Get Your Urban Dwelling Ready for Trouble
Imagine this: You’re at home and the power goes out. Checking your cellphone, you see it’s dark and dead. You’d swear it just had a charge. A quick glance at your smartwatch reveals it has stopped. Slowly the reality sinks in; something big is awry.
Running out to the car, you discover it won’t start and realize you’re now forced to begin emergency preparations.
While this scenario is rare, it is one of many possible situations in which someone — or a family — might be stuck inside their home, especially if they live in an urban area. Not all emergency circumstances allow for easy evacuation or bugging out.
Natural disasters that catch people off guard can leave them without the proper essential items to keep themselves and their families fed, warm and safe.
Mi Casa es … Mi Casa
Your home is your castle, and a castle should be both well-stocked and well-fortified. During a disaster, and lacking access to utilities, it’s paramount to have previously acquired the items required for the house to continue to function.
All the things we consume on a daily basis will be exhausted in a disaster of any length. During Katrina, many families who were able to remain at home were without utilities for months.
Household necessities are not always portable. The kitchen sink is stationary for good reason. Likewise, other items used daily are shared by members of a family or by household members who depend on their availability.
Bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms and such are some of the facilities that others in the home need to be able to access.
Food, Water and Cooking
Our need for clean water is second only to our requirement for air. We use water for cooking, cleaning, showering and drinking. There is no way for life to continue without it. No matter the length of an emergency, having proper water storage solutions and filtration are at the core of any preparations.
In addition to establishing a potable water supply, one should find a viable outside replenishment source. In cities it’s exceptionally difficult to find well water.
All raw water should be considered contaminated, so be prepared to process everything you use, whether it comes from storm drains, creeks or fountains. Filtration will be key.
“THERE IS NO UNIVERSAL RIGHT WAY TO PREPARE A HOME FOR A SHORT-TERM OR LONG-TERM DISASTER; THERE ARE TOO MANY VARIABLES. HOWEVER, THERE ARE ENDLESS WRONG WAYS TO PREPARE A HOME, AND THE WORST IS THE ONE THAT FORGOES ANY PREPARATION.”
Keeping a well-stocked pantry is also an essential. The problem with cities is that every food source is limited by its connection with producers outside the city. There are no farms deep in the concrete jungle.
Alternatively, cities contain well-stocked grocery stores, which maintain supplies for maybe a few days, under normal circumstances. With that in mind keeping long-term storage foods such as canned goods, rice, beans, pasta and dehydrated foods or MREs ensures you’ll still have food long after the grocery shelves are empty.
During the old days, canning food in glass jars was a common household skill. A lack of proper storage in homes within city limits often makes it difficult to keep enough food stores on hand.
Long known for their aptitude for making long-term survival preparations, members of the LDS Church follow these estimates for the minimum food supplies required for an adult to survive a year: 8 pounds of salt, 10 quarts of cooking oil, 60 pounds of legumes, 16 pounds of powdered milk, 60 pounds of sugar and/or honey, and 400 pounds of grains.
They also suggest that one can add more commonly eaten foods to their supplies after these supplies have been acquired.
In addition to adequate amounts of food and storage space, the way it is stockpiled will extend the life of the food on hand.
Warm, humid climates may offer only a few months of viable storage of rice, while a cool dry climate might extend that period to up to 10 years. Ensuring optimal temperature and humidity helps you achieve longer shelf lives.
Heating and Heat Retention
Cold and humid environments are potentially harmful to humans. An average of roughly 1,300 people die of hypothermia in the United States each year.
When public utilities are shut down, alternative sources of heating will be needed to prevent this number from increasing significantly.
A century or two ago people understood the principle of thermal mass and they knew that stone and brick buildings would absorb heat during the day then release it during the night. Because of cost and other factors, not many homes are made the same way today.
Since the EPA has made it difficult to have wood-burning stoves and fireplaces — never mind trying to find enough wood fuel in a city to heat a room — alternative heat sources must be explored.
This is where camping gear can be instrumental in protecting a family. A small tent set up in a living room can capture the heat of its occupants and prevent the rising air from escaping too quickly.
Likewise, traditional materials such as wool and modern insulation in clothing can provide a way for people to sleep without fear of freezing to death.
Alternatively, creating thermal mass can also help to retain heat in a home. Stored water is one of the best thermal masses and often used in greenhouses to radiate heat throughout a frigid night.
Gallons of water can be left in the sun to warm during the day and will gradually release the heat at night. However, this will do little during bitterly cold nights and days when water will freeze solid.
