Captive! Taken Hostage! Prisoner of War! What Do You Do?
Facing a possible U.S. collapse in the coming years, most people taking steps to prepare (preppers) are concerned about food and water shortages, how to deal with possible security issues, transportation (should there be a widespread shortage of fuel), power (should the power-grid fail), light, communication, etc.
However, the key to being prepared is to understand a wide breadth of information and possible circumstances – even those that might fall well outside the realm of typical “prepper” topics, such as: Escape and Evasion.
The fact is, a large number of preppers in the world are likely to face several instances in a time of collapse where knowing how to escape and evade danger will be more important than food or water that day.
What You Can Learn from Special Forces SERE
‘Survival, Resistance, Escape, Evasion’
Aside from being a Special Forces Medic for six years, I started my enlistment in the Army at the age of 18 as an interrogator. One of the duties I had was to help provide SERE (Survival, Resistance, Escape, Evasion) training to various units in locations in the USA and Europe.
During this time, I learned a lot about ways to help train our soldiers to be better at surviving captivity and being able to band together and work as a team to escape. Following my years in the Special Forces, I now run a survival school called “The Human Path” (TheHumanPath.com), where I continue to teach “escape and evasion” today.
Surviving Captivity, Banding Together to Work as a Team to Escape
If your captors know anything about keeping you helpless, they will segregate you, isolate you and not give captives a chance to help each other. However it is unlikely that captors in most of the SHTF scenarios described below (keep reading) would know the advantage they would get by doing this, or have the resources to separate everyone.
The best possible scenario would be to have the people you know and trust close by and then be able to communicate with them.
This might be possible in a FEMA or government-run camp, and you should use it to your maximum advantage along with the motivation to escape earlier rather than later. Having people you know you can trust is a huge motivation factor and helps with the attitude of survival as well.
But What if Things Get Worse?
What if it’s not an economic collapse we’re dealing with? What if the threat of a U.S. Martial Law isn’t what leads to government run camps? What if America’s collapse is total and brings down government as well?
Anything could happen at this point. If Washington D.C. is still around that is. Perhaps that’s a Russian flag now flying over the White House, or a Chinese flag, or even an Iranian flag or North Korean. Or some new “global entity” entirely that is in power.
Instead of a government camp you’re trying to escape from, it might be more on the lines of a Nazi concentration camp, where the longer you’re there, the more likely it is you’re to die a miserable death. Starvation. Disease. Execution.
If that doesn’t sound pleasant, now you understand why training in SERE is an element of the Special Forces. The fact is, in any armed conflict, these are always risks U.S. personnel face (captivity at the hands of a brutal enemy) and why this training has been in place for several decades.
Adaptation is An Essential Survival Skill
In SERE you learn about adaptation. It is better to be a jack of all trades than a master of only one or two, as this lends you a certain amount of adaptability in a survival situation. Being able to adapt (improvise with changing conditions) is an essential survival skill and might save your life on more than one occasion.
Forced Captivity: Could This Happen to You?
First of all, let’s list some of the SHTF situations where anyone could end up having to deal with forced captivity: FEMA or Government internment camps meant to control the population after major disasters, unrest and lack of food, water and other resources.
* Kidnapping or enslavement by any number of gangs – whether for sport/amusement, sex trade, slave labor, ransom or just because they can in a world without rule of law. This could include well-armed and well-trained drug cartels making their way up through America, small towns living and acting out of fear, racism, resentment or revenge, illegal or legal gangs that already existed prior to a SHTF event, individuals who have become psychologically disturbed through the course of SHTF events and may no longer have access to behavior modifying drugs (anti-depressants, etc.), and more.
* Terrorist or foreign military prisoner of war camps.
* A community or group of people, in a time of severe famine, using humans for food (cannibalism).
Beware of Stockholm Syndrome
One thing you have to be careful of is the gradual “Stockholm Syndrome” that often sets in with people. They become accustomed to and even embrace captivity and would rather risk the unknown at the hands of their captors than the unknown as a free person. Again, this is more likely to occur after time, so remember that you’re on the clock the moment you are captive.
First – Your State of Mind
I have coined a phrase over the years of teaching survival to everyone from military and SWAT teams, to civilians: “The four A’s of Survival.” These four concepts are a good set of cornerstones to base all of your skills on top of. They apply across the board in any survival situation, but are especially important in a situation of captivity. You must realize that physical skills are worthless if you are so frozen or paralyzed by the psychological and mental level of events going on around you that you are helpless.
The Four A’s of Survival Are…
Attitude – The Will to Survive
Attitude means the will to survive.
It means developing the ability to let the negative experiences roll off your back like water on a duck, and focus on the positive. This can be everything from the attitude of survival in a life-or-death fight with someone who wants to hurt or kill you, to your ability to endure lack of water, food, sleep, basic comforts, etc.
