Urban Resupply a.k.a. Scavenging

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.


Making Due

Anyone reading this is obviously interested in being prepared at some level. The issue is that at times you may end up in a situation where either you cannot have your supplies with you or they are lost/damaged.  This is when the the real level of preparation you have done will come to light.

Preparation for almost anything is less about the items you have than the skills you gain and hone. Once a skill is learned, it cannot be lost or taken away. Sure it can get rusty, but the knowledge and experience are still there. One skill that is talked about a lot is adaptability. This post is going to focus on examples of how you can adapt and use nontraditional items to equip yourself with the basic items you may need to survive.

Lets set up a scenario where you might be without most, if not all, of your gear and supplies. This is a good exercise to generate constructive thinking about your surroundings. In this case, you have flown to distant city where you are staying in a hotel by yourself for work. Due to flight security and space you do not have anything except a few sets of clothes and toiletries. A large scale disaster (take your pick) strikes that prevents the emergency personnel from responding in the foreseeable future. You have little info beyond the total chaos you can see outside. You know that you need to try and evacuate the area to avoid danger. Hanging around in such a unknown densely populated area does not seem like a healthy idea.  You look around your hotel room for supplies to assist you in hopefully getting home or at least out of the danger zone. You hope that you can resupply with better supplies, but you want what you can get right now.

Items you could collect:

Shower curtain:  This can serve as a ground cover, makeshift tent, or  rain poncho depending on your needs. If available grab a few, they are light and not especially sturdy for the long term.

Bed Sheet/Blanket:  This can serve as a sleeping bag, cold weather poncho, bandages, slings, or be cut to strips for cordage. The sheet could also be tied into a hobo bundle to carry your items more easily that the standard luggage you came with.

Water Bottles:  Beyond the obvious use, these can be packed with cloth, charcoal, and sand as a basic water filter. the top could also be cut off to use as a container to use while foraging.

Soda Can:  Very easily these can be used to create a small alcohol stove to cook or boil water. A second can can act as a pot. They could also be used as a mirror signaling device. In a desperate situation these could be cut into a flat sheet and formed into a crude cutting tool.

Ice Bucket:  If this is the lighter plastic type you can use it to carry water, foraged food. If it has a lid you can use it to keep your tinder dry to help with fire making. While you are at it grab the plastic bag that is usually with it. Again it can hold or protect different items.

Mini Bar Items:  While most of us normally avoid these items due to the insane cost, they are not something to leave behind. The food is obvious, but also take the coffee, tea, sugar packets, and liquor. The tea and coffee will provide caffeine to help you keep moving. You may have a long trek before you feel safe enough to stop. Even just soaking a coffee or tea packet in water can accomplish this on the go. The liquor is best reserved for sterilization and other medical needs.

This list is not to say that you need ALL if these items. You may not have all of them at hand or may have better alternatives.

In addition, when you make it to the lobby, there may be some things you can scavenge.

Every major hotel has a breakfast of some kind. It might take a bit of force to get into the storage area. In a true disaster, you breaking in might be the least of anyone’s worries.

Food/Water:     You can gather a variety of food for short and longer term here. Fruit, baked items, and refrigerated items would be great for the short term. Items such as peanut butter packs, individual cereal boxes, and oatmeal packs would be safe for the longer term. Water bottles or at least a container of water will be stored there. Stock up to augment what you took from your room.

Knife:  Most of these food prep and storage areas would have some type of knife or box cutter. Having a cutting tool is a real necessity. It can be used to make tinder, cut cordage, and if desperate as a defensive tool. You can use cardboard and tape to make a improvised sheath. If no knife is there, scissor might be a good fallback.

Utensils:  While most of what hotel guest get is plastic, there would be a variety of metal utensils in this area for prep. A couple of them could be very helpful if you need to cook or boil water over an open fire.

Cookware: While there is not anything here that would pass for a full set of cooking pots and pans, there is something. Any metal container that you could use to boil water but is still small enough to not hinder your travel would work. Starting a file and boiling water takes time and effort, so it is best to do it in the largest volume possible.

