Cities Will Collapse Even Sooner Than We Fear

Many major western cities are dangerously unstable and the slightest spark can set off rioting; it is only our present massive police resources that keeps these tendencies in check.
Many major western cities are dangerously unstable and the slightest spark can set off rioting; it is only our present massive police resources that keeps these tendencies in check.

We have written several times about how major population groupings (ie cities) will collapse ‘shortly’ after the essential elements of life cease to smoothly flow in to them as needed.  When there’s no water, no sewage, no food, no gas and no electricity, things will unavoidably get very nasty.

In an earlier post we suggested that cities will decay into violent anarchistic morasses within a week or two.  In that article we were deliberately trying to look at a ‘best case scenario’ (don’t laugh – the collapse of cities taking a week or two is, alas, a best case scenario!).  Our projection was based on the ‘best case’ hope that people would remain passive for a few days and it would only be when people realized no help was coming and they were starting to starve that things would turn truly nasty.

One of our readers, ‘Lt. Dan’, wrote in to share his perspective of what might go down, and alas, it is not nearly as sunny and optimistic as our earlier best case hope.  His point is that violence will break out immediately.  There will not be days of ambiguity before things start to fail.

He says that in known ‘hot spots’ in larger cities, the violence will start at once, and as soon as the violent offenders realize that the police response is inadequate (or totally missing) it will skyrocket in scope and extent.

This is a key issue for us, because it impacts on our decision about when to ‘Get Out Of Dodge’ (GOOD) and hightail it to our remote retreat.  How much time do we have to decide what to do between when a massive problem occurs and when the city becomes lawless?

Lt. Dan writes :

As a retired LEO with over 30 yrs dealing with “society” I have a number of thoughts on this topic. I grew up on a working farm not close to any major metro center but in adulthood joined a sizable metro PD.  So I have perspective from various angles.

The speed and spread of lawlessness with be much faster than most will think.  Even now in “quiet” times LE staffing is usually based on the lowest number of officers to reasonably handle a “normal” day.  Any event(s) beyond “normal” immediately overwhelm on-duty forces.  Planned events like anarchists protesting the latest capitalist conference allow time to plan for enough ON-DUTY personnel (plus resources from other agencies) to be available when violence breaks out.

In most major metro areas there are areas the police routinely avoid because they’re too hazardous.  The violent elements in these areas are constantly looking to explode their violence at a moment’s notice when the opportunity happens.  And when it happens it will spread like a ruptured gasoline storage tank afire.  LE forces will be quickly overwhelmed and retreat to a safe place/bunker for self-preservation.

Most LEO’s have families and a desire for self-preservation.  If the collapse involves monetary problems (like no paychecks) the officers will not be reporting to duty, they’ll be protecting their own.  When this happens the initial violent outbreaks will mushroom like a nuclear reaction.  If the officers are being paid yet, they’ll set up a “containment perimeter” IF they have enough manpower…. which is highly unlikely in a regional or national SHTF scenario.

On other really scary thought I never see mentioned is…. what happens to the tens of thousands of violent criminals in prisons??

In a farming community where religion/moral values are generally much higher than urban dwellers, the problems of violence will be much reduced.  Plus everyone usually knows each other so its harder to want to take advantage of them.  One tip for urbanites… are not working their butts off to feed the city slickers (who’ve been ridiculing them for years as hicks, etc) and they certainly will not welcome the urbanites showing up during a crisis.

We asked Dan about his comments and background, and he told us a bit more about how he has formed the views he has – and, let’s face it, thirty years in a major metro police department and retiring as a lieutenant gives him a lot of credibility, particularly on police related operational issues and on matters to do with how people will (mis)behave when given half a chance to do so.

Now that he can ‘tell it like it is’ we asked him in particular about something that opinions widely vary on – will the police bravely ‘man the battlements’ and fight to the last man in a failing and doomed effort to save civilization, or will they adopt – as he suggests above – a ‘my family first, everyone else second’ approach when they see the inevitability of a city’s collapse.

Dan replied :

When I first started on the PD in the 70’s I was stuck in the Comm room and on boring nights I’d actually read the Civil Defense binders (HUGE things) full of detail, much theoretical.  For example, upon receiving alert of a nuke attack we were supposed to call a long list of elected officials and city unit directors etc.  We all knew it’d be a total waste of time to call these clueless government people because all they’d do is panic and babble on the phone asking US what to do!

We (cops) talked openly in the Comm Room about what we’d do and we decided we’d immediately leave our posts and spend our remaining time with family.  The point being alerting totally clueless and incompetent “leaders” would do nothing except add to the panic and confusion over which we (cops) would have ZERO control over.