Attitude can be taught, and we do that at The Human Path survival classes by forcing people to work together under stressful and adrenaline-charged conditions, followed by review and discussion, and then more training.
You Have to Adapt This relates to your ability to create new tools or new ways of looking at problems with whatever you have on hand. In order to be adaptable you have to have some basic skills and understanding. For instance if you understand knots and levers, you can make a primitive winch with two logs and a rope.
You can make a weapon out of items in your environment.
You can build diversionary devices.
The list goes on.
Adaptability means knowing abstract and common-sense concepts and then applying them in a new and different way every time. This can also be taught, and we do so at our school by placing people in unusual circumstances with unusual tools, salvage materials and other resources to have to work with.
The act of creativity by thinking “outside the box,” is something that you can get better at by being in a situation that forces you to do it over and over again. You learn new tricks and new ways of thinking that have not occurred to you before, which, once you learn, you’re not likely to forget.
You Have to Be Aware
Awareness is crucial both as a survival skill unto itself, as well as an underlying concept that everything else can be based on. Awareness is something that you can practice literally every waking moment (and sleeping moments too) of your life. All it takes is remembering to open up your awareness.
In The Human Path survival classes we run special exercises designed to increase awareness by learning to “breathe” through the 5 senses, and then put it all together. Our scout classes focus on constantly honing awareness of every situation so that you have more information to work with, usually before anyone else has that information. This gives you an advantage that can mean the difference between life and death.
This is both a teamwork and an individual concept. Give yourself credit for the things you do right, hold yourself accountable for the things you do wrong. Don’t beat yourself up over things that you did wrong, but hold yourself accountable and learn from it so that you don’t repeat mistakes. In a post-SHTF world, there may not be room for even one mistake, let alone two of the same kind. This goes for working with other people on a team as well. Reinforce the positive but address and hold accountable for the negative.
Using the Four A’s in Evasion and Escape
So how do these concepts work in the real world if you are being held captive?
Firstly, you must understand the state of being held prisoner against your will from the standpoint of awareness and attitude. Aside from helping you avoid the situation in the first place, if it is too late and you are already captive, your awareness and attitude are at their peak for the first 24-72 hours of being captive.
You must use this initial time to your advantage. Unless you are severely wounded, dehydrated, sick or malnourished, your best chances of escape happen while your captors are on the move with you and during that initial 2-3 days.
Most likely you will be strongest, most alert for chances to escape, and there will not be a “routine” set into your mind yet that will wear you down. Additionally, if your captors don’t have you in a permanent location, the fortifications of your own captivity will likely be relatively weak (for instance on the road or in a temporary holding facility) vs. in a permanent camp or confinement area.
Keep your attitude strong internally but do not show this to your captors. Show physical signs of surrender or submission. It’s all an act. Head down, shoulders hunched forward, walk in a shuffle, acquiring a slight limp or feigning injury, illness or weakness, speaking softly, addressing captors with fear and ‘respect,’ crying and acting as though you’ve given up, are all a good start to giving yourself some advantage.
Whatever you assume as your weakness in roleplay, develop a fictional “story” for yourself around it. This will not only help you stay in role, but gives you a fake “breaking point” (a point where you break down and pretend to be emotionally destroyed as though you’ve completely given up) if you are being tortured or hurt for information or amusement by your captors.
For instance, maybe your fake story is that you saw a loved one murdered in front of you, or witnessed something so horrible that you can’t get over it. The world will likely be filled with people in this state of mind in America after a SHTF event, so you wouldn’t stand out much with this kind of a story and role-play going on, which is also good. You do not want to stand out in any way.
Strategy for Women
If you are an attractive woman and are aware that you are captive by people who would use this against you, make yourself less attractive, using dirt (face, hair, clothing, etc.), posture, faking illness, etc.
Make sure you know what may be happening first, though: You don’t want to end up in the “throw-away” pile of captives if that means execution for instance.
You need to buy yourself enough time and opportunity to escape, and you need to do whatever it takes to survive and be healthy up to that point. The sooner that point happens after being captive, generally the better off you will be for the period of time you have to evade and get away.
Roleplaying a weak and submissive person allows you the advantage of surprise if you have to overcome your captors. It also means you are less of a threat and likely someone they will not be watching as closely.
Getting out of restraints is often not as difficult as it might seem. Ropes stretch and are very difficult to keep someone restrained with. Normal strength zip ties are broken easily, both in front and behind the body.
Breaking Zip Ties
At our school we can teach any adult to do this within a few minutes of practice, regardless of their size or strength. There are extra-strength zip ties which are far more difficult to break, but can be sawn through fairly easily with any rough edge or even with friction and a length of 550 cord (paracord).
