What Will Non-Prepped People Do In An Emergency?

It is possible to think of so many different scenarios. Which one is correct? All of them!

As preppers, we have to prepare for two sets of possible future adverse circumstances.  The first is to prepare for some sort of event that interferes with LAWKI (life as we know it), and which diminishes our quality of life to a greater or not quite so great extent, for a short or long time period.

While we all responsibly prepare for the short-term minor events (what we term Level 1 events) the really big deal is preparing for the Level 2 or 3 events (we define Level 1/2/3 events here).

But even this is relatively easy, because we sort of know what things we’ll need, and if we start from an assumption that we’ll be on our own with no external support, no external sources of water, food or energy, we can plan from that worst case but clearly understood scenario.

One of the defining points of the transition from a Level 1 event to a Level 2 or 3 event is the need to leave our normal residence in a Level 2/3 event.  And the reason for needing to do this?  There are several reasons, but the most pressing one is usually the need to ensure our own personal safety.

In a higher density city type environment, we’ll be surrounded by unprepared people who, as the Level 2 event unfolds, will quickly run out of food and out of self-control.  We anticipate lawlessness will reign, and see our safety and survival as best achieved by leaving the lawless city behind us.

But even in our Level 2/3 retreat situation, we necessarily should continue to be concerned about the actions of non-prepared people, because this is the other major adverse circumstance we will have to endure and survive in a major event – the anticipated but unknown negative actions of our fellow citizens.

The Unknown Variables Posed By Non-Preppers

Please excuse us if you don’t share a similar viewpoint about the anticipated negative actions of non-preppers in a major breakdown of society.  May we explain?

Our perception is based on what we feel to be a gritty reality – people will do whatever they have to do in order to survive, if the circumstances are extreme enough.  Sure, we believe in the innate goodness of people, the same as you do, but we also believe that when people – and their families – are starving to death; if they see a chance to get life-sustaining food, they will do anything and everything they possibly can to take that food, no matter what is required.

This sort of motivation can make honest decent people into criminals.

We also acknowledge that while most people are basically good, unfortunately some people are basically bad.  You already know this, too.  You call those types of people murderers, sex offenders, arsonists, violent offenders of all sorts, gang members, and so on.  You probably support their incarceration, whole of life sentencing, ‘three strikes and you’re out’ laws, and maybe even the death penalty.  Even the most idealistic of people can’t close their eyes to the ongoing level of violence that goes on in our society today.

The underlying reasons or demographics are irrelevant – the ugly but unavoidable fact is that some people are just plain bad.  Almost 1% of our population is in jail on any given day, and you can decide how many more percent should be with them, and you can worry about the former inmates that are now free but not reformed.

We see that good people will be forced to do bad things due to the underlying basic imperative need to survive.  But we also see that bad people will do very bad things, just because they can and want to, for fun, and because the normal law and order imperatives will be massively weakened (as is repeatedly shown, all around the world, in gratuitous rioting and looting events).

Planning For Encounters With Malefactors

So, we wonder and worry about what to expect as we shelter inside our retreats.  More to the point, we don’t just wonder/worry about what we’ll do while safely inside our retreat.  We also worry/wonder about when we’re exposed outside – doing gardening, tending to livestock, traveling to the neighbor to trade our surplus foodstuffs for his, and so on.

Some people have developed elaborate theories about the types of encounters they’ll have.  Some people support their theories by referring to what has occurred in other societies during times of social disorder.  Other people have developed very different theories, possibly supported by very different factual underpinnings.

Who is right?  What can we expect?  And, as preppers, the essential question we ask ourselves is surely – How can we prepare for such events?

Plan and Prepare For Everything

Well, there is both good and bad in what we have to suggest.  There is no one single right answer.  All answers, all predictions and prognostications, are correct, to some degree.  And all are likely to occur, in some random sequence of events, to some people, some of the time.

We must plan for all possible scenarios.  We can not restrict our planning to what we consider to be the most sensible, the most likely types of encounters.  We know everyone is different with different preferences.  That is why there are dozens of different types of baked beans to choose from in the stores.  We know everyone has different opinions – that is why horse races can occur with a spread of betting over the widely different horses.  We know some people do incredibly stupid and unpredictable things.  But if we haven’t planned for that incredibly stupid or unpredictable thing, maybe we end up being the stupid person, and a victim of the unpredicted thing.

