The first 9 things to do during a disaster
Most people in the world are reactive in emergency situations – especially when it comes to SHTF disaster scenarios (Shit Hit The Fan) that result in TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It). Having the right survival gear and training isn’t the whole picture though; you have to have a plan and know how to use it.
I don’t normally write about full-on SHTF scenarios like this one but if you plan for the worst, it’s easier to plan for the most-likely.
Obviously, if you’re directly involved in a current disaster, such as finding yourself floating down main street during a flood or your building crumbling down around you, this article isn’t for you. Your first priorities are to get safe, fix your broken self, fix others, and get out of Dodge. This article is about what to do in the middle of a regional event that has happened but hasn’t yet directly affected you – but it soon will.
In this situation, something big happened to your region of the country and you have no choice but to leave town. Just make sure you don’t plan JUST for worst-case. Minor scenarios are MUCH more likely, but you can gain from thinking about the worst case. Let’s just go ahead and pretend that an EMP just hit, something like in this book (which is a really good book to get you thinking).
The world waits until something happens, then decides what they need to do. Preppers are typically different, but even they fall into a similar problem. They buy lots of stuff, and do lots of learning and training. Some even make plans. What they fail to miss is that sometimes the necessary assets to adequately deal with a situation aren’t readily available on a whim. You have to have them in advance.
There is still time for you to prepare, but you have to start learning how to make your own survival foods as soon as humanly possible. The best way to do it is to get the inside scoop on how to do it right. Fortunately, there is a way to get twenty years worth of The Lost Ways. This new food storage system is called The Lost Ways. You do not need a lot of expensive equipment to store foods for a crisis using the methods taught here. Even better, The Lost Ways pays for itself quickly as you begin to put away garden produce or even meats that you buy on sale. For most folks it’s simply the biggest bargain of their lives. You can finally become self-sufficient and any extra money saved in food expense goes right back to your pocket. Frankly, at the end of the day, The Lost Ways actually makes you money! What’s more, the videos take you by the hand, step by step, through the entire process of “putting away” almost any food you can think of. It’s very much like having a food storage professional right there with you every step of the way.
The Special Forces and other organizations I’ve had the pleasure of working with are very good at executing effectively because the plan, then they drill it over and over and understand the military planning process. They wargame what could happen, develop possible COAs (Courses Of Action), run through mock exercises in as-real a circumstance as possible each time, and then do AARs (After Action Reviews) to redefine mission parameters, gear, and necessary additional training.
Their action may be reactive once it’s go-time but they’re proactive enough that they already know a good deal of what will happen once boots hit the ground. The more you make a plan, practice the plan, and adjust the plan, the more easily you’ll be able to deal with emergency situations.
The other problem is that without an adequate COA analysis, you may not recognize WHEN you need to take action, and you definitely won’t know what other people on your team or in your family will be doing. Essentially, everyone needs to not only know what to do, they need to know under what circumstances they should be doing it.
So, this isn’t an article about how to plan for a SHTF scenario. This is what you should do first, when you’ve recognized that there’s been a serious shift in your way of life due to economic collapse, natural disaster, EMP, or whatever. What you need to do after reading this article is to backwards plan so you can get to this point.
Obviously, this assumes that you have a team with which to rally. If you don’t, you won’t be surviving long though.
1. Collect intelligence on the current situation
Before you start phase 1 of any operation, you’re essentially in phase 0. This means that you should be shaping your environment, to include setting up ways to know what’s going on (which is what’s called Intelligence). During an EMP that blasts across most of the country, the first thing you’ll notice will depend on what time of day it is.
Make sure you get in touch with your neighbors. This could be critical not for just figuring out what’s going on, but for neighborhood security and augmenting skills you don’t have.
At night, the first thing you’ll notice is all the lights just went out. If you’re driving, your car will most likely stall. I say “most likely” because we really don’t know what would happen in real life and the exact circumstances would vary widely depending on the type of EMP, its altitude, atmospheric conditions, and the type and placement of the electronics and any shielding. We just don’t know.
Let’s assume you’re home, and it’s just after dark. All you know at the moment is that you lost power. So how would you know that this is a widespread event and not just that a tree fell on a powerline?
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First thing would be to pick up something that would be susceptible to an EMP but not tied into the power grid. Check your cell phone for power. Check any battery-operated device.
Some things probably won’t be affected by an EMP though even if it’s strong so you’ll have to use some logic here. A metal flashlight that contains just a bulb, batteries, and wire would probably survive with no problem. A plastic one that has a little micro-controller circuit in it would be much more likely to fry.
