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What is SHTF? Meaning, Examples and an In-Depth Explanation

Perhaps you have seen the acronym S.H.T.F. and you are wondering what it means.  You might have heard preppers say that they are out of here as soon as the S.H.T.F. or that you won’t be able to do something once the S.H.T.F.  Maybe you know what the letters stand for, but do not have a full understanding of what the term encompasses in terms of real-life situations.

I will tell you not only what S.H.T.F. stands for; I will also give you an in-depth explanation of what it is and tell you what types of situations qualify as S.H.T.F.  Let’s start with the acronym.  S.H.T.F. literally means Shit Hits The Fan (although some would rather say Stuff Hits The Fan) and we all know how messy that would be.

What S.H.T.F. Really Is                                      

When the S.H.T.F., it means that something has gone very bad.  Most people think in terms of a catastrophic event, but when it comes down to it, what constitutes a S.H.T.F. event is different for everyone.  Some people think a natural disaster is a S.H.T.F. event and others are waiting for a full-out Apocalypse.  However, regardless of what an individual considers to be a S.H.T.F. event, whatever prepping is done, it should be done with worst-case scenarios in mind.

When it comes to S.H.T.F., most people agree that it will be an event that will change our world so much that the way we live will be forever changed.  Many also agree that when things get that bad, it’s time to either bug in or out.  However, how each of us responds to an event that we perceive to be a S.H.T.F. event will depend on who we are, where we live, how prepared we are, and what plans we have set up.

Examples of S.H.T.F.

There are so many ways the S. can H.T.F.  It can be something that is regional or something that really is global in proportion.  It can be something that will blow over in a few days, weeks, or months or it can be something that is more permanent in nature and requires a drastic adjustment to how we live.  The latter is the way most people think about S.H.T.F.  Here are a number of examples of S.H.T.F. situations.

Major Natural Disaster

A major natural disaster is a regional event that can severely affect the lives of a large number of people.  For many this would be a serious S.H.T.F. event.  For people who live in an area that can be struck by a severe hurricane, earthquake, or winter storm, a major natural disaster can upset their life for weeks or months.  Hurricane Katrina anyone?


The possibility of a viral outbreak is always hanging over humanity like a dark cloud and virologists agree that a pandemic is not only possible, but pretty much guaranteed.  It’s only a matter of when.  When a viral outbreak occurs in a region and spreads to a global scale, when cases of sick people continue to rise and the illness reaches your city or town, then you need to consider the fact that this is S.H.T.F.  This is particularly the case when there is no way to predict when and where a pandemic will start.

World War

There have always been struggles between groups of humans and as our population grows and the planet becomes more and more crowded, there is more friction than ever before.  With trouble with ISIS, North Korea, and Russia, another world war doesn’t always seem so far away.  A world war can bring an attack directly to American soil and this type of attack can come in a number of formats, including terrorist, nuclear, biological, chemical, and cyber.

Nuclear Attack

This really goes hand-in-hand with the world war S.H.T.F. scenario.  If a world war doesn’t begin prior to a nuclear attack, the attack is bound to initiate a war.  Some preppers aim for being prepared for a full out nuclear attack, believing that if they are prepared to withstand a nuclear war, they are prepared to ride out any other S.H.T.F. event that could come their way.


If the grid went down, it would end life as we know it.  Everything we do in our modern society relies on electricity.  Heating and cooling our homes is just the beginning. Electricity keeps our food fresh and allows us to pump gas and get money out of our ATMs.  Have you ever gone into a store in which the computer wasn’t working?  No service.  There is no system in place to make do without electricity.  Traffic lights, business, government offices, everything would shut down without electricity.  The grid can go down due to a strong solar storm or via the detonation of a nuclear bomb.  The power grid is also vulnerable to a cyber-attack.

Meltdown of a Nuclear Reactor

The meltdown of a nuclear reactor is considered another S.H.T.F. event, one that would produce similar consequences to the aftermath of a nuclear attack.  Anyone who lives in the vicinity of a nuclear reactor should include as part of their preparations a way to deal with a meltdown of their local plant, something that can contaminate the environment for many decades.

Financial Collapse

This is perhaps the most likely S.H.T.F. event for which to prepare.  Many people believe a collapse is already underway, that we never really recovered from the recession of 2008.  A financial collapse can bring down an economy quickly and result in a major drop in the stock markets and a bank holiday, during which no one will have access to their money.

