The recent hurricanes of this year, Isaac and Sandy, have brought to light that worse trait of post-storm recovery: looting.
What is looting?
Looting is the act of taking goods (stealing) during unusual circumstances such as the recent hurricanes, or other natural or manufactured disasters when police are unavailable or otherwise occupied. It's simple: when the lights go out alarms don't work. Damage to storefronts and homes left vacant by evacuating families often create access points through knocked-out windows, doors, and walls, that further invite people with sticky fingers. After Hurricane Sandy one eyewitness said, ""I saw this guy stealing televisions from a nursing home right on the boardwalk on Tuesday, and the workers were chasing him up the street....Every time I saw him he had a different TV."
The survivor's firearm choice
Simple, affordable, and effective is the key to a good anti-looter arsenal. Any firearm is preferable to nothing at all. In (legal) firearm-scare Queens, residents had to use "baseball bats, booby traps - even a bow and arrow - to defend themselves" from looters.
Handguns are good for home defense but shotguns and carbines are better. Besides having a longer sight radius and therefore being more accurate, they are a more visible deterrent. I have been through several hurricanes at the ground-zero impact level, up to and including Katrina, and it is not uncommon after one of these events to see survivors quietly sitting on their porch...with an old Mossberg 12 or SKS leaning against the wall next to them. It's subtle and effective.
Be careful with your actions immediately following a storm or event. Know your limitations when dealing with potentially armed subjects or a great number of individuals. Also, remember, just because people are milling about or poking around, they aren't necessarily looters. Unfortunately, after a large disaster, droves of sightseers from unaffected areas tend to mob ground zero. The last thing you need is to set yourself up for a menacing or brandishing charge, which in some states is a felony. Lastly, for your own safety and liability purposes, don't try to apprehend or detain looters. Catch and release normally works best, coupled with taking photos of them to pass on once law enforcement resumes.
In the end, the best thing I can tell you is to be prepared. It's a far, far, better thing to have a defensive firearm and never need it, than to desperately need one and not have it.