The First 24 Hours Post-Disaster

You’ve gathered supplies and invested some time to gain knowledge and practice survival skills. Your regular wardrobe includes your EDC and your GHB is never far from reach. Your BOB is stored securely and your BOV is loaded and ready to go. You have prepped and planned for a SHTF scenario.

But how you will react in those critical 24 hours, right after it happens?

Obviously, the first 60 seconds are critical because you need to get to safety. The first 10 minutes are critical because you need to check to see if you’re hurt and if you need to run even farther.

The first few hours are critical because you’ll need to make the decision of whether you’ll be bugging in or bugging out.

Everything seems to be critical when disaster strikes, right? So let’s focus on what to do to get yourself to safety and ensure you’ll live to use your gear, your stockpile, and to see your family again.

Stop and Think

A focused, alert mind is your best ally in the moment any disaster strikes. Anger, stress, and panic will only make matters worse.

In fact, these negative emotions can cause you to get tunnel vision (focusing on one thing and being oblivious to everything else that’s going on around you) and make poor decisions as a result.

Once disaster hits and you’re out of immediate danger, take a moment to calm yourself down. Breathe slow and deep, look around and take note of what’s happening around you.

Take a second to assess the problem, the damage, and what the people around you are doing.  Are they running away? Then maybe you should too. If not, make a quick plan of action and prioritize.

Get the Basics Down

Retreat to a Safe Place

When SHTF, your immediate location may not be safe to stick around at. You need to get out as quickly as possible and help others out of danger.

When moving others, make sure they are in a stable condition and can be safely moved. Once you’ve made it to a safer location, stop and evaluate your new surroundings once more.

Do Basic First Aid

Administer first aid if the disaster has left some of your party injured. Trying to move someone with severe injuries can slow you down and be fatal for them.

This is critical to survival, so attend to injuries as soon as possible. Compose yourself, focus your mind, and check to see if you or others are in need of first aid.

If someone’s bleeding a lot, do everything you can to stop it. Standard first aid kits are useful for light bleeding, but for severe blood loss, you’ll need to apply a tourniquet or a thicker gauze with pressure. Check breathing and airways of anyone unconscious. Remain calm and help those around you to stay calm.

Find Shelter

The first rule of survival is protection from basic elements. Keep yourself sheltered from rain, wind, sun, and snow, as well as from extreme hot and cold temperatures.

You may need to fashion a temporary shelter until you can find something better. Use whatever you can find in your surroundings to construct a simple, waterproof lean-to that will keep you covered.

Start a Fire

You’ll need a fire to stay warm, to cook and boil water. Make sure you have waterproof matches in your BOB, as well as a good lighter and a magnesium fire starter.

You should build your fire in a safe, contained place, that will not make your location known to other survivors.

Find Drinkable Water

You may be able to go without food for several days, but water is critical. You will need water within the first 72 hours, and it is critical that you find clean, drinkable water as soon as possible.

If you’re not sure about the condition of the water, boil it, or use a water filter (homemade or store-bought), or chemical purification tablets that will make it drinkable.

Hydration is a number one priority in a survival situation, so don’t neglect it!

Signal For or Seek Out Help

Don’t lose hope immediately: help may be closer than you think. But, if there’s no one who can help you, start sending signals anyway. Use a whistle, a flare gun, a flashlight, reflective mirrors, or a brightly-colored bandana – anything that can draw attention to yourself.

If possible, start a large fire to signal for help, but keep in mind you might have to spend the night there and use that fire for cooking and keeping yourself warm.

Flammable materials and fumes are common in urban environments so be careful what you choose to burn.

Now that you’ve got the basics covered, you’ll need to tailor your 24-hour plan to prepare for any kind of natural disaster that may strike.


Floods are powerful forces of nature and often come out of nowhere. Stay on alert at all times, especially if you live in an area where floods are common.


