Without any insult intended, humans are animals. Although the human race has the ability to self-reflect, reason, feel compassion and experience a range of other emotions, the scientific truth is that humans share “animalistic” qualities similar to other beasts out in the wild.

It’s true that the development of civilization, the creation of laws and fundamental knowledge of “good versus bad” are practiced by a great majority of individuals on the planet. However, when push comes to shove, humans can, and will, revert to their primal selves to meet their fundamental individual needs.

The absolute self-preservation necessities of food, water and protection from the elements will take precedence over everything else. This leaves you and everyone else who is prepared for a worst-case-scenario event vulnerable to the animalistic tendencies of others on the brink of starvation or dehydration. Unfortunately, it’s this very fact that is often overlooked by those preparing for their own survival; and in the end, it might not be a cataclysmic event that does them in—but the very people around them.

When all you have left fits into a cardboard box, you’ll do anything to provide for your family.


Supplies will be in demand after a natural or man-made disaster. Keep yours well hidden from others out to steal your valuable goods.


The old adage that there is safety in numbers is normally true, but that is not the case when there is less food, water and supplies than can meet the needs of the group. This imbalance will cause a quick deterioration of morale, unity and loyalty among the members and will ultimately cause the line to blur between moral standards and the desire to survive another day.

Consequently, it’s best not to divulge all your “survival” plans to those around you. While you may be proud of your collection of dehydrated and freeze-dried foods, your water purification devices and your well-stocked bug-out vehicle, your audience could be mentally taking inventory of what you have—or even worse, what they can steal and utilize in case of a life-changing emergency. How many times have you heard the statement, “I don’t need to stockpile anything; I have all the guns and ammo I’ll need to get what I want”?

All bets are off when it comes to having food to eat or water to drink; and if you do all the work, all the better for them. A gun pointed at your or your spouse’s head is all it will take for your years of planning and collecting to go down the drain, with you ending up without a single supply (or you and your loved ones dead).

Simply put: Keep your stockpile a secret to the best of your ability. Appear as distressed as others will be if a critical situation arises, and be very cautious not to expose anything that will trigger their innate behavior of self-preservation until you are able to leave the area safely. Aside from your immediate family (yes; even some relatives won’t care about you or your family if all hell breaks loose), it’s best to only include others in your group who have their own gear and provisions equal in quality and quantity to your own.

People who are normally “good” will resort to any means necessary to acquire food, water and other life-sustaining supplies when they’re scarce.


An individual’s motives might sound sincere and comforting, but their underlying intent could be completely different. How do you determine the truth from the façade?

One way is to use body language. The physical actions, mannerisms and subtle, yet important, “tics” of a person can reveal their true intent. This is vitally important when protecting your valuable gear—or even more importantly, your life! The following easy-to-decipher clues can help you determine friend or foe:

EYES. First and foremost, most people will not look directly into your eyes when they lie. They turn their head to the side or look down. A “professional” con artist can train himself to look straight at you and lie outright, but the common person in a stressful situation most likely will not. Also, just before attempting a violent act, a person’s eye will dilate greatly as adrenaline is pumped through their bloodstream. This is a sure sign to be alert and ready to counter.

UPPER BODY. Hard breathing, revealed by the rapid rising and falling of the chest area, is a visual clue that a person is in a tense and excited state. Couple that with tense, raised shoulders, and you might have to defend yourself from an attack very soon.

ARMS. Arms raised above the belt line reveal that an attack is a very likely possibility. The “ready” position gives your foe the ability to make a move or strike quicker than when their hands are lowered. Closed fists and constant flexing of the arms are also obvious signs of aggression.

LEGS AND STANCE. Does your opponent’s stance hide his dominant arm and hand? If so it could be to conceal a weapon that will be revealed to you when you least expect it—causing you great harm in the process. If his or her stance hides half of their body, it’s a good chance they have something very bad intended for you.

OVERALL LOOK. Pacing back and forth, nervousness and constant head-turning are all full-body signs the person confronting you will make some sort of move against you. If they raise themselves upward on the balls of their feet, this is an indication they will ether attack or run away. Prepare yourself for the former, and you won’t be caught by surprise.

Body language gives nonverbal clues about a person’s intent. In this case, aggressive hand gestures and stern facial characteristics indicate an imminent conflict.


Pharmacies will be likely targets of theft and violence when things get really bad.


Have you ever missed a meal and felt irritable or short-tempered and were rather nasty to those around you? I’m sure you have, and that was after missing only one meal. Imagine if days pass, and there is no food for those around you. Hunger, even during the earliest onset, creates what is nicknamed “food swings”; that is, hunger creates a mood swing to anger.

People get into a short-tempered mood after just a few hours of being hungry. Imagine this magnified many times over, and you have the makings of a very violent group that will stop at nothing to get your food supply and letting nothing—especially you—stand in the way.

Until such a situation arises, most preppers, survivalists and even the “regular Joes” don’t realize the severity of such a situation. A localized example of this can be experienced during the preparation for a natural disaster—particularly those that offer days of preparation time, such as a hurricane or blizzard. As the storm gets closer, the townspeople get increasingly nervous and desperate as they try to gather anything left on the store shelves. The streets are crowded. The parking lots are packed full, and the tempers of these desperate people begin to soar; so much, in fact, that guards or even police officers have to be stationed outside the stores.

