Whether you’re completely new to prepping or you’ve been doing this for years, this article will help you get you prepped for whatever life may throw at you.
You’ll not only get a high-level overview of the disasters and emergencies most likely to affect you, we’ll also go deep down the rabbit hole, giving you some of the most advanced prepping info on the internet.
If you want a downloadable PDF checklist of the 3 categories of disasters, you can get it here. Print it out and tick them one by one when you’re confident enough you’re prepared for each.
Table of Contents
Why Prepare for Disasters and Emergencies?
Here are a few very good reasons:
The population is growing by over 200,000 people A DAY. Your read that right. This could cause all sorts of food shortages and economic troubles in the future. Check out the world population clock and be amazed.
These newborns are in 3rd world countries, so how will they survive, given that their parents are barely making a living? And how many of them will migrate in search of a better life?
The droughts are expanding. It’s not just California anymore 20.
The U.S. power grid is not only vulnerable to an EMP attack, but might collapse on its own because it’s really, really old. Plus, the increasing number of electric cars, car chargers and gadgets puts even more pressure.
The U.S. debt has reached a record high of $23.3 trillion, and it’s a miracle the dollar hasn’t collapsed yet. It could happen at any time, regardless of who’s in the White House.
The U.S. has a number of powerful enemies (Russia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea, China) that would do anything to take it down.
Terrorism has become a global problem, and it’s very hard to stop. As you’re well aware, these things happen in Western countries, not just 3rd world countries.
The riots and unrest in U.S.’s recent history showed how easy it is for them to spread across the country.
These are just a few of the world’s problems, but the real number of disasters and emergencies big and small is huge. This is why I’ve put everything into categories, so you don’t feel overwhelmed, and take things one at a time. Let’s get started!
The 3 Main Categories of Disasters and Emergencies
Category C: Small-Scale Critical Events
- car crashes (37,000 people die in the US each year and over 2 million are injured 2)
- rape (almost 300,000 sexual assaults in the U.S. each year 3)
- firearm assaults (although this number is decreasing, 2013 saw over 1.1 million reported assaults 4)
- electric shocks (200 people a year end up in the ER 5)
- drowning (3,500 deaths each year or 10 / day 6)
- food poisoning ( 1 in 6 Americans get sick every year and 3,000 die each year 7)
- heart attack (leading cause of death in the U.S. – over 600,000 people / year 1)
- rabid dogs attacks (40,000 U.S. citizens are treated for rabies after being bitten 8)
- carbon monoxide intoxication (500 yearly deaths, 15,000 visits to the ER 9)
- house fire (over 1.2 million fires in the U.S. 10)
- getting struck by lightning
- car breakdown
- falling (off stairs, from a tree etc.)
- attempted suicide
- kitchen, gardening, homesteading and farming accidents
- accidental firearm discharge
- road rage
- falling objects (tiles etc.)
- bike accidents (726 bikers died in 2012 11 and I’m sure the global stat is way higher)
- motorcycle accidents (over 4,000 die on U.S. roads each year 12)
- hiking accidents (a whopping 200,000 people a year are treated each year – U.S. only 13); snowboarding, sledging and actual hiking are at the top of hiking-related injuries (over 300 yearly deaths 6)
- boating accidents (over 300 Americans die each year 6)
- sinking cars
- bee stings
- weather related deaths (2,000 Americans die each year from the weather and a third of them from cold-related issues, including hypothermia 31)
- losing your job or your house
- street fights
- suffocation and strangulation
- hazardous materials incidents
- getting lost in a big city
- dust storms
- hail storms (the United States is hit by over 5,000 such storms each year 11)
- accidental injuries (falls, cuts, gun accidents etc.) (over 130,000/year in the U.S. 1)
- police brutality (it happens a lot during riots, they could mistake you for a criminal or a thug)
- snake bites (7 to 8,000 snake bites a year, resulting in 5 or 6 deaths 15)
- spider bites (spiders kill more people than snakes, 7 a year 15)
- tick bites (some carry Lyme disease)
- tsunami-like (seiche) waves on the Great Lakes (only 10 big ones have occurred in the last hundred years but the last one in 1998 caused some parts of Michigan to be declared federal disaster areas16)
