Rules For Living and Rules For Staying Alive, by Arizona Slim

Survival can certainly include situations that are a bit short of, and a bit more mundane than TEOTWAWKI. And as much as we wish it were otherwise, I know a lot of us are in a suburban or even urban environment. We find ourselves in a great many situations with the potential to become survival scenarios on a smaller, more personal scale. We are also subject daily to a million ridiculous rules and laws and prohibitions and warnings and  statutes and such that most of our rural brethren can go for long periods of time without even having to consider. We can find ourselves lulled into a sheep-like acquiescence, where it’s easier to go along to get along. But if you want to have every opportunity to survive a threat, you must be aware of this condition and be able to switch it off when the flag goes up.

The first job I had as a young adult was as an EMT, working for a local ambulance company. It is an amazing experience for an 18-year old to turn on flashing red lights and a siren and leave the Rules of the Road pamphlet buried and forgotten somewhere under the seat. Driving on the wrong side of the road, the wrong way down one-way streets, entering on exit ramps and exiting on entry ramps, ignoring red lights and posted speed limits. Not to mention parking next to No Parking signs and red curbs, on sidewalks, lawns, and many places one does not find vehicles on a regular basis. Not con permiso, that’s for sure.

Now, I should mention that all of these were not only acceptable hereabouts during that wild and wooly time, but they were all done with tremendous care and judgment, in circumstances necessitating such rule-bending. But I was also set for life with the appreciation that given the right circumstances and the right impetus, most rules can be bent, broken, or completely obliterated with just cause and due care. And at times to great benefit.

If you are facing a crisis scenario, or even when you are doing the invaluable mental preparation for such times, do not let mindless adherence to “The Rules” impede your ability to provide for your safety, that of your family, and anyone else you might be responsible for. Now, I’m not talking about ignoring that society has proscriptions against capital crimes. Let’s not get carried away. No matter what you are considering doing, keep in mind you may well find yourself defending your choices at some later point. And face whatever outcome is decided by those who may disagree with your judgment. We all know that circumstances can take the act of killing another human being from murder to manslaughter to negligent homicide to justifiable self-defense. But we’re going to dial this down to a whole other level.

I’m talking about the endless ocean of minor “rules” we face from a thousand sources every day. “Don’t Walk, Do Not Enter, One Way, Authorized Personnel Only, Danger, Keep Off, Keep Out, No Turns, Caution, Employees Only, No Public Access, Warning, No Parking, No Exit, ad nauseam, the list really is endless.

Rules made up by anyone, everyone, and no one (that anyone can determine) with and often without the authority to make them, much less enforce them. Rules that under any normal circumstances might be so minor we seldom give them any thought, but blind adherence to which in an emergency might make all the difference in the outcome. This is a mindset, a “civilized” way of living under normal circumstances. But it’s an insidious one. You can find yourself “obeying” mindlessly, without considering the cost. In a worst case scenario you could find yourself in a bad way because as a morally upright, law-abiding sort you reflexively followed herd-think and didn’t allow yourself to consider an out-of the-box alternative that might bend the rules temporarily into a pretzel.

The fictional Sarah Connor said "There’s no fate but what we make." I decided a very long time ago that when my safety and that of my family is at stake, there are no rules except the ones I make. Period. I will face the music, if any, after my family and I are safe.

These precepts can and should be adapted to every conceivable location and circumstance, but we’ll use a familiar place for our mental exercise, and explore one small example of what I’m talking about. You are at a large shopping mall with your family. As is your nature, as you contemplated this outing, you gave some thought to where you parked, the layout of the mall, and where you intended to go in the mall. You ran through some what-ifs in your head, and possibly verbally reinforced your family’s safety and security procedures before going in. This undoubtedly includes maintaining awareness of exits and potential evacuation routes, when and where to meet, cell phones all around, etc.

You realize that a major incident would surely result in chaos. You picture the crowd trying to get out the exits in a fire, or in response to something in the air, like the inadvertent dump of someone’s OC pepper spray, or worse some kind of flash-mob event or … the sound of gunfire. Whether there is an immediate threat or just the perception of one, these are herd animals we’re talking about. It’s going to be ugly.

