Every prepper should be aware of their local situation and have a bugout plan. To properly bug out you need to be acutely aware of your surroundings, have a movement plan, and have a final location.
This article will look at the challenges of an urban bug out through the eyes of an urban resident. I solicited the input of a good friend that lives in New York City.
He is intimately familiar with the urban bugout. He is analytical, extremely organized, and a wiz at table top exercises!
His situation is as follows. He lives in the heart of Manhattan with one roommate. Of the two, my friend is much more experienced in both wilderness and urban survival. He has an advanced medical background and a very tactical mind.
His roommate will be “along for the ride.” Only recently adoptive of a survival mindset he is still learning the ropes. To his advantage he realizes his limitations and as such is comfortable with following orders during an emergency.
Other than his roommate there are no other ties to the city. No pets, no family, no significant others. They are free to move and if need be evacuate on their own schedule.
Living in an urban area, my friend has put a lot of thought to having to escape when things go sideways. This article will share the central tenants of his plan and the key factors that shaped his bugout.
Cities During Crises
It doesn’t take a lot of thought to determine that urban centers are not the ideal place to be during an emergency. We’ve seen it multiple times before.
In 1977, the NYC blackout resulted in widespread looting and vandalism. The ConEdison power system suffered an amazing three lightning strikes. This included strikes on their equipment as well as their partner’s equipment.
Thermal overloads and failed generators resulted in most of New York City losing power. By the time it was over 100 fires were set. Over 500 police officers were injured. Over 4,000 looters were arrested.
On September 11, 2001 the terrorist attack that hit New York City left tens of thousands stranded as public transportation was widely shutdown. One of the more memorable images was the masses walking across the Brooklyn bridge. They had no other option.
In recent hisotry, Hurricane Sandy hit NYC in 2012. Looting and violence was minimal compared to 1977. The true threat of Sandy was its effect on transportation. Widespread electrical outages affected most of the city and associated infrastructure limiting public transportation and traffic control.
Worse, most of the tunnels in and out of Manhattan were flooded. Several subway tunnels were under water as well. Travel in and out of the city was severely limited for 3 days.
Knowing that NYC has a history of going to hell in a hurry, my friend’s threshold for bugging out is very low. If things go south, they will likely go south in a hurry. To survive you must be observant and more importantly, act before the rest of the crowd.
In general, the city is messed up on a daily basis. Simply put, it’s an island, and you’re stuck.
The best chance for survival is in a slow burn event. Rapidly developing events will require a lot of luck and immediate action. A Nuke attack is Boston’s problem not NYC.
Only during a slow burn will he have the opportunity to pick up on various indicators, and act quickly to enhance his chances of survival. It’s still not without challenges, though.
So, how do you know when it’s time to go? He has several indicators that he keeps a constant tab on.
His first trigger is derived from social indicators. These include the doormen, baristas and others. He has spent a considerable amount of time getting to know these people well. Aside from a social connection they have their fingers on the pulse of the populace.
Due to their positions they are collectively exposed to thousands of New Yorkers every day. They overhear conversations. They sense when people are tense. They are human barometers.
He engages with them often to get the pulse of the town. When the undertow of conversation turns to fear, this is an indicator that it’s time to go. Simply put, fear will paralyze the city.
His second indicator is transportation. On any given day transportation is rough in the city. Busses and subways always have delays. It isn’t uncommon for a few trains (on predictable routes) to be running behind. That’s the normal for the city.
His trigger involves watching the public transportation patterns. It’s normal for a few lines to be behind schedule. Just as it’s normal for mid-day busses to be 50-75% occupied.
If half or more of the trains are backed up or all the busses are 110% occupied then this is abnormal. Any abnormalities signal time to pay attention and possibly bug out.
Next are the first responders. NYC has many, many police and fire departments. Each one covers a relatively small geographic area. While there is a little overlap and sharing of coverage, it isn’t the norm.
Given enough time in a few select coffee shops it is possible to learn the local officers (by vehicle) and firetrucks. All it took was time, notes, and a lot of observation. The trigger here is a significant uptick in out of precinct vehicles with no associated major event.
Traffic flow can also be an indicator. Major intersections hubs and intersections such as Penn Station, Port Authority Bus Terminal, Bryant Park, and Union Square all have their natural rhythm. When that rhythm is upset it’s time to put the pieces together
Putting it All Together
There is no single bugout trigger. It’s a matter of watching the signs, gathering your intelligence, and trusting your gut. But when it’s time to go, you must go. Urban environments are not where you want to be with things go sideways.
