When it comes to being prepared for a SHTF event, preppers are focused on threats from natural disasters to nuclear wars, EMPs, and devastating cosmic events. The situations that people can focus on and become obsessed with preparing for and unpredictable and vary widely.
There’s no way that one person or family could be completely prepared for every single type of event. So, most people choose one or several related events they believe are imminent and prepare as best they can for those.
But the less talked about threat that will be overwhelming no matter what the situation is that arises, is population density. For example, according to this map of population density by county shows that roughly two-thirds of the U.S population is located in the Eastern half of the United States.
In fact, according to reports by the U.S. Census Bureau (2010 data), approximately half the population resided in just 146 out of 3000 counties in the United States.
That’s right. The biggest threat to your safety and the safety of your family is in fact, other people. They aren’t “bad” people out to get you. Some of them would likely give the shirt off the back to help others in normal circumstances.
But in a SHTF situation, people just like you who are doing what they need to do to provide for their families can be a threat. Scared, and willing to do anything to get away from immediate danger, large numbers of these people can be the difference between life and death for your family.
So, when SHTF, how do you mitigate population density to increase your ability to keep yourself and your family safe? The easiest way is to plan to avoid other people as much as possible.
The problem that most people run into during an emergency or SHTF situation is they are unprepared, and they panic. When you sense danger, the first instinct for most people is to flee. Sure, some people will naturally react with fight instead of flight, but the majority of people will flee first and fight only when cornered.
The best way to be prepared to avoid the crowds of desperate people is to know which places to avoid going when SHTF. We’ve listed some examples below:
It goes without saying that downtown areas of any city should be avoided. This is especially true in mid to large cities where lack of regular sanitation services will create ideal conditions for diseases.
The risk of rioting, looting, and violent attacks is also greater in downtown areas. City dwellers are statistically less prepared for a SHTF event as many families live paycheck to paycheck with very little stockpiled supplies.
In addition, because population density is highest in these areas, stores and other sources for supplies will be quickly cleaned out. Many city residents depend on public transportation on a daily basis and are less likely to have access to a vehicle to flee the city.
Mass numbers of people in these areas will be desperately seeking food, water, and medical supplies, as well as transportation out of the city.
2. Main Roads, Intersections, and Freeways
If you are planning to bug out to an area outside of the city, or if you are caught away from home, it may seem like the shortest route is the best course of action. But, keep in mind that main roads and busy intersections will quickly become overwhelmed with people trying to flee just like you are.
Most people only know one or two ways to get out of the city and these are usually main roads. Those who are looking to steal supplies will see main roads and intersections as prime locations to ambush unwary travelers.
3. Bottleneck Points
A bottleneck can be any area that a majority of people must travel in order to get out of a cul de sac, neighborhood, city, county, or state. In most cases, this will be things such as bridges, overpasses, underpasses, freeway ramps, etc.
If several hundred or thousands of people are fleeing the same area, and everyone must cross the same bridge to get out of town, that will quickly become a bottleneck point.
The same is true for any areas where there is only one road going in or out. Avoid these areas at all costs and look for alternative ways to get through or cross, even if it means taking a longer way around or traveling in a nontraditional way (motorcycle, private plane, bicycle, on foot, etc.).
It may seem weird to see hospitals on a list of places to avoid following a SHTF event because one would think this would be a place to find help.
The reason to avoid hospitals if at all possible is because most people, especially those that are injured, will flock to them. Even people who aren’t injured may head for the hospitals to get help for family members who have been injured.
Emotions in this area will be high and the risk of violence is greater as people lose control. In addition, patients who are ill and/or patients dying from lack of resources will increase the risk of rampant infection and disease.
The hospital and surrounding areas will be a petri dish environment for viruses and bacteria. With medical resources limited, you’ll want to avoid getting sick to increase your odds of long-term survival.
5. Prisons and Surrounding Areas
This one should be a no brainer. If there is a prison in your area or along the route to your bug out location (BOL), you’ll want to avoid the area as much as possible.
During a SHTF event, it’s likely that guards and staff may abandon their posts to care for their families which increases the likelihood that violent prisoners can escape and be on the roads.
These prisoners will come out into the chaos without any supplies, they will be desperate to survive and could be more willing to use violence to commandeer your supplies or vehicle.
6. Police Stations and Military Bases
Like with hospitals, it may seem counterintuitive to avoid police stations and military bases following a SHTF event. Police and military are supposed to serve and protect citizens, right?
But although it may seem like going to these locations would be a safer alternative, in most cases it will be a waste of precious time and may in fact get you killed or locked up instead.
Police stations and military bases will be among the most secure buildings. They will be heavily guarded, and they will not be opening their doors to the mass numbers of people who show up.
Crowds outside these areas will be frustrated and angry at not being granted protection. The last thing you want is to step into the middle of that crowd with your BOB of supplies, food, and water.
7. Shelters or FEMA Camps
Although shelters are designed to help those people who find themselves without a place to sleep or food to eat, most shelters are understaffed and operating at or above capacity even in normal times.
Homeless shelters and food banks will be quickly overrun by mass numbers of people. Some may be forced to close the doors to newcomers within days of a SHTF event.
