Learn A Thing Or Two From Survival Shows

This week, we’re going to take a break and have some fun. Specifically, we’re going to talk about TV shows that actually might have survival lessons included. In recent years, there have been several survival shows that have come onto the market, and it looks like several of them are going to be regular features.

Now, don’t think that watching a survival TV show for 42 minutes a week is going to make you a survivalist. That’s about as ridiculous as thinking that watching UFC fights is going to make you a fighter. They are both entertaining, and you will probably learn some new skills and tactics, but you really need to practice the skills to become proficient.

So, let me go over some of the survivor shows that are on TV. I’ll tell you what they cover and whether my wife and I consider them being worth the time to watch to help you get more prepared for surviving disasters.

I’ll start with the better-known ones, but the better shows are actually at the end of the list.

Survivor on CBS: This series is one of the grandfathers of reality survival TV, and I’m thankful for it because of that. But there are few, if any, survival lessons to be learned from it. There have been some interesting political and human-interaction lessons from it; but for the most part, it’s become a glorified soap opera. Even though the series has a great name, we don’t watch it.

Survivorman on Discovery Channel: This series ran in 2004, 2007 and 2008 and featured Les Stroud in the wilderness facing various survival situations without support. In fact, he carried all of his own camera equipment. The shows emphasized focus on the basics and how little time there is to focus on anything other than the basics in a survival situation. I don’t know Stroud, but we have a common acquaintance. He’s the real deal. He’s not superman, but he is willing to stake his survival on how well he performs in survival situations. I’m not a fan of his new series, but I do still watch Survivorman repeats occasionally.

Man vs. Wild on Discovery Channel: This is a very entertaining survival show and there are usually one or two good tips or tactics in each episode. Bear Grylls knows his stuff, but he is supported by a crew. And in order to make things more interesting, he takes a lot of risks that are unnecessary in a true solo survival situation. It does make good TV, but you really need to keep in mind the fact that a lot of Grylls’ stunts would be foolish to do without a support crew standing by to pick up the pieces.

Worst-Case Scenario on Discovery Channel: These are also very entertaining and well-filmed survival shows. Bear Grylls is the main expert in this one as well. The episodes I watched were primarily entertainment, but there were some good points. Grylls was one of the first survival experts to do shows on survival strategies in urban environments, and most of this series is set in urban areas. I disagree with his willingness to take unnecessary risks and his approach on self-defense — especially his emphasis on techniques that take a lot of skill and practice to use successfully. But, like in Man vs. Wild, it does make good TV.

Out Of the Wild on Discovery Channel: The first season ran in 2009 and followed several small groups of people surviving in the Alaskan wilderness. This series emphasized just how much effort it can take to simply cover your most basic needs in a survival situation. It clearly showed how important attitude, fire, shelter, water, food and sleep are. I don’t think you can appreciate how hungry, thirsty and tired you can get until you’ve gone a day or two in a survival situation without a good meal or clean water, but this series showed how various people break down in survival situations. I really enjoyed this series. There aren’t very many hard skills taught, but the human interaction and psychological lessons make it worth watching.

The second season, which was filmed in Venezuela, was a great look into how starvation, dehydration and exhaustion can wipe out people, place group dynamics under stress and dramatically change a person’s psychology in a matter of days. I really liked this series and strongly recommend catching a rerun or buying the DVD.

Dual Survival on Discovery Channel: This series is currently running again on Discovery. I originally recorded it because of my appreciation of Cody Lundin. I kept watching because of the vastly different approaches Lundin and Dave Canterbury take to wilderness-survival situations. Every episode follows the same script, much like real wilderness survival: Figure out shelter, fire, water, food and navigation, and get out. The neat part about this is that Lundin is a self-reliant, shoeless hippie and Canterbury is a former U.S. Army sniper/scout. In every challenge they face, I find myself relating to one or the other of their approaches.

Man, Woman, Wild on Discovery Channel: This is one of our favorite survival shows simply because there is a woman on the show whom my wife can relate to. In the show, Special Forces survival expert Mykel Hawke and his wife Ruth England take on various wilderness-survival scenarios starting with only knives and clothes. There are some how-to components to the show, but it mostly highlights the dynamics of two people being in a survival situation with only one of the two being a survival expert. And I can’t emphasize this enough: My wife likes this show way more than the all-man survival shows.

The Colony on Discovery Channel: This is urban-survival reality TV. The premise for season one was that a pandemic killed off the majority of the population and a mismatched group of people found each other and decided to work together. There were some bad pieces of advice — for example, using a bank of car batteries to power appliances — but it was a great series with at least a half-dozen solid urban survival lessons in each episode. Season two was a combination of a few good lessons and a lot of hair-pulling. That being said, it is a great tool to use to come up with scenarios to contemplate — especially figuring out how you would deal with being forced to survive with people who have very different skill and motivation levels.

MidwayUSA’s The Best Defense: Survival! on Outdoor Channel: This top-notch series was developed by three friends of mine: Michael Bane, Mike Janich and Rob Pincus. We have been trying to figure out how to best tie in my SurviveInPlace.com Urban Survival Course with this series. Hopefully, we will get it figured out in time for the season three launch in early 2012. This series is all meat and how-to. The Outdoor Channel let Bane, Janich and Pincus take off the gloves for season two, and they knocked it out of the park. They covered survival rooms, food, water, medical, bugging out, surviving in place and more.

The important thing about all of these shows is that the skills they teach are next to useless until you take ownership of them, practice them and make them your own. There are occasional stories about how people survive disasters by doing something that they saw on TV, but the reason those stories make the news is because they are so rare. Someone who learns skills, practices them and successfully applies them under stress is normal and not newsworthy.

Do you have any favorite survival or preparedness TV shows or movies you like? Do you have any thoughts on the series I mentioned? When you watch a show that demonstrates survival skills, do you go out and practice it afterword? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

Airsoft Training Inexpensive And Fun

As ammunition prices have bounced all over the place and the threat/promise of increased firearms and ammunition legislation has increased, I have started doing more and more of my training with airsoft police tactical pistols or trainers. They have allowed me to train with my wife more often than we could if live fire were our only option. As an added benefit, I know that if it becomes illegal or a serious liability to train with firearms in the future, I have a backup plan in place to stay proficient as well as get new shooters up to speed with firearms.

These are a class of airsoft guns that are made of metal. They are the same size and weight as their real counterparts and have the same controls, including safeties, slide locks and magazine releases. They even break down the same way. In other words, these are not the clear-plastic toys you buy at Target.

Here’s a picture of a real Glock next to an airsoft Glock. (As a note, I didn’t choose the paint job. It came that way.)

The bottom one is a Glock subcompact frame and the top is an airsoft compact frame.

If you have ever picked up a $20-$50 battery-powered airsoft pistol from a gun show, you have probably been disappointed that it didn’t fit in your real holsters, that the magazines were toy-like, and that it wouldn’t shoot accurately past about 12 inches.

Airsoft trainers are a completely different animal. They fit in leather and Kydex® formfitted holsters, the magazines fit in your real magazine holders, and they shoot quarter-sized or smaller groups at 20 feet.

Beyond the look, here are some of the big pluses and drawbacks of using airsoft trainers:

Pluses: (Just The Basics)

Dry fire on steroids: It’s important to note that airsoft training is not a replacement for real shooting. You need to feel the recoil, hear the boom, know the feel of taking up slack on your trigger and the feel of trigger reset on your real firearms. A healthier and more accurate way to look at airsoft training is as dry-fire training on steroids that happens to be a lot of fun.

Cost: High-quality BB’s cost less than $20 for 4,000 rounds. You have to add the cost of gas since airsoft trainer magazines have gas cylinders in them, but it still costs less than a penny per round. Trainer Glocks, 1911s, etc., cost about $150 apiece and extra mags are $30 to $40 apiece.

Frequency of training: I am able to shoot 100 to 200 rounds of airsoft every day because the time/cost barrier of training is so low. I still shoot quite a bit of real lead, but I don’t have the time to shoot every day with my real firearms. Normally, when I go shooting, I shoot more rounds at one time to justify the travel time and range fees, but the frequency that I am able to train with airsoft allows me to build up and retain muscle memory much faster than shooting lead alone.

Variety of training: I practice my grip, presentation, sight acquisition, transitioning between targets, reloads, movement, odd angles, one-handed, off-hand, cornering, drawing-form concealment while seated and more… some of which just aren’t possible at most ranges.

Simplicity of training: I don’t have to drive to a range, pay for time, drive home or clean my guns… I just get up from my desk and take push-up/shooting breaks throughout the day. That’s not possible for most people, but you can shoot down a hallway in your house or in your garage.

Fun: I could do most of what I do with airsoft with snap caps and dry-fire drills… but I never did dry-fire training as much as I do airsoft training because airsoft training is fun. It’s fun to hit targets, make holes and knock things over, even if it is on a smaller scale than with a real gun.

Size and weight: Since the airsoft trainers are the same size and weight of their real counterparts, you can use the same holsters you normally use.

Social proof: The Japanese steel target team trains on airsoft all year, comes to the U.S. and shoots lead for just two weeks before meets, and the team places well each year. Several U.S. military units and police departments are training with airsoft as well.

