The Army Hates Urban Exploration

It comes as no real surprise, but the Army is no fan of urban exploration. In fact, they’re so against this pastime – one which requires such decidedly un-American traits as curiosity and an interest in history – that they’re not afraid to resort to misstatements, fabrications, and outright lies to discourage soldiers from taking part.

Lumping urban exploration in with inhalant “huffing” and “bonehead” activities, an Army pamphlet and poster warn of the unbelievably incredible dangers of this popular activity:

In a nutshell, according to the Army:

“There have been a large number of fatalities around the world where explorers have been overcome by toxic gases in sewers.” Additionally, in an abandoned building, “Stairs can collapse”, pieces of the building itself can “fall and fracture your skull”, and contacting live electrical wires can “result in electrocution”.

Oh, and what seems to be a widespread, reasonably organized international activity… isn’t, according to Uncle Sam. Most people “suckered in” to exploring these incredibly dangerous locations do so “on a whim”, or after being “dared to do it.”

Now, as much as I am loathe to point out when the Army goofs up, I really have to say that it would be difficult to paint a more erroneous picture of the activity. (Not impossible; many journalists manage it every year.)

Admittedly, I’ve only been doing this exploring thing for half a decade, but I’ve yet to hear of a single “explorer” who has become a “fatality” after being overcome by gases in a sewer. I know of a single incident – described in the documentary Into the Darkness, incidentally – where explorers encountered bad air in a tunnel, and they lived to tell about it. For the most part, bad air in sewers is a vastly overrated hazard, and it’s hardly the scourge of urban explorers that the Army seems to think it is.

I don’t know what to say about the physical hazards of buildings; again, this tends to be a vastly overrated hazard. Unless they’re in grain silos with giant holes in the floor, people aren’t falling through abandoned buildings with any regularity. And the threat of pieces of buildings falling on you is just plain absurd; it’s the sort of fearmongering that gets spread by police spokespersons and politicians quite often; if you believe them – and the Army – huge areas of our cities are one gentle breeze away from complete collapse. Even in half-forgotten third-world areas full of decaying abandonments – like Gary, Indiana – pieces of buildings aren’t just randomly falling onto passers-by.

Now, to be honest, I don’t know a lot of soldiers, but those I do would never hop into a sewer “on a whim”, or because someone dared them to. Most people wouldn’t, either. The same goes for abandoned buildings, utility tunnels, and all the other places urban explorers go – people are going into these places because they want to, not because they’re put up to it. You couldn’t pay the vast majority of people to enter these places; they certainly aren’t going to do it on a dare, even in the most macho military culture.

Seriously, Uncle Sam, WTF? If you want to know something about urban exploration, ask one of the scores of soldiers who regularly participate in it – not on a whim, or on a dare, but because they want to. Or ask any other urban explorer, for that matter; they’re not hard to find. In the meantime, please stop talking nonsense about things you don’t understand – or lumping us in with “huffers” and “boneheads”, okay? Thanks.

Published in: Geekiness, General, Urban Exploration | on June 9th, 2008| 2 Comments »

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  1. On 11/13/2008 at 4:55 pm gozer Said:

    It’s understandable that the Army would safeguard themselves like this. Are the facts correct; not fully (they’re on one end of the spectrum). The “on a dare” statement is pretty weak. But there can be and are real dangers. I live 15 minutes from Gary, Indiana and i am an active urban explorer (of about 5 years as well). Though maybe rare I have seen and had bricks fall next to me while exploring a building (likely caused by the relatively low level of vibrations). It happens, that’s why rubble litters the floor. One gary explorer that i know of was on a staircase that collapsed, he ended up walking away just fine, only breaking his camera. Once the roofs of these buildings go, so does the internal structure over time. I’m not saying, don’t explore. I explore on a regular basis and always enjoy introducing new enthusiastic explorers to locations. The situation should be carefully assessed by those who want to take part in the activity on a case by case basis(do your homework too!). Part of the excitement is being out of your comfort zone, and i admittedly have at times probably made some not so safe decisions, but i acknowledge the risks and proceed knowing well the consequences.

  2. On 1/15/2013 at 12:13 pm AMC Said:

    HAHAHAHAHA, you know what is WAY MORE DANGEROUS then urban exploring?

    going to Afghanistan.