Urban Guerrilla Tactics During Times of Severe Civil Unrest and War

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Lesson: People get innovative with defense and they do it fast.

It doesn’t matter where you live, I bet that people will get creative with weapons and defensive tactics within a very short period of time. Those that learn to use what is around them and that have multiple layers of defense will have a large advantage over those that don’t get defensive fast.

The urban setting is what many people are going to find themselves in during any event. The tactics and environment are far different than the country.

Disclaimer: Some of the things I am going to talk about in this article are real SHTF scenarios such as war. While some tactics could help during any level of civil unrest, others that I discuss are for extreme circumstances like being in a city that is partially destroyed and chaotic. All situations are different so when the time comes to make choices you are your own guide..

Urban Guerrilla Tactics During Times of Severe Civil Unrest and War

Lasers are cheap and being utilized in urban settings

In Hong Kong, they used lasers quite often to distract and affect the ability of others to see them, aim for them, etc. You can use lasers and bright lights for defense too.

In another incident, a group of people using lasers all at once we’re able to take down a drone by confusing its sensors so much. People also use really bright flashlights. Have some good dark eye protection on hand such as sunglasses or even ski goggles.

Violence is too easy to start but once it begins, it might be impossible to stop until it plays out entirely.

People go towards violence more easily than they should in many cases. It is easier to be angry and one step away from violence when circumstances are stressful due to things like hunger, thirst, fatigue, fear, and paranoia.

My advice is for people to always keep this in mind. Violence is often not worth starting in the first place, even if someone is doing something you don’t agree with or being a jerk.

There are people out there that will try to start a fight during good times if someone does something as simple as stumbling and getting a few drops of soda on them or looking at them in a perceived way. They probably won’t last long during an SHTF situation.

Moving with stealth

Considering every aspect of your route is essential to urban survival.

Patience is important in urban travel during good times, and even more so during SHTF situations.

It may take you hours to travel the distance that you were able to walk in 20 minutes during good times. Allowing extra time and being patient is important. The people that should be assigned the role of going out with stealth and patience should be chosen carefully within a group. If someone lacks the characteristics then they might very well be better off taking care of some other tasks that need to be done for the mutual benefit of the group or family,

Know all the possible routes ahead of time

I know that it may seem a bit over the top to say to know all routes. The point is that you need to think about this ahead of time and learn a lot of ways around your area over time. You don’t have to know it all at once. Make sure to also have a good map of your city and region. Paper will be there when electronic GPS and computers have all failed or there is no electricity.

Cities that have a large homeless and/or drug-addicted population will be extremely dangerous and it will happen fast.

Seattle, LA, and other cities are all very dangerous already. Now imagine if the safety net that the homeless and addicted in these cities is no longer there. People can say that law enforcement are already told to step down and that it is close to anarchy but they have seen nothing compared to what will happen if there is a real SHTF situation. Thousands of people in opiate withdrawal and without the medications for psychiatric issues is a scary thought but it is guaranteed in a real long emergency in many of the nation’s major cities. Thievery and desperation are going to be the reality.

Avoid rumored supply drops if at all possible

Sometimes aid will get through or there will be a promise of aid. During SHTF situations like war or other times when normal food chains are broken, supplies may be distributed at some locations. The problem is that if you don’t have good information, it may actually get you killed. Consider if the enemy wanted to lure a lot of people to one place.

Starting a rumor that food, medicine, etc was going to be available somewhere would be an excellent way to prey on people that are hungry and desperate. Even if there is really a food or supply drop, that doesn’t mean bad people are not going to be there causing trouble.

Civilians can easily get caught in the crossfire of a battle or get there and find out that gangs have laid claim to all that is there and you came for nothing or the opportunity to buy the goods you might have got a share of for nothing.

Barricading buildings and apartments.

There are several ways to look at barricading spaces during an urban SHTF situation. For starters, a barricade may not be able to protect you from all things. It can help reduce the severity of many attacks or give you some extra time to respond to a situation.

If you have to leave your apartment for a significant time period, there could be a good chance that someone is going to try to loot your place. This is why some people just say that you should just lock your door and not worry about major fortifications because no matter what you do, a determined party is going to be able to get in unless you have a very thick and sophisticated door that no apartment has.

A lot of barricading and security can actually draw more attention to you as well. It could bring to mind the question in the mind of your enemy “What are they hiding behind all that”. It gives the impression that you may have more to lose than others around you if you are the only one with a piece of plywood barricading your windows and reinforcing your door in a noticeable way.

There are kits you can get to help reinforce your door. Door Armor Concepts sells a variety of kits to reinforce doorways. You can install it with just a drill/screwdriver. These are not noticeable from the outside.

Door bars from the inside and doorstops are other security methods that you can do that are not visible from the outside.

Consider how easily bullets and shrapnel could penetrate where you are staying and put extra barriers up.

The more mass you can put between you and any bullets the better. Matt and I have tested this out with some boards and concrete fiberboard siding. The biggest caliber bullet that would not go all the way through ½ inch OSB and concrete fiberboard siding was .22 and .380 hollow points. Most homes are not made with concrete siding but vinyl. We shot it standing maybe 20 feet away.

It has been a while since we did that test. A rifle round would go right through. When bullets enter buildings they go through various things and send out a ton of shards. Concrete structures result in a lot of concrete shards flying everywhere. I know because I have shot concrete blocks on the farm from a distance with an AK-47.

During a shooting in Philadelphia last year, the gunman was shooting through the floor. During war or major unrest, if I was sheltering above the ground level of any building I would definitely be looking to put down anything I could find on the floor to create a thicker barrier.