Recoil/Flinch: Shooting airsoft will expose and cure you of anticipating trigger break and recoil. While big dips of the barrel may be hidden with real recoil, it shows up immediately with airsoft. There’s no need for it with airsoft, and you can train your mind to not flinch with a few hundred rounds of airsoft.

Training wives/kids/newbies to shooting: Since it’s fun and there is no boom, smell or recoil, airsoft is a great way to introduce people to shooting or to start teaching advanced techniques to current shooters. Without the recoil and the boom, you can focus on fundamentals until they are learned and then transition to low-caliber and defensive-caliber firearms.


It’s a toy: Face it… airsoft is a way to compensate for not having enough time or money to shoot the real thing as much as you would like. It will never be as good as a real firearm. I resisted airsoft, tried it, and now have embraced it as a way to get a lot more trigger time. That being said, it’s better to get a lot of trigger time with an airsoft trainer than no trigger time with the gun you cannot afford or find the time to shoot.

Lack of recoil: The airsoft trainers do have recoil, but it’s nothing like a real firearm. This means that you cannot really practice multiple shots because it’s much easier to reacquire your site picture after each shot. What you can do is transition between targets, shooting each one once, or use airsoft training to develop your speed and focusing on follow-through (reacquiring your site picture) after each shot.

Dropping magazines: Airsoft trainer magazines have gas cylinders in them, which makes them heavy and causes them to break when you drop them on hard surfaces. You basically need padded carpet wherever you intend on dropping magazines during reloads. To clarify, picture a real magazine… it’s heavy when it’s full and light when it’s empty because most of the weight comes from the bullets. With airsoft, the little plastic BB’s weigh .2 grams, so the weight changes very little as it goes from full to empty. What I do is train with a drop pouch.

Authentic trigger feel: While the double-action triggers and single-action triggers work as they should, they just don’t feel like real triggers. The tension builds up different, the break isn’t as precise as with a real firearm, and the reset isn’t quite as pronounced. That being said, the double-actions I have are good enough to practice drawing up the slack during the extension phase of my presentation, and all the airsoft trainers I have shot can be used to do trigger-reset drills.

Precision: With airsoft trainer handguns, you won’t have much precision. My We Tech 1911 will shoot 1-inch to 3-inch groups at 25 feet out of the box. My KJ Glock is slightly less accurate. Both can be modified to shoot more accurately, but that hasn’t been a concern for me. Airsoft trainer rifles are another matter entirely. My Top Tech M4 will hold 8-inch groups out to 80 to 100 yards when there is no wind.

Safety: There is a distinct possibility that you will learn bad safety habits with airsoft. Don’t. You must treat airsoft guns like the real firearms they represent. Never point an airsoft trainer at an object you don’t want to destroy (unless you are doing force-on-force training, which is beyond the scope of this article). Always use proper muzzle/safety discipline so that when you are handling real firearms you won’t have any bad habits creep in.

Another issue that you will run into with high-quality airsoft trainers is what to use for targets. Cheap airsoft targets won’t take the abuse, and BB traps are loud and overbuilt for airsoft.

I have solved this problem by making my own target frame/backstop for under $30 and using full-size targets that are 2 feet by 4 feet. Granted, this isn’t original or rocket science, but it is a great solution for airsoft training.

This is the entire frame/backstop with a target attached.

Basically, I made the target frame out of two 10-feet sections of 1.5-inch PVC pipe. The four vertical sections are 3 feet long, the two horizontal crosspieces are 2 feet long, and the 4 legs are 1 foot long, for a total of 20 feet of pipe with absolutely no waste. I connected all the pieces with two elbows and 4 Ts and capped the legs with four caps. All of the PVC parts cost me about $20.

Here is just the frame. As you can see, it’s very simple and fast to put together.

Home Depot will let you cut PVC in the store with its saws, so you don’t even need to buy a saw.

There’s enough friction on the fittings to keep everything together, and it’s easy to break everything down as much as you want for storage.

As a bonus, 2-feet and 3-feet sections of PVC make great improvised weapons.

For the backdrop, I started out with a $7 tarp folded and draped over the top. It was louder than I liked, so I threw a $7 moving blanket from U-Haul over it. It’s absorbed thousands of focused hits so far without giving out; but when it starts to, all I need to do is slide the blanket up or down so my impact area is different.

When I triple-fold the moving blanket I have, it is just slightly narrower than my target. Two clothespins are all I need to secure targets in place.

I keep a box underneath the target/blanket and it catches 90 to 95 percent of the airsoft BB’s, making cleanup a breeze.

Of course, you could also accomplish the same thing by draping a blanket over a door at the end of a hallway or over a doorway chin-up bar, but the PVC frame will allow you to practice entering a room and engaging a target, engaging the target behind partial cover, or hundreds of other scenarios that most people don’t have the facilities to practice regularly.

What are your thoughts on airsoft training and/or about transitioning from 100 percent live-fire training to including some airsoft training? How about increased ammunition prices and regulations and their impact on how often you train? Let me know by commenting below.

How Wilderness Survival And Urban Survival Skills Fit Together

There are a lot of misconceptions about how wilderness survival, camping and urban survival do or do not fit together. The arguments range from saying that neither wilderness survival skills nor camping will help in an urban survival situation to saying that all you need for a long-term urban survival situation is your camping or survival gear. The truth lies somewhere in between.

No matter what your skill level and experience level, I have some great stuff for everyone this week.

In both wilderness and urban survival, the most important common factor that will determine success or failure is your mindset. The basics of survival are also common to wilderness and urban scenarios: shelter, water, fire and food first, and then medical needs and security. But there are some huge differences.

Solo Survival Vs. Group Survival

In wilderness-survival situations, it will normally be you and/or a small group of people surviving off of the land or off of what you have been able to carry in or pre-position. It is easy to frame a wilderness survival situation as you vs. the world. To be specific, it can be easy to identify with a character like John Rambo, who just wants to be left alone.

Often, wilderness survival situations happen because there is no one else around.

A long-term urban-survival situation is completely different in this respect. People will be all around you. After your ability to keep your mind under control, one of the biggest factors that will determine long-term survival is how well you are able to interact with other people. Can you make friends? Can you effectively exchange your goods and services with others? Can you do it so that you’ll get as good of a deal as possible and still be able to trade with that person again in the future? Have you acted in a way that will cause people to want to help you when you need help?

Four-legged Threats Vs. Two-legged Threats

Wilderness and urban threats are different, also. Unless you’re in an escape-and-evasion situation, your main threats in a wilderness situation will be weather, sustaining yourself, injury, sickness or infection and four-legged predators. A bright fire is a good thing in a wilderness situation, because it will help keep predators and bugs away.

In an urban-survival situation, the animals and predators you need to worry about have two legs rather than four. You will still have weather, sustaining yourself, injury and sickness or infection to contend with. But the fire that protects you from four-legged predators in a wilderness situation will attract two-legged predators, people who may want your supplies without giving anything in return.

Why am I stressing this point? Because if you identify yourself with the John Rambo character and can survive for weeks at a time alone in the wilderness, that’s great. There are several wilderness-survival skills that carry over to urban situations, but you might also want to focus on your interpersonal skills if you think you may need to survive long-term around other people.

“When TSHTF, I’m Going To Get Out Of Dodge And Head For The Hills”

And, as I’ve said before, many people’s plan for surviving if TSHTF is to pack up and head for whatever wilderness or small towns are within reach. It is a romantic notion, and it makes a possible disaster seem like it could actually be an improvement over current life, but it just is not realistic.

If a fraction of those people actually head for the hills, the hills are going to be hunted and fished clean in a matter of weeks and you’re still going to have to be skilled at dealing with other people. (As a note on the mass head-for-the-hills scenario, if it happens during a dry time of the year, it is safe to assume there will be mass wildfires to contend with as well.)

This should make any non-John Rambo types feel a little more comfortable, too. It should go without saying, but you don’t need to turn into a Rambo to survive an urban survival situation. But that doesn’t let you off the hook on practicing wilderness survival skills. There are many wilderness survival skills that are useful, if not necessary, in urban situations.

Using Wilderness Survival Skills In Urban Survival Situations

People who made it through Beirut’s urban-survival period reported going through several boxes of matches per month. The simple skill of knowing how to blow an ember into flame makes this laughable… if it weren’t so sad and avoidable.

A basic wilderness survival skill I use every morning when I am in the woods is to find an ember from the previous night’s fire; place it into a bird’s nest of dry grass, inner stringy tree bark, milkweed, thistle or other materials; and blow on it until there is a flame. In an urban area, you can do this with any of these materials, but also with paper products, cotton balls or other materials.

Take it one step further: The wilderness survival skill of making a coal from a bow drill, hand drill or other primitive means will allow you to make fire without matches, lighters or an ember from a previous fire.

But one of the biggest skills you learn when backpacking or doing wilderness survival exercises is how to do without air conditioning, heat, beds, chairs, electronic distractions, fancy food and, sometimes, cleanliness. You also do without specialized tools, many automated devices, motorized transportation and specialized medical care. When you don’t have these things, you learn and eventually embrace the skill of improvising, adapting and overcoming.

