The first few minutes and hours after a disaster are critical. What you do or don’t do immediately after will significantly affect your chances of survival.
SHTF encompasses all sorts of scenarios – ranging from the power grid going down to an EMP and major earthquakes to a bombing. It’s hard to decipher what to do because all scenarios are different and pose a different set of dangers and challenges.
What is clear is that how you respond in those first few minutes may make the difference between life and death. Your actions determine your chance of survival.
There isn’t a clear roadmap on what to do immediately following different types of man-made or natural disasters.
However, we can narrow it down to 5 things you should do in the first minutes and hours after SHTF.
Rather than panicking and freezing when disaster strikes, go through the following 5 steps as quickly as possible.
#1 Assess the Situation
Before you do anything, carefully assess the situation. Doing nothing may seem counterintuitive and the exact opposite of what your mind and body want to do, but it is important.
Ed Stafford, Discovery channel host and the first man to walk the length of the Amazon River, explains why:
“If you were to find yourself completely stranded in the middle of nowhere, the most important thing is to take your pack off, put it on the floor, and sit on it and literally do nothing for about two minutes. The risk is that you’ll panic and you’ll decide you need to run off in that direction because you think that’s where you’re going to find help or run off in that direction because you might want to get firewood and actually the most important thing is to stop.”
The first five-minute rule is even taught to first responders.
“As most firefighters/fire officers will tell you, the first 5 minutes of any incident can affect the next 5 hours. But what exactly should happen in those first 5 minutes? [....] If you’re the first-arriving officer, you’ve got two main priorities on your plate: sizing up the scene and developing an initial action plan. Without proper attention to these two tasks, your operation could very easily fail.”
This advice applies to all SHTF situations.
If you just start running, you may run right into a danger zone.
If water starts to rise quickly and you hop in your car to flee, you may end up in a much worse situation.
Instead, stop and assess the situation.
Where is the threat coming from? Who is safe? Who is injured? Is there structural damage?
NOTE – As you assess the situation, do not use anything that may catch fire, such as a candle or lighter. If the SHTF scenario involves gas lines breaking, you put yourself and others in grave danger.
#2 Communicate with Loved Ones
Immediately communicate with your household and family – specifically with those who know the emergency plan.
The goal is to gather your family ASAP.
If the grid goes down and cell phones don’t work, you need to have a plan in place for various scenarios so everyone knows what to do.
This means deciding your meetup location and how long everyone will wait at the location before moving on to a safer location. Plan for how you will leave a hidden message should a member of your family not make it in time to the meetup location.
If you don’t have a plan in place, get one now. Run through various scenarios with family members so everyone is clear and there is no misunderstanding when the time comes.
#3 Get Safe
Should SHTF, the one thing that’s guaranteed is chaos. People will be confused and scared – and dangerous. So you need to get you and your family safe ASAP.
If your meetup location is not your home, then, when everyone has gathered, you'll need to decide where to go next.
Unless you can get to your bug-out location fast – if you have one – you most likely will be forced to shelter in place and wait until the chaos subsides.
Getting to a location that’s the most secure is the key. But, you may have to make real-time decisions when the time comes.
If you live in an urban or suburban location, is it safer at the moment to shelter there? If your home poses a threat, does going to a bug-out location make it more dangerous if the roads are jammed?
#4 Secure Your Location
When you do get to a location you deem is the safest, security is now your top priority.
Secure the perimeter. Barricade doors and windows if you need to. Do what it takes to keep you and your family safe.
Make sure your emergency food, water, and supplies are secure in a safe place and easily accessible. If you store these items in your garage, now is the time to bring them inside where you can keep an eye on them.
Also, depending on the type of disaster scenario, securing your home may require you to turn off electricity and other utilities.
This is critical in a major natural disaster. During the first 5 minutes, shut off the water, gas, and electricity. This can help prevent fires, water line breaks, and keep pollutants out.
Also turn off or unplug the most valuable appliances.
Should there be standing water in and around you, take extreme caution. The water could be electrified.
#5 Decide on What to Do Next
Depending on the disaster situation and how much info you’ve been able to gather, you need to decide what to do next.
Should you start preparing for a long journey to a less affected or less populated area? Or is the threat of leaving far greater than staying where you are?
How will you handle neighbors who’ve approached you? Are they a threat or not?
Continue to improve your position, collect as much intel as you can, and decide your next steps.
Be aware and be safe, friends.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply