Thoughts on Urban Survival

Monday, October 13th, 2008

A few years ago, an Argentinean fellow going by the name of FerFAL composed his Thoughts on Urban Survival, based on what he experienced as the Argentine economy collapsed in 2001.

One of his main points is that a collapse does not lead to a Road Warrior scenario so much as a Taxi Driver scenario — no roving bands of bikers coming over the horizon, just common criminals coming out of the woodwork:

Forget about shooting those that mean you harm from 300 yards away with your MBR. Leave that notion to armchair commandos and 12 year old kids that pretend to be grown ups on the internet.

Some facts:

1) Those that want to harm you/steal from you don’t come with a pirate flag waving over their heads.

2) Neither do they start shooting at you 200 yards away.

3) They won’t come riding loud bikes or dressed with their orange, convict just escaped from prison jump suits, so that you can identify them the better. Nor do they all wear chains around their necks and leather jackets. If I had a dollar for each time a person that got robbed told me “They looked like NORMAL people, dressed better than we are”, honestly, I would have enough money for a nice gun. There are exceptions, but don’t expect them to dress like in the movies.

4) A man with a wife and two or three kids can’t set up a watch. I don’t care if you are SEAL, SWAT or John Freaking Rambo, no 6th sense is going to tell you that there is a guy pointing a gun at your back when you are trying to fix the water pump that just broke, or carrying a big heavy bag of dried beans you bought that morning.

The best alarm system anyone can have in a farm are dogs. But dogs can get killed and poisoned. A friend of mine had all four dogs poisoned on his farm one night, they all died. After all these years I learned that even though the person that lives out in the country is safer when it comes to small time robberies, that same person is more exposed to extremely violent home robberies. Criminals know that they are isolated and their feeling of invulnerability is boosted. When they assault a country home or farm, they will usually stay there for hours or days torturing the owners. I heard it all: women and children getting raped, people tied to the beds and tortured with electricity, beatings, burned with acetylene torches. Big cities aren’t much safer for the survivalist that decides to stay in the city. He will have to face express kidnappings, robberies, and pretty much risking getting shot for what’s in his pockets or even his clothes.

So, where to go? The concrete jungle is dangerous and so is living away from it all, on your own. The solution is to stay away from the cities but in groups, either by living in a small town-community or sub division, or if you have friends or family that think as you do, form your own small community. Some may think that having neighbors within “shouting” distance means loosing your privacy and freedom, but it’s a price that you have to pay if you want to have someone to help you if you ever need it. To those that believe that they will never need help from anyone because they will always have their rifle at hand, checking the horizon with their scope every five minutes and a first aid kit on their back packs at all times…. Grow up.

In a SHTF scenario, expect basic services to become unreliable — like water:

No one can last too long without water. The urban survivalist may find that the water is of poor quality, in which case he can make good use of a water filter, or that there is no water available at all. When this happens, a large city were millions live will run out of bottled water within minutes. In my case, tap water isn’t very good. I can see black little particles and some other stuff that looks like dead algae. Taste isn’t that bad. Not good but I know that there are parts of the country where it is much worse. To be honest, a high percentage of the country has no potable water at all.

If you can build a well, do so, set it as your top of the list priority as a survivalist.

Water comes before firearms, medicines and even food. Save as much water as you can. Use plastic bottles, refill soda bottles and place them in a cool place, preferably inside a black garbage bag to protect it from sun light. The water will pick some plastic taste after a few months, but water that tastes a little like plastic is far way better than no water at all. What ever the kind of SHTF scenario you are dealing with, water will suffer. In my case the economical crash created problems with the water company, that reduces the maintenance and quality in order to reduce costs and keep their income in spite of the high prices they have to pay for supplies and equipment, most of which comes from abroad, and after the 2001 crash, costs 3 times more. As always, the little guy gets to pay for it.

And power:

I spent way too much time without power for my own taste. Power has always been a problem in my country, even before the 2001 crisis. The real problem starts when you spend more than just a few hours without light. Just after the SHTF in 2001 half the country went without power for 3 days. Buenos Aires was one big dark grave. People got caught on elevators, food rots; hospitals that only had a few hours worth of fuel for their generators ran out of power. Without power, days get to be a lot shorter. Once the sun sets there is not much you can do. I read under candle light and flashlight light and your head starts to hurt after a while. You can work around the house a little bit but only as long as you don’t need power tools. Crime also increases once the lights go out, so whenever you have to go somewhere in a black out, carry the flashlight on one hand and a handgun on the other.

He recommends a generator and a battery charger that has both a solar panel and a small crank.

He notes that gas suffers too:

Gas has decreased in quality as well, there is little gas. Try to have an electric oven in case you have to do without it. If both electricity and gas go down, one of those camping stoves can work as well, if you keep a good supply of gas cans. The ones that work with liquid fuel seem to be better on the long run, since they can use different types of fuel. [...] Anyway, a city that goes without gas and light for more than two weeks is a death trap, get out of there before it’s too late.

If you’ve traveled outside the First World, and you’ve seen Third World traffic under optimal conditions, you can only imagine what SHTF driving is like:

People that live in 1st world countries are used to well kept streets and roads. Let me tell you, after only a few months of no maintenance, street will look as if bombed from an airplane. Rain and temperature difference destroys the pavement very fast.

Right now in Buenos Aires there are holes in the street the size of trucks. There were cases of cars actually falling inside these craters, so you can imagine the conditions streets are in.

A low car, designed for perfect pavement should be avoided as much as possible. That’s why I said that if I could do everything all over again I would get a 4×4 SUV.

This doesn’t mean that you should buy a huge 4×4 truck to drive around the city all day long. That’s not very practical and you do need a fast, easy to maneuver vehicle that can get out of problems fast. A medium size SUV should be the ticket for both agility and 4×4 power. Getting stuck in a roadblock because your truck is to darn big to maneuver around it, then what’s the use of the 4×4?
Guys, you have to prepare for people throwing objects at your car, standing themselves in front of the vehicle so that you stop or crash against a light/tree/whatever, so that they can rob you. It takes time and determination, but you MUST get to a point where if the windshield blows in you can continue driving as best as you can, if someone puts twisted nails on the road and blows your tires, you keep calm and keep driving, always keep driving no matter what, until you get to a gas station or other place safe. Especially at night, or early morning you have to keep the car moving all the time. Of course this is not always possible. Sometimes there is too much traffic and you have to stop. In this case, slow down before you get to the cars, and keep the car moving slowly until the light changes, in order to always keep the car moving. Never cut away your own escape routes by getting too close to the car in front. Leave at least 5 meters or so in front of you, so that you have enough place to maneuver.

At night, no one stops at red lights in Buenos Aires. That’s why many districts decided to turn the traffic light to a permanent yellow at night, in order to reduce car accidents. There are places in Buenos Aires where you don’t stop at the traffic lights all day long. Today, when I was retuning from the University at 1.30 PM, I passed a red light right in front of a police patrol car. The cop didn’t say a word. He understands that no one stops on the Dark road (the road I take back home) unless it’s inevitable. This won’t happen over night. It will take at least a few months after TSHTF until cops and authorities understand the new reality of the country. Even now, there are those that may stop you from crossing on a red light at night. But most patrol cars will understand, even crossing the red light themselves.


  1. [...] response to an appreciation of survivalism as hedging, a commenter linked to an Argentinean’s lessons for surviving collapse based on what he actually lived through. [...]

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