You can learn this in an urban environment, and I have drills in the SurviveInPlace.com Urban Survival Course that help people do just that. But it’s also very valuable, if possible, to go out and live out of a backpack or your 72-hour kit for a night or two (or three). Hopefully, you’ll forget stuff — and have to figure out how to improvise, adapt and overcome.

What About Car Camping?

Car camping can be as beneficial for survival training or as useless as you make it.  If you take a generator, TV, fans, stereo, inflatable bed, 12-volt freezer and a blender, you probably won’t get a whole lot out of it.

But if that’s as primitive as you can get your family to agree to, there are still survival skills that you can train. Take what you need to in order to get your family to buy in, but just because you have it doesn’t mean you have to use it.

Use a primitive method of making fire… or start by just making fire without using paper, fire starters or by pouring fuel on the wood.

Collect some water and boil it over your fire. Or make a solar still to find out just how little water they actually make and how many square feet of stills you would need to set up to sustain you.

Set up an improvised shelter. If sleeping in it overnight isn’t an option, at least figure out what you need to do to make it comfortable enough to take one or two naps in or spend an afternoon reading in. You may not need to make a shelter from a fallen tree in an urban-survival situation, but you can use the same skills and principles to make a shelter within your house to keep you warm in a cold-weather situation.

It could be as simple as leaning your box spring against a wall, covering the end openings with blankets and making your bed underneath it. In both cases, you’re trying to make as small an area as possible for your body to warm up by radiation and your breath and trying to lose as little heat as possible due to conduction. It is much easier to do this when you’re warming up a small, tent-sized area than when you’re trying to warm up an entire room.

If you have kids or grandkids, simply tell them you’re making forts or little houses. You can have a ton of fun with this. Maybe even turn down the temperature in your house to about 40 degrees one afternoon and night in the winter and have a sleepover in the fort.

If you are willing to kill and eat what you catch and are somewhere where that is allowed, set traps and snares and figure out how many you would need to set to feed you and your family. (As a note, spring-type mouse traps are a great intermediate step for this… just make sure to tie them to something heavy in case you catch an animal by the leg. Once you get comfortable with the traps, you will start seeing several ways to use them as triggers for improvised electronic and mechanical perimeter alarms.)

You can practice all of these tips, regardless of whether you are car-camping, backpacking, on a hunting trip, in your back yard, or sometimes even in your apartment or condo. Just because you have cushy stuff with you doesn’t mean you have to use it.

In fact, some primitive wilderness-survival schools use a similar method to teach survival skills. Instead of dropping students in the woods with a knife, bubble gum, dental floss and a paper clip to sink or swim, they have students bring all of their normal backpacking supplies. They learn primitive skills while they are well-fed and rested, and they can use new primitive skills or fall back on their backpacking gear as they see fit. If their shelter-building skills don’t work well and they are freezing at 3 a.m., they have the choice to fix their shelters, tough it out or slip into their tents and sleeping bags to warm up and regroup.

Even in SERE (Survival Evasion, Resistance and Escape) school, students often fail at catching an animal and are given a rabbit or other animal to kill, clean, cook and eat.

In short, it’s a solid method to use, whether you are learning yourself or trying to help your family members become more self-reliant. And if you have reluctant family members, you’re going to want to make learning new skills as fun as possible so they don’t shut down and resist preparing altogether. Forcing someone to starve because his trap didn’t work or freeze because his shelter isn’t good enough probably won’t win over a reluctant relative, but having fun might.

So, tell me, what wilderness survival skills have you developed that carry over to urban survival situations? What fun ways have you been able to get your family members to learn and practice them with you? Have you practiced any skills while camping specifically to help you in SHTF situations in urban areas? Let me and the other readers know by commenting below.

Urban Survival Skills You Can Learn When Money’s Tight

This week, we’re going to talk about how to get prepared for disasters when you find yourself already in "survival" mode.

Sometimes life can throw you a curve ball and make preparations difficult. It can be difficult because of finances, health, family issues or any combination of things. In fact, a lot of people who are switched on and see trouble on the horizon are already in a sort of survival mode. I hear from people on a daily basis who see trouble coming, but are on Social Security or who just got laid off and don’t have money for buying lots of supplies.

And I hear from others who aren’t in that extreme of a situation, but who are barely making it with the income and expenses they have right now, and feel they can’t afford additional survival prep expenses.

But if you’re in either of those situations, that doesn’t excuse you from making continual forward progress on your preparations.

The risks that we face to our way of life don’t care about whether we’re ready or not. I don’t think I’m going to get a call in advance of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), terrorist attack, an economic crash or earthquake so that I can make sure that my family is all set. And I doubt you will either. These risks don’t really concern themselves with whether or not my 3-year-old is having screaming fits during the day and my 9-month-old is teething all night… again.

These things just happen when they happen.

They happened to a student from Missouri who was going through the SurviveInPlace.com course awhile back. She emailed in about some rough financial times she was going through and how everything seemed to conspire against her at the same time. Long story short, she kept making forward progress on her preparations and got through her rough patch. She didn’t think she would, but she did.

Financial situations can turn on a dime, and that’s one reason why it’s so important to focus on survival skills instead of just focusing on survival “stuff.” Some stuff is important, and it definitely helps compensate for a lack of skill and/or makes survival tasks easier. But the great thing about focusing on skills instead of stuff is that you can practice one survival skill or another no matter what your current situation is.

In fact, one way that you can look at your situation if you’re currently in “survival” mode is that if a catastrophic event happens, your life won’t be disrupted as much as it could be. I often game EMP events in my head. When I do, one of the things that I always think of is how tribal people around the world who live without electricity won’t even know that anything happened. They’ll just go on with everyday life like normal.

A lot of the survival skills that these tribal people use are free or next to free to practice. You might want to make a list and make a goal of doing one of these every day. If not every day, at least try to do one each weekend.

11 Survival Skills That Are Free Or Inexpensive To Learn And Practice

Making fire: Practice making a fire from tinder, kindling and one match. Move on to using flint and steel, flint, magnesium and steel, a BlastMatch™, or a fire piston (diesel). Then, move on to a bow drill. This is all stuff that you can do in your back yard. I practice this with my 3-year-old. He likes watching the sparks, seeing the smoke, and he REALLY likes getting s’mores as soon as I’ve made fire. As a note, when I’ve got ideal tinder, I’ll use a sparking device, but if I don’t have perfect tinder, I prefer using a bow drill and a nice big piece of coal.

Think you can’t do this? I’ve even taught people how to light tinder with a spark in a hotel room bathroom with a piece of aluminum foil protecting the floor. (Do this at your own risk.) I’ve got to especially warn you not to make enough smoke to set off a smoke detector OR set anything on fire.

Char cloth: Char cloth is basically very thin pieces of charcoal made out of 100 percent cotton. It will take a spark almost immediately, burn hot and burn quite a while. Here’s a QUICK how-to guide to make your own.

Take a 100 percent cotton shirt, sheet or any other piece of 100 percent cotton and cut it into 1- or 2-inch squares. Then, drop the cotton squares into a CLEAN tin can until it’s full and cover it with heavy aluminum foil. You can secure the aluminum foil with baling wire, but it’s not vital as long as the foil is on tight.

Next, poke a small hole in the top of the foil and put the can into a pile of hot coals. Smoke should start coming out of the hole within a couple of minutes. This is smoke and methane and the smoke will be flammable (you can light it if you want). Within five to 10 minutes the smoke should stop coming out of the hole.

When this happens, take the tin can out of the coals and let it cool. When it’s cool, take the foil out and pull a square out. If it’s all ash, it means that air got into the can and you just need to try again. If not, then the cotton got hot without oxygen and turned black, you should be good to go! (This is how charcoal is made, and you essentially end up with small, thin pieces of charcoal) Take a piece, use a sparking device to throw a spark at it and play with your new toy.

The skills you’ll develop making char cloth are a solid foundation for making charcoal AND for making a gasifier. In one of its simplest forms, a gasifier is a contraption that allows you to extract methane from wood and use it to run a generator.

Solar heating: Have an old satellite dish? Coat it with Mylar® or aluminum foil to reflect and focus sunlight and practice cooking, boiling water, making char cloth and starting fires with it. This will get HOT… hot enough to burn you, so be careful. Don’t have a satellite dish? Look for one in dumpsters and on the curb on big trash pickup days. This will work with old full sized satellite dishes or parabolic dishes as small as a soft drink can. The bigger the dish, the hotter it’ll get.

Hunting, alarms, traps and snares: Have mice? Practice trapping or making intrusion alarms. Have sparrows, starlings or other “pest” birds? Practice your blowgun, slingshot or BB skills.

Water filtration: Have a bucket you can cut a hole in? Practice making a water filter out of gravel, pea gravel, sand and activated charcoal (or non-chemically treated charcoal). Run water through it and see how it tastes. I’ve got a picture and more information here: http://secretsofurbansurvival.com/321/fire-and-water-in-an-urban-survival-situation/

Stockpiling: Yes… it’s a skill, and you should be good at it. Some of the immediate benefits are saving money and never running out of diapers, toilet paper, dog food, paper towels, etc., this side of a disaster. It also means fewer rushed trips to the store for emergency items. It also means fewer conversations that go something like, “Honey… did you remember to bring home the xxxx that I asked you to pick up. We’re out.” Whether we ever experience a catastrophic, life changing event or not, my family’s life is better because we stockpile.

