How to Survive a City on Lockdown [+ PDF Checklist]

The event has occurred and anxiety has reached a fever pitch. Pretty soon the call goes out: Shelter in place, clear the streets, no exceptions!

Your town or city is officially under lockdown, with citizens confined to their homes and all non-essential services and businesses, and even some essential ones, shuttered for the duration.

NYPD police car

If you’re only interested in the printable checklist, you can get it here.

Now cooped up and equipped only with what you had the foresight to get beforehand, what will you do? How will you survive if the lockdown drags on for days or even weeks?

Why the lockdown was issued does not matter so much. It could be because of a terrorist attack, a potential radiological or chemical threat, or even an outbreak of contagion that has everyone’s nerves on edge, and the government pressing to contain the situation at all costs.

It may even entail a curfew enforced at gunpoint. No matter why, the government wants people to stay put and stay out of the way in an effort to minimize damage and maximize their control over the situation.

In today’s article, I’ll be offering you tips, guidelines and procedures for surviving in a city under lockdown.

Life after Lockdown: The 2020 Pandemic

As I’m writing this, during the whirlwind onset of the viral pandemic in 2020, citizens all over the entire globe are seeing their lives turned upside down and sealed up tight.

Prior to the weekend, citizens of Western nations were watching the “rest of the world” deal with containment, quarantine and healthcare for those infected with the virus.

The following Monday, their countries were telling them to stay home, button up and wait for instructions: no gatherings, no extraneous trips out, keep your distance.

Scary. And shocking

A pandemic of this magnitude has led to a breakneck response from the WHO and national disease response agencies across the world.

This level of intense activity is so unusual and diseases this dangerous are so rarely encountered in more prosperous nations that the initial reaction was pure shock.

People wither blithely carried on with nary a care, ignoring the hyperbole or took to the grocery stores with mad abandon, hoarding all kinds of supplies they may or may not need (namely toilet paper).

People that had not prepared mentally and emotionally for an event like this found it all too easy to brush it off as an overreaction.

People that did not prepare materially have found the pickins’ slim in grocers, gun shops and other “survival-centric” staples. The time to prepare is not when the clock chimes “time’s up.”

Pandemics are just a part of life and always have been, even if they grow increasingly rare over time.

For much of the 20th and 21st centuries, lockdowns have proven to be an effective if aggravating way to combat pandemics, and also a host of other pressing problems that can put societies in immediate jeopardy.

In the following sections I’ll will be providing some info and tips that will help you make sense of lockdowns, and hopefully calm your nerves if you are dealing with one for the first time.

Why Do Cities and Towns Get Locked Down?

A lockdown can be caused by all kinds of things. Ultimately, governments at the local, state or federal level will issue a lockdown, shelter in place warning, permanent curfew or some other such phraseology.

That means you need to go home, stay home and refrain from going out or gathering with other people until further notice.

Most typically, this will be in response to a pandemic or epidemic, since reducing the potential transmission vectors of a pathogen is one of the most effective ways to combat it while simultaneously giving medical professionals a chance to deal with cases of infection on their own terms.

Terror threats are another common cause of lockdowns, with the idea being that the less people that are out moving around or lumped together for any purpose, the less inviting, multi-casualty targets (and potential hostages) the terrorists will have to choose from.

Additionally, crowds of people along with foot and road traffic provide visual cover and concealment for terrorists on the go.

If the government can get everyone to cooperate and go to ground, the terrorist operatives will usually face the choice of moving about and being very easy to spot or going to ground themselves and getting cornered.

In the event of a chemical or biological weapon attack, keeping citizens in place in their homes is likely to help prevent mass casualties.

Homes are not airtight, obviously, but they can be made more resistant to whatever contaminants are in the outside air. Compared to letting people go about their day as normal and risk exposure to a lethal airborne agent, it makes sense.

Lastly, governments may issue lockdowns for their own purposes. If the “little people” are getting a bit too uppity, agitated and riotous with the terrible job that the government is doing, an easy way to get people off the streets or to engineer a pretense for mass arrests (or worse) is to issue a lockdown and attendant curfew.

When the government says it’s time to go home, and people remain on the streets, those are obviously the people that need arresting because they are up to no good. Yeah, right…

Effects of Lockdowns

Speaking broadly, the effect of a lockdown is to essentially slow or even stop the “pulse” of a city or region.

If people cannot leave their homes, that means they cannot go to work, go shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, visit family and friends or do anything else that requires going out of doors.

The effects of such a decision are far-reaching, and include second and third order consequences. But for right now, let’s just worry about the primary effects.

