While no one wants to think about what they would do if the world ended, it’s one of those things you want to be ready for — whether it happens or not. Whether you survive in an SHTF situation will depend on several factors, like how well you’ve prepared, whether you’ve taken the time to learn the necessary survival skills and where you’re located.
Many preppers choose to leave the cities behind when things get messy, but staying in an urban area as a survival strategy also offers many benefits. You may know how to survive in the woods — now we’re going to teach you how to survive the end of the world if you stay in a city…
What Kind of Scenarios Should You Prepare For?
The emergencies you’ll need to ready yourself for will be similar whether you’re prepping a survival tent in the woods or you’re staying in the city. While it’s impossible to know what might strike, you should prepare for many events ranging from:
- Nuclear strikes
- EMP strikes
- Global viral pandemics
- Pandemics caused by engineered disease
- World wars
- Societal or economic collapse
- Volcanic eruptions
…and if you’re REALLY paranoid, the zombie apocalypse and inevitable robot uprising, lol.
Finding Shelter in the City
If you’re still in the city when SHTF, the first thing you’ll want to do is find alternate shelter. If your property is within the city limits, you may be able to use your home as a shelter. If, however, you find yourself stranded in the city without someplace to call home, focus first on finding refuge. Fortunately, cities have a lot of space, and not all of it is inhabited.
Start by looking for the obvious places where you can protect yourself and your family — abandoned houses or apartments, retail stores, shopping malls or even schools and hospitals can all provide shelter. Keep in mind that the bigger the building is, the more likely it will attract other survivors, as well.
If these obvious places aren’t available for whatever reason you can use less-obvious locations for shelter, from backyard sheds to dumpsters, if you must. They’re not ideal, but they’ll protect you from the elements and could mean the difference between life and death in a survival situation.
Create an Urban Survival Kit
Your urban survival kit will look similar to the one you might put together to survive out in the wild, though, staying in the city will limit some of your choices.
In any case, start by choosing a sturdy backpack that will comfortably carry all of your supplies IF you don’t mind being a target OR if you know you can get out BEFORE everyone realizes they’re in desperate trouble. With that in mind, military tactical backpacks are ideal because they’re designed to be worn heavy and for long treks.
You’ll need all sorts of tools to stay alive. Make sure you’ve got the following items:
- A flashlight or two with extra batteries; headlamps make a great choice!
- A first aid kit that includes more than just bandages (Israeli bandages and CAT tourniquets may be necessary in some situations);
- A quality folding pocket knife as part of your EDC or fixed blade knife for various uses or last-ditch self-defense (but beware of your local laws regarding knife length);
- A simple Bic lighter or quality stormproof matches — or both;
- A pocket shortwave radio with extra batteries;
- Anything else you can think of that might be useful, such as extra medications, shoes, clothing, etc.
Of course, you’ll also need to include the absolute basics like shelf-stable food and some bottled water too. If you want an exhaustive list of bug out items, read my 53 essential bug out bag supplies book.
One of the best things about urban survival is that after the initial wave of mayhem dies down — and there will be looting, regardless of how civilized humans like to think they are — you can scavenge nearly anything you might need assuming of course, it hadn’t all been picked over already.
Secure Your Space
In any survival situation, people will take advantage of anything and everything they can get their hands on. If you leave your supplies in what you think is a secure spot while you go scavenging, you may come back to a totally looted bag or, worse, nothing at all.
If you have doors and windows that lock, keep them secured whether you’re home or not — especially if you’re living alone. Some entryways like a sliding glass door can be reinforced with a simple wooden dowel that makes them impossible to open discretely while it’s in place. A brace can also keep would-be looters from pulling out a wall-mounted air conditioner to access your home.
Keeping your place secure does more than keep you safe — it can help protect the hard-earned supplies that could help keep you alive.
Scavenging For Supplies
If you’re surviving in the wild, you’ve usually got plenty of resources to keep you alive — natural water sources, animals you can hunt and wild fruits and vegetables you can eat. In an urban survival situation, however, you will need to scavenge for the things you need to keep you alive.
Again, wait for the post-apocalypse looting to die down. Yes, the looters will take most of the good stuff already, but those stores have nothing worth dying over. You don’t necessarily need to head to your local Walmart or Costco, either. While these areas will have plenty of supplies, they will also be crawling with other survivors.
Plenty of other places are available where you might be able to find supplies, and not merely food. For example, consider your local fire stations holding trucks that carry hundreds of gallons of water or churches that might have a supply of non-perishable foods in their kitchen. Other options might include nearby convenience stores or gas stations, any place that could have vending machines, schools, various business establishments, and more.
