How to survive in an urban environment after SHTF

With the majority of the world’s population living in urban city centers due to the many advantages that it affords such as job and education opportunities, better access to healthcare, facilities and infrastructures, civilization is becoming more and more dependent on a fragile, artificial environment that should even the smallest hiccup occur, the consequences could be dire.

Though living in an urban environment does have its advantages, most if not all of these advantages will go out the door if an event such as a pandemic, EMP, or earthquake disrupts the systems that keep everything moving smoothly.  Getting out of these sprawling urban city centers before this happens is the ideal solution, but if you’re past the point of being able to evacuate, then you need to make sure that you and your family are prepared to survive in a suburban environment if a true SHTF event occurs.

In this article, we’ll discuss the issues you can expect to face along with information and ideas to ensure you’ll have the best chance of survival.

The Problem of Living in an Urban Environment when SHTF

Suburban or urban living possesses a number of challenges that you’d need to address in the event your city experiences a collapse.  Addressing these challenges will be the key to ensuring that you and your family will survive during these scenarios.

  1. Water problems – One of the major issues that you will face is securing drinkable water. And it’s not just drinking water you’ll have to deal with, but also clean water you can use for washing and preparing food and for cleaning yourself and your family. The city’s pipes and water facilities will likely cease to function when a collapse happens, which means there won’t be access to clean water.
  2. Access to Food – Another major problem that you are likely to face is access to food. Urban and suburban locations don’t produce their own food and the food you purchase from the stores comes from rural locations that are shipped into your grocery stores from remote locations. During a collapse, transportation will likely be affected, thus affecting the food supply of an urban or suburban location. Another issue you might face with regards to food is storage space. If the home you are living in doesn’t have the proper storage space that is big enough to accommodate all the food and even water that you’re planning to store, then you’ll have a problem staying for an extended period of time.
  3. Loss of Power – If you live in the city, then you are aware of the importance of electricity in your everyday living. Appliances, gadgets, and even certain transportation rely on electricity for them to work. When a collapse occurs, a city’s power is likely to get cut off.  Refrigerators, lights, the ability to communicate, and other electronics you’ve become dependent on will stop working. For those with health issues such as diabetes that require refrigeration to keep their insulin cold or those that need CPAP machines for breathing at night, you are impacted the hardest.
  4. Security Issues – Another important issue you’ll face when SHTF happens is security.  When the infrastructure collapses that keeps people content (such as a source of food and water), people will become desperate.  You probably won’t be able to expect local government and police to be able to keep peace and order either as they’ll be in a similar situation as you: trying to take care of themselves and their families.  This will give rise to armed gangs or groups that will inevitably try and take over parts of the city.  Aside from armed groups, you also have to deal with other people who are desperate for supplies and won’t hesitate to do anything to get them.  Don’t think for a moment that the nice amicable soccer mom who you enjoy going to Starbucks with won’t do whatever it takes to keep her kids alive.

These are some of the main issues that you will likely face when a severe disruption occurs in the urban or suburban location that you are living in.  But with proper preparation and knowledge, you can ensure that you and your family will have the best chance of survival. In this next part, we’ll look at practical steps you can take now.

Have A Plan to Bug Out

The first option is an evacuation. If it is still possible to leave the city and you already have a location where you and your family will stay, then you should bug out as soon as possible. If you live in a small apartment, this should be your primary goal. If you already see that trouble is starting to brew, don’t try to wait and see if things will get better since you might lose your window of opportunity to leave.

When you bug out, it’s important that you have an evacuation plan prepared to ensure that you and your family will know what to do when the time to leave comes.

