First, there were riots and now the city’s been dark for months.
There’s no indication things are going to improve anytime soon. Roaming street gangs have formed and stealing everything of practical value in this harsh new world.
Roadblocks are everywhere and the few vehicles that still run are either gunned down in the street as someone tries to escape or they’re stolen as the gangs make their rounds.
Movement is what keeps me alive.
I travel light and only on foot during periods of low-light. Each day is becoming more difficult to find food and this life on the move is hard on me. There are quiet whispers of a community 200 miles outside of this hellish city working together to survive.
The squeeze on resources has choked the life out of this city. It’s time to escape…
The society we live in is a thin veneer that when stripped away, will force us to make hard decisions for ourselves, our families and our communities. There are no hard fast answers in any incident.
Adaptation is not a checklist.
The skillsets we obtain before the hammer drops are a huge determinant for how and if we survive.
The scope of this article is not to provide guidance on when to bug out or remain in place, but rather focus on tactics, techniques, and procedures for operating in and evading out of the urban environment.
According to the US Census Bureau, over 60% of the US population lives in a city, so odds are – this affects you.
Ride It Out Or Leave?
It’s safe to say the vast majority of Americans plan to ride out most catastrophes at home.
They’ve spent a lifetime accumulating ‘stuff’ and they’re not going to leave it behind. This is especially true for those that have planned ahead and have food and equipment stockpiled.
There are of course exceptions to every rule, like when an incident is localized (such as a natural disaster) and there are options for temporarily relocating. In this situation, the ‘stay behind’ crowd can be convinced to evacuate for the short term.
In many cases, bugging in makes the most sense.
You have shelter, at least some food/water, all the equipment and materials that you’ve stockpiled thus far and a known location with a least a baseline understanding of your neighbors and their behaviors.
Added to all that, you have no burden to travel outside your immediate location to meet your needs. In its simplest terms, you’re not trading the ‘known’ for the ‘unknown’. This is probably a good time to introduce the PACE acronym.
Primary, Alternate, Contingency, Emergency (PACE) Plan
Even the most stubborn folks in the ‘ride it out’ clan need a PACE plan.
The military has used this since the dawn of time because we know better than anyone that plans rarely survives first contact.
PACE is just a way to have three backup plans built in.
With that said, planning needs to occur at each level. Don’t just list a backup for the sake of filling in a blank. Plan out the What/Where/When/Who/Why/How.
It may look something like this:
- P – Bug in a home (working together with neighbors)
- A – Bug out to a nearby friend’s house (suburbs?)
- C – Bug out to location X (family or friends in a rural setting)
- E – Bug out to location Y (family or friends in a more distant rural setting)
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Strength In Numbers
There are obvious advantages to working in groups in times of crisis. This is the reason that our ancestors weren’t a bunch of lone wolves.
Even the bad guys figure this out pretty quickly and form gangs. To give you an idea of the benefits, here are a few:
- Improved security (more guns and a legitimate watch schedule that actually allows you to sleep while your neighbor watches your back)
- Improved food procurement (whether gardening or hunting, the pack mentality is a force multiplier)
- Reduced duplication of tasks/resources (pulling security for a crew of 20 is just about as easy as pulling it for only your family)
- Specialization (you might be awesome at gardening, while your neighbor is a nurse. You get medical care and she gets to eat)
- Mass (lots of defenders can ward off lots of attackers)
You get the idea. Aristotle said it best,
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.
One key to a successful group is the speed of its organization. If you’ve established a tribe and the roles within (prior to a disaster), your chances of survival and preventing conflict within the group improve exponentially.
A good place to start this dialog with your neighbors today is by starting or joining the neighborhood watch.
Even those that are not “preppers” have an understanding there are sects of society that target the affluent. Crime is a real thing and every class of society is at risk.
Once you begin working with your neighbors in this capacity, you’ll gain a greater understanding of their capabilities, specialization, commitment level, personality, and resources. This opens the door and facilitates the formation of a tribe.
A good tribe means a better quality of life on a day to day basis and certainly when the chips are down. Probably one of the reasons, ‘Love thy neighbor’ ranked so high in the Ten Commandments!
The rise of social media allows people to have thousands of connections to friends and co-workers, but it’s a double-edged sword. Many of us have lost the real connection with the people next door. Don’t’ worry though, there’s an app for that too. Check out Nextdoor – it’s a free private social network for your neighborhood.
In today’s day and age, some folks find it easier to make connections this way instead of just shaking hands across the fence. So get started building your tribe today, otherwise, you may have to head for the hills when the balloon goes up.
Escape the City
Regardless the reason, one may have to bug out in a hostile environment. Escaping the city early into the disaster may allow you the use of a vehicle, whereby the complexity and time required for escape are vastly reduced.
For the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume vehicles are not an option and we’ll dig into the factors that affect travel on foot.
