Apartment living for preppers

Jerry D Young

Well-Known Member
Trusted Member
This article was a presentation on Apartment Living For Preppers I did for a local prep group a few years ago. Since it was an oral presentation, the article does not read very smoothly, as it was mostly for reference so I did not leave things out.

Apartment living for preppers by Jerry D Young

This presentation will mostly be the apartment aspects of general prepping, not prepping in general. It is a discussion guide, based on my experience, research, beliefs, and opinions, and not intended to be a standalone manual or the last word on the subject. Feel free to ask questions and make suggestions.

Living in an apartment is probably not the best option for prepping, but may be the best option for living right now for some people.

Inside vs outside access & number of stories
There are some differences in approach when it comes to inside vs outside access apartments, and anything over two stories. Inside access tends to be more secure. Outside access tends to be more accessible and even more private, in a way, in that you do not have to go into other parts of the building to get to your apartment. But that can allow direct access to your apartment door with no barriers, even on a second floor. Does make moving materials in and out easier, but in plain sight for the most part, where, with inside access, only those in the apartment will know you are doing anything, and hopefully they are either preppers themselves, or keeping a very low profile, if they have not bugged out already.

Then there is the choice of floor. Each has pros and cons. First floor gets you in and out quicker, and it is easier to bring in and take out heavy objects. But you are the bottom pancake if an earthquake collapses the building, not to mention, the septic tank for the upper floors if the sewer stops up. Mid floors in a three to five story building are subject to the same things as the first, just to a lesser degree. The top floor has the best chance of riding things out, but there are no guarantees.

More than three stories starts to become a real problem getting up and down. That is a long way to carry things like water or filled totes of food. The only advantage to buildings with more than five floors is in fallout protection. The third floor of a five-story building has some fallout protection. The middle floors of high rise buildings have even more. But I think one is limited to about a month stay, based on food, and especially water, storage capability. I do not see anyone carrying any real amounts of water up fourteen flights of stairs. Would pretty much need all you could carry just to stay hydrated by the time you get there.

Defensively and safety wise, there are more options to hide in the taller buildings, but very little chance of escaping a fire below the floor you are on if it is a major one. Only the very risky escape parachutes and various rope and tube belaying systems would give you a chance if the rescue helicopters are not flying.

One advantage, a minor one in this area, is the fact that during floods, you can get above the water pretty easily. As long as the building is well constructed and the water flow is not too fast. Just a thought.

If used in the building, they probably will not be working during some stage of the event, if not its entirety. You will need to use the stairs if not on the first floor, and in some places, even then.

To get heavy items to the apartment if you cannot use a vehicle, and to get them to upper floors some mechanical assistance is a big help.

For carrying heavy items such as water totes, buckets, and anything, basically, that has a handle, at the least, use a heavily padded shoulder pole (closet pole) with some rope to carry the containers, or even better, a slightly modified canoe portage wooden yoke. The yoke, if cut to the right length and the chain or rope drops are set so the handles of the container are right at hand level it will allow for good control of the load, and taking a little of the weight off the shoulders. But make sure it is wide enough so the containers do not rub the body when carrying. The pole probably would not work on the stairs. The yoke just might.

Have a good block and tackle so things can be pulled up the staircases and/or lifted from the ground to a balcony or window. Make sure it is both heavy enough and long enough for the application. Might still have to do some manual lifting if pulling up something that will not slide or roll up the staircase, but the block and tackle will help reduce the load and chance of it getting away from you. Be very aware when doing any rope work. Use leather gloves. Avoid getting under any suspended load. The last thing you want is for a chemical toilet waste tote to fall on your head from the second floor. The pole/yoke and block and tackle apply to all heavy items, not just water or waste materials.

If you live in a building with outside parking, not much to say. If you have an underground, or bottom floor parking lot, then consider where you generally try to park. Being by an entrance, if there is controlled entry is good. Not so good if there is a possibility of people pilfering the vehicles. If the garage is totally underground or completely walled in, it is still the best option. You might be able to get to the vehicle, even if you cannot get it out of the garage.