When faced with large-scale moving forces, whether mall stampede or tornado or rip-tide the very best path to safety isn’t with or against, away from or toward, but at right-angles. You could survive any of the above from fairly close range if you were only off to the side; if you had a way to move that is perpendicular to the lines of force. Like that very plain double door over there that no one seems to notice. Have you ever considered or discussed the use of the mall service corridors? There’s a good chance the answer is no, you’ve never given them any thought. Why? Because the signs say “Authorized Personnel Only.” The “rules” say you aren’t supposed to go there. So you might not even know what’s back there, much less have that at the top of your escape route list.

In most large malls the building is riddled with these secondary access-ways. Despite their non-public nature, a lot of times they even appear on maps of the mall. They are typically long, bare concrete or concrete-block corridors which run behind all of the inside stores and there are usually exits from each store into these passageways. The shops often use them to receive merchandise deliveries. In many there are also fire exits to the exterior of the building. In an emergency, if using a service corridor was the expeditious route to safety for me and my family, I would “authorize” myself in a heartbeat. I would disregard the signs, and I would do so forcefully and immediately. Let some retail mall rat holler at me. Let someone shake their head with a disapproving stare. Let some rent-a-cop mumble into his walkie-talkie. I’ll deal with that later, if at all. Chances are no one would even notice.

In fact, take a field trip. Go walk-about at the mall. Dress respectably if not professionally and carry a folder or clipboard. Most often these corridors open into the mall at both ends. Go to one end, open the door like you own it and walk directly and purposefully to the other end. No one knows everyone and each will assume you are “authorized.” Chances are no will even be there. If you meet someone, make eye contact and offer a pleasant greeting. No one will wonder or care. And now you know what to expect on the other side of those plain doors. While you’re at it see if the mall has some give-away maps and see what might be on them.

I am famous for my “create-a-space” parking. I know what the law says, I know what the signs say, I know what is enforceable and what is a “suggestion.” It’s amazing what some places and management types will try to get away with simply because it works with 98% of the sheeple. But that’s not the same as the rule and force of law, or even private property rights. Now, I’m not a sociopath. In fact I go out of my way to not take advantage of or be a hindrance to others, or disregard or disrespect the rights of others. But I make my own decisions based on the situation at hand. And that is under normal circumstances.

In a crisis my willingness to play these reindeer games all but evaporates. Need to immediately retrieve a family member in an emergency? Let someone holler, “Hey, you can’t park there!” First of all, says who? Yes, actually I can. Second, even if I can’t “legally,” if circumstances are serious enough a parking ticket is the least of my concerns. And I’ll likely be long gone before any official response materializes anyway. And if not I’ll explain. And if Barney’s having a bad day I’ll accept it and tell it to the judge. What I’m not going to do is stand there and debate the issue. Whatever I say in response, if anything, I am not going to stop moving. Better to pretend you can’t hear, as you smile, wave and keep moving.

While I am a staunch advocate for private property rights for individuals, when it comes to commercial private property much is actually considered a public space and is legally and operationally different. I know that many, many “rules” carry only the force that comes from hoping the sheeple don’t know any better and decide to play along. Very few carry any consequences beyond being asked to leave or “don’t do that.” Hardly anything that rises to the level of changing what I would do in the best interests of safety and security for me and my family.

The point is, you decide, don’t let something or someone else decide for you. Make a choice for your immediate survival and let the chips fall. Never let silly rules or someone’s delusions of  authority trip you up at a critical moment. Be civil, but forceful. Apologize later. If later comes. Even when talking about “rules” survival can be a matter of “improvise, adapt and overcome.” Especially the overcome part. Rules that may make some kind of sense or serve some purpose in civil society under normal circumstances may hinder survival in a crisis. They can cause you to hesitate, reconsider, change direction. They can slow you down, rob you of what turned out to be your only chance.