Modern Devices and Lighting
In the modern age, new materials aren’t the only things changing survival. With the improvements in solar power equipment efficiency and lower cost of ownership, many are opting to turn their urban and suburban homes into off-grid havens.
While it’s an excellent option, it’s not applicable to everyone’s situation.
I’m a fan of solar application in all devices. There are solar-powered flashlights, household lamps, stoves, battery banks and even weapons sights.
While solar systems rely on the access to the sun, they can help reduce the dependence on traditional fuels, which will quickly become unavailable in an urban disaster.
Fecal waste is one of the largest health risks in an urban area. Without working sanitation or trash removal systems, waste has no place to go and with so many people so close together, it amasses quickly.
While most communicable diseases are well known, there are many long-term fecal-borne diseases that can infect humans and remain observable long after cleanup.
If we look at other countries with inferior sewers or sanitation systems, we see elevated rates of disease and early deaths directly related to improper waste handling.
So, to combat the issues, maintain a centralized location for one’s waste and keep it out of the living space. Ideally, bury it properly in a safe place to alleviate hazards in the immediate area. Make sure that you possess the right tools for the job.
Have a Bug-out Plan
Preparing and stocking your home is only half of the equation for a successful response to emergencies. Having essential personal survival items on hand will enable you to move to a secondary location, if necessary.
Each person in your group should be responsible for their own supplies and gear, not including small children or infirm adults.
Everyone should utilize a singular location to rest, cook and take bio breaks. For this reason, personal items are just as necessary in your overall planning, to facilitate a forced move.
Nutrition and Hydration
Canteens and portable water storage units will allow one to carry the water they require, while individual filtration devices or purification drops will allow safe replenishment at home and on the trail. Likewise, MREs are equally valuable whether you’re hunkering down or bugging out.
Additional plans will have to be made to supplement your food supply if you have to abandon your home base.
Heating and Heat Retention
Double sleeping bags are a great way to stay warm at home but they are not practical if you have to hit the road. Individual sleep systems are lighter and more space-efficient and can retain heat even outside a tent.
“AN AVERAGE OF ROUGHLY 1,300 PEOPLE DIE OF HYPOTHERMIA IN THE UNITED STATES EACH YEAR.”
Likewise, clothing should be geared to an individual’s needs and is not intended for shared use. Wool is a proven material for durable heat retention in clothing, blankets and outwear.
Comms and Lighting
Outside of a phone, radio or tablet, it’s doubtful there will be much call for many modern devices, but gear such as flashlights and headlamps will always be of value.
Multiple means of lighting provide more options in the event of failure or loss. Items such as these make having a solar charging rig very helpful.
As with camping, waste should be kept at a comfortable distance and disposed of deep in the ground when possible. In winter, it’s not easy to bury human waste, but it’s a necessary component to keeping your environment safe.
Digging a latrine or similar option is ideal but this is often difficult to implement in an urban landscape.
Defense and Tools
Personal defense doesn’t start when disaster strikes or end when you enter a safe space. It is a constant, dynamic and evolving necessity for survival.
Every weapon is a tool first and foremost. Any tool can be employed as a weapon with varying degrees of efficiency and success.
Keep this in mind as you add new tools to your supplies, especially if firearms are heavily restricted where you live.
When defending a home, the default is to rely on firearms, but possessing firearms is only half the equation. Being able to utilize the appropriate firearms in the proper situations and locations is the crucial half.
If someone is attempting to enter your home and take your supplies, they are in a state of desperation and personal fear. Generally, they are attempting to take your supplies because they were too lazy to prepare their own or did not have proper defenses to protect their own goods.
To avoid this situation, a home should be set up with progressive fallback locations. Heavy and longer-distance firearms should be set near the windows to protect from outside threats entering a building.
Smaller and powerful firearms should be set up along doorways and hallways where any invaders would be bottle-necked. Lastly, the most distant fallback location in the home should be where the majority of ammunition and overstock supplies should be stored.
If someone has enough force to find this cache, it’s most likely going to be where a last stand takes place. Most people would run at the first sign of significant opposition.
There is no universal right way to prepare a home for a short-term or long-term disaster; there are too many variables. However, there are endless wrong ways to prepare a home, and the worst is the one that forgoes any preparation. Being unprepared creates unnecessary danger in manageable situations.
Being prepared also doesn’t mean possessing the best gear or being excessively stocked up on goods. It’s about acquiring the skills, wisdom and knowledge to address a negative situation and adapt to the circumstances in a positive way.
Gaining the wisdom to adapt and find solutions within the home will keep an entire household safe.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the December, 2019 print issue of American Survival Guide.