  • Tune in regularly to local radio or television stations. Emergency officials will broadcast instructions and lifesaving updates. Make sure your portable radio also has weather band.
  • If you or a loved one has a disability, you need to seek support early and plan the quickest escape routes.
  • Move your stockpile to higher ground, along with your pets and livestock. The same goes for household valuables and chemicals, such as battery fluid and cleaning detergents.
  • Fill bathtubs, storage vats, and sinks with water in case your water supply is cut off.
  • Turn off all utilities and all appliances at the main plug points to avoid power surges.
  • Have your BOB on hand and prepare for a quick evacuation, this is a perfect opportunity to put your household emergency plan into action!
  • Contact family members who aren’t home so they can also put the plan into action.
dog looking at pick-up truck across flooded road


  • Severe storms and flooding can cause landslides; if you’re bugging out in the countryside, beware of slipping hillsides, and steer clear of streams and drainage canals that may flood.
  • Don’t drive through flooded roads. If your vehicle stalls or get stuck, you’ll have no choice but to leave it. If you’re trapped in your car and the water level is rising, get out of there! Your life trumps your vehicle.
  • Avoid wading through floodwater that is above knee height.


  • After the affected area has been declared safe, you’ll need to return to your home with caution. Before going inside, check for damaged gas lines, loose power lines, and foundation cracks.
  • Water and electricity don’t mix: if power lines outside your home are down, take care not to stand in puddles or stagnant pools of water.
  • Sections of your home may be damaged or on the verge of collapse. Before entering, check that overhanging structures and porch canopies are still supported.
  • If your property is damaged, document the damage for insurance. Even better, take a video tour of your home today and keep copies of the recording in a few safe places so the insurance company can better determine the amount of damage.
  • Wild animals may have been swept inside with the floodwater, so be careful where you step when you enter your home.
  • You’ll need to execute a heavy clean-up effort after the flood. Hazardous materials such as batteries, cleaning products, and damaged fuel containers need to be disposed of quickly. To avoid contamination, contact local authorities for the best ways of getting rid of these materials.
  • Keep them away from children and pets. If you dispose of them yourself, wear rubber boots and gloves.
  • Your food and water should never come in contact with polluted floodwater. If your canned goods, baby bottles, eating utensils, or water flasks have been contaminated, get rid of them.
  • It’s best to avoid tap water until authorities give the all-clear. If you don’t have a choice, purify it using a Berkey water filter, the LifeStraw filter, or by boiling.



  • You’ll know an earthquake when it happens. Get down on your hands and knees immediately and take cover underneath a solid piece of furniture or up against an inside wall.
  • Protect your head and neck from falling debris by linking your hands over your neck so your elbows and forearms cover your head.
  • Hold onto the furniture with both hands and shake with it. Stay put until you are sure that the shaking has stopped. Brace yourself for aftershocks.
  • Avoid taking cover near heavy appliances, windows, and shelves that hold heavy objects that may fall and injure you.
  • If you’re in bed when the quake hits, stay there and cover yourself with the sheets until the shaking stops.
  • If you’re a parent, your first instinct will be to run to your children when the quake strikes. Try to resist this urge, as you’ll run the risk of getting badly hurt yourself. Wait until the immediate danger has passed before attending to your young ones.
  • If you find yourself outside, duck into a doorway for protection. If possible, move away from trees, building, signs, electrical wires, scaffolding, and poles that may topple.
  • If you’re on the road when the earth begins to shake, pull over carefully and come to a complete stop. Keep as far away from bridges, power lines and overpasses as possible. Anticipate traffic light outages.
  • In multi-floor apartment or office buildings, stay away from the windows and use stairs instead of elevators.
  • In a theater or stadium, drop down under your seat back, use your arms as protection for your neck and head and remain still until it’s safe to move.
  • In a shop or mall, stay calm and move away from heavily laden shelves. Don’t run for the exits or incite panic. The best thing you can do in a densely populated space is to remain calm and find a sheltered spot to take cover.


