This article has been written by Sonny B. for Survivopedia’s contest “My Prepper Story“. You can vote for this article until March 29, 2015 using the “Vote Up” box at the end of the article.
My story starts with a business trip that put me in South Central Los Angeles on Wednesday April 29, 1992.
My local business associate was a young woman. She and I had finished our meeting with our customer. Our business complete, she was giving me a ride to my hotel in her Volkswagen convertible. At around 5:30pm we were sitting at a red light with the top down at the intersection of Florence and Normandie Ave., chatting about business and enjoying the nice weather. The day could not possibly have been nicer or more normal.
About an hour later, my world changed abruptly when the verdict in the trial of the LAPD officers involved in the Rodney King beating was announced. “Not Guilty”, said the anchor on the evening news. Moments later at the very same intersection, where we had paused for the red light, first Reginald Denny and then Fidel Lopez were dragged from their vehicles and beaten nearly to death by an angry mob. The city erupted with widespread violence, bloodshed, looting and murder. The intersection became the epicenter of what has become known as the “Rodney King” Riot, the second worst riot in American history.
At around 2 a.m. local time on the morning of April 30th the phone in my hotel room rang. It was my wife calling me from the east coast to tell me that the airline on which I was scheduled to fly had called my home to advise that my flight that morning (indeed all flights) out of LAX had been cancelled indefinitely due to “civil unrest”.
This would be our last communication for 3 long days, because soon after, the fires, violence, and looting would bring down both the electric grid and the telecommunication network throughout L.A. During the next 3 days, I remained trapped in a hotel in South Central L.A. as the city burned in a 360-degree circle around me. The entire time spent praying that my location would not become part of the spreading conflagration and wondering what I would do if it did. There was nowhere to run and no place to hide.
With no safe way out of the area, the limited number of staff who made up the overnight crew found it necessary to stay on and try to provide for the guests with whom they were trapped. From that first morning and until I finally left the hotel there were no fresh food deliveries.
By the end of the second day food supplies were all but depleted and the staff was scraping the bottom of the barrel to keep themselves and the stranded guests fed. I was completely unprepared to survive this ordeal. I was not traveling with any food or water. I had no means of communication with the outside world. I had no weapons or basic tools of survival. More importantly I really had none of the life saving skills that I might have needed if I had been forced to evacuate the hotel in which I then found myself sheltering-in-place. I was helpless and afraid.
The hotel was in a complete state of lockdown. It was far too dangerous to venture outside during the day, when the rioting, looting and bloodshed were the worst. To go out at night in the hope of using the cover of darkness to elude the rioters and escape the area, was pure folly. Not only did it mean running the risk of detection while trying to navigate more than twenty unfamiliar city blocks, it also meant risking the possibility of being mistaken by authorities to be one of the rioters and ending up either under arrest or getting shot as a result of violating the curfew.
Along with many of the other guests trapped in the hotel I spent most of my time in or around the lobby hoping to pick up bits of helpful information about the situation outside. It was there, in the wee morning hours of May 2nd, that I made contact with a courageous Russian immigrant cab driver when he brought a refugee in from somewhere out in the chaos to the relative safety and shelter of the hotel.
This enterprising cabby, was willing to run the blockades during the nighttime curfew hours in order to help people either move to shelter positions safer than where they were at the time, or if they were very fortunate, to actually transport them beyond the mayhem of LA to a place of safety. As it turned out his motives were not entirely altruistic, but rather profit driven. A ride under these dangerous circumstances I learned, was not cheap and required payment of cash in advance.
No matter, fortunately for me I always carried extra cash while traveling on business and we struck a deal. The fare would be $400 cash (10 times the normal rate) to be taken from the hotel located in the heart of the riot area to someplace safe outside the ring of fire that was LA. The ultimate destination was unknown to either of us and would be dictated by whatever route we could find to avoid rioting mobs, burning obstacles and roadblocks of either an official or unofficial nature.
With the bargain struck, I threw my suitcase and myself in the car in order to make my pre-dawn escape from that hell. “Have you got a gun?” I asked the man optimistically. “Nyet” he replied. That was disappointing at best. “What is our plan if we run into trouble?” I asked and hoping to hear something brilliant. “Do not worry” he replied in English with a heavy Russian accent. “If these animals try to stop us, I will run them down!” He almost spat the words as opposed to speaking them.
This wasn’t exactly the brilliant plan I had hoped for, but under the circumstances it was good enough for me. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.” I answered. I slid down in my seat as far as I could to keep from giving a potential shooter a clear target while staying just high enough to be able to see our surroundings.
