When you stop and think about it, it is pretty scary and more than a little bewildering to consider just how much can possibly go wrong, and in all kinds of ways. It’s enough to make you button up the house and never come out. Ok, I’m exaggerating. A little. Not much, but a little.
In seriousness, it can actually be beneficial to let you mind run away with itself and ruminate on all the varied and wild ways the excrement may hit the proverbial oscillator. Sure a wildfire may sweep through your town. But where will you be when the call comes? What if you are out of town and your family is at home? What will you do if your car won’t start?
Pondering freeform problems and solutions is more than simply a guilty pleasure or neurotic pastime; this “wargaming” can actually illuminate weaknesses in your existing plan, or be the flash of insight you need for a solution to a particular problem. In the interest of prompting this sort of self-inquiry (and discussion in the comments), I have assembled the following list of scenarios and possible responses.
None of these scenarios are very fleshed out, but they don’t have to be. You may want to know more about exactly what our fictional protagonist is dealing with, but my objective is to get you in the shoes of our hopefully hardy prepper in each given situation, and weigh the possible responses as your own.
Some may not apply to you, others will be frankly impossible or idiotic depending on where you live, your family situation and so on. That’s alright. You should be thinking of your own solutions also, or at least reviewing yours in the context of each scenario.
If a solution sounds viable, why is that? If one is untenable, why so? It is only by earnest and engaging thought that you can reason and puzzle out the best specific solution for your specific problem with anything approaching a high degree of efficacy.
Without any more blathering, let’s get to it.
What Would You Do If…
1. The Road is Blocked
The SHTF. You and your party are heading away at best speed in your SUV. There has been plenty to dodge on the way to even get this far, people and otherwise. You come to a major obstacle in the road- a large tree has fallen completely blocking it, and crunching a car beneath it to boot. There is no way to drive over it. Should you…
- Abandon the vehicle, grab your BOB’s and proceed on foot or bike.
- Reverse out and head back the way you came to try an alternate route to your destination.
- Use what tools you have and attempt to clear the tree from the road.
2. You Run Out of Water While Bugging Out
You packed plenty of water for just such a contingency, but your progress has been slow and exertion great. You have blown through your carried water supply, and you are absolutely dry now. You have a few days before you die of thirst, but dehydration will be kicking your ass before then. Should you…
- Detour into a town or city to procure more potable water.
- Start searching your immediate area for a source of decent water.
- Create a water filter to make use of the questionable sources of water you passed earlier.
3. A Loved One Dies
It was bad luck, bad planning or something else. One of your loved ones has because of the crisis or in the aftermath. It does not matter much now. You only have to decide what you’ll do and how you’ll proceed. Should you…
- Bury them or otherwise lay their body to rest. It is the human thing to do, and sanitary.
- Leave them lying: they aren’t their body anymore, and you do not have the time or energy to waste on the niceties of civilization. Survival comes first.
- Stop and mourn properly. You are emotionally capsized and do not trust yourself to make good decisions at the time.
4. You Get Trapped in a City by an Occupying Force
Of all the things you never thought you’d live to see: tanks in the street corners, strict curfews, beatings, people being dragged from their homes, even shot. No way you are seeing your number come up with some pissed off soldier. Should you…
- Toe the line. Don’t make waves. Think of your family and friends. This cannot go on forever.
- By sewer, by night, stowed away in a truck. Somehow.
- Not on my watch, and not in my backyard. This is going nowhere good.
5. You Arrive at Your BOL to Find it Looted
When it rains it really does pour. You pulled up at your super-secret prepper hide out, the one you meticulously stocked in secret for just such an occasion, to find it stripped bare. Who even knew this was here?! You did not tell a single soul. Everything not nailed down is gone, and a few things that were. Should you…
- Make the best of it. You are hopefully safe here, and you have your BOB supplies.
- Head to a tertiary safe location. Your looters may come back, and there is nothing here for you except shelter.
- Start investigating. With some luck and a little skill, maybe you can pick up the looter’s trail.
6. You Arrive at Your BOL to Find it Occupied
It can always get worse. You rolled to a stop in at your BOL shocked and scared to see vehicles waiting for you. You did not bring anyone else besides the people in your vehicle and weren’t planning to meet anyone here. You see a few people milling around watching you tensely. A few are armed with guns. Should you…
- Be cool and talk to them. They are trying to survive just like you, and maybe stopped here out of desperation or luck. Maybe you can get them to leave.
