How Will You Know When It’s Time To Get Out of Dodge? Part 1

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A few weeks ago I had the oddest dream. In this dream, I was at home when my husband walked in the door from work and said, “The balloon’s gone up.” Immediately, my kids and I set about getting ready to leave town, or “get out of Dodge”. I remember feeling impressed because everyone seemed to know exactly what to do.

Now, talk of balloons going up isn’t part of my everyday vocabulary. I use it about as often as I scamper from bush to bush, hiding from black helicopters. In fact, the first time I heard the phrase, I had to look it up online.

“When the balloon goes up” is a phrase used to imply impending trouble. This relates to the use of observation balloons in the first World War. The sight of such a balloon going up nearly always resulted in a barrage of shells following soon after. The expression was reinforced during WW2 when the hoisting of barrage balloons was part of the preparations for an air raid.

Often in survival type forums and blogs someone will use this phrase along with talk of, “getting out of Dodge.”

Obviously, I’m in favor of educating people to survive during all sorts of crises, but sooner or later one has to wonder, “How will I know when, or if, it’s time to gather my family together and get out of town?”

READ MORE: Do you know the three warning signs that’s it’s too late to prep? Click here to find out what they are!


The answer?

“When the balloon goes up!”

And that gets us right back to where we started. When does one know when that balloon has gone up? How do we know when events have taken an irrevocable turn for the worst and the only way to survive is to get as far away from our current location as possible?

I think that’s the $40,000 question, really. Not, “What do I keep in my bug out bag?”

Rather than try to come up with The Definitive Answer myself, I turned to numerous friends and acquaintances in the survival and preparedness niche and asked them for help.

I received so many outstanding responses from experts such as Claire Wolfe, James Rawles, Rob Hanus, and so many more that it will take more than one blog post to include them all. As you read their thoughtful answers, consider how these events might unfold in your own community.

So, in answer to the question, “How will I know when the balloon has gone up?”, or your own version of that question, here are a few of the responses, with more to follow.

From Brian and Daron Payne of the P2E Emergency Preparedness Expo

1. Empty shelves in grocery & hardware stores
2. Unexpected bank holidays/Run on ATM’s
3. Large groups of looters
4. Loss of life due to the police and emergency services being overloaded

From Timothy French of Americans Networking to Survive (A.N.T.S.)

A.N.T.S has an emergency plan that members can download. It has a section in it that talks about bugging in and when it is time to bug out.

It lists three threat levels and the signs you should look for. They are the same for all disasters because, in the end, breakdowns in society are caused by a loss of utilities and supplies.

The signs are:
Level 1 – No danger – utilities are out – people are getting along

  • OPSEC is low –  neighbors working together.

Level 2– Some danger – utilities are out –  people are getting very worried.

  • OPSEC is medium, should try to band with neighbors to block off your street.

Level 3 – Dangerous – utilities are out – people are desperate and looking for supplies.

  • OPSEC is high – You should bug out or hide in place

So as you can see, your neighbors’ reactions to an event are your best indicator, and picking up on those little signs before things get bad will give you the advantage. Bugging out before things really get bad will be a judgment call that each of us will have to make.

From Selco of SHTF School

Here are 5 first signs of coming collapse how I experienced it before war started. I’m sure it will be very similar again.

Symptom 1: More violence in your area

Symptom 2: Group behavior changes, survival brings people closer and makes others less human

Symptom 3: Dead streets

Symptom 4: New leaders emerge

Symptom 5: Nobody to trust anymore

From James Rawles of Survival Blog

Five signals of an imminent social collapse:

1.  Failure of any of the three American power grids, with no subsequent restoration of power within 72 hours.

2.  A stock market collapse of 30% of more of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) in less than 10 days.

3.  Simultaneous rioting in three or more major American cities.

4.  News of an easily-transmissible influenza pandemic with a high lethality rate, and an outbreak anywhere in the U.S.

5.  Outbreak of war, with one or more targets hit in the Continental United States by a major nation state, or multiple targets hit by a terrorist group. (This would include use of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.

