Disaster strikes. Are you ready to handle it? Our lives can change instantly due to natural disasters, wars, terrorism, or even a crumbling infrastructure. How will you handle the emergencies as they arise? It’s critical to have a plan to do these five things first in an SHTF disaster.
When SHTF, you need to do five things. The first is the most critical: stay calm and get safe. From there, you need to communicate with your loved ones, assess the situation, and make a plan. Next, you need to put that plan into action, and lastly, prepare for the future and your next steps.
In this article, we’re going to talk about the first five things you should do when SHTF. We’ll also discuss how to put plans in place for the first 72 hours and two weeks so you are ready to survive. First, though, let’s take a look at what might be considered an SHTF disaster.
What Is an SHTF Disaster?
The literal meaning of SHTF is when shit hits the fan. We’re not talking about an everyday crisis here. We’re talking about things like a major natural disaster, war, crash of the electric grid, or disease outbreak.
You might consider a number of historical events to be SHTF situations. For example, Covid, flooding in Kentucky, the Capitol Insurrection, hurricane Katrina, attacks in public spaces, extreme heatwaves, flooding in India, and the war in Ukraine could all be considered SHTF for the people that are affected by it.
It is anything that disrupts life as we know it, to the point that we can’t work, get to the grocery store, or safely go about our daily routines. FEMA offers a number of lists and online tools to help you prepare for emergencies.
Be Prepared and Have a Plan
If you are going to survive SHTF, you need to have a plan in place. And while you probably cannot anticipate every possible disaster that could happen, you should have plans for various challenges that can occur. For example, you need a plan for natural disasters where you must leave your home. You also need a plan for other types of disasters where you can’t leave your home.
You should have plans for:
- The first 72 hours
- Two weeks
- Long term
The first 72 hours of any disaster are critical for getting to safety and establishing communication with your loved ones. From there, you may need to implement a two-week plan and also get ready to focus on a longer-term plan, if necessary. Not only do you need to have a good plan in place, but you also need the supplies to carry out the plan.
For example, if an earthquake occurs in your city, you may need to immediately get to safety and make sure your loved ones are also safe. In addition, you’ll need to deal with any immediate injuries. Is your home safe, or do you need to relocate?
It may take a good two weeks for your city or county to implement emergency rescues. What will you do during that two weeks?
And finally, how will this disaster affect the upcoming year if your homes, schools, and workplaces have been affected?
What to Do Immediately After SHTF
1. Stay calm and get safe.
When a crisis happens, our bodies go into fight or flight mode to help us out of a life-threatening situation. But panicking doesn’t do us any good. So the first thing you always need to do is stay calm and get to safety. This is true no matter what type of crisis is happening around you.
Whether it’s a shooting in a crowded mall, an earthquake, or worse, stay calm and get yourself – and your family – somewhere safe.
- Knowing how you would deal with these situations ahead of time will help you stay calm if they actually do happen.
- Breathe. When your body goes into fight or flight mode, you may feel yourself taking short, quick breaths. This can make you feel lightheaded and afraid. Instead, slow your breathing down and get focused.
- Be decisive and act quickly. Do you need to run, hide, or call for help?
- Are there any injuries that need to be treated immediately?
- Once you have gotten out of immediate danger, you can move on to the next part of your plan.
After you are out of immediate danger, you’re going to need to set up communications.
- Check-in with your family and loved ones that are part of your plan. Make sure they have gotten to safety. Find out where they are and what they need. You should already have a plan in place for how you will contact each other. For example, if cell phone towers aren’t working, how will you contact them? Will you use walkie-talkies or short-wave radios or meet at a predetermined location? What is your plan if you can’t get ahold of them?
- You’ll also want to get any information you can on the current situation. Listen to the radio, watch tv, and talk to neighbors (if it is safe to do so) to find out what has happened, what is happening, and if there is any local or government help being put into action.
3. Assess the Situation.
Once you have as much information as possible, you need to decide on a course of action to survive the first 72 hours to two weeks. This is a lot easier if you have plans and supplies already in place. For example:
Do you need to bug out? If your home is unsafe or you need to evacuate, you may need to ‘bug out.’ Have bug-out bags for every person in your family. If you are a parent of small children, this can be harder because you may need to carry some of the items your children will need. Your bug-out bag should include three days of supplies to survive under harsh conditions. You’ll need some things such as:
- Water purification device
- Extra clothing
- Maps and compass
For a more complete list of items for your bug-out bag, check out this article.
Do you need to get home? If you aren’t home when the disaster strikes, but you need to get there (or to your pre-planned location), you may need some supplies to get you there. These would be your everyday carry items as well as your get-home bag.
A get-home bag is like a 24-hour survival bag. It should be with you or in your car when you aren’t home, so you want it to be a little smaller, lighter, and less noticeable than your bug-out bag. You may want to include items such as:
- Multi-tool and pocket knife
- Duct tape
- Food and water
- Water purifier
- A hat and coat
The get-home bag is just to get you back to your home from wherever you might be. You can find a little more about bugout bags here.
Do you need to bug-in? Hopefully, your home location is safe, and you can just hunker down where you are. This is where most of your preps will come in handy to keep you safe and healthy. However, even at home, you need to have preps to keep you safe for the first 72 hours, the first two weeks, and even for a year, depending on the crisis or disaster you are facing. These types of preps need to include taking care of:
- First aid
- Source for cooking and heat
- Fresh air
- Hygiene and washing
Choosing a plan of action isn’t going to be an easy task. It won’t be the same for everyone in every situation. For example, if you have small children, you may be more inclined to bug in while others are bugging out. On the other hand, if your home has been destroyed, you might need to bug out regardless of how many family members you have.
4. Put the plan into action.
If you have all your preps and plans in place, it will be much easier to put your plan into action.
For example, for years, fire departments have recommended that every home has a fire escape plan. Not only do you need the plan, but you also need to practice it. This way, if your home ever does catch on fire, you and your family will know exactly what to do and how to do it. You won’t waste precious seconds trying to find your way out of a smoke-filled room. And you’ll be less likely to panic because you know what to do.
You might need to be flexible about your plan, though. Even if you bug in, for now, you may have to bug out later, or vice versa. So try to settle into your plan and keep moving forward.
5. Decide your next course and plan for your future.
As you put your plan into action, you need to think about what’s next. We can only operate in survival mode for so long before we need to start thinking about our future, what the new normal looks like, and doing things that keep our spirits high.
For example, if you have bugged out, you aren’t going to want to meander through the back woods for long. Hopefully, you’re headed to another safe location where you can reassess the situation and come up with a plan for the future. Will you stay at your secondary location? Or be there long enough to regroup, find out more information on what’s happening in the world around you, and make a plan for your next steps. The next steps might be returning home, starting a homestead, or joining loved ones at yet another location.
Final Thoughts on What to Do When SHTF
No matter where you live or your family situation, you need to have some kind of a plan in place if disaster should strike. Remember, you need to survive the immediate danger, get through the first 72 hours, and then get through the next two weeks. From there, you’ll need to assess the situation, so you know what to do moving forward.
What if you don’t have a bug-out location?
Not everyone has the resources to purchase or plan a bugout location. If you don’t have one, you may need to come up with something quick. For example, off-season campgrounds or national parks might be a good option. On the other hand, if you live in an urban area, you might need to bug out to an old factory or warehouse. Just make sure no one else has already taken up residence there.
How do you know whether to bug in or bug out?
It might be a hard to choose whether to stay or go. Staying is probably the best choice if it is safe to do so since most of your preps are there. But this is a personal decision you’ll have to make for yourself. So here are some tips on how to decide.