This is yet another reason to use paracord for your shoe laces!
We also have lock-pick training handcuffs that we use at The Human Path that are very useful. These are normal Smith and Wesson type handcuffs with a clear window so that you can actually see how your pick is working.
A paper clip, bobby pin or any comparable thickness and strength of wire will allow you to pick handcuffs both behind and in front of your back. This requires some practice, but anyone can learn this in a matter of minutes, and with a few hours of practice can be moderately efficient at it. This requires having some type of metal that you carry with you, however.
Carrying a lock pick in your clothing hem, in your belt, in your hair, or elsewhere is not a bad idea if you suspect that being captured and detained is a possibility.
Picking padlocks is also not difficult to learn, and there are educational videos on YouTube to help you learn this. We teach this at my school too – both key and combination padlocks – but it is a higher level course as I don’t like teaching skills like these to people unless I know them first. However in all honesty, you can learn several of these techniques online, especially on YouTube. All it involves is some self-discipline and practice, as just watching the video is not enough. Hence the reason for a school like mine.
Reasons to Work as a Team
Working together as a team makes escape much easier than trying to do it alone. With a team you can divide the work. You can create distractions and have more resources and skills to draw upon.
A Few Questions to Ask
You have to ask yourself before making an escape what you plan to do if you are discovered by your captors while escaping.
If you have the ability to, are you ready to kill them?
Do you have a way to do that without alerting everyone to your escape?
If you get caught and you’re not fully escaped, can you fall immediately into a cover story and role-play that will help buy you either a chance to disable your guard or at least save you from punishment that might include more stringent confinement harder to escape from.
Once you have escaped, you must evade your captors. This is made a lot easier by a number of skills and other concepts such as:
* Preparation and knowing which direction to run.
* Ability to find your way (map, orienteering skills, etc.)
* Counter tracking (eluding trackers)
* Self-defense (armed and unarmed)
* Stamina for long distance travel
* Primitive and urban survival skills while on the run
* A destination
* Hope and a will to survive
Bear in mind that escaping is only getting to the point that you have a fighting chance at survival, and that again, survival alone is much more difficult than survival as a small group where you can divide the work and rely on skills and knowledge of others where you might be weak.
Practice Essential Survival Skills
Needless to say, skills that you need to survive on the run while evading are skills you should be working on now.
The time to learn survival skills like how to start a friction fire and how to cook using a Dakota Firepit (to allow you to avoid detection) is not once you are on the run. Learn the skills now and practice them in your own house and back yard.
Once you’ve practiced essential survival skills, even enough to have a moderate understanding, you will have at least given yourself a fighting chance to survive.
Be Mentally Prepared for Worst Case Scenarios
Remember that there is a big difference, however, between starting a friction fire in the summer when it is 90+ degrees F out and has been dry for months, vs. starting a friction fire when it has been raining for 3 weeks straight, you’re soaked to the skin and is 50 degrees. This means you can never go wrong by practicing survival skills.
At my school we not only teach all of these skills (and a lot more), but we force students to do them under the stress and adrenaline of the same kinds of conflicts and issues they would face in a SHTF situation. We also have skills gatherings where people can show up and just practice with other students free of charge, to create a community of people who help motivate and energize each other to get better at these kinds of survival skills.
In summary, understand what kinds of problems you might be up against if you are ever held captive.
Start thinking now about the skills mentioned throughout this article, and how you can learn and train these skills.
Practice attitude, awareness, adaptability and accountability throughout your daily regimen as these are things you don’t have to be in any kind of survival situation to practice.
For instance, when you walk outside from your house, take a few seconds or minutes to make that transition from inside to outside. Mimic the way a cat goes outside. They stop and smell the air, listen and watch, then slowly transition from inside to outside.
Look in the distance, not just 20 feet in front of you.
Relax, practice deep breathing and start to trust your intuition more.
Intuition is just like any other skill – the more you use it the better you get at it. These kinds of exercises can be done by anyone, anywhere, for any of the four A’s, and will also help you prepare.
They aren’t a substitute for skills, but they are a necessary complement to skills.
You can have all the skills in the world but if you walk around with zero awareness and have an attitude of someone who gives up easily, those skills are worthless.
Think like a survivor. Never give up hope.
Holding on to hope will give you the perseverance and will to survive, when other people may have already given up all hope of escape. In their minds, they are already dead.
Put Together a Plan
Now put together a plan. Time your escape at just the right moment. But don’t wait too long.
Remember, the right moment might be shortly after being taken captive when you are still strong, still healthy, still have the energy to run, escape, evade.
by Sam Coffman, U.S. Special Forces Green Beret, Survival Instructor at TheHumanPath.com