Time Frame For Collapse

What You Can Expect After SHTF: A Timeline

Can You Survive Long Enough

 “He felt that in this crisis his laws of life were useless.” – Stephen Crane, ‘The Red Badge Of Courage (1895) 

A large-scale natural disaster with a failed government response, political divisions that pit neighbor against neighbor, a public health crisis with heavy-handed government mandates, a cyberattack that brings the supply chain to a grinding and shuddering halt, a prolonged regional grid-down situation, or a contested midterm election or states seceding from the Union…all of these have become highly probable events that could exponentially spiral out of control and result in the unraveling of social order the likes of which most of us have never witnessed in our lifetimes.  If you had brought up these scenarios 2 or 3 years ago, we wouldn’t have been overly concerned, but a lot has changed since then.  If one of these events plays out even partially, your safety, security, even your very life will be threatened.  To be honest with you, it doesn’t matter which of these happens, as all will have a similar timeline.  This blog will examine that timeline to understand the pressure points and better grasp where and when you need to make decisions about your safety and future.  Let’s assume one of these events is unfolding right now and take a look at how it will probably play out…

Week 1: The Spark

The SparkMost events lead back to a single spark.  All of the rhetoric and actions leading up to that spark are just kindling for the resulting fire.  There were many events and words before the shot heard round the world.  Several situations fueled the decision of the South Carolina Militia to bombard Fort Sumter and officially begin the American Civil War.  Even natural disasters often have conditions leading up to them and then an initial spark.  It was the unseasonably dry, drought conditions preceding the Boulder County fire coupled with wind gusts of up to 100 miles per hour, a cross barrier flow, and a downward vertical wind, that then required only a spark for a fire that destroyed a thousand structures and wiped out whole neighborhoods in mere minutes.  A prolonged drought, high winds, and a downed powerline led to similar destruction of a Santa Rosa, California neighborhood just a few years ago.  While nobody could have predicted with absolute certainty any of these events, from fires to war, the conditions–the kindling for the spark, were undeniably in existence beforehand.

With any catastrophe or disaster, there is a spark that results in the out-of-control fire–both literally and figuratively.  Prepping is about understanding the kindling lying about you and the potential sparks that can be catalysts to a more significant fire.  A protest can easily result in a public outcry for police protection.  Those forces could be used to implement heavy-handed policies on the very same people encouraging the police escalation.  The spark of civil unrest could easily lead to repressive governmental control of social life.  The conditions, the kindling, exist right now.  The country is deeply divided and angry.  Many people feel betrayed by their government.  Many feel they cannot trust their elected officials.  It would be shortsighted not to recognize all the kindling lying about, but what is the spark?  Understanding the spark is critical because the escalation to a more significant crisis can be blindingly quick and can rapidly envelop and consume an entire neighborhood, town, city, or state once it occurs.  Think of it as a bar fight.  The kindling might be the alcohol consumed and the perception of a dirty look or slight.  The spark is that first punch, but the resulting flame is more and more people joining in on the fight, unclear what they are fighting about or even who the opposing combatant is.  It’s chaos.

The sparks you have to look for in the first day and week are any incidents of civil unrest, from looting after a natural disaster to conflicts between factions in the streets.  As with any fire, if you see the flames, smell the fire, or see the smoke, you would be wise to accept that a fire exists and leave the area but also understand the source.  In the first days and the first week, either lockdown and hole-up in your home or get out of town.  Make the decision based upon first the proximity of the spark to your home location.  If your neighborhood is engulfed in flames, you have to leave.  If rioters are in your streets, perhaps you are still safe behind your closed doors.  If the government is going door-to-door, getting to a less hostile area may be a better option for you.  Second, base part of your decision on the response.  If things continue to escalate and no help appears on the horizon, the situation on the ground will worsen along with the people’s desperation.  In contrast, if an event seems to be contained, police, fire, or EMS have a perimeter established, aid is flowing, and your supplies and security are reasonable, there’s no reason to make tracks and implement your bugout plan.

This spark phase can be a singular event or a series of occurrences and responses that continue to escalate.  It can happen all at once with an incredible blinding speed that leaves a person unable even to catch a breath, or it can be an event, then response, then reaction followed by further reactions, which allows for some evaluation and action on the part of the prepared.  As a prepper, recognize both the tinder within your community and area and the potential and actual sparks.  