This is the key take-away point of this article.  Don’t just plan for one type of scenario when it comes to people and their actions.  Plan for them all, from the mildest to the wildest.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that when you’ve identified the most likely type of events, that these will be the only events you encounter.  Even if you can think exactly like some type of malefactor (we won’t ask how that is!) you can’t think like other types of malefactors.  But they are all out there, and we need to plan for the unexpected as well as the expected.

Scenarios for Encounters

Maybe some people will just lose the will to live and quietly die in back alleys.  Maybe other people will beg and plead for food, then go away, nonviolently, if refused.

Notching up a level, maybe some others will attempt to take food by force, but will give up when confronted by superior force, without any shots being fired.  Maybe some of these people, if able to take food without needing to kill to do so, would proceed to take food, but would turn away if required to kill first.

Notching up another level, maybe some people will indeed trade shots, but if they don’t quickly triumph, they will then give up and go away, looking for easier pickings/takings elsewhere.

And getting closer to extreme, maybe some people will fight to the death, having made it a point of honor to win the encounter, or die in the attempt, no matter what.

Different Tactics

Maybe some people will simply and noisily storm the front door in the mid-day sun.

Maybe others will sneakily plot and plan to surprise you when your door is open.  Maybe they’ll lie in wait for you in your fields.

Maybe some will kidnap one member of your party and try to bargain their safe return in exchange for food.  Maybe others will simply kill anyone they encounter (and, yes, maybe even eat them too!).  Note – if you don’t consider the possibility of cannibalism in your defensive strategies, you are not thinking far enough outside the box.  A yucky thought, for sure, but civilized rules will be in abeyance in an extreme scenario.

Maybe some will impatiently mount a battle, but if they don’t quickly triumph, and if they start taking casualties, go away defeated, never to return.

Maybe others, if unsuccessful in a first attack, will instead redouble their determination and come back, perhaps in greater force, and mount a more prepared planned and sustained assault.

Some people will approach from the obvious quarter.  Others will approach from unexpected places.

Varying Group Size

Maybe you’ll encounter some people on their own.  Maybe you’ll encounter small bands of 4 – 6.  Maybe you’ll encounter larger groups of 10 – 20.

Maybe you’ll think you’re defending yourself against a group of four attacking you from the front, when all of a sudden, ten more people appear from behind.

A Range of Skill Levels

Most people will have a gun – maybe a ‘good’ gun and maybe a ‘bad’ gun (you can decide what the terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’ mean in this context!).  Some will be good shots.  Some will be sniper level shots.  Others, as often as not, will be poor shots.

Some will have no knowledge of tactics or how to behave under fire.  Others will be veterans who have fought in one of our country’s many recent overseas wars, and will be skilled at such things (see our article about the rising problem of gangs and how some gangs deliberately have some members serve in the military so they have military level training and skills within their group).

Some opponents will quickly learn combat skills, and others will run away the first time a bullet zings angrily overhead.

All Sorts of Equipment and Weapons

The most common weapon you’ll encounter will be some type of rifle.  Some optimistic types might try to assault your retreat with only a pistol, and a few might bring a shotgun to the party.

But who is not to say that some people won’t have a fearsome .50 cal BMG rifle that will punch holes in just about anything it hits?  Maybe someone has developed his own explosive charges, and maybe someone else has developed a cannon or mortar?  And don’t forget the person with the Molotov cocktail, either.  Fire can be one of your most fearsome challenges.

Maybe someone from SCA has created an old-fashioned catapult, or a battering ram, or something else like that?

Maybe someone has liberated a tank or APC or other military vehicle/weapon from the local armory and can safely assault your retreat from behind the vehicle’s armor, and knock down your front door with their vehicle.

Frequency of Encounter and Group Coordination

Maybe you’ll go six months and not see anyone.  Maybe you’ll end up with a dozen encounters within as many days.

Maybe you’ll have outsmarted the entire world with your choice of ‘out of the way’ location.  Maybe one or two backwoodsman type hunters will stumble across your retreat while you’re complacently reveling in the success of your secret.

Or maybe other people will have thought the same way as you, and will be specifically going to JWR’s American Redoubt areas and looking for preppers and all their food and supplies, using the same factors to guess where you might be as you used to decide where to go.

Maybe roving gangs will meet and share stories and swap details of potential targets.  The gang you fought off last week might encourage another gang to return next week.

