Get out of the cities. Most would agree this is a key rule of survival during the end of the world as we know it. After all, millions of people reside in cities around the globe. Supply store shelves can become bare in mere minutes, water can become rapidly contaminated by overwhelmed sewage systems, and riots can outnumber and overtake law enforcement. The urban environment also renders certain wilderness survival tactics unsafe, such as cooking over a fire. Cities are vulnerable to uncontrollable fires. They make prime nuclear targets. Disease spreads among city dwellers at an astounding rate. There are many reasons why cities are dangerous in a TEOTWAWKI situation. Therefore, the logic to abandon them for a less populated area remains largely undisputed.
But what if one of the following scenarios makes leaving the city impossible?
A 2005 CRS report for the United States Congress, Federal and State Isolation and Quarantine Authority, states that the Secretary of Health and Human Services can give authority for the Director of the CDC to determine that measures taken by local medicine powers to prevent the spread of disease have been ineffective, and intervene directly by taking the “necessary measures”.
Simply put, the United States government has the power to quarantine sections of the country, as do governments in various parts of the world. Below are just several cases of quarantined cities throughout the world in the last ten years. Read and research the facts for yourself through the provided hyperlinks.
In 2003, over 8,000 people were put under quarantine in their homes and watched through installed video cameras due to an outbreak of SARS in Taipei City, Taiwan. More than 7,000 people were also put under quarantine due to SARS in the city of Toronto, Canada.
In 2006, over 60,000 people were put under quarantine due to an outbreak of bird flu in the city of Bucharest, Romania. Over 23,000 more residents were quarantined in the city of Codlea, Romania.
In 2009, the world’s second largest city with a population of 21 million, Mexico City, was put under quarantine for five days in the midst of a Swine Flu outbreak.
These quarantines, lasting anywhere from four days to a couple weeks, are a far cry from what could potentially occur should an outbreak threaten the long-term freedom of urban residents. The general rule of quarantines is simple: No one gets in and no one gets out.
Rain storms, broken dams, overflowing rivers, melting snow, and tsunamis are several occurrences which may cause sudden and dangerous flooding of major roads leading out of cities around the world.
In October of 2010, flooding left the city of Gisborne, New Zealand with only a couple round-about ways of entering or leaving the city. Had debris obstructed these roads, the city would have been completely isolated from the outside world.
In January of 2011, nearly 1,000 flooded roads and several closed bridges around the city of Brisbane, Australia only left one unclosed bridge as access to Southern Brisbane.
Also in January of 2011, the city of Rockhampton, Australia was completely cut off by flood waters. Here is a blog written by someone in the city describing their experience of urban isolation.
Collapsed and Closed Bridges
Major bridges in and around cities may collapse at some point due to structural wear, though they are more likely to collapse due to a disaster such as an earthquake, fire, train wreck, sink hole, or tsunami. Total collapse aside, a bridge need only be threatened or damaged by any of these disasters for city officials to make the decision to close it to road and foot traffic.
In August of 2007, the Interstate 35W bridge connecting the city of Minneapolis to St. Paul collapsed into the Mississippi River during rush hour traffic. The MSNBC news article states that the bridge was “a major Minneapolis artery”.
In December of 2009, a bridge collapsed in the city of Kota, India, killing at least 40 people and leaving cars with no way to cross the Chambal River.
On July 14th, 2011, a bridge split in half in the city of Wuyishan, China. While it’s too soon to know how this will affect city residents, it’s fair to assume that months of investigation and repair are in order.
Riots can be deadly. If riots consume the streets of your city, it won’t merely be
impossible to drive through the crowds, but dangerous to leave your home. Damage done by rioters could also be severe enough to close roads leading out of the city long after rioting has ceased.
On January 28th, 2011, over 10,000 protesters began rioting in Cairo, Egypt and several were killed. Some policemen even went as far as to join the riot.
On June 15th, 2011, rioting in Vancouver, Canada caused five million dollars worth of damage which took weeks to repair.
On July 11th, 2011, rioting in the city of Belfast, Ireland injured 40 police officers when the Orange Order performed their annual march. The violence continued for over five hours.
Riots are one of the most common forms of social disruption around the globe. Whether caused by political unrest or due to a win/loss at a major sporting event, they can last anywhere from several hours to days on end. [JWR Adds: Stay away from riots! They quite typically devolve into a classic Suave qui peut situation.]
The news is constantly regaling us with stories of how bombers have taken hostages in libraries, schools, city halls, and other public venues. Would it be a stretch then, to speculate that a terrorist could take an entire city hostage? Or that a country could threaten to destroy the capitol of another country with a nuclear weapon? It’s possible that one day, cities may be put under lock down and its residents held hostage until negotiations with terrorists end.
