“Disasters tend to bring out the best and the worst in our fellow human beings,” explains Wilbur Wolf III, who heads a Pennsylvania corporate disaster and security consulting firm, Wolf Creek Associates and Aquila Strategy and Operations Group. “In the early stages of a widespread and sustained power failure, maintaining law and order may be a critical challenge—not necessarily in the first couple of hours, but in the first couple of days, once we conclude that the power is not coming right back on. We may have a major problem maintaining law and order.”
Wolf, who is also a senior officer in the National Guard, predicts that habitual criminals will be the first to resort to looting and theft—“not to save their own lives or get food for their families, but for their own selfish benefit, or just for the fun of it.” But they’ll be joined by opportunists who don’t normally commit crimes, but who are emboldened by the lack of law enforcement and the vulnerability of potential victims. Wolf expects that the threat to safety and property will become even scarier as the blackout continues. “Although this early stage theft and looting is a matter of concern, it pales in comparison to the level of theft and violence that could come about later in the scenario if people begin to face real life-threatening impacts…such as hunger and thirst, or in the case of a winter event, threat of freezing to death, a week or more into the scenario.“
Wolf also envisions that in the event of a blackout, crime would be concentrated in urban centers with higher population density, and would spread more slowly to outlying areas and the suburbs.
Unlike many doomsayers who predict a breakdown of civil order in a blackout, however, Wolf is confident that local law enforcement officers, with the help of well-trained National Guard units, will quickly mobilize to prevent society from slipping into chaos.