  1. Know Where You Are Going – The first thing that you need to have when it comes to evacuating is a place to go to.  You need to know where you and your family will stay when things become too chaotic in your urban community.  If you don’t have a safe place to go already planned out, then you’re really just a refugee. If you have a close friend or relative living outside the city, that could be a good location for you and your family to go and avoid the chaos in your city. You or your family might also consider purchasing a cabin or piece of land you can develop in a remote location as part of your evacuation plan.
    1. It’s important that you also have a map detailing where you’ll go with alternate routes highlighted in case the main one is unpassable.  While we rely heavily on GPS technology, keeping a map in your bug out bag would be a valuable resource.
    2. You also need to plan for the possibility that your initial location is already compromised.  What would you do in that scenario?
    3. Adding hidden caches along your escape route in advance could be useful in the event you can not carry enough food and water for your journey.  Having locations where you could resupply could make a huge difference.
  2. Prepare the Supplies You Will Need – Once you have the possible locations, the next step is to prepare the supplies you will need. You need to determine how long your travel time will be from your home to your evacuation location.  Also, consider the possibility of traveling by foot if traveling by a vehicle is unavailable. So this could lengthen your travel time and adjust your needed supplies. You also have to consider the length of your stay in your evacuation location, especially if it is a remote area and you are likely bringing in the supplies.
    1. While going into the details of a bug out bag is beyond the scope of this article, I have done several videos and will be doing more in the future that goes into detail on my bug out bag setup.  The content of bug out bags is often debated depending on your particular situation, but the core components needed are a shelter, water, food, first aid, and security. How much you add to your bag depends on weight considerations.  The more weight you add, the slower you go and the more difficult it becomes.
    2. Each member of the family would need to have their own supply bag.  Having times where you go out as a family to practice hiking with this gear would be a great way to get your kids used to carrying the gear.
    3. Remember to double-check and test out your gear often to see if it needs to be replaced or not.
  3. Where to Meet Up – You would also need to have a meet-up plan in case you and your family are not together when the need to evacuate comes up or if you become separated during the chaos. 
    1. The meet-up location should be known by everyone in the family.
    2. The location should be accessible, either by foot or by vehicle.
    3. Make sure that the meet-up location you choose is safe from the chaos, or at least won’t be affected too much by it.
  4. Communication Plan – The last thing you need to prepare when you are evacuating is a communications plan. During a disaster, communications infrastructures are usually shut down or will experience congestion, making it harder to communicate using the standard forms of communication. It’s important that you have a plan prepared so you and your family will know what to do when this happens.
    1. Establish an out-of-city contact person that you and your family members will contact in case of an emergency. This person is the designated contact hub that will call each member of the family so everyone can concentrate on surviving and not worry about contacting the others.
    2. Have a two-way radio available for each member of the family as a back-up communications device in case cellular services are also disrupted during the collapse.
    3. Make sure also that each member of the family has a list of important local emergency numbers that they can contact.

It’s preferable to evacuate before an all-out collapse occurs.  But if in the event you missed that window, there will likely be another one.  Expect the first 2 to 4 weeks to be the most chaotic time. If you and your family can survive this period with your own supply of food and water and avoid being the victims of violence from marauders, the initial period of chaos will hopefully die down giving you another window to try and head out again.

How you can prepare to survive in an urban environment after SHTF

If evacuating the city is not possible anymore, then you need to get your home prepared.  Here are some of the things that you need to prepare to ensure you and your family’s survival.