And as mentioned in the opening to this video, at this moment, there’s a lot of dry tinder lying around.  We can only hope no spark starts a fire, but we have to be prepared for that possibility more so than ever.

Weeks 2-4: The Response 

The ResponseWhen people perceive that the problem can be contained, that forces are working to extinguish the flames; they are less apt to panic or act upon their self-centered impulses.  If that feeling of control is missing or no help is visible on the horizon, maybe the police are even abandoning their posts as we saw after Hurricane Katrina, people’s feeling of desperation will skyrocket.  Some will take whatever they want from whoever has more.  They’ll justify the chaos for themselves and cause a more significant fire.

The response to the spark will determine if the crisis will be contained and everyday life will be restored or whether the fires will grow further.  Either the government will restore order and handle the disaster correctly or citizens will take the restoration of order into their own hands.  Either way, you will have four groups of people in the response phase of a disaster– manmade or natural.  First, there will be those hiding out, locking down, defending their small space.  That is the group you want to be a part of.  Ideally, you have a minimum of a 3-month’s supplies on hand and can hunker down until either the disaster has passed or it has lessened to the extent that you can safely get to a calmer area.  The second group is composed of the desperate masses that are forced to flee the epicenter and are at the will of the elements or controlling forces.  This can be evacuees burned or flooded out of their homes, or it could be people persecuted because of their political or religious views driven by force to find a safer place.  They are the refugees of whatever disaster it is who must find a safer location to survive.  The third group is the opportunistic and the self-emboldened.  This group is composed of individuals on both sides of the moral compass.  One faction seizes upon the chaos to loot and steal for personal gain.  The other feels that it is their responsibility to implement vigilantism to restore peace, protect property, or extend an ideological sense of justice.  Both factions of this group are hot in the streets, not abiding by laws or curfews, and not very likely to respect your rights.  

The final group is the old order established response.  That is FEMA, the police, National Guard, firefighters, the military, or any other set of individuals who are part of the established response.  Hopefully, this group is acting as best they can under strained and stressful situations and in unchartered and unplanned territories.  They could mistake you for one of those looters if you were on the streets after an established curfew.  They could prevent you from returning home if your home is perceived to be in an unsafe area.  They can quickly sweep you up in a group you don’t belong to in the interest of public safety.

It’s these four groups in the response that you need to assess the strength of for yourself.  Are the streets quiet and the group locked-down in their homes the most prominent group?  Are aid and supplies being provided?  Is there food and water after a disaster, or is desperation increasing?  Are grocery stores being looted?  Are people taking things into their own hands and armed bands beginning to form and patrol neighborhoods?  Are roadblocks being thrown up by forces?  Neighborhoods closed off?  Guns or food being confiscated?  IDs and authorization papers being required and checked?

Sometimes, the response can be worse than the initial spark.  Sometimes the disaster is the response.  One of those three groups: the hunkered down, the opportunistic, the formal response, will determine whether the situation is contained or continues to spiral out of control.  How those groups react and interact will determine whether the fires of the disaster are extinguished or fanned and fed further kindling.  The response phase’s success is determined by the people’s perception of its success.  It’s going to begin when the initial flames of conflict are extinguished, but they may still be smoldering or may still flare up here and there.  Typically, this is going to be beginning the second week after the event and will last at least a month.  People will emerge from their secure shelters and assess the remaining threats and the validity of other people’s responses.  If it was a terrorist attack, what is the potential of a second attack?  If it was a wildfire, are the fires now contained?  If it was civil unrest, are securing forces now maintaining the peace?  In short, has everyone’s collective responses adequately snuffed the flames?  As a prepper, you need to both wait out the event to this point and make an assessment of the collective responses to determine your next steps.

