Preppers always talk about disasters and misadventures as if it is something that happens to you. I bring some sobering news: turns out you can make a rough situation bad and a bad situation terrible through your own action or lack of action. Sometimes we really are our own worst enemy.
Sometimes we can look at the aftermath of some tragic event and we know that it wasn’t just happenstance, it wasn’t an accident and it wasn’t unpreventable.
Sometimes, mistakes get made, and in the context of a survival situation your mistakes can turn into life-threatening or even life-ending events for you and the people depending on you.
The best thing you can do is commit to learning, understanding and resolving to never, ever, not even once, committing the deadliest mistakes in a survival situation.
In this article, we’ll talk about ten of them, and how you should avoid them.
A Fatal Slip
A fatal misstep, miscalculation or mistake can take many forms in a survival situation. Sometimes they will clang shut on you as a bear trap, an instant and often non-appealable consequence.
Other times, they go by without any notice, setting in motion a chain of events that culminates in your doom. Whatever form they take, you must avoid stepping into these pitfalls. A stumble may lead to a fall. A deadly one.
Death is patient, waiting for the slightest lapse in concentration, intelligence or forethought.
In kinder, normal times, this is certainly true, though our preponderance of modern medical technology and skill, emergency response and general civic safety net has let modern man give Death the middle finger far, far more often than in decades past.
This has had the secondary effect of dulling the critical thinking and reasoning skills, and sensitivity to danger somewhat.
Well, that numbing of the ol’ survival instinct may come back to haunt you in a profound way should you ever find yourself in a real life, no kidding, SHTF situation.
Minor mistakes can lead to profound suffering and misery. Big mistakes will hurt you or someone you love. That’s the way of things in survival situations. Existence is often marked by prolonged suffering. Real failings are memorialized with death.
Maybe you cannot ever truly remove the human element (“to err is human”) but you can do your best, now, to stamp out the “idiot element” by practicing and training so you don’t commit any of these oft-fatal mistakes below.
The 10 Deadly Things You Must Never Do When the SHTF
The following are quantifiable, observed mistakes that people of all walks of life have committed time and time again when an emergency takes place or disaster is upon them.
They are all preventable, or “curable” to one extent or another, either through dedicated application, practice and training or by enough discipline, emotional hardness and pure grit.
Do keep one thing in mind: no matter how switched on you are, no matter how dedicated, how good, you are only human. Only machines can be said to never make mistakes.
If you think to yourself, “I’d never let myself fall victim to one of those mistakes,” one is already closing in (#2). We all have failings. We all have chinks in our armor.
A real survivor does not ignore them, or pretend they don’t exist. A real survivor acknowledges them and works to protect, cover and reinforce them.
The 10 Deadly Mistakes are presented in a rough ascending order of severity, with comparatively little mistakes at the bottom #10 position, and big, fugly “game over” mistakes at the top with #1.
This is not to say that the lesser mistakes are not fatal, and the major ones are unsurvivable: any may result in certain death in the right, or in this case wrong, circumstances.
But the greater mistakes are ones that have been statistically more likely to result in a severe and negative outcome more often compared to the others.
10 – Acting Rashly
There is a fine line between acting decisively and acting rashly. The difference is waiting until you have enough information to make an informed decision and then acting with speed to implement it.
Acting rashly just means you leap into action at the first perception of something that needs acting upon, moving after receiving the bare minimum of info needed or, worse, with next to none.
Understanding the nuance and difference between the two is essential and more important yet is knowing yourself and the situation at hand well enough to discern when you are acting rashly.
Decisive action is almost never a bad thing. Rash action is a spin of the wheel: you might have enough talent, skill or luck to pull it off, or you might not, and will pay for it according to the leap you took.
Even in the most urgent and time sensitive emergencies, time spent thinking clearly and assessing all the relevant factors is never wasted.
Blundering into a dangerous situation and becoming a casualty or someone who needs rescuing also is definitely a bad look and will now endanger even more people- the rescuer now needs rescuing.
Even something as clear cut (or so it seems) as a major disaster taking place is not to be taken as a sure sign that you should act one way or the other. You might be better off bugging out, or you might not. How can one tell? Start with what you know.
The classic assessment protocol of how bad-how fast-how much-how long is a good one. Your home is more than likely your fortress, keep and headquarters.
You should not be so quick to leave it if you have a better than average chance of riding out what is coming. On the other hand you should not hesitate to if the majority of the evidence points to certain death.
Put another way, before you are so sure you can take action and beat the odds ask yourself if you know the odds; can you survive the odds beating you?