With the concentration of people in a city when one or two percent decide to take action, that’s a lot of people all going the same direction. That won’t stop them from trying to violate the laws of physics. He is very aware that when the world won’t bend to the mob’s whim, then the mob gets ugly.
For these reasons he remains ever vigilant so that he can get the advantage of time. Every second counts!
One of the keys of urban survival is establishing a constant state of readiness. The foundation of this is his Every Day Carry (EDC). His EDC is fairly normal with a few additions based on past events.
The first layer is normal EDC. Aside from keys and cash, there’s the ever-present prepper pocket lint. His swiss army knife, flashlight never leave his pockets.
In his non-descript bag are N95 masks, goggles (remember the dust on 9/11) and work gloves. An extensive first aid and trauma kit fill out the bottom of the bag. Most recently he’s added a BaoFang radio for monitoring local communications as well as communicating with his support group.
That being said, you can’t carry everything you need as EDC. That just isn’t practical for public transportation or for work. Also keeping a bag in the car is impractical, and having a car is almost as expensive as an apartment.
The bulk of the bugout supplies are kept at home and cached at his group’s rally point. There have been many articles written about bug out bag contents and caches. I’ll leave those discussions for other authors.
The minute the bugout has been triggered is the minute the plan is set into motion. The immediate need is to get home, get geared up, and get on the move.
In an urban environment, every step in your plan must get you one step closer to safety. In my friend’s case, regardless of where he is, he heads to his apartment to gear up for the long evacuation.
The only exception to this is if he is closer to his rally point than to his apartment (rare if he is in the city).
The main rule is to get then stay above ground. Once below ground you are at the mercy of the trains as well as the labyrinth of tunnels. It is not uncommon to be stuck underground for four or five blocks.
Everything is dependent upon electricity. Stuck underground in the dark with a few thousand of your closest friends. This is Not a solution for survival.
Another consideration of the underground tunnels is air and air circulation. While there are fans in with the trains, on the people levels there are few fans to circulate fresh air. This is especially bad if the trigger event is biological.
He is rarely more than an hour by foot from the apartment so job number one is get above ground (if he’s in the subway). Job number two is get home.
Once home, it’s re-pack, re-center, and quickly head back out.
Get Off The X
Once the decision has been made every footstep must lead him off the island.
98% of New York City traffic leaves the city via tunnel. Unfortunately, this leaves only bridges and ferries as evacuation options. Even if it is a rapid down turn the ferries will still operate so they remain a viable option. The question is what is the quickest way to get there.
Modes of Transportation
His primary directions are east and north. East is a relatively short trip while north will take a while. This is where transportation, especially through highly populated areas must be considered.
He always has the option to go on foot. The advantage is that he can move with the crowd and blend in as a fellow refugee. Alternatively, he can travel away from the crowd.
The advantage of traveling small group is that he can take extreme measures to blend in and be stealthy. It doesn’t take much to look homeless, or to take time moving through a populated area. The sacrifice you make is time. Moving stealthy can really, really, affect your time scales.
His second option is a bicycle. With a bike he can cover great distances especially once he leaves Manhattan. He has access to a pair of un-remarkable mountain bikes. Large sturdy wheels and in good condition. They can be ridden or be used to carry heavy loads.
The challenge is that it may make him a target. His plan is to use it where appropriate and for as long as possible.
If he gets accosted then it is better to ditch and run rather than fight it out. Accept the additional miles traveled and don’t look back.
Finally, there is motorized transportation. He doesn’t have access to a car (within city limits) so public transportation and Uber are his options.
If he is able to leave the city ahead of the tidal wave of humanity then he can still take a bus. Hence, elevated situational awareness before it hits the fan.
Making his way away from the city on a bus is easy, cheap, and well defined. Hiring an Uber (at a much-elevated rate) is still faster than walking albeit expensive.
Know your options and use them to the best of your advantage. Just because it’s the end of the world doesn’t mean that you have to walk every mile.
Primary Plan – Leaving the City
His rally point and team are on Long Island – so east is the primary direction. North is a distant secondary direction.
South and West are a no-go. Traffic is so bad on normal days that crisis traffic will be impossible to traverse.
He has his primary and secondary routes memorized. Maps are in the BOB for tertiary and improvised routing. The goal is to be out of the city in a maximum of 12 hours. Once on long island the goal is to find somewhere to rest. The rally point is a maximum two day walk.