- Reverse out and go elsewhere. People are too twitchy during all of these and you don’t want to find out if their guns are loaded. You will find another place to wait things out.
- Wrong answer, wayward travelers. You and yours come first. Maybe you can drive them off, but if not you’ll give the guns the last, loud word. Fight.
7. You Open Sealed Food in Your Stash to Find it Spoiled
How this happened, you don’t know. A bad batch, crappy QC at the factory or just an oversight on its shelf life. You rotated your stock religiously, but it didn’t make a difference; about 75% of the cans and pouches you have opened so far have been bad. Real bad. Botulism bad. You cannot risk it, but you have mouths to feed, your own least among them. Should you…
- Go down to emergency ration levels. Try to make your good food last.
- Hunt and gather: you know you can come up with food somewhere, somehow, but is it worth the risk?
- Risk it. The food may look awful and smell like ass, but maybe all of the preservatives kept the worst of the germs at bay. It beats starving.
8. Your Loved Ones Have an Emotional Meltdown
The human mind is as fragile as a robin’s egg. The trauma, totality of the circumstances and shock resulting from this society-shredding event has driven your loved ones half mad. They are babbling incoherently, catatonic or a sobbing, shuddering mess. None of them will move. You cannot stay here, and you cannot carry them all on your back. Should you…
- Spare them a little time to decompress, and give them a pep talk. Leadership skills don’t fail me now.
- You really don’t have time for this. Luckily you prepared a little medicinal countermeasure for panic. A little bump of tranquilizer will help them get over the hump and all of you down the road.
- Shanghai them. Kicking and screaming, dragged by the hair, they are going to get moving. They can hate you once this is over.
- Stay and risk it. You won’t abandon them, and you cannot strong-arm them.
9. Your Kid is in School When the Balloon Goes Up
It all happened fast. You are just outside of town at work, heading to lunch when it happened. Already it is chaos in the city limits, the roads are clogged with traffic and the situation is deteriorating. Your child in at school on the opposite end of town. You must make sure they are safe. Should you…
- Head toward the school to get them. By car, bike or foot, no matter what or how long it might take..?
- Contact your child if you are able and give them specific instructions until you can reunite with them.
- Contact a friend, spouse or someone else and dispatch them to pick up your child.
10. Your Car Runs Out of Gas in Remote Cold Conditions
You really should have brought that gas can. Or you totally flubbed your distance estimation to your BOL. Whatever the case, you’re in the middle of nowhere in one of the worst events to ever happen to the region and no one knows, or cares, where you might be. The weather is already close to freezing and falling fast. You must do something to stay warm or you’ll die out here. Should you…
- Stay in the car. Huddle together and break out anything that will help you stay insulated and warm and wait till morning and, hopefully, nicer weather.
- Leave the car, create a shelter and a fire to stay warm. You don’t think huddling in the car will be enough without the heater.
- Suit up and hoof it. If you keep moving you might stay warm and make it your nice, warm bug-out location
11. A Desperate/Crazed/Depraved Survivor Puts You at Gunpoint
He wants what you have. Any of it. All of it. Wallet, watch, BOB and all. It never fails, the cockroaches come out when the lights are off. You cannot make much of his demeanor except that he has a gun and is starting to sound impatient. Should you…
- Give him what he wants. Most robberies are loot-oriented. You can replace equipment, but not your life.
- Distract him and make a break for it. Most people are lousy shots with handguns. If you can get about 45 feet away you’ll be home free.
- You will not trust the outcome to this scumbag’s foibles. Maybe you can pass his gun and come to grips with him. Or you could draw your knife and shank him or your own gun behind your right hip and see how he likes it.
12. You Are At Work When SHTF
Talk about rough day at the office. The sky is darkening and smoke is on the wind. Sirens have replaced the normal noises outside your workplace, punctuated by the occasional explosion. Your coworkers have either fled, hunkered over their phones or are looking to you for guidance. You are weighing what is best to do. Should you…
- Shelter in place. Your office is pretty well outside the biggest population clusters, and you have a modest amount of supplies with you between your office stash and GHB.
- Head home. This is the moment you have been preparing for, and you want home-field advantage and your elaborate, comprehensive stockpile of provisions and equipment.