You’ll need to see the turn of at least a few “cards” and then compare them against your “hand” before you can make a smart bet.
Sometimes you’ll lose not matter what hand you play, but the savvy survivor always stacks the deck in his favor.
9 – Failing to Plan
I’ll breathe life into the tired old proverb once again: If you fail to plan to plan to fail! I can hear your groans from here, but it is still true. But perhaps true in a way you are not anticipating.
When I admonish preppers for failing to plan they often take umbrage at it, thinking I have accused them of failing to prepare; this is not the case!
Many preppers spend a great deal of time, effort and energy improving their skills, capabilities and stores to be better ready against a coming storm. But their mistake is “planning” to just figure it out when it happens!
However talented, however skilled and however well equipped, you will be setting yourself up for disaster if you fail to put together plans to deal with what events might come.
Preppers who do this underestimate the pressures of surviving a truly serious and life-threatening event.
Fear, uncertainty and high-stakes performance demands will see your “survival IQ” drop precipitously, especially for a first timer.
Having a plan written down, refined, rehearsed and practiced until you cannot get it wrong will ensure you have a mental and physical template for taking correct action.
Even though your plan might not survive the onset of the disaster, the confidence you have gained from long training and practice will help you adapt and improvise a workable plan where others might falter.
If you need a mnemonic device remember the “Rule of the 7 P’s”: Proper Previous Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance!
You might be the world’s greatest and most talented rock star survivor, but if you don’t have a plan for what you are facing, you are winging it, and winging it is the sure calling card of a slobby amateur. That isn’t you! Have a plan!
8 – Getting Caught Unprepared
This is anathema to most preppers and with good reason.
It’s in the name, for crying out loud! Improvisation is a great skill to have but you should never elect to improvise on purpose when the time comes, i.e. if you fail to come prepared, you are choosing to improvise what you have to have!
Don’t fall into this trap.
Even rudimentary preparation will give you a major advantage over the person who does not prepare at all.
Having a few basic tools, a lighter, a weapon, some medical supplies and always going out prepared for the weather will let you get through “little” mishaps that are genuinely life threatening altercations for others.
If you have the tools needed to master your environment and survive but choose not to carry them you have a serious bug in your software.
This applies to the bigger picture, too. If you are not a prepper or are a prepper who does not take it too seriously, why is that?
You can turn on your TV or go literally anywhere on the internet and find evidence in abundance that Bad Shit Happens, and it can happen anywhere, does happen anywhere.
What makes you exempt? Luck is not a strategy. Hope is not a strategy. I can promise you solemnly, from bitter experience, that you would give anything, and I mean anything, to get your wasted hours back when your number comes up.
You don’t need to live your life in a hair-trigger state, but you should always be in a state of relaxed awareness.
If you have properly prepared and have the skills (and equipment to back up the skills) you will be ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice when required.
Remember the motto of the Boy Scouts and all good preppers: “Be Prepared!”
7. – Neglecting Austere Environment/“Primitive” Skills
One accurate criticism that can be leveled at Westerners and Americans in particular is that we have an entirely too cozy dependency on labor-saving technology.
If there is a device or electronic gadget that can let us bypass the learning curve, skip the climb up the ladder of excellence or get what we want, now, with no investment of sweat and toil we’ll be all over it like dogs after a meat wagon.
It’s true, our technology is nothing short of wondrous and the capability it affords is indeed life-saving at times, or at the very least life-improving. But this does not come without cost…
By relying on our technology to do everything with lose touch with the skills our ancestors relied on for untold generations.
Just because our technological edge is omnipresent does not mean one bad turn will not set us back to the standard our forbearers lived.
It is cheap insurance and simple to learn and practice the lifesaving skills that cannot be taken away from you by loss of equipment, fuel or electricity.
If the answer to most or all is “no” what you find is that your BOB or cache is really more of an “air tank” that dictates your survival time; you’ll last as long as your gear works or lasts.
Don’t be that guy or gal; ensure you are at least passingly familiar with the primitive survival skills of yore.
6 – Trying to be the Hero
This will no doubt be controversial with some altruistic readers, but the advice stands. I know that in their hearts most people would not see someone else, even a stranger, suffer or die if they could prevent it.
This innate goodness and desire to preserve life sees people take risks for those they don’t even know, to say nothing of having a meaningful connection in life. That is a noble aim.
It is also one highly likely to get you hurt (or worse) in a major event, either directly or through resource starvation trying to take care of every stray in your path. There will be too many people in dire need of help for you to save them all.