Don’t have emergency water stored up yet? If you drink soda, start keeping all of your empty plastic bottles, whether they’re big or small. Wash them out with soap and hot water and put water and a little chlorine in them until you’ve got a few gallons per person.

Don’t have emergency food stored up yet? At LEAST buy some beans, rice and oatmeal. If you want to splurge, get SPAM® and instant potatoes (one of my current favorite camping meals.) If you can’t afford to stock up and you aren’t already eating beans, rice and oatmeal then consider eating beans, rice, and oatmeal for a week or so and using the money you save to stock up.

Situational Awareness: Try to continually be aware of what’s going on around you. Identify people who are potential threats and quickly game out in your head what they might do and what your reaction would be. When you’re simply an honest person walking down the street, any violent confrontation that you can spot and avoid in advance is a violent confrontation that you’ve won.

Identify situations that are dangerous, like doors swinging into walkways, blind corners, ice hanging off of a building, skateboarders getting pulled by a dog on a leash, etc. Practice reading body language… both good AND bad. Watch couples in love. Watch people arguing. Watch people reacting to babies and puppies.

Watch people you work with throughout the day and notice how their posture, facial expressions and the pitch of their voice change when they’re tired, excited, caffeinated, hungry, on a sugar high, stressed, etc. Study people you know so you can read people you don’t know. And remember… it’s not cut-n-dry… it’s an art based on science. People rub their nose when their allergies are bugging them. They cover their mouth when their breath is bad. They cross their arms to keep warm. They fidget because of pain or excessive energy.

Negotiating: Get in the habit of asking for discounts. Sometimes people will give a discount for no reason, but usually you need to give them a reason. It could be that you’re buying a damaged or opened item, buying in quantity, buying something expired or close to expiring or some other reason.

At farmers’ markets, if one of something is 50 cents, ask if they’ll do three for a dollar. The biggest thing is to get in the habit of negotiating. It’s a basic life skill that will pay you back for the rest of your life. And, it is a VITAL skill for any survival situation where you’re going to be around other people.

(If you’re interested in learning more about Urban Survival Bartering and Negotiating, please go to: http://secretsofurbansurvival.com/272/urban-survival-barter-and-improvised-weapons/)

Also, if you have any other urban survival skills that are free and EASY to learn and practice, please share them with the other readers by commenting below. They could have to do with pure survival like making fire, storing or filtering water, building or finding shelter and storing food. They could have to do with medical or security issues. They could revolve around products and or services that you can make for barter purposes.

There are two VITAL survival skills in particular that I’m looking for. And I’ll send out a deck of Urban Survival Playing Cards to the first two people who point them out.

–David Morris
SurviveInPlace.com / UrbanSurvivalPlayingCards.com

P.S. If you like this “skills” based approach to urban survival then you should really check out the SurviveInPlace.com Urban Survival Course. It’s designed to help you develop the proven skills you’ll need to survive short-, medium-, and long-term disasters in an urban environment. To read more about it, and get started, just go to SurviveInPlace.com.

Overcoming Panic And The “Startle” Response

What is the startle response, how might it affect you in a crisis situation, and how can you keep it from turning into full blown panic?

Startle response is a term used to de­scribe a person’s reaction to sudden and unexpected danger. For example:

  • You turn a corner and there’s a man pointing a gun at your chest.
  • You’re sitting in your car and from out of nowhere somebody knocks on your window.
  • You are walking along and shots are fired from the rear.
  • A loud explosion erupts and everybody around you panics.
  • You wake up in the middle of the night and a stranger is standing over you holding a knife.

These are examples of situations that may trigger a "startle response."

Now keep this thought in mind: Trainers who talk about the startle response are actu­ally being diplomatic. Startle is a polite word for panic. Nobody wants to think they may panic under stress, so we call it by another name. It helps make us feel a little bit better. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to talk about “startle” as being in control and “panic” as not being in control.

What happens under startle?

First there is a stimulus: Shots are fired. Then we have a reaction: Fight or flight.

When faced with a threat that is sud­den and unexpected, here’s what usu­ally happens. Stimuli trigger a flight response, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in, we retreat and lose our ability to use fine motor skills and proper tactics.

In a startle response, fear overwhelms us and our mind becomes preoccupied with thoughts of doubt, injury and death. We become convinced we can’t handle the threat. We automatically succumb to a flight reaction.

When we are "panicked" our sympathetic nervous system kicks in and we lose control of our fine and complex motor skills. Complex skills involving eye-hand coordination suffer, as do hearing and peripheral vision. Our ability to focus our eyes decreases and tunnel vision sets in. And it gets progressively worse.

In this scenario, we go from stimulus to flight reaction. However, for whatever reason, we suppress the urge to flee and prepare to fight. The problem with that is that, in panic mode, our tactics and skills go flying right out the window. Our ability to survive is impaired and all we can depend upon is luck.

Remove the unexpected element and the same stimulus triggers aggression, a fight response. We stay clear-headed and in control. Our training and muscle memory responses kick in. We are able to use proper tactics.

We want to be able to respond to a threatening situation with confidence and control. To do this we must as­sess the threat and believe that we can handle it. And we must eliminate the unexpected aspect.

Remember, startle is a response to unexpected and sudden danger. If we expect danger, we inoculate ourselves against a startle response. Let’s go back to the color code system for a moment.

In condition yellow, you say to yourself: “Today is the day that I may have to use lethal force to protect my life or the lives of others under my protection.” With that in mind, when you come face-to-face with danger, you say to yourself, “I knew this would happen someday, I know what to do. I am ready for it. And I will survive, no matter what.”

A panic response can only be triggered by the combination of sudden and un­expected danger. We can prevent the startle response by being in condition yellow (casually aware) at all times. In effect, we eliminate the “unexpected” from the deadly combination of sudden and unexpected danger.

We can effectively deal with sudden danger by simply expecting it to hap­pen. Soldiers in combat do it all the time. Cops are constantly subject to sudden danger. In reality, civilians are too—just not as often.

Unexpected danger is more likely to cause a fear response. We must break the link between sudden and unexpected.

If our self-confidence is high and our skills effective, even when violence is sudden, we will progress automatically from stimulus, to aggression (controlled anger), to tactics.

It takes self-confidence and a well-prac­ticed repertoire of effective tactics and training to walk out the door every day and remind yourself that today is the day some bad guy might try to do you in and that you expect it, are ready for it and will respond as you have been trained. With high self-confi­dence, you will stay calm, in control and be able to deal with any situation, problem or threat that comes along.

I am not saying that a flight reaction is wrong or bad. What I’m saying is that employing appropriate tactics is critical to our survival. If we have to make a hasty withdrawal from the scene, that’s okay, but we must do so in the best way and avoid a panic reaction.

Research indicates that once the sym­pathetic nervous system is activated, vital functions are seriously im­paired. But the good news is we can go on “automatic” and rely upon our training and motor-memory skills to handle the problem.

Once we have mastered the I CAN DO WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE thought process, we can easily progress from the element of surprise, to controlled aggression, to required tactics.

In your mind’s eye, see yourself reacting to various sudden danger scenarios, calmly at first. Then, in your mental im­agery, move into controlled anger: How dare this guy pull a gun on me. Your mind will focus and your subconscious will take over. You will automatically perform as you have trained.

One specific way to prepare for reacting after being startled is to study the startle response and incorporate it into your training. I’ve had the privilege of spending quite a bit of time with world-renowned firearms instructor, Rob Pincus from Integrity, Consistency and Efficiency (I.C.E.) Training. One of the things that Rob teaches is not to start your draw stroke as if you’re about to do an Old West quick-draw contest.

Rather, start your draw stroke by being relaxed and then mimicking your startle response. For most people, this will mean bending the knees and dropping your weight about six inches, putting your feet about shoulder width apart, curling your spine forward slightly, dropping your chin to your chest and raising your hands to your face/neck, facing outward to protect your neck against attack.

This response puts you in a position where you can quickly and efficiently respond to physical attacks. For many people, it’s instinctive to assume this pose, or something close, when they’re startled.

So, the next time you’re doing firearms training (live fire or dry fire) or even hand-to-hand training, try this sequence:

  • Assume a relaxed position that you would be in if you were in public going about your business.
  • Quickly assume the “startle” position.
  • Start your firearms or hand-to-hand sequence from here.

The next time you do get startled, take a second to observe yourself and use that as your “startle” positioning in the future.

There is a very fundamental reason for training like this… you want your training to be as much like real life as possible. If you always train by starting squared up to your target with your hands at your side or at belt level in front of you and you find yourself startled with your hands at your face, your muscle memory isn’t going to be very effective.

If, on the other hand, you begin your training sequence by going into your startle position, you will be training your body how to respond when you are, in fact, startled and need to respond.

This is one more instance where training like you intend to fight will pay dividends if you have to defend yourself in a violent encounter.

–David Morris

Improvised Weapons And Targeting For Survival

I’ve been traveling a lot lately. One segment of a recent trip was a half-day ride on Amtrak where I couldn’t have “anything that could be used as a weapon.”

