Introduction to Urban Survival
When most people think of the word “survival”, they tend to think of being lost in the wilderness. However most city dwellers have little chance of ending up in this kind of wilderness survival situation, unless they enjoy activities such as camping and hiking that take them to these more remote areas.
Urban survival may not be a concept you’ve ever considered before, however the chances that you may end up in a situation where you may need to use these skills are more likely than you may think.
Every year, devastating natural disasters hit all over the world and even in developed countries, it can make survival a real challenge for those affected.
The Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011 killed almost 16,000 people and displaced over 220,000. 4.4 million households were left without electricity and 1.5 million without water.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina descended on New Orleans leading to the evacuation of 80-90% of the population. The aftermath led to many incidences of violence and looting as survivors scavenged for supplies. While martial law was not officially enforced, a mandatory citywide curfew was enforced and military personnel were sent in with the instruction to shoot and kill if necessary.
It’s not just natural disasters that pose a threat either. Many parts of the world are under significant threat of war, economic collapse, or a global pandemic. It’s essential for everyday citizens to prepare for emergencies and get ready for when SHTF now. If World War III breaks out tomorrow, will you be ready?
Developing Your Emergency Preparedness Plan
Making a plan so you and your family are prepared in the event of a disaster or emergency is one of the most important parts of ensuring your survival in a SHTF situation.
Taking some time to ensure you have adequate food and water supplies, your home is secure, and you have a plan of action in case disaster strikes can literally mean the difference between life and death.
Bugging-in Vs. Bugging-out
Bugging-in and bugging-out are terms that you’ll hear a lot in urban prepper circles.
Bugging-in will be the standard initial course of action for most people in a typical urban survival situation. This means retreating to your home (homesteading) or another safe base, and surviving for as long as your food and water supplies will allow you and/or you are under serious threat if you stay.
Preparing your home for bugging-in is definitely one of the most important aspects of urban survival preparation and is something every family should do in order to provide basic needs for the days or weeks after a natural disaster or other emergency situation, hopefully only temporarily until rescue arrives.
Preparing Your Home
In preparation for the possibility of needing to bug-in, you need to think of your home as being an emergency shelter and try to consider everything you may need if your food, water, and power supplies are cut off and you are facing other dangers from outside.
Clean water is the number one necessity for human survival. Without water, death is inevitable within days. If you live in a developed country, you have most likely come to rely on having fresh clean water on tap, but in the event of a disaster it is very likely that this supply will be cut off.
Storing drinking water is essential and should be done way in advance of any threat of danger. Bottled water is usually the first item that stores run out of under the threat of a hurricane or other natural disaster, so it makes sense to keep sufficient stock in your home at all times.
Ideally you should allow a gallon of water per person per day, although only half of this allowance is for drinking, with the rest being allocated for hygiene uses. This means in a real emergency, you can get more days out of your water supplies by rationing only half a gallon per person per day. Store a minimum of four weeks supply of water for everyone who will be relying on it.
If you have any advance warning of an impending disaster, you should add to your water supplies by filling any remaining containers around the house such as buckets and bathtubs with tap water.
Obviously the storage space you have for clean water will be limited, so it also makes sense to have some kind of system in place for purifying unclean water. Investing in a filtration system is a good backup plan for when your drinking water starts to run out. Also see below for more information on home water filtration.
You can also add a few drops of ordinary household bleach to water (two drops for every liter) to make it safe for drinking. Leave the water to stand for 30 minutes before drinking. Boiling it is also effective, although it makes sense to save your fuel for cooking and heating purposes as much as possible if your fuel supplies are limited.
Keeping a supply of canned and long-life foods in your home is also an essential preparation step to survive when you’re bugging-in. In addition to canned foods, dry goods such as rice, flour, and pasta, will also keep for a long time if they are stored properly in airtight containers.
Variety is essential not only for health, but also to avoid boredom if you need to survive off your food stores for several weeks or months. Carbohydrates like pasta and rice are filling but you should also make sure to include nutrients from canned fruit and vegetables and meat to stay healthy. Keeping some herbs and spices can also help to make your meals more interesting and varied, as well as salt for flavor.
You can find a list of very long-life food items in the food section towards the end of this article.
