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7 Assumptions About the SHTF

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We make them all the time.  Mostly unconscious, like the grocery store will be open, fully stocked of bread, milk, toilet paper, and our favorite ice cream.  The gas station will be up and running to gas up our vehicles and maybe get a hot cup of coffee or a fat pill (doughnut).

Then there are other conscious assumptions we make about things,  like our retirement accounts doing well, plenty of money available for presents under the Christmas tree, or not having to resort to using a credit card to make the monthly bills.

Some of our assumptions are made based on historical facts.  Others from more recent events or experiences.  Then, we also have unconscious bias assumptions.

When it comes to the SHTF, I think we have some that are quite logical or common sense based.  Others – well, I’ve read a few that are really out there – such as Army-grown lab attack dogs trained to eat our children.

Yeah.  Really.

Based on several of Selco’s articles and some other books on various topics, historical and recent events are some assumptions I have made.  Your mileage may vary.  This is not a complete list, as I am sure I am forgetting more than a few.

One thing I want to mention is that OP commenter Backwoods Squirrel wrote “Just understand that what works in one area won’t necessarily work in another.”

He was referencing the differences between the Balkan War Selco went through to what SHTF could look like here in the US.  There could be similarities, and there could be differences between states, regions, or even towns.

From Taylor to Tina.  Or, From Rule of Law to Thunderdome.

How fast we go from Shake It Off to Thunderdome is an interesting assumption.

I have read some who think it will be nearly instantaneous or overnight.  Others say several days to weeks or somewhere in between.

There are some more recent events we can look to as examples.  Hurricane Katrina.  The lawlessness some major cities are currently experiencing.

Selco noted more than a few times in his writings how by the time they realized that SHTF, it was too late.  Where they were is where they were.  From panic-buying at the grocery store to outright looting.  From civil normalcy to stabbings with no EMS or LEOs responding.

It happened slowly.

Then suddenly.

Rule of Law (ROL) broke down.  As a society, we are only as good as the laws written and those who follow those laws.  Once ROL is gone, chaos and anarchy rule.

It is only with the threat of punishment and to a degree, the social contract that a society functions.  When ROL has broken down, those who would enforce those laws are just as helpless as the rest of us to the chaos and anarchy.  In that case, I cannot blame Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) any more than I could anyone else.  They are just as fearful for their lives and the lives of their families as everyone else.

Another takeaway Selco mentions is the need for family or community.  He notes it takes a group to maintain not only physical security from invaders but also mental security.

Selco also mentions those who have the numbers and the firepower to control territory or parts of the black market.  These could be in the form of gangs, warlords, or tribes.  What we may see as a neighborhood now when things are normal, maybe the next tribe or gang, depending on how you look at it.

Hey!  Who Turned Off The Lights?  Or, When The Grid Is Gone.

This is one assumption most make and agree on.  If our electrical grid were to go down for a prolonged period of time – weeks, months, or even longer – we would have some serious problems. Some think violence would be the biggest cause of death in a SHTF situation.  Historically (and even to this day globally), sanitation issues have been some of the biggest causes of death.  Grid-down, the toilets do not flush, and nothing comes out of the tap.  Selco wrote an article about water during the Balkan War, and I wrote about it with my experiences in Afghanistan and my own water experiment.

Other issues are heating, cooling, and cooking.

Depending on your location and the time of year, all three present their own issues.  Obviously, heating in the far North in the winter can be an issue for those who do not heat with wood.  In the South, cooling is its own issue during the summer.  Most people would be able to cope, although it may not be comfortable.  In both cases it is the very young and the very old would be the most vulnerable.

Cooking over a wood fire is doable.  But first, you need wood for the fire.

Then you need food.

Grid down, unless you have a generator, your perishables in the fridge and freezer are only going to last a few days at most.  Even then, you are dependent on the fuel supply.  For those in the North, in the winter, nature is your freezer.  I have done it before.

What is that smell?  Or Sanitation issues.

Sanitation is the one of the biggest causes of death globally, even to this day.  Selco’s article on the topic highlights exactly the issues that happen when the power goes out and the tap no longer flows, the toilet no longer flushes.  I saw it happen in Afghanistan in the midst of a drought when a large number of people gathered around a single source of water and someone defecated in it.  The result was a cholera outbreak. If it was not for a humanitarian aid effort of hydration solutions/salts, a lot of people would have died.