Bleach:  Either in the food prep area or the laundry room you have a good chance of finding a bottle of bleach. Plain unscented bleach can be used to purify water.  It needs to not have any additional cleaners, colors, or anything in it. From 6 to 8 drops per gallon will purify the water depending on bleach concentration.

First Aid Kit: Normally safety procedures would warrant a first aid station in this area. If there is not a kit here, then the front desk is a good place to check also.

Lighter: A lot of these breakfast setups use Sterno to heat the containers they put eggs, sausage, or such in on the serving line. That means a lighter should be available. In addition if the Sterno is there, it would be a great option to use instead of a full blown fire.

As you can see, with a bit of creative thinking, you can supply yourself with some basic tools. They may not be best option given alternatives, but they may also make a difference in your survival. You do not know what you will have access to after you leave the hotel. Nothing stops you from swapping off for better equipment as you travel either.

While this scenario may be very contrived, it is to point out how those items around you can be put to use when you are a bit creative. Thinking and identifying potential items in your location that could help you in an emergency is a very good habit to build. It is very similar to people who, due to training, habitually identify exit points when entering a room. The time saved in ether of these cases could help you escape to a safer area ahead of the crowd.



Legality matters..until it doesn’t

Watch any good apocalyptic movie or television show and you will see “ordinary”  people running around with full auto guns, suppressors (often referred to as “silencers”), and explosives. While that makes for a good action flick, it is far from what I would expect to see if things really fell apart.  I very often see posts where people advocate ignoring current laws because they feel they need such equipment if things go wrong. This is a a very slippery slope that rarely ends well.

One thing that you must be cognizant about is the laws related to the plans and preparations you are making. Even in the worst case scenario, there will be a time period when law enforcement and the military will still attempt to enforce the laws. Being locked up or worse would put a real damper on your survival plans. In addition, some of these items come at a trade off as money is invested in them instead of other items.

While having some of the advanced hardware might help you after the world transitions to total chaos, it does comes with extra cost and risk. Legally you can apply and own a lot of full auto guns and suppressors, but they cost a pretty penny by the time you pay for permits. Without those permits, you risk hefty jail time and fines. The cost involved with these permits could be better spent on standard guns, ammo, and other supplies. On top of this, full automatic  guns tend to  burn through more ammo (read “money”) as you practice. One other factor is that more common guns such as handguns and hunting rifles will be in much larger supply if things totally deteriorate. This means more spare parts or replacement items will be available for something like a .30-06 hunting rifle than a fully automatic HK MP5.

Explosives such as grenades, refereed to as “destructive devices” by law enforcement, put you at even greater risk. No only can they cause legal issues, but they can be a physical danger unless you are trained to handle them.  So if you have visions of creating pipe bombs to ward off violent attackers, you had better rethink it. In today’s legal landscape stockpiling items for this is easily branded as terrorist no matter how loud you shout your good intentions.

Other items that you should thing carefully about as you plan  include alcohol production equipment and stockpiles of prescription drugs. I have seen many people discuss making alcohol as a trade item, medicinal use, or consumption. This is a highly regulated item and has limits on what you can produce without falling under additional guidelines. Beer is the least regulated as far as “home” production. As much as I see this a  potential benefit, I also see that it could draw undue attention. Also the necessary equipment is not extremely mobile. So not knowing the exact details of future emergencies, there is no way to know if you will have to abandon this in favor of mobility. Stockpiles of certain prescription drugs will also draw attention because normally this can be associated with intent to sell. Even if these are your own, it again is a risk if someone decides to falsify a report against you or they are found during some unrelated events.

So while you plan for all levels up to the worst, you must carefully navigate the laws that govern us whether you may agree with some of them or not. The consequences  of ignoring them can affect your family, friends, and ultimately your survival.

Stay Safe this Winter

If you knew that you would end up stranded hip deep in snow late at night on a lonely back road, you would come dressed for it with supplies and a way to call for help. Sadly emergencies rarely send you a postcard ahead of time.  With winter just around the corner for the Northern hemisphere, it is time to update any kits that you may have in your car, at home, and at work.

At home, your kit may be less of an organized bag as just having certain things on hand. One important one in cold climates is an alternate heat source if you use a heat pump or electrical heating. In the event of a power outage these will no longer work.  For a small space, a portable propane heater that uses the camping style 16 ounce propane bottles is a good option. Here is an example, but there are several styles. Click the pictures for more info.

