Help me survive the coming apocalypse!
October 11, 2007 9:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a program (in NYC, ideally) that will help me survive the coming apocalypse.

I'd like to learn a wide set of survival skills (how to make water potable, first aid, self defense, scrounging/farming food, making clothes and shelter, etc.) that will help me and my loved ones escape Manhattan in a crisis situation, and then survive in the Thunderdome world that lies beyond.

Any program that incorporates swimming skills, weapons training, and so forth would be a huge plus as well (or any recommendations for practical weapons training, or swimming lessons for adults, would also be appreciated).

I'm also up for programs outside of NYC (but still ideally in the general vicinity), provided that it's just an intensive few days. Thanks for any recommendations.
posted by incomple to Society & Culture (37 answers total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
For target practice.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:58 PM on October 11, 2007

Sounds like what you need are the Foxfire books. You'll want equipment for two stills: one for making potable water and one for alcohol (for sterilization purposes. or selling. or just plain drinking).

Good luck, and by the way I hope "the end of the world as we know it" is far away.
posted by ilsa at 10:09 PM on October 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Probably just me, but I always imagine fleeing the city on a bike. Time's Up has free bike repair workshops, and the mechanical skills would probably be valuable anyway (even if we cannot flee on bikes, we can make some kind of crazy helpful apocalypse weapons swimming robot).
posted by unknowncommand at 10:10 PM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

You don't want to swim in the waters surrounding NYC, it's simply not safe. Besides, there's nowhere to swim to except, say, Queens or Newark.

I would suggest mapping out a few routes via bridge or tunnel to a state park/forest. That will hopefully give you a little room to spread out.
posted by sondrialiac at 10:23 PM on October 11, 2007

Not NYC, but New Jersey (general vicinity enough?) ... my SO's brother has attended several sessions at Tom Brown's Tracker School in the Pine Barrens. It's about a lot more than tracking, and can teach you mad survival skillz.
posted by mumkin at 10:33 PM on October 11, 2007

This is a fabulous question, and I look forward to some great answers.

unknowncommand is right about bikes. My zombie apocalypse escape plan is basically a bicycle and a machete, but I would love to develop it further.

When the sirens begin to sound, head north towards the Bronx, NYC's only mainland borough. From Brooklyn, I plan to take the Verazzanno over and through Staten Island, sticking to the cross-island expressway to avoid the raging zombie hordes. Avoid Queens if possible because of the large number of cemeteries.

In seriousness though, you're going to want to start with Steve Brill. This is his website
posted by boots at 10:36 PM on October 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

This dude also gives tours of the parks in city, wherein he shows what you can eat and what you can use as medicine.
posted by unknowncommand at 10:39 PM on October 11, 2007


My personal fear of the coming apocalypse is so acute that I went ahead and built a boat in my backyard, almost identical to this one. If you have the space and the time, I highly recommend it, as besides being a ballin' security provision, it also was mighty fun to build and use.

These guys have some basic resources and advice too.
posted by boots at 10:39 PM on October 11, 2007

doh. I will see boots on the Verazzanno!
posted by unknowncommand at 10:40 PM on October 11, 2007

So far, this is exactly the kind of stuff I'm after. Mechanical skills would be extremely handy, as would some handiness with fire arms, I suppose.

I hadn't heard of the Foxfire books, as I've not really looked into them so far (I really didn't know where to start, what was reputable, etc). But as these aren't targeted at paranoid, Omega Man weirdo wannabes like myself, they sound good.

sondrialiac, no worries about swimming to the mainland (or Long Island, for that matter); I just want to prepare for the possibility of flooding streets, etc. My swimming skills now are basically enough to keep me afloat. Also, I'm a grown man! I should know how to swim.

Steve Brill and the Tom Brown Jr's Tracker School are PERFECT.

Thanks for everything so far, everyone! This thread may save all of our lives one day. You're welcome, in advance.
posted by incomple at 10:47 PM on October 11, 2007

First step, move the hell out of NYC. Seriously. Whenever this stuff comes up in conversation or just in meandering thoughts, I marvel at how well and truly screwed people in big metropoli are. You have no garden, no garage or workshop, a tiny pantry, and your apartment probably doesn't even have its own water heater, so at any given moment your water reserve is what, 3 gallons in the toilet tank? Cars are self-contained habitation modules, providing shelter, heating and cooling, electric power, and a radio. But most people in NYC don't own cars.

As for links, there's some good reading over at Equipped to Survive, though it's mostly geared towards wilderness survival, there are plenty of good links, and the attitude is helpful.

