This site contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a commission from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you. Full Disclosure Here.
One of the big prepper scenarios discussed over and over again is the concept of a horde of people coming out of the cities in the event of a long emergency.
There are many different ideas on exactly how this will play out.
I don’t think the number of refugees will make it to rural areas that some might think but even a small percentage is still a big problem
Within 3-6 days post SHTF, there will be water and food issues.
This is the point where bad water will start to be more of a factor. Food issues will start to occur in the city and in the suburbs. As people leave to go to the suburbs this will put an even bigger burden on any existing store stocks. The average grocery store has 3 days worth of stock.
1-2 weeks post SHTF
The lack of proper medical care and the inability to get medications or various substances will be most apparent. A week or two of poor hygiene can make someone more susceptible to health issues and infections.
The number one problem with the whole golden horde issue is that people are so badly prepared when it comes to water.
To you, it may be second nature to always have a water filter where you can get to it with ease. Although more and more people are realizing how important it is to have a way to filter water in an emergency, the fact is that most people do not have anything beyond maybe a Brita pitcher or a faucet filter and most don’t have that either.
There are some people that can get away with drinking different types of water more so than others. Those that have grew up on city water and municipal supplies are used to water that has been treated. Even some spring water and well water could make those people sick on some level. At the same time even if you are in a town and have your own well or have drunk from creeks or streams in the past, this is not something that you want to rely on for water during a SHTF situation.
Remember that water sources can get a lot dirtier and contaminated quickly when the sewage system and water services are not working. Those that are downstream from a large population center need to be very careful as well.
The further you are from the city the fewer people will make it to you. The other side of this is that those that do will be the toughest, luckiest, best trained, and most dangerous. There will also be those that were able to make it to a pre-planned bugout location either by themselves or with a group.
How close are you really to a larger population center?
Do you live on or very close to a main road that leads to or from a larger population center?
I would not want to be in the position of living on the main highway that will see a lot of traffic and trouble during a long emergency. People often choose the easiest path and the known ones at that. Sometimes there is not a lot of choice in routes without adding a lot of time to a trip or going through a lot of small areas. Regardless of how wise it is to take a main route, most people are just going to do it or at least take a route that is very close to the main one.
You may be surprised just how many people are within a 10-20 mile radius of where you live. Areas that look quite rural can actually have quite a few people.
Sometimes people are surprised that I live a mere 4 miles from the center of a town of just over 6,000 people. Even if you have been to my house, it feels a lot more remote. At least part of this is that I am on a dead-end road and the condition of that road is pretty awful. There are no businesses nearby either and the mountains make it seem more closed in then it really is. There are over 400 acres of empty land bordering one side of us too which is not common in many areas.
As you can see your position matters but it is not as simple as saying oh I am this far from a town.
Think about how hard it would be for someone to just drop by unannounced.
If it is easy during good times then it stands to reason that people will be able to get to you easily during bad as long as a vehicle is not a major requirement. You can have a paved road for two miles off the beaten path and that extra trouble may keep some people away.
A common misconception I run into is people assuming that some states are really rural. It is not that simple. This misconception occurs because people forget just how many people are crammed into the major cities in any state.
I live in a state with 100 counties and over 16 million people but my own county and even the one next to me that has our largest city only comes to 300,000 people roughly whereas Charlotte or Raleigh has millions of people in just a county or two. Before you move to another state consider this or you may be in for a surprise as to how dense you are really going to have to live to maintain a job.
As times get worse, the more you will have to hide what you have.
Sometimes people act as though an exodus from the city is going to be just a huge outpouring and immediate chaos. I suppose that is possible but it is also possible that things start more gradually. People may not be hungry, thirsty, or even that fearful at first. Over time that could change though and that means that you will have to either hide what you got and defend it or fall back to another safer position.
I could see communities coming together and defending what they got. For example, if times were bad, even if you had to share a little here and there (what are you going to do with all those trade items anyway?) it would be better to have your supplies and family with others so that everyone could come together to defend what was there. Even just combining households with another family that lives further from the main road then you could be a major advantage.
Ever notice that in tv shows that most of the time when city people venture forth into the outdoors, something dumb or scary happens?
There are a few shows we watch occasionally and they are pretty funny but it is hard not to notice the trend of uncomfortable things happening when people go camping on tv, foraging, etc.
This is not a recent trend either but I think it may be more the norm than it used to be. Even old sitcoms like Frasier have numerous examples of incidents outside the city.
Cartoons like Bob’s Burgers seem to never have a show where there is a very positive experience outside the city.
I am not sure if the reason for this trend in programming is producers purposely promoting fear or distaste of outdoors or if it is a reflection of true fears and aversions that many people in the city feel even if it may be a bit exaggerated for the screen. Regardless my point is that we have years of visual reinforcement via television telling those in urban areas that the rural areas are not going to be comfortable for them and may even be worthy of fear.
So how far out is safe?
There is no answer to how far out from the city is safe to be. There are simply too many factors at play. The further away the better would be easy to say but those living in rural areas will have all kinds of challenges to face as well.