In addition to the heater, a good stock of warm blankets and clothes should be kept. These will help you conserve fuel and also conserve body heat while you sleep. This also conserves calories. Wool blankets are a much better choice than cotton. Since these are meant to stay at home, the extra weight over something like a space blanket is a better trade off for the extra warmth.. A wool blanket like this is a good fire resistant option.

You will also need light during this time. A few good flashlights and backup sets of batteries are a good choice. Candles can be used, but need to be secured in a safe way so to prevent the chance of fire.  A lantern style light like this one would be a better first option as long as you have batteries.

If you do need to use candles, tealights have a shorter burn time, but cannot be tipped over. They are cheap and easy to buy in quantity. They could also be used an improvised cooking flame if hard pressed. Here is a example of them.

Food will need to be reviewed also. The best is to have food that is ready to eat.  Canned foods are a good long term option since weight is not a factor. This can be soups, fruit, vegetables, or meat.  Saltine crackers are a good option to accompany these. Sealed they stay fresh a long time. The idea is to limit the need to cook because that requires extra equipment and fuel. It is also another potential fire hazard. Though if the power outage is long term more food options will help curb cabin fever. In that case a stove such as this one is compact and uses the same bottles as the heater above. As an added benefit, it can be used to boil water (or snow and ice) if you run out of clean stored water.

Foods such as “camper” meals can be stored long term and easily prepared using the stove above. The trade off is that they cost more than standard canned food. They have a great variety of food options and some come sealed in a container for even better storage.  They do require water, so be sure to keep a good storage of clean water. Mountain House is a popular brand of these meals. This bucket includes 6 different types of meal pouches.

In case things go beyond just sitting and waiting for the weather to clear, you need to have a way to make outside contact. Given the upgrade away from traditional copper line landlines, a cell phone is the most possible option. Those require power too. A compact option for that is a hand crank device. This one is a AM/FM, weather radio, flashlight, and power bank combo. These are nice because they not only help you communicate out, but can help you keep up on things going on around you based on news reports and weather alerts.  Also, unlike a traditional power bank, you do not need to remember to keep them charged. Either sit this out in the sun or hand crank it to fill the battery. Just be sure to have cables compatible with all your electronics that you want to keep charged.

Some of these items such as the blanket, flashlights, batteries,  and radio combo are also a good part of a winter car kit. In addition some candles and a lighter can provide light and enough warmth to make a difference in the small space of a vehicle. Just be sure to crack a window to compensate for the used oxygen. In case you get stuck and can possibly “self rescue’ a shovel and  salt/sand/cat litter can help to restore traction. If you need help and someone comes along, having booster cables and a tow rope or chain can ensure you have what they need to help you. You can also be the good Samaritan if the reverse situation arises.  Road flares and reflective signals will keep you from getting ran over (hopefully). In addition, a sturdy set of winter boots and a change of clothes including gloves and a warm hat need to be kept in the car. This is in case you are caught dressed inappropriately for walking in bad weather. Top the kit off with some ready to eat snacks that can stand temperature fluctuations in case you get stuck for an extended amount of time. Be sure to keep these in a kit so that they stay secure and organized in your car. A plastic tote can work in the trunk, but just be sure to include a backpack in case you need to load up supplies and leave the vehicle.

Since you also more than likely spend a significant amount of time at work, it can pay to store some items in a safe spot there.  If you do not have easy access to your vehicle and your work attire is not appropriate to walk in bad weather, a change of clothes should be stored here. Boots, a sweater or sweatshirt, warm pants, wool socks, and possibly even a  thermal base layer would be good to have. A good flashlight, a radio combo like above, and some snacks would also be a great idea. If you have storage room, a blanket would be very welcome if you get stranded at work overnight.

As you can see, none of the items included above should be terribly surprising. the problem is that on a day to day basis most are not needed, so people overlook them. This is where a clearly defined plan can help you to properly equip your kits to be there for you when they are needed. So, yearly you should review your winter planning, check for equipment that needs to be swapped, replace any supplies that were used, and add any new additions that have come to light. This small amount of planning will go a long way in keeping you safe until you can get to safety, have someone pick you up, or the emergency has ended.

