If you are reading this article, on this site, you probably care about surviving disasters in all their forms. And you should; death follows in the wake of disasters. No matter how well prepared, how well equipped or well trained death will always get a vote.
In this article, instead of delving into detail on preventing disaster from claiming your life, we are going to get very cozy with all the varied and terrible ways that death may usher you off the mortal plane. It is my hope that aside from being grimly entertaining reading, this list may help you identify and shore up any weak spots in your own preparations.
With enough foresight, dedication, grit and a little luck, when the reaper knocks to collect his due you can whisper back: “Not this one. Not today.”
This list is in no way a complete, itemized ledger of all the possible ways to die during or in the aftermath of a disaster or crisis. Truly, there are so many literal and medical causes of death I do not think they can be catalogued.
Most will fit under a handful of broad categories and will be classified as first or second order effects. A flood does not have to drown you to kill you, it can deprive you of shelter, warmth and sanitation, and any one of those will do the trick.
So when reading this article, don’t get too wrapped up in the taxonomy of death, as it were. Read, chuckle morbidly, and take note of what you need to work on to keep yourself from suffering the same fate as our doomed, imaginary protagonist.
So Many Ways to Die
Dehydration- Soaring temperatures have parched all the fluid from you. Even sweat is a distant memory. Deprived of essential moisture, your bodily processes shut down as your mind grinds to a desiccated halt. See the survival rule of threes for more on that.
Without any potable water or the ability to make water safe to drink, you die. A large supply of fresh water, the ability to catch rain water, and several methods for making found water safe (or safer) to drink are absolutely essential foundational skills for any prepper.
Starvation- Survival will require expenditure of energy, energy your body takes in the form of calories, fuel. If your energy budget gets too far in the red, your body will begin to burn fat, then muscle, cannibalizing itself in a bid to sustain life. Everything, including thinking, is much harder, making once simple tasks that much more toll-taking.
Without a consistent food supply or vital nutrients, your reserves spent, you perish painfully, a husk. Storing food and emergency rations is common sense, but the ability to find food in your environment may make a deadly situation recoverable. Learn to hunt and gather.
Hypothermia- Regulation of the body’s core temperature is paramount for survival in any climate. As temperatures fall, or wind strips warmth from your soaked body with frightening speed, your coordination falters as you lose feeling in your limbs.
Too much longer in frigid conditions will see you frozen solid, or chilled, literally, to your core. Insulation and a ready source of warmth are non-negotiable items for any survivor. Climate-appropriate clothing, shelter, insulation and fire starting supplies should be near the top of your list.
Heatstroke (Hyperthermia)- A noontime forced march over boiling desert sands in the heat of an already record setting day is cooking your brain. Disjointed, reeling thoughts assail you between bouts of cramping nausea.
No amount of water is enough to cool you. Your zeal for progress has seen you roasted alive in the desert. You die. Had you removed insulating layers, stayed in the shade, and avoided exertion in the hottest part of the day you may have stood a chance.
Disease- Whatever the vector, be it a new plague or outbreak of age-old virulence from lack of sanitation and hygiene in the aftermath of a disaster, disease can rip through a cloistered group of survivors with certainty. Debilitation is the best you can hope for, although that may result in death by itself.
Any number of gruesome fates await one who contracts a hemorrhagic fever, pneumonic ailment or dysentery. Gloves, masks and strict adherence to sanitation and quarantine protocols will keep the pocked and pale faces of your suffering relatives being the last thing you see as sickness finally claims you.
Gunshot- Law and order disappears in the wake of a major catastrophe as desperation and human depravity take hold in the hearts of men. Confronted with one such lost soul brandishing a pistol to complement his wild eyes, you made the wrong move too quickly or were too slow with your intervention.
The pavement rushes up to greet your unseeing eyes as you fall with chunks of lead sizzling in your body. Life begins to ebb, and it all goes dark. You were gunned down for a loaf of bread. Perhaps body armor, better defensive or first-aid skills and keen awareness could have prevented this.
Crushing- Falling debris, trees or collapsing structures will turn any unlucky human into a pancake with terrible randomness whatever caused it. You are facing such an end trapped and impaled in the ruins of your home that has been leveled by such an impact.
Can your home be sufficiently hardened or reinforced to prevent such an occurrence? Is there a way to improve your chances in such an event? Should potentially dangerous trees or landscape features be altered or removed around your home or shelter?
Drowning- You should have left when the leaving was good. A two century flood event has turned your hometown on the Mississippi river into a brown water Atlantis. You stopped clinging to your chimney over an hour ago and still the flood waters rise. Out of strength and hammered by floating debris, you sink, and after water excruciatingly fills your lungs, you drown, and float on a pale testament to nature’s fury.
Floods, hurricanes and waterborne excursions all entail drowning risks. Have a plan and gear to stay afloat, and take no chances when over deep water or when flooding is predicted.
Burning- Fire will only ever be a fickle servant, and will never pass up the opportunity to betray its master. A wildfire, house fire or arson will see flames hungrily dance over all things combustible, manmade or natural.
If too slow or too foolish to get out of Dodge, you face an excruciating death. Smoke and fumes from the flames may choke you and claim your life without any help from the fire itself. Fire prevention procedures, fire extinguishers, respirators and speedy escape or evacuation will keep you from becoming charred cinders.
Irradiation– A nuclear event, be it a detonation, missile or meltdown, has sown highly radioactive material far and wide. Unfortunately you did not clear the fallout in time and have absorbed a lethal dose of hard radiation. Your cells begin to breakdown as your skin sloughs off and organs shut down.
While nukes are devastating and radiation a frightening, invisible killer, had you planned to move quickly for better shelter and added decontamination supplies to your provisions you might have made it.
Stranding- A vehicle breakdown far off the beaten track has you all alone with limited supplies. A lack of training and equipment will see you dead from exposure or mishap in several days wandering lost in the woods.
A Go-Bag stocked and carried for just such an occassion, austere living and primitive survival skills would have let you return triumphant to your life with an incredible story. Instead your bones will be scattered by coyotes.
Overconfidence- This was not as easy as you hoped. Moving far into the remote wilderness to scratch out life on a homestead like your forefathers has turned into an existence of lack, filth, and frustration.
With a hundred tasks yet to do, a mutinous family, dwindling food, pitiful crops and a gravely reduced herd of livestock, you have your doubts that you can survive the encroaching winter.
You’re right. With no provision, no skills and no backup, you will freeze or starve.
Complacency- For all the sirens that go off around your hometown these tornadoes never seem to trouble you. 13 years without a major twister has led you to ignore most of the weather reports. As you tuck in to bed one night with the sounds of the rain and thunder to lull you to sleep, you ignore the sirens in the distance like you always do.
Those sirens heralded the arrival of an EF5 tornado that rips your house from its pitiful moorings completely. Your scream is silent compared to the roar of the twister, and you are shredded high above the ground by swirling debris. You had a shelter. You had supplies. Why then did you not listen?
Panic- Overcome by a rising crescendo of fear and doubt, your knowledge counts for nothing. Disaster has struck your city and now your family looks to you to lead them.
You see failure and painful death hanging around every possible outcome. Your spouse and children are keenly aware of your fear, and begin to grow afraid themselves. Now your spouse is screaming at you. Children begin to cry, and with the icy fingers of panic gripping your heart indecision paralyzes you.
You do not act in time to escape. You and your family are dead. Sound planning, practice and rehearsal would have given you the confidence to act decisively when disaster strikes.
Mutiny-It is hard enough to get a diverse group of individuals to pull together for mutual self interest in the best of times. Accomplishing the same thing in times of extreme stress and exertion is far harder.
Through lack of leadership, poor member selection or escalating tensions, your group has fractured into smaller bands of like-minded people. Some take what they feel they are entitled to and strike out on their own. The resulting lack of manpower leaves the rest of you shorthanded on work details at your current location, and vulnerable to exterior forces. It isn’t long before marauder’s notice.
You and your friends perish trying to fend off a 3AM raid. Better member pre-selection, leadership skills, and morale-building activity might have led to a different outcome.
Despair- The human mind, untended to, is as fragile as a robin’s egg. Everyone lost someone after the Event, but you lost everything: your family, your friends, your dog, even your hometown is gone.
You were smart, and diligent about preparing for just such an occasion, but as you sit in your hidden, remote cabin well-stocked with food, weapons, water catchment system and radio, with nothing and no one left to survive for, you feel like the rest of your soul has leaked out. You cannot abide the thought life alone in the world gone dark.
You prepare to end your life. Dealing with the horrors and stresses of life after a major catastrophe are immense. PTSD is real. Death, lack and misery can corrode the mind of the most grounded and positive person. There is not much advice to offer except to search your own soul and know as best you can what you can and cannot handle.
Ignorance- It feels like it came out of nowhere. The sun was shining while you drove to work, and the next thing you knew people were spilling out of buildings and around corners, faces hidden, chanting, screaming and waving banners. Traffic turned into gridlock as a few Molotov cocktails ignited the pavement.
You see drivers being pulled from their cars by the black-clad tide. What should you do? Your time to consider this runs out; a pair of thugs have ripped you from your car and crack your skull with a bat. A wiser prepper would have paid more attention to likely local threats and trained to deal with various contingencies that may arise from them. Ignorance is bliss, so says every cow in the chute to the slaughterhouse.
There are a hundreds of possible, grim fates that await the unwary or unlucky prepper, but as you can see above most will be a subset of a specific condition.
Use the examples above to remind yourself why you take the time and expend the effort and money that you do so that you and loved ones do not have to suffer such fates, and if one seemed particularly disturbing, that unease may point the way toward a flaw in your preparation you should correct.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.