The Rich Drive Around in Fancy Armored Vehicles While the Poor Fight to Survive: A Different Kind of SHTF

by Fabian Ommar

High crime rates are a common form of SHTF. It affects everyone, but each segment of society responds differently. The poor fight it out and struggle to eke out survival. The rich spend their wealth on ostentatious security measures like guards and armored vehicles.

As mentioned in my last article about Thirdworldization, crime and violence are on the rise in major U.S. cities and almost everywhere.

Toby and Daisy asked me to expand on the topic, specifically armored vehicles, which are ubiquitous here where I live. Here is the lowdown. 

Brazil has the largest fleet of armored vehicles for civilians in the world

It’s a damning record and apparent symptom of an utterly unequal, divided, and scared society. A violent one, too: Brazil leads the world in the number of firearm deaths (43,000), with U.S. coming second (37,000). It ranks fifth in firearm deaths per 100,000 inhabitants (23,9), while the U.S. is seventh with half of that (12,1).

But statistics alone don’t tell the whole story: behind the numbers lies one significant distinction.

Let’s consider firearms restrictions for civilians (i.e., only the bad guys and the police are armed here), and gun violence in Brazil is mostly from homicides (94%, whereas in the U.S., 64% are from suicide). It becomes evident how exceptionally lethal criminality and crime-fighting are around here. 

Statistics may vary slightly according to sources and studies over the years. But I mention these differences, in particular, to illustrate how civil unrest and violence is something very characteristic of underdeveloped countries, in opposition to more developed ones. It is something visible in other social markers as well. For instance, public transit is also deadlier in Brazil compared to the U.S.

That explains in good part why private security in general and armored vehicles are big industries and thriving businesses here. Unsurprisingly, the authorities play dumb about this. Advertising such a dubious title would be an admission of incompetence and failure in dealing with public safety. But that’s what it is.

Spike in crime is the first and immediate result of any and every kind of SHTF

How some preppers overlook or dismiss crime waves as a real, present threat is beyond me. The bad guys are always lurking, and good people can do bad things in certain circumstances too. I can already see some saying crime is non-existent in their area. Others may say the offenders will be met with loads of weapons and determination to fight. 

I put the final touches on this article as Daisy’s post on situational bias came out, addressing the subject comprehensively. These are common idealizations of people living in highly civilized places. I get that all the time, even from residents of “nice” neighborhoods here. Many believe crime is distant. They think they are safe by either owning (or hiring) guns or some other spurious reason.

I’m 100% with Daisy on that. I am in no way saying we should take it and do nothing. The world is inherently unsafe, and things change, fast or slow. There’s nothing wrong with being conscious, aware, and prepared. Thinking “this can’t/won’t happen” or “we’re safe” is the wrong mentality. If things are boiling (an economic downturn, social tension, and institutional disorder), it’s just a matter of time. Crime may hit urban centers first, but eventually, it rises and spreads.

No place is an island.

“Everything is interconnected” is an excellent principle by which to live.

We’ve been living in prosperous, relatively calm, and civilized times for the past two or three decades. Sure, famine, misery, disasters, and conflicts haven’t been eradicated. But there’s been a long enough period of progress and stability to lure people into thinking things can’t go back or become fluid again. 

Then something like 9/11 or COVID19 strikes, and suddenly we’re reminded: things can and do change

But this article is not about full-SHTF. Big disasters aren’t always necessary for decay to take place in society or community. Once things turn bad and the effects of some collapse start spreading, the social fabric wears thin. It usually happens faster than most believe because building takes time, but destroying is quick.

Here’s some context for a better understanding of armored vehicles

Developing countries are nothing like many in the first-world think. The differences for the average population are more subtle than imagined by most folks from either. 

