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The Basic Rules of Survival During Hard Times

Copyright November 11, 2008 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.


Whenever a significant number of people are devastated by hard times then the basic rules that govern that society always change. If you are not aware of these changing rules then you may quickly become a victim instead of a survivor. The purpose of this short article is to briefly discuss how a person can survive in a rapidly changing hard times environment.

Ordinary People

The Dark Side First, you should be emotionally prepared to see the dark side of ordinary people. This may eventually include people you have known for a very long time.

There is no place in the entire world where human beings do not have a dark side to their character. During normal times most of us keep our dark side under control because of the social consequences that would result if our dark side became visible to others.

However, a person's dark side may quickly assert itself in either one of the following two situations:
1. When a person believes there is no chance (or almost no chance) of being caught or punished.
2. When a person has nothing to lose if he is caught and everything to gain if he is not caught.

During serious hard times either one of the above two situations could result in the dark side of a person taking control of his or her actions. And this dark side can emerge in a large percentage of the population in less than one-day.

For example, consider the following three events that occurred in the United States, where each one was the result of a different set of circumstances but where the consequences were almost identical:

The New York City Blackout that began on July 13, 1977 and lasted for one 24-hour period:
The Rodney King Rioting in Los Angeles, California that started on April 29, 1992 and continued for six days:
The Hurricane Katrina Disaster in New Orleans on August 29, 2005 included:
Each of the above events was the result of a different set of circumstances. However, in each situation the dark side quickly emerged in a large percentage of the people in the affected geographical area, and the resulting chaos and destruction was similar in all three situations.

Therefore if our world continues to slide further and further down into a devastating hard times economy then you should be emotionally prepared to personally witness the dark side of people. And if you want to survive then you should make preparations right now to properly and adequately protect yourself, and the ones you love, and the place you call home.


Ordinary People Second, the people who will hurt you will not look like criminals. The reason is because criminals intentionally dress and act like ordinary people whenever they are planning to engage in a criminal activity. A criminal will do his or her best to look and act like a normal average person so he or she can catch his or her victim(s) by surprise.

A criminal can be either a man or a woman, attractive or unattractive, short or tall, thin or heavy, weak or strong, of any age (6 years to 96 years), of any race, of any ethnic background, and either well-dressed or poorly attired. I have personally visited prisons and taught Bible Study Classes in the evenings and the people inside the prison look exactly like the people on the outside except for their prison uniforms. If you try to stereotype criminals then you will quickly become an unsuspecting, unprepared victim for every criminal who does not fit your personal vision of what a criminal should look like.


A Child Third, during a serious hard times tragedy event kidnappings will increase exponentially. Children are the easiest people to kidnap and even if you pay the full ransom promptly and exactly as instructed there is still the chance you will never see your child again. At the beginning of a serious hard times tragedy event you must explain the seriousness of this to your children and make sure they don't go anywhere without you. Your children are too precious to gamble with their lives. Even your own yard will not be a safe place for your children to play. During a hard times tragedy event you will need to keep your children indoors with you. And you will need to keep them relatively quiet in order to avoid attracting unnecessary attention to your home. If your children are playing and laughing loudly then anyone who passes your home will hear them and they will instantly realize that the people inside your home are not experiencing the hard times. This will make your home a target for a surprise attack, and that attack will probably occur in the middle of the night.


A Dog Fourth, during hard times be extremely cautious around dogs. A large number of dogs will be abandoned at the beginning of a serious hard times tragedy event. Since these dogs will have been domesticated they will have little or no fear of people. When confronted with starvation dogs join together to form packs and a pack of dogs will attack, kill, and eat any animal or any person they can bring down. The size of the dog is not as important as the number of dogs in the pack. A pack of just six dogs can quickly surround and overpower even a strong adult male. A person only has two hands and two feet and it is very difficult to properly coordinate all four extremities at exactly the same time against a multitude of attackers. After the dogs get you bleeding in several different places it will be just a matter of time before you become too weak to fight due to the loss of blood. Therefore if possible do not travel alone, and always become immediately alert the instant you see a dog. If you believe this would be difficult for you to do, then during a hard times event when you see a dog think "bear." The best strategy for dealing with a stray dog or dogs is the same strategy that works with a bear - avoid it by putting as much distance as possible between it and you. If this is not possible and you are attacked by the dog(s) then terminate the dog(s) as quickly as possible.

