When society collapses, it will happen quickly. The time to prepare your family AND organize your neighbors is now!
No matter how prepared you are for the SHTF inciting incident, both you and your loved ones will still suddenly find yourselves thrust into the middle of a disaster with copious amounts of people who are wholly unprepared for any doomsday scenario.
Approximately 3.7 million Americans identify themselves as being “preppers” at least in some capacity.
While that statistic may sound like a huge number of people, it actually only amounts to about 1 percent of the population of the United States. Willful ignorance will likely end up killing approximately 80 percent of our fellow citizens.
After a societal collapse there will be zero time to network with neighbors to instill in them the benefits of preparedness or to craft a town or neighborhood response and defense plan to stave off the marauding hordes.
Table of Contents
What to Expect When Society Collapses
Within hours, days at the most, all modern conveniences will begin to evaporate. As this happens, panic will set in across the disaster effected region.
Hurricane Katrina clearly illustrated just how rapidly an entire city of people can transformed into victims, looters – even killers. Calling 911 and being assured help was on the way did not happen after the storm, nor will it happen during a societal collapse.
Bank doors will be closed and locked tight before a run on the financial institution can occur. Paper money will likely become useless quickly anyway. Gold, silver, other precious metals and gems will become the common currency.
The collapse does not need to be an economic one to cause hyper-inflation. Any student of history can recall images of German citizens pushing a wheelbarrow full of cash to stand in line to purchase a loaf of bread. That same scenario will play out across the United States when any type of long-term disaster hits.
Grocery store shelves will empty within hours after a doomsday disaster. Finding formula to feed a baby, grandma’s heart medication, or even a can of Spam will almost instantly become impossible.
First responders will try to serve the community for as long as they can, but will be hampered by hunger, thirst, a lack of fuel, and pure physical exhaustion. Martial law will quite possibly be declared, causing already enflamed tensions to rise.
Looting will begin both swiftly and severely. Walking down a street which was safe and calm just a day before will become a deadly proposition.
Stopping all of these likely aftermath scenarios will be impossible. But, sitting down and gently forcing others in your community to listen to your concerns about community or neighborhood preparedness if you live in a metropolitan area, can greatly mitigate the severity impact of a societal collapse.
Does Societal Collapse Happen Slowly or All at Once?
The popular notion about societal collapse is that it happens all at once- kaboom- and it all comes crashing down in an apocalypse that leaves life as you knew it a rapidly receding memory. That is certainly one possible outcome, but far from the only one.
Just as often, societies collapse because they wear down, break down and “rust away” over time versus having the wheels come off because of some momentous event.
Much of the time, it is a confluence of factors that build up over time, nibbling away the foundations of society very much like termites do on an unprotected house.
It could result from factional ideologies forming and eventually clashing to the toppling of a bloated, corrupt and utterly ineffectual government.
It might go off big, all at once or very nearly, resulting from some kind of disaster be it natural or man-made. it could even happen as a result of invasion, and history furnishes us many examples of that particular cause.
In the end, it practically matters little why it has happened, only that it has happened. However, understanding the various causes and how they directly lead to the collapse of society may yet give you early warning, enough time to influence your own personal outcomes.
For that reason, we will discuss the various factors that lead to societal collapse below.
Causes of Societal Collapse
Sometimes, people just cannot, and will not, get along anymore. It has been said that every principle is a pretext to kill, and when people drift far enough apart when it comes to agreement on value systems and moral hierarchies, the stage can be set for calamitous violence when they are forced to live too closely together.
When feelings of disenfranchisement or unrebuked group aggression against another go on for too long, sectarian violence is all but assured.
The root causes might be political, religious or something else entirely. Grudges have a way of becoming collectivized, nurtured and bottled up until they are ready to erupt into widespread, targeted violence.
Much of the time, the government will attempt to get a handle on this and snuff it out assuming they are not fomenting it for their own nefarious purposes.
At the end of the day, the government wants a complete and total monopoly on violence and would prefer to keep it that way, but cultural matters like this are rarely halted entirely.
