To prepare, people should start simple and address the most common or obvious disaster that might occur in their area. Is it snowstorms, floods, hurricane, wildfire? You need to decide how to minimize impact of the disaster, then how to survive the post event until things return to ‘normal’. I’ll not get into the debate of bugging out (leaving home) vs bugging in (staying put). Every situation is different and the type of event will obviously dictate. Just remember, when an event occurs with little warning (few days or less), everyone will be on the road at once. Vehicles can only carry so much, dependent on fuel, condition, and how clear roads are (they wont be).
Make a list of potential threats from most likely to least, how long the event will occur and how long recovery might be. Take flooding for example. Fairly localized (few counties), concentrated damage, short term duration of the actual event, with days to months recovery time for most. Number impacted from few to 1000. Outside help arrives from hours to days.
One person’s story of natural disaster giving her a quick view of impacts (and shortfalls in her plan) can be found HERE.
How things translate for me ( everyone’s situation/thought process is different):
LEVEL 1 EVENT
Short term events (few days to few weeks), with water, shelter, food, sanitation, medical, security needs for a few days. In my area storms and hurricanes top the list causing power outages and temporary run on food, water and fuel. Duration of the event itself is usually less than 24 hrs, recovery (depending on strength of storm) can be days to weeks. Assistance arrives within a day or 3. Severe storms such as Katrina impacted several states, and wiped out lives, homes and businesses, but remained confined to the coast. Due to local to federal as well as individual lack of preparedness, the resulting impact of the storm was substantially worse than it should have been. Regardless, recovery operations began within a few days…though note…several areas of N.O. still remain unoccupied and in ruins. This is the drawback of living in a high risk area (below sea level)…thus plan accordingly.
This is the easiest level to prepare for and should be where most start. I think the FEMA plan of 72 hrs worth of supplies falls short of what individuals/families need. The list of supplies they have is a good starting point, and includes many items that people tend to forget (ex, important documents, feminine hygiene products, etc), BUT planning for a week minimum and working to extend out to 3 weeks is what people should be thinking.
LEVEL 2 EVENT
Duration of the actual event may be moments to a year. Effects numerous states, regions to entire country (ies). Length of impact 1 to 4 yrs with gradual recovery. This is something from a tsunami and resulting associated mini disasters, (ex Fukushima Nuclear plant meltdown post tsunami), to disease pandemic with medium infection (R nought 5-7) and death rate of ~10-20%, to a depression.
For my thinking, this most likely would be some sort of economic event(s) with a 50% chance of occurring in the next 1-4 yrs. The economy doesn’t quite collapse, but goes into a deep recession or depression. This will result in those in bad financial shape from the recent recession to get even worse. Desperation abounds, and riots, crime and so forth will explode in some areas typically concentrated in high poverty/ population areas, not so much in others, but increase none the less. With 63 million people in the US already at or below 125% of Federal poverty level, and the employment participation rate degrading, this may be a forgone conclusion. Most likely governments will abandon certain areas and focus on keeping other areas secure/supplied at some level. Martial law is a possibility. The elderly and the very young will be at high risk for adverse impacts. This level is substantially more difficult and expensive to prepare for. Location and plans need to be very carefully thought out before supplies are purchased (a decent list to start thinking about). The nice thing is, typically expansion of level 1 preparations will take care of many problems, but more consideration for medical, sanitation, long term water supplies and higher level of security mentality need to take place. Items we take for granted, fruits, veggies, dairy may be in sporadic supply, and/or extremely expensive. Fire suppression and police services may be spotty at best. Common medications may also be in short supply a well as simple things such as soap and TP. Fuel costs will spike (making prices of everything else rise). Being able to grow foods locally will provide some relief. Brown outs to blackouts may be common. Barter system comes into play (a great discussion on what to barter can be found HERE). Recovery will depend on how well local governments and even neighborhoods can respond and remain cohesive. The federal government will have it’s hands full trying to deal with large metro areas and keeping major infrastructure systems at some level of functioning.
LEVEL 3 EVENT
Long term both in the event itself and the impact (+2yrs)…economic/governmental collapse, WW3 (involving nuclear exchange), global natural disaster/disease outbreak with high infection (R nought +17) and death rate (+30%). This is basically TEOTWAWKI, but also probably the lowest chance of occurring…at the moment. Food, fuel runs out, electricity and municipal sewer/water shut down, medical, fire and law enforcement services cease. The obvious follows.
We would all like to think we are ready for this one, but I suspect very few (myself included) are. Some communities will collapse and others may get their act together. This literally will come down to how well people can work together to survive. Planning for this builds on level 2 preps, but requires thought in long term food production, large water supplies, long term sanitation, alternative energy and fuel (mostly for cooking and heat). Security becomes a major issue as well as medical. The common cold, a small cut or dental issue can kill. Sanitation will be paramount in preventing the rapid spread of infectious disease (Malaria, Cholera, etc.). The ability to grow decent size food supply without the aid of pesticides/fungicides and a consistent water supply will become a major challenge. The first year or 2 will be brutal, followed by a slow organization to new ‘normalcy’…in some areas. If one is able to survive out past 3 yrs…most likely you will make it for the long haul. If this is your number one scenario, then I recommend you buy, and move to that remote, fully stocked retreat in the mountains of (insert location here) with 20 of your closest family/friends. I say this because, unless you are there when the SHTF, you wont make it. Fuel will run out with in a day and the roads will be clogged and impassable. A great example was recently India’s power grid failure which shutdown all modes (except foot and bike) of transportation….and that was a mere 8 hr shutdown. This gives those of us in urban/suburban locations a brief glimpse of total collapse without warning.
Ultimately this scenario will come down to how well humanity handles itself. Typically we see the best and the worst when the chips are down….lets hope the best prevails. Preparation for this requires years and a substantial investment. Lets hope we never reach this.