I am of the opinion, and I know it will be unpopular, borderline offensive to some, that most preppers really have no idea how dangerous disasters and other SHTF events can be. Unless they have had the misfortune to live through one, that is.
Natural or man-made, accidental or divine wrath, it really does not matter: though we plan and prep, stockpile and train, despite our best efforts and sincerest hopes, we may perish when disaster looms.
Is that a little jarring? I hope not. One must face reality head on, even when it is grim. And, when you consider the long odds, not one of us will make it out of this life alive anyway.
I, like you I’m sure, would still like very much to go on living until my time is up, and not fall prematurely to some mishap, mayhem or misadventure.
And that longing to see the end of my best years always sees the question crawl unbidden out of the hindmost crevices of my mind: “What if my number comes up when the SHTF?”
In today’s article, we’ll be examining the easiest ways you can die when the SHTF, and the factors that influence your chances.
What are the Odds?
While it is easy enough to collate and compare data on mortality and casualty rates from various types of dangerous events from around the globe, it is not necessarily very instructive or entertaining.
Furthermore, raw data without context and a host of other supporting statistics can lead you to the wrong conclusions. Some specifically important data sets germane to our conversation include things like level of preparation, training and other prepper-centric variables.
What’s more calculating the value of factors that you are able to influence in order to tip the scales toward an outcome in your favor is a strenuously complex task.
Even so, we do in fact know that barring some awfully bad luck that sees you killed more or less immediately, being forearmed with a plan, practice and the right equipment will significantly increase your chances of surviving everything from a massive riot to a monster hurricane.
Let’s take a second to consider both of those events for what they are and what they do, since they are actually pretty good comparisons (in a way) between natural and man-made SHTF events.
Both are certainly extremely destructive, both will last for a more or less unknown duration and both, generally, offer ample warning that they are “incoming” so long as one is paying attention. Both also spread destruction over a wide area (though a hurricane outclasses even the most tumultuous riot by orders of magnitude).
What is interesting is that, statistically, your chances of dying in either set of events might be far better than some hapless guy with no plan and barely a prayer, but that does not mean you aren’t subject to the same risks and forces involved as everyone else.
A Quick Death? Or a Slow Demise?
The nature of the threat you are facing can impact your chances of survival assuming you become a casualty. Certain classes of threat can kill you outright more or less, while others may see you slowly winding down toward death. A tornado is one example of the former category, while something like exposure to inimical temperatures is an example of the latter.
A tornado’s passage is extraordinarily violent, and if you are exposed to its ferocious winds and the debris carried by it you are most probably dead. Exposure to cold is a major killer all over the world in all kinds of circumstances, both as a first- and second-order effect, but in all but the most frozen conditions you have some space to react or improve your situation, if not to alleviate the threat than at least to buy time.
Understanding this duality is part and parcel of prepping. Some disasters may exposure you to a high chance of instant death at the outset only to leave slow-acting but equally lethal threats resulting from its passage in its wake. You may be forced into acting immediately to survive the former but in doing so ensuring that you’ll be dealing with the latter.
Consider a flood event. Floods are exceptionally hazardous no matter where you are in the world, and drowning is a major and constant threat for the duration, but aside from that the murky waters will conceal all kinds of hazards, from sharp debris to biohazardous wastes and even dangerous wildlife.
The Quick and Lethal
While survival is never guaranteed in a true SHTF situation, you must be on guard against all possible threats, not just the big, scary unknown duration mega-disasters that re-shape the fabric of society. Smaller, everyday accidents and mishaps can just as easily usher you off the mortal coil and into the afterlife before, during or after the onset of a “real” disaster.
What am I talking about? Well, you might consider the wham-that-just-happened suddenness of something like a car accident, an industrial or chemical mishap, a plane crash, or a fall from a high place. All common, all happening everywhere and seemingly all the time.
Any of them can easily snuff out your life as quick as you can blink. So long and thanks for playing. No time to react, and very little you can do if you are caught in the wrong place and the wrong time.
The Slow and Deadly
Some threats strike slowly, almost gently, until it is too late. Some, while frighteningly lethal, are courteous enough to furnish ample warning prior to their arrival. They might even be predictable.
Threats in this category include massive and slow moving storm systems, be they tropical hurricanes, Great Plains thunderstorms, or polar blizzards.
Rising floodwaters do not burst the banks of a river instantly. The boiling undercurrents of societal unrest and conflict will percolate for sometime before uncorking in a spasm of rioting and mob violence. The steady approach of an insatiable and uncontainable wildfire is similarly sluggish, compared to other disasters, at least.