More than many other factors, economic collapse is quite likely to result in a societal collapse. When work is scarce or unavailable and a dollar will only buy a nickel’s worth of goods and that is itself complemented by skyrocketing prices the stage will be set for the implosion of society.
The bottom line is this. Most societies are only about 3 days worth of missed meals away from total anarchy. When people cannot procure the goods they need to feed and clothe themselves or their families, they will become properly desperate and will do anything they think they need to do.
The effects of an economic implosion are far-reaching and difficult to tabulate, and one should expect social services that we take for granted to be greatly reduced or even eliminated entirely, including police, fire departments and others.
Crime invariably rises during this time and there might well be no one coming to help you if you can even call 911.
A disaster that is big enough, or severe enough, be it man-made or naturally occurring can easily result in a societal collapse, even if it is only at a local or regional scale. One need look no further than the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for evidence of that.
The physical destruction of densely populated areas and surrounding regions can effectively cut off an entire population of people from the outside world, including assistance that might be brought in to help.
With everything turned upside down, cut off, destroyed and completely out of control the law of the jungle will take over almost immediately.
Food, water and other consumables will become entirely absent or in vanishingly short supply leading to conflict and confrontation.
Law enforcement and other emergency services, the ones that remain on duty and survive, will become so overburdened and beleaguered as to be basically a non-entity for the average citizen.
As faithful as the tide, criminal elements will take advantage of the chaos, doing everything from looting destroyed homes and businesses to enforcing protection rackets.
It is not out of the question that a truly apocalyptic disaster or so-called mega-disaster could result in this happening at a national or global scale.
There is a precedent for this in the form of supervolcano eruptions, major asteroid impacts, calamitous solar storms and other unbelievably destructive events.
Man-made cataclysms like a nuclear exchange would also fit into this category. Climate change is yet another instance which could push an already straining society to the breaking point.
Whether you believe the scientists calamitous prognostications on “world-ending” disasters or not, we all know that earth-shaking (and earth-shaping) events have occurred in the not-too-distant past. It stands to reason they can occur again, and society will once again be put to a severe test.
It is a sad fact of life that the collapse of a government will often precipitate a societal collapse.
The tallest and most bloated of government structures might begin collapsing at the very top, but they invariably level everything beneath them as departments, agencies and employees scramble to hang on to what power and influence they have as society inevitably responds by lashing out, seceding or doing something else while the doing is good.
With a little luck, the collapse of the federal government would not result in a national schism that would see state governments collapse, but the two have long been so entwined and dependent on each other it is difficult to imagine anything else happening should the federal government implode.
This naturally raises the question of what military and other federal paramilitary forces would get up to in the meantime. Would they attempt to prop up some form of federal order or install their own? Would they go rogue in an attempt to set up their own petty fiefdoms?
Whatever the cause and whatever their decisions, the common people will invariably lose and lose big. At the local level a loss of government cohesion and funding could mean that public utilities begin to degrade or go offline entirely.
Many places have intricate, delicate water supply systems and electrical grids. Lacking access to either, survivors will quickly establish a new social order based on procuring meaningful and steady access to both.
An actual, honest to goodness military invasion of a country will almost without fail send society to toppling, and at the very best only near the site of occupation or front line of battle.
However, much of the time whenever invasion occurs one can expect society as we have known it to come grinding to a halt.
This is as one would expect an all hands on deck situation for government at every level, and it is a certainty that martial law will be enacted. Right, wrong or indifferent, all of the above will result in tremendous stresses being placed upon civilians, and these stresses will lead to the breakdown of society.
In the wake of invasion, crime always runs rampant, food, water and medical shortages will become a way of life with very little if any possibility of resupply. Civilians will be exposed to violence from both militaries as well as organized criminal elements. You’ll be living on the edge, if you live at all.
There are many examples and harrowing tales of survival that we may learn from just in the 20th and 21st century, and many of them occurring to civilized nations.
Should You Try to Go It Alone or Band Together?
One of the most common questions I get regarding a societal collapse is how you should fundamentally plan to deal with it.
Should you implement a bailout plan where you get only you and yours out of danger or to a safe place where you try to ride it out?
