The Four Things I Missed Most In Urban Survival Mode, by J.C.

Did you ever picture putting all your survival know-how to the test in an urban environment, in a giant city? Did you think about all the piles of rubble you’d have to work around to “put rubber to the road”?

Mexico City Earthquake, September 19th, 2017

I know I didn’t, until I found myself in Mexico City on September 19th of last year, that is. This was the day a 7.2 earthquake shook Central Mexico, toppled buildings, and killed nearly 400 people. This also happened to be the anniversary, to the day, of the hugely destructive 1985 Guerrero Earthquake that shook the city to its knees and claimed an untold number of lives. (Estimates range from 10,000 to 45,000 people.)

First Alarm- Just a Drill and Reminder of 1985 Earthquake

September 19, 2017 didn’t exactly have an auspicious start when the seismic alarm sounded throughout the city in the late morning. But, this first alarm was just a drill– a reminder of 1985 and the shaky soil on which the city sits. It’s a drill that’s sounded every September 19th. Schools, offices, and hospitals throughout the city practice a mock evacuation, so it was nothing to worry about.

Second Alarm, Not a Drill

However, just after 2 PM there was plenty to worry about, as the alarm sounded once more. I knew that this time it was definitely not a drill, as I observed my environs swaying from side to side. I was at the mercy of nature.

Buildings mere blocks from me had crumbled to dust. Critical infrastructure was knocked out or overloaded, as thousands desperately tried to make their ways home. I felt like I was in the beginning scene of a SHTF scenario, and I was kicking myself for not being prepared.

Sure, I had the beginnings of a bug-out bag, but prepping had been a neglected hobby to this point. It had not been a priority.

Four Items I Wished For

These four items include a generator and a power bank. They also include a motorcycle and LifeStraw. Let me explain.

1. A Generator

A generator is not the most exciting survival gadget in the world, but I noticed its absence. Sure, an extra generator would have been nice for the six or so hours that I was without power in my home, but the city was able to restore my neighborhood pretty quickly. Others were not so lucky.

Some neighborhoods went over a week without power, and I would have been happy to loan my generator to those who needed it most. The people forced to live in darkness for days or, even more important, the 24/7 citizenry debris-cleaning crews helping to clear the rubble needed power.

Psychological Aftershocks and Light

Darkness has a heavy psychological effect, fueling psychological “aftershocks” of the event. A little light and steadiness could have gone far.

By nightfall most rescue crews had gathered the tools they needed, but it would have been nice to be able to contribute something immediately to the effort. In the weeks that followed, there were also periodic shortages of mission-critical items like shovels, helmets, and gloves.

2. Motorcycle

A motorcycle would have been useful. No, the streets of Mexico City didn’t collapse. They weren’t blocked by piles of concrete.

There was no electricity, so without orderly transitions from red lights to green, chaos ensues. Traffic congests, and ordinary citizens are forced to step in and direct traffic. A strong sense of being “entrapped” in an urban environment ensues.

Shortly after the quake, as I stood on one of the main north-to-south arteries in Mexico City, I witnessed a lone figure on a motorcycle zip out of the city. He was able to bypass traffic quickly and effectively, while the rest of us, reliant on suddenly impractical sedans and SUVs or worse– public transport– were stuck.

Luckily, the city remained calm throughout the duration of the recovery effort, but a motorcycle would have been a strong psychological tool telling me that if I need to get out I can.

3. A Life Straw

Luckily, the water lines in my neighborhood remained intact, but the Life Straw was peace of mind. Even with water available, I filled my bathtub with water as a precaution as soon as I confirmed that my house was safe to enter. That said, I was extremely grateful to at least be prepared with a Life Straw– the one item I did have the foresight to travel with.

In times of anxiety, the Life Straw meant that I may not have much food but I’ve got water, come what may. In a SHTF situation, a Life Straw will mean you don’t have to ration dwindling supplies or, worse, take your chances with unsafe, contaminated sources. Even if you aren’t in a life or death situation, a Life Straw will mean you don’t have to lug gallons of water from the nearest open store back to your shelter, saving you critical time and energy.

