Letter Re: Questions on Short Term Survival in an Urban Office Building

Dear Mr. Rawles,
First off, I just want to say that I really appreciate what you’re doing with your blog site. I’ve learned so many useful things and feel that I am beginning to have a basic understanding of how to prepare for and live in and a survival situation.

Second, I’d like to give you a quick bit of background about myself so you can hopefully help me with my dilemma/question…

I am a young adult working on the 9th floor of a large building in Manhattan [on Long Island, New York City, New York]. I do not own a car and so I use public transportation, typically the subway. My apartment is about a 30 minute walk from work. In my apt I have started building up my survival gear, food, Bug Out Bag, etc…But I realize that I spend most of my days not in my apt but in my office, working. So I’ve decided to start planning my office survival gear because if Manhattan was ever attacked with some form of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, and I’m still alive, I don’t believe there would be time for me to get back to my apt before being affected (as subways, buses, and foot traffic will be clogged and slow). I figure my best bet for survival would be to hunker down for the first 48-to-72 hours in my building probably the library.

What are your thoughts/advice on staying in the building??
Also what kind of survival gear can I bring to work that would be discreet but really help me in my first 48 hours of survival?

This is what I have so far, which my employer has provided in a fanny pack for everyone:

[Mylar] bags of water. (We also have water coolers)
flashlight and batteries
emergency blanket
small first aid kit

Any advice would be appreciated and thank you for your time. Regards, – Flora in New York City


JWR Replies: Hunkering down in an urban environment can be difficult. We’ve addressed that before in SurvivalBlog.

Your office or cubicle probably has a locking desk, file cabinet, and/or a credenza. Typically, with the high turn-over rate in most corporations, keys for furniture gets lost. Ask your facilities department to either re-key your locks, or have them cut new keys for them, based of their manufacturer’s code numbers. (Typically stamped in small digits next to the lock key way.) With this semi-secure storage space available, there is no reason why you cannot gradually build up a substantial supply of food, and have a place store items such as a flashlight, sleeping bag, foam mattress pad, and so forth. Even the interior of modular cubicle walls have a remarkable amount of space for items up to two inches thick. (One advantage of being an over-worked technical writer for many years was that it gave me a lot of late night hours to explore such possibilities. You would not believe what I stored inside my cubicle walls!)

Keep in mind that in a blackout, your building will be quite cold, at least for half of each year So be sure to store an insulated pad, down jacket, a pile cap, and gloves in your office.

Buy a USGI protective mask (preferably an M40 or a recent USAF MCU series) and at least four spare filter canisters, from a reliable vendor such as JRH Enterprises. Since these only filter the available air, they are not nearly as capable as a compressed air system like firefighters typically use. The latter will operate even in oxygen-deprived environments, but a mask will at least increase your chance of getting out of a high-rise building alive, in the event of a fire. One trick, BTW, is attaching two filters simultaneously (on both sides of the mask), to increase the available air flow during heavy exertion.

Find out where any extra bottled water for your building is stored. There, or near there, is the logical place to find your “hunker down” room.

Scout out your building thoroughly. It might be worthwhile getting to know someone on your building Facilities Department staff. Buy him lunch, and have a chat. Find out where the roof accesses are, and if they are kept locked. See if there are any back rooms, machinery rooms, or passageways that are not well known. These rooms are often kept locked. One little-known method if gaining access to such spaces is to climb up through a suspended (or “drop”) acoustic panel ceiling, go over a partition, and climb back down into the locked room. You might even keep a small folding ladder such as a QuikStep ladder handy for just this purpose. (Tres Batman.) For some ideas on discovering unused spaces in buildings, see the Web Urbanist site, and related “urban exploration” web sites and their forums. (Of course, all the usual legal disclaimers apply.)

Weapons that are legal to possess in New York City have been discussed previously in SurvivalBlog. If nothing else, you should keep a cane or stout full-size umbrella in your office at all times. BTW, it is also wise to carry either of these whenever you are on city sidewalks or on the subway. They will look quite innocuous, but with the right training will give you a great advantage in a brute force fighting situation. For training, start with the Gordon Oster DVD, and the book “Raising Cane” by Octavio Ramos. Then take a FMA cane fighting class. Those would all be money well spent!