How to Deal With Looting When TSHTF

Quick note:  The winner of the firesteel contest is named at the end of the post.  Read on…


In order to deal with a threat, or perceived threat, it is easier to do so if you understand it.  During the research for this post I dug into the psychology of looting and decided that it would simply take up too much space to include it here.   But we can still learn a few things…

First of all what is looting?  According to wikipedia:

Looting (Hindi lūṭ, akin to Sanskrit luṭhati, [he] steals; also Latin latro, latronis “thief”)—also referred to as sacking, plundering, despoiling, despoliation, and pillaging—is the indiscriminate taking of goods by force as part of a military or political victory, or during a catastrophe, such as during war,[1] natural disaster,[2] or rioting.[3] The term is also used in a broader sense, to describe egregious instances of theft and embezzlement, such as the “plundering” of private or public assets by corrupt or greedy authorities.[4] Looting is loosely distinguished from scavenging by the objects taken; scavenging implies taking of essential items such as food, water, shelter, or other material needed for survival while looting implies items of luxury or not necessary for survival such as art work, precious metals or other valuables. The proceeds of all these activities can be described as loot, plunder, or pillage.

This definition is important as it distinguishes between two acts:  looting, which is stealing items not needed for survival, and scavenging, which is taking things needed for survival such as food, water and items needed for shelter.

As is true with all things relating to the psychology of human beings there are no cut and dried patterns of behavior; however, by studying certain events in the past we can begin to form ideas of how things might happen during a crisis.  This knowledge may assist your decision making in times of an emergency.

Modern looting is most likely to occur during a riot (or war) of some kind.  The trigger event could be something like a sporting event fight such as the Stanley Cup game when Vancouver lost to the Boston Bruins in 2011, or it could be triggered by something like the LA Riots of 1992 when the cops who beat Rodney King were acquitted.  Another recent event was the student riots in England in 2010.  All of these were triggered by intense human emotion and the eventual outlet was through rioting, and to a lesser extent, looting.

When these kinds of events take place and there is looting the people involved aren’t going after food, water, and other staples; they are going after electronics, shoes, clothing and other items.  In other words the things they are stealing don’t have anything to do with their survival or the survival of their families.  They are taking things simply because they want it, others are doing it, and they are in the right place at the right time.

Another point to consider is that the media is likely to focus on looting and other crime after a disaster because it sells the news.  Don’t always believe what you’re seeing on TV until there is confirmation of it through other sources.

Natural Disaster

After natural disasters there tends to be less looting of the type seen in riots.  Not to say that it doesn’t happen, but when someone’s home is totally destroyed people are more inclined to be thinking about feeding themselves and their families than stealing a big screen television.  This is where scavenging comes into play.  A lot of people don’t have food at home to last them a week, much less a month and if there’s some kind of disaster they’re likely to go looking for food and other supplies for their families.

Has looting happened after a large natural disaster?  Yes indeed.  Hurricane Katrina is a good example and so is Hurricane Hugo when it destroyed St. Croix back in 1989.  As a matter of fact the US had to send federal forces in order to help get things under control in St. Croix.  Reports indicate that local police and guardsmen were involved in the looting as well.

The interesting thing about looting is that people who normally wouldn’t do such a thing can fall right into it with others.  Why is that?  Pack mentality?  Herd mentality?  “I’m doing it because everybody else is,” is a recurring theme when people are asked why they’re looting.


The victims of looting tend to be store and small business owners.  Often it’s not enough for looters to steal everything in the store.  They will also destroy what’s left of the store and sometimes even burn the property as well.

It should be noted that individual residences are rarely targeted during riots.  Looting of private residences usually happens after a large disaster when people are scavenging for food, water, and other necessities for survival.  Long term disasters like the Haiti earthquake are an example of people scavenging to stay alive.