Purified Water From Spigots

With a Life Straw, I could have purified water from working spigots if need be. It would have been easy to share, too.

I never expected that my Life Straw would come in handy in a city where grocery stores, gas stations, and vending machines had bottled water readily available in normal conditions. Yet, here I was.

They always say that dehydration is a person’s worst enemy in exposed situations. I didn’t wrap my head around just how right they were until this day. I’d take a Life Straw over John Moses Browning’s famed 1911 pistol in most any survival situation.

4. A Power Bank

The next best thing to a generator would have been a portable power bank In a true SHTF situation, mobility and information are essential. You need a backup plan. Even if a building has power, it might not be safe to stay in it long enough to charge your phone.

Not captured in the figures about the earthquake are the many thousands of residents unable to return to their homes. They simply didn’t know if they were safe until a government inspection, which took weeks in many cases.

For the people forced to camp on the streets, because they don’t know if the cracks in their walls represented structural or cosmetic damage, a mobile power bank would have made all the difference.

Essential Information

While phones are not essential to survival, information is. Without the use of my phone, I couldn’t find out whether the airport was operating, where I should go to prepare for aftershocks and where to avoid, or whether my travel companions were okay. I was only able to mark myself as safe on Facebook to let friends and family at home know that I was okay before my phone died.

Besides being an information beacon, my smartphone had several tools that would have been invaluable during the crisis. I missed the flashlight feature most of all, especially without power indoors and without streetlights at nighttime.

It’s a 21st-Century luxury, yes, but my smartphone could have been in a 4-way tie for “Survival Tools For Which I Am Most Grateful”…if I only had a power bank to charge the thing.

Urban Preparedness

After watching the devastation of several natural disasters hitting huge cities this past year, I now take prepping very, very seriously.

I was amazed at how 30 seconds of heavy shaking can threaten to tear up the fabric of a city. I was grateful to see the citizens of Mexico City act with calm and relative preparedness. This was a city that had experienced disaster before. It wasn’t ready (you never completely are), but it handled it well. I wouldn’t expect most other cities to do the same.

Mostly, I was surprised at how just four items could have made the difference between peace and panic as we lived through the Central Mexico Earthquake in September 2017.

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been another entry for Round 76 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

First Prize:

  1. A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
  2. A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
  3. A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
  4. DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
  5. Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
  6. A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
  7. Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of (a $180 value), and
  8. American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.

Second Prize:

  1. A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
  2. A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
  3. A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
  4. A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
  5. A Three-Day Deluxe Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $190 value),
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  7. RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site.

Third Prize:

  1. A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
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  5. Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances, and
  6. Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from (a $240 value).

Round 76 ends on May 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. The pistol would have to be with utmost secrecy, because if you are caught with a single live cartridge or anything to use it in, it is 5 years in prison. If you use it, you’d need to disappear in a hurry for the same reason.

    1. I had to smile, remembering a trip to India where it is common to see motorcycles with a half dozen people, usually mom, dad, and two to five kids packed like on sardines. So it is possible! Desperate times call for desperate measures. 🙂

  1. I have checked out and found a military style motorcycle with a side car AND a buddy seat behind the driver/operator seat. Thus, a family of 3 could use AND you can add small pull type trailers. Most are 650-850cc and top speed 65 mph (works for me).

  2. Thanks for sharing your first hand account J.C. I appreciate it!

    I recommend everyone who feels a phone is a valued asset to get a good external rechargeable battery. Or two.

    The good ones cost 40 to 50 bucks. Some can recharge your phone EIGHT times.

    Also, you can do what I did and get a cigarette plug receptacle with battery clamps and a USB plug for your phone charger. Be smart and get the one with at least 2 USB outlets. These items are very lightweight and will get used many more times than our deadly, dearly beloved 1911.