Someone visiting Buenos Aires (Argentina’s capital) or São Paulo (the biggest city in Brazil) would feel a lot like N.Y., LA, or other large metros of Europe: vibrant streets and avenues, hectic commerce, theaters, museums, and parks. Tall buildings, fancy cars, and condos. You can eat (very) well and enjoy the nightlife, or attend the same shows and live concerts everywhere else in the world (not now, but you get the point). Things may not be as tidy as in London or Zurich, but it’s perfectly possible to walk around and visit extraordinary places normally and safely.

Many developing countries are affluent. In many ways, Brazil is incredibly wealthy: we’re 212 million living in a free, democratic, urbanized, industrialized, continental-sized land blessed by resources and diverse environment, and no grave natural disasters of any kind. Also, no wars, mass shootings, or terrorism.

Our major disasters are all human-made: corruption, bureaucracy, and debilitating inefficiencies prevent much of this natural wealth from being efficiently harnessed, transformed, and fairly distributed for the good of the people and progress of the collective, causing significant social inequalities. In various degrees, it’s the same in most other developing countries. Some are doing better (democracies), others worse (dictatorships).

The real SHTF in most third-world countries is the profoundly unequal distribution of wealth

Said differently, there’s a lot of money circulating. But it’s in the hands of few, so there’s also a lot of poverty. Poor education and low productivity render ill effects on the population. Violence and crime are the perverse byproducts of this gap because, in such unbalanced societies, everyone is fending for themselves. It’s a lot more surviving and a little less living, on all levels, and for everyone.

The rich “survive” by investing in measures to keep their lifestyle and warrant safety for them and their families. These “bubbles” are made possible by the multi-billion private security business, an industry employing millions and shaping the landscape from costumes to architecture. If there’s demand, there’s an offer.

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The widespread use of armored civilian vehicles is part of that. Something that some see as an extreme personal safety measure or an extravagance in most other countries (even ones in war) is quite ubiquitous in the streets of every big city here.

Crime and violence are not the same everywhere

All that may sound like life is all hell in a developing country, but it’s not. It is far from that. Inequality means contrast, and that’s precisely what makes things crazy. Most places are safe and normal, and every day is pretty standard. But the dangerous areas are very, very dangerous and violent. Most “favelas” and the suburbs where public services are deficient are one example. 

As I said, crime spreads if the context is favorable. When crime finds its way into safer areas (as it always does), this gives a generalized feeling of insecurity. That’s why a single case can instantly scare people and instill fear and insecurity in a zero-crime area or town. 

If I had to use one word to describe it, I’d say it’s like a lottery: whatever the odds, knowing you can get robbed or shot is a load, a burden. This feeling is like a fog that never lifts completely, and it’s difficult to lower your guard completely. Everyone takes their measures and moves on with life. When we add that people spend a lot of time driving (also because public transportation is deficient), the search for armored vehicles is a logical conclusion.  

Driving around in fancy armored vehicles is a status symbol

Not as much today as in years past, but another crazy distortion all the same. In a dysfunctional society stricken by violent crime, flaunting a “blindado” (especially a luxury one) remains a way of showing you belong to the top 1%. Sure enough, adding $10-20K of ballistic protection on top of an already expensive car is not for many.

It’s a dubious distinction, though a form of imprisonment and a way to draw unwanted attention. It also implies high maintenance costs and demands lifestyle adaptations to go from A to B, usually stuck in traffic for hours. I have friends and relatives driving armored cars, trucks, and SUVs. I understand the rationale but can’t avoid seeing the other side. 

How does the industry of armored vehicles work?

As happens with gun licensing around here, the Army and the Feds control vehicle armoring. They issue the licenses and regulations according to specific guidelines. When it comes to market, it’s possible to buy any car (new or used) from a regular dealer and have it adapted aftermarket. Or purchase new and armored OEM from the manufacturer. Or buy second-hand. Some shops purchase new vehicles from various brands, make the adaptations, and sell under their brand.