- Get while the getting is good. From your location, you will be ahead of any waves of people fleeing the city, and the little county highway you take to work is clear right now.
13. You Encounter a Mob Swarming the Road
The political tensions have been percolating for weeks. First it was blocked traffic, then a few flipped cars. Now whole buildings are being burned and suspected “thought criminals” are being beaten in the streets. You have wisely decided to get out of Dodge while you are able, but the blistering summer heat and simmering tensions have finally erupted into a rabble of rampaging people flooding down the road. Traffic is not yet gridlocked, but drivers are getting pulled from their cars. This is going to get ugly. Should you…
- Skinny pedal on the right; no horde of people will stop a moving automobile, and leaving the car might mean death.
- Reverse out. Perhaps you can get clear of the traffic and mob, find another route.
- Disembark and blend in. With your bandana and sunglasses you may be able to blend into the mob, chanting what they chant.
14. A Severe Hurricane is Bearing Down on You
You pushed your legendary good luck a little too far, and now an Atlantic hurricane has not only strengthened but veered and is bee-lining right for your town. You have fortified your coastal home and stocked it well in excess of what you and your family will need to survive. Despite all that, the weathermen are already calling it the storm of the century. Time to decide. Should you…
- Hunker down and ride it out. You have faith in your hardened home and supplies.
- Load up the family and evacuate as far as you can. It is not worth risking a direct hit, even if you take on additional risk trying to flee.
- Grab your BOB’s and head to a friend or family member’s further inland. At least you won’t have to worry about flooding as much.
15. A Deadly Chemical Agent is Poisoning the Air
The reports are in that this was a deliberate act. A large scale and coordinated release of a chemical agent has killed hundreds and is injuring thousands in your area. What is less clear is how far the agent might travel. You are outside the immediately affected area, but the media is emphasizing the lethality of the agent. You have a few options. Should you…
- Button up; Shelter in place, seal all air gaps and don PPE until you receive an all clear.
- Not one to take that kind of chance; grab the BOB and head directly away from ground zero by car.
- Need to leave this to the pros; Try to get to an approved shelter for protection and aid.
16. Your Home is Invaded
A couple of sharp thuds and then the crash of splintering wood and breaking glass. That is all the warning you got. From the sound of it, you have three unknown, presumed hostile, people in your house. Somehow you don’t think they are there to get you into church on Sunday. You have a couple of seconds before they make their way to the bedroom. Should you…
- Repel boarders; grab your weapon and prepare to defend yourself.
- Hide or escape; nothing you own is worth your life. Slip out the window or hide.
- Barricade; close the bedroom door and obstruct it with the dresser.
17. You Wind Up Lost in Deep Country
Turns out your land navigation e-course was not worth the salt. You decided to bug-out overland through the woods from your home, but it has taken a dark turn. You are badly lost in the woods and all your tricks and procedures for picking up your trail have turned up nothing. You are away from danger, but it is hard living in the woods. Should you…
- Stay on your main course until you clear the woods, then assess from there.
- Camp in place; you are safe enough, and you trust your field skills to sustain you until you can find your bearings.
- Try to signal for help with flares, smoke and other methods. Maybe you can attract the attention of an aircraft.
18. It is Time to Bug-Out but Your Vehicle is Disabled
You tried everything you know to try, and your trusty ride just will not start. Maybe something in the fuel lines, you don’t know. At any rate, despite your skills and tools, the time to go is fast approaching. You’ll have to decide how best to tackle this curveball. Should you…
- Forget it. You’ll have to go with your alternate travel plan. Bike, hike, whatever. Grab the BOB and get moving.
- Try to get a ride from a friend or neighbor. One of them might have a spare car they’ll lend you.
- You know what you are doing wrenching on cars. Time to do your best NASCAR pit crew impersonation and get the girl running again.
19. You Are Caught Far, Far From Home
Of all the days for things to go pear-shaped. You are 500 miles away when catastrophe rears its ugly head. You are safe where you are, as is your family, but the situation is uncertain, and very scary. Your family is at home and doubtless worried sick. You have trained them as best as you can for such things, but you know you need to get home to help them. Should you…
- Get home ASAP; buy, bribe, cajole or extort a ride. You must find a fast way home.
- Assess; the situation might stabilize, and communications are still working. You can coordinate your family plan from here.
- Stay put; if no one is in immediate danger, you may out then or yourself at risk by reacting when you do not have to.
