What if an Actual SHTF Event Were to Happen?

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If you have been prepping for any length of time chances are you’ve had ample opportunity to come across in print and on the internet doesn’t upon dozens of articles offering various guides, advice and detailed procedures for dealing with the fabled SHTF event, whatever form it takes.

If this happens, you should do this. If this other thing happens, or happens in addition, you should cancel that first plan and go with this plan or that plan.

city in ruins

This is all well and good: rehearsing and pre-planning your response to emergent events is one of the only ways to help ensure you get a positive outcome during a crisis.

But one thing I noticed conspicuously is that articles of this nature tend to omit is what everyone else will be doing during the same period of time. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

Everything will act upon everything else to a greater or lesser degree. You will not be the only person out here trying to survive.

Chances are everybody will be, and some people will also have objectives beyond survival that they will be pursuing during the same time. Sometimes those objectives may hamper you. Sometimes you and your things might be their objective…

If you have not stopped to consider what everyone else will be doing during an SHTF event, it is time to remedy that.

In the interest of doing so, in today’s article I will be theorizing what your neighbors, friends, family members, the public at large, police, military and even the shadier elements of society will be doing while you are busy implementing your SHTF plan.

It is my hope that this exploratory exercise will give you new perspective on the events that might transpire, and help you shore up any previously unnoticed holes in your plan.

Severity Will Set the Tone

It is not impossible to predict what disparate groups of people will do during times of crisis. First off, people are generally predictable, and the way you can predict what they will do is by first determining what they want and then determining what they can’t live without.

Second, history provides a reliable indicator of human behavior in a variety of situations, even if you only can strain your historical foray to the 20th and 21st centuries. The best indicator of future behavior is always learned by examining past behavior.

Generally speaking, the more severe an event is, whatever form it takes, the more certain you can be at any given group of people or any lone actor will take decisive action. You have no doubt heard the idiom that “desperate times call for desperate measures.”

I suppose how true you find that to be depends greatly on where you are sitting when the event kicks off, but you can be sure that a great many people have taken that to heart and will act accordingly.

Everyone will have their own plan for dealing with what is occurring, even if they had to come up with a plan most expeditiously. It will definitely pay to have some insight into what you can expect from people, since what they have going on may very well affect what you have going on.

Would you spare any time or supplies to help your elderly neighbors? How about any family members in the area or the region that you should check on or try to get to?

Friends or co-workers? How about people you would rather avoid, criminals, psychopaths and malcontents?

In most disaster situations the less severe the outcome and the less disruptive it is to society as a whole, the surer you can be that most folks will more or less sit it out and behave themselves in the aftermath.

On the other hand, the more destructive it is, and the more destruction that causes to the normal workings of society, emergency services, commerce and logistics you can be increasingly sure that things will be taking a turn towards the law of the jungle, resplendent with all the bedlam, chaos and predation that that entails.

Civilian Response: Friends, Neighbors and Countrymen

Civilian responses to major SHTF events run the entire gamut of human behavior. Unless everyone is collectively staring down the barrel of a theoretical disaster that is slow-moving and also extraordinarily lethal, you can never be sure exactly what people will do.

Some people that live in coastal areas don’t even get out of bed for a category 3 hurricane.

A few diehards will stay in place even when the mother of all storms, an apocalyptic category 5 hurricane, is bearing down on them with the promise that the landscape will be wiped clean once it retreats.

Other folks, either due to a nervous disposition or an overabundance of caution, will load the family station wagon or minivan, and hit the road at the first sign of trouble.

Better to be safe than sorry, ta ta! As with my assessment above, the worse the event is the more certain you can be that your average civilian will react.

Where things start getting dicey is when something severe and lethal happens with little-to-no warning. The result will be pandemonium as people scramble to react, survive and persist in the aftermath.

Have you discussed any of this with your friends or with your neighbors? Have they ever mentioned where they might go or what they will do in times of trouble?

Do they have a cabin deep in the mountains they will try to retreat to, or will they just take that most tried and true route of escape: Away with a capital ‘A’.

As a prepper, and one who is likely planning to bug out all on your own, you can expect your fellow citizens to comprise the teeming throngs of cars, and people on foot that invariably try to flee the oncoming disaster or one that is in progress.

But some will not be able to flee at all, even if they want to. Maybe they are too old and infirm, too sick or injured or perhaps they just don’t have the wherewithal due in capability or in supplies to risk striking out on their own, even if it is to attempt to avoid an otherwise certain death.

Some people might seem to accept their fate, live or die, with an almost serene gravitas.

These people might comprise just another obstacle for you if you have no one to worry about but yourself and the people that are immediately with you, but if you have friends, family or others that you care about and try to be responsible for…

… then trying to locate and pick up these people in the midst of the chaos that will be sown by a major SHTF event will be harder than trying to find a needle in a haystack if you have not pre-planned your mutual responses to it.

