Checklist of Things to Do When Disaster Strikes

Prepping for disaster garners us the tools, supplies, and most vitally, the skill set needed to survive any man-made or natural disaster that strikes. Practice runs help ensure you and your tribe are ready for anything from a short-term regional natural disaster to a full scale nationwide apocalyptic event.

In addition to all of this fine planning, you should also have a detailed “when disaster strikes” checklist to make certain everyone in your family or group is prompted into immediate action when the SHTF on a large or small level.

house destroyed by earthquake

First, you must decide whether you need just one when general disaster strikes checklist list or a small binder filled with SHTF checklists specific to the type of scenario you might find yourself in when it happens as well as address whether or not your survival plan is focused upon bugging in or bugging out.

What Is A Disaster?

Defining what a disaster actually is so the youngest to the most old and frail in your prepping group or extended family known when they need to rapidly get into survival mode, is also essential.

If your children or grandchildren are not homeschooled, having a checklist that addresses what to do during a school shooting should be tucked away in their backpack. They could be away from both home and you when a school shooter, terror attack or natural disaster happens. Knowing what to do, when to do it, and how to do it can save their lives.

Contrary to what the mainstream media would like non-preppers to believe, we self-reliant types are not hunkered away in fear in an underground bunker eagerly awaiting the latest conspiracy theory to play out.

Most of us look at prepping as self-reliance insurance – deeming it as important to our daily lives as car insurance, life insurance, and house insurance. Therefore, we are out living our lives, going to work, to youth ball tournaments, and on vacation – we just do so more wisely.

How you and your loved ones respond to the moments after disaster strikes will be 100% impacted by where you are at the time. Planning to be away from home or the bugout location and how to react if disaster strikes wherever you are must be a part of your survival plan – and so is checklist specific to such a circumstance.

Away From Home When Disaster Strikes Checklist

If you are at home when disaster strikes, you may have just gotten very lucky. But expecting all of your loved ones or tribe members to be there as well is highly unrealistic.

We live in a 56-acre survival homestead, our adult daughter and her family have a cabin here on our land as well. I work from home. Yet, Sunday is the only day that we are usually all here at the same time.

Our two oldest grandchildren land their parents live in another county over an hour away. The rest of our tribe members live within a 10 mile radius, which sounds close, but being in a rural area, some of those folks drive up to an hour each way for work.

You must anticipate at least one member of your family or tribe not being at home with you.

Anyone away from home needs to react immediately so they can get home before panic in the streets leads to chaos, rioting, and looting.

Anyone at home needs go into surveillance and defense mode and stay put unless part of the survival plan dictates otherwise for a specific task.

The away from home disaster checklist should include both reminders related sound survival practices and especially a detailed “to do” section addressing the established survival plan.

When you are away from home when disaster strikes you have only one job – get home. The items on this checklist will serve as reminders on what you must do to get there as quickly and safely as possible.

