Many experts believe that an urban environment is the worst place to be when a disaster hits and rightfully so, but many of us have no choice but to stay in the city. The majority of people don’t have wilderness retreats for when shit hits the fan. Most people will be stuck in a city with a million other people all fighting for survival. Despite the problems that will arise, there are solutions.
The following will explain the most critical dangers of living in a city and offer some solutions to surviving them. For those readers living in an urban environment, this information will benefit you greatly.
A City Cannot Function on its Own
Cities are dependant on outside resources. Without the constant importation of food, water and electricity, the city will stop working. Even though electricity and water can be created and found within the city system, the amount of land required for farming food makes it impossible for a city to feed its own people. If for any reason there was a stoppage in the delivery system, most cities would run out of food within a week.
Cities are not self sufficient and they never have been. They are entirely dependent on the farmers, power lines, truckers and train systems for their support. It’s a fragile system and it doesn’t take much to stop a city from functioning. A few broken bridges and a couple broken power lines is all it takes!
Common Dangers in the City
Here are some major problems that can occur during an urban crisis. The most dangerous and concerning ones are:
- Civil unrest and the collapse of social order
- Failure in the water treatment and delivery system
- Failure in the food supply system.
- Collapse of the power grid.
Usually one problem will cascade across all systems running the city. For instance, broken power lines will prevent traffic lights from working, thereby preventing workers from getting to work and preventing stores from functioning. Everything uses electricity, the elevator, the cash register, the lighting. A failure in food delivery leads to civil unrest which can lead to more problems. Keep this in mind. One problem can create many problems.
Civil Unrest and the Collapse of Social Order
Societies are held together by a belief in the “system”. There are systems in place to reinforce all these beliefs but social order primarily exists entirely as a psychological function. This psychological system can easily collapse under the right conditions.
Perhaps the greatest example of social breakdown happened during the L.A. riots following the Rodney King trial verdict (which caused a breakdown in the belief of justice and equality). The citizens of L.A. set fire to their own neighborhood and pulled people from vehicles and beat them to death. There were even reports of people firing guns at the firemen attempting to save their own buildings! The latest, well documented example of social breakdown happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Even the police were looting!
The only thing that got L.A. and New Orleans back in order was the intense and overwhelming presence of the National Guard. What would happen if the military didn’t come to bring order? The stores would’ve been looted, the trucks carrying supplies would be looted and violence would be rampant. Would you be able to protect your family from mobs of hungry, violent looters?
Civil unrest and the collapse of social order is by far the greatest risk of being in the city. Civil unrest is usually the result of the collapse of another system such as food, water or energy and will almost never occur just on its own. When food becomes scarce the price will skyrocket to the point that people are left with no other alternative but to loot and steal from the shop owners. Once the stores are empty, looting of the neighborhood and from others will be next, this is when violence occurs (when people start competing for resources). It usually takes about 2 weeks for violence to become rampant as the resources become more and more scarce. While certain regions will manage to keep things under control with martial law and military presence, other cities will see a rampage of violence. This will bring about a complete collapse of all other systems (water, communications, energy, etc.). Gangs of armed man will rule the streets and people will get into groups in order to compete for resources and survival.
Failure in the Water Treatment and Delivery System
Some water treatment facilities can be quite resilient during a crisis but if for any reason it fails… the results can be very grim. People can live without food for prolonged periods of time but water is required on a daily basis. You can only go for about 2-3 days without it. Most cities are built near water due to its necessity but are you willing to transport and carry several gallons of it daily?
Water is so essential that people will do almost anything to get it. During the first day of a water crisis people will figure it’s just a broken water main and the government will get it fixed within a few hours. As the crisis continues into the second day, people will start to get anxious and they’ll be buying all the water they can get a hold of at the local grocery store. If the problem continues, you could easily begin to see some form of social breakdown. As described in the previous section, a collapsed system will cascade into other systems…in some cases, bringing down the whole infrastructure. As the crisis continues people will begin their “search for water,” the grocery stores will be sold out of liquids and many will be left with no other option but violence.