  • Wait until the earth has stopped shaking before you observe your surroundings, determine if it’s safe to move, and then exit the building.
  • Don’t assume that the worst is over. Often, damaged structures will collapse shortly after the shaking has stopped.
  • If you’re trapped under debris, make a whole lot of noise to get the emergency personnel’s attention. Use whatever you have – tap on pipes, shout, whistle, but avoid inhaling dust by covering your mouth with your clothing. This is why it’s a good idea to have an emergency whistle on your person at all times as part of your EDC.
  • If you spot an exit, crawl towards it, but be careful not to dislodge any debris that could fall on top of you.
  • Assist trapped or injured people, particularly children, infants, the disabled, and elderly, as long as you’re not endangering yourself in the process. Do not move seriously injured victims unless you see they are in immediate danger. It’s safer to wait for the paramedics to come and evaluate injuries.
  • Gather everyone in a safe place to debrief, steering clear of uneven ground, broken glass, unstable structures, exposed wires, and leaking gas.
  • Put out small fires, which are likely to flare up after a quake. Use fire blankets if available to smother the flames.
  • Stay clear of affected areas unless emergency officials have specifically requested your assistance. Return home only when your area is declared safe again.
  • Like any good prepper, you should have a battery-operated or hand-crank radio in your BOB. Use it to listen to live updates on the situation and get instructions from emergency officials.
  • Check the telephones for a dial tone and make calls only in the event of a life-threatening emergency. When SHTF, the phone lines will be flooded with calls and you don’t want to add to it.
  • If you live near the ocean, this goes without saying but keep an eye out for tsunamis. Also called seismic sea waves, tsunamis often follow a powerful earthquake. if your house is on the beach, no matter how cool that may be, consider moving to higher ground.
  • When you return home, prioritize your safety during clean-up and recovery. When opening cupboards, expect dislodged items to fall out.
  • Wear protective clothing when clearing out debris to shield against sharp edges and harmful chemicals.
  • Clean up spilled cleaning products, medicines, gasoline and other flammable liquids immediately. Keep your eyes and nose alert for sudden fires or escaped fumes.
  • Inspect utilities. Gas leaks are noticeable by the blowing or hissing sound they make. The smell will also give it away. Open nearby windows and leave the building immediately. Then go turn off the main valve.
  • Check your electrical system for damage. If you notice sparks or frayed wires or smell blown-in insulation, shut down the electricity at the main fuse box. If you have to step into a pool of water to do so, call an electrician first.
  • Check for sewage ad water lines damage. If there’s damage, avoid using the toilet and taps before a plumber can be summoned. Use your bottled water supplies in the meantime.
  • Expect aftershocks. These are secondary shockwaves that, while less violent than the first quake, may be strong enough to bring down already-weakened structures.
  • Aftershocks are unpredictable and can occur up to several months after the initial quake, so keep your wits about you!


  • Your local radio or Coast Guard station will typically issue evacuation warnings. This is your signal to move quickly.
  • Get up, grab your BOB and move to higher ground. You’ll need to move quickly and as far inland as possible. Only drive if absolutely essential.
  • If you don’t have time to escape, take refuge in the top story of a nearby building or scale a roof or tree. You may even take hold of a floating object until you can be rescued.
  • Never go near the shoreline to try and keep a lookout or to sightsee. Stay clear of at-risk areas until the danger has passed.
  • Affected areas may not be safe up to 24 hours after the first hit. Subsequent waves can be larger and more destructive than the first one.

Active Volcano

  • The respiratory system is irritated by volcanic ash, so try to avoid ashfall areas. If this is unavoidable, don a set of goggles to shield your eyes and a mask or bandana to protect your mouth and nose.
  • Those with asthma or bronchitis are particularly at risk. Stay indoors and block all openings where ash might enter your home, including thresholds, keyholes, windows and doors.
  • Disconnect drainpipes from gutters to stop your drains from clogging. If you have a rainwater collection system, disconnect the tank to keep it clear of ash.
  • Wear a balaclava or mask, tall boots, and protective clothing to shield your skin from the harmful ash.
  • Ashfall is heavy and buildings can give way under the weight. You’ll need to clear roofs and gutters of ashfall so that they don’t cave in. Wear a mask and eye protection when clearing ash.
  • Your water supply may be clogged with ash. Don’t use your washing machine or dishwasher until it’s been cleared.
  • Don’t drive during heavy ashfall, as the wheels will disturb the ash lying on the road and clog your engine.


