COVID-19: The threat to personal security

Before I get into this subject, I’d like to establish my credentials to do so (just in case anyone thinks I’m scare-mongering or making this up).

  • I worked in situations of unrest, war, social chaos, etc. in the Third World (specifically sub-Saharan Africa) for a number of years, seeing at first hand what the disintegration of normal social structures and conditions can (and will) do to people.
  • I’ve seen war and combat, both in uniform and as a civilian.
  • I’ve worked in disaster relief, as an individual and as part of several agencies, in at least a dozen nations on two continents.  I’ve written about some of that in these pages in the past (see, for example, “Lessons learned from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005“).
  • I’ve worked with law enforcement at local, regional and national levels in a support capacity, in two nations on two continents, for a total of almost twenty years.  I retain many of the contacts I made during that time, and they keep me informed of conditions “on the ground” in their area(s), as readers will be aware from recent blog posts.

I’m drawing on all that background to write this article.

The coronavirus pandemic is already causing social unrest and deprivation in many parts of the world.  For examples, click on any of these headlines:

As Reason magazine sums up:

Unemployment, impoverishment, and despair are frightening outcomes in themselves. They’re also a recipe for social unrest that will afflict even those of us who weather both the pandemic and the accompanying economic storm.

That’s exactly right.  I’ve seen precisely that happen in many nations and cities under the impact of catastrophe, whether natural or man-made.  We’ve seen it in the USA too, many times.  Consider the looting in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, or the impact of the blackout in New York City in 1977, summarized in this TV news report.

Former SEAL Matt Bracken wrote an article back in 2012:  “When The Music Stops – How America’s Cities May Explode In Violence“.  If you haven’t read it before, I recommend you do so now.  It may be over-the-top . . . but then again, it may not.  I’ve seen very similar scenarios to those he portrays in other countries, and the consequences were just as dire as he foresees (including the retaliation of those trying to defend themselves and their neighborhoods).  It can happen here too:  and right now, with so many people out of work, kids out of school, jobs lost, essential goods in short supply, people confined to their homes without any relief from family and other pressures, and the overall stress of a sudden, massive change in the way we live, I’m expecting social unrest in the USA in many forms.  This can and will impact our personal security in many ways.

In the event of urban rioting and violence, I expect the authorities to concentrate their law enforcement efforts on what they perceive as worth defending.  They will effectively abandon more violent neighborhoods (and those living in them) to their own devices, seeking instead to protect more peaceful areas from being dragged into the downward spiral.  This is a cold, hard calculation based on the resources available.  Each city has only so many security personnel available.  If they get too thinly stretched, the only answer is to pull them back into a defensible perimeter around trouble spots and let the fires burn themselves out, so to speak.  The USA is not alone in adopting that tactic.  For example, a French official has effectively conceded it’ll happen in some of that country’s banlieues as well, infamous as they are for their insularity and crime levels (much like inner-city American ghettoes).  Residents of the banlieues are already disregarding quarantine regulations, and actively resisting security measures.

For that matter, many of us in the USA (but not all of us) are fortunate that we live in a reasonably stable society, with support networks available to most of those who need them.  The Third World is much worse off.  For example, to see what the coronavirus pandemic is doing in a city in the Philippines, read the last couple of weeks’ entries on the blog “Come and Make It“.  Seriously – click over there and read them.  They’re eye-witness accounts, straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.  Poorer neighborhoods in some US cities are not unlike that place.  I won’t be surprised to see similar developments, and similar reactions.

If you live in or near a major US city, particularly one with a large homeless population and/or a serious inner-city crime problem, you need to be aware that you’re at greater risk of exposure to such problems.  If you doubt that, consider that retailers in those cities are already preparing for it.  (Some claim that’s only because their insurance companies insist on it.  Well, why do you think they insist?  Isn’t it because they have a fairly good idea of what to expect?)  Here are recent pictures of landmark stores in, respectively, Chicago, New York City and San Francisco.  Notice anything similar?

If those stores (and/or their insurers) see good reason to prepare for trouble, why aren’t we doing what we can to prepare as well?

Consider, also, the stresses and strains on a population that’s become accustomed to using recreational drugs as a “safety valve” to escape the realities of their environment.  As we’ve already noted, those drugs are in increasingly short supply, and becoming more expensive, too – just when people are out of work and can’t afford them.  That’s going to be a major source of social pressure in and of itself.  Addicts don’t care about consequences, only about their next “fix”.  I’m expecting that to grow worse as time passes.

I’ve written extensively about emergency preparations, and about firearms and self-defense.  You’ll find a selection of my articles in the blog sidebar.  I urge you to read those that seem relevant, and to read more widely as well.  There are many voices to teach us, and much to learn.  However, the first step is to analyze your own situation.

  • What can you do to better protect yourself and your family against criminal predators and social unrest?
  • Look at your home, your surroundings, your neighborhood.  What are the risks, and where will they come from?  Can you resist them from where you are, or is your position basically indefensible, requiring you to move to a safer one?  If the latter, can you move to a safer place quickly if the situation gets worse?  If not – for example, if intervening streets may be blocked – then consider moving now, before it’s needed.
  • Can you defend yourself and your loved ones?  If you don’t have the tools and knowledge needed to do so, it’s never too late to start learning and equipping yourself.  I don’t mean only weapons, either.  Fire extinguishers, personal protective gear like masks, gloves, etc., hard helmets to protect your head if things are being thrown, etc. – they’re all useful and important.

One thing of which you need to be very cautious is forming any sort of neighborhood group for mutual self-defense.  If you’re in a jurisdiction where you can clear that with police, and do it with their knowledge and approval, that’s good.  I was part of something like that in Louisiana in 2008, after Hurricane Gustav, and I live in a community today where self-reliance will probably be officially encouraged, if necessary.  (That’s one reason I live here!)  However, in large cities with big populations, it’s very unlikely that law enforcement authorities will permit or tolerate anything of the kind.  If you find it necessary to do that, keep it to yourself, and make sure you don’t recruit Rambo types to your security team.  They’ll stick out like a sore thumb, make the rest of you look like uncontrolled vigilantes, and draw all sorts of unwanted attention to you, from law enforcement and criminals alike.  You don’t need that.  Work with solid citizens who can be relied on to do only what’s necessary, and not take things too far.  If you don’t know people like that, or not enough of them, now’s the time to look for them, before they’re needed.

Remember, too, that many larger cities have technology to detect crime and respond to it.  Street cameras, a “shot-spotter” network, and other devices can pinpoint trouble and photograph those involved within a matter of seconds.  That can help to keep crime under control;  but if you have to defend yourself, it might also pinpoint you as a threat.  Imagine the radio call to responding officers:  “Man with a gun on 23rd Street!  Shots fired!  Two people on the ground!  Suspect is running away!”  What if the suspect is you, and you’ve just defended yourself against two muggers, and are trying to get away from their friends?  The cameras won’t know that – and as a result, the police might assume you’re a fleeing felon, and treat you accordingly.  Be aware of those factors, and take them into account in your preparations.  Try not to put yourself in a position where you become a suspect.  That’s not a healthy place to be!

In the final analysis, you’re the first responder for your own security and that of your family.  Do what you have to do to protect yourselves from harm.  That’s the bottom line.  If worse comes to worst, there’s always the 3-S approach.  It may not be ethical, or moral, or legal – but there may be times when there’s no alternative.  How do I know this?  Trust me.  I know this.



  1. Paul Kersey is one of the few to point how wonderful it is to have all this urban 'duh-versity' that always does their part for the country especially during a crisis. It's a damn shame we can't deport a lot of these people.

  2. Wow on the Philippines situation. Sounds like there will be a LOT of civil unrest their soon. I thought the higher temperatures would save them.

  3. Of note regarding the Philippines – that place has been a low-level powderkeg for forever. Especially now. Many 'retailers' are muslim, even in strong Catholic neighborhoods. And, yes, it's been proven (conspiracy time here) that the 'retailers' have gotten funding from various muslim social groups (like, ya know, various terrorist organizations) and send part of their profits back to their backers.