Livestock and Gardening
As well as the tinned and dry food you keep in storage, consider other forms of fresh food that you can prepare to have available in an emergency.
Keeping chickens in your backyard will provide you with a ready source of protein in the form of eggs and occasional meat. Rabbits and goats are other animals that are easy to keep and can provide a fresh meat supply.
Everyone should set aside part of their yard, no matter how small, for a vegetable garden. Fresh vegetables are easy to grow from seed and can add important nutrients to your meals.
Emergency Power and Fuel Sources
In an emergency situation, it’s quite likely that your mains electricity and gas supplies will be cut. In this case, it’s important that you have a backup – particularly in the winter.
Power provides two main purposes: heat and light. Most of the modern world would be lost without these two things on tap, and yet they’re fairly easy to provide for yourself with a little knowledge and preparation
Initially, the power may not be cut entirely and you may just have temporary blackouts and power outages to deal with. Candles are an easy way to provide light, along with a little heat, and you should make sure you have plenty of them in storage.
As well as candles, emergency flashlights should be an essential part of your survival kit, but try not to rely on them too much. Don’t forget to store plenty of extra batteries in a variety of different sizes.
Solar energy is one way to make yourself self-sufficient when it comes to energy usage and could generate enough power to keep your house lights running as well as appliances like the refrigerators. Solar-powered lanterns, flashlights, and device chargers are also available.
You can buy solar panels for your home and use them right away – you don’t need to wait for an emergency situation. A solar power system can supplement your existing electricity supply and reduce your bills. Average solar panel cost is around $3-$4 per watt and you can expect a whole 6kW solar power system to cost around $15,000.
An emergency generator is also a must-have item for many survivalists but be aware that as generators use a large amount of fuel, they are best for use in temporary outages, rather than as a long-term solution.
It’s a good idea to keep a storage of fuel in the same way you store food and water for emergencies. Gasoline is the most common type of fuel for running generators and of course your car. Around 30 gallons should be enough to fill the tank in your car and provide at least a few days usage from your generator.
Remember that gasoline is highly flammable and you need to take great care when storing it. It should not be stored inside the house, but rather in an outhouse or garage that is cool and well ventilated. Store in red plastic containers (red indicates gasoline while yellow is for diesel and blue is for kerosene). Gasoline has a shelf life of about a year so remember to rotate it out every six months by using it in your car and refilling your containers with fresh fuel.
Firewood is another good all-purpose fuel that can be collected and stored for long periods. It’s essential to keep dry though or it will be useless, so storage can be challenging. Coal or charcoal is another alternative that is easier to store.
Kerosene is another good emergency source of fuel for cooking and other appliances that are designed for use with it. It’s also very stable and can be stored for long periods of time.
Health and Sanitation
The importance of maintaining your health and sanitation in a SHTF situation should not be overlooked. Preventing illness by maintaining clean conditions and keeping a sanitation stockpile is just as vital as preparing food, water, and fuel. If you become sick or injured and have no way of receiving medical treatment, death could be a serious possibility.
Sanitation and Waste Disposal
Water-borne diseases such as cholera are spread quickly in an unsanitary environment where water sources may become contaminated with sewage.
We’ve come to take civic sanitation facilities for granted but in an emergency situation, these systems may fail quickly.
As long as the sewage lines are still clear, you should be able to flush your toilet, although this can use a lot of your precious water supplies.
A bucket or hole provides a suitable makeshift alternative – simply cover the waste with sawdust or dirt each time it is used. Obviously a bucket will need to be emptied from time to time if you choose this method but it can be kept indoors.
Trash disposal is another concern. The best course of action is to salvage as many reusable items as possible (such as empty tins and containers) and burn the remainder.
First Aid Kit
Maintaining a well-stocked first aid kit is vitally important, as you may not be able to get medical treatment in an emergency situation.
