urban_survival_tom_brown

By Tom Brown III:

Here at Anchored Outdoors, we strive to bring you useful content to get the most out of your outdoor experiences. As the homesteading and foraging coordinator, and a life-long practitioner of wilderness survival and ancient living skills, one of my goals is to provide you with the skills and principles you need to make it through a wilderness survival situation. 

Learning any self-reliance skill allows you to slowly break free of the systems that we all rely on to provide us with the necessities to maintain our life force. Electricity, automobiles, technology and grocery stores allow us to exist inside bubbles of safety, security and comfort. We fool ourselves into thinking these bubbles are impervious, when in fact, they are quite fragile. 

Grocery stores give us access to a wide variety of food from around the globe 24 hours a day. I live in what most would call a very rural setting, but even I can hop in my truck and within 30 minutes visit 10 grocery stores or grab takeout from hundreds of different restaurants. Our homes are temperature controlled. We also have unlimited access to clean, drinkable water. Instant access to water is something that we especially take for granted. In the United States, we use more water in one flush of a toilet than many people worldwide use in an entire day for all their cooking, cleaning and drinking needs. 

People, especially in the “Western” world, speak of freedom, yet we are far from free. We are bound tightly to the systems that provide the things needed to maintain our lives. Across the globe, there are many people who, by our definition, live in “poverty” who are, in fact, far freer than we are because they know how to take care of themselves without relying on so many systems. I find it funny that the metric we use to determine poverty is how much money someone has. 

For many of us, the current pandemic has been the first real taste of what things could be like when these systems start to fail, even though the status quo has remained relatively intact. Even though our travel plans have been interrupted, we can’t go out and sit down at a restaurant and there was also that brief toilet paper shortage. However, we can still get gas for our vehicles, groceries from the store and the electricity continues to flow into our homes.

Take a moment to imagine what life would be like if grocery stores are shuttered, gasoline isn’t available and electricity is cut off. Most people are so woefully unprepared for a scenario like this that it would lead to a complete and utter meltdown of society’s fabric. What if something as simple as our cellphones stopped working? People are so addicted to the devices we carry that I believe that alone would cause a significant issue. I once heard someone say something that always stuck with me, “Modern society is three missed meals away from complete chaos.” We are so used to having all our needs met that a scenario like the one I just mentioned would lead to mass panic. 

Switching gears to wilderness survival, I can tell you that 90% of people panic when they realize they’re lost in the woods. Panic will kill you quicker than lack of shelter, water or food. For example, panicked people drop their backpacks full of clothes and food because they think they’re slowing them down. My father once tracked a missing hunter who walked right across a four-lane highway without noticing because of panic. 

Now imagine panic on a mass scale, in an urban or suburban setting. Ideally, a situation that adversely affects a large group of people would cause them to work together to get through it, but most likely, the opposite would happen. In the event of a mass crisis, you should avoid cities and areas of high population. But what if you live in an urban or suburban area? How can we make sure that we can take care of ourselves and those close to us? 

Firstly, you must understand that the rules of wilderness survival and urban/suburban survival are the same. Rule number 1 is always the same, DO NOT PANIC! After taking a deep breath and getting our mind under control, it’s time to consider what we need to stay alive. Generally, in order of importance, we need: 1. Shelter 2.Water 3. Fire 4. Food. 

When we panic, we are at risk of making bad choices. We’ve all heard the saying “survival of the fittest.” While this applies to evolution, strength or fitness, it has nothing to do with whether you will make it through a survival situation. We are what we think. Having and maintaining a positive mental attitude is of the utmost importance. That’s not saying being physically fit is not important. Now more than ever, you should also be thinking about your physical health and well-being. I find it sad that in all the news we get surrounding the current pandemic, nobody is talking about how being physically fit, eating good food, reducing alcohol consumption and being as healthy as possible is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick. 

I hope that you listened to the interview that April Vokey did with Keith McCafferty. I loved the interview because Vokey asked McCafferty at one point the most essential survival item people should carry with them into the wilderness. I was expecting him to say something like a knife or hatchet. Instead, I was surprised when he said, “Carry a picture of your family.” That way, any time you think about giving up, you can look at that photo and realize that you have something to live for! 

We can mentally prepare for survival situations, either in the wilderness or city, by continually asking ourselves the “What if’s?” and mentally planning for them. What if the power goes out for two weeks? What if grocery stores shut down? What if the water stops flowing from our taps? What if my house catches fire?

If you find yourself in an urban setting when “the shit hits the fan,” what next? How you proceed depends on the situation. I suggest that everyone, no matter where you live, take some time to make a list of things that could potentially upend your life and thrust you into a survival situation. Start with natural disasters. Here in Oregon, we have a few concerns. Wildfires are an ever-present threat in the summer. I also thinking about earthquakes and I live close to Mt. Hood, an active volcano. When I lived on the East Coast, hurricanes were my main concern. In the Midwest, you need to think about tornados. 

After natural disasters, move on to identifying other threats. How close are you to the nearest nuclear power plant? Many threats could affect you no matter where you live. Some of those are disease, terror attacks, civil unrest, even a solar flare knocking out the power grid. Spend some time thinking of every possible “What if?” scenario you can think of and develop a plan for dealing with each scenario. When you have a minute, look up The Carrington Event. It happened Sept. 1-2, 1859. It knocked out much of the telegraph system at the time. If that same event were to happen today, it would severely damage our power grid, causing massive blackouts and frying many electronic devices. Many people don’t know this, but in 2012 a solar flare equal to the Carrington Event missed the Earth by nine days.