Other victims during riots depend on the riot.  Those who are too weak to defend themselves.  Those that are in the minority such as Boston Bruins fans wearing their team’s shirts in a sea of Vancouver jerseys.  Sometimes being in the wrong crowd when law enforcement shows up and starts beating the crowd back.  They can’t tell if you’re a friendly face or not.  All they know is that you’re part of a violent crowd and you will be treated accordingly.

So What Have We Learned?

There are a couple of things that we can take away from this analysis.

First, if you’re anywhere near a riot it’s time to leave.  If you get caught in one of these events don’t fall victim to the herd mentality if people start looting.  In Vancouver and other places there were enough cameras around that most of the people involved in the looting and rioting were caught.  In today’s technological society there’s an excellent chance that you’re going to be on the news if you commit a crime.

Second, in a natural disaster people are more likely to come together, at least at first.  Back during the ice storm of 1998 here in Maine and Canada people helped each other out, but there were others who stole generators while they were still running!  If you’re prepared you shouldn’t have to resort to screwing your neighbor over so that you can remain alive.  Be smart and have at least a months worth of food and water on hand as well as a backup way to stay warm if you live in a cold weather climate.

Third, in a localized emergency your home is unlikely to be targeted for looting (at least no more than usual), but if the disaster drags on it would be wise not to draw attention to yourself.  Think OPSEC here.  For example, if every house on your road is dark due to a power outage, but someone drives by and sees your house lit up like a Christmas tree you’re drawing unwanted attention.  This may not be a big deal if the power is out due to a snow storm and it’s the second night without power, but if the electricity has been out for three weeks you might get some attention you could do without.

Defending What’s Yours

What if you are a small business owner or even a home owner that is being targeted by a mob?  Is it ok to defend your business with a firearm?  Is it ok to defend your home with a firearm?

During the LA riots one of the more popular scenes aired on TV was Korean merchants walking around with hand guns shooting at people who were attempting to rob their stores.  There have been other incidents where store owners protected what was theirs by using force.  To my knowledge none of the Korean merchants involved at this time were charged; however, the source for this is unverified and I could be wrong.  source

One thing to keep in mind though is that once the incident is over there is usually an accounting for what happened during the event.  If you, as a store owner, kill or injure someone protecting your store you are likely to face charges for it.

One last word to be said about those who are willing to take to the rooftops and streets to defend their livelihood:  if they are desperate and angry enough they are probably not worth messing with.  Chances are good that they’re better organized than the looters and chances are also good that there will be men and women with prior military service amongst them.  Even if they’re defending with bolt action deer rifles someone who is a good enough shot can kill out past 500 yards.

Police Protection

One of the Korean merchants interviewed after the riot voiced his displeasure with the LAPD.  He said as soon as the shooting started they bailed out and left them to their own devices.  Luckily, they were able to hold their own; however, depending on someone to help you out in that kind of situation might be setting yourself up for trouble.  Plan to be as independent as possible when making your defense plans.


As a homeowner it becomes a more dicey issue, but instead of giving advice I will tell you what I would do.  If someone is threatening the safety of my family I will use whatever means necessary to quell the threat.


There are always variables to consider in every situation.  Is this likely to be a short term (one day to a week or two) or is it likely to drag on for an extended period of time?

If it’s short term play it smart and safe.  Stay inside and don’t draw undue attention to yourself.  If someone does try to get at you ask yourself if it’s worth someone’s life to protect your property.  Abide by the law as much as possible because there will likely be a reckoning when the dust settles.

If it’s a true TEOTWAWKI Zombie apocalypse then all bets are off and you do what you have to do to stay alive.

This is a book sized topic and this post is growing out of control, so I’m going to wrap it up here.  I’ve left a lot out, but feel free to bring up your points in the comments below.

How about it?  Would you stay and fight to protect what’s yours?

-Jarhead Survivor


Bustedknuckles is the winner of the Jarhead firesteel contest!  Please contact me at

Thanks for all the great ideas.