    If JC had those two items in his prep bag he could have recharged his phone off the nearest car battery.

    Steven Harris has a whole one hour podcast on phone recharging linked to his Solar1234 web page. It’s well worth the time for us to listen. He also has the best scientific data for long term storage of fuel. For generators, he explains how to store good viable gasoline for up to 10 years using PRI-G and tightly sealed drums. He’s an automotive engineer with his own private lab, and volunteers at major disasters.

    Who here is paying attention to critical resources like the rare earth availability for making our rechargeable batteries? Thanks to this article further motivating me, I am going to stock up on another 100 bucks worth of Eneloops and external batteries.

  3. All of you might want to buy Zastava PAP type AK rifles/pistols while you can. I noticed that auto-sear pin holes are marked on the receiver. The BATFE has ruled for AR’s that if the receiver is marked for the auto sear hole, the receiver is a machine gun. If this carries over to AK’s, any such marked receiver is a machine gun. With the amount of weapons sold already this might force an opening of the NFA roles for new machine guns.

  4. While living on Crete, Greece would often see vacationers from N. Eur. riding motorcycles. But not just one or two people, these were families of four to five with baggage on one bike, and no trailer or side car. Side car or trailer is just something to get stolen or pull everyone off of bike and steal needed things. Something to think about.

  5. Your car may be immobilized by rubble, but it will still charge your cell phone, if you have a 12v adapter. If running, the vehicle will also provide house current, if an inverter is stashed in your prep gear.

    Always keep your car’s tank at least half full!

  6. Preps are great, but if your family ain’t on board, you may as well be single doing it, because you are. A sneaky way (and I am not above being sneaky) of getting them on board is to tune some of your preps into specifically supporting things critical to your families’ jobs. Such as, my wifes’ use of a computer and her phone to do her job. Those 12 volt big batteries don’t seem half so expensive now, do they? Same with my adult children. Having the ability to easily replenish those devices is so smart now. Bug out bags are in all the cars and trucks. Firearms easily accessible and supplied. Back up water and food, ready and waiting. Emergency everything on hand and in the right quantities and places. Come what may (and I pray G*d not the Big One) I captured the Friendlies not by logic, but by deception, using the adages of Sun Tzu. Works on allies as well as enemies. I lived through a couple of quakes in Calif. and hate them.

  7. Hey J.C.,
    great article. I could relate. We had a 6.3 quake here in my hometown of Christchurch in 2011. While my home was okay, and no-one we knew was killed, my parent’s house was badly damaged and key infrastructure was destroyed and down for weeks.
    First, water. Our side of town had access to clean, bore-sourced aquifer water, while my parent’s side of town had nothing. I needed the ability to transport litres of water across town, in man-portable containers.
    Second, food and fuel. I refused to buy into the mad, panic buying of both of these commodities. We hunkered down for two weeks and didn’t leave home, keeping to ourselves and being frugal. We had to drive across town to help and supply family members, but our best course of action at the time was hunker down, help neighbours and family.
    Thirdly, Liquifaction. Be aware. “A phenomenon whereby a saturated or partially saturated soil substantially loses strength and stiffness in response to an applied stress, usually earthquake shaking or other sudden change in stress condition, causing it to behave like a liquid.” In other words; soil and sand volcanoes in your backyard. Check your geotechnical specifications for the land under your home.
    Has the experience made me a better Prepper? Have I learnt anything that I would do differently next time? Definitely. But my basic initial advice in a big earthquake is: 1.Stay calm. 2. Look after your family/neighbours first. 3. Hunker down and ration.

  8. Motorcycle? I choose a bicycle. Slower, yes. More reliable, for sure. You are your own engine, you move silently through smaller spaces than even a motorcycle, less to break down. Family? Plenty of other bicycles for them, or…the various trailers and “pedal behind” devices for the little ones. And, yep, you might want to start riding now to be in shape when it matters.

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