We tend to forget that.
People will generally treat one another with respect and consideration when they feel that their needs are being met. As people become less and less satisfied with what they have, they display progressively less regard for others, until they essentially regress to a feral state and take the "every man for himself" route.
Most areas of this country are such that nobody ever gets there. The level of desperation in America is low. Even when we say people are starving in America, they're not starving like they are in Africa - they simply don't get enough quality whole-food calories every day. Their protein intake is too low. They eat stale Twinkies for dinner instead of vegetable soup. They frequently have enough food to fill their bellies, just not enough of the *right* foods to fuel their bodies and brains.
So they're malnourished, and they're certainly hungry, and over the long run they will live a shorter lifespan. But they've *eaten* today. It's not like someone in Africa who has two handfuls of rice to feed his family of four, and decides his children should eat all of it while he goes hungry.
Americans don't tend to be faced with choices like that. When they are, they don't tend to make the same one. A lot of American parents would come home with one handful of rice, having stashed the other one where their "greedy" children won't find it, and eat their "fair" share of that in addition to their hidden stash. A lot of others would be angry if given a few handfuls of rice instead of cash or a McDonald's Super Value Meal, and hurl it away in disgust while loudly insulting whoever provided it.
We have a very cushy and comfortable life in America, and it shocks the hell out of us when things like Katrina's looters remind us why William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" is considered a classic: because that really does
happen. Take innocent, friendly, God-fearing people and put them in fear for their lives... they become savages. Willingly. They LIKE it. It's so much easier and more natural than being "civilised".
Human beings are, after all, fundamentally animals. We have the same urges and drives and priorities once you strip away the artificial veneer of civilisation. We've manufactured civilisation, not because it is our nature, but because it is useful to us. Civilisation allows us to have things like large bakeries that turn out bread and a trucking industry to deliver it around the nation and a trade economy where anyone can walk into any store and buy it. This is useful. But when you take that away, most people today have no freaking clue what to do.
What passes for disaster preparedness in this country is pathetic. Duct tape on your windows and electrical outlets is not going to save you from chemical weapons and airborne pathogens. The purpose of those advisories is to keep the sheep busy with stupid crap like taping up their house so they don't panic, which keeps them out of the way while smarter people do things that actually work.
This is not nefarious. The smarter people do feel some responsibility for those sheep, and will exert significant effort to keep them
safe, too. Because unlike the sheep, who are completely lost without hot running water and reliable electricity, these people have their needs met - they can eat and drink and find shelter, because they know how to do these things. They have room in their lives for the luxury of morality, even under dire circumstances.
What we all need to ask ourselves is, when do our abilities run out? When are we stretched so thin and forced into such a difficult position that we stop caring about our fellow human beings?
Is that good enough?
For most of us, it's not, and a little basic education in solid wilderness survival techniques will stretch it an enormous amount. The standard work on survival is the Army surplus survival manual FM 21-76, which you should be able to find at any decent surplus store (or, at the very least, the proprietor will probably know where to get it). You can also view it online at http://www.outdoors-magazine.com/s_article.php?id_article=212
... but unless you plan to memorise large parts of it, you'll want hardcopy readily available when something happens, and since that something tends to knock out electricity... a bookmark in your browser isn't very useful.
Some people prefer the British SAS manual, but I don't know much about that one. I'm a fan of Bradford Angier's books, which - while they are rather basic - assume little or nothing about access to manufactured materials. Many of them were written in the sixties, so there's a strong back-to-nature feel to them... which, no matter what you may think of it from a sociopolitical standpoint, is a really good thing when you start talking about how to stay alive in the wilderness.
What people always seem to forget is that luxuries are something you need room in your life to indulge. If you can't meet your basic needs of food, water, and shelter... you don't have any room for luxuries. And yet, when you come right down to it, most of us CAN'T meet those needs without the sort of industrialised infrastructure that natural disasters disrupt. Our lives are, in essence, composed entirely of varying levels of luxury.
I wouldn't advise anyone to quit his job and run off to join some survivalist militia in Montana, but I *would* advise a little basic education and risk assessment. Get a basic level of competence in survival, not because society is inevitably going to collapse or something, but just because sometimes bad things happen... and the fewer people we have to babysit, the faster we can fix whatever went wrong in the first place.