Following Hurricane Ida’s devastating landfall along the Louisiana Gulf Coast, I returned to New Orleans with 40 gallons of gas strapped into my truck bed.
Although spared the brunt of the storm, pummeling winds and rain resulted in thousands of damaged homes across the city, including ours. My girlfriend and I evacuated before the hurricane, but returned a few days after with car stocked full of emergency gear, food, and tools to begin cleanup and damage assessment. We stuck it out for close to a week with no power, and you know what? I’m pretty sure we crushed it.
But my success isn’t due to being some libertarian, off-the-grid doomsday prepper or a QAnon-believing End Times MAGA cultist. I’m a 31-year-old writer who often covers our burgeoning dystopia. You may think you live somewhere that will never experience an issue like Ida, but trust me on this: you could be proven wrong sooner than later.
So how do you even begin making sure you’ve got the essentials to weather our increasingly frequent urban catastrophes? Even the least offensive professional prepper sites can still be imposing and intense. It’s easy to doomscroll into thinking that you’ll need to deplete your savings, alienate your friends, and spend all your time building a bunker to truly be safe.
Fortunately none of that is true. In fact, this sane, sensible, honest intro guide to urban prepping should be enough to get you started on the basics to batten down the hatches until some sense of (relative) normalcy returns to your town. What follows was largely enough to get me through my first full-fledged urban crisis, along with a few things I wish I had at the time. It’s by no means exhaustive, but it should start you in the right direction. Beginning with...
Medication and health supplies
Ibuprofen, and lots of it. While there’s always an unfortunate risk for injuries in a crisis’ aftermath, you’re thankfully more likely to just be dealing with run-of-the-mill headaches from stress, tension, and dehydration (more on that in a bit). Aside from a standard first aid kit and meds, you need to make sure you’re stocked up on any prescriptions well before a situation arises. Although pharmacies were some of the first places to reopen following the hurricane, it was one less thing to worry about while getting our lives back in order.
Generators and fuel
This is where things started to get tricky for us after Ida. We, along with thousands of others, suddenly found ourselves in the market for generators upon hearing from city officials that New Orleans could conceivably be without power for up to a month. As it always does, this knowledge prompted two things: A) a mad dash for gasoline, and B) frantic searching for a generator.
Now, depending on what kind of urban environment you live in, a gas-powered generator may or may not be a feasible option for you. First off, they can get extremely expensive, are heavy as hell, and necessitate being setup at least 20 feet from your home to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Everybody, including incoming emergency workers, will be scooping up generators leading up to, and following, an emergency situation. In our case, I needed to travel three hours’ north to my hometown in Mississippi to get a generator and fill up those aforementioned jerry cans without waiting untold additional hours in line at a gas station.
If you can swing a generator, however, I highly recommend going ahead with the investment. You could also opt for a portable power station like a Goal Zero or a Jackery 1000, but for a true emergency a gas generator will probably provide more flexibility.
All of the batteries
All. Of. Them. All kinds, too, including tiny AAAs all the way to hefty D’s. Rechargeable lithium-ion options are also extremely useful, especially if you have access to some form of power station like a generator, or even sitting in your car for half-an-hour at a time using its cigarette lighter / USB ports (you’ll enjoy the A/C). Alongside batteries, be sure to have already charged up all your necessary electronics like laptops, tablets, and smartphones beforehand, as well as multiple power packs for last-resorts.
Instant mashed potatoes
Alright, maybe not just powdered mashed potatoes, but holy hell, is that stuff tasty. Make sure you always have a section of your pantry shelves reserved for non-perishable and shelf-stable foods. In our case, that meant lots of baked beans, peanut butter, said potatoes, boil-in-a-bag rice, and beef jerky. We lucked out this time around given that New Orleans’ water system wasn’t compromised, but that obviously won’t always be the case.
A few palates of water and/or gallons of water are crucial to have regardless of your local infrastructure holding out. And by “crucial,” I mean legitimate life-or-death scenarios here, okay? You can also invest in some water purification methods like a Life Straw or something similar, if you want to really double down.
Speaking of liquids, hydration is your number one priority, so try varying your sources to not tire out of plain water. I impulse bought a Stanley percolator for morning coffee, and apart from the needed caffeine, it’s aesthetic and operation made things at least a bit more pleasant and interesting.
Passing the time
Depending on the time of year, you could be facing a large amount of your urban crisis in the dark, be it the winter months, or simply evenings sans any form of electricity. Be sure to have some rechargeable lanterns (I cannot recommend this one highly enough) along with candles, and flashlights, and, preferably, a solar-powered weather radio. Obviously, this is good to have for up-to-date alerts, but you’re gonna find yourself without a whole lot to do once the sun sets and the day’s exhaustion sets in. Having the radio on helped wind things down for us, which was sorely needed many evenings.
So this one isn’t the sexiest subcategory, but it is one of the most crucial, for pretty self-explanatory reasons. You should already have documentation like your social security cards, birth certificates, passports, and any additional identification stowed in a centralized, safe location at all times... right? Of course you do, and if you don’t, take this moment to do just that.
Okay, now that we are all on the same page, double-check to make sure everything is in order and in one place. If you need to evacuate quickly, you’re gonna really want those with you in case things get really dicey. Here, check out examples of my social security and birth certificates below for reference...
Just kidding. But definitely be sure to also carry some extra actual cash with you during a crisis. Not a debit card, not a crypto wallet — cold, hard cash. Things can get weird during a societal breakdown. Money should still talk, in most cases.
Looking back, one of the things I wish we had throughout the ordeal was a heavy-duty travel safe for all those personal documents and cash. Even if we evacuated without them for some reason, it would have been a great burden off our minds to know that, at the very least, our social security cards and passports were stored in a waterproof, fireproof, locked container until we could return.
Zello, can you hear me?
Despite all telecom giants’ promises for emergency coverage for your phones during crises, I can tell you from firsthand experience that said promises can be largely empty. With power lines and internet connections severed in Ida’s aftermath, phone calls became spotty at best, and often downright impossible. Apps like Zello, which serve as a reliable two-way radio replacements, have become extremely popular in these scenarios. Essentially a walkie-talkie app for your smartphone, Zello can work with any device capable of connecting to some kind of network linkup — even a measly 2G situation. This option makes mutual aid organization, as well as keeping concerned family and friends in the loop during emergencies.
Boots made for walkin’
And, far more importantly, wading. No matter how careful you try to be during a post-crisis cleanup, your lower extremities are going to get grimy. Case in point: the lid to our elderly neighbor’s trashcan (full of refuse) flew off during the hurricane, filling the thing with godawful garbage water. The thing weighed literally hundreds of pounds, so the only solution was drilling holes in it to allow the liquid to drain out. I didn’t want to ruin my normal, everyday boots, and the only alternatives I had were a pair of flip-flips.
While I did not perish from some kind of brain-eating amoeba or mutated staph infection, a good pair of wading boots are on at the top of my holiday wish list this year.
A new normal
Acknowledging that storms like Hurricane Ida are our new normal instead of outliers doesn’t make you a prophet of the apocalypse — it makes you a responsible member of your community, because if anything, some degree of emergency preparedness is a civic duty. Unfortunately, Hurricane Ida’s disastrous effects on places like both New Orleans and New York City will replicate themselves in the near future, but the sooner we are all honest about that fact and what it means for society, the sooner we can adapt to be as safe and ready as possible.