If you’ve ever read an article about prepping before, you’ve likely come across the acronym SHTF and know that it stands for Shit Hits the Fan.
But what really is SHTF beyond the literal sense?
To help you grasp the true meaning of SHTF, this article dives deep into what situations can be considered SHTF events, how to prepare for them, and what to do should you find your life turned upside down.
Ready? Let’s start:
What Is SHTF?
Google “SHTF meaning” and the search results will tell you it’s prepper slang that describes an extremely dire end-of-the-world-like situation. Think long, winding lines outside gas stations, empty grocery shelves, and city-wide blackouts—and those are just the tip of the iceberg.
In a drawn-out situation, folks may run out of water, trash will pile up in the streets, and hospitals will be over capacity from injuries or illness. Many will be desperate and resort to crime.
Being prepared is key if you don’t want to be left vulnerable and unsure of how to weather it out. Stockpiling supplies, learning survival skills, and having a game plan for different emergency situations will help keep your household afloat.
In the next section, we go through a bunch of situations that embody what SHTF is all about. Let’s check them out:
Potential SHTF Scenarios
Folks normally associate SHTF with zombie invasions or the actual apocalypse, but anything that causes significant chaos and stress can be considered a Shit Hits the Fan event.
It doesn’t have to be an event of global proportions, either. Being laid off, having a health crisis, or losing someone close to you definitely constitute SHTF events.
How long an SHTF episode lasts also depends—while there are times when you just need to weather it out for a few days, it can take weeks or even months for life to go back to normal in certain cases. Sometimes, an event can be so catastrophic that it causes permanent damage and changes your entire life.
For the sake of this article, we focus on these life-altering scenarios, which include:
If there’s anything that should be classified as an SHTF scenario, it’s a natural disaster.
In extreme circumstances, natural disasters can deal lasting damage to infrastructure and homes, interrupt the power supply, make essentials like water and food hard to access, and leave hundreds of casualties in their wake.
Since they often happen without warning, it’s vital to prepare for these catastrophes in advance. Lucky for you, we’ve got in-depth guides to help you get ready for all kinds of natural disasters:
- Volcanic Eruptions
Do we really have to go into detail about the crap that went down when COVID reared its ugly head? Well, sorry to make you re-live lockdown all over again, but we need to for the sake of post-pandemic generations who may stumble on this article.
Now as you know, a pandemic is a serious threat to mankind.
It rapidly spreads a virus and overwhelms hospitals and healthcare workers like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie. And while the repercussions on physical well-being are bad enough, it also causes folks to panic and can trigger economic collapse.
During an economic collapse, society as we know it crumbles. Businesses go bankrupt, thousands lose jobs, and basic goods become hard to find and skyrocket in price—a domino effect. These lead to alarming crime rates and increased cases of violence.
Acts of War
You don’t have to be a genius to know what an act of war is. As its name suggests, it’s when a country acts aggressively against another country, which eventually can incite a war. Acts of war include:
- Air or missile strikes: May target another country’s military or innocent civilians
- Military invasions: When one country uses force to seize another country’s territory
- Assassinating a head of state or a country’s leaders
- Guerilla warfare: Involves small groups of armed civilians, rebels, or insurgents who adopt military tactics to combat a larger military or overthrow a government
- Chemical, biological, and nuclear attacks: Using weapons of mass destruction, these forms of warfare can cost billions in damage and leave thousands of casualties in their wake
- Unlawful detention: Detaining or kidnapping foreign nationals for political reasons
Any of these actions can cause complete and utter chaos.
Imagine law and order being cast aside on top of the economy crashing. Millions will be left displaced and starving, with little-to-no access to health care and other basic necessities. Not to mention, the mental and emotional damage war can deal to the community.
Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attacks
An EMP attack is like a lightning strike but way more powerful. It releases a burst of electromagnetic energy that causes currents and volts in an electromagnetic field to surge, damaging electronic devices. Its effect will be monumental on our technologically dependent society.
Any type of cyber attack can have major consequences—hackers can steal your money, use your sensitive data to pose as you, or even compromise federal intelligence agencies. While you may not be able to do anything about a government data breach, you can take measures to protect yourself from common cybersecurity threats.
