Why The City Might Be Your Best Bet
February 14, 2011 by David Morris
For the last 15 years or so, the common thought has been that in a disaster situation where there’s a medium to long term
breakdown in infrastructure and civil order, the ONLY way to survive is to flee the city, like a dog with its tail between its legs,
and hide out in the woods until things get back to normal. This is really dated thinking that ignores history.
Besides the logistics of whether or not you’ve got a fully stocked rural retreat to flee to, or the fact that there’s a good chance that
it will be difficult to travel with gridlock and roadblocks, there are several reasons why cities — or urban areas — make good
places to stay after a disaster. We’re going to cover five of those today and another five in my next article.
I need to start out by saying city people DO have additional risks that isolated rural dwellers don’t have. Cities are more at risk for
terrorist attack, there are more people fighting for fewer resources and there are more possibilities for major accidents that affect
hundreds or thousands of people at once. But it’s ironic to note that survival is the very reason why many cities were originally
set up. People wanted to set up a common defense, build a marketplace for their goods and have access to people with specialized
What do I mean by urban? Well, by "urban" I mean a few thousand people to a few million people. Basically, it’s any community
that shares water/sewer/electricity distribution. With that in mind, here are the first five of my “Top 10 Lies and Half Truths About
Urban Survival” and why it may be better for you than a fully stocked rural retreat (in no particular order).
Lie No. 1. I’ll be a sitting duck in my house! After a disaster, if violence is particularly bad, you can rotate a watch without it
being too much of a burden on any one family. This concept has been around for generations. Just to be clear, it doesn’t stop
crime, it only changes the location where it happens.
If a crackhead needs to steal a TV to support his habit, it’ll just get them to go a block or two away to break into a house and steal
someone else’s stuff. Of course, in a disaster situation, many have scaled this up and have multiple roving people covering an
entire neighborhood. In the country, there’s just too much space between houses to make this practical. Why? Because in an
urban area, one person can watch several houses at one time.
Lie No. 2. With all those people, everything’s going to run out right away. True, but it’s just the first chapter of the story. In the
event of a medium- to long-term breakdown in order after a disaster, many people will abandon cities and others will die of shock,
medical reasons or violence, leaving a remnant of people who were prepared and can continue/rebuild the economy. [Deaths from
panic, stupidity and shock may even increase the amount of available food. (US)] Also, at some point, products like fuel, food and
other supplies will start being distributed again. If refiners, farmers and other distributors have the option to deliver to one city or
10 towns, they’ll pick the one city. Their cost to deliver goods to only one location will be less AND they’ll probably be able to sell
the goods at a premium because of higher demand. The key here is to have enough supplies on hand to make it through the worst
part of a civil breakdown situation until resupply begins.
Half-truth No. 3. Everyone in the city will turn on each other. Partially true. I hear people talk about their organized plans to kill,
loot and steal from their neighbors way too often. Just yesterday a friend told me how he overheard a group of otherwise rational
people talking about how they have their neighborhood mapped out and the houses prioritized according to which ones they’re
going to attack first.
This is no joke, and it’s why I cover operational security so much in the “SurviveInPlace” course. I think these people should and
will be "taken care of" quickly if they ever start acting on their sick plans. They go against everything that America stands for, and
they disgust me.
There is another side to this story… one which has a lot more historical evidence. Think of barn raisings and the ability of a rural
community to band together to get a big project done. Now think about how many more people there are in a city than in a rural
area and how much easier it would be for any one person to get a group of people together to get a big project done when there
are so many more people to ask. (Stop laughing at the thought of city people helping each other.)
Really, stop laughing. The reality is that people don’t tend to help each other like this in urban areas anymore during normal times.
But one of the "good" things about disasters and breakdowns in civil order is that while idiots are running amok, good people band
together to help each other. It happened after the San Francisco earthquake, 9/11, numerous floods and tornadoes in the Midwest
and even after Hurricane Katrina.
In fact, I have a friend who has moved BACK to New Orleans because of what he saw after Katrina. He happened to have friends
who lived in a neighborhood that was galvanized by the event. They pulled together and became like a small town community in
the middle of all the chaos. He decided that he wanted is family to live in that kind of an environment in the event that another
None of this was in place before Katrina to set this up — it was a neighborhood of strangers living on top of each other, just like
most neighborhoods. It just happened that good people decided to take control of the situation in front of them. They had armed
checkpoints to get into their neighborhood, they took care of each other and, when things calmed down, they realized that they
had turned their neighborhood of strangers into a family.
