Desperation brings out the worst in humanity, maybe even more than greed. When forced into a survival situation, people are capable of committing acts they would never have otherwise considered. Society has setup a set of rules, laws and acceptable behavior expectations, but in desperate times these social norms can change rapidly. When everything is in chaos, resources are low and law enforcement can't keep up, desperate people and marauders become the real threat.
Reference the Movies
It may be hard to visualize your neighbors and even friends as threats. We would love to believe that these are the individuals that would be supportive in a crisis, but desperation changes people. Think about every movie you have seen that illustrates life in a post-apocalyptic state. Even if they are not the primary villains in the movie, people are always one of the biggest dangers. Sure, it is Hollywood, but many of these movies try to illustrate what life would be like in a situation like that. Most of the time, the movies just illustrate the people who inherently have bad intentions, but there are those who learn bad intentions out of survival necessity.
Real World Scenario
The reality is that it doesn't even need to be as dire as a post-apocalyptic scenario to get ugly. Imagine this, the power grid goes down in a major metropolitan area like Miami, Austin, or Philly, for 1 month; may sound extreme in the modern age, but with a little investigation you can learn how truly vulnerable our power grids may be.
Regardless, this is the scenario we will use to illustrate the power of desperation. Within days the stores will be emptied, that is right, days. Every day that passes, people will become more and more anxious about the amount of time it will take to recover the power. They will start taking inventory of the supplies they have and start scrambling to obtain more. After the first week many people will have dead cell phones and getting news will be a challenge, leading to more despair.
Ok, so now we are one week in, are you starting to see where this is headed? Week two and three looting of businesses becomes a common occurrence, and the police are overwhelmed with reports of criminal activity. In addition to desperate people scrambling for preparations, real criminals will start taking advantage of the situation and law enforcement will become even more overwhelmed. Without the news or with small amounts of ugly news, people will start to panic and start considering how to protect themselves and their families.
By the end of week three, supplies will be really low for most people, but the stores may not be an option at this point. As they have been without power for a few days to weeks, they are most likely looted of their remaining inventory at this point and could be a dangerous place to visit. Some of the more capable stores with generators and solid supply chains may be an option, and the local government will be bringing in additional law enforcement and supplies by this point, but with no power the how and where to obtain support with be challenging for many.
For those who are not as capable of taking advantage of available supplies, they will start leaning on neighbors for support. Some neighbors will be more prepared than others and when people discover the individuals who are more prepared, they will gravitate towards them. Since you are a reader of this blog, I would hope you are one of the more prepared people. This means, at this point you should be expecting visitors.
~Just recently I was at the home of another parent from my child's class. They were working on a school project, and he offered his garage as a workspace. Most of the parents live in a suburban neighborhood near the school, but this parent was a couple miles away, with more land, storage structures, fruit trees and a vegetable garden. As one of the moms entered, she complimented the property and stated "Well, I know where I am going if disaster strikes". Obviously said in jest, it made me realize a couple things: First, everyone thinks about what they would do in a disaster situation. Second, if disaster strikes, everyone will be looking for the prepared, especially if they are not prepared themselves.
~I immediately looked at the landowner when the statement was made, and while he smirked and laughed it off, I could tell that what was really going through his mind was: "No you're not!". The point is that when you are prepared and others are not, eventually they will try making their way to you. Being prepared to take care of your family is difficult enough, so taking care of the neighbors is not really an option if you want your supplies to last.
~A level of uncomfortableness comes with the knock on the door. Firstly, you are hoping it is not the knock of a stranger, that poses a different problem, but we will get into that later. But even a knock from the neighbor can be uncomfortable. Some of us are close with our neighbors, some of us are not. If you are close with your neighbors, now you have to decide how much you are willing to help them. A small donation of supplies at this point could go a long way for them, but do you risk the 'stray cat' dilemma. Once you share supplies, you can expect that when they get low again, they will return. On top of that, if word gets out to other neighbors, they could be the ones at your door next.
