“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change. You just come out the other side. Or you don’t.”
― Stephen King, The Stand.
In the recent blog “When the Unprepared Come to Your Door: What to Give Them”, I suggested that in some circumstances, you may want to help people by providing them a hand-up bag of some sort to increase their chances of survival as you also send them on their way. At the beginning of that video, I thought I was pretty clear that certain conditions would predicate your choice of whether to help or not, like conditions to maintain operational security–OPSEC, and if you know the person or not. It was also clear that if you don’t know the person and feel that your safety is in jeopardy, you should always turn the person away. There were a lot of insightful comments on that video from the community, but I was also a little taken aback by how clear-cut some of the comments were. Some were very black and white: “I would give them hot lead.”
I put a poll up on the YouTube community tab and over a third of you indicated that you were torn. You wanted to help, but you didn’t want to put yourself at risk, either. That’s really the key element here. I think most of us would help if we could, but certainly don’t want to put our careful preparations and safety at risk. Another third of respondents indicated they would help only if they could remain covert to maintain their security.
Some remembered that any kit or handout has to come with caveats. “What you give is subject to your area, the need of the beggar, how prepared you are, and the current social climate. But a granola bar and a bottle of water is a good baseline.” And the response, “And tell them to disappear after that. Always wear a gun after SHTF.” Perhaps I could have been clearer that, as the first comment pointed out, your condition of giving is partly a factor of the climate after the disaster. In an actual SHTF situation, you likely would have just to turn people away from your door. For OPSEC purposes, you can’t be seen to have plenty when others have nothing. I agree in general, but tossing a dying person a plastic 12-ounce bottle of water and a single granola bar probably won’t wholly jeopardize your OPSEC, especially if you are well defended, and they’re closer to death’s door than your own.
There were so many good comments on that video, I think it’s something we think about in the back of our minds when we “what if” situations, or we don’t think of it at all. Either way, I think it’s a topic we need to explore further as a community. Just as we prep our skills and supplies, people showing up at our location after a disaster is pretty likely. I see this as breaking down across three distinct factors: Who you know, the type of disaster, and your situation and supplies. This video will be more of a thought piece based off your comments and the feedback from the poll and it’s a conversation that needs to be had. So let’s jump in…
One commenter wrote, “I would give a hand-up kit only to close neighbors I trust. Strangers would probably get a tin can that has a scoop of dry beans, a lighter, and a mylar blanket. The can would be used for holding water and cooking. Maybe some dry fruit in a baggie. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I had more.” I think this touches upon one of the things I was trying to say in the video. I suggest several basic things you might consider in the kit beyond a means of food, water, and a tarp for shelter, but what you give will depend significantly on both how dire the situation outside is and whether you know the person. Books and movies fail based upon whether the reader or viewer believes and sympathizes with the main character’s plight. I think the same is true in real life. If strangers are roaming the streets and breaking into homes, I wouldn’t be answering the door but might be letting people knocking know I’m prepared to defend my home. If it’s a close neighbor, friend, or family member, though, you have a choice to make. Let them in, help them out, or send them away to their likely demise. And, that is what I want people to consider with any kind of giving.
A small mason jar of rice or beans isn’t going to reveal the 50 pounds of each that you have stored in your food storage area. Even so, if you don’t know the person or it doesn’t feel right, it feels sketchy; you don’t want to take a chance if the disaster is still spiraling out of control outside. As many commenters pointed out, if you don’t know the person, you probably want to send them on their way, perhaps even empty-handed. Consider this, too. What if you don’t know the person, never saw them before in your life, but you empathetically feel for their struggle? What if it’s a pregnant woman? A woman with a child? A desperate father with an injured child? Yes, sometimes the wolf does come to your door in sheep’s clothing, and everyone does have a story, sometimes true and sometimes false, but can you just turn your back on another human in dire need? Is maintaining your conscience part of your ultimate survival? As one scholar on the holocaust once pointed out, “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.” Will you be able to live with yourself later, turning your back at the moment. It’s around this dilemma that the choice to help or not help orbits.
I don’t know the perfect answer. Maybe there isn’t an ideal answer, but I think there are some questions that we, as preppers, need to ask ourselves before finding ourselves in the dilemma. Other commenters dealt with this moral dilemma ahead of any disaster. One indicated that he gave prepped bags to people as holiday gifts one year, so his conscience was clear. Another suggested engaging in the community and getting others involved in taking control of their own preparedness long before disasters strike. I know some churches have preparedness as a core pillar of their religion. Preparing others in advance is possibly the best hand-up kit you can provide. Then, if you do have to choose whether to help someone and you decide not to, your decision is made easier because you know you tried to help others before the disaster, even providing some others with the means to survive.
I lived in Afghanistan in 2003 doing NGO work. We ran into this issue daily. Our home was in a compound and we had people knocking all the time asking for help. We were cautioned that once we gave, others would quickly learn and we would have a line outside of our door. It was a difficult decision, but we had to avoid giving at our compound’s door to ensure our safety among other things.
