One of the most common debates among preppers is what kind of disaster to prepare for in the near future and what to do immediately after SHTF.
Many preppers believe that when SHTF it will be a natural disaster such as a tsunami, a super volcano eruption at Yellowstone, an asteroid or solar flare. Other preppers insist that the SHTF event that is coming will be man-made and will be the result of an economic collapse or nuclear war. Still, others insist that you cannot predict these events and therefore planning for everyday type emergencies, random acts of violence, and anticipated natural disasters common in your area is all you can do.
Regardless of how it happens, it’s critical that you know what to do immediately after SHTF. So, in this article we’ll give you some general steps to follow as an outline of how to prepare for any crisis situation whether large or small.
Stay Calm and Get Away from Immediate Danger
The key thing to do immediately after SHTF is to remain calm and get away from the immediate danger. Whether the danger is a school shooter, a multi-car pileup on an icy highway, a random bomb that exploded in a shopping plaza, or a natural disaster, finding a temporary safe spot is the priority.
Do your research and train yourself to be observant and react using muscle memory to danger. The human instinct to protect itself can be powerful but if you panic, you can override your instincts and put yourself in more danger. The more you know about how dangerous situations play out and what things to do to protect yourself, the easier it will be to react in a way that could save you further injury and even save your life.
Treat Any Injuries
Once the immediate danger of the situation has passed or you are in a temporarily safe place, inspect yourself and others for any injuries. Treat life-threatening injuries first using available first aid supplies. For any injuries that are not immediately life-threatening make sure you treat them to avoid infection and further damage.
Communicate whereabouts with Family if possible
If you are away from home when SHTF or are separated from your family or group members, you’ll want to take steps to communicate your whereabouts to them. If your cell phone is working, send a text message which is more likely to get through and will be easier for the other party to receive than a voicemail message.
If your get home bag includes a handheld radio and your family members have similar radios, you can use that to stay in communication as you make your way home or to your agreed meeting location.
Once you’ve communicated your whereabouts to family members, you’ll want to gather as many details and facts as you can about the situation. Hopefully, your get home bag contains a handheld radio or NOAA radio you can turn on to monitor any additional information.
You can also take a few minutes to observe the area around you and eavesdrop on conversations as you make your way home to try and determine how severe the situation really is.
- How widespread does the danger appear to be?
- What’s the sky/weather look like?
- Do you hear gunfire? Can you still hear sounds of traffic such as engines, horns, sirens, etc.?
- What do you hear?
- Is power out? Does it appear to be widespread or limited to one area?
- Do you see or smell smoke that would indicate a fire or explosion?
- Are other people nearby staying inside or coming outside?
Fill Gas Tank and Get Home or to Agreed Meeting Location
If you determine that the event is a widespread event and could be an actual SHTF event rather than a temporary emergency situation, it’s time to get home as quickly as possible. If you’re at work or school and your vehicle will start, that’s great. Use a route that will be less traveled and appears to take you around the danger.
On your way home, if you pass a gas station still open and without long lines, take a moment to top off your gas tank in case it’s needed. Use your available cash to purchase any supplies you may need if the situation extends into a long term one.
If your car won’t start due to an EMP or some other reason, make sure you grab your survival bag and fill it with any supplies you may need from your car before you set off on foot or via your alternate transportation (bike, etc.).
Review Your Family’s Emergency Plans
If you’ve been a prepper for any length of time when SHTF, your family will have an emergency plan that everyone is familiar with and hopefully one that you have practiced several times. The benefit of having a family emergency plan in place is that family members can begin to implement the plan in phases which in a serious emergency makes use of precious time that others will waste trying to figure out what is happening.
If the situation turns out to be temporary or not as serious, there’s no harm done by implementing your emergency plan. In a serious SHTF situation, your family will be that much farther ahead than your neighbors who are still watching TV or running around trying to figure out what is happening.
Make sure these steps are an early part of your family plan:
- Turn on NOAA or another emergency radio
- Fill collapsible water jugs and other containers with water and put by the door
- Charge cell phones, portable power chargers, and other critical devices
- If power is out or could go out, make sure flashlights and extra batteries are within easy reach
- Confirm all doors and windows are secured and activate any other SHTF defense measures such as closing and locking driveway gates, activating perimeter alarms, etc.
