Coming back alive


Let me piss on your parade for a bit.

The physical risks associated with Urbexing come in different flavors, and not the fun ones. Fall of the explorer or fall of stones on the said explorer, collapses, risks related to water (sudden flooding of a pipe); gas contamination (absence of oxygen, presence of toxic gases (CO, CO2, H2S …), risks of explosion (firedamp, dust)…

Make sure this sinks in (pun intended).
You might be drowning in sewage, falling from girders, gralloched by razor-wire, skewered on scaffolding etc… But that’s not all; longer-term dangers include respiratory problems from exposure to dusts and a classic: asbestos. All this while jail and a criminal record linger around…Urbex is not for everyone then.

Let me put that differently: urbex is hardly for anyone.

Not surpisingly, however, Health and Safety hazards are directly linked with one’s set destination; Roofing exposes you to different hazards then abandoned industrial sites.
Conversly, if your thing is exploring city water systems, you better remember that “When it rains, no drains”. And again, if you are planning to explore confined spaces, beware the presence of gas: methane or hydrogen sulfide resulting from the fermentation of organic matter may mean this will be your last Urbex.

Not to mention the human harm factor…

Not scared of anyone, you say ?
O.K Superman. What about being blown to bits by the site’s guardians (owner, guards or even squatters) ?
Actually, let me adress this right now : counter-intuitively, the law generally offers some protections (albeit limited) for trespassers (see here) if they get injured. In many countires, owners can be liable to trespassers if they willfully injured them or knew or should have known about their presence and, hold on to your hats: kept an unsafe condition !! I know, I know, my irony radar just blew up too !
Anyway, if a trespasser receives severe injuries, the owner may be a liable for the injuries the Urbexer sustains. This would include booby traps, trip wires, bear traps, bamboo tiger pits if the site is guarded by Rambo!

There are also squatters; mostly poor souls looking for a place to sleep. But do not discount the gangs and druggies looking for a bit of intimacy to carry out their…erm, deeds.
In all cases, you’re invading their privacy and their reaction might be less then welcoming. How would you feel if someone came to your house and took pictures ? Not to mention that the nice full frame Nikon D4 you might have brought along, represents month of subsistance to many of our fellow man…

Because of the nature of the beast, I consider Urbex a “dangerous sport”, like scuba-diving or rock climbing. As in the instance of other dangerous sports, I therefore strongly advice to follow the buddy system.
The buddy system is a procedure in which two people, the “buddies”, operate together as a single unit so they are able to prevent the other becoming a casualty, or rescue the other in a crisis. You can of course have more then one buddy tagging along. Three or four is a nice number. More then that, it can become a bit conspicuous.

In other words then, do not do it alone.

Below, I will attempt to discuss at greater length some of the safety and security concerns every Urbexer should consider, BEFORE exploring a site. This is even more consequential for first time visits, or reconnaissance. Duh.
If I can be bothered, the items that will warrant complete Blog entries of their own will probably include the following:

  • Confined space entry, happening all the time, even more so if you feel an inkling toward drains, and subterranean Urbex in general;
  • Exploration at heights, for those of us roofing or, God forbid, feeling adventurous with cranes;
  • Weather and humidity
  • Fire and explosions;
  • Energy safeguarding, including live electrical wires or any sort of charged pneumatics;
  • Chemical and hazardous material, especially on abandoned industrial sites;
  • Falling objects;
  • RadioActive Material, especially around hospital or any kind of x-ray facility.

Surely then, if you want come back from your awesome explorations in one piece, the name of the game is preparation.

Make sure you have assessed the risks involved in what you are about to do, and guards against them. Look at yourself objectively and assert your competency to perform a particular Urbex. Make sure you are physically fit for it, and I strongly recommend you stay away from drugs and alcohol during an Urbex. Not only will these things impair you balance and your judgment, but it might add to your problems if the cops show up.

Try to define the scope of your urbex before hand: if you are touring a place for the first time, leave its underground for a subsequent visit.

Use protective gear !! I am a minimalist, but nonetheless I always wear long pants and sleeves, a solid pair of ankle sustaining boots, a hat (saved my bald spot from a couple of bloody tears), and, but that’s just me, a pair of high quality/tactile work gloves.

Have 2 emergency plans.

  1. The first one should cover the closest exits and all possible evacuation routes. Doberman are quick. Gotta be quicker.
  2. The second one should cover what to do if you get stuck inside (injured, trapped…). It may sound very rural of me, but I visited quiet a few site with no phone reception. One way to mitigate this is to inform someone outside of your destination and of your schedule. Ask that person to alert the authorities if you have not shown up at a given time.

Ultimatly, and if you only remember one thing because you are smoking weed while reading this article remember this : when you consider an Urbex cannot be carried out safely, abort the exploration. There is always a next time.

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