How To Survive the First 90 Days After The Collapse

December 12, 2020

When disaster strikes, the time to prepare has passed. – Steven Cyros

2020 has been a wake-up call for many Americans showing how things can quickly take a turn for the worse.  We experienced prosperity and calm for quite some time before this year but we have quickly seen how that can change.  One disaster or perceived calamity can cause panic.  More than one catastrophe at the same time could lead to a prolonged grid down situation.  While a region might recover after a few days or weeks, a national incident could leave you on your own with no help coming.  If a significant enough event were to occur that completely disrupted our supply chains and resources, the results would be catastrophic.  Most people don’t have enough food and water on hand to survive much more than a week.  In this blog, we’ll cover what you can expect when a national disaster over 90 days occurs and how you can prepare now.

Any disaster on a national or global scale can quickly turn neighbor against neighbor.  The calm social order you enjoy will be flipped on its head after just a few days.  The sad reality is that most people aren’t prepared to survive to next week if supplies were cut off, let alone for ninety days or more.  There is, however, a timeline that generally follows disasters.  Knowing this timeline can put you one step ahead of the herd and can keep you safer amidst the chaos.  This blog will analyze the days, weeks, and months following a catastrophic national disaster.  We will tell you what you can expect along the way and provide you with solutions you will need to remain safe and survive.

The First 3 Days

What to expect

Depending upon the disaster, the first 24 hours can be relatively calm.  If you are in the aftermath of a storm or earthquake, this is the period where people are emerging from what is left of their shelters and making sure they are unscathed.  If it’s a disaster like a national power outage, most people are still relatively calm.  We put a great deal of faith in our government, public services, Guard, and military to restore our world following a disaster.

This period of calm can last for about two days.  After that, things begin to reveal how broken they actually are.  Stores that cannot process credit and debit transactions cannot sell to people without cash, and banks that can’t process deposits and withdrawals stop functioning.  Just-in-time delivery services that regularly replenish grocery and pharmacy inventories can’t do so and shortages of some items begin to occur.  This fuels even more panic buying, which further exacerbates the problem.

After 72 hours, people will begin to realize that help is not coming and systems will not be restored.  The stress level of the community will start to boil over.  If stores haven’t been looted yet, it will assuredly begin by the third day as those who failed to prepare will desperately try to grab up the resources they now realize they need.  If you have prepared, you can avoid being caught up in this dangerous time of desperation.  If you have not, expect to be stuck with the herd making runs on stores.  Likely, the police will not be able to keep ahead of the crime. Local curfews will be established, perhaps even martial law.

What to do

So what should you know about and do in the first 72 hours?  Your first 24 hours is a little bit of a Golden Window for you to act.  You will need to decide if you are going to shelter in place or bug out.  You should immediately fill every container you have with water in the likelihood that pumping stations will cease to operate.  Your water may be gravity fed with those enormous tanks you see on the hillsides around your town, but those will not be replenished in a prolonged grid down situation.  If possible, you should gas up your vehicle.  Within the first 24 hours, you should go to the store with cash if there’s any supplies you need to top off, but again, only do this if you have no other option as it is likely that people will be in a state of panic.  So don’t plan on this being your primary plan if you failed to prepare.  Evaluate accordingly based on the knowledge of your local stores.  

In the first 48 hours, you should check in with your Mutual Assistance Group if you’ve established these types of relationships.  If you live in an apartment complex, you should coordinate a floor or building meeting to discuss posting guards at the entrances and other strategies to keep your building safe.  Though phone and internet systems may be down, Apps like Bridgefy that utilize mesh networks may still allow you to communicate with others or get news.  CB or Ham radios can provide you with critical communication abilities.  A CB should be part of your prepping supplies because they are very affordable and vital to communications capabilities.  You should also monitor your emergency radio channels to assess the extent and area radius of the disaster and base your decision on whether to bug out or bug in based upon this information.  If you have a police scanner, you can monitor the chatter to determine how the disaster’s aftermath is unfolding.  Don’t give too much credibility to the word of mouth rumors and gossip, especially don’t base your decisions on this type of communication.  

Assuming you have prepped in advance, your most significant decision in the first 24 hours is going to be whether you should stay or go.  Your window of opportunity will begin to close after the first 24 hours.  Roads will begin to fill up, and travel will likely not be a safe option any longer.  Ask yourself, “can I make it 90 days where I am?”  Even if the answer is yes, have a bug out plan and bag ready if the situation forces you out.

Your solutions for the first three days are to have some preps in place already, along with a bug-out plan.  All members of your network or family should implement the communication plan you’ve already put in place before the disaster.  You should monitor any potential compounding problems like nuclear power plants or dams.  Most importantly, you need to assess whether staying in location or getting to a safer area is possible, which is your best choice during this golden window of opportunity.