From Randy Augsberger of The Prepared Christian

1)      Warning from the Government or other authority

This one is a no-brainer. As much as I hate to admit it, the government will give us a warning in some situations. Think Katrina. It would be a good idea to pay attention to what the talking heads are saying. Just run it through your filter and don’t disengage your brain. These can include natural disasters and health issues like potential pandemics.

2)      GMO crop failure

One of the biggest dangers of a global catastrophe I see is a famine induced by some bug (natural or man-made) attacking GMO crops. This will play out in the future as more and more of our food supply is controlled by Monsanto/ Government.

3)      Talk of making precious metals illegal for private ownership

Don’t think this couldn’t happen? It happen once already in this country. If for some economic reason, real or perceived, the government declares precious metals illegal to own, there will be absolutely no hard currency other than barter (they will probably try to outlaw that also).

4)      Martial law declared anywhere in the U.S.

This one is an alarm bell. Again, be sure to not disengage your brain. If you can see (for yourself) a good reason for it, fine. But if it looks like a government power grab, be ready.

5)      Widespread violent rioting

One or two cities in flame are not enough to get me too worried (unless I lived in those cities). But imagine the occupy movement if it was done with weapons and violence. We would be on the verge if not embroiled in a civil war.

 Read the rest of this series:

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

37 thoughts on “How Will You Know When It’s Time To Get Out of Dodge? Part 1”

  1. All very good indicators. IMHO, I think if the banks shut down. That’s the end of society as we know it.

    If you Google 1977 New York City, Con Ed, Power outage. Read up on it. Just because the power went out for 24 hours. The entitlement crowd went crazy. 650 fires in one night. Thousands arrested for looting and rioting.

    What do you think it will be like if the ATM cards stop working nationwide in the grocery stores? You will have food riots in less good areas that will spread. The truckers who deliver the good will be stranded all over as they can no longer get fuel.

    The point is. If the banks shut down. The economy comes to a grinding halt. AND it won’t restart if 2-3 days later they open up the banks. If you’re close and aware. You might get one last grocery store run in before the the chaos spreads. The stores will be emptied in a day.

  2. Also. If Conservative or Constitutional minded TV and Radio hosts are replaced. That is a strong indicator of something wrong. Call me cynical, but I think most of the liberal media will go along with what they are told.

  3. shadowfaxhound

    it has already started. Wars, famine, disease, unable to purchase ammo, government surveillance & lists, bankrupt cities, organized gang crime, Constitutional rights being taken away, totally corrupt government (local, state, federal), race fears, jihads, coups, poison warfare…the list is unending. Better BE READY.

  4. I haven’t commented on one of these preparedness awareness blogs using my former screen-name in a very long time but I HAD to comment on this one. Followers of the former LATOC will recognise the name:)

    I had to comment here because as ShadowFoxHound noted, a lot of the boxes have already been ticked.

    WHO has already admitted there is a new virus out there killing over half of the known infected that poses a terrible danger to the world’s population. Wars are everywhere and where there isn’t war there is violent civil unrest even in the most peaceful of countries (come on, violent, fierce riots over a week in Stockholm wasn’t a rising ballon to you? It was to me!). No economy anywhere is really improving and those touted ‘new jobs’ are not enough to sustain one person adequately much less a small family. Civil liberties are already so eroded by law that speaking out even in formerly ‘free’ countries can get you arrested. And not only is petty crime like shoplifting, burglary, and muggings on the serious uptick (the first indicator things are wobbly), violence during the commission of those crimes is also on the serious uptick.

    I ‘bugged out’ of the US in late summer 2010 to a country where I have close friends and family ties, and where buying a qtr beef is as easy as a stroll to the farm at the top of my lane. I buy eggs and fresh chicken meat from another neighbour.

    Things are bad and becoming worse. Time to make the bug-out v bug-in decision is very rapidly running out, and for a lot of people time has already run out. You don’t have a couple of years anymore, you have at best a few months to get gone or get the garden established and make friends with your local cattle rancher. Jump out of the pot, in other words, before it hits full roil because it’s already pretty hot in that water now.