Or should you band together with relatives, friends and other like-minded, trustworthy people and try to secure your holdings against a desperate mass of humanity and predators alike?
If you lean more towards the former option, it is probably because you feel like you cannot trust absolutely anyone else with this essential task, and that more mouths to feed and attitudes to manage will only lead to strife, division and eventually a breaking of fellowship inside the walls so to speak where you can least afford to have it happen. This is understandable, but generally shortsighted.
Time and time again history has shown us that bad, bad things happen to lone people and small family units during times of societal collapse.
Whatever romantic notions you might have about survival, it does not favor small numbers. People are social organisms, and we work and survive best in groups.
Yes, living as part of a group to say nothing of taking care of it entails challenges all its own but you are far better off taking your chances as part of a group then not during a societal collapse.
You will have countless tasks and chores to take care of during a societal collapse, and among the most important will be security.
Security, real security, is accomplished by having able bodies to stand watch 24/7 and actually contribute to a fight. Out of any given group, only a relatively small percentage are likely to be able-bodied fighters with the rest being called upon only in times of utter desperation or extremis.
If you are the patriarch and leader of a typical family unit that means you will only have your spouse to help you stand watch and defend your family if required.
This is simply inadequate for long-term survival prospects during a societal collapse. Roving bands of desperate people and organized criminal elements will put any security set up to a severe test. You must be able to fight back effectively if that day comes.
Furthermore, don’t think that you can simply retreat further into the wilderness or the fringes of civilization and wait for everything to blow over.
Once again, past experience has proven that isolated people far from any conceivable support or help are among the first to be preyed upon.
If you want to stand a real chance of surviving the collapse of society, you’ll need a group and preferably a community all your own that you know, trust and can depend on
Everybody needs to be on the same sheet of music, willing and able to contribute to obtaining a positive outcome for the community. Nothing else will do.
Luckily, I have assembled a pretty good outline to help you make that happen below and we will discuss all the salient factors in detail.
Community Preparedness Plan
There is no one-size-fits-all community preparedness plan. But, the basic foundation-building steps are universal and essential to prevent total civil unrest from taking hold.
It may take weeks, even months, of talking to community members and utilizing social media to establish a core group of individuals who are willing to join together to draft a functional community preparedness plan, but the time will be well spent – the life you are saving may be your own!
Identify local resources. This may be the most time-consuming and important aspect of creating a preparedness plan to thwart societal collapse from overwhelming your town. Think of it as an inventory of all types of resources: human, natural, and physical.
How many police officers, retired officers, hunters, and veteran members of the military live in your community? In addition to the creation of a list of municipal gear, personnel, and weapons, a list of volunteers and their related information should be established as well.
A list of each volunteer’s contact information, weapons they own, and skills/training should be included in the community preparedness plan.
Each person on the list should have a designated post to stand when called upon to respond to a threat to the community or neighborhood.
Regular around-the-clock shifts at an established security perimeter should be established, with at least two designated group meeting areas for the team of professionals and volunteers.
A badge or patch of some type, and even matching and labeled shirts, should be given to the combined force of community protectors so both citizens and unwanted visitors can immediately identify them while they are on patrol.
The same type of list and organizational plan should be made involving of both paid and volunteer firefighters in the community.
A thorough review of both fuel stockpiles and engine/equipment repairs parts must be conducted and an ongoing inventory kept.
Fires will happen and spread more quickly during a disaster. A community awareness and training program should be created to educate residents about survival cooking and heating protocols.
The residents should be organized into an old-fashioned bucket brigade so they can protect their homes and neighbor’s homes when, not if, fires happen and the response from actual firefighters becomes limited or fails entirely.
Health care options are already limited in rural communities where the bulk of preppers live. During a disaster, an ambulance will not arrive to transport the injured 35 to 45 miles to a hospital – which will likely be closed anyway.
After a list of active, retired, and in-training EMTs, nurses, pharmacists, and hopefully a doctor or two in the area is taken, the group needs to meet regularly to practice setting up a triage in the community and reacting to a disaster scenario without the aid of typical communications and electricity.
