- Situations, particularly political situations, can change very quickly. A few weeks ago it was business as usual, and now it is a freaking madhouse there. So while it is nice that the evening news can give you a week or two notice about the coming winter storm or hurricane, many other disastrous situations happen very quickly (which means you need to be prepared NOW!).
- Things that are in short supply over the course of a few days: water, food, security (neighbors are now having to band together to defend their property), money (ATMs are pretty much all out of order).
- The economy has come to a standstill. All phases of the economy have shut down due to this event. Suppliers can't deliver or manufacture goods. People aren't going to work. Citizens aren't out shopping or eating eating in restaurants. The very basics of the economy are ceasing to function (think, during such an event people skip going to the dentist, they certainly won't go in for plastic surgery or visit their local barber for a haircut). In short, no money is being exchanged in the usual economy (although I am sure the black market economy especially in weapons and other critically needed items is booming).
- Going out on the streets is a lesson in chaos. When there is no sense of safety or order, you take your life in your hands when you venture out. Even though the demonstrations started peacefully enough, they have degenerated into violence.
- The rules of polite society have gone out the window. Now you will see mostly men on the streets as women and children are hidden away from the violence. The wealthy, the elderly, basically anyone who is not able to protect themself could be in danger, not to mention those in the middle of the riots.
- When there is no social order, looting is one of the first things to happen. People will take advantage of the fact that no one is in charge and the police won't be coming so they think that they can just take anything they want. Citizens have, again, banded together to prevent looting and there is no such thing as waiting for a jury trial.
- The "mob mentality" can take over quickly and people can turn on each other in a heartbeat. People can be wholly unreasonable when they are in the midst of crisis and the mob mentality takes over. Even well respected journalists have been attacked.
- Infrastructure can go down quickly. This has been a common tactic for centuries--take out infrastructure (centuries ago it was destroying bridges and stopping the flow of water, these days shutting down electricity and the internet have the similar affect)--and control the people.
- Escape may or may not be possible so other alternatives need to be planned for. During political uprisings, many people head to the airport or try to find other routes to get away from the chaos. The problem is that everyone else has the same idea and systems that can barely handle usual day to day traffic can become overloaded and shut down rather quickly.
- People end up protecting themselves since the police won't be coming. In Egypt many people were brandishing knives and clubs. I would prefer an AK and Glock (and plenty of ammo). Again, plan accordingly.
So what have we learned? That what you have been doing all along is important. Stocking up on water in case the water stops flowing is important. Ditto stocking up on food. Making sure your home/business is secure and can withstand looting attempts is also important. Having goods that can be bartered in case the cash economy comes to a halt is a good idea. Being able to communicate outside of the usual ways (ie: HAM radio) is also important. Being able to protect yourself when there is no law and order could become a necessity. Working together now, with friends and neighbors, is a good idea as these may be the people you depend on in a disaster. Having alternate escape routes pre-planned could come in handy. Being creative and being able to react in a flexible manner is also important in chaotic, fluid situations.
Whether this will be a short term glitch or a long term event that will change Egyptian society significantly is still to be seen, but the opportunity to learn from afar by watching what is happening over there is a very good idea.