Is Urban Survival really possible?

One survival topic that doesn’t receive the attention it should, is surviving a long-term disaster in an urban environment. Now I’m not talking about your average natural disaster — which has its own host of concerns that makes urban survival a problem — but in this case, I’m talking about a long-term situation where essential services have stopped, and hopes of things returning to normal are slim.

During a real-world urban disaster situation, one where essential services are disrupted for a long period of time, is living in an urban environment really a safe thing to do?

Urban Survival presents a number of challenges in a big city.

Sanitation Issues

Sanitation Issues: Garbage will likely become one of the largest problems during a total collapse scenario. But it’s not just garbage that poses a threat to your health and safety.

It’s not a pleasant thing to think about; but if the water ever stops running, and the sewage systems stop working, those living in an urban setting are in for a world of hurt. Can you imagine how fast things will spiral out of control? Big cities will quickly become unsanitary hell holes that will pose a huge threat to your health and safety.

This single issue has the potential to spread disease, pollute the waterways, and kill a large number of people. In fact, even in today’s world hundreds of thousands of people die in Third World nations every year because of a lack of adequate sanitation.

Street Gangs

Gangs & Raiders: Let’s face it, even during the good times there’s a segment of our population that’s just not right in the head. From people who go nuts and riot after their team loses a stupid sports game, to violent street thugs, criminals and gangs who are already terrorizing big cities, a total collapse of the system could make urban living almost impossible.

I suspect that well-armed gangs will quickly take control of most major cities. In fact, during most disasters we see a small-scale version of this play out almost every time — people looting, stealing and trying to take advantage of a bad situation are usually a pretty common scene. Once things go really bad, these people will make traveling anywhere in a big city a nightmare scenario.

Guy Holding a Gun

Being well-armed will not save your ass:  There are a number of people who think they’ll be able to fight off anyone who comes their way — you know the type; the guy who swears he’s going to take everyone on with his small arsenal of firearms.  Well, there’s a major flaw in that type of thinking: It’s not going to work.

This isn’t a movie….
no matter how bad ass or well-armed you are, it only takes one bullet to end it all.

In an urban situation almost everyone you come across will be a potential threat. If you look at a city like L.A. that has over ten million people, you quickly realize that even being well-armed might not save you. Half the damn city is already well-armed, and the criminals probably have weapons that are far beyond anything you have. In my opinion, staying and fighting is not an option — especially if you want to survive.

Al Gore

It’s Not sustainable: I’m not trying to go all hippie, or Al Gore on you, but living in an urban environment during a collapse is not sustainable.

Our modern infrastructure has helped big cities thrive far beyond our founder’s wildest dreams. That same infrastructure will spell disaster during a total collapse.

Most people don’t realize how little modern stores actually carry. If the system ever collapses, most big cities have less than a 3 day supply of food and water on hand. And when reality hits, that food and water will probably be gone within a couple of hours. After that, all hell will break loose.

So is Urban Survival Possible?

It really depends on your location, and what type of city you live in. But in my opinion, it’s really like fighting a losing battle.

If you live in a city like New York, L.A. or Chicago, where crime is already a problem, I would guess urban survival will be damn near impossible. If you live in a smaller city or suburb, then you might be alright for a while — but things will eventually affect you as well. If you are planning on staying, you really need to start studying your city and what urban resources will be available to you after a collapse.

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  1. Another factor is mobility. Most people in major cities rely on public transit or taxis. What happens when they stop running and you can’t get around? Can’t get to the store, the doctor or even the makeshift shelter? Forget leaving by the main roads, they will be gridlocked or blocked by the authorities. Also, living in a high-rise means stairs instead of elevators. How many people could climb ten flights of stairs several times a day? Heart attacks waiting to happen. Humans are not meant to live in large, tightly packed cities. They are breeding grounds of diseases and violence.

  2. I would imagine 99% or more of urban dwellers wouldn’t survive a true SHTF scenario for whatever reason. Having said that I would also assume that it is possible for a select few who have the wits and determination to survive in a large city. So, to answer the question: Is it possible? Sure. Is it probable? Heck no!

