Letter Re: Preparedness for Less Than a Worst Case, From an Eastern Urbanite’s Perspective

Hello Jim,
I am very new reader of your blog and am just now starting to go through the archives. Based on what I’ve read so far, I commend you on putting together a useful, fact-intensive blog on “survivalism” (whatever that means), that isn’t geared towards loony, off-the-reservation, tinfoil hat-type readers, who believe that 9/11 was a plot masterminded by Halliburton.

That said, one problem I suspect I will have with your blog is that you consistently seem to be preparing for an extreme, and more-or-less permanent, breakdown of society—or TEOTWAWKI, if you will. In one of your blog posts, you noted that the problem with preparing for TEOTWAWKI, is that “between now and then, you have your life to live.” This statement is particularly true for those of us who don’t live out West, don’t live in rural environments (let alone, gasp, urban east coast cities), have young children, drive a minivan, and enjoy otherwise the soft, latte-sipping lifestyles of Yuppiedom in the second Golden Age of American wealth.

My family and I fall into that category to a great deal. Don’t get me wrong: I e-ticketed most of my courses at Gunsite, so I’m no head-in-the sand sheeple. And I’m a pretty capable empty hand fighter. But I also grew up in the suburbs and didn’t exactly spend my youth learning to trap, fish, hunt, or plant seeds. I am married to a lovely wife who has no interest in learning to run a carbine, and we have a young daughter who prevents us from grabbing bug-out rucks and heading off to the bush for two weeks. In any event, if we ever managed to actually get from our 30th floor apartment in Manhattan to the bush, I’m not sure we’d know what to do.

The point I’m making is that there are a lot of people like us—people who live in cities, who don’t feel in the least bit at home in the outdoors, who aren’t going to learn about land nav or plotting azimuths, who aren’t going to buy a bug-out retreat in the country that is going to lie empty 52 weeks a year, and who are basically screwed if TEOTWAWKI actually and truly arrives.

Barring TEOTWAWKI, it seems to me that we are infinitely more likely to face moderately scary scenarios, like Hurricane Katrina and necessary urban evacuation, some urban 1970s style civil disturbance but nothing like Mogadishu, high-intensity individual criminal acts, a low-order terrorist event nearby and the accompanying panic, or some other situation shy of the worst case scenario.

We urbanites can prepare for those events, while not being entirely distracted from our workaday “ordinary” lives, or dedicating ourselves to trying to get off-the-grid. I certainly have made some attempts to prepare. For example, I have no doubt that we’re in the 99th percentile of Manhattan preparedness by virtue of the fact that we own:

– a well maintained and fueled Honda CRV with GPS, local region street maps, XM radio (for news), an empty 5 gallon gas can, and various vehicle repair tools
– a (legally permitted) pistol and shotgun, and enough ammunition for a firefight and reload under civilian ROEs
– $4,000 in cash
– a week of MREs and water, full rations
– a PVS-14 [night vision] monocular
– soft body armor
– basic camping equipment
– various tools like a good knife, a pry bar, Surefire lights, chemlights, paracord, etc.
– a fully stocked medical kit, 30 days of scrip drugs, and a copy of “Medicine for the Outdoors”
– personal hygiene gear
– a roll of 1mm poly sheeting and a ton of 100 mph tape
– full face respirators and disposable N100 masks
GMRS radios, shortwave radio, a hand crank radio
– a ton of batteries
– a USB key and a 500 GB backup drive with all our important information
– 1 box of critical paper documents
– clothing suitable for the seasons
– baby stuff

Most of this gear is boxed, labeled, and stored in a single closet that we’ve dedicated to SHTF equipment. The other stuff (car, guns, cash, key documents, etc.) could be policed up in 10 minutes, and is written down on a checklist. If we had to, I reckon we could shelter in place for a week, or we could bug out in an hour (assuming, of course, Manhattan was not totally gridlocked).

I’d be very interested in your thoughts about what urbanites should be doing to prepare for bad times, given the restrictions of space, limited knowledge of/interest in outdoorsman skills, “Yuppie” lifestyle constraints, etc. Thanks. – D.C.

JWR Replies: For someone that lives on Manhattan Island, you are definitely quite well-prepared!

Some preparedness upgrades that I’d recommend for you:

1.) Pre-positioning some supplies stored with friends or relatives, or perhaps in a commercial storage space, at least 150 miles out of the city, on your intended “Get Out of Dodge” route. (For that dreaded “worst case.”)

2.) Adding a rifle to your firearms battery. With New York City’s semi-auto and magazine restrictions, you might consider a .308 Bolt action with either a small detachable magazine, or perhaps a non-detachable magazine. A Steyr Scout would be a good choice. Some semi-auto rifles that might be approved include top-loading M1 Garands and FN49s. (No doubt easier if you are a member of a CMP-associated shooting club.) If you can’t get permit approval for any modern rifles, then there is a handy exemption for long guns “manufactured prior to 1894 and replicas which are not designed to fire fixed ammunition, or for which fixed ammunition is not commercially available.” You might consider a pre-1894 production Winchester Model 1876 or 1886 in an obsolete caliber such as .40-60 or .45-90. (See my FAQ on pre-1899 cartridge guns for details. Be sure to select rifles with excellent bores and nice mechanical condition.

3.) A small photovoltaic panel for recharging your flashlights, radios, and night vision gear batteries.(Along with a 300+ Amp Hour 12 VDC “Jump Pack” (such as JCWhitney.com‘s item # ZX265545) and 12 VDC “DC to DC” battery charging trays and the various requisite cords.)

4.) A supply of antibiotics.

5.) Consult your local fire code, and store the maximum legally-allowable quantity of extra gasoline, assuming you have a safe place to store it. (I realize that most Manhattanites have their cars stored commercially with no additional storage space, and it can be a 20 minute car-juggling exercise just to get your hands on your car, depending on how “deep” you are parked.) If extra gas will be stored in your vehicle, then be sure to get one or more Explosafe brand fuel cans, and strap them down securely so that they will maintain their integrity in the even of a vehicle collision. You might consider upgrading to a mid-size 4WD SUV (such as an E85-compatible Ford Explorer) and have it fitted with an auxiliary roof rack where you can carry extra gas cans. (Again, I realize that most Manhattan parking garages have height limitations, but do your best.)