The Harsh Truth About Bugging Out of Cities

A common concern among rural people in a grid-down situation is the concept of marauding urbanites swarming through the countryside looting and pillaging — the so-called Golden Horde. I addressed this issue on my blog a few months ago when a reader noted, “You can hide yourself, but not your garden. Are you going to take your beef herd into your house with you? In any long-term crisis situation, your cattle and garden will be indefensible and therefore gone in a matter of months. You cannot protect them from a determined large, armed group.”

This reader respectfully listed what he termed a “huge blind spot” among rural preppers. “As an urbanite, I know that millions and millions of people will head for the less populated areas of this country. They will travel in large groups for safety and they will be armed to the teeth. They will not worry about ‘Will the locals welcome you?’ They will do whatever it takes to survive, which likely will include murdering ‘the locals’ for their resources. You cannot hide your garden and livestock and produce them at the same time. It wouldn’t take a very large group for you to be outnumbered and then either pinned down inside while all your outdoor food is stolen, or overrun completely. What then? It seems to me that any prepper scenario only works if you’re willing to kill others to survive, and even then only until the canned goods hold out. The minute you have to plant and tend a garden, you (and your food) will be sitting ducks. I realize this post must sound really hostile, but it isn’t meant to be. I’m just curious about whether preppers think about these eventualities, and what’s the plan then?”

He later followed up with another comment: “We may not know how to butcher a hog properly, but that won’t stop the thieves from taking it. I also truly believe you vastly underestimate the sheer numbers you will face. What will one family, even one community, do against literally hundreds of armed marauders? Yes, you may hide until they pass, but your resources will be pillaged. Livestock, barns, hay, tools, machinery, vehicles, fencing, lumber, food, anything left behind will not be there when you return. That is the weak link in the food chain. In the end, it will be the very reality that you ARE rural (and therefore relatively sparsely populated) that will be your biggest problem. There will simply be far more of them than of you. Each farm, or ranch, or homestead will make its stand, but I think the overwhelming numbers will win out. They will have time and the odds on their side. They don’t have to win every single time, you do.”

This reader’s respectful and legitimate concerns prompted my husband to craft a lengthy reply, synopsized as follows:

First, what would cause a TEOTWAWKI event? It would not be “merely” an economic collapse or a war. Rather, TEOTWAWKI can only be caused on something that’s never happened before in the history of humanity. The destruction of 200 years of human progress can be caused by the loss of a fundamental aspect of the modern human condition: the utter and complete dependence of civilization as we know it on electricity. Every single moment of the average American’s day is regulated, controlled, and facilitated by electricity. Should that ever cease, TEOTWAWKI will occur.

Without electricity, you won’t eat, you won’t drink, you won’t drive, you won’t communicate, you won’t receive medical care, you won’t, you won’t, you won’t…

So how can our society lose electricity? It’s a broad topic, so take a look at the following links instead:

  • Lights Out: A newly declassified report shows how vulnerable America’s electric grid is
  • How Vulnerable Is Our Power Grid?

Now as far as bugging out of the city via the mythical Golden Horde to raid rural preppers, please consider the general geographical conditions under which many thousands of rural preppers live.

Our little homestead is forty miles as the crow flies from any moderate sized urban area (farther in you figure it in road miles). There is nothing even remotely like a “metroplex” within many hundreds of miles of us.

Of greater importance with respect to security is the fact that we are also surrounded by thousands of others who think and prep like us. These are multi-generational farmers and ranchers and loggers and foresters who have known each other all their lives. They are related to each other. They attend the same churches. They attend community functions. They know their neighbors.They’re intimately familiar with the thousands of acres around them.

Nearly everyone keeps a large amount of preserved food on hand simply because stores are a ways off and shopping is often a monthly exercise. They all have plentiful supplies of fuel, tools, and heavy machinery. They have wells, cisterns, ponds and running streams passing through their land. Nearly every one of them has a fireplace or wood stove that they use regularly, either as a secondary or primary heating source.

They also, each and every one of them, have weapons. Weapons they know how to use. Weapons they practice with. Weapons they hunt with on the lands they know so well.

