Urban Survival – How to Bug-In

To bug-in basically means to prepare yourself through planning and acquiring resources for unexpected scenarios that force you to reside in a fixed location for what might be an uncertain period of time. We’re going to look at how you can successfully do this, whoever and wherever you are.

Because of the disruptive nature of bug-in emergency situations, your ability to obtain outside resources will often be severely limited. Quite a lot can go into making such preparations, and your circumstances might be different from the next family’s. So, instead of giving you a straight-up shopping list here, well look at the general considerations you’ll need to have in mind. The finer details are left to your own discernment.

Why You Need a Bug-In Plan

First off, we’ll need to go over some of the reasons why it’s so important for us to have a bug-in plan ready for any emergency event that may be on the cards. The core aspects of bugging-in are anticipating your household’s needs and making arrangements for them to be met for whatever time-frame you’re planning for, if not indefinitely. 

Now, most information you find regarding emergency situations focuses on bugging-out rather than bugging-in. Bugging-out involves evacuating your home or residence in order to evade or escape trouble in your home area. These are often, not always, shorter-term events.

There are some situations where this will work for the best, but in truth, bugging-out is not a feasible or sustainable solution for many families and individuals. Rather than heading out into the relatively unknown world with limited supplies to face new challenges each day, most people would rather stay in the home they know, have prepared, and feel safest in.

You don’t want to find yourself standing in line for half a day just to fill up on some gas or buy that last pack of water you need. Being prepared offers incredible peace of mind and helps take some of the edges of any calamity that might engulf your area.

That’s the overriding reasoning in favor of getting your bug-in plan ready well in advance. You will have far greater control over your circumstances this way, in addition to being able to minimize the potential threats that new and unfamiliar environments might harbor.

Bugging-in should be your first reaction in situations such as earthquakes, HazMat events, biological attacks, power outages, civil unrest, and more.

Some of these scenarios might make bugging-in seem like a counter-intuitive thing to do, whereas bugging-out looks to make more sense, but there are plenty of mitigating factors that have to be taken into consideration. These include living situations such as:

  • Single, partnered or married
  • Living with kids or elderly folk
  • Living in a rural or urban area
  • Number of family members
  • Ages of members involved
  • Relevant medical issues
  • The state of the surrounding area
  • Transportation availability
  • Threat levels
  • Access to basic requirements

In most instances, you will be better off bugging-in as long as you have confidence in your location, the precautionary measures you have in place, and the status of your preps.

Remember that once you get yourself ready to face the very rare worst-case scenario, you’ll definitely be prepared for anything that falls short of that.

Prepare Your Urban Survival Kit Essentials 

Every home should have a basic emergency procedure that all adults and children old enough to understand are aware of. This is a simple basic guide on what to do as soon as you become aware that a disaster of some sort is imminent or has occurred.

This should include a set meeting place, preferably indoors, where every household member will congregate, bringing all pets along as well when situations permit.

Your next priority will be to get all cell phones, tablets, laptops, handheld radios, and other chargeable devices fully juiced up in case power goes down. Think of the items you will use for communication or information gathering. You will need these in order to stay updated on the current situation as it unfolds should your television or radio fail due to a lack of power.

Keeping in touch with the situation is of vital importance in the early stage of an emergency. Being able to find out whether people in your immediate area are being advised to evacuate is critical information. We’ll go through more on communication later on.

Note that a vital part of your basic home supplies, bug-in kit aside, should be a simple emergency kit. This should contain the following at a minimum:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Flashlight
  • First-aid kit
  • Sturdy radio (battery or crank-operated)
  • Some cash
  • Simple tools (think knives, pliers, screwdrivers, etc.)
  • Matches and candles
  • At least three day’s supply of maintenance medicine for any household members

Always keep the emergency kit in a specific area that’s easily accessible and close to your emergency meeting area.

Now, if you aren’t receiving evacuation directives from official channels or if those reports get to you when the situation outside seems past the point of safe evacuation, then you can go ahead and settle down to bugging-in. You’ll be a happy camper, nevertheless, if you have the basic measures in place.


Shelter is a crucial element of any survival situation, whether out in the wild or suburbia. It isn’t enough to simply say that you will be in your home – you need a properly defined hub that fulfills certain important criteria.