Once you’ve identified potential threats, make a plan with your family for each one. You need to ask yourself some important questions when planning, like is it better to shelter in place or leave your home and head to a different location? Regardless of where you live, you should have some supplies set aside in case of an emergency like a fully stocked first aid kit and a decent supply of water. The 5-gallon plastic jugs of water will last a long time because they’re sealed. Be sure to have some shelf-stable food set aside. You can buy canned food, or you can learn how to can and preserve your food. These are skills we’ll be sharing as Anchored Outdoors continues to grow. How much to set aside depends on how many people are in your home. It would be best to have at least two weeks’ worth of food and water for each person. If the power goes out, eat all of your perishable food first before digging into your shelf-stable foods.

Think about additional items you need to shelter in place without power and water. You should have some method to cook food like a small gas stove and fuel. Have candles or lanterns for nighttime, and headlamps, flashlights and extra batteries. You should also have a battery-powered emergency band radio. I like ones made by Eton as they have a hand crank you can use to charge them. That way, you can stay up to date on whatever situation may be unfolding around you. Don’t rely on cell phones alone. In an emergency, the network will be so strained it may be impossible to make calls or access the internet. 

Depending on the situation, leaving your home in a populated area may be the best choice. You should sit down with your family and plan several routes out of your area, ideally one route for each cardinal direction. Rendezvous points should be established along each route in case you get separated from family members or in case a family member isn’t home when it’s “go-time.” 

Your first inclination may be to use your vehicle. Depending on the situation, this might not be the best choice. Remember what it’s like when you’re stuck in traffic? Now imagine every person in your city trying to get out at once. There will be accidents, vehicles breaking down and those running out of gas, which will all cause bad traffic jams. If you plan to take a vehicle, carry enough extra fuel to completely refill your tank. Also, carry a tool kit suited to your level of experience with repairing vehicles. It’s a good idea to have a tire repair kit and portable air compressor to refill tires should the need arise. 

But sometimes the best choice is to leave on foot. No matter which method of evacuation you choose, every member of your household should have a “go-bag.” What you have in the go-bag depends on many factors. Everything in the bag increases its weight, so you don’t want to carry anything extra. If you’re forced from your home, you don’t want to spend excess time gathering things and packing. The go-bag needs to be ready to go. Other than the essentials, I mention below, and important paperwork (birth certificates, passports, social security cards), leave everything non-essential, no matter how hard that may be. Ask yourself what’s more important, your wedding photos or your life? Only things that are an absolute necessity should be taken. 

These days the idea of “prepping” is trendy, you can visit any number of websites and buy pre-packaged kits. Some of the pre-made go-bags are great, while some are filled with items you’ll probably never use. Every member of your household should have a go-bag packed with items fitting to their age and experience. For example, for small children I recommend, they carry a few changes of clothes, some kid-friendly foods, a full water bottle and their favorite toy. 

If you choose a pre-made or DIY version, here’s what to include in your to-go bag: 

  • A change of weather-appropriate clothing and extra socks 
  • Knife 
  • Multitool 
  • First-aid kit
  • Walkie-talkie for each family member and extra batteries (I’ve tried many brands in my life and found that the BaoFeng BF-88a are the best, their range is incredible and you can’t beat the price)
  • Shelf-stable food 
  • Full stainless steel water bottle 
  • BIC lighters
  • Water purification system 
  • Lightweight sleeping bag and pad 
  • Soap
  • Gloves
  • Small sewing kit
  • 50′ of 550 para-cord 
  • Survival blanket
  • Lightweight camping tarp (tents are also an option but can add weight)
  • Hand-warmer packets (can be put in a sleeping bag for extra warmth)
  • Small fishing kit including hooks, split shot, small spoons or jigs, and mono fishing line

This part is hard to talk about because we always want to think the best of our fellow humans. During an event that causes a mass evacuation from an urban or suburban area, there will be people seeking to prey on others. To prevent this from happening to you, it’s best to “blend in” as much as possible. If you’re on foot, leaving your home dressed in the latest tactical gear and wearing a high-end backpack will make you a target. The best thing you can do is use some camouflage of sorts, but I don’t mean camo like you use for hunting. You should be wearing plain, simple clothing. The key is not to stand out. 

Every place/situation has a baseline. No matter if I am in nature or the city, I want to make sure that my movement or activity does not go above that baseline. For more on this topic, I suggest you check out my article on concentric rings. In situations where you’re in a large group of people, you need to have your awareness cranked up to maximum level. Keep your head on a swivel and always be looking around. Understand that in the blink of an eye, a group of people can go from being calm to utter chaos. I suggest avoiding being in the middle of a large group. Stick to the edges. Pay close attention to the ebb and flow of what’s going on around you. Always have an exit strategy.

I have purposely chosen not to address firearms in this article for several reasons. The only thing I will mention on the subject is that proper training is of the utmost importance if you do have guns. PLEASE spend the time and money getting training from a qualified instructor. Nothing is more dangerous than a panicking, untrained human with a firearm.

We like to think that life will always be perfect, and nothing terrible will happen. Hopefully, it will be. It seems like as far as the current pandemic goes, we are close to having a vaccine and that by summertime, life may return to normal. If this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s how quickly things can change. If we take some time to plan and prepare physically and mentally, we will be that much better equipped to deal with whatever comes next. Having these conversations with your family and friends can be difficult, but trust me in saying that it is worth it. As they say, “Proper planning prevents poor performance.”

If you want to learn more about urban/suburban survival, I recommend my father’s book “Tom Brown’s Field Guide to City and Suburban Survival.”

In the meantime, stay healthy and happy, and be thankful that you are alive!