Let’s compare this with cities. Folks come and go. People in urban environments typically move about. Family members rarely live near each other.Most people in an apartment complex or suburb have little or no idea who lives next to them. No one keeps any appreciable amount of food because the grocery stores are close at hand and restaurants are plentiful. Most city folk don’t have any source of water other than their tap. They heat with electricity or gas, both of which are delivered to them by an “on-demand” system. They have little or no fuel storage, little or no tools, and relatively little in the way of weaponry. They certainly don’t have the same degree of experience in weapons practice or use as rural dwellers.

Rural people aren’t overly worried about friends and neighbors. As noted, we go to the same church, the same picnics, the same local functions. We know most everyone, including the county commissioners, the sheriff, and the deputies. We don’t have to hide our garden or cattle from our neighbors because they have gardens and livestock too. If things ever do go off the tracks, we’ll be right were we already are now: helping each other, worshiping with each other,sharing our food, our tools, and our time with each other. And we’ll be defending each other as well. We’re not too worried about being raided by them.

But what about the “millions and millions of people” headed our way,traveling “in large groups for safety” and “armed to the teeth”? That’s the real problem, isn’t it?

“Corrugated Road – Fremont California” by photographer Benefactor123 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons

We believe the “Golden Horde” concept – that hordes of armed-to-the-teeth urbanites would successfully flood the countryside,destroying or taking everything in their wake – is overblown.

Lots of folks, when commenting on urban mass migration, use the largest mass evacuation ever to occur in the U.S. as an example – New Orleans immediately prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. There is so much literature and so much well-publicized finger-pointing for the failures of government with regards to the evacuation that most folks don’t realize what an amazing success the evacuation really was. By the combined efforts of federal, state, and municipal governments, roughly 80 percent, or as many as 800,000 people, were removed from the path of the hurricane prior to landfall. Estimates range from 100,000to 200,000 people who were unable or unwilling to evacuate.

A great success, yes … but … this was just one large city, certainly nowhere near the largest in the USA. Billions of dollars were spent on the evacuation, whole multi-lane highways were converted to “exit-only,” airlines moved tens of thousands, and increasingly strident governmental recommendations and finally demands to evacuate began five days before the expected landfall.And yet the largest daily percentage of New Orleans residents still didn’t leave until 12 hours before Katrina came ashore.

That’s one city.

What would happen if it was ten large cities? Or twenty? Or a hundred?Suppose that there was no warning? An EMP attack. A coordinated power grid attack. A catastrophic natural disaster. What would happen if there was no one to tell folks what to do? No one to hold open the roads? No means of communicating instructions?

What if you were on your own?

To put it bluntly, if you have to evacuate from a large metro-complex in a catastrophic TEOTWAWKI scenario, your chances of survival are frighteningly low. Let’s be realistic. In a major and immediate catastrophe, individual and familial survival will reign supreme. The already-thinning veneer of community in most cities will shatter. If looting and rioting is already commonplace after a successful win by a local sports team, imagine the degree of societal breakdown likely to occur after the explosion of a dirty bomb or the loss of all electricity and electronics following an EMP attack.

Studies have shown that most urban residents, without any authoritative guidance, will remain in place for up to a week before self-evacuating. But what will they do when they finally realize no one is coming to their rescue?In the ten largest cities in America, over one-third of the urban population does not own a car. In New York alone, 56% of the residents don’t own an automobile.

And consider this: even in the best of conditions, on a normal day, an accident can shut down a major highway for hours.

Now imagine a more grim scenario where people like tow truck drivers,emergency service personnel, and police – in other words, those professionals who usually manage emergencies – are busy elsewhere, dead, or are in the process of “bugging out” themselves. Also imagine how much more likely a traffic jam would be in a situation where tens of thousands of people are attempting to flee a catastrophe while scared and stressed and furious. One simple fender bender, and the vehicular escape route may become impassible fora very very long time.

This is not just a possibility. It is a virtual certainty.