This will probably be determined by the type of emergency scenario in question. Some emergencies, like tornados, for example, might call for basement (below ground-level) bugging-in. It should be spacious enough to hold all household members, pets included.

Many folks don’t have basements or purpose-built underground shelters, in which case an above-ground, windowless room is recommended. These are also the best option in flood scenarios or chemical, biological, or radiological contamination instances.

Sure, you can have household members bunkered in their rooms whenever they like, but you will need to have a central location where you will all meet. In case the power goes out, water gets shut off, or food and medicine need to be dispersed, this will be where it should be happening.

Your emergency kit and survival supplies should be stored here whenever possible or nearby with easy access. Install cabinets, shelves, storage bins, and whatever else you will need to hold all your stuff and make it clear to the household that the supplies there should not be used unless under emergency circumstances.


You will need to have a reliable way of communicating with the outside world if you want to successfully see through your emergency scenario. This involves both receiving and sending out communications.

It will serve the important function of keeping you up-to-date on developing weather situations. It will also aid in receiving official updates and knowing what others in your area are doing to cope with the situation, and more.

It is a mistake to assume that your phone or laptop alone will be up to the job, especially in long-drawn-out scenarios. These depend on cell phone towers and fiber optic cables (internet, WiFi), etc., for their connectivity, which may be weak or offline altogether. Not to mention their tendency to break down right when you need them most.

If you insist on a cell phone for emergencies, what you want is a sturdy, old-fashioned cell phone (when I old-fashioned, I don’t mean rotary dial), like the ones we use to have before smartphones.

These old-school cell phones hold on to their charge for considerably longer, are much more durable, and generally have stronger signal strengths than their modern counterparts.

Your safest bet will be to pair this with a means of receiving communications and news updates over the airwaves, even if you aren’t actively sending out messages.

For this, you’ll want a radio suited to the job. Hand crank radio, such as the FosPower Emergency Hand Crank Radio radios are great for this purpose. This model adds a small solar panel for additional power sourcing.

They eliminate the need for batteries or power sources that may run out or get cut off and offer you a nifty way to supply power to other charging devices you might have on hand. This is your surest way of keeping abreast of things.

Another solid alternative is Ham Radio. For a full breakdown of using Ham Radio for Emergencies, check out this link.

Portable Light and Heater

When your usual heat and lighting methods are put out of action or inaccessible, having ready alternatives may be imperative to your survival. You might have space and supplies at hand to operate your fireplace as a heat source for as long as your wood fuel stocks hold out, but this isn’t feasible for many city dwellers especially.

A lot of folks in my small part of the world recently dealt with this exact scenario. Historic sub-zero temperatures that lasted days on end knocked out the power grid and left many without power and the ability to heat their homes. Unfortunately, this ultimately claimed a number of lives.

Non-electric heaters are your most reliable and safest option, especially those operating on propane or kerosene. These are clean, affordable, easy to operate, and highly reliable.

You will find great heaters such as Mr. Heater F232000 MH9BX Buddy Indoor Radiant Heater online and in shops everywhere, plus propane is available at a lot of locations and can be stored for quite some time.

There are portable lighting options such as portable LED lights and lanterns that will run for hours, if not days, on a single charge. As a matter of redundancy, you can combine these with camping lanterns such as the Coleman Lantern to add another layer of options.


Without a good amount of water stored up, your bug-in will be very short-lived indeed. FEMA (US Federal Emergency Management Agency) tells us that emergency situations call for a minimum of one gallon of water per person each day for purposes of drinking, cooking, and hygiene.

This means that a family of four bugging-in for four days will need to have at least 16 gallons of water in stock, so you may imagine what a couple of weeks or a month will require. Medical conditions and the presence of pets can be a further stressor on your water reserves. Remember, these are minimum amounts.

You don’t want just any old plastic thing to store your water in, as some plastics will leach into your water or allow UV rays to penetrate through and potentially re-activate harmful microbes lying dormant in your water supply, an enzyme called Photolyase.

There are great products out there such as the Waterbrick Emergency Water and Food Storage Containers designed for just this kind of thing, being easily stackable, high-volume, and made from suitable quality plastics for long-term potable water and foodstuff storage.