“Killing Time”

Now before anyone gets excited or agitated, this post is not about killing, it is about “killing time.” One thing that many people do not prepare for is the vast amounts of time you need to fill if you are displaced due to a disaster. Now I am not referring to worst case scenarios, but a mid-level disaster. This would be one that causes you to have to leave your home to shelter somewhere. In this instance you may very well have no electricity, cell service, and only the supplies you brought. You are not having to fend off violence, forage for food, or procure firewood. It is expected to be short enough that you can wait it out and return home though.

The true issue is the waiting. The hours we would normally devote to laundry, dishes, television, mobile devices, and the ‘normal’ day are now an empty void. This can lead to frustration, depression, and “cabin fever” in children and adults alike. This might be amplified by lack of sleep and cramped conditions. Thankfully with some forethought you can take simple and cheap steps to deal with this.

One great option is a few decks of cards. Whether it be Go Fish with your 6 year old, Solitare by yourself, or Poker with the entire family, it only take a few decks of cards. These are cheap and can be stashed in the car, emergency bag, or purse. A simple zipper lock sandwich bag will protect them if you end up getting wet. If you are not familiar with many card games, now is the time to learn, but you can also stick a sheet in with the cards that have rules for multiple games on it. Nothing difficult is required, just some so that playing GO Fish is not your only option.

While they can be bulkier, board games come in all age ranges and variety. Checkers, chess, Connect4, Backgammon, and Yahtzee are just a few. The smaller travel sized version do not take up a lot of room. In some cases, you could ditch the packaging and pack several into smaller containers. These would allow pair or group play and a rotation of games to avoid “burn out.’

The list of options is only limited by your imagination and storage space. Take a look at who you will be with, where you think you may be sheltering, and how long you might be gone. Having a few of these items with you may help everyone weather to disaster with a more positive attitude. That will be a benefit during and in the years after.

Some examples of games that might be useful:

Yahtzee to Go Travel Game

Hasbro Connect 4 Grab and Go Game (Travel Size)

Take ‘N’ Play Anywhere – Checkers


3 in 1 Travel Magnetic Chess, Checkers, Backgammon

Bicycle Playing Cards

Scrabble to Go Board Game

Hoyle’s Rules of Games

Including your kids in your plan

Many people struggle when they try to decide how to introduce their kids to planning, especially for the more serious levels. On one side, if they know what is going on, then they can cooperate accordingly. On the other side, it can be scary to think about situations that could change their life forever. Most sources agree that it is very important to share and explain key details to your children. Knowing the plan can help them to better follow instructions and reduce their stress in the moment. In addition, in the event that you are not present or are injured, it will give them steps to follow to seek aid, escape the danger, or implement other important plan steps.

It is important to make a plan for everyone in your house for multiple types of disasters. Sit down and discuss the plans for these disasters and allow children to assist with preparations where they can.  Ensure that younger children have an “emergency kit” aimed more at reducing their fear than simply carrying survival supplies. A stuffed animal, book, or blanket may make all the difference to them. This will also give them a sense of responsibility for the planning and their own items. Reiterate the plan frequently, especially with younger children. You can do this by discussing current news stories and how they would need to respond in those scenarios. Also post copies of plans for emergencies like a house fire, flood, or medical emergency in a easily accessible spot. This will give kids access to important meeting location information and emergency numbers.

The U. S. Centers for Disease Control feels so strongly about informing kids that it has developed a “Ready Wrigley” line of books that help to teach kids about dangers ranging from mosquito bites to hurricanes. These include information to help kids be part of your family emergency planning.

Center for Disease Control – Ready Wrigley Books

The CDC also provides advice and some downloadable forms at their “Make a Plan” page. These forms are a good way to not only record the plan, but important family member information.

Center for Disease Control – Make a Plan

The American Red Cross also has advice and planning tools to help you prepare your children for a wide range of emergencies and their aftermath.

American Red Cross – Disaster Safety for Children

Overall, for most children, you will find that being upfront and honest with them about what might happen will generate the reaction you need. This will allow them to help if they can in bad situations or at least stay calm and follow directions. It is one more step you can follow to get to the end result of the survival of your family.