Updating and revising our approach to self-defense, Part 2


(This is the second article in a three-part series.  The first may be found here, and the third here.)

Having examined the threat environment and how it’s changing, we have to ask ourselves how prepared we are to respond to it if the need arises.  This isn’t just a question of having the right equipment and training.  Although that’s important, it’s secondary to ensuring that, if at all possible, we don’t put ourselves in a position to need it.  Remember John Farnam’s always-valid advice?

The best way to handle any potentially injurious encounter is: Don’t be there. Arrange to be somewhere else. Don’t go to stupid places. Don’t associate with stupid people. Don’t do stupid things. This is the advice I give to all students of defensive firearms. Winning a gunfight, or any other potentially injurious encounter, is financially and emotionally burdensome. The aftermath will become your full-time job for weeks or months afterward, and you will quickly grow weary of writing checks to lawyer(s). It is, of course, better than being dead or suffering a permanently disfiguring or disabling injury, but the “penalty” for successfully fighting for your life is still formidable.

Crowds of any kind, particularly those with an agenda, such as political rallies, demonstrations, picket lines, etc are good examples of “stupid places.” Any crowd with a high collective energy level harbors potential catastrophe. To a lesser degree, bank buildings, hospital emergency rooms, airports, government buildings, and bars (particularly crowded ones) fall into the same category. All should be avoided. When they can’t be avoided, we should make it a practice to spend only the minimum time necessary there and then quickly get out.

“A superior gunman is best defined as one who uses his superior judgment in order to keep himself out of situations that would require the use of his superior skills.”

Read, re-read and absorb that.  It’s not just important, it’s invaluable.  There’s more good advice at the link (scroll down to the entry for 19 Mar 03 to find it).  Go read that, too.  You won’t be sorry.

So . . . in today’s threat environment, how do we plan to manage it?  The first and most important element is, understand what that environment is in your city, your town, your area, your region, your location.  What might work for me where I live may be completely wrong for your location.  You need to understand your local threat(s) before you can figure out how best to respond to it/them.  Those threats may include a greater need for self-defense, or they may indicate a need for greater personal security awareness, or both.  The entire threat environment is important, not just self-defense.

Start by getting a map of your area.  I suggest on paper, because that’s easy to carry around and use even if your cellphone battery is flat or the Internet is down.  Get one for each member of your family, and one per vehicle, and a couple of spare copies too.  If you have to use Google Maps or Mapquest or another service to create your own map, that’ll work, but make sure you save a detailed image of that map offline, so you can access it when the Internet is down.  You want a map showing streets and surface details, not a geological map or some other specialized application.

If you do a search for “Paper map of [your city/town name]”, you should find several options.  For example, if I look for maps of Wichita Falls, TX (the large city nearest to where we live), I find these:

  • Chamber of Commerce (including detailed overlays like demographics, consumer expenditure, etc.);
  • Bureau of Economic Geology (surface geology of the city and surrounding counties);
  • Market Maps (street detail map of the city – exactly what’s needed for this purpose – with a huge range of sizes, styles and prices);
  • Texas Dept of Transportation (online only, but in PDF format, so you can save a copy, print it, etc. If you want a big size, send it to print services like Walgreens or FedEx Office and they can print it for you.  Sadly, their maps show only major routes, not all surface streets).
  • Commercial sources such as Rand McNally, Mapshop, etc.

If you do a similar search for your area, you’ll find the same sort of results.  Select one that provides the best, most detailed coverage of your entire city area, including the outskirts and approach roads.  Also, find one that shows an area of 50-100 miles around your city/town, so you can see where those roads come from and where they lead.  If there’s a major gang/crime problem in a city 50 miles away, and that place erupts in violence, and there’s a major road leading from there to your town . . . guess where refugees and/or escaping gang-bangers are likely to head?  That’s right.  You’re sitting on the bullseye.

When you have a good map of your city/town, start marking it with critical information.