Your first aid kit should include:
- Isopropyl alcohol, iodine and hydrogen peroxide for cleaning and disinfecting wounds
- Hydrocortisone cream for skin irritations
- Triple-antibiotic cream to prevent infections on wounds
- Saline solution for rinsing and cleaning
- Anti-fungal cream
- A variety of bandages and gauze pads
- Band-Aids and medical tape
- Steri-Strips (butterfly bandages) for closing deep wounds
- Sterile gloves
- Suture kit (teach yourself how to use it)
- Superglue for sealing moderately deep wounds
- Ibuprofen and Tylenol (pain and fever reducers)
- Antihistamine such as Benadryl for allergic reactions
- Imodium or other diarrhea medicine
- Oral re hydration salts
- Oil for cloves to relieve toothache
- Broad spectrum antibiotics
This is a basic list and you can gradually add to it with any other long-shelf-life items that may come in useful. It’s also worth attending a basic first aid course to learn lifesaving medical skills.
Building a Bunker
In most emergency survival situations, your home is the best base and you should stay there. However in some cases, you might need the additional protection of an underground shelter or bunker. Underground bunkers are your best option for surviving serious attacks such as airstrikes, nuclear war, or chemical attacks
It’s important to note that building a survival bunker is a serious undertaking. You’ll need planning permission for most areas, the excavation required is significant, and it will require power, plumbing, and an air filtration system.
You can buy prefab bunkers and survival shelters or build your own. Either way, it’s recommended to consult a professional in order to ensure structural integrity and safety.
Planning a Designated Place of Refuge
In the worst-case scenario, it may be that you need to leave your home and get out of the city. In this case, if at all possible you should have an idea in your head of where you’re going to go.
A weekend cabin or family member’s house in a rural area that you can get to with a single tank of petrol is idea. Forested areas close to natural water sources are the best and the more isolated the area, the safest you’ll be.
Normal communication methods such as television and telephone may be interrupted in a disaster situation. Cell phone networks are more resilient but the network is likely to become quickly overloaded and jammed.
Short-range radios or walkie-talkies are a great option for communicating with your family in a limited area. Ham radios are also an excellent long-range communication device – make sure you learn how to use it before you need to and you’ll also need a license for broadcasting.
Normal radios are also a must for hearing news and emergency updates – get a wind-up model that doesn’t need batteries if you can.
Plotting Escape Routes
Keeping maps at home is essential for emergency preparedness but it’s also a good idea to get to know your local area as well as possible so you can plan a route out of the city avoiding road blocks or roads that are impassible for other reasons.
Major evacuation routes could also become very congested as millions attempt to flee the cities so it’s definitely worth planning an alternative escape route.
When all Hell Breaks Loose
In an emergency situation, the biggest danger usually comes not from the disaster itself, but from panic and violence as people react to it. This is particularly true if you live in a busy urban area and you’ll need to prepare as much to protect yourself from other people, as you will to be self-sufficient in your home
Try to stay aware of news and rising tension – if a riot is impending you can stay away from danger areas, or at least prepare yourself for the worst.
Riots and Angry Crowds
An angry mob can be just as dangerous as any natural disaster. If you find yourself stuck in the middle of a riot, it’s vital to know what to do to get yourself out and home safely without being harmed.
Firstly, it’s important to be familiar with your local area and know your escape routes. This is not only important for “bugging-out” as we touched on in the previous section but also for knowing how to get home by foot if you work in an urban center.
If you find yourself in the middle of dangerous rioting, stay calm, keep your head down and move to the edges of the mob until you can escape to your pre-planned escape route. Avoid the temptation to run, and move with the flow of the crowd.
If you can get inside, a building will provide temporary shelter for you to hide out until the danger passes. Stay away from windows and lock yourself inside if possible.
Surviving Martial Law
In the event that martial law is enforced, military personnel will be used to enforce laws and power will be removed from the original government.
Martial law is likely to involve curfews, rationing of food, water, and other supplies.
The safest place during martial law is usually your own home, but it’s important to remember that the objective in this scenario is to increase the survival rate of general population, and individuals may suffer as s result. It is perfectly plausible that your weapons and provisions may be taken for you to be distributed to others.
Therefore it’s vital to hide these items, be as self-sufficient as possible, learn how to be street smart, and prepare your bugging-out plan when the time comes that it’s safer to run for the hills then continue to put the safety of your family in the hands of someone else.
Defending Your Home
In an emergency situation, it’s often a case of every man for himself and unfortunately this means if you have useful resources, others will try to take them for you.