In the comments section of that article, a number of people noted how the sewage system would back up if the power was out.  Unable to flush, where would people defecate?  As it has been noted, we Americans are something of a lazy bunch.  If you think San Fran is bad now, imagine lots of people just defecating in a bucket and tossing it out of a seven-story (or larger) apartment building.  And no one is going to clean it up.  Not my job, right?  In one of the comments, someone mentioned in the past there would be people who would collect waste buckets and dispose of them pre-modern sanitation methods.  Who is going to volunteer for that job, and what are the rest of us going to pay them?

Hey!  Where Did Everyone Go?  Or, The Mass Die Off.

In the comments section, The Lone Canadian mentioned the EMP Commission, and in the event of an EMP attack, an estimated 80-90% mass die-off could happen within 4 to 6 weeks.  When I first read the estimation of a die-off, it was too surreal.  Think about it: go to a mall, a big box store, the grocery store, and count off 8 or 9 of Americans dead.  The 9th or 10th is a survivor.  Then I got to thinking of how dependent we are on our Just-In-Time/Business As Usual (JIT/BAU) paradigm.

This system allows for maximum efficiency at a modest profit and lowest costs.  Unfortunately, this system is highly dependent on everything working just right and highly dependent on a readily available supply of cheap energy.  Take the COVID shutdowns.  A few meat packing plants closed due to works testing positive for COVID, and suddenly we saw rising prices and empty shelves.  Buying limits.  And it was not just meat.  Pasta.  Flour.  Rice.  Yeast.  Toilet paper.  The supply chain was in terrible condition, and fast. The Lone Canadian also notes that at normal consumption rates, there are only three days of food on the grocery store shelves in any given city. Selco mentions how quickly people went from panic buying to looting.  Once that supply is gone, where is the resupply?

Again, imagine 8 or 9 out of 10 Americans dead.  Some of these would be people who produce the food, people who process the food, people who transport the food, people who stock the shelves, and those who ring you out.  The same people who also pump oil out of the ground, transport it to refineries, refine it into a usable end product, and those who again transport that end product to your local gas station.

Another part that few mention is the supply of Rx drugs.  There are a lot of people who are dependent on those drugs for everyday life with no natural herbal alternative.

Then there are other Rx drugs that people may not be life dependent on but need for just functioning.  Anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, anti-psychotic, etc.  How would they function?

Then there are the illegal drugs.  Do we assume the drug cartels would continue to ship drugs North if SHTF and there is a mass die-off?  Who would their customers be?  We already know to what lengths illegal drug users will go to to get their next fix.  Imagine when there is no next fix.

Times Square vs Mayberry.  Or, Urban vs Rural

This is a debate that continues to rage.  Some are of the opinion that urban areas will command the preponderance of supplies and rural areas will run out of food and other supplies first.  COVID may have shown a degree of insight into supply chain issues.  If we continue with the mass die-off assumption in 4 to 6 weeks there could be some supplies still within the urban areas.  And there could be nothing left.  Based on current trends, most Americans only have a week’s worth of food on hand at any given time.  COVID shutdowns did display the need for having a well-stocked pantry.  Unfortunately, in our current inflationary environment, many Americans have gone through those stockpiles to make ends meet.  As mentioned above, we are highly dependent on our JIT/BAU system in various degrees.  Take out any one part, and the end consumer is at a loss.

However, those who are closest to local production have the least to lose.

Selco notes how fast things went from normal to SHTF.  By the time they realized it, it was too late.  Where they were is where they were.

One commenter mentioned how he lives in a rural area not far from a sizable town.  He also mentioned how he and his neighbors are ready and willing to set up armed roadblocks or even drop a bridge to keep those urbanites from coming into their areas.

Something else that needs to be addressed is how many people could make a major migration from one area to another without some kind of modern logistical supply. How many people have the skills to actually live off the land while they hike it?  How far could they range a day?

