Surviving Haiti – A Real World SHTF Environment

Eric Borton relates and reflects upon his personal experiences in a real-world SHTF environment (Haiti) while pointing out some of his ‘lessons learned’ such as “being prepared is more than just having the gear or the guns” and “surviving in that environment was more about awareness, mental and physical preparation, and avoidance”.

Awareness was the single most valuable tool that he carried – something that you can’t see or touch…

 
By Eric E. Borton:

 
I had the high ground and good cover when they both came through a doorway into a small courtyard below me. One had a revolver tucked into his belt and the other had a semi-automatic pistol he was returning to a holster. It was late into the evening when I spotted them coming over the wall under the cover of darkness at our compound. Another man was sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle parked outside the gate. They came up the road without headlights.

A few moments before they appeared in my sights, I heard a scuffle and cries of terror coming from our security shack. Standing over my targets I had two options. Light them up with the flashlight on the end of my gun, or light them up with the trigger.

We prepare for natural disasters, economic collapse, political unrest, and desperate people looking to take what we have. In Haiti, we dealt with all four every day. Over the past year and a half, I spent most of that time in Port-au-Prince consulting for a rescue helicopter program. In most of the crumbling city, it’s as if the devastating earthquake in 2010 happened yesterday…


 

I write novels about what the world would look like after an apocalyptic event in my WITHOUT series. Haiti is the real-world SHTF environment that we read about in fiction. Being prepared saved my life. It also saved a few of theirs.

My first trip was for ten days. It took ten seconds to realize how grossly underprepared I was for the hostile foreign environment. The Americans who were already in country relied on private companies to provide security at their living quarters and at the hangar. There was no security detail when traveling between the two or during excursions into the city. Outside in the chaos we were on our own.

I lived in an apartment within a walled compound in the mountains above Port-au-Prince. We had one guard at the gate who carried a shotgun that looked like he pulled it out of a river. Rolling blackouts and gunfire were a nightly occurrence. Sleep was hard to come by those first few evenings until I became acclimated to the things that went bump in the night.

Most of the homes on our mountainside had diesel generators and rainwater collection systems instead of trusting the very unreliable city utilities. The area was considered one of the most affluent sections of the city. It was also one of the most popular targets for raids by gangs coming from the most dangerous sections of the city. (During one of the raids, a gang member was caught by the locals and set on fire in a city square as a deterrent for the others. It didn’t work.)

When I returned home from the first trip, it took me several days to spool down. I spent six years in Naval Intelligence and traveled to many third world counties. The difference with Haiti was that I didn’t have the U.S. Navy watching my back. One might ask why I returned eleven more times to one of the most dangerous countries in our hemisphere. For me, the answer is simple. It’s how I keep my edge. Most of the visitors to this site will understand what I mean. Those who don’t prepare, won’t.

My philosophy is that if you’re preparing for the worst, there’s no better way than experiencing the worst. Haiti is that place. At no point can you let your guard down. If you do, Haiti will make you pay.

After I did spool down, I started my checklist for the return trip the following month. One of the first items was a set of Haitian Creole language CDs. I’m by no means fluent, but if I find myself lost or in need of help, I can engage the locals with confidence. I can also give commands when I find myself in situations where they need to be given. That was a daily occurrence.

The next item on the list was a bit trickier. It’s illegal for civilians to carry guns unless they have permission from the head of the Haitian National Police (HNP). The only group more corrupt than the politicians was the HNP. There’s a grey area if you’re former or active duty U.S. military and carry an ID card, but it was still illegal to purchase a gun. To add to the problem, there was a recent ban on importing weapons and ammunition. Without giving away secrets on international gun trade and circumventing foreign customs, that box was checked.

The backpack that never left my side – day or night – contained the items you’d expect: Medical kit, flashlights, ammunition, knives, tools, fire-starters, tarp, cordage, extra clothing, gloves, food, personal hygiene products, and spare batteries. Unique items in my pack for that area were a $10 prepaid cell phone, Haitian cash, local map, compass, and a LifeStraw. (You can literally suck water out of a pothole with that thing…if there was no other option of course.)

