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Places To Avoid During A Short or Long Emergency

Avatar for Samantha Biggers Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: November 17, 2019
Places To Avoid During A Short or Long Emergency

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Situational awareness is important. During an emergency, there are places that you may like to go that will be a bad idea if times have taken a turn for the worse.

While I realize that people do not want to live in fear, they also need to know when it is time to hunker down in place and avoid some situations.

Remember that during hard times the comfort and nostalgia you may have for going to certain places is not going to be there even if you try to spend time in that same place. During the beginning, it may seem that things are fine but that is when things can take a turn for the worse when you least expect. If you roll the dice enough times, there is a good chance that at some point you are going to get a bad roll.

Young children and adults with mobility issues may be better off staying at home and letting others do the legwork.

I am not trying to be harsh but the reality is that if you get caught somewhere and there is panic and you cannot get out of danger quickly your odds of survival are less than people that can.

During SHTF people need to understand what is best for the safety of all. Consider if a parent is caught out with a young child. That child is going to distract them and slow them down because parents will usually put the safety of the child first and understandably so.

Young kids cannot move as fast as adults and carrying them would slow down an adult. During hard times it is common for older adults to watch the children while the parents go out to retrieve what needs to be got for the family and get information. Everyone has value but limitations should be recognized and strengths catered to so that everyone has the best chance of survival and staying healthy.

For more on this please see my article “Appreciating The Skills Of Your Group and How Everyone Has Something To Offer”.


I was a teenager in the 90s and a child in the 80s so I can relate to how malls used to be appealing. That is not the case any longer. A lot of department stores are suffering and many malls are closing. A lot of those that are still open are not at their prime. Malls and the parking areas around them can be hot spots for criminal activity. There are areas where malls popped up when the economy was good in that area but now it is anything but.

If you must go to a mall at least know where all the exits are at. Every store has a separate entryway at the back end for employees. While you are not supposed to use this during regular times, those rules are not applicable in an emergency such as an active shooter or riot. Fairly recently, the Cascade Mall that I used to hang out in as a teen was the site of a mass shooting that left 5 dead.

It scared me to death because I still have family out there and my sister used to work there. I thought she still did when I heard the news. I looked at Matt and my face turned to ash as I rushed to call her. Thankfully she was safe. Her sister actually worked at the Macy’s where the mass shooting took place in but had the day off. We are thankful we did not lose her that day. Scary times for my family. I learned that I had a lot of family members near or at the mall that day after the shooting happened.

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Big Box Stores

These are the stores that many flock to the minute they hear of an emergency. Just look at the news footage of people stocking up when there is a major hurricane bearing down on an area. The big box stores like Wal-Mart become crowded and people are on edge. Once supplies run low or are simply not there, it is far to easy for tempers to flare.

Panic in a crowd can lead to a human stampede or a lot of people fighting at once. This is not a situation you want to be in especially when you consider that law enforcement and other emergency service workers are going to be very busy so response times will be slow.

Just look at how long the checkout line is in the video below. This is a video taken right before Hurricane Dorian. This is a recipe for chaos. Now consider if the emergency were even more serious than a natural weather event? This is an example of why we prep. Don’t be the person in line right before or during a disaster.

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Freeways and other major highways in your area

Roadways can become very dangerous very fast and even if a lot of people are not driving a lot, roads are places for potential ambushes, theft, road rage, and more. People like to follow the paths they know and they will continue to try to do that during a long emergency. Don’t let your inclination lead to the loss of your life.

Pick alternate paths and roads even if they take longer. During a long emergency you should plan on any trip to take much longer than it ever did during good times. Getting in a hurry can lead to great harm or loss of life. During dangerous times, what used to be a 10 minute walk may take an hour or longer. It takes a lot of extra time and skill to move with stealth.

Government Buildings and Offices

I avoid government buildings whenever possible. I would rather pay the fee to process my property tax payment via debit card or direct withdrawal online than wait in line at the tax office with a wad of cash. Nope. In my area cash payment is basically the only way to avoid a 2-3% processing fee on your county taxes. It is not worth it to me to wait in line with a bunch of disgruntled people especially if times are tough and folks are on edge.

