For over six days, the 1992 Los Angeles riots made entire swaths of the city into a dystopian battleground. Tens of thousands who couldn’t outrun Hurricane Katrina were left stranded amidst disease and dysfunction in the New Orleans Superdome. And any New Yorker you ask about September 11th will have their own unique story, but fear and unprecedented confusion amongst millions of people remains part of their collective narrative.
Dense urban areas pose unique survival challenges that preppers living in rural or suburban communities may not face. When widespread disaster strikes major urban centers, you can’t just simply run for the hills to survive.
Leave when you are in imminent danger. When disaster is impending, keep an eye on local news, your city’s website and federal agencies like FEMA. Heed advanced evacuation warnings and listen to your instincts. There won’t always be warnings before a disaster occurs, and that internal barometer may be right telling you that it’s time to get out.
Prepare to communicate in technological destitution. Assume the internet, cell phones and land lines may be shoddy or down. A city’s telephone grid can get tied up, so making a call to a designated out-of-state contact to relay messages may be easier than making multiple calls.
Within your family or pre-established survival network, create a short phrase that indicates the unequivocal initiation of your escape sequence (for example, “waypoint one” or “strawberry coffee”). You may only have one brief chance to text your spouse, who is working on the other end of the city, that it’s time to leave.
Knowing where to go and how to find one another is critical. Plan two or three sequential places to meet, with one of the meeting points being outside the city limits. An example of this sequence may be, Waypoint 1: Everyone meet at my apartment. If the apartment is destroyed or inaccessible, then go to Waypoint 2: the statue at the local park. If that is inhospitable, then make your way to Waypoint 3: the car dealership just outside of the city. If you have the latitude, simple indicators making it clear to progress to the next waypoint may also be planned, using a colored permanent marker or a tied ribbon at each waypoint.
One of the primary differences in preparing equipment for a city escape in contrast to a rural scenario is being ready to travel on foot. Most city residents don’t have cars, and those who do may find them useless, frozen in an ocean of gridlock. You should be prepared to survive and escape with what you can carry while remaining nimble and self-sufficient.
Your list of essentials should start with a bug-out bag that will allow for three days of sustenance. Legal defensive tools or force multipliers can be crucial in mass chaos. And you also need to prepare for the special needs of children, the elderly and any pets. Make sure you have ready a pair of sneakers to change from high-heels or oxfords. Unfortunately, most of us urbanites are unfamiliar with roads outside of the city and a printed map will give you options as available routes may open and close without warning. Finally, pen and paper will be resurrected over the mighty smartphone when the grid becomes useless, so be prepared.
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Get To Safety
Traffic will be exponentially more hellish than the worst rush hour on a bad day. Even if you start by car, plan routes to and from your waypoints that allow you to travel by foot. Bicycles can cover lots of ground and weave through labyrinthine gridlock.
Depending on what happens, bridges and tunnels may no longer be options, so planning routes that don’t require such thoroughfares is important. In places like New York City, where it’s quite literally an island surrounded by deep rivers and oceans, ordering an inflatable raft won’t be the craziest thing you’ll have bought online. Think twice before getting on a subway, tram or train. Do not use elevators. Once again, walking will be your best option to escape.
Last but not least, plan several escape destinations in different directions. You can never know where and how far a disaster will stretch geographically. Ideally, you may be headed to friends or relatives who are willing to take you in, but also keep in mind places that will be hospitable to your refugee status, like FEMA shelters or other emergency housing.
Does your destination have certain infrastructure to support you, whether it’s a motel, camping ground or a municipal system that’s been established to help those in need? Although we are well into the 21st century, as you prepare, remember that archaic forget-me-nots like physical maps are amazing when Google isn’t available. Plan today to ensure a safe escape tomorrow.
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This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Fall 2015 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.