When martial law is declared, military rule replaces ordinary law. It can be declared during periods of civil unrest, war, or even natural disasters. Living under martial law, when your rights are restricted, is downright terrifying.
SHTF scenarios can be traumatizing, to say the least. Since you can’t exactly predict when any of them will happen, prepping is your best weapon. This brings us to the next part of the article:
How to Prepare for SHTF
If you want to survive SHTF, you can’t leave your life up to fate. What you need is an SHTF plan.
Now, much as you’d like to be ready for every single form of SHTF, you have to prioritize based on what the most likely threats are. That means stocking up on food for natural disasters or installing alternative energy sources for power outages instead of collecting weapons for the zombie apocalypse.
Aside from these, you also want your SHTF plan to take these into account:
Grow Your Stockpile
As mentioned earlier, when SHTF, you’ll have trouble finding everyday essentials like food, clean water, and your favorite brand of toilet paper. For this reason, a top priority is squirreling away enough supplies for 3 days to 2 weeks—and then some.
Here’s what you need to build a decent stockpile:
Make sure there’s enough H2O for everyone in your household—both for drinking and sanitary purposes. The CDC recommends storing 1 gallon per person per day for a minimum of 3 days, although a 2-week supply would be ideal.
For good measure, throw in water purification tablets and a water filter to use when you come across a water source.
When it comes to emergency food, concentrate on gathering food that’s:
- Easy to prepare
Peanut butter, raw honey, canned goods, and grains all fit the bill, but don’t make the mistake of stashing food that your family dislikes for the sake of having a fully stocked prepper pantry.
Having the means to start a fire will be a godsend when things go south. With fire, you can enjoy a hot meal, boil water to make it safe for drinking, and stay warm without power.
But you can’t just count on one fire-starting method. If your trusty matches fail you, you’d want to have these in your fire starter kit for backup:
- Ferro rod
- Flint and steel
- BIC lighter
- Char cloth
First Aid Supplies
Assuming no one in your group is a healthcare professional, you likely won’t receive any medical attention during SHTF. First aid supplies will make all the difference between life and death, preventing injuries from getting worse and lowering the risk of infection.
Here are some things that should be in a first aid kit:
- Prescription and over-the-counter meds
- Cotton swabs
- Alcohol wipes
- Antibiotic cream
- A manual that shows you how to treat common injuries and ailments
Of course, these are only the basics. If you want a full-fledged first aid kit to stash at home or keep in your car trunk, here’s an article to help you out.
You can also take things a step further and prepare an IFAK, or an Individual First Aid Kit. This is more of a trauma kit than a typical first aid kit, and it’s specifically designed with major injuries in mind.
Personal Hygiene Products
Hygiene may be at the bottom of your list when gearing up for SHTF, but it’s more critical than ever. Don’t let it suffer if you don’t wanna get sick and spread that nasty disease around. Here’s a list of personal hygiene products to add to your stockpile.
Your credit cards will be useless when SHTF. While some ATM machines may work, the lines will be crazy long and you can’t guarantee you’ll get a single dollar from it. Cash will be king, so always have emergency funds accessible.
Have a mix of clothes to address different weather conditions. Here are some of the things you’ll want to include:
- Raincoats or waterproof jackets to keep you dry
- Thermal tops and pants to stay warm in the winter
- Sunglasses and breathable shirts to wear when it’s hot out
- Sturdy boots and a pair of tactical gloves
Some of the first places folks will rush to after a disaster? Gas stations. If you don’t want to waste precious time lining up to get your tank filled, either keep it 3/4 full all the time or store a few gallons of gasoline at home.
Just be careful when you do the latter since the last thing you want is to start a house fire.
Don’t forget to add some form of entertainment, whether it’s books, board games, or coloring materials! These may not seem important right off the bat, but they’ll give you and your family a healthy form of distraction during such a chaotic time.
If you have kids, it’s also best to include their favorite plush toy or blanket for comfort.