In summary, most dogs and most people will probably not hurt you. However, you only have to misjudge one time and you could forfeit your life. Therefore during a hard times tragedy event you should be more careful because the basic rules of society will have changed.

Survival Strategies for Hard Times

Let me begin by defining three different types of hard times:
  1. Normal Hard Times: This is what most of us would call an economic recession. This is not what the government calls a recession because the government is constantly manipulating their statistics to give the illusion of a healthy economy. Normal hard times occur when many different types of businesses have significantly decreasing sales revenues that force them to layoff large numbers of their employees, and they close some of their branches, and this results in a lot of personal bankruptcies. As long as you personally still have a job and a place to call home then you can refer to this period as a "recession."

    Hobos Living in a Tent
  2. Serious Hard Times: This is what most of us would call an economic depression. There are huge reductions in sales revenues and massive layoffs nationwide. A lot of different businesses and financial institutions declare bankruptcy. You personally lose your job and your home. If you are lucky you can move in with someone else in your family who still has a job. If you aren't lucky then you may have to live in your car, if you still have a car, or you may be forced to live in some type of tent in a "temporary tent city." Regardless of who you are, or what you did in the past, or how many college degrees you have, as soon as you are forced to become a part of the "temporary tent city crowd" you will be perceived as one of the unproductive members of society and the local city and county officials will make your life far more difficult than it already is. You will also be feared by most of the local residents who still have some form of income and some type of home or apartment. This level of resentment and harassment is the trigger that unleashes the "dark side" of these ordinary people.

  3. Extreme Hard Times: This occurs when government and financial institutions work together to save themselves and the savings, pensions, and lives of most of the remaining ordinary people are sacrificed. Utility services become intermittent and unreliable. Necessary goods and services become scarce. Inflation rapidly escalates. In order to create the illusion that the government cares about you and that the government is trying to help you, official price controls are implemented and those prices are set at "pre-inflation price levels" which is below the current actual cost of the goods. Therefore most items are only available on the "gray or black markets" where their selling price at least covers the cost of the product. The government and the financial institutions blame everyone else for these problems - especially anyone or any group that voices a dissenting opinion. During this period there will be widespread starvation, epidemics, lootings, murders, rapes, and general lawlessness. Each person and family will be individually responsible for their own safety and survival. (Note: The current "spot" price of gold and silver is an example of government price controls in action. Almost anyone, including the government, would be more than happy to buy gold or silver at the official "spot" price which is significantly below the current true market price. However almost everyone, including the government, will not sell any gold or silver at the current "spot" price unless they are forced to do so. Therefore there are almost no sales of silver or gold at the current official "spot" prices.)

How to Protect Yourself:

Two Knifes During normal hard times, which began for many of us in the spring of the year 2007, it would be a good idea for every adult in your household to always carry a folding pocket knife all the time, even when you are at home. (Note: Please verify and then comply with your local and state laws.)
This folding pocket knife should have all the following features:
1. The knife should only have one blade.
2. The knife should be very easy to open.
3. The blade should have a strong sharp point.
4. The blade should have a very sharp cutting edge.
5. The blade should be between 2 to 3.5-inches long (check your local and state laws for the maximum legal blade length).
6. The knife should have a locking blade.
(Note: Several individuals suggested item number 6 above and therefore I have added it to the list of desirable features.)
The only purpose of this folding pocket knife will be for personal self-defense and it should be selected based on that single objective. The knife should not be used for anything except an emergency self-defense situation. Don't gradually dull the blade or the point on this knife by using it for a variety of daily cutting tasks.

