Prime Locations for Post-Disaster Salvage

Editors Note: Another guest contribution from R. Ann Parris to The Prepper Journal As always, if you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and be entered into the Prepper Writing Contest with a chance to win one of three Amazon Gift Cards  with the top prize being a $300 card to purchase your own prepping supplies, then enter today!

I’ll leave the scavenging-vs-looting debate to others, and propose a situation where big chunks of humanity have died off, where fires and flooding rivers and sewage systems change where humanity is located and what legal services are in play, that we’re resupplying a community that has come together or expanded, or that we’re trying to make our way home through a landscape with few remaining residents. I’ll also specify abandoned locations, and leave the option of trading for supplies we find.

Which resources most apply is situationally dependent. The type of disaster affects the timeframe and duration, number of souls, and affected area size. The number, mode of travel, and goals for the people searching for supplies also affects what’s useful. Even so, there are a few spots that can offer a lot of different resources for pretty much anyone, whether it’s short runs to a nearby area or a group or individual passing through totally unfamiliar territory.

Gathering grid-down intel on resources in areas around us or that we’re passing is its own entire article, but keep an eye out for phone books in offices and libraries, and traveler’s maps and brochures from hotels, welcome centers, and law enforcement offices as you run around. They can not only give you ideas for resource locations that are less likely to be occupied or already stripped, but also give us places to avoid like an alligator farm, sewage treatment plant, and dense urban centers.

Prepare for Foraging

There’s likely to be some locks to get around as we work through our locations. Many toolboxes can be defeated with a screwdriver or stiff, thin wire. Some types of key and combination locks can be defeated with bent sections of soda cans – pieces from cans that can be cut with pretty much any ol’ dull, crappy pocket or kitchen paring knife or scissors. Most locks won’t stand against a crowbar smacked with a mallet. Two wrenches, a file, or a hacksaw blade take little space and weight, and can remove either a lock or the loop holding it.

Mentality is also important. Most of our surroundings are pretty versatile. That spool of cable or wire is cordage, be it unwound to make shoelaces or stitch a duffle bag to a backpack frame, or used whole for a rope paddock. Lined blackout curtains, shower curtains, and hotel blankets that bead off water are a poncho or ground cover, too. A hot water heater has all kinds of options, to include being a source of water if it wasn’t emptied and rainwater catchment for a homestead.

I’ll look at three options with a lot of offerings possible, but there are many other resource-rich locations out there that may be abandoned early or outlast additional disasters that strike during a crisis and wreck our well-laid plans.

Construction Sites

These – and the parent company sites and equipment rental shops – are rife with potential. There’s vehicles with heavy-duty batteries, diesel in vehicles with its longer-storing advantage, and periodically generators. The shipping containers on some sites have uses on their own, as do the hi-vis and chain link fencing that regularly enclose them.

Depending on where they are in construction or renovation stages, sites can also be an excellent source for things like buckets, bottled drinks and water (or emptied bottles that can be filled), tarps or drop cloths with their many uses, heavy-duty contractor trash bags, gloves, hardhats, and caulk, paint or sealant.

The raw materials on some sites can be handy, too, if we’ve been pushed out or unable to reach our supplies. Many road construction and repair sites and some building construction sites use solar-powered caution signs. Those panels will be pretty darn handy if our energy preparations went down in a fire or flood or a community force decides to divvy everything up.

Hotel Lobbies

First, let’s dispel a misconception. Most hotels – especially in the lower or midrange pricing levels – do not actually have emergency power. Some might have a generator somewhere on the property or an emergency power supply (battery) on their key card machine or computer, but many don’t. So if that’s on your checklist, throw it out.

Hotels might be a risky move, just because they do offer housing for survivors who’ve been pushed out of homes. Everything in a disaster merits caution, but go ahead and weigh this one against exact scenarios.

Hotels will also likely be full or will have already been stripped before evacuees move on in many disasters. Consumables like toilet paper, continental breakfast supplies, and coffee may already be gone.  Some already have issues with theft from food and laundry vending, just like laundromats.

However, some of the major advantages of hotels barely get touched even in normal daily operation.