20. You Run Out of Vital Medicine
To survive so much and face death over a little pill. No. You won’t let your thoughts go that way. You must think solutions first. You have some time before things will get bad if a dose is missed, but not more than a handful of days at most. The world has not stopped turning. There must be a way to get the medicine you need. Should you…
- Barter; someone, someplace needs what you have, and you need that medicine.
- Scavenge; a hospital, ambulance, drugstore. There must be some somewhere that has been overlooked.
- Improvise; maybe there are some natural treatments or therapies that can help, or at least extend the time needed between doses.
21. A Desperate Survivor Begs You for Help
Truly these are the times that try men’s souls. Everyone lost something, some lost everything. You were lucky to get away with what you have and your family intact. A ragged, filthy, desperate survivor has approached you with trembling hands and pleading eyes. He is asking for anything, and very emotional. So emotional he is making your family, and you, edgy. Should you…
- Give him something to help him, if only a little. It is the humane thing to do.
- Give him nothing. It is cruel, but every morsel of food and piece of gear is vital to your family’s survival.
- Help him get somewhere he can get aid. He needs a Samaritan, it just cannot be you. Not today.
22. A Nuclear Device Detonation May Be Imminent
The Big One. Someone, some terrorist group, rogue state or whoever has threatened to detonate a nuclear device. Reports are saying it could be near your city. The threat is credible, but may or may not be imminent. You have supplies at home, and your BOB in the car per usual. Now is no time for screw ups. Should you…
- Head home, prep the house for fallout, and shelter in the basement.
- Freedom from this; grab your BOB, anyone you want to bring with you and head away from all population centers and strategic targets.
- Don’t trifle with the power of the atom. You need to head to an approved shelter that can withstand a near strike and the fallout for sure.
23. Your Stockpile Becomes Inaccessible
So much for best laid plans. Your house has collapsed in the wake of a destructive event. Thousands of pounds of rubble on top of your basement stockpile, a tangled nest of splintered wood, jagged nails and more. You have a light go-bag in your car, but your survival plans hinged on accessing your thoughtfully prepared equipment and provisions. Should you…
- Start digging out. You need your stuff, and you’ll be damned if a little sweat and few splinters is going to stand between you and it.
- Write it off. It isn’t worth the risk of injury or waiting around for something else to happen. You need to get to safety, and will make do with your go bag.
- No problem; you cached backups in a couple of strategic spots for just such an occasion. You’ll head over to their locations and retrieve them.
24. Your BOB is Snatched
A lean robber has swiped your BOB right off your shoulder. You were only adjusting it for comfort, but he used the opportunity to strike. He is pulling away fast. You have enough supplies to among the rest of the BOB’s in your group to cover the loss, cleanly, but your backup pistol is cased inside the bag. Should you…
- After him. Perhaps you can catch him and get your bag back, or force him to ditch it for fear of an ass-kicking. Run like the wind, he is hauling 40 lbs after all.
- Let him go. There’s no telling what a desperate criminal might do, or if he is rendezvousing with scumbag associates.
- Wrong move, punk. No way are you letting your pistol fall into criminal hands. Draw your pistol and shoot him.
25. You are About to Be Abducted
Three men have you at gunpoint and are ordering you into the back of a car. You are caught dead to rights. You don’t recognize them and have no idea what their intentions might be. You must decide what to do now and execute, if you are going to do anything besides comply. Should you…
- No way in Hell are you going anywhere. You’ll take your chances now. Prepare to fight for your life.
- Time to run for it. If you can get far enough away from the shooters, you’ll probably be home free.
- Comply for now, and escape from the car when their guard is down. It’s risky, but perhaps better than taking a bullet.
26. Your Shelter Catches Fire
Maybe it was a tipped over candle, broken lantern or something else. Maybe an ember carried on the wind, you don’t know. All that matters is your shelter is about to go up in flames with you and all your goodies inside if you don’t act. The fire is modestly sized right now, but growing rapidly. Should you…
- Fight it. You have an extinguisher, get to work.
- Douse it. A couple of 5 gallon buckets and the pond will have to be enough.
- Forget it. The risk from the flames and smoke is too great to risk your life. You kept your BOB packed. Grab it and go!
