How to ride out the apocalypse in a big city

So you live in a city and don't want to die a fiery death ...

Thanks to wildfires, hurricanes, and certain leaders trading threats of nuclear annihilation over Twitter, you've probably been thinking a lot about disasters recently — specifically how not to perish in one.

And if you live in a city, this kind of thinking can be extra fraught. It's easy enough for doomsday preppers living in the woods to head for bunkers filled with canned food, but how are you supposed to get out of dodge when you don't even own a car?

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, there are no realistic scenarios that would require a sudden, mass evacuation of an entire city.

Nuclear attack? I hate to break it to you, but nuclear-tipped ICBMs travel far too quickly to give anyone time to flee before all are incinerated in hellfire. Dirty bomb? Conventional explosives combined with radioactive material would not release enough radiation to kill anyone or cause severe illness.

Even most natural disasters wouldn't require a sudden evacuation. Hurricanes are slow-moving and their paths can be predicted while earthquakes happen without warning.

"A lot of what drives big evacuations is often mass hysteria," said John Renne, director of the Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions at Florida Atlantic University.

So while you may not need to head for the hills when disaster strikes, you still need to be prepared. The key is to think more realistically about disasters, evacuation plans, and what you actually need to stock up on (fewer nail-studded bats, more bottled water).

Here are a few things city slickers should consider to realistically prepare for a sudden disaster:

1. Plan on staying put ...

"There are really not a lot of scenarios where you would want to evacuate a whole city," Renne said. "Panic leads people to want to evacuate, but that may not necessarily be the best thing to do."

During some types of disasters — a chemical attack, for instance — it's safer to shelter inside rather than evacuate. Even during the largest terrorist attack in history — Sept. 11 — only a small section of New York City needed to be evacuated.

"Most typically you would evacuate the parts of a city that are being impacted to a different part of the city," explained Renne.

2. ... But be ready to go at a moment's notice.

Most people won't need to evacuate, but if you happen to be in the area that is directly affected, you'll need to be prepared to leave quickly.

The fires that scorched California's Napa Valley swept through residential areas so rapidly that in many cases people only had a few minutes to evacuate. Hesitation proved lethal, and many victims died because they didn't hear the initial warnings.

To avoid getting caught flat-footed, listen carefully to any emergency alerts from local news stations and monitor social media for developments on evacuation orders. They could come at any time.

3. Stock up on the right supplies.

If you plan on riding out a disaster in your apartment, you will need to have a lot more on hand than just Netflix and a case of wine. At a bare minimum, you should stock enough water and non-perishable food to last three days.

It's also a good idea to have a basic emergency kit with a flashlight, batteries, first aid, and a solar charger to keep your smartphone humming. But if cell service goes down or the lines get overcrowded, having a hand-crank radio will be critical for receiving emergency updates.

And in case you do need to evacuate your neighborhood, you should have your "go-bags" already packed with important documents, non-perishable food, water, and medication. It's also a good idea to include a flashlight, some extra batteries, chargers, some cash, and basic toiletries.

While it may be tempting to cram as much food and water into your bag as possible, you shouldn't carry more than 20-25 pounds of gear. Unless you've got a fancy hiking pack that's designed to carry heavy loads safely, stuffing more than 20 pounds in a regular backpack will put a lot of strain on your body and make it hard to move quickly.

4. Know your surroundings.

Whether you're fleeing or staying put, you really need to know the ins and outs of your home and neighborhood.

For instance, depending on the type of emergency you're in, you may need to shut off your gas, electricity, or water in your house or apartment. So figure out in advance where these controls are and how to access them. The last thing you want is to accidentally set off a gas explosion when you light a match.

And if you do have to evacuate your home, it helps to already have an escape route planned out. Bear in mind that exits can become blocked, so having an alternate is critical.

You'll also want to figure out the location of your local evacuation center and how you'd get there. Cities with good emergency plans might even have fleets of buses ready to ferry people there, but you don't want to count on it.

Lastly, if you do have to escape, please be sure to check in on elderly, very young, or disabled neighbors to make sure they have options to get to safety as well.

5. Relax.

More than a New Age mantra, a positive attitude is the key to surviving an emergency. Nearly every outdoor survival guide begins with maintaining a positive attitude, keeping calm, and not letting anxiety or negativity infect your thoughts.

Hopelessness is a dangerous feeling when under extreme duress. Only by maintaining a positive outlook will you be able to maintain the willpower to survive.

You might be drinking toilet water, but at least you're doing it from home.


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