This was a great case of a group of proactive people doing what was necessary to create a stable micro environment when
surrounded by relative chaos. These stable micro environments are exactly what are needed after breakdowns in order to restore
order, and prepared people are the most likely ones to make them happen.
Lie No. 4. Only jacks-of-all trades will survive. People with specialized skills will have no use and quickly die: Famous self-reliant
author Robert Heinlein (Starship Troopers) said that "specialization is for insects," but that’s not entirely true.
A better view on life would be "Jack of all trades, master of ONE." In other words, if you happen to be a surgeon, it’s really not
worth your time to change your oil, build a deck, milk a cow or dress and butcher a kill, but you should still know how. A
surgeon would be better off learning how to do primitive and handyman skills and then paying someone else to do those he didn’t
enjoy so that he had more time to do his specialty — surgery. That way, he can get the most value for his time, contribute the
most to society, but still have the primitive and handyman skills to fall back on in an emergency.
No matter what you do, there are going to be tasks that you’re not efficient at. I recently read that the reason why people are so
busy in survival situations is because they’re spending all of their time doing things they’re not efficient at, so everything takes
two to three times longer to do than it should. In a city, you don’t HAVE to do everything… even if you know how to do it all.
There is a ready supply of skilled friends, acquaintances and experts for hire who can do specialized tasks — that you can’t
efficiently do — much quicker than you can.
What I do and what I suggest others do is to spend time learning and practicing primitive skills and handyman skills so that you
know how to do a wide variety of things if you need to. But, spend the majority of your time getting better at one or two
There are two reasons for this. First, specializing will make you more valuable to other people. Second, it will be a better use of
As an example, let’s say that you don’t like baking and you’re not particularly good at it, but you want to give your wife a cake
for her birthday. You could go to the store and pay $20 for an INCREDIBLE cake, or you could buy all the ingredients for $5 and
make it yourself.
By the time you figure in the TIME to go shopping, find the right pans, ingredients and measuring spoons, bake the cake and clean
up the mess, if you’re anything like me, you’re looking at two to three hours. So, you traded two to three hours for $15 in
savings and essentially made $5-$7.50 per hour. That’s not a very good use of time.
Heck, I could have spent half an hour going door to door until I found someone who needed their lawn mowed for $20, mowed it,
bought a cake from the store, and still had an hour or two to enjoy! (Remember… I made the assumption that you don’t like
baking and that you’re not good at it. If you love baking and are good at it, then there is surely some other task that you could
substitute that would be a better fit for you.)
The other benefit of specialization in urban areas is that it allows for highly skilled people like the surgeon that I mentioned. In a
rural area, the surgeon may only get a chance to practice his skill a few times a month. In an urban area, he’ll have the opportunity
to hone his skills every day and all of his patients will benefit from his efficiency and expertise. And frankly, if I have critical or
life-saving work that needs to be done, I want a specialist around rather than a jack of all trades.
Half-truth No. 5. Sickness will spread like wildfire in cities after a disaster. True, and in the animal kingdom, this is one of the
ways that overcrowding is taken care of. But history shows us that much of the reasons why disease spreads so quickly in urban
areas is not only due to population density, but also due to a lack of sun exposure as a result of spending all day indoors. And poor
hygiene also factors in. This is something you have control over. Throughout history, the benefits of efficient distribution and a
common defense have outweighed the increased dangers of disease spread.
In fact, everything spreads easier in a city, and A HUGE advantage that urban areas have over rural areas is how much more
efficient product and information distribution is. A kid on a bike can deliver a few hundred newspapers quickly in a city. Mail can
be delivered on foot. Bike messengers can deliver packages and messages quickly. Food and produce can be delivered QUICKLY
by hand, foot, vehicle, car, or animal to hundreds of customers without adding much cost to the final buyer.
One of the big problems that we have, both in stable and unstable times, is urban sprawl. By urban sprawl, I’m specifically talking
about subdivisions of 1,000 to 3,000 houses with absolutely no grocery, retail or convenience stores except at the entrance from
the main road. These are very inefficient setups because they require people to drive for small things like fresh produce, a snack, a
missing ingredient for a favorite recipe or a newspaper.