Old mattresses or anything you can find to slow down bullets and shrapnel that may enter walls or floors is a good thing. Metal could be used but if a bullet did enter, there would be an increased chance of ricochets within the living space. 

Consider traveling above the street if there are a lot of empty buildings.

In the city, the streets are not where you are going to want to be any longer than possible. It is not uncommon for there to be a network of above the street bridges, especially if some become largely uninhabited. Even just going from one building to another and going down to the street might help more than you might think.

Concealment of Weapons

Small to moderately sized or dual-purpose weapons are going to serve people well.

One needs to think about what weapons they have as a defense system unto itself. For example, you want your primary weapon. This could be a .380 or 9mm handgun or even a pair of them. This should be backed up by other items. A knife or two in your boots and an automatic knife in your pocket, a karambit, etc. Some people like to carry multiple knives. Boot knives are a decent backup. KaBar makes a karambit for law enforcement called the TDI that is designed to be worn on your belt and intended as a last resort weapon. Here is a link if you are interested in purchasing.

There are weapons such as canes and walkings sticks that can be used too. Umbrellas that have unbreakable handles for hitting or even swords in them won’t stand out in some situations. I wouldn’t call attention to myself with something like that in a particularly bad situation.

One of the main lessons of the Hong Kong protests is that modern riot control is impossible to beat with umbrellas, lasers, and Molotov cocktails. A group would actually need firearms to be able to stand up to that type of force. Our Founding Fathers knew this principle from the beginning and it stands up even now.

Know where water points are.

Where could you get water if the tap stopped running? This is important in a city as well as those riding out SHTF in the country. Remember that the easiest to reach water points might also be the most contaminated at some point and not only that, the most dangerous. A water point is people bait and bad people may use that to their advantage. Try to find water points that others may not think about.

Is there a wet spot near your apartment building or a small spring that is looked over? It doesn’t take much of a source to filter and get what you need to survive and avoid the major hubs of human activity. Also consider that the more you are around a lot of other people, particularly during a long emergency or SHTF, the more likely it is that you get sick or an infection. Keeping some distance could save your life.

Divide labor based on skills and not gender or “feelings”.

Everyone is going to have to suck it up and realize their skills and limitations. If someone is entirely unsuitable for a task than they should be directed to another task. Just letting someone do something because they really want to be in that role and you don’t want to hurt their feelings is not acceptable behavior in urban guerilla warfare. Lack of experience and skill could result in great harm or death.

Molotovs are almost as dangerous for those throwing them as those on the receiving end.

People don’t get a lot of practice throwing Molotovs so most that have found themselves doing it is probably making and hurling them for the first time. I am sure one would get better over time like anything else. Also, the different fuel, rag, and bottle combinations people are using can make a difference. At the same time, one can underestimate this easy to make a weapon. During the Maidan riots in Kiev a group took out a tank by hurling a lot of Molotovs at once.

Don’t look tactical.

Selco has an excellent article about the importance of not looking like a major combatant during SHTF. You don’t want to stand out like that. For some reason, this is a touchy subject with some. Both he and I have got some pretty nasty comments about suggesting such a thing from people that are pretty obsessed with wearing tactical gear and that don’t want to be told that what they are doing may not be right.

By tactical I mean any type of camo as well. I don’t care if you live in an area where people wear it fairly often. I live in a place like that too but I don’t wear it to the city because it makes you stand out more. During an SHTF situation or long emergency, you do not want to be mistaken for being part of a force that you are not part of or for law enforcement either.

Cooking smells can draw attention.

It is wise to have some food on hand that you don’t have to cook. The smells of a meal being prepared can draw unwanted attention, especially in a situation where others may be running low or entirely out of food. If you do cook, try to cook meals that are not really smelly. If there appears to be a lot going on around you, wait until later if you are concerned about the attention you may get.

The Art of Scavenging

People go for the easy and high-value items first when scavenging. The same can be said for looting too. It is a moral dilemma for many about what constitutes looting and what is scavenging. One way to look at this is to consider just what point has been reached in your city.

If buildings are abandoned and the windows are broken but there are still some things in there of value to the right person, is it looting to go in and get what you can? I think the answer is complicated because people have their own set of moral boundaries within them.

Plenty of people would say that if a place is clearly abandoned and it is really tough times or there is a war going on, that you do what you have to do. What is laying around is there for the taking.

If you do have to scavenge, here are a few things to consider.

  • Scout out the area. While all traps and dangers may not be detectable this way, you may notice something really important like people patrolling the other side of a building or you may see movement within that signifies you will not be alone in your scavenging efforts
  • Look for materials that can be combined with others to make useful items. During an SHTF situation, there are some things that will just have to be improvised.
  • Consider if items are worth fighting over if you run into trouble. During an SHTF situation, people are on edge and not thinking like they normally would. Sometimes it is better to back off and not escalate a situation over something that you can do without.

Another challenge to scavenging in the city is that a lot of things are attached to other things. Consider how things are bolted down or made to be permanently in place. It is a bit of contrast to rural areas and small towns where things are not.

You want the metal from a post? Well, you are going to have to find a way to saw it off. Most people do not have a lot of tools laying around especially those in the city and those that are renting. This will be one of the major challenges for many since so many tools run on electricity.

The alternative is handtools. Have you ever cut even a piece of regular rebar with a hacksaw? Remember how long it took to make a single cut?

Guerilla tactics is a big subject and far more than what can be covered in a single article. What would you add?

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