  • During a fire, the best thing you can do is get out of the area. Don’t try to put it out yourself. Call the fire department and bug out.
  • If your clothes catch fire, stop, drop and roll to smother the flames.
  • When exiting a building, get under the level of smoke, as low to the floor as possible. You can crawl quicker on your hands and knees but army crawl if need be to keep your head beneath the smoke. Feel all doors by lightly touching the topside of your hand to them. Do not open a hot door.
  • As with any disaster, you will need to get the all clear from authorities before returning to your home.
  • The damage may be severe, and there will be hazards long after the flames have been extinguished. Beware of hot spots which may flare up at any moment, as well as damaged infrastructure that could collapse suddenly.
  • Watch out for ash pits – mark these clearly and warn your family of their presence.
  • Keep your animals close and under your immediate control. Hot spots and hidden embers, still hot, may burn their paws or hooves.
  • Dispose of all flammable materials, including cleaning products, damaged fuel containers and batteries.
  • Several hours after the fire, check your home for smoke and sparks. Don’t forget the attic. Embers will continue to fly around, brought about by wildfire winds, and may reignite.
  • Be alert for creaking or cracking noises, which are a sure sign that your ceiling, wall or staircase is about to collapse. Buckled or twisted beams, large cracks and gaping holes are telltale signs of an unstable structure after a fire has ravaged through a building.
  • Check the stability of the trees on your property. If the bark on the trunk has been singed off or scorched at an extremely high temperature, the tree is likely to topple.
  • Inspect the base of trees carefully. If these are visibly burned, consider the tree very unstable. Hardwood trees and fire-resistant shrubs are less flammable than the fir, pine or eucalyptus varieties, so consider planting these instead.
  • Consider installing a separate water source in the form of a pool, cistern or hydrant nearby.
  • Freeze-proof water boxes on the outside of the house are also reliable water sources in the event of a fire.

Learn more on how to prepare for a wildfire here.

Heat Wave


  • During a heat wave, it’s essential to carefully monitor your health and the health of those around you.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, even if you’re not thirsty. Caffeine and alcohol should be avoided.
  • Eat small meals and often.
  • Keep your body temperature under control by avoiding dramatic temperature changes, such as hot to freezing cold.
  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing to keep you cool, and avoid dark colors which absorb the sun’s rays.
  • Never leave pets or children alone in enclosed vehicles.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio broadcasts regular updates on weather patterns, so tune in for reliable information.
  • It’s important to keep your activity levels low: avoid strenuous exercise, stay indoors and postpone outdoor activities during the hottest part of the day.
  • If you know people without air conditioning, be sure to check on them regularly. The same goes for animals.

Heat waves can bring on certain health-related conditions. It’s important to know how to recognize and respond to them effectively. While by no means does this equate to professional medical advice, a basic understanding of the health effects is vital.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are muscular spasms that usually affect the legs and abdomen. This is a telltale sign that the body is not responding well to the intense heat.

  • Get the person to a cooler place and place him or her in a comfortable resting position. Lightly stretch the affected muscle and massage gently.
  • Electrolyte-containing fluid, such as milk, fruit juice or a sports drink, may ease the pain. Water is good too, but never administer salt tablets, as they cause stomach upsets.
  • You can mix your own salt solution by mixing half a teaspoon of table salt with a quart of water.

Heat Exhaustion

This severe, often life-threatening condition is recognizable by the following symptoms: headache, nausea, exhaustion, dizziness, fatigue, and cool, moist or pale skin. In more extreme cases, the affected person may also experience seizures, changes in consciousness and vomiting.

Move the person to a cooler place where air is circulating. Loosen clothing and apply cool, wet towels to the skin. Complete submersion in cool water is preferred.

If not possible, spray them often with water or fan them. If conscious, give four ounces of cool fluid, such as fruit juice, water, or a sports drink, every 15 minutes to hydrate the body and restore electrolytes.