27. Cell Networks Go Down Hard When Separated
Either the system was disabled from overload or some secondary mishap. It went down 8 hours ago and has not come back. You cannot even connect to the network. Your partner was off on some errand into town, but is overdue and now you are getting worried. Should you…
- Head out to look for them. You know their itinerary more or less, and should be able to pick up their trail.
- They probably just caught up in the scrum. No need to overreact.
- You have contingency plans you rehearsed for just these circumstances. If they do not report in or make it back in a few hours, you’ll start looking at your rendezvous points.
28. You Are Bugging Out and Have a Party Member Get Seriously Injured
This is a bad situation. You cannot stop, but if you don’t your group member may die without prompt medical intervention. The fates of 6 people rest on your decision. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Should you…
- Stop and do what you can for them. You don’t leave your people behind.
- Leave them to their fate. It looks really bad, and the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
- Push on. If they can hold on a little longer all of you will be safe and then you can give them your full attention.
29. You Had to Shoot an Assailant While Bugging In
Crisis or not the dude broke in with a crowbar and unknown intentions. He did not follow your commands to stop, so you shot him. Everyone is very shaken up, but now the question is what to do about the aftermath. There is no 911 right now, hasn’t been for days, and you know all emergency services are stretched thin or non-existent. Should you…
- Bury him. Tell your story later, if at all. He will start decomposing, and that’s a health risk.
- Document everything you can, and then drag him outside. You will not leave him lying in your house.
- Drop everything and find someone, anyone in a position of authority to log your use of defensive force. When the lights come back on you don’t want to be dealing with questions like that.
30. A Major Flood Event is Threatening Your Shelter
The rain just will not stop. That’s bad enough, but you will really be up a creek when the rivers burst their banks. That will be in a couple of days at current projections. Most of your preps are in your basement, and will be the first destroyed when the flood waters sweep through. On the other hand, this is going to be The Big One, and you cannot make use of your gear if you are a waterlogged corpse. Should you…
- Take what you can and leave while you can. Head to higher dryer ground with limited provision, but alive.
- Shelter in place. Start staging items on the second floor and then the attic. You can go high enough to escape the worst of the water. You hope…
- Dam it, dam it all. It will be 48 hours of backbreaking work, but you have plenty of sandy, loose soil around your home. Perfect for sandbags. Start filling, and with a little help and luck you can probably save your home.
31. A Major Outbreak of Disease has Decimated Your Town
Pestilence. A threat from the Old World. Still real, still killing in the 21st century. Despite the best efforts of the CDC and other alphabet soup agencies this unknown plague is ripping through society in flagrant disregard of all firebreaks. You do not want to end up like those poor victims who lay dying, bleeding from their nose and mouth. You can make it home, but you’ll have to travel through town to do so. Should you…
- Button up. Go nowhere. Touch no one not already in the room with you. Start rationing and wait for instructions.
- Get away from all population centers. This bug spreads like wildfire. If you can get away from people, you should be safe. Don your mask, gloves and goggles. Don’t touch your face, and wash your hands regularly.
- Head for home. If you get there you stand a much better chance of weathering this crisis. You’ll have to disinfect every surface, twice, just to be sure, but after that and a good decon, you’ll be set.
32. An EMP Threat is Imminent
You have reason to fear a high-altitude nuclear detonation or as-yet unseen superweapon is going to lead to a cataclysmic EMP event in your region, one that will decimate all circuit boards and many other electronics. You might have time to prepare. Should you…
- Try to fashion a rudimentary Faraday cage for your most important electronics. It might work, it might not. No one is really sure.
- Forget it. There is not much you can do to stop an EMP without specialized equipment and purpose-built hardening systems.
- Spend your energy on secondary preparation. A Stone-Age blackout will cause total pandemonium. It’s time to start implementing your response plans; the loss of electronics will be the least of your worries.
Quite the rocky ride, eh? Getting through this list of possible bad days you might have to endure when the SHTF probably gave you some ideas. Hopefully it was thought provoking for you, even if it helped you figure out what not to do. Many times that can be just as instructive as what you should do.
How did our fictional Joe Public prepper do in some of the scenarios? Were his response options sound or not? In the same set of circumstances, would you have needed any additional info to make a good decision? Asking questions like this is how you’ll sharpen your critical thinking skills.
Sound off in the comments below with what your plans are for various situations, or what you would have done in any of our example scenarios. Your input may help another prepper formulate an ideal response of their own.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.