The other items not in my pack that you’d expect were on me at all times, except when I slept: Gun, extra magazines, UHF/VHF radio, cell, tactical flashlight, knife, lighter, and multi-tool. They were all secured in the event I needed to go from a stroll to a flat-out sprint without causing a yard sale.

My bug-out plan was based on three modes of transportation at my disposal. Our helicopters were the first choice to get me over to the relative safety of the Dominican Republic (DR). A well-maintained and always fully-fueled 4×4 was my second option if I wasn’t at the hangar. The border to the DR was only thirty-miles away, so hoofing it was an option as well. Haiti is an island country, but the waterfront in Port-au-Prince was lined with the most dangerous areas in the city and were controlled by gangs. Even the police avoided those areas unless they were in a large force, so using the water to escape would be a last resort.

I never considered the U.S. Embassy as an option. I knew where it was and how to get there, but I’d still be in the middle of Port-au-Prince if the SHTF. History has shown us that embassies can be overrun. The same went for the UN peacekeeping compounds within the city. History has also shown that those guys are the first to run and last to shoot. I have no love – or confidence – with UN troops.

As with most bug-out plans, putting distance between you and a city is a high priority. Port-au-Prince is no different, but difficult to navigate in a vehicle or even on foot on a normal day. Streets and bridges are narrow, in terrible condition, and easily blocked. 8 foot walls with razor wire or broken glass embedded along the tops surround most properties, and heavy steel doors block every entrance. There are few places to hide, or avoid contact with people for miles in any direction. If I had the time, my plan was to make my way through the city a few hours before sunrise to limit contact as much as possible. I’m 6’3” and Irish. There would be no “blending” into a crowd.

Haiti showed me that being prepared is more than just having the gear or the guns. That’s the easy part. Surviving in that environment was more about awareness, mental and physical preparation, and avoidance.

Awareness was the single most valuable tool I carried that you can’t see or touch. My head was constantly on a swivel. Whether driving on streets with no traffic laws or using one of the few ATMs, I was always scanning for trouble. Sometimes by just making eye contact you can change someone’s intent. I truly believe awareness combined with confidence is palpable to others around you.

Mental preparation was part of my daily routine. As I brushed my teeth, I would think about the route I would take into work and the alternates I could use if the primary was blocked. I’d check my group messages with our American employees and Haitian counterparts about possible civil unrest or political protest hotspots. While I dressed, I’d think about different scenarios and how I would react to deteriorating conditions both man-made and natural. Before I got in the truck, I’d walk around to make sure the tires were inflated and no foreign objects were stuck in the treads. When the steel door was opened at our compound, Haiti had my undivided attention.

One aspect of preparedness that doesn’t get enough emphasis is physical conditioning. My worst-case scenario was having to make my way to the DR – 30 miles away – on foot. Haiti has some of the highest mountains in the Caribbean, and I’d have to go over them to get out. It’s also one of the hottest countries in the Caribbean. During my last trip in January, the average temperature was 85º. With 35lbs of gear and traveling at night, it would still take me 3-4 days to get to the border.

If I were out of shape, the chances of me making the trek were slim to none. That goes for any bug-out scenario in any environment. If your entire plan is based on driving out of a bad situation, you’re not prepared. Movement is life. If you can’t run, jump, climb, and fight fully loaded, start investing more time and resources on conditioning and less on the gear. (I can’t stress that point enough.)

Avoiding a bad situation is just as important as knowing how to get out of one. During daylight hours and when civil unrest was at a lull, I’d spend some time driving around the city. I’d become familiar with the routes I didn’t need to take and areas I didn’t need to be in.

Port-au-Prince is a maze of confusing roads that don’t show up on any GPS. They can degrade from a concrete street to a goat path within seconds. Haitian criminals are very familiar with every chokepoint in the city. One of their favorite tactics is to box you in with multiple vehicles or trap you at a dead end. They used that tactic on one of our local Haitian employees heading to the bank and robbed her at gunpoint. Nobody in Haiti is immune to crime or gets a pass for being Haitian. If you don’t know what, where, and who to avoid, a dangerous situation can turn deadly in a heartbeat.