    There are four ‘things’ that will make it possible to survive. First and foremost is WATER-what will you do when the bottled water runs out and this is not a rhetorical question, it’s one you need to answer NOW.

    Second is a cohesive, committed community on enough of the same page to make working together in a catastrophic collapse possible-you CANNOT make it without good neighbours and a close-knit family support network, you simply can’t.

    Third is a good vegetable garden and a safe place to store the harvests from year-to-year as you eat your way through it.

    Climate IS changing for whatever reason and everyone needs to adapt NOW for that. I bugged out to a higher latitude and our climate is changing to one of near constant autumn temps and conditions of wet/misty and cool to cold. We’ve switched from open ground food gardening to raised beds under poly tunnels and so far we’re enjoying foods our less prepared neighbours are paying increasingly high prices for in the local shops.

    Fourth-infrastructure is collapsing as we speak. The road, grid, and water supply infrastructure in every so-called 1st world country is groaning with age, over-use, and lack of maintenance. Countries are using resources as social weapons (good example is Russia stopping natural gas supplies to European countries they are unhappy with). Learn to live without the benefit of long-term reliable infrastructure because it’s failing all over the world.

    The ballon is ALREADY rising.

  5. Personally, I never could figure out exactly when “the ballon goes up.” Too many variables. Too many rumors. Too much hype. *sometimes too much hidden from the average Joe.

    My response has been to live in the country, mostly off-grid, with good access to fresh water. Basicly I bugged out years ago as city living wasn’t for me.

  6. Very interesting! I’m looking forward to seeing more responses in Part 2.

    I live in a very large city and see no possibility for me “bugging out” should things get bad. This article has really given me something to think about.

  7. EyesWideOpen — howdies from across the pond. I so appreciated your posting — so nice to “see” you after such a long spell. I’ve dropped out of forums as you probably know, but still read carolyn baker’s daily digest which led me here. All of your points are spot on. It’s happening now. I’ve lost a couple of long-term friends because of their complete denialist mindsets. I simply cannot continue to have “friends” who don’t get it — it’s a huge drain on my psyche, as I’m sure you understand. Fortunately, they live 1000s of miles away, so won’t be a drag on me when the stores close and they’ve done absolutely zero prepping. So, asta la vista to them, and I’m moving on to new horizons with new peeps in a brave new world. Your preps and community sound wonderful. Take care, and please give my best regards to your other half.

  8. Christopher de Vidal

    Good article and comments. It occurred to me today to set finance thresholds; I.E. when groceries consume more than XX percent of budget, I will do _____. I will probably use second world percentages as my threshold.

    Rawles had a longer “balloon” list here, and interestingly, some items have already been crossed:

    Even so, for Christians it’s important to consider all of the indicators mentioned after praying for the wisdom God promsies (James 1). Some of these thresholds were being crossed in 2008, and had I bugged out then, it would have _absolutely_ ruined our family. Don’t be afraid, the Lord is at hand and will provide your needs. (Phil 4)

  9. Christopher de Vidal

    “News of an easily-transmissible influenza pandemic with a high lethality rate, and an outbreak anywhere in the U.S.”

    MERS-CoV qualifies. Keep an eye on this one. Set up a Google alerts email to send you breaking news on it.

  10. Hello, everyone, my first time here. Very interesting site. I first started learning about preparedness in the 70s and 80s when I lived in Florida,surviving numerous hurricanes. I was a prepper before the word was even invented. I’ve been through many SHTF scenarios and survived them all. One thing I’ve learned about prepping is that you never stop learning. There’s always something extra to learn. You can never have too much information about how to survive adverse situations. everything mentioned in the article is correct and my prepping has been in overdrive lately Everyone get everything you can now while you still can. best wishes. braveheart

  11. Penny Pincher

    If the power goes out, the grocery stores will close even if they are still full of food. Happened in my town, I had to go to the next town to buy groceries. And that was just a little power out on that one street. If they can’t run the registers, they will close the doors.

  12. IndividualAudienceMember

    Gosh, after reading this, I think the $40,000 question is, do you have a place to bug out to?

    I don’t.

    If the shelves in grocery & hardware stores were empty, I’d have to hunker down.

    If there were Unexpected bank holidays/Run on ATM’s, I just have to wait and watch.

    If there were Large groups of looters, I just have to wait and watch.

    If there were Loss of life due to the police and emergency services being overloaded, I’d say that’s very similar to now, and how exactly would that affect me?

    These two comments from Selco were interesting for some reason:

    Symptom 3: Dead streets
    Symptom 5: Nobody to trust anymore

    Hmm, I see that now.

    Next, I imagine a Winter storm and wonder how this is different?:

    “1. Failure of any of the three American power grids, with no subsequent restoration of power within 72 hours.”

    That happens just about every year here.

    I wonder how this will really change things here, significantly?:
    “A stock market collapse of 30% of more of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) in less than 10 days.”

    I think of the 1960’s, or after a sporting event, when I read this:

    “3. Simultaneous rioting in three or more major American cities.”

    Unless I’m in that city, how does it affect me?

    Hasn’t this next one already happened?:
    “4) Martial law declared anywhere in the U.S.”

    “…if the banks shut down. That’s the end of society as we know it.”
    A storm knocked out the connection to a server for a hardware store here recently, the cashiers were instructed to ask every person headed to a checkout lane if they had cash because that’s all they could accept at the moment due to the severed link with the main computer server.

    Why wouldn’t stores pretty quick like switch to accepting something like silver coins as some grocery stores do now as shown on YouTube? The truckers who deliver could rely on company fuel cards of some kind? Maybe?

    “… a new virus out there killing over half of the known infected…”

    Hmm, there’s a theory about germs, Louis Pasteur vs. Bouchamp. Maybe the effectiveness of viruses isn’t ‘all that’ in those that have the right balance and internal conditions? Just something.

    “First and foremost is WATER-what will you do when the bottled water runs out”
    My thought is, I have some, and I have a Berkey, but I’ll rely on some kind of free market response for the long term.
    I know if I have a ton of water and such conditions existed I’d be out there providing it. The only real question in my mind is, will the goberment stop such a someone from providing it in exchange for a good or some form of currency?

    “you CANNOT make it without good neighbours and a close-knit family support network, you simply can’t.”
    My thought is, why not?
    Are you saying there will be no free market and there will be no black market?
    I imagine the people who survived the fire bombing of Dresden, or the atomic blast in Hiroshima, were they dependent on good neighbors and a close-knit family, or were there other factors?

    I’m not saying any of the above is wrong, just wondering if they are absolutes.

    “Basicly I bugged out years ago as city living wasn’t for me.”
    I wonder if that’s how the Kulacks in Russia thought when they were hit hard by the goberment?
    Or the Native North Americans from 1700 – 1870? Or for that matter, 1970?

    I had more thoughts on everything but I didn’t want to clog the thread. Anyway, I was just thinking out loud. Pardon the interruption.

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  17. I’ve always thought that detecting when the balloon goes up to be a no brainer. The various items mentioned in this article and in the postings are definite obvious signs that the balloon has gone up. But I think that for those that intend to ‘bug out’ they need to look for the precursor events or signs. Because waiting until the balloon goes up to bug out will just mean you get trapped in the crowd. We have taken J. Rawles advice to move to our bug out location and set up house there. It has been a long process for us and hope to have the process completed within a year. We peruse the news daily (Both main stream and alternative) in order to keep a pulse on what is going on. So that hopefully we will be able to detect precursor’s so that we can warn family and close friends, encouraging them to head for the ark, before the rain falls.

  18. Not thats its perfect, but Google Alerts is a great way to have yourself alerted when certain events occur. I figure setting up a couple can’t hurt and will alert me while I’m busy at work if the stock market crashes, or a natural disaster near me is threatening me and mine.

  19. Fighting Spouse

    Watching the signs daily and having family cooperation are essential. I can watch for the signs but my entire family thinks that I have lost my ever-lovin mind. Bug out, ha! I would be abandoning my family, something a mother with children just can’t do. I prepare what I can, hope for the best and pray the worst doesn’t happen. When does the balloon go up, it did for me a long time ago but it doesn’t matter because they say I’m just crazy.

  20. Christian Gains

    Penny Pincher & IndividualAM; I’m Relpying to you both…(I’m a survivor, [and FIRST RESPONDER of sorts] of Hurricanes Rita & Katrina…AND, observed the ENTIRE New Orleans debacle, through a ‘hack’ lead that I was given).

    Penny, you’re logic is based on too limited a scenario…You didn’t see the IMMEDIATE CRISIS situation that developed in H-town and N.O. (“Nawlins”) immediately after the services ceased…TOTAL LETHAL CHAOS.

    IAM, (while you’re logic is well based on a larger scale reaction), you NEED to add in the EVER RISING ANIMUS that will exacerbate and multiply the degrees of danger 1000%.

    You BOTH must grasp the Societal shift this Nation is experiencing…We’re NO LONGER any semblance of the kind, thoughtful, logical, respectful and sacrificial realities portrayed in “Mr. Jones Goes To Washington”, OR “It’s A Wonderful Life”, OR EVEN “The Andy Giffith Show, in MAYBERRY!

    CRIME, & VIOLENCE, (in ALL shades and fashions) will LEAP OUT of their dark crevasses and assault ANYONE foolish enough to hang around the MAJOR URBAN CENTERS…and they will QUICKLY migrate out to the RURAL CENTERS.

    PENNY…you’d be best served to get to know your neighbors, find ones who’re are paying attentions, and get them together over Bar-B-Q or beer, and begin to “SCENARIO PLAY” and PREpare your hearts and minds.

    IMA…you NEED a BIGGER slice of History’s REALITIES…What you described is based on NORMAL…what we’re looking towards is NOT normal…IT’S EXTREMELY UNIQUE….I would suggest that you cease to compare your opinions of the advice given, to your experience, and begin to accept that JWR, SALCO, & “EYESWIDEOPEN — LATOC” & yours truly, have “BTDT” [been there done that], and adjust accordingly….TRUST ME ON THIS..your scenario that you described ain’t likely to return NEXT time around.

  21. IndividualAucdienceMember

    I thought that mentioning the Kulaks in Russia was a good example of a, ‘pretty big slice’, as you say.

    I’m as aware of past disasters as I can ever be. Katrina too:


    On the one hand, I know every thing is unique these days, but at the same time, there’s nothing new under the Sun.

    Anyway, thanks for the advise, Christian Gains.

    For anyone else who stops by, perhaps they’d find this bit of American disaster history to be a worthwhile read, a blend of normal and unique:

    The Yellow Fever Economy

    “… I have dug into American history to come up with something plausible. I fear that it is too plausible.

    MEMPHIS, 1878

    In early summer, 1878, telegraph reports announced that yellow fever had broken out in the Caribbean. On July 27, it reached New Orleans.” …

    There are still pockets and instances of, ‘kind, thoughtful, logical, respectful and sacrificial realities’ such will never die out.

  22. I’m aware of what happened after Katrina. I’m just saying that my supermarket closed due to a temporary power out. Saying that doesn’t make me some kind of Pollyanna with no knowledge of man’s inhumanity to man.

    If it went on for several days, people would riot, then start trying to get each other’s food, then they’d spill out into the countryside like locusts, looking for crops to eat.

    I live in a small city. While my neighborhood isn’t a slum, my neighbors are pretty clueless/hopeless. There are many welfare and disability recipients here and the small size of people’s yards will not grow enough food to sustain the neighborhood even if we tore up every blade of grass and planted food. On the bright side we have a river, so we’ll be fine for water as long as there aren’t snipers picking people off who go there. I’m looking at where I can run off to, or ways to cache more food, because staying at home during a protracted period of no food would suck.

    Anything the government has in the way of food, is for themselves. There is no fricking way they can feed 300 million people if the dollar goes kaput. They’ll seize farmland and silos, feed themselves, and everyone else will have to eat whatever they can scrounge.

    We have farmland to feed the nation and then some, but not if it’s all bought up by corporations and the dollar collapses, they’ll sell the food to the highest bidder whose currency is still worth something; and not distribute it here if nobody here can afford the fuel to move the food around. If we can’t afford oil, then we can’t afford fertilizer either.