Assuming the city has no rivers or large bodies of water, you’re going to see people in a mass-exodus away from the cities. Likely using violence to get what they need to survive. Take a look at the events of New Orleans… The city was flooded with water but it wasn’t drinkable, people were actually fighting and killing over clean water! Learn to filter out and clean your water and you’ll be one step ahead of everyone else. If for any reason the water stops flowing or becomes undrinkable, here’s what you can expect to see happen in a worst case scenario:
- Looting of all the grocery stores within the first week.
- Traffic jams on the outbound roadways as people run out of gas and abandon their vehicles. This could actually block the highways and trap people in the cities (it’s happened before during Hurricane Rita).
- A mass outbreak of water borne diseases as people become desperate and start drinking from unfiltered, dirty water sources. Learn to filter water!
- Outbreaks of violence during the looting as people fight over the remaining liquids.
- A mass exodus of residents leaving the city in search of water and safety.
- People looting abandoned houses in search of water.
Failure in the Food Supply System
If the disaster is known ahead of time (as in hurricane, war, recession) food supplies will run out quickly as people stockpile resources. Once the crisis actually hits parts of the infrastructure will breakdown which can result in major delays in food delivery. As in most urban disasters food will arrive sporadically, if at all.
Food for the most part is taken for granted and most city dwellers don’t really know what it is to be truly hungry. Due to scarcity food will become extremely valuable, so much so that any shipment of food that arrives will be quickly taken. It only takes a few days for people to realize how much they actually need it. If food is even delayed by even a few a days, expect the atmosphere to be panicky and anxious. Some cities or towns may experience very little difficulty receiving food depending on geography and crisis. Others may face near-starvation circumstances.
Remember, the cities depend entirely on food shipped in from the farms and food processing companies. Also, note that if there’s a water problem as mentioned in the previous section, and the mass exodus begins, the highways may be jammed up at critical locations, causing gridlock for the trucking industry. If we’re lucky, some trucks will continue to roll. If we’re not, assume that nothing gets through.
A shortage of food ultimately results in the same behavior as a shortage of water. First, people will eat what they have, then they’ll start looting the stores. After all local supplies are depleted and there is no hope of food coming over the horizon, they’ll leave the city and start looting nearby homes using violence. Some resourceful people will hunt pigeons and rats, others will eat bugs but most city dwellers won’t be able to stomach it. Either way, anyone with friends or family living outside the city will likely leave after the food shortage begins.
Collapse of the Power Grid
Nothing is as sudden or dramatic as the failure of the power grid. When the electricity stops everything stops and its effects can be felt everywhere. Almost everyone will notice it at the same instant.
Usually the outage is just a temporary situation and people will treat it as such. They’ll sit tight and wait for the power to come back on. Most likely a tree fell on some power lines, or perhaps a transformer blew up somewhere in the neighborhood.
Let’s assume the power doesn’t come back on. What would happen? The city would face some severe problems. Without power everything will shut down and within hours, many people will take the rare opportunity to loot valuable goods. This is exactly what happened during the famous New York power outage a few decades ago. The social order will become weaker and weaker as the power stays off.
Without power the entire city will be brought to a halt. We unfortunately live in a time where we are absolutely dependent on electricity. 99% of all businesses won’t be operating, and you won’t be staying up late. Nothing will work, the microwave, the fridge, the oven, your phone and pretty much everything you depend on won’t work. Some buildings will have generators with several days worth of fuel but in no time at all, that fuel will be depleted.
The water treatment plants will most likely be off line, causing all the events previously mentioned in the water section. Communication with the shipping companies would be impossible, and there would be massive problems in our food supply. A power outage would cascade across the entire infrastructure faster than any other problem and create total havoc. Most people take electricity for granted and they are completely unaware of our dependency on it. Life as we know it would stop.