Now, since you set things up previously, you pull out something electronic that you’ve stored in a Faraday cage. If the cage was constructed properly, it should protect your electronics against a decently-hard hit. There’s a lot of real crap out there on the web about how to build these things though so do some thorough research.
So at this point, you should have an idea as to whether the things in your home work or not. Next thing would be to start your car. Not only will this give you another indication, it’s necessary information to know how you’re gonna react.
Next thing you need to know is how widespread the EMP is so you’ll have to communicate with someone not in your immediate area somehow. Unfortunately, communicating long-distance pretty much means you have to use electronics. Hopefully you stored a ham radio in some kind of shielding (and not had it still attached to the radio). Many ham operators do this and most repeater stations have emergency power backup. I personally have a Yaesu 857d, that works very well for things like this.
Also consider that an EMP would develop massive power along any power lines or phone lines, which would most likely cause fires in the affected area.
What, or who, you check into next will depend on your own circumstances, but at this point, you should have an idea what happened. Based on that assessment, you decide that it meets your criteria for leaving town.
2. Gather gear and personnel for movement
If you’re already at your primary rally point, such as if you’re bugging in, best thing to do is immediately fill your tubs, sinks, pots, and other containers with water because that pressure probably won’t hold for long. Then move to gather your stuff in case you have to leave. Your plan must on some level involve bugging out at some point.
This is where you grab your bug out bags. Hopefully you’re not like most preppers and have 70 pounds of gear, or even worse – don’t have your stuff together and end up deciding at the last moment what to put in your bags. My bug out bag is currently is only 25 pounds plus whatever water and food I’m gonna carry (except when I’m traveling on my Harley, in which case all that gear and more is on my bike. If it works, I’ll ride it as-is. If not, two of my bags are weather-proof backpack/duffel bags and I know where each and every item is on my bike so I could assemble my gear in a few minutes).
Before you can move out, you’ll have to find everyone else with whom you’ll be traveling, and they’ll have to have their gear together.
Most likely, you won’t have everyone at home when it hits, so the next thing to do is try to establish comms.
3. Establish comms with your team
Hopefully, you’ve set up an emergency communications plan with your family and team, well in advance, and trained with it. If you haven’t read my article on SHTF communications, you should check it out too.
Essentially, that means you’ll have to have different ways to communicate, and those ways can’t all be electronics-dependent.
In a real situation, you may not be able to establish comms with every member within the time you can safely stay at home. In that case, hopefully you’ve planned and practiced and would each recognize what’s happened and that they need to now move out. Otherwise, you’ll spend a great deal of time just randomly trying to find each other.
If you can use electronics, nothing beats ham radio for SHTF communications. One of the best radios on the market is the Yaesu 857d, which I have. It’s super powerful, has a good menu system, and can Tx/Rx on a ton of frequency bands.
I have a Yaesu VX-6R as my personal handheld because it’s an awesome radio and it’s waterproof but if I were getting one now, I’d go for the Yaesu VX-8R. If you want to save some cash, get the Baofeng UV-5R but expect to spend some time learning it because it’s pretty confusing. It’s also not waterproof and requires a separate battery charger thing to charge the battery, which is inconvenient. Don’t get me wrong, I have one because it’s such a good deal, but I always go for my Yaesu.
If you can’t use electronics to reach someone, you should leave a message somehow. Have a predetermined location that everyone knows to check. Make it something that is out of the ordinary, can’t be accidentally done, is unlikely to be changed or moved, and easy to notice without having to walk right up to it. An example might be to bend the road sign at a particular corner as the sign that you’ve decided to bug out and they should move to the primary rally point and/or make comms with you.
4. Move to the primary rally point
In most cases, your primary rally point will be someone’s home but not in all cases, and for all you know, that home may not be there once you get there. Everyone should have noticed something happened and remembered during training that when ‘X’ happens, they should move to the primary rally point somehow.
You should all have already planned your bug out routes to get to where you need to go, which makes it much easier. Shit happens though, so you can expect that once you get there, someone will be missing. Make sure you wargame that scenario for each missing person or group of people because your next steps will depend greatly on who’s there and who’s not, and may also depend on what you’ve all brought or failed to bring.
Also, consider that you may find out that your primary rally point isn’t useable. The neighborhood may be rioting, the forest could be on fire, a roving band of baboons may have been given human-like intelligence by a mad scientist and started a commune there – all sorts of things. You need to have a secondary and at least a tertiary rally point set up that hopefully wouldn’t be affected by the reasons you can’t use the primary.