I specified the lobby for a reason. Somewhere near the front desk, you’ll find racks of brochures for area attractions – the same type you’d find at a welcome center off the highway. You also sometimes to regularly find little sale ad and coupon books for the local area, which can provide the same information as a phone book. And, hey, also a location where you can still find those phone books. Check for city, county and region tourism maps, too.

The receptionists usually have access to other goodies behind the counter and in back rooms. Some are the typical provided or by-request consumables like toothpaste, toilet paper, shampoo and conditioner, and soap. Depending on how busy it was before abandonment, those may still be there.

Most have some hand sanitizer right there (same holds true for gas stations – these people handle some grubby money that comes out of some brow-lifting locations). There’s probably a drawer or cabinet back there with some sort of wipe-down disinfectant, a flashlight, sometimes a few basic tools and some duct tape. They’re cleaning that desk area and the lobby/lounge and bathrooms. Those supplies are there somewhere, too, most usually, readily at hand without having to tag a housekeeper.

Also look for a lost and found locker, drawer or cabinet, or a laundry cart with bagged items piled up. People are grody, but they also sometimes leave useful stuff behind.

Depending on the event, the rooms might still have supplies to offer, too. There may be light bulbs, batteries in the remotes, linens and blankets, mirrors, writing supplies, or other goodies.

*By all means take the soap, in-room coffee supplies, and shampoo-conditioner from hotels in normal daily life. They’re accepted as daily-stay cost items and mostly aren’t supposed to stay for the next guest. When you take batteries, rolls of toilet paper, boxes of Kleenex, light bulbs, towels, or pillows from the average low-to-mid-range hotel, you’re stealing and eventually it drives up the costs for everybody else because management now factors one in X rooms getting stripped into the average pricing. The same holds true when people help themselves to half the supplies in a human or animal examination room.


Restaurants may very well get emptied of foods pretty quickly. It already happens when snowstorms and hurricanes shut down shipping. However, if an area was evacuated or the power went out quickly, restaurants may still have some pantry goods on their shelves. There may also be calories that were overlooked, even if others have already scavenged, and there’s heaps of other goodies.

If we aim for restaurants that are heavy on fried foods, we may land both used and unopened oil. That can be turned into biofuel for diesels or used to boost the calories of lean squirrels and wild greens.

Restaurants that primarily serve fresh bread, fresh toppings, and fresh or frozen meats don’t do much for us if we’re after food. We might be able to score some of the instant beans and rice or mashed potatoes from a Popeye’s, but a Wendy’s is likely to only yield salad dressing, ketchup and pickles.

If we target one that serves great bunches of battered chicken, fried fish, and hushpuppies, there’s something else the first scavengers may not have been desperate or creative enough to snag: the breading/batter mixes. Remember, pretty much anything can be turned into bannock or ash cakes.

Any of them may be sources for knives and sharpeners. Most will also have steam table trays and deep “bussing” tubs that can be used for growing, collecting water, wash stations, or preparing meals for bunches of people at a time. Higher-end restaurants may be able to provide us with more yet, such as candles, matches, lighters, propane torches, and table linens.

Along with restaurants, keep an eye out for signs and phone book listings for caterers and restaurant and catering supply outlets (and food service delivery trucks). Those are even more likely to have a wide variety of goods and they’re more likely to be overlooked as a food source by survivors.

Oddballs Found Everywhere

If you’ve left the compound on a scouting or scavenging run or are making your way with a backpack, there are some goodies you can find in almost any public place.

Trash bags are a biggie for any situation. Someplace like a hotel or office usually has a variety of sizes and both opaque and clear bags. They can be used for water catchment, patching a shelter or a broken car window, solar stills, transporting water, or ponchos. They can be used as weed exclusions in gardens, warming ground covers or for melting snow in the case of dark bags, cloches in cool climates, or even planting containers.

Check for a storage, maintenance or cleaning locker/closet/room, too. They may still have supplies after a “front” space was scavenged, for everything from TP or paper towels, to snacks and copy paper. The same is true of gas stations. They’re also a good pick for hunting up a moving dolly if you need one while you’re scavenging.

Buckets are super handy, and many public locations have some on hand in one form or another. Many places have rolling mop buckets. Trash cans of all sizes can serve the same water-catchment, water-hauling, feed-storage, and planting purposes as buckets.