As clarified above, this is a good thing for the government’s interests if they want to keep people from gathering for any reason whatsoever.

It can certainly ease the passage of their vehicles and their agents around town, and it also makes it much easier to spot anybody “not on the team” on the sidewalk, on the roads or anywhere else.

Towns and cities undergoing lockdown often look like the stereotypical ghost towns; eerily quiet, with businesses dark and the roads clear of cars.

In support of this end, governments will often order non-essential businesses and other services to close or shut down. What is essential for the duration is often at the sole discretion of the government, not the citizenry.

Do not let it be lost on you that this is a form of petty tyranny, no matter how essential the lockdown may seem. This will naturally result and citizens being able to access goods and services that they are accustomed to, at least partially.

Al those poor people that are normally manning those businesses and industries will be out of work for the duration of the lockdown.

Depending on how enthusiastically the lockdown is being enforced by the government, there may be legal punishments if someone decides to break it.

If you’re out moving around without a travel chit or a legitimate excuse (essential work, getting groceries, getting medical care, etc.) you can be fined or even imprisoned.

In extreme cases, if you’re being locked down due to civil unrest or resistance to the standing government, you may be shot.

In total, most citizens will tolerate a lockdown for a good reason for a short amount of time, but not forever.

When citizens get locked down in their homes, it starts a sort of timer counting down until things get hairy: the economy starts taking a plunge almost immediately, and most people start getting very agitated through a combination of fear, cabin fever and dwindling supplies.

This means that most folks will start looking for an exit before the lockdown is lifted, and that can lead to conflict with fellow citizens as well as law enforcement and government agents.

A Look at Other Major Lockdowns

Take a look at the following historical instances of major lockdowns, and learn what you can from them.

Lockdown of Brussels, Belgium, 2015

A massive lockdown was instituted in Brussels, Belgium in November 2015 as a response to intelligence gathered about a pending major terrorist attack that was due to occur in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris earlier that month.

A sprawling manhunt was put underway for Salah Abdeslam, a surviving member of the team that attacked Paris.

The first day of the lockdown was described by citizens as a wartime atmosphere, with convoys of armored police vehicles going to and fro and citizens banned from congregating in public.

The police requested and were granted a social media blackout to prevent sympathizers and dim-witted civilians from telegraphing police movements.

Schools and universities were closed as well as public transportation, including the subways.

This proved to be a major disruption to the city at large and it remained that way for five days before being officially lifted, though plenty of businesses, schools and other facilities remained closed after the official lifting of the lockdown.

The overall operating cost to Brussels was tallied at 51.5 million Euros a day, with the final tally coming in at over 350 million Euros in lost revenues and tourism along with expenses.

Boston Marathon Lockdown, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A., 2013

In the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013, the entire city of Boston was locked down with a vengeance as police swarmed over the city looking for the two suspects, the brothers Tsarnaev.

All public transportation was halted, and citizens ordered to shelter in place with no exceptions. Most businesses were shuttered and many services suspended for the duration. Only the airport remained open, but under the highest state of alert.

As the intelligence came in the dragnet was tightened until police eventually began conducting house to house searches in Watertown after a shootout with the terrorists.

Thousands of uniformed officers canvassed a 20-square block area of Watertown leaving no stone unturned.

Throngs of armored vehicles in formation prowled the streets with squads of SWAT officers pacing them. After a resident discovered the younger terrorist hiding in his boat the police closed in and a shootout ensued before the surviving bomber was captured.

This lockdown saw several “false-positive” arrests and detainments of citizens before it was over, and to say that police and citizens alike were on hair-triggers is an understatement.

Problems Caused by Lockdowns

Lockdowns cause all kinds of practical problems for preppers. If they are very short duration they are little more than inconveniences or annoyances. But the longer they drag on, the bigger and bigger problem that they become.

If a lockdown is going to drag on for weeks, or even months with strict travel limitations, you might run low on supplies, and pretty soon your case of Cabin Fever can turn into a choice between risking arrest or even violence, and doing without critical supplies.

Beyond the immediate problems of provision and essentially being under house arrest, lockdowns are never, ever kind to the local economy.

Lockdowns of any length, especially ones that shut down non-essential businesses and services, will cost municipalities untold fortunes in lost revenues.

Most people live paycheck-to-paycheck, or real close to it, and a loss of their income even for a couple of weeks may see many having to default on their mortgages or their leases, and therefore lose their homes.

The strain of being cooped up against their will and living in a state of stress and fear gets to people, and typically crimes of opportunity will see a spike both during and after a lockdown.