Other Survival Gear and Supplies
Here’s a list of additional items you need to stash for emergencies:
- Multitool (or a wallet multitool to save more space)
- Hand-crank radio
- Map and compass
- N95 mask
- Power bank
Build Your Survival Kits
A prepper isn’t a prepper if they don’t have at least one emergency or survival kit ready for action. In fact, it’s normal in the prepper community to have two, three, or all of these—you know, to cover all their bases:
- Everyday Carry (EDC): Your everyday carry is what you bring with you everywhere you go. Everyone has their own version of it, but a prepper’s EDC includes items that come in handy for emergencies, like a wallet multitool or lighter.
- Bug Out Bag (BOB): A bug out bag carries the items you need for a short-term survival situation. It should have enough to sustain you on your way to your bug out location, which typically means 72 hours’ worth of supplies.
- Get Home Bag (GHB): A get home bag is the bug out bag’s counterpart. It’s meant to keep you alive as you journey home in an emergency.
- I’m Never Coming Home (INCH) Bag: Strapping an INCH bag to your back doesn’t exactly mean you’ll never see the inside of your home again, but it will help you stay alive when you need to evacuate for a long period.
- Survival Cache: This is a stash of survival gear and supplies hidden in a secure location. Survival caches are strategically placed along bug out routes to supplement bug out bags and other emergency kits.
These survival kits more or less contain the same items we shared above, but you shouldn’t use the exact same water filter for your BOB and INCH bag. Nope. Different bags mean a different set of survival tools.
Have a Communication System in Place
Sure, your phone may have enough juice to last a day or two, but you can’t afford to take any chances when disaster strikes. If it’s a crisis involving your whole area, communication lines will be flooded, and you’ll have a difficult time getting in touch with anyone.
That is, unless you have a communication plan. Strategizing what to do with your family ensures no one gets lost and helps prevent anxiety.
A solid communication plan includes:
- A designated meeting place in case you get separated
- An out-of-town contact to get everyone’s status or whereabouts
- Emergency contacts for each member of the household
- Numbers of your local fire department, ambulance, etc.
- How you’ll get in touch with each other
Related: When the Lines Go Down: 4 Emergency Communication Devices
Desperate times call for desperate measures by folks who didn’t get to stock up on essentials. So another critical part of your SHTF plan is plotting what you’ll do for self-defense. Take your home and your person into account:
Fortifying Your Home
With all the food and provisions you’ve accumulated, your home will be a goldmine for thieves. Keep these unwelcome guests away from your property by:
- Installing deadbolts on your doors (or bolt locks for sliding doors)
- Reinforcing your windows with security film and burglar bars
- Adding motion sensor lights around your home’s perimeter
- Planting defensive shrubbery
- Scattering booby traps
- Building a safe room or underground bunker
Related: 12 Brilliant Ways to Fortify Your Home for SHTF
Defending Yourself Using Your Fists or Weapons
If your home fortifications didn’t work and you find yourself face to face with an intruder, take matters into your own hands. This is where it helps to know defensive fighting styles like Brazilian jiu-jitsu or simply how to use your fists, legs, or elbows.
You also can’t go wrong with these self-defense weapons:
- Tactical pen
- Stun gun
- Baseball bat
We want to highlight that you should only do self-defense as a last resort. You don’t know what lengths someone is willing to go to.
Plan for Both Bugging In AND Bugging Out
Here’s a question of great consequence: will you bug in or bug out when shit hits the fan?
Your decision may very well decide your fate, so weighing their pros and cons is a lot of pressure. But as a word of advice, you’re better off planning for both.
Bugging out, or getting out of dodge, may be the better option for these scenarios:
- Your home is directly affected by an earthquake, hurricane, or fire
- Violence from civil unrest is getting out of hand and you can’t defend your home
- Your supplies are depleting
- You have a bug out location and different ways to reach it
Related: 7 Key Steps for a Successful Bug Out Plan
On the other hand, bugging in (what average Joes refer to as “sheltering in place”) is ideal if:
- People in your household can’t bug out due to their age or health condition
- You live in the suburbs or countryside—somewhere far away from the city
- The outside elements are too harsh and you need a dependable shelter
Your supplies and gear can only get you so far. If worse comes to worst and you run out of provisions, how will you stay alive?
