This guide has been a challenge for me because New York is a big city, somewhere I have never been nor lived. However, I have been asked about New York a lot so I have made an effort to put forth a basic guide. Does it have all the answers. No. That is impossible to do in just one post. What I have tried to do is discuss some facts about the city and some basics of preparedness. I have attempted to cover some of the specialized concerns that come with living densely, with many buildings reaching high into the air.
This guide will most definitely be something that is updated as I gain more knowledge and hopefully hear from more of you that live in The City or have in the past.
City survival can be challenging but I do not want this guide to be like all those that simply tell people to get out of the city or that they have zero chances of survival if SHTF. The truth is that it is not that simple.
It never is.
So with that let’s start trying to develop a guide to help New Yorkers and those in the suburbs of the city, become more aware of the possible challenges they may face in a disaster and learn how they can get started on a path to preparedness.
So I am going to start off with this piece of advice.
Don’t listen to the haters that constantly tell people in the city that they are doomed to die even if they prepare somewhat. It really gets me when people do that do those from the city because it is not helpful. People in the city seem to be well aware of their situation and want actual helpful advice not just told to move or die.
Plenty of people have survived in large cities when terrible things were occurring and they didn’t have much of a chance to prepare for anything. You do and that is what this is about. When I started writing this, it was well before the COVID-19 pandemic. I am going to start out with some basic city preparedness. If you are just interested in COVID-19 preparedness and info then you will need to skip ahead to that section of this article.
New York City Facts
Population Within City Limits: 8,623,000 as of 2017
Land Area: 302.6 sq miles
Population Density: 66,940 people per square mile
Areas of Concern
- High population density
- Home to many historical sites and museums that could be a target for terrorism or acts of war.
- Winter Storms Nor’Easter
- Black Outs
- Subways and Mass Transit Systems can be targets for trouble.
- Civil Unrest
- Gangs and underworld already in place to do business in a post SHTF world
- Strict laws regarding some weapons such as knives and firearms.
With many people living in apartments, storage space can be a problem. For those with limited space in their homes, I recommend having a supply of calorie-dense foods packaged as efficiently as possible. Freeze-dried foods are the most expensive but they take up little space.
Someone that lives in an apartment may want to consider having a month’s worth of freeze-dried food on hand for a longer event. A storage tote or two of foods that are calorie-dense and not freeze-dried is a good idea too. This could offer a few months of comfort which is far better than the 3 days the average American has on hand to feed themselves.
It may be challenging to cook so you will want some foods to be very simple to prepare. Items that you can just heat and eat or eat cold are good choices for at least some of your food stash.
For short term cooking needs, a fuel tablet stove or Sterno fuel can be used to warm foods or boil some freeze-dried entrees. Letting dried food soak for a few minutes can help reduce cooking time with some freeze-dried foods.
Food smells can draw attention to you and your family, especially if others are starting to run low. This is another reason to keep the cooking to a minimum during a real SHTF.
Know The Challenges Of Your Neighborhood
It is easy to get caught up in your own world nowadays. It pays to keep up a bit with the current news and events in your neighborhood. This helps you stay safer.
- Traveling so that you can avoid streets. Selco talks about traveling through the upper stories of buildings during the Balkan War. Streets make you prone to snipers during bad times.
- Plan your routes out ahead of time and have an alternative already in mind just in case.
- Practice good situational awareness.
- Always carry something that can be used as a weapon. We have several posts at Backdoor Survival that can help you find options or you could make your own if you had to during a real SHTF situation.
- Think about how to make what you need. Scavenging is common in distressed cities. At what point this happens depends on a lot of factors. Check out my article on Scavenging for more thoughts and ideas.
New York is a real melting pot. During hard times, differences can seem more serious and people get really suspicious of one another when competition for resources becomes a concern.
People make alliances all the time but during hard times, alliances can lead to people grouping together and not associating as much with people outside their group. A group may form based on anything from simply living in the same neighborhood to sharing the same faith or values. It could be anything.
Gangs and Underground Crime: Enter the already in place charismatic leaders.
Those that already have criminal networks and contacts will do a good business because they are prepared to be already. Sure there may be some lower-level types that gain some power, but generally speaking, the folks that are going to run underground operations and lead neighborhoods are those that are already doing so. The difference during a long emergency is that it is easier for many to get away with more and business can be done more openly.
Bartering and buying goods is where regular people will be interacting with criminal elements. I wrote an article on the “Pitfalls of Bartering” I think anyone that is considering doing business in an underground economy should read.
Securing or Barricading Your Apartment or House
The methods for barricading and securing your apartment and home may be the same in some ways. Here are some things you can do to help with security.
- Install a bolt lock
- Add a chain lock or replace the one you have with an upgraded one.
- Consider door barricade systems. Here is a link to an article that has some options for everyone even if you rent.
- Install alarms on windows and entry points. You can buy these inexpensively on Amazon and they work with batteries so you have protection even if the power is out.
- Have flashlights available in several locations that are known to everyone in the household.
- Consider placing weapons in somewhat hidden spaces near entry points. A baseball bat will do.
You can buy inexpensive film that can help protect you from glass shards and make it a lot harder for someone to break through a window into your home. The thickest film has the highest cost but you get better protection. Also if your windows get blown out for any reason, you won’t have dangerous shards of glass. For a detailed article on window film and links to products, check out this link,
I have mixed feelings about bars over windows. First of all it makes it seem like you are locked up or something and also it draws attention. Someone may think that the neighborhood is crime-ridden or it may look like you have something that you are worried about protecting. If your neighbors have them that is one thing, if you are the only one though and it is not for a business, then it may look weird.
The cost of bars and grills can be quite expensive especially if you have to hire someone to do if for you.
Indian Point Energy Center
Located just 36 miles north of midtown Manhattan, the Indian Point Energy Center is a nuclear plant that produces 2,000 megawatts of power. This is definitely close enough to cause a real problem if there is ever any radiation leaks or meltdowns. Like so many reactors in the United States, it is located close to a body of water, making it susceptible to flooding and some of the same issues that contributed to the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011. Old nuclear fuel rod storage could be a problem if the power ever fails or backup power options run out.
One thing that is concerning is that the operating permits for Units 2 and 3 expired in 2013 and 2015. An extension was applied for that would allow the plant to operate the reactor units for an additional 20 years. Under pressure from environmental groups, the permits were not granted and technically the plant is supposed to shut down in 2021. We will see how that goes. Regardless, there will be radioactive waste to deal with and as of now, I do not know what the plan for that is. Most power plants just store all the spent fuel onsite.
Buildings For Shelter During Nuclear Incidents
I have been studying a lot on how to survive a nuclear incident and reduce levels of radiation that you are exposed to if you are in a fall out zone. People would do well to remember that subterranean parking areas and basements of large buildings provide good shielding. If you are in a concrete basement that is several floors below the surface you are in a pretty good bunker that can protect you from a lot of the fallout. Remember that fallout is a particulate and that is the main thing you want to avoid after any blasts or burning occurs.
Underground is also a good place to take cover from a variety of explosive and incendiary devices. Even in the case of the World Trade Center, people survived that were at the bottom of the building despite the ridiculous amount of building above them.
While the subway system is prone to terrorist attacks, in some cases it could serve as a bunker or place of refuge. You may even want to know the tunnel system a bit because you might be able to travel underground via the rails even when the trains themselves lack the ability to run temporarily or ever again. This is not without risks but it is possible in a real SHTF situation.
Know where water points are that others may not know about.
Water is very important and while you may be able to collect and filter water via the roof of your home or building, it is important to know where many water sources are. Points that are very well known and easy to access may expose you to other people that you do not want to associate with or it may be used by criminal elements to get the jump on people desperate for water or even controlled entirely by a gang.
Rethink your appearance and fashion choices.
Sometimes it is best to blend in a bit more. I like to wear fun makeup and clothes too sometimes and I have been known to have some weird hair colors but that doesn’t mean I would choose those options during a real SHTF situation or long emergency. Sure it may be a little easier to blend in if you live in a city with a large population base but that doesn’t mean that you should just dress however you want under some circumstances.
