When it boils down to it, and it’s just you, in the city or your own urban neighborhood and a disaster has struck, what are the things you need to survive in the urban environment?
A disaster is a very open-ended term, it could mean a whole variety of scenarios from a cyclone, flood, nuclear attack, plague, riots or even just a simple power outage which can cause a delay in food, fuel, and necessities resulting in a social stress. If we are looking at these types of real disaster situations, we need to think: what is survival? It’s not dying. That’s essentially it. So, what do we need to survive? Most humans, aside from those epic freaks of nature like freedivers, can survive for:
– Three minutes without air (oxygen)
– Three minutes of severe bleeding
– Three hours in extreme cold or extreme heat (shelter, which also includes security)
– Three days without drinkable water
– Three weeks without edible food
And while these points sound like something you would only hear of in a scout group or a survival course, they are highly attributable to urban deaths as well. That’s the cause and effect of survival’s harsh system, and if by chance you are in a scenario where your life could be in danger, start thinking about addressing these five factors, as they will keep you alive.
Five things you need to survive
So what are the five things you need to survive those killers mentioned above? Let’s break them down and take a look at each of the five things you need to survive in the in an urban disaster.
1. What you need to survive a lack of oxygen
For the rules of survival, a lot of the conversation is skipped when it comes to breathing. It’s generally assumed we will always have access to oxygen wherever we are on earth, but air is something that can also carry a lot of other hazardous materials such as chemicals from a weapon, radiation, sicknesses, and disease.
Something so simple as an immense fog can also carry high levels of toxicity as seen in heavily populated areas such as capital cities in China and India, as well as London and New York. Not only do these events occur after fires or freak weather incidents, but they can also occur from refineries, such as this video below from 2014 in Moscow where a leak from a sulfur dioxide processing facility at an oil refinery caused the city to be blanketed with a poisonous toxic sulfuric smog.
For people with respiratory problems, toxic smog blankets like this could cause dangerous reactions in the respiratory system leading to a lack of oxygen getting into the body. In advance of these types of events, simple face masks that act as a filter are sold in large quantities for people who need to leave the house to go to work, or to pick up food or other outdoor routines.
Having spent time in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, where polluted smog is a regular practice due to high traffic pollution, the simple answer is to carry multiple backups of anti-dust masks, but tests have shown these are not always as effective and are more a ‘last-case backup’. These simple masks are being used widely in Madagascar to slow the spread of the plague in the area.
For something a little more reliable, A MOHO dust mask has a much higher resistance to dust particles from entering through its filters and also catches pollen in cases of Thunderstorm Asthma.
For environments where you are exposed to radiation, disease or chemicals, an NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) proof mask is the safest method to do so. I have gone in depth on the type of NBC masks used by the military and first responders previously, but the safest and most reliable NBC mask is the Israeli & NATO SGE 400, which was made this year.
2. What you need to survive severe bleeding and infection
Severing a main artery in the body will cause most of us to lose consciousness in 30 seconds and death in about three minutes if you haven’t already applied pressure and restricted the bleeding.
So how easy is it to cut an artery? Take a look at the picture on the right of the body’s artery map. If you were to cut any of those, you have yourself a major problem. These arteries are the large blood vessels that carry newly pumped blood throughout the body. So if you can imagine how hard that blood is pumped, these are the fastest traveling highways in the body, so there’s going to be a rush of blood.
What you need to stop arterial bleeding is a lot of bandaging and pressure. In most cases, using lots of pressure with gauze to stop the blood from seeping is enough. For the specific gauze, a very innovative survival item is the QuikClot gauze, which is an advanced clotting gauze used by military and first responders. It does its job very well.
For difficult arterial bleeds where a large cut has been made, a tourniquet will cut off the circulation to the bleeding spot to slow down and stop the intensity of the bleed.Most first-aid kits will also stock a number of types of gauze, the only problem is that with a lot of the convenient-sized kits, the gauze is either too little or not able to handle major bleeds. Carrying a survival first-aid kit will, however, contain the right materials to disinfect and clear any wounds and deal with any after treatment of a large wound.
These kits are full of necessary items to assist with minor and serious wounds, however, the QuikClot gauze and the tourniquet are not included and for the purpose of stopping serious bleeds they are crucial.
3. The shelter you need for cold, heat and safety
When it comes to shelter, this is really broken down into three categories, the first two are temperate-related as they are the survival against the extreme cold (aka freezing to death), or the heat (sunstroke, dehydration). The second is more of a security and safety issue and has since become a large industry.
Think about it in terms of outdoor survival scenarios, shelter and warmth could stop you from freezing, shelter and shade could stop you from overheating and shelter and security could stop you from being attacked by wild animals.
