There is one word that preppers use more than any other word. It’s the thing around which all our plans and preparations revolve. I’m talking about “survival”. In the end, that’s what it’s all about.
If things go sideways in a really bad way and I’m talking about the kind of bad that a region or country doesn’t quickly or ever bounce back from, more than likely you and your family will die if you’re not prepared. Are you prepared enough to ensure your family can weather a major catastrophe?
I tend to try and be as optimistic as I can when I consider possibilities involving an SHTF scenario. I consider myself a practical, pragmatic prepper of sorts and I tend to focus on the most probable of disaster scenarios that I’ll probably face in my area, like fires or earthquakes. I’d like to believe that most catastrophic problems in my region can be resolved within 2 to 4 weeks assuming help comes. But I know as a prepper, it’d be foolish to not consider the possibility that things may not bounce back or help may not arrive. If this were to happen, would I be ready to take care of myself and my family? Many experts predict that if our power grid were to go down in the U.S., by the end of the first month, ½ of all Americans would die. Can you live 30 days without power, water, or food being available to you? (let alone the gangs rampaging on the streets and fathers desperate to feed their children)
In this article, we’ll discuss 10 of the most common ways people will die in the first month if there were an extended catastrophe. While this topic could be perceived as discouraging, the good news is we’ll present solutions to ensure you and your family will be prepared to face these challenges.
By the way, if you haven’t read the book “1 Second After”, I encourage you to purchase it today…after reading this article of course. While it’s fiction, it’s a great read and covers many of these items we’ll be discussing in this article.
1. The lack of water or even safe water to drink.
I put this intentionally first as you can only live 3 days without water. The biggest killer at the beginning of a catastrophe will be people dying from either a lack of water or the inability to gain access to sanitary water. If you’ve ever watched the news after a major catastrophe hits an area, you’ll see that lethal diseases will quickly run rampant through individuals that have been displaced. The lack of sanitary water leads to diarrhea and other problems that can quickly kill people due to pathogens contaminating the water supply due to unsanitary conditions.
How do you protect against this? Easy. Having gravity-fed water filtration or other water filtration systems that do not require power to operate will allow you to make your water safe. In my family’s bug-out bags, I have a few different water filters: a sawyer water filter, a life straw, and a pure sip personal water filter. While these small filters are good for handling bacteria, they’re not really equipped to handle contaminants in water. In our home, we have a Berkey water filter as well which we use on a daily basis. These filters can make contaminated water safe to drink. If you do not have water stored and a way to filter water, you need to focus on this first. In addition, have bleach, iodine tablets, or pool shock to kill viruses if your filter doesn’t filter at this level.
2. Starving to death
The average person can only last 21 days without food. Most Americans only have enough food for a few days as they’re used to visiting the grocery store every few days. If a catastrophe prevents food deliveries to your local grocery store which typically carries enough supplies for 3 days, then what? Malnutrition, food poisoning, and starvation will wipe out a large percentage of individuals in the first 30 days.
This problem can be easily remedied by building a short-term food plan. In my home, I have stocked up on foods that we already use on a daily basis. We pull the food from this inventory as we need it…things like spaghetti, rice, honey, beans, coffee, canned meats, canned food, etc. This setup is by no means a long-term food storage plan which we’ll cover in a future article, but rather this is food that is already used in our daily life. Here’s what I did. We started setting aside a little extra money in our budget each month to grab additional food we already used and added it to our inventory. When we pull the food from the extra inventory supply we built up, we have a clipboard in our storage area where we write down what was taken, and on our next trip, we simply replace that food. Many people focus on storing canned foods which are fine for the short term, but having a balance of other foods that can easily sit on the shelf is a good idea as well. Remember: begin stocking staple foods that are easy to store and prepare and have a balance of fat, carbs, and proteins.
What if I told you that NASA rediscovered a superfood that’s been lost to history for the past 482 years? It’s packed with more nutrients than any other food out there and lasts even longer than pemmican. In fact, it’s so easy to store and cheap to make, you might never need another emergency food.
3. Your medication runs out
This one is a bit of a challenge as you can’t necessarily stock up on medications if your doctor only gives you enough of a supply until your next appointment. After many catastrophes hit an area, apart from people making a run on their local grocery store to grab as much food and water as they can, you can expect people will make a run on their local pharmacy to secure the drugs they need to survive. In addition, you need to consider the effect it will have in your local area when people come off meds. Many people rely upon medications to not only deal with health issues but to keep them mentally stable. Without their meds, there could severe side effects. People will get desperate and most certainly dangerous. There will be those that need their meds to survive. Without the meds, they won’t last long. If your health condition can be managed with changes in your lifestyle (for example getting in shape and losing weight), you need to give serious consideration to this which leads us to our next point.