Eventually, the storm passes, but it takes many days or weeks for the stores to restock. This is when trouble will be at its zenith. Hunger, fear of the unknown (When will food and water be available again?) and overall exhaustion from the entire disaster process can wear down already-haggard citizens until they determine that their survival is their top priority … without regard to any criminal or immoral acts needed to stay alive.

If a crisis occurs, a person will resort to whatever means necessary to feed themselves and their family.


If entering the “danger zone,” that is, the chaotic streets after a natural disaster or man-made catastrophe, you must first take precautions, or you will become the prime target of numerous hungry, thirsty and overall extremely desperate individuals.

First, don’t carry a backpack, shoulder bag or any type of satchel. No matter if you have them packed with clothing or any other nonessential gear, the crowd will not know what you have and will assume it could be life-extending food or water. In their animalistic state, they will think nothing of attacking you to take your goods and leaving you lying on the streets, hurt or dead. So, hide your bag elsewhere, and use discreet means to carry smaller items when traveling through a hostile crowd.

There are numerous products available that will assist with this. Caps with hidden pouches, jackets with multiple pockets and belts with secret compartments can keep your supplies hidden from “hungry” eyes. Your bigger items should naturally be kept elsewhere, either in your auxiliary bug-out location (if you have one) or stocked in secret locations in your place of residence.

Also, keep in mind that if you have to venture out into the path of an unruly group, try to blend in and not attract attention to yourself. Anything that distinguishes you from the norm may incite investigation by those nearby.

Like lions on the African plains, a group of desperate people may work together to take down prey (in this case, you), and against a violent crowd, you won’t stand a chance. This process in the wild is called “cooperative hunting”; it can be emulated in an urban setting during harsh or trying times.

Anything you carry in plain view becomes a target for thieves. Always keep your goods hidden or
out of sight to prevent possible conflict.
Under crisis conditions, groups of individuals might work together to get what they need from others. It should be your top priority to avoid such dangerous groups.
The less others know about your supplies, the more likely it will be that you’ll be the one to benefit from them.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, hundreds of private security contractors were deployed in the New Orleans area to keep order among the remaining residents
Carrying a large bag in an urban setting after a man-made or natural disaster offers a tempting target to thieves or desperate people out hunting to feed their families
A bug-out bag is useless if it’s stolen off your back. Don’t carry it out in the open.
Wearing jackets with hidden pockets to hold small valuables and compact gear will allow you to pass through urban crowds unnoticed and without conflict. (Photo: www. ScotteVest.com)


1. Multi-filament nylon 550 cord

2. Disposable particulate mask

3. Three-day pack with multiple compartments

4. Flexible water bladder

5. Fixed-blade utility knife

6. Wind- and water-resistant lighter

7. Multi-tool

8. Boonie hat and shemagh

9. Compact sleeping bag

10. Water filter


As discussed, when humans initiate their self-preservation behavior toward you, bad things can happen. Nevertheless, be aware that this innate self-preservation trait also works for you—meaning that it will help heighten your senses to avoid possibly dangerous situations.

As the world around you appears to crumble, and your normal, everyday routines are drastically altered, your own senses kick in to high gear to help you survive. Fear naturally causes you to avoid areas that could cause you harm. Fear can release adrenaline, which increases your strength and energy level and heightens your senses. Your hearing, sight and sense of smell will all be more receptive to the surroundings. Your primal instincts take over as your emotional and logical ways of thinking get suppressed.

For example: You are confronted by an older man in the streets holding a weapon such as a baseball bat. Your emotional side might feel compassion for the older man because he is hungry or thirsty; your logical side might assume he isn’t a threat, because you could easily overpower him. Both ways of thinking could get your skull crushed and your goods stolen. Your primal
instincts will automatically perceive him as a threat (evidenced by the hairs on the back of your neck standing up) and put you on guard if he makes any threatening moves toward you.


You basically have two options when chaos pours out into the streets: hunker down and fortify your home or escape the chaos and go where the density of other humans is vastly less. Having fewer people near you equals a smaller chance for you to become a victim. Bear in mind that if you remain at home and others know of your stockpile of supplies, they will not hesitate to temporarily work together and forcibly enter your home.

The above scenario is an instance of a “temporary union,” in which two or more people work together to achieve a common goal—in this case, stealing food and other supplies from your home. Being far removed from a chaotic society offers your best chance of avoidance from conflict until some form of order or normalcy returns (if ever).


Despite the constant need to keep your head on a swivel or “sleep with one eye open” when the world around you is in turmoil, remember that there will still be good people out in the world. In fact, most people are inherently good-natured; they might just be forced to do bad things to stay alive. It is only when their very survival is at stake and their instinct to acquire food and water kicks in that you really have to be on alert for the worst. Now that you’re aware of this threat, you can intelligently plan for it to the best of your ability.

Carefully align yourself with others as prepared for disasters as you are. Chances are, some of your current friends are preparing for some of the same challenges you are. Ideally, they’ll stock items you don’t have. As a result, you can create a civilized trading system in which a symbiotic relationship can take precedence over a predator/prey scenario.

Remember: You spent months or years preparing for an emergency. Don’t let all your hard work be in vain by ignoring the most important factor of survival: self-preservation. Just as you fight to live, others will do the same. Knowing that the “human factor” is probably one of the biggest obstacles you’ll face, you can now take the proper steps to overcome it.


Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the May 2017 print issue of American Survival Guide.