Surviving in an Urban Environment- Part 4, by J.M.

I am sharing experience and ideas about surviving in an urban environment in the event of short-term or major, long-term emergency situation. I have covered the topic of the getting home, the Get Home Bag, skills required for a trek home. Now, I’ve begun to cover what might be needed to survive a mid-length crisis of weeks or months. So far, we looked at the subjects of water and food. Now, let’s move on.


As the saying about hygiene goes, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” That’s especially true, if you’re confined to a limited enclosed area for a long period of time. Keeping yourself clean is critical for good health, and keeping your environment clean will minimize the risk of unwanted pests. The problem tends to be how to accomplish this with a minimal amount of water. I will now go over some recommendations.

Clean Your Apartment

Keep your apartment clean by regularly sweeping, dusting, and wiping surfaces and dishes down with disinfecting wipes. The wipes only store for a few months, so you should regularly rotate through those while maintaining a several month supply. Clean up any food spills immediately.

Quickly Bag Trash

You shouldn’t be producing much trash, but make sure you bag what you do produce and get the bags out of your apartment quickly. Since trash pickup probably won’t be coming any time soon, you’ll need to get creative to find somewhere to deposit your trash bags as far away from your apartment building as possible. Think “rat bait”.

Rat and Roach Poison

Keep a supply of rat and roach poison, since other folks around you probably won’t be as diligent about cleanliness. Apply both liberally around both the interior and exterior perimeter of your apartment.

Clean Yourself

Clean yourself thoroughly at least every other day using wipes or no-rinse soap and shampoo. Short hair and beards are a lot easier to keep clean, so stash a pair of hair scissors and keep your hair short. (Sorry, ladies, for the hair not the beard part.)

When It Rains

If there’s someplace safe you can go outside (roof, courtyard, et cetera), take a shower and wash your clothes when it rains. You can stock up on regular bars of soap for those occasions, since bar soap stores for a long time.

Indoor Shower

If you want to be able to take an indoor shower and can spare some water, you can use a camp shower and a 2-liter soda bottle. Just make sure you collect the used water and use it to flush your toilet or wash your clothes.

Anti-Microbial and Quick Drying Clothing

Switch to clothing that incorporates anti-microbial properties, like merino wool, bamboo, and synthetic clothing. It’s also good for it to be quick drying.


Brush your teeth daily using toothpaste tablets. Also, floss or use dental picks after each meal.

Toilet Use

Your toilet should still work, even if you have to pour “gray” water into the bowl to get it to flush. You should save up as much waste in the toilet as you can between flushes without causing it to back up. Odors can be sealed between flushes by wrapping cling wrap over the ceramic top of the toilet or placing a heavy board lined with rubber over it.

If you can’t spare enough water to flush solid waste down the toilet, store a 5-gallon bucket, bucket liners, a toilet lid, and a big bag of cat litter. Use the bucket for solid waste, and sprinkle some cat litter on top after each use. When the bucket starts getting heavy, remove the bag and dispose of it as far away from your building as you can. Keep using your regular toilet for liquid waste.

Toilet Paper

Given that a quantity of toilet paper is one of the common metrics when it comes to prepping and that toilet paper is typically one of the most coveted items after a disaster, you should stock up on it. Buy the larger rolls to increase storage density and reduce the temptation to tap into your prep supplies when you run out of TP and forgot to stop by the store.

Safety and Security

Urban areas tend to be less-than-safe even in normal times, and after a disaster when people are desperate, things will likely get worse. After a week or two with little food, you can expect hungry (and armed) people to start scavenging from apartment to apartment. Your dead bolt and key lock probably aren’t going to be enough to keep them out. So, you’ll need to do a few more things to improve your security.

Operational Security

Practice good operational security (Opsec). This means not bragging to all of your friends about how well-prepared you are, because I guarantee you they’ll be banging on your door a couple of days after a disaster. It definitely means not sharing information regarding your preparations on any social media. Furthermore, it also means being invisible after a disaster. Avoid making loud noises. Cover your windows with black plastic at night, if you’re using any lights. Don’t sit out on your balcony during the day. Don’t stand up near the edge of the roof to look around, et cetera. It’s important to minimize your profile, since a well-equipped, healthy-looking individual will have a target painted on their back. You should also carefully consider any excursions outside of your apartment because that significantly increases your vulnerability.

Going Out

If you have to go out after a disaster, do so as soon after the event as you safely can. The longer things drag out, the more desperate and dangerous people will get. When you do go out, practice being a “gray man”. This means blending in with other people to avoid attracting attention.

Secure Your Door

Replace the screws in your door hinges, lock plates, and locks with long security screws. This will make it harder for someone to kick your door in. If your landlord won’t install the screws, do it yourself when no one’s around.