    Read 'Come and make it' and there's a strong undercurrent of hatred for said 'retailers' and the 'retailers'' lack of following government rules regarding the Wuhan Corona Virus situation.

    As to locally, the very places that will erupt are the very places that the local governments have been keeping at the edge of chaos as it is good for their (local governments) politics and for getting big money to funnel away from making the edges of chaos not edges of chaos.

    And, now, well, oops.

  4. "If you live in or near a major US city…"

    What part of "avoid crowds" does not apply?

    That demographic (that chooses to live in highly populated areas) has already failed a fundamental strategy: avoid danger. Placing oneself in harm's way and then trying to devise methods to deal with the resulting danger demonstrates a foolhardy mentality. And please spare the pitiful bleat of "well some people have limited choices". It is not that their choices are limited; they just do not like the ones available.

    Cities are hell-holes, and many people like to think that they can dance and flirt on the edge of the hole and not get burned.

  5. BFR:

    it would seem that you don't understand why cities (and towns, for that matter) exist. It is where most jobs are located. Eliminate these locations, and we are back to a near hunter-gatherer existence, pretty much. Manufacturing, beyond the blacksmith level, stops. If you think things would continue as they are out in the countryside with them gone, you are very much mistaken.

  6. Peter, most all the cities in the Bay Area that had that shot-spotter system installed had them removed. They were worthless. Response time of police is the major problem, beyond the fact that the system doesn't work as well as the models show, in the real world. Wasted money.

  7. Will, most real manufacturing exists in non-city locations because cities have taxed, regulated, and overall forced manufacturing outside the cities. In industrial suburbs, sure.

    But packed to the gills stacked on top of each other populated cities, that have transitioned from manufacturing to service 'industry' only? Nope, most real 'blue collar' industry has run or been run out.

    And, really, look at all those high-priced executives in city 'white collar' jobs. Many of them commute from outside the city. Commute from places that could easily handle the white collar jobs. Look at the way some of the companies diversified from New York City after 9-11. Really big cities? Just a source of plague and crime and really really haves lording it over the have-nots.

  8. Sorry people. I am here in the Philippines and can tell you the true situation without the drama. After reading just a few of the snippets of "Come and Make it", I can conclude that the author has:
    a. A serious case of Cabin Fever
    b. Extreme Paranoia.
    Or a combination of both. If that is not the case then he is a professional agitator. I have heard of fake news and this is one of them. Most media outlets here are fiercely anti-government and any news counter to the government's are immediately broadcast even before it has even happened. No, there are no looting, killing spree, nor rioting. Everyone has been very patient and cooperative. Food and assistance is provided by local government units (LGUs) and one just has to get out of his house and go to the nearest local official to complain. As a matter of fact, most news nowadays are about delays in distribution of food and assistance, and discrimination against health care providers (because of fears they maybe carriers of COVID-19) but never anything about what the author perceives to be the end of the world. Now if you wanted to highlight hell on earth you may want to choose someplace else. Or better yet say a prayer for those who are sick, who have died and those assisting them.

  9. Beans,
    I'm aware of that, but you only get real production in concentrated areas. For that matter, congregations of people are located in transportation and/or resource rich positions. Look at the origin of any town or city, and this will be obvious. Granted, very little actual production now occurs in the heart of a city. As you point out, it has been pushed away to "clean up" the city.

    Unfortunately, manufacturing is still too close to those cities, and when things go sideways in a big way, the denizens of those ghettos will spill out and destroy it. Sub-urban is still too close, because those cities are in prime locations. Truck and aircraft shipping can allow some dispersal, but too many rail lines go thru choke points at cities, and it's not really feasible to re-route them. That, and water based shipping is one of the original reasons for those city locations. Those can't really be replaced.

  10. @jaimecenturion101: I hear you – but there are other sources that confirm what "Come and Make It" is saying. I suspect that, in the Philippines as elsewhere, what you experience depends on where you are. Some regions will undoubtedly be more stable than others; some less so.

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