Maybe self-appointed ‘warlords’ will claim control of a district and everyone in it.  Maybe – really worrying – he’ll have some degree of pseudo-legal status or actual legal status, and is levying ‘taxes’ on all residents in the area.  With 100 of his troops acting as tax collectors.

The preceding sub-sections have been intended not to list all the possibilities, but to open your thinking to the range of possibilities that may occur.  Don’t stop thinking – this is not a complete list!  You should be able to come up with plenty more.


It is easy to anticipate the basic issues and challenges we’ll face in a major Level 2 or 3 event.  Take away all external support.  No more electricity or gas or internet.  No more 7-11 or supermarket.  No more Home Depot or Office Depot or any other type of depot.  That’s okay.  We can anticipate and plan and prepare for these things.

But the hardest thing to anticipate?  The actions of our non-prepped fellow citizens.  Think of as many scenarios and nightmares as you can, then drink a fifth of bourbon, and think of some more.  Any – or all – of these might come to pass (well, maybe not that one with the mutant alien zombies that you came up with half-way through your second fifth, right before you fell asleep!).

Because we can’t predict exactly which of these encounters we will face, we should plan and prepare for all of them.

We can harden our retreats to make them resistant to all but the most serious of attacks, we can design our lots to make them easy to defend and hard to attack, and – most of all – we can either join an existing community right from the get-go, or if not, we can group together with our neighbors to create a new form of law and order and mutual support and early warning system.

For More Information

If you’re specifically interested in researching potential future scenarios and how normal people might respond to them, we suggest you follow our category of articles on Communities.

Beyond that, we’ve a lot of information on all types of prepper related topics.  Please roam far and wide around our site.  Thanks for visiting.

7 Replies to “What Will Non-Prepped People Do In An Emergency?”

  1. Meghan

    I have a great fictional book recommendations for getting some of those that are on the fence to think about prepping.

    It is available on Amazon and is called Stacy’s Quest. It is a fairly quick read and a great storyline about semi-city dwellers thrown into a disaster. I am all for prepping and am working my way to being a full on prepper and it really got me thinking! It was written by a rural Alaskan resident who personally lives off the grid, with input from his teenage daughter.


  2. Jodi Meadows

    Bad People. Really?
    I don’t see things your way. I believe that we are all inherently good, and that some people are treated badly, shamed, hurt, abused, etc., and aren’t shown positive examples of how to process their emotions before some are put on drugs to keep them from feeling, so they can be good drones and go to work. But inside of that mess is still a person with the capacity to be good.

    What you describe here as a worst case scenario is entirely possible, and I have thought similar things myself. But rather than organize around my fear of people, I have decided to organize around my faith in humanity, while training myself physically, learning how to operate firearms, martial arts, studying human behavior, foraging and learning outdoor survival skills. If you start in your mind with an “us-vs.-them” scenario, that is exactly what you will manifest. Part of what has gotten so many people thinking like you is that the media salivates for stories that show how horrible people can be, and that is what dominates our televisions and news media. Acts of benevolence, community service, selflessness, generosity and courage are not so prominent in the media–you really have to go looking for them, or be connected to a network of people who go looking for positive examples of humanity.

    Several years ago, I had a pivotal life experience which resulted in my realization that everything in life boils down to two choices: Love, and Fear. Every day we make a choice between the two, in so many ways we don’t even realize it. Love includes perfect trust in ourselves to make decisions from the heart, not the mind, which has memories of negative stories that happened to us or to others. Fear is the response to a culmination of negative stories, spun into anxiety, worry and mistrust. This is the state of much of the world right now, to the point where the average person walking around in America is in adrenal overload from day after day of being afraid of other people, of their boss, of the government, of Ethnic groups, of being judged by others and so on. Adrenaline exists in the body to give us superhuman strength to fight or flee when threatened. If/when such a scenario arises as you describe in this article, it’s true, most people will be acting on adrenaline and could be dangerous to others. I believe that the best way to prepare ourselves is to practice living as heart-centered, loving trusting beings first and foremost, and then learning how to defend ourselves physically. If there is love and trust at the core, then the individual is stronger and more functional when called to act in defense. If there is fear and panic at the core, the individual is a frightened animal who can’t make sound decisions and is likely to either do something stupid or hurt themselves.

