The First Moments AFTER! What YOU Need to do Immediately After SHTF…

This is an entry in our current non-fiction writing contest  by Dan W

nukeIntro: As I read the posts on MD’s Blog the other day I was thinking about our prepping. I figured we are very well prepared but it was also obvious that there were some areas where we could improve. One thought led to another and soon I was deep into thoughts of #10 cans and ammo! I was brought back to attention by movement outside of my office window. A small group of deer was browsing the forest floor. I was pleased to see that they had survived an especially hard winter and thought how it was that they didn’t have to prepare for each season …….. just eat as much as they could before snow covered the ground and their browse.

One thought led to another and then it hit me! We are all working so hard to be ready; everyone is talking about their preparations for the SHTF ……….. we all want to be ready for whatever unpleasant times the future may hold. But……….What about “AFTER” the SHTF? I mean immediately after! How we act during the first few critical moments or hours after an event will to a great extent determine if we’re even around to live in a new world and enjoy all those dehydrated meals. Kind of like we are all athletes preparing for the big game, exercising to get our muscles in shape, eating healthy food, buying special equipment but not giving much thought to “getting” to the actual game we’re preparing for.

Seems like every now and then this issue arises as a sideline to another topic but, as far as I know, it hasn’t been addressed directly. The “Conflicted Tuesday” scenarios are great as they tend push our thoughts in this direction as we try to figure out what we’d do for a given set of circumstances. This article offers some of my thoughts about what we can/should do to successfully ride out those initial moments after the SHTF. Acronyms are a great memory aid and teaching tool and, as you can see, I’ve used that technique here.

A = Assessment: The first thing to be done is to assess your actual situation. This must be done pretty much without regard for whatever it is that has caused the SHTF. To use an oft quoted saying; “It is what it is”. Regardless of what you were doing when the SHTF, you have now been forced into a state of flux. An immediate and accurate critical assessment of your situation will be the best tool you have at your disposal to ensure survival. As you make observations you will begin to develop a picture of your surroundings. Use this mental picture to help you establish the facts.

F = Facts: Are you hurt? What has happened? Where are you? Must you decide between fight and flight? What do I do next? Odds are good that there will be little to no information immediately available for you to base your decisions on. Expect all electronic communications to have ceased so you’ll have to rely on your observational skills and powers of deduction. I’ve only been in a SHTF type situation once and then it was what would be considered a local event ………… if you call something that effected several hundred square miles local! Let me share the story with you: I was living California when the 1989 Loma Prieta California earthquake occurred.

At work in Sunnyvale, I knew right away that it was a bad quake. When the ground had stopped its initial rock and roll there was a total loss of power. The silence after the quake was unsettling. From one end of the radio dial to the other there was nothing being broadcast ……. just static. Nearby buildings appeared to have ridden out the quake with minimal damage but I could see smoke rising in the distance.

I’ve always thought of myself as a logical thinker as I’m an engineer and it kind of goes with the trade ……….. but the magnitude of this event was outside my experience. The quake had put me into a situation where immediate decisions were required. At first, the only facts I knew for sure was that there had been a big quake knocking out all power and there was a fire somewhere.

I didn’t know if the problems were localized, whether or not my wife was okay (she’s a nurse and was working in the O.R. on the third floor of a large hospital), how bad the roads would be as I tried to get home (10 miles away), would our home still be standing when I got there, and so on. My fact sheet at that time read: Big Earthquake, No Power, No Radio, Car runs okay, I’m not hurt nor is anyone else around me! I decided that I needed to get home ASAP. As I slowly drove I found traffic gridlock. No traffic lights were working. Many large storage buildings had partially collapsed into the road and sections of the roadway were damaged. (Much later I would find out about the collapsed freeway to the north).

Each of these observations added to my growing ‘known facts” list. I made it home safely without incident. Once home, I focused on the immediate situation and adjusted as conditions changed. I knew that my wife would stay at the hospital and contact me as soon as she could (if she was able to). I decided to wait 24 hours before trying to go to the hospital. It was more than 20 hours before I talked with her ……… she was okay! The hospital had extensive damage and all of the patients had been evacuated to the parking lot! She finally made it home two days later.

