Updated March 6, 2021: It is comforting to believe we would be safe if a city-wide crisis ever occurred. However, most of us are not prepared for living in a city without power and with low supplies if any of food and water.
If such an event happened, most people wouldn’t remain in the city they reside in for very long. Those of us who live in metropolitan areas are dependent on the things that come with it.
Cities Cannot Feed Themselves!
Every populated city is man-made. Towns are constructed so people can socialize, participate in commerce, and benefit from public services like water, sanitation, education, mail delivery, and much more.
But just as we are dependent on the things a city provides, the city itself is reliant on a supply of resources like water, food and power in order to provide that functionality.
Even though water and electricity may still be available from outside of the city by means of pipelines and cabling, the population of a city still needs a regular incoming supply of food to live on.
No city is capable of fully feeding itself. Not one.
It is true that there are studies that show that metropolitan areas are improving with regards to self sufficiency. However, a city that is producing up to 20% of a city’s fresh food is still 80% shy of target.
Ultimately, cities are reliant on food imported from outside the metropolitan area. Without that food coming in, grocery stores will have empty shelves within a week.
What are the Main Risks in a City during a Crisis Event?
In the event of a disaster, cities could face some if not all of the following:
- Riots after the collapse of social order.
- Lack of clean, drinkable water.
- Food shortage.
- Disruption of electrical supply.
Even though these issues are not guaranteed to happen in every city, they will happen.
The Collapse of Social Order
“Social order” is a fragile thing. It stands as a psychological obstruction that could easily fall apart. We have all observed massive riots in the news, many of them instigated by an unfairness of some kind that result in a dispensation of repressed anger and frustration.
The L.A. riots that followed the verdict of the Rodney King trial saw Los Angeles citizens torch their own city. Residents were pulled from their own automobiles and literally beaten to death. Firemen trying to put out fires were shot at! In 2005, we all observed the violence, looting and complete disintegration of civilization after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
What leads to such chaos?
The concurrent disintegration of the psychological obstacle of order!
After people realized law enforcement wasn’t able to manage the chaos, or weren’t around to help, the police were perceived as being incapable of protecting them. Some saw the police simply leave their posts behind to leave citizens fending for themselves, which canceled out the concept of “Law and Order”.
There was nothing to stop anyone from simply going to the local store and simply taking things without paying for them. They unleashed their frustrations about racism on innocent victims who were driving in the vicinity, and they ran amok on a path of ruin that only ceased when the National Guard, armed with rifles, arrived to restore order.
As such, only the risk of sudden death brought the violence and looting to a stop. It’s amazing what the sight of a rifle can do. Think about store owners seeking shelter on the roofs of their establishments armed with AK-47’s, shooting at anyone who came close.
Even worse, think about the reckless mob shooting at the rescue helicopters attempting to deliver supplies to helpless victims of the rioting. The National Guard ultimately restored order. This was an isolated incident in one city. Consider hundreds of cities going through a similar experience. Could the National Guard save them all?
Almost definitely not!
What about each town’s law enforcement divisions? They aren’t idiots; if things look bleak, they’ll choose to protect their own families first, and more than likely find safe refuge elsewhere, like many officers did during the crisis in New Orleans. A pension isn’t worth dying over. Some towns could be changed into combat zones overnight. It would warrant complete military force and martial law to feasibly restore order to the area. There just aren’t enough people in the military to protect every city, should such events occur.
This downfall of social order is maybe the biggest risk to consider when contemplating remaining in a city amid a catastrophe.
What, then, would provoke this downfall of social order? An absence of three key necessities: water, food, and money. When people lack food, they may start to ravage their neighborhoods to replenish their stock. Before long, cities are under attack. Some locales may be able to keep things under control, and the Red Cross will be able to help them. Other cities will see their levels of violence escalate. Visualize the gang-ridden areas of Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, New Orleans and St. Louis. It is unlikely people are going to behave in a civilized manner under chaotic conditions in those areas.
Already armed with guns, many people will feel the need to use them under such situations. Racial tensions that have been building up give people a reason to begin shooting at others of the same or of different color in order to get what they want.
In the event that food and supplies make their way into chaotic cities successfully, a lack of money will lead to mass theft and looting. As the crime increases, the social order will further collapse.
A lack of water will also lead to the “every man for himself” mentality, and perhaps very quickly. The disassembly of social order is disastrous, since it doesn’t warrant any specific breakdown of telecommunications, a power grid, banking or transportation. Social order is a psychological frame of mind, and any worldwide scare can hastily eliminate the mental barricade that essentially maintains order.