Staying informed is important in any emergency. How do you know which direction to head, when the media hasn't figured it out yet? Get your ham radio license, and keep a charged HT in your go-bag. Get active in skywarn and stuff so your operating skills aren't rusty when you need them.
posted by Myself at 3:46 AM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

cosine, perhaps your local media didn't cover what happened in New Orleans in 2005, but in the event of a natural disaster (or, god forbid, something worse) it's entirely possible that I won't be able to rely on anyone but myself. From your posting history, I gather you're Canadian, but we can't all be so lucky!

What's the matter with wanting to be prepared? It's not as if I'm spending my evening in a barn, sharpening tool blades in anticipation of the Four Horsemen--I just want to be able to have clean drinking water when/if the utilities fail. And besides, I know that in all likelihood I'll lose hope immediately and die of grief.

Myself: First step, move the hell out of NYC.

You know that saying about the survivors envying the dead? But seriously, it is a long term plan, but for the remainder of my youth I'm anchored here. I'm not quite so worried or paranoid as to start giving up the finer things, but I definitely don't want to be an old man here when during The Floods.

Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, I can imagine the situation in medium and high-density suburbs being just as terrible as in major cities (especially in any crime ridden Rust Belt hellhole I would move to) but someday I'd love to have a fully self-sufficient home "off the grid."
posted by incomple at 4:36 AM on October 12, 2007

Horrible grammar abounds in that last comment, but I was just waking up from the latest of my many Road Warrior nightmares, so you'll have to excuse me...
posted by incomple at 4:43 AM on October 12, 2007

...I can imagine the situation in medium and high-density suburbs being just as terrible as in major cities...

This comment makes me wonder if you've really thought through your situation. There are very few disaster scenarios (blizzards, mostly) where you would be worse off in Westchester County than in Manhattan.

The woodland-survival fantasy is an attractive vision, but it should also be such a last resort that it's not really worth planning for. No matter how prepared you are, there's a decent chance the conditions will kill you; there's also a good chance that other survivalists (looking for supplies) or locals (the post-apocalypse is not kind to tresspassers) will kill you, especially if you're armed.

If you really want to increase your chances of survival, move somewhere that's not a target with good transit and water-supply links, stockpile food and water, and stay physcially fit so you'll be useful in the post-apocalyptic world. Learning first aid and how to swim are useful for everyday survival, let alone the apocalypse, so those should be high priorities.
posted by backupjesus at 5:41 AM on October 12, 2007

I think you could cobble together a lot of the stuff you need to learn independently and by taking random classes. You could go through police academy training, but not attempt to get a job as a cop (I know someone who did this). Some EMT training would be useful too. Read up on survivalist training: ie, edible wild plants; how to catch, cook & eat wild animals; how to build a basic shelter. I've heard about mountain survival classes out in Colorado, but I'll bet you could find at least a workshop on the east coast. Learning how to build a straw bale house would be useful. Learn how to grow your own food. Learn how to find water and make it drinkable. Take a few basic sewing and knitting classes. Learn about how to manage people during crisis. Take really good care of your body and your health so that in the event of a disaster, so that you can be useful.
posted by pluckysparrow at 6:29 AM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you really want to know what it is going to take buy a tent and move into your back yard for one week; bring only what you can gather in ten minutes (we want to pretend this is an all out fuckthewomenandchildren emergency).

You will get a first hand experience of what it might be like, what you might want to know and whether it might just be a better idea to go ahead and kill yourself instead of going through all the trouble just to live the rest of your life in the state of utter misery.
posted by bkeene12 at 7:08 AM on October 12, 2007

pluckysparrow, most of that had crossed my mind, except for learning how to manage people during a crisis. Thank you!

bkeene12, as I've long been a quitter, more apt to roll over and give up than to struggle to better my situation, I'm sure it will be an attractive option at the time. And your suggestion of moving into a wooded area with nothing, just to get some idea of the desperation one would likely experience, is excellent.

backupjesus, I've long thought about it, and I honestly can't imagine the traffic, looting, and rioting to be any worse in a metropolis than in a densely populated suburb. Of course, if one is looking to get to woodlands, the countryside, or what have you from a city, you'll have to go through said suburbs anyway... So I retract that statement and acknowledge it as foolish.

Anyway, the thought of dying in the first 24 hours (be it through violence, drowning, whatever) doesn't bother me, it's the possibility of being alive for weeks or months, completely at the mercy of circumstance that keeps me up at night (so to speak). Of course, by not worrying about learning to make potable water or anything else, I'm not likely to last 72 hours, so perhaps I should just forget about the whole thing.