If the garage has exterior walls with openings, then parking near one of them is an option. The ones in my apartment building have heavy grates, but I might still be able to get things out of the truck and get them through the grates for recovery outside if I cannot get the vehicle out.

Major word of caution. Going into a collapsed/collapsing structure is not the brightest thing to do. Weigh the risks and plan ahead about leaving items in the vehicle you might need access to in a disaster that damages the building. A lot of hassle, but carrying the prep gear bag back and forth every trip might be a good choice if you have to have that gear to keep you going.

Weight limits of floor
In most modern buildings this should not be a problem, but I would still keep the heavy stuff near the walls. And if doing gardening on a balcony with a wooden deck, I would watch for signs of strain if the grow pots are very large.

Space & Storage
Do you have a basement storage area for your use? Common or individual?
Can make ‘furniture’ from storage boxes and totes. Tables, bed platforms. For sure flat rolling storage boxes for underneath the beds.

With space at such a premium, including kitchen space, doing home food preservation including pressure canning, dry pack canning, preparing super pails can be very difficult to do, much less store the goods. Dehydrating and vacuum packing some things are probably doable as a small to medium size dehydrator is not that large, and neither is the vacuum sealer. Plus the final product is fairly compact.

The best option if you do have some storage space for the food, is to get with the group to do a joint canning or packing session, working with those that have the equipment in turn for helping them put up their own harvests.

Can be a boon or a bane, just as they can living in other types of housing. But with the tight spaces, thin walls, and a much higher likelihood of being observed either preparing or using your preps, you are definitely more likely to have them find out you are a prepper and prepping.

Good neighbors can be an asset. Additional skills, sharing the workload, especially heavy moving, helping keep watch, and the possibility of sharing consumables to avoid some appetite fatigue,

Bad neighbors will badger you, whine and complain about the situation, ask for handouts, refuse to help, simply take what they can, or in the worst case, simply kill you and take everything.

Do you get to know the neighbors? Probably yes. Do you cultivate them? Not unless in getting to know them, you have found a good one you can trust. It is a tough choice, one you might not have the option of making, especially with the bad ones.

Prepping for Basic Human Needs comes first

Need as much as can be stored, which is often limited in apartments. Need a reliable source of more water, the means to filter/purify it, and a way to get it to the apartment.

Water is heavy. Avoid stacking it too high in a small area.

15-gallon water drums are the maximum you would want in a movable container, and that is moveable only if they are empty. Once filled, they stay where they are. Not really a good option for apartments for a variety of reasons, though good in homes.

7-gallon totes are heavy and hard to move. Get smaller ones and/or 10-liter MSR Dromedary bags.

Consider using a cart to carry water from the source to the apartment if you cannot use a vehicle.

Water bob type bathtub storage only good if at home and water is available for a while, and the decision is made to fill them.

The choice of filter or purification units is a subject of its own and pretty standard. However, there are a couple of factors a small space resident needs to take into consideration. The choice between taking water directly home from the source and filtering it there, or filter on location and take the pure water home.

If you filter at the location you are more vulnerable since you will be there a while. If you take the raw water and take it home, you have the problem of having enough containers and space for them. You do not want to use raw water containers for pure water. So, if you do not have room for more containers, you have to do one or two containers full at a time and wait for one to empty before purifying more.

The containers have to be kept strictly separate to avoid using the raw water by mistake. But if you prefer a bucket, countertop, or hanging drip filter/purifier, it is probably the best way to go, since you are out and exposed less.

Treating the water on location requires fewer containers, there is little chance of cross-contamination or use of raw water. The exposure time of getting the water treated will depend on the system used. Drip filters are going to take a long time. Pump filters will be much quicker. It will be up to you to decide on the method and have the appropriate equipment.

Naturally, having the equipment for either method would be ideal, but there is the old expense and storage space hurdles.

You might have the option of getting water from the hot water tank in the apartment utility room, much like you can at a home, but I would not count on it much.