Pre-crisis planning for the urban environment starts with an in-depth knowledge of the local area. If you are escaping a city you live in, you have the advantage over an evader escaping a ‘foreign’ city where they don’t know the terrain or the people. Some important areas for pre-planning include:
Habits, customs, taboos, clothing, and general appearance of local personnel.
These factors help the evader understand if blending in is possible, how to carry it out and the risks associated with disguise.
- What does your full bug-out system look like?
- Is the clothing going raise questions?
- Is your pack covered in MOLLE webbing going to draw unwanted attention?
- How will you carry your weapon?
Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape
In SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape), we say to always assume enemy presence.
The urban evader is wise to heed this warning as there are likely elements present that intend to do him harm and they might look no different than other members of the community.
Therefore, all personnel should be avoided if possible.
Depending on the circumstances of the crisis, evaders also need to be cognizant of the following hazards:
- Checkpoints, control zones, and any border-type areas
- Police, military area, and prisons
- Churches, markets, schools and food distribution points
- Rationing, curfews and civilian roundups
Other dangers in a compromised urban environment include debris, falling rubble, collapsing walls, contaminants, polluted water, gas leaks, downed power lines and booby-traps. Depending on the duration and cause of the crisis, mind-fields are even a possibility.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, I want to go into a little more detail on how dynamic and dangerous the urban environment is so that you’ll understand the extremely complex and layered challenged urban operations present.
To gain a greater understanding of the planning and situational awareness required, here’s how we break down the three-dimensional space:
- Urban airspace
- Super-surface (tops of building)
- Intra-surface (interior of buildings)
- Surface (ground, street, and water level)
- Sub-surface (underwater and subterranean)
At all these levels, threats are not only possible but likely. Feeling surrounded, yet? Good, you’re starting to grasp the severity.
Don’t worry, there are techniques that you can use to your advantage.
Urban Escape and Evasion Techniques
The key to successful urban escape and evasion especially in the urban environment is adaptability.
Hiding in urban structures, evading in plain sight with disguise and using the three-dimensional space during movement are a few examples.
Immediate Action Using Initial Movement
Evaders need to have a pre-determined course of action and execute that plan without pause. Remember your PACE plan? It’s time to put it into action.
Your gear needs to be ready to go.
Movement is life, so any delay is a detriment. Use environmental or situational aids for concealment. Darkness, inclement weather, dust, smoke, haze, ground cover, and any combat action will help provide opportunities.
All movement should be irregular to prevent enemies from anticipating your movement and setting up an ambush. Radically change direction often using hook-backs, deliberate offsets and erratic patterns with the intended line of travel.
If you’re breaking contact from some immediate threat, speed is essential. The main objective of this phase of movement is to put time, distance and terrain between you and the enemy/location without being compromised.
Take advantage of any ‘green spaces’ in the city like parks, golf courses or cemeteries as these will usually offer more concealment options, lower population densities and water procurement options.
Hole Up/Hide Site
During movement, evaders will need to utilize hole up sites to rest, plan, regroup, hide from the enemy or a combination of these reasons. When selecting a hole up site, use the PIC acronym:
- Protection from the environment
- Invisibility from the enemy
- Comfort – for quality rest/morale
Your site needs to offer multiple escape routes and prior to entering, use a wide sweeping J-hook approach to allow you early warning of any trackers following your trail.
Avoid hiding sites that are in obvious locations or where there is a high degree of contrast. Structures used as hole up sites are possible, but unoccupied areas are preferable.
Here are few ideas to get you started: Derelict buildings, sheds, factories, garages, ruins, rubble, subterranean areas, dumps, shops, churches, and alleys.
Once you’ve found the ideal area, identify a specific location in the structure for the actual site. Attics, basements, rooftops, steep slopes, between walls, under floors and crawl spaces are your bread and butter for hide sites.
Depending on the threat, terrain and time available the evader should use multiple sites rotating between each one. This prevents a ‘lived in’ look and makes it hard for the enemy to identify a pattern.
Evaders need to determine the type of evasion that is appropriate for the environment. This will be dictated by the threat and sociopolitical factors.
In some cases, they may need to avoid any contact with the locals (moving from point of concealment to the next point of concealment). Other situations may permit the use of disguise during movement.
If contact occurs, the idea is to be perceived as a local. During this type of movement, the evader must ensure their efforts are not out of place or suspicious. There are three categories of people an evader should pattern themselves after:
- Untouchables – homeless, or those generally avoided or ignored
- Invisibles – janitorial, delivery, utility personnel (part of the scenery)
- Gray – looking/acting like everyone else (mirroring)
No matter if you are using disguise or avoiding the locals entirely, here are some additional factors that need to be considered during movement phases:
- Observe the area several hours prior to leaving hide sites
- Use the time of day that will be the least noticeable
- Stay low to minimize signature
- Travel near battle-damaged areas and use clutter in streets and alleys to your advantage
- Avoiding intact buildings
- Use structures, rubble, clutter, foliage, or ditches for terrain masking
One vital component for successful urban escape and evasion is the ability to improvise to meet your needs.
