9 SHTF Disaster Scenarios & How to Prepare for Them

Posted by James Koskela on Oct 17th 2022

SHTF is a slang expression standing for “Shit Hits The Fan.” Although it can be used as a metaphor for any catastrophic situation, survivalists and preparedness enthusiasts typically use the term to refer to disaster scenarios and societal collapse.

What is an SHTF Situation?

Although the definition of an SHTF situation varies from person to person, it typically refers to disasters and cataclysms caused by environmental, financial, or political factors. In most SHTF situations, essential services are cut off, and you must rely on survival skills.

For most preppers, the definition of an SHTF situation ranges from seasonal natural disasters like wildfires and hurricanes to the most unlikely of doomsday situations like total societal collapse, civil war, worldwide pandemic, supervolcano eruption, and financial collapse.

9 Disaster Scenario Examples

When most people hear the phrase SHTF, they think of apocalyptic scenarios, but life-altering and tragic events occur daily worldwide. Some examples of SHTF scenarios that most Americans will encounter include:


The most likely SHTF scenario for most people is a natural disaster. Hurricanes are one of the most common natural disasters in the United States, primarily affecting states along the Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard.

The 2021 season was the third-most active hurricane season on record, with 21 named storms.

The action you take depends on whether you are in an evacuation zone, but having a prepared bug-out bag for each family member is essential whether or not you have to leave your home.


Tornadoes are another weather-related natural disaster that can be deadly, particularly in Midwestern states. Unlike hurricanes, which allow time for forecasting and preparation, tornadoes can occur without much warning. The 2021 tornado season claimed 103 lives and thousands more victims, causing billions in damage.

If you live in an area susceptible to tornadoes, have an emergency plan ready. Avoid sheltering in a room with windows. Instead, choose a windowless room on the lowest floor. Cover yourself with blankets or a mattress to protect yourself from flying debris.


A strong earthquake has the potential to cause widespread damage and death. They are primarily a risk along fault lines, where tectonic plates meet. In 2021 the strongest in the U.S. was recorded in Alaska with a magnitude of 8.2.

An emergency evacuation and communication plan is essential if you live in a high-risk region like California, Alaska, Oregon, Hawaii, Washington, Puerto Rico, and the Mississippi Valley.


Another high-risk disaster scenario is a wildfire. Wildfires are relatively common in dry areas during droughts. In 2018, a campfire in Butte County, CA, caused a wildfire that killed at least 85 people and destroyed 18,804 homes.

Wildfires can strike without much warning so ensure you are receiving alerts from a reliable source like Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) and paying attention to the air quality. Make an emergency plan in case you need to evacuate quickly.

Massive Blackout

With political strife on the rise and energy being traded among countries, our increasingly-globalized world is at risk of massive blackouts. Certain weapons like Electromagnetic Pulse bombs or EMPs can destroy the entire electrical grid. If this were to happen, unrest would likely ensue. Two potential responses to this scenario are bugging out or standing your ground.

If you plan to bug out, you should make bug-out bags with everything you and your family will need to survive. On the other hand, if you plan to stay, you must make more thorough preparations.

Consider investing in a lock pick as part of your preparations for a blackout scenario. If the electric grid were to fail, many would likely abandon their homes and businesses. If you run short on supplies during a blackout, a simple lock pick will allow you to access locked stores, homes, and other locations holding vital goods.

Nuclear Plant Meltdown

While our reliance on nuclear energy has diminished substantially in recent years, over 915,000 Americans live within 5 miles of a nuclear power plant. If a nuclear plant were to melt down, the surrounding area would become uninhabitable due to excess radiation.

A plan for a nuclear meltdown is crucial if you live close to a plant. Have several designated routes planned to avoid the radiation, and have bug-out bags with everything you and your family need to survive stored inside.

Food or Water Shortage

When COVID-19 lockdowns hit, the world saw an example of how a pandemic can disrupt essential supply lines. Much of the food eaten by Americans is delivered to grocery stores and restaurants on a just-in-time basis, meaning even a slight disruption can cause a food or water shortage.

To prepare for such an event, store bottled water and canned or shelf-stable food. If you add a few items to your reserve each time you shop, you can build a solid stockpile within a few months.

Financial Collapse

Many Americans believe total financial collapse may occur due to massive inflation and economic turmoil in several financial markets. A possible consequence of a failure of the U.S. financial system includes the devaluation of the U.S. dollar, potentially requiring survivors to trade using precious metals (gold, silver, and platinum) or valuable consumables (food, water, alcohol, ammunition, etc.).

Worldwide Pandemic

As evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, contagious diseases can pose a considerable threat without adequate preparations.

A potential future global pandemic with a higher lethality rate than COVID-19 would require even more stringent containment measures. Pandemic preparedness may involve stockpiling valuable items, such as face masks, sterile gloves, medication, and other supplies for treating or preventing symptoms.

Useful Disaster Management Skills

When disaster strikes, the decisions you make can have life-or-death consequences. Some practical disaster management skills include:

  • Communication

If a disaster strikes, communicating with loved ones about your plans, needs, and ability to help is crucial. In many SHTF scenarios, cell phones will not be functional, making it essential to have a communication plan, like using walkie-talkies to talk to family members if you are split up.

  • Preparedness

Preparing a bug-out bag containing all the essential supplies for each family member, including pets, is necessary for an SHTF scenario. Have the bag packed and easily accessible so you can leave at the first sign of problems.

If you will be storing your bug-out bags at home, it is vital to have lock-picking tools at your disposal in case you cannot access your home. Owning a simple bump key designed for your door’s lock can be the difference between life and death in a disaster scenario.

  • Lock Picking

In a large-scale SHTF scenario, everyone is on their own. There will be no police, law enforcement, or even a social contract to prevent people from taking what they need.

Lock picking can mean the difference between survival and starvation. To practice lockpicking, purchase a practice lock picking set. These sets contain transparent practice locks and every necessary tool to learn how to pick locks proficiently.

Prepare for Every Disaster Scenario with Zero Day Gear

No matter what scenario causes an SHTF situation, locksmithing tools should be part of your gear. The ability to open locked doors can be invaluable in a survival situation.

Zero Day Gear offers top-of-the-line locksmithing tools and practice kits, which allow you to learn how to pick locks. Check out our lock picking tools and be prepared for any disaster scenario.

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