Monday, August 6, 2012

Escape from Portland

Portland is a big city. By Los Angeles or New York or Chicago standards, it’s probably regarded as a quaint town (it has a population of about 583,000); but to someone who hails from a remote farm four miles outside a town of 1000, it’s a huge city. Trust me on this.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great city. I love my annual trips to Portland. My friends live near the quirky eco-friendly burg of Woodstock. The surrounding neighborhoods are stately and gracious. The stores and shops are abundant and well-stocked. All in all, it’s a lovely part of Portland.

Like all outsiders who are easily bewildered by the maze of streets and highways of a strange city, I know my route to get to my friends’ house. And I can get from their house to the event site where I sell our tankards. And I can get back again. I’ve never gotten lost – exactly – but nor have I ever gone exploring either. In other words, I don’t know Portland very well.

It’s the sheer size that can seem overwhelming. And it occurred to me one day, as I drove to my friends’ house, that if a foot evacuation of this city should ever become necessary, it would be virtually impossible.

Portland is bracketed by enormous rivers, crossed at intervals by huge and impressive bridges. In the northwest, earthquakes are always a distinct possibility, and I’ve heard it said that Portland's bridges are old and not considered up to modern earthquake standards. In fact, apparently it’s spoken in hushed whispers about the possibility of the bridges topping into the rivers should the “big one” ever hit.

But it’s not just the potential for earthquakes, it’s the potential for any kind of urban chaos that might send its citizens fleeing. Quite literally, how could anyone leave the city by foot?

It would not be hard to walk out of Coeur d’Alene, the nearest big city to us. But Cd’A only has a population of about 35,000. A couple hours of sturdy hiking and you’re out in the countryside. But in all seriousness, it could take DAYS to walk out of Portland. And this assumes (a) the evacuee is not burdened down with possessions, small children, or anyone with limited mobility; or (b) the evacuee was not competing with aggressive elements determined to harm them. And of course, if someone is evacuating Portland by foot, aggressive elements are likely to be a huge factor.

In short, it was an uncomfortable mental exercise to think about bugging out by foot of a city the size of Portland. Then of course there’s the very real question of, where would they be bugging out TO?

Nor would bugging out in a vehicle necessarily be the answer. Vehicle evacuations seem like they would be easier, but this doesn’t mean trouble-free. While the evacuee is not faced with the difficulty of transporting children or those with limited mobility – and at least they wouldn’t have to be carrying their worldly possessions on their backs – there are other severe limitations. Cars must follow streets. All streets lead to highways. All highways lead to the natural bottlenecks of crossing the rivers. And everyone is limited by the size of their gas tank and the reliability of their engine.

See the problem?

This issue, of course, is not limited to Portland. There are nine cities in America with populations over 1,000,000 (NYC, LA, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas). The logistics of evacuating such enormous and dense areas are mind-boggling.

I have no solution to these dilemmas. They’re just observations. But if the thought of what you might do in the face of urban chaos has ever gone through your head, now might be the time to start thinking through.

If you live in a large city and you faced the need to evacuate, how would you do it? I’d be interested in hearing everyone’s thoughts.


  1. I understand what you mean, it is a big city. I live across on the WA side in a rural area. I grew up in Vancouver which is now pretty much a suburb of Portland. I'm glad to only have to go to Portland now and then, I can't find my way around half the time and I'm from here!!! Glad the venue was properous for you! I'm sure your glad to be home though! Since I live in a rural area I don't think much about "bugging out" I think more about "bugging in".

  2. And that is exactly why we just moved outside a small town... urban chaos with four small children is NOT my idea of a good time!

  3. I sit typing this across the street from a park on the west bank of the Willamette River just south of Portland, but north of the 205. I have spent countless hours studying maps trying to figure out how to get out of here if the bridges are down. I NEED to get to the east side if I am home when a EQ happens. My only hope will be either of the two ferry boats. I have taken many trips just to check out low bridges over the 205. If the over passes fall, I won't be able to get south of the 205, let alone cross over the Willamette River. I have been searching where to move to that is East and South of the Portland area. I used to live in Grants Pass, and the Rogue River as well as the McKenzie River that runs through the Eugene area will also be a stumbling block. I am very aware of the MAJOR problems with where I live, but where I could move to....I'm still searching. Let's just say, I bought 2 come-alongs so I can move downed trees off of logging roads to work my way to eastern Oregon if I have to. This is also why I sold my car and bought a truck. As for Portland, I don't go into Portland, I don't feel safe. JL

  4. I don't think most urban people will try to move out of the cities in the case of a disaster. In my experience, most people are really uncomfortable with the country and with nature and I think they will try to hunker down in the city and wait for government help; if nothing else, because they at least know the city and are comfortable with it. Growing up near Baltimore, I always wanted to move away but even then, it has taken awhile to get used to our current rural setting.

  5. My wife and i live in one of those mil+ cities. Philly actually has a mil and a half. The Bug-Out plan is already under way: Fix up the house to ready it for sale, sell it, and move to the Amish Country. I chose Lancaster County because of 1) Its concentration of evangelical Christians. You want to have people you can trust around during a crisis. And also 2) Its large number of farms that a)sustain the local water table and b)make the area self-sustaining when it comes to food. The city is NOT where you want to be when the manure hits the ventilator.

    1. We've already bugged out of Lancaster County. I dont think its agriculture can sustain its 507,000 population. Not too mention 60,000 of them in the city that can reach the burbs in a few hours when the grocery stores are empty. Is very true about the concentration of evangelical christians... But not very 'prepping minded'

  6. I am an hour from the closest big city (300,000) and feel I am too close to it, however those above have a good point - many people will wait for help in the cities before heading out of them; look back at New Orleans after Katrina and how many people stayed behind and had to be rescued.
    I think some of the people who will want to leave will wait too long and won't get very far due to blocked roads, hostiles, government restrictions, or most likely - wasting gas waiting so they can't go very far!
    A few months ago there was an article on from a man who looked at how much gas people have in their cars, how many exits there were off main roads, and decided that most people fleeing big cities would get less than 1 hour (peacetime) drive from their city.
    Food for thought - reassurance for rural people, concern for city dweller.

  7. When I lived and worked in Portland I knew many ways to get from downtown Portland where I worked to my home or for that matter simply out of town. Not for fear of disasters but simply because accidents and other traffic issues made it imperative. Walking out would be easier then you think unless it was your intent to go East where a lot of the Zombies live. When you are down by the river in Portland look to the South. That imposing 1000 ft ridge is mostly wooded and has trails and back roads to take you South or West with ease. You could also go South and then turn East and stay in mostly farm land and woods. Don't get me wrong, there are problems just as in any large city but in some ways Portland has advantages. You can even escape in a canoe or Kayak.

  8. You have hit upon one of the major problems I have when it come to my bug out plan. I live in Beaverton Oregon which is just over the hills west of Portland. My #1 bug out location is currently 224 blocks east of downtown. I worry about traffic (terrible here on a "normal" day), I worry about the bridges. It is true, they are BADLY in need of repair and updates. I have thought about stashing a raft along the shore of the Willamette for an emergency crossing. My #2 bug out location is also located next to another local river accesible via the Willamette and though I am no criminal, if I have to jack a boat to get there, I will.
    I am single, I have no support system here in Portland since I am new to prepping. My family thinks I am nuts for just wanting to make my own bread and crackers so I don't dare tell them my other prepper plans. Only my brother lives close by on a full time basis (Mom and Step Dad are snow birds)and while he has helped me with firearms training, he thinks I am doing it just for fun and entertainment. I have ulterior motives :)
    I will be interested to see if others from Portland or Bridge City as one of our nicknames implies.

    Thanks for sharing your life and experiences with all of us. I look forward to you new posts and check your blog everyday.


  9. this is something i always had on my mind years ago living in washington d.c., and while on the island of okinawa. matter of fact, i guess i have thought about this everywhere i have lived with the exception of my current home in northeast mississippi. here i am ten miles from any population over 3000 and 40 miles from a pop. of over 30,000. i take a lot of comfort in that...but i also realize that alot of trouble can come to a person when they are isolated by so many miles as well...and it is always a good reason to be prepared for anything that might happen on our homestead...even though we have family and friends nearby, many days could go by without sight or sound of another human voice.

  10. What Jay said. The major arteries in and out of Philly become parking lots every rush hour. I cannot begin to imagine the scale of the disaster if the city had to be evacuated. The word "impossible" comes to mind.

  11. We use to live in South New Jersey and jokingly would tell people you have to pay to leave the state. Surrounded by the ocean and the Delaware River, NJ only connects to New York along the northern edge and most of the roads north are toll roads. Bridges to Philly and Delaware all cost also. I use to tell my hubby that if I felt that things were heading south, for him to stay at work( he worked in Philly) and I was heading west any way I could before things got too bad. It was a major relief to move out of that area and not be surrounded and possibly cut off like I felt in NJ.

  12. I live in a "city" of about 10,000 and 1.5 hours from a bigger city of about 500,000 and about 4 hours from a major US City. I used live in both of those and am scared to even visit now. Events happen very quickly now and you can become trapped very nearly instantly. I have a evac plan here and am developing alternate routes to my "retreat" as well as OPSEC around my home.


  13. I haven't thought much about leaving my current location, though that might have to happen in a big-time emergency since I live just east of Dallas, literally just a hop, skip, and a jump away. I used to walk home from a community college that actually straddles the city line.

    I still do quite a bit of walking around town with a backpack on and would often wonder where I would go if I needed water and there was no rain when everything collapsed. The last two summers have been the hottest in 32 years (sis informed me when she got home from work that it was 110 outside!). There are three creeks within easy walking distance that I pass over as I go to work. Two of them dry up pretty easily, but one that runs by a local church and through a park always seems to be full on at least one side of the bridge, rain or shine. I've been imagining myself hauling a cart of buckets with neighbors in a collapse situation. :) Not everyone around here is nice, but there's enough people I know that will more likely help others than try and take from them.

    The big problem would most likely be the exodus of a large number of people who rely on government assistance (there's a lot of section 8 housing nearby) and some of the illegals that are part of gangs and possibly cartels that are well established in Dallas. Break-ins are a huge problem here already, which is why most of us have security systems installed (one neighbor caddy-corner from us was broken into twice in the last year). These people might stay a while, but I think that when things don't go the way they hope, they'll start looting everyone else around them as they leave. A good chunk of us are gun carriers, but so are many of them.

    I also live within a little triangle of highways. They're not jammed very often, but that would quickly change in a bad situation as these are some of the main arteries out of Dallas. You would have to drive quite a while in any direction before you reach the countryside, about an hour in clear traffic, but there's been a lot of construction around here lately too with roads and even parts of the highway torn up. North and west are completely out of the question. East and south we might stand a chance.


  14. I live south of Milwaukee north of Chicago, Lake Michagan is to the east and I94 is to the west of us. Basically we are boxed in. My only hope is to leave before I94 is closed down, I would need to go under it and go west to a family meeting place. So I live on high alert and have to be ready to leave in a moments notice. If I do not make it out my life is in Gods hands. Put God in charge of everything and do not worry, just do the best you can.

  15. We have been trying to formulate a plan to get out of our desert southwest city. While I would like to be in a rural area - Idaho is at the top of a short list - the need for employment income may forestall that for a while. Apart from the Zombie population of being in a city, my main goal is more space than the average city lot to pursue some small-scale farming for personal needs. Apart from a lack of space (and zoning issues)the climate here is brutal for such pursuits.

    Oddly enough, I have a very good job opportunity in a much better climate - Portland!

    I'd rather not trade one city for another. The population of our current city is about the same as Bridge City, but the metropolitan population in the area surrounding Portland is MUCH higher.

    I'm torn, thinking it might be one step closer to the area I really want to be in, and if I was willing to suffer a substantial commute, I might be able to find a lot big enough to pursue a few of my self-sufficiency goals. The climate and more space would be a BIG step up in that regard. So in that regard we'd be better off.

    But that city...I just don't know. ANY city might be too big a risk in the time I imagine we have left to prepare. (But of course, we're in one now.)Decisions, decisions.

  16. What is it about social utopias like Portland that they don't spend money on their infrastructure? One good thing about living in Florida is that we have frequent emergency drills and fairly frequent evacuations in hurricane season. I worry, though, about daughter that lives on the other side of the St. John's river. They'd have a heckuva time getting to us in the event of a real emergency of the nonhurricane variety.

  17. Anchorage, Alaska

    I've thought about this often and have pretty much concluded that for any likely disaster (earthquake, mega-blizzard) we'll have to stay put. There's only two roads out of Anchorage; south to the Kenai Peninsula (which is a trap in itself) or east/north out of the city. But roads would be unpassable with the envisioned disasters so home-sweet-home it is.

    So, I've stashed food, fuel, water, clothing, camping gear, water purification gear and defense weaponry around our property.

    Steve Davis
    Anchorage, Alaska

    1. Steve, Steve, Steve...nice to have you here, but PLEASE tell me that's not your real name.

      Rule Number 1 for preparations:
      "Preparations? What preparations? Ain't seen no preparations 'round here. Gotta can o' pork 'n' beans, I think. Oh, lawdy, when da gummint gonna show up and help us?"

      Jeff - Tucson

  18. One thing to think about to escape a watery city like Portland is a kayak/ canoe/ small boat, especially if you have somebody further out you can easily get to near/ on the water.
    This is even Green - muscle powered waterborne commuting is analogous to riding a bike to work, and in most cities is less dangerous.

  19. The morning of 2-9-71 I was getting ready to drive the 16 miles into Los Angeles for work. Then I felt a shaking. A long shaking. EARTHQUAKE. It was so early that the rest of the family was still asleep. Everyone was downstairs and out in the backyard in seconds. That was the San Fernando 6.6 quake which killed 65 people. I went to work which was on the 7th floor of an old brick building and every few minutes the whole place would sway. Our boss got sick and sent us all home. That Saturday, I met with my geology class at college and we went for a study trip. I will never forget seeing a ranch house upside down in the neighbors pool. The Veterans hospital pancaked down to a one story. It was 4 or 5 stories high. The freeway overpass was now on the ground. It did have two other overpasses under it. They all came down. I know first hand what a earthquake feels like and can still remember the destruction. The roads won't be the big problem, it will be the bridges. Down in Calif. where this happened, they didn't have the big rivers that we have where I now live. The saying, "the wrong side of the tracks" should really be "the wrong side of the bridge". JL

  20. Cyanworth understates how bad it would be in Philly, but the term "nightmare" is accurate. Cyanworth mentions the traffic snarls, but doesn't mention the demographic layout of the city. Stable, safe neighborhoods abutt against drug-infested ghettos. Philadelphia shoulders a disproportionate amount of Pennsylvania's poor. You're looking at some hundreds of thousands of people who at best have no helpful skills and at worst embrace crime as a way of life.

    When the power goes, or grocery stores run out of stock, or the EBT cards are cut off they will riot. They'll ransack their own neighborhoods first. Then they'll turn to the adjacent neighborhoods full of liberals who will see their fair trade coffee shops looted and their organic food cafes trashed. The blue collar ethnic enclaves (Irish, Polish, Italian) will last a little longer because they will put up a fight. Center City Philly may be protected by the police, because that is where TPTB live, but it will be surrounded by the rioting hordes on three sides with the Delaware River on the fourth. The only way to flee the city at that point may be by boat.

    Some rioters will go where they think the food or "stuff" is, which will be the nicer Western suburbs, but I'm not sure how far out they will get. These are people who don't walk long distances, quite a lot don't have cars, and who are very uncomfortable outside the insular world of the "hood". They are more likely to stay in the city, waiting for the gov't to come help them, as it has all their lives. That and bands of thugs will prey on them and each other.

    I don't think I can impress enough how the urban underclass is completely dependent on the gov't to survive. In the best of times their aren't a lot of opportunites for illiterate innumerates with bad attitudes. For half a century the lid has been kept on through a combination of fed, state, and local handouts along with intense political correctness. I don't know what can be done with a fiscal crisis looming. And I don't want to be in Philadelphia to find out. That's why the Amish country is looking so good right now.

  21. I live in LA, but luckily on the outskirts where it would be very easy to walk out into the countryside. We have all the backpacking gear to do it too. Even so, I can't wait to get even further out, because as you said, *where* would we go? I would much rather live out in the countryside than have to evacuate to it.

  22. Interesting topic --- Just the other day, hubby and I were talking again about this very thing: If today, we were dropped into the middle of a big city (I mean BIG! city), what would we do?

    My answer has always been, "I'd start walking until I was out."

    Simplistic, I know. What if I had no supplies, no shoes, no money...yada yada.

    I'd STILL start walking until I was out.

    That reminds me --- now that the weather is breaking a little, and not so unbearbly hot, it's time to get back to my "walking-two-miles-a-day" routine to stay in shape.

    SIDEBAR: I LOVE the idea of dirt bikes - mentioned by "mmasse!" YEE-HAW! (Note to self: check the tires on my bicycle.)

    Just Me

  23. Speaking of bicycles...

    My wife and I had discussed how to get home from jobs 15 and 24 miles distant in the event of an EMP that killed the cars. We outfitted both vehicles with survival kits good for 2 people for 3 days, in backpacks, and included really good shoes. Later I realized that there's a big bike store a block from my office. I'm normally an upstanding, law-abiding person, but considering am EMP event of that magnitude would likely be the end of this country, I wouldn't feel TOO bad. To the good shoes I added a really big pry bar and a big set of bolt cutters. (I work nights.)If I just can't stand it, I'll leave payment on the counter. (I considered always having a bicycle of my own along, but what an incredible hassle for the rare chance.)