The answer is honing your survival skills.
We’re not saying you have to live entirely off the grid (though that will definitely boost your chances of survival), but it still pays to know skills like:
- Starting a fire without matches or lighters
- Finding and purifying water
- Making a shelter out of tarp or using materials you find in the wild
- Growing a survival garden
- Raising animals
- Preserving your own food
- Cooking using primitive methods
Create a Support Network
While this is the last part of your SHTF plan, don’t discount its importance.
Remember, you weren’t made to be a lone wolf. Even though it sounds smart on paper to trust only yourself, the truth is that you’ll need all the support you can get.
A pre-established network with your neighbors doesn’t just help your mental and emotional health. From a practical standpoint, being part of a community ensures there are plenty of resources to go around—whether it’s in the form of food, first aid, or security.
What to Do During SHTF
You’ve done all you could to prepare for things to get really, really bad. Now you’re in the thick of it. What do you do when all hell breaks loose?
Retreat to Safety
Your first priority is to remove yourself from the danger fast. Be calm when you do so. We know this sounds like a tall order, but keeping a level head will allow you to help your household better (pets included).
Take Care of Injuries
Now as far away from the threat as you can be? Assess your family members for injuries, and then put your first aid kit to good use. Remember that manual you added? Yeah, that may just save your loved one’s life—or your own.
Put Your Communication Plan Into Action
Okay, let’s say you’re split up from the rest of your family. After you’ve found a safe spot and treated any injuries you sustained, start getting in touch with them or the out-of-town contact who’s supposed to keep tabs on everyone. Then, make your way toward the spot where you agreed to gather.
Pro Tip: Text instead of call. Everyone else will likely be dialing their loved ones, which can overwhelm the communication lines. Your texts will have a bigger chance of getting through. This is what happened during 9/11.
Decide if You’re Bugging In or Bugging Out
Bugging in is the more convenient option. And it’s usually safer.
If you’re bugging in, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got enough water and food to tide you over until the situation improves. Your home should also be safe to stay in. Check if it has any significant damage.
Bugging out should only be done when you don’t have any other choice.
If it’s clear that you can’t stay in your home, it’s time to carry out your bug out plan. That may include unplugging your appliances, grabbing your bug out bag, locking all your doors and windows, and then using one of the routes you plotted to escape to your bug out location.
Being up-to-date on what’s happening allows you to plan or adjust your next steps. There’s nothing fun about hearing bad news one after the other, and while it’s tempting to shut everything out, it’s in your best interest to be aware of the current situation.
Related: 9 Things to Avoid Doing Post SHTF
How to Cope Post-SHTF
After the crisis, things won’t go back to normal right away—heck, your concept of normal may be thrown out the window for good.
Here are some ways to deal with the aftermath of SHTF:
- Practice mental exercises: Your brain needs regular workouts just as much as your body does. Keeping it sharp will help you stay focused on the situation at hand.
- Talk to someone (or simply be in their presence): This is one of the best benefits of being in a group. Since they’re going through the same things you are, you can turn to them when you need to talk or just want company.
- Don’t force yourself to feel positive: Asking someone to look on the bright side when a situation is bleak is like telling a hungry bear to stop hunting for its dinner—useless. It’s okay to admit you’re not 100% fine. What would be crazy is if you weren’t affected at all.
- Help others: We can give you an entire list arguing why it’s better to help others than keep all your preps to yourself, but one reason to lend a hand is that it benefits you, too. You can barter with the folks in your community, for example, and make the entire ordeal better for everyone. You don’t have to let SHTF bring out the worst in you. Just don’t spill the beans about your fully stocked pantry or else people will take advantage of you.
When SHTF, it may feel like the universe around you is caving in.
But it doesn’t always spell out the end of the world. Whatever the cause, the formula for increasing your chances of surviving a catastrophic event is to prepare ahead, get your family involved, and avoid taking any chances with your safety. You also need to keep ironing out and testing your plans as time passes.
Have other advice for surviving SHTF? Let us know in the comments!