Itemizing the facts should be done before you take action. Prioritize the known facts with regard towards those that threaten your immediate survival heading your list. Your fact list may be small to begin with but it will grow as things evolve. Be prepared to revise your immediate plans if the circumstances dictate. Once you’ve evaluated the facts you will then be able to take action with a greater chance of survival.

T = Threats: Analyze your situation in terms of threats to your safety. Identify them and quickly categorize them as immediate or intermediate. Once you’ve assessed the situation and the known facts you will need to take action. You won’t be any help to your family if you don’t survive! What do you need to do first? The sequence of your actions will prove to be critical to you and your family’s survival. “Temerity” is defined by Webster as “unreasonable or foolhardy contempt of danger or opposition, Rashness or Recklessness”. This is not how you want to act! If you’ve taken time to assess the situation and have made note of the facts as you see them, the last thing you want to do is proceed with abandon throwing caution to the wind as you try to bull your way ahead. Of course things will be moderated by considerations for your loved ones. Issues such as whether or not you’re alone, where you are, where your family is, what actions you must now take and so on must all be quickly determined. Only you know your limitations so the answers to these questions must be realistic. Prioritize the “immediate” from the “eventual”. Focus on gaining control of your circumstances and you will begin to find the strength that comes from having a plan.

E = Engage: “To actively participate”, not the wedding ring thing. The military and others tend to use the term “situational awareness” to describe this. Every day we are all actively engaged as we go about our routines (driving, working, going for a walk or hike, etc.). But, we do this all more or less subconsciously. We’re usually operating in a somewhat relaxed mode (unless you happen to live or work in a very bad neighborhood) where we are surrounded by the familiar. Our senses are turned on but they are operating like elevator music ………… low and in the background! After the SHTF we must shift gears and become more like a hunter after a dangerous predator. We must pay heed to all that is going on around us. You may find yourself in an area where you are intimately knowledgeable of your surroundings ……… but things have changed. The buildings and roads may look the same but the people around you are not! The sights, smells, noises, and especially our natural animalistic intuition for danger must become more pronounced if we are to survive.

R = React: Based on what you have discerned you will need to react to your situation. Being a Prepper is a pro-active condition ………. you’re preparing for the future. At this point in time your ability to react quickly and thoughtfully will enhance your chance for survival! I repeat: Surviving an actual event will depend on your ability to react appropriately to your circumstances in a timely manner. If you are suddenly thrown into a frightening or threatening crisis you must be able to react according to an intelligent plan. In my opinion it is not true that any action is better than no action. (See “Temerity” above!). Be sure you take time to think through what you’re going to do before you do it! But be quick about it! If you freeze (deer in the headlights) you’ll find yourself to be a victim rather than a survivor.

Summation: The comments above were written with the first few minutes after a SHTF or TEOTWAWKI event in mind ……. those first moments when you realize that it has happened, it’s real! I believe that they are applicable to the long term situation as well. If we are able to survive the first few minutes, hours and days of an event we will find ourselves able to take advantage of all our preparations ………….. we’ll be ready to put our prepping plan to work.

Discuss this with your group. Take time now to create a simple plan that will give you, your family, and any other folks in your group a common “initial reaction” to a SHTF event. We all react to stress differently so this guide is a simple way to tip the odds in your favor. Plan as if phone communications and transportation will be nonexistent. Decide on and agree to the critical details:

– Where will you all go to meet up? Home, BOL, etc.
– Determine the length of time (walking) for each person to get from their furthest expected location to the gathering place.
– If you have a short or long term BOL, but a different location will be used as the initial gathering place, how long will you wait for missing members before you bug out?
– Will you attempt SAR if members of your group are missing?
– How long will you wait for everyone to show up at the agreed upon location before any SAR is attempted?
– Will anyone, such as children at school or the elderly, need to be gathered up or escorted?
– Will those people to be escorted remain in place? Where?
– Designate realistic responsibilities while paying heed to the ability of each person to accomplish their assigned task.
– Which of you will be the decision maker? Designate an alternate leader.