Now suppose that all the exit roads were blocked (quite possibly on purpose- more on that in a minute). Suppose that the street lights and traffic signals were out. Suppose you had to walk out. Would you be prepared? After a week of waiting for someone to save you, would you be hungry? Thirsty? Would the folks walking alongside you be as friendly as they seem, or would they simply be waiting for the right moment to rob you? How would you rest without someone you know and trust to keep watch? How far could you walk in a day – tired, scared,with children or elderly or injured relatives – especially knowing that anything that might have been worth eating or drinking on your chosen path has already been consumed?

The reader mentions “large groups traveling together for safety, armed to he teeth.” How and where did this group form up? Presumably they didn’t know each other before the catastrophic event. Who is in charge of this group and what is their motivation? Where did the group members get their guns? Gun ownership per capita in large cities is much smaller than their country cousins, and most of the available guns will be handguns (what rural people refer to as “the kind of gun you use if you have to fight your way back to your long guns”).

But let’s say you’ve got together with twenty like-minded folks for your long walk out of town, dodging wrecked and abandoned vehicles along a highway.Long before you get to face off with a bunch of country bumpkins, you’re going to get some hands-on training from an entirely different breed: the urban sharks who would never even think of heading to an uncertain great wilderness when the hunting is so much better close to home.

Remember, this is a TEOTWAWKI situation. Law enforcement is quite likely to be long gone. You and your traveling companions will consist of: baristas,accountants, school teachers, and social workers. Most will have no experience with weapons.

Urban sharks will consist of gang members, thugs, muggers, and other lowlifes with more weapon experience and NO moral compunction against their use for personal gain or pleasure.

The point: Most of the people who will attempt to leave a large city in a SHTF scenario will never leave that city alive.

But let’s think (at least temporarily) happier thoughts.

Let’s say you and your spouse and children manage to find a clear road. You are one of the 66% who owns a car and you just happened to top off the tank the day before. It’s a good thing you did, because no one will be delivering fuel to the service stations for a very long time; and even if the gas stations have fuel, the owners (being realists) won’t share – even if they can get the fuel out of the tanks without electricity to drive the pumps. But let’s increase your luck. Let’s say you managed to overcome the distrust of strangers and”clubbed-up” with a hundred other folks who also have their own full-tank vehicles, and everyone in the group has a firearm of some type.

Let’s say you cleared the suburbs without incident (even though that is probably not possible). Congratulations! You made it to the country.

Now what?

Now you have to make some decisions, largely icky ones. After all, a lot of the people who make it out of the city and in to the country are planning to make their living by someone else’s dying.

What other option do they have? The original “Golden Horde” were 13thcentury Mongol raiders consisting of incredibly disciplined, well-armed, and militarily proficient horsemen. This description will not apply to the vast majority of hungry, angry, weak or injured folks who made it out of the city.Those who do make it out to the country will never numerically approach the concept of a “horde.”

If you have a destination in mind with people who are waiting for you,you’re one of the lucky ones. But a “horde” won’t be traveling with a destination in mind. Rather, their new goal is simply to survive by whatever brutal means possible. Even baristas and school teachers will be transformed into thugs, simply by desperate necessity.

So let’s follow the travels of this group (gang?) which has left the city and is now hitting true rural terrain. It could be mountains or foothills or flat plains. It might be desert (high or low). It really doesn’t matter. The suburbs and satellite communities have been left behind. As the group convoys down a winding two-lane highway, our Bad Guys see rolling hills to the right and tree-covered ridges to the left that seem to go on to infinity.

They wind their way past small two-lane paved roads and dirt tracks that ranch off from the highway every mile or so. What’s up that road? Or that one? Or that one? Every mile, over and over, there are roads leading off into the distance. Mile after mile after mile. You can’t see beyond the bends. You can see a few scattered houses or barns off in the distance, but have those already been looted? Are they empty or defended? There’s no way for the Bad Guys to tell – and can they really spare the time to find out? After all, there won’t be any filling stations to replace the gas they’re burning. Checking even one of those country lanes, even if it’s not defended, will take time. A lot of time.

They say an army marches on its stomach. For an army to be successful, it must have a supply train following it. But unlike an army, there is no re-supply train following the Bad Guys.