The type of disaster is a big decision about whether to help anyone, and I tried to underscore this in the first video. If it’s a localized disaster like a tornado, and there isn’t a likelihood of additional disasters, things are on the mend in your community; what harm is there in popping the lid on a #10 can of cream style corn and some other close to expiration foods and feeding people on your front lawn? You don’t have to reveal your stores or even that you prepare for these types of things. You can make up a story about some family reunion you have next week that’s a big cookout, so you had these things on hand. What you will accomplish, however, is community building. You will get to know your neighbors around the common ground of a disaster, and you can build on that later by encouraging their preparedness. But, this is a localized disaster with an endpoint in sight and help on the horizon.
The type of disaster will really determine what you can do. If it’s still chaos out there and the feeling of desperation is high, and the likelihood of civil unrest is high; of course, you don’t want to set up a soup line on your front lawn. The probability of you being overrun or harmed is very high. Desperate strangers can easily justify their atrocities inflicted on other strangers in the name of their survival. If it is terrible outside your safe home, you are better off not even answering the door. I agree. If the disaster is truly bad and there isn’t relief and recovery in sight, you are best served to turn away anyone who comes to your door. If it’s an actual SHTF-level disaster, a hand-up kit isn’t probable even for people you know.
In this situation, you have to determine whether you’re willing to take the person in, and you should not do that with people you don’t know. You should only do that if they’re family or close friends if you so choose. The choice is yours, but taking in an aunt or uncle who shows up at your door that you actually like may increase your consumption and decrease your overall capability to bug in for an extended period. Still, they might add another set of hands to increase your odds of survival. An extra set of eyes and hands guarding your home when potential marauders are circling outside might be what you need to survive the night. Someone who knows a thing or two about cooking, mechanics, electricity, or some other skill might be what you’ll need later. These are all things to consider.
So, you have to think of whether giving a handout is a reality, based upon your situational awareness of the type and extent of the disaster. In some situations, you wouldn’t want to hand out anything. In some situations, you may want to open up a little and help your neighbors out. In some situations, you might want to provide an extensive kit or bucket of useful items. In some situations, you might want to just pass a granola bar and a small water bottle through your mail slot and tell the person to move along. One of the factors as to what you will and can do will be the type and scope of the disaster, for sure.
The final consideration for helping the unprepared is your own situation and supplies. If you don’t know the person and the disaster is big with no end in sight, you could be sitting on floor-to-ceiling supplies that would last you a decade, but you still might not want to give it away. With those first two considerations in mind, you have to consider your own needs first. If you have one 55-gallon barrel of water for your whole family and relief and recovery aren’t on the horizon, you shouldn’t hand out water. If you do, maybe you are just handing out a little 12-ounce bottle. If you are, perhaps you’re just handing out that extra life straw and saying you had it for hiking, and maybe it will help them. If when you look at the disaster, and you look at your supplies, you have an uneasiness that your supplies will last, maybe you have to draw the line and make the hard choice not to help. For some, that runs contrary to their core religious values of charity and caring, but every choice leading up to a disaster and every minute of choices after is a weighted decision as to whether you will survive. You have to view it as such.
What’s your food situation? Are you going to have what you need to get you through? Can you see the possibility of things clearing up? If you think you only have enough to get you through the entire extent of the disaster, you don’t have enough to hand out. Here, maybe the granola bar is the better choice if you give anything out at all. After food and water, of course, what’s your shelter situation? How secure are you in your home? If there is any chance at all that your security will be compromised, or you even for a moment think the person on the other side of the door would harm you, come back for more, or try to take more, you have to act as if you have nothing and you have the means to protect that nothing. Your security is the most significant factor. That’s what you have prepped for.
In real life, we may be touched when we see those with very little giving to those with nothing, but that’s because we live in a world where we are allowed to do that. What passes through our hands can be replenished. After a disaster of unknown scope and magnitude with no end in sight, the possibilities of replenishment aren’t likely. If your supplies and your situation don’t feel sufficient to get you through, you have to harden your heart against the stranger. Your survival depends on that hard choice. That all said, I can see at least one situation where your situation may dictate trusting a stranger, and that is if your situation is that you are forced to bug out and leave your location. You could lock away what you can’t carry and pray that you might one day return, and it might be there. You should do that anyway, but you might seek the assistance of whoever is at your doorstep to help you get safely to your bug out location or at least safely moving in that direction. If you and your group, if any, can go it alone, that is always your best option when bugging out. Always. But, if the situation outside is so bad and your odds of making it to your safer location are really bad if you go it alone, soliciting the assistance and companionship of another for the cost of a spare hand-up kit or extra bug out bag might be the best decision of your life. Only time will tell.
As many commenters pointed out, if they had warned others and tried to help them in the past, they wouldn’t feel bad about telling them to pound sand after a disaster strikes. I mostly agree with this sentiment, but I do think it comes down to who you know, the type and scope of the disaster you’re in, and your current situation and level of supplies. The choice to help or not help is problematic, and I don’t think a single answer fits all situations. Even considering it all before a disaster strikes might not be enough to have a clear-cut decisive response in the crisis.
The hand-up kit is a possible solution should you ever find yourself having to make that choice; however, it’s not the right choice for all situations, and I wouldn’t dare to suggest that it is. So, with these factors in mind, take another look or a first look at the When the Unprepared Come to Your Door: What to Give Them video and tell me what you think. Have you already been through a disaster where you faced the choice of whether to help or not to help? Was your decision factored by one of the considerations I outlined here? I think it’s a consideration we are best served deliberating over now rather than in the aftermath of a disaster.
As always, please stay safe out there.