Granted, think long and hard about before looting yourself… especially from a church!!!
Don’t Skimp on Survival Skills
You might not think you need wilderness survival skills in the big city, but many of those skills translate to urban survival, as well.
For example, you may need to know how to build a fire to cook food and boil water for purification, how to treat wounds and other basic first aid, and how to tie a knot in a rope. Granted, you may not need to know how to clean wild game unless you’re eating the pigeons and rats that call the city home, but if push comes to shove, this too could be a useful skill.
Before any SHTF situation, make sure you brush up on your survival skills and take the time to learn anything you don’t already know. It could potentially save your life.
Other Skills Unique to Urban Survival
While we’re talking about survival skills, there are others which are unique to urban living that you will also need to practice, here’s three to consider…
1. Picking Locks
The ability to pick a lock could help you access buildings or supplies that might otherwise remain out of your reach — plus, carrying a set of lockpicks is lighter than strapping a set of bolt cutters to your bug out bag. Granted, you may just find it easier to kick a door in or pry it open with a pry bar.
2. Strive to Blend In
If you bug out to a cabin in the woods, you won’t generally have to worry about encountering other survivors. If you stay in an urban center, however, you’ll have to deal with other people… LOTS of people. In most cases, the other survivors you encounter will be focusing on the same thing you are — staying alive. Though, you will occasionally come across people taking advantage of these situations and preying on the weak. Do your best to blend in and not look like a target.
For instance, you might have a high-end bug out bag that holds everything you’ll need to survive for a while. The problem, however, is that if you’re carrying a fancy bag on your back while everyone around you has nothing, you’ll clearly make yourself a target. In this case, it may be best to leave that bug out bag hidden somewhere, if possible.
In fact, make it a point to blend in whenever you’re out after things hit the fan. Don’t make yourself a target! Survival will be hard enough without making it harder by flaunting your scarce supplies.
3. Upcycling to Survive
Humans generate a lot of garbage, and much of it is useful in a survival situation. Upcycling is seen as a hipster trend of making treasure from trash, but it could actually help you survive in an apocalyptic setting.
Change the way you look at the things you’re throwing out daily. Tin or aluminum cans can be repurposed into camp stoves or alarms when strung on a string and attached to a tripwire. Corrugated steel can be found nearly anywhere, and you can use it for making shelters or creating weapons if you’ve got the right tools to manipulate it.
Paper and cardboard are part of our daily lives, and they’re basically everywhere. They’re also flammable, making useful firestarters or fuel to burn if you need to cook or stay warm. Plus, that tarp or paint drop sheeting you have in your garage can be a valuable tool as you build a shelter, keep the rain off your head or create a makeshift water distillery in a pinch. Look at garbage as a useful resource, and you might be surprised how many useful things you can find in a dumpster or trash can.
Have a Food and Water Stockpile
A stockpile of food and drink should be a given top priority when you’re preparing for a city survival situation. Set up a stockpile of water, food and other supplies in your home so that you can survive in your house until the looting outside dies down. That’s probably going to be much more than the traditional minimum of three days of food and water for each person in your group.
For other emergencies where help might not be coming for a long time — or at all — you’ll need as large a stockpile as you can manage. You can still create a stockpile even if you live in a small apartment by being smart about how you store things. Choose alternatives such as a water purification system instead of storing bottled water, which can take up a lot of space.
[Editor’s note: I wrote a book about prepping in an apartment or condo which explains it all.]
When Should You Flee the City?
While you might be able to ride out most disasters in an urban setting, when should you consider fleeing the city with your family in tow in order to stay safe? I’d say you should flee whenever possible as quickly as possible!
After all, besides the massive number of unprepared people you may well encounter, there are any number of reasons to get out ASAP. For instance, in the event of a disease pandemic, putting as much space between you and other people is probably the best idea to prevent infection.
In addition, earthquakes could make the buildings in a city unsafe, especially in areas that aren’t designed to be earthquake-proof. In that case, the benefits of staying in a city end up outweighed by the dangers these buildings present.
And clearly there won’t be much in the way of food, water, or medications that we all need to survive.
Assess each situation as it happens and decide for yourself whether it’s safer to stay in the city or to get out but, IMHO, lean towards getting out whenever possible.
Always Be Prepared
Whether you’re preparing for the zombie apocalypse or World War III, planning to ride things out in the city or bug out to the wilderness when SHTF, the best thing you can do is prepare for what may come. Clearly, it’s always better to have survival skills and supplies and not need them than to need them and not have them.
[Note: This was a guest post.]