It is a scenario that all preppers ponder and fear: a major disaster or incident has resulted in a situation where law and order have broken down, one where the professional protectors and watchmen that keep our enemies at bay and criminal elements under close watch lose their cohesion or direction and stop functioning as an effective deterrent against the one true social law: the Law of the Jungle.
I am talking of course about a scenario known in prepper parlance as a Without Rule of Law situation, or WROL in shorthand.
A WROL situation is in many ways the worst of conceivable outcomes for preppers since the danger from criminals, opportunists and other rogue elements of society will be that much more unfettered since their chances of being arrested and imprisoned will drop drastically.
This means that your average good guys and gals will be facing far more threat from these same elements. Preparing to meet and escape from the danger posed by the nastiest of two-legged predators, our fellow man, is a core concept of prepping and needs no explanation.
But the scenario above begs the question: just what will the police and military be doing during this time? What will have become of them? I will try to provide some insight into a few possible outcomes and how they might affect your plans in this article.
No Cavalry Coming
The military and, more germane to our concerns, police forces at all levels serve to protect our country and society by functioning as a powerful deterrent for bad guys, be they foreign foes or domestic criminals and troublemakers.
It is the chance that a criminal might be caught and arrested and subsequently tossed behind bars that will suppress or prevent some illicit acts. It is the possibility that our soldiers and sailors will show up with mayhem on their mission statement that keeps would-be enemies of the U.S. in line and at bay.
This is not to say that it is always 100% effective, or that cops and soldiers don’t go out and apply boots directly to asses that need a good kicking. But the numbers don’t lie: are there enough cops to collar and corral every, single criminal, and prevent every crime? No, and if there were on either count we’d have no crime!
Is the threat of military retaliation, even by a military as professional, advanced and mighty as the United States’ enough of a threat to prevent every attack against our soil or interests? Of course not, as we have painfully learned time and again from highly motivated or belligerent actors.
But, overall, they do a damn fine job, and you can tell since we all live (most of us anyway) in one of the most peaceful and prosperous countries on earth. Crimes are petty, minor or isolated in most places, with serious crime occurring only in isolated or sporadic instances or in rare “black swan” events that result in an eruption of criminal action.
But put on your thinking cap and sharpen your pencil. Take a few moments and write down the biggest outbreaks of criminal activity that were both widespread and long lasting. Notice anything common about these incidents?
That’s right: anywhere crime is truly rife and perpetuated is a place where there is little to no effective rule of law, meaning all the many cogs, gears and flywheels of the criminal justice system have ceased turning and believe me the predacious elements in society will notice. With little or nothing left to fear from law enforcement, the scumbags and cutthroats will run wild.
One need only look at the L.A. riots of 1992, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in and the Ferguson unrest in 2014 to begin to see what kind of widespread criminal activity could take place in the shadow of an even worse disaster.
But in both of these situations, police and even military forces (in the form of the National Guard) were present, just severely outmanned and in some cases outgunned by a factional populace galvanized and motivated enough to throw down with the forces of law and order.
Just how much worse might it be if they were effectively absent entirely?
What Could Cause a WROL Situation?
It is important to clarify precisely what a WROL situation is. It is not necessarily a “huge disaster=widespread criminality” thing. Some historical examples like the L.A. riots above spawned from a comparatively tiny incident (as bad as it was); no supervolcano, EMP strike or global war needed.
All that is necessary for a WROL situation to exist in a given area is for law enforcement and government forces to lose effective influence and control over an area. This can happen in any one of several ways, some of them major, isolated events, and others a combination of multiple, smaller ones.
There can even effectively be a WROL situation on an ongoing, micro-scale in some major urban centers where the police in essence do not go. Call it the Narrows, the bad end of town or the wrong side of the tracks, most major population centers have a borough or two where police response and presence is spotty to non-existent.
Believe it or not, one of the most common causes of WROL is a simple re-tasking or reallocation of available forces leaving a given area high and dry in a time of need. Face it, there are only so many “uniforms” to go around, and if commanders are forced to “clamp off” a trouble area with what personnel they have you can bet they will do it in such a way that either protects the most people and/or keep the command structure (internal and external) safe.
If that means that Joe Q. Public, prepper extraordinaire and the rest of the citizens on Any St., Hometown, USA have to fend for themselves, so be it.
Another potential cause of loss of law and order could be desertion or no-call, no-shows on the force when it is time to clock in and go to work. Cops and soldiers are still human beings, and a terrible enough situation could see more than a few cut bait and head off to take care of their own families and affairs.
While this is a far greater concern for locally based personnel in any area affected by a major event than those who are “bused in” to assist, it does happen.
Scaling up to events that are regional or national in scope that cause a significant loss of life, the command structure of a police force or military unit (up to and including the President of the United States and other members of the executive branch) could see its forces so disrupted that they cannot effectively organize and deploy, becoming mission incapable.
It might not matter that much of the rank and file are alive and unscathed; if no one is answering the radio, phone or doling out orders, morale and cohesion will crumble.
An unmotivated, sporadic presence is almost as good as no presence at all to criminals, and they will respond accordingly.
What Will LEOs and Military Personnel Be Doing During WROL Circumstances?
It depends on how bad things are, how broad the scope of the event, how many personnel are left ready and able to serve and how disrupted or intact their chain of command is.
The variables are many, and their interplay is complex, but as best as I have been able to ascertain by historical precedent and serious conversations with associates serving on the Thin Blue Line and in various branches of the military, the following basic scenarios will serve as a useful guide.