I was prepared for the encounter in the courtyard. I was at a location that gave me command of the area below in a gunfight. Taking a life is a burden that is carried forever regardless of the circumstance. I chose the light over the trigger. Knowing the language saved their lives and I saved myself more nightmares.

In Creole, I yelled down for them to freeze. If their hands went to their guns, I wouldn’t have hesitated to kill them. They froze and then followed my commands. I could see the fear on their faces while they were being blinded and disoriented by my light.

They were employees of the private security company for our compound. They showed up to teach the sleeping guard a lesson when he missed their radio call. After they scared the life out of their own employee, they were going to walk the perimeter to make sure we were safe.

Haiti is one of the most beautiful and exotic countries I’ve ever visited. For the most part, the Haitian people are resilient, proud, and welcoming…but not all of them. I’ve always believed the most dangerous animals on the planet are parents protecting their children. In Port-au-Prince, most live in squalor and struggle to survive and provide for their families every day. The combined dollar amount of the items I carried in my pack was more than what most families made in a year.

I’m sure on more than one occasion a kind and gentle father thought about bashing my head in with a rock to take what I had. Not because he was evil, but because he was desperate.

Stay aware. Stay prepared.

 

Eric E. Borton served six years with Naval Intelligence in North Africa, Southern Europe, and the Middle East. As a civilian, he served thirteen years with a rescue helicopter service in Atlanta, Georgia, where he currently resides. He is the author of the Post-Apocalyptic series WITHOUT.

WITHOUT

WITHOUT II: The Fall

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47 Comments

  1. Law and order instead of corruption could have made this an island paradise. In the end it will still be up to the people, fight to survive or die.

    1. Corruption leads to yet more corruption. No doubt there is a certain amount of corruption in all levels of most any government given the darker side of human nature. When it becomes so bad, it enables society itself to slide down that slippery slope.

      A SHTF economic collapse would probably lead towards social chaos, worse in some places than others.

  2. Sounds like Chicago or any large urban area in the US that have riots these days. One doesn’t need to travel to Haiti for such, but these people are not starving, they are immoral and barbaric. They need no logical reason to kill and destroy which makes it worse, and God forbid a SHTF event would occur.

    The author knew the high risks staying in an area like that, but best thing for me is to avoid them. Been there, done that. No more.

    1. I live near Atlanta and agree. Being prepared is a commitment to a way of life. It doesn’t matter if I’m in downtown Atlanta or Port-au-Prince, my threat color is yellow. Geography/environment dictates gear and plans, but not awareness. That switch is always on.

  3. Very good post…eye opening and thought provoking…
    I really appreciated that he shared his thought process through the whole Haiti experience…

    Thank you for sharing Ken…

    May we likewise live life without blinders on…

    Our “reality” can change in an instant

    May we each learn to be prepared as much as possible

    Peace all~

    1. In my opinion, it’s why Modern Survival Blog exists. It’s a great platform to share information and experiences to both learn and teach. We should never stop doing either.

  4. Chicago Year to Date;
    Shot & Killed: 59
    Shot & Wounded: 301
    Total Shot: 360
    Total Homicides: 61

    Ok that’s 2-ish a day, in ONE city not bad huh? Great job Chicago, most likely only a fraction of Haiti, but worth thinking about.

    I agree as Stardust said one does not need to live in Haiti to experience the “real world” just check out some of the cities here in the good old US-of-A.

    With all due respect I also agree the Author made his choices to work/live in this conflicted/dangerous area as he stated to “For me, the answer is simple. It’s how I keep my edge”. Personally I see putting one’s self in that sort of situation continually 24/7 as possibly “over the wall” or maybe just a lifestyle he prefers? BUT, of course, I or no one else knows the whole story.

    As one that has also traveled the world I have also seen a lot of what Mr. Borton has experienced, I just choose to not live and make a living there, does that mean I’m less prepared? Does that mean that I don’t have a need to watch my 6 and have the knowledge how to avoid?

    Please do not get me wrong, I appreciate the world has people like Mr. Borton, and if/when TSHTF, I’m sure he could kick my azz and well outlast me, but in the spirit of fairness and conversation, I live my lifestyle as much as he does for this time and place in my life. This does not mean I have my head in the sand; I am and will continue to define my existence, as Mr. Borton does his.

    I believe the biggest thing I take from this article, have a plan, stay in shape and for crying out loud be aware of your surroundings. Ohhh and don’t forget the backpack you left at home this morning.

    Again I want to thank Mr. Borton for the “work” he does in a country that is falling or has fallen apart at the seams, as we well could here. And for writing this article for Ken, it sure does make one think. But I probably won’t be running into him in Haiti.

    Thank you Sir for contributing to MSB, great job.
    NRP

    PS; and yes I just ordered his book “Without”.

    1. Personally I agree with you. If a person puts themselves into these types of situations just to keep his edge I think there is something seriously wrong with them. I have spent time in these types of places here in the US and would not go back to them by choice. Unless he is a Merc or something I think he is just a thrill seeker and I am not.

    2. Thank you for taking the time to post your thoughtful response, and thank you for ordering WITHOUT. I hope you enjoy the story.

      Keeping my edge has less to do with intentionally putting myself in dangerous situations and more to do with challenging myself to live a full life. Each of us have our reasons to accept those challenges and they’re all different. I didn’t go to Haiti looking to hone my survival skills. I went to Haiti to help build their first rescue helicopter service, train Haitians to eventually take over the program, experience a foreign culture, and learn a new language. All things I believe add value to my personal story…to my life.

      For a little more background, I wasn’t looking for a consulting job in Haiti, it came looking for me. The team that started the program comprised of heroes that I had the honor of working with throughout my career. They asked for my help and after weighing the pros and cons, I made the decision to go. The team was professional, well-organized, and experienced. If it had been anyone else, I would’ve turned them down.

      I wrote the article because I thought it was relevant to the Modern Survival platform. If it was an EMS helicopter blog, the article would’ve looked much different. I’m certainly not a mercenary or a thrill seeker, but I do like a good adventure that takes me out of my comfort zone every now and then.

      The intent of the article was to show – right or wrong – what it was like living in a real-world environment where being prepared, aware, and vigilant was necessary to avoid trouble. I wasn’t in Haiti to take lives, I was there to save them. For me, it doesn’t matter where in the world I go to do that. It just matters that I’m still willing to try.

      Thank you again for your comments and making Modern Survival Blog one of the best resources on the web for staying prepared.

      1. @ Mr. Borton

        Thanks for the response to my post, clarifies a lot.

        As I said in my post, I have also traveled the world (when I was a LOT younger) and know of the need “out there” for help and those that offer their services as you have. Thank you for doing so.

        I guess my point was there are also a lot of very VERY nasty places right here in the good US-of-A that an “old fat guy” like myself had best stay away from if not prepared to take on the kind of stats in Chicago. AND if/when TSHTF all bets are off of course no matter where you may be.

        I personally like the word “lifestyle” for my current ideology and place in life. That also, of course, involves the protection and defensive realm need in this world now. But this lifestyle also includes providing for myself and a handful of others in case of TSHTF, including food production, water supply, safety, and so on (long list). To me the lifestyle, is just short of SHTF living, doing for one’s self and knowing the limits is a HUGE help, rather than living in a huge city and just buying a bunch of stuff and calling it good-to-go, as I personally know a LOT of people do. I believe if one spends any amount of time here on MSB, you’ll find a lot of people here that are lifestyle living or Homesteading. GREAT resources.