In the early days of COVID, we read a number of articles about people from major metropolitan areas, fleeing to their second homes in places like the Hamptons.  The locals who live in the Hamptons year round, generally referred as “townies” by those with their second homes, did not appreciate those fleeing to bring COVID with them or buying up supplies and groceries.  Tensions were high.  How do you think that would go if ROL went out the window?

How much for a carton of eggs!?!  Or Trade and Barter System.

In one of Selco’s articles, he mentions that PMs in the form of jewelry actually went down in value as they did not have an immediate use. However, The OP has noted the value of PMs as a means to secure wealth in the long term and not necessarily for everyday trading. (Go here for more information on gold and silver.) As Selco noted, the market drove the value of everything on any given week: food, anti-biotics, alcohol, cigarettes etc.

During the Balkan War, there were supplies coming in from other countries in the form of UN convoys and US air drops.  Try to imagine a UN convoy getting even a few hundred miles into the interior of the USA or an airdrop to Topeka KS, from the East Coast. Consider the UN’s track record of success in previous endeavors. Not very good.

Selco also mentions skills.  Some skills will have a higher value than others.  One of the most commonly noted ones is medical and natural herbal remedies.  After that, the ability to repair clothing or even make clothing from raw materials.  Shoes.  Weapons repair.  I would assume things like alcohol or tobacco production would also be high on the list of those that have a high value.  People will still have their vices even in SHTF.

With the current situation in the Mid-East, the Israel-Palestinian war, there is a very real possibility of unrest in the region, with some analysts suggesting passive-aggressive support for Palestinians of an oil production cut (more so than we have seen thus far) and even a possible oil embargo of pro-Israel countries.  What does $300 a barrel of oil translate into the cost of gas at the pump?  What would be the second and third-order effects of such a jump in fuel prices?  If you think inflation is bad now, consider that possibility.  Even the availability of fuel at the local gas station has to be considered.  Don’t think it could happen?  Recall the oil embargo in the early 1970s.

The Day After Tomorrow.  Or, Rebuilding Society.

What does rebuilding society even look like in a post-SHTF world in America?

I have no idea.

I can make some assumptions.

Our illustrious elites emerge from their bunkers after years of ruling from afar, while us unwashed masses have moved on and tell them to pound sand if they are lucky.

From what I saw in Afghanistan, some will form up their own tribes around natural resources.

Others will become something like what we now call warlords.

And still others may become nomadic-like tribes, moving to follow game or the seasons like Native Americans did.

Some may form walled towns or small cities with a symbiotic like relationship with nearby farmers to support those within the walls.

What will those society laws look like? Technology?  A mix of old world with a smattering of things like solar panels to watch a movie or listen to Taylor or Tina?

How would the world from the outside look at a fallen US?  Invade?  Stay the hell away?


This past weekend, the wife and I went to a local diner for breakfast.  As I sat drinking my coffee, enjoying the breakfast sandwich, I looked around at the people milling about. I asked my wife if WWIII broke out, would this diner be able to stay open?  Would people be able to come to it and pay for breakfast?  We just might be enjoying a seemingly common outing that, in a few days, weeks, or months be an extreme luxury.

As I write this, we are 90 seconds to midnight on the Doomsday Clock, with midnight representing nuclear annihilation.  The closest it has ever been.  And the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have not even factored in the recent Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel and the events unfolding now.

Now, there is possible WWIII not only in Eastern Europe with the Ukraine-Russian war, but also with war breaking out in the Middle East.  If China were to take advantage of the situation, we would be looking at a possible third front WWIII.

Things look a bit uncertain.  With uncertainty, the unknown becomes fear.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
― Frank Herbert, Dune

We must keep calm and carry on.

What are your thoughts? What assumptions do you have about how life would really be once the SHTF? Are there some assumptions you think are incorrect?

Let’s talk about it in the comments section.

About 1stMarineJarHead

1stMarineJarHead is not only a former Marine but also a former EMT-B, Wilderness EMT (courtesy of NOLS), and volunteer firefighter.

He currently resides in the great white (i.e. snowy) Northeast with his wife and dogs. He raises chickens, rabbits, goats, occasionally hogs, cows and sometimes ducks. He grows various veggies and has a weird fondness for rutabagas. He enjoys reading, writing, cooking from scratch, making charcuterie, target shooting, and is currently expanding his woodworking skills

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