I advise you to stay away from government buildings and offices as well. There is a lot of contempt for the current state and you do not want to get caught in the crossfire of someone that is upset and acting in an insane manner or out of their head on drugs.


Sick, hurt, and angry people competing for care is a bad situation indeed. If you can treat something at home then do it. I am not saying that you should avoid professional medical care entirely, especially if a condition is not improving or is very serious. I am saying to think a little before you run to the doctor for every little thing. You may be exposing yourself and your family to serious diseases and upping the odds of others getting various infections. When medical facilities are operating over capacity and without some amenities, it is hard to keep up the level of cleanliness and hygiene. During a major pandemic, a hospital is the last place you want to be if there is any way to get care another way.


Air travel is not pleasant in my own opinion. Airports are crowded and stressful places with a lot of people that don’t necessarily speak the same language, making communication difficult even during the best of times. If an emergency happens and people are stuck at an airport with a minimum amount of supplies, things could be difficult. Even if I had the money to travel, I would be hesitant to travel outside the USA due to the potential for getting stuck somewhere very far away.

Parks and Open Spaces

Parks often have a lot of spaces to hide. Also, they are considered public property and that can lead to some feeling they have a right to do things like camp out or other activities. Open spaces mean you are exposed to others, possibly even those that are a long distance away of you live in some areas without major obstructions.

Parks and open spaces in many major cities are already very unsafe due to the massive homelessness problem and drug use.

Cities if you live in rural areas and rural areas if you live in cities.


I can understand wanting to get out of a city during a long emergency but I advise doing it carefully if at all. Those in urban areas that have not developed any survival skills or have few to little supplies to take with them are not going to do well. If you are an urban resident that is planning on leaving your city if SHTF then you need to plan out where exactly you are going to go and make sure that you are not counting on bartering or stealing to make your way. You will not last long. If you approach people living in the rural outskirts of your city you will be much more likely to get good treatment and develop a mutually beneficial relationship if you come to them with skills and supplies.

I know plenty of rural preppers that have little sympathy for those that do not have anything to offer in a long emergency since it is fairly easy to have a few basics covered and learn a few skills.

Sam’s take on the Golden Horde

I do not disagree that people will try to flood out of the cities during a long emergency. What I tend to disagree with is that there will be as many people make it to the more rural areas as some might think. This will, of course, depend on a variety of factors. Lack of a water filter alone will weed out some. Fear is another major factor at play.

The real battle will be in the suburbs and the areas that those that leave cities reach first.

These people are not as helpless as some might think.

I think that plenty will form militias and neighborhood watches that will attempt to stop a lot of people. There will be blood during a true SHTF situation when people do not listen and go on to somewhere else. The further out you are from the cities the less likely anyone from a city will ever make it to you to begin with. At the same time, those that do, will be some real hardcore types that are not anyone you would want to mess with.

Unknown Neighborhoods

I would not go wandering around a lot in a neighborhood I didn’t know a lot about. It is just not a good idea. Even once affluent or low crime neighborhoods can turn back fast during a long emergency. If you are curious about an area or hear that you can find something you need there then do a little bit of research and see what others think before you decide it is worth it.

Military Bases

I remember reading Edward Snowden’s account of being in military housing working on web stuff when 9/11 happened. He was working for a woman that lived on base because her husband was an officer. According to Ed Snowden, things just went crazy. There was just so much uncertainty about what was going on and a lot of people tried to leave at once or get to different parts of the base.

While you can’t help being on a base if you are a soldier or live there with your family, the rest of us should avoid being in the area during any type of event or at least get out as soon as we safely can.

Grocery Stores

Actual grocery stores are awful places to be during an emergency. Even if it is just a hurricane and people are well-fed, things get nasty. Imagine what would happen if there was a long event and the food was running low or totally gone?

Gas Stations and Convenience Stores

Gas stations sell various fuels but they are also full of vices and impulse purchases combined with a smattering of daily essential items marked up to a higher price than what people pay at larger stores. They are located in easy to access areas and usually have very few people working at them at any given time.

Anyplace where there is gas, propane, kerosene, alcohol, tobacco, candy, energy drinks, and other vices being sold together, people are going to flock to once they know something is not right. Remember that people are used to things being there for them as long as they have some money to spend. If items run out, things could get ugly.

