First, we need to talk a little about martial law. As we have seen, there has been an evolving cast of characters in Ferguson. Initially, it was the local police department, then the SWAT team, then more SWAT teams with verified pentagon-issued military surplus equipment and weapons. The escalation only incited anger as more heavily armed troops arrived with such things as sound cannons (LRAD), flash-bang grenade volleys, clouds of tear gas, and various non-lethal weapons backed up by very lethal supporting elements. This arms race has only caused a run on body armor, gas masks, and gun sales. Upon seeing the failure to quell the protests, the State Police were called in to replace the other forces; and shortly afterwards, it was obvious that wasn’t working either–so the National Guard has been deployed.
Does this indicate martial law? Possibly and likely in this case; there is no precise definition of martial law. You won’t find martial law in the Constitution, and there is no working definition of how to organize or implement martial law in any State Constitution. It can be inferred that when the military assumes authority to enforce the law, we are experiencing a form of martial law. We can also make the assumption based on the progression of events in Ferguson that if the situation persists, or emotional contagion spreads to other areas, so will the level of enforcement.
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There have been a number of martial law deployments in our history, and they have increased in the last fifty years. Often, the deployments were in response to impending danger to a community from everything from union unrest to natural disaster to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Hawaii was under martial law for two years after the attack. Recently and notably, Watertown Massachusetts could be seen as the latest recipient of martial law. In the aftermath and subsequent search for the Boston bombers, the entire city was under siege by thousands of agents brought in from all over the country. Citizens were told to stay home, and door-to-door searches were essentially mandatory without warrant or probable cause. To my knowledge, such a siege has not been done since the Revolutionary War.
I’m reminded of an old saying: “If you look out the window and 60 minutes is on your lawn, it’s going to be a bad day.”
There are a number of steps to take when this or worse comes to your house. First and foremost, immediate actions must be taken to provide for the immediate safety of the family inside–and possibly the timely evacuation if the situation degrades quickly.
What Should You Do First?
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- Secure all doors and windows
- Keep the noise levels low in your house so you can hear anything that might happen
- IMPORTANT: take a headcount of all personnel and family members.
- Never, never assume everyone is accounted for
- To do a headcount, line everyone up and count off. Each person MUST say his or her number out loud
- Get everyone prepared to evacuate immediately, just in case
- Get kids dressed, with shoes
- Dress accordingly for climate and threat
- Leash the dog
- Arm yourselves accordingly
- Issue flashlights
- Grab your identification
- Grab a paper map of your area so you can plot a safe direction later on if your routes are blocked
- Put all cell phones in pockets
- Grab a phone charger for later, and put it in your pocket
- Issue any gas masks you may have
- If you don’t have any masks, wet some t-shirts and wear them as respiratory protection
- Also use eye protection for everyone. Swim goggles will help to keep tear gas from eyes so you can see; otherwise, use safety goggles that have a face seal
- If it is hot outside, consider wetting your shirt to reduce heat injuries from running
- If evacuating, take some water to drink and rinse your eyes out
- Also consider carrying some milk to rinse pepper spray and tear gas from eyes–the cream in milk neutralizes pepper spray
- Of course, grab your bug-out bag; but you won’t need all that primitive survival stuff this time. You will only be evacuating the protest area and going somewhere safe
- Turn down lights to get your eyes adjusted to the dark outside
- Keep everyone away from windows, and stay near floor in case of stray bullets
- If possible, stage a guard near all entries
- Position fire extinguishers accordingly, and designate knowledgeable users
- Fill bathtubs, and keep buckets nearby
- Ensure clear paths through the yard for escape; move chairs and bicycles out of the way
- Consider loading some Evac supplies in your car, and turn the car facing the road; keep keys in your pocket
- Wet large towels to possibly use as fire blankets, and cover bodies during a hot evacuation
- If you have bars on windows, do not use that room as a retreat unless you can get out
- If you have a deadbolt lock that uses a key to get out, place the key in the lock ahead of time
- Make sure everyone knows where to meet outside in case of fire
- Make them say it out loud
- Do the same for a neighborhood meeting location. This is important if someone is not home during an emergency, or you get separated
- Activate your Commo Plan, even if you don’t think it is necessary. Be sure to reach your out-of-area contact as well. This is important for concerned family in other areas who cannot reach you
- If there is a lockdown on your neighborhood, no one will be allowed in–so your survival group may not be able to reach you
- Do not evacuate into unknown or dangerous conditions unless your location or home becomes no longer safe to occupy
- If you are evacuating, be sure to approach the line of law enforcement carefully. You do not want to appear as a threat; consider how you might be armed and how they may respond
- If you are caught in a crowd of rioters or looters, try to blend in and not be a target to either side
- If the crowd is moving, fall to the back or move to the edge to avoid being hit by projectiles from either side of the conflict
- Law enforcement always leaves an exit for protesters to disburse; find it and use it
- If you evacuate in a vehicle, be ready at any moment to ditch it and move on foot. This means that any packs must be zipped up, and your kid’s shoes must be on their feet and tied–no sandals or flip-flops. Someone should be riding shotgun– and there is a reason they call it that.
- Travel light, and don’t attract attention
- Keep in mind that if there is civil unrest in the area, there will be three kinds of people outside:
- the police,
- armed citizens protecting their possessions and businesses, and
- There may also be trigger-happy people armed inside their homes. You do not want to surprise any of these people. Be careful when moving around on other people’s property
- When moving as a group or family, assume a patrol-style configuration. This means placing all children, vulnerable people, and assets in the center of the column–and placing adults who are able to observe, recognize, and react to any threats in the front, back, and sides as you move
- Remember your headcount, and check it regularly to verify you have everyone. Always check the count after running or moving through an obstacle
- In a tactical or silent environment, the count should be initiated from the front, passed back to the rear and back up to the front. This is done by placing a hand on the person in front of you and whispering the number back up to the front of the line or patrol. Once everyone is accounted for, you can continue to move
- If there is a separation in the group, it is the fault of the person ahead of the lost member. Make it a point to only move as fast as the slowest person, and look behind you every few moments
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