Most of us spend our daylight hours in repetitive patterns; home, work, school, shopping, etc. Unless you are a long haul trucker, pilot, travel for business, etc. the odds are good that you’ll be fairly close to your castle when the SHTF. Use this proximity to your advantage. Consider making a simple map with multiple alternative routes for each member of your group. Show where they are likely to be and the subsequent potential routes to your gathering location. Figure out alternate ways to get everyone to the chosen gathering location. Print out a small note (specific to each individual) with the details of your overall plan and listing their assignment and instructions. They should keep this note on their person at all times. Make a copy of each note and, along with the individual route maps, store them for future reference. That way those at the gathering location will know where a “missing” member may be travelling.

The power of positive thinking is one of the best tools you can carry with you. You will not survive if you don’t believe you will. Resolve to succeed! Bravado and tentative actions will only put you in harm’s way ……… you’ve got to have faith in yourself to follow through with your decisions. If you’ve got a plan, whether it is a plan to simply get you through the early stages of a SHTF situation or one to be followed for the longer term, you are more likely to be successful.

Prizes for this round (ends May 24 2014) in our non fiction writing contest include…

  1. First place winner will receive –  A $150 gift certificate for Hornady Ammo  courtesy of LuckyGunner, a Wonder Junior Deluxe grain millcourtesy of Kitchen Neads, a one year subscription to the Personal VPN service courtesy of unspyable and Three Survival Seed Vaults courtesy of LPC Survival.
  2. Second place winner will receive – Brand New, Sealed Case of Military MREs (Meal, Ready-To-Eat)  a $119 value courtesy and a Survival Puck  courtesy of Innovation Industries.
  3. Third place winner will receive – a copy of my book ”31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness“ and “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” courtesy of a copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of and a copy Herbal Antivirals and Herbal Antibiotics .


  1. WESTPAC says:

    Excellent! The ability to remain calm in the face of adversity (& keep members of your group calm), gain situational awareness, gather information IOT react accordingly are keystones to taking the correct course of action immediately after being hit with a catastrophic incident. I would say that one of the first things to do is make yourself a “Hot wet (coffee, tea, etc.) & think the situation through, then & only then should you act. In the military, well in Special Operations at least, we have Immediate Action drills, checklist, SOPs, etc., so we are not reinventing the wheel every time something happens. If nothing else, develop them as common knowledge amongst your group, so there is no confusion as to what the immediate courses of action should be in an emergency.

  2. akaGaGa says:

    Well done!

    I’d add that when considering those who may need help (children, the disabled), include emotional issues as well as physical. I have a dear friend who freaks out when there’s an emergency. It might be something that has been discussed and planned for (we lived through a flood we knew was coming), but she still initially freaks out and simply can’t think like she normally does.

    Having the knowledge of her likely reaction, we know that someone needs to get to her and calm her down before she’ll be able to react reasonably.

  3. worrisome says:

    I need to add that despite what safety officers or other people may be telling you to do in shtf situation, make up your own mind!!! People in the towers on 911 were told to stay put & that the situation was handled & died because of it. If, in this case, an earthquake, you trot down the stairs, check around outside and decide it is your best option to be away from the building…………..Go!! The very worst that can happen is that others may later think you were foolish for acting promptly. I never walk into a multiple level building without checking to see where the stairs are in relation to where I am going to be. Here is a true statistic in a bag situation. 10% of the group with do the absolutely right thing, 10% will do the absolutely wrong thing………….the rest will wait until they are either told what to do or will follow one of the other groups. Get it together ahead of time!

    • Macintosh says:

      Hundreds or even thousands of people “trotting” (probably running) down stairs may well over load the stair structure. Waiting for the first herd to move may be a smart way to respond. Again, listen to your gut.

      • worrisome says:

        Un un…….be the first down the stairs and settle for being ridiculous if you over reacted is the point……….no herds!

        • Macintosh says:

          If you are on the 23rd floor no matter how fast you run there are 22 floors ahead of you… thus, a herd.

    • Rider of Rohan says:

      Excellent advice, worrisome. There are some things one does by instinct, but the mind overcomes instinct at times, and gets us in trouble. In the military you run toward gunfire, as a civilian you do the opposite. As you say, trust your gut in most instances, and don’t try to overthink everything.

    • I like the thought of noticing where the stairs are, but as a “heads up”, we have been in hospitals (several, as one son had medical problems as a baby/child) and there was NO ACCESS to the stairs. We asked. I’m sure that if power was out, they would direct us to them, but it bothered me greatly that the stairs were in an off-limits area of the hospital. After hours/days in the hospital, we wanted to use up some of our children’s energy and give ourselves some exercise, by using stairs instead of the crowded elevators, but there was NO WAY to do so, and we even asked several people to direct us to the stairs, not just one. Any suggestions on that?

      • That might have been That particular facility. I work in a hospital and the stairs are clearly marked and most employees use them. The doors open on all floors and there are more than one flight in different locations.Our Health and Welness Dept even sponsors contests to promote being healthy and using the stairs.

        I’m sorry the facility you were in did not have them open to you.

        • That’s good to know…. thank you. The push to use stairs instead of elevators was on at that time also, but apparently not there. 🙂

          • Worrisome says:

            It is possible you were on a floor with some that may have been getting service but was under police control. But stairs must be made available in case of fire

            • Actually, we asked on more than one floor-probably 3 or 4 different floors- and were told that the stairs were only for hospital personnel unless there was a fire….. Strange situation.

      • Donna in MN says:

        Somehow this won’t post under the Hospital that locks the stair doors.

        AS far as the hospital not allowing access to stairs may violate zoning laws, like a school locking all doors so students cannot get out in case of a fire and the one with the key to unlock the doors is not available and then there’s a pileup at the exits like at those bars that caught fire and hundreds died. I would call your zoning office and report the hospital.

        • They didn’t lock the doors, but the doors were in hallways that had closed doors and signs saying “Authorized Personnel” only. Good idea about reporting that…. the last time we were there was about 7-8 years ago, so hopefully they have changed things since then, but if I see such again, I will report it. Thank you.

          • I believe safety codes require DUAL access for all multi-story buildings. They must not be adjacent to each other but provide ALTERNATE routes. One must not rely on electricity to function and BOTH must be clearly marked. In addition all room are to have evacuation routes clearly posted. These are not items that can be ignored — to do so shuts you down. So I would be fairly confident this has been corrected. HOWEVER, I would sure check before an emergency puts you back in there. Frankly, we all need to check out the places we frequent so we know their safety protocols.

            • That is true….. I need to be better about checking for emergency exits…. we rarely go to such places anymore, thankfully, but I will be watchful…. thank you.

              • These post have lit a fire under me. I am checking emergency procedures for the grandkids’ schools and local nursing homes where I volunteer. One of the most dangerous situations is a chemical spill due to derailment on a railroad track (or highway accident) — our area is full of both. If the spill is toxic, you only have minutes to evacuate the immediate area — then you check the wind and make another perimeter. I realized that there is absolutely no way schools and retirement or nursing facilities have enough staff to get people to safety. I am hoping to interest my community in a response plan that involves citizens taking responsibility for areas of response. Anyone have experience in getting this started? I am a CERT instructor, but no one in my area has expressed an interest. I am going to a Senior Center soon to share emergency preparedness procedures with them. Thanks to this blog, hospital exits will now be on the program.

      • Some hospitals for children have extra security and in this day with so much crime against our children they need it. It sounds like that is probably the reason why you could not get to the stairs which is great except in a SHTF situation

    • Encourager says:

      Excellent points, Worrisome! Think for yourself; be observant.

    • worrisome,
      “The very worst that can happen is that others may later think you were foolish”. Actually the very worst that can happen is that you can be arrested (if the building survives) or you may die (if it doesn’t). In any case, knowing these two possibilities will help you clear your head and make the right choice. In the arrest case, I suspect you’ll not have any lasting problems once you explain yourself, especially if the building didn’t survive.

  4. Chuck Findlay says:

    We are a video generation / country. We look to the TV (younger generation the Internet) for information / updates on current events. I read someplace that in times of turmoil we sit and watch the TV and this is counterproductive to taking action you probably should be doing as an event is happening.

    I thought back to Sep 11th (911 Terror attacks) and that is what I did for a better part of 2-days. I was not in danger as the attacks were hundreds of miles away. But it could have been in my area and looking at a TV for hours on end could have been very dangerous as apposed to taking action.

    What I did to correct this is to decide what was happening would happen if I watched or not. and that a simple and inexpensive AM / FM radio could give me updates and at the same time I could still work to deal with what I needed to survive, move or take any action I deemed necessary to make it through any given event. It’s easy to keep working and still listen to news on a radio, it doesn’t require you to stay only a few feet away and stare at it to get useful information / news from it.

    So now I have several radios with lithium batteries in them as lithium batteries are good for at least 10-years and don’t leak acid like alkalines do.

    Garage sales and thrift stores sell AM /FM pocket radios for .25 cents to $2.00 all the time.

  5. Texanadian says:

    Good article. Well done.

  6. Tactical G-Ma says:

    You did good, son!
    When stuff happens we have to hit the ground running no matter what the crisis. Just like we practice fire drills and tornado drills we need to make plans for different scenarios!

    • Big Bear says:

      Thanks! I’ve found that I usually can solve a problem (hypothetical or real) if I write about it………… just a few words put together to help me think things through. Our first reaction(s) to adversity really determine how well we are able to weather any storm

  7. PreppingMomma5 says:

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. My hubby works 40 miles away, and with 5 kids, I am not moving anywhere fast. Ideally, we’d stay in place, but if we are talking total all out crazy- our bug out location is actually my parents, 4 hours away. I have been really thinking about determining when I would decide to pack up and go or how do I know when the time has come? Those types of questions have been heavy on my mind. I’m hoping that being a part of online communities like this website will give me a small, but helpful advantage in determining when it’s go time.

    • Ms. PreppingMomma5,
      may I suggest this… If a situation occurs and it crosses your mind that you and your children would be better off at your parents you will do one of two things. Either dismiss the idea immediately or hold a debate with yourself. If you find yourself debating it? You should probably go.

      If it turns out that the trio was not really necessary don’t think of it as a False Alarm. Think of it as a Drill!

  8. Encourager says:

    Great article, Dan! I am trying to train myself in situational awareness, starting at home. I remind myself to do a binocular check on our property borders at least once a day, preferably twice. When I let the dog out, I stand in the doorway or on the steps and slowly scan the fields and the neighbors. I feel this will make me more aware of when something is ‘out of place’. Right now we have a neighbor I do not know who has piled up at least four sofas, a few chairs, black plastic bags full of who knows what, in a burn pit. Sure hope we are upwind when he fires that off. I am thinking I should call the township just to find out if burning furniture full of chemicals is allowed….

  9. Papabear says:

    Good article. Thanks.

  10. patientmomma says:

    Thanks for a good article! If I am not at my farm, my first instinct is to throw everything in the car and get to the farm. I have a bob and medical backpack in the car, but if I am at work, I have to get to the suburbs, collect the little dogs and an evac kits and take off for the back roads. In bad weather or emergency situations, I am always the first one out the door at work; don’t care what people think. My adage is better safe and sorry.

  11. mom of three says:

    I would think not. I would call, too not only is that dangerous, but obnoxious fumes in the air. YUCK!

  12. PhotonGuy says:

    Really great entry. You really hit it home on how to prepare for a SHTF situation and how to make it through it. This is what I have to say.

    Be physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.
    A scout is thrifty. A scout is helpful. A scout is brave.
    !!!BE PREPARED!!!

  13. One thing to think about is that it will be quiet – really quiet. If you don’t want to do a full blown test (turning off all electricity) just turn off the television, phone, computer – anything that involves “noise”. I usually have a radio or television on somewhere for the noise factor and should try the “quiet” test more often.

  14. be the first to hit the atm for the max withdrawal on all your accounts. it might be the last

  15. Good work. Critical info, should it break bad.


  16. Dan,
    Some good points and a way for people to look at how to deal with things, before they happen, which is something too many people fail to realize the importance of.

    We have discussed this kind of thing in the past as a general way to conduct our lives. In the NRA Personal Protection In the Home and Personal Protection Outside the Home courses we discuss the 4 levels of situational awareness that all people have.
    • Unaware
    • Aware
    • Alert
    • Alarm
    We are all generally unaware when sleeping or even when engaged in some activities, like deep in thought while reading a good book, while curled up in a comfortable chair on a cold evening. Unfortunately, too many people are in the unaware state while wide awake. Ear buds plugged in and music blasting, while sending and receiving text messages has become too often SOP for too many people. Being aware takes some planning and some sacrifices. It means turning off that radio or at least turning down the volume. It means consciously scanning the area around you and assessing things that may be out of place. It means that when the hair stands up on the back of your neck, you pay attention, and not intellectualize it away. In short, it means being focused on being aware.

    At some point, some event or perception, or thought may switch you from merely being aware, to the alert or alarm (sometimes referred to as condition orange or red) state, and then psychologically, several things happen. The first is that we all freeze, yes all of us do this. It’s the time during which the brain is determining a course of action, generally being fight or flight; however, in some cases, the brain may stay in the freeze state for a long time while determining the next best move. Training and having worked through scenarios in your mind ahead of time is how we make the next best step, and how we stay in the freeze state for the shortest amount of time. For people with good training and skills practice, it may seem to an outsider that they didn’t freeze at all; however, they actually froze for an unperceivable amount of time, because their brain already had a plan in place for the situation or one similar to it.

    Here is where running scenarios in your head can be very useful, since it gives the brain a library of ideas to choose from. If that particular scenario requires physical actions, then the training and skills practice becomes the next link in the chain. In training we have a maxim, “When under stress, a person does not rise to the occasion; but, sinks to their highest level of training. Training for things we don’t often do in our daily lives, is a lot like prepping, or any other kind of insurance. We pay the premiums, hoping to never collect; but, are glad we’ve gone to the trouble and expense if it’s ever needed.

    • Big Bear says:

      Great comments OP. Right on the mark regarding scenario brain training and the edge it will give a person when they are faced with a situation totally new to them. It’s amazing how most people will try to “get to a comfortable place” when they are confronted with a crisis requiring decisiveness. The quicker you can make the appropriate decision the better your odds!

  17. YoTeach says:

    I would suggest a great book to read that discusses the psychological impact of real people to disasters, and explains the pitfalls of human thinking and how to avoid them. I’ve read it once already, and I’m re-reading it now to refresh myself and get my mind right about the mental preparations of a potential disaster.
    This link is to Amazon (no kickbacks here, it has the ISBN so you can look it up in your local library and read it before you think about buying it).

  18. Great post! I would add that you will quickly be able to know what is happening around you if you have the lowest level Ham Radio license and a 2 Meter radio in your car or a hand held.

    2 Meteres will light up quickly as the vast majority of Hams have emergency power. You could request a local Ham to check on your family and house for you and let you know what is going on.

    Better yet, have all members of your family get licensed.

    “When everything else fails, Ham Radio works.”

    • Tactical G-Ma says:

      Everyone should get ham license and tech test is easy and cheap. SkyWarn is awesome if you live in areas of bad weather. Love my handhelds. Amazon has dual 2-meter and UHF radios for cheap!

  19. Great article. It sure got my thinker in gear. Even if we are prepared for emergencies and the uglies, we have to acclimate our minds to think in crisis mode. I am seeing the value of KNOWING exactly what needs to be available for quick evacuation and where it ALL is. Looks like more lists need to be added to the notebook (which at this time is still in unorganized pieces.)

  20. Big Bear says:

    Thanks Linda,
    I’ve found the list to be of great value (as long as they are succinct). For me, making lists is more about thinking it through (whatever “it” is). Kind of like role playing a scenario and taking notes as you work through it. I always go back over the scenario/list several times and it always seems like I end up with changes.

  21. nick flandrey says:

    I have a very specific list system for Bug Out. I call it my 5 minute/15 minute/30 minute list. It fits on a 3×5 card, which lives on a neck lanyard with a mini squeeze flashlight. My wife has one too. They hang on a doorknob in my office at home. There are some other useful things also on the lanyard, but the most important is the list. It details, in descending order of importance what to grab when it’s time to go.

    Watching a ‘to catch a thief’ show has convinced me that you should be able to strip your entire house of anything valuable in 10 minutes or less IF YOU ARE NOT COMING BACK. The 15 and 30 minute lists do it in an orderly fashion.

    Also, it’s critically important to decide what would cause you to voluntarily ‘grab and go.’ When that happens–go. Most of us would bug in, but sometimes the world doesn’t give you the choice. One thing I’ve seen again and again, is that by the time most people think it’s time to do something, it is usually too late. When it’s time to go, it is time to GO! If you wait you will get caught in the herd.


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