close proximity with thousands or millions of other people, and things are a lot more precariously balanced. If the SHTF in a city it’s going to do it fast, and you need to be able to react fast to stay ahead of events.
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If law and order is falling apart around you, and you’re trying to work out what to do, it might be too late already. You’ve lost the initiative and you’ll really struggle to get it back. Preparedness is always a benefit in a survival situation but it’s vital for urban residents. Here are some of the key things you need to work out in advance:
If disaster strikes when your family are all together that’s great – but what if it hits during the day, when people are scattered at work and school? Your first priority is getting yourself and your loved ones together, so you can look out for each other and start working on whatever you plan to do next.
Work out, along with your family, what everyone should do if the world suddenly starts ending. Make alternate plans to fit different circumstances. Say it’s a Saturday night and your teenage kids are hanging out with friends. What should they do if a riot breaks out – head home, or hunker down where they are? You need to know where to look for them if they can’t call you – come up with a short list of meetup points that aren’t on the list of places to avoid (we’ll look at those later).
During the day a good plan is for any family member who’s at home to stay there; kids stay at school, and any adult who’s at work should pick the kids up before heading home as well. Agree the basics with everyone, then look at alternatives – what if the school is evacuated?
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Keep in touch
In any crisis situation, you can’t rely on cell phones; a power outage can kill the infrastructure they rely on. The same goes for a lot of modern landlines. If your phone service is over VOIP then it’s going to die the instant the power goes down. An old-fashioned phone plugged into the wall socket is different; it’s powered through the line, not your domestic electricity. If you have a traditional phone you can keep talking to anyone else has one, as long as the exchanges are still running.
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Urban dwellers don’t have the self-sufficiency options available in the countryside, but you need some basic resources to keep you going in the initial stages of a crisis. Make sure you have at least three days’ worth of food and water stored at home – and that means food that doesn’t need electricity to prepare. Also stockpile a good first-aid kit, flashlights and spare batteries, and other essentials.
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A lot of city residents don’t have cars; if you’re one of them, when it’s time to head for the hills you’re going to be on foot for at least the first part of the journey. Make sure you have good walking boots or shoes, outdoor clothing and a pack that can carry all your essentials.
If you do have a vehicle, keep it as fully fueled as you can at all times. Don’t drive around until the low-fuel light comes on, then look for a gas station. Instead, top up the tank every time it falls below ¾ full – and keep a reserve gas canister in the trunk, too. That way, if you need to move you’re ready to just load up and go.
Next, know where you’re going to go. Maybe you drive around the city every day, but that’s not the same as trying to drive out of it in an emergency. Some routes that flow freely are going to be blocked solid. Look for escape routes that stay clear of places to avoid (we’ll get to those soon) as much as possible. Try to move along residential streets, especially suburban ones – they’re less likely to have crowds.
Watch for check points – places where movement is channeled into restricted routes. Those routes will grind to a halt as soon as someone has a breakdown or accident, and that’s going to happen – panic attracts trouble. Look for less constricted ways out. For example, if you live in north San Francisco your closest ways out are the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. Guess what? They’re everyone else’s closest ways out too, and they’re going to get choked quickly. Instead, turn south and head for San Jose. It’s more distance, but there are a lot of roads; if one’s blocked, just back up and find another.
When you decide it’s time to leave the city your priority is to get out. The direction you leave in doesn’t matter much; if conditions are going downhill you just want to leave. Plan a couple of routes in different directions, so you can adapt to the situation – if there’s a major problem on the east side and your main route goes through it, you can just use one of your alternates and go one of the other directions instead.
Drive your routes regularly enough that you can navigate them flawlessly and stay up to date on any changes – you don’t want to find unexpected roadworks when you’re trying to leave in a hurry.
Places To Avoid
There are some places that you should steer clear of as much as possible in an emergency. They’re likely to be over-run by panicked mobs or under attack by rioters – or even terrorists. When you’re arranging places to meet up, or planning safe routes, look out for these unsafe locations.