The different levels of ballistic protection in armored vehicles:

  • Level 1 and 2 is “lightweight” armoring: reinforced glass and some Kevlar panels to offer protection against small caliber pistols and breakage. These can be bought without bureaucracy.
  • Level 3-A is the most common and seen everywhere: 90% of armored civil vehicles are in this category. It requires background and criminal check for a special license to add heavy, 1″ (or more) multilayer laminated glass, run-flat tires, heavier ballistic shielding – which can add up to 100kg or 220lb. Or more in rolling weight to the car/SUV. 
  • Then there’s Level 3: with even more reinforcements to protect against rifles such as A.R.s and A.K.s. This level isn’t allowed for civilians in general unless there’s some justification (like a death threat or something), which is rare because there’s no terrorism, or many big-caliber rifles going around, just “regular” criminality (the irony).
  • Finally, there’s Levels 4 and 5:  It’s something like “The Beast” (the U.S. presidential vehicle). Not quite like The Cadillac One, but these offer heavy-artillery protection (against RPGs, grenades, .50cal, etc.) and unique cabin survival systems. Those are exclusively for particular uses (diplomats, military, government figures, some police units, etc.). 

Vehicle armoring is a specialized service only provided by specialized companies

There are no homemade adaptations because it demands specialized labor, equipment, and materials. Armoring shops also need a license. Many are from U.S., Israel, or another country. Since these armored vehicles can be used to commit crimes or protect criminals, the authorities keep tight control over the industry, the cars, and the material used.

Besides, cars are valuable, expensive assets – especially armored – so people don’t want to lose (much) money doing half-assed jobs on their fancy trucks and SUVs. Most importantly, the protection must be warrantied to work because no one knows where the bullet may hit. Thus the whole process has strict quality control for liability, warranty, and insurance reasons.

Some types of cars are preferred  

According to their standards, some makers (usually high-end euros like BMW, Audi, Land Rover, Volvo, etc.) have their own armoring contractors to warrant performance and coverage. Luxury (Bentley, etc.) and family SUVs (such as Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport) get armored frequently. More popular brands like Honda, Mitsubishi, V.W., etc., also offer OEM armoring as optional on some models. Sports cars (Porsche, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Aston Martin, etc.) are rarely adapted because they’re too expensive, and armoring a car completely f***s it up. Thus owners prefer to leave these in their original state.  

Armored vehicles are very different from an original one to drive and maintain

Due to the extra weight and special disassembling/reassembling needed, the car suffers a lot more wear and tear than a regular vehicle and needs reinforcements and special parts. Maintenance is also costly because it demands specialized disassembling/reassembling of the armoring to switch a lamp or repair a body part or even change a tire. More powerful ones are preferred to carry all that extra load without losing (much) agility. The weight also changes the vehicle’s center of gravity, which alters behavior and thus driving.

Who drives armored vehicles?

Rich people from all walks of life: CEOs, artists, high-profile sports figures, etc. Many companies provide armored vehicles to their higher executives and sometimes even to their families as part of the package. The government also provides armored cars to some politicians, ministers, judges, etc., and some police units have a number of them.

Second-hand (used) market is also huge. Since armoring adds a lot of cost to already expensive cars, many opt for used ones for relatives (like the son’s/daughter’s first car) or employees. Companies and shops dealing with gold, jewelry, cash payments, etc., also employ used ones for transportation and deliveries.

The market for armored vehicles continues to grow

As deaths from firearms increased in Brazil from 25,819 in 1990 to 48,493 in 2017, the government is incapable of providing safety. The population remains unarmed while the bad guys have lots of firearms. Those disparities reflect an increase in polarization and furthering of social division. 

As the economy plummets, with the rich keep getting richer and the poorer becoming poorer, these trends show no sign of reverting. If anything, it should get worse. That spells good winds for the private security sector going ahead.

And unfortunately, a continuing SHTF of criminality and violence for the rest, especially the ones who can’t afford to isolate themselves and their families behind a moving shield of aramid and reinforced glass to move around.

About Fabian

Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.

Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City, is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times. 

You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor


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