Urban Survival at Home: From the start of the Bug-in up to the point of having to Bug-out
When it comes to disaster preparedness, most people think immediately of a “bug-out” bag, or even a “get home” bag, or any of the other variations one finds of the general concept of having to put gear on your back and make your way from point A to point B.It’s much simpler to think about just that initial process of “bugging out” when things go bad, than staying put. However, the harsh reality is that bugging out is the last thing you should ever want to do. The entire concept of bugging out requires that you be willing to sacrifice the known for the unknown. In order to be willing to take this step you should have no other option available to you.
Bug In Before You Bug Out
In contrast to bugging out, if you have spent any time or money prepping your home (or even if you haven’t), your odds of making it through a disaster by “bugging in” to your own (or even a friend’s or loved one’s) home are far better than biking, driving or walking to a destination that may even be worse than the one you are trying to escape. In this article I would like to give you a brief overview of how to bug-in to your home, all the way up to the point where you may not have any other choice than to bug out. Bear in mind that the bug-out situation is far less likely to happen than the need to bug-in, so put your primary resources to prepping your home base first.
Establish a Home Base
At my survival school, we run (among many other things) many urban survival courses that start with what we call the “Urban Core Basic,” which is 50 hours of hands-on skills training and scenarios to introduce all students to the same level of basic urban survival skills. The very first thing we do as a class is focus on securing the 5-acre portion of our training facility that we hold this course on, and then create some kind of secure shelter(s) for our class as a group. This is the “nesting instinct” and there’s a reason for it.
A Home Base Increases Your Chances of Surviving a Long Term Disaster
Having a home or even just home base to work with greatly increases your chances of survival. It also greatly helps overall morale and attitude which — make no mistake about it — are every bit as important as all of the other necessities combined. If you don’t believe me on this, take the “homeless challenge,” which is another training scenario we put some of our more advanced urban survival students through. Forcing yourself to live on the street with nothing more than the clothes on your back (especially in an unknown area) will wear you down very quickly. This is no different than having to bug out through different areas to reach a destination. In a bugout situation you are essentially in unknown territory, having to walk many miles every day, deal with hunger, thirst, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, illness and security issues. While this may seem to be a romantic notion that is idealized by Hollywood fantasy, the actual reality of bugging out in a post-SHTF environment is that unless you have seriously trained for it at least weekly if not daily, and are working with other people who have done the same, it is most likely a quick way to become nothing more than a walking re-supply for people who were smart or more fortunate than you and stuck to their own home base rather than bugging out, and who don’t mind taking everything you have, to include your body or life.So while it is obviously a very sound idea to have a planned bug-out destination (or even several), along with a “get-home” bag in the car and/or office, the purpose of this article is to walk through a more important step of prepping your own home and neighborhood (i.e. “home base”) for a post-disaster situation.
Prepping your Home Base
As with everything in the realm of disaster preparedness, it’s best to start and stick with the simplest concepts. We already know the basic necessities of almost any survival situation: Fire, Water, Food, Shelter and Security.In an urban environment, or any environment that involves our home, we can break these 5 necessities down in several different ways, and in doing so the essential concepts expand just a little bit into sub-areas. I like to break it down as follows: Water, Food, Heat/Cold, Power, Communication, Light, Health and Security.
As an example of this break-down of needs, rather than just the basic necessity of “fire” we ideally need to be able to both heat and cool things like food or possibly even our living environment.
1.) Water: This is one of the areas where many people miscalculate, and it is really one of the simplest and most crucial needs. My advice is to tackle the issue of water before you try to take on anything else, because it is so easy to take care of and doesn’t require a lot of financial investment. The biggest mistake most people make is that they woefully underestimate the amount of water they need because they don’t take into consideration exactly how much and for how many things we use water. a. Water to drink – This is of course the most obvious need. But how much, exactly? Plan on a minimum of 1 gallon per day, per person for your hydration needs. This is probably more than you need to survive at a bare minimum inside your home base, but plan on using that much drinking water anyway.Firstly because it doesn’t take that much room or money to plan for that amount and also because you’ll be glad you overestimated a little.
As an additional backup water plan, you should also invest in at least one water filtration system (for example: Berkey water filters), and also invest in one or more of the numerous and inexpensive, portable bugout-bag type systems.
