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How to Safely Bug Out from the City

There are different types of disasters that could destroy life as you know it in a city (natural causes, or caused by mankind). The worst thing you can do as a prepper, is not have a plan for the worst-case scenario. If a disaster strikes the city you live in, you’ll want a plan so you won’t have to panic and find a way out when everyone else is doing the same.

Bugging out from inside of a city can be very difficult, especially when the disaster is more serious. There are far more risks involved when you are dealing with a larger population in a more confined area. The risk of being confronted by zombies (the unprepared) increase, as well as the risk of becoming bogged down due to high traffic. Having the right plan can make the difference between getting out within an hour, or within a day.

Different disasters cause different reactions from people in a populated area. Hurricanes are a major cause of mass evacuations in cities along the east coast. When it’s hurricane season, most media organizations give a warning enough in advance to ease some of the anxiety of evacuating. A disaster caused by man, however, can cause severe panic. This leads us into why you should plan ahead to bug out of the city within the first hour.

Timeline

While every disaster is different, causing different reactions from a population, the worst-case scenario generally leads to the same types of reactions from people. Having these reactions broken down into a timeline can help explain why bugging out as quickly as possible is critical to your survival. The sooner you start planning, the better off you and your family will be in case of a disaster. Every hour post-disaster causes more problems for preppers trying to bug out.

Before the Disaster

There are some cases in which you might get a notice before the disaster strikes your city. It’s in your best interest to heed to this information, doing so will allow you to bug out from the city before mass chaos ensues. One example of this, would be if an intercontinental ballistic missile (IBM) is launched and heading towards your location. While the missile is in the air, you will have (minimal) time to bug out away from your city.

In today’s current events around the world, IBMs are a legitimate threat. It’s best to prepare well ahead of time, so that when the time comes to escape your city, you’re well prepared. The article “3 Hours Until S.H.T.F. What You Need to Buy” accurately describes the items that you should concentrate on stockpiling when you have a limited amount of time before disaster strikes your area.

Timing is everything when it comes to bugging out from a city. Certain times are more dangerous than others. If you’re trying to bug out when everyone else is, you’re going to encounter heavier traffic. If possible, try to bug out early in the day. Most people won’t be awake in the early hours. This gives you the upper-hand, giving you more freedom of maneuver when it comes to driving, as there will be less traffic.

One

The first hour after a disaster is the most important hour you, as a prepper, will face. In this hour, you’ll be faced with the decision on how to bug out, where to bug out, and who to bug out with. Route planning can help save you time while you bug out, but routes can change depending on if the disaster was localized to one area as the epicenter. Make sure you have multiple route plans in case a disaster strikes your .

The routes you’ll plan should revolve heavily around which areas will receive the most traffic (such as interstates, or “Main Street/Avenue”). Avoid these areas, as they could be filled with people looking to get out of the city. The more people there are, the more risk you have of running into violence. Make sure you have at least three possible routes to safely bug out from the city once you leave your house. Don’t “wing it” when you bug out, this could lead to you making unnecessary turns, costing you more time.

Have your bug out bag readily accessible, this can help you greatly after SHTF. There’s no need to waste time trying to dig around looking for it, so make sure you have it in an easily accessible spot. Save your family time by designating one area in the house where you’ll keep all of your bug out supplies – this way if you’re preoccupied, you can instruct them to gather the supplies.

Getting your family together after a disaster can be a headache, especially when you have kids in school. To help mitigate the stress that comes with this, make a plan for your family to be able to meet up in case of a disaster. The sooner you make your plan, the better off you’ll be in case the SHTF. For example, if you have kids in , designate an area where you’ll be able to pick them up quickly in case you need to. Make sure you go get your kids (or spouse) before you bug out, as grabbing them while you’re trying to escape can lead to you deviating from your route. Your family is your highest priority, so make sure that’s the first step you take when bugging out from the city.

Six Hours

With every hour that passes after a major disaster occurs, more and more panic will ensue. This will make communication, as well as movement very difficult. When panic strikes a mass population, a majority of that population has an “every man for himself” mentality. There will be major accidents on roadways, pedestrians hit by vehicles trying to flee, or even pedestrians trampled by people (in crowded areas).

