Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
There’s a lot of talk about major disaster scenarios in the prepping community—what we refer to as TEOTWAWKI events. Part of that is that they are much more interesting to talk about than a hurricane or flood.
On the other hand, preparing for an EMP or another SHTF scenario means we are likely to also be prepared for any lesser disaster that might happen. So, it really makes sense to use one of these major disaster scenarios as our framework for prepping.
The one glaring difference between these major events and other disasters is their duration. If we look at a hurricane, even a bad hurricane, things will be back to normal for most people within a few weeks. Even Puerto Rico was mostly back in operation two months after Hurricane Maria wiped out their entire electric grid. People in remote areas had to wait longer for power, but most people were doing well.
When we look at something like an EMP or other disaster that might take out our entire electric grid, we generally assume that the grid won’t be restored in any reasonable amount of time.
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According to the report of the EMP Commission, as much as 90 percent of the population would die in the first year, mostly due to starvation. That makes these sorts of events a whole different animal than the average disaster.
Yes, people will die of starvation, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Most people haven’t thought about the problems that we’ll have to deal with or how to deal with them. We can be sure that it will become an ever-changing situation, with dangers around every corner.
Some of those dangers include:
Those with Chronic Medical Problems
The first people to die will be those with chronic medical conditions. Some 66 percent of American adults take prescription drugs for some sort of chronic condition. This can range from diabetes and heart disease, through arthritis, cancer and psychological or emotional problems.
Regardless of the reason, many of these people are incapable of surviving without their daily meds. Those who survive will either do so because they are borderline cases, the disaster actually makes them healthier, or they find a natural alternative to their medications.
Medicines will Run Out Quickly
Speaking of medicines, those will run out very quickly. Pharmacies are used to receiving shipments every day, so with computerized inventory management systems, they don’t need to stock more than a couple of days’ worth of medicines. When those run out, there won’t be any resupply.
This directly affects the people mentioned above who depend on those medications for chronic conditions. But it will also affect anyone who becomes ill or gets injured in the aftermath of the disaster. Without the medicines needed to overcome infection, people will die of seemingly inconsequential injuries.
Many of the Elderly Will Die
Another sub-group who is highly dependent on those medications is the elderly. Most people over 50 are taking a variety of different medications for a variety of different medical conditions.
Those who are borderline cases might be able to overcome their chemical dependence by switching to a healthier diet and doing more physical work, but that won’t work for everyone.
The other big struggle that the elderly have is that they don’t have the strength and stamina to do much of the physical work necessary for survival. In olden times, these people would have likely lived with their children, contributing to the family in whatever way they could, while allowing their adult children to do the physical work necessary for the family farm or business.
Today, these people live in nursing homes or assisted living centers; not exactly good environments for being self-sufficient. When the staff of those facilities is unable to meet the residents’ needs, many will die.
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Human Waste is Toxic
Our modern sewage system is a major boon to maintaining public health. One of the greatest medical discoveries in history involved the spread of disease, specifically how bacteria and viruses in humans waste ends up contaminating our food and water, spreading disease.
Proper disposal of human waste is essential to stopping the spread of disease. But when the power and water go out, so will the sewage systems, backing up and leaving us without a proper means for disposing of human waste.
Some people talk about using bucket toilets, putting the waste in plastic bags for storage. That’s only a workable solution if the disaster is going to be over in a month or two and the stored waste can be taken to a sewage treatment plant. For long-term situations, the only workable solutions are either to build an outhouse or to do humanure composting.
The Second Die Off – Plague
Lack of proper sanitation consist of two things: the lack of proper human waste disposal and the inability to keep ourselves clean. The two together will lead to plague of some sort. Diseases will spread easily and will be harder to treat.
Without the availability of proper medicines and with our medical community overworked, people will start dying off from these diseases; people who would have survived in normal times.
Many Babies will Die During Birth
Women have been having babies for all of human history. But things are different now. In the past, many more babies died before taking their first breath or within a few days of being born.
There weren’t the medical procedures and supplies available that we have today. But with a major disaster that causes a shortage of medical supplies, we can expect the infant mortality rate to rise again.
This isn’t the only risk I see here; women will face greater risks in childbirth. While there have always been women who died during childbirth, there have been many fewer in modern times.
But with the difficulty of getting women to proper medical care, women who need emergency C-sections won’t be able to receive them. Some percentage of those women will die for lack of proper medical care.
Wood for Fires Won’t Last Long
We all talk about heating our homes with wood when the SHTF, but just how many of us have an adequate woodpile to make it through the winter? What about the next winter? How will you restock your woodpile when it runs out and you don’t have gas for your pickup truck?
You might be thinking that you’ll cut the trees in the park, but you won’t be the only one thinking that. All those unprepared people will be trying to beat you there, because they won’t have any firewood.
Back in the days when this country was being settled, people would file a claim on land which provided them with water, land for grazing and/or planting and wood for their fire. They didn’t have to go far to cut wood, because they owned their own patch of forest.