Consider how much attention a clothing or hair choice draws to you. Have some clothing that is common and in plain natural colors. White can stand out a lot so for an outer layer, gray or black can work well.
During a real SHTF even looking too clean or having on clothing that is not somewhat worse for the wear can make people wonder why you have it so good. This is not just something that applies to those in the city either.
Hurricanes and Storms
Preparing for hurricanes and storms is important in the city. During Hurricane Sandy, a lot of people had to evacuate their homes. Power was knocked out and massive flooding caused a lot of devastation. For many people, a big storm is one of the most likely things that they need to prepare for. Fortunately, a lot of the preparations for hurricanes and storms are the same for other emergencies. Here are the things you need to consider.
- Food and water for 7 days. You can get emergency food buckets that take up very little space and will keep for 20 years. This is a good option for those in apartments. A bucket or two is enough for a family.
- Medical Kit
- Water Filter
- Something for entertainment
- Backup power and extra batteries
- A plan in case you have to evacuate. An emergency credit card and/or some cash is recommended in case you need emergency housing or have other unforeseen expenses.
A 72-hour kit is what some people prefer for emergencies like hurricanes and storms. I think that it is a good start and that it does buy you some time to get to a better location. Also, it is important to remember that not every power outage or storm is going to last as long as a really bad one like Sandy. A 72-hour kit is also a good base to build off of. You can always add more preparedness supplies if needed.
I put together a 72-hour kit a while back that you might want to take a look at. It is a lot less expensive to put together your own than buy a pre-made kit.
Consider putting together your own MREs (Meals Ready To Eat)
A lot of people have heard of MREs. These are the rations packs that are used by the military. There are also some manufacturers that make their own version of MREs and they are not always that good of a deal.
If you have dietary restrictions, buying commercially produced MREs is not really realistic because they are full of salt, dairy, and wheat.
Making your own MREs is possible. I wrote an article with different menus and calorie counts that you can use for guidance. Here is the link. A lot of my menu options are gluten-free and some are even dairy-free as well.
The COVID-19 Pandemic
When I first started researching for this article, COVID-19 had not reached the USA. In fact, it wasn’t even a problem in China yet. This section is going to be a little different now that New York City and the surrounding area has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in America.
From what people have told me, grocery stores, bodegas, and pharmacies are all mostly open in NYC. Of course, some of the food insecurity that some may be facing is due to the fact that a lot of people are out of work. The incomes of those working in businesses that are deemed non-essential.
Hopefully, New Yorkers are keeping extra food in their homes. Even just making sure that you are a week ahead on groceries means a lot.
Reduce trips to stores when at all possible. Make a list of what you will need over the course of a week. Consider what you will substitute if stores are out of some items.
Plan your route at the market to avoid running around the store too much.
Even at our small-town grocery store, I have found it useful to categorize my shopping list and plan out the route so that I am not running back and forth across the store. I am not going to say that never happens but it definitely reduces how much extra running around and time spent at the store. Now is not the time to be browsing. Get what you need and get out as fast as possible.
Even if you have not been wearing a mask on every trip out, I think that at this point you should always have one on when on the street or running essential errands. There are many mask options available besides disposable N-95s. My article on mask options explains what is available at the moment and various factors you need to consider.
Remember that kids will need their own size of mask. Adult masks do not fit children well. A mask must be sized and worn correctly. There are patterns online to sew masks suitable for kids.
Elderly and those with elevated health-related risk factors should stay at home as much as possible.
If your household has older people or members with compromised immune systems, you need to be especially careful. Younger household members wearing a mask should be the one to run essential errands and other necessary things where exposure risk is higher.
Elderly people and those that are in high-risk groups should use delivery services when at all possible. Packages and groceries should be cleaned while wearing gloves to further reduce the risk of virus exposure.
If you help out older people that live independently there are still a lot of helpful things you can do while distancing yourself from them. Dropping off groceries or medications for them, chatting with them on the phone or via video chat, and helping out with online ordering if they have trouble with that type of thing.
I have noticed that while products are available online, you often have to substitute or look around a little more intensely. This is something you can do to help the high risk find what they need.
