Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Cities are taking over the world, so to speak. More people live in them than ever and more of them are popping up all over the world. Learning to survive in a dense urban environment is becoming an ever more important skill.
To help you better prepare, we have put together this civil war preparedness series to give you a quick down and dirty overview of what survival in a city will entail. This is the third part and it deals with your physical security.
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. Today we are going to look at the #3 most important aspect of survival: protecting our food, water, and shelter.
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Defending Yourself in a Civil Conflict
This is the third part of our civil war preparedness series. The last two articles dealt with finding shelter and sourcing food and water. If you have successfully fulfilled your needs up to this point, you will have something that another person desperately wants. This means you’ll have to able to defend or protect yourself and your possessions in some way.
Outside resources introduced into a crisis area (such as food, water, fuel, and pharmaceuticals) take on increased value, may replace currency as the medium for exchange, and often become the means to amass and hold wealth. One primary way to obtain wealth is to steal it.” – U.S. Army Urban Operations
To further bring this point home, a report released by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that people in separatist-controlled areas of Ukraine were experiencing “complete absence of rule of law,” as well as torture.
When society breaks down, you don’t want to be at the mercy of what comes next or fills the power vacuum. Obviously, organized resistance requires a group, but making yourself a hard target can prevent both low-grade thefts as well as general strong-arm tactics.
- Urban Conflict in Syria Left Many Large and Strong Buildings Damaged and Crumbling
Most untrained combatants, even in small groups, are unable to breach a defended doorway or staircase. Fighting back may also buy you enough time to grab your bug-out bag and flee the area. This is why a concealed secondary escape point is necessary for every shelter—pin them down at the entrance and escape out the back so to speak.
Of course, fighting back requires extensive weapons training, the ability to get to your weapon, and prep time. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on early warning systems that allow us to detect the onset of a threat, prepare to fight back, or escape.
Cover and Concealment
We covered this in the shelter article, but it is worth repeating here. Cover and concealment are two different things. Cover provides a physical barrier and is capable of protecting you from hostile fire or debris. Concealment keeps you out of sight.
Hiding in a bush is concealment but not cover since the bush won’t stop any bullets. You want to make sure your positions are concealed, but also capable of providing you cover if need be.
Take into account all of your senses when trying to conceal something. Smells, sounds, and visual cues can all give away your shelter or fighting position.
A DOD engineering manual describes the degrees of cover when compared to small arms fire.
A tried-and-true sandbag wall is also a good option if you can find the materials to make one. In the wild west, and even in some cases more recently, criminals have filled the walls of their homes with sand to help defend against bullets.
There was a log cabin that held out against an entire posse for three days if memory serves since the bank robbers had pre-built it with a sand barrier between the logs of the walls. The point is, sandbags will stop bullets and are a good alternative for hardening up a position.
When dealing with rockets or other explosives that are made to destroy or penetrate cover, you will need a Pre-Detonation Screen to protect yourself. This can be thick foliage or debris that masks a clear shot into your building, or it can literally be a screen of wires or bars like you can see on the outside of some armored vehicles.
Early Warning Systems
When you are attacked, all of your prepared defenses are useless if the intruder is inside before you even know they are coming. As the military urban manuals constantly reiterate: the main point of residential security measures is to “Increase the amount of time between detection of a threat and the onset of hostile actions.”
Alarms and Traps
These are very simple to make and are fairly effective if you hide them well enough. These can be used as warning systems or traps depending on your level of craftsmanship and ingenuity.
Though keep in mind, the traps are also more of an early warning system themselves made to slow an advance—you are not likely going to defeat a committed attack with Home Alone tactics—but they can give you time to maneuver to a more effective defense.
- A mousetrap can be used to send an electrical signal. Then use a lightbulb as a warning light.
A doorstop alarm is also a quick and easy way to seal off an entranceway. The U.S. Amy Manual on ‘Boobytraps’ also has plenty of diagrams and descriptions of various traps and systems for securing buildings.
- Where to put traps and tripwires
Defensive Fighting Positions
As stated before, hardening up your position can cause attacks to falter, allowing you to make them think twice—preventing the theft or allowing you to escape. A solid fighting location will allow you to control fatal funnels and make an assault on your home incredibly costly.
The U.S. Army Urban Operations manual goes into great detail about how to prepare fighting positions in an urban environment. Cover and concealment are still primary concerns. Often they use sandbags to supplement and reinforce the material around them to ensure the cover can stop small arms and shrapnel. In an urban environment, putting sandbags below you and above you may be necessary.
You also limit your exposure to fire and view as much as possible, shooting from a very small opening that exposes only what they absolutely have to. In Iraq, insurgents would punch out small holes in the walls and ceilings to shoot through. These make for great ambush spots and are very hard to see even when being shot through.
Keep your muzzle inside the room when you fire to prevent it from being spotted easily and ensure you have supplementary fall back defensive spots.
Here are some other urban firing spot concerns:
- Avoid firing over cover; try to fire around it to minimize your exposure.
- Don’t silhouette yourself on light-colored buildings or the skyline, and so on.
- Select your new fighting position before leaving an old one.
- Avoid setting a pattern; fire from various locations if firing out of a building.
- Keep exposure time to a minimum.
- Use material that is readily available in the area to reinforce a position.
- Positions that provide cover from ground level may not on higher floors.
- Basic Positions and Placement for Defensive Tools
General Safety Precautions For Day to Day Living in a Hostile Zone
Those with experience serving in Iraq can tell you that much of the civil violence that went on in Urbanized Zones on a routine basis were quick and dirty kidnappings or robberies of targets were perceived as easy or “soft targets.
By maintaining a high level of awareness and following these tips, you may be able to avoid being selected as a random victim in a similar setting.
Most of these were taken from information given to foreign embassy workers, but the principles overlap with our needs. These habits will make you a more undesirable target when you go about daily activities.
Fight Having a Routine
- Vary your work to and from work.
- Don’t take the same routes.
- Exit buildings through different doors
- Don’t exercise alone.
Keep a Low Profile
- Don’t show off supplies, money, or luxury items.
- Avoid public arguments or disputes.
- Do not divulge information about yourself or your family.
- Shut the curtains in a room before turning on lights.
- Control keys strictly.
- Park car in a locked garage.
- Don’t open doors to people at night.
- Backup lights and power systems.
If you absolutely want more on this subject, the best place to go next is the Intelligence Support to Urban Operations field manual.
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