If you use a knife for self-defense then I suggest that you use it like a rapier and not like a cutlass. The original swashbuckling pirates used great strength to slash and chop their adversaries with a heavy cutlass that had a sharp edge. These strong, husky pirates were easily defeated by smaller more agile men who used a thin light weight rapier with a deadly point and no cutting edge. The rapier was used in a quick thrusting in and out motion. A skilled swordsman could execute two or three quick in and out thrusts in the time it took a stronger man to swing a heavy sword from side to side and then regain control of the sword at the end of its stroke. The purpose of the rapier was to penetrate quickly and deeply and then be quickly withdrawn so the swordsmen could step backwards to safety. A self-defense knife should be used in the same manner as a rapier. Do not try to imitate the fancy knife fights you see in the movies where the men are swinging their arms and their knives from side to side. Those types of movie knife fights are performed for the camera and they have no relationship to real world survival.

Buck Model 119 During serious hard times every adult in your household should always carry a fixed blade hunting knife inside a knife sheath attached to his or her waist belt. This is in addition to the folding pocket knife that is inside his or her pocket. This means each adult would always have two knives - one knife readily visible at their side and the other knife inside one of their pockets. (Note: Please verify and then comply with your local and state laws.) Criminals simply cannot afford to get injured so they will almost always avoid a person who is visibly armed and they will wait until they see someone who looks like an easy target. The fixed blade hunting knife in the picture on the right is a Buck Model 119 and it can be purchased at most WalMarts for about $40. If you are already living in your car or in a "temporary tent city" then you should now have some type of fixed blade hunting knife for self-defense purposes. This knife can also be used for a variety of necessary daily tasks, such as skinning squirrels and rabbits for the cook pot. Always wipe the blade of your knife clean before you return it to its sheath. Use a sharpening stone at the end of each day to keep the knife edge extremely sharp. (Note: If someone politely asks to see your knife you should always politely say "No, my knife is very important to me and I never let anyone handle my knife." This should also be your standard reply if anyone asks to see your firearm.)

During extreme hard times every adult in your household should always "open carry" a semi-automatic high-capacity pistol in a holster on his or her belt in addition to a folding pocket knife and a fixed-blade hunting knife, even when he or she is at home. (Note: Please verify and then comply with your local and state laws.)
If you do not already own a high-capacity semi-automatic pistol then the following suggestions may help you make a good choice:
Pistol 1. A 40-caliber S&W bullet is normally considered the minimum caliber for effective self-defense.
2. Most people, including females, can handle the recoil of a 40-caliber pistol.
3. The pistol should be a "full-size" pistol as opposed to a "compact" model.
4. The pistol should feel comfortable when holding it in your hand.
5. The pistol magazine should hold at least 10 rounds. 15 rounds would be even better.
6. The pistol should come with two high-capacity magazines.
7. Hollow point ammunition is preferred for self-defense purposes.
8. A heavier grain bullet is preferred to a lighter grain bullet.
9. The pistol holster (purchased separately) should have a special magazine pocket permanently attached to the holster that will carry a loaded second magazine for the pistol.
10. If the pistol does not have a non-slip grip then either replace it or add a non-slip grip.

The above information is a very brief summary of the most important sidearm criteria that I have seen during the last twenty-years. However, just like any other topic there are individuals who have very strong opinions about every possible aspect of firearm ownership, including whether or not a revolver is better than a semi-automatic pistol. I do not wish to become involved in that debate. You may consult whomever you wish and make whatever purchase you feel comfortable with. However, if you want a specific recommendation for a weapon that simultaneously meets all the above criteria then that weapon would be a Glock Model Number 22 with two 15-round magazines and it currently sells for about $465 new (November 2008). Buy new if possible because the used pistols have generally seen extensive use at the target practice range. WalMart sells the 100 round value packages of Remington 40-caliber S&W 180 Grain Hollow Point ammunition for approximately $32. If you can afford it you should seriously consider purchasing at least ten boxes or $320 worth of this ammunition for your new pistol. Always practice with the same exact ammunition you will be using later for self-defense. If you are going to invest in new pistols for each adult in your household then you should consider buying exactly the same weapon for each person for a variety of good reasons. The exception would be if a person has a small hand and cannot comfortably hold a "full size" pistol. In that situation comfort and pistol control take precedence over standardization of weapons and ammunition. Also enroll in a firearms training course and learn the correct safe way to use your new weapon.