4. People will die because they’re out of shape
A few months ago I had a tree in my backyard which began dying and it was time to cut it down. I don’t own a chainsaw and so I used an ax to cut it down. Growing up we cut trees down all the time on our property and split wood…that was back when I was 18 years old. Now that I’m over 40, that same task is more difficult. Cutting down that tree was a bit of a challenge. While I spend 3 days in the gym and try to do cardio activities on the other days, when cutting the tree down I began to realize I was no longer a spring chicken. I was winded quickly and found myself wishing I had a chainsaw. I got sloppy as well due to getting tired and nearly injured myself when I tried to cut the tree at an angle and nearly caused the ax blade to bounce into my leg (which I’ll talk about in the next point). But the fact that I had been keeping myself in decent shape made the job possible. In a grid-down situation where things are not bouncing back, you’ll probably be required to perform physical activities to survive.
If you’re used to sitting in an office chair all day and not performing daily activities that push your body, you might be surprised how little your body will be up for strenuous labor. Please don’t underestimate this point as something you can put off. You have the opportunity to get your body in shape. If you don’t push yourself, your body will naturally atrophy. Also, consider things like how much extra weight you are currently carrying on your body. Being obese can be a huge liability in a grid down situation. With a modification to your diet, getting off your behind, and begin moving on a daily basis, you can steer yourself in the right direction. The older I get, the more I realize the limitations of my body, and the less I want to exert myself. There may come a time when my family relies on me to have to work physically hard for them in order to survive and I don’t want to be unable because I had simply allowed my body to atrophy.
5. Individuals will die due to trauma, small injuries or simply get sick
As I mentioned earlier while chopping down the tree, I nearly had the ax blade slam into my leg. While it’s easy to laugh this off as someone not being safe, think about how many people will get injured performing a lot of physical activities that carry the risk of injury. Not only will major trauma potentially injure individuals, but think about how many have a minor injury that could lead to a severe infection. If you’ve ever had a small cut that has turned into an infection that needed attention, you could simply visit your physician to get the proper medications to treat the problem. But now imagine individuals getting small cuts and nicks that they neglect only have it turn into something worse and no one can help. Not only do injuries carry a large risk of death, but getting sick can as well.
So what can you do? Begin gaining medical knowledge and the proper medical supplies now. In addition, make sure you don’t neglect basic sanitation. Not that a long ago I took training through my local fire department named C.E.R.T. Part of the training taught us how to stabilize individuals with major trauma. I encourage you to begin researching courses like this in your local area. My degree in college was Microbiology and during this time I spent a lot of time volunteering in hospitals. While I am by no means a physician, while being in this environment I learned the basics in sanitation and treating minor injuries. I have been working on stocking medical supplies and am working on expanding that out at this time. There’s a lot of great channels on Youtube like the Patriot Nurse or Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy which are great for someone looking for help getting up to speed on the basics of medicine. At a minimum have a book in your inventory like The Survival Medicine Handbook.
In addition, do yourself a favor and pick up a good pair of work gloves and safety goggles.
6. Lack of sanitation
In the previous point, I pointed out that individuals getting sick can result in death without medical attention. If things go bad in your area, proper sanitation will be critical. Have you considered how you will dispose of the waste your family produces? By waste I am referring to your urine and excrement, in addition, leftover food or dirty dishes. We’re so used to simply flushing our toilets and taking the trash out to the curb and the problem is gone. But what happens when the sewage stops running and the trash man doesn’t come to pick up your trash. Then what?
A lack of sanitation can lead to illness which can spread through your home and kill your family. Began researching options to dispose of your waste. Essential things like washing your hands thoroughly will be more important than ever. Having a decent supply of hand sanitizer will be helpful as well. When I lived in Afghanistan in 2003, I was fortunate that I never really got sick even though sanitation was a foreign concept in the general population. I was OCD about sanitation and during my time working with an NGO and living with 24 other people in our house, fortunately, I didn’t have many of the health issues that our team members had. I attribute my good fortune to staying on top of being careful to make sure I kept my hands clean, I sterilized my water bottle daily and made sure the dishes I used had been properly cleaned. Not only can getting sick be a problem in your family, but consider the damage it can do to morale having sick family members or being sick yourself.
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7. You die when looters come for your stuff
Many people envision the looters they’ll have to face will be gangs or some group of people displaced coming to take their supplies. While marauders like this can potentially be a big threat, the reality is you may have neighbors or other family members which can turn on you if you’ve prepared and they haven’t.
When I first got serious about prepping, I thought sharing my excitement about prepping with friends and family would excite them to get serious about prepping. It pretty much had the opposite effect: they looked at me strangely and later they brought up that if things were to go bad, they’d come to my house immediately to seek help. Remember earlier we mentioned that only about 1% of Americans are “Preppers”? Well, what do you think the other 99% of Americans are going to do when they can’t find water or food? Thinking about this does concern me greatly because I’d never want to harm someone if they were hungry and coming for my stuff, especially if they were someone I knew and loved. And by “coming for my stuff”, I don’t mean just asking or pleading. When people get desperate, they will do anything it takes to survive. And by “anything”, I mean “a-ny-thing”. If you only have enough supplies to keep your family alive, what will do if that neighbor that hasn’t prepared goes past demanding help and decides they will take from you even if they have to hurt you or your family?