    One key piece of advice you give in this article is this: “group together with our neighbors to create a new form of law and order and mutual support and early warning system”. This is perhaps the most important preventative measure, establishing a personal relationship with anyone who could possibly turn on you in the future. A person would have to be a complete psychopath to ignore the innate sense of compassion and brotherhood that exists between fellow humans who have established a personal connection. Yes, there are in fact psychopaths in the world, but it’s probably best not to assume that of your neighbors (neighborhood barbecues will be more fun that way). Consider forming a neighborhood disaster preparation organization, put a flyer on the door of each home in your neighborhood, start a Facebook group or have monthly meetings. There is safety in numbers, and it could be our greatest strength in the event of national chaos and a police state.

    Mainly my concern about articles like this is that because they seem to derive from hours of dark fantasy daydreaming, obsession with apocalyptic scenarios, doomsday movies, too much Alex Jones and too little time spent in peaceful places like by a stream in the forest, they have the tendency to dredge up nothing but fear in anyone who reads them. The last thing we need in this world is more terrified people. What we do need is a force of empowered, healthy, courageous and caring individuals. My work in this world is to facilitate the growth of a critical mass of these superhumans, in hopes that it could calm the masses of screaming sheep stampeding through the streets in terror, that it could prove unnecessary to instate martial law, that we can take care of ourselves and each other, working together with authorities to ensure everyone’s safety and provisions. I have a group on Facebook dedicated to helping people transition to a more sustainable way of living, as well as prepare for disasters. You are welcome to join, if even just to see what is possible when people drop the fear and start taking care of each other. https://www.facebook.com/groups/earthship.pirates/?fref=ts. Thank you for your perspective, it is important to consider all the possibilities and not keep our heads in the sand. I hope you will also consider my perspective–there are no bad people, only bad circumstances and bad parenting. It’s never too late to discover our own innate goodness, which ultimately brings out the good in everyone.

    • David Spero

      Hi, Jodi

      Thanks for your lengthy reply.

      As we said early in the article, we do agree that most people are as likely to be good as they are bad. But, that’s not the issue.

      There are three issues that surely must take priority :

      The first is what happens when encountering the truly bad people who rape, pillage and plunder for pleasure.

      The second issue is that extreme situations make good people do bad things. Whether the person is inherently good or not makes little difference when they are stealing your food from you at gunpoint.

      The third point is that it truly is a case of ‘us vs them’. Unless you have unlimited supplies of food, unlimited space in your retreat, etc etc, there will come a point where your ‘lifeboat’ becomes full and accepting another person will cause it to sink. If you have space for ten people in your retreat, what happens when you overload it with twenty? You have insufficient food, water, and septic systems. Will you all then suffer the consequences?

      We feel that our first priority has to be to ourselves and those who rely upon us for their safety and survival. The second priority is to other friends and family members. Only once those two priorities have been satisfied can you then consider adding more people, but sooner or later – and probably sooner – you will have to start turning people away.

      We have a couple of articles on the topic of accepting more people into your retreat community. Here’s a link to the first of the two, the second is linked from the first.

      We are not preaching fear. We are preaching prudent awareness. There’s a big difference.


  3. Practical Parsimony

    Even though I am well aware of events turning people to the wrong path, I am not willing even now to take a chance with violent or crazy people who could harm me or take what is mine. Compassion is a wonderful emotion, but acting on the compassion could be deadly for people not equipped to handle what mistreated people have become.

  4. Alison

    I’ve been on a couple forums where there was a thread asking if people would engage in cannibalism.

    A very high number said that they would if the didn’t have any other food. Others said they would if the other person agreed to sacrifice themselves for the group. A pitifully small number said they never would consider it.

    I’m kind of scared of forming a group with other people now.

    • David Spero

      Hi, Alison

      One of the things that makes it very difficult to have truly informed discussions and understandings about what might happen in an uncertain future is that there is a huge difference between what people say they will do and what they actually do.

      My guess – and it is only a guess – is that far fewer people would actually indulge in cannibalism than the number who say they would at present.

      I say this by looking at past periods of intense famine and crisis, and what we know about the incidence of cannibalism in such cases. One good example is the almost 900 day siege of Leningrad (now St Petersburg) in WW2. Here’s an interesting article that summarizes some of the extreme hardship and famine suffered by the locals during this period


      As you can see in the article, out of a population of 3.3 million, ‘only’ 2,000 people were arrested for cannibalism and ‘only’ 586 shot.

      So, even in the most extreme of conditions, most people will simply die rather than eat the people around them. I’m sure you’ll be safe in most community groups.

      Thanks for the thought-provoking comment.


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