Most public facilities, even privately owned small businesses, are required to have certain things on hand, like first aid kits and fire extinguishers. Small business and hotel-room plumbing is going to be similar to typical residential toilets and sinks if we’re after parts. Larger-volume stops like malls, schools, and large McDonald’s restaurants are more likely to have specialty plumbing.

Scissors are mighty handy goodies that can be found at the front desk or back office pretty much anywhere. There’s at least a small tool kit pretty much everywhere. Smoke detectors – and their batteries – are another we might find right handy.

Other battery sources to check for pretty much everywhere during a scavenging run are remote controls and toys. In some cases we can even modify those batteries with a wadding of aluminum foil to make them fit our devices, or cut them open for something the right size or that we can chain together with some electrical tape. (Please don’t randomly peel apart batteries or cut into car batteries – know the applicable sizes.)

Scavenging After A Disaster

Some of our habitual supply sources are in or past already dicey areas and many are likely to be picked over fast and early in a disaster. We can avoid exposure, congested areas, and wasted time scoping and clearing those locations by seeking alternatives. There are plenty of others that fall into the same less-obvious category, but these are pretty common, pretty easy to spot, and apply to both lone travelers and small to large groups.

If we keep our minds open, even if we can’t get to our stored supplies, are out of our habitual stomping grounds, or end up part of a group/community that wasn’t well prepared, we can usually find what we need.

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  1. R Ann. My Being born in the late 30’s, my parents were still in the depression mindset. I recall walking with my father and would stop to pick up just about anything metal from the ground saying, I may need this sometime. My parents saved everything. My mother once told me that during the depression they had no money to buy what they needed, so everything they had was of value to them. There were times when we would take a load of trash to the county dump, and come back home with more than we took there.

  2. the majority of any stuff to be scavenged will probably be located in a city, I don’t think going into a city post disaster would be a safe or wise thing to do.

    1. It depends on the type, speed, and duration of the disaster, and how long after it you’re looking.
      There’s also plenty of all 3 suggestions and the objects that are everywhere on the verges of cities and towns big and small and strung out between them.

      Anytime you have to leave your established area where you can judge the feel it should have and your four walls, beaten paths, and especially when you increase exposure, your safety decreases – now, as well as in a disaster. If you don’t have a choice, maximize the chances you can get enough or everything or as much as possible in as few locations as possible.

      Cheers! – RA

      1. skills and knowledge will be what is required to survive and thrive post SHTF not stuff, self reliance not scavenging.

        depends on the “die off” but the larger the number of survivors the quicker the stuff left lying about will be used up, probably some one else will get to it before you can anyway.

        going into a big city just isn’t possible for me because of the distances involved and I don’t want to be away from base for any length of time,just in case!

        1. I don’t disagree with you. Not sure why you’re hung up on only seeing these particular sites as only available in the city, let alone a “big” city, but I don’t disagree with you.

          On the other hand, a large number of people travel. There’s the possibility of house and wildfires (a distinct possibility) moving any of us out of our homes today – a possibility that will only increase in any disaster of significant level. Sinkholes are an increasing risk all over the country. Most of us have some sort of natural disaster potential – just the way North America, Australia, and England are. Many of those can level homes, and some of them can inundate, de-roof, crush, or pull-apart our cellars and basements as well as surface level structures. Upstream and upwind factories, train tracks, and power plants are risk of a chemical contamination that forces us to move out– to include contaminating aquifer recharges and in some cases our underground springs.
          Without even getting to the disaster of our dams and nuclear plants, there are many reasons we might not have what we do now, and either be making our way home to our stuff across evacuation zones or

          Things get so bad the gov’t pulls a WWII Min of Ag and decides all of us of X-sized property and-or property we’ve listed as ag or rural are going to plant and cut what they tell us to, salvage not an issue.
          But there’s the mega disaster potential where a separated, band of neighbors, and-or law enforcement and-or nat’l guard operating independently decide what really needs to happen is everybody pull together. Which means redistributing stuff. My stuff, because I can take manageable forces, but we and most are not in a position to stop platoon-company sized forces.
          Not all at once, anyway.
          Some can choose the “over my dead body” option. Some can choose to abandon their stuff and bug out to the woods, where competition for game is dangerous and there will be others. I’ll at least try to make play-along noises, direct them to locations where if they have enough to leave a little more of my visible stuff alone and take care of as much of the problem as I can more discreetly.
          On the other hand, depending on the scenario, I might very well instigate communities pulling together, sourcing stuff I don’t want to give them from what I describe in the first graph as abandoned and long-term or mega-die-off locations.
          So, lots of options for “why”.

