Despite the best laid plans and stores of supplies, if a disaster lasts long enough you are going to have to resupply. If you are in an urban setting there are potentially lots of supplies left sitting around. Let me make a distinction between scavenging for supplies in a very long term disaster and looting. Looters tend to take advantage of the chaos in short term to break in and steal things they want or can resell. Things like money, electronics, cars, and jewelry interest them. They are not trying to survive, just profit from the disaster. They don’t care that the owner might be back in 10 minutes or a few days. In the case of long term scavenging, you are looking for items like food, fuel, and medical supplies. You are also not taking items from someone. In this case, the original owners are probably not ever coming back. This is not to say that you would not gather something like jewelry for barter purposes later on, but that is not the main goal. Your goal is to provide supplies to keep your group fed, sheltered, and protected.
Develop a Plan
There a several things to plan before even unbolting the door or gate to head out. Good planning will hopefully net you the most supplies with the least risk. Simply heading out blindly will only endanger you and waste valuable time and energy.
First, plan on what you are looking for and prioritize. Items such as food, medical supplies, and fuel are obvious first priorities. Things such as plumbing pipe, building materials, or tools may also be on the list. Depending on the scenario, your group, and your location you may have other needs. Items to allow you to collect and purify water, plant and grow food, build defenses, and sufficiently house your group could be necessary. Those in charge of different areas of the group’s infrastructure should discuss what they need and why. This will bring to light what is truly needed to keep the group going.
Second, plan where you are going beforehand. If you have them sit down with a map and a phone book. Pick an area and look for places that might hold the supplies you need. You might have to get creative if you expect the normal places to have been picked clean. Doing this you can prioritize places based on what supplies you have the most urgent need for. You can also begin a list of places you have been with notes as to other items still there or potential dangers to avoid. Let the ones that stay behind know the details. Others knowing your plan will also mean that if you are injured there is a chance someone may be able to come assist you.
Next, plan who is going. Depending on your group and needs you may have to go alone with little time for recognizance. If time and numbers do allow, scouting in a small team of 2 or 3 will let you identify dangers such as possible traps or locations controlled by other, possibly hostile, groups. Unless you are desperate, starting a war with another group by raiding their camp would not be beneficial. Scout teams need to be armed and supplied with enough to allow them to observe target locations as long as necessary. A radio, if possible, should be included to allow them to contact home base regularly or in case they need assistance. Also look at the skills of people going. Not just skills to help them scavenge, but skills that mean they should stay behind. For instance, sending your only member with medical knowledge out to scavenge might not be a good idea if it can be avoided.
Gather the Tools
Scavenging teams should also be equipped with tools to get in and out of locations where supplies are at. They also need to be able to disassemble items too difficult to transport otherwise or because only parts are needed. Some to possible include
Pry bar – Stanley Wonderbar Pry Bar
Hacksaw – Stanley Hack Saw Junior
Roofer/Shingle/Plumb hatchet – Plumb Half Hatchet
Lock picks (if you have someone that can use them) – LOCKSET Strong Pick and Hook Set, 24-Piece
Bolt Cutter – WORKPRO Bolt Cutter
Socket/Wrench/Pliers/Screwdriver Set – Apollo Tools 95 Piece Tool Kit
Knife – Morakniv 4.1” Fixed Blade Outdoor Knife
Para cord – Para cord Planet 100′
Zip Ties – 15″ White 120lb (100 Pack) Zip Ties
Trash Bags – Heavy Duty Contractor Bags
Pack – 55L Internal Frame Backpack
Maps (preferably in a waterproof map case) – Map Case
2 Way Radios – BaoFeng 2 Way Radio 5 pack
Fuel Containers – 5 Gallon Gas Can
Siphon (water or fuel) – Siphon Fuel Transfer Pump (Be sure to keep a separate one for fuel/oil and water)
Spray Lubricant (help disassembling items) – WD-40 Lubricant Spray
Items to Look For
As stated before, the exact items you need will depend on your exact situation. Here are some items in no particular order to keep in mind that might find use in a lot of situations.
Plumbing pipe – Metal or plastic for water collection, sanitation, and could be used for making weapons.
Clothes – Either to wear, cut up for material, or trade (such as winter coats)
Fuel – gasoline, kerosene, used cooking oil, and cooking stove fuel (propane or liquid)
Guns and ammo
Ammunition reloading equipment and supplies
Medical Supplies – Medications, bandages, surgical equipment, and sterilization items
Books – Both for entertainment and education
Farming items – Tools, seeds, and plants/trees
Maps – To plan future routes and distribute copies
Communication equipment – Walkie talkies, Ham Radios, antennas, and (if electricity is out) possibly a manual typewriter to allow long term record keeping (unless you have GREAT handwriting, unlike mine)
Sanitation items – Toilet paper, tissues, feminine products, and such can be used or traded.
Shipping Pallets – If you have a way to transport them in mass, pallets can provide a lot of building materials or be used as is to fashion sheds for shelter.
Where to Look
Some places others may have missed where you might look for items
Manufacturing plants – Break room vending machines, maintenance shop tool box, first aid station, and janitor closet
Distribution warehouses – What is there might be hit or miss, but these will not be picked over as quickly as retail stores and usually will have larger quantities. If you get really lucky, you might find a shipment going from a gun, ammo, or MRE distributor to retail stores. Make sure you include shipping depots like UPS. Lots of stuff will be sitting there if things fall apart quickly. Most things you think of ordering online go thorough one of the major home delivery shippers.
Schools – Generally there will be some types of food in cafeterias or vending machines. The library and shop classrooms might also have useful items. Paper, pencils, maps, and first aid kits are usually stored there.
Veterinarian Offices – Many of the medications and surgical items are just the same as used on humans. If you have started farming animals, then there may be stores of animal food there that you could use for them. Dry dog and cat food, canned wet food, bird seed, and small animal hay/feed are some of them. There may be cages there that would also work. The food and cages would save a lot of work feeding and housing animals such as rabbits, chickens, ducks, pigs, or goats.
Marinas – Boats should have supplies stored on them. Tools, guns, fuel, food, and water are possibilities.
Churches – Lots of churches run a food bank or organize clothes drives. These supplies might still be locked in a closet there. In addition, candles, toilet paper, paper towels, and such will be stored there in some quantity.
Self-Storage Facilities – While these may not contain food, one would expect an abundance of clothes and household items. Other items like tools and spare parts would not be out of the question either. Given enough relative safety and time even the roll up doors and metal walls could be disassembled for use. This location would be a second or third level location though due to the time needed to open and search each unit.
You can see that there is a lot more to scavenging in a long term scenario than just going and getting things. Resources will become scarce and dangerous to acquire. The ability to plan and think creatively might mean the difference between living and dying.