So what are you to do? If gangs or looters are bent on hurting you for what you have then the answer is obvious, but what are we to do regarding friends or family? This is a moral dilemma that goes through my head a lot and I see it often discussed in this community as well. If you want to open your supplies to help others, remember you are lessening the probability your family will live that much longer and the probability those people you helped with keep coming back. In my mind, there’s only 3 answers which I’ll run through quickly (and if you have other views please share them in the comment section below):
–1. Keep your mouth shut. The less information you provide to others about what you have, the better.
–2. Help others now and educate them. While this might seem to be the exact opposite piece of advice from my point #1, you don’t have to disclose all your preps and show off everything you have to them. Just help educate them that they should prepare. I need to create a separate video for this, but I’ve slowly been introducing neighbors to prepping and they’ve begun taking steps to prepare. Remember, the less desperate they are, the less of a threat they are to you.
–3. Arm yourself. If it comes down to it, you may have to be forced to protect your family. While I have no desire to harm someone, if it comes down to me and my family and a person bent on hurting us, I’ll do what I have to do. Side note: I don’t advocate violence and I greatly value human life. Remember, if you harm or kill someone, you will ultimately be held accountable for your actions. But when the social niceties that we enjoy in our society go out the window when people get desperate and they pose a threat to me or my family, I won’t hesitate for a moment to do whatever it takes to stop them.
8. You aren’t prepared for reality
So your plan is if things hit the fan is to grab that awesome bug out bag and run to the mountains and live off the land. In your mind, you dream of picking berries, drinking from streams, trapping rabbits and hunting deer. You’ll live in a tent with your family and survive in that national forest near you. OK, so I don’t have time in this article to break this entire fantasy down, but good luck with that.
The reality is that all that cool tactical gear you bought with the molle, the 5000 rounds of ammo you’re storing up, those seeds you purchased online to build a big crop that you’ve never planted won’t save you. If you’ve got a family, think you can run them into the mountains to live off the land? If you’re not practicing this lifestyle now, you’re probably not going to suddenly transition overnight to this and suddenly thrive or even survive. What am I saying here? Live in reality on this issue. The fantasy of becoming some amazing survivalist with several family members in tow isn’t going to last long. I live in a suburban environment and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my 7000 square foot suburban home will not support my family long-term unless I prepare and think ahead now. I know we can definitely survive for an extended period of time if we’re able to bug-in and don’t have any major conflicts as mentioned in the previous point.
So what can you do? Network. Build relationships with other like-minded preppers. I’ve been fortunate to find a solid network in my area. In the past, I have used the website meetup.com to find a local prepper group in my area. You’ll definitely meet some oddballs but overall I’ve been able to meet some solid people. While it’s beyond the scope of this article, the lone wolf mentality will only get you so far. Live in reality and take an honest assessment of what you and your family can do and do yourself a favor and connect with other preppers that can help where you are deficient.
9. You freeze to death
I’m fortunate to live in a part of the U.S. that doesn’t get terribly cold during the winter. But in many parts of the US, temperatures can drop to very dangerous levels that can kill. So what will you do? Gonna start that fireplace you have never used before? OK, do you have firewood already cut and prepared? If not do you have the tools to do so and do you have places around you to cut down firewood? For many that can not get a fuel source in time before the temperature drops to dangerous levels, they’ll try burning things that they shouldn’t and stand the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning or possibly burning their home down.
If you have a fireplace, start by making sure the chimney is cleaned out and have firewood on hand that is already cut up. Find methods that others use in your area to heat their home that is not dependent on the electrical grid functioning. Each region is unique and different in how they handle heating homes and be sure to have a backup plan.
10. You give up
Last but not least, many people will simply give up. Even those that have prepared to cover the points above, some will simply lose the will to move forward or to keep fighting. Things may not go according to plans. Bad things may happen. Your supplies may get looted, someone in your home may die. The list of what could happen could go on and on. The key is this: do not give up. Especially if you have a family or others depending on you. You may have to dig deep inside to find the strength and fortitude that come hell or high water, you will not back down and you will not give up. If you have dependents, giving up is not an option. Remember this: a negative, defeated attitude can be like cancer and spread to others around you. As we discussed earlier, morale in times like this is critical. If you’ve ever read accounts from those that have had to survive extended periods of time in impossible situations, the will to survive and the morale required to do so was the only thing that enabled them to continue living when others around them gave up and simply died. This goes beyond having the right tools or supplies. If you are prepping now for yourself and your family, remember, they will be looking to you to lead not only in your preps but in those dark moments when all hope seems lost. Don’t give up. Determine now that will dig in your heels and align your mind to that end. You may be the only beacon of hope others have.
While writing this article, it challenged me to reconsider a few things I need to focus on a little more and I hope it will do the same for you. Again, please feel free to provide your feedback in the comment section below.
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