  • Talk to your local cops, check your local news media, and/or look online for crime reports.  What areas consistently show the most crimes/police reports/news headlines about them?  Put asterisks or check marks or colored stars on your map to indicate each incident.  Where you see the markers cluster is a place you really don’t want to go unless you absolutely have to.  If you live in or near that area already, plan to move somewhere else as fast as you can.
  • Talk to your local fire department about the sources of most of their call-outs.  Again, mark them on your map.  Where they cluster, avoid that area and get away from it if necessary.
  • Talk to your local ambulance/hospital/EMS service.  Where do they pick up the majority of their “clients”?  Mark the map, wash, rinse, repeat, etc.
  • Do an Internet search for “US major crime areas”.  You’ll be amazed at how many sources of information pop up, and what they tell you.  You may need to narrow it down, but a search on (for example) “Major crime areas in St. Louis” will be very revealing.  Use online services such as CrimegradeNeighborhood Scout, SpotCrime, etc., as well as unofficial information sites such as HeyJackass for Chicago (look for those covering your area, if they exist).  Again, transfer relevant information to your own map.
  • By the time you’ve taken those four steps, your map should look “interesting”.  Any clusters of problems it shows are areas you don’t want to go near.  That includes major shopping areas in some cities, such as Chicago’s “Magnificent Mile”, midtown New York City, etc.  Furthermore, in your travels around town (taking your kids to school or play, going to church, routes to and from work, shopping, etc.) plan to avoid such areas by a safe margin, even if it means going out of your way to do so.  The best way to avoid crime is not to be where it’s more likely to occur.

Now we come to another valuable use for your map.  Consider areas where, or to or from which, you frequently travel.  What are the roads like for such purposes?  Is there more than one worthwhile route to follow?  Which of them is more at risk from crime, fire, and other emergencies in the zones you’ve marked?  Avoid those routes, and pick safer ones.  If they’re all vulnerable to some extent, pick the least vulnerable ones.  Another consideration:  which of those routes are most at risk of traffic snarl-ups from time to time (e.g. school leavers, sports games, morning and evening commuter traffic, etc.)?  Plan to avoid them at those times, and make notes about them for future reference.

When you’ve done all that (and it may take weeks to assemble all the critical information you need), sit down and talk about it with your family.  Make sure everybody knows what areas are more dangerous than others, and why.  Discuss routes to and from your and their destinations, and make everybody aware of safer roads.  If necessary, distribute maps and printed instructions on where to go or not to go.  Put copies of relevant maps/information in every vehicle in your family, and make sure they stay there for future reference.  Also, keep an eye on current developments near you.  If the crime/problem areas get better or worse, or new threats arise, make sure you keep your information current in your head, with your family, and on your maps and other documents.

A primary consideration is to preserve your ability to move around.  Try not to put yourself in a situation where you can’t get away from trouble if it begins.  That can be local (can I get out of this parking garage in a hurry?), nearby (will my travel be impeded by the football game letting out?) or city-wide (has the power gone out, so that all the traffic signals are dead and the streets are gridlocked?).  I absolutely hate our bigger cities from that point of view.  When I spent a few weeks in the Los Angeles, California area some years ago, I felt as if I were trapped all day, every day.  For literally dozens of miles in every direction, I was surrounded by masses of people who would all try to escape if the Big One (earthquake) hit, or some other disaster struck.  Every road, including the famous six-lane Interstate highways, would become clogged within a matter of minutes, and stay that way for at least days, probably weeks, and possibly even months.  I was effectively in a situation where I couldn’t “get out of Dodge” to save my life.  I swore at that time that I’d never voluntarily live in such an environment, and so far, thanks be to God, I’ve been able to hold to that.

(That’s also why, if at all possible, you should have your own transport.  I’m aware that in cities like New York, many residents don’t own their own cars due to parking problems, congestion, expense, etc.  If you’re willing to trust your life to public transport in an emergency, that’s up to you.  I’m not, and I don’t think anyone should.  Even if you only have a folding bicycle (securely stored where thieves can’t make off with it), that’s better than nothing.  Pack a small emergency kit that you can carry on it, and be prepared to “bug out” to a safer place if necessary.  If the expense of a car is beyond your budget, do you have friends with a car?  If you help pay for travel costs, could you travel with them if need be?  Can you get to them in an emergency, or are they prepared to come past your place to collect you?  Plan and make arrangements ahead of time.)