  3. Watch what the govt does and do the opposite. Have an early exit strategy in place or welcome to your new iraq.

  4. I dont think its possible what so ever. people are no where near tight nit as they used to be. in fact, people are afraid of general society. tech has brought us away from our tightly nit communities. just like any other species,if your not well socialized, your afraid or aggressive. in this society more than any other time in history, we are far from intimately socialized with our communities. Do you know your neighbors?

  5. Interesting post.

    Just read a post on ZS about a guy who described living in Sarajevo for 3 years without running water, electricity or other utilities.

    They all did it.

    They made wood burning stoves, fetched water and ate whatever they could. Talked about making dead fall traps in and around his house to catch and eat rodents.

    Some supply was still available for him in limited quantities.

    If interested, check it out.

    I think it largely depends on the human element. If you can’t work cooperatively with neighbors and friends, your chances for survival decrease. But if you can, obviously they increase.

    I don’t agree that everybody you see will be an enemy. In many cases, people bond together stronger when disaster strikes. I was in downtown San Diego for a couple of large earthquakes last year. I was out on the street talking to neighbors I never had before.

    A couple months later I heard an explosion after midnight one night. I ran down the street at top speed in my pjs and bare feet-cell phone in hand. As I was calling 9-1-1, and arriving on the flaming scene, there were several other people gathered around already directing emergency personnel in and making sure people were ok.

    There’s always outliers and exceptions, but it’s definitely not impossible.

    After all, humans started specializing and living in cities for some reason.

    Great post.

  6. Interesting post. My first inclination was to say “No, of course it’s not possible to survive in a urban environment.”

    But UrbivilistDan makes a great point. The trick would be to some how outlast the gangs and ne’er-do-wells. Once most of the population has fled or otherwise been removed from the equation, it may be possible to survive in a larger city. Challenging due to lack of resources, but possible if you can first outlast the violence and chaos.

  7. Mexico has it’s own SHTF situation going on now with the cartels and people are moving into cities because the rural areas are too hard to defend from large gangs. South Africa and Argentina also saw/sees gangs from the city traveling to the rural areas and back for raiding. It’s worth noting that city dwellers will, if possible, target suburbs and rural areas sooner than you might think.

    A small town or village seems more ideal for a long term SHTF. It takes communities coming together to stop determined looters/rioters.

    • “…It’s worth noting that city dwellers will, if possible, target suburbs and rural areas sooner than you might think. “.

      Rob has it exactly right. We are seeing it right now and the media doesn’t cover it unless one of them gets hurt.

  8. Yes it has already started so learn everything you can about how to survive and become skilled with weapons, as well as gathering survival supplies now, which not only includes food but of course weapons,gas mask etc… if you have not watched it you need to check out the videos on YouTube Sons of Liberty Guerrilla Warfare Training there are 7 parts to it and even if you do not believe in what the Sons of Liberty CD talks about the Guerrilla warfare training videos can pretty much prepare you for any kind of SHTF event

  9. Rob… Excellent point. However, with well thought out defensive tactics, pre-placed anti-personnel devices, (of course I mean legal instruments), and the ability to take immediate action should the situation demand it, I believe it’s possible to survive in both settings.

  10. I live in wichita ks and I think it’s totaly possible to live in a city during a emergency. The city is where the trade is gonna take place and where people with different skill sets are gonna be. In ks everyone is a prepper in some way and if you try looting here good luck in our largest city it seems everyone has a concealed carry licsence. house out in the middle of nowhere are easy to surrond and have no support. Think about this what if the minutemen at the lexington green bugged out instead of staying and fighting for there town.

    • Kyle,

      You mean like how so many people were able to live in New Orleans after it was hit? And that’s the thing, once the food runs out everyone will be fighting each other for food or trying to escape those that are fighting/looting. Then gangs/raiders will get worse as certain groups (who have weapons) start banding together to take from others.