If you are thinking of fleeing the city to ride out the pandemic somewhere else, there are some things to consider before making such a drastic choice.
First of all, I can’t say I blame you for wanting to get out. The situation in NYC is heartbreaking and scary to say the least. Many states and county governments have passed measures to prevent people from fleeing to other areas to ride out the pandemic. This means that if you do flee, you might not be able to find anywhere to stay. A lot of people reading this already know that. There are exceptions to the rules of course. In our area of North Carolina, for example, you can go straight to a home you own even if it is not listed as your primary residence.
The hard thing is that you are supposed to quarantine at your home for 14 days without going to any grocery stores or pharmacies. That means that you legally speaking you have to bring everything with you or have it delivered. The local sheriff has been enforcing this rule. There are plenty of reports of deputies or the sheriff himself visiting homes and telling people the rules. Some claim they did not know. If that is the case then it might have been quite a shock to have law enforcement show up and be told that they cannot even go out for essentials.
There was one incident in town nearby where the police were called at an Ingles grocery store when a lady from NYC was trying to buy $4,000 worth of groceries. When interviewed it was revealed that she was buying that much because all 10 of her closest family members from NYC had fled the city and they were all going to spend a month at home. Legally she wasn’t even supposed to be in the store.
My point is that these rules, however you feel about them, are being enforced and they could cause you a lot of trouble if you leave the city.
If you do choose to leave, plan well and respect the rules of where you are going. Double-check what is allowed and what is not. Please quarantine yourself entirely when you arrive in a new area. It is the responsible thing to do and it is best for your own safety as well.
I do not condone the hostility that is occurring but the fact is that if you arrive in an area from an epicenter, there is a heightened risk that someone is going to be hostile with you and your family. People are scared, tired, and overall, the mental health of the nation is stretched thin. You need to be aware of the risks.
Exercise and Fresh Air
One of the challenges of being told to stay at home when you live in an apartment or other dense living area is not being able to get exercise and enjoy the outdoors. Physical activity and fitness are important. While leaving your building might not be possible, you can still do some exercises at home. As I have stated in other articles, you can even work out while video chatting with a friend and they can exercise with you. Having a buddy that you regularly exercise has numerous benefits. Talking to someone, having a routine, and encouraging one another
If you have a balcony then that can be a nice way to get some fresh air with lower exposure risk. I am not going to say that there is no risk because COVID-19 is so contagious. For example, if you are out on your balcony and your neighbor that is positive for COVID-19 is out on theirs, it could be possible to get exposed. There are some studies that say that droplets can stay in the air for quite some time and that they travel much further than the 6 feet people deem to sufficient for social distancing.
Give up on the idea that people are going to be respectful of social distancing.
I have read too many reports from people stating that even though rules are in place, people are not taking social distancing seriously. At least in some cases, I think it is just because it is very hard to change behaviors. Reaching to get something at the grocery store while being right next to someone was not an offensive behavior until recently.
There are also some that actively rebel against the idea that COVID-19 is extremely serious. Some even feel that it is best to get it and get it over with. The result is that if you go out, you need to wear protective masks and gloves. Assume that people are going to be rude and cough on you. Better to plan for bad behavior and it not happen than to find yourself exposed due to rude carelessness.
Substance Abuse and Pandemics
The consumption of legal and illicit intoxicants goes up during disasters. Beer and liquor stores have seen a big jump in business throughout the country. While some people can drink a bit here and there, others don’t tolerate alcohol so well or they don’t stop when they should.
While I don’t think that beer and liquor stores should be closed down entirely during a pandemic, there is some truth to domestic violence going up. Of course, drugs and alcohol can add to the problem, especially when combined with high levels of stress and fear.
While groups are not meeting in person. There are online support networks and phone centers that can help you or a loved one that are having problems.
Another factor that can affect the safety of people is the dire financial circumstances that many have found themselves in due to the pandemic combined with an addiction to illicit drugs. As I mentioned in my previous article on the “Potential Economic and Societal Consequences of COVID-19”, plenty of illicit drugs and the ingredients to make them come through the port system.