All preppers must also make plans for home security as the very fact that you’re more prepared than your neighbors can make you a target. In fact it’s best to stay quiet about your prepping so that in a SHTF situation, you won’t have to deal with the additional danger of everyone knowing you have a stockpile of food, water, and other useful items. If you’re involved in preparations that are hard to disguise, such as building a bunker, it’s best to have a cover story in place, or build it in a remote location.
Even if you stay quiet about what you have, you should always know how to defend your home against looters and other intruders. Keeping some weapons at home is a good place to start, but make sure you know how to use them. Using a firearm that you aren’t practiced in can be more dangerous than making do with nothing.
You should also secure your home as best as you can with fences, security gates, window bars, and heavy duty locks. External doors can be replaced with steel doors and glass windows can be replaced with unbreakable Plexiglas. A home peep hole to see who is outside can be very helpful and an apartment dog for additional protection can also be very helpful.
Smoke and Tear Gas Protection
You can keep a solution of half liquid antacid and half water on you at all times for rinsing your eyes if they are exposed to tear gas. Keep a small spray bottle in your bag or pocket for use in emergencies.
Toothpaste can also protect your eyes from tear gas in the event of an attack, if you smear it under your eyes.
Keep a cloth soaked in vinegar or lemon juice in a Ziploc bag. You can breathe through this to protect your lungs from gas.
If you suspect a tear gas attack is imminent, remove contact glasses if you use them. Swimming goggles can provide good protection if you keep them in your bag.
While you should stay at your well prepared home for as long as it’s safe to do so, it’s inevitable that at some point you’ll have to prepare to “bug-out”. The trick is knowing when is the right time to leave – too late and you could be putting yourself at serious danger or could be physically unable to leave the city. Too early and you’ll waste your supplies and put yourself into a more difficult situation sooner than you need to. Try to stay aware of civil unrest and stay vigilant at all times
You should have already planned a dedicated place of refuge and know your escape routes out of the city. You also need to prepare your urban bug-out bag with enough survival supplies that you’ll need to keep you going for as long as possible but you can still comfortably carry without slowing you down too much.
Your plan will need to cover how you are going to safely get the rest of your family out, particularly if you have small children – this could affect your escape route, method of travel, and what you bring with you.
Ideally you should have a plan of exactly what you need to do before you leave for different notice periods that you need to leave. For example 1 day, 1 hour, or 5 minutes.
Building an Urban Survival Kit – Your Bug-out Bag
While your home stockpiles of food, water, and medical supplies could keep you going for weeks or months, you don’t have the luxury of lots of space and practically unlimited space when you’re preparing to leave the safety of your home. It’s best to keep on hand a separate bug-out bag so that you can “grab and go” as quickly as possible, without needing to run around the house looking for supplies.
What is a Bug-out bag?
Most bug-out bags should carry contents that can help you to survive for 72 hours, although you can take more than this if you can carry it comfortably.
A bug-out bag is normally a backpack or similar bag that you’ll be able to carry when travelling on foot. If you’re evacuating by car, you can bring more supplies, but your bug-out bag should still be kept separate in case you need to abandon your vehicle and travel by foot.
While the contents should be comprehensive it’s important to keep weight down as much as possible. You need to consider that in some situations you may literally be running for your life, and you don’t want to your bug-out bag to slow you down. You should really focus on the absolute essentials and eliminate anything that isn’t completely necessary.
Bug-out Bag Contents
So what should be included in your bug-out bag?
- Food and water
- First aid kit
- Lightweight and compact tent or materials for making a shelter
- Sleeping bag or other bedding
- Fire starting tools
- Flashlight with spare batteries
- Survival knife
- Maps and compass
- Identification documents
- Money (cash)
- Water purification filter or tablets
- Basic sanitation supplies (soap, toothbrush)
- A container for boiling water and cooking
- Mirror for signaling
- Thin rope (for making shelters and many other uses)
These items make up a basic bug-out kit and if you can comfortably carry more, you can add a few more items.
It’s also a good idea to prepare a separate bug-out bag for your car with more items that you wouldn’t be able to carry by hand. This way if you need to evacuate by car, you’ll already have everything you need. You can even keep it in the trunk so it’s ready to go when you are.
