The fantasy of an impending zombie apocalypse may inspire urban survival fantasies in the most level-headed of us, but zombie apocalypse or not, knowing how to survive the breakdown of social amenities we take for granted is a legitimate skill. Here’s a look at the basic urban survival skills you need to know, catered to your skill set.
Previously we took a look at the wilderness survival skills everyone should know, and a number of those skills apply here, but the daily and significant challenges in a city transform the types of skills needed and methods of survival.
To help get a good understanding of what’s needed for urban survival, I talked with Dr Arthur Bradley, author of The Handbook to Practical Disaster Preparedness for the Family and Disaster Preparedness for EMP Attacks and Solar Storms. He points to three types of survival skills people latch onto:
- The Stockpiler: someone with a wide assortment of supplies but very little knowledge of how to actually do anything.
- The MacGyver: someone who can jury rig anything with duct tape, a pencil and a pack of chewing gum.
- The Survivalist: someone who can find dinner in an old stump and keep warm using a roll of toilet paper and a rusty coffee can.
We’ll guide you along the path to applying each type of skill to the main factors of survival: shelter, water, food, and rescue. Before we go into the specifics for each survivalist, we’re going to look at the most important skill that applies to everyone: safety.
Safety Skills for Daily Life and Natural Disasters
We all face dangerous situations on a daily basis, and most of us live in an area where at least some type of natural disaster is possible. If you know how to react to situations then you get out of them safely, so let’s look at a few scenarios you may find yourself in at some point.
Stay Safe Every Day and Know What to Do in Common Perilous Situations
- What to do when someone breaks into your home: If you wake up to a burglar in your house, your first reaction is probably to hide under the bed as quickly as possible. That’s not the best approach. Instead, barricade your bedroom door, call the police and listen closely for the burglar. If they approach the door, get out of a window and leave if possible. If flight isn’t an option, grab some type of weapon from the room and attack if they try to enter.
- How to get out of a mob: When a mob reacts, it starts to stampede, and that’s when things get dangerous. Survivalist Bear Grylls offers these suggestions: Stay on your feet. If you fall, cover your head and move sideways toward the wall. Once you’re at the wall, stand up and make your way to the exit.
- How to know you’re being followed and what you should do: The easiest way to see if you’re being followed is to start making erratic movements. Cross the street a few times, take three or four left turns, or start walking faster. Just be careful not to lead your pursuer down an alley. If the person is still on your tail, duck into a safe building. If you’re in the city, this means a whatever business is open. If no business is available, go for a safe-looking house. This might mean a home with children’s toys outside, a pleasant-looking set of window shades, or a nice welcome mat. Call for the police as soon as you can. If you do have to run, throw as many objects as you can between you and your pursuer.
- Basic self-defence: If a chaser does catch up to you, basic is key. Chances are you’re not fighting a ninja, and as we’ve noted before one of the most important facets to staying alive in an assault is knowing where to hit. Go for the head, ears, groin or knees when you can. Most importantly, don’t stick around when you knock them down. Get out as soon as possible.
While the above dangers are certainly terrible, they don’t hold a candle to what mother nature can throw at you.
Stay Safe During a Natural Disaster
- Earthquakes — Drop, Cover, Hold On: This one is pretty simple. If you feel an earthquake, hit the ground, get under cover of some type and hold onto anything you can. This prevents the risk of objects falling on your head.
- Floods: Floods are pretty simple: tune into the radio and do exactly what you’re told. Depending on where you live, you’ll be ordered to evacuate or not. If you can’t leave, get to the highest point you can as quickly as possible.
- Fires — Stop, Drop and Roll: We all know “Stop, Drop and Roll” works when you’re on fire, but it’s also important to know how to escape a building that’s on fire. If you’re in a fire, hit the floor and cover your face with a damp cloth. Make your way to the closest exit, but remember you can’t touch the handle of the door. We’ve mentioned how to break down a door before, and it’s pretty easy. If the door swings outward, kick it near the handle because it’s the weakest point. If it opens inward, you can’t kick it down, but if you can find a hammer, you can knock out the pins on the hinges to take the door off.
- Tornadoes and Hurricanes: If you can, go to a tornado or hurricane shelter in your neighbourhood. If that’s not a possibility, head to a low-level room without windows and cover yourself with something heavy. A mattress works best, but if one isn’t available, get under blankets. If you’re out in the open, move to the lowest point and lay down.
