A crisis will bring out the best and the worst in people. Leaders and followers will emerge, along with those that simply want to survive and to be left alone, the ones that are willing to work hard and ask nothing of others. Your friends, neighbors and even strangers will act differently. Some that are not prepared may believe that after a few days they are starving and will commit crimes in the name of providing for their families. Then there are those looking to take advantage of the situation.
Looters and other criminal elements will be active almost immediately once disaster strikes. However, it does not always take a disaster to cause civil unrest. Governmental policies, police actions and general frustrations among the citizenry can bring about demonstrations and riots. Agitators and so-called anarchists will co-op demonstrations, which may then lead to property destruction and violence against people.
You cannot change the collective minds of a mob, and a large number of those involved in demonstrations do not even know why they are there. Avoid demonstrations, and under no circumstances attempt to intervene. In times of despair citizens turn to the government for help and when that help is not forthcoming they turn against the government. Once they have vented their anger at city hall they will turn on each other.
Evacuate or Stay
Obviously if the disaster has created, a dangerous environment such as chemical or biological contaminates or damage to your home then you must leave. Evacuate before the civil unrest takes hold. If a financial collapse or governmental policies have created civil unrest and you are in a heavily populated area then you may have to consider relocating as well.
If you live in a high-rise apartment, it is recommended you leave before you are trapped on the upper floors. You may be able to commandeer a vacant apartment on the bottom floor. You have to be in position where you have an escape route if the buildings’ electrical system fails and the building is set on fire or otherwise compromised. Those looking to victimize others will realize you would have to use the stairwells during a power outage so they become ambush points. Avoid them and if you cannot avoid them, go down one floor, enter the hallways, and use the next set of stairs down to deter someone anticipating your moves.
Looting is many times a crime of opportunity. Looters want to grab items and run, so they will check for unlocked doors and windows that can be smashed in. The more organized criminal elements will be planning elsewhere to relive banks and other organizations of their valuables. You have to protect against small roving gangs of looters looking for drugs, weapons and other valuables.
Do not go near commercials areas because that is where looters will be most active. Retails stores, commercial storage areas, and warehouses are prime targets during a crisis. There will be criminals looking for other than material goods, as well, so you must have personal protection and an escape route. Know your area, where the blind alleys are, and what stores have a back exit if you become trapped in one. Part of your preparation plan is situational awareness. You have to conduct reconnaissance of your area before a crisis, so you know in which direction to move if your community becomes hostile.
Making It Difficult For an Intruder
Unless you are a specific target, putting up barriers may cause the opportunists to move on to an easier target. Heavy furniture in front of entranceways, blinds and/or tarps and plastic taped over and against windows will slow an intruder down enough for you to escape. Do not barricade yourself in to the point you do not have an escape exit.
Know the routes out of your area. Ideally, you have walked the routes to get a street level perspective. Landmarks and other navigational aids look different when viewed from a bus, taxi or vehicle window.
Do not leave in the dark if it can be avoided. Start out at dawn with your survival essentials, and walk with a purpose. Head held high with an air of confidence. Make sure your travel routes do not include any bridges, tunnels or major highways. You can become trapped on a pedestrian walkway, bridge or even on a highway overpass.
Some have a safe haven to go to if they have to evacuate. You will need somewhere to go to if your city becomes dangerous and you have to leave to save your life. Sometimes it is just a matter of getting a few miles beyond the urban sprawl and yet certain disasters may create a danger zone that extends miles from the city. You have to make decisions about distance and location and much depends on the disaster itself.
Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. It is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Civil unrest is a very real possibility in any city or community, just ask those cities that have hosted a G8 summit, or the survivors of hurricane Katrina.
The city of New Orleans degraded into a situation reminiscent of a third world war torn country where neighbors and friends victimized each other and seeing police was not always a good thing. Looters, ruled the city for weeks, and organized criminal elements brazenly walked the street unchallenged by law enforcement. Homes were set fire to drive the occupants outside so they could be victimized. Law-abiding citizens broke into pawnshops and sporting goods stores to arm themselves against their very own friends, neighbors and others. Many failed to evacuate because they simply did not have the means, or where afraid to leave their possessions behind to be stolen.
Be prepared by having your essentials packed, and do not hesitate to leave. Stay informed so you can make life saving decisions about whether to stay or go.
My Name is Rex Michaels and for the past 30 years, I have had the privilege to train Special Operations Teams, Military Academy Cadets, Military Recruits and civilians in mastering survival techniques and methods.
-Rex Michaels, US Army Retired