Estimated reading time: 13 minutes
At some point in everyone’s life there has been the errant thought of what one would do if society collapsed for one reason or another. The scenario is different for everyone, whether it be a natural disaster, raging pandemic, or invasion by various means. For some, it has prompted deep thought into the first steps after the initial shock has passed.
For most, staying put inside their own house is both the only and best option when SHTF. But what happens when you are forced to leave your home? What is your backup plan? With the odds stacked against you it’s best to have multiple contingencies for almost every obstacle you can foresee.
This guide aims to help you plan a little further for your doomsday plan by including tips on finding a new shelter if you have to flee plus some ideas on shelters you can use locally in a pinch.
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What To Look For in a Shelter After a Societal Collapse
When the fight or flight instinct kicks in it can be difficult to evaluate what’s a good shelter or not since you’re focused on finding a place to gather your wits.
Luckily, there isn’t a lot of criteria to meet in order to be considered a good survival structure. As long as you follow the basic guidelines below you should be able to find a usable shelter, at least for the short term.
In all SHTF situations location is one of the key aspects of survival. A possible location to escape to should have the following traits, or as many as you can cover.
- Multiple escape routes are essential
- Nearby resources for resupplying
- Away from any activity, preferably under cover
- Someplace familiar or easily scoutable
The general idea is that you can be mobile without having to stray far from your home base. You want the area to be far enough from any kind of activity since humans are curious creatures and might have the same ideas as you.
If others were to come snooping around you should have multiple clear avenues for escape. Become familiar with the terrain if you aren’t already because you might stumble onto additional resources or insight.
The first thing you want to look at is the exterior of the building. It’s important to listen to your gut on this one, since in these situations it can tell you when something is off about a building. Here are some questions you want to ask yourself as you quickly glance around the structure:
- Is the building out in the open or concealed?
- How many entrances are there? Which ones are sealed?
- Is the building structurally sound? Will it fall on top of you?
If you’re able to answer those questions and feel good about it then you can proceed inside. Make your way slowly around, using a flashlight if needed and scope out the place. These are some of the things you want to look for:
- Is there a lot of stuff or is the place picked clean?
- Do the floors feel weak?
- Are there collapsed walls or areas of the rooftop?
If you notice that there is a lot of stuff around then there is a possibility of people showing up and staying, looking to loot the place. However, it also means that you are able to see if there is anything useful.
Any kind of structural issue means a couple of things for you. It’s unsafe to stay there and any kind of injury is not good in a SHTF situation. Additionally, it means that rain and snow are able to get inside the building. This can potentially give you adverse living conditions promoting a poor quality of life.
A philosophy amongst survivalists and preppers is that people are more dangerous than animals, and it holds true in a lot of situations. If you notice that the structure you are investigating has inhabitants, there are a couple of different possible scenarios.
The first is that the people are friendly and are looking for like minded people to join up with or they are the opposite and you’ll need to be on guard. If you want to initiate contact it’s best to go in with an open mind but have a sense of caution about it.
The Best 8 Overlooked Shelters for Survival
A lot of overlooked structures are commonly found within urban environments and have different advantages. Here are the 8 overlooked structures that you should keep an eye out for if you need to bail when SHTF.
1. Abandoned Houses
Hunkering down for the first few days might be the wisest idea until you’re able to firm up long term intentions. However, sometimes you might need to leave your home prematurely, and this can catch people off guard. Hopping from house to house might be a viable option for your situation, making trespassing the logical choice.
If there are empty houses around you then the inhabitants more than likely fled for the same reason you are. Utilizing an empty home as a temporary shelter is a great idea as long as the owners aren’t inside, or don’t return.
This is the most comfortable of the shelters since it’s designed to live in even if the utilities are shut off. It provides warmth through insulation and other means (such as a fireplace or woodstove). There is a sense of security with inhabiting a home since it has limited entrances.
|• Provides comfort and safety
• Can be easy to hide within
• Suitable for long term shelter
|• Owners could come back
• Often reliant on the power grid
• Limited entrances
Some people live in their vehicles already and love the freedom that it has to offer. The space is limited compared to the rest of this list but the portability makes up for it.
Cars are great because they are efficient on fuel and can provide enough space for one person to sleep. Most preppers will stock up on camping equipment since it is light and generally use refillable fuel sources. This quickly gives you the option of cooking inside the car to avoid detection. Additionally, camping equipment such as sleeping bags, all-weather clothing, and a wilderness survival kit will go a long way.