These shelters and any publicized FEMA camps that spring up will have very poor conditions. Supplies will be rationed, tempers will be high, and violence will be rampant. As more people arrive, and conditions worsen, the buildings and surrounding areas will quickly become breeding grounds for infection and disease.
8. Grocery Stores and Shopping Plazas
For people who are not prepared, their first instinct will be to find food, water, and supplies. Humans are creatures of habit and thus many will flock to local grocery stores and shopping plazas and begin looting for needed supplies.
These areas will be picked clean within less than 24 hours of a SHTF event. Those that are left there will be the most desperate and scared for their lives. These crowds are unpredictable, and often violent.
9. Gas Stations, Auto Parts, and Convenience Stores
The reason to avoid gas stations, auto parts, and convenience stores is similar to that of other stores and shopping areas. Desperate people are going to flock to the first places they think of to find supplies to get out of the area. Those trying to get of the city will want to try to gas up and/or get.
For all but those people who were quick to get on the road, getting gas will be nearly impossible. Lines at these places will be long, tempers will be high, and violence will be much more likely, especially when pumps run dry and shelves are bare.
10. Hardware and Sporting Goods Stores
One thing that people will be searching for when SHTF is guns, ammo, and other items to use for protection. Since sporting goods and hardware stores carry a lot of these items, these stores will be hot spots for looting.
If you don’t already have your weapons ready when SHTF, you’re better off to look around your home for items you can use, rather than try for a quick trip to a hardware or sporting goods store.
11. Banks, Check-Cashing, & Pawn Shops
One thing just about everyone who isn’t prepared in advance will be looking to get first is accessing to cash. For this reason, banks, check cashing or loan offices, and pawn shops should be avoided following a SHTF event. This is where large numbers of people will flock toward first.
Many people in these areas will become trapped, unable to access their money, either because computers are down or because cash reserves were already depleted. When desperate people can’t get access to cash that they believe will help them get needed supplies, things will get ugly.
12. Large Shopping Malls and Public Squares
When things get chaotic just before a SHTF event, the last place you will want to be is in a public square or large shopping mall. These places can quickly become a gathering place for desperate, angry people. Rioting, looting, and violence will be high in these areas so it’s best to avoid them if possible.
13. Large Social Gatherings and Public Events
If you even suspect that things around you are getting chaotic. If you sense civil or economic unrest or have recognized other precursors to a SHTF event, you will want to avoid large social gatherings and public events.
These events draw large crowds of people on the same date and time. Events or gathering that are tradition or annual events that can be predicted or are widely publicized are more dangerous. These are prime target events for terrorists.
What to do Instead:
Now that you know what places to avoid going when SHTF, here are some things you can do to make sure you can avoid these places and still have a good chance of surviving:
Starting today, make it a habit to keep your gas tank at least 3/4 full at all times. Take steps to properly store additional gasoline in approved containers so that you can fuel up at home and skip the last-minute trip to the gas station on your way out of town.
Follow a regular maintenance schedule for your vehicle to keep it in top running condition at all times. Proactively make vehicle repairs so that your risk of a breakdown is less when SHTF.
Stockpile spare parts such as belts, spark plugs, wiper blades, washer fluid, transmission fluid, antifreeze, brake fluid, and engine oil so you can replenish as needed without that trip to the auto parts store.
Create safe storage places where you can begin to stockpile emergency cash so that you have it on hand when SHTF and do not need to make any last-minute runs to a bank, ATM, or pawnshop for cash.
Conduct a weapons inventory of any guns, ammo, knives, and personal self-defense weapons (mace, stun gun, etc.). Be sure to consider any other potential items (ball bats, shovels, chains, etc.) that could be used for weapons and protection during a SHTF event. Know what you have on hand and train yourself and family in how to use it if needed for protection.
Clearly mark danger zones in advance on a map or maps of your local area and surrounding areas. Plan several different escape routes so that you can quickly change course if needed due to unexpected danger or obstacles. Identify and plan to use alternative routes out of town including logging roads, railroad tracks, and power line easements if needed to avoid danger zones.
Locate and clearly map out any sources of fresh water that won’t be the first thought for others such as small lakes, ponds, private or public swimming pools, creeks, and rivers. Include a hand water pump and collapsible water jug in your BOB as well as a way to filter and boil water from these sources.
Stockpile lightweight food, ways to filter water, and medical supplies so that you won’t be tempted to make a last run to grocery or other shopping areas. Create a system of hidden supply caches along your routes to your BOL so you can replenish supplies that are used, stolen, or confiscated along the way.
Planning a bug out can seem overwhelming. But the more you plan and prepare in advance, the more likely you will remember which places to avoid going when SHTF.
Born and raised in NE Ohio, with early memories that include grandpa teaching her to bait a hook and watching her mom, aunts, and grandmothers garden, sew, and can food, Megan is a true farm girl at heart.
For Megan, the 2003 blackout, the events of 911, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, spurred a desire to be more prepared. Soon to be living off-grid, this mother of four and grandmother of ten is learning everything she can about preparedness, survival, and homesteading.