It will be impossible to move out of the city, even if the direct threat is over, should you or one of your family members become seriously wounded. Terminal illnesses, post operation recovery, old age, and disabling diseases can also slow or halt a move, forcing you to stay in the nearly abandoned city for an extended period of time.
So how can you prepare yourself for isolation in the city?
Rule #1: Be Aware
Awareness will be a key component of survival in the cities. You need to be aware of what’s happening in the streets so you don’t stumble into a riot, the location and direction of local fires before they consume your building, and what’s happening in other areas of the city so you know if friends and family are okay. It’s also important to be aware and stay updated on the possibility of leaving the city.
Therefore, a crank radio that at a bare minimum features local weather and news stations is essential. Many people who prepare for emergencies boast the importance of a battery-powered radio. Batteries are expensive, perishable, and wasteful. Personally I recommended the Etón Scorpion crank radio at only $50, which features an AM/FM digital radio, seven NOAA weather stations, an antenna, both a manual hand crank and solar panel for recharging, a large LED flashlight, clock, aluminum carabineer, bottle opener, AUX port, and headphone jack. After about 500 cranks you get two hours of power and after about ten hours in direct sunlight you get twelve hours of power. Be sure to count out the 500 cranks, as it’s easy to get impatient and only charge twenty minutes of power. A radio is one of the best ways to stay aware of what’s happening in the city while safely indoors.
When outdoors, you must be aware of what’s progressing around you at all times. Modern day order has urban residents walking the streets while talking on phones, having conversations, daydreaming, or eying their destination with tunnel vision. During TEOTWAWKI, you must be aware of anyone walking too close, people loitering, dark alleys ahead, people who may be following you or watching you from windows above, or the sudden pickup in the pace of footsteps near you. Anyone could be hunting for prey to rob, rape, and/or kill. Be aware.
Rule #2: Know Your City
The more you know about your city, the more of an advantage you have in a TEOTWAWKI situation. If you know the underground routes and/or back alleys, travel (such as getting home) will be safer than using the main roads. If you know the location of underground rooms, you can move there if fires consume the city or if radiation is at deadly levels. If you know the rooftops that provide the most shelter, you won’t be in a panic if floods wash out the roads. If you know every possible route of escape and place to hide, you can evade any pursuer. Your city may become your world. It would serve you well to know every nook and cranny.
An easy way to begin exploring your city is to study detailed maps and blueprints, walk the streets to confirm what you’ve studied, and to enter public buildings you’ve never been in before. Knowing all entryways and exits, including ladders and fire escapes, could prove vital in an emergency.
Once you’ve memorized the surface streets, seek out tours which take you beneath the historical districts. Seattle, for example, hosts a tour of the Seattle Underground, tunnels created after the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. The Brooklyn Historic Railway Association hosts regular tours of a hidden tunnel directly under Atlantic Avenue. There’s a shopping center called Underground Atlanta which covers over six blocks beneath the streets. Houston even has over seven miles of underground passageways! Cleveland, Dallas, Chicago, and many other cities around the world have similar underground passages. All you need to do to find underground tours and shopping centers in your city is to to do a web search on your city's name, along with the term “underground”. [JWR Adds: Some of these underground passageways can be amazing, even akin to the Traboules of Old Lyon.]
The final process of exploring your city is an option called urban exploration. Urban explorers commonly explore off-limits areas such as abandoned buildings, transit and utility tunnels, storm drains, catacombs, and roofs. Discovery Channel’s television show Urban Explorers has made urban exploring more popular in recent years, and has also exposed the risks and dangers urban explorers face. Many abandoned buildings are unstable in structure, house hostile squatters, and contain poisons in the air, paint, and bird droppings. There’s also the risk of being arrested for trespassing and breaking and entering, depending on the area of exploration. Therefore, proper gear and significant research is necessary if you choose to explore your city in such depth.
Rule #3: Know How to Protect Yourself
Protecting yourself goes beyond just self-defense. It encompasses basic knowledge, using your resources, adapting to the situation, and always keeping your personal safety at the forefront of your mind. Below is life-saving advice for a variety of TEOTWAWKI urban situations.
Avoid walking in the city alone. Remember, there is safety in numbers.
Avoid walking in the city at night, unless you need the darkness for cover. Even if you have a night vision lens, if you get into trouble and yell for help, people who don’t have a lens may not be able to find you.
When it rains, don’t take shelter in the storm drains. “When it rains, no drains.”
Avoid looking like a victim when walking the streets. Stand straight, square your shoulders, and walk with a strong stride. Look people in the eye long enough for them to know you’re unafraid, but not long enough for them to interpret your stare as a challenge.