I know that preparedness circles talk a lot about how people in cities are in a world of trouble if there is a major situation and in a lot of cases they are probably right however it is not a fair assessment to say that those in the country will not face enormous hardship and skirmishes over supplies and other issues when there is no law enforcement or civil services to help out.
Even just 5-10% of an urban population heading out of town is a problem.
Most people are either not going to make it out of the city because they don’t want to or they can’t. One must remember though that even 5% of a larger town or city’s metro area evacuating is a big deal. I will use my own area as an example. My county had 61,084 residents as of 2017. The adjoining county is home to Asheville and has a population of 257,607. If 10% of Buncombe County decided to leave and head this way, we would have 40% more people suddenly. That is a lot. Those that live in big cities may think wow you don’t have that many people around you but the fact is it is a matter of scale.
A 40% increase in people would be huge and hard to deal with. Topography matters a lot too. For example, there are only a few roads out of the main city of Asheville (pop 91,902). My home county has the highest average elevation of any county on the East coast so while a lot of it is uninhabited, there is a reason for that. The steepness, rough terrain, and amount of national forests and parks make it a spot where a lot of the population is concentrated in about half of the total land area.
I advise doing the math and thinking about this in your own area. For those of you that live outside of the Top 20 Cities in the USA by population, please see the chart below that I put together for you.
Top 20 USA Cities By Population
Population figures do not take into account the metro area. These numbers are those living within the official city limits. I rounded up by a single person when calculations resulted in decimal points.
|City||Total Pop In City Limits||5% of Pop||10% of Pop|
|New York, NY||8,601,186||430,060||860,119|
|Los Angeles, CA||4,057,841||202,893||405,785|
|San Antonio, TX||1,565,929||78,297||156,593|
|San Diego, CA||1,453,775||72,689||145,378|
|San Jose, CA||1,033,519||51,676||103,352|
|Fort Worth, TX||913,939||45,697||91,394|
|San Francisco, CA||897,536||44,877||89,754|
As you can see, even the idea of 5% of residents within the city limits of any major American city is a huge number of people. Now consider that there are a lot of people in cities just outside the city limits too. The number of people living within 10 miles outside of the city limits of any major city is often staggering, perhaps even as many as within the city itself.
New Orleans and Hurrican Katrina is a modern-day example of a mass exodus due to disaster. A lot of them never went back.
The population of New Orleans fell from 484,674 before Katrina (April 2000) to an estimated 230,172 after Katrina (July 2006) — a decrease of 254,502 people and a loss of over half of the city’s population.
It is also important to remember that there were far more people evacuated at the beginning of Katrina.
A key lesson here is that if a major disaster occurs, there is a high likelihood that a large percentage of the population will never return and those people have to go somewhere. Chances are it is going to be as close by as possible.
Those in rural areas are actually quite a bit more dependent on cities than they were in the past.
How many people in rural or suburban America actually grow a portion of their own food or have food stashed back? Farming isn’t just something you are immediately good at and it takes time to get a crop to feed anyone. with.
There are people in the United States that live far from cities that completely depend on them for a lot of their groceries and other supplies. If something happens in a city and the supply chain is disrupted, supplies will dwindle quickly.
Consider the warehouse on wheels model that Wal-Mart uses. Many people have seen how the shelves at Wal-Marts in some areas are often poorly stocked or totally out of some items. Over-regulation in the trucking industry and a shortage of drivers are a few of the causes.
Things simply cannot get to where they need to go in a timely manner when electronic logs only allow for a 14-hour workday even if half of that is spent sitting around waiting to be loaded. If you are getting paid by the mile, you don’t make much on days like that.
My point is that these disruptions in supply happen all too easily during good times. During hard times I bet a lot of trucks are parked and the supplies don’t make it too far outside the city or at all.
A family member that works at a west coast big-box store chain stated that they were often out of items and there was no space in the back for extra inventory. What a lot of customers do not realize is that when they ask a worker if they have more in the back, there is not much of a back. There may be some items that just came in but that is it. Things go out on the shelf fast and they sell fast too.
If you are in a rural area, you need to be aware of the circumstances you may face when the cord from the city is cut.
Major stores and grocery chains are choosing to close up shop in some areas where the population has dwindled too. Towns where people once had the option of going to a small grocery in town are finding that they now need to travel 20 miles or more to get to a real grocery store.
How much aid is available from any government or charitable sources will also have an influence on any exodus from the city.
In some cases, there may be supplies and resources offered that will help keep some from leaving the city or if some do leave, it is going to a FEMA Camp or similar. Taking the easiest way out is going to be tempting and in some people’s cases, the only option they have. Lack of transportation, resources, and physical ability will force some to get on the bus even if they have a bad feeling about it.
There is also the possibility that some aid in the beginning stages of a crisis will cause some people to stay that could have got out. This can lead to people finding that they cannot get out because they waited too long.
Have you thought about how many people are in your area? What have you done to prepare for the possibility of a lot of people evacuating?