There was no more conversation as we drove on through the dark, headlights off, hunched forward, two hands on the wheel, there was only the occasional muttered curse in either Russian or English when the driver realized that his intended escape path was blocked and he had to go to plans “B” “C” and “D” to get us out unharmed. As the first light of dawn began to lift the cloak of darkness that shrouded us, I could see that the fires and looted buildings with their smashed windows were fading in the path behind us. My rescue driver began to visibly relax at the wheel. We were out!
Eventually, I made my way to Burbank and from the airport was able to use a pay phone to call my wife who was understandably very concerned for my safety and completely in the dark about my status for those 3 days. From Burbank I was able to get a flight to Seattle and then eventually managed to get a flight back to the east coast from there.
By the time I pulled into my driveway, my participation in the nerve wracking ordeal had lasted 5 days. Before the trouble in L.A. ended, 3,600 fires completely destroyed 1,100 buildings, 13,500 U.S. Military troops (including the 40th Infantry, the 7th Infantry and the 1st Marines) were needed in addition to the Nation Guard, plus state and local police to restore order. 53 people died and over 2,000 more were injured, fortunately I was not among the dead or wounded.
For years to follow, the anxiety caused by being caught in this unforeseen circumstance bothered me each time I left town. Could this happen again, I wondered? What I might do differently in the future? The answers eluded me.
Several years later my wife told me that FEMA was offering an Emergency Preparedness training session for something called the Community Emergency Response Team or (C.E.R.T.). Together, we signed up for the evening course, which took place one night a week for about 6 weeks.
The training was great. It covered a variety of topics related to how civilians can play an important role in emergency response during many different types of potential disasters. It was during this course that I first became exposed to the concept of preparedness. Topics such as shelter-in-place, the need for a 72 hour bug out bag, emergency communications through ham radio, short, medium and long term storage of food, water, and medicine, emergency power generation, surviving in a grid down situation, and basic emergency first aid were all included.
Since then, I have become a voracious reader of materials related to preparedness and living a self-sufficient lifestyle. I worked hard and sacrificed when necessary to get out of debt. A little at a time, and as money allowed, I built up stores of food, water, precious metals, cash, weapons/ammo, canning supplies, first aid supplies, and basic hand tools.
Perhaps more important than acquiring the materials noted above is acquiring the skills to use them along with numerous other skills that one might need in a serious emergency. I have gotten additional training in everything from emergency communications (ham radio) and first aid, to personal defense, from gardening and food preservation to small engine repair.
I have learned to do so many things that I did not know how to do prior to beginning this journey. Many of these skills are perishable and need to be practiced regularly. To do this I have turned many of them into very enjoyable hobbies. Much of this training was free. In some cases information can be downloaded from the internet, or borrowed from the local library, in other cases it just comes down to talking to family, friends and neighbors about their interests.
When those interests coincide with a prepper purpose (gardening for example) just ask them if they will let you join them the next time they will be doing something that interests you. Most people are happy to talk about activities that interest them and enjoy the opportunity to teach others.
For the record, I am a pretty average guy. Married with children, not particularly athletic or wealthy. I live in an average small town America community and hold a regular job. I love to hunt and fish in my free time. I am the guy next door. I could easily be your neighbor and you would likely not know I am a prepper. I am not a former Special Forces survival expert, but I admire those folks for what they know and the skills they have.
On the other hand I do hold a certificate in personal survival training from a nationally known facility, I am a certified armorer, have completed the FEMA C.E.R.T. curriculum, hold multiple certificates for firearms training, am a licensed ham radio operator, plus I am a decent gardener and canner. I have yet to acquire the welding skills that I consider essential. The point is, if I can get prepared, so can you. If I can build my skills, so can you.
Today, my level of preparedness is different than it was in 1992. I always travel with a 72 B.O.B. stealthily hidden in plain site as part of my luggage. Included in it (among other things) are food, water, the means to make a fire, material for a temporary shelter, a two-way radio, back up supply of power for cell phone etc., and some form of weapon up to and including a firearm when it is legally permitted.
I still always carry a hidden stash of cash, plus I have added to that a bit of precious metal in the event that cash won’t do the trick. That said, the most important things I now carry with me though are the skills to survive and to improvise. Premiere among those skills is the training to Observe, to Orient, to Decide and then to Act (a.k.a. the OODA Loop). I didn’t know it then, but one of things I did right back in L.A. was to get out as soon as I could. In the years since then I have had it drilled into me that “the best fight, is the one you don’t get in”.
So in the future, if I find myself in a localized, short-term emergency such as a tornado, hurricane, or man made disaster like the LA Riots, I am much better prepared to deal with it than I was back then. Further, if the situation gets worse and requires a longer-term shelter-in place or the worse case scenario of a complete bug out, then I am prepared with a plan for those situations as well.