Political rallies and events

There is too much hostility on the political spectrum. Unfortunately, we live in times where it seems that people cannot have a civil conversation if they differ on a few issues. It is quite sad. Political rallies have too much potential for over-emotional people, violence, and anger. Unless it is your job, avoid any of these events and the surrounding areas they are happening in.

I pay attention to announcements about politic events and make a note to avoid them and the surrounding area. This way the most annoying thing is just the excessive amount of jet flyovers if the president or a presidential candidate is near. When Obama came to Asheville there was a big uptick in fighter jet traffic.

Major Intersections

Every town or municipality has some major intersections that are very busy. These are some of the first roads to experience congestion and problems during an emergency. This is one reason why it is such a good idea to know a lot of alternative routes to navigate in the areas you frequent the most. Even though GPS is handy, most people should keep a road atlas in their car in case GPS is not available or they have to walk on foot after abandoning their car.

FEMA Camps

Never get on the bus. NEVER. There is a cost for taking assistance that is offered and there is no real guarantee that the assistance will be adequate. I do not want to be put behind a wall and housed like a refugee or prisoner. I will take my chances on the outside.

FEMA does not have a stellar record. Just look at the nightmares caused by the FEMA trailers that were used to house Hurricane Katrina victims. Those folks didn’t have a real choice. Their homes were gone and I cannot blame them for taking the help offered. I just use this example to show how help can turn into something not so great.

Those that were housed in the Superdome experienced nightmarish conditions. Drug use, rape, robbery, and other crimes were rampant and sanitation was appalling. Armed guards prevented anyone from leaving of their own free will.

Below is a very powerful video that tells the story of New Orleans poet Shelton Alexander, Superdome Survivor. He describes the conditions and horror of it all.

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Special interest group rallies and marches

Even if you agree with what the group or groups are promoting that doesn’t mean it is safe or a good idea to be near this type of event during a long emergency. If you must, find other ways to support the causes that you are passionate about. In my own experience, hollering and making a scene rarely has the impact and results that people desire and often makes a group look worse.

Sporting Events

In modern times, professional athletes have taken it upon themselves to become involved in politics and social justice issues more so than ever. As a result, there is, even more, to worry about when attending these events because there is more going on than just sports. Regardless of how you feel about the controversy regarding kneeling or standing for the national anthem, transgenders in sports, or China being heavily invested in the NBA, these controversies and issues make it more likely that someone is going to get riled at a sporting event or plan something awful.

Here is a link to an article at CBS that lists a lot of major sporting event disasters that resulted in many deaths.

Remember what happened in Philidelphia after they won the Super Bowl in 2018? This proves that in some cases you don’t even have to be at the event. Sports can be great but they can also bring out the worst in some people.

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Large concerts and festivals

Live music is a lot of fun and while I am not saying you shouldn’t get out and enjoy yourself, you may want to consider going to smaller venues or to events that are not as enclosed. The Las Vegas shooting that killed many people attending a country music festival was outside but it was surrounded by a lot of buildings so people were vulnerable to attack from above. With so many possible directions of attack, chaos and panic happened fast.


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I am not saying that violence cannot occur at smaller venues either. Just that bigger events are more likely targets. Even if people just panic due to news of an outside event happening, things can get ugly fast.

In a larger crowd, it is also easier for less obvious crimes and abuses to occur. While these arenas may have metal detectors and security, a ceramic knife or other weapons are quite easy to hide. A person can do a lot of damage with just a belt and belt buckle if they want to. While security guards may try to do a great job, screening thousands of people means that they are bound to miss some things, especially when people are trying to be creative about it.

What you can do to avoid the temptation to visit the locations discussed in this post

Keep an adequate supply of food on hand

Practice keeping yourself entertained and make an effort to get along with others within the home.

Have some extra gas, propane, kerosene, etc on hand. Keep your gas tank at least half full. If you are going to be staying at home over the weekend, topping off your tank on your way home from work or school may be a good habit to get into.

Keep extras of luxury items and vices you really like.

How many of us have went to town just because we wanted a 12 pack of beer and favorite food? You can avoid the temptation by simply keeping some extras around of luxury items. Sure you will have to exercise some self-control but that is a survival skill that everyone needs to know how to do.