You may think this is all a bit elementary. You may be thinking, well of course in a case like that I’m going to ignore the rules. Perhaps. A great many otherwise intelligent people have inexplicably done otherwise in difficult situations and paid dearly. You may be a big tough guy who is pushy and independent to a fault on his best day. But what about your spouse? Your older children? Chances are they were raised to respect and follow the rules. I know of family members that, though fortunately having not seen them in a critical situation, on a daily basis they are not the pushy sort. I could just hear them saying they and their children were trapped in some place for some long period of time because there was this guy saying no one could leave. Let’s face it, most people want to play by the rules in normal situations, and our bias is to want to believe the situation is in fact normal. I of course would be apoplectic! Guy? What guy? You listened to some guy? You stayed there because some guy said stay? Hopefully they’re telling me this in person because eventually all was well. But I’m guessing you have a family member that you can hear saying the same thing.

Many occupants of the World Trade Center towers were told by 911 operators to stay where they were and wait for rescue. Some were on their way out and were told, “Go back upstairs to your office.” Hard to believe, knowing what we know now. And very painful to contemplate. Those who obeyed, died. Those who listened to their inner voice and said the heck with that, left, and lived. These were New Yorkers! “Whadda ya gonna do, give me a ticket? Up yours, I’m outta here.” But of course those who stayed…were New Yorkers too.

You decide, and make your own fate. And make sure your spouse and your family are up to the task as well. Sometimes people just need to consider the situation and give themselves “permission” to do what is necessary. The point is to do that now, while there’s time.

Back to the mall. Many of those who relish flexing imaginary authority over petty and absurd rules are themselves sheep when push comes to shove and can frequently be directed, re-directed and misdirected by superior force of will. Let’s play, “my pretend authority is bigger than your pretend authority.” A brawl breaks out close-by in the mall. It seems to be spreading or moving in your direction. Teens that you aren’t going to out-run with your family. There’s no clear avenue of escape. You move swiftly into the nearest store and head for the back. At the very least you are out of the immediate path of the mayhem and it may pass you by. If it enters the store you have a better defensive position with your back to a wall. But what you are hoping for is that like most of the stores there’s an exit into the service corridor in back.

As you move through the store, headed for the back “authorized personnel only” exit a store employee steps into your path. Before they can get a word out, use your command voice and tell them to do something. Anything. “There’s a man with a gun. Keep all of your employees in the store.” Don’t debate, don’t discuss, don’t answer questions and  don’t stop moving. Point and issue commands. Officials don’t answer questions, officials tell people what to do. It doesn’t even have to make sense. “There’s been a release, don’t run any water.” Give them something to do. “Call mall security and tell them there’s a Code 18 at the food court.” What they intended to come out as, “You’re not allowed back here” or “Where are you going?” suddenly and reflexively turns into, “Uh, okay, yessir.”

Pretty funny actually. Think of it as the shock-and-awe version of social engineering. Think of some lines in advance. Practice.

If the way out isn’t obvious, ask! Ask in a firm command voice that leaves them with no thought but to provide the answer. Very controlled, professional, firm. As you do so pull out your wallet and flash your ID. It doesn’t matter if it’s your library card, they aren’t going to get a look. You watch television, you know how. Keep issuing commands and keep moving. They’ll be overwhelmed and it will work 95% of the time. For the other 5%, you’ll have to make the call. If the situation is grave enough, go around, over or through them. Or even have them consider that they should be leaving also, for their own safety.

In any situation, move with purpose, as someone on official business would move. Sound official, as someone on official business would sound. Look like you know where you are going and are supposed to be going there. Demeanor is everything. You can accomplish an amazing amount without ever actually being official or even saying anything or misrepresenting yourself as official, but just by being officious. “I never said I was anyone at all, I guess she just assumed," you might say.

In a disaster I intend to get home. I have a hard hat, metal clipboard, reflective safety vest, ID on a lanyard, and two-way radio in the back of my truck. I don’t intend to claim to be anyone. But I intend to appear to be someone. Look official, sound official, be treated as official. (Who was that masked man?)