I have a very strong feeling that in a civil breakdown situation, as others abandon their homes in search of greener pastures, many
houses in subdivisions like these will turn into markets… regardless of zoning. In other words, if you’ve got a main street through
a subdivision that’s a couple miles long, I can see five to 10 of them being changed into convenience stores and, when the season
is right, farmer’s markets.
Why do I say this? Because good people always have and always will figure out a way to improvise, adapt, and overcome… and
this is a natural solution to a problem that we see in subdivisions in every city in America.
In my next article, I’m going to cover the next five reasons why cities are better than rural areas, about how Chicago is breaking
down, and I’ll tell you the reason why gangs of "bad people" won’t be a long-term problem in most cities after civil breakdown.
The point isn’t to convince people living in rural areas to move into the city. It’s to get people, no matter where they live, to put a
plan in place to increase their chances of surviving short-, medium- and long-term disasters right where they are. Or more to the
point, right where they’re likely to be when a disaster happens.
For too long, rural folks have been telling prepared people living in cities that we’re all going to be killed by roving mobs of zombie-
like gangs and looters after a disaster. In addition, they say that our only hope is to bug out to the country… or leave our friends,
family and jobs and move to the country now.
That may be great if you want to and can pull it off, but the fact is that the majority of people in the United States will continue to
cluster together in cities, so this is important information.
One commenter said that the “correct” answer is to start out in a rural area when a disaster happens and move back to the city
after everyone has died off. That assumes that you get to pick the timing of the disaster. The simple fact is that disasters don’t ask
you to confirm that you’re ready before they happen.
Since most people live in urban areas, most people will be in urban areas when a disaster happens. As a result, they need to have a
primary or alternate plan to survive right where they are if they can’t relocate to a rural area — if they even want to. It’s just
practical. It’s as practical as rural people having a plan in place to survive in their rural home if a disaster happens.
One of the factors that helps people take steps to get prepared is to know that their plans have a chance of working. If the only
information out there for people living in cities is the B.S. that they have no chance of surviving, then they’re more likely to be
apathetic and create a self-fulfilling prophecy. ”Why prepare if nobody’s going to survive in the city anyhow?”
That’s one of the reasons why I developed the SurviveInPlace.com Urban Survival Course… to give friends and family a roadmap
to follow to survive disasters in urban areas if they spend the majority of their time in areas that are “urban” enough to have
sewer, water, gas and other shared utilities.
With that in mind, here are the next five lies, half truths and myths about cities after disasters:
No. 6-Everything in the city will be picked clean within days: This is partially true, but it only looks at a small piece of a bigger
picture. Specifically, it is looking at the first several days after a catastrophic event. On a slow economic decline like what we’re
in now, crime will go up (everywhere) but distribution continues. There will be regional breakdowns in distribution (gas and
produce in some areas will last a few months) but most things will get to most places.
We’ve got historical examples of this… most notably in Germany, Zimbabwe, Yugoslavia and Argentina. If you’re looking at a
Katrina-type event, electromagnetic pulse (EMP), terrorist infrastructure attack, etc., things are different. Any stores that aren’t
guarded by people willing to defend themselves against violent attacks will most likely get picked clean very quickly. But then a
vacuum will form and, since nature hates a vacuum, it will get taken care of.
Specifically, the need for food and supplies gets filled by black market vendors, looters and by enterprising people who figure out
where supplies are and how to deliver them to a waiting group of wanting customers for a profit that outweighs the risk. Again,
there is historical evidence for this. Namely: Berlin, Beirut and Buenos Aires. Clean water didn’t disappear in these scenarios… it
just got more expensive. It’s simple supply and demand. As a note, if you don’t want to buy items from black market vendors and
pay black market prices after a disaster, you’d better get prepared now.
Remember all of those people who are going to “get out of Dodge” and “head for the hills”? Well, they aren’t going to be able to
fit everything in their cars and they’re going to leave a lot behind. Some will tell their neighbors that they can have whatever they
left. Some of these houses will quickly get taken over by squatters, like what happened recently in Argentina. And others will get
picked to the bone by looters. In any case, all of the supplies that they couldn’t take with them will be left behind.
No. 7-There won’t be any parts available: Myth. Imagine if China did a cyber attack that knocked out the East Coast, West Coast
and Texas power grids tomorrow. Now imagine next week you need a part for your Audi, Saab, Subaru, Hyundai or, God forbid,
an eco-friendly hybrid. Are you more likely to be able to find new/salvaged parts in a rural area or in a city?