However the first and most important necessity to start with is having a supply of water that does not need filtration or purifying. It is very simple to buy several 55-gallon, food-grade plastic barrels. The prices for these range from about $25 – $50, depending on whether they are new or used, and also depending on whether they already have a spout installed at the bottom or not.
Alternatively, the 5-7 gallon plastic water containers you can buy for under $10 will work as well. They are usually square and stack neatly.
b. Water for sanitation – Most people don’t consider this aspect, so let’s think about it here: Disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes create an huge mess of sewage, salt-water (near the coast), agricultural waste, and much more.
This means that even a minor cut, abrasion or laceration can become life or limb threatening, especially if medical care is limited. Proper sanitation means that we need water for washing off (shower), cleaning our teeth, cleaning out wounds and other first aid needs. Also we need water for helping clean and take care of toilet needs, whether that amounts to 5-gallon buckets, trash bags, or even a trench in your back yard.
c. Water for food – If you’re growing your own food (and you should be), then of course you will need water for that. In most urban areas it is rare to find very much water supply that is gravity-fed. This means that a power outage results in no water supply for your home, garden, greenhouse, etc.
How much water does it take to keep your food growing? Do you know? One way to track this is to set up a gravity drip system with PVC pipe drip irrigation (drill holes in it) and a 35 or 55 gallon drum. It doesn’t cost much to create this and saves a lot of water even when your water supply isn’t restricted. Rainwater collection or other sources of gray water are also a very good plan.
Rainwater collection, depending on where you live, is a good plan for drinking water too, but requires specific filtration in that case as well. Bear in mind that there are some states where rainwater collection is actually illegal. The constitutionality of this kind of regulatory practice is outside the scope of this article, but it is something to be aware of before you start building your own system.
2.) Food: Disaster food prepping should be thought of in at least two categories. Short-term and long-term food supply. By “short term” I am talking about time periods of two weeks or less. What a lot of prepper-type suppliers will try to sell you on is the concept of MRE’s and freeze-dried food-storage solutions like Mountain House for your home food supply.While it’s true that these have calories to keep you alive for a short-term disaster (less than a few weeks) they are not any kind of real food for the medium or long haul. The only real advantage you get from those short-term foods is portability and weight. So I’d recommend having Mountain House or MRE’s in a small supply that you can either pack into your car or bugout bag very quickly (if not already pre-packed), in case you have to become mobile. Otherwise use real food for your home-base prepping and stay away from prepackaged food entirely for that purpose.
You can very easily and inexpensively take care of all of your food supplies. Start with extremely inexpensive with foods like beans (red beans, lentils, etc.) and rice. Then build up from that starting point by using food drying (dehydrators like the Excaliber brand, for instance, can be bought starting at around $100) dry canning, wet canning, mylar and food-grade storage buckets to package and store your food. The important thing is to store your long-term food in vacuum sealed containers that will allow your food supplies to keep for several years. Storing your food in this manner is a skill, but one that is very easily learned. We teach these skills at my school, but you can also learn many of them on your own through “YouTube University” or through good books.
Avoiding Food Fatigue
One very important concept to keep in mind however is that “food fatigue” is a very real and imminent concept if you are planning on living on stored food for months or even years. To really understand how to work with stored food, you must also change your lifestyle as a part of your prepping. What I mean by this is that you must begin using and cooking with your stored food on some kind of regular basis. Doing this will allow you to rotate through your long-term food stores as well as understanding what kinds of flavorings, spices and sauces you also need to avoid food fatigue. This will help keep both your own and your loved ones’ morale and attitude sharp.
Finally, any real long-term food storage plan is incomplete without the talking about gardening and backyard livestock such as chickens, rabbits, ducks, goats, etc. Again in reference to the myths that are propagated by prepping-supply stores, this does not mean simply buying a can of heirloom seeds and storing them at the back of your pantry, thinking you’re all ready to grow your own food after society collapses.
Begin Actively Gardening
This means actively gardening right now. Raising food to live on takes work and most of all experience and time. You have to fail for at least a few years at gardening to get good at it. Understanding soil health, composting, vermiculture, droughts, insects, disease, harvesting, winter gardening, seed harvesting and so forth are all necessary aspects of growing your own food that you can only learn from experience. Not from books. A good analogy to this would be: Not having any experience in growing a garden for actual food you need to live off of and expecting your non-hybrid seeds to fulfill this part of your plan is similar to reading about starting a friction fire using a hand-drill and then assuming you can do it on that day when it’s 40 degrees Fahrenheit, raining and you’re almost hypothermic.
