One of the most common questions I get, just behind What kind of gun should I buy? and just ahead of Who sells the best-tasting dehydrated food? is “How will I know it is time to bug out?” Variations of this include “How will I know this is the event?” and “How can I get out before the crowd?”
It is very difficult to give any sort of concrete answer to these questions because they are, at least in part, very subjective. For almost all potential scenarios, my pat answer is to remain at home until such a time that home is no longer tenable or safe. But, I’ll readily admit that is side-stepping the actual question.
Here, then, are some indicators, “red flags” if you will, that things are likely to get much worse before they get better.
Stores aren’t seeing stock coming in. We’ve all heard the statistic that grocery stores only have about 3 days worth of stock at any given time. While that figure varies depending on the item, such as they may have enough toiletries to last a typical month but enough fresh meat to only last a couple days, the average for the store on the whole is likely stock levels to last a week or less. If something causes disruption to the replenishment process, that not only makes it difficult to purchase food and other supplies, the secondary result is people begin to panic. In our modern society, most people are accustomed to immediate gratification. They want something so they go to the store and buy it. Now, how often have you run to the store to pick up something and upon arriving you learn they don’t have it in stock? It makes you feel frustrated, maybe even angry. How dare they not have the new season of Justified on DVD! Now, imagine that instead of a set of DVDs, it is canned vegetables, milk, or bread and your family is already getting pretty hungry. One of the first things we’ll see in the wake of a major event is store shelves not being stocked. The disruption may only be for a few days but you don’t want to be around when people find out they can’t get food from their normal sources.
You hear eyewitness accounts of looting in your area. I want to stress the “eyewitness” part of that. In chaotic situations, rumors are guaranteed to be flying left and right. Case in point – think back to all the rumors you heard about what went on inside the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. No doubt about it, there were bad things going on but, as far as I know, the rumors about infants being killed were never proven to be anything but stories. So, if you hear that a neighbor was told by a friend of their cousin who heard from a guy down their block that their uncle saw some looters, you might take it with a grain of salt. However, if said neighbor instead tells you he saw a band of ne’er do wells going house to house as he was coming back from scouting the area, that’s a sure sign things are likely to be heading south quickly.
Emergency services are overwhelmed. As we’ve seen in the aftermath of major disasters like Hurricane Katrina and various tornadoes in Oklahoma, law enforcement agencies as well as other emergency services can easily become overwhelmed. Please do not take this as a gripe against them. Thousands and thousands of good men and women work in those fields and do the very best they can to respond to emergencies large and small. However, they are only human and they have limits. They can’t be in two places at once and there’s only so many of them to go around. At some point, triage will have to take place and decisions made as to which emergencies are more important than others. This happens every day, actually. Police dispatchers routinely need to determine which 911 calls get priority when things get really busy. A traffic accident with possible fatalities on a major highway takes precedence over a complaint about an out-of-season campfire in a backyard (yes, people call 911 for such inane complaints). However, after a major event, staffing levels may drop due to officers having been injured in the disaster, being ill, or just plain wanting to remain at home with their families and this will result in many calls for assistance going unchecked for longer periods of time, if responded to at all. Even if attendance at roll call is 100%, the sheer volume of requests for help may become too much for any department to fully bear. In the event that takes place, you really don’t want to be one of the people standing around, waiting for a squad car to arrive and hopefully resolve a problem for you.
Above all else, trust your gut. If that voice in the back of your head is telling you it is time to head out, do so. You may only have one chance to get out ahead of everyone else and make it to your secondary destination rather than end up in the middle of an interstate that has become a large parking lot.