This “slow and steady” nature can make a foolish prepper overly confident in their reaction timetable, or lead to a wait-and-see hoping against hope that it will peter out, go around, stop or otherwise expire before forcing one’s hand. This is a dangerous level of complacency.
The savvy preppers will have their hard line drawn and set, and will execute their survival or escape plan when it is reached, period. Moving the mark in a misguided attempt to see what happens and perhaps avoid wasted time or embarrassment from a “premature” reaction.
All of the above events are survivable, and most are avoidable, because you have so much time to react. Do not squander it! Get away from danger, flee for your life if you can, while you can!
Minor Mishap Turned Serious Situation
Believe it or not, a major potential cause of death during a proper SHTF situation will be something that, in normal, milder times is considered an inconvenience or minor injury. Keep in mind, for centuries people have suffered and died from ailments, injuries and afflictions that are little more than footnotes today.
Our endless supply of food, clean water, medical attention and technological solution to all sorts of problems has made many truly existential crises all but taken for granted in modern civilization.
A broken leg or turned ankle is painful, but hardly life-threatening so long as you can get to a doctor or hospital in any sort of timely fashion. Consider the same injury in the context of bugging out, where time and distance from a threat may mean the literal difference between life and death.
Further you might be made unable to perform vital survival tasks like gathering fuel, food or clean water. Without someone to aid you, you will be up a creek with no paddle.
Other “trivial” problems take on scary new life in the context of a disaster. A cut that becomes infected may mean a quick trip to the clinic for a shot and a bottle of antibiotics, or even just a jaunt down to the drugstore for some DIY medicine.
In any kind of SHTF scenario where society and major medical and emergency services are disrupted or entirely absent, that same “minor” infection could mean incapacitation and death, just as it has for much of human history.
Food smells a little funky? Throw it out. But wait, what if that is the only food you have, and the only food that may be forthcoming for the foreseeable future? Do you risk eating bad grub to maintain your energy levels, or go hungry?
What if that maybe-spoiled, maybe-okay food leads to infection with some gribbly germ that has you wracked with nausea, vomiting and squatting, losing precious fluids and electrolytes at a precipitous rate?
Terrible consequences may stem from decisions that are small or even inconsequential in normal times.
And of course one must never discount simple misfortune. Bugging out on foot along a road could see you struck by a passing vehicle.
Debris or glass tumbling out of a damaged building could crush or impale you. A stray bullet may find you far, far from its intended target.
No one, ever, imagines it will be them, but every “extra” dying in the background of this show called Life thought himself the hero of the story.
The Easiest Ways to Die When the SHTF
In no particular order, the easiest ways to perish when things go sideways are presented below, along with my commentary on how one might avoid such an end. Depending on your specific locale and concerns, you might think one or some of these do not apply to you.
That may be true, but all of the threats to your continued existence below have been chosen for their near-universal applicability. So take the time to brush up on them. You cannot see all ends and may not be able to predict your circumstances.
#1. You Could Die from Exposure to the Elements
Far and away the easiest way to die in any situation is simple exposure to the elements. Overwhelmingly hypothermia is a huge killer in all sorts of situations, and not just in cold climes or seasons.
All it takes is being caught outdoors with no shelter when temperatures drop after sundown or getting soaked to the skin with a stiff breeze blowing and you’ll be at serious risk.
This is a perennial concern for hikers, campers and other outdoorsy types who intentionally place themselves out in the wilderness and subject to turning weather, but also for anyone who may be caught outside.
It does not take much imagination to envision a scenario where you might be denied shelter and the ability to get warm or cool, even in built-up areas.
Maybe you are driving a lonely and remote stretch of road, and you crash. If you have little chance of being found and are also dealing with injuries exposure will be a serious concern in anything but the balmiest weather.
A bug-out gone bad, one where you have little in the way of your supplies or other shelter gear to support you will make shelter a top priority.
It does not have to rain for you to be threatened by such an occurrence; the sweat from exertion will be more than adequate to soak your clothes, allowing any wind to strip heat from your body more efficiently.
Heat is another major concern, especially for preppers who live in dry, hot places. Any resident of the American southwest and other desert regions will be more than acquainted with “black flag days” where exertion should be avoided except in early morning and late evening.
In such conditions without the luxury of choice, your physical constitution will be put to a severe test; if you are not fit, wearing appropriate clothing and carefully manage your fluid intake, you will be a casualty waiting to happen.
Should that occur with no one around to back you up, you are likely as good as dead.
#2. You Could Die from Drowning
Water is one of the most common and most powerful elements on earth. It is also the deadliest.
While it is utterly essential for life, it is also a destructive and lethal force that factors into the myths and legends of pretty much every culture on earth.
Anywhere standing water exists there also exists the threat of drowning. This is made even worse when you consider just how common flooding is all around the world.
Any body of water and any quantity of moving water must command respect., To treat deep or moving water lightly may see you die from overconfidence.
No matter if you are crossing a river or lake as part of your escape, or fighting rapidly rising flood waters brought on by tidal surge during a hurricane, you had better be totally focused.
There have been many who died attempting to ford or bridge slow-moving and well known rivers or creeks. In major flood conditions surging water routinely sweeps away vehicles, to say nothing of people, with ease.
Many flooding deaths result from people attempting to cross shallowly flooded roads or bridges, or being swept off of roofs after rising waters drove them from their home.
Flash flooding can turn a bone dry gulch in a canyon into raging rapids with next to no warning. Rain far, far away from your current location may mean devastating and deadly consequences if you are travelling or camping in the wrong place.
Remember: just because it is not raining where you are does not mean it cannot or will not flood. Other disasters like man-made damns breaking, tsunamis and more can mean rapid and catastrophic ingress of water, nearly anywhere.
When in doubt, avoid and stay out of unknown bodies of water, and always heed warnings about flood conditions. Be especially careful around moving or standing water on roadways, particularly if you are in a vehicle.
#3. You Could Die from Disease
One of recorded history’s most successful and pervasive killers of humans has been the humble germ. Whether bacterial or viral, the right confluence of circumstances can see a dangerous pathogen rip through population centers with frightening efficiency.
Regional epidemics or, worse, international pandemics are some of the most lethal and common threats you could feasibly face as a prepper.
This is one threat you cannot see, smell or hear coming. You cannot shoot it, and you may not be able to run from it. All you can do is hope to contain it and live in such a way that you minimize the risk of contracting it as much as possible.
And you don’t just need to worry about some flavor-of-the-month super germ, either. Diseases once thought eradicated are making a comeback, and even common household and hospital bugs have leveled-up into terrifying medication resistant forms.
From mutant flu strains to nightmare classics like Ebola, there is a ghastly and lethal germ to give anyone nightmares.
Even if the disease is not ordinarily lethal it might take on terrible import during a survival situation. Consider a group of people, perhaps your family or survival group, hemmed up in close quarters with little care being paid to sanitation and hygiene.
What will certainly crop up to blow through your little survival group,, as it has time and time again over the centuries, is dysentery. The resulting infection will probably incapacitate most who have contracted it, and set the stage of other diseases to take hold owing to filth and weakened constitutions.
Any sickness that threatens to incapacitate you might, by itself, spell death during a SHTF situation. But many of these bugs are lethal on their own given the right circumstances. If you do not have access to modern medical care and drugs, any runny nose might just be the harbinger of your doom.
#4. You Could Die Because You Might Panic
Panic is an insidious killer. Faced with the totality and enormity of a true live-or-die survival situation, your thoughts turn into a racing jumble or the blank-slate of brainlock. Panic can kill as surely as a bullet since it compromises the most important thing you have: your mind.
Without enough training, practice, and experience, you might default to a “no decision” state. You freeze. You wait and see. While that is a survival strategy available to all kinds of organisms, it is not a very good one, especially in any situation where quick, correct and decisive action is necessary to ensure a positive outcome.
Maybe the situation you are facing is far more severe or widespread than you were anticipating. Maybe it involves specific threats that you didn’t prepare for, or maybe you are starting out severely disadvantaged with an injury, no or minimal gear, or an injured, even dead, loved one. Any or all of these can fray the mind to the point where you cannot think straight.
Lots of people say it won’t happen to them, or that they are cool under pressure and so forth. I have heard it all, but have seen too many instances of otherwise competent folks locking up or giving in to their baser impulses during high-intensity training to believe those claims. It would be way worse in a live event.
Make sure your practice and training regimen is rigorous and robust enough that a real SHTF event seems easy by comparison. Engaging in fun recreational activities with a prepper “flavor” is no substitute for genuine exercises and survival skills practice.
#5. You Could Die of Dehydration
While water can be a monumentally destructive force, it still remains vital for sustaining life. The ability to access or procure clean, drinkable water will be essential to surviving disasters of any duration since public water supplies are so easily compromised. Store it in bottles or filter it from natural sources, you must have it.
Dehydration can kill in just a few days, but you will be suffering terribly for a good while before you succumb. Some preppers erroneously believe they can ride out a stretch of a day or two with no water if they had to.
While that might be the case if you are parked in the shade in some mild climate, high ambient temperatures and exertion will see you losing moisture and electrolytes at a pace that will have you ailing in short order.
You’ll feel it physically at first: cramps, nausea and headache, but the mental effects will be right behind it, including sluggish thinking, trouble focusing and a sense of detachment or drunkenness. These ill effects will pile up quickly without water intake, meaning that your capabilities will be diminishing fast, hampering your efforts to survive.
You must have redundant plans to get water in a SHTF situation or you’ll meet a quick and painful end from dehydration. A supply of potable water, water storage vessels and water filtration and sterilization gear is positively vital to sustaining your life anywhere during a SHTF crisis.
In much of the world but especially the U.S., guns are an ever-present artifact of man. The United States alone is home to several hundred million guns, all ready to party, in the hands of various, forces, factions and citizens. When things get dicey or you really need to get your point across, guns come out. That’s why they are there in the first place!
You’ll find a gun in the shaky hands of a criminal scumbag looking to turn the chaos of a SHTF situation to his advantage and profit.
You’ll also find a gun in the clenched, sweaty palms of a terrified, desperate survivor just looking to get life-sustaining supplies for his family by any means necessary.
No matter where you are, no matter what is happening, your chances of encountering armed people during any disaster is high.
Your chances of getting shot for doing the wrong thing or not doing the right thing vary depending on the specific circumstances you are dealing with, but rest assured the worst calamities in major urban and suburban areas will be accompanied by lots of gunfire.
A bullet does not need your name inscribed on it to take you out. Misses happen, shots are fired blind or wild and each and every bullet gets a home. That home might be you, unbeknownst to the gunman who touched it off however many blocks or miles away.
Any gunshot wound is a serious one, resulting in significant bleeding, organ damage or broken bones or any combination thereof.
While handgun wounds are largely survivable with immediate care, they are almost always debilitating on a more or less permanent basis. Wounds inflicted by rifles and shotguns or heavier weapons are nothing shy of devastating, and often result in death in short order.
Aside from learning how to treat them, wearing appropriate body armor and learning how to avoid or take cover from gunfire, there is not much you can do to curb the threat of guns.
Human relationships are tough enough to manage in the best of times. Pour on the life-altering stress of a real-deal SHTF event and people can get plumb crazy. Even with people you trust and who otherwise trust you, uncertain, dangerous times can set psyches on edge.
Considering your best chances of survival will almost always come from working together with others to mutual benefit, the ever-present chance of someone snapping or panicking and endangering one and all is sadly a possibility.
This may take the form of someone running off on their own with valuable gear or supplies meant to sustain everyone, a psychological breakdown rendering them unable to work or interact in any meaningful way (thus becoming a drain on resources and labor) or even proper madness, turning on their friends and allies, or willfully destroying shelter, supplies and other items, even attacking other people.
Even aside from these grisly outcomes, clashing personalities can disrupt crucial decision-making processes. An upstart or malcontent who is perpetually second-guessing the leader or leaders of a group will be a major source of stress and conflict when you need everyone working together like a well-oiled machine.
These people almost always try to bend the ears of others to their cause, creating factional rifts in groups that lead to some people going their own way, or even violent coups.
Even if you cast these troublesome people out, they may yet harbor a grudge, and would be all too happy to lead less scrupled people to a store of supplies ripe for the taking…
Complacency may be the most insidious killer of all the entires on this list. Complacency sneaks up on you. It does not scream or shout.
Complacency is one end result of the normalcy bias that whispers in your ear, “it never happens, it’ll go around, it’ll taper off, it won’t happen to me.” Without even realizing it you are shrugging off clear “go” signals screaming it is time to get you and yours out of Dodge City before it is too late.
Complacency is the voice that says you are good enough, fit enough, and skilled enough, when that will never be the case. You can always be better, fitter and possess greater skill.
Complacency tells you have enough and you should take it easy when what you should be doing is gathering, stocking and preparing.
The end result of complacency is that you are caught ill-prepared or flat-footed, and then it will be too late. It is too late to train or prep when the disaster is upon you. Instead you are reacting, scrambling for anything that might make up the difference from where you are and where you should be.
Remember: the true adherent honors the path with deeds and not words. Always follow the procedures you have laid down for yourself and your group when things are turning serious.
Never believe your own hype, the hype that you are “ready” or all set. Survival is always active, never passive, and it is complacency that would convince you it is the latter.
An untimely end seems to always be just around the bend when you are dealing with a legitimate SHTF event, but the most likely causes of death are fairly consistent across most scenarios.
While you must be prepared to ward off all kinds of threats, you should pay particular attention to the ones above since they are, historically, constant and effective killers.
If you have done all you can to prepare, stop worrying and focus on the things you can change to help ensure you and yours get a positive outcome. Everyone has to go sometime, but if you are smart, well-equipped and have Lady Luck on your side you can live to pass on your survival stories to your grandkids.
last update 05/01/2022