Landslides can happen as a result of natural or man-made activities. From earthquakes and volcanic eruptions to blasting and deforestation, these powerful slides leave chaos in their wake. If you think a landslide is about to happen, act quickly but calmly.

  • Evacuate, taking your BOB with you, and move your family, livestock and pets to higher ground.
  • Warn your neighbors of the impending danger and assist those who need help – such as the disabled, the elderly and the young – to clear the area.
  • Once the landslide has passed, stay away from the direct slide area, but check around the area for injured or trapped people. The ground will be very unstable, which means another slide could be on its way.
  • Report damaged utility lines to local authorities and listen to the radio for regular updates on the situation.
  • When you return home, check the building’s foundations, chimney and surrounding land for damage. This will help you determine how secure the area really is, and if it’s safe for habitation.
  • Re-establish damaged ground as soon after the slide as possible because erosion caused by loss of ground cover often leads to dangerous flash flooding.
  • You can consult a geotechnical professional for expert advice on how best to prevent or reduce landslide risk without creating further hazard to your property.


Hurricanes are powerful, destructive storms that leave chaos in their wake. Thunderstorms, floods and tornadoes have nothing on these tropical super-storms, though they may resemble these in some parts.

  • During a hurricane, your best bet is to find shelter in a safe place and wait it out. Keep an eye on local weather stations for live updates before you emerge from hiding.
  • If you’re without power, use flashlights instead of candles to avoid unwanted fires.
  • Following a hurricane, there may be extensive flooding. Contaminated water, ruptured gas lines, downed power lines, and collapsed infrastructure are hazardous after-effects of the storm.
  • Avoid drinking or cooking with tap water until authorities have declared it drinkable.
  • Once it’s safe to return home, inspect your property for damage.
  • Clear out contaminated food and spilled chemicals and stay on top of the news in case of ensuing storms, extended rainfall, or strong winds that may follow in the hurricane’s devastating path.

Tornado and Thunderstorm

Tornadoes often accompany other severe storms, like thunderstorms and hurricanes. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the warning signs. Start by watching the sky.

It’ll get dark in a matter of seconds, followed by a roaring, rushing sound. The clouds will gather into a circular, rotating form, forming the easily-recognizable funnel cloud.

  • Take cover immediately in a basement, storm shelter, or a ditch if trapped outside.
  • As with hurricanes, return home only when authorities have given the all clear. Check for damaged infrastructure, gas leaks and spilled chemicals.
  • After a storm, never drive into a flooded road. The water may be deeper than you think.
  • Avoid storm-damaged areas, including downed power lines, and continue to listen to the NOAA Weather Radio for updates, as parts of your area may be restricted or blocked.
  • Help those who need special assistance.
  • If someone has been struck by lightning, call for help immediately. Do not touch them as long as they’re still connected to the power source. Keep in mind that electricity can travel through air if the voltage is high enough. Use a wooden or plastic stick to separate the person from the current.
  • Once you made sure the it’s safe, check the victim for burns and injuries. If he or she has stopped breathing, start administering CPR.

Power Outage

  • You may find yourself in darkness for a number of reasons either manmade or weather related. Report the outage to the utility company if possible.
  • Turn off all lights, computer equipment, and appliances, but leave one light on, so that you’ll know when the power is restored.
  • Keep the refrigerator door closed to keep your perishable food stores fresher for longer.
  • If you’re using candles, oil lamps, and other open fire sources of light, be aware of curtains and other items that could catch fire. Never leave a flame unattended.
  • If traffic lights are out, treat the intersection as a four-way stop.

Here‘s our full article on prepping for blackouts.

Terrorist Attack

Even the toughest preppers may fear the devastating effects of an act of terrorism.

Despite draconian post-9/11 security measures around the world, terrorism remains a very real threat which you need to anticipate and prepare for.

  • Be prepared to evacuate your home or workplace with your GHB or BOB should an attack happen nearby. Take note of emergency exits and consider your best escape routes, wherever you may be.
  • When a terror attack happens, there can be significant loss of human life and damage to buildings. If you live or work in a populated area, stay up-to-date on how to respond to a terror situation as best you can. Inform your employer of any specific medical needs and your emergency contact details.
  • If trapped under debris, use a piece of your clothing or a handkerchief to cover your face so you don’t inhale dust. Don’t move around – if you kick up dust, you may suffocate. Instead, tap on pipes or use a whistle if you have one. Shouting should be a last resort.
  • Following an attack, physical and mental health resources in affected communities will be instantly strained. Extensive media coverage, federal investigation and heightened public fear can prolong the trauma of a terror attack.
  • Raw footage of terror events can be traumatic, especially for children, especially if news reports replay duplicate images. Young children may believe the event is still happening.
  • Even for adults, news reports can be traumatic. But, they can also be useful for keeping informed. You may need to arrange a viewing schedule in your household, with adults taking turns to watch or listen to broadcasts.
  • There may also be travel restrictions while schools and workplaces may be closed for an unforeseeable period of time.
  • The main goal of a terrorist attack is to incite fear. Counteract this by staying informed without buying into the fear mongering of some media personnel.
  • Following an attack, seek out the correct information from reliable sources. Rumors will spread like wildfire, but don’t let them influence your ability to think.
  • Over 90% of terrorist attacks are carried out with common, easily obtainable weapons and explosives. Report any suspicious objects, people or vehicles to local authorities.
  • Pay attention to things around you when travelling. Report unusual or suspicious behavior, never leave your luggage unattended, and don’t accept packages from strangers.

Rebuilding after a Disaster

  • Rebuilding after a disaster is a daunting task. Start by protecting your windows with permanent stormproof shutters, or 1-inch marine plywood that is precut to fit them.
  • Replant trees that are resistant to uprooting even in the most violent storm weather.
  • Clear out clogged rain gutters and storm-water drains to stop your awnings from caving in.
  • Reinforce your garage doors to improve wind resistance.
  • Store garden furniture, tools, toys, and trash cans in secure places away from stairs and exits so that they are not flung around dangerously by strong winds.
  • Consult a professional to check the roof sheathing and to secure the roof to the walls with hurricane straps.
  • Contract a builder to construct a tornado-proof safe room if you live in a high-risk area. This may be more effective at saving lives than simply reinforcing interior walls.
  • Fix stovepipes and chimneys an NFPA11-approved spark arrestor to stop wildfire embers igniting in your chimney pot and roofing.
  • Clear away at least 30 feet of vegetation around your house for maximum fire safety.

So the first 24 hours post-disaster can definitely be scary. If you take time now to gather knowledge and skills about how to survive, you will be more likely to come out alive.

Do your best to think about safety procedures, stay calm, and act fast in the seconds, minutes, and hours following a disaster and you’ll increase the odds of being around to rebuild.

updated 08/07/2019 by Dan F. Sullivan

4 thoughts on “The First 24 Hours Post-Disaster”

  1. I almost didn’t continue reading this article after suggesting the use of female products for first aide. Never use them to try and stop blood flow. They are designed to suck up blood only, not stop blood flow. I do keep a few pads in my 1st aide kit, but only use for cleaning around the wound after you have stopped the bleeding. Use pressure, elevation, or possibly an application of celox pads if you can’t stop the bleeding. Think about it. You have a hole and you insert a tamon. Yes, it will visably stop the bleeding on the outside, however, the bleeding on the inside continues. When you pull out that swollen tampon soaked with blood, what is going to happen to the wound?
    The rest is sound advice, although I didn’t read for every disaster as some do not occur in my area.

  2. I have major experience with your wildfire. Black Forest, Colorado June 2013. Most of your advice is sound and right out of the NFPA manual. A few hard won observations. If you have a cistern or other water source you need a way to pump it after the power is cut and it will be cut. A knowledge of the area you live in, aka alternate routes by road and foot to get out. I do not recommend it but if you choose to stay and fight a coleman lantern left burning on the hood of your evacuation vehicle can help you find the vehicle at night in the smoke. Mitigate, mitigate, mitigate prepping comes in many forms and for many things and making your home and property fire resistant is one of them. Larry aka Foot in the Forest

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