Add as many deadbolts and locks on your door as you can get away with. Once you’ve strengthened your hinge and lock screws, the structure of the door itself becomes a potential weak point. If your door’s not solid metal, be prepared to reinforce it with a sheet of ¾” of MDF or plywood. Cut the MDF/plywood to size and store it under your bed or in the back of your closet, or paint it and hang it on your wall as art. When you need additional security, use some construction adhesive and screws to attach it to your door to strengthen it. Make sure you cut holes for your peephole and door locks.

Door Security Bar

Use a door security bar. The next step up from that would be to bolt some bar holders on each side of your door and use a 2×4 to bar the door. Use 3” or longer lag bolts screwed into the door frame to attach the bar holders. (You’ll need a socket wrench to drive them in.) For maximum security, install two bars– one 1/3 of the way up from the floor, and one 1/3 of the way down from the top.

Wide Angle Peephole

If your door doesn’t have a good wide angle peephole, put one in. Use an inspection mirror or periscope when looking through it to prevent someone from shooting you through the door when they know where your head is.

Safety Mirror Across the Hall

Install a safety mirror across the hall from your door where you can see it from your peephole or when you crack the door open to make sure the hall is clear. Alternatively, you can drill some holes near the bottom of the wall near the door and use the periscope mentioned earlier to verify the coast is clear. (Holes near the floor are less likely to be noticed.) Make sure you plug up the holes when not in use to keep the vermin out.

Windows and Glass Sliding Doors

Windows and glass sliding doors can be difficult to secure, particularly if they can be accessed from a balcony or fire escape. See if your landlord will install interior-opening security bars for you, or obtain and store a set for yourself. You could also store some ¾” plywood or 2x lumber and lag bolts to cover up vulnerable glass ingress points. But keep in mind that these items may deprive you of their use as an emergency exit.


Don’t focus exclusively on doors and windows. Consider how someone could break through a wall, floor, or ceiling to get to you. Many apartments have concrete or brick exterior shells and wood and lathe or drywall interior walls. In this case, it’s not that hard to break through. There’s not a lot you can do to fortify against that. However, someone attempting to do so will probably make a lot of noise. This noise should give you time to either escape or prepare to defend yourself.

Shooting Through Walls

If you’re concerned about someone shooting through your walls or door, there unfortunately isn’t very much in a typical apartment that’s bullet-resistant. Your best bet would be to lay your refrigerator or stove on its side in the middle of the room in front of your door so you can use it for cover. Fill the empty space inside with books, rocks, or any other dense material you can find to increase the level of protection.

Security Camera

Consider stocking a security camera. Get one that uses a 5V power supply, transmits video via WiFi, and doesn’t require a cloud service to use. You can install it down your hallway facing your door or above your door and drill a hole through your wall to run the power wire. Cut off the wire at the supplied power brick and wire on a USB connector (typically red-to-red and black-to-black for the power). You can then plug the camera into a USB power battery whenever you need to check it, and the battery should last quite a while with occasional use. To view the video, you’ll need to set up your phone or tablet as a WiFi hotspot and configure the camera to connect to the hotspot WiFi network.

Make sure you have this all configured and working before a disaster happens. The reason for this is that you probably won’t have access to the Internet to get help post-SHTF. Also, turn off or cover up any status LED lights on the camera (leave the IR LEDs uncovered), since they’ll make it stand out like a disco in a dark hallway. If you have an action camera, like a GoPro or something similar that can stream video over WiFi, you could use that. However, you’ll need to figure out some way to turn it on and off remotely so it doesn’t constantly run out of battery power.

Escape Routes

Always have multiple escape routes planned from your apartment, your building, and your neighborhood. This could involve rappelling out of a window, down from the roof or off the balcony using a rigger’s belt, figure-8 descender, a climbing carabiner and some climbing rope. You might need to break through a wall, floor, or ceiling to another apartment or just go down a fire escape.

Keep a Bug-Out Bag (BOB) geared towards urban environments handy. Don’t forget to include the contents of your GHB from earlier.

If your escape plan includes rappelling, you should take some training courses beforehand. In the middle of an escape from armed intruders is not the best time to learn how to rappel. It’s also important to understand that a rigger’s belt is only for an absolute last-ditch emergency escape. It’s not designed to be used on a regular basis in place a real rappelling harness.

Tomorrow, we will continue our list of ways to improve your security.

See Also:

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been part four of a six part entry for Round 75 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

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Round 75 ends on March 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.


  1. templedog – I agree that bleach is a good option for cleaning, but I was trying to minimize any solutions that required additional water use. It would definitely be a lot cheaper, though.

  2. Your toilet should still work? if your community loose power where do you think the solid waste is going to go? Most waste water plants have a backup generator which which might have a day or two days of fuel after the fuel runs out. Where do you think the waste is going to go after everybody keeps flushing.

    Most lumber yards carry or can order a waste water pipe plug. It is undersized balloon like, when it is in place you can inflate with a bicycle air pump. Consider buying one to fit your sewer pipe and a bicycle hand pump. Beats a basement or bathroom covered with someone elses waste. Consider the germs and smell.

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