I’m used to traveling to Washington, D.C., where I can’t carry my firearm or a decent knife, but in order to avoid any problems if I got picked for random screening, I had to cache knives, multi-tools, scissors, pepper spray and even my scalpel blade from my mini-med/survival kit before getting on the train.

Ironically, after being so careful to take all of my “weapons” out of my luggage, I ended up sitting across the aisle from a lady who was knitting for most of the four-hour train ride with nice long pointy aluminum knitting needles. That was almost enough to make me want to start knitting… or at least carrying knitting supplies.

So, today we’re going to cover specific items that you can use to defend yourself, regardless of whether you’re at home when a home invasion happens, in a hotel or just out-and-about.

I’ve written about the fundamental concepts of improvised weapons in the past, and what you’re looking for is a way to focus your strikes, add mass and speed to your impact tool and/or extend your reach if you find yourself in a situation where you need to defend yourself from a violent attack without a firearm or a fighting knife.

With that in mind, here are 14 items that are very common that make effective weapons. You’ll probably see, if not touch, all of them within the next 24 hours. I’ve also included the particular style of strike you’ll want to use with each item.

  1. Shower curtain rod—puncture: Use it like a spear to focus your strike and extend your reach. If you’re lucky, it will break with the first strike and you’ll get a pointy end to focus your next strike even more. Don’t swing it… most shower curtain rods and clothes rods are fairly flimsy.
  2. Clothes rod—puncture: Use it like a spear… hopefully it breaks on the first use and you get a point.
  3. Sliding glass door stop—puncture: Use it like a spear.
  4. Towel with soap or a soap holder—impact: Take the towel, put the heavy object in the middle, fold the towel in half one way, fold it in half the other way and get ready to swing. You can play with your folding methods to secure the heavy object better.
  5. Sock with soap, soap holder, battery—impact: Same as the towel/soap combination. You’re essentially making an improvised sap (lead-filled, leather-covered impact weapon common to law enforcement until about the 1990s—when they were banned by most departments because of their effectiveness—and sometimes called a blackjack) that will make your strike faster, more focused and give you additional reach.
  6. Pillowcase (or bed sheet, shirt, etc.) with soap, soap holder, battery—impact.
  7. Ceramic toilet tank lid—puncture. Break at an angle and use as a puncture weapon. Hold it with both hands, thrust the pointy end at your attacker, and put your entire body behind the strikes.
  8. Fire extinguisher. Spray them with the white stuff and hit them with the red thing. I’m not sure who thought this up first, but the most colorful proponent of it is Clint Smith. In short, fire extinguishers are great weapons… especially if you have the element of surprise. I’m talking about the red metal ones… not the newer little plastic ones. The red metal ones are heavy and strong enough to swing at a head and the bottom edge helps to focus strikes nicely.
  9. Floor lamp—use it as a spear. Sooner or later the lamp part will break off leaving you with a more focused impact point or it will stick in your attacker. Lamps are kind of awkward because of the cord. In training with them, I’ve had the lamp part break off, but still be connected by the cord. The biggest problem with this is surprise—if you’re surprised when it happens, your attacker will gain an advantage. If you just go with it and keep thrusting it at your attacker, you will gain an advantage.
  10. Butcher block. Pointy knives for stabbing, serrated knives for slashing. Got a knife that’s pointy AND serrated? Stab with it. In a restaurant or hotel, even a butter knife will help focus your strikes more tightly, increasing your penetration and chances of causing internal damage.
  11. Break off a wooden chair leg—puncture. Don’t be surprised if you get slivers… possibly nasty slivers.
  12. Run at someone with all four legs of a chair aimed at them (should look like a diamond rather than a square). Or, just thrust it at them with your arms and body weight. You want the top leg aimed at their head and you really don’t care if they block or avoid it because the bottom leg will hit them in the gut and you have a shot at hitting their solar plexus or bladder. The important thing is to pile on additional aimed strikes after the first one until your attacker is non-functional.
  13. Lamp cord disconnected from lamp, stripped so you have bare wires, and plugged into a power source—electrocution.
  14. Have a little bit of time… or coffee already made? Hot water in the face can distract your opponent enough to be able to completely take them out of the fight.

Have any other common, everyday items that can quickly be used as weapons? Share them by commenting below.

I will share one that I don’t like: Punching with keys. The reason has to do with basic physics. Your hand is going to absorb the same force that your target does, and the base of most keys just isn’t that much bigger than the point.

One notable exception is “switchblade” style keys that flip out of a FOB. If you have any question about how well it would REALLY work to punch with your keys, simply try putting them in your hands and punching a board *LIGHTLY*. I’ve really torn up my hands testing different techniques and I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to punch lightly. Increase your force slowly to see how effective your keys really are.

Scratching/slashing the face with keys is a different matter and will generally give you a much better return for your effort. Don’t count on it finishing a determined attacker unless you hit the eyes, so be prepared to follow-up with additional strikes.

It’s important to remember that whether you have a firearm, another weapon or just your body, you want to focus as much force as possible on the weakest parts of your attacker’s body.

Don’t punch someone in the gut when you can hit them in the solar plexus or the bladder.

Don’t punch an attacker on the hard bones of their face when you can simply crush their windpipe, strike their vagus nerve on the side of the neck, scratch their eyeball, or rupture their eardrum. Aiming can be the difference between just making someone mad and taking your attacker out of the fight.

With the impact weapons I mentioned, targeting is vital. Most people can take a few good strikes from a hard, fast-moving object to the butt, legs, or arms, but not to the neck and head. If your life depends on the effectiveness of your strikes, aim for places on the body where your attacker is vulnerable.

Cutting weapons are the same… targeting is key.

As a note on stabbing versus cutting, Roman Legions conquered the world by being willing to take cuts and give stabs. Why? Because the body is able to survive multiple HORRIBLE, vicious slashes across the body, but there are more than a dozen easy targets where a two-inch stab will quickly take an attacker out of the fight.

If you’re squeamish you might want to skip the following few paragraphs, as they are a little disturbing to some people.

What are some of the easiest stabbing locations to remember? Directly below the ribcage pointed upwards. You’ve got a ring of great targets all around the body at the bottom of the ribcage, like the spleen, pancreas, liver and kidneys. If you’ve got something long and it goes through those first organs, you’ve got even better targets, like the lungs and heart.

This topic IS gruesome, and many people don’t like to think or talk about it. Even if you’re a vegan pacifist who wouldn’t swat a mosquito, I believe it’s important to know how to respond to a violent attacker coming after you or a loved one. If you are unarmed and NEED to make an attacker non-functional as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible, it’s important to know a handful of specific targets to strike.

Along with specific targets, it’s important to know the best ways to transfer as much force as possible through as small of a contact point as possible so that you can end the confrontation quickly… before it turns into an endurance event where you’re trading blows and taking damage.

I’d like to have your thoughts on good or bad improvised weapons. Please share them by commenting below.

–David Morris

Staying Positive: Lessons From A Helicopter Pilot

My father and brother and several friends are helicopter pilots… and if you know any serious helicopter pilots who have flown more than a few hundred hours, you know that they are a different breed. For some reason, they’re willing to repeatedly go hundreds of feet in the air in a craft that has slightly better aerodynamics than a rock with sticks tied to it.

There are hundreds of things that can go wrong when you’re flying a helicopter, and hundreds of reasons why helicopters shouldn’t fly. Helicopter pilots have to be continually aware of these dangers, look out for them, prepare their responses for when one or several of them happens and regularly practice their responses. As they’re going through their training they learn about more and more potential problems and how to identify and react to the new problems they’re learning about as well as all of the ones they’ve learned up to that time.

The sheer number of problems quickly overwhelms some new pilots. By no fault of their own they aren’t ever able to relax and enjoy flying… simply because they know all the dangers. Some decide that flying isn’t for them. Many others decide to push through and trudge along with their flying careers in a constant state of near-panic… never willing to quit but never able to enjoy it.

Amazingly enough, many keep flying and thoroughly love it. They don’t bury their heads and ignore the dangers around them. Happy thoughts don’t keep helicopters airborne… rather, seasoned pilots embrace the reality of the situation and learn to thrive in the potential for chaos. Their continual discipline of identifying, preparing for and drilling to respond to risks makes an otherwise dangerous activity fun, enjoyable and relatively safe.

Most importantly, they don’t dwell on the danger. And if they want to live very long, they don’t freeze up because of all of the potential problems that could happen. They train thoroughly and continually, and have earned peace of mind because they KNOW that they are ready to handle whatever happens. The challenges that they face simply become an opportunity to react or to improvise, adapt, and overcome. 

In many ways, preparedness has a lot of similarities with flying a helicopter. We live in a fragile society that has a very thin veil separating order and complete chaos. Earthquakes, volcanoes, terrorist attacks, viruses, economic collapse, cyber attacks and more could easily plunge part or all of the country into civil breakdown at any time… any day of the year… without warning.

Preppers are naturally more aware of these threats, as well as everyday threats around them from criminals, accidents and more. Some people freeze up as they realize just how many threats are present. Others trudge through, and others still fully realize all of the dangers we face, prepare for them and decide to fully enjoy life until the bad things happen.

None of this is new… man has always had uncontrollable threats to his existence… the threats just change slightly from generation to generation.