Creative Ways to Garden
Some of the related subjects (and of course also subjects we teach at my school) are: Raised bed gardening, “guerilla” gardening, wicking beds, aquaponics, permaculture, vertical and forest gardening. If you are interested in herbalism, I highly suggest you start growing those kinds of plants as well, while also learning to identify those that grow naturally in your surroundings whether urban or rural. I also talk (and interview many other experts) a lot about herbalism and growing your own food, urban survival and a myriad of other preparedness topics on my podcast,, if you are looking for more information on these subjects.
Back-Up Power / Electricity
3.) Power: Power is very useful for at least four very important things, which are all part of the sub-necessities I mentioned earlier in this article. Heat, cooling, light and communication. While you are thinking of the power-related ways to take care of these necessities, bear in mind that for most of them, there are non-power methods of taking care of these necessities as well. They might not work as well, but they are good backups.
a. Heating and Cooling: Start here with backup methodologies for heating and cooling your food that do not require power. This way you always have something to fall back on if everything else fails. For instance, examples of non-power sources of heating would be outdoor BBQ grills, fireplaces, fire pits & burn barrels. Examples of non-power sources of cooling food are root cellars, clay pot evaporative cooling, natural water or cooling (streams, creeks, springs, snow, etc.) and easy/cheap variations of underground food storage such as buried 55-gallon drums.
Then work on setting up at least one power-related backup source, such as generator, wind, solar, hydroelectric, etc. This subject alone is the material for many books. A generator is of course the simplest way to start, but don’t assume that will take care of your needs indefinitely. There are many considerations even with something as simple as a generator such as fuel (gasoline, diesel, tri-fuel, propane, etc.), decibel level, fuel storage and so forth. Don’t let the size of any task outlined in this entire article seem daunting to you. Remember, big tasks are nothing more than a lot of small tasks all piled into one stack. Just work on one small piece at a time and make sure you have your most basic and simple elements taken care of first.
b. Light: The easiest way to begin with light is again the non-power backup solution. Make sure you have candles available, as well as more than one way to light them. Power-based lighting is not only necessary to function in the home at night, but also for security outside and inside the home. Along with this (and part of security as well) is the concept of night-vision devices. However, remember that here we are talking about power in the form of batteries, so you need recharging systems (preferably sustainable like solar), and should try to keep all of your batteries the same size as much as possible (e.g. all “double A” or all “triple A”) which makes it a lot simpler to store backups and create recharging systems.
c. Communication: In addition to the aforementioned power sources, consider charging your peripherals like cell-phones, laptops, radios, etc., with DC power sources that can be achieved using very common, inexpensive accessories, such as small solar chargers and small (300-1000W) inverters that will run off of a car engine (cigarette lighter or battery). As with every sub-topic in this article, communication is deserving of at least one long article of its own. There are a variety of methods of two-way radio communication — MURS, FRS, CB, MB, ISM, HAM, etc., and much to know about each of them. In general, look first to 12V systems like CB for short range and HAM for long range. Both of these types of radio communication are also trafficked by users who at least have thought (if not planned) for post-disaster types of situations, whether on a highway, in a city or across an entire nation.
4.) Health: This is an extremely important and overlooked aspect of urban preparedness and survival. Prepping for health can start with having first aid kits available in the home clinic, the car, and in your bugout bag(s). However, there are also medical skills and practice that belong in any true home prepping environment. In my school, we focus on wilderness first aid and plant medicine in a post-disaster or remote situation.The amount of health care that can be taken care of using medicinal plants is phenomenal. It equals any mainstream, allopathic approach for all but the most dire of infections (and these days even that point is arguable because of antibiotic resistance) and of course medical or trauma situations that require surgery. For this reason, I feel that any real, long-term medical prepping should involve the study and skill of herbal medicine, to of course include growing your own medicinal garden as well as identifying medicinal plants in your neighborhood and yard.