It is important to understand how much we can learn from past ‘lessons’ with breakdowns in cities (in the case of the US, the L.A. riots being a prime example) and how much we have to adjust for a future breakdown of society.

We suggest that the big difference is that in past events, the problem has been successfully contained to a restricted region, and the police have had, in effect, virtually unlimited reinforcements and resupply, and there has never been any question of what the ultimate outcome would be – of course law and order would triumph.

But in a future society-destroying event, none of this applies.  The police will have no resupply or reinforcement, and problems will break out in multiple locations.

We agree with Lt. Dan that very quickly, the police will see the unwinnable nature of the contest and will switch from attempting to defend a disintegrating society from itself, and will focus instead on attempting to ensure the safe survival of themselves and their immediate family and friends.


Lt. Dan puts it very vividly when he writes

[Violence] will spread like a ruptured gasoline storage tank afire

This means that if you have a GOOD plan and a retreat to go to, you need to be ready to activate this sooner than you might have otherwise hoped for.  As soon as you hear the first word of lawlessness, rioting, looting, and general disorder breaking out, you should accept that this will spread like wildfire across the entire city, and leave as quickly as you can.

Oh – one more unsettling thought.  How will you learn that violence has broken out in another part of the city if the internet is down, and radio and television stations are also down?  Even if some broadcasters remain in service, they’ll probably have limited sources of information and it might take a while for them to become appraised of events and to then broadcast them.

It is also reasonable to guess that broadcasters will be asked ‘not to spread panic’ and so initial reports of violence breaking out might be downplayed or omitted entirely.

Choosing when to bug-out is a difficult but essential issue.  You need to be willing to leave before it becomes too late, and with inertia and resistance to change and desperate hope all encouraging you to delay your decision, you need to fight these tendencies.  Better to leave ‘too soon’ and return back again some time later, safely; than to leave it too late and suffer the consequences.

We talk about the issues to do with making your bug-out decision here.

19 Replies to “Cities Will Collapse Even Sooner Than We Fear”

  1. Prepping Blog

    When you talk about cities what size cities are you talking about? Is this more like phoenix, Chicago, and New York type stuff? Do you think that the collapse will be slower the smaller the community. I’m assuming living in a town with 5000 is better than 50,000 is better than 500,000.

    • David Spero


      That’s an interesting question you raise, and of course, none of us really know, for sure, the answer.

      My own guess is that smaller is better, but once you grow a city to a certain size, it reaches a ‘max’ on the collapse/speed scale, and going any larger won’t really make much difference.

      In other words, maybe there’s no effective difference between 500,000 and 5 million, and – depending on the demographics – not necessarily much difference between 50,000 and 500,000.

      Note also that in assessing city size, you need to think not just the legal boundaries of the city, but the overall region in which the city is located. If there’s another city immediately adjacent, or even just a few miles away, you probably should consider it as a combined overall grouping. Here in the Pacific Northwest, for example, we would consider everything from Everett down through Seattle, down to Tacoma, and perhaps even all the way to Olympia as one large metroplex.

      But anywhere and everywhere is at risk of collapse, the main question is simply how fast and how violent. Whenever you end up with starving people, you’re going to have desperate people forced to resort to desperate measures in a truly life or death situation.

  2. Machel

    We can expect that small townshps will decide on patrolling the
    perimeters and setting up watches to turn away the refugees from
    the cities…even at gunpoint. People will be sent on their way.

    But the churches can become the “helping hands” to see that people
    can have some degree of sustenance and shelter goods as they travel
    onward. The churches can become repositories of collected goods
    and assure that no one’s home will be violated.

    Food seeds should be included with provisions, even if in winter, for future survival.

    • David Spero


      Your view is a widely held one, but I’m not so sure I agree, although perhaps it depends a bit on how small a town you are thinking of.

      Please excuse my cynicism, but on the other hand, surely a cardinal rule in prepping is to focus on negative not positive outcomes. If we were selectively considering only positive things for the future, we’d not be prepping at all!

      The thing is that these days in just about any typical small town you’ve got a cross section of America, maybe with a skew one way or the other. But you’ve got the starry eyed idealists, you’ve got the ‘nothing is more precious than a human life’ people, there’s the ones who believe in the innate nobility of the human spirit, and so on.

      Those people won’t turn anyone away. It is like the lifeboat and the drowning people. How many people do you put in the lifeboat before it capsizes from overloading and throws everyone into the sea? How many refugees will a small town accept before it threatens its own ability to survive with whatever stores and resources it has? There will be a huge spread of opinions about that.

