Although we all share similar concerns for our safety and survival, those living a preparedness lifestyle are quite diverse when it comes to age, gender, location, and more. However, by and large, we follow a similar set of guidelines when it comes to preparation.
The setting we live in adds nuanced differences to our individual strategies. For those living in urban settings, prepping is a totally different ballgame than rural or even suburban prepping. A prepper in New York City will have a different set of challenges compared to those living in the rural mountains of West Virginia. For example, they may encounter difficulties in…
- Finding the appropriate amount of space to store food and water.
- Figuring out how to evacuate among large crowds of people on busy city streets.
- Communicating and finding friends and loved ones during times of panic.
- Accessing food or growing food without a yard.
- Securing a source of clean water (something you will need to do quickly).
Although you may face these challenges, the good news is that there are ways to prepare appropriately. Most of it comes down to advance planning. As you read on, I’m sharing a few real examples of what residents in cities did during and after disasters to survive. From there, I’ll share four concrete tips to help you ensure you’re ready for the worst-case scenarios, no matter what city you live in.
Here are three true stories of urban disasters, and what ordinary citizens did to cope with the situation as it unfolded...
3 Tales of Urban Disasters & Survival
Chicago Blizzard: In January 1967, Chicago was hit by a blizzard that forced the city to essentially come to a standstill. Temperatures dropped to the 20s, 23 inches of snow fell, and icy winds blew through the streets. It became the worst blizzard in the city on record at the time and killed 75 people total in the Midwest.
People who were stranded in their homes were the lucky ones. As TIME Magazine reported, “With traffic at a standstill and visibility at zero, tens of thousands of marooned workers had to spend the night in firehouses, hospitals and hotels.” Additionally, 20,000 cars and 1,100 city buses were stranded in the snow on streets and expressways, forcing people in search of extra food to walk to stores. Mothers in labor had to be taken to hospitals by sled, bulldozer, and snow plows. Entire communities were left without electricity, and looting broke out across the city, with people pillaging stores and trucks to find supplies.
However, some people were able to make do from the safety of their homes. A food blogger who goes by the name Bungalow Chef recalled, “Mom found grocery store shelves quickly emptied of bread, milk and other common staples. This was when Mom taught me about bread being the staff of life. Interestingly, she always kept yeast in the house and we had plenty of flour and sugar left from the holiday baking season. Mom pulled me into her emergency mode and shared with me the art of bread baking.”
Caracas Blackout: Just this past March (and again earlier this week), citizens of the city were plunged into darkness during a country-wide blackout that lasted for at least a week. Brought on by political unrest and crumbling infrastructure, the blackout resulted in complete loss of access to food, water, fuel, and cash for the majority of Venezuela’s 31 million residents.
Citizens were forced to get creative. Some used vinegar to pickle their food so it would last longer. Doctors performed surgeries and other medical procedures using candles and flashlights. Fortunately, power was restored to most of the country after a week, but the effects proved to be fatal for some, particularly hospital patients who relied on electricity for medical devices.
Mexico City Earthquake: In 2017, Mexico City experiences an 8.1 magnitude earthquake. Skyscrapers swayed, buildings collapsed, and the electricity went out for over one million residents. In footage from the ordeal, citizens of the city can be seen running through the streets, carrying out rescue efforts and searching for supplies. One survivor shared, “As we all reeled in the street, the smell of gas seeped out of the front gate of our vecindad, a condo-style building with small houses sharing a courtyard and a gated entrance. ‘Shut the gas and turn off the electricity, there’s a leak!’ shouted one neighbor.”
The real danger during earthquakes isn’t the quake itself, but risks posed by damaged manmade structures. For example, turning off the gas in case there is a leak, or evacuating to a flat area after an initial shock in case of aftershocks. With downed internet connections and overwhelmed phone networks, people also had issues connecting with their loved ones. Many had to travel by foot around the city to check on friends and family and conduct their own rescue operations if needed.
These three examples have provided you with an overview of some of the resources and systems that become compromised in an urban disaster scenario. Next, I’m sharing four tips every urban resident should keep in mind when preparing for these scenarios...
4 Tips for Urban Survival
Some aspects of urban survival can be attributed to quick thinking on the spot, as disasters unfold. But when it comes to successful survival stories in urban settings, you’ll discover that people who prepared before disaster struck fared far better than those that neglected taking some basic prepper steps.
Read on to discover four essential urban prepper tips...
#1: Purchase your emergency supply sooner rather than later: In general, cities have an issue with keeping their inventory stocked and meeting demand. So you can imagine what stores will be like when there’s an emergency--packed to the gills. Don’t wait until disaster strikes to stock up on the essentials.
Water, in particular, is key. Urban environments often don’t have natural water sources nearby, so you will need to have your own supply of water to last you for at least two weeks if water gets cut off. Make sure you have at least one gallon per person per day. You should also have a way to treat and filter water at home.
If you live in a city, it’s likely that you commute to work via car or public transport. When disaster strikes, you may not be lucky enough to be at home, and your ability to get back home may be restricted for some time. That’s why it’s important to always have an extra emergency pack on hand in your car or at the office. The “go” bag should contain items such as medicines, cash and credit cards, first aid kit, flashlight and batteries, solar-powered radio, emergency thermal blankets, emergency bottled water, and food that does not need to be cooked.
#2: Maximize your storage space: Another reality most city dwellers face is lack of space. Your kitchen space may be tiny, and a yard may be nonexistent. Storage is always going to be a challenge, but there are ways to get creative and make it work. There is no way around it, you will need to store critical items such as your nonperishable food (dehydrated emergency foods take up less space) and water supply. To make space, here are a few suggestions…
- Purchase furniture with built-in storage space. Or, make furniture out of your storage containers--such as using food cans and plywood to make a shelving unit.
- See what areas of your floors and closets can be put to use. For example, if your hanging clothes don’t reach the floor in your closets, use that space to store buckets, cans of food, and other emergency supplies.
- Invest in multipurpose supplies--such as a 4-in-1 radio. Consolidation is critical!
#3: Know your escape route: Traffic. It’s an issue in cities, particularly during times of disaster and evacuation. It will be up to you to determine whether it’s safer to shelter in place (bug-in) or evacuate (bug-out), depending on the situation. Make sure to take heed of official evacuation warnings. If you need to go, make sure you’re aware of the best routing. This includes construction and detours, and potentially closed bridges and tunnels. Plan to leave early if you can, to avoid the mad last-minute dash.
#4: Practice: Make sure you and your family are familiar with and fully understand your emergency plan. Practice turning off gas lines in advance. If you need to figure out how to disinfect water with a purifier you’ve purchased, do a run-through now. It will be easier to remain calm and do what you need to do if you’ve done it before.
Prepping in an urban setting is going to be more difficult than other environments, but sometimes you don’t have a choice regarding where you live. From navigating small storage space to evacuating among crowds of people, understanding how to survive in an urban environment during a disaster scenario will make all the difference.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply