Clay’s Guide to Urban Defense: Ep. 5 Surviving In A Concrete Jungle

Last week, we talked about hardening the suburban home. This week, we are picking up the same subject matter but for those of you who live in a concrete jungle. The differences between the two are stark, with some advantages to both.

Clay’s Guide to Urban Defense

The bad news, if you are a real urban dweller, is that your overall tactical situation is a lot worse. Higher population density in general, historically higher numbers of violent lefties per capita, and fewer supplies per capita all add up to a bad situation. Your rent is likely higher than a house payment, which leaves you less scratch for supplies. You have less storage space for those supplies. About the only positive is that the building you reside in is likely a lot more defensible than your suburban brethren.

Bullet-resistant construction.

Now this isn’t a hard and fast fact, everything is situation dependent. But if you happen to live in an old stone building or any apartment complex except the ultra-modern, you have some advantages. Odds are you have concrete walls, in addition to concrete slabs between the floors. All of those will stop most bullets, so that is a positive. But you also have a lot more territory to defend, so what is the plan?

You Can’t Survive Alone

As we briefly discussed in Episode 1, Urban defense is impossible alone. The idea of just defending your little cubicle of an apartment is suicide. You might take some people with you, but you won’t last. The area is just too small, the avenues of approach are too many, and the problems too vast. Even if you could lay down enough lead to keep the hordes out, it is important to remember one thing. All human beings are adaptable and somewhat sentient creatures, regardless of enemy status. What is to prevent them from turning your concrete fortress into a Suzy bake oven? A bonfire on the floor above and below you, places you can’t reach with rifle fire, would end your Alamo defense with a quickness.

So you are going to have to press your neighbors into service. But before you can do that you have to work on your defense plan. Let’s start with nuts and bolts.

The Plan

The first step is securing access to your structure. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that it is preferable to fight at a street distance as opposed to a house distance. Anyone can get lucky in a 3m gunfight, and in that scenario, your odds of getting killed go up exponentially. How about a 30m-50m gunfight? Skills start to matter more for reliable hits, and your survivability if you are trained, skyrockets. The further the distance, the less the odds of the bad guys getting a lucky hit. And we can assume if you are reading GunsAmerica, you number among the trained.

To illustrate this point to my CQB students, I have a very simple demonstration. I set a full-sized target at 3, 7, and 10 meters. Then, with a 10 round mag, I hip shoot a mag at each target, on auto. Hip firing on auto is my nearest approximation of jihadi marksmanship. Invariable, the 3m target has 10 hits in the chest, the 7m about half that, and the 10m was lucky to have one or two. Distance matters and close fighting favors the lucky.

Therefore, keeping people out of your face and in a kill zone at distance is imperative. Which means you have to hold your ground floor, as well as any below ground entrances, such as parking garages. But wait a minute, can’t I shoot the furthest from higher floors? Yes, in theory. And that would work if you happen to be pulling a “Dawn of the Dead,” firing across a massive parking lot. But against armed opponents, in most urban settings, that is going to get you killed real quick.

Urban combat is a game of angles, and you have to think in three dimensions for both offense and defense. Optimal locations afford you a large field of fire, while also making you hard to pinpoint. Consider your theoretical apartment building, and you have decided to hold the 5th floor. If you hang out the window, you can actually control the street to your front for 8 blocks on either side. Sounds great, right? But you are also exposed not only to those same 8 blocks but to every floor of every building to your front. In the early stages of a conflict, before tactical Darwinism has taken root, you might be okay. But eventually, someone is going to sneak within a block, crawl up the fire escape across the street, lay behind a desk on the 7th floor, and put a bullet through the top of your head.

A wide field of view, but a good way to get yourself killed.

If you pull back into the room ten feet, you reduce the angles of attack above and below you to almost nothing. The benefit is you can still handle threats a long way away, and likely from a stable shooting position. The downside is you are blind if the enemy sneaks close, and then hugs cover. As in, stays within about 20 meters of the walls of your building. Even if you detect them, it is very difficult to fire straight down. It can be done, but it isn’t easy.

Less field of view, but a much more survivable position.

The obvious solution is to also occupy the ground floor. The ground floor protects from close threats and is hard to hit from above. In defense, it offers an advantage even at close range, should the Mongolian horde try to break through. Also, consider this. How many of you have night vision goggles? How about more than one set, i.e. to defend all 4 directions at night? Me neither. The only way to fend off sappers in the night from breaching your perimeter is to hold that space.

If you bunker in the corners and barricade the other entrances, a lot of your problems go away. Barricades aren’t full proof, but covering the approaches offers excellent protection. Remember, as they said in Rhodesia, “An obstacle is only an obstacle if it is covered by fire.” Using only hand tools, any one of us could break into a bank vault. With enough time. The vault is there to take up time so that a security goon can show up and shoot you. Nothing, literally nothing, is unbreakable.


For barricades, you are likely lower on supplies than your rural and suburban peers. Storage is at a premium in cities. Which means you need to think outside the box. One of my all-time favorites for preventing entry is chainlink, stretched tight over a window, secured by a 2×4 on each side. With “P” for Plenty on deck screws. Expanded steel is actually better, but that is hard to harvest in most urban environments. The chainlink absorbs impact by flexing, which makes it extremely difficult to brute force attack. It doesn’t stop bullets, but it also lets you see clearly, and doesn’t limit airflow. That alone is worth thinking about, should your crisis happen in the summer months. Can you imagine an Atlanta in August with no power for weeks? Chainlink also offers two benefits against Molotovs, the urban defenders greatest enemy. First, it is actually difficult to get a bottle to break against chainlink, because of the flex. And second, if it does break, it is much better to have a pool of fire on an exterior wall, than inside your building.

Construction sites, an excellent place to harvest materials.

Death from Above

So what is the optimal strategy provided you have the manpower? Occupy the low and high floors, and act in tandem for defense. The high places have the longest shots and can keep the hordes at bay. The low places protect the entries and close combat in case of assault. Remember 4 paragraphs ago when I said it is hard to shoot down. I meant with a rifle, and with pinpoint accuracy. It isn’t really the shooting that is hard, it’s the recoil. But if a mob is attacking your ground floor, a pistol over the window ledge is easy enough. If your team is inside concrete walls, and the mob isn’t, your odds of a fratricide are virtually zero. Bricks, refrigerators, and hand grenades also work wonders from above.

Home Depot is a good place to go to start your preparation.

Should you occupy the roof? Only if you are the tallest building around. If you are, great. If not, it is mostly a bad idea. But you do want a sentry at the roof access point, just in case. If it is possible to bridge to your roof from a nearby building, you must protect it. It just would be less than ideal to go to sleep one night and wake up with a horde pressing down your stairwell.

Extreme Measures

Last but not least, consider extreme measures. If your occupation looks like it’s going to last a while, it pays to constantly improve your defense. To mitigate the fire hazard, I would remove everything flammable from the first 2 floors, including the carpet and 2x4s in the walls. Don’t make it easy for them to burn you out. A single roll of barbed wire can be worth its weight in gold. Wire can be used to tie doors closed, make ankle traps at ground level, or my favorite, stairs. Wire strung in a high/low pattern can make any stairwell or hallway a death trap for an assault. Concertina wire is better, but the gigantic rolls are hard to store. Regular old barb wire can do the job, in a nice compact package. Wait until the opposition is hopelessly entangled in wire, and cut them to ribbons with bullets. It will also discourage any survivors from trying again.

A staircase begging for a wire trap.

Another longtime favorite is holes in the floors above to discourage assailants. If you block off all the stairs, this also gives you mobility. While it is easier to do with shaped charges, those are hard to come by in modern America. A sledgehammer may take a while, but it will do the job. Imagine the shock of finally gaining a toehold on a ground floor, as your forces pour in. But instead of finding the defenders cowering in a closet, you see the last rung of a step ladder being pulled through the ceiling. Followed immediately by a withering fire from above, with only hands and muzzles exposed. Not a good day out.

Slab floors are common to construction.

Other considerations are many. On day one, I would scavenge all the fire extinguishers in a 4 block radius. Do you have a push broom to sweep the mountains of broken glass out of your position? Do you have basic hand tools, or know where to find some? The survival problems are many, but I hope this has helped your tactical situation. The most important tool you have is your brain, don’t forget to use it.

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About the author: Clay Martin is a former Marine and Green Beret, retiring out of 3rd Special Forces Group. He is a multi-decade and -service sniper, as well as 3-Gun competitor and Master ranked shooter in USPSA Production. In addition to writing about guns, he is the author of “Last Son of The War God,” a novel about shooting people that deserve it. You can also follow him on twitter, @offthe_res or his website,

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  • DAVID MILLER October 30, 2020, 3:44 pm

    Just burn em out

  • Thomas w Donohue October 30, 2020, 6:28 am

    I think you left out the part where many resources count mass shooting differently .
    That and white folk make up a larger portion of the population .I dont see his statement of “violent lefties per capita” being untrue at all .
    Look at every peaceful riot and arson this last year. BLM and Antifa .Both can easily be described as violent lefties.
    You claim to not be “delusional about reality” But can you really say that their is not way more violent lefties per capita in a large city ?
    anyway I am pretty sure your a victim and not going to make it through anyway so by Felicia :}

  • Alex L September 14, 2018, 5:43 pm

    Bricks, refrigerators, and hand grenades also work wonders from above… Dropping a fridge of a roof sounds like a great weapon/deterrent but where the hell do you get an extra fridge from and onto the roof when shift hits the fan?

  • Guido September 14, 2018, 5:35 pm

    Hello, Clay

    Another magnificent article.

    I’ve been told that while not necessarily relative to this installment, wrapping ones’ house with chain-link to eliminate ground floor doors and windows from being accessed works as well.
    And, as far as the ladder holes in the floor from an upper story, I’ve heard that deploying large salt water treble hooks on stout stainless leaders firmly suspended from the lower level ceiling prior to ascending and pulling the ladder up makes for a grisly experience for those left in the dark on the lower floor. Takes a bit of preparation, but the results should be worth it.

    You da man, Sir. Great book.

  • manimal September 14, 2018, 12:56 pm

    This and other situations it seems like it would be beneficial to have comms for every member of your team for rapid coordination. Amazon sells 5 packs of UHF VHF radios like Baofeng’s that won’t break the bank. $22/per radio. You need a HAM license to transmit on these but with the scenario in this article, it wouldn’t matter at that point. This would be a much better option than normal walkie talkies.

  • Mike September 14, 2018, 12:47 pm

    Good stuff Clay –
    The only series on this site I’ve read in it’s entirety and look forward to the next iteration.

  • David September 14, 2018, 10:44 am

    And I recognize every one of those buildings. Good thing about those construction sites is gene’s fuel and just about everything else you would need for this article. The jobsites around us here are surrounded by chain link. there is almost always brick and cinder block on the job as that is what they face the building’s with here at least. Every jobsite including metal construction have wood. Plywood, 2x material and screw and nail out the wazoo. Personally I have an escape route out of the city pictured above and heading north. I don’t think our city would tear itself apart over night but it would eventually and I want to be gone before it does. Clay fun article. I see you around at my work. Mind if we just shoot the shit one time when your waiting?

  • Capt Bart September 14, 2018, 10:28 am

    “But if a mob is attacking your ground floor, a pistol over the window ledge is easy enough.”

    True, IF and ONLY IF you have the hand gun tethered to you in some way. The reason the Mounties had tethers on their weapons is so they would not lose it in a fall from a horse. If I’ve got my hand gun over the edge, shooting down and I get return fire, a quick duck reflex may donate my weapon to the bad guys. Poor plan. Also, really agree with the throwing things over the side. Look at the siege defenses of the middle ages. Boiling oil or water can really ruin a breaching teams day.

    In general a well thought out article.

    Just my not so humble opinion, of course.

  • Bruce September 14, 2018, 9:09 am

    Hey, Clay—like your groundfloor solution to attack by urban lefties, but mine’s occupied by a 91-year-old lady with a vicious cat. What do do?

    • jEFF September 27, 2018, 11:00 pm

      sic the cat on them?

  • Johnny Raygun September 14, 2018, 8:53 am

    Clay, I watch and read as much of your product as I canget. This time you lost me in the first two sentences. ” Violent lefties” is simply an oxymoron. There a violent people of all beliefs, but many of violent mass shootings are perpetrated by White Right folk. Yes urban areas may lean left, it is not an exclusive club. Ok for yhe record, I am white, I do believe in 2A, but I am not delusional about reality….Instead of divide and pander to your base, try to be more balanced. Thank you for most of what you do.

    • KCsmith September 14, 2018, 10:48 am

      He isn’t talking about a mass shooter, is he? He’s talking about ANTIFA and the like, as he detailed in the series introduction article. Did you read that before making such a foolish statement?
      Either you don’t understand what an oxymoron is or you’re just clueless. If you can’t understand what he’s talking about when referring to the violent left, you haven’t been paying attention to our world the last few years.

    • BOhio September 14, 2018, 11:42 am

      Do you know what ‘oxymoron’ means? I don’t think you do. Look it up.

      And why do you feel compelled to bring up your skin pigment?

    • Nanook October 26, 2020, 12:37 pm

      You, sir, are misinformed. All of the school shootings in this country were by mentally imbalanced offspring of liberal parents. The whackjob in Vegas was just that, a whackjob.

    • Thomas w Donohue October 30, 2020, 6:26 am

      I think you left out the part where many resources count mass shooting differently .
      That and white folk make up a larger portion of the population .I dont see his statement of “violent lefties per capita” being untrue at all .
      Look at every peaceful riot and arson this last year. BLM and Antifa .Both can easily be described as violent lefties.
      You claim to not be “delusional about reality” But can you really say that their is not way more violent lefties per capita in a large city ?
      anyway I am pretty sure your a victom and not going to make it through anyway so by felicia :}

  • Hoze928 September 14, 2018, 8:30 am

    Fantastic series of articles Clay!!! It clearly tells me our tax dollars were not wasted on you. Thanks for sharing your insights and experience lots of helpful information. Thank you for your service and God Bless.

  • pa4445 September 14, 2018, 7:56 am

    The useful info in this series is amazing. Statements like “Hip firing on auto is my nearest approximation of jihadi marksmanship” make me wonder at the places he has been and the things he has done.

    Though he doesn’t look like a tough guy, (sorry Clay) I think he is a man you would not want to go up against.

    Thanks Clay, for your service and for passing your hard earned knowledge on to us.

    • Smitty September 14, 2018, 8:27 pm

      What does a tough guy look like? There are a lot of spec ops guys that don’t LOOK like what YOUR idea of a spec ops guy is SUPPOSED to look like. But they can usually spot each other in a second.

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