  • Delay and Die – Do not wait for permission from a boss or the government to leave wherever you are after disaster strikes. The situation outside will only get more dangerous the longer you wait to leave – unless dealing with a specific type of natural disaster where sheltering in place in the only immediate option. In that case, pull out your emergency radio and listen for news and alerts so you know as soon as it is safe to head home.
  • Gear Check – You should be routinely checking the working order of gear in your get me home bag, as well as the date on food. But, go over the supplies you have before leaving to discover if anything is amiss, so you know not to count on it when on the road.
  • Transportation – Do not waste time in traffic if you can leave by car but gridlock has already occurred. Waiting an hour in traffic hoping it will start moving – at least enough for you to get off the main road, could cost you your life. Do not hesitate to abandon your car where it sits idling and go on foot. Every single moment your travels are delayed, your chances of survival decrease substantially. Waiting in line for gas is also not an optional, always keep the tank full and supplies to fix a flat tire and other common quick repairs in the vehicle.
  • Cash – Carry cash or other quality bartering commodity, never wait go searching for an ATM machine or wait in line for one, You should already have everything you need in your get home bag and everyday carry kit – do not panic or get greedy and waste time getting more cash – it will likely be worthless during a long-term disaster anyway.
  • Rally Points – Include in the checklist of not only rally points but the regular schedule of each member that is due to arrive at your location. Do not leave your location unless the survival plan involves you going to collect children from school or providing transportation home from a rally point.
  • Cache Map – The checklist should contain a coded map or instructions to find buried caches between frequently traveled places and home as well at rally points so quick and safe resupply is possible. Handheld radios should be stored in a Faraday cage inside the cache, and their batteries stored the same way but separately.
  • Communication – Attempt to contact any family or tribe members using first a phone (text might be more feasible during a disaster) and then via emergency radios. Your survival plan should include a low tech communication plan using color codes of symbols so if you have to leave the home only other members of your group will understand that you had to leave and why. Using bandanas or spray paint to leave a coded message at a rally to indicate you have been there and are headed home, had to leave for safety reasons and have moved onto another rally point, etc.
  • Water and Food – Use water and food sparingly. Your route home could take a lot longer than it did even during drills. The type of disaster could impact your planned route and alternate route home, especially if the SHTF event is a natural disaster.
  • Travel Safety – Avoid main roads when at all possible. Do not engage with others any more than necessary. Your only goal is to reach home or the rally point safely and connect with your family and loved ones. Bad people will take advantage of the panic and attempt to play upon your sympathies – or steal what you have. Good people will panic and slow you down; your priority is your own safety and that of those you love who are waiting to meet you at a rally point or at home. Say that mantra over and over in your head every time you are struggling with not stopping to aid others. Mind your own business and do not draw attention to yourself.
  • OPSEC – Observe operational security even when walking to your bugout or bugin location. Do not share any information about where you are going, who you are going to meet, or indicate your are armed and have emergency food and supplies. A large tactical get me home bag will attract too much attention, blend in with those around you as much as possible, including the type of gear, weapons, and communication devices you are carrying.
  • Weather – Pay attention to the sky, wind, and temperature changes. Even if the SHTF event has nothing to do with a natural disaster, your travels could be significantly impacted by inclement weather. You must get ahead of the weather change, or hunker down until it is again safe to travel.
  • Vigilance – Remain alert to possible human threats. Be ready to fight without showing any outward threatening signs. If you bugged out in a car or on foot quickly enough, the chances of being followed are slim – the unprepared will still be in shock and not yet potential marauders. Still, keep both your eyes and ears open for followers and do not lead them to your rally point, bugout location, or bug in location.
  • Health – If you get overheated or injured, tend to those issues. Pressing on without pausing in a safe spot to deal with them will likely cause more problems that could derail or defeat your chances of making it home alive.

Bug In When Disaster Strikes Checklist

I personally cannot think of anything that would be worse than being home alone when the SHTF. No, not because I would be afraid for myself, but for the ones I love who are stuck out in the world that is about to fall apart.

When you are home alone or with only some members of your family or tribe when what non-preppers would call the “unthinkable” happens, you have two jobs:

  1. Keep those with your safe.
  2. Keep the home or bugout location safe and ready.

Now, those could be really enormous jobs depending upon what type of environment you live in (rural, suburban, or urban), and how close you are to the inciting SHTF incident.

You must remain laser focused on protecting the home and preparing it for those who are going to arrive and help you maintain it. Keeping busy and focused on what has to be done will help stave off the panic you are feeling about those who are not there yet, and take care of the jobs that must be done.

  • Communication – Activate the communication protocols in your survival plan. These can be high tech or low tech – or both. Check on the whereabouts of your loved ones as soon as possible, this may take many repeated attempts if cell phone service is interrupted and they are out of handheld radio range. Just because you know the SHTF, do not assume they are aware of that fact yet.
  • News – Turn on your television or emergency radio to keep abreast of any emergency alerts or updates.
  • Defense – Arm yourself, even when walking only a few feet away to do necessary outdoor tasks. Follow survival plan protocols related to the perimeter defenses on your home – accomplish them quickly – this is the safest time to move about outdoors. Even if you are alone and pre-made SHTF fencing, driveway or retreat road obstacles and shutters are supposed to be put in place, take care of that task as best you can until more people arrive.
  • Water – How long the water will remain flowing from the tap or the well continues to work will be a massive unknown. Fill up as many jugs, buckets, sinks, and tubs with water as possible – even if you have a natural water source on your property of manual well dipper.
  • Livestock – Secure any livestock as per your survival plan. Allowing horses and meat animals to remain in pastures near a roadway is not safe. Free range meat and egg birds must be gathered and secured in their coop, as well. Protecting your food source is vital to the survival of yourself and of your loved ones.
  • Garden – If any crops in the garden are ready to be picked, or close to being ready, get them plucked and brought indoors. Set up any security systems along the perimeter of the garden and even your house. Again, securing your food source is essential.
  • Power – Even if the power is on immediately after the SHTF, do not assume it will remain that way for long. Situate your generator and have it ready to go if the power goes out. The same goes for flashlights, oil lamps, candles, solar lights, and off grid cooking gear.
  • Bedding – If your survival plan involves blowing up mattresses to create sleeping quarters, get that chore completed and bedding placed upon them so they are ready to use.
  • Food – Prepare a meal so it is ready to feed the loved ones and tribe members who might have a long walk home.