You may also find that for whatever reason, you have to move to a new location that wasn’t planned. Try to leave some sort of message to later parties who arrive so that they notice it and understand the message. In certain scenarios, you won’t want anyone else to understand the message though.
One example could be to stack rocks in the shape of a ‘4’ and the arrow defined by the triangle inside the four points toward the point where the two likes overlap (bottom right as the 4 is read). You might also add something underneath one of the stones such as a note or even more discreet, a symbol (anything blue meant you headed toward water in that direction, for example).
Essentially, you need to get to some rally point and wait for everyone to show up so you can figure out what to do next.
5. Establish security
Once you’ve arrived, in a very rare set of circumstances (such as a regional EMP strike), you’ll need to worry about people who wish to do you harm. Hopefully you’ve already shaped the battlespace of your bug out location to make it easier but if not, you need to do it now.
Quickly set up defenses (such as set up a few people on the perimeter) and then work on improving those defenses later.
If you’re in a neighborhood, start figuring out who’s staying and what their skills and abilities are so you can establish a neighborhood watch. If you’re in a decently-sized town, you can expect certain areas will riot very quickly.
6. Collect intelligence on the situation
Now is when you realize that going it alone would have been a stupid idea. You’ll have to make sure you’re set with food, water, shelter, fire, etc and set up guards who can scan the area so a threat presents itself in time and distance to react effectively, but you have to know your situation first.
First thing to do once you have a hasty defense set up is to do your three inventories (read that article for more details). Essentially, you need to figure out what you have on you in the way of gear and skills (and what you don’t), what your immediate needs are (medical, water, security), what’s in the immediate area that could be of use (or isn’t), and what’s in the extended area that may either present a problem or a solution.
This is also when you should start monitoring frequencies across the spectrum and gain some intel on the situation. As you find a frequency with some traffic – even if you can’t understand them, document the frequency, time of day, your Rx (receiving) location, and the gist of what you heard. This makes it easier to try to reacquire that same Tx (transmit) signal at a different location or know when they may transmit again.
7. Establish comms with your missing team members
Once you’re at the location you’ll be staying at for a while, you may find that not everyone is there yet with you. If you’ve already established a radio plan with everyone (and they have comms that were protected and still work), you’ll probably have a time of day and a frequency to transmit and monitor as well as a couple of backup freqs.
If you’re in some kind of Red Dawn scenario (great movie, btw), you won’t want to be transmitting from your location or in any pattern of locations. You’ll have to balance your need to communicate with your need for OPSEC and evasion.
If everyone knows the general area where you’ll be, such as a town or a particular forest area, you can agree on very obvious locations to leave messages, such as the top of a very large hill or a unique building, etc. As before, prior commo planning will allow you to leave more accurate messages to your team while not giving away the message (or hopefully that there even is a message).
8. Link up with missing team members
Once you’ve establish comms in some way, you need to get everyone together. Either you have to get them where you are or you need to go to them. Your primary mission continues to be assembling the team, even if you have to divert resources to other missions such as collecting food or water.
If you’ll be leaving your basecamp or primary rally point to go get someone, you’ll have to decide who will go and who will stay (if anyone). Obviously if you have even more people still out there, it may not be a good idea to send everyone out after one person unless it’s unlikely you’ll be coming back.
9. Decide your next COA
Now that you have everyone together, you need to decide what to do next. Do you stay where you’re at or do you bug out to a different location?
In a lot of cases, you’ll have temporary rally points that are good for easy meetup and security but won’t be the same as your ultimate destination.
Either way, you’ll have some larger decisions to be made once you have everyone.
- What do you do if approached by others who may be of use – or may be a threat?
- Should you start the process of preparing to make a long journey to a possibly unaffected area?
- Is there an imminent threat at your current location what may require you to move out?
Continue to collect intel, improve your position, assess your process, and make plans, and you’ll be much better off than anyone who didn’t do all this planning in the first place.
As you can see, the whole key to all this is prior planning and practice. Remember that a half-assed plan that everyone follows is much better than a good plan that people follow half-assed.
Thoughts? Questions? Please feel free to contribute your own ideas or experiences and help anyone who has questions.
I am a former federal agent and military veteran who has deployed to combat theaters in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan and have almost three decades of military and military contracting experience.
My goal is to help families to understand how to intelligently protect their family and their way of life against real threats, without all the end-of-the-world doomsday crap.
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