Urban Survival: 6 Essentials to Surviving Any Disaster in the City

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If you are an American or Canadian reading this, then you probably take it for granted that you will be safe.

There hasn’t been any recent war on American soil, and you might even think that your region is safe from natural disaster.

But the scary truth is that the risk of disaster is a lot higher than we likely realize.

This urban survival guide will introduce you to the essentials so you can survive any disaster ranging from personal disasters like homelessness to all-out warfare.


Shelter for Urban Survival

Just because you live in the city, don’t think you will be able to stay in your home in the aftermath of a disaster.
As stories from Bosnian war survivors talk about, they were kicked out of their homes by militants and civilians alike.

How would you stop intruders armed with automatic assault rifles?

If a hurricane destroyed your home, where would you go?  And HOW would you get there???

Do you know any homeless survival tricks, like how to safely sleep and stay warm on the streets should you find yourself homeless?

urban survival shelter
Image credit: “Homeless” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Mabacam

These are big issues to cover.  Don’t expect yourself to master the art of urban survival right away.  Right now, focus on ASKING yourself these questions.  The next step is to find solutions for all possible urban disaster scenarios.


Urban Survival Gear

Urban survival gear is a lot different than wilderness survival gear.

In the wilderness, you rely on natural resources.

In urban areas, you must rely on the survival gear you carry as well as what you can scavenge.

Let’s take a look at some of this basic urban survival gear.


The Get Home Bag

Similar to the Bug Out Bag (BOB), a Get Home Bag (GHB) is a survival backpack which contains everything you will need to secure your safety in an urban area during a disaster.

For example, a GHB should have water treatment tablets to destroy any viruses and pathogens before consumption (a standard camping water filter doesn’t kill viruses – read more about water purification systems here).


Urban Everyday Carry Gear

I am a big fan of everyday carry (EDC) items.  Obviously, you have items like a Swiss army knife or other multi-tool.  There are also lots of cool wallet EDC items.

You’d be surprised at how useful items like string and a paperclip can be in an urban survival situation!

I’d recommend building your own urban survival kit that you can carry every day, like an Altoids tin EDC survival kit.

urban survival kit EDC
Image credit: “Kit para emergências do dia-a-dia” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by Dois Espressos

Scavenging for Urban Survival

One thing to keep in mind about urban survival gear is that:


So don’t rely on your survival bag or EDC gear!  The good thing about urban survival is that you will have plenty of resources at your disposal.

Learn to scavenge  I will talk more about these subjects in our Member’s Area survival reports, but here are the basic urban survival skills you’ll need to scavenge supplies:

  • Looting skills
  • Lock picking skills
  • Dumpster diving
  • DIY repairs, like patching bike tires and fixing tools
  • CREATIVITY! Think beyond the box about how to make use of everyday items like paper clips, dental floss, plastic bags, and whatever you can find
urban survival looting
Looting is one of the urban survival skills you’ll need. Image credit: “New-Orleans post Katrina Sept 2005: burl” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Gilbert Mercier

Food for Urban Survival

Everyone should have at least a 30-day supply of food and water stockpiled in case of emergency, as well as stockpile of non-food supplies.

But these supplies will quickly run out in a large-scale disaster.  Or you might be forced to leave your home and all its supplies behind.

In the wilderness, you can forage for food.  It isn’t so easy in the city!

Yes, there are plenty of urban plants that you can eat
In the great depression, people ate dandelion green soups.

  • In Syria, people are eating tree leaves to survive.
  • In besieged Leningrad, people ate breads made from shrubs.
  • In Italy, people ate cats to survive famine during WWII.
  • In North Korea, people have endured eating tree bark, roots, and insects…

But history tells us that these quickly disappear in long-term disasters.  This is why it is essential to either:

  1. Get out of the city (bug out) while you still can and go somewhere with natural resources (and actually know how to use them!)
  2. Have a secure and sustainable source of food, such as a backyard garden or aquaponics system.


Water for Urban Survival

One thing that many people take for granted is that their plumbing system brings them clean potable drinking water…

Until a “boil alert” is called.

As defined by the Public Works,

A boil alert is issued when the pressure is lost in the water line and there is the possibility of any foreign substance entering the system.

Because of aging infrastructure, boil alerts are on the rise in some areas.

If an old pipe can make water undrinkable, imagine what happens after a major disaster like earthquake or hurricane!

Maybe you remember those reports after Hurricane Katrina of sewage floating down the street!?!

An important urban survival skill is to know how to treat dirty water, such as with water purification tablets, boiling, and filtering (and when to use each method).

Recommended Reading: Ultimate Guide To Survival Water


urban survival drinking water
During natural disasters, the water treatment system doesn’t work and there may be sewage flooding. You must purify water before drinking!


Transportation for Urban Survival

Just because a disaster has struck, it doesn’t mean you won’t need to get around.

Imagine how difficult it will be to scavenge for food and supplies on foot.

Think how dangerous it will be to walk past mobs.

In a small-scale disaster, your vehicle might still be a good transportation method.  But history tells us that cars can’t get through the debris and crowded streets after a disaster.  And good luck getting gasoline for your vehicle!

Better options for urban survival include bicycles and motorbikes.  Make sure you know how to repair them though, or they will be useless when you encounter a small problem like a broken brake cable.


Self Defense for Urban Survival

Perhaps the most important urban survival skill is knowing how to protect yourself against other humans. Read our quick and dirty guide to Self Defense.

Our “lizard brains” kick in during the aftermath of a disaster.  With our brains focusing only on survival, even “civilized” people will have no problem stealing the pack from your back or fighting you for a scrap of bread.

I recommend you read our post on how to survive a bad neighborhood, because the tips also work in post-disaster survival situations.

Here are some of the most important urban survival self-defense skills to know:

  • Back Down!!! Just because you CAN fight, it doesn’t mean you SHOULD fight. Whenever possible, back down.  The goal here is survival, not to boost your ego.  Avoiding a fight means you’ve already won.
  • Don’t look like a target. Blending in matters here, so leave all that camo gear at home and don’t flash your survival supplies.
  • Have weapons ready! A weapon is pointless for urban survival unless you actually intend on using it. So don’t flash your gun or knife unless you are prepared to take action

Remember, this is just an intro guide to urban survival.  It is okay if you haven’t mastered any of these skills yet.  The important first step is to THINK about what you’d do in an urban survival situation.

Consider what disasters are likely.

Think about what outcomes are possible.

Find solutions.  Including survival supplies, gear, skills, and knowledge.

And you will be prepared for anything!

Are you preparing for urban survival?  Let us know how you prep by leaving a comment.

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