Knowing what to do in case of disasters is just the first step. The four keys to survival: shelter, food, water and rescue are important to all of us regardless of what situation causes us to lose them. Three types of people exist in these situations, so we’ll break down the types of skill needed dependent on the type of person you see yourself as.
Find Shelter To Keep Yourself Warm
Not having shelter is a dangerous situation. Thankfully, a city provides a lot of ways to get shelter no matter what happens. Let’s take a look at what you need for shelter in the city and how you can make the most out of what you can find.
For the Stockpiler: Hunker Down at Home with Stored Necessities
- Several warm blankets or sleeping bags for each person.
- Change of clothes for several different climates.
- Disposable heat packs for warmth.
For the MacGyver: How to Pick a Lock and Get Into a Home or Building
shown you a few other ways to pick lock beforepick a padlock with a soft drink canfrom a windshield wiper
For the Survivalist: Cannibalise a Car for Shelter
Those who treat a vehicle as a resource that can be cannibalised (such as burning fuel, oil, and tires, using carpet/upholstery as makeshift blankets or clothing, using headlamp reflectors to start a fire or signal for help, sticking floor mats under the wheels of a stuck vehicle) tend to live much longer than those who only see it as a shelter.
A car can provide you with shelter, warmth and supplies. They’re also easier to get into than buildings if you’re looking for quick and safe shelter in an emergency.
Find Clean Drinking Water in the City
Once you have shelter it’s time to hunt down water. Like wilderness scenarios, you have to make sure water is purified, but it’s easy to do in the city, even if your tap isn’t dispensing water. Here’s how to do it.
For the Stockpiler: Keep 27 Litres of Water Available
Photo by Abdulla Al Muhairi
For the MacGyver: Purify Bad Water with Bleach
purify water by adding one-eigth of a teaspoon of non-scented bleach to a gallon of clear water
Find Edible Food in the City
Finding food in the city isn’t as difficult as it is in the wilderness, but making sure it’s edible is a bit trickier than you’d think. Here’s how to get food in your stomach in a variety of a situations.
For the Stockpiler: Keep at Least Seven Days Worth of Food On Hand
- Ready to eat canned meats, fruits and vegetables
- Dry cereal
- Peanut Butter
- Salt-free crackers
- Canned juices
The key is to store foods that will last a long time without refrigeration and don’t require cooking. Keep the food in a dry, safe place and make sure every member of your household knows where it is.
For the MacGyver: Cook Meals in Almost Anything
- Find charcoal or gas grills to cook anything you find in a fridge or hack together a bread recipe with a few common household items.
- Make a solar oven from cardboard, tin foil, plastic, glue, scissors and a stick. Solar cooking typically takes longer than a conventional oven, but it’s better than nothing.
- If you have electricity but no gas, learn to cook with a dishwasher or coffee maker.
For the Survivalist: Dig Through Garbage Cans and Make Meals from Almost Nothing
- Seek out sealed containers of non-perishable food with dents or dings from supermarket garbage bins.
- Stay away from dairy and meat, because bacteria grows easily.
- Look for packaged food like chips, cookies, juice and breads.
- Most foods are not safe to eat with mould on them but a few meats, cheeses and firm vegetables may be salvageable.
Eventually, you’re bound to run out of food and water. To keep that from happening, you need to know how to get rescued.
How to Signal for a Rescue
For the Stockpiler: Keep Signal Flares on Hand
Even if you’re safely hunkered down at home, you may still need to signal for help. A pack of emergency flares provide the easiest, most visible signal to rescuers looking for people.
For the MacGyver: Hack Together an Air Horn
If you’re stranded you need to make loud, obnoxious noises to call attention to yourself and nothing is more obnoxious than an air horn. You can build your own with nothing but a knife, a film canister, a balloon and a straw.
For the Survivalist: Piece Together Found Items into Signs
Grab any large items you have available and make signs on the roof of a house or an open field that spell out “help”. Use bright objects like tarps, clothes or blankets. This ensures any planes or helicopters will notice you. You can do the same by hanging a sign out of an apartment building window or on your front lawn.
It’s best to take a few tips from each of the different survivor types and turn yourself into an all-purpose urban survival master, but knowing your own skill set and strength can help you focus your attention on what matters. You never know when you’ll need these skills, whether it’s after a natural disaster, or even if you’re just stranded for a night with no wallet or keys. Have any urban survival tips of your own? Share them in the comments.
This article has been updated since its original publication.