What’s important is to approach these threats pragmatically like a seasoned helicopter pilot. Just like with a helicopter pilot, baseless optimism can lead to surprise problems that you’re not prepared for. At the same time, dwelling on all of the potentially bad things that can happen causes people to freeze up, makes them depressing to be around and needlessly robs them of their enjoyment of life.

If you’ve ever gone through military survival or survival, evasion, resistance and escape (S.E.R.E.) training, read a military field manual on survival or spent any time in survival situations, you know that survival psychology is one of the most important components for survival. A lack of food may kill you in three weeks, a lack of water may kill you in three days, a lack of shelter in three hours, but losing your head in a survival situation can essentially kill you in three seconds. Either because of freezing in the face of a violent attack or simply because of medical reasons like shock, a heart attack, or an aneurysm, losing control of your mind can kill you.

In fact, if you gave me a choice of being shackled to a partner in a survival situation who either had great gear, skills and knowledge but a horrible attitude or someone with no gear, skills, or knowledge and a desire to live, learn, improvise, adapt and overcome, I’d take the one with the better attitude every time.

Positive mental attitudes kept prisoners of war like Jeremiah Denton, James Rowe and others alive during the Vietnam War despite torture, sickness and having numerous friends die. A positive mental attitude makes people fun to be around, and studies have shown that it will even keep you healthier. And the best thing of all is that it isn’t something that you’re born with—it’s a skill that you can quickly develop with a tiny bit of daily discipline.

And it DOES take discipline. In fact, I think that attitudes follow the second law of thermodynamics. Bear with me for a second—the second law of thermodynamics says that everything tends towards chaos unless acted upon by an outside force. A good visual example of this is a child’s room. Toys and clothes just don’t seem to pick themselves up.

I’d argue that a person’s attitude tends towards negativity unless acted on by an outside force. This outside force could be positive books, positive thinking, being thankful for the good things in your life or being around positive people. It doesn’t mean wearing rose-colored glasses or ignoring the bad things that are going on, but it does mean that you take the discipline to stop and think about what is right in your life on a regular basis.

Sometimes I’ll actually make a list about all of the things that are going right in various parts of my life: with my wife, with my kids, other important relationships, health, fitness, work, goals, etc. Granted, I can ALWAYS find problems in all of these areas. That doesn’t take any work at all. But taking the time to identify the good things in my life, no matter whether there are more or less of them than bad things, makes it easier to improvise, adapt and overcome obstacles that I face.

An extreme example of this is in Marcus Luttrell’s book, Lone Survivor, which I highly recommend. In it, over the course of a prolonged battle in Afghanistan, Luttrell, who’s a Navy SEAL, loses his entire unit. He almost dies several times, but always keeps a positive mental attitude. Once, after an explosion from a rocket propelled grenade throws him off of a cliff, (if I remember right) he awakens after being knocked unconscious and is in pain. His first thought is that he’s thankful for the pain because it means he’s still alive, and then he goes through a self-assessment to see which parts of his body still work—is thankful each time he confirms that another limb is still working—and then determines his next best action to take to improve his chances for survival. Again, I can’t recommend this book enough.

If you find yourself either ignoring or becoming frozen by potential threats, don’t be surprised—there are a LOT of big threats that we’re facing today. Try breaking them down into bite-sized pieces and find SOMETHING you can do to take positive action today and accept the fact that preparedness is a marathon and not a sprint.

In other words, instead of trying to focus on EVERY disaster that could happen simultaneously, focus on one at a time. Then, instead of focusing on every aspect at once, focus on one aspect at a time, like shelter, then fire, then water, then food, etc.

One of my favorite quotes is by a clergyman from the early 1900s named Douglas Horton. He said, “Action cures fear, inaction creates terror.” I can’t agree more. It has proven itself valid for me and thousands of others in business, athletics, hunting and personal matters and it will work for you, too, both now and in survival situations.

Why The City Might Be Your Best Bet (Part 2)

Today, I’m continuing a two-part series on the Top 10 lies and half-truths about urban survival.

If you missed the first five last week , you can read it here.

There were several comments last week by people in rural areas who said that it was either their way or the highway, were QUITE angry that anyone would suggest that people living in the city might have ANY advantage over rural folks, and almost went so far as to say that city people didn’t have any chance of surviving in a populated area after a disaster.

Well, those people missed the point. The point isn’t to convince people living in rural areas to move into the city. It’s to get people, no matter where they live, to put a plan in place to increase their chances of surviving short-, medium- and long-term disasters right where they are. Or more to the point, right where they’re likely to be when a disaster happens.

For too long, rural folks have been telling prepared people living in cities that we’re all going to be killed by roving mobs of zombie-like gangs and looters after a disaster. In addition, they say that our only hope is to bug out to the country… or leave our friends, family and jobs and move to the country now.

That may be great if you want to and can pull it off, but the fact is that the majority of people in the United States will continue to cluster together in cities, so this is important information.

One commenter said that the “correct” answer is to start out in a rural area when a disaster happens and move back to the city after everyone has died off. That assumes that you get to pick the timing of the disaster. The simple fact is that disasters don’t ask you to confirm that you’re ready before they happen.

Since most people live in urban areas, most people will be in urban areas when a disaster happens. As a result, they need to have a primary or alternate plan to survive right where they are if they can’t relocate to a rural area — if they even want to. It’s just practical. It’s as practical as rural people having a plan in place to survive in their rural home if a disaster happens.

One of the factors that helps people take steps to get prepared is to know that their plans have a chance of working. If the only information out there for people living in cities is the B.S. that they have no chance of surviving, then they’re more likely to be apathetic and create a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Why prepare if nobody’s going to survive in the city anyhow?”

That’s one of the reasons why I developed the SurviveInPlace.com Urban Survival Course… to give friends and family a roadmap to follow to survive disasters in urban areas if they spend the majority of their time in areas that are “urban” enough to have sewer, water, gas and other shared utilities.

With that in mind, here are the next five lies, half truths and myths about cities after disasters:

  1. Everything in the city will be picked clean within days: This is partially true, but it only looks at a small piece of a bigger picture. Specifically, it is looking at the first several days after a catastrophic event. On a slow economic decline like what we’re in now, crime will go up (everywhere) but distribution continues. There will be regional breakdowns in distribution (gas and produce in some areas will last a few months) but most things will get to most places.

    We’ve got historical examples of this… most notably in Germany, Zimbabwe, Yugoslavia and Argentina.

    If you’re looking at a Katrina-type event, electromagnetic pulse (EMP), terrorist infrastructure attack, etc., things are different. Any stores that aren’t guarded by people willing to defend themselves against violent attacks will most likely get picked clean very quickly. But then a vacuum will form and, since nature hates a vacuum, it will get taken care of.

    Specifically, the need for food and supplies gets filled by black market vendors, looters and by enterprising people who figure out where supplies are and how to deliver them to a waiting group of wanting customers for a profit that outweighs the risk. Again, there is historical evidence for this. Namely: Berlin, Beirut and Buenos Aires. Clean water didn’t disappear in these scenarios… it just got more expensive. It’s simple supply and demand. As a note, if you don’t want to buy items from black market vendors and pay black market prices after a disaster, you’d better get prepared now.

    Remember all of those people who are going to “get out of Dodge” and “head for the hills”? Well, they aren’t going to be able to fit everything in their cars and they’re going to leave a lot behind. Some will tell their neighbors that they can have whatever they left. Some of these houses will quickly get taken over by squatters, like what happened recently in Argentina. And others will get picked to the bone by looters. In any case, all of the supplies that they couldn’t take with them will be left behind.

  2. There won’t be any parts available: Myth. Imagine if China did a cyber attack that knocked out the East Coast, West Coast and Texas power grids tomorrow. Now imagine next week you need a part for your Audi, Saab, Subaru, Hyundai or, God forbid, an eco-friendly hybrid. Are you more likely to be able to find new/salvaged parts in a rural area or in a city?

    I know… I know. That’s why everyone should have a vehicle with easy to find parts. The reality is that not everyone has and disasters don’t wait until everyone’s ready. But this also applies to other things as well:

    Even parts like thermistors and flame sensors for furnaces, orifices for heaters, ejectors for guns, primers for ammo, or light bulbs… there will not only be more initial supply in urban areas than in rural areas, it will be more likely that when supplies run out, there will be enough demand in a city for someone to focus on fabricating/manufacturing new ones — even if the manufacturing process is powered by hand or animal power.

  3. Medical supplies will be cleaned out immediately: Half-Truth. Medical supplies will most likely get wiped out soon after a disaster, but that only tells part of the story. To begin with, in a major disaster, medical supplies will get wiped out in rural areas too, so urban and rural areas are comparable here.

    Next, we need to look at distribution again. When some enterprising person/company DOES have medical supplies/drugs to distribute, they are going to want to do it as simply as possible, with as little risk as possible and with as much reward for their risk as possible. That means delivering one truck to a big population center rather than several trucks to smaller population centers.

  4. There won’t be any jobs in the city: Lie. There will always be jobs (legal) for people who are willing/able to do anything in a city. They may not pay as much as you’d like, and they may not be doing what you’d like to do, but there will always be jobs. It might also require you to have skills, a good attitude and a willingness to learn. People with bad attitudes and bad work habits probably will have a hard time finding jobs.