Additional Steps for a Natural Disaster or Widespread Emergency:
Ready Any Storm Protection Supplies
If what you think is coming is a natural disaster such as a tornado, hurricane, or flood, this is the time to make sure any of your storm protection supplies are available and ready to be put up quickly.
- Plywood storm shutters can be set near windows, ready to be hung.
- Move outdoor furniture and recreational items into the garage or shed.
- Fill sandbags and even stack them in place around the perimeter of your property
- Clear brush and other flammable debris and items from around your home.
Bring Pets Inside and Pen Livestock
When an emergency occurs, animals can sense chaos and their behavior can become unpredictable. Even well-behaved animals may run if they are startled by gunshots or other loud noises. If you bring them inside or pen them up when you get the first indication of trouble, it will be easier to feed and care for them as the days progress. If you do need to bug out quickly, you won’t waste precious minutes chasing them down.
Mark Children, Elderly, and Pets with Identifying Information
Even if you don’t plan on being separated from your spouse, parents, children, or other group members, that possibility exists in many SHTF scenarios. We’ve all seen the reports of family members being separated through no fault of their own. Take a moment to clearly mark pets and livestock with identification and contact information. For larger animals you can use a non-toxic paint to write your contact info where it’s clearly visible. For children and the elderly who may be vulnerable to being separated from the group, use a magic marker with clean nail polish to put identifying information on their wrist or arm.
Decide to Bug Out or Bug In
At some point early on following a SHTF incident, you need to commit to bug in or bug out approach. Unless you live in a large city or on the outer edges of an urban area, bugging in is typically the safer option. Bugging out always carries more risk, but if your home is not safe or if you must get to a BOL that is farther out, you have no choice but to bug out.
The decision to bug out or bug in is always a personal decision. Remember you may not be thinking clearly in the midst of a SHTF event and panic will set in. If you intend to bug in and the situation changes and your home becomes too dangerous, you’ll want to be ready to adapt quickly. One good idea is to set some guidelines ahead of any crisis situation that will allow you to determine whether to bug in or bug out when the time comes.
Confirm Your Bug Out Preparations
Even if your family emergency plan leans toward bugging in as your main strategy, there will be some SHTF events that may require you to bug out. In fact, if your intent is to hunker down and bug in but at some point, your home becomes unsafe, not having a bug out plan prepared in advance can mean almost certain death.
So even if you plan is to stay put at home, have a bug out plan in place as backup and take time to double check those preparations so if the situation calls for it, you can be gone within minutes instead of hours.
- Ready BOV supplies and fluids
- Review plan for rally points, alternate routes, and visual signals
- Prepare to load any additional supplies that may be helpful to have
Do an Inventory of All Supplies if Time Allows
Once you are in a safe location and monitoring available channels to determine the extent of the disaster, it’s a good time to do a final check of all available supplies. Make note of anything you don’t have available and figure out alternatives or work arounds.
When things get hectic later, you won’t waste precious time looking for supplies you “thought” you had on hand. Prioritize food consumption so that you are eating fresh food first, followed by refrigerated food, frozen food (which will thaw in 1-3 days), and finally your canned and dry food stockpile.
Prioritize According to Survival Rule of Threes
When SHTF, it will be critical that you prioritize your actions in terms of the Survival Rules of Threes. This rule indicates how long the average human be can survive without critical resources:
- 3 minutes without fresh air to breathe
- 3 hours without warmth and shelter in extreme weather
- 3 days without fresh water to drink
- 3 weeks without food
The rules of threes can come in handy when you need to prioritize your activities due to limited energy and fatigue. It can also help you to prioritize if you are bugging out and don’t have room in your vehicle for everything.
If something happens to your vehicle and you must bug out on foot, it can help you to determine what to carry and what items to leave behind. When you’re in a survival situation with limited time until dark for example, use the survival rule of threes to determine the order of your tasks to ensure your best chance of survival.
There are of course no guarantees when it comes to a SHTF situation. But knowing what to do immediately after SHTF can boost the odds that you and your loved ones will come through it and survive.