Basic laws of supply and demand mean that the availability and cost of illicit substances have gone up. When this happens and people have less money, you get a situation where people are desperate and possibly in the states of withdrawal. That combined with the stress load of the uncertain times we are living in creates a greater level of danger for everyone.
It is very important to be situationally aware and consider how to defend yourself when out in public and when quarantined at your home. Be aware that the threat level is higher than it once was.
Mental Health and Staying Entertained
Being stuck in one place can be very hard. For some people, it is harder than others. It is important to have something to take your mind off the tough situation that could be going on for quite a bit longer.
Hobbies are a good thing. Maybe you have always wanted to write but never had the time. Now could be a good time to immerse yourself in creating another world for at least a little while each day.
E-books, video games, crafts, and things of that nature can be helpful. It can be very hard to tear away from the news. I have a hard time not looking at updates on the ongoing COVID-19 crisis but I know that it is not a healthy thing to do too much. There is a line between staying informed and obsessing over matters that you cannot change.
Some things that you might enjoy could help your budget too. Now is a good time to learn how to make useful things like bread or learn to sew.
Take time to check in on friends and family via video chat or phone. While you may have to distance yourself physically, you can avoid some emotional distancing if you make the effort. I have seen a lot of people commenting online about how kids are being forced to stay away from grandparents. That is really hard. Take the time to talk on the phone or if the grandparent knows how to use a computer or cell phone, video chat can be a great option.
Just because statistics indicate the really young don’t suffer from COVID-19 as much as older people, doesn’t mean that social distancing shouldn’t happen.
NYC police have been trying to enforce the social distancing rules but some have been totally ignoring them, especially younger people that don’t want to be trapped in an apartment. Parents need to encourage social distancing and emphasize that COVID-19 can be spread even if someone never has any major symptoms.
It is not just youth that is ignoring social distancing. Numerous videos an photos throughout the internet prove that people are going to parks to exercise or even jog in groups despite the fines and enforcement measures that are being taken.
Traveling Within The City
People are being advised to avoid mass transit but that doesn’t mean everyone is complying or even able to. If at all possible, don’t use mass transit. There are definitely schedule changes and disruptions occurring so it is best to check before traveling on mass transit if you must use it. Here is a link to the MTA website that has current information on mass transit throughout the city.
While cabs are still running, a lot of people are choosing not to use them. It is a terrible situation that cab owners and drivers are in but from a health perspective, it is easy to see why people are concerned. There is an argument to be made that due to fewer people traveling around the city and the fact that cabs cost more money, they are a better option than a subway or bus.
It really depends on the number of people using mass transit at any given time and if they are trying to practice social distancing as much as possible within a subway car or bus. I would under no circumstances use any shared transit method without wearing a mask, gloves, and some type of protective eyewear.
New York City is a challenging environment during an emergency. The horror of COVID-19 has lead to the illness and death of a lot of great people. There is a long way to go but New Yorkers will prevail. While the time for some preparedness has come and gone, it is important to remember that there are always things you can do.
There are many people that are not citizens of NYC that are dedicating time to helping out when they can. Some medical workers and volunteers have headed to the city for example.
I have never spent time in the city myself but when I started working at Backdoor Survival, the people that hired me were living in Brooklyn or nearby in New Jersey, a short commute into the city. Some of the team that helps out with Backdoor Survival are still in the area. They are always encouraging, kind, and open to new ideas.
There are a lot of stereotypes about those from New York. I live in North Carolina. I know all about what people say when they want to be mean. I also know there is a lot of things that New Yorkers could say about me. They could judge, make fun, etc. But you know what? Not one ever has. I have always been treated with respect and kindness.
I was recently interviewed in Popular Mechanics and my Facebook buddy Jason Charles was at the same time. Some of you may have read other articles with Jason in them. He is an organizer and leader of The New York Preppers and a firefighter as well as one of the most down to earth and honest people I have talked to on social media. He says what he thinks instead of saying what he thinks people want to hear. I admire that a lot.
I have no patience for the ignorant stereotypes people have in their heads about NYC people despite never having spent time with anyone from there.
New Yorkers are tough.
New Yorkers are survivors.
They will get through this and continue on to great things.