Looting will begin happening in areas that have essential supplies, as well as electronics or vanity stores. If you can help it, do not go to stores after a disaster occurs. If you do, you’re subjecting yourself to more risk of injury when people begin looting. If you see looters, don’t confront them. A lot of people will use this time as a time to be lawless.

Violence will start to increase, as people start to embrace lawless mentality. When you combine panic with limited emergency resources, people will begin taking matters into their own hands. Avoid populated areas as best as you can during this time, otherwise you’ll wind up caught in the middle of the .

12 Hours

Supplies will begin to deplete rapidly, both essential and non-essential. If you decide to wait until after a disaster to gather supplies, you are definitely up a creek without a paddle. It will be nearly impossible to gather supplies after a major catastrophe, due to the mass panic, looters, and whatever other conditions of the disaster that present themselves.

The zombies (unprepared) will begin to beg for help. It’s up to you whether or not to trust them.  The issue is you don’t know if they’re just looking to exploit your kindness for your supplies. If you decide to help them, make sure you have people positioned behind them with a weapon in your vehicle in case they decide to try anything.

Ammunition stores will begin to be looted; depending on what the disaster is. This subcategory is if the disaster is due to violence. People will be looking to defend themselves and their families, so don’t wait until after a disaster to supply yourself with ammo. Another risk factor of this scenario is where there’s ammo, there’s guns. There is a risk of it being like the wild west by ammunition stores, due to lawless mentality.

One Day

Trusting any stranger can be deadly at this time as any person in their right mind would have already left the area (if the was due to violence). You also need to take into consideration the type of disaster that you’re faced with. If it’s a storm, or anything caused by nature, people may just be trapped and looking for help. Don’t be selfish, help someone if they genuinely need it.

Many people who are in public areas at this time will have gathering supplies as their main priority. Stay away from them if at all possible, they may try to rob you for yours. Have a plan in case you run into looters, so you don’t panic if you do. Conserve your ammunition, don’t fire warning shots. If you fire your weapon, may it only be in self-defense. Never shoot somebody just because you panicked, and if you do have to shoot somebody, shoot to kill. Shooting to wound somebody is inhumane.

A great article to reference in regards to different timelines of a post-disaster situation is “The Different Stages of a SHTF Scenario”. This article lays out the different stages of how society will be before and after a disaster. This timeline describes how your environment in the city will be up to one day after the disaster, the article I referenced lays out the stages for more of an accurate long-term timeline.

Getting out of the city within 24 hours is the absolute maximum, you should strive to escape before six hours have passed. One day after a disaster, people will gain almost complete lawlessness and this can cause unnecessary risks to you and your family. Never try to shelter in place unless you absolutely must. Sheltering in place leaves you potentially vulnerable to looters, as well as people who will try to exploit your kindness. You don’t want to leave your family’s safety up to somebody else to rescue you.

If You’re Stuck in the City

Let’s say you’re in a situation where you haven’t been able to bug out from the city before 24 hours have passed. There are many factors that could leave you facing this scenario such as; a sick child, blocked roads, or even the fact that it’s too dangerous to bug out yet. No worries, sometimes it is more safe to wait out a disaster than it is to bug out right away. If you find yourself in the situation where you must bug in, make sure you have your house secured. Stay away from windows, as this may leave you exposed to the dangers happening around you.

Make sure you have an alternative source for heat/light. Most disasters we face (or could face) end up resulting in power outages. There are many ways to generate electricity in case this happens, however my favorite item is the “K-tor” manual electricity generator. You can generate up to 10 watts with the hand-crank generator, or 20 watts with the pedal generator. You don’t need electricity to have light, chem-lights (glow sticks) offer a cheap alternative to expensive generators if a backup source of light is all you need.

On the other side of this spectrum, let’s say you’ve already bugged out from your house and you’re on the way to your BOL (Bug Out Location), and your vehicle breaks down. While this may be scary, all is not lost. The worst thing you can do in this situation is panic, you’ve made backup route plans for a reason. At least one of your backup route plans should include if you have to travel on foot.