Obviously, if a place is on this list, don’t decide you’ll meet your family there. It goes a bit further than that though. Try to avoid intersections that have one of them, because those locations will probably attract trouble and could easily be blocked. As far as you can, don’t even pass by one if you can help it. That won’t always be possible, but do your best. Anyway, here are the top trouble magnets:
- Government offices. Whether they’re besieged by protesters or setting up for a state of emergency, these are locations you should stay away from if possible. That includes city hall, the police station and military bases. The government isn’t just something people will focus their discontent on; it’s a terrorist target as well.
- If you have a life-threatening injury or illness get to hospital as quick as you can. Otherwise, stay clear; it’s likely to be over-run with desperate people.
- Grocery stores. A crowd trying to panic-buy food can turn ugly in a hurry. If you need food, look for small convenience stores in residential areas. Safeway is likely to be packed and tense.
- Gas stations. People wanting to get out of the city will be filling their cars. Because yours is already full you can stay away from these potential flashpoints.
- Public squares, parks and gardens. These are basically riot farms. Worried people gather in them, rumors and complaints spread, and next thing you know an angry mob is rampaging towards city hall.
- Transport hubs. Airports, rail links and coach stations will attract desperate people trying to get out. They also attract terrorist attacks. Stay away; you’re better walking out through the back streets than taking your chances in a panicking mob.
As I said at the beginning, urban survival does have its own challenges. Preparedness will take the edge off them, though, so it’s worth putting in a little effort. It doesn’t take much; occasional chats with your family, a few extra grocery items every week to build up stores, a sensible approach to keeping vehicles fueled and the occasional drive out of town. It won’t cost you much time or money, but when seconds count it will give you a huge head start.
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in 2020 the phone company is doing away with land lines, every thing is going to be voip
I agree with everything You mentioned, except the land line phone. If You don’t already have a landline in Your home, getting one now may be impossible. And most modern land line systems rely on electronic switching which will die instantly if there is an electric surge.
Besides, if the guvmnt is behind the SHFT, all communication power will be terminated immediately.
In an urban situation, situational awareness is vital. Baring an natural disaster, which no can predict; looking, listening and reacting before a SHFT is key.
Traininng Your whole group, even the kids, to listen for small insignificant indicators is the key. Then as a leader, (and You will be a leader, because You have thought this out, when no one else ???;) can pull the plug before it’s a crisis.
So what if You pull the plug, and nothing happens??? Well, You have just had a real live drill. The worse thing, others around You now know that You have prepared something. (Hopefully the guvmnt isn’t watching too close.)
Which brings me to recognizing false flags. Well, that is a whole new subject You could elaborate on sometime.
I’d love to see an article on that, Lonejack, you should write one!
Don’t advertise they won’t know. Nobody knows all we have not even my wife it stresses her out. Granted it is not a years worth but it is a good start. Love that preppars show but I will be danged If I get on national tv and tell everybody.
Thanks Fergus, good intimation and good food for thought…and action. Another commentor mentioned that wired telephony was going to done away with by 2020. This is not correct. What is happening is that States are allowing leeway on whether phone providers offer traditional phone service or internet based. I do agree the trend is certainly away from copper wire systems. Having lost power for 8 days during Super Storm Sandy, about the only modern technology that was still working for us was the old wired landline in the kitchen.
I really couldn’t recommend driving around with a gas can in the trunk of your car. If it is full, the heat in your trunk while you are parked in the sun will exert a lot of pressure on the seams of the gas jug. If it springs a leak you are never going to get the odor of gasoline out of your car. OTOH, gas vapor is a lot more explosive than liquid gas, so a partially full can is potentially more dangerous than a full can. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Don’t let anyone tell you gasoline isn’t explosive. Gasoline vapor ignites with such rapidity that you would be hard pressed to not think it was an explosion. My father worked for 25 years in a refinery and they always filled partial empty tanks with water to eliminate gas vapors as much as possible. The POL products floated on top of the water so they didn’t mix.
Everyone talks about hiking with a pack. My plan is to use a collapsible luggage carrier. I can pull a lot more weight than I can carry. I can pull a light load a lot further and faster than I can carry it. I can get into action, if necessary if I am not hindered with a pack on my back. I think the best bug out configuration is a light weight luggage carrier with back packs strapped to it. That way if you have to brush bust, you can dismount the packs and carry them and either fold up the luggage carrier and carry it or just abandon it. I carry my collapsible luggage carrier in the car at all times.