Category B: Medium-Scale Disasters
- terrorist attacks / active shooter (I’m gonna give you the global stats for this one because it’s more interesting: 13,463 attacks in 2014 alone, 32,700 deaths, 34,700 injuries and 9,400 kidnappings 17)
- flash floods (over 100 Americans die each year from them 18)
- earthquakes (over 1,300 of them occur each year that have a magnitude of at least 5 21)
- volcanic eruptions (there are 169 active volcanoes in the U.S. 22)
- tsunamis (devastating tsunamis are rare, particularly in the Atlantic Ocean but the last one destroyed the city of Lisbon in 1755 30)
- wildfires (over 63,000 total fires in the U.S. in 2014 which burned 3.6 million acres 23)
- straight line winds
- ice storms (over 15 of them a year happen in the United States 24)
- home invasions (1 in 5 homes will experience a home invasion at some point, there’s a burglary every 10 seconds and one property crime every 3 seconds 25)
- avalanches (almost 30 people die in the U.S. each year as a result 26)
- chemical spills (thousands of yearly oil spills across the U.S. 27)
- chemical attacks
- prolonged grid down situations / blackouts
- snow storms and blizzards (20 to 30 yearly deaths – U.S. only 28)
- heat waves
- heat exhaustion
- extreme cold
- mud slides and landslides (25 -50 yearly deaths 29)
- radiation leaks
- localized Martial Law
Category A: Large-Scale Devastating Events
- nuclear attacks
- viruses (Zika Ebola, etc.)
- mass extinction of honeybees
- economic collapse (lots of ways it could happen: a dollar collapse, the shrinkage of the middle class, banks failing
- food crisis
- natural or man-made EMPs
- the Yellowstone caldera erupting
- nationwide Martial Law
- the possible rise of a ruthless dictator (not necessarily in the U.S.)
- gradual collapse of society
- global warming and its consequences (sea level rising etc.)
- a technological disaster
- asteroid hitting Earth (very unlikely, and there isn’t much you can do about it)
Those are quite a few reasons to start prepping if you ask me! If you’re intimidated or even scared, I get it.
You can’t prepare for everything and you shouldn’t, otherwise, your whole life will revolve around prepping and that’s just not for everyone.
The Likelihood of Disasters and Emergencies
Between 2005 and 2015 there have been 699 major disasters declared in the U.S. That’s 70 disasters a year!
And this doesn’t even take into account small-scale events. If we were to count all of the car crashes, robberies, assaults and so on, we would reach the inevitable conclusion that the world is a scary place.
Now I’m not telling you not to get out of the house, but you have to have a certain attitude of “things can take a turn for the worse at any moment”.
The 4 Layers of Bulletproof Prepping
My approach to prepping is simple. After you first figure out your unique situation, apply my layered approach (for the first 3 days, then 3 weeks, 3 months and 1+ years). Start with level one and don’t move on the the next one until you’ve complete it.
Now, there are two basic scenarios for you and your family when a catastrophe hits. You either bug in (meaning, stay inside your home until it’s over) or bug out (leave your home and town or city and find safety somewhere else).
Let me share with you your customized, layered survival plan…
Sure, you could go hardcore right from the start and prepare for a long-term disaster from day one but, as I said, there is a learning curve to this, and you want to minimize your mistakes.
It’s much better to prepare for the layers I’m about to give you, so you don’t feel overwhelmed with all of this information.
Layer 1: Your 72-Hour Emergency Plan
The first thing you need to worry about is having the basics down to survive at least 72 hours. Most smaller-scale disasters don’t last longer than this, so it makes sense to take care of this first.
To successfully pass the “prepping for beginners” Level 1, you will need:
- a DIY bug out bag (BOB for short)
- a DIY first-aid kit (FAK for short)
- a bug-out location (a place to evacuate to should something happen)
- a bug out vehicle
- a few basic survival skills and a few specialized for urban scenarios if you live in the city
- general physical preparation (GPP), meaning you need to be a little stronger, faster, more flexible and have more stamina; nothing too fancy, you just need to get a little bit into shape
- at least a couple of ways to start a fire (think Bic lighters, magnesium fire starters, steel wool and a 9V battery, waterproof matches etc.)
- at least one way to filter water such as the LifeStraw
- at least a couple of ways to light your way (such as hand crank flashlights, candles etc.)
- multi-purpose survival items such as duct tape, mil-spec 550 Paracord, baking soda, bleach
- one emergency thermal blanket per person
- Think about one-way and two-way emergency communications (you need to be the first to know when things go bad and you need ways to contact your family, the police, the ambulance and so on). At the very least, you should have an AM/FM emergency radio and extra batteries.
- you need at least one home defense gun and several alternative weapons. If the law doesn’t allow it, you may be interested in making or buying airsoft guns.
- a 3-day water stockpile (at least 1 gallon / person / day)
- a 72-hour stockpile of food (consider at least 2,500 calories / person / day and don’t forget your pets)
- Designate a safe-room to hide into as a last resort.
- Fortify your home against burglars and home invaders. Set up early warning systems on your property, security cameras alarm system stickers, get a dog, maybe even a few “surprises”.
- Know your bug-out routes. mark them on printed and laminated maps. Focus on the ones that are less likely to get crowded when everyone’s trying to get out of the city (forest roads, train tracks etc.).
- Get a good fixed-blade survival knife or, at the very least, a good folding knife.
- Get a good multi-tool.
- Worry about COMSEC and OPSEC. As one of my readers simplified it, COMSEC is about your resources, OPSEC is about how you deploy those preps.
- Do not neglect mental preparation and develop your “fight or flight” instinct.
Remember the rule of threes: you can live 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food.
Layer 2: Your 3-Week Plan
Obviously, your three week plan should expand on the previous one. I advise you to NOT move to level 2 until you’ve fully taken care of level 1.
Of course, there are exceptions. For instance, you may want to buy food in bulk that’s going to last you a lot more than 3 days.
Here’s what you should do or improve to prepare for a catastrophe that will last at least three weeks:
- Think about shelter in case you’re out in the woods somewhere. A 2-person tent is a great choice..
- Learn about all the ways to find water.
- Learn and prepare for more ways to start a fire.
- Expand your first aid kit with more band-aids and basic OTC medication. Add some first aid items for your pets and animals, and learn some basic pet emergency treatments.
- Build a 3-week water supply. Use BPA-free 55 gallon water storage barrels.
- Build a 3-week food supply by focusing on foods with long shelf life and means to properly store them. This list will help, but you can start with:
- white rice,
- dried beans,
- canned fruits and veggies,
- peanut butter,
- salt and sugar,
- jams & jellies
- Since things will go from bad to worse, you need to be able to blend in withe everyone else and avoid being a target. Avoid looking cleaner, healthier and happier than everyone else.
- water shortage
- Start reorganizing your home to accommodate your increasing stockpile.
- Make further improvements to your home, so it makes it in case of a tornado, earthquake or a flood.
- Consider as many bug out locations as possible (a relative’s house in another state, a lake cabin, even an empty piece of land where you can camp).
- Make sure there’s always enough gas in your car to reach your bug out location and keep an extra gas can in the trunk.
- Take a first aid class, plus yearly refresher courses.
- Don’t neglect firearms. Get a second one, stock up on ammo, get a gun cleaning kit and use it regularly.
- Expect to abandon your vehicle at some point during the bug out, so keep items that will help you keep moving:
- a skateboard, a kids scooter, even an inflatable canoe
- Assemble a get home bag (GHB), a car bug out bag (car BOB) and an everyday carry kit (EDC).
- Consider stashing some food for your pets and farmyard animals.
- Exercise 2-3 times a week to stay in shape.
Layer 3: Your 3-Month Emergency Plan
A three months+ disaster means a lot of bad things will happen. Since most people won’t last for more than 3 weeks without food, the ones that do probably have a lot of power: guns, ammo, food, communications, physical strength and so on.
These people are going to be more dangerous, than your typical unarmed zombie begging for food, because they know exactly swhat they’re doing.
Depending on the nature of the disaster, there are certain things you need to consider:
- Martial Law or a state of emergency may be in effect.
- There might be no law at all, meaning gangs of people would rule regions or just certain areas and neighborhoods.
- Many of your liberties will be gone, including the right to free speech or to a fair trial.
- Federal agents may knock on your door and take away your supplies to share them with others.
- You might be under foreign occupation.
- The power grid may be down (it’s weak as it is).
- Food and water will be rationed.
- The transportation system will be down, meaning no food or water in stores.
Consider the following for your 3-month emergency plan:
- Get more guns and stock up on ammo.
- Split your preps between your home and your bug out location because you don’t know where you’ll end up.
- Save more food for your pets and animals and make sure your cat or dog has its own bug out bag.
- Come up with the disaster scenarios that are most likely to happen, develop plans of what you can do in each of them and practice them (ideally with your family).
- Start growing a small garden, maybe just a few veggies in pots or buckets.
- Get a generator and stock up on fuel, to keep your family warm, cook and use your devices should the power grid go down for extended periods of time.
- Learn and practice self-defense moves.
- Improve your health by reducing carbs intake, focusing on clean food and exercising.
- Get a really good survival knife and keep your folding one as a back-up.
- Make sure you have means of cooking without electricity (propane or alcohol stoves).
- Have plans B and C for everything. Stay flexible because in a disaster, if anything can go wrong, it probably will.
Layer 4: Prepping for a One Year+ Disaster
OK, this isn’t exactly part of the “prepping 101” thing but, if you’re ready for the ultimate level, here’s what you should do:
- Start stockpiling seeds to ensure you have fresh, delicious foods for the long term.
- Rotate your food stockpile at least twice a year (when you change the clock back and forth is a good idea) or even make survival food part of your weekly diet.
- Don’t stockpile foods you don’t usually eat or you’re allergic to.
- Go off grid. Become a homesteader.
- Start using alternate ways to collect energy.
- Start collecting rainwater.
- Learned advanced skills to be able to fix and do things on your own, such as woodworking, plumbing, sewing, gutting animals, working with clay and on and on.
- Start a survival garden.
- Consider an aquaponics system.
- Start raising backyard animals such as chickens, goats, ducks, pigs etc.
- Learn to make foods with a long shelf life such as bannock bread, hardtack and jerky.
- Learn canning (water bath and pressure), so you can grow your stockpile really cheaply.
- Build a network of like-minded people that are as (geographically) close to you as possible.
- Learn bushcraft skills to be able to survive in the most adverse conditions. Things like:
- Focus on renewable sources of food, water and on medicinal plants (start a garden, start raising some chickens etc.).
- Stock up on even more water (hopefully you have the space).
- Get out of debt.
- Consider growing medicinal herbs, plus learning how to use them in an emergency, when doctors may not be available.
- Consider homeschooling your children.
- Consider selling your home and moving to a small town, or, at the very least, to the suburbs.
- Following the “two is one, one is none rule”, start doubling some of your most important items:
- Get a second survival knife, a skinning knife and a few more back-ups
- Diversify your means to start a fire. Stock up on tinder, kindling, wood and other fuel.
- Get more water filters
- Get more flashlights, and also consider chemlights, lanterns and solar yard lights.
- Get a 4X4 vehicle. It’s a much better choice for bugging out.
- Consider all the places to hide your preps, including fake air vents or burying them in your back yard.
- Learn to recognize and forage wild edibles. These aren’t just backup food sources, they’re jam-packed with vitamins and fiber.
- Modify your home and bug out location to keep it cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
- Get a dental kit and pay extra attention to your teeth: brush, floss and use mouthwash. If you get a cavity or some other dental issue post-collapse, it’ll be pretty much impossible (or at least very expensive) to take care of.
- Get ready to build a post-collapse society with you as its leader. Make sure you have extra room for family and close friends, who might come to your survival retreat.
The Cost of Prepping
A lot of people are wandering how much prepping costs and most preppers won’t give you a straight answer.
It’s like asking how much a house or a car costs, right? Well, I for one hate this type of answer so I’m going to give you several possible ones right now.
If you’re only looking to prep for catastrophic events that will last less than 3 weeks, you can start with $10 / person / week. There are lots of things you can buy for this money, things that fall into two categories:
- quality survival items that are cheap
- cheaper versions of more expensive survival items (that are better than nothing)
If you’re new to prepping and you don’t have time AND you don’t really want to learn a whole bunch of stuff
If you haven’t done any prepping at all but you have the money, then a $30 to $50 / week / family member should work. if you can’t afford even that, that’s fine too! Set up a budget no matter how small.
If you can afford to spend more than $50 / week…. DON’T. You’re gonna make a lot of mistakes in the beginning so, the more your read, the less likely you are to buy overpriced food, guns and gear.
Sure, you have to buy stuff but knowing which stuff to buy and having the right skills is much more important. Ideally, you should make a budget and then stick to it.
Now, the secret to minimizing your expenses with prepping is to put in more time and effort into it. For example, you can:
- Use coupons.
- Buy in bulk.
- Monitor prices to spot real discounts; use google docs or excel to save links and prices.
- Find generic no-name products that are cheaper than brand names and just as good.
- Go to garage sales, dollar stores, and flea markets.
- Compare various products in the smallest of detail to make sure you get the most bang for your buck..
- Consider bartering with your prepper friends or even online, on prepping forums.
- Avoid anything pre-made, such as pre-made bug out bags, MREs, and premade first aid kits. There’s a price to pay for convenience.
- avoid buying overpriced survival food because, when you dot he math, the price/calorie is sky-high
Your Unique Situation
Although sometimes it’s best to just dive into things head first and just do them, before you buy your first prep, consider your unique situation:
- your age (you may not be in the shape you once were)
- your sex (you may not have the strength to fend off attackers, lift heavy objects etc.)
- your family (they may or may not agree with prepping, and the bigger the family, the more you have to plan before you prep)
- your location (you should prep for certain disasters first)
- your financial situation
- any medical conditions (these will dictate what emergency foods you can or cannot stockpile)
Learn from Other’s Mistakes
Before you begin your prepping journey, I would advise you learn from others’ mistakes. Why make them when you can side-step them? Here’s a list of the most common ones I’ve seen in my 5 years of prepping:
- buying too many things,
- focusing to much on buying and too little on skills,
- storing too much of one particular type of food,
- focusing on one particular aspect of survival (such as guns) and neglecting the others
- prepping for one specific event and neglecting the rest,
- not practicing the skills that they learn
- neglecting survival medicine,
- …and many more. You can find a full list here.
Should You Keep Your Mouth Shut About Survival?
Ideally you want everyone on board but that’s just not possible. The most important people to convince are the ones living under the same room as you: your family.
Everyone else, don’t count on it and tell them about your endeavors only if you notice they’re worried about their future too.
If you can’t get your family on board, you should prep alone. If you can, you should develop a family survival plan, and keep things quiet with your friends and neighbors unless you have reasons to believe they are preppers too, or might be at least interested in the idea.
Disclosure: This post has affiliate links, so I may get a commission if you buy through those links. See my full disclosure for more.
There are a lot more things to talk about and, although I’ve given you plenty of links throughout this article, you should also consider these:
- 120+ Survival Tips That May One Day Save Your Life, such as:
- you need to keep your bug out bag as light as possible
- keep your food, water and meds in cool, dark, dry places, away from light, rodents and other pests
- use Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers to maximize the shelf life of most emergency foods
- never store water in milk jugs or juice boxes
- A huge collection of 500 military manuals.
- Check out my collection of free survival ebooks.
- Fast online’s huge collection of PDFs on every topic you can imagine related to survival and homesteading (link)
- A similar directory of eBooks, only this one has over 4000 ebooks to choose from.
- The famous One Second After book that has changed the lives of so many preppers, Tess Pennington’s The Prepper Blueprint and The Backyard Homestead.
Careful: don’t fall into the “reading trap”. As you absorb information, you should also apply it. Avoid turning into a “survival junkie” who’s read everything there is to read but is a sitting duck when disaster strikes.
Instead, you can download my PDF checklist, print it out, and tick each disaster or emergency one by one. Start with easiest ones (also the most likely to occur).
last update: 06/10/2021 by Dan F. Sullivan