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"Are you ready for when the SHTF?" As a survivalist, I've heard this phrase more times than I can count. For anyone who is still wondering about all these acronyms this one means when the "s**t hits the fan." This phrase, much like it's partner TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it), is used to describe a situation where all hell breaks loose, and there is a total breakdown of law and order. Personally, I never want to be stuck in a SHTF situation. Especially with my young family it's a very dangerous spot to be in as the thin veil of society drops to reveal the ugly nature of humanity. Remember the calamity that New Orleans went through after Hurricane Katrina? That was a SHTF scenario.

For the typical survivalist, we've got all the minor incidents covered. If my utilities are cut off for a couple of days, I'll be fine with my generator and stockpiled water. If my car breaks down, I've got enough tools on hand to get it operational, alongside my get-home bag which has enough supplies to keep me alive, happy and fed for at least 72 hours. But what about a bigger crisis? Would you be able to determine when it's the right time to flee your home, or would you leave it too late and find yourself stuck in traffic, or walking through empty supermarkets that have had their shelves wiped clean. Everyone who makes the conscious decision to prep for a disaster is concerned for the well being of their family and themselves, and being able to identify the warning signs of a SHTF scenario can give you an edge over everyone else.

The hard part is actually defining when an event becomes a SHTF scenario. Especially if it's not a nation or state-wide disaster, a massive terrorist attack on New York is going to have very few "real" repercussions for Americans who live in Los Angeles. If you live in New York, this is going to be a completely different story as you may now be facing forced evacuations, food shortages and all of the fallout from the attacks as the city tries to regain order. Every situation needs to be taken within your own local context.

Early warning signs

The best way to stay prepared is to remain vigilant. Being updated on the local news and pulse of your city gives you an insight that allows you to determine when it's time to kick your "survival mode" into gear. There are many triggers which can influence a SHTF event, and all of these need to be evaluated against the real impact they will have on your community. Everything depends on the crisis you face. What may be happening in your town could be a very different situation to other towns in the country, which is why it's important to make your own assessment based on the information you have available.

  • Large-scale blackouts across your region, lasting weeks at a time
  • The media/press is censored from providing updates
  • Martial law is declared and enforced
  • Police are going door to door to confiscate registered weapons
  • Banks place restrictions on the money you can withdraw
  • Terrorist attacks on your home soil, in your local area
  • A viral outbreak that is not able to be contained
  • EMP devices are set off that cause massive power failures across the state
  • Meltdown of a nuclear reactor
  • Any number of natural disasters (flooding, fires, tsunami, hurricanes)

If you find the early warning signs are not sufficient to warrant an evacuation, and you choose to sit tight, there are a number of additional things you will notice as the situation deteriorates.

Escalating violence

With everything you see on the news, be sure to take it in context. They're predominantly out to sell ratings, and mainstream media has a habit of jumping on the bandwagon of every new controversy and hyping it through the roof. It's better to focus on local news radio, as well as developing friendships with the medical staff, police officers and leaders in the community who can give you information without any agenda. The key is to identify trends of violence, especially if they are increasing, so you can make informed decisions of how safe you are within your neighborhood.

Groups (read: gangs) form

Once the SHTF things get scary really fast. The uncertainty about the next meal, what tomorrow will bring, and when will it all be over causes people to get scared, and once they do they will band together. Naturally, people will gravitate to the people they feel a similar connection to, and much like prison, some of these groups will begin to prey on others, for the good of their own group. This is a very dangerous situation, as violence is rationalized for "survival," and anyone who is not in the group becomes a potential target.

Empty streets

Picking up on the escalating levels of danger, the masses begin to realize it's no longer safe on the streets, which are noticeably empty after dark. You no longer see anyone walking alone, or unarmed, and anyone that is out is hurrying to their destination as part of a larger group. If you no longer feel safe crossing the street or taking your kids to the park, it's a good sign things are going downhill, and perhaps it's a good time to relocate to a safer area.

No protection

For years we are taught that police officers and the authorities are here to protect us, and it can be a rude awakening when we realize this is no longer the case. One of the clearest signs that things are now very, very bad is when the police are no longer enforcing the laws. Perhaps it starts with something small, like a uniformed officer participating in looting, but this is a very clear sign that the SHTF. Never forget these officers are also people, with families of their own to protect. At the end of the day, they are going to put the wellbeing of their own family first.

There's no clear flag that indicates when the SHTF, and if you sit around waiting for one you may just find you've left it too long and are now in a very dangerous place. The entire team here at APE Survival recommend trusting your intuition, and if you get a funny feeling about one of the warning signs we've listed (or another that will likely create the same result), listen to your instincts. You are the best person to determine when the SHTF and it comes time to evacuate your home, which is a decision only you can make for yourself.

Melisse in Bakersfield, US purchased a
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