A Slow Decline

Instead of a quick financial collapse, there are many preppers who feel that the collapse of the economy will come more slowly, with inflation ongoing, unemployment on the rise, and increased civil unrest.  This is most definitely a S.H.T.F. event and it is one that takes a lot of financial preparation, as well as stocking up on food, water, and supplies.  This slow decline can also end up in a quick collapse, which would bring us back to the previous point of preparing for financial collapse.

Specific Problems in a S.H.T.F. Situation

When the S.H.T.F., there are so many problems that will surface.  You will have to be prepared to handle each and every one of them.  But there are certain problems that will be a particular threat, even if you have all your ducks in a row in terms of being prepared with food, water, supplies, a plan, and a group with whom to weather the storm.  There will be issues with the following:


During a S.H.T.F. event communication is more important than ever, and very likely more difficult than ever.  But your ability to survive and stay safe will rely on the information you have about what is happening around you and you will get that information by means of communication.  Make sure you have a means to communicate when cell phones and radio stations no longer work.  A ham radio is ideal, but any method of communication you can manage between you and others is necessary.


You might have prepared well enough to have food stocked away, but what goes in must come out and sanitation quickly becomes a problem in a S.H.T.F. situation.  Garbage piles up and once the water stops flowing, there are no flush toilets.  It is garbage and sewage that will quickly cause illness and disease to spread, which might be more of a danger than anything else.

Safety and Security

Speaking of danger, when the S. truly H.T.F. there will be people out there who don’t have what you have and they will want it.  It might take a week or two for things to start getting desperate for the majority of people, maybe even three weeks if they are counting on government help and support, but at some point the masses are going to realize they’re on their own.  If and when they find out you have food, water, and supplies, they will want it.  Desperate people will take desperate action, even the normally good, kind people.  As for the not so kind ones and the criminals, there might not be anyone around to stop them.  You’ll need to be able to take care of yourself.

Law Enforcement

Which brings me to the issue of law enforcement.  If law enforcement is still operating, you might be safe from the bad guys, but are you safe from law enforcement?  First off, if things get bad enough, which would happen in a true S.H.T.F. scenario, law enforcement will get to a point where they will bail so they can take care of their own families.

Whether or not there is law enforcement on duty, don’t be fooled by criminals and desperate people who pose as law enforcement just to get what you have stored away.  If you can’t identify the real McCoy, then you need to stay hidden from view.  Finally, if law enforcement, in the form of the police of the military, is still operating, they might declare martial law and they might confiscate your fire arms.

Health and Wellbeing

In the end, you want to maintain your health and well-being, which can be difficult in a S.H.T.F. situation.  You should have a good physical health prior to an event.  This will help you deal with things when times get tough.

When the S.HTF you will be under a great deal of stress, have a lot of physical demands on your body, and not get enough sleep.  This will not only drain your body physically, but also mentally.  Sometimes, how a person is able to keep a cap on their emotions will determine whether or not they survive.  A positive outlook and a good mental attitude is critical for survival.

Problems with S.H.T.F. in Current Society

In the end, if a S.H.T.F. event happens, you will ideally want to have other people you can trust to work with you to survive over the long-term.  Overall, people survive better as a group than going it alone.  Unfortunately, it can be tough to convince the people in your life that it is worth the time and effort to prepare for such a scenario.

Most people just believe that nothing like the above scenarios are ever going to happen or they don’t think they’ll ever live to see it.  The people who do prep for S.H.T.F. don’t generally advertise that fact so they won’t have everyone they know beating down their door when the time comes.

Either way, this adds up to the fact that no one in our society talks openly about what S.H.T.F. really is, which means you’re pretty much on your own to survive.  So choose what you want to prepare for, and make sure that your S.H.T.F. plans are solid and unshakable.  Everyone you include in your plans will thank you for it.

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About Karen Hendry

Karen Hendry
An urban prepper and rural wannabe, Karen has been working as a freelance writer for a decade and prepping for about half that time. She has gathered a wealth of knowledge on preparing for SHTF, but there is always more to learn and she has a passion for gathering and sharing that knowledge with other like-minded folk. Karen lives in London, Canada with her two children and plethora of cats. In her spare time she is writing the next great apocalyptic novel of our time, full of government conspiracy and betrayal at every level.

One comment

  1. Thank you for taking the time to explain. I discovered the acronym today and was pretty much puzzled.

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