(Note: The pistol in the above picture is a 45-caliber Model 1911 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) with a seven-round magazine. The 45 ACP (not to be confused with the 45 GAP or Glock Automatic Pistol) is also a good choice for self-defense but for different reasons. The Glock Model 21 ACP (no picture) is a standard 45-caliber pistol that comes with two 13-round magazines and it sells for approximately $520 new (November 2008). The Glock Model 21 is also an excellent pistol. However, a 45-caliber pistol has more recoil than a 40-caliber pistol and therefore some people find it more difficult to shoot accurately. The Glock Model 21 ACP also has a slightly bigger grip from front to rear which makes it more challenging for individuals with smaller hands to grasp because they can't comfortably wrap their fingers around the grip and gain comfortable control of the trigger with their index finger.
The standard Glock Model 21 (45 ACP) has a total grip circumference of 6.00-inches just below the trigger.
The slim Glock Model 21 (45 ACP) has a total grip circumference of 5.75-inches just below the trigger.
The standard Glock Model 22 (40 S&W) has a total grip circumference of 5.50-inches just below the trigger.
The bigger grip circumference on the Glock Model 21 is necessary because of the extra length of a 45 ACP round when compared to a 40 S&W round.)

If you are going to invest in firearms then you will also probably need a rifle. A discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of rifles is beyond the scope of this short article. You will need to research information about rifles on your own. However, in order to avoid a lot of future email inquiries I will briefly state my opinion here. If I were going to select only one rifle and if I were going to buy one of these rifles for each adult in my household then I would buy the original model AK-47 (approximately $475 new) that shoots 7.62x39 ammunition because it can be effectively used for self-defense and for hunting, and the ammunition is a pointed bullet, reasonably priced, not too heavy, very accurate, and a single shot is very deadly.

Whenever you are handling a firearm please adhere to the following universally accepted firearm safety rules:
1. Always treat every firearm as if it were loaded and ready to fire.
2. Never point a firearm at anyone or anything you do not intend to kill or destroy.
3. Never put your finger on the trigger until the sights are aligned on the target.
4. Positively identify your target (no guessing) and everything behind your target the bullet might hit.

(Note: Resist the temptation to invest in ammunition reloading equipment. Instead invest whatever funds you would have spent on reloading equipment and reloading supplies on ready-to-use ammunition that has already been professionally loaded and sealed at the factory. If you will carefully research the reloading topic with an open mind you will gradually realize that factory loaded ammunition is a much better investment for an overwhelming multitude of good reasons.)

Personal Self-Defense

How to Survive an Attack During Extreme Hard Times:

As previously mentioned, during extreme hard times each person and family will be individually responsible for their own safety and survival. Although the government and its various law enforcement agencies will still exist they will be overwhelmed by the widespread lawlessness that will exist nationwide. Therefore the chance they will be able to protect you or your home will be close to zero. During an extreme hard times event you will have to protect yourself, your family, and your home.

If you doubt the truth of the above statement then do a simple internet search on the current situation in Mexico (or almost any other South American nation). The Mexican government and the Mexican police are losing the battle every day against the nation's drug dealers and criminals. Innocent people, including little children, are dying every day in the mayhem that exists in that country. This is the situation that exists right now in Mexico. And it may not be very long before this type of widespread lawlessness begins to run rampant in the neighborhood where you live.