While this will take a lot longer, it could end up being more safe for you and your family (if it’s chaos on the roads). Once you can, make sure you get as far away from the roads as you can. There will be people trying to escape in a panic, and they might end up hitting you with their vehicle. Once your away from the main roads, navigate your way in the direction of your BOL. If your BOL is too far to travel on foot to, you should navigate yourself to the nearest safe location (friend’s/relative’s house) to spend the night.

If there are no locations near you that are safe, spending a night in the woods is always an alternative. In my article “Foxholes in a Tactical Defense”, I describe how utilizing foxholes can be a great benefit to you if you must spend the night in the woods. Try to stay away from motels/hotels if possible, as these places will attract desperate people who are in your situation. Desperate people are more prone to making irrational decisions involving crime. Be aware of your ever-changing surroundings, new dangers will present themselves at any given moment. If you remain attentive while bugging out, you will have a higher chance of making it out of the city alive.

Communication

There are multiple ways to communicate during a disaster (or post-disaster) other than standard phone calls. If cell towers are still putting out signal, your best way of communicating is with your cell phone – don’t try to revert to other methods unless you absolutely must. Walkie-talkies (two way radios), or other types of radios are a reliable means of communication until the channels receive too much traffic from people.

OPSEC

To remain secretive in your movement, you need to remember to adhere to “OPSEC” (Operational Security). OPSEC means (loosely) to secure sensitive information when discussing something openly. Sensitive information as a prepper may include: routes, supplies, how many people, bug out location, etc.  Never discuss sensitive information openly without using at least one type of cypher.

Cyphers are a way of securing sensitive information by using code-words or other means. While abbreviations can be useful (i.e. “OMW” for “on my way”), they can be decoded easily by someone who’s determined enough. Instead, use code-words (e.g. “books” for “money”). This ensures that only you, and the person you’re communicating with understand what’s being discussed.

Once You Leave

Communication is important throughout your entire expedition, including once you’re out of the city. A missing family member (or a team member) can be incredibly stressful, and the chances of this happening are high due to the frantic nature of a disaster. A great way to help ease the stress of this is completed during your pre-disaster plan. Make sure you lay out your bug out route to everyone that you’re taking with you. Include specific areas that you can meet up at every so many miles in case somebody gets separated from the group.

If it’s safe, try to stop at a gas station (or a rest stop) every so often while you are on your way to your bug out location. Most gas stations and rest stops have maps of the area, allowing you to get a more accurate description of the area you’re facing if you don’t already know. If there’s still somebody attending the gas station or rest stop, ask them if they know of any changing conditions of the roads ahead. This, combined with your new map, will allow you to make any necessary changes to your route that you might need.

Communication is not just summed up by using walkie talkies, it also involves communicating with the local populous every chance you get. They will more than likely tell you what information they know about the ever-changing surroundings post-disaster. They may even provide information that could save you and your family’s life. Never be too proud to ask information from a local.

Arriving at your bug out location doesn’t mean that you are safe just yet, you must make sure that it’s not already occupied. In my article “Advanced Shooting Techniques for when SHTF”, I describe how you can tactically clear your bug out location after you’ve arrived. Never assume an area is safe without clearing it first. Communicate with your team, make sure you don’t group up too close when you’re outside of your bug out location. If it is already occupied by another prepper, they could have traps set up.

Emergency Transmissions

There will be multiple transmissions over the radio explaining the disaster, and where to go to remain safe. Unless you have no means to escape the city, avoid the areas they deem “safe” at all costs. While they might offer safe locations to avoid the disaster, you have to understand that there will be many people who flock to these locations. The more people there are, the more risk there is of violence and theft.

A great thing about these emergency transmission “safe” locations is that they can help you in your route planning (if you haven’t escaped already). Areas around the safe location will be crowded. When planning your route to bug out, avoid the vicinity around the safe area. There will more than likely be increased traffic around these areas, making your extraction time longer than necessary.

Urban Terrain

Urban terrain can be incredibly difficult to navigate if you’re inexperienced. However, there are many different tricks to help make navigating easier. Most cities are laid out like a grid, with different roads dividing city blocks (the area of land between two roads). When looking at a map, you’ll notice that most United States cities are laid out like a grid.