That is to say painful, time-consuming and generally an exercise in frustration.

As an event drags on or the situation grows increasingly desperate with the gears of commerce ground to a halt and no resupply on the horizon, those who did not prepare or those who are currently going without will become increasingly desperate.

Need is the ultimate motivator, and has a way of stripping morality from people.

A person who is desperate to feed their family, to say nothing of themselves, might turn to thievery. A person who is desperate to procure clean water or baby formula may kill for it.

You might not be able to help people that are that are down on their luck and suffering during an SHTF event.

But if you plan accordingly and coordinate with the people that you care about, there is a fair chance that you will all be able to band together in an effort to survive before the situation grows too dangerous and too out of control.

You must also keep in mind that strangers will go from “people you do not know” to “unknown contacts”, meaning potential threats.

It is a grim business, but one that you must account for if you want to survive. Take my word for it: they will be looking at you the same way.

The Thin Blue Line

Every prepper wants to know what emergency first-responders will be up to during an SHTF event, particularly the police at local, state and federal levels.

Once again, the more disruptive the event, and the wider reaching its effects are, the more likely it is that police, always far fewer in number than the rest of the citizenry, will be spread too thin or completely overburdened by the events.

In a more localized event, even if it has some significant impacts, you can usually depend on police doing the job they always have: securing points of interest or ones that are vital to governmental efforts, blocking or otherwise directing traffic and engaging in crime suppression, particularly looting and related activities.

If the police are generally acting like things are under control, in their favor that is, you can usually be assured that the event is not too bad.

Chances are crime will correspondingly not get out of control, and what crime does occur is usually centered on the looting and robbing of businesses, simple crimes of opportunity.

Things get a little dicier when the police have to start making serious choices on what they will protect and what they will leave to the wolves.

Any incident that threatens to disrupt command and control or the continuity of government will see police manpower shepherded to areas that absolutely cannot afford to be lost or compromised.

That means that you, your home and your business along with everyone else’s will have to fend for themselves.

This is not conjecture; this is reality. One need only to look at major instances of social unrest and rioting in the late 20th and early 21st century for proof of this.

You will usually be able to depend on the cops to do their jobs and keep the bad guys more or less at bay, but if things get bad enough you must assume you will be completely on your own. There is no cavalry coming. No one will be coming to save you.

There’s another side to police activity during SHTF event that many preppers do not stop to consider.

I don’t think it is much of a stretch to assert that the majority of preppers, at least those in America, tend to be more on the conservative side of the aisle and likely appreciate and support police for the job that they do.

That is fine, and that discussion is not at all what this article is about. But what I must mention is the fact that you have to at least consider that your objectives will run counter to those of the police in an extended disaster scenario.

Don’t believe me? How about this: you have every intention of bugging in, and have spent a tremendous amount of effort, time and resources to ensure that your property is equipped for whatever comes, be it a man-made threat or a natural disaster.

Now, ask yourself if you have ever heard of or seen a situation where evacuation was mandated and the police went door-to-door to ensure that the citizens obeyed with that order.

If you don’t want to evacuate, or know that such chances will only increase the risk of a negative outcome for you and yours, what do you do now?

There are guys at your door with guns and badges telling you what to do. The clock is ticking…

Or the reverse, which is a scenario that is all too real: you desperately want to escape from whatever is going on, but are under a shelter-in-place order with the penalty being a severe fine, arrest or even imprisonment for breaking it.

You can be assured the cops will be out doing their jobs as ordered, or at least the majority will be. Have you thought about how you will deal with that if your movements are constrained or the roads out of town or even out of your state are being check pointed or even blocked?

Going out the back way or trying to sneak out cross-country is fine, but have you considered what you will do if caught?

Another event that might spare your town and the region at large from destruction but one that would be no less disruptive is an ongoing outbreak of serious societal unrest, the kind that usually sees governments at all levels clamping down on citizens in a desperate bid to maintain order, and to keep their jobs.

To facilitate this objective, the call has gone out that guns must be collected from all citizens. To be returned (or not) at a later date of course, once things have settled down.

If things are bad outside your door, and people are getting hurt, and battle lines are being drawn in the coming dark days, will you give up your guns?

You need not think that police will not do so, will not take your guns, because enough of them already have proven they will do so, thanks to the preponderance and enforcement of red flag laws.

Something else to keep in mind is the fact that there’s a certain amount of police officers, especially those from very small communities, and those with families will desert their posts when things get bad enough.

There is a calculus to events like this, a tipping point that is reached when one decides it is every man for himself. I am not judging or scolding.

But it is not out of the question that an event destructive enough or disruptive enough could see the police forces of many towns and cities essentially cease to function in any meaningful way, even if some stalwart officers stay at their posts to the very end.

Federal Response

In all but the most threatening events, the federal government will largely concern itself with the distribution of aid both in manpower and in finances to disaster affected areas.