With some increasing desperation, the Bad Guy leader decides to travel down one of these roads. He needs to do something proactive, otherwise everyone else will begin to wonder if all he’s going to do is drive until the fuel runs out. So he turns the caravan down a side road and begins to cautiously advance. The road weaves through a valley bottom, crossing and re-crossing a small stream.After a mile or so, he stops near a big ranch house tucked up against the ridge that forms the valley. He sends a squad forward to do reconnaissance.

What do they find? A house, but it’s empty of anything truly valuable. Sure there’s furniture and clothing. But the large pantry is bare. The barn yields nothing either. Any livestock is gone, and while there are farm tools and vehicles in the barn, none of those vehicles will start and none of them have any fuel in their tanks. There’s a garden, and it has a lot of vegetables and fruits. But it seems a pretty poor return on the time spent so far.

The leader now has to figure out what to do. Does he go on further? Turnaround and get back to the highway with nothing to show for the time and fuel wasted?

Actually, that decision is taken away from him by the sound of a large diesel engine coming from down the valley back towards the main road. The engine roars for about a minute and then goes quiet. The sound of gunfire follows briefly and then all is quiet once again.

The Bad Guy leader wisely decides to send a heavily-armed squad on foot to check it out. The squad returns about 30 minutes later to inform the Bad Guy leader that there is a multi-ton road grader parked across the entire width of the road (which as it happens is pretty much the width of the valley at that spot). What a coincidence!

The tires of the grader are shredded (that was the gunfire they heard) so it can’t be moved. The Bad Guys are trapped.

The Bad Guy leader tells his people to mount up. And that’s when the sniping starts.

This is where we’ll stop the narrative now. You can end the story however you want. But there are a few details you’ll need to know about rural areas in order to reach a realistic conclusion.

Let’s say there are about 70 people who live up that valley, not an unusual number. In many places, these families have lived there for generations.

It really doesn’t matter in the end if the gang of Bad Guys consists of 100 people or 200 or 500. You see, the folks who live in that valley know the land like the backs of their hands – because they’ve lived there for generations.They know every game trail, every creek bed, every twist and bend. They’ve got lots of guns – really good guns, if you get my drift, with lots of ammo and lots of experience. And they DO have a supply chain. Just over the ridge is another valley. And beyond that valley is another valley, and another. And in one way or another, almost all of the residents of those valleys are either related or have close friendships. So … if the going gets too hot in the valley in question, they’ll be waiting for the remnant of the Bad Guys in the next valley over.

Now I could tell you what would have happened to the Bad Guys if, instead of the valley, they came upon one of the small farming towns further down the highway. Or I could describe the sheer-faced cut road that runs past a lake on the way to the county seat. Or I might mention the surprising number of small-time blasters who keep the local rock quarries in business. Or the local construction firms who create and remove roads on a daily basis for the timber companies. But the results would be the same and this article is already too long.

We’ll leave the Bad Guys here at this point to make their plans. But before anyone tells me what a “great story” this is, please understand something important: This is not a story. It’s quite real. That valley and all the other situations are real. We know the family that currently lives in that“empty” house. We know their son who operates the road grader. We know most everyone up that valley … and we know their plans because we’ve all discussed those plans many times.

So to anyone who thinks they’ll join up with a “Golden Horde” when the bleep hits the fan, be aware. In most rural areas, folks live by the land and,more importantly, by the word of God. We don’t “live by the sword.” But if you plan to live by the sword, and you plan on harming those who live out here,you’d better give heed to the second part of that verse.

One last note. Most people aren’t preppers. A lot of people aren’t preppers because they’re can’t be (health, disability, age, finances, whatever). A lot of people aren’t preppers simply because they’re not situationally aware.

But some people have a simple “preparedness” plan: they’ll steal.

This is the take-home message to anyone and everyone, urban or rural. If the bleep hits the fan and you’re not prepared, your only options are to beg or to steal. What will you choose? And if begging doesn’t work and you can’t steal what you want or need, what then? Murder?

Think it through, folks. That’s why we urge people to be prepared.