When you start discussing disasters on a major scale, it is sadly necessary to consider loss of life as a statistic, not just a number of souls lost. Each casualty will strain already swamped emergency responses even further.
Your aim should be to avoid becoming a casualty yourself. More importantly on a personal level, consider all the people depending on you, counting on you, that are your own family, friends, loved ones. Losing you will severely affect them.
And it must be said: you don’t know the people you would help. Are they good people? Bad people? Wise, or fools?
Saints or monsters? All lives have value to our creator, but chances are you and certainly society at large have a different take on that.
The point of all this is to say you might very well have to choose, startlingly, between your wellbeing and a complete stranger’s. The brutal calculus of survival, The Law of the Jungle, may not permit any dalliance.
I am not telling you to harden your heart and ignore the plight of others, but you should, indeed must, prioritize who you are willing to take risks for.
At the very least, you must have the hard talk with the person in the mirror ahead of time: who will you absolutely not ignore, if anyone? Whose life is as important as your own, as your family’s?
5 – Ignoring Disaster Response and Safety Procedures
If you live in an area that is particularly prone to certain types of natural disasters (or man-made ones!) you are probably a little guilty of this fatal mistake.
Whatever the signature disaster is in your area, they happen regularly enough that you are used to them, or if not you at least know what to expect.
This is one of the worst things you can do. A “little” earthquake that finally brings the ceiling down on you will hurt you just as much as a magnitude 7.0 quake that rattles the foundations of the planet.
A supercell, the 3rd one this week, finally drops the twister to rule them all, with precious little warning, and your house is swept off its foundations entirely.
A Cat 1 hurricane, hardly worth getting out of bed over, grows to titanic strength, now an annihilating Cat 5 mega-storm.
A routine demonstration by extremist agitators takes a dark turn, their passion turning to uncontrollable anger then uncontainable fury in a span of minutes, with cracked skulls and burning cars as testament to the transformation.
The above scenarios happen every single day, and every single time a disaster occurs. A victim is in there who thought it was just another day at the office, seen-one-seen-them-all. They paid with life or limb. Don’t be like them.
When the balloon goes up, react accordingly. Better to be thought too cautious than to die or be maimed needlessly. If the best and brightest experts in their respective fields follow disaster response procedures like a second religion, you should too.
4 – Being Too Trusting
A sort of variation on #5 above. There are always those evil people who will prey on the innocent through deception, the classic “wolf in sheep’s’ clothing” stratagem.
It often takes the form of some simple request- asking for the time, for a light, for alms, for directions or even just by appearing “chummy”- and is a highly successful play for getting so close to the mark they have little chance of defending themselves and cannot defend against the inevitable surprise attack.
If this occurs regularly in normal life imagine how much more prevalent it will be in a SHTF situation when people are facing severe lack, a near total absence of law enforcement and a seemingly endless parade of people waiting to be duped.
You cannot underestimate the capacity some people have for evil. You must also not fail to take into account how far some people will sink in their desperation. Need is arbiter of morality in trying times.
You will constantly be assailed by those who beg with heart-wrenching sincerity for something, anything to ease their suffering or help them on their way. You’ll see people injured and ailing, pleading for someone to help them.
The sheer variety in the ways a human can be made to suffer will corrode your soul. Understand well, now, that many of these tear-jerkers will have hidden knives in hand and fangs out, waiting for you to come a little bit closer.
You must keep a tight rein on your emotions. You may not ever be able to ensure your safety when taking a chance on an interaction with someone in need but the challenge in doing so will be magnified tenfold in a SHTF situation.
If you are not prepared for this assault on your morals you might get taken along with the other fools, now corpses.
3 – Remaining Ignorant
There is no reason not to learn everything you possibly can about all the ways the world can conspire to hurt you. Ignorance is not bliss: it is a huge vulnerability.
What you don’t know will absolutely hurt you. If you choose to remain ignorant of the effects and hazards created by disasters of all kinds, it is a choice. Your choice to remain vulnerable.
While no one has all the answers, and whole knowledge in the world will never be known by one man or woman alone, a comprehensive understanding of survival theory and skills as well as what kind of events would see you need them is entirely within the reach of most of us.
Even attaining “journeyman” levels of skill and capability across the survival spectrum will see you more prepared than 95% of the population, and is certainly doable on a part time basis.
No excuse suffices these days. You have the time, the means and ostensibly the motivation to increase your survival knowledge. Do it. Start with the basics.
Learn what you’ll need to survive, and take care of yourself when there is no more going to the grocery and no power.