    The secret to not starving, is to know wild food plants, know how to preserve food, and to cultivate stealth gardens and caches of food. And, if the city gets too violent, have a place to go that is more rural, and a way to get there that will still work if gas goes through the roof. Learn now. You don’t want to be trying everything for the first time when the balloon goes up.

    And lastly, have a plan to survive a no-knock raid. I’m sure those will become common eventually, should the dollar collapse.

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  24. Survival Skvez

    The assumption is that one or more large events will be a noticeable step change and result in the balloon going up. But what we are seeing at the moment is the balloon creeping up slowly. Things are getting incrementally worse. Just like the proverbial frog getting slowly cooked without jumping out of the pot, today’s not that much worse than yesterday right?
    If things suddenly changed from how they were 20 years ago to how they are today most preppers would be tripping over each other to bug out!

    1. thesurvivalmom

      You are so right. Just looking back 5 years or so, life has changed drastically, and not for the better. It makes me sad to think that someday we will look around and realize we don’t live in a first world country anymore.

  25. IndividualAudienceMember

    “someday we will look around and realize we don’t live in a first world country anymore.”

    What, you don’t see it that way now?

    Anyway, I was thinking about Penny Pincher’s comment, “they’d spill out into the countryside like locusts, looking for crops to eat.”

    Seems to me, if history is any guide, recent history even, “they” will sit tight and wait right where they are.
    They’ll riot before they move.
    They’ll starve before they move.

    However; the goberment might move for them, eh? “Anything the government has in the way of food, is for themselves. There is no fricking way they can feed 300 million people if the dollar goes kaput. They’ll seize farmland and silos,” and that is kind of the same thing I guess.

    So, it seems to me, preppers are just waiting for the goberment to come take their stuff.
    Plenty of history on that.
    Sure is an ugly kind of waiting game.
    It’s quite a bit like dealing with a bully.
    First, there’s pushing and shoving,… then…

  26. “Plan to survive a no-knock raid.” Amen to this Penny Pincher

    When they pass laws to confiscate food and send out their goons. Yah, that’s YOU LE. I am sure many of you will follow orders. At this point we are living in a Thugocracy. Not even a police state anymore. Because it will be theft by organized thugs.

    Organize your fellow preppers with CB’s and maybe night watches. Odd’s are they aren’t going to send out enough to handle fire from multiple houses. I don’t see them sending out hundreds to go through whole neighborhoods at a time. As most people only have a few days of food. Methinks that taking the last food people have will be very dangerous.

    There are enough creative ways to make non harmful noisemakers. Aluminum cans on fishing line, etc. You can also make non deadly traps that will hinder them. Fishing line with hooks that they walk into. Boards with nails facing upwards. Small holes in the yard that are concealed in the dark.

    I’m serious and you had better be too. If society is collapsing and former law enforcement AND gangs are all over doing home invasions. You do what you have to. And they deserve what they get.

    Memorize this….Population will match food production.

  27. Thanks for another informative article! Is “When to GOOD part 2 the continuation of THIS article? It is unclear to me. Thanks!

    1. The Survival Mom

      I know, Bonnie. After part 1, I started calling the series “How to know when to get out of Dodge.” You’ll find parts 2, 3, and 4 under that headline. Not sure why I changed it!

  28. I really like this site.

    one of this weeks headlines in the weekly news letter.

    Something major appears to be in the works with Russia. Late last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered snap military drills for the nation’s defense forces involving an estimated 160,000 troops, 5,000 tanks, 70 of its Pacific Fleet ships and about 130 of its combat aircraft. Additionally, Putin ordered the forces spun up to full military readiness.

    The exercises are the largest held by Russia since the end of the cold war and were ordered soon after the U.S. Department of Defense source leaked to CNN that it was Israel that carried out a missile attack on a shipment of several dozen Yakhont missiles recently delivered by Russia to Syria.

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  32. Reading this in 2022, we should have “left dodge” two years ago or even 2014 when the country started burning

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