In the United States, most urban areas have streets that run north/south, and APRIL (Avenues, Places, Roads, Isles, and Lanes) running east/west. Knowing this can make navigating urban areas much easier; so if you get lost during your extraction you can look and see if you’re on a street, or APRIL and know what direction you’re heading to get you back on track.

After a catastrophic event, businesses will be riddled with looters. These areas should be avoided as much as possible, otherwise you could wind up caught in the violence and chaos that follows. Zombies (the unprepared) will panic and start looting, so don’t wait until after a disaster to look for supplies. Try to navigate at least a block away from major businesses (more if ).

If you have the resources, have a secondary BOV stationed outside (or near the outskirts) of the city. This way, if roads become too crowded, you can bug out on foot. Many times, in a disaster situation, traffic can become backed up. This is the perfect recipe for accidents, as well as reckless driving. If you have to extract on foot, avoid major roads if possible.

Sheltering in place is only the exception, not the rule. Never shelter in place unless you absolutely must as you are leaving yourself at the mercy of the disaster (and the people around you). In some cases, sheltering in place is the smart way to go (i.e. weather related, nuclear bomb, etc.). When you can, get out of the city as soon as possible.

Problems You May Encounter

There are several problems that you can encounter while you bug out from a city. For every problem, there is also a solution. Remember, you have the advantage as a prepper. Your hobby (or job) is preparing for these types of scenarios, so you have a solid foundation when it comes to an urban disaster. We’ll go over the three most common problems you could face with while you bug out from the city, and how to handle them. Tip – when you are in your planning phase (pre-disaster), include your family when you plan how you will deal with certain problems. This way, if you are injured, they can carry out your plan.

Blocked Roads

Many times, in a disaster situation, urban terrain can become littered with traffic. When you combine traffic with a blocked road, you come up with a huge cluster of panic. If you find yourself trapped on all sides by vehicles and there’s a blocked road ahead, don’t be afraid to use your vehicle as a battering ram to escape the deadly clutches of traffic. Don’t be an idiot though, intentionally causing harm to people is reckless and inhumane.

While you’re driving, make sure the person in your passenger seat has a map. Don’t rely heavily on electronic navigation, in the event of an EMP. If you encounter a road blockage, have your passenger divert you to one of your alternate routes. In a disaster, your chances of encountering a blocked road while you’re leaving the city is high. Make sure you have multiple routes planned to solve the problem if you should encounter it.

Zombies (the Unprepared)

Zombies will be all around you when a disaster strikes. The prepping community is a small one compared to the massive population around us. These people are unprepared, and will be desperate when a disaster strikes.  Desperation, combined with panic, causes people to do unspeakable things (I’ve seen it firsthand). Put yourself in a zombie’s shoes. If you were unprepared, where would you go? Avoid these places, and you’ll decrease your risk of running into them.

When you encounter zombies, do your best to ignore them unless they’re in desperate need of live-saving help. Don’t be that person that drives away if someone needs your help to save their life. If somebody is trapped under a vehicle, stop and help them. This situation refers to the mass population who will be in a panic to escape the area and gather supplies at all costs.

If they become violent, remember you’re more prepared than they are. Use the skills you’ve learned to suppress the threat, including lethal force if necessary. Never use lethal force unless you have a legitimate concern for your life, or your family’s life. There are always consequences for murder, even post-disaster.

Disclaimer: NEVER shoot anyone unless you absolutely must, the disaster you face has more than likely racked up a death toll already. Don’t add to this number just because you’re in a panic, too.

Mass Violence

If you’re on your way to your bug out location, and you encounter an area in the city that is in the midst of a violent breakdown, don’t panic. If you can’t turn around, or you’re trapped in the middle of the chaos, immediately seek a sturdy building. Staying in your car could be more dangerous, as people tend to flip them on their side. Don’t wait for your car to be subjected to violence if you’re trapped, there’s nothing wrong with coming back to it later.