I know… I know. That’s why everyone should have a vehicle with easy to find parts. The reality is that not everyone has and
disasters don’t wait until everyone’s ready. But this also applies to other things as well:
Even parts like thermistors and flame sensors for furnaces, orifices for heaters, ejectors for guns, primers for ammo, or light
bulbs… there will not only be more initial supply in urban areas than in rural areas, it will be more likely that when supplies run
out, there will be enough demand in a city for someone to focus on fabricating/manufacturing new ones — even if the
manufacturing process is powered by hand or animal power.
No. 8-Medical supplies will be cleaned out immediately: Half-Truth. Medical supplies will most likely get wiped out soon after a
disaster, but that only tells part of the story. To begin with, in a major disaster, medical supplies will get wiped out in rural areas
too, so urban and rural areas are comparable here.
Next, we need to look at distribution again. When some enterprising person/company DOES have medical supplies/drugs to
distribute, they are going to want to do it as simply as possible, with as little risk as possible and with as much reward for their
risk as possible. That means delivering one truck to a big population center rather than several trucks to smaller population centers.
No. 9-There won’t be any jobs in the city: Lie. There will always be jobs (legal) for people who are willing/able to do anything in a
city. They may not pay as much as you’d like, and they may not be doing what you’d like to do, but there will always be jobs. It
might also require you to have skills, a good attitude and a willingness to learn. People with bad attitudes and bad work habits
probably will have a hard time finding jobs.
If nobody will hire you for a “job,” you can find out what jobs people are having a hard time getting done and start doing those
jobs for hire. (As a note, I spoke with three people in church on Sunday who are looking for jobs. They say that they’re willing to
do “anything”, but there aren’t “any” jobs. Meanwhile, I looked on a local help-wanted website and there are 233 postings. This
was just one site and since most jobs are filled by word-of-mouth, I can only assume that there are many more.
In rural areas there actually may not be any jobs available. If you’ve only got 20 families within five miles of you, they may not
even want you on their property unless they know you well, let alone talk with you about paying you to work.
No.10-EVERYONE left in the city will be killed… and killed again!: Half Truth. Many will be killed — most from fighting within
and between gangs. But the question remains whether the city will be more or less safe from violence than rural areas. If you get a
nice isolated rural house where you can shoot your guns and can’t see or hear your neighbors, who’s going to answer you if you
yell “help!” or “fire!”? The answer is nobody. It doesn’t mean that rural areas are bad — it just means that they’re not as perfect
as people argue that they are. This is a big reason why towns and cities were formed in the first place.
This belief also assumes that nobody learned anything after Katrina. It assumes that nobody will use any of the 60+ million guns
purchased in the U.S. since Katrina to protect themselves or their neighbors. Finally, it assumes that all police forces will act like
the New Orleans Police force did after Katrina.
Folks, the world has changed. There are more gun-owners than ever, more of those gun owners are getting advanced training
than ever, and there are more gun owners of all political colors who are willing and able to defend their family from violent attack
than ever before.
There will be anti-gun cities like Washington, D.C., and Chicago that are hard hit because of the exodus of gun owners who want
to obey the law. But in areas where individuals can own firearms, armed uprisings by gangs and thugs just won’t be allowed to
last very long. In addition to infighting and killing each other off, good people won’t stand for it. They’ll do fine as long as they
keep attacking sheep, but as soon as they hit a sheepdog, a family of sheepdogs, or a neighborhood of sheepdogs, they’ll have
Are there potential dangers in the form of gun control from the Federal Government? Absolutely. And they apply both to people
living in rural and urban areas.
So, what’s the point of this Top 10 list? First, it’s to get people to realize that they need a plan to ride out disasters in what-ever
area they spend the most time. If you spend 80 percent of your time in the city, have a primary or alternate plan to “Survive In
Place” in your city, remembering that long-term travel in a survival situation may be unproductive and more dangerous than
staying put. This is especially true if your loved ones are separated and you can’t reunite and bug out until the roads are packed.
Second, it’s to provide a foundation for people living in cities who have been paralyzed in their preparations because of the
common (Bravo Sierra) school of thought that they’ll just be killed and their stuff taken by highly organized and disciplined gangs
of marauders after a disaster.
Don’t buy into the lie. Have a plan in place to survive wherever you spend the most time, no matter how much less than ideal you
think it is.
retrieved 030111, 10:20am.