Week 5-13: The Aftermath

The AftermathAfter the first month following the spark and to the end of the third month, the aftermath of the disaster will either result in a restoration of some stable existence or a continuing push and pull between order and chaos.  Either there will be a figurative and literal rebuilding of structures or bridges of communication between factions, or there will be continued fires and chaos.  This is where 3-days supplies might keep you alive, 3-weeks supplies might help you survive, but 3-months supplies will likely get you through to a stable place again.  Government agencies recommend 3-days supplies of food and medicine.  That is a good, minimal starting point that will work assuming help will eventually come, but it also is overly optimistic that all citizens will have that 3-day supply on hand and that the government-supplied flow of aid won’t be hampered.  However, as we have seen with other disasters, it is often much longer than three days before aid and supplies can even make it across impassable roads and collapsed bridges.  Ask anyone who has ever evacuated from any disaster how certain about their future they felt at the 72-hour mark, and it’s not likely you will hear many say they knew things were getting better. 

After Hurricane Katrina, between 20,000 and 30,000 people in New Orleans were evacuated to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with barely the clothes on their backs. Even though this was meant to be a temporary shelter, they ended up being stranded in the stadium for a week.  Even after that, aid and assistance were sparse and intermittent.  The aftermath stretched on for months and years after the initial event.  3-days supplies were insufficient.  3-week’s supplies would have been better for most.  Ideally, 3-month’s supplies would have seen a person through the event’s aftermath.

The aftermath phase’s success after any event will be determined first by the ability for assistance to be rendered.  Is order established?  Is the response phase successful?  Are roads clear and forces mobilized in the recovery effort?  After Hurricane Ida, politics held up the flow of funds to the relief effort, so mobilization of relief in an aftermath stretches from how clear the roads are to how supportive the rest of the country is.  Unfortunately, divisiveness in this country has gotten so bad that it’s not uncommon for the people of one state to willingly accept another state’s population being burned out of their homes.  Go to any comments section on any forum after any disaster, and you can see comments like “Who cares about California anyways?”  Or “Texas got what it deserves.” Or “Let it burn.”  Failure to return stability in an aftermath can result in further sparks and larger fires.  It can pull in even more of the country far beyond the initial sparking event’s location.  So, even in the aftermath, you have to be aware of potentially backsliding into chaos.   This is why a 3-month supply is a good minimum for a prepper.  That tends to be the length of time required to determine whether a recovery from whatever disaster it is will occur.

It also keeps you functionally surviving through most disasters that could befall you.  Of course, it isn’t adequate enough to get you through a decade-long economic depression or a dust bowl. Still, it is often sufficient to get you through the initial phases. It provides you enough resources to self-determine your direction and options instead of being sucked up into the hopeless masses of desperate refugees fleeing the disaster, responses, and aftermath.  An aftermath is the consequences or aftereffects of a significant unpleasant event.  While it cannot be guaranteed to be contained within a 90-day timeframe, it likely will be.  Ask those same evacuees you polled at the 72-hour mark whether they felt more certain about their future 3-months after the disaster, and you will get a more assuredly positive response.


Whether it’s civil unrest or a hurricane, the disasters will unfold in a similar fashion.  There will be a time to recognize the conditions around you and prepare.  There will be a spark that ignites a more significant metaphorical or actual fire.  There will be a mixed response in an attempt to re-establish order.  And there will be an aftermath.  As a prepper, it is imperative that you recognize each phase of the disaster and that you have the preps in place you need to endure through them for as long as you can.  Definitely go beyond the bare minimum, 3-day suggestion from most state and federal agencies, as that won’t be enough if the disaster is too extreme or far-reaching.  Recognize all the tinder about you and establish 3-weeks of self-sufficiency at the absolute minimum if you’re just starting out and please take my advice and work toward that insulation for yourself to survive a full 3-months beyond that initial spark.

The majority of people look at the calm before the storm and think it is an indicator that the storm will never come, but the reality is that dark clouds and strong winds heading your direction likely portend a storm coming your way.  You can either head to higher ground and pull in the resources around you that you need to survive it, or you will be hopelessly at its mercy when it does come.  Avoiding a disaster is not ever a certainty.  Even if we recognize the signs of a coming storm, we cannot always make it safely home or to higher ground.  Whether it is an impending natural disaster or civil unrest spilling over into your neighborhood, recognizing how the disaster unfolds from the spark through the aftermath will help you make the right decisions at the right time.  Having your preps to get you through to that decision point is equally critical.

What do you think?  What are the warning signs you see, and are your preps adequate to get you through the aftermath of the disasters you feel you are most likely to face in your immediate future?  Let us know in the comments below. 

As always, stay safe out there.

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