Thanks again for your suggestions, everyone!
posted by incomple at 7:32 AM on October 12, 2007

Back before y2k, this Usenet group was an interesting hangout. Lots of interesting and thoughtful survival advice, and lots of crackpots. Surprisingly, fewer of the latter (at least back then). Looks like they're still talking about how to survive in all kinds of situations, though.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 7:34 AM on October 12, 2007

You might want to think about taking up archery. You can kill from a distance (animals or self defense) silently and reuse arrows. Hearing gunshots will keep people away from you but it could also attract the unsavoury scavenger types that I'm sure NYC will be full of if shit ever goes down.
posted by Totally Zanzibarin' Ya at 8:33 AM on October 12, 2007

You should check out this kid, Urban Scout. He's in Portland now, but I think he learned his wilderness survival schools in NYC, and could probably point you in the right direction. He's approachable and funny and nice.
posted by toomuchkatherine at 8:36 AM on October 12, 2007

For independent study: great pocket survival guide. Just bought it. The large one is great too, just less portable when society implodes & the frogs fall, etc.
posted by changeling at 8:42 AM on October 12, 2007

Ah, a fellow apocalypse obsessive!

For more long-term survival, search for "peak oil" on youtube. There are a bunch of people with videos about surviving in (semi-) urban situations after the end of the world. Gardens in strawbales and whatnot.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 9:37 AM on October 12, 2007

You should check out this kid, Urban Scout.

Previously, on MeFi.
posted by mumkin at 10:32 AM on October 12, 2007

Apparently, after the economic collapse of Argentina's currency (somewhere between 1999-2002?), it became rather apocalyptic. Here is a (supposedly) first hand account of how one guy survived there.

Some of it is rather chilling, especially since it seems to be in the vein of "we have to live with this every day" rather than the movie version of "if we just get to location X we'll be okay".
posted by sharkfu at 10:41 AM on October 12, 2007 [8 favorites]

It doesn't really answer the question but Tom Brown writes some of the better survival books. He has also got a school in New Jersey. No weapons training though, last time I looked.
posted by 517 at 11:03 AM on October 12, 2007

Completing my thought, for weapons training you could check out a place called Thunder Ranch, although it is in Oregon.
posted by 517 at 11:11 AM on October 12, 2007

first, get "The Army Survival Manual". Cheap book at surplus stores, lots of good general info, some parts even make entertaining read.

Second, make an 'urban survival kit".

-I'd suggest some basics:
flashligh, GPS (satellites are bound to stay functional for a while, I hope), batteries, maps of the area etc.

-A small medikit,compas. Some MREs (Meals Ready to Eat).

-Thermal blanket, emergency poncho that fits in your pocket. knife, leatherman tool.

-for protection...hard part unless you are prepared to get a gun permit. If you do, get a revolver, I think they require less maintenance. Not an expert on the subject.
pepper spray, tazer, and some sort of bladed weapon. Last one is pretty useless unless you have training with it.
speaking of training, enroll in a martial arts program.
maybe you could learn to make your own smoke grenades and molotov cocktails with household materials.

-I think that for escaping a densely populated area, when all hell breaks loose, a bike is useless. Makes you more of a target because your weapons are not handy.

There'll be a lot of people out there that are up to no good once the laws that keep them in line are no longer enforced. So avoid neighborhoods that used to be unsafe before civilization breaks down.
posted by spacefire at 1:25 PM on October 12, 2007

The Army survival manual is also available online here, among other places.
posted by backupjesus at 2:29 PM on October 12, 2007

Does NYC Have something like N.E.R.T. in San Francisco? That's Neighborhood Emergency Response Team. Given the fact that all services will be overwhelmed in the event of a major earthquake, SF runs a program (4 Saturdays?) that teaches not just earthquake know-how, but CPR, basic first aid, what to put in your survival kit, etc. Rather than citywide info, they focus on your particular precinct/district so you can help yourself, you neighbors, and the local rescue workers.(One of the less-noted but really valuable things is that it teaches you how the various emergency services communicate with each other, where the local command centers are likely to be, etc. Knowing where the muster points/bottlenecks are going to be and being able to read the various chalk/paint heiroglyphs the emergency services use is handy for urban incident survival. ) Ask NYFD? Mayor's office? if they have such a program - if they don't, suggest they start one.
posted by bartleby at 4:02 PM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

"but someday I'd love to have a fully self-sufficient home "off the grid.""

Just a cautionary note here - preparing for sexy apocalypse is fun, and I fully endorse it, but if the goal is genuinely about survival, there is less sexy stuff that is much more important, which should shape your priorities. Eg being self sufficient and off the grid is hundreds of times more likely to get you killed compared to taking that money you would have spent on taking the house off the grid, and instead pouring that money into getting a much better vehicle to get to and from the house. Five star safety and multiple airbags per occupant is a far FAR better survival investment of that money, even if means another five or ten years before you can finally afford awesome windmills and solar panels.