Get those hand held walkie talkies powered by batteries. Two or four is good. They come in packs of two so if you get more try to stay with same brand because not all of them are compatible. Make up your own code system that only you and your family knows because it is possible they could walk on another party you don’t want to hear even individuals using same devices. As far as I know they can’t be tracked, someone correct me if I am wrong. It’s good info to know about land lines, glad I got the radios. Store extra batteries of course. Mine are all in vacuum sealed packaging to protect from moisture including batteries which are packaged separately in case they leak. Just food for thought.
If you broadcast long enough from the same position and somebody is looking for you, you can be triangulated and your position plotted. To be absolutely safe, your radios should be stored in a Faraday cage. Your batteries don’t have to be in a Faraday cage, but your radios would be safer inside one. Short range radios mean that whoever is looking for you has to be fairly close. The longer distance you transmit, the further a tracking unit can be. Most of the handheld radios that you can buy from sporting goods stores are line-of-sight. They can transmit quite a distance over flat land or from hilltop to hilltop but concrete and steel buildings will drop your range and deep valleys and high hills will also drop your range. Transmissions should be short. Don’t use real names. Use a code sheet where you transmit numbers for letters or code words for messages. For instance, Code Red could mean hostiles in sight. Situation Blue = everything is clear. Home on the Range= I have found shelter.
Another good simple code is everyone have the same book. first number is the page number, second number is line number on the page, third and subsequent numbers are words. Break or 00 mean go to next line or page. With a little training and usage it is a simple but effective code.
Remember that these walkie talkies have a 2 mile line of sight. This means that if you have a building between you and the person you are trying to talk to it won’t work. Any hill, tree, building will stop the signal. Before buying them check into them. Don’t waste money on a false since of security. Maybe a hand held ham radio would be better. I know that its illegal to use them without a license, but with everything falling apart whose going to track you down and fine you.
MAPS! If you don’t have maps you don’t know where you are with any real certainty. You can’t count on your cell phone maps when SHTF. So get paper maps of your entire city, county/townships, state, adjacent states, etc. Get USGS Quadrangle (topo) maps too.
And learn how to read them. Maps will still be around long after your cell phone or GPS had died a natural death.
As a member of the non-urban 18%, I assure you that the last thing I want to see are clueless, unprepared city dwellers heading my way. You chose to live in the city. You can deal with the consequences.
As a city dweller, I agree with Ben Leucking. It’s poor advice to suggest we should drive to the countryside without a plan. How would hordes of strangers from the city be received? (Hint: Not well.)
Instead, consider that many city residents can store a year’s worth of food and find multiple sources of water nearby, just as I and some of my neighbors have done. While this is more difficult for apartment dwellers, it’s not impossible (I had lots of attic space when I lived in a top-floor condo) and not everyone in the city lives in an apartment. Most townhouses, duplexes, and single family homes have basements and other options for storage. The plan should be to bug-in, first. Not to “live off the land” with a few million city AND rural folk.
If leaving becomes necessary, city residents should have someplace to go! Family members living elsewhere with the means to house guests makes the most sense. Urban residents could start preparing today by simply talking to those family members and planning for the possibility that their home could be the preferred bug-out location.
Finally, keeping in touch can include Ham/Amateur Radio, satellite pagers and phones, and maybe even text messages, which usually work long after mobile telephone calls cease to get through. Planning for these modes of communication is important with your immediate and extended family.
And since you choose to live in the country, you will deal with the Bugging out Preppers, the Unprepared masses and the criminal gangs that will need your resources to survive and keep the gang alive.
So instead of promoting what you would like to see, you better be preparing for what you will see.
You might start considering bringing in some of the Bugging out preppers to help you defend what you have from the other two groups.
Otherwise you will be overrun.
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I couldn’t agree more to what you said in this article. I thing preparedness is an essential skill everyone must have because it will actually help you predict things and even prevent worse things to happen. I love this post keep this up!
You’ll also wanna avoid maple leaf golf and country club in SW Florida because the smell of burning feces will polute the air for miles.