A popular topic among those interested in emergency preparedness is how to defend against human threats. Some people tend to envision a violent and chaotic post disaster situation, filled with random assaults and looters, reminiscent of a Mad Max movie. They preoccupy themselves with stockpiling weapons and ammunition, and imagine repelling gangs of looters and violent criminals. But realistically, how likely are you to become a victim of violence during or immediately after a natural disaster?
Having a firearm and being prepared to defend yourself is always worthy of consideration. Violent assaults and murders happen every day, both in regular life and during disasters. In the interests of being prepared for anything, being able to defend yourself and your family is an important skill. After all, it is better to have a gun and not need one, than to need one and not have it. But just how likely are you to actually need one?
Various disasters around the world and multiple studies have shown that the kind of violence many people expect, and that the media portrays, is not the violence that actually occurs. The main violent crime that increases during or after most disasters is domestic violence against women, children and the elderly. These acts of violence are usually perpetrated by those known to them, not random strangers and marauders.
According to a March 2009 paper in the International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, “Our results suggest that natural disasters decrease the volume of crime generally, but increase reported violence in the domestic context.” After Hurricane Katrina, Anastario, et al. (2009) found an astounding 400% increase in intimate partner violence. In the first population-based study after Katrina, Schumacher, et al., (2010) reported a 98 per cent increase in physical victimisation of women by their intimate partner.
Another study suggests that murder rates actually decline following disasters, but that property crimes increase. The study concluded that armed robbery increases by only 21% following high magnitude events. While this 21% increase is certainly substantial, it is far cry from the rampant lawlessness that many imagine following a large scale disaster.
According to the NYPD, New York City experienced a significant decline in most types of serious crime during Hurricane Sandy. Murders fell by 86%, rapes by 44% and robberies dropped by 30%. The only serious crime that increased was burglary, by a meager 3%.
As far as disasters go, Hurricane Katrina was among the worst in American history. According to The Data Center, US Census Bureau, 80% of the city flooded after the levees failed, 70% of New Orleans’ housing was damaged, and roughly 230,000 people, or 50% of the city’s population, was displaced. The hurricane resulted in the deaths of 1100 residents of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish, nearly half of whom were over the age of 74. For 67% of victims, the most likely causes of death included drowning and physical trauma from debris or building collapses, while 14% were recovered from hospitals and shelters. Other deaths resulted from heart conditions, dehydration, heat stroke, and lack of medical supplies. Leaving only a relatively small number to die through violent means. Most, at the hands of someone close to them. In reality, only a tiny percentage died as a result of random violence, and it would appear those perpetrating the violence were not looters, or robbers, but rather police, military and vigilante groups.
Potential violence is definitely something to be prepared for during a significant disaster, but just how much emphasis should we put on weapons and defense? The available information would suggest that most disasters are not accompanied by any substantial amount of random violence. Unless the disaster is long lasting, widespread, and constitutes the complete breakdown of society, it would appear the risk of violence from strangers during most disasters is a lot lower than many of the other risks.
So what does this mean for those of us interested in preparing for emergency survival? As you prepare for emergencies, do you allocate a disproportionate amount of time, resources and training to one set of skills, while foregoing other skills that may be more immediately necessary? Have you assessed your overall level of emergency preparedness? Are you ready to survive more than just a firefight?