Everyday Carry Kit (EDC)
It’s important to have an everyday carry kit (EDC) to prepare yourself if disaster strikes when you’re away from home. An EDC is along the same lines of a bug-out bag but on a much smaller scale. The idea is that it’s small enough to take with you wherever you go so you’ll always have survival essentials on hand, even if something happens when you’re away from home.
Items in your EDC should be pocket-sized and often multiuse. A lot of these items may be things that you carry around everyday anyway but you can make yourself more prepared by adding a few multi-use gadgets that will help you in a survival situation
Remember that your EDC is personal for you and you probably won’t have room for everything on this list. Choose the items that will be most useful for you personally.
- Wallet (make sure you always carry a minimum amount of cash)
- Smart phone (remember to load it with maps, your ID and important contacts)
- Pocket knife or a Swiss Army knife / multitool
- Micro flashlight
- Pen and paper (you can get some handy survival pens that double as a flashlight, whistle, and/or weapon)
- Lighter / fire-starting tool
- Paracord bracelet
- Mini first aid kit
Urban survival differs from wilderness survival because you probably won’t be left without food at first. Even those who haven’t stockpiled long-shelf-life food will normally have a supply of at least a few days at home and there is often enough warning of impending disaster to do a last-minute grocery shop.
However eventually your supplies will run out and if you’re forced to bug-out you may be left without a reliable source of food. It’s therefore important to know where else you can look for food in order to survive.
Foraging for Urban Edibles & Identifying Areas to Find Wild Food
In an urban environment, the most obvious place to find food is in grocery stores and this is why looting is such a common occurrence after natural disasters.
While looting is ethically defendable if you’re only taking food to ensure the survival of you and your family, taking food from stores can be a very dangerous activity as you can expect other looters or storeowners to resort to physical violence in order to avoid sharing whatever’s left. Normally the best places to loot are larger chain superstores where the employees won’t care about losing the stock and won’t stick around to defend it.
Store supplies will run out quickly, so it’s also a good idea to have some knowledge of where to forage for urban edibles and know where you can find other sources of food in the city.
Heading for green areas such as parks is usually a good bet and you can often find edible plants growing in even the smallest patches of green.
Some edible plants you’re likely to find in the city include:
- Dandelions (grassland)
- Cattails (ponds and river banks)
- Nettles (hedgerows and wilder areas)
- Plantain (often found in the same area as nettles)
- Fruit and nuts (trees)
- Edible berries (make sure you know how to identify them as many berries are poisonous)
- Ferns (in woodland and damp areas)
Wildlife is another source of food that most people don’t consider immediately. Ducks, pigeons, and other birds can be found in parks or even in very built-up areas and are relatively easy to catch. It may also be possible to trap larger wildlife such as raccoons, squirrels, and even deer in some areas.
Your Survival Cache – Where to Store and Hide Your Food
Even if you have a stockpile of emergency food at home, it’s a good idea to keep a separate hidden survival cache somewhere outside your home. Looters may attack your home and steal your supplies and if you need to bug-out, it’s very helpful to have a hidden supply of food that you can access after you leave.
Burying is usually the safest way to hide food and if you select the right items of food and store them correctly, it can be left unattended for many years. It’s also a good idea to stock some other survival supplies alongside your food such as fires-starting materials, medical supplies, and weapons.
If possible, have a few survival caches in different locations. This will help if you can’t get to one location or your cache is discovered.
You’ll need a waterproof container to hold everything. Metal is best because it’s very resistant to moisture and animals. Rats and mice may gnaw through plastic containers, but a well-sealed PVC pipe is another good option as they’re designed to be buried underground.
Choose isolated areas where you’re unlikely to be seen both when hiding your cache and accessing it. Although burying is the surest way of concealment, it’s not the only option. You can also hide your cache under floorboards, in old wells, or even in a tree.
Once you’ve found a good location to hide your cache, it’s just as important to remember where it is. This is particularly true for buried caches, where’s you’ll need to pinpoint the exact location you buried it.
GPS is one option but you may not be able to access it once you run out of power. A physical map is another alternative but it’s important to keep it well hidden and preferably coded. You could also leave physical reminders that are not too obvious to others, such as a mark carved on a tree.