Urban survival in varying temperatures
Now for urban survival, we are surrounded by shelter. Even homeless people manage to find sources of shelter in urban environments. The important thing is to know your own temperature regulation. If you are cold find somewhere where you can get warm. That’s pretty simple.
When it comes to hot environments just drink plenty of water and seek shade. For the cold however, there are numerous ways to source warmth from generators, indoors, fireplaces and in the car.
Emergency thermal blankets are tiny packed items that work against the cold and the heat. These are regularly used by first responders in situations where victims are in shock and might be shivering, and are also used post-sporting events to keep the body warm. Essentially they are an emergency item that insulates body heat encapsulating the warmth. Not only do these work as a blanket like in the picure on right, but they can also be stuffed under a jacket or sweater to provide extra insulation.
They also work in the heat by being used as a shelter roof against the sun (if you are not able to locate shelter).
Safety and security in urban areas
While there are generally no dangerous wild animals in urban areas (at least I haven’t seen any from recent urban disasters) I think security is an issue in some events and needs to be taken into consideration for things you need to survive any urban SHTF scenario or disaster.
In some countries, carrying a gun is not permitted, but if it was, as a method of defense I would carry a 9mm handgun like a Glock, a CZ 75, or a Heckler & Koch VP9. However, in most situations, using the military tactic of weaponizing everyday items to wield, throw and swing is also a method of survival of security, especially in areas where guns are less available.
It goes without saying that in a worst-case scenario where law has been thrown out the window and everyone is running around wild and looting houses, there is not going to be any firearms licenses being checked. In that case if you don’t have an AR-15 nearby then you’re probably not as well stocked as your neighbor who might casually have a war chest. If you are not able to possess guns in your country, another option might be a crossbow which is a silent and deadly weapon with a reusable ammunition. There are also non-lethal and much more affordable choices such as pepper spray or air rifles which are a great way to scare off any intruders as they look like a real gun and cause quite some pain. Two recommended air rifles are the Gamo Whisper Silent Cat or Crosman Pneumatic.
4. What you need to survive thirst and dehydration
In a developed western urban area, clean drinking water should always be abundant. However, in a disaster situation that was to cause a water flow stoppage, there may be problems that you need to address. Of course, the most reasonable way to address a secure source of water is to have a stockpile of it.
The average human consumes about two liters per day in drinking and sanitation, so there are some calculations to be made for how many people you have in your family and how long you might need it for.
For the urban survival scenario that we have listed our gear for, most of it is transportable and would easily fit in a backpack to carry out to an evacuation area or safe zone. In the case of water, you definitely cannot carry that much.
Depending on the situation you are involved in, any water source you come across should be filtered. There’s a number of ways to do this. For the best method of water filtration, the two biggest competitors in the market for survival water filters are the Sawyer Filter system and the LifeStraw. The Sawyer filter is my favorite just because it can screw onto any reusable or disposable bottle and can also screw onto a water bladder. If you were in the home and needed a way to filter water for the family, the essential option is the Big Berkey countertop filter which can hold 2.25 gallons and has a good filtration rate.
If you’re looking at this list thinking that most of this could fit in a small bag, that’s because you are right, it does. But why not keep a bottle of water in it as well? The water and the bottle are both going to come in use.
5. What you need to survive hunger and starvation
You cannot survive for longer than three weeks without food. That’s according to the survival rule, but to be honest, I find it hard enough to fast for 24 hours. To go for three weeks is unimaginable for me.
The lack of food can also mix with the other deadly survival rules such as the cold or the heat which can both make you weaker and without the right nutrients in your body your immune system will be low making you much more receptive to the temperatures and any possible sicknesses or illness. So food is definitely one of the things you need to survive.
Taking food is a tricky option, I pack very little food in my bag specifically because if I have to use it, it is either going to be to get home from wherever I am, survive in the home, or get out to an evacuation area or a safe place in another town or city. For that purpose, because I prefer to pack light I take two food items in my bag.
The first one is SOS Food Bars which are small bars packed with enough calories and nutrients to last you the whole day. Three of these come in a small pack and are a 72-hour food source with a five-year shelf life. I also pack jerky strips just because they were something I grew to enjoy in the military and are an easy-to-eat item while you’re on the move.
If you’re in the house and have more than one person it might be a better option to get a box of MREs which are essentially tasty military meals that can be eaten straight out of the packet or warmed up with the included flameless heaters. Each box has 12 meals as well as condiments and necessities like sugar, coffee, salt and pepper. These also have a long shelf life so are good to just sit stored away until they are needed. With the separately packaged meals, these can be divided between backpacks for in a quick-go situation.
After writing this post, I was sent a video by a friend on this kid who managed to not eat for 28 days. He said he wanted to do it as a part experiment as well as a way to lose weight. I would not recommend anyone doing this as it can have an adverse affect on your body’s organs. But here is the video: