What Happens After a Disaster? (First 10 Things You Should Do)

Routines, predictability, and schedules make people feel comfortable and safe. We expect things to happen in a certain way at a certain time or at least in a certain order.

Following any catastrophe whether a natural disaster or a human-made one, confusion sets in for many people because it disrupts the expected order of things.

If any warning is given for a natural disaster, such as a tornado, hurricane, or flood, many people who didn’t prepare for an emergency ahead of time will rush to the stores and pharmacies to buy as many supplies as possible.

Lines at gas stations will be long and chaotic, and many places may run out of gas in less than 24 hours. People who realize they cannot get enough supplies to survive or cannot get out of town will be scared, possibly angry, and desperate.

There may be looting and other violence in the days following a crisis because law enforcement services will be overwhelmed dealing with the mess, and even good people will resort to stealing and looting to feed their families.

What Could Happen When SHTF

Roadways and freeways will quickly become jammed with traffic as people try to flee the area. There may be outbreaks of fires and explosions in various locations in your neighborhood and the business districts.

Emergency services will be overwhelmed, and many fires will go untended and spread to nearby buildings. How chaotic things will get and how quickly they return to normal depends on the type of event that occurs and how long it lasts.

If the catastrophe is accompanied by violence such as a shooting, chaos follows almost immediately as people realize they and their loved ones are in life-threatening danger.

Depending on the situation, there may be people screaming for help, crying, or shouting, and you may hear a lot of simultaneous noise you can’t identify.

You or a family member may be bleeding or see others bleeding, see people wandering aimlessly in shock, and even see people dying or dead in the streets. You must prioritize getting yourself and family to safety over helping those people in the streets if you want to survive.

State of Emergency Declared

This varies depending on where you live, but it basically means that the government and its emergency team can do what is needed to respond to a situation.

This can be anything from closing government offices, implementing a parking ban, declaring a mandatory curfew, recommending evacuation procedures, or even deploying the National Guard. You need to pay attention to any updates that pertain to citizens in your area.

Enactment of Martial Law

In the U.S. martial law must be declared by the President. It basically suspends constitutional rights and gives the government or the military acting on behalf of the government, complete control over its citizens.

Your home or car can be searched without cause and without a warrant, you can be detained without cause, your firearms can be confiscated, etc. Only the President can end martial law, and restore constitutional structure. Learn more about martial law here.


There are several different types of roadblocks that can be implemented and each is different. You’ve probably encountered Sobriety or Safety checkpoints at some point in your lifetime. You have a right to refuse a vehicle search if you wish although it certainly won’t win you favor with police.

During an emergency, the roadblocks you encounter could be emergency checkpoints where police are looking for a thug, witnesses to a kidnap victim or runaway. Again, you can refuse a search, but they likely won’t ask, and once they confirm you are not who they are looking for they will let you pass.

Checkpoints near the border are like safety or emergency checkpoints. Guards may ask questions and confirm your identification. Being near the border is not the same as crossing a border. Guards are not legally allowed to search your vehicle so you have the right to refuse a search.

Border Crossing Checkpoints and Airport Checkpoints do NOT need a warrant or even probable cause to search your person or your vehicle.

By crossing the border or boarding a plane you give consent to a search if security feels it warranted. Private security guards protecting private property can also search you before allowing you to enter the property or building.

Tanks Patrolling the Streets (U.N. or National Guard)

There have been numerous times in the United States, most recently in Charlotte (Sept 2016) over the death of Keith Scott and at Standing Rock in North Dakota over protests regarding the Dakota Pipeline Access, where the National Guard has been deployed.

In general, their goal is to quell rioting, protect property, businesses, and citizens from those who have become violent and are looting. Tanks may patrol to enforce mandatory curfews or for other reasons as well.


In March 2003, FEMA became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Their stated mission involves support of citizens and first responders during all hazards. All government assistance and resources are coordinated through FEMA.

There is some discrepancy among preppers as to whether FEMA responses are in the best interest of all citizens.

Some preppers believe that FEMA camps exist which will be used to round up citizens during a nationwide scale disaster on the pretense of being better able to provide services such as food, water, and first aid treatment.

The thing to remember following a catastrophe is that desperate, terrified people may do awful things. Even good people will do awful things when faced with the possibility of death.

For this reason, the key to survival is to expect chaos and confusion and do whatever you can to remain rational and think logically in response.

No one can guarantee survival in a catastrophe but there are steps you can take that will help increase the chances that you make it out alive.

10 Things You Should Do When SHTF

#1. Take Cover Away from Immediate Danger

The first step you must take following any catastrophe is to take cover away from immediate danger. This will look different depending on the type of catastrophe that is happening.

For a natural disaster like a tornado, hurricane, or earthquake you will want to take appropriate cover immediately as near to your location as possible. For flooding or wildfires, you may need to evacuate.

If you hear or feel an explosion or gunshots, you will want to get away from the area as quickly as possible and then take cover.

#2. Remain Calm

Do the best you can to remain calm to and to help provide reassurance to other family members or members of your survival group.

Children and elderly may be particularly upset and need additional reassurance that things are under control. Encourage anyone who is visibly upset to breathe slowly, inhaling through the nose and out through the mouth to prevent hyperventilation.