        I believe you are exactly correct, your article is exactly right for MSB, I’m betting Ken did not have to edit yours as much as he needs to edit mine… HAHAHAHA …Not what one might call a writer here, I just seem to beat on the keyboard and hope Spell Check catches most of the mistakes… LOL

        Lastly I will agree 1000%, one had better be prepared, no matter where in the world one may find themselves. If not, the world will chew you up and spit ya out in a heartbeat without even a thought.

        Thanks again for the Article, good food for thought.
        NRP

        1. I disagree, sir. You’re an excellent writer! I’m new to MSB and have gone through some of the archives. Your articles and responses are both informative and entertaining. Both key components to a good read…and hard to teach. I believe Ken would agree it’s contributors like you that have made MSB one of best sites out there. It’s why I’ll keep coming back!

    1. Thank you. I’d also like to thank Ken and MSB for the opportunity to share the story. This is a great place to interact with great people.

  5. Excellent article. My experience- preparation, awareness, and confident eye contact avoids most problems. If that doesn’t work fight like a cornered rat.

    1. Sage advice, Ricky! Confidence truly is one of the best weapons any of us can carry for self-defense.

  6. I have read Borton’s articles before. Good info. But the U.S. in a SHTF will be a lot different than Haiti. Nevertheless, his experiences are very noteworthy and excellent guides to follow. In an actual SHTF for us folk 65+ years, it can and will be very difficult to survive…..unless of course we prepare accordingly.

    1. 65+ years only means you have more experience and knowledge. Both very tangible assets if TSHTF.

  7. I worked as a merchant marine in the early eighties. And was throughout the the islands around the Atlantic. All of them have dark places you don’t want to be in. Even back then, and have only gotten worse through the years.

    It was a time I developed a keen sense of awareness of my surroundings.

    1. Most don’t see being a merchant marine as a dangerous profession. I know different. And yes, it’s only getting worse. There are few better places to learn awareness than in international waters.

  8. US post collapse would definitely be very different. Need for PT would vary depending on situation. I think those in less remote areas would have time to get into better shape. City dwellers would be in more of an immediate need. Being prepared in all aspects is key. You could be fortifying and making runs instead of trying to get into shape. Great article.

    1. Thank you for posting your comment. I brought up the subject of physical fitness because I don’t see it being addressed in many survival scenarios. Just like we want our gear to be in the best possible shape if we need it, our bodies should be as well.

      I agree with you that our environment dictates our level of preparedness. I’m not saying hit the gym five times a week, but going for walks every now and then will do nothing but improve a person’s level of endurance. With that being said, I need to get my butt out of this chair and go for a nice walk!

  9. I’ve been around the barn enough and have had ALL of the “adrenaline dumps”, I ever care to have. I embrace wholeheartedly the concept of conflict avoidance, and being able to choose freely to NOT go into the “tiger country” areas of any metropolitan or rural areas.

    Since I no longer HAVE to go into those areas for any reason, I willingly choose to not go into the jungle at all.

    What possible good purpose could come from being that stupid?

  10. Not all are meant to live a long life.

    For some seeing the tigers is what life is all about, but for a small group any thing less than riding the tiger is a waste of time and life. The only problem is how do you get off of the tiger??? Not easy to explain, anything less is a waste of one’s life. What is it that drives a man to cross that uncharted sea or scale that mountain? If you don’t have that in you can’t understand.

    Some of us are different. Live well in the time you have.

    TEA and chocolate…

    1. You are correct. It’s difficult to explain and sometimes harder to understand. We all have a different perspective about what is brilliant and what is careless. I don’t climb that mountain because it’s dangerous. I climb it for the possibility that what’s on the other side will take my breath away.

      1. Thanks ,,,did 28 days in Ethiopia with W H O / red cross years ago ,same kind of deal was more than I could Handle , hope to hear more from you on the site

  11. A good read. Soak up the lessons folks. First hand, real world. Tyrants fear a prepared warrior. Keep the edge, and thanks for helping the mostly forgotten people in Haiti.