During normal times there is unemployment, and there are robberies, rapes, and murders. As our current hard times continue to get worse, more and more people will lose their jobs and their homes, and they will become a part of the gradually increasing population of homeless people. During normal times these homeless individuals can usually survive on the charity and goodwill of the people in the area where they live. However, as the number of homeless people gradually increases there will eventually come a time when there is not enough charity or government assistance to meet everyone's minimum needs for survival. When that happens these individuals will have nothing to lose by trying to steal what they need. And as the hard times continue to get worse and worse and worse, these crimes of necessity that began as simple robberies will evolve into the more serious crimes of rape and murder. The "dark side" of these people will take control and what would have been a simple robbery during "normal hard times" will now end in murder in order to eliminate all the possible witnesses and any chance of being punished. If you don't believe this will happen then do an internet search on Argentina where the people are currently living in extreme hard times that actually began several years ago.

With the above perspective in mind, the following information may help you successfully defend yourself and your home during an extreme hard times tragedy event. This information is divided into three sections as follows:
1. How will the attack begin?
2. What should you do if you are attacked?
3. What should you do after the attack is over?

How will the attack begin?
You will receive no advance warning. You will not be given any time to prepare. You will be outnumbered. The odds will be against you from the very start. You will receive no mercy. Your only chance is to have thought about this ahead of time and to have already made a decision about what you are going to do.

What should you do if you are attacked?
If you are away from home when you are attacked, and running away is an option, then run away. If you can run faster than your adversary then you will have won the victory without losing a lot of blood.

Don't waste one second trying to negotiate or beg for mercy. Either immediately run away or immediately engage your attacker(s) with everything you've got.

The reason honest law-abiding people almost always lose street fights, and frequently their lives, is because they don't want to seriously or permanently injure the person who is attacking them. Think about that for a moment. And then make a decision right now about what you will do if you are attacked. You need to make that decision now so you do not waste precious time at the beginning of a fight trying to figure out some strategy to defend yourself. Simply defending yourself will not win the fight. To survive you must temporarily become as brutal and ruthless as your attacker(s). Your attackers will be trying to permanently cripple you, permanently blind you, and kill you as quickly as they can. Pause right now and think about that. Should you be trying to do anything less to your attackers?

If you are fatally wounded during the fight then do not simply give up and lay down and wait to die. Even a fatally wounded person will usually live for at least 30 seconds or longer after being wounded. You now have nothing to lose by trying to fatally injure or permanently disfigure or cripple all your attackers before you die. If you succeed then you will have prevented some or all of them from harming another innocent human being (such as a member of your own family). After all your attackers are dead it is still possible that you may survive your injury. But you will have no chance to survive if you simply give up. And don't try acting like you are dead. Your attackers aren't stupid and they will make sure you are dead before they leave the crime scene.

You should decide right now that if you are attacked during an extreme hard times tragedy event that you will not stop fighting until you are either victorious or you are unconscious, completely incapacitated, or dead. If you will make this intellectual decision right now then your mind and your body will automatically take over if you are attacked. And it is entirely possible that if you do not hesitate, and if you reciprocate with everything you've got, then you may actually live to see another day.

If you respond immediately with overwhelming force then you will probably take your attackers by surprise and for a few seconds you may actually have the advantage. The reason is because most of your attackers' previous victims probably didn't put up much resistance before they were terminated. Therefore, based on their past experience, your attackers will probably be expecting you to do one of two things: (1) to try to talk your way out of the situation, or (2) to wait until you know how serious the situation is before you actually try to defend yourself. Therefore your attackers will probably be anticipating another easy kill, and they will not be expecting you to immediately defend yourself with everything you've got.

What should you do after the attack is over?
If you are away from home and you survive an attack and you are physically able to leave, then put as much distance between yourself and the fight scene as quickly as you can. Do not wait for the attacker's friends to show up and finish you off. After you have retreated to a safe place, then immediately bandage your wounds and try to stop the bleeding. Then immediately seek medical assistance from a trained medical professional.

If you survive an attack then do not criticize yourself about the way you behaved during the attack. Do not intellectually punish yourself by trying to think of ways you could have won the fight without hurting any of your attackers. You did not initiate the aggression and therefore you are not morally responsible for the fate of your attackers. Instead you should take some comfort in the fact that you have reduced the number of criminals who will be attacking innocent people in the future. And you will have probably saved one or more innocent lives. However the people who will not get attacked in the future by those particular criminals will never know what you have done for them.

Community Defense

Regardless of where you live you are part of a larger social community. This is true if you live in an apartment building, or in a suburb on 1/2 acre lots, or in the country on 10 acre lots. Everyone has neighbors. During extreme hard times it would be a good idea if everyone worked together to help defend their community.

Effective community defense can be based on a very simple principle. If you can hear gunfire, or the cries of someone who needs help, then you should respond appropriately. If you do not assist your neighbors in their hour of need, then the violence will gradually move in your direction and you could be the next family that is in serious trouble. Therefore, a smart person will try to stop the violence before it reaches his or her family.

Resist the temptation to establish community defense based on natural geographical boundaries, such as an apartment building, or all the homes on one block. The family that lives in a corner house will be a neighbor to all the families that live in the corner homes on the other three corners. And the family that lives in the last house on this side of the county line will be a neighbor to the family that lives in the house just across the county line. Therefore, in most cases, geographical boundaries would not be the best way to establish an effective community defense.

A better way to establish an effective community defense would be to use sound. If you can hear gunfire, or the cries of someone who needs help, then you should respond appropriately.

During an extreme hard times tragedy event if a group of criminals is attacking one house (or a subdivision of homes), then the surrounding community that is not under immediate attack would be in an ideal position to help stop the invasion. The criminals cannot defend themselves from every possible direction. Therefore while most of their attention is focused on their current primary objective, the individuals in the surrounding community could carefully move into a position where they could safely pick off the criminals one-at-a-time. This would not need to be a coordinated military campaign. The families that live extremely close to the current violence may be able to see the criminals from their own windows and therefore they would be able to help without leaving the safety of their own homes. Individuals that live a little further away would need to carefully exit their own homes, and then carefully move into a safe position behind some effective cover, and then positively determine who is shooting at whom. If a person is firing shots at innocent people trapped inside a home, then that person needs to be stopped. On the other hand, if a person is shooting at a criminal who is shooting at the house, then you should not shoot at that person because he or she is one of your neighbors. If each person will positively identify the criminals before he or she pulls the trigger, then everyone can avoid making the mistake of accidentally killing one of their own neighbors.

The above strategy does involve some personal risk. However, waiting for the criminals to gradually make their way to your home during an extreme hard times tragedy event involves far more risk in the long-term.


In summary, during extreme hard times each one of use will be personally responsible for our own survival, and for helping our community to survive. Remember the motto of our nation's founding fathers: "United We Stand. Divided We Fall."

  1. The best strategy for personal self-defense would be to avoid the fight. This can be achieved by intentionally maintaining a very low profile at your home. Do not do anything that would attract attention to your house or to your community. If possible do not leave your home during extreme hard times. If you absolutely must leave your house then do not travel alone if possible. And always carry some type of weapon for self-defense regardless of where you are.
  2. The best strategy for effective community defense would be based on sound. If you can hear gunfire, or the cries of someone who needs help, then you should respond appropriately.
Praying Hands If you will follow these suggestions then you will significantly reduce the chance that you, or your home, or your community will be attacked. And if you are attacked then you will have a much better chance of surviving the ordeal.

Also remember that the ultimate outcome of any situation is always in the Lord's Hands. Therefore, in addition to becoming better prepared to survive hard times, you should also pray every day that He will watch over you, your family, your home, and your community.

Finally, please accept my most heartfelt apology for upsetting you with this information. I know the above topics are not pleasant ones to think about. However I sincerely believe the above information may save your life and the lives of your loved ones.


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Grandpappy's e-mail address is: RobertWayneAtkins@hotmail.com