Two make-shift medical care centers should be established in the community. This will make them more reachable on foot by both caregivers and residents and preventing the loss of all supplies due to fire or looting from a single place. The SHTF clinics should be guarded around the clock by the defense team.
The team should be trained to converge upon the existing medical facilities and pharmacies in the town immediately after disaster strikes to guard the medications and supplies.
Volunteers who have knowledge of home remedies and community members, like athletic coaches and others who have had regular first aid training, should also become a part of the emergency medical network.
Cross-training among the entire medical response team should occur regularly and include community first aid and “grow your own pharmacy” gardening and stockpiling of home remedy ingredients training sessions as well.
Disease will spread far more quickly during a disaster. Bodies must be handled carefully and disposed of properly to avoid further germ contamination and the illness or death of other loved ones or mutual assistance members.
Learning how to safely handle a contagious body. How many bags of lime do you have in your preps? No matter how well your prep, loved ones will die during a long-term disaster – either from natural causes or because of the SHTF scenario.
Calling the local funeral home will not be an option, but mortuary professional, students, and retirees are an essential part of the societal collapse community preparedness plan as well. Raw sewage and contaminated water will cause a multitude of illnesses and deaths during a long-term disaster.
Municipal water department and sanitation employees will also need to be an essential part of the preparedness plan.
A detailed, functional, and quickly actionable plan to deal with the delivery of water, cleansing of water, protection of waterways for distribution of water, and safe off grid disposal of waste must be developed.
Citizens must be informed and trained about how to deal with human waste after the SHTF to prevent raw sewage from flowing into the streets and gardens – spreading deadly disease, destroying crops, and potable water.
Designating a sanitation team leader in every neighborhood to train others now and monitor the daily status of water and waste should be established.
Local gardeners, farmers, 4-H professional and members, as well as scouting and church groups can be brought together to help municipal leaders establish community gardens.
Even in urban areas, teach residents about container and vertical gardening, and raise funds for the purchase and distribution of both seeds to be planted now and to store until a disaster crop needs to be planted.
Utilize the wealth of knowledge senior citizens posses for the creation of a food production team. Many parents and grandparents raised, planted, and preserved the bulk of what they ate.
Having food to eat the moment disaster strikes and the grocery store shelves empty will prevent panic which leads to a world without rule of law and complete civil unrest.
Discuss the creation or enhancement of backyard farming with local leaders and members of the community response team. Even a garden pond stocked with small fish will add to the on-hand food and water preps for local residents and should be encouraged.
Many communities already permit the keeping of chickens, rabbits, and small livestock in suburbia and urban areas.
The butchering of the livestock in an off-grid manner must also be worked into the food production plan – professional butchers, hunters, hunters will be a vital part of this team.
Low-tech communications will reign supreme during a disaster. All members of the community preparedness team and as many residents as possible, should be equipped with compatible handheld radios and HAM radios – stored in Faraday Cages.
A simple code for team use only code should be created so members and can use spray paint or similar markers to silently alert or leave a message for others.
Symbols or colors, or a combination of both, can be used to relay short and direct messages and warnings. A similar community alert code should also be created and widely shared on a regular basis to ensure complete distribution before a disaster.
Public address systems and speakers, also stored in a Faraday cage, should be stockpiled and ready to mount/use in designated areas during a disaster.
Even the youngest members of the community need to be trained to help during a disaster – maintaining a daily routine helps prevent panic and to deter dangerous and reckless behavior. A local school or even a residence in a neighborhood can be turned into a SHTF schoolhouse.
Children can continue being taught the basics while also engaging in disaster vocational training. Science lessons should focus on growing and preserving food, starting a fire, environmental safety, caring for animals, working with hand tools, etc. – such classes/camps should begin happening now.
Starting or promoting 4-H and scouting will greatly help with this aspect of the preparedness plan.
How Will the Government Respond to a Societal Collapse?
Six years ago, our entire Appalachian region went without power for more than a week due to a summer storm in the midst of a 105-degree heat wave. Residents had to drive at least 45 miles to purchase water and ice at the few stores which remained open and functional.