If you’re caught completely flat-footed with regard to your water storage, you should try and get your bathtubs filled up with water as the disaster scenario approaches. Note that water purification tablets, such as Potable Aqua Germicidal Water Treatment Tablets, should be an absolute essential for any bug-in or bug-out supply cache. 

These allow you to convert water sourced from questionable sources such as pools, rainwater, ponds, or fountains into potable, safe-to-drink water. They are a relatively cheaper option to most water filters, even though great ones at good value do exist, such as the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter, which is suitable for emergency preparedness.

We’ve put together a full guide on long-term water storage for emergencies, so be sure to check it out.


Food can make for a tricky subject when it comes to preparing for emergency scenarios, especially once you begin to drag your projected timeline forward. The key here lies in good judgment as you make your choices.

You want food items that will not only last a long time without going bad but that require as little maintenance as possible. It can be stored with ease and, in bulk, are as nutritious as you can get and are generally palatable even if not all that appetizing to those in your household.

You don’t want or need items such as fresh meats, poultry, dairy, vegetables, and other fresh produce in your bug-in stockpile. That is unless you have ways to preserve, such as canning.

If you are interested in off-the-shelf options, you may want to include such items as dehydrated foods such as the Long Range Patrols (LRP) rations and Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs) used by folks across the world. They are heavy on calories and nutrients while being light on preparation and size.

You might also want to check out full dehydrated meals that only require the simple addition of water to prepare, such as the Wise Company Emergency Food Supply. It will probably see you through more than a couple of emergencies with their 25+ year shelf lives and all. These come in much larger tins than packets and MREs, making them ideal for medium-large households looking to weather more than a couple of rough days.

Now, there’s a flipside to consider here. The long shelf lives of some of the mentioned entries above result in their being relatively pricey compared to what we want to mention next – your regular good old grocery store canned goods. These vacuum-sealed or canned products offer a wide variety of nutritious options such as chicken, tuna, beans, pasta, fruits, and vegetables.

There will be little-to-no preparation involved with these, but be sure to keep an extra can-opener with your emergency supplies as well. They will help you conserve your water resources as well, not requiring any additional water for consumption.

Teas, coffees, and powdered milk can also be classed here, and these not only provide some added variety in the restricted emergency kitchen parlor but will prove to be a useful pick-me-up in the sometimes dreary days ahead. Even though these have decently long shelf lives, you will want to consume them in order of their expiration dates – from oldest to newest.

Soup packets, pasta specials, oatmeal, grits, and such dried foods will require hot water, whereby a propane camp stove will come in pretty handy. Don’t forget to set aside some supplies for toddlers should there be any in the household, and be sure to make provision for any pets as well.

Another great item to have here will be multivitamins. These will supplement your diet, ensuring you and yours aren’t missing out on any essential elements, especially if you’re going to be in it for the long haul.

With all that being said, my personal favorite option is to preserve and prepare my food preps based on what me and my family like to eat. These include canning (pressure and water bath), storing dry goods in mylar bags and food buckets, dehydrating, and more. We’ve put together a full guide on long-term food storage, which you can check out here.


Emergency situations may cause major disruptions in municipal water and sanitation works, making piped water a distant memory and, in some extreme circumstances, sewage functionality is non-existent.

The deplorable aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 is an example in recent memory. The sewer pumps, sewer disposal system, and water treatment center were rendered completely non-functional after being submerged under 20 feet of floodwaters.

Don’t let squeamishness mislead you into overlooking the importance of human waste management, especially in situations where power and water might not be there to lend a helping hand.

Delicate sensibilities or not, when the muck literally gets to hitting the fan, you will wish you had given it due consideration.

Those in the city without access to yards or those hunkering indoors during extreme weather events will have no recourse but to improvise. Downed sewer lines should not be flushed, even if you’re filling up the upper deck with your own water. The results may not be pretty.

The safe thing to do will be to remove all water from the ordinary toilet bowl in your home then place a garbage bag into space with the lid pressing down on it, holding it in place.

Have a sack of cat litter or sand close to hand next to the bowl. Once business is taken care of (number 2 only), a liberal sprinkling of litter will help suppress the smell, and some deodorant in the room might even add a hint of class to the whole affair.

Take out the bag once it is at least two-thirds full, seal it tightly with suitable binding, tying it on itself, and then relocate it to a garbage can or similar temporary container. Just be sure it’s at some distance from your shared shelter and living spaces.