Major but Localized Event, Relatively Low Intensity, Little Loss of Life
This type of event, ala the aforementioned L.A. riots will be one most likely to see law enforcement suspended or abandoned in some areas in pursuit of a bigger picture goal. Be it the tactical or strategic analysis, no matter, the brass has made the call to cordon or pull back their forces, leaving entire blocks, boroughs or even communities up a creek.
Make no mistake, they will in all probability return when their ranks are swelled by reinforcements or the situation has subsided enough to give them an opening.
In essence, this is a decision versus a condition, and can be more reliably predicted than other more severe outcomes. This is of little consequence for those left to the mercy of predators during this time as you will be 100% on your own and a positive outcome is not guaranteed.
Large bands of criminals will be formed or already formed and ready to depart on their deplorable expedition as soon as word reaches them.
Consider the legendary “roof Koreans” who gallantly and desperately defended their shops and very lives against the pillaging hordes during the L.A. riots, or the trapped and isolated citizens who by choice or chance had to skip evacuating ahead of hurricane Katrina and were left in a drowned dystopia to fend for themselves.
In both circumstances “help” in the form of police or military personnel was often not far away geographically, but they could not or would not attempt to reach them.
Near Regional Event, Moderate Intensity, Significant Loss of Life
Whatever form it takes, something big has happened and the powers that be will be scrambling to allocate the forces they can muster to contain the worst of the damage and prevent more of it.
Focus will be on governmental (command and control) centers, major industrial centers, and other places of major import to the continuance and function of society writ large.
It is at this level that local desertions may occur depending on how badly impacted a given community is, and furthermore local forces might be mustered and ordered to areas outside of their normal jurisdiction or beat in support of greater objectives.
A reduced or cursory amount of personnel may be left behind in an effort to maintain a normal level of law and order, and depending on the situation and dynamics in these places this could see an effective end to rule of law.
The only good news in a time like this is that federal resources and attention will be sharply directed towards such an event, and you can expect the eventual influx of personnel from other regions, agencies and neighboring states.
This takes time, and depending on the severity of the event and efficacy of the intra-agency coordinators this could be a long wait. If you live in an area without much “big picture” worth, you might be waiting quite a while.
Again, a situation where law enforcement and military command structures are largely intact, just disrupted or focused elsewhere.
Regional or National Event, Severe Intensity, Major Loss of Life
It is here that things well and truly begin to fall apart. An event of such ferocity and magnitude has resulted in major casualties, both civilian and otherwise.
You can count on the majority of law enforcement and military personnel being tasked only to areas hardest hit and in greatest need. Areas that do not make this grade will be “triaged” and left to fend for themselves with no discernible time table for the reappearance of significant and institutionalized law enforcement.
At this level, desertions and no-shows will be more significant, and will casualties among the ranks, including potentially senior commanders. This will further result in disruption and uncertainty and contribute to a loss of effective presence.
Some smaller communities may see their integral local police forces or even National Guard units effectively rendered incapable of mustering a significant presence to deter criminal activity.
This situation is still classed as recoverable, but will be a severe test of both citizenry, the government at all levels and of course the peacekeepers themselves. If you live in a place with significant organized criminal activity already, buckle up, as you can expect them to expand and actively consolidate their holdings.
Your best bet for protection will be escape, or being part of an organized group that can present significant counterforce proportional to the threat. Otherwise expect looting and pillaging or at best extortion and “protection” offers from the malcontents.
Individual service members who are cut off from higher command or desert their posts (whatever their reasons) may try to do the best the best they can to help their local communities, but the effectiveness of a disjointed response of this type can only be speculated upon.
National or Global Event, Catastrophic Intensity, Extreme Loss of Life
This is planning at the fringes, and only theoretical. Most local and many state level agencies and units will be rendered ineffective from the get go. Casualties will be many and indiscriminate with those affecting significant portions of the command structure only fracturing already battered groups more.
Even national and global agencies will be left reeling as they try to contain their own damage and come to grips with the scale and scope of the event.
It is now that the stuff of nightmares issues forth. The Law of the Jungle will exert control at once with Need and Greed being the twin arbiters of right and wrong.
What personnel that do survive badly affected regions will likely hang up their uniforms figuratively if not literally, the world and society being remade in a blink or at the crashing finale of a slow-building sequence of unfortunate events.
One unique and unsettling potentiality is the chance that surviving units who are isolated, unsupervised and effectively orphaned, either from the destruction of their parent agency or command or the complete lack of communication with those further up the ladder than themselves may go rogue for good reasons or bad.
It is not impossible to see a National Guard unit or division of state police setting up a local cordon of protection. It is also not hard to imagine a unit of heavily armed, trained and aggressive soldiers or enforcers taking up arms and using their skills to carve out their own kingdom and looting to their heart’s content.
Before you lambast me for such a suggestion, remind yourself that history furnishes ample proof that those who are sworn to protect society and countrymen have and will perpetrate terrible crimes, and are themselves just people, capable of all the good and bad that entails.
Raising your hand for an oath and donning a nice uniform does not necessarily extinguish the blackness lurking in someone’s heart. Ultimately, homo homini lupus est- man is a wolf to man.
In such an occurrence, should you live through it, you will experience a wild and lawless time not seen in America and much of the First World for more than a century and a half. Only your wits, skills and more than a ration of luck will see you survive.
Any time society is going without the rule of law there will be ample opportunity for criminals to take advantage. Knowing something about how local and regional law enforcement will react to such instances will give you an edge when it comes to making short and long term plans.
A short stretch of a few days or a week without uniformed cops sending the riffraff scurrying is a far different trip than months or more of no organized formal policing. Instead of thinking of police and military presence as an on or off affair, learn under what circumstances you can expect to survive WROL and when you can expect it to return.