          1. I live in a small wooded fishing area.. population is maybe 3000. We are 5 hours drive away from any “city” and at that the “city” is small. We still have restaurants and motels, quite a few actually. I certainly wouldn’t consider going into the city but the ones close by, maybe. I can’t speak for all small communities but the majority I have seen make their incomes from the tourist industry which usually means restaurants and hotels/motels or cottages. Being adaptable is the absolute best things anyone can do, in my opinion. Knowing how to find other supplies (so you don’t risk your life for the ones in your house) is very wise. You have such wonderful ideas!! Great Article.

            1. Thank you!
              “Being adaptable is the absolute best things anyone can do, in my opinion.” – couldn’t agree more!

              I see a lot of mixed income types from the small communities. Some are as you say, a mix of their traditional income platforms with tourism now keeping them afloat.
              Some are total ag, mine or local factory based, but you still have stuff that supports the community and visitors – it may just be fewer and further between.
              (They’re some of the ones where getting your hands on a phone book or local sale/coupon book would be enormous, especially where for both, it’s not uncommon to have little clusters of stuff spread all over.)
              Some are the ones that really just support a few things due to convenience to highways or cross-routes and there’s a handful of fuel, eateries, supply, mechanics, and you have to drive another 20-50 minutes or more to get to a McD’s, Walmart or Hobby Lobby/Michaels/Jo-Ann’s (in hindsight, the craft stores should have been on the list of less-likely-looted places to check in a disaster – regularly beside something that’ll be crazy early, but unlikely to be seen as a good source of stuff although they have tons of potentials for after things calm, are evac’d or qz’d or a die-off).


          2. Here in rural PA, I have cattle, pig, and chicken farms all around. I am not advocating stealing. But scrounging an abandoned farm might be necessary for survival. Even if you looked from the road, you would see that farms would be excellent scrounging areas. With closer examination you would see more detail of what is there. There are loads of equipment, tools, containers, chemicals, etc. available on almost any farm. While I agree that scrounging in the city could be hazardous, the same danger exists in the country, perhaps more so. People will fight to protect what is theirs.

            1. A for-sure abandoned farm would absolutely be an excellent poke-through spot. The only thing there is cutting cross-country (crossing other farms and all the state/county/fed lands and established hunting woods or already abandoned wooded areas a 1/4 or so seem to plan to inhabit, increasing the “that’s ours” confrontation risks) and the space some of them occupy would make it difficult to be sure it was abandoned, and even if one is, the chances of local survivors already going through it or moving in are probably pretty high. And there’s the potential of LGDs, the stray/loosed dog packs, and the odd bull pasture. 🙂
              It’s definitely something to bear in mind for some of the collapse types, and chock full of stuff useful in nearly any situation if we know they’re abandoned-abandoned.

  3. Salvage vs. theft is a very thin line, depending on the nature and duration of
    the disaster. The surviving neighbors might have a problem with your being in
    their hood.

    1. Yup on both. I set out some conditions for the scenario, but if you do have to go out, glassing things long enough to be sure is a biggie.
      It doesn’t have to be former neighbors, either. It could very easily be somebody who’s moved in “since”, or who is well on the outskirts but considers that their hunting grounds just the ones who claim portions of the public lands/waterways and break out in monkeybites.
      (Private fishermen – I’m willing to grant the generation and year-round claims for some of the “local” fishermen versus good-weather or high-value seasonal boats, same for some noob laying lines across or extensions on a seasoned boat’s lines.)

      1. Salvage versus Theft? Necessity has no law. One place to consider surveying whether urban or rural is nursing or assisted living homes. If they have been evacuated, you may find decent amounts of medical supplies and medicines. You may find a good variety of foodstuffs. And nearly all of these facilities are required to have a generator.

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