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Planning for SHTF: What to Expect When Things Go South


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First, let me tell you a bit about my experiences and explain my reasons for writing about SHTF planning. That way, you will know what I say is true.

First, my experiences. I served for 15 years in the British Army during the 1990s in Yugoslavia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. I saw firsthand what happens to human nature and society when everything goes to hell.

As for my reasons, I’m somewhat tired of people painting a rosy picture of what they expect might happen in a major terrorist attack, civil emergency, or severe natural disaster.

Don’t get me wrong.

People have been preparing for SHTF with impeccable plans for food, shelter, and similar. However, they seem to think everyone will remain reasonably well behaved and keep observing the rules of  “polite society.” So in a way, this is a thesis on human nature.

Will it offend?

I hope not.

Will it shock?

I hope so.

If what I write makes one person revise a plan and, as a result, saves a life or the lives of a family, then it will have been well worth the time it has taken to type this.

What is SHTF?

SHTF stands for “Shit Hits the Fan.” As in all hell breaks loose. The worst of the worst has come to pass. It’s a common acronym in the prepper community.

The first thing you’ll do is address any life-threatening circumstances. Once those are addressed, you’ll likely want to try to gather your family together, if possible and unless you had prior arrangements about what to do. Then, you’re probably going to answer a question.

Do we bug out, or do we stay put?

If you choose to bug out…

In the event of ANY situation where the Emergency Broadcasting System goes into action for real, the accepted policy of both law enforcement and the military is a policy of containment, not suppression. Curfews may be established, also.

In other words, if a specific area has something terrible happen, the National Guard and police will cordon off the area with roadblocks and road closures. This crimps any plans of “bugging out” unless you have alternative routes laid out that avoid major bridges and roads leading out of the affected area.

Also, on this topic, don’t be too surprised to see police and military helicopters patrolling areas of ground too rough to drive over, watching for people heading out of the affected area on foot. These helicopters carry FLIR (Forward Looking Infra-Red) imaging systems to pick out body heat or see, even in total darkness.

Most major road arteries will be closed and patrolled by law enforcement and National Guard elements. They’ll have orders to stop, search, detain, or turn back anyone they find.

So, plan your routes well, have at least three ways out, and make sure you go for a drive and check them out regularly.

TIP: Plan for both urgent and planned evacuations. The first allows you minutes, possibly just seconds, to get out, while the other affords more time for packing and taking care of more details. Read more about these two types of evacuations here.

Where do you bug out?

The time for planning where to go when SHTF is NOT when SHTF.

If you’re bugging out, you should already know where you’re going. However, where you go is a personal decision influenced by many factors. So, if you don’t yet have a bug-out location but want to, you must devote some serious effort to identifying and acquiring your bug-out property.

If you choose to stay put…

Hunkering down may be the better option for you. Here are five reasons you might choose this:

  1. Higher security
  2. Knowledge of the neighborhood
  3. Knowledge of terrain layout in the surrounding area
  4. Home base as more supplies and resources
  5. People who love you will look there first

This article discusses these five reasons in much more detail.

Planning for SHTF Regardless of Your Location

For those of us who plan to stay where we live, nearly all local emergency services will be busy keeping the local government safe and sound or working at the site of the disaster.

Inevitably, a somewhat distasteful topic comes up. This part brings back some very unpleasant memories of seeing it firsthand and the after effects.

How will you keep what you own and keep your loved ones safe from looters and pillagers?

If you don’t think this will happen, guess what? Go see what happened during the Los Angeles riots or after Katrina in New Orleans.

If you don’t know what I’m going on about, allow me to explain.

In Los Angeles, gangs and others looted everything of value they could lay their hands on from stores and houses. In New Orleans, a regular Army airborne unit was brought in to patrol the streets and deter looting.

How would a pillager or looter choose or find targets?

  1. They will listen for sounds of hand tools or engines being used.
  2. They’ll smell things like wood smoke or cooking.
  3. At night, they’ll look for lights because this usually means life.
  4. They’ll have a scanner to listen for insecure radio traffic from things like walkie-talkies.
  5. They will use optical devices day and night to look for movement, especially near water sources or woods.

Once a group like this finds you, expect to be scouted. This might be an observation post or a probe if the group is big enough. They would look for things like:

  1. How many people are in the home or community?
  2. How many weapons do they have, and what type?
  3. How many defenders are there?
  4. Who seems to be in charge?
  5. Does the target have any patrols or regular movements that can be expected?
  6. Do they have any defensive emplacements or dogs?

How might an attack transpire?

When it’s time, an attack will first target any leader or owners of any heavier weapons.

If they can get close enough, any defensive structures will get a petrol bomb, grenade, or CS gas canister thrown into it. (Yeah, you can buy CS gas grenades online for general sale.) Any lone defenders will be isolated and eliminated.

However, if things are not going well, any first group will draw off and wait and watch how the defenders respond. A large number of injured take up much more resources and lower morale. If numbers are in their favor, the attacker will encircle the position and try to eliminate a few defenders any chance they get.

If you have a defensive position set up, a good counter plan is to have a trench or something similar with a grenade sump. Then, ensure every person in your group has a gas mask on them at all times.

Also, make sure any building has fire fighting equipment for flammable liquids. If worst comes to the worst and a fighting retreat is needed to avoid losing everything you own except what you have on you, pre-pack a backpack of equipment with something like this:

  1. Personal first aid kit
  2. Spare magazines, ammo, and cleaning kit
  3. Personal survival equipment
  4. Full change of clothes
  5. Food and water

This gives you the basics to survive if you were driven out of your shelter or structure. The list is by no means comprehensive but gives you a general idea.

TIP: For a full list of suggested survival supplies, click here for a free printable.

How does the average prepper family survive a disaster AND also survive the locals, too?

This raises the issue:  If a person or family who are preppers tells a neighbor, “Oh, we are ready for whatever comes up,” you can bet that person will go and tell maybe a dozen others.

Then when SHTF, that person will immediately have a moment of perfect memory recall, and with those others, come and pay you a visit. They or may not be armed and will most likely not be interested in the statement, “It’s for my family and me to use.”

How do you prevent that?

First, not talking about it to anyone who is not 100% trusted comes to mind. This might seem insulting, BUT it has a precedent.

During World War II, posters were put up saying, “Careless talk costs lives” and “Loose lips sink ships.”  You might not have a ship, but the life it might cost could be yours, your spouse, or your child—just something to think on.

What threats do you suppose could be out there beyond the lonesome guy four doors down who suddenly craves foodstuffs he assumes you might have?

  1. Well, how about your not-so-friendly garden variety drug-dependent thug, for one. It might be a prescription or illegal drug dependency, but it doesn’t matter once their supply is gone and withdrawal sets in. Then, they’ll become desperate and go to any lengths and dare anything to try and obtain whatever it was they usually take.
  2. Also, many people who suffer from psychological issues live at home. Any major SHTF scenario presents the possibility of very scared, paranoid, and desperate people exiting their homes for reasons of survival. Please factor that into your thinking, too.

NOTE: These drug-dependent folks might be your friendly neighbor or grocery cashier, who just happens to also be on medication for a significant emotional or mental disorder. In many, many cases, you can’t tell the difference by their appearance or your casual interactions with them.

The Threat of Well-organized Gangs

On the other extreme, you have the threat posed by gangs who already have access to firearms and other weapons and have the attitude and propensity for using violence at a second’s notice.

They have a well-organized social structure based on violence. You can fully expect them to wheel out their whole arsenal of weapons and crappy attitudes without local law enforcement to keep them in check. In some cases, gangs have more firepower than local police. They will have no hesitation looting any abandoned building they find or robbing anyone they see.

Equally, they will have no problem entering a home, even if occupied and taking anything they want from the occupants by force. As distasteful as it sounds, I’m afraid that will include crimes against female members in your household. They run the risk of being taken away by said gang members for their “entertainment,” being molested, or raped. It’s extreme sounding, I know, but it has happened in the past in other places.

As a result, the dug-in prepper has absolutely nothing to lose when facing this threat. The gloves are off, and all nicety should be packed away, along with any thought of reasoning with animals like this. Work as a team and shoot to kill.

Protect Your ‘Fort’ with Force

When planning for SHTF, you’ll need some way to defend yourself, your loved ones, and your home.

Firearms for Self-defense

What is the “ideal” caliber or system for defending yourself or your family?

That’s the $10,000 question. You could write several books on the subject and still argue the issue.

I say a firearm style and caliber — anything you are either familiar or comfortable with — should be your go-to defensive weapons.

Given my time in the Army, I prefer the calibers and weapons I used during my time in uniform. These choices, however, should reflect how you want to use them. An AR15 is an excellent rifle, but a shotgun is a better choice inside a house.

Older Weapons can be Options

On the topic of personal choice, it’s an excellent idea to consider former service rifles as far back as World War I. Yes, they might be nearly 100 years old and not be black or have polymer or have all the whistles, bells, and gadgets of a brand new tricked-out AR15. However, not that many of us have $1,000 or more to spend on a new rifle or handgun.

You need to remember that these weapons were picked for war.  Yes, they might be old, but even back when the Army used them, they were lethal. They haven’t changed over the years.

The WWII Russian Rifle Mosin Nagant

An excellent example of this is the WWII Russian rifles made by Mosin Nagant. They have a 5-shot magazine and fire a 7.62mm bullet that hits just as hard as a 30.06. They travel to 1,000 meters or drop a bear without many problems.

One supplier I’ve used is Century Arms International. They offer a variety of former military rifles and are pretty reasonably priced. I found this out firsthand as I could not afford a basic AR15 and instead was able to get a rifle that fired a 7.62 NATO round and never quits on me.

The Benefits of a Bayonet

While on the subject of former military rifles, it’s a good idea, if your rifle has a bayonet lug, to invest the time and trouble finding the bayonet for the rifle. This would give you a helpful tool for everyday chopping, cutting, etc. However, it’s also a very effective weapon psychologically and physically if a bad guy got too close.

Trust me. If he sees that his target has a fixed bayonet on the end of their rifle, he will think twice about showing himself. The thought of getting impaled on a bayonet sends a shiver down even a seasoned combat veteran’s spine.

Once you are in your “fort,” how would someone get in from the outside? 

Another point to consider for house preppers is how others might enter from outside. You can bet the first place they’ll do is look for a garage or shed out in the backyard. 

It might sound old-fashioned, but an old container of gasoline thrown through a window will drive you out of that house as sure as if a bomb had been dropped on it. Chances are, if you have a storage area, you also have a can of gasoline on hand for the lawnmower.

Conclusion

I can’t stress this enough. In any significant SHTF event, many people won’t make it simply because they cannot think outside the comfort zone of the “rules of civilized society.”

A large percentage of people will suddenly find themselves without the protection of society. When that happens they will no longer be at the top of the food chain. And unfortunately, there are people out there who will prey upon them without remorse for what they feel they need to survive.

I hope I’m wrong, but I’ve seen and heard this happening before, and it isn’t pretty.

READ MORE: Do you know the three warning signs that it’s too late to prep? Click here to find out what they are!

Guest post by D.T. Originally posted on November 1, 2011, and updated on June 22, 2022.

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I’m the original Survival Mom and for more than 11 years, I’ve been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more with my commonsense prepping advice.



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