Evaders must be extremely resourceful in using items found in their surroundings to capitalize on materials that could be of use. Here’s a quick snap-shot of ideas for meeting needs in the urban environment:
- Water – found in spigots, hoses, pipes, water heaters, toilet tanks, rain barrels or downspouts during rain (purify all before consumption).
- Food – scavenged canned goods, fresh trash, squirrels, rats, pigeons, fruit/nut trees or even pets.
- Clothing – stolen/discarded, improvised from cloth upholstery, curtains, blankets or trash bags
- Insulation – stuffing from furniture, foam rubber, paper or cardboard.
Urban Escape and Evasion Navigation
There are a few techniques one can employ during initial planning stages and while navigating their way out of the city. Evaders should use recognizable landmarks like stadiums, cemeteries, statues, prominent buildings (towers, churches, etc), bridges and natural features (rivers, mountains, cliffs, etc).
These known landmarks can help maintain a reference point during travel.
Other urban landmarks like satellite dishes (pointing south) or patterned street names/numbers or addresses can give navigational clues. If evading using disguise, avoid obvious behaviors such as pulling out a map, compass or GPS. Any repetitious motion can draw unwanted attention.
Urban Barriers and Obstacles
Many barriers exist in the urban environment (physical, human or terrain) so the evader must be prepared to overcome these hindrances. We use the AUTO acronym to think outside the box.
- Avoid/Around- Don’t penetrate a barrier that can be avoided or circumnavigated.
- Under – Consider using tunnels, culverts, bridges or trestles.
- Through – Find weak points like battle-damaged areas or locations where animals have already penetrated.
- Over – Climb to access high windows, rooftops, walls, etc. Keep in mind, it may be impossible to climb back down. Have a plan for crossing the top and down-climbing the other side.
Oftentimes structures already have built in climbing aids such as drainpipes, adjacent trees, scaffolds, and utility fixtures as ready-made ladders (pipes, conduit, wires, etc). Look for all the options in the structural supports: cables, girders, beams, etc.
Improvising may be required to assist the evader when climbing. Wooden pallets, two by fours, pipes, barrels, dumpsters, boxes, rope, weapon slings, belts, electrical cords, linens, and clothing, are a few items that may come in handy.
Most urban environments have utility tunnels for steam, water, gas, sewage and storm water. These may be viable options for easy cover, concealed travel and limiting contact with people.
Unfortunately, the subsurface options are riddled with hazards that may make travel dangerous or even impossible. Here are few considerations:
- Vagrants or other refugees may have the same ideas on going underground.
- Gas buildup can lead to asphyxiation or explosions.
- Sewers and storm drains can fill up very rapidly causing flash floods.
- Navigation aids may not work making it difficult to maintain direction and knowledge of location.
- Darkness may require the use of a light source.
- Confined space means fewer exists and little room to maneuver.
Additionally, subsurface entry points can be locked, bolted or welded closed. Evaders may access these areas using manholes, maintenance entry points, subway/rail tunnels, service doors or culverts.
Side note: It’s always a good idea to disguise access to an entry point.
Urban Escape and Evasion Equipment
When planning a bug out operation in the urban environment, there are a few items you may want to add to your standard bug out bag checklist to give you more options:
- A prying or crowbar tool for bypassing locks or other barriers.
- Gas mask, dust mask, tactical leather gloves, eye protection because the city is a nasty and dangerous place.
- Roadmaps and topographical maps for the applicable city for route planning and navigation.
- Binoculars for early threat detection and to limit unnecessary movement.
- Sillcock Key for accessing external taps (if the water is still on).
- Escape kit for defeating locks without destruction (if you have the skills). Check out the Bogota kit from serepick.com
- Compact pistols (like the S&W airweight) or short-barreled rifles offer good concealment options for evaders using disguise
*Disclaimer- Most bug-out bags are usually overloaded so you’ll have to decide for yourself what items are worth the weight.
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Now is the time to weigh your options and plan/pack accordingly. Give yourself multiple alternatives by developing your PACE plan and not restricting yourself by only having the ‘ride it out’ mentality.
The flip side is – it may not always make sense to bug out in every crisis. You need to plan on both fronts, so get to know your neighbors, start working together now, pack your bags and develop a few options in case you need to escape the city.
**Editor-in-Chief’s Note: JD is the founder of iwillmakeyouhardtokill.com. His site is dedicated to a wide variety of skills that improve survivability in emergency situations as well as everyday life. He is a SERE Specialist with over 18 years of active duty service teaching aircrew and special operations personnel how to survive, evade, resist and escape at the U.S. Air Force Survival School located at Fairchild AFB, Washington.