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For some reason I didn’t see the parallels. Black Friday came and went and I heard the typical stories of camp-outs, record crowds at store fronts, sprints for the best deals and all the usual stuff.

But it wasn’t until no fewer than four readers independently sent me their thoughts as well as YouTube clips to illustrate their points that the similarities were driven home: Black Friday shoppers could well resemble the so-called “Golden Horde” of desperate people sweeping store shelves bare during an emergency.

For those unfamiliar with the term, the Golden Horde referred to a vast army of Mongols which swept into Eastern Europe in the 13th century, pillaging and destroying as it went. In modern “Prepper” lingo, it refers to the potential thousands of unprepared urbanites who would be forced to flee cities in a disaster. The actions of the two different types of hordes might well be the same, with one difference: the Mongols were disciplined and well-led.

In one appalling video, the camera caught a pregnant shopper who was knocked to the ground as crowds surged into a store. How the hapless woman avoided being trampled I don’t know, because people were stampeding past her with barely a glance and certainly without caring.

We live a long ways away from big stores, so I’ve never had the inclination or interest to participate in Black Friday events, particularly the kind that requires camping out for three days in advance. (This year in north Idaho, it was zero degrees on Black Friday, and the thought of sleeping outdoors to snag a $50 laptop seemed ludicrous.) But it wasn’t the camping I found disturbing; it was the animal-like behavior shown by the crowds once the store doors opened. They were heedless of fallen shoppers, preferring to surge ahead in order to snatch and growl and snap and bite over a coveted piece of merchandise.

While I recognize that most people participate in these activities in the spirit of good fun and the thrill of the chase – NOT because they’re desperate for a Tickle-Me-Elmo or whatever – the videos disturbed me because of how fast the joie de vivre can turn ugly and animalistic when someone is thwarted.

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As any survivor of Hurricane Katrina can attest, similar conduct occurs when disaster strikes. Behavior born of fear and desperation strips away the laughably thin veneer of civilization, and subhuman animal instincts rise to the surface. It’s been said that Americans are no longer morally equipped to handle an economic collapse. If people will threaten to kill over that last Cabbage Patch doll, what will they do over that last gallon of milk?

If the urge to “win” a coveted toy or cheap laptop during a mad Black Friday dash can result in trampled shoppers and injured security guards, what will people do when they are truly desperate and frightened, and when the coveted item is the last loaf of bread or can of chili?

Sometimes I feel like a broken record – or like Cassandra (doomed to see the future but unable to convince anyone that her predictions were accurate) – when I urge people to keep their pantries stocked so they never have to become animals, shoving others out of the way so they can grab the last of a coveted item. How can I convince people to take care of themselves so they don’t have to become members of that desperate horde? When disaster strikes, wouldn’t you rather be home protecting your family instead of fighting some other desperate person over the last item on the grocery shelf?

There are all kinds of disasters. Some are best handled by hunkering down and not being a burden to emergency personnel. Other disasters are best handled by fleeing, in which case you need to be prepared to take care of yourself for at least a few days without becoming a burden to disaster responders. Whether your area faces hurricanes or earthquakes or wildfires or blizzards or ice storms, why oh why won’t you prepare yourself to cope and survive?

As I discussed before, I consider it important to prepare in seven basic areas. Those areas are food, water, warmth, light, medical, sanitation and protection. Nearly every aspect of our survival and comfort can be found within these categories. And with very few exceptions, everyone is capable of putting aside enough supplies to keep them going for at least a couple of weeks without outside help.

Yet most of us won’t do this. After all, “it can’t happen to us.”

Until it does. Until that snow storm devastates the region and no supplies can get in. Until an earthquake disrupts transportation and store shelves are wiped bare. Until a hurricane devastates electrical and water purification services. If you don’t think “it” could ever happen to you, just ask anyone who has experienced a disaster to see if they used to feel the same way.

So here’s a challenge. Prepare your family for whatever disasters are likely to befall your region. Then send me what you did and I’ll post it on my blog. This will encourage people to follow your example, and it will also offer insights and ideas that others may not have considered.

When a disaster strikes, I’d like to think everyone will join hands and sing Kumbaya while helping each other out. And often this happens – there are beautiful stories of selfless behavior in the wake of an emergency. But all too often, people panic and their animal instincts rise to the surface, resulting in looting and destruction.

When it comes down to it, where would you rather be during an emergency? Safe at home? Or roaming the countryside, hungry and desperate, as part of an unled and undisciplined horde?

By preparing our families, we are more likely to be part of the former group, not the latter. To use a cliché, we’ll be part of the solution, not the problem.

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