Despite what you may think, Urban Exploration isn’t all about the glitz and the glamour – sometimes you’ll hit a brick wall (literally as well as metaphorically) and you can’t carry out the explore as planned or perhaps you can’t carry out the explore at all. There are many reasons why things go wrong, the most common in my experience tend to be:
Sometimes you turn up at a site hoping for a good day out and you just end up frustrated because you can’t gain access, this might be because there’s no obvious route in (hole in the fence, easy wall to jump, etc.) or it might be because the site has been demolished. Obviously there’s nothing that can be done about the latter but in terms of access but be persistent – if you try hard enough you might find a way. I’m not talking about causing physical damage here though, that’s not my bag and it’ll land you in serious trouble if you’re caught – try to think laterally and it usually pays off. Perhaps try going around the back of the site, approaching from a different angle or look for signs that someone else has been around and see if you can figure how they got in (gap in a hedge, footprint on a wall, etc.).
Sometimes other people’s photos might contain hints whether they intended to or not, look at someone’s photos in order of the time they were taken – the first photos will probably be closest to their entrance and the last closest to their exit.
This is a big issue for urban explorers, we all know that in most cases we’re going to be somewhere we shouldn’t be and so security can be a problem but there are ways to minimise your ‘footprint’ and avoid detection. That said, sometimes the presence of security at all may be the issue – some people aren’t comfortable exploring sites with an active security presence (e.g. guards on patrol) and that’s fair enough, you should only ever do what you’re comfortable with if that’s the way you feel. I think most of us feel that if a site has no active security and is truly disused and derelict that our presence isn’t causing any harm since we don’t do any damage but you still have to worry about being spotted and either security turning up or even worse – the police.
If you run-up against unexpected activity on a site the first thing to do is try and figure out who they are, it’s key not to panic and worth remembering that they’re probably not expecting to find you there either so if you’ve spotted them first you’ve got the advantage. Often the unexpected individual(s) end up being other explorers, in this case you could introduce yourself or just carry on with what you’re doing – most explorers tend to be friendly if not slightly suspicious. Another class of unexpected site presence could be thieves or vandals, it’s easy to think that there’s a kind of kinship in this case because you’re both present in a place that you’re not meant to be but don’t fall into this trap. These people are committing criminal offences and even if they’re happy to continue their ‘business’ with your presence you should still leave, if the police turn up you will be implicated in their crimes whether you like it or not, there’s also a risk that they might be upset by your presence and respond with physical violence.
If it doesn’t look like other explorers or thieves/vandals then it’s either going to be security or other people that have genuine business there (e.g. builders or surveyors), though sometimes it can be hard to tell them apart as people on derelict sites all tend to wear high-viz jackets and hard-hats. Once you’ve established that you’ve come across unexpected site personnel you’re faced with the choice of what to do next, you might decide to stay and avoid the occupants or leave and I’ve done both in different circumstances. If you do stay you’ll need to actively avoid being spotted, this is best achieved by stealth and you should take everything slowly and quietly from this point on and you need to think about everything you do – the easiest ways to give away your presence are by making noise or by using a camera flash. It may also be worth limiting your explore, you might have to avoid certain buildings or areas where security seems to be higher (patrol routes, CCTV) or any areas where you’re exposed in plain sight. The other option you have once you’ve spotted an ‘official’ presence is to leave, there’s no shame in this at all and as long as you leave carefully and avoid detection you’re guaranteed not to get caught – if you stay there’s always a risk.
You might end up running into the police even after you’ve exited the site (many will not enter unless asked by security due to health & safety concerns). I once made the mistake of parking right next to the entrance to a derelict site and a local dog-walker called the cops, assuming either that the car had been dumped or that I was up to no good (in my case I think the former because the cop was more concerned with the car than me). If you encounter the police you should cooperate completely, remember that as long as you’ve not caused physical damage or taken any ‘souvenirs’ (which amounts to theft whatever you think) then you’ve not committed a criminal offence and you should be fine. Being obstructive is the easiest way to get yourself arrested, even though you’ve not done anything wrong all the police need is to suspect that you have and they’re faced with no choice but to arrest you. My advice is to explain that you’re there taking photos, just having a look around and that you’re sorry for causing an inconvenience, answer their questions, be polite and you’ll be on your way soon enough.