Urban Survival: Dealing with People Skills


This article is focusing on urban survival skills: what kind of people could you meet after a disaster situation, how to become a hard target for looters, and what to do when faced with a mob.

What Kind of People Will You Meet After SHTF?

In the aftermath of any disaster, it is usually the human element that can be the greatest force for rebuilding or additional chaos. Individuals, groups, even entire government organizations will have their chance to save lives, build infrastructure, and restart trade or to destroy, rape, and pillage. As a prepper, you will want to be ready beforehand for the good and the bad, so today let’s look at the kinds of people you may come across as you shelter or bugout and travel.

Positive or Neutral People

These folks are the ones that are either going to be of help to you or at least won’t be actively trying to harm you in some way. Obviously circumstances could change and a formerly helpful person or group might turn on you, but on the whole these folks will be helpful in some fashion.

positive people

The Other Prepared Folks

These may be friends and family, or they may be people you would never have suspected would be geared up for a potential disaster. Generally speaking they will probably have at least enough food and clean water for a given period of time (30 days, 6 months etc) and probably won’t be immediately wandering around and attempting to steal from other folks still surviving.

You may be able to establish a trade system over time or even work together to provide mutual support, manpower, and knowledge sharing if each group feels that the other is trustworthy, but on the other hand you may end up just avoiding each other out of suspicion. Generally speaking most truly prepared people (not just fools who loaded up on a bunch of guns and ammo to raid their local Wal-Marts!) are not going to be looting and stealing from the living, at least at first.

The Shocked and Unprepared

The terms “sheeple” or “sheep” are thrown around way too much to describe non-prepared people, but in this case the idea of aimless drifters fits the imagery. Rather than becoming frantic, desperate, or just letting go of normal restraints and looting for the food they need, these people are in such shock that they just sort of…exist. They may scavenge for food or attempt to treat minor wounds, but generally speaking they’ll just sit or wander in circles doing no harm and offering little help at all. These folks could be galvanized to action, either to help honest folk or to join in the looting if the moment caught them, but left to their own devices these people will slowly dwindle in number as obvious food supplies are drained and illness and exposure take their toll.

shocked unprepared people

Negative and Harmful People

These folks are at least set against you if not actively hostile to you. Their harm may be minor forms of verbal abuse or extend to full-on theft, rape and murder.

Looters and Thieves

Whether one man alone armed with a piece of sharpened glass or an entire mob equipped with firearms and vehicles, looters come to take anything they can and eliminate all resistance. The first looters will probably be those who already lived in a rough-and-tumble world even before the disaster struck such as gang members, ex-convicts escaped from prisons, and power-hungry scum of all kinds. If they don’t end up killing each other or dying to honest folk defending their lives, these first looters will probably form the center of larger gangs of thieves that will attract the shocked and unprepared to a banner of safety and plenty.

thieves looters

Desperate Survivors

Although in another time and place they were once honorable people, in the absence of food and water they may become desperate enough to kill for a scrap of moldy bread. Lacking genuine pleasure at inflicting cruelty, these people might be able to turn themselves around if an opportunity presented itself, but until then they would be dangerous to anyone that had anything of value.

Potentially Positive or Negative Depending on the Disaster

Although technically this group can encompass just about anyone in truth, I’ve selected a few groups and types of people that are already on the fence in many ways, with only certain circumstances leaving them to choose between rebuilding and further destruction.

Remnants of Government

Sometimes government can prove very helpful in rebuilding after a disaster by providing structure, a means of resolving grievances properly, and a way to rally against chaotic elements such as looters and murders. On the flipside, many a dictator would use the opportunity of a major disaster to expand his own powers in order to preserve the “safety” of the people during that difficult time.

Mentally Unstable People

The severity of disaster can break even a strong mind, but for those dependent on psychological help, medications etc to remain stable a disaster could easily cause them to behave irrationally. Delusions, paranoia, and other effects could cause even a decent person to do things that are terrible and damaging to everyone around them.

Local authorities and other prominent groups

This depends on your own location more than anything else, as your local police/sheriffs, major religious organizations etc may or may not be helpful after an emergency. Some will do things properly, helping the community to work together to improve their local resources and provide mutual aid. Others may seize power, be overcome by the disaster and use their immediate resources to lash out, or simply stand by and do nothing as their local area suffers.