The Failure of Water Treatment and Delivery Systems
Can water treatment facilities prevail in the middle of a crisis? Some will and some won’t. The issue lies in determining whether the one you depend on will. Water treatment facilities rely on electricity, and experiments administered on several plants have already isolated some system weaknesses.
During one particular experiment, a water treatment plant discharged a deadly dose of fluoride into the water system. The computers mistakenly believed they were 99 years behind in distributing fluoride dosages, so they tried to adjust the difference. Anyone who was downstream and drank the water met an early death. Regardless of how much a dentist tries to say otherwise, fluoride is a lethal poison. A large disaster is probable in multiple cities.
The most vital question to ask here is what will happen if the water supply ceases to flow, or if it becomes contaminated. You might be aware that, even though individuals are able to remain alive without consuming food for as long as three weeks, ongoing consumption of water is mandatory for every human being. You can last as much as three days without drinking water, but past that, you’ll be struggling and could very quickly die.
With that said, it should come as no surprise that people will do what they feel they must to get water in order to stay alive. The hardest places to acquire water will be in populated cities. Most trusting people will assume any water stoppage will be temporary, and that the government will work diligently to resolve the deprivation. The panic will set in mere hours after a lack flow of water, though.
A couple days into the water shortage, people will become worryingly aware of the problem, and social order will start to collapse, as referenced in the prior chapter. People will start to scavenge for water, and they’ll immediately check retail stores first. Needless to say, in such scenarios, it won’t take long before all shelves inside these stores will be ransacked. Since the liquids won’t last for very long, you’ll see the population displace quickly, as people will relocate or go on searches for water outside of their own locales. Some will take to rivers and streams in the country, while others will go on looting sprees, stealing from homes and shops, using violence to take what they need.
Should a stoppage of water occur, you can expect the following events in run-down cities:
- Small disruptions of violence while looting is happening. Retail shop owners will be inclined to defend their businesses with firearms, whether or not it is legal to do so.
- Large traffic jams on outbound highways as a result of gas running out in vehicles, mid-transport, which will inevitably block main exits, trapping people in cities.
- Grocery stores will be purged of all food by at least the third day of the crisis.
- Farms and houses near major cities will be raided for supplies by people likely to be carrying weapons for protection and intimidation purposes.
- Populations will dwindle down rapidly as a result of people abandoning their homes to find water supply sources.
- A water-based epidemic will break out as people start to use rivers and streams as a bathroom. Those using streams and rivers as a toilet will infect the entire drinking water supply. Filtration units can only prevent so much, and will become overrun, eventually shutting down. Once the flow of water stops, disease will start to set in.
The Depletion of Food Supplies
Food supplies will probably diminish fast as the potential crisis draws nearer and residents will be stocking up for worse-case-scenario outcomes. After the crisis starts, anticipate disruptions in food replenishment. If food does arrive, it will be in short supply.
After this occurs, food will quickly become quite a commodity to people. As such, any shipment of food, no matter the size, will be immediately seized by the first person capable of taking it. It takes a mere 7 days of not eating before people realize how reliant they are on food, so the city will be in a state of panic if food takes even more than a few days to be replenished.
The frenzy and hysteria to be expected will differ per city. Some towns might undergo minimal hardship obtaining food, while others will face situations involving potential starvation; cities rely on food sent from food processing companies and farms that are more often than not shipped in via road networks that may now possibly be severely disrupted if functioning at all.
Also be mindful that if there is an issue with the water supply, as referred to in the earlier chapter, bulk evacuations will begin, which will flood the highways, resulting in gridlock.
A deficiency of food eventually produces the same outcome as a shortage of water. Initially, people will feast on whatever is stored in their pantry. From there, they will loot whatever is left on grocery store shelves. Once those options are ruled out, they will start ransacking homes scouring for food. Most city folk won’t know how to hunt, so they won’t be able to acquire their own food. Anyone who is able to leave the city will do so immediately after the shortage of food kicks in.
The Failure of the Power Grid
Nothing has a greater impact on your psyche than the fear of living without something you take for granted – in this case, electricity. Without a power grid, everyone will start to panic the minute electricity conks out. Over the course of the first three hours or so of living without power, should such a disaster happen, most people will be under the mistaken assumption that the outage is only temporary.
