Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Note: This is part 2 of a three part series. Click Here to Read Part 1.
As the size and regularity of our cities expand across the globe, we must learn what it takes to survive in these environments. War and disaster have not stopped just because our urban areas have grown—in fact, a look at the last century will tell you just how integral (and deadly) cities have been for humans as conflict seizes the land.
More and more of us live in these places, so we need to start educating people on how to survive and protect themselves in such situations.
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The heightened importance of urban spaces results from demographic developments, with the global population advancing toward 70 percent living in urban areas by 2050, and from recent trends in terrorism, counterinsurgency and stabilization efforts. Both people and the fight are converging on cities.” – Modern War Institute at Westpoint
As Haslow would basically put it, our basic needs as humans have always been water/food, shelter, and security. This has not, and will not, change. In this segment of our series on Civil War Preparedness, we are going to look at the #2 most important aspect of survival: finding safe and effective shelter.
Finding Proper Shelter in a Civil Conflict
Aerial bombardment, IEDs, and artillery shelling of civilian areas are still common features of modern warfare. Civilians are usually packed around critical infrastructure providing services that people rely on (electricity, sanitation, water, food, etc.) and these are often targets that receive heavy bombardment due to their critical and industrial nature. As convenient as living near these areas may be, they will open you up to increased danger from air and artillery strikes.
In a civil conflict, you want to reside away from critical infrastructure or symbolic structures. These attract violence and conflict. With that in mind, the outdoor survival tactics used by the military still apply.
- B – Blend in with the surroundings.
- L – Low silhouette.
- I – Irregular shape.
- S – Small.
- S – Secluded location.
Traditional survival training also teaches that your shelter must provide concealment from enemy observation, have camouflaged escape routes, and be free from insects, wild animals, etc. In an urban environment during a conflict, being able to balance visual exposure to passersby and vulnerability to airstrikes with your need to catch rainwater and grow food will be an important tactical balancing act.
Safety From Bombing
We already covered how common aerial bombardments are in modern civil conflicts, so it stands to reason that any shelter you choose should have some sort of ability to withstand or protect you from these attacks.
Here is some relevant info from the National Institute of Building Sciences regarding structures and bombings:
- “Ductile poured-in-place reinforced concrete” is considered the safest construction material to resist a blast. “Virtually all new U.S. embassies” are built from this material. So, look for reinforced concrete if you need a blast safe space.
- Pre-Cast concrete should be at least 5” thick. To reduce blast and shrapnel damage.
- For CMU block walls, use 8” block walls “fully grouted with vertical centered reinforcing bars.” For bricks, a thickness of 18” or so can perform well. Masonry is prone to causing dangerous shrapnel.
Timber, Doors, and Windows:
- Timber should not be used for blast mitigating since it is too light and fragile.
- Windows: You want windows that will not blow towards you into glass fragments. “Solution for new construction is to use laminated annealed (i.e., float) glass with structural sealant around the inside perimeter. “
- Doors: Have the open outward so they bear against the jamb in an explosion. You can fill the door jambs with concrete to build strength. You can also increase the number of fasteners connecting the door to the wall.
- Do not stand directly behind a door.
- Position doors so that they are not propelled into rooms if they fail.
Note on Windows
Windows need to be small and narrow. You need to see and shoot out of them if necessary, but not so large as to allow explosives or incendiary devices to be thrown through. Glass can be a huge liability in a variety of situations and should be carefully considered before being used.
Cover and Concealment:
These are two different things. Concealment protects you from vision, cover protects you from weaponry. A bush will conceal you, a concrete wall will cover you. Good concealment protects you from needing cover, good cover protects you once you are found. Making use of both of these factors is necessary.
Concealment requires you to mask your shelter so that it blends in with the surrounding environment and does not give away your position. Be aware of smoke, smells, sounds and lights emanating from your home. Try and look at your home at different times of day from different possible angles that passersby might be looking from.
Cover involves what we talked about in the ‘Safety from Bombing Section’ but can now also include small arms fire. A DOD engineering manual conveniently describes the degrees of cover when compared to small arms fire.
Certain weapons were made to breach thick walls. To stop these types of rockets and explosives, a pre-detonation screen can be used. These screens activate the detonation sequence before the weapon has made contact with the hard surface.
Early Warning Systems
When you are deliberately attacked, or robbed, most of your well-prepared defenses will be useless if you are unaware of the fact until they are within your home. You need to come up with a system for preventing entry and for being aware when someone is approaching you, giving you time to prepare a defense.
Other Factors to Consider in an Urban Shelter
Keep in Mind the Climate
The climate will also have a strong bearing on the area you select. You will need a place that can shield you from the cold and wind, as well as give you access to some form of fuel and water.
In the summer, being near water can be convenient but can also attract insects. Some homes in the city may be comfortable with electricity and heating but are little more than sheetrock and glass when the utilities go. Blankets on the walls like old medieval tapestries do a lot for keeping in the heat.
“A common error in making a shelter is to make it too large. A shelter must be large enough to protect you and small enough to contain your body heat, especially in cold climates.”
-U.S. Army Survival Handbook
In an Emergency
If you are caught out in the open for a night, creating a traditional debris hut can still be accomplished. Just instead of sticks, your area may provide broken sheetrock or even cardboard and trash. Its all about mindset. This will offer you a better level of concealment.
Subsurface areas lie below the surface level. According to the Marine Corps Urban Operations Manual, subsurface areas “offer excellent covered and concealed [pathways] for moving supplies and evacuating casualties. They may also provide sites for stockpiling supplies. Subsurface areas include subways, sewers, drainage systems, mines, tunnels, cellars, civil defense shelters…these areas are often the most restrictive and easiest to defend or block.”
This is only the tip of the iceberg in what we could cover on possible shelters and methods for survival in an urban scenario. Hopefully, the subjects we touched on have got you thinking and re-evaluating your plans for when SHTF in your city.
As this Civil War Preparedness series continues, we will touch on other necessary needs like a more in-depth look at security, early warning systems, and traps.
If you have any other tips or advice, please throw them down in the comments and we will try and include them in our next piece.
Sources Used In This Series:
- INTUITION, THE CITY, AND WAR The Modern War Institute (MWI) at West Point
- Sieges in Syria: Profiteering from Misery The Middle East Insitute
- Urban Operations U.S. Army Manual FM 3-06
- Boobytraps U.S. Army Manual FM 5-31
- DoD Security Engineering Facilities Planning
- Regarding structures and bombings
- Blast Safety Of The Building Envelope National Institute of Building Sciences
- Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain (MOUT) Marine Corps Manual MCWP 3-35.3
- Survival U.S. Army Manual FM 3-05.70
- SHELLING, SNIPING AND STARVATION: THE LAW OF ARMED CONFLICT AND THE LESSONS OF THE SIEGE OF SARAJEVO by KJ Riordan
- What You Need to Know About Urban War by Trevor Kek