    If nobody will hire you for a “job,” you can find out what jobs people are having a hard time getting done and start doing those jobs for hire. (As a note, I spoke with three people in church on Sunday who are looking for jobs. They say that they’re willing to do “anything”, but there aren’t “any” jobs. Meanwhile, I looked on a local help-wanted website and there are 233 postings. This was just one site and since most jobs are filled by word-of-mouth, I can only assume that there are many more.

    In rural areas there actually may not be any jobs available. If you’ve only got 20 families within five miles of you, they may not even want you on their property unless they know you well, let alone talk with you about paying you to work.

  5. EVERYONE left in the city will be killed… and killed again!: Half Truth. Many will be killed — most from fighting within and between gangs. But the question remains whether the city will be more or less safe from violence than rural areas. If you get a nice isolated rural house where you can shoot your guns and can’t see or hear your neighbors, who’s going to answer you if you yell “help!” or “fire!”? The answer is nobody. It doesn’t mean that rural areas are bad — it just means that they’re not as perfect as people argue that they are. This is a big reason why towns and cities were formed in the first place.

    This belief also assumes that nobody learned anything after Katrina. It assumes that nobody will use any of the 60+ million guns purchased in the U.S. since Katrina to protect themselves or their neighbors. Finally, it assumes that all police forces will act like the New Orleans Police force did after Katrina.

    Folks, the world has changed. There are more gun-owners than ever, more of those gun owners are getting advanced training than ever, and there are more gun owners of all political colors who are willing and able to defend their family from violent attack than ever before.

    There will be anti-gun cities like Washington, D.C., and Chicago that are hard hit because of the exodus of gun owners who want to obey the law. But in areas where individuals can own firearms, armed uprisings by gangs and thugs just won’t be allowed to last very long. In addition to infighting and killing each other off, good people won’t stand for it. They’ll do fine as long as they keep attacking sheep, but as soon as they hit a sheepdog, a family of sheepdogs, or a neighborhood of sheepdogs, they’ll have trouble.

    Are there potential dangers in the form of gun control from the Federal Government? Absolutely. And they apply both to people living in rural and urban areas.

So, what’s the point of this Top 10 list? First, it’s to get people to realize that they need a plan to ride out disasters in whatever area they spend the most time. If you spend 80 percent of your time in the city, have a primary or alternate plan to “Survive In Place” in your city, remembering that long-term travel in a survival situation may be unproductive and more dangerous than staying put. This is especially true if your loved ones are separated and you can’t reunite and bug out until the roads are packed.

Second, it’s to provide a foundation for people living in cities who have been paralyzed in their preparations because of the common (Bravo Sierra) school of thought that they’ll just be killed and their stuff taken by highly organized and disciplined gangs of marauders after a disaster.

Don’t buy into the lie. Have a plan in place to survive wherever you spend the most time, no matter how much less than ideal you think it is.

Why The City Might Be Your Best Bet

For the last 15 years or so, the common thought has been that in a disaster situation where there’s a medium to long term breakdown in infrastructure and civil order, the ONLY way to survive is to flee the city, like a dog with its tail between its legs, and hide out in the woods until things get back to normal.  This is really dated thinking that ignores history.

Besides the logistics of whether or not you’ve got a fully stocked rural retreat to flee to, or the fact that there’s a good chance that it will be difficult to travel with gridlock and roadblocks, there are several reasons why cities — or urban areas — make good places to stay after a disaster.  We’re going to cover five of those today and another five in my next article.

I need to start out by saying city people DO have additional risks that isolated rural dwellers don’t have.  Cities are more at risk for terrorist attack, there are more people fighting for fewer resources and there are more possibilities for major accidents that affect hundreds or thousands of people at once.  But it’s ironic to note that survival is the very reason why many cities were originally set up. People wanted to set up a common defense, build a marketplace for their goods and have access to people with specialized skills.

What do I mean by urban? Well, by "urban" I mean a few thousand people to a few million people. Basically, it’s any community that shares water/sewer/electricity distribution. With that in mind, here are the first five of my “Top 10 Lies and Half Truths About Urban Survival” and why it may be better for you than a fully stocked rural retreat (in no particular order).

Lie No. 1. I’ll be a sitting duck in my house! After a disaster, if violence is particularly bad, you can rotate a watch without it being too much of a burden on any one family. This concept has been around for generations. Just to be clear, it doesn’t stop crime, it only changes the location where it happens.
If a crackhead needs to steal a TV to support his habit, it’ll just get them to go a block or two away to break into a house and steal someone else’s stuff. Of course, in a disaster situation, many have scaled this up and have multiple roving people covering an entire neighborhood. In the country, there’s just too much space between houses to make this practical. Why? Because in an urban area, one person can watch several houses at one time.

Lie No. 2. With all those people, everything’s going to run out right away. True, but it’s just the first chapter of the story. In the event of a medium- to long-term breakdown in order after a disaster, many people will abandon cities and others will die of shock, medical reasons or violence, leaving a remnant of people who were prepared and can continue/rebuild the economy. Also, at some point, products like fuel, food and other supplies will start being distributed again. If refiners, farmers and other distributors have the option to deliver to one city or 10 towns, they’ll pick the one city. Their cost to deliver goods to only one location will be less AND they’ll probably be able to sell the goods at a premium because of higher demand. The key here is to have enough supplies on hand to make it through the worst part of a civil breakdown situation until resupply begins.

Half-truth No. 3. Everyone in the city will turn on each other. Partially true. I hear people talk about their organized plans to kill, loot and steal from their neighbors way too often. Just yesterday a friend told me how he overheard a group of otherwise rational people talking about how they have their neighborhood mapped out and the houses prioritized according to which ones they’re going to attack first.

This is no joke, and it’s why I cover operational security so much in the “SurviveInPlace” course. I think these people should and will be "taken care of" quickly if they ever start acting on their sick plans. They go against everything that America stands for, and they disgust me.

There is another side to this story… one which has a lot more historical evidence. Think of barn raisings and the ability of a rural community to band together to get a big project done. Now think about how many more people there are in a city than in a rural area and how much easier it would be for any one person to get a group of people together to get a big project done when there are so many more people to ask. (Stop laughing at the thought of city people helping each other.)

Really, stop laughing. The reality is that people don’t tend to help each other like this in urban areas anymore during normal times. But one of the "good" things about disasters and breakdowns in civil order is that while idiots are running amok, good people band together to help each other. It happened after the San Francisco earthquake, 9/11, numerous floods and tornadoes in the Midwest and even after Hurricane Katrina.

In fact, I have a friend who has moved BACK to New Orleans because of what he saw after Katrina. He happened to have friends who lived in a neighborhood that was galvanized by the event.  They pulled together and became like a small town community in the middle of all the chaos.  He decided that he wanted is family to live in that kind of an environment in the event that another disaster happened.

None of this was in place before Katrina to set this up — it was a neighborhood of strangers living on top of each other, just like most neighborhoods.  It just happened that good people decided to take control of the situation in front of them. They had armed checkpoints to get into their neighborhood, they took care of each other and, when things calmed down, they realized that they had turned their neighborhood of strangers into a family.

This was a great case of a group of proactive people doing what was necessary to create a stable micro environment when surrounded by relative chaos.  These stable micro environments are exactly what are needed after breakdowns in order to restore order, and prepared people are the most likely ones to make them happen.

Lie No. 4. Only jacks-of-all trades will survive. People with specialized skills will have no use and quickly die: Famous self-reliant author Robert Heinlein (Starship Troopers) said that "specialization is for insects," but that’s not entirely true.

A better view on life would be "Jack of all trades, master of ONE." In other words, if you happen to be a surgeon, it’s really not worth your time to change your oil, build a deck, milk a cow or dress and butcher a kill, but you should still know how.  A surgeon would be better off learning how to do primitive and handyman skills and then paying someone else to do those he didn’t enjoy so that he had more time to do his specialty — surgery.  That way, he can get the most value for his time, contribute the most to society, but still have the primitive and handyman skills to fall back on in an emergency.

No matter what you do, there are going to be tasks that you’re not efficient at. I recently read that the reason why people are so busy in survival situations is because they’re spending all of their time doing things they’re not efficient at, so everything takes two to three times longer to do than it should. In a city, you don’t HAVE to do everything… even if you know how to do it all. There is a ready supply of skilled friends, acquaintances and experts for hire who can do specialized tasks — that you can’t efficiently do — much quicker than you can.

What I do and what I suggest others do is to spend time learning and practicing primitive skills and handyman skills so that you know how to do a wide variety of things if you need to.  But, spend the majority of your time getting better at one or two specialties.

There are two reasons for this.  First, specializing will make you more valuable to other people.  Second, it will be a better use of your time.

As an example, let’s say that you don’t like baking and you’re not particularly good at it, but you want to give your wife a cake for her birthday.  You could go to the store and pay $20 for an INCREDIBLE cake, or you could buy all the ingredients for $5 and make it yourself.

By the time you figure in the TIME to go shopping, find the right pans, ingredients and measuring spoons, bake the cake and clean up the mess, if you’re anything like me, you’re looking at two to three hours.  So, you traded two to three hours for $15 in savings and essentially made $5-$7.50 per hour.  That’s not a very good use of time.