  1. Preparing your Home – The first thing you would need to prepare is your home. You need to make sure that your home is capable of storing food and water for prolonged periods.  You’ll also need a plan for producing your own electricity and figure out how you’ll fortify your house and increase its security.
    1. Water Storage Plan – The first thing you need to prepare your house for is storing and being able to produce clean water.  Yes, you also need to think about producing clean water as a long-term solution since you won’t know how long until clean fresh water will be available again.
      1. For storing water, the minimum requirement that each person will need in a day is one gallon of water, both for drinking and cleaning. That requirement could increase if you live in a warm environment or if one of your family members has a medical condition.  Nursing mothers tend to consume more water as well.
      2. If you have a large space like a garage or basement, 55-gallon barrels are a good storing option for your water.  While not portable, they are great options if you’re forced to shelter in place. If space is an issue, you can consider reusing water bottles which are good for those living in apartments, 5-gallon water containers or products like water bricks which you can slide under couches or beds. 
      3. Make sure the water storage containers you are using are clean and that do have holes or leaks where contaminants can enter.  Remember, water never truly goes bad, but it can be contaminated requiring it to be filtered and purified to make useable.
      4. Also, ensure that the storage space where you keep your water is clean and doesn’t have any harmful chemicals or possible contaminants that can pollute your water.  Try picking a cool and dark area to place your barrels and storage containers.
      5. You also need to have multiple ways that you can filter your water in order to purify it.  I primarily use a Berkey water filter, but in the event it is damaged, I’ve got multiple backup solutions for water filtration like our Sawyer water filters in our bug out bags.  Definitely give strong consideration to having a few different ways to filter your water.
      6. Aside from storing water, you should also think about your long-term water solution in case the emergency situation lasts longer.  One way to get water is to harvest rainwater. I made a video on how you can build your own Rainwater Collection System awhile back. Having a way to harvest water is not only great for cleaning or gardening but possibly for drinking as well during emergency situations.
      7. While times are good, be sure to locate watering holes, creeks, streams, and other water sources that are near your community in case you need to get fresh water.  Using Google Maps satellite view will allow you to locate where water is in your area or see who has a pool in their backyard in the event they abandon their home. Be sure to have this information handy prior to a disaster.
    2. Food Plan – After making sure your house is already capable of storing water, the next thing you need to do is to prepare your house for storing and producing food.  Similar to water, you also need to think long-term about your food.
      1. Make sure you have at least 6 months worth of food stored in your home and repackage them if needed to conserve storage space. Also, ensure that the food you store doesn’t spoil easily.
      2. If you have a yard, you can also start a small garden where you can plant and grow fresh produce to supplement the food that you already stored.  If you don’t know how to start a small garden, you can check out the video on how to build a raised bed square foot vegetable garden so you can start planting your fresh vegetables. While the reality is that growing enough food to take care of your own family may be a challenge, learning the basics of gardening now will be a critical long-term survival skill.  I’ve recently taken up gardening and while I’ve had some successes, I also realize I’ve got a lot to still learn. Start now while times are good. Having to learn a skill when things are tough puts you in a bad position.
      3. Another way of producing your own food in your own backyard is with chickens. The great thing about chickens is that you can also get fresh eggs from them daily.  Again, I created a video about the things you need to consider when raising chickens in an urban environment. Click this link to the video I made about raising chickens in your yard.
    3. Power/Electricity Plan – As mentioned earlier, if the grid goes down, electricity will be a casualty.  You should consider having a plan or strategy to be able to restore some power in your home.
      1. Having a small backup generator is a great option to restore the power back in your home. The two primary options available are gas/propane generators, which is the most commonly used type of generator and renewable energy generators that can convert solar or wind into a storage device.
        1. Gas generators pack more power when compared to a solar generator. This allows you to power more electricity demanding items in your home. The upfront cost is also cheaper. The problem with gas generators is that they are harder to maintain and people can easily detect them due to the smell and noise.  This will alert your neighbors to the fact that you have power in your home. The source of power is also limited since you’ll need gasoline to power these and you might not be equipped to store huge amounts of gasoline which creates safety issues.
        2. Solar generators are easier to store and maintain, and you’ll have an unlimited source of power since its power comes from the sun or wind. They’re also quieter allowing you to be discreet when using them. The problem with solar generators is that your power usage is limited since the generator cannot power electrical devices requiring a large draw over an extended period of time. The upfront cost will also be an issue since these types of generators are a bit pricey.
        3.  You can click the link to a video I did detailing the difference between these 2 options.
    4. Security Plan – The last preparation that you need to do in your home is to make sure that it is safe and secure. Desperate people are capable of doing things that they normally wouldn’t and having a security plan can ensure you and your family’s survival when things become dangerous. Here are some tips that can be helpful now.
      1. Improve the fence around your house, make them sturdier and higher to make it harder for trespassers to enter your property.
      2. Get a Motion Detector Light to flash bright lights on trespassers on your property. Consider getting the battery-operated ones or the solar-powered so they will still work even during a power outage.
      3. A loud alarm is also a must to ensure your home’s security. Consider getting battery-operated motion sensors, window alarms, and door stop alarms. These alarms will last longer in case of a power outage and are great at alerting you if there’s an intruder.
      4. Reinforce your door so it won’t be easy to pick the lock or ram it open. Add additional deadbolts or doorstop to make force opening your door harder. If you have the budget for it, consider replacing it with metal frames or steel doors.
      5. If you’re going to reinforce your door, you should also reinforce your windows since they’re the other main point of entry to your home. Add dowel rods on the gap where your window slides so they can’t fully open it.  You can also consider adding security bars or replacing the window pane with plexiglass.
      6. Install security cameras in and out of your house. Security cameras are a great way to monitor the inside and outside of your home and see who is trespassing. There are battery-operated or solar-powered security cameras on the market out there so they’ll still work even during a power outage.
      7. If you’re a dog lover, you can also get a defensive canine to help protect your home. German Shepherds, Labradors, Rottweilers, and other breeds used in police duty are good dogs that can help protect your home.