The First Week

What to expect

Within the first week, supplies will be gone– either purchased or stolen.  Medicines will begin to run out, and people with medicine dependent lives will turn to hospitals for what they need.  Hospitals may not be able to admit and help many people if their power cannot be restored.  Police, medical, and fire services will be overwhelmed, and you cannot rely on them.  The declaration of martial law is very likely, as governments attempt to keep the peace.  As we saw from the citizenry in 2020, people will likely not accept martial law.  Vigilante security groups will probably spring up in neighborhoods and communities.  

Clean water may cease to flow, and trash and human waste will begin to pile up.  As sewage plants fail, municipal water supplies or local rivers may become contaminated.  Natural gas and electricity will cease to flow.  By the end of the first week, the levels of circulating cash will be very low, and bartered items like food, water, and durable goods will begin to rise in value.

People will be either trying to leave populated areas or, for those stranded away from home when the disaster struck, they will just be arriving back to their city home, if they decided to return home, to find that the landscape has changed considerably.  Remember, the golden window to either stay in place or bug out is really in the first 24 hours.  After that, you are competing with the herd every step of your journey.

What to do

Your solution for the first week is to take a mental inventory of your supplies and try to get all family members or groups in one central, defensible position.  Do not share, even at community or building meetings, the extent of your supplies.  If you do, your supplies will likely be taken and divided up by the second week.  You will need to use a large bucket and trash bags to remove waste from your living area.  If it’s more than just you, a 24 hour watch system at your home must be established.  The night will bring the greatest conflicts, as desperate people will try to use the cloak of darkness to keep them hidden.  Martial law or local police may still provide some protection during the day.  Beyond just your home, know what is happening in your neighborhood and community.  Stay in the well-trafficked areas if you have to venture out during the day.

Second Week

What to expect

By the second week, crime, looting, and marauding will rise.  Stores and pharmacies will have already been looted.  Mutual assistance groups will spring up in some communities, neighborhoods, and buildings.  These will vary from street gangs to militias to armed citizens.  There could be conflicts between these groups, though they will likely be pretty respectful of boundaries in the early weeks.  Your opportunity to travel has passed.  Roads impacted by people fleeing population centers will be littered with abandoned vehicles and will be far too unsafe to travel.  Many will be living out of their cars on rural land they could get to, and they will suffer being kicked off that land by locals.  International borders will be closed to stop the flood of refugees, and governments will issue stay at home orders, curfews, or attempt to relocate people en masse.  With no sign of recovery, hospital and emergency workers will turn to their own families and communities.

What to do

You will want to keep as low of a profile as possible.  Make sure the windows are covered.  Avoid cooking and lights at night.  When cooking, add any spices after flameout to avoid releasing scents into the air.  You will need to purify any water you obtain that isn’t part of your stores.  Stay put, and stay hidden.  You will not find food or medicine anywhere, so there is little point in venturing out.

Your solutions for this period are to have the foods and medicines you need in your preps.  If you’ve formed relationships with your neighbors, now is the time to start discussing food rationing and how you’ll work together if they’re not prepared.  At this point, you have all decided to hunker down, so you are all in it together.  Never reveal all your supplies, but it will be critical for you to have a large supply of food stored as you may be the only resource your neighbors have.  Always barter a cup of beans or rice or a couple of Ramen noodle packets for things you know you will need in the weeks ahead.  If someone wants to charge their item with the solar generator you have, you should try to have some cost associated with that.  Otherwise, they will be at your door repeatedly using your resources.  Avoid giving away your valuable preps for nothing in return.  You should have medical kits and books to allow you to care for yourself and others.  The loaning of prepping books you have already read and do not need to reference is the only exception because you want your neighbors to be knowledgeable and not a burden.  If sewage is down, you may need a community plan for removing waste from your living areas.

Third Week

What to expect

If you and your group are to survive, your solutions are to delegate responsibilities based upon areas of expertise.  Any current or former LEO or military should be in charge of implementing a security plan.  Anyone with medical training will have to provide those services.  Again, don’t reveal all your food stores but contribute maybe a pound of beans and a pound of rice.  Those will feed several people and keep people from getting desperate.  The reality that you are all in this together will sink in for many, so you will need to provide direction to steer your community.  Maybe loan a book or two to people who show that they have some expertise.  As a community, you will need to obtain water by draining water heaters or pipes or setting up a rain collection system.  You will need to lead the thinking on these things.  The ability to provide survival knowledge to your community will make you an invaluable asset.

 Tough decisions will have to be made, rationing of food within your home, roles will have to be established, and skills brought to the table for everyone to work together.  Many envision that after a significant disaster and no help is coming that they’ll simply be an island to themselves.  The reality is that this will not be the case.  People will know what you have, and if you haven’t started forming ways to help others near you that can help you in return, you may have an angry mob at your doorstep.  While many in the prepper community envision that they’ll be fine making it independently, if you live in an urban or