Heck, I could have spent half an hour going door to door until I found someone who needed their lawn mowed for $20, mowed it, bought a cake from the store, and still had an hour or two to enjoy!  (Remember… I made the assumption that you don’t like baking and that you’re not good at it.  If you love baking and are good at it, then there is surely some other task that you could substitute that would be a better fit for you.)

The other benefit of specialization in urban areas is that it allows for highly skilled people like the surgeon that I mentioned. In a rural area, the surgeon may only get a chance to practice his skill a few times a month. In an urban area, he’ll have the opportunity to hone his skills every day and all of his patients will benefit from his efficiency and expertise.  And frankly, if I have critical or life-saving work that needs to be done, I want a specialist around rather than a jack of all trades.

Half-truth No. 5. Sickness will spread like wildfire in cities after a disaster. True, and in the animal kingdom, this is one of the ways that overcrowding is taken care of.

But history shows us that much of the reasons why disease spreads so quickly in urban areas is not only due to population density, but also due to a lack of sun exposure as a result of spending all day indoors. And poor hygiene also factors in. This is something you have control over. Throughout history, the benefits of efficient distribution and a common defense have outweighed the increased dangers of disease spread.

In fact, everything spreads easier in a city, and A HUGE advantage that urban areas have over rural areas is how much more efficient product and information distribution is. A kid on a bike can deliver a few hundred newspapers quickly in a city. Mail can be delivered on foot. Bike messengers can deliver packages and messages quickly. Food and produce can be delivered QUICKLY by hand, foot, vehicle, car, or animal to hundreds of customers without adding much cost to the final buyer.

One of the big problems that we have, both in stable and unstable times, is urban sprawl. By urban sprawl, I’m specifically talking about subdivisions of 1,000 to 3,000 houses with absolutely no grocery, retail or convenience stores except at the entrance from the main road. These are very inefficient setups because they require people to drive for small things like fresh produce, a snack, a missing ingredient for a favorite recipe or a newspaper.

I have a very strong feeling that in a civil breakdown situation, as others abandon their homes in search of greener pastures, many houses in subdivisions like these will turn into markets… regardless of zoning. In other words, if you’ve got a main street through a subdivision that’s a couple miles long, I can see five to 10 of them being changed into convenience stores and, when the season is right, farmer’s markets.

Why do I say this?  Because good people always have and always will figure out a way to improvise, adapt, and overcome… and this is a natural solution to a problem that we see in subdivisions in every city in America.

In my next article, I’m going to cover the next five reasons why cities are better than rural areas, about how Chicago is breaking down, and I’ll tell you the reason why gangs of "bad people" won’t be a long-term problem in most cities after civil breakdown.

–David Morris

A Survival Plan That Works

(Survival expert and author David Morris is our newest regular contributor. His articles on survival will appear the second and fourth Mondays of each month and complement the offerings of food storage expert Peggy Layton, whose articles appear on the first and third Mondays of each month. — Bob L.)

A few years ago, I had a serious wake-up call about how vulnerable my family was to natural and manmade disasters. There were dozens of threats that could quickly disrupt or end life as we know it, and Katrina gave us a glimpse into breakdowns in civil order and the Federal government’s inability to effectively respond to localized disasters.

I already lived a preparedness lifestyle from growing up with an Army helicopter pilot dad on a farm in tornado and blizzard country and had advanced backcountry, fighting, shooting and medical skills. But I realized that I’d bought into the “just-in-time” myth and didn’t really have ANYTHING put aside or plans made to take care of us if there was a short or long term disaster.

When we were hungry, we went and got food. When we were cooking and needed something, we just made a quick trip to the store. We didn’t keep much extra around the house because it was SO easy to simply buy stuff right when we needed it. Just like most families, we were a just-in-time family.

I realized that grocery stores were operating on the same just-in-time system. To minimize waste, maximize freshness, use space efficiently and maximize profitability, they set their inventory levels so that there were no more than nine meals on the shelves at a given time.

This combination of just-in-time families and just-in-time stores meant that ANY hiccup in the system, whether accidental or intentional, could lead to unrest or even violence in as little as three days.

As I started researching solutions, every “expert” said that cities would be burned to the ground in a disaster and that there were only two options for survival. First, when a disaster happened, we had to be ready to immediately pack up our stuff and “Get Out Of Dodge” and go to our fully stocked rural retreat (which we didn’t have.) The second option was to move to the country and quickly learn to live like the Waltons in “Little House On The Prairie.” This didn’t make sense for us and flew in the face of history and logic.

Cities were originally formed FOR survival. I can earn a living easier in the city — and so can most people. When we need specialized products or people with specialized skills, we can find them in the city. Most military, law enforcement, first responders and their families live in cities. LOTS of good people can’t leave cities because of medical conditions. And many people live in the same city that their families live in and they wouldn’t think of abandoning their loved ones in a disaster.

Moving wasn’t an option for us at the time and I knew I had to quickly come up with a plan to keep us safe in our current typical urban-America situation. If a disaster happened, I knew that we wouldn’t be the only good people left. We just had to figure out a plan.

So, I started contacting my friends in the Special Operations community, from the Pentagon, former “spooks,” private military contractors, military survival (SERE) instructors, first responders, law enforcement, even a geneticist, a bio-weapons specialist and 30+ other subject matter experts.

One of the interesting things that came from all of these interviews was the common sentiment that each of these experts could survive anything, but they weren’t sure how to transfer all of their knowledge and skills to their loved ones. As long as they were with their families, everyone would be fine. But in a disaster situation, they’d be doing what they loved and their families would have to take care of themselves. I knew after I’d compiled and organized my research, I’d have the tool they were looking for to get their families up to speed.

While this was all happening, I was running my small businesses, times were changing, we were new parents and we were going from earning a great living to barely making it. Any solutions that I came up with had to be easy to put into action and not take much time or money.

As a result, I developed a survival philosophy that guided our preparations. For me, it’s based on simple reality. Time and money are limited resources and we need to spend them wisely.

Our plans have to mesh with reality and history. Mass evacuations (like Katrina) tend to only be a good experience for first movers. In sudden disasters, by the time most families get reunited, packed and on the road, they have missed their window of opportunity for “Getting Out Of Dodge” and hit traffic jams, fuel outages and possibly roadblocks and detours.

Our plans have to work where we live with our current situation. For us, that means that if we were to “bug out,” we’d be doing it with two adults, two car seats and two dogs in a mid-sized SUV. As a result, the most pragmatic plan for us is to stay in our house in a disaster situation unless we absolutely have to evacuate.

Everything we do for preparedness needs to have value regardless of whether or not a disaster ever happens. As an example, most of our food storage is made up of food that we regularly eat rather than food that might sit uneaten for 25 years.

More than that, some day I’m going to be on my death bed looking back over how I spent my life. I want to be proud of how I spent my time and not regret investing all of my time into preparing for disasters that never happened. As a result, any time that we spend on preparedness simply MUST have a clear, immediate benefit.

We focus more on skills that will enrich our everyday lives… not just skills that will only have value in a disaster. We focus on skills like situational awareness, operational security, bartering and negotiating, armed and empty hands defense, natural medicine, having a positive mental attitude and motivating others rather than developing and maintaining our skill at attacking and overrunning an enemy position with multiple fire teams.

If a breakdown in civil order happens after a disaster, we want to have the training, skills and tools to be the solution to the problems that are happening in our immediate area. This might be supporting first responders, helping neighbors or simply taking care of ourselves so that we’re not a burden on others.

We enjoy the benefits of technology, a maximized infrastructure that’s nearing the end of its life and the low prices that a just-in-time economy provides. At the same time, we continually learn and practice skills to live without all three of these luxuries. The realization that conveniences could disappear at any time and the first-hand knowledge of how much time and effort they save make us thankful on a daily basis. I can tell you, it’s much nicer to live in a continual state of thankfulness than it is to feel like we’re entitled to these luxuries 24/7.

We keep most of our preparedness plans invisible to others and strive to look like an ordinary family to outside observers. Two huge benefits of this are that we don’t look like targets for thieves now or looters later. We don’t want to be the house that a neighborhood teen thinks of as a good target to rob. We also don’t want to be the first family that our neighbors think of when their kids are hungry and the store shelves are empty.

And our plans need to be written down and set up so that my wife can implement them if I am traveling, sick, injured or acting in my role as a first responder when a disaster happens.

It sounds like a tough set of criteria to meet, and it was. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing the nuts and bolts of the system with you so that you can implement the same type of plan for your family.

Actually, it’s quite important to me that you do implement my preparedness system, or something similar. You see, I firmly believe that our families, neighborhoods, cities and even our country becomes more stable as more and more people become self-reliant. In a disaster, history has proven that decentralized solutions (individuals like you and me) almost always outperform centralized solutions (government).

By self-rescuing and helping maintain order in their immediate area, prepared individuals can create stable micro-environments in their neighborhoods and delay or completely prevent breakdowns in civil order.

I’m thoroughly looking forward to sharing this information with you. More than 10,000 people have gone through my SurviveInPlace.com Urban Survival Course since I released it in early 2009, and I’m confident that you will benefit from it as much as they have.

– David Morris