What These Mean For You

Of course, this list is meant to be helpful to you and to improve your safety post-SHTF. You will need to understand which of these types of people will be present in your area, how you can act to help the positive influences and defend yourself from those that may do you harm. In short, look beyond yourself and your own preparations to see what your local community or perhaps even a wider area might be influenced by once a disaster strikes. Understanding the people around you will enable you to be better prepared to handle their reactions, good or bad, once things get tough.

How to Get Looters to Give Up: Be a Hard Target

The idea of being a hard target is one that is applicable now and after a disaster, but it will be more important when the police and other services are distracted or non-functioning. As you probably know quite well, people tend to go for the easiest way to score the biggest reward. This principle is especially true of those with intent to steal or loot, since the whole point is to take what someone else earned by hard labor with minimal work and time invested. Let’s see how becoming a hard target could deter looters from even trying to breach your defenses.

What is a Hard Target?

What is meant by “Hard target” is that your home, retreat, campsite or whatever else you’re trying to protect is more difficult to approach, attack or steal from than the majority of others nearby. In past times villages spent valuable time and resources building walls and lined pits around the central mass of homes and important shops both to increase the chance of surviving attack and to deter an attack from coming in the first place. After all, if a Viking ship saw one village surrounded by walls and with guards watching, and another down the coast with nothing in the way, which makes more sense to raid? That is essentially what you’re trying to accomplish with whatever you’re attempting to protect.

Different Ways to Harden Your Home or Retreat

Assuming that your home or retreat is a target for thieves or looters in the first place, there are several ways to strengthen the defenses in order to drive them off:

Barriers to entry. Walls, whether stone or made from nasty brambles and thickets can be a strong deterrent, as can bars on windows and other barriers that slow entry. Slower entry leaves a potential thief exposed to other scum or to an angry owner who may react with deadly force. A thief wants a quick in, quick grab, quick out, not a long and drawn out process if at all possible.

harden home

Signs of harmful traps or hidden defenders. These can range from signs (think those little signs that let enemies know where a minefield is located) to a few obvious signs of damage done to previous intruders. Particularly gruesome signs could include bloody holes where someone’s leg fell into a punji stake hole or even an entire corpse strung up as a warning.

Patrols. Although these are somewhat of a mixed bag if someone decided to start sniping patrollers, ideally a few patrols should discourage an attempt to sneak inside of a protected area by increasing the chance that they will be seen.

Cleared areas. Thieves and looters both want to have plenty of concealment and cover as they creep closer and closer towards the goods they desire to steal, so leaving a large cleared area around your retreat denies them any chance at hiding.

Being a Hard Target when You’re Away from Home

Sometimes you won’t have the luxury of a prepared encampment, but being prepared can still deter harmful actions from thieves nonetheless.

Be aware. Thieves can often tell if you’re fatigued, distracted, or otherwise not able to see them when they close in for the kill/theft. If you make it clear that you’re alert and wary, you may scare off a looter looking for an easy target.

Show strength. Man or woman, you can show that you’re not to be messed with by speaking and moving about with assurance and confidence. You need not be brash or loud, but a lack of timidity can certainly set you apart.

Stick with your friends and allies. Few thieves want to be stuck with their hand in a pocket only to find themselves surrounded by an angry crowd, so work together with other members of your group to keep each other safe and don’t stray from a good supporting distance from each other.

These tips alone will help you become much more difficult prey, and will hopefully deter thieves so that you aren’t forced to engage in gun battles or other harsh measures in order to remain safe after a disaster.

Mob Mentality: How it Affects You and Others For Survival

Mob mentality, groupthink, these terms all describe the same frightening thoughts that a large group of people come up with when they’re scared or desperate. There are examples of it in normal life and extraordinary emergencies, but invariably normal, rational people end up thinking and doing things that are extreme and even bizarre. Whether you’re dealing with a post-football celebration/riot, a political rally that gets out of hand, a Black Friday sale, or a mass of starving people who are clawing for a single loaf of bread, let’s see what affect a mob mentality can have both on others and yourself.