      8. If you have the budget for it, consider building a safe room that you and your family can retreat to during a home invasion. It is important to understand that during a true SHTF situation, most people who enter your house are after your supplies and stuff not you, so having a safe and secure room where you and your family can retreat to in the event you get overpowered may make a difference in your survival.
      9. The last thing you need to do is to arm yourself.  Having firearms you have practiced with will be critical.  While using lethal force will bring its own set of challenges, not having the ability to defend yourself and your family and repel intruders leaves you in a vulnerable position.
  2. Preparing you and your family – Once your house is prepared and ready when SHTF, the next preparation will be you and your family. Yes, every member of the family should also be prepared during this scenario so everyone will know what to do, where to go, or how they will react.
    1. What you need to know when SHTF occurs – In a true prolonged grid-down scenario, it’s important that you are aware of certain things so you can be prepared and act accordingly.
      1. The first thing you need to know is that law and order are likely thrown out the window. Don’t expect the local government or authorities to protect or offer assistance during this situation. They are likely overstretched already and cannot accommodate everyone. You and your family need to be able to survive on your own during this situation.  It’s a harsh reality, but one you need to realize and accept.
      2. You and your family would need to be prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally. All of the preparation that we have been talking about will all be useless if you and your family are not prepared to act quickly when the time comes. This means you need to be fit and in decent shape since there’s a good chance you’ll be doing a lot of running and moving around, especially in the early stages of the collapse. In our current culture, the average person sits 10 hours per day.  Now imagine a scenario where you will suddenly be required to be mobile, move fast at times, and do lots of physical labor. Think you’ll be ready?  
      3. But your body is not the only thing that you need to prepare. Decisions and reactions will need to be made swiftly so there’s no room for second-guessing or doubting your decisions. If you’re not mentally prepared, you’ll likely panic, freeze up, and forget your preparations.  I witnessed this recently. Our home was at the epicenter of a large earthquake a few days ago. When it struck, I immediately got to the floor, but my 9-year-old son began to panic and run frantically. Despite yelling at him while making eye contact to get on the ground, he still ran around in circles.  Without prior practice, the flight or fight response takes over. Since then we’ve been working with our kids to educate them on how to react in an earthquake. Prepare yourself mentally in advance with how you’ll handle situations.  
      4. As for emotions, highly tense and stressful situations tend to make people more emotional. You need to be able to control your emotions so the decisions that you make are based on sound logic and reasoning.  Never reason out of fear.
    2. Skills to Learn – Aside from gaining knowledge and preparing yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally, you also need to develop certain skills that can help you survive. This is particularly true if the collapse lasts longer.
      1. One of the most important skills you need to learn is how to grow your own food.  As mentioned earlier, start simple with gardening and raising chickens.  Having these skills will not only ensure your own survival but can also make you valuable in your community as you can teach and train others.  Most people living in a suburban environment have never learned these skills. If you can help others, you become an invaluable resource.
      2. Another important skill you need to learn is how to make water safe to drink.  While boiling water will kill pathogens present in the water, you’ll need to be able to filter any contaminants out.  Having the proper equipment as we discussed earlier will be crucial.
      3. Learning how to barter or negotiate will also be a great skill to develop.  Having extra food and water will put you in an advantageous position to negotiate.  Money will likely be useless in this scenario so learning how to barter will be key to your survival.
      4. You should also learn how to become aware of your surroundings and situation. Train yourself to see signs of danger so you can do something about it before it happens. It’s important that you learn situational awareness so you and your family can avoid putting yourselves in a tough spot.
      5. You should also learn how to scavenge your environment in case you run out of supplies and you need to get more.  Before the grid goes down, learn where assets are in your community.  While I do not advocate stealing, depending on the severity of the situation, you may be forced to find supplies to continue surviving.
      6. You need to learn how to be a Gray Man or blend into the crowd. You should learn to never attract attention to yourself.  If people learn you have supplies, are not without food, word will get out. Learning how to blend in with the crowd.  If people are lining up for food supplies, be right there with them looking the part. Cutting back on calories to drop weight might give the ability to blend in.
  3. Preparing Your Community – The last thing you need to prepare is your community.  What this means is that you should be aware of the community that you are a part of.  Get to know your neighbors, learn what emergency plans your community has and see if there’s a way for everyone to work together. There’s always strength in numbers, but that only works if you can trust the people you are working with.
    1. Getting to Know your Neighbors – It’s important that you get to know your neighbors and try to find like-minded individuals who will also prep with you.  Building a group or community of preppers increases your chances of surviving when SHTF. These are often called MAG’s, or Mutual Assistance Groups. 
    2. Finding Ways to Work Together – Try to find ways in which you and your community can work together. You can designate roles to each household that they’ll need to do when disaster strikes. You can also help each other in prepping, making a particular household to focus on stocking up on certain items for the community. There are a lot of ways that you and your community can work together and the benefits of working together should be a reason enough for everyone to pitch in. After all, everyone’s survival chances will increase if you all work together and help each other out.  Having recently experienced wildfires in our neighborhood, many in our community are beginning to recommend people take CERT training. In addition, we’re beginning to discuss who has what skills so we can all help each other out in the event we have a major disaster.
    3. Blend In – As I already mentioned before, blending in is important. This means that if your community has a relief effort, don’t hesitate to line up and join in getting relief supplies. Just because you are a prepper doesn’t mean you’ll refuse the help. This will make people suspicious of you and think that you probably have ample supply at home so you don’t need any help. The last thing you will need is people taking notice of you, so just blend in with the crowd and do what everyone else is doing.


The urban or suburban environment is not really the best place to be stuck in when SHTF, considering the challenges that it possesses.  But this doesn’t mean you should just give up. The right preparation and knowledge can ensure that you and your family will still survive in an urban setting during a collapse. It can at least help you survive long enough until you can evacuate to a better location.

If you have some additional tips or suggestions, please post them in the comment section below as it’s always a pleasure to learn from the community.  Please share this article on social media if you enjoyed it. As always, be safe out there.

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Subscribe our newsletter

Sign up for exclusive, behind the scenes content and updates.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x