Bugout When Disaster Strikes Checklist

Being away from home and – or loved ones when disaster strikes and your plan is to bug out will be fraught with worry – even for a seasoned prepper. Developing an incredibly detailed survival plan to include multiple contingencies will be needed to round up all of your loved ones and then get to the bugout location.

A disaster strikes checklist in this scenario, should work like a syllabus to the overall survival plan. What you do first and immediately following will depend on where you are. The away from home checklist can be followed to a degree, but you might not be going home… ever again.

Whether or not you meet at a rally point with your tribe and journey on to the bugout location together or go home and leave together, is a decision you must make in advance in relation to where you and others are when the SHTF. Once this aspect of your survival plan is in place, follow or adapt the away from home checklist to suit the first part of your needs.

Those who are home or reach there first when the SHTF, will be responsible for getting the bugout gear and vehicles ready.

  1. Defense – Arm yourself and place all weapons and related supplies in the bugout vehicles and within reach.
  2. News – Keep checking radio and television broadcasts for alerts and updates about the SHTF situation so you know if and when the bugout survival plan has to be stepped up or altered as part of an outlined contingency.
  3. Bugout Vehicles– This is the first priority to get ready for a bugout, As much as possible, load up the gear inside a garage or a secluded spot to avoid prying eyes.
  4. Vehicle Check – Check the tires and all fluids on the bugout vehicles and make sure they are all topped off and ready to roll. Do not forget to check windshield wiper fluid, windshield blades, and the spare tire(s) as well.
  5. Communications – Attempt to make contact with others in your group that are supposed to be on the way home or to a rally point. The survival plan should address how long you should wait for them and protocol for leaving without the entire group is the situation dictates. As noted in the list above, use a color coded or symbol low tech communication guide so others will know that you have left, who left with you, who checked in, etc.
  6. Packing Up – You may not have time to load all of the bugout gear before you have to move as the SHTF situation evolves. Start with the essentials – fuel and water. Next, move onto medical supplies and food.
  7. Children – Dealing with children, especially young ones, is going to make the SHTF bugout activity even more stressful. Place the children in the vehicle after loading up the essentials, if they are too young or panicked to help with the packing. Give them an already prepared activity kit to keep them busy and as calm as possible, so you can accomplish vital tasks and be ready to pull out when the rest of your family arrives.
  8. Animals – Load up and domestic pets or livestock next – along with their food and other necessary supplies.
  9. Continue Packing – Keep packing until all gear that is supposed to be loaded is in the vehicle, or you have to leave.

Why a Disaster Response Checklist Is So Important

Even when SHTF drills run fairly successfully, you have to take into account the human tendency to panic when the real thing happens – especially when children, grandchildren, or loved ones who are not full-fledged preppers, are involved.

A “what to do when disaster strikes checklist” will help focus the prepping loved ones and prompt what is basically the mental equivalent of muscle memory to spark them into action. A delayed response during an emergency situation could turn you into a statistic, not a survivor.

The impact a few reminders or words of a comforting and stabilizing nature – preferably a mantra that has already been drilled into the heads of loved ones. The brief note should include sentiments that will help bring about a deep and calming breath and prompt a “I have trained for this, I now have to do what I already know how to do”.

If you are a Walking Dead fan, think back to when the show was still a great series. I know, that will take a minute. Remember the few times Hershel (and then Maggie) would say, “Everyone has a job to do, this one’s yours” after issuing a task to do during a dangerous or bad moment?

That little familiar phrase instantly focused them away from their fear, grief, or pain just enough to allow their mental muscle memory to take over and do something necessary or constructive during a particular SHTF moment.

That, fellow preppers, is the type of note you should place on any disaster checklist given to both yourself and your loved ones to tote with them in case they too found themselves about to face a tragic moment – possibly alone.

disaster checklist Pinterest image

About Tara Dodrill

Tara Dodrill
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, 'Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out', Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.

3 comments

  1. Avatar

    just like to point out the need for SHTF specific “checklists” >>> could have some different additional necessities between variety SHTFs and very definitely the priorities will shuffle ….

    • Avatar

      If you stick to the basics..just what you need to survive, then That is the only list you need…the rest revolves around skills and experience.

  2. Avatar

    Tara,
    I just printed out this article. Another fine article.
    I have read your articles for a long time but have never commented on them.
    Please know that many people read and learn from your articles.
    Thank you for your efforts to help everyone.
    Bill

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