~If you decide to tell them that you don't have to supplies to spare, you have to hope that you have been applying OPSEC strategies successfully and that they are not already aware that you have the supplies they need, otherwise, the conversation could get even more uncomfortable. And after you tell them you too have limited supplies; it is even more important to apply OPSEC. This is just a power outage, right? It could come back on at any time, right? Do you really want to alienate your neighbors in a time of need in this type of situation? These are questions you are better off coming to terms with before the knock at the door ever occurs.
~Operations Security tactics should be used to avoid detection and reduce awareness that you have supplies when others don't. By eliminating the smells created from cooking, discarding your trash appropriately and making it appear as though you too lack power, you can hide in plain sight and avoid unwanted visitors. OPSEC practices should not only be used when the situation occurs, you should be using them now, even as you prepare. You don't want everyone, possibly 'anyone' to know that you are a prepper. If your neighbors already know you are prepared when they start to become desperate, then facing them becomes a completely different challenge when the time comes.
~~When the lights are out and it is quiet, senses are heightened. When people are hungry, the smell of food cooking will gain attention. If you can prepare your meals without letting the smell escape into the air where others can smell it, you can reduce the chances of detection. If you have a basement, or enough land to cook away from your home or neighbors' homes, you should use those places. If not, you can try and mask the smell. This also has its challenges though as any abundance of scents can still draw attention. Eating raw food is one way to avoid creating scent. By raw, we mean fruits, vegetables and dry goods that do not need to be cooked. Yet another good reason to have a vegetable garden.
~~In situations like this, normal municipal services are not always fully operational, and waste can build up. Even if waste management is still operational, you still don't want your waste to be visible to outsiders as it will draw attention to your supplies. If possible, the best way to dispose of your waste is to burn it. If you have land, this shouldn't be too difficult. For suburbanites, I suggest you get a firepit in your backyard. For apartment dwellers, this will be much more challenging.
~~If you do have land to burn your waste, perhaps you could consider doing your cooking at the same time to let the smell of the burning trash mask the scent of the food.
~~Survival supplies and gear take up space, that is no secret. The trick is to keep your supplies a secret. As part of OPSEC tactics, you will need to determine where you will store your items and how to properly conceal them if they don't fit in a closet or hidden space. For example, while having a survival garden is great for supplying your family with additional food during a SHTF scenario, when desperation kicks in for those around you, having a visible garden can make you a target. Think about outdoor deterrents if you plan to have an outdoor garden. The same goes for any water supplies, non-perishable preps, survival gear, and the like.
Neighbors are not your biggest threat, unless of course you live near some shady people. After a month without power, your biggest threat becomes the marauders or raiders. These are the criminals and just plain desperate people who are looking for survival supplies and are willing to take what they need. At this point you are in protection mode. Hopefully you have employed OPSEC strategies and are avoiding making it obvious that you have supplies, otherwise you will be a target.
~Remember in this scenario, the power is out, so unless you are using your generator to power your security cameras, seeing danger coming could be a challenge. Hopefully you have invested in more advanced defenses and accumulated some weapons, because you can bet the marauders will be armed. The first step in protecting yourself is to avoid drawing attention. The raiders will be looking for signs that point them to people with supplies and you don't want to stand out. Just like using Gray Man strategies in a crowd, you want to blend in with the rest of the area and appear as though you have nothing to offer.
~When everyone on the block is running dark, don't be lit up. Don't leave containers, waste or any other indication that you have supplies outside. Engage your extra defenses be armed and have a mobile phone charged for calling authorities. Don't make it easy for people to see what you have. If you have a survival garden, try to conceal it. People will not only be looking over fences and trespassing, you can expect a drone or two as well.
When the Power Returns
A month without power is not going to turn your city in a "Mad Max" situation, but desperation will trigger deep rooted survival instincts in people and ugliness is to be expected. But when the lights come back on, it is important to get back to normal quickly, while still maintaining your OPSEC. When the disaster passes and things start to return to normal, you still want to be cautious about how you dispose of any evidence that you were working with well stocked supplies. You still want to hide the fact that you had abundant supplies, especially if you told people you didn't. Dispose of waste slowly and make sure everything is bagged to hide the contents of the trash.
While you continue to mask your state of preparedness, be on the lookout for neighbors that are not being as cautious. Having intel on the other preppers in your area is good information for you to have for the future.