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Urban Survival Tips for Dealing with People, Power, and Priorities

Avatar for James Walton James Walton  |  Updated: April 7, 2022
Urban Survival Tips for Dealing with People, Power, and Priorities

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Born and raised outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania I have spent the majority of my life living in densely populated urban or suburban areas. When I say densely populated, let me quantify that for you.

The county that I grew up in has over 500,000 people living in it. The COUNTY! That is one county in southeastern Pennsylvania. Lots of people in close quarters.

Lots of problems in an SHTF situation.

Because the type of disasters and their effects are varied, your urban survival response will also be varied.

Of course, the argument that you shouldn’t live in these areas, to begin with, has validity. However, some people like it. Does that count for anything? Have generations of our people died in combat so that we might exist in fear?

Some people love the city life or suburban life and being that this is a free country we should all understand and allow for that. Because they wish to live around lots of other people does not make their dreams and hopes less important than someone who lives in the rolling rural hills.

That said, I still understand the popularized argument of COOHMP or come out of her my people lest you share in her sins and partake of her plagues. Also, Revelation 18:4

This train of thinking was popularized by Pastor Joe Fox of Viking Preparedness who lives in the Ozarks with a growing community of preppers.

The Realities of the Urban and Suburban Bugout

While it might seem like your first line of defense is to bugout of these areas, you should consider where you are going and if that’s a viable option.

There is deep poverty in American cities and for some bugging out is not going to be an option. The bugout is not something to take lightly and there are many working parts and pieces.

Some may argue that bugging out is harder and requires more thought than urban survival. Of course, the level of threats in both situations are factors to consider.

If you have ever seen the vagrants in the streets and the crime in the alleys you know that densely populated areas are just a few days from chaos.

If you cannot execute a quick and well-planned bugout to a location that is, or can be made, secure you might look to focus on other means and methods.

Things like through police scanners and local news can give you more time to react.

Martial Law is Not Going to Happen in Most Cities

When you hear the words “Martial Law” you might be the type of person that begins to quiver a bit.

Let’s talk about some real-life experiences with Martial Law.

Sometime in the 1970s Wilmington, Delaware was hit by a hurricane that caused pretty serious localized flooding. Based on my research it must have been Hurricane Agnes.

A close friend relayed a story from his father about this storm. You see Mike was concerned about WROL and Martial Law at the time and his Dad did his best to quell his fears by telling him about the extent of Martial Law during that historic flooding.

“My Dad said the National Guard posted a man at the end of each street and they put a curfew in place. That was about the full extent.”

Of course, this wasn’t a total collapse of civility but it was the response to a serious disaster.

What you need to remember is that Martial Law is a numbers game. The big cities will get most of the support and smaller cities will have very few resources to work with.

There is simply not a body of trained soldiers large enough to enforce martial law over all the cities in the nation.

Editor’s Note: A large portion of our nation’s soldiers are positioned overseas at any given time.SB

Unless you are reading this from a loft in one of America’s biggest cities you will see very minimal presence if any at all. If you live in rural areas, it’s likely you will become the law. You will likely be an extension of your sheriff and police.

Urban Survival Tips and Survival Skills

Let’s look at some of the top urban survival tips for dealing with threats, getting out of dodge and keeping the power on.


Unlike rural preparedness, those who live in urban and suburban environments should focus on access.

By access, I mean the ability to get in and out of places. In an urban or suburban environment you are not going to be crossing fields but streets and attempting to move around large buildings.

You could even find yourself trapped in one of these buildings during a disaster.

How about the subway?

Can you get out of a subway car if you have to?

There are tools and keys that can be purchased online and give you the ability to escape elevators and subway cars. An urban prepper should have these types of tools and keys on hand.

Access is a tricky skill and prep because you often feel like you are preparing to commit a crime. Let’s look at some great items to have in an access driven loadout.

  • Prybar
  • Bolt Cutters
  • Lock Picks
  • Fireman’s Keys
  • 11 in 1 universals keys and marine tool

In your exodus from these densely populated areas, you will want to get through buildings, fences and any other barricades quickly. These tools will help you with this.


You will be surrounded by people and not all of them will be good guys. In a disaster, there are always nasty people who emerge. They often loot and burn but some go as far as raping and murdering.

Its a harsh reality but a reality it is.

What do you know about escape and evasion?

When I was in high school I quickly realized that evasion skills were going to be the way that I survived the next 4 years. I, like most high school kids, had people who enjoyed terrorizing me.

By altering routes, understanding scheduling and timing I quickly started to put my own evasion tactics into play. Looking back it was pretty silly but it was evasion nonetheless.

In an urban evacuation or bugout, you are going to want to understand the basics of blending in, evading crowds and getting to your location without running into problems.


Whether you are going to leave your location or stick around, you consider fuel storage. Fuel is not renewable so having access to it at the onset and then having an idea of where to get more will help.

One of the clearest memories of Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath was the lines at gas stations. Cars backed up for blocks and some people not getting there in time to refuel before the lines went dry.

Supply and demand is a very simple thing to understand. If the demand is greater than the supply someone is going to have to go without. Don’t be that person.

To store fuel you might look towards jerry cans. 20L, or just over 5 gallons, jerry cans can be a great solution for your fueling needs. Five or six of these is going to get you far away from the chaos.

Propane is another great fuel source to consider. You can heat your home with a propane tank. It’s safe and works really well! Propane is great cooking fuel, too!

Look to airports, in the worst-case scenarios, for more fuel when things get dire! During a real SHTF situation, you may have to do things a lot differently.

Avoid Conflict

No one escapes violent conflict unscathed. That is the first thing to understand when you are considering conflict in urban survival. We are not talking about standing up to your spouse about doing the dishes.