Long Shelf-Life Survival Foods
The list included here should make up the majority of your foods both stockpiled at home and hidden in your survival cache. Remember these foods will only last for a long time if they’re completely air tight, so make sure they’re packed in completely sealable containers that are also resistant against rodents (tins and glass are usually the best option)
- Rice (10- 20 years)
- Wheat and other grains (8 – 12 years)
- Dried beans (8 – 30 years)
- Flour (5 – 8 years)
- Pasta (5 – 10 years)
- Coconut or olive oil (2 years)
- Canned meat and fish (5-10 years)
- Canned fruit and vegetables (5-10 years)
- Powdered milk (up to 20 years)
- Dehydrated fruit and vegetables (20-30 years)
- Sugar (10-20 years)
- Powdered dried eggs (5-10 years)
- Tea and instant coffee (5-20 years)
Urban Survival Skills
If you want to survive long-term in a SHTF situation, there are several skills you can start practicing now, which will make a huge difference to you later. Learning a few urban survival tips before you need them could give you a huge advantage over others who are unprepared.
Scavenging means finding food and other useful items in abandoned buildings, vehicles, and locations. In order to be successful at this skill you’ll need to know what to look for and where to look.
Useful items to scavenge may include:
- Fuel and batteries
- Car parts
- Food and water
- Sanitary and medical supplies
- Shoes and clothing
Where to look:
- Abandoned cars
- Grocery stores and other retailers
- Gas stations
- Abandoned houses
- Office buildings
- Storage facilities
Scavenging, like looting, can be dangerous. It’s best to scout out locations first and don’t attempt to scavenge alone if possible – another person can act as a lookout and provide backup if violence breaks out.
Obviously this is a skill that’s difficult to practice before you actually need it, but it’s a good idea to read up and have a plan so you’re as prepared as possible beforehand.
One type of scavenging you can have a go at right now is dumpster diving. Scavenging for food from dumpsters in particular has become more publicized in recent years as more people are realizing that restaurants and grocery stores often throw out vast quantities of edible food every day. Finding food that has been thrown in the trash could be an important survival skill for you one day.
While preparing yourself with supplies is your best first-line of survival, as stocks become low, you’ll need to barter for other items that you may need. It’s a good idea to include a few ‘luxury’ items for the purpose of bartering in your stockpiled supplies
These may include:
- Tea and coffee
- Precious metals
All of your normal survival supplies will of course also be valuable bartering items in a SHTF situation.
Remember that items can also be bartered in exchange for skills, so if you can acquire medical skills or mechanical skills for example, you could later also use these skills to obtain useful items from others.
Basic Self Defense
It’s vital to develop some basic self-defense skills before you actually need them. In an emergency situation, people often turn to violence in order to survive and you’ll need to know how to protect yourself and your family.
Self-defense is also a useful skill to learn for everyday life. Violent crime rose by nearly 4% from 2014 to 2016 and it’s more likely you’ll be a target if you live in an urban area.
Many survivalists store a basic stock of weapons such as guns and knives in their home, but if you choose to do this it’s also important to train yourself on how to use them skillfully.
Self-defense classes can help you learn how to disarm an attacker and protect yourself from a violent attack. You may also want to consider lessons in martial arts or hand to hand combat.
It’s vital to maintain a good level of general fitness and to keep up to date with your self-defense skills as you’ll never know when you may need to use them.
Medical and First Aid Skills
Staying healthy is going to be even more important in a SHTF situation where diseases can spread quickly in a non-sanitary environment and the risk of violence is increased.
Developing some good general first aid skills should be a priority for everyone, and particular skills you should master for a survival situation include:
- Cleaning and dressing wounds
- Making a splint or sling for broken bones
- CPR and artificial respiration
- Heimlich maneuver
- Burn treatment
- How to deliver a baby
- Treating shock
The Red Cross and many other medical organizations run regular self-aid courses in various different specialisms, and they’re well worth attending.
Resources and Further Reading
Department of Homeland Security
CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response
Solar Energy Information Plus Quotes
Water Filtration Systems
Shelf Life of Various Foods
Guide to Urban Gardening
Backyard Chickens Guide
American Red Cross – First Aid Kit Guidelines and Medical Training
Ham Radio Community and Beginner’s Guide
In-depth List of Bug-out Bag Contents
Urban Foraging Guide
Basic Self Defense Moves