    1. Thank you for posting your thoughts and for your kind words. Most of the parents in Haiti have earned the right to give their children a better life than they had. They work hard every day to change what they can. It isn’t much because of the government oppression, but what they do accomplish on a daily basis is inspiring and humbling.

  12. Time for this grandma to get herself in better shape. Thank you for the article Ken. I’m prepared on so many levels but being in shape isn’t one of them. I’m reading this right now because I have a horrible cold and can’t sleep. This article was very good food for thought.

  13. Thank you E.E. Borton for posting on this site.

    I flew civilian helicopter medevacs within the CONUS years ago. I was a paramedic with 167 missions before my first autorotation. My back was a little stiff afterwards but I was able to walk away. (technically, a “good landing”) I did that for a few more years before I got tired of playing on the freeway and went back to school for a job indoors. (nursing)

    You bring many insights into this site and I hope you continue to post. Do you continue to do that kind of work overseas? I knew several people who retired from the CIA (one from Operations and 2 case officers) from my work in the medical field. All were adept at learning new languages. (all 3 had masters degrees)

    Your post is similar to an article written by the guy who worked in Operations. Proof that some things never change.

    1. Thank you for your response and your service as a flight medic and nurse. Glad you were able to walk away from your “good landing.” We both know many who weren’t as lucky.

      I have no plans to take another assignment overseas. I’m currently working on my next novel and that’ll consume me for the next five months. After a heavy dose of solitude and cabin fever, I’ll probably put a few more stamps in the passport. No telling where that will be or in what capacity.

      1. @ E.E. Borton

        “I’ll probably put a few more stamps in the passport”

        Don’t ya hate it when you have to get extension pages in the Passport???? Hahahaha
        Or worse when you run out of pages when oversees doing “side trips” ????
        Been there Done that…. The looks ya get from Immigration is NOT a good one…. :-(

        NRP

  14. @NRP

    Both are a pain in the ass. I ended up in the “small” room a few times at the airport. No cavity searches, but I felt like I needed a shower after.

  15. I saw the conflict in the former Yugoslavia up close. This article reminded me of that. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I hate that my article reminds you of a dark place during a dark time. But as you and I know, remembering those dark places is what now keeps our edge a tad bit sharper than most.

  16. Thanks for sharing your on-the-edge story, Mr. Borton. (Your novels sound like I’d like to get them). I’ve been reading about Haiti and human trafficking. It’s easy to see how a place like Haiti has this going on (in addition to all the other human suffering). But it’s also prevalent in US cities like Portland. And kidnappings in Phoenix are 2nd highest in the world. (Next to Mexico City)

    1. Thank you for your message. As many have stated in their comments to this article, you don’t have to go far from your own backyard to find evil.

      The human trafficking in Haiti is out of control and as brutal as one might expect. As with everything else that’s brutal in Haiti, the government refuses to acknowledge that it’s an issue worth mentioning. If they did, international aid wouldn’t flow as fast and free.

  17. Per dh he has a quote that Mr. Bolton will understand.

    “For those who fought for it life has a meaning, for those who haven’t they will never understand”

  18. I’ve been to Haiti several times on mission trips. What EE Bolton describes is exactly what I saw and heard there.

  19. One of my sons was there right after the quake. He was with an emergency medical team that went out into the countryside and set up to treat injuries. He said this article is dead on target and good advice for anyone in a troubled area. Especially the potential disaster zones we refer to as cities here in America. The shadow of civility can quickly disappear.
    He had to breath for one child they did emergency field surgery on for 18hrs with a hand squeezed breathing device to keep him alive until they could get him to a real facility. He told me “that is why I became a dr dad”. (sorry for bragging about my son here) Bottom line: trouble can find you anywhere. Prepare, prepare, prepare. That’s how I raised my sons and daughter. They have used their skill for the good of those around them. Sheep dogs, not sheep.

  20. I am a
    dominican, residing in Santo Domingo,Dominicaan Republic. What Mr.Borton says is all true. The only correction is the fact that the highest mountains in the Caribbean are not in Haiti.They are in the Dominican Republic. Good article.

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