Suppose that seems like a bit too much for you even as you try to survive what may well be a life-altering event. In that case, you may be better served by camping-style self-contained portable toilet setups paired with biodegradable replacement bags. These require no water to operate, and their bags are infused with odor-suppressing chemicals.

Whichever way you go, go with firm determination, or you will find yourself sheltering in inhospitable conditions or, more seriously, battling serious illness on top of your emergency situation.


Steel security gates protecting house

While there’s nothing typical about any emergency situation, it isn’t reasonable to expect every scenario to wind up looking like something out of The Walking Dead.

The moderate emergency will, however, call for some extra vigilance and care. Home defense weapons should be considered by anyone wanting or having a desire to protect life and property.

Measures such as keeping all your doors and access points securely fastened; fences secured, not broadcasting your preparedness; keeping extra sets of car keys in your emergency kit; keeping friends and relatives outside the affected area in the loop with regard to your circumstances; and informing authorities of your intention to stay put in case you missed the evacuation window are all excellent ways of enhancing your safety and security.

It just might be that the most important and useful security measure of all is a calm head. Don’t allow yourself to panic, no matter how fearful the situation. You will be a whole lot more logical, resourceful, and sensible when you really need to be.


The lockdowns caused by the global Coronavirus pandemic perhaps served as most people’s first taste of bugging-in. The results were widely reported, with many states and countries reporting spikes in depression, suicide, domestic violence, and general social malaise.

Some were prepared, but most were not. Keeping spirits or morale high can be a real challenge for those bugging-in, especially where the duration remains unknown.

Without the usual cable television, streaming internet, and anti-social media to gobble up the hours, board games, card sets, chess sets, or even a couple of oddly shaped sticks can effectively keep people occupied for a while.

You will have to anticipate increased moodiness, irritability, and temper tantrums from children and adults alike, especially if the situation drags on with no end in clear sight. These are just the entirely natural symptoms of helplessness and frustration manifesting.

Try and maintain a clear day-to-day routine as much as possible, as this serves to relieve anxiety and keep people on an even keel. Assign little tasks and duties to make everyone capable of doing them feel useful and appreciated within the group to keep despondency at bay.

Remind everyone that you’re all in this together and that you’re all going to be okay. Don’t assume that everyone knows it – say it. It’ll be good for you to hear it, too.

General Factors to Keep in Mind

A reasonable bug-in setup should be able to last your household anywhere from a minimum of three days to weeks or months on end. It is a lot more feasible preparing for long-term scenarios if you do it piecemeal, upgrading your equipment, building up your stock, and bringing your overall setup gradually to where you want to see it. 

You have to start somewhere, just like with everything else in this world. With your home in mind, let’s circle back to some of the key aspects of bugging-in that make it a great option in times of emergency, namely:

  • All home comforts are readily available
  • Being in familiar settings will reduce stress and anxiety levels
  • There is plenty of room to store supplies for use during the bug-in period
  • Your neighbors are people you know and hopefully get along with, offering potential help and support should the situation grow beyond your capabilities
  • Nobody knows your home as well as you, thus making vigilance, security, and defense a whole lot easier

Note that what we’ve gone over is a comprehensive guide in itself, but you will need to develop additional skills, build up more robust systems, and perhaps establish sustainable or replenishing systems for food and water if you’re truly in it for the long haul.

Final Thoughts

The safety and security of your family and your own self should be a priority. Any sacrifice in time, money, and effort that goes towards achieving this surely cannot be considered a waste. Getting ready to bug-in for any amount of time is a big task, but it’s always worth it. 

The great idea is to make bug-in preparations an ongoing project you can include the whole family in. With everyone contributing their ideas and having a say in things, the project’s overall enthusiasm and understanding will be high enough to overcome any initial resistance or skepticism that might be present initially.

The lessons in foresight, planning, discipline, selflessness, and consideration for others that such an undertaking will foster in any group of people will see your unit get through any challenges the future might hold. Never lose sight of that, and you will weather any storm.

Cody Martin

With over 18 years of federal law enforcement, training, and physical security experience, Cody focuses his time nowadays on both consulting and training. He regularly advises individuals, groups, multinational corporations, schools, houses of worship, and NGOs on security threats while conducting customized training as needed.

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