* Urban Survival – Advice For Beginners *
19 September 2004
Planning and preparing for survival articles are most often published with a slant towards those who live in a single-family dwelling in suburban and rural areas. That situation may not apply to some folks. What is the urban person to do? I am not a security specialist, but I chose to live in an apartment with wife and infant daughter during a 3 years-long job. Therefore, even though I have put thought and work into “urban survival,” please take my advice as being in the ‘for what it’s worth’ category and do your research and work beyond this very basic article.
First, one should understand that daily urban survival is mission essential, so don’t get caught in only the long-term, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it disaster mode thinking – keep this in mind throughout your planning and preps. This doesn’t reduce the need to prepare for major disasters, but that mindset is not the same as learning how to walk down a street while being an undesirable and little noticed target of opportunity. You’ll have to develop and hone skills and preparations in both areas.
The following general information on starting out in urban survival is based on personal experience and research. It deals mostly with selecting urban dwellings:
- Finances: If you have money, you can afford to make choices. This speaks for itself. As always, learn to be frugal and stay out of debt. If you don’t have sufficient funds, creativity will be essential.
- Location, location, location…: Selecting a dwelling is the critical part of this. For Americans having overseas posting with various government agencies and some companies, a threat assessment is made for the city/country/region and dwellings off embassy property are ‘allowed’ only if they me the minimum criteria for the local threat level. Your criteria for a dwelling should be just as methodical and as selective as availability and your situation permit. Selecting a neighborhood with multiple egress routes, low crime rates, close access to services, low potential of damage from flooding and other natural disasters starts your search. Closeness to “mutual support” partners in the area may also figure into this. The being close to your frequent work sites can save money on gasoline, but is not a main factor in security (although one must be practical). However, your routes to and from work should be planned to minimize risk exposure.
- Transportation: If you hope to leave the city in advance of a predictable problem, you will need your own vehicle. If you have limited choice in where you will live and bugging out is not an option for you, then selecting and securing a dwelling is paramount. In such a situation, transportation issues will focus on daily transportation security and anticipate the breakdown of public transit systems during disasters/crises.
- Apartment vs. Cluster units vs. Rental home: Location and availability often dictate your options. In all instances, here are some common desirable/required features that one should try to achieve:
- Solid overall construction. This is no different than looking for desirable construction when purchasing a house. You have seen the esthetically fair and flimsily built stuff that’s out there. Older buildings may be more desirable than you think. Look carefully before you sign a lease.
- Off-street and, preferably protected parking – 50-100 ft from the road is desirable.
- Well built protective surrounding wall/enclosure – 6-10 ft high is considered prime height.
- Grounds are adequately illuminated.
- Solidly built doors and frames at ALL entry-exit portals and dead-bolt locks (keyed if w/i 40” (1 meter) reach of any glass. If the entry portals are the only problem with the place, try to insert a clause in lease that allows you to replace (or negotiate to have the owner replace) any doors that are not up to specs and to allow you to re-key or replace locks at your discretion.
- If below the 4th floor, security-type grills for windows and doors w/ expanses of glass (got to have secondary egress from rooms with these grills). One advantage of living in a ground-floor dwelling is that the floor usually has more static and dynamic load-bearing capacity; keep that in mind, because of the need to store water, etc.
- Security system: This is a tougher one. A lot depends on how long you plan to occupy the dwelling and other variables. At a minimum, you should have the capability to observe the exterior areas at entry-exit doors. See other resources for planning this one and let them help you.
- Get more bedrooms than you need…I won’t bore you with the obvious reasons for this, but a saferoom with limited alternative power here is the labor intensive task worth doing and the extra storage space makes organizing your preps easier
- Either have rural retreat or learn small scale gardening: Your decision to stay in a city/urban area is one that I viewed as a temporary “evil.” I had family and friends w/i 2 hours of our apartment and pre-positioned limited resources. That was a start, but it wasn’t that hard to learn indoor gardening. Much indoor gardening is based on electricity being available for “grow lights” or a dwelling that has an outdoor area or lots of glass for sunlight. If you are a long-term urban survivalist, don’t just research this…get experience.
- Get to know your neighbors: Ideally, you'll do an ‘augenblink’ (a quickie “eye blink”) sizing up before you sign a lease and hope that you were correct in your assessment. Certainly, you want to know them after you move in.
There is a lot more to urban survival than this. If you have specific questions, there are people and resources far more qualified than I am who can offer advice. For a military take on “urban survival,” you should consider reading Wiseman’s SAS urban survival guide and Army/military reference materials on MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain/Territory). Home security reference are numerous; Joel Skousen's "The Secure Home" and Dan Bower's "Make Your Home Into Your Castle" are two books worth reading. Mr. Skousen has a website.
Remember, thousands of “homeless” people and people in war zones practice urban survival every day. It is not an academic exercise and it can be done, so get busy.
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