Science & Technology

Here's How to Survive the Apocalypse in a Big City

Curiosity is based in Chicago, and when we're trapped on Interstate 90/94, we sometimes start to wonder what would happen if we had to get out of the city fast. Like, say, if there was an earthquake, nuclear attack, or our worst fear, the awakening of the Lake Michigan kraken. As it turns out, we shouldn't be so concerned about gridlock on the way out. If you're in a major metropolis, you're going to want to read this survival guide for the end-times.

Stay Calmly on Your Guard

The one thing that makes big cities so intimidating to get out of in a hurry is that, well, it's impossible. Here in Chicago, there are a small number of expressways that makes escape tough — but at least we're not an island like New York. As it turns out, getting out shouldn't always be your first priority. Speaking with The Week, Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions at Florida Atlantic University director John Renne ran down a list of tips for riding out the apocalypse (or any other major disaster).

  1. Don't head for the hills. Here's one way to avoid getting caught in an unmoving wall of cars: don't. "There are really not a lot of scenarios where you would want to evacuate a whole city," says Renne. If it's a chemical attack that's going down, going outside is only going to put you at greater risk. And if evacuation is necessary, chances are, you'll only be sent to a different part of the city.
  2. Stay up on current events. When fires raged through Napa Valley in 2017, residents had a matter of minutes to get out, and many people who didn't hear the emergency broadcasts died as a result. So keep your ear to the ground in case disaster strikes, and have a go-bag weighing no more than 25 pounds that you can grab should worst come to worst.
  3. Be prepared to stay put a while. Get enough water and non-perishable food to survive at least three days. You'll also want a flashlight, batteries, and first aid. If you're really serious about getting ready for a disaster, it's smart to invest in a solar charger so you can keep your phone alive (assuming cell service is still available) and a hand-crank radio (just in case it isn't).
  4. Know your surroundings. Being prepared doesn't just mean having supplies; it also means knowing the layout of your neighborhood and the location of the nearest resources and emergency services. Because when everything is happening, you'll want to focus on the developing situation, not what you should have done ahead of time.

The Best and Worst Cities to End the World In

So there you go: a one-size-fits-all guide to the apocalypse. But if it's really toward the top of your list of concerns, you might consider if the city you actually live in is well-equipped to outlast a disaster to begin with. To that end, check out this article on The housing experts ranked US cities on their survivability based on factors such as water features that are safe to drink from, number of houses with bunkers or panic rooms, and the number of potential targets for a nuclear attack in the first place.

The results? Bad news for the Big Apple. New York came in at the top of the most dangerous places to live, and it's easy to see why. The dense population, traffic bottlenecks, and high value targets add up to a bad situation in a catastrophe. Los Angeles came in second, then Dallas, Nashville, and Miami. As for the best city to be in when Armageddon kicks off, that's none other than Kansas City, MO. In second place is New Haven, CT, living up to its name on the East Coast, and Ann Arbor, MI, comes in third. We're feeling pretty smug here in Chicago — at least until another cold front comes through.

For a more fanciful take on the end of the world as we know it, check out Max Brook's "The Zombie Survival Guide." You might even learn something useful, too. The audiobook is free with a trial membership to Audible. If you make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale, which helps support the work that we do.

How To Survive The Apocalypse

Written by Reuben Westmaas December 20, 2017