Even if you had enough gas in the tank to reach an open store, there was no guarantee you would walk away with either a case of water or single bag of ice after standing in a long hot line for hours.
Gas stations were rationing gas during the short-term disaster. After waiting in a long line once again, I could buy – if I had cash, just enough fuel to get my SUV back across the county line and into my own driveway.
Eventually, a few big trucks pulled into the county seat and someone hopped out and said basically, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
The FEMA staffers that showed up three days into the natural disaster, did not bring enough water or ice to provide aide parcels to even half of the county’s population.
The government workers expected local volunteers to be on hand to help hand out the emergency supplies – but hadn’t bothered to coordinate such a massive effort with the local Emergency Management Agency (EMA) director.
Under typical conditions, the EMA director could have used the sheriff’s office dispatching system to page the all-volunteer fire departments which service the county. But, during a disaster, no matter the duration of the event, no one is operating under normal conditions.
Because the power was out around in a multi-state region, the firefighters, police officers, and EMTs could not charge their handheld radios on a daily basis.
First responders with home generators took turns charging radios for their brothers and sisters in uniform so a skeleton force could continue to protect and serve around the county.
The county gas pumps which keep the fire engines, police cruisers, and ambulances on the road were also reduced to being useless chunks of metal during the short-term disaster. This forced all departments to prioritize how, and if, they could respond to emergency calls.
The lack of fuel also restricted how often the first responders could run their handheld radios to a buddy’s home in their personal vehicles for charging purposes.
By primarily word-of-mouth, first responders, city councilmen, and the local mayor showed up at the high school to help FEMA distribute water, ice, and food vouchers.
The extensive amount of time it to assemble a work crew allowed the a significant portion of the ice stored on pallets, to melt.
Many of those who made it to the front of the FEMA line before all of the ice melted and water was gone, were turned away. FEMA policy dictated each person who received aid present a photo ID to prove residency. The federal agency’s rules also prohibited picking up an aid package for anyone else.
Once again, a communication breakdown and general lack of preparedness by the United States government left both local officials and those they represent, without the knowledge of the aid disbursement rules.
My eyes still water when recalling the look on an elderly backwoods pastor’s face when the federal government employee told him he could not take water to his equally elderly parishioners who no longer drove or didn’t have the gas, to get to the county seat.
Both the local mayor and school board president vouched for the pastor and verified the residency of the senior citizens names scrolled onto a piece of paper he clutched in his hand, but it made no difference to the FEMA guy who sent the man away with only a 12-pack of bottled hot water and the remnants of a small bag of ice.
Because the water was not transported on a refrigerated truck and it was 105 degrees outside, the desire to get a sip of cold water went unquenched. The summer heat wave had caused all of the creeks in the county to run dry.
Many rural residents utilized well water – but the pumps which operated the wells were electric. Only the prepared had a manual dipper to use to tediously and slowly removed small buckets of water at a time during the natural disaster.
By the 72-hour mark, we were a thirsty, hungry, hot, and pretty stinky county. Even the most kind-hearted folks in our county became prone to temper outburst as they and their loved ones grew hotter, hungrier, and unbelievably thirsty.
The food vouchers given out by FEMA required not just photo ID to receive, but proof of income – low income.
A public announcement made via a public address system hoisted onto the roof of a police cruiser informed residents they should come to the high school to get a voucher to not only purchase food, but to replace what they lost from their refrigerators and freezers after the power went out.
Nearly all 13,000 residents of my rural county converged upon the high school parking lot, only a fraction of them pulled out with a food vouchers.
Volunteers helping with the so-called relief effort had to separate more than a few irate residents from frightened FEMA workers – several volunteers were past ready to take a swing at the government staffers by this point as well.
The middle and upper-class residents who shared all the bounty from their refrigerators and freezers with their fellow citizens were not eligible for a food voucher because they made too much money. Anyone who made $20,000 per year or more could not receive a food voucher.
The local grocery store chipped in to help the hungry hordes before a full-on food riot happened in an otherwise bucolic small town in broad daylight.