I think it was the late General “Stormin” Norman Schwarzkopf who said “No plan survives contact with the enemy”. So remember being “prepared” means being prepared to scrap the plan and adapt to a changing situation, because this is ultimately what all emergencies are.
Good Luck, and Good Prepping!
Sonny B. Ready
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Pat | March 30, 2015
Thank you for sharing your experience, Sonny B. I’m sorry you went through that riot, and am glad you learned from it. I was an ER RN in Miami, Fl. for 28 yrs. Below are some thoughts on the emergency prep necessity, and my daughter’s experience.
Emergency folk, down to the level of Charge Nurses like I was, are required to attend seminars on the ‘WHAT IF’S’ for disaster planning. At least in Fl. we were. I learned more than I ever wanted to know, about all kinds of WMD’s and natural disaster possibilities.
So listen up, everyone. Stay prepared. You never know what’ll happen. Depending upon where in the country you live, some form of natural disaster happens: hurricanes, floods, tornados, blizzards, earthquakes, or manmade emergencies, such as gas explosions, trail derailments, riots, etc. Then there’s WMD’s. Have a what we call, in my family, a hurricane kit. Even my girls in Seattle have one. It’s a disaster kit or B.O.B. (bugout bag).
As a former Girl Scout, then ER RN for 28 years, I believe it is everyone’s responsibility, not just to themselves & their family, but also to their communities to be prepared to take care of themselves. From making their homes secure, to a pick-up-&-go bag, to a First Aid course plus the needed supplies, to a CPR course, all of this is the responsibility of each person, not just the government. C.E.R.T. courses (Community Emergency Response Team) are great, too. A major disaster cannot be handled down to the individual by the gov’t nor should that be expected. It’s nice, that over time, that we come together to help, but it shouldn’t be expected. It’s simply not possible, nor is it reasonable to expect it. Just look at Hurricane Andrew’s aftermath, or the Tsunami. Remember, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.”? This attitude needs to regenerated in our country. Only the media has the power to make this happen, by advertising it over & over again, until it’s pc, in the current vernacular. Schools could inculcate this preparedness responsibility awareness in our children, as all parents aren’t aware, nor even think of this.
As an example, do you have an emergency kit, or as we call them in my family, a “hurricane kit”? It’s basically, a pickup & go kit with h2o , food , change of clothes, shoes, CASH including small bills, a clear credit card ( but it might not be usable), copies of all important documents (we really learned the importance of documents in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew), first aid kit, meds., etc., flashlight + spare batteries, emergency radio, lighter, etc., etc. If you don’t, please put one together. All my family has one.
My daughter got laughed at when she was in university, ‘cause she had one. She was living in a big old house in Seattle, WA. which was divided into many small rms., which were rented out to students. I forget how many students were living in it. They had an earthquake. The house was ok, but a cop came to the door with a mandatory, “no, you may not go back upstairs to get your purses, evacuation,” because of a major gas main break. He made them leave, right then – the gas main was on their corner. (Thank you, Officer, for risking your own life with the very real possibility of a gas explosion, to save our kids!) She reached into the closet by the door, grabbing her ‘hurricane kit’. Guess who shared h2o & food bars with the other kids, & when they weren’t going to get into the house overnight, guess who had cash for a taxi (they couldn’t use their cars in case of explosion), & guess who paid for motel rooms for all the kids & for the restaurant bills? Yes , they had to pay her back, but at least they were SAFE & COMFORTABLE! And guess who had the copies of ID’s to prove she lived there, when the cops had road blocks set up to keep out looters. She did. The kids never laughed at her again, about her mom’s requirement that she have, maintain & keep a ‘hurricane kit’. She had told them that she had to humor me. It worked, made me the paranoid one. My response, who cares what they thought, it worked! Oh, she even had a spare key to get into the house, so they didn’t have to break in!
In these potentially dangerous, post 9/11 days, I think it behooves everyone to be responsible for themselves & their families. Hurricane Andrew taught us that (if we didn’t know before) that government isn’t always there & can’t be. We have too many folk, now, that think gov’t is always going to take care of them. That is a personally dangerous & irresponsible attitude, as far as I’m concerned.
I don’t want you to think I live in a paranoid state. I don’t. I’m a very positive person. I just believe that if you are prepared for the worst, you can relax & pray for, expect & enjoy the best!
Anne | April 3, 2015
Thank you for the great article. I have never been a situation as dire as yours, but have had the unfortunate experience of living without power for 3 weeks following a hurricane. It is impossible to “tell” others just how difficult these situations are, but every story, perhaps, encourages yet another person to get prepared!
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