The biggest difficulty will be finding a place to hole up to rest. There are a few options but it will be a target of opportunity. Appear homeless and crash under a bridge or find a local park and tuck in under a bush.
Cell phone are available while those channels are up and not swapped. Alternative communication is planned via HAM radios. He has a pair of BaoFang UV5Rs with stock antennas as well as two upgrades.
The first is a standard 15.6” whip antenna. While on the move this greatly increases his communication range. The final antenna is a roll up J-Pole ½ wave antenna. Compact and powerful, it must be setup while stationary. An excellent addition while resting if the situation allows.
All repeaters along the primary and secondary routes are programmed into their radios. They have run numerous practice runs and have identified when and where the radios work. More importantly they know where the coverage gaps are indicating that they have no coordinated COMS.
Once at the rally point the priorities for “the team” are rest and an update the situation and evacuation plan. The team, albeit small, will re-supply and head off of Long Island.
Primary Plan – Leaving Long Island
The plan to leave Long Island depends on vehicular travel and working ferries. Unfortunately, that’s life on an island.
Due to routine travel off the island the team members are familiar with most ferries. They are marked and prioritized on their maps. Secondary boats (private ferries as well as boats not large enough to carry a vehicle) are also mapped out.
Contingencies for barter and bribery to improve the odds at getting a spot are in play as well as the basics of maps, COMS, situational awareness, and intel.
Secondary Plan – Meeting the Team Off the Island
As Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (thank you Wikipedia) once said (paraphrasing) “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”
That’s an awfully fancy way to say “Plan for Murphy.” My friend is the king of backup plans for his backup plans. Evacuation from the city is no different.
Along with multiple pre-scouted routes as well as paper identified routes, he has a route for meeting the team off of Manhattan.
His primary backup is heading north (away from the population density) until he has access to pre-determined rally points. This is where public/private transportation comes in. It’ll be a lengthy journey. Especially on foot.
The situation dictates the rally point if he can’t head east. There are two options.
1) Get to Long Island and meet the team at a pre-defined rally point north of their primary location (e.g. at a ferry dock).
He does have access to a raft if crossing the river is required however this is an absolute last resort as there are many complications (moving the raft across town) and dangers (navigating the river, at night, alone, etc.).
This is an act of desperation and he recognizes that.
2) Head north and meet the team after they cross with a ferry.
This option will take communication and coordination as the exact landing point will not be known. They will rely on both radio and non-radio messages (e.g. the lost dog poster that indicates “I’ve been here and I’m not moving to position X”).
Not a great plan, but a plan. The amount of time it will take him to get to any of the rally points is highly dependent upon the situation. If things are still “relatively normal” he can rent a car, or continue via bike.
If he’s on foot he accepts that the probability of meeting up is low. In that situation he will plan on heading north an meeting at their final destination.
Once they are out of the city and into the suburbs they head north. The primary vehicle is a small all wheel drive SUV. Reasonable on gas mileage, a little more clearance than a sedan it fits the team plus gear.
With a roof bag they double their storage space. They pack the team plus bug out bags and extra food, water, and essentials.
Hey, not everyone can have a fully tricked out HUMVEE.
There are several options as they have multiple locations to head towards. However, there is no prepared bug out location like a bunker in the woods.
The short-term plan is a relative’s rural Vermont farm. They have an invite, so showing up will be welcomed and expected. There currently isn’t much in the place of cached goods at the location but that is included in their 2020 plan.
The alternate is a small cottage rental that they are frequent vacationers to. Here, no formal invite exists. They will have to rely upon an open cabin and willing owners. A small stash of pre-cached goods are being put in place in hope of greasing the skids.
Traveling these distances will require a vehicle (or several pairs of quality boots). They have friends and relatives along the way that they can stop at or potentially borrow bikes, a cart, or lord willing a vehicle.
Regardless of the means of transportation or the final destination, it will be a long trip. Yet, it’s a trip that gets them out of the dangers of the city and to safety.
I am not a city person. When he moved there, I pretty much wrote his chances of survival off. In my limited view of urban life… he’s screwed. That was before we discussed his plan.
He has taken no insignificant amount of time to plan, prepare, and cache in order to increase his chance of survival. His chance of success is elevated by having a supporting team. Together they have laid out the best options for getting off the X, and surviving what may come.