Your First Aid Kit
As to the concept of the first aid kits and storage of medical equipment itself, plan on having various size first aid kits ranging from a medium sized backpack down to something you can throw in your pants cargo pocket. Always be looking for cheap containers to hold first aid kits and supplies for these different types of kits, and always have a way to carry them on your back or in your pocket. Don’t waste your time with bags that can only be carried over one shoulder or in your hands.However, much more important than the first aid kit itself is knowing how to use the first aid kit! This also means knowing exactly where the items in your first aid kit are, while under stress and in low-light conditions. It’s one thing to search for some Band-Aids at a leisurely pace but quite another to be frantically searching for ACE wrap, headlamp and gauze while someone you care for is screaming and bleeding in the middle of the night in front of you.
I prefer first aid kits and packs that lay out flat so that they can be hung up next to you on something, or just laid out on the ground/floor and don’t have to be dug through vertically. Also, whatever your kit contains, use it.
You need to rotate supplies through your kit constantly just like your stored food, so that it doesn’t just sit and decay over time. Use your first aid kit every chance you get. Even for the most minor injuries. Practice finding things you need in your kit in darkness. Using your kit all the time will also help you in tweaking your supply choices as you realize what is useful and what isn’t.
Finally, I would advise against buying pre-made first aid kits unless you have no other choice in the matter. Build your own. It’s cheaper and in the end is much more effective.
Sanitation is every bit an essential part of health care. If the power and water go out in your house, do you have a plan to take care of human waste? A simple, temporary solution is to use 5-gallon buckets and lime or sawdust (or any green compost material) indoors; outdoors, though, dig trenches for disposing of human waste. Try to keep liquids and solids separate — especially in the 5-gallon bucket solution (e.g. use 2 buckets separately). This will make sanitation much more manageable.
Composting Human Waste
Other sustainable answers are humanure composting as well as preferably solar and other composting toilets. Passive solar composting toilets are very effective if you live in an area with decent sunlight. The primary concept here is to have at least one plan for this and not wait until it’s actually an issue before starting your plan.
Defending Your Home and Neighborhood
5.) Security: One of the biggest misunderstandings in regards to home security is that a residential home is a defensible structure. Unless you have designed your home specifically to be a fortress, you most likely do not have a home you can defend from any committed attack from even a small group of trained or experienced attackers. This includes concepts like home location, the terrain around it, the home itself, windows, doors, fields of fire, exits, etc. However, bear in mind there is a lot more to defense than just sending rounds downrange; whether that means remaining hidden in what appears from the outside to be an abandoned home, to having excellent advance notice of what your attackers might be planning and who they are, to social engineering and negotiation from a position of strength when you do encounter others.
Before You Engage in a Gun Battle …
There are many alternatives to gun battles that need to be considered in your security plan, and a gun battle, especially in a world with limited medical care, is the last thing you want, even if you are certain you have tactical superiority.If it does turn into a gun battle however, it is important to remember that if someone actually makes it inside your home you have already lost a good part of the battle. Real home security actually starts with a radius of several hundred meters around your home, at least.
For this reason, in an urban or suburban setting, you should consider neighborhood security even more than home security. Neighborhoods are generally much easier to secure, as the actual perimeter can be both observed and monitored by many more people. Along with this barriers can restrict and funnel both the high-speed avenues of approach as well as foot traffic.On the down side, securing a neighborhood requires a lot of community involvement both before as well as during and after a disaster happens. Depending on your neighborhood, this can be easier said than done. If you live in a neighborhood with people who really don’t care about preparedness (and most of us do), it is difficult to get people willing to think about concepts like this. However, training and learning these concepts yourself means that you will be much better equipped to lead (again, leadership being something we teach at our school constantly) and even to deal with people who don’t have any idea what they are doing, other than getting in the way.
Get to Know Your Neighbors, Build Trust, Be On Great Terms
Nonetheless, getting to know your neighbors on any level is a very important first step. This is also helpful for day-to-day security issues right now without a post-disaster environment, such as watching if an unknown car or person is casing your neighborhood or home. Building this kind of awareness trust relating to possible security threats with your neighbors now can be a pretty easy thing to do and a way to get them thinking about security in their relationship to you without them even realizing it.On the subject of securing your own home, again consider the security at least where your property starts, if not further out. Motion detectors are very useful, especially for areas that you cannot observe.
Determine the Best Vantage Points
Also very useful is to figure out the best observation (and firing) vantage points both in and around your own home.Additionally, find the best concealed routes to and from those vantage points. It is useful to stock up on plywood and nails or screws to be stored in an area you can get to without going outside.
This allows you the ability to block off windows (and doors) from easy entrance while providing concealment and some minimal cover from weapons fire. Cinder blocks are the next easy step up from plywood. Reinforcing doors means both the hinge side as well as the latch side of the door. The stronger the door frame and the portions of the door that attach to the frame, the more difficult it is to use force to enter a home.
If a person tries to bash in the door with a kick or an object, and only makes a hole or dent in the center of the door, they’ve basically just provided you with a bulls-eye to shoot at.
Another very important concept to think about is egress (and ingress) into and out of your home and into and out of your neighborhood — in case the point is reached where you really have no better option than to bug out, or in case you are providing shelter to other neighbors who need to get into your home and help out.
Want to Turn Your Home into a Bunker? There’s a Catch
After all this talk about the importance of bugging in, I will give you my opinion (that may seem contradictory) that I am not a fan of the idea of turning your home into a defensive bunker — at least without the support of a neighborhood behind it.
In other words, the level of security you invest in should be proportional to the amount of community around you (as well as location, area defensibility, likelihood of disaster and attack, etc.) that that you think you would be facing. If it is only you and your small family, then make egress and ingress a priority.
No, you don’t want to bug out, but you also don’t want to stick around for an attack by 10 raiders who know what they are doing. Frankly, if even the same size force as you have inside your home really wants to raid your home they’re probably going to be able to do it, given a few days’ or more time.
There are so many aspects to defending against a force that would siege your home, from the psychological stress of being waited out and not being able to leave the home, to being burned out or gassed out with poisonous gas like insecticide, etc., that your best defense again is by far neighborhood security.
So as a final point in the security of your home, you also have to ask yourself why someone would want to raid you in a post-disaster situation in the first place.
Living Undetected: Minimizing Light and Noise
Understanding light and noise discipline (keeping light and noise to an absolute minimum), not flaunting the fact that you have gear, food and water — and having good situational awareness — are all aspects of your home security as well that can prevent you from even becoming a target to begin with. The more you have that other people might want, the more they will be willing to do to get it (“risk vs. reward”).Sometimes laying completely low and pretending to be an abandoned home might be your best option. Other times a show of force is the best choice. In a neighborhood that is secured, the show of force is generally what happens. If it’s just you and your family inside a home in an unsecured neighborhood, you will have to make critical decisions as to the best strategy.
If everything in your security plan falls apart, then having good intelligence and awareness will at least allow you to make an informed decision as to whether to stay or bugout, not to mention routes to take and many other aspects of bugout preparedness you need to make in the time you have to plan your egress and trip.
Bugging out means you want to have a concealed route and means out of your home base; at the same time, a bugout bag or gear and a route and destination in mind.
Determine a Rally Point
Possibly even more important than a final destination in a bugout from your home if you have to leave, is the concept of a “rally point.” These concepts all belong in another article that delves into more detail of the bugout, but are still important to consider as part of your home base preparedness, since they factor into security and other areas of prepping a home.As a final thought, I will leave you with the “4 A’s of Survival” as I like to teach them in my urban and primitive survival classes:
Awareness, Adaptability, Attitude and Accountability
Use these “4 A’s” as a type of general concept framework that you build all of your skills and supplies around.Attitude: You cannot survive anything if your attitude is not where it needs to be. This means everything from how you deal with discomfort to whether you really want to survive or not. Your mind is your greatest tool and greatest weapon. Attitude is the lubricant that allows it to work correctly.
Adaptability: You must learn to become adaptable because there is no way to predict everything that can happen.
Awareness: Being aware of what is going on around you gives you an immense advantage in every aspect of survival. It also requires much less energy to avoid a bad situation than to try and get out of one.
Accountability: Accountability is essential on every level of both teamwork and leadership. Being prepared for a disaster is not a lone-wolf activity — at least not for long. If you want to function well as a team or community you must be accountable for both good and bad decisions and be honest and sincere in your dealings with everyone you are working with.
by Sam Coffman
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Great information. I’m going to sign up for your emails and try to work out attending your classes