We live in a violent country with a violent history. I planned to start this article by looking at the threats that are particularly relevant to us in South Africa but I quickly realised that besides being a depressing exercise it is also an impossible task to complete. In any case, we are probably all aware of the challenges. Now we need to think about how to mitigate them. So I will stick to general issues and focus on improving our response to them.
In South Africa the challenges we face are perhaps more obvious and immediate than some of the scenarios people overseas are anticipating. I’m not saying we will never experience a meteor strike or EMP, but crime and civil unrest are threats we all acknowledge as real and significant. Fortunately the preparations we make for one type of threat often go a long way to helping us in other situations too. So what scenarios should we anticipate and plan around, here in South Africa? I will list some of the things that concern me the most, and you can adapt it to your situation.
In the 21st century we are completely reliant on a stable electricity supply for all of our energy needs. From cooking food to lighting your home and keeping your phone charged, electricity is essential to our modern lifestyle. Load shedding is just an inconvenience but if the grid were to collapse – and it has happened in other countries – we would be without power for between one and three weeks while power stations are restarted and synchronised to the grid.
Street lights and burglar alarms stop working and if you have a problem you can’t even phone the police as even landlines need power. If you go shopping for supplies your credit card would not work and drawing cash from the ATM is also not an option. Shops would not stay open long anyway before empty shelves or looters force them to close. After a few days taps would run dry as reservoirs empty. Without shops to get essentials and money to pay for what they need, we could soon have looting and violence as people become desperate to feed their families.
Whether it is national or provincial unrest, xenophobic attacks or local service delivery protests, we need to have a plan of how we will react to these various situations. With a power outage we would have time to get home, gather our family together and possibly make a detour to the supermarket for last minute supplies. Unrest is more likely to flare up without warning, so we must have a plan and equipment already in place. While you drive be aware of your surroundings and changes to the regular traffic patterns. A useful indicator of possible trouble in my work area is the absence of food stalls and caravans. But no matter how careful we are there is always the possibility of turning a corner and finding yourself in the middle of a mob.
Violent crimes can happen anywhere and to anyone. Generally it is best not to resist and get away as quickly as possible. Even when faced with lethal force, your first option should be to retreat rather than confront the threat.
Being in a car hijacking, particularly with children in the car must be every parent’s worst nightmare. You can plan your reaction ahead of time, possibly bargaining with the hijackers using your keys in exchange for getting your child out of the car. Does the car seat unclip easily? Does your child know how to react in an emergency?
Home invasion is a particular concern to me. If your house is burgled and you are lucky, it will happen when you are not there and before you return. If criminals break in knowing that you are home they will be prepared to use violence to force you to hand over valuables and PIN numbers. How do you ensure that you have enough warning to summon help?
Fires, floods, tornadoes etc. are all real threats that may force you to abandon your home at short notice. Chemical spills are something else to consider, especially if you live near to a major road, pipeline or industrial area. With little or no warning, what do you grab as you run for the door? Documents? Cash? Medication? A change of clothes? Having a bag prepacked with essential items and kept close to the door is a wise precaution. Exactly what to include depends on your circumstances. When I was taken to hospital after a workplace accident I was able to send a friend to fetch “the bag by the door”. Immediately I had a change of clothes, some cash and copies of ID and medical aid documents.
Be Prepared has been the motto of the Boy Scouts for over 100 years and is just as valid today. We need to analyse each type of possible threat and how to prepare to survive it. What threats concern you most? Please let me know in the comments.
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