#3. Assess the Situation

Once you are out of immediate danger, take some time to survey the situation around you. Take note of what you heard and saw as you were running or just before you took cover.

Turn on your emergency radio and see what kind of information is being broadcast. If you are at home, gather any important papers you may need later for identification and insurance purposes.

Try to assess for yourself how much of the area outside is impacted by the catastrophe. Keep in mind that you may hear conflicting news stories and information on radio, TV, and the internet.

The government and media may try to downplay what’s happening to avoid creating more of a panic. You need to know if the damage is limited to your street, an entire region, or beyond and what is and isn’t happening so you can protect your family.

Turn off utilities and check your home or the area you are in for any downed power lines or other hazards to ensure your location is at least temporarily safe. If you can communicate with nearby neighbors or family members, survey them to determine the real extent of the damage.

#3. Treat Any Injuries

Part of your assessment of the situation will be to determine if you or any member of your family or group are injured. If you can do so safely, check for other people in the area or neighbors who may be injured and need assistance.

Provide first aid treatment for your group members and others as soon as you can do so safely. Round up any pets or livestock that are loose.

#5. Protect Children

Use a magic marker and nail polish to write identification on your young child’s body where it can be read by emergency personnel if your child is separated from the group. Include a parent’s name and contact info as well as contact info for a relative outside of the immediate danger area.

Have children change into long pants and a long-sleeved shirt if available to protect them against flying debris. Gather any “special” comfort items that will help your child stay calm. If flooding is a potential threat, put life jackets on all children.

#6. Review the Plan

Review your family survival plan if you created one in advance. If you didn’t create a plan, now is the time to plan some basic things with your group.

Once immediate danger has passed, locate family members that were in the area and try to contact a relative outside the area to let them know where you are.

Be sure to include where and when you will rendezvous if you get separated and how you will communicate, especially if cell towers and power are out.

#7. Take Inventory

Take inventory of what resources and supplies you have with you. This includes food, water, first aid supplies, etc. If you prepared, most of your group members should have their essential EDC items intact, and perhaps some are carrying a get home bag.

Find out what items other group members may have on hand as well. Knowing ahead of time what items your group has available will help you to respond quicker and make a better decision in the next step.

#8. Bug in or Bug Out?

The next thing you will need to do is to decide whether you will bug in or bug out of your current location. If you are home, you must decide if it is safe to stay put.

If you are in a public location or on the road, you will need to decide if it is safe to go home and if so, which route will get you there quickly and safely. Use all the information you’ve gathered about the extent of the catastrophe to help you decide.

#9. Prepare to Travel

Even if you decide to bug in, it’s always a good idea to begin travel preparations in case the situation changes rapidly, and you need to evacuate to a shelter or bug out location.

Ensure that all adults have their identification and any important papers such as passports, driver’s license, and medical alert information on their person. Make sure each adult and child have their own GHB in case anyone is separated.

Load at least some critical supplies into your bug out vehicle in case you must leave very quickly. Make sure the gas tank is full, and load any extra fuel as well.

Remove any large debris or items that could puncture vehicle tires from the driveway if it is safe to do so. Board up windows to prepare for high winds and move valuables to the 2nd or 3rd story if flooding is possible.

#10. Prioritize staying warm, fed, and sheltered

In the days following a catastrophe uncertainty continues to reign because you don’t know when or if things will return to normal. The only thing you can do is to make the best of it and tend to your family.

Stay warm using a fireplace or woodstove if available. Cook hearty meals on the woodstove, in a solar oven, or outside over an open fire if necessary.

At night, cover windows with blackout curtains or blankets and use flashlights, solar powered LED lights, or lanterns instead of candles to minimize fire hazard. Stay inside as much as possible and only venture out if necessary.

Following a disaster whether natural or man-made, there are several things that may happen which you will need to monitor carefully:

A catastrophe is unexpected and disrupts our normal routines and daily life. A catastrophe often causes widespread damage and injuries that cannot be predicted.

The only way to prepare for events like this is to know and practice how and when to respond to an emergency so that you have the best chance of a positive outcome for you and your family.

We’ve listed 10 actions you must [should] take following a catastrophe, can you think of others? Please share them in the comments below.

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4 thoughts on “What Happens After a Disaster? (First 10 Things You Should Do)”

  1. Have some small denominations of bills $1, $5, $10 and loose change in case you find a vending machine that is working or a store that is open. No need to give them $20 for a $1 bottle of water.

  2. sounds really bad – but will be more understandable in SHTF chaos – be ready to “leash” your small but very maneuverable children … besides the obvious practicality – with possible abnormal sleeping arrangements tethering sleeping children, to an adult, will give certain guarantees …..

    1. Illini Warrior, I always thought people who put a harness & leash on their children were horrible until I had my 4th child in 6 yrs. He became known as “The Wanderer”. That kid could disappear in a hot second. When I found him wandering through the amusement park holding hands with a strange man I became a believer in restraint. The man was nice, trying to find a security officer but that could have gone in a much worse direction. You make a good point.

      1. Back in the 1950’s, my parents came back to the States by ship after an assignment in Italy. The three of us kids were on the voyage. Oldest was almost 9, sis was 4.5 and I was 18 months. Mother had sis and I on leashes regularly. Beats dying by drowning in the Atlantic. There are times and places when it just makes a lot of sense.

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