About the same as other prepping, though Super Pails are usually out, though not necessarily. Depends on space. Since having enough water and getting rid of waste will most likely be a problem, having foods that do not take a lot of water to prepare such as beans and pastas, will be the best route. Freeze-dried items, either canned or camper packs that only need a little water to prepare and have little liquid waste left over are good. Dehydrated is also good. I prefer components to the complete meals, for a variety of reasons, though the camper meals are good. For families, making different meals from a variety of ingredients can be a key to avoid appetite fatigue.

Just a little about obtaining meat in the city. There are some options, none actually legal. But I have seen plenty of pigeons, some squirrels, a few rabbits, and lots of geese in the area. Methods of taking them include large rat traps, slingshots, blow guns, and air guns for the smaller stuff. Larger traps for rabbits and the really big pigeons. Netting the geese would be a much quieter option than shooting. I would stay away from seagulls. They are very nasty tasting, and one taste for a child could make them refuse to eat any wild game.

Sanitation options & Waste disposal
Check the drains often. If the water goes off, even though you might be able to flush the toilets with stored water, chances are it will just back up into another apartment if you are above the first floor and into yours if on the first floor. Only bucket flush if there are announcements that it is all right to do so. I do not know of a good back up preventer if you are on a lower floor and those above keep flushing. A good reason to bug out is if the sewer backs up into your apartment through the toilet or tub. Even if you are on an upper floor, you still usually have to make your way through the first floor if there is indoor access. Not the same problem if outside access.

As soon as the water is off, switch to an alternative.

Bucket toilets, latrines, etc, third tier preps, are needed, but chemical toilets are my first line after regular toilets. And there are the gelling type chemical toilets that use bags with a substance that gels the liquid and de-odorizes the waste. There are standalone models and at least one system used by hanging it in the regular toilet bowl. The bags are used, then sealed and can be put in regular trash or buried if the dumpsters are already full.

Toilet waste storage totes for chemical toilets http://www.rvtotetank.com/ At a home, buckets can be used, but do to the difficulties in getting things up and down and in and out of apartments, the rolling totes are a big help.

Get another one or two for gray water storage. If the toilet is not working, the other drains are not either. The grey water can be used to flush the toilet if it is still working.

The totes or the chemical toilet can be dumped into a nearby working sewer, an RV park dump station, or any pit toilet in a park. Otherwise, it will need to be buried. Have the tools to do so. A shovel at least, and preferably a pick as well around here. If you do not want or do not have room for, full-size tools, get a Cold Steel Special Forces shovel, and a Duraworx planting tool. The Duraworx is basically a short handled, compact pick-mattock. Scout out good places to dump or bury the waste before something happens. You do not want to be taking time looking around for an appropriate spot during a crisis.

TP replacements: red shop towels or custom personal marked/colored cloth squares, stainless steel step can, Fels-Naptha clothes washing soap or liquid cold water detergent, bleach, 2 steel stock pots (washing & rinsing), stainless steel tongs (washing & rinsing), 2 Mobile washer plungers (kept labeled) (washing & rinsing), air dry in sun for additional sanitizing.

Clothes washing:
Any way you look at it, washing clothes takes a lot of water. Brush and air out outer clothing to minimize the need for washing. When you do need to wash clothes, do small batches regularly, rather than wait and try to do a lot at once.

Use Fels-Naptha clothes washing soap or liquid cold water detergent

Where a James washer w/ringer & 2 wash tubs or a gasoline engine Maytag wringer washer might be an option at a home, a Mobile washer plunger (one just for clothing) with two or three 5 to 6 gallon buckets, is probably the easiest, most compact, and minimum water use method of washing clothes.

You could even mount a hand ringer to a third bucket or a tub to get more of the water out before you hang dry the clothing. (If you do use a wringer, even a manual, be very careful of getting body parts caught in it. I still carry the scars of getting the fingers of my left hand in a wringer that split my hand apart to the palm between my first and middle finger when I was two or three years old.)

String a line over the tub, even if the drain does not work, to dry the clothes. Leave the bathroom door open if possible for more air circulation. Or hang on the deck if secure enough.

Personal bathing:
You can use one of the smaller MSR Dromedary water bladders w/shower attachment – a lot tougher than the plastic Sun Shower bags, for showers. Do not have to heat in the sun, though can be, can use comfortable temperature fire heated water. Do not use in the tub or shower if the drains are not working or there is a water bob in place, find a place outside that is private, or have a privacy shelter where showers can be taken and the water drain to somewhere safe.

However, with that said, it might be possible to stopper the tub and use either a siphon hose or a small 12v marine bilge pump (if you have an indoor 12v system) to get the water to a wastewater tote or outside. Can do the same with a blowup kiddie pool.

If you do shower, take a Navy shower where you wet down, turn off the water, soap/shampoo up, and then turn the water back on to rinse.

It is probably best to do a sponge bath with a container of water that can be emptied into a liquid waste tote.

Keep the place as clean as possible, even if just using a broom on both flat and carpeted floors, and a sponge type mop for hard floors. Wipe things down with disinfecting solutions often. Bag trash immediately and secure it tightly for later disposal.

Communications & Warning
Have at least one NOAA weather warning radio going at all times, not just when it looks cloudy or something is forecast. It is one of the main communications and warning systems the government will use to disseminate warnings and information before and during an event.

Have at least one battery/crank operated radio you can take with you if you have to bug out. You want one with AM/FM and Weather band at the very least.

To keep up with local activities a Public Service Band scanner will give you lots of information. For this area it will need to be one capable of receiving the Trunked Radio System that some local agencies use. An external antenna (a discone is good as it is wideband) would be nice, but not absolutely necessary. (Trunked radio systems have nothing to do with a vehicle trunk. It is a method of radio communication that is computer controlled to use a limited number of frequencies by a large number of users. The computer automatically jumps the radios between the various frequencies between gaps of use, so no one transmits and receives on a single (or two in the case of the old style repeaters) channel. Everyone uses the whole bank of channels. Since the signal is hopping between several frequencies, a standard one channel at a time scanner will not pick them up, other than a random word here and there. That is why a trunking-capable scanner is needed. They have the computer circuitry to hop right along with the transmitting radios.) (Trunking is not the same as encryption. They can be encrypted to make them much more secure. Even a good trunking scanner cannot decode the encryption without having some very sophisticated and usually illegal for private citizens to own equipment.)

It would be a good idea to have FRS/GMRS/MURS radios for around the building communications, with a 2m/70cm dual band Amateur handheld radio to stay in contact with the group. A CB AM/SSB radio in the apartment would also be nice, but not practical to put up an antenna at most of them. The same applies to long-range HF Amateur radios. They need good antenna systems to work at all well.

Backup power systems for the communications gear is discussed later. Like next.

Power options
There are not too many. Fuel type generators are a no-go in any apartment system of which I am aware. Too hard and dangerous to store fuel, plus even a quiet generator is going to be noisy sitting on a patio or balcony and will most like draw unwanted attention. The only reasonable option I can think of is one of the small, quiet, not too expensive Honda generators. A few hundred watts, mostly to power some lights and any medical equipment that might be in use. Perhaps the refrigerator, but the plugs can be really had to get to in some apartments. They run longer on a gallon of gas, but you are still limited by the amount of gas that can be stored safely on the deck or patio. (not very much)

Solar backup power supplies are an option. Expensive and heavy, and requiring solar panels for extended use, one kept charged by AC power would get you through a decent time frame (a couple of days, maybe) if used sparingly. But for longer-term use you need a way to recharge the deep cycle batteries. One such system I know of is made by GoalZero and available online and at Sportsman’s Warehouse. Very good system, very expensive.

A fairly simple 12-volt system for communications, some lighting, and such using a deep cycle battery or two with AC battery charger and solar panel back up can be put together fairly easily and reasonably. Adding an inverter to it will get you some AC, but those draws are usually pretty heavy and the charge will not last long. If you are going to do a 12v DC system look into Anderson PowerPole connectors and RIGRunner 12v power distribution systems for all 12v items, and especially communications. They are pretty much the standard. RACES and ARES amateur radio units have adopted them. Available several places online, including Amazon, MFJ, www.powerwerx.com, and

By standardizing at least on the PowerPole connects for the power cable hookups for communications gear the items can be moved from base to mobile and back with ease. Splicing and taping every time you want or need to move a radio is eliminated.

The solar panel option is iffy in many apartments. You are either facing an atrium and cannot get sun, are on the north side of the building and cannot get sun, are not allowed to have the panels anyway, or have no secure way of mounting them. You cannot get around the first two very easily. If you do not deploy the panels until needed, then you probably could get by with it. If push comes to shove, if you have a south-facing window, setting a good panel up on a tripod facing the window will get you some recharge power.

Try to standardize on a minimum number of small battery types. Use rechargeable batteries if the appliances will allow, and have good AC, DC, and solar chargers to keep them charged up. But keep at least some good life, high power, alkaline batteries for when the rechargeable batteries will not do or you do not have charged ones.

A very short term 12v DC system is one of the automobile jumpstart battery packs. They are not deep cycle batteries for that function, so will not last all that long under steady draws, but they might get you a couple days of lighting and communications.

Fire options
Something you really do not want in an apartment is open fires. You will want plenty of means to start them if you have to bug out, but while staying in the apartment, avoid the open fires, except for those contained within an appliance such as a gas stove. And be very careful of those.

Cooking options
If you have a deck or patio and small grills are allowed, that is one way to cook. Propane or charcoal. Store as much fuel as you can, but expect to be limited to how much propane you can have, if any at all.

The other main option is a camping stove, from single burner compact stove to a two burner Coleman stove. Fuel storage warnings are the same. A camp oven can be added to the two-burner stove for baking and roasting. If wild game is harvested, the small stuff can be fried or made into soup on even a small stove. A goose would be better cooked in a camp oven or charcoal or gas grill.

Less dangerous, and easy to store are Sterno, Eco Fuel, and Heat Cell gelled fuel stoves. Not that great for scratch cooking but will heat up things and boil water for add-hot-water meals.

Lighting options
Battery, solar, crank flashlights and lanterns are probably the best choice.

If you have a workable portable power system, either 12v DC or 120v AC, you can get low draw LED lighting fixtures that will work quite well.

Propane, kerosene, and lamp oil lanterns. Must be very careful of these and store the fuel safely, which can be hard to do with any quantity in an apartment. Some have restrictions on fuels inside.

Candles are another double-edged sword. They are a major fire hazard. If you plan to use them, get sturdy, stable holders, preferably hurricane style with chimneys.

Probably need to double or triple your lighter/match stock if you use candles or fuel lanterns.

Heating options
Heating with open flames or even catalytic heaters will require care. And plenty of ventilation, with catalytic probably the safer of the two.

Options include Propane Buddy heaters, Coleman heaters, and Kerosene heaters

One problem is fuel storage. You will have limited safe storage room for liquid fuels, and even propane. Use the heaters not only cautiously, but sparingly, to keep only enough heat in one room of the apartment to keep things above freezing, for sure, and to sweater comfort levels at the most. Doing so limits the use for both safety and conservation.

In some ways harder, in others easier depending on inside or outside access

Less space to protect.

Usually, limited access and stairs and elevator access can be blocked or monitored fairly easily if inside access. Not much outside access above the first floor unless balcony

If outside access to apartments there is some risks, though anyone trying to get in will usually be in plain sight.

Get night vision if at all possible. Inexpensive has limited capability, the high capability is expensive.

I will not get into firearms as there are better-qualified people available for that. Just one thing. Always remember the walls are not bulletproof. And neither is what is behind them.

One of the reasons I like Dakota Alert MURS radios is that they have a PIR motion detector unit that can be set up to transmit a warning to the radios when activated. Battery operated, with their own attached antenna, up to four can be set up and each will annunciate a different section number on the radio. More can be used, but there are only four selections for section numbers per channel.

Fire Safety
If not on the first floor, and not above the third, get a fire escape ladder for the balcony or windows.

Keep the smoke, CO, & CO2 alarms checked regularly

Have a grease fire lid easily accessible to place on skillets or pots that do not have their own lid, in case of a grease or oil fire. Keep baking soda handy for the same reason.

Have good sized fire extinguishers easily and safely available in the apartment, especially the kitchen. Having one hanging beside the cook stove is not safely stored. You want them away from the possible fire points so you can get to them without endangering yourself. Learn which ones you need, and how to use them from a pro. They are not that hard, but you have to know what you are doing or you will be ineffective at the least, and make the fire worse, at the worst. Have them checked and serviced at least yearly. They should be large enough to be effective, but small enough to handle. 20 pounders about max, with 2 ½ pounders pretty marginal. 5- and 10-pound units are probably the best.

Medical and first-aid
This is pretty much standard stuff. Others are better able to delve into it. Just a couple of things. Think trauma and think large quantities of bandages and other consumables.

You will need some basic tools and hardware, including ropes of various sizes for simple maintenance and repairs, as well as doing expedient projects.

This includes plastic sheeting and duct tape in case you must shelter in place for environmental reasons. There are several sets of instructions on the internet on how to do it. My only addition is to not forget to seal the light switch and receptacle and cable/internet boxes. And have the means to ventilate properly.

Basic hand tools you probably already have or use. Screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches. Things like a glass cutter, 550 cord, Gorilla duct tape, tie wraps, nails, screw eyes and J-hooks to name just a few items. Industrial JB Weld, Goop, Shoe Goo, WD-40, 3in1 oil.

Have plenty of spare batteries and other consumables, as space allows.

Bugging out
There are probably more reasons to bug out of an apartment than from a house, but still, bug-out only if you can significantly better your situation, or the risk of injury or death is higher if you stay than if you go. Pretty much the standard reasons and needs, except sewer backing up into the apartment is one that could easily happen. And even if you are not on the first floor, you will probably have to traipse through it getting to and from an upper floor. Another is getting water and disposing of waste. It can just be very difficult to do either, depending on the situation. And physical security is always a factor. Always a tough decision. Unless ordered to by the authorities. Will not get into the legalities of them doing so, but if they do, they can make it very difficult for you if you opt to stay, legal or not. So, whether bugging out is a major part of your plans, have the equipment ready to do so, if it does become necessary.

One set of options for if you need to bug out, or just need to get back and forth with some supplies, is to have a cart, preferably a fold up one, stored in the apartment to carry loads when you have to be on foot.

Storing a fold-up bicycle with an in-line trailer for each person is another option for getting around locally or bugging out. I would stay away from the two-track carts because of size, though there are some that fold. The bike, with or without the trailer, can be loaded down and just pushed, to maximize cargo capacity. But it will slow you down.

Short range – friends, family, motel, city park if you have camping gear (you need to have camping gear)

Medium range – add campgrounds to the list

Long range – It is tough. Might need to consider an INCH bag

Patio/deck/community gardening
1) Is it acceptable in your building?
2) Is there a community garden at the building?
3) Could one be set up? My building started one, paying or getting donations for most of it.
4) Do you have a deck/patio? (weight limits)
5) Can you container grow? Allowed or bootleg
6) Do you have sun? Will not do well if you do not have at least some direct sun part of the day.
7) Can you use window boxes? In combination with patios/decks.
8) Can you use window greenhouses? Mostly for the small stuff.
9) Can you grow vertical? Quite a few vine type things can be grown against a vertical fence or wall trained upward from bottom container, or more difficult but better floor space, from a top container growing downward.
10) What type of containers? Home built grow boxes, purchased containers, half barrels, trash cans, totes
11) What type of growing medium? Purchased soil, manure soils, composted soils, a mix.
12) Can you irrigate effectively? Should be able to water with a watering can or bucket.
13) What will you grow? Herbs, table vegetables, staples (potatoes/turnips), grains (not impossible, but probably not the best choice), or a mix.

Just my opinion.
Day To Day Preppers