Once you’ve left your car, time is of the upmost importance. Don’t hesitate to look around, immediately secure your family inside of a building and move to the second floor. Moving to the highest floor could make escaping much more difficult in case of a fire. The second floor secures you from the violence happening on the ground, and allows you to jump 10-12 feet to safety in case of a fire on the ground floor.

Do not engage in the violence unless you absolutely must. Engaging somebody that’s involved in the mass-panic violence, will draw attention to you (and your family). Never draw unnecessary attention to yourself, make your group very inconspicuous by immediately fleeing to a safe location. Live to fight another day.

Wrap-Up

Planning is crucial to a timely extraction from the city.  You don’t want to be thinking about where you should go after a disaster strikes. Every hour after a disaster decreases your chances of making it out of the city unharmed. The first hour after a disaster is the most opportune time to bug out (if possible). Most people are still in shock, and won’t be moving much. After the first hour has passed, mass panic will begin, causing your extraction to be more difficult.

Make sure you plan your extraction route around areas that have frequently high traffic. You don’t want to be sitting on a freeway trapped on all sides by other vehicles when time is of the essence. Even though you should avoid highly-populated roads, also try to avoid alleyways. These areas are subject to higher crime, due to their concealment from people.

In short, urban areas can be a headache when trying to bug out after a disaster. However, if you’re prepared ahead of time, you’ll greatly increase your chances of making it out of the city in a timely manner (and alive). Always have at least one backup plan, although it’s best to have two or three. This way if Murphy’s Law (anything that can go wrong, will go wrong) comes to fruition, you have another solid way out.

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About Reaper

Reaper
I’m an active-duty infantryman with the U.S. Army, and I’ve served a combined-service of over 5 years. Throughout my career, I’ve learned various survival techniques, as well as self-defense techniques. I specialize in weapons, long-range reconnaissance, distance shooting, and long-term isolation survival. I’m a very conservative, very “to the point” kind of person.

2 comments

  1. What most people is urban areas fail to do is a simple exercise of evacuation math. For example, how many registered vehicles are there in your city or county? How many lanes are there for existing evacuation routes over the distance you would have to travel? If you know the answer to those questions, it is a straightforward process to figure out how long it would take to evacuate, assuming that nothing went wrong. Of course, everything that could possibly go wrong will, so the answer you come up with will be unrealistically optimistic.

    I live 75 miles outside of a metropolitan area of 4.1 million people where there are 4.9 million registered vehicles and six evacuation routes. If you allow a minimum of 30 feet for each vehicle (excluding tractor-trailer rigs) you have nearly 28,000 miles of traffic, end to end. If you spread that traffic equally across all six evacuation routes you would have 816,000 vehicles on each route. These routes eventually reduce to two, and in some cases, a single lane for traffic. Assuming a constant rate of 30 miles per hour, each lane would have over 2,300 miles of vehicles. It would take the last vehicle more than 3 days and four hours to clear any location point that you chose to measure. Naturally, the farther these vehicles travel into rural areas, the fewer gas stations there are. The deeper those vehicles travel into rural/small town areas, the less likely those communities will be able support an influx of unequipped, unprepared refugees. One way to look at it is to visualize a plague of locusts coming to strip a small community of everything they have.

  2. Ben makes a good point about the volume of people and vehicles in an urban area. Hurricane Rita was a prime example of what Ben describes.

    A factor that works in a prepper’s favor is that the vast majority of the unprepared will not be quick to respond. We’ve seen plenty of cases in which the zombiefied public will sit and wait for federal help. Zombies have a lot of inertia.

    If the disaster is predictable (like a hurricane), the masses may mobilize and flee en masse (especially, as with Rita, if told to). With Harvey, the authorities opted NOT to tell the zombies to flee — so they didn’t. The evacuation was less Rita-like. Many stayed to face the storm in town.

    A local disaster, like a terrorist bombing, won’t likely cause the panic exodus unless it’s nuclear. People seem to have the mindset that if it didn’t occur near them, it’s not a big deal. They’ll wait it out. Maybe it’s that 9th Zebra thing. The lion cases the herd and catches zebra #10. #9 stops running and even watches the lion eat #10.

    Better to be Zebra 1 or 2 and get out sooner than the pack.

    — Mic

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