The owners and staffers at the only store in the county guided residents using flashlights to find whatever they needed from the store shelves and the coolers – which would soon no longer be cool because the store’s generators were running out of gas.
Since most people rarely carry cash these days, a handwritten tally of needed items was crafted for each shopper who vowed to return and settle up later after the power came back on.
Although the store not only recouped every single dime – and some tips for their potentially life-saving generosity, the damage to the coolers and electrical system caused by the storm was too expensive for the owners to repair.
Our community lost its only grocery store two months later – a new one is just now entering the final stages of completion. The long-term economic impact of a short-term disaster cannot be understated.
For the first day of the disaster, everyone ate like kings and queens. Neighbors got together and went door-to-door and planned community cookouts at public parks in the county so food thawing in freezers and warming inside non-working refrigerators would not go to waste.
Many a prepper was “born” not just that day, but that week as the bulk of my friends and neighbors learned firsthand how quickly things can go wrong, how short of a time span it takes to become desperate and totally dependent on others – and praying for help that never arrives.
Your community will be on its own, know that right now. Every town, big or very small, has a disaster preparedness plan.
Unfortunately, the thick dusty binder is left sitting on a shelf until the very day the plan inside must be put into action – unless residents take the lead and work diligently to coordinate preparedness efforts by networking with private citizens, local elected officials, first responders, faith-based and civic organizations.
You may have been practicing your survival plan, growing your own groceries, and honing your skills for many years, but have you prepared for the emotional toll living through a TEOTWAWKI disaster will take, until it happens?
Far too few preppers even attempt to address the heart-wrenching decisions they will be forced to make during a long-term disaster, or ponder how they will react when neighbors show up on their doorsteps, starving children in tow, while engaging in preparedness training with their own loved ones.
The almost daily presence of death and impossible decisions which must be made in a split second will overwhelm many folks, preppers and non-preppers alike. Making rational and life-or-death survival decisions WILL be impacted by your overly-taxed mind and heart.
Even the most calculated and selfish individual could not remain unemotional when a crying and desperate young mother stands at the entrance of your property and begs for food. Will you be able to turn her away – or shoot her if she refused to stop grabbing produce from your garden?
These hard decisions, and many more like them, will happen on a daily basis during a disaster. After a severe short-term disaster in our region, I told my husband I was all-in on this “prepping thing” he had worked so diligently on for years, but added one very significant disclaimer.
I agreed to be his full-time prepping partner only if he promised I would be the one to deal with non-marauding hordes who found our semi-secluded homestead.
No, I am not a heartless woman, quite to the contrary – I am a vehemently loving and loyal momma/grammie.
Handing a can of food and a gallon of water to the crying woman would keep her and her child alive for another day, but repeating that reckless behavior on a daily (perhaps hourly) basis would ultimately cause our own children and grandchildren to go without the food and water they need to survive.
Make no mistake about it, feed a person just once and they will return for me – and might not ask permission the second time around. Saying no, by any means necessary, will take an emotional toll. In all likelihood, you will know many of the people who show up begging for food.
That will make turning them away significantly more difficult. Keeping your mind focused on your one and only priority – the survival of the family, will be the only way to get through such soul-ripping exchanges.
The person you chatted with at the grocery store last week and sat with during every PTO meeting can, and will, turn violent when pushed to the brink while trying to prevent the death of their loved ones.
The use of force against those you know and counted as friends may haunt you for the rest of your life, but there will often be no other choice during a doomsday long-term disaster.
Once the community discovers you have food, water, and medical supplies/skills, there will be a steady stream of people showing up at your prepper retreat – or worse yet, an organized mob of armed and desperate people.
Everyone has the same opportunity to prepare. The only way to prevent those who chose to bury their heads in the sand from becoming desperate and dangerous is to work diligently to educate them and incorporate as many people as possible into the community preparedness project.
Every non-prepping convert who joins the effort and starts growing some of their own food, learning new skills, and will be ready to defend the community is one less individual you will have begging or trying to steal from your family after disaster strikes!
last update: 1/11/2022
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.