      Sure, after the emergency people will return to towns/cities, but that requires the situation to have stabilized and things like food to be available.

  11. you’re all nuts BUT I’m with ya defended to the end……know your surroundings know witch way to go the best rout in and out….and don’t turn your back on any one unless you’ve put a bullet in them first…

  12. Don’t be afraid to talk to people in your community about topics like this. Heck, make up a story and say someone asked you if you are embarrassed to talk about it. I did and was surprised about how many people think about it. Some will flat out talk your ear off about it. So be active in your area, talk to friends, family, neighbors, whoever. I talk to my kids about such topics. Not to scare but they won’t be taught in school about it. My wife and I have a plan for emergency situations. We mapped out an area that we thought was the safest route for her to get home. Least powerlines, wide roads, no big trees, stuff to consider in a earthquake area. She even has a BOB and a firearm in her vehicle in case SHTF while she is not with me. Learn to be a survivor and teach your family. The more we are all self efficient the less I have to shoot for trying to rob me. PATRIOTS KNIGHT on facebook. Horses, quads, and a 4×4…

  13. Praise Odin I live nowhere near a city, but my concern is that in a SHTF situation, some of these social wastes of DNA (gang members and such) will probably think of coming to the country for a raid. Think about it: rule the city by day, raid the surrounding rural towns by night. That’s what I’d do.

    either way, SHTF, I go to the woods with my AK and lay low.

  14. This is scary stuff, and a topic that everyone needs to think about. Especially with the blunders our government is making and the increasingly violent populace, but I don’t know how to start preparing. I have a limited budget and I don’t know where to begin or which steps are more important. Excellent article.

    • Start prepping from right where you are. Next time you go to the store buy a couple of extra cans of something you eat. You might buy a bag of beans,buy a bottle of water and put it on a shelf. You have just started prepping.

  15. Funny thing is people have survived SHTF scenario’s in urban enviroments, Argentina and Bosnia both immediately spring to mind, going back a little further the depression saw people leaving the country looking for work in the city. A lot depends on sit-x, desperate people and criminal elements aren’t just going to sit and starve when most cities are surrounded by farmland.

    Of course locations and situations vary across the globe, here in the UK we have crop and livestock theft, poaching on the increase and commuter criminals both often city gangs heading into the country for easier pickings. Not every SHTF is a mad max fantasy, depending on sit-x a urban enviroment could be a better option.

  16. i with the right information and knowledge it is almost unavoidable for a small group or family to survive. if i had to suggest a really good survival guide to almost any survival scenario you could think of [famine, nuclear war/fallout, earthquakes, ect.]i’d suggest “life after doomsday a survivalists guide to nuclear war and other major disasters” [by Buce D. Clayton, Ph. D]. this book will tell alot of info to a person who knows nothing to almost everything about emergency preparedness. the main subject of this book is nuclear war [because if you know how to survive nuclear war you know how to survive the rest] even though it will still tell you info on other stuff.

  17. I get concerned when “survivalists” talk about the weapons they have and say they will use,I dont know if surviving in the their society is any better than dying,no one seems to know that a team effort is required to survive,even special forces will tell you that,thats how they succeed,cooperation over killing,I think some need to change their mind set

    • John that’s because to a lot of these people their weapons are an extension of their…. well you know.I fully believe in having weapons and training in place but that said no one but an idiot looks forward to having to use them.In general the only people that want to get into a fire fight are the ones that have never been in one.

  18. I am only upset when I hear that survivalists with guns will just take from those who cannot defend themselves. That makes you no better than the Government. You do not have any right to anyones stuff no matter what. How is law going to be restored when you create more mayhem? Remember, we all answer to God. Stealing is stealing.

    • Unfortunately Bonnie that is what is going to happen. You can be upset if you want but you also need to prepare for the fact that when the balloon goes up people will revert to survival of the fittest. In the animal world the stronger one’s take from the weaker one’s and don’t think anything about it.

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