Learn how to provide the essentials of survival- clean air, shelter, water, food, security- then move on to more advanced fare.
How do you deal with turmoil? How can you maintain a clean and hygienic environment and dispose of waste safely? How can you deal with those who would harm you or take from you? And on and on.
You don’t have to start at the “one true subject.” You don’t even have to have a perfect lesson plan. You just need to start.
The storm is coming, I can assure you. It will consume the wise and foolish alike, but the foolish it shall consume with relish and in multitude. Make sure you are not counted among their number!
2 – Complacency
Complacency, it has been said, is the mother of all screw ups. Complacency can be best described as a slackening of discipline, of doing the opposite of what you know you should be doing.
It is the abandoning of best practices. It is giving into the “call of the flesh”; to take it easy, relax your guard. Complacency whispers in your ear that you are too good, too lucky, too quick, too tough, too experienced. In short, complacency is a serpent.
Complacency will see you skipping steps, or rolling your eyes at obvious warnings that have been false alarms one too many times. Complacency will see you moving around slackly when you should be on alert.
Complacency will have you spending your money of frivolities instead of training and needed assets. The battle cry of the complacent is “good enough.”
One of the most difficult mistakes to avoid for longtime, experienced preppers. Complacency is not the downfall of the burgeoning or brand new prepper.
Complacency though perpetually worms its way, almost undetectably, into the minds of those who are long in the tooth.
Arrogance opens the door for complacency. Remind yourself that over-confidence and hubris have slain far, far mightier and better men and women than us.
Your only defense against complacency? Iron discipline. When you don’t feel like it, when you don’t have it in you, when you want to take a shortcut and just get it over with, discipline will save you. If you know better, do better, every time, no matter if it is the third or three hundredth.
The slackening of fitness routines or diets is one we are all familiar with. It is deferring maintenance on a vehicle. It is neglecting to keep your bug-out routes scouted.
Whatever form it takes, don’t let complacency sink its fangs into you!
1 – Panicking
Without question the single worst thing you can do during any emergency, big or small, is panic. When the pressure is on, lives are at stake and your future is uncertain, you need to keep calm and think clearly more than ever before.
Unfortunately, panic will rob you of your faculties almost entirely, and reduce you to a gasping, panting mess, unable to make use of what you know. Little more than a dog on a slick floor.
Preventing panic is not as easy as learning what to do, or not to do. Panic is sort of wired into us, a response to a confluence of events that we have varying degrees of control over.
What we do know is that panic is most apt to surface in those who have no frame of reference for what is happening around them or to them, and further have no idea what they should be doing to improve the situation, or at least ameliorate a bad outcome.
Panic can also strike as a sort of counterfeit, a poltergeist that has no business getting you under its sway.
Sudden, traumatic physical injury might certainly, even understandably, cause you to panic, but why a sharp, sudden negative emotional reaction?
Even these seemingly irrepressible urges can be controlled with enough exposure to high pressure, high stress situations.
Stop and think about all the people you know that are prone to panic. I mean the real thing. What is the common thread?
You got it: all are likely of the archetype that is constantly “endangered” and dependent on others to help or rescue them.
This stems from a view of the world that is built on an external locus of control, meaning their base state is dependent on what is or is not inflicted on them.
Since the world is a rough and scary place, they remain in this sort of purgatory state, waiting for the next event, great or puny, to come along and tip them over the edge.
Contrast that with people who are always cool customers when the heat is on. These people are not only responsible for all the good that happens to them, but the way they see it, they are responsible for the bad things that happen also!
This is known as an internal locus of control.
No matter what happens to or around them, these people know they always have the ability to influence events, to turn the tide, to change their fate. For them, panic is virtually unknown.
A big part of avoiding panic is practicing maintaining your mental and emotional equilibrium now when things are not so dire.
Don’t let your anger, anxiety, grief or resentment run away from you. No matter what is happening, take the reins and keep them under control.
Practice box breathing or similar stress control exercises. Your thoughts become words and words become your reality. Don’t let negative self talk ever take root in your mind.
By remaining diligent about pruning the grounds of your mental and emotional garden, you can help ensure that panic will not grip you when you must be level headed.
While you should always focus on doing the right things in order to survive a SHTF scenario, you must also take care to avoid committing mistakes.
Some of the ones on this list you might blunder into unaware, others might slowly sneak up on you over weeks or months. No matter what shape they take, all are perilous. Some are deadly.
Mistakes are made by the novice and master alike. No matter which end of the prepping spectrum you fall on, take care to read over this list and ensure that you’ll make none of them.