Take care of government paperwork, taxes, etc either through the mail or online. Your time is valuable and so is your life. Don’t spend more time in buildings like this then you need to.

If you work for county, state, or federal agencies, or any other location listed in this post, than there may be a point that you have to decide if it is time to stop showing up or not. Well before that you may decide that you need to learn some self defense moves or practice better situational awareness even if you are reassured that there is a high level of security and safety at your workplace.

If you plan on leaving your home for an indefinite period of time or forever during a long emergency, try to at least consider where on earth you would go. Maybe you have friends or family that have agreed already that you should combined resources and households during a major event or perhaps you have a second home or an RV at another location. Just taking off without even the slightest plan is not a good idea in most cases.

Have a fabulous medical kit and plenty of common medications.

Take care of yourself and try to practice good exercise and diet habits. The healthier you are before SHTF the better it will for you after. Those that are not in good health will be most susceptible to contagious disease and illness and will not have as easy a time healing from any injuries.

Learn about your surrounding area. Listen to what others have to say about nearby neighborhoods and communities.

Not everything you hear is necessarily going to be true but getting a feel for what is around you will make it easier to make good decisions on where you should avoid and what routes may be safest if you have to find ways to get around.

Have a good emergency radio or even a ham radio as well so you can stay informed and not be tempted to go out for information when you would be better off staying at home.

What other areas would you add to this list?

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8 Responses to “Places To Avoid During A Short or Long Emergency”

  1. Addition: Dear Sam, I have been prepping for years and it seems that every day I learn something new. You have a good column and I enjoy it and appreciate the information I Glean from it. Thank you. Bob

  2. Regarding: Sam’s take on the Golden Horde;
    Gas and the availability to get gas will also be a major factor. If you are in a rural or remote area, most scavengers and refugees from the city will run out of gas long before they find you. Anyone looking to buy bugout property should consider how far away from a city they should be. (one tank of gas plus 50 miles.)

  3. FEMA will be confiscating any large capacity buildings/fenced grounds for containment & relocation camps >>> in the more rural areas you’ll need to avoid county fair grounds, livestock auction facilities, convention centers, resorts, warehouses, office complexes, ect ect
    you can add schools & colleges to the avoid list – they’ll be almost an automatic emergency center ….
    something else to for your SHTF navigating map are prisons & jails – for obvious reasons ….

  4. If you rely on the government or non-profit organizations like Red Cross for emergencies, you will probably have a very bad experience. They will keep you alive but not comfortable. You’ll probably be in an open area of an arena or gym, with no privacy, sleeping on a hardwood floor, and maybe have a blanket. Food may be things like crackers, nutrition bars, granola bars, and water. You’ll stand in long line for everything you’re given. Often times the only way you can receive any emergency services is to relinquish everything you have as you enter so it can be added to the supplies and then redistributed to everyone. This means you’ll probably receive less than you had when you entered. But, why would anyone expect or demand more when they aren’t paying for the services??? Nothing is free.

  5. I really appreciate the columns posted by Samantha , would like to point out though that not everyone had the opportunity like she did to get the college education or some things given to her . Since I was 18 and left home I have had nothing given to me but earned all I have and learned what I know through trial and error . And reading the articles I come across.
    Most of what I have experience with is most people are so apathetic that I really don’t see many who will travel far from the cities. They don’t believe anything will happen to them . I hear a lot,I don’t want to live in fear and God will provide. They are not even ready for an earthquake or small storm . I live in an area where we are over due for a big quake,the north west .
    What I have planned is to stay put but be ready to leave if things get bad . I know people on the east side of my state so if I have to will relocate there with the real life skills I have learned . Not a environmental education but things that will be useful. Hands on and able to show others what I know.

  6. Another well written article ma’m, my wife and I have always been interested in self reliance and SHTF survival. Since the early 1980s actually. We live rural, in the Midwest farm country. We have a well stocked basement and these days when the snow flies, we simply refuse to go anywhere. It’s good practice for when something major comes down the pike. So for us, it won’t likely be a matter of bugging out, but to hunker down! Again Ms. Biggers, keep up the good work, it truly is enjoyable and informative! J.J.

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