Properly, the feds should concern themselves with the bigger picture: entering that commerce, logistics and transportation concerning interstate activity remain intact and functional, or getting them back online in case they are broken.

The federal government also regularly sends advisors from various agencies to help state and local governments cope with whatever they are dealing with.

But every once in a while something momentous enough, or big enough, will happen that sees the feds react in a way they can directly affect you.

If enough damage has been done over a wide enough area, or civilian unrest or panic is reaching critical mass, a federal state of emergency can be declared (spoiler: dozens have been declared and remained active for decades) that will enable martial law to be put in place at a local or even a national level.

Martial law is serious business, and will see many or even all of your constitutional rights effectively suspended for the duration. Local governments and local law enforcement will be handled by military forces, not police, and not the sheriff’s department.

This has some significant consequences, not the least of which is the fact that you may be detained under such an order indefinitely without the benefit of habeas corpus.

You can also expect the federal seizing of private property and land, as well as potential conscription into a work corps if additional manpower is needed. There will, of course, also be the attendant relocations or forced curfews depending on the situation at large.

This could mean that your home is searched for needed supplies or contraband, contraband being whatever the government has told you to hand over, or has decided you do not need under the circumstances.

Your business, property and other holdings could be occupied for the housing of men and material to support martial law.

You should expect checkpoints to be a fixture of many post-disaster responses by police and other law enforcement agencies, only under martial law they will be manned by uniformed soldiers, and buttressed by heavily armored vehicles with equally heavy weaponry.

If the threat to the nation becomes existential, or gets completely out of control, the government will enact various emergency protocols that are intended to ensure continuity of leadership, command and control of various federal assets including all constituent agencies, branches of government and the military.

If something seriously cataclysmic has happened, there is a reasonable likelihood highly-ranked members of each respective branch may be missing or dead by the time these protocols are enacted.

The outcome of such a set of circumstances is unprecedented in our era, and it is difficult to predict what this will mean for the nation and its citizenry in the aftermath.

Wolves in the Night

One sector of society that preoccupies a considerable number of preppers’ thoughts and plans is the criminal element.

Call them rogues, outlaws or the bandit caste, whatever you decide to dub them these bad actors, malcontents and predators are always an issue even in the best of times.

When society is running as it should they’re typically kept to the fringes by law enforcement and the general order of society.

Things start getting very interesting indeed when the sky falls, and law enforcement can no longer be relied upon to keep a watchful eye out for people who would prey on their fellow man.

Broadly, any disaster that occurs will see a short, but sometimes sharp, uptick in crimes committed.

With police and other first-responders preoccupied on dealing with damage, casualties and securing critical infrastructure, many small-time crooks will take advantage of the chaos to loot, steal and plunder, typically from commercial installations but, sometimes, from residential areas.

Every now and then to compound and complicate what damage has already been done, some may set fires and engage in general mayhem.

Things start to get really sporty once a disaster occurs that is bad enough, or the aftermath is grueling enough, that law enforcement starts to slack off or even dissolves entirely.

That is when you wind up with roving bands of marauders, organized criminal activity and civilians fighting for their very lives and holdings in the face of criminal gangs grown bold and leaping at the opportunity to do what they do with little or no repercussion.

They will be present and they will be armed, and you will be facing more of them than you think, especially when one considers that any catastrophe bad enough to result in a “without rule of law” scenario will likely see prisoners released en masse.

You must have a plan for dealing with these brigands; they are likely to be a bigger threat than you are thinking.

Conclusion

Understanding what other groups of people are likely to be doing in the midst of a SHTF situation is essential to preparing for all contingencies and threats, and will better inform your own planning and preparation for the event.

Not everyone is your enemy in the middle of a crisis, but it is enough that their objectives might run counter to your own.

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2 Comments

  1. when i move to a new area one of the FIRST THINGS i do is find routes out that are NOT express ways or freeways sometimes that means going through areas that aint the best but when there is no other choice i dont know what else i can do we live right next to a express way so i find any way out OTHER THAN THAT the only thing i can think is bugging out at like 3 or 4 in the morning
    both my wife and i have health conditions that require us to be within 20 miles of health care so getting out to the middle of no place aint gonna work does anyone have any ideas

  2. So, here it is in a nut shell there is not enough federal and state NG personnel to enforce any martial law in the U.S. It’s just a statistical reality. The U.S. model of law enforcement depends on consent of rule of its citizens to be effective. You only have to look to areas of the country where that consent does not exist like Detroit and Chicago to understand. The military will be limited to key points of national interest and lacks the complete logistical ability to police a nation of 350 million. They could not stop the flow of weapons in Iraq and still can not stop it in Afghanistan to this date. However, the real threat will come from rogue military units and criminal gangs filling the void left by retreating local, state, federal government. This model has played out time and again throughout the world.

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