      Plus everyone will have a relative or three or ten or more who they insist should be allowed to come join them.

      Then there are the venal opportunists, who see the seeds of opportunity in every crisis. Goodness only knows what they’ll do, but they won’t be a positive part of the solution.

      There is also the fact that most people just can not pull the trigger, even when staring down an attacker in the face. Half the people (or probably more) will not be effective when patrolling (read David Grossman’s book ‘On Killing’ for an essential understanding of this dynamic).

      Most of all, no matter what the size of town, there will instantly be an immediate shortage of everything for the residents of the town; there won’t be a surplus to then distribute to refugees. The ‘have nots’ in the town will be busy trying to share – by force if necessary – the food and supplies that the ‘haves’ have thoughtfully prepped.

      Now for the role of churches. First, in a Level 2/3 scenario, who among the townsfolk are going to risk ‘capsizing their lifeboat’ to donate a portion of their supplies for churches to give to refugees passing through? I’m sorry, but count me out of that. My first priority is to myself and my family, my second priority is to the immediate people around me, and I haven’t got enough surplus to consider third and fourth and last priority calls.

      However, let’s accept your scenario. How many days of food and supplies will you give to each passing through refugee? What say they return in a week’s time, after having eaten their week’s allotment – do you then turn them away? What happens when the food and other supplies to give away runs out?

      My darker view is that few towns will be able to agree on a cohesive coordinated approach, and even if they can and do agree on such a thing, I really don’t think they’ll have a surplus of anything that they would, could, or should donate to passing by strangers.

  3. Randy

    There are several western cities that will become totally untenable after a few weeks because they do not have water supplies that don’t rely on outside sources…

    That said..

    I think there will be areas of relative safety in the large cities as neighbor hoods will band together and be well armed in repelling rioters…it will take some time before the criminal element becomes organized enough to take down these areas…but to be sure if things are bad long enough these areas are sure to fall.

  4. PB

    To be sure, any reason (or none at all) will do for some, especially the young and angry who think they aren’t getting their fair share of the freebies – to start looting, breaking windows, setting cars on fire, killing and rampaging…etc. within a matter of hours! Forget days or weeks! Any excuse in a storm will do.

    In the Watts riots in California several years ago, the only thing that saved most of the Korean store owners is that they boarded up their stores and stood in front of their stores and on their rooftops with shotguns and ready to shoot to kill rampaging looters to protect their businesses. They saved their stores from the marauding mobs hell bent on stealing and destroying anything and everything they could get their hands on.

    Huge glass storefront windows were quickly bashed in and people were walking right through the broken window glass carrying out anything they could get their hands on – TV’s, clothing, anything and everything. Innocent people were badly beaten that got in their way.

    We watched all of this on TV in great dismay – that they were laughing and running away with anything and everything – it was a free-for-all and they could get away with it. People can turn savage and out of control real quick at any excuse.

    Just see the riots in the streets after a big sports event when the drunken crowds are in the streets setting cars on fire, turning them over and raising all kinds of mayhem.

    Lawlessness will run rampant and it will be bad, real bad, real quick. People no longer have a moral conscience.

    • Armed GrandPappy

      I watched the Rodney King riots and the Asian businessmen protecting their businesses. The difference between the riots of 1992(?) and now is that there was some sembelance of an on duty police force and gunplay was kept to a minimum.

      In a SHTF scenario, and the law enforcement factor gone; the guns come out and instead of rioting, there will be horrific shooting violence by every side involved cause everyone will be right to do so in their own mind. No one will be safe and pre-formed alliances will qiuckly dissolve. And for those communities 20 miles or so outside these hell holes, the inner city people that consider this “the boondocks” will try to travel there first so they can still be relatively “close” to their homes for whatever reason.

      However they will not be welcomed and I foresee these bedroom communities of less that 1500 to 2000 people becoming armed camps with blockades of all entries to the city with a “shoot first ask questions much later” attitude. If not, they will be over run with empty handed refugees looking for a bottle of water and some Ramen noodles. Sorry dude, try the next town.

      • David Spero

        Hi, Pappy

        Thanks for your comments.

        I’m not quite as sure as you are about what will happen in the smaller communities that ring the large cities. Increasingly these smaller communities are bedroom suburbs for commuters who work in the cities, and these communities are absolutely not self sufficient. The residents will have just as many problems, WTSHTF, as will the people escaping the cities, and no more Ramen noodles and bottled water in their pantries as the inner-city apartment dwellers.

        I suspect they’ll be among the first to abandon their homes and travel further out into the countryside.