What Really is the Mob Mentality?

In short, it’s the idea that people think and act differently in groups than they would alone. There are many different ways this can manifest depending on the size of the group, but what we tend to think of as “mob” mentality usually involves tens or hundreds of people at once.

Take post-football game riots for example. How many of those fans, even the most dedicated, do you think intentionally planned to go out and destroy things (some riots have involved smashed toilet stalls for no discernible reason) and even hurt or kill people? Yet when the passion of the event and the roar of the angry crowd swept them up a group of average people degenerated into animals that smashed and destroyed completely at random.

But to really understand what mob mentality is, you have to look beyond what you see and get into the heads of the participants. Why destroy toilets because a team won or lost a meaningless game? Why crush people underfoot for cheaply priced goods during a Black Friday sale? The answer can be broken down into 3 main parts:

Anonymity. Let me point out that being anonymous is a very valuable thing and should not always be considered a negative. Being able to write anonymously allowed many people in past ages to put forth ideas and complain about policies when it might otherwise have resulted in arrest or vigilante violence against them. That said, when in a group being able to hide as one of the hundreds of faces in a crowd bolsters you to do just about anything that comes to mind. After all, how could the authorities find out what you specifically did in the midst of all of the damage and theft going on around you?

Group Emotions. Basically, if you’re in a crowd of dozens of angry people you’ll tend towards anger even if there’s no logical reason why. Your brain unconsciously presumes that a group of people has more and better information than you, so it should at least start tuning into what they’re doing. This is why afterwards people describe “being caught up in the moment” like they were thrown into a river and pushed along. In a sense they were carried along by the emotions of the rest of the group, and strong emotions like fear, anger, frustration and revenge tend to override the logical side of your brain.

Deindividuation. This means that you consider everything that happens to have been done by “the group” rather than take responsibility for the things you did. You didn’t run over someone trying to get a $25 TV, “the crowd” did, even if your foot was planted firmly in that unfortunate person’s face! This is also why people who have strong moral convictions against theft, murder, rape etc will pass right by it when they’re part of the overall group. It allows you to mentally distance yourself from the actions at hand as if you never had any choice in the matter. You become a “limb” for the group brain, rather than an individual.

Can This Affect You?

You already know that the answer is yes! Mob mentality (or groupthink) does not really sync with the rational side of your mind. Rather, it overrides it with powerful emotions and a lack of individual responsibility. This means that even if you’re aware of how it works, groupthink can still affect you quite strongly! Indeed, the larger the group the easier it is to get “swept away” by the emotional flood.

Although there are some ways to protect yourself and your loved ones from this sort of thing, in all honesty overcoming the effects of groupthink can be extremely difficult so don’t underestimate it. The best thing to do is to get away from the “mob” entirely. If you’re in a stadium, get into a place that is less crowded and more quiet so that you have room to think, or else get out to your vehicle or to some other safe area. If you’re on the street as a protest starts breaking out into violence, get into a building or head away from the main body of the crowd. Not only does getting away help you once you’re out of the main group, but even just walking or running in the opposite direction from the mob helps reassert your individuality. You’re going against the stream, which is definitely an individual decision rather than a group one!

For those with family, focusing on keeping them safe and protected can be useful in most situations. Again, it is a very personal goal that has nothing to do with the group which helps keep you thinking and focused on individual safety and survival over fulfilling group goals.

Regardless of what you do, always try to keep inconspicuous and avoid attracting attention any more than you have to to get away. Groupthink tends to establish a strong “us vs. them” mentality, and anyone not going with the group is a potential enemy in that state. Stay low, don’t make lots of noise, and especially avoid talking to or interacting with people caught up in the groupthink. If you happen to run into first responders, whether the local police or the local militia, the best thing is to be calm and show yourself to be in control of your own faculties. Assuming they’re not in the “arrest/shoot anyone moving” mode, you may be able to have them assist you in getting out of that situation safely if you demonstrate that you’ve not allowed yourself to go bonkers.

Let me emphasize that groupthink is a scary thing. It’s about as close to “mind control” as most people may ever experience and it is supremely unsettling to watch it happening. However, you can and should be prepared for it and be ready to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

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