Robbery is especially common. Considering that people who are lucky enough to have any warning that a lockdown is pending will often make a run on their local grocery store to stock up on vital supplies “for the duration” it is common to see empty shelves in stores that formerly contained all sorts of essential commodities and supplies.

While production may be unaffected, the sharp spike in demand leads to shortages, and shortages often lead to flaring tempers and occasional violence.

Lastly, travel restrictions and curfews can lead to clashes with police or military forces, and potentially even shootings on account of mistaken identity.

There’s no way to predict how permissive or how strict the regulations will be under a lockdown until your government actually declares them and informs you.

You can hope for the best, but you had better prepare for the worst if you want to make it through a lockdown with your sanity, and more importantly your life, intact.

Dealing with Lockdown Issues

Dealing with a lockdown is a matter of 90% preparedness, and 10% contingency planning.

If you’ve been a good prepper up until this point and built up a ready stash of equipment, provisions and other supplies, you might just be facing an extended “staycation” inside your own home until a lockdown is lifted.

If you have every, single thing you need to survive and thrive all you have to do is wait it out.

Yes, that can be a challenge all on its own for those who aren’t introverts or are prone to suffering from the doldrums, but you won’t be facing any major survival challenges.

But let’s say you haven’t stocked up. If you have any notice at all that the lockdown is coming, you need to go grab the things you need ASAP. Everybody else in your town will be doing the same thing.

Some of the most important essentials to hoard:

  • drinking water
  • hand sanitizer
  • long shelf-life food, because there’s no telling how long it’ll last
  • first aid supplies
  • toilet paper (I know people rush to hoard it when they panic, but it is very useful, unless you’re comfortable using a “Family Cloth”)
  • and, of course, means to protect yourself and your stockpile from desperate folks looking to acquire it

One easy way to give yourself a leg up on the big scavenger hunt is to hit up gas stations, small corner grocery stores and other merchants that are off the beaten track and unlikely to be targeted first.

This will ensure that you can get a good haul to help you get through a couple of weeks at least with a little rationing.

Nabbing an extra large load of groceries before becoming a shut-in for a couple of weeks is one thing, but dealing with a serious shelter-in-place order is another, specifically if you run the risk of being fined, incarcerated or even shot if you are caught out of doors.

This is where the rubber meets the road, and you’ll have to decide what you can and cannot live without or put up with.

If you do decide take the risk of making a supply run or attempting to “jump the fence” and get out of the locked-down area, or just going to meet up with other like-minded discontents you’ll need a plan.

You need to know who you’re up against, be it local law enforcement, state law enforcement, the National Guard, active, uniformed military or federal agents.

The type of government asset on watch as well as their numbers will make a big difference in how successful your illicit movement will be, and the likelihood of finding a poorly watched or unmanned route.

The most obvious course of action is to avoid all major thoroughfares if it all possible and you should also avoid moving in the middle of the day if you can.

Both of those things together mean you are going to stick out like a sore thumb and will certainly be caught.

If you’re able to move before dawn, after dusk or in the middle of the night and still accomplish what you need to you should definitely do that.

Try to plan things so that your primary and alternate routes on the way to your destination as well as on the way back all go via the back roads or less used secondary routes.

If you live in a major metropolitan area, move between buildings, down alleys, through the buildings themselves or even underground if possible to avoid roving patrols and surveillance.

You must keep in mind that the higher quality force you are moving against the higher the likelihood they will have better optical capability in the form of thermal vision, night vision and drones to help them keep an eye out for people just like you.

Chances are they will have had plenty of practice at using it…

In short, assuming you’re not dealing with a crackdown that is due to deliberate government hostility towards its citizens, you should try if at all possible to make things easy on yourself.

If that is untenable, or you are unwilling to take the chance that they will tighten the noose even more, you must try to escape and bug out.


Government lockdowns of towns and cities can affect preppers in a multitude of ways, ranging from mere aggravation all the way up to life-threatening confinement.

In the end, even a lockdown with the threat of force behind it is just a recommendation if you know what to do to circumvent it.

You should always be prepared to shelter in place for the long haul as a prepper, which goes without saying, but you must also have a plan for slipping out of the yard and getting out of dodge if your government decides to lock you down for an extended duration.

City Lockdown Checklist

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Here’s a printable checklist you can save and print out, so you can get these items without forgetting anything.

survive city lockdown Pinterest

1 thought on “How to Survive a City on Lockdown [+ PDF Checklist]”

  1. Thanks, Tom, for writing this article. Your article is both timely and very useful. I thought that we were ready but how can anyone ever truly be 100%? Still, thanks again.

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