Beyond the “posted” rules, the same goes for folks acting under some delusion of quasi-authority, or even real honest-to-goodness authority for that matter. I make the rules for my safety, period. There’s no question I am pre-disposed to listen to the directions of qualified, commissioned public safety figures: police officers, paramedics and firefighters. I actually work in public safety with these folks. But I will still determine for myself if those directions made good sense, and act accordingly. Even the best in blue can cast good sense aside, sticking to an official line solely because they are under orders, and that can ultimately get people hurt or worse. The chief standing up in front of the local news camera two weeks hence and apologizing for mistakes that were made isn’t going to bring anyone back. And if we are talking about anyone else – a rent-a-cop, a store manager, any civilian in any civilian role – sorry Charlie, all bets are automatically off.

And of course it all comes down to the urgency of the situation. Under any normal circumstances if the nice officer says,  “Sorry, road’s closed, not supposed to let anyone through,” I will say thanks, turn around and make other plans. In a major event, a true personal emergency, I will decide for myself. Note from the pros: the nice officer manning the roadblock typically cannot abandon the roadblock to chase after the person who ignored the roadblock. (And you can’t read a plate that isn’t there. I’m just sayin’.)

Brand it on your consciousness: Following the herd is almost always a really bad idea, unless you are convinced by your own direct observation that what the herd is doing makes sense and has an obvious, immediate, demonstrable chance of success. Certainly never follow the herd just because some low-level functionary who found the on-switch on a bull horn is telling you it’s the thing to do. And never ignore your gut because some sign says, “Don’t Go There.” You will almost always have a better outcome by doing the opposite of what the herd is doing, or at the very least, if there is no immediate threat, waiting until the herd thins. Petty “rules” be damned. No matter the circumstance of my passing, the one place I will never, ever be found is at the bottom of a pile. No Coconut Grove for me. It’s anathema to everything I know.

I’m sure you can think of a hundred examples. The point of this is to get you thinking, and like everything else we do, use the luxury of time available now to contemplate the what-ifs, saving critical time in an emergency. Raise your awareness. Consider the massive onslaught of rules you are subjected to as you go about your daily business. Take note of every prohibitive sign or posted notice. That includes traffic signs. Think about how they might restrict your chances for survival were you to follow them blindly in an emergency. Perhaps more important, is to consider how they will drive the herd in such a situation, and how you might benefit from choosing a different path.

Get other family members thinking along these lines. Although I know a few very formidable women who could stop a charging grizzly with a look, it is undoubtedly easier for most men to take such a forceful authoritative approach. And probably, let’s be honest, for us guys to flaunt or ignore the rules and would-be rule-enforcers. Convince your better half that she absolutely can do the same, with a bit of determination to prevail, and maybe a little practice with her “command voice.” Role play. Let her pretend to be a prison guard. I’ll leave the uh, details to you.

If all of this talk of wanton lawlessness doesn’t sit well with you, keep in mind we are not talking about normal every-day circumstances. We are not talking about getting the last flat screen television on Black Friday. We are not talking about avoiding the longest line for Splash Mountain. We are not even talking about getting to the church on time. We’re talking about planning ahead to let ourselves color outside the lines a bit if that’s what’s necessary for the safety and survival of ourselves or others we are responsible for. The good news is that in a large-scale emergency no one is likely to notice, care, or have time to address the infraction, much less try to intervene or even follow up later. Like an ambulance driving on a sidewalk en route to an emergency. In the big picture it will be a non-event.

Remember, studies of those who survive catastrophes have shown that the survivors tend to be those that thought about the possibility of trouble in advance and had a mental what-if plan. Because when the bell rings, there is no time for thought. You move instantly, or you lose. So consider now, and make friends with the idea that you intend to put your hand firmly in the very middle of the “NO EXIT” sign when you shove the door open and take your family out of harm’s way into the sunshine. You can stop for ice cream on the way home. And see what you missed later, on the evening news.