Vans take the idea to a next level where you can actually design a living space within the vehicle. Many people do it now and it provides an excellent way to move around without having to establish a base camp. As with all vehicles though, fuel is required and in a societal collapse it might be difficult to come by unless you start siphoning from cars around you.
|• Your home is mobile
• Small and inconspicuous
• Can go off-road
|• Needs fuel to run
• Smallest of the shelters
• Breakdowns quickly turn it into a basecamp
3. Abandoned Bunkers
There are plenty of abandoned bunkers around the world, primarily thanks to WWII and any subsequent conflicts. These complexes can be as small as a basement add-on or as large as a sprawling complex.
Often the entrances to these structures are well hidden, or at least reinforced. Sometimes they are even stocked with old war equipment or caches of weapons and food. A quick search on YouTube of abandoned bunkers will give you a good idea of what to expect.
There are three foreseeable scenarios that are most likely to happen with using a bunker. The first involves it being in use and in that case you will more than likely be turned away.
There are times when the entrances might be destroyed or the bunker itself is inhabitable due to issues with the environment. In these cases it might be too dangerous to venture further.
Lastly, you find the perfect gem. The bunker has clean rooms, great structural integrity, and sometimes even power. If you are looking for some place where you can seal yourself off from the world for a short (or long) time, a bunker is the best area to inhabit.
|• Incredibly secure
• Can sustain life for a long time
• Often away from civilization
|• It can really only provide shelter
• No access to nature
• Limited entrances
4. Underground Tunnels
Any urban explorer will tell you that tunnels are like their own separate world. The dark, winding pathways that seemingly go on forever. Underground tunnels are used for a variety of things, including maintenance, special operations, old cities, mines, and you could go on. The homeless population has been using tunnels as homes and an underground highway for as long as they’ve been around.
If you’re looking to get away from the elements or to have a safe place for the night, a tunnel could work. There are limited entrances and multiple pathways. These are considered labyrinths and you can often get lost in them. Luckily, there is always an out, it’s just depending on how long you have to walk.
|• Great for getting out the weather
• Easy to find a little nook to hunker down
• Deters many people from exploring since they can be unnerving
|• Limited escape possibilities
• Minimal resources
• Can be claustrophobic for some who don’t like dark and enclosed spaces
Outbuildings are a category of structures that include but are not limited to: sheds, gazebos, greenhouses, garages, and workshops. They are covert enough to give you a heads up if anyone is prowling around since they’ll generally go to the big house first.
You can also hole up in your outbuilding when SHTF which can help keep your supplies close by. If your outbuilding needs some repairs or enhancements, you can take materials from the nearby houses to work on your building.
|• Small and discreet
• Easy to maintain
• Perfect as a temporary shelter
|• Not well defended
• Limited space
• Not a lot of entrances
6. Local Churches
This might seem like a suggestion right out of a zombie film but there is some sense in using a church as a temporary shelter. Some churches are well stocked since a lot of them act as food banks for people in need.
An abandoned church provides a lot of the same amenities as a house would but with a lot more space. The downside is that they may be considered gathering places and visitors are possible.
|• Spacious and quiet
• Usually has a kitchen and bathroom
• Usually multiple escape routes
|• Might be prone to visitors
• Usually in the middle of towns
• Requires a grid for power and heat
7. Storage Lockers
Storage lockers come in various sizes which give you plenty of opportunity to find a space that fits your immediate needs. They are ideal as short term shelters unless the area you are in has been evacuated. Since these make for idea shelters you’ll be more than likely to expect company.
Security is incredible at storage lockers, often including gated access and multiple checkpoints to get in. This is great except for the fact that it does limit your escape routes quite a bit. Especially in the storage locker itself where you only have one entrance. Be sure to fortify your newfound structure enough so that you are able to escape if need be.
|• Extremely secure
• Secluded and private
• Can be outdoors or indoors
|• Limited resources
• No escape routes
• Can be patrolled
8. Police or Fire Station
Police or Fire stations are great for SHTF because they are secure, provisioned, and have equipment to keep you in contact with the world. They have multiple access for quick egress and generally have a healthy supply of ammunition, radio equipment, a place to sleep, and even supplies such as food and water.
|• Secure and private
• Can be defended
• Has all the basic needs for survival
|• Some rooms might be locked electronically
• Could already be raided or occupied
Each structure will work in a pinch, but some provide advantages that you can use, such as food and equipment. Keeping a mindset of moving and gathering resources will make it easy when thinking of which shelter to escape to if your house can’t be used.
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