In Part 3 of this series, we conducted information-gathering trips to see how our community responds to a developing disaster. In Part 4, we will analyze our data and use it to execute a safe and effective last run.
Think Twice, Act Once
Having gathered the data about your immediate area, take time to analyze your findings and decide whether or not a last run will benefit you and your family. Under the best of circumstances, there will be risks; I don’t want to minimize that. However, if you have done your homework, you will have a good idea of where to go, when to be there, what to buy, and what not to worry about not buying. Earlier is always better.
Executing the Last Run
A last run is your family’s final opportunity to stock up and fill all the available space in your home with food, water, and other supplies that you will need for an extended emergency. Use your knowledge wisely.
Ideally, you will begin your last run no later than 24 hours prior to the start of an expected event. Two or three days (or more) is much better, safer, and has a significantly greater probability of the items you need being available. Try to get ahead of the herd. This assumes that you have paid attention to your local news and know that your situation is deteriorating. The closer you are in time to the disaster event, the greater the risk of failure to procure what you need, as well as risking possible physical injury during the shopping and loading phases of the trip. Worse, if the disaster comes on suddenly or if you are well into the disaster event and must shop to replenish your supplies, you will be at even greater risk because of the number of people who are in the same or worse condition.
Be smart. Do not underestimate how dangerous people can be when they are hungry and desperate. Think mobs, riots, political protests, Black Friday insanity. You’ve seen on television how rapidly situations can devolve. Don’t let yourself become trapped.
Be sure that you are driving a dependable vehicle with as close to a full tank of gas as you can manage. Routinely keeping your gas tank at least three-quarters full at all times is a great safety practice.
If you have the option, choose a vehicle that has a trunk, where you can lock your purchases. Even if the car or truck has tinted windows, it’s not much of a leap for criminals to assume that there are things of value inside. Breaking a window and snatching your purchases or your purse takes only seconds.
Take another adult with you, if possible, because there’s more safety in numbers. If you live in a place where open or concealed carry is legal, seriously consider one or both of you being armed.
Unless you absolutely have to, don’t take children with you. There is no sense in putting their lives at risk, and they will further complicate a situation that might already be dicey. Remember, you might be just fine in the store, but the parking lot could be another matter entirely. Be prepared, mentally and physically, or don’t go.
Shop during daylight hours. Even if your shopping center has security lights, they are dependent upon electricity. Expect store security personnel to be overwhelmed or unavailable. Park as close to the door of the store as possible, or if parking near the store is at a premium, park in as open an area as you can so that you can see what is going on around you. Criminals often hide in and around parked cars.
Be sure to have sufficient cash to pay for your supplies. The electricity needed to process credit/debit cards might be on in some stores but not others, or it might suddenly go down while you’re in the line waiting to check out. Some stores may or may not accept checks, so don’t assume you’re oky there. Besides, paying in cash is faster.
When leaving the store, don’t just blindly head for the car. Wait a moment or two in the doorway to survey the parking lot and evaluate your environment. Has it snowed while you were inside and now you have to clean off your windows? Is the parking lot pavement slippery and covered with ice? Are there folks just “kinda hangin’ around” trying to look unobtrusive? Trust your spidey sense; they might be up to no good.
If you don’t think it’s safe, for heaven’s sake, don’t leave the store. Alert the store management of your suspicions and see what they have to say. They might provide you with an escort to your car or at least watch your purchases while you go fetch your vehicle. If you have another adult with you, you have the option of splitting up– one to get the car, the other to stay inside with the purchases, then one to load and the other to be a lookout. The decision to divide forces or not will be up to you. Give these risks some thought in advance, and if in doubt don’t go out.
Some Thoughts on Carrying Cash
Comparatively few people today regularly use cash for their buying transactions. The success of the last run depends heavily on using cash. That carries with it some major risks. If stores have no electricity, they may or may not continue to operate. If they do, they generally put a limit on how much you can spend and require that the items be paid for in cash. If the stores do require cash transactions, that will become known very quickly. Robberies, muggings, and car-jackings already occur in store parking lots and malls all too frequently. Expect those crimes to increase in areas where criminals are absolutely sure that everyone in the store has cash on them.
Be as small a crime target as possible. Don’t wear clothing with high-dollar designer labels or expensive jewelry. Try to be as ordinary and unnoticed as you can. If you can, leave your purse or wallet at home and just carry the basics– ID, driver’s license, and carry permit, if you have one.
Before you leave your car, check to make sure you are not being watched, then spread your money around on your person so that it’s not all in one spot for pickpockets to grab. Know how much you put where, so that you don’t have to fumble for bills at the checkout.
Don’t flash your cash at the register. Have a good idea of what you want to buy and how much it will cost. If there is a sales limit, take only that amount (plus a little more, perhaps) into the store with you. Leave the rest at home or secure it in your car, and be sure to lock the car and take the keys with you.
Be aware. Be prepared. Knowing where certain items are stocked is very useful and can help shorten your time in the store. The next time you shop, before TSHTF, make note of how the store is laid out and where your items are located.
Keep your wits about you every second and keep your mouth shut. No one except your shopping companion needs to hear anything you have to say. This is serious business and not the time to chatter. Your object is to get in, get out, and get home safely. If that means leaving your paid-for purchases behind and running for safety, so be it. Do not hesitate.
A special note: In an emergency a cellphone is a wonderful piece of safety equipment, but using it reduces your ability to maintain situational awareness. Using one openly also makes you vulnerable to robbery and mugging. Take the time to coordinate your plans and answer any questions you or your group might have before you go to the store. Leave the phone for true emergency use. Also consider the possibility that the phone will not work if the electric grid is down.
Divide and Conquer
If you have more than two adults available to do the last run, consider splitting up your list or going to two (or more) locations. In my own family, we have four adults. We also have multiple locations that sell entirely different items. For example, the grocery store and pharmacy are at one end of town, and the Farmers’ Co-op is at the other end. Because of the number and variety of animals that we need to feed, we have found no practical way to stockpile enough food, salt, and other supplies for them for more than a few weeks at a time. Even if we did have the storage space, large amounts of animal feed attract rats and go rancid (or degrade nutritionally) over time. A last run to the Farmers’ Co-op is, to me, crucial, and since I am the livestock manager of our group I would handle this trip myself.
The grocery trips can be handed off to any of the other members of the group. Because we periodically review our supplies, each member is familiar with what we have on hand and what we normally buy. While a prepared list is ideal, I feel comfortable knowing that any one of our family members can go into any store and buy items that make sense. I am also sure that if the situation warrants, each member of my group knows to skip a store that’s too crowded or otherwise dangerous and go to another, change the purchasing plan and shop for entirely different items, or just come home empty-handed or otherwise.
I believe that, in most cases, the benefits of a well-planned last run can offset the inherent risks involved if the shopper is wary, focused, and not over-confident. If you are the type that thinks you can outlick, outdraw, and outshoot any cuss that crosses your path, do everyone a favor and stay home. You’re just going to get someone hurt or killed.
I’ve successfully made a last run more than once but never during major lawlessness in my community. War, terrorism, mob violence, gang fighting, or rioting of any kind is not a safe environment for shopping. I won’t risk it, and I don’t want to suggest that you should, either. A loaf of bread and a bottle of aspirin do not warrant losing your life or the lives of your loved ones.
Be smart. Stay safe, and keep prepping.