After waiting for the power to come back on for a while, they’ll eventually grow frustrated and angry, not knowing what to do in such a circumstance. Without power, nothing operates as per the standards we’ve all become accustomed to.
The looting will begin within hours of such an outage in cities with a high crime rate. The social disorder will grow worse the longer the power remains off. The power loss will stop activity throughout the city. Automobiles will be able to function with the gas and power that remain within them, but commerce certainly won’t continue. Houses reliant on electricity to heat up their households will feel the draft the natural winter weather brings.
People who need air conditioning to remain cool in the summer will begin to feel the effects of the sweltering heat. This could be fatal, as the elderly and those with weakened immune systems could succumb to heat stroke. Police stations and hospitals will continue to run on generators, but those, too, will become depleted.
Without power, the water treatment plant will go offline, instigating the events referenced in the water section. Power is something we just can’t survive without unless we are properly prepared for such an eventuality. People might be able to survive on low levels of food supplies and water, but without electricity, order goes completely out the window.
So what steps can you take if you live in the city in preparation for a crisis?
What you have read so far will have no doubt filled you with a sense of dread should your city ever have to deal with a crisis that results in some if not all of the problems that have been outlined previously. You will also be wondering, very wisely, what you can do to best protect you and your family if these types of situation threaten your safety.
You have two options; the first is to stay put and ride out whatever crisis is looming and the second is to leave the city at the first sign of a problem, Regardless of which option you decide best suits your situation, both will require a certain degree of planning.
The most ardent preppers will make plans to do both because with many urban crisis situations they will very often get past a critical point within a few days and recovery will often happen very quickly after that point has passed. However there is always a chance that such a recovery is not going to be possible and it is at that time when bugging out of the city as quickly as possible would be the wisest thing to do.
Making plans for surviving a disaster or crisis situation, or prepping as it is commonly referred to, isn’t something that you can sort out in 5 minutes, it requires ongoing planning that can be quite meticulous and encompasses everything from storage of water, supplies and medicine to communication, protection and evacuation/relocation protocols.
It may seem like overkill to plan to this degree but when you consider that doing so could not only save your life but also the lives of your loved ones then it really does seem like the sensible thing to do, particularly in these uncertain and worrying times.
Surviving in the City During a Crisis
If you have decided that you don’t feel that prepping for a TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) type situation is for you but you still want to know how to be best prepared for a short term urban type crisis then this list is the minimum you should have for surviving a two week period with no food in the stores, no water and no power.
Water: You should have at least 1 gallon of water per day, per person stored. This is primarily for drinking and food preparation. Don’t forget that your pet dog or cat will need water too!
Food: You should look to store plenty of non perishable foods that do not require cooking and that are high in energy and protein.
Anything canned or in a jar is a great idea. Peanut butter is a high energy food source that keeps really well. If you have a baby or toddler, remember to store formula or jars of baby food. Don’t forget pet food too. It’s also a good idea to write the contents directly onto all tins and jars with a permanent marker in case labels fall off, something that tends to happen a lot during flooding. Meals ready to eat, MRE are a great idea too as they can be stored for a long time, years in fact!
Important note: Always make sure you have a “manual” can opener or two stored away!
Lighting: If you are without power for two weeks then lighting will be essential. A hand cranked lamp or kerosene lanterns as well as some torches with plenty of spare batteries are ideal. Before using always ensure your premises are light sealed; you do not want to draw attention to yourselves as having stuff others want.
Radio: A hand cranked or battery operated radio for getting essential updates. Don’t waste battery life by listening to music, if you can find any!
Warmth: Blankets, sleeping bags, thick sweaters, woolly hats and gloves. You will probably have most of this in your home already; just make sure it is to hand for when you need it.
Communication: Hopefully mobile phone networks will still be up so make sure you have fully charged phones or spare fully charged batteries. Walkie talkies are handy and can be purchased relatively cheaply nowadays. A whistle is a simple yet effective way to communicate and cost next to nothing.
Money: Cash machines will not be working at best, destroyed and ransacked at worst so always make sure you have a stash of hard cash available.
This list is what I would class as being absolutely essential for surviving two weeks in your own home and in all fairness I’m only scratching the surface of what you may need. I haven’t even mentioned sanitation, hygiene and home and personal protection which in the city, depending on your neighborhood, could prove more important to your survival than anything else!
My hope is that by reading this article and putting into action some of the steps I’ve outlined for surviving a short term urban crisis you will be more prepared and ready should anything happen to your city.
Be prepared, be safe.