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By Joel Jefferson •  7 min read

If you have a limited time before the SHTF, What do you do?  What are your priorities?  Recently we saw this first hand with Hurricane Irene (see article).  The actions of the unprepared raises good questions for all of us.

There was a science fiction short story (also an Outer Limits episode) called “Inconstant Moon” by Larry Niven based on the actions of an astronomer who noticed the light changes on the moon and deduced the sun had gone nova.  Then he realized that it was ONLY a massive flare and survival MIGHT be possible.  The story was of his attitude and preparations during the night.

In “ALAS, BABYLON” the hero is given approximately 24 hours to prepare from nothing. It is interesting in what he gets both right and wrong. In both these stories, SHTF was also TEOTWAWKI.  In the case of Hurricane Irene it was the SHTF but not TEOTWAWKI.

So, to repeat the question, if you have limited time before the SHTF, what action would you take?  It depends in large measure on what form the SHTF event takes.  I heard a story of an older lady (70 something I think) who felt the earthquake in Japan.  As soon as the quake stopped, she got on her bicycle and rode for the hills.  She didn’t go back home for anything or take anything, she just rode and she survived the tsunami that claimed her town and most of the town’s people.  The quake gave zero warning and the tsunami gave warning of only a few minutes.  In Texas, hurricanes give hours to days and wild fires give minutes to hours.  A terrorist strike or earthquake might give no warning while a Carrington Event might give hours to minutes.

For the sake of this article, we will assume a SHTF that is not necessarily TEOTWAWKI.  Further we will assume that you have 2 hours notice.  This actually happened when I was a growing up.  A hurricane made up about 90 miles off the coast of Galveston and came ashore as a strong Category 1. Under the wrong conditions, it could have been a Category 3 or 4.  Remember Hurricane Andrew was a weak Category 2 storm at 2200 before hitting Florida as a strong Category 4 at 0200 hours the next morning.


SHTF Approaches

Like you do every morning, you’ve just checked your local news sources and you’ve discovered that in 2 hours, maybe a little more, there is going to be a major event.

SHTF – T Minus 2:00 – First things first. Start topping off your water supply.  Bathtubs, sinks, buckets, storage bottles, everything should be full. Double check the inventory for the supply cache/pantry for any holes. These may have to be filled before the event or you will do without.  Turn all refrigerators and freezers to maximum cold settings. Set house temperature to extreme cold (summer) or high heat (winter) to precondition the house for the season.  Call in any pharmacy refills you can get for 1-hour pickup. If you are going to GOOD (Get Out of Dodge) double check the BOB (Bug Out Bag) for completeness.

SHTF  – T Minus 1:45 –  If you have help at your house then you can start for the stores now. Your help will finish the top offs and inventory.  Make sure you have your credit cards and debit cards.  Once your help has finished here, they can notify those important to you of the issues.  This is a notification only.  No arguments or recriminations.  Just the warning and move on.  When that is done, your helpers can jump to SHTF – 0:30 list (See below).

SHTF – T Minus 1:30 – Going to the grocery store is probably a waste of time unless you absolutely MUST have something from there. If you must fill any holes in your prep supplies think about a sporting goods store or Sam’s Club. You are less likely to run into panicking mobs there than at the grocery store.  Remember paper products may be worth their weight in gold if you already have your food stuff squared away.  Plates, cups and napkins are nice; toilette paper and tissue may be indispensable.  Sun burn and insect bite treatments may be useful as will analgesics and antihistamines.  If you have pets, increase your stock of pet supplies. Also batteries will go fast, get more.  Get cash from ATM if possible.  In fact, unless the power is already down, get cash from the ATM period.   Charge all your supplies to maximize your cash availability.  Get aluminum foil if you need it.  Pick up long term storage items (zip lock bags, mason jars, etc.) if needed. If available get more fuel for your cooking and lighting systems.  If you have no firearms, now would be your last chance for arms and/or ammunition for quite a while.

SHTF – T Minus 0:45 – Go to pharmacy and get any refills you can pick up. Go inside and restock any OTC (Over the Counter) medicines you might need (think Imodium, antacids, analgesics, vitamins, sleep aids, masks, etc.) . Get insect repellant, burn cream, sunscreen, and chap stick type items if not already purchased.

SHTF – T Minus 0:30 – Place BOBs (Bug Out Bags) near doors in case of fire and an immediate evacuation is needed. Preposition supplies and weapons in proper locations for use. Searching through your gun safe for your shotgun in the dark while looters are kicking in your front door is a bad plan.

SHTF – T Minus 0:10 – It is now close enough to the SHTF that no further outside work should be attempted. Set up a security watch in the house and wait.  Use an emergency radio to keep track of news if power is lost in the house.

SHTF – T Minuse 0:00 – Now that the event has arrived, maintain a solid fire watch for at least an hour after all flames are extinguished. It would really be annoying to survive a SHTF event only to be burned out by your lighting or heating prep.  After an hour, the risk that anything will re-ignite diminishes greatly.  If you are using wood or gas stoves or heaters, maintain a watch during any operation time, including night time heating.  Remember Carbon Monoxide is a poison and it kills.

SHTF + 1:00 – Turn on one of your radios and see if there is any broadcast station still on the air.  Attempt to find news and status. Try cell phones, land lines, TV, text messaging and computer/internet links.  Some of these are very low power and might still be up.  Plan your future actions based on your assessment of the situation.

This is just a rough outline of what might be done.  It assumes that there is no long distance travel involved.  Obviously if the store you need is an hour away, you don’t go.  For events that give days notice, it should never be necessary to go out within two hours of the event, but we are not always in command of our priorities.  During Hurricane Ike, my mother-in-law called for help from a nearby town.  I ended up driving through tropical storm weather over a rather large bridge to bring her to our place to ride out the storm.  Without my 4 wheel drive Suburban the trip would not have been possible.  Black Swans can always happen and last minute ‘monkey wrenches’ will need dealing with but if we prepare for the most likely, the unexpected can usually be dealt with successfully.


Joel Jefferson

Joel is one of the original founders of After college, he joined the USMC where he served as an (0302) Marine Infantry Officer. Joel is an avid outdoorsman and spends much of his free time in the mountains. Joel’s hobby is researching survival gear & weapons as well as prepping. Read his full interview here.