Few of us have more than a tree or two today, and those probably aren’t big enough to give much firewood.
Toilet Paper Will Run Out
If you think the great toilet paper shortage of 2020 was bad, just wait. The one that follows an SHTF situation will be much worse. There won’t be any standing in line before the grocery store opens, hoping to get a pack.
When you run out of what you have, you’ll have to come up with other options. That means using cloth and washing it, using your hands and washing them (yes, there are places in the world where they do that) or using leaves.
Many People are too Weak to Survive
There are a lot of people who just don’t have what it takes to survive. I’m not talking about physical strength here, but emotional strength. Our dependence on the infrastructure and supply chain that we have created makes many of us poor candidates for survival. Yes, you and I, as preppers, have done something about this; but what about everyone else?
There will be a lot of people out there, and maybe even within our own families, who can’t stand the emotional and mental strain of having their whole world collapse around them. They won’t survive because they won’t see any value in surviving. They’ll just plain give up.
Teens do it now, how much worse will it be for them when they realize that the things they’ve dreamed of are no longer available? Remember, easy times make for weak men. That’s what we’re living in now, and it will come home to roost.
Being Out of Shape Makes it Harder to Survive
Many preppers are not in good physical shape. I have to include myself in that. I’m overweight, but working hard to bring it down. Even so, if a disaster were to happen today, I’d have a hard time doing the physical work necessary for survival. It would literally be a race between my getting in shape and my running out of food.
That’s not to say that I wouldn’t survive; just that I realize the risk I face. It’s the same risk that many others face, even here in the prepping community. Survival requires a lot of physical work and if we’re not in shape to do it, we’re going to be facing extra challenges.
Gasoline Doesn’t Store Well
We depend on gasoline for a lot more than running our vehicles, although that is our main use for it. Many will try hoarding gas when the SHTF, either what they have in their gas tank or what they can buy before it is gone. That may or may not do them much good, as gasoline only stores about six months in plastic gas cans.
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You can get more life out of gasoline by storing it in metal gas cans, assuming that the rubber seal at the opening is good. I have two metal cans, one of which is still full of good gasoline after more than a year, while half the gasoline evaporated out of the other, because the seal leaked.
The other thing you can do is add a gas life extender to your stored gas. This will extend the life out to about a year.
Not Enough Water Filters
The most popular water filter system in the prepping world uses a cartridge-type filter. These cartridges are a bit on the expensive side, although I will have to say that they are cheaper per gallon than using the cheaper filters. They also do a better job, providing water that is more highly purified.
But just how many filters do you have in your stockpile and how long will they last you? That varies from filter system to filter system and is also affected by the quality of the water that you’re using. The cleaner the water when it goes into the filter, the more water you can purify. If the filter can be backflushed, that can help too.
If you don’t have enough water filters to get you through the disaster (or forever), you’re eventually going to have to revert to other means of purifying water, like boiling it. That works, but it will increase your fuel consumption to do it.
Gardens that Aren’t Big Enough
Somehow, many preppers have gotten the idea that they can feed their family off of a small garden plot, say something like 12’x 12’. Someone even wrote a book claiming that you can do it from a four-foot-square garden.
But if you’re going to feed your family from your garden, you’d better count on about a ton of food per adult and a half-ton per child. That’s a lot of food.
There are people today who grow all the food they eat in their backyards. To do this, they’ve converted their entire backyard into a garden, using every square foot as effectively as they can. That’s what we’re going to have to do, if we expect to live off the food that we grow.
Game will Run Out
Anyone planning on augmenting their food stockpile by hunting wild game had better be living in Montana or someplace like that. There was a time when it was possible to live off the land, but that was when there were many less people and a much larger game population in the country.
Today there are something like 90 million hunters, all of whom will be out there, trying to bag something for dinner. Some will bag a pig or cow, earning a farmer’s ire and possibly some return lead. The only places where game will still abound will be more remote ones. But without gas, it will be hard to get to them.
Some People will Turn to Cannibalism
Starvation will cause people to do a lot of crazy things, including eating pets or strays they find on the streets. When those run out, don’t be surprised if some turn to cannibalism, like the Donner Party did during the winter of 1846-47. Snowbound in the Sierra Nevada mountains, some members of the party turned to eating those who died from exposure.
One of the interesting things about cannibalism (in a rather sick way) is that there is a ritualistic side to it. Many such cases have a quasi-religious side to the act, where people are sacrificing others “for the common good.” William Forstchen talks about this in his book “One Second After.” If you haven’t read that, I’d recommend it.
Gotta Get Rid of that Trash
Finally, trash is going to be piling up everywhere. That not only creates a fire hazard, but can provide a habitat for pests, like mice and rats. Getting rid of the containers that food is packed in carries the additional problem of letting people know that you have food.
The easiest way to take care of the trash is to burn it; but care must be taken with that, because many materials, including some plastics, can give off noxious or even poisonous fumes when burned. Burning trash outdoors can help, but that also risks letting others know that you have food.
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