Blend in, blend in, blend in. Don’t call attention to the fact that you’re carrying a gun by wearing military fatigues. Don’t call attention to your supplies by wearing a large backpack around people who have nothing but the clothing on their backs. Don’t call attention to your access to water by being the only clean person in a crowd of filthy people. To not blend in is putting yourself in danger.
If you’re caught in a riot, your immediate goal is to reach a safe shelter. Keep your head down to avoid flying objects and slowly make your way towards the edge of the crowd. If you’re caught by police or rioters, stay calm and say whatever is necessary to be released. Don’t use the main roads to reach a safe shelter.
If you’re in a city building during an earthquake, the safest place to be is under a sturdy piece of furniture against the inner wall of the building and away from the windows. Don’t try to run outside, as objects may hit you as they fall. If you’re already outside, stay as far from buildings as possible, which may be in the middle of an intersection. Watch out for falling poles and objects. Be ready for aftershocks.
In case TEOTWAWKI occurs before you’ve obtained and practiced with a gun, your best bet is to learn some knife defense techniques now. A knife also serves well as a backup weapon if you run out of ammunition. Due to the density of city populations, I’ve chosen a short video presenting the Tactical Defense Institute’s knife defense technique used against multiple attackers.
There are an indefinite number of circumstances in which knowing how to protect yourself in the city can save your life. Do you know how to protect yourself from looters trying to break into your apartment? How about from disease by keeping your small living space sanitary? What would you do to ensure your safety if the city air raid sirens started going off? Have thoroughly-researched and practiced plans in order to protect yourself.
Rule #4: Have Supplies and a Bug out Bag
While it’s possible to survive without supplies, urban conditions will make it extremely difficult. Rather than expend the energy it requires to trap and cook city delights such as rats, pigeons, and squirrels, you could be in the safety in your own home eating from your stockpile of food. Rather than risk a city fire by boiling all water from a questionable source, you could make use of a ceramic water filter such as the Katadyn Pocket Water Microfilter, which has a 13,000 gallon working life. Rather than face looters with nothing but a kitchen knife and scissors, you could face them with a loaded gun you’re well practiced with. You get the idea. Preparing now by stockpiling self-tested supplies will raise your chances of urban survival by allowing you to save your energy for when you need it most and allow you to stay in your home, away from the danger on the streets.
A bug out bag is also of utmost importance, as all survivalists know. But in the city there are specific aspects of a bug out bag to take into consideration.
First of all, weapons such as guns, knives, and mace should not stay in your bag. They should be put on your person in several places and close at hand for when you need them. The city is full of small escapes and narrow passageways not large enough for a stuffed backpack. If you need to abandon your bag, you need the ability to do so quickly, with the knowledge that you can still protect yourself in a dangerous situation.
As a city dweller, your bug out bag should be smaller than the bags used by rural residents. This isn’t because you require less survival gear, but because the bigger your bag, the more robbers will notice it and target you. With a large city population, armed robbers will be much more of a risk than out in the country.
A key item in your urban bug out bag will be a long length of thin, strong rope. Think collapsed staircases, blocked fire escapes, and no fire trucks. There are two essential knots to learn and practice for you to be able to use the rope safely. As a sailor, I recommended the Bowline (for tying the rope securely around something at one end) and the Sheet Bend (for a secure connection between two rope ends).
Other urban bug out bag necessities include eye-seal goggles and an N95 respirator to protect against debris dust, maps for when you’re so panicked you don’t remember which streets or tunnels lead where, and an LED light and crank radio (like the Etón Scorpion) to light dim back alleys, read maps, and being aware of situation progress and dangers. If you wear heels day-to-day, consider packing a comfortable pair of walking or running shoes. Then there are the essentials for any bug out bag, such as water, food, and a medical kit.
Rule #5: Keep Fit
If your city became a battleground, how long would you last?
Cities are home to many people on steady doses of anti-psychotic medications, many drug addicts, and many alcoholics. When the system breaks down, these people may face a sudden and sometimes violent detoxification as these substances are no longer available. Criminal activity may soar as thieves, ex-convicts, and sex offenders are no longer under the watchful eye of the law. Usually peaceful people who are unprepared may become brutally cutthroat in the midst of survival.
As the city can quickly become one of the most dangerous places to be, it’s important to always be at your peak physically. To be prepared to outrun pursuers and fight off attackers. Many people in the city do plenty of walking, but may be unprepared to run several miles.
The three basic fitness components include cardio, strength, and flexibility. I would also encourage you to focus on endurance, as there won’t always be time to rest when you’re trying to survive. Adrenaline will only last so long before the stress on your system takes its toll.
And for those of you who already consider yourselves fit, there’s always room for improvement. Keep striving and one day it may save your life.