You can keep your distance and look ahead to know where or when the conflict is coming. Of course, some violent conflict is unavoidable. You will be very happy if you took those self-defense classes or carry a weapon in instances like these.

Most of the time you can avoid conflict by distancing yourself from it. You know when you see it. It might be a group or a person who is already heckling people ahead of you.

Get just far enough away from them so that it is too much work to engage you.

Of course, you could round the corner and find yourself facing trouble. In my experience, the best move here is to keep an eye on them but keep quiet and keep moving. When your legs are going and the bad guy is standing still, the likelihood that they pursue decreases with each step.

Don’t turn your back to them but keep on moving away.

Ask for Help

The power of reverse psychology.

When I worked in Philadelphia, as a line cook, I would head home around 12 am. Spilling out onto Walnut I would find the bums waiting for me. They were never in their best form at this hour.

In order to weather the storm, I started asking them for subway tokens before they could ask me for money. I was a young kid and they didn’t know what to make of it.

Many became visually angry with me! However, it shut down their requests almost every time.

In urban survival, there will be people who need help. Some will need physical help and others will be looking for resources. There will be bad people that will also be looking to take advantage of those who have more.

Once they find out you have food and water they will rob you. It is a very old trick.

Ask them for food or water long before the words can leave their lips. It will stop them in their tracks and shatter their plans. Worst case scenario, they actually help you!

Covert Backup Power

Your cellphone and your other devices are so tremendous. While many people talk about the trouble that cell phones create in our society, they are undeniable survival tools.

You have nothing as powerful on your EDC as a cell phone. You have GPS, communications, knowledge, recording, pictures, light and lots more!

Powering these devices is so important. You shouldn’t put all your chips on your iPhone but you most certainly should be able to power it with some form of covert backup power.

Something as small as a fold-out array of solar panels to a full-scale solar generator will help. A loud gas generator is a beacon in urban survival. So, look for covert backup power sources to depend on.


By far the most important part of urban survival is community. If you plan on staying in the city or development you live in, you need numbers. Its all about numbers.

You cannot conduct any kind of security without numbers. If there are riots in the streets you need a perimeter to alert and respond to violence directed at your community.

The community will also assure you that you have allies. For a long time preppers looked at their neighbors as the enemy. Bad idea.

Start in on neighbors now! There are many things that you can do in a community to start building those bonds.

At the very least I would sign up for Nextdoor. This is a community social media app that allows you to keep in touch, plan events and even prepare for bad weather. Give it a try.

If things go bad you are going to need some people in any urban environment.

Get Out or Get Ready!

There is no easy road in terms of urban survival. When you add hundreds of thousands or even millions of desperate people to the equation, things get dangerous.

Despite all the tips you have to make a clear decision before the disaster strikes.

Are you getting out or are you getting ready?

If you are reading this in the tiny loft of a major US city, you need to get out. Weathering a serious disaster amidst a million or more people is way too risky. If your preps go up in flames with the rest of your condo, its a lose/lose situation.

Living in a smaller city gives you some options but I wouldn’t recommend giving up plans to bugout or make a hasty retreat. If you have community and numbers on your side, that will make a huge difference.

Above all, I think you should live where and how you want to live. Live honestly and prepare. If you like city life, live in the city! If you like the country, do that!

Just spend some time on disaster preparedness and be ready to act if the time ever comes.

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6 Responses to “Urban Survival Tips for Dealing with People, Power, and Priorities”

  1. Someone’s mixed up about Wilmington and martial law. It wasn’t a hurricane and it wasn’t in the 70s, although almost. It was in response to rioting which happened after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., it started in 1968 and continued through part of 1969. It lasted for nine months in all. There are many Delaware-eans who remember it very well (not me, I didn’t live there then, nor do I live in Delaware now, but I used to). Here’s a story from the Philly Inquirer about the martial law:

    Wikipedia mentions it briefly in its article on Wilmington.

  2. When I first got into preparedness I lived in a city & had a prepping friend that was desperate to move to the country “where it’s safe.” But I never bought that idea. No matter where you live, there will be risks and threats no matter how well prepared you are. Rural folks are far more like to know how to use guns and knives but city folks are better at reading people and using street smarts. Rural folks are probably better skilled at hunting and gardening, but city folks know how to scavange garbage for supplies. Live where you want to live but know which skills you excel at and which you need to beef up. there’s lots of great tips in this post for city dwellers, especially if fleeing won’t be an option in a crisis.

    • Are you kidding? I’m not sure what urban people are good at, but it’s definitely not reading people and it isn’t scavenging.

      People throw away EVERYTHING in the city. When I moved to the city, getting anything from building supplies to small appliances was as easy as walking through a couple alleys.

      I can also tell you that suckering urban folks is stupid easy. Maybe it’s because face to face time is so rapid and fleeting.

      If it isn’t about fashion or public transit, I’m not sure I can think of a thing that I’d ask my city friends for advice on. 🙁

    • The only people that I’ve ever met who think they will be safe in a city in a REAL crisis or SHTF event hasn’t ever been through one in that scenario. WROL or any kind of event that breaks down communications, the electrical grid and transportation has a HUGE impact on urban areas that can be largely mitigated in rural ones. I lived in an urban area with 4 million people. I’ve been trapped in a town with no power, utilities, food, roving looters and no “effective” law enforcement for a week. It got BAD.

      Now I live in the country on a farm. I have my own sources of water, food and backup power. No one can come near my farm without commiting a crime, I have hidden perimeter alarms 1/4 mile away, if I see uninvited guests I know they’re up to no good. If something bad ever happens on a large scale I will be one of the last people affected and one of the most secure.


    • Look for caidu multifunctual marine tool key on amazon. It is used to open various commercial boxes, cabinets and water spickets.

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