(I'm not trying to be the asshole contrarian, I totally support what you're doing, just saying that it's like your food - tempting to gorge on dessert, but for all the sexy survival stuff, there is a plate of brussel-sprouts survival stuff that both your health and your mom want you to finish off first :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:45 PM on October 12, 2007

Hahaha. So I read the question first and seeing your username was not at all really still going on about the end of the world?
posted by nonmerci at 7:40 AM on October 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ladies and gentlemen, nonmerci, my condescending ex. New and terrifying shit is happening every day, all over the world. In the event of another blackout (which seems more and more likely with each summer), a major natural disaster (even if not on the scale of Katrina), or anything else that might cause a serious disruption to my lifestyle, I wish to be prepared. I'm not sitting in the dark, stroking my small, inadequate erection, waiting for the last of days. Putting things in apocalyptic terms was largely for fun and hyperbole, though of course I'd like to be prepared even for anything (even if, as a poster above said, I'd be better off taking my own life).

-harlequin-, I'm not entirely sure what you're recommending. Are you saying that a quality sedan or sport utility vehicle should be my first priority, in terms of survival for after the apocalypse? Or in general, for every day life? I certainly agree with the latter (if my budget could accomodate a car, I'd no doubt be a Volvo or Saab man) but I'm not sure I understand the logic of the former. Not to say you're not correct, of course...

bartleby, that program sounds excellent, and I'd love to take part if something similar exists here. I'll see what I can, even if it's just another likeminded group of paranoid, government hating weirdos like myself...

Thanks to everyone else for your recommendations and suggestions. Pretty much everything has been excellent, and a huge help.
posted by incomple at 9:48 PM on October 14, 2007

FYI: Volvos are the Fords of Europe. Saabs are great cars but the parts are incredibly expensive to buy over here. That is all.
posted by nonmerci at 8:43 AM on October 17, 2007

You'd probably enjoy this previous question in regards to planning your escape route. Its something to think about, really - if you're on the island of Manhattan, your options are going to be severely limited when the zombies strike (et. al.).

Don't think for a second that there aren't swiftly- implementable government plans in place to quarantine the island should they ever need to. Its actually perfectly situated for just that.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:03 AM on October 19, 2007

Your best weapon is your library card. There you can find books on everything from Survival to Self-sufficiency. Another source of information is the Boy Scout handbook and merit badge pamplets such as Camping, Cooking, First Aid, Hiking, Orientation, Pioneering and Wilderness Survival. This will go well with your other survival handbooks. You'll also want to learn herbal medicenes and remedies.

Start a container garden. Everyone starts with tomatoes, but try a variety. You can pick up small kits for growing herbs on your window sill - this will help you with learning to use herbs.

Your local YMCA will have swiming programs. The Red Cross teaches CPR and First Aid. A self-defence class wouldn't hurt. Concider getting a license and going hunting. Learning how to field-dress a rabbit or deer will prepare you for when you have to do it when civilization has fallen.

Practice your skills. Go camping where you can build fires, make improvised shelters, etc. In a real survival situation, you have to know how to react, you may not have time to look it up.

You may want to concider joining a Boy Scout troop as an assistant leader. Realistically, this will help you to practice and maintain your skills. Should things fall apart, having a group to fall back on will help you more than trying to survive on your own. No Trace Camping skills will help you learn how to hide your presence in the wilderness should it be necessary for you to leave the city.

Put together a camping kit - backpack, sleeping bag, tent, tarp, cooking gear, etc. A good pair of hiking boots is essential. Avoid jeans and cotton socks - if they get wet when its cold, it will hold the mosture against your body and freeze. Wear wool or synthetic blends that wick.

Check this site out. It's good for keeping the essentails with you.

Keep a good supply of food on hand and rotate your stock. Learning how to can food (jams and jellies are a great way to start and helps defuse the idea that you're some crazy apocalypse nut-job).

If you do not have enough room in your apartment for your gear, concider finding a storage space outside of the city. It will make for a good rally point.

Do not buy into the hype that the government is after your guns. Should you be visited by the police/ATF, be polite.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 2:38 PM on October 24, 2007

I picked up most of the things you're looking to learn in Boy Scouts, and can start a fire in almost any set of conditions.

So, if you're to old for becoming a scout, you could become a leader and sit in on survival courses.

Also, start carrying a pocket knife.
posted by drezdn at 7:06 AM on November 9, 2007

I hate to seem cynical, but if the real shit goes down the refugee delta from the greater NYC metro area will be literally inescapable from within. Maybe you make it across to Staten Island, Jersey or Long Island, but guess what? There are several million recent ex-New Yorkers right there with you, descending on Ronkokoma like locusts and drinking all the milk.

Fill your closet with water in gallon jugs. If you have a stoop or roof get some chickens, eggs being the single most easily tradeable item you can have in that situation and, although it makes me sick to even say it, get guns and ammunition..
posted by dirtdirt at 5:55 PM on February 12, 2008

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