Having prepared your map of your city/town and the area(s) around it, you can see more clearly where your highest risks are, or may be if something goes wrong.  Given that, you can plan your daily activities in more detail to minimize your exposure to those risks.  You can also plan to move to a safer area if that’s possible;  and if it’s not, you can take steps to prepare your home against the likely risks that are closest to you.  (For example, if you live in an area with more house or apartment fires than usual, do you have fire extinguishers handy to prevent them in your own residence?  Do you have hoses available – and external faucets – to spray water on fires near your home, to control the flames and/or prevent them from spreading to your property?  If you live in an apartment building or complex where fires have happened before, you’re at high risk of exposure to them.  Plan to move somewhere safer – urgently!  If you say you can’t afford to do that . . . what’s your life and property worth to you?)

Self-defense and personal security aren’t just about guns.  Firefighting equipment, security fixtures and fittings like exterior cameras and burglar bars, a heightened awareness of likely threats, and a more focused situational awareness to detect and avoid such threats – all are important, and more besides.  For every problem or potential threat you identify, ask yourself what you can do to mitigate it.  Talk to local cops/firefighters/EMS personnel and the like.  Ask their advice.  Don’t ignore the situation because “I can’t afford to fix it”.  What’s your life worth?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  If at all possible, get out of big cities, particularly those with serious crime problems or prone to natural disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.) that might require urgent evacuation.  In such scenarios, you’re one ant, or a family of ants, among millions of them.  You have very little chance of escaping such threats unscathed and unaffected.  Far, far better to position yourself in a safer, more defensive situation now, while you have time to do so.  If you can’t do that, for whatever reason (family ties, work, etc.), do your best to prepare your defenses against such threats now, while they’re still within reasonable limits;  and accept that the odds are pretty good they won’t stay within reasonable limits.  As we pointed out yesterday, crime, violence and social ills are getting steadily worse, and the rate of deterioration is increasing.  Be aware of that, and prepare for it as best you can.

(For one possible scenario of how our cities may explode into violence, read former SEAL Matt Bracken’s hypothetical description.  It’s scary, but it’s far from impossible. We’ve already seen elements of it in reality, most recently during the BLM/Antifa riots of the past couple of years.  I fully expect to see them again, and worse.)

All right.  We’ve talked about the overall threat environment, including – but not limited to – self-defense against crime.  Now it’s time to focus on the latter, and get serious about it.  We’ll do that in tomorrow’s concluding article.



  1. From having grown up in So Calif I have considered the problem of getting out of there if a disaster happened, and I believe it would apply to many other large cities.
    One of the major blocks to escape will be fuel supply. Only the well prepared will have more than 200 miles of fuel in their cars, and will tefuel as they travel. Most rural fuel stations get their fuel from the closest city, which may mean no resupply when the station runs out of gas. Most stations stock less than 40,000 gallons of fuel. That would fill about 2,000 cars. They would get away. Those behind them might not.
    LA is a particular problem, as it is in the middle of a desert. The surrounding States may not have enough water to support LAs' population as refugees, even if they got out.
    The "just in time" resupply of food items will be another bottleneck, for all areas, not just the cities, as much food redistribution is done at city based transport hubs.
    I have become as much concerned with "how does this system continue to work" as I am about "what is going to cause it to fail"?
    John in Indy

  2. Delorme atlas and gazetteer is a must have for your state and any w/in a few hundred miles of your home/work. And each of your vehicles should have that and a national atlas.

  3. Google maps are a surprisingly good tool for advance planning (although obviously not good to be relied on when the fecal matter hits the fan).

    In particular google has a "terrain" layer which shows contours and therefore gives you an idea of hills, plus in many cases satellite view gives you an excellent idea of where unofficial tracks and paths may be as well as the layout of buildings on a property etc. and streetview is extremely useful for analyzing junctions and the like

    You can use the output of this to print out clear guides to escape routes including using streetview photos to highlight critical junctions/landmarks. Of course it is even better to drive the route yourself but even there google can help you eliminate a number of options. It can also help you find options that you might not know exist such as the back gates of gated communities or inspection routes for waterways, powerlines etc. that you could use to avoid jammed main roads. All you'll need are bolt cutters or similar to break the locks (and you can check what the gate is locked up by visiting in advance)

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