  5. Castlemum

    I live in a small town just east of Vancouver, WA now, but when I lived in Aberdeen, WA; social security cards wouldn’t work for a good two hours. SSI folks, like myself could not withdraw our monies. It was amazing and life altering reality. Many who couldn’t get their money within 15 minutes started fretting as to how they were to pay their rent or get food that night. A couple were so distraut they hollored and B*** as to what they may have to do if they couldn’t buy food.

    Now for a small town like Aberdeen and many others, you have to realize there are maybe 40% of the population who get some form of SSI/SSD, Welfare, foodstamps. Then another 30% lets say, who are low income at fry joints. You have maybe 20% of middle class with good paying jobs, and the top 10% give or take who hold government offices of said towns. Does one seriously think if there is no way to withdraw money from an atm with those ebt and direct express cards will keep people calm for even a day? Think again. I witnessed people’s moods change within 15 – 30 minutes.

    • David Spero

      Hi, Castlemum

      Thanks for sharing your interesting experience. It tends to speak against the earlier comment offered by Papper suggesting that smaller communities will become noble and self-sufficient.

      I’m afraid my money is more on your type of observed scenario being the one that comes to pass if/when TSHTF.

    • joesphx

      After Hurricane Wilma took S. Fl. off the grid for about 10 days it was interesting to watch FEMA and our government in action.

      I live in N. Fl. and piled my p/u full of relief supplies for family and friends. This is an urban area roughly 75+ miles long by about 25 miles wide and with about 4 million pop. On my portable tv I watched the lines nearby for the FEMA handout, I believe it was a box of MREs and a gallon of water. I was curious and drove the 2 miles to get a look at this and knowing the population mix in S. Fl. expected it to be wild.

      There was I would say about 5000 people in lines, snaking all through a huge mall parking lot. Didn’t seem to be any problems and here is why. The NG was strategically located with men and full autos- M4s and mounted weapons on Humvees. Amongst this were about 50-75 various PD, with about 1/2 in SWAT gear, mostly hefting shotguns.

      So in keeping with the replies here, just remove the PD and NG and see what happens. That and other reasons may be why they are militarizing the PD – they made this mess and are using it either as an excuse to control the rest of us or, they have found their wonderful paradise of diversity is going to take a large chunk of the nation’s resources to keep these people in order, even w/o SHTF.

  6. joesphx

    I wonder how many of us have been in a SHTF scenario in real life. There are those who have and their recounting of the experience is jaw-dropping.

    Some of the info available currently include those who have survived recent wars such as Bosnia or country collapses such as Argentina. Here in the US some of us older folks have had the opportunity to share the experiences of the Great Depression with grandparents or parents. Then there are those of us who have experienced large scale riots in the 60s, 70s and follow on isolated breakouts in selected cities such as Miami, LA, or the aftermath of hurricanes Andrew- South Miami or Katrina- New Orleans.

    If we just focus on the above, while there have been other less publicized occurrences such as blackouts or events that run almost in slow motion such as the collapse of Detroit, it seems the main concept in the blog was how quickly there will be a collapse and loss of rule of law. From my own experience in “hotspots” and in LE, Lt. Dan is absolutely correct. And if he was in a conversation with any of his trusted comrades, the scenario would be even worse in description.

    You see we all admit that in the last 50 years or so we got too busy with our personal lives and allowed something evil to creep into our country and now to even fight it off will mean almost destroying our civilization. Where I am going with this is those that wanted to end the American Republic did it by not only changing our laws but our people as well. No longer a majority, the Traditional American that we knew to be the very core of rule of law, cannot be counted on to maintain a society after a tremendous blow whether it is economic collapse, great earthquake, pestilence or war.

    We just aren’t the same people. Demographics has been wielded by evil to undermine our foundation such that we can have a logical and probable conversation about how quickly our society will collapse and how many will die. I have seen this first hand and frankly, I remain amazed at how quickly an entire society/country has been taken without a real fight.

    As a child of the 50s, I recognize the safe and sane society that I was born into is really no more. Sure there will be those that argue that there is still time, still hope to regain a bygone era of sanity. Well, ok for you but I have spent the better part of 40 years fighting the slide, both in my chosen profession and personal life. It is too late to just reverse course and if you don’t know it already, increasing numbers of wealthy Americans have chosen to leave this country now, with many planning for a future exit.

    This is a topic unto itself but points to how difficult it will be to escape a dangerous societal collapse for us working stiffs. To me this means that the tripwire is too close to most of us, meaning that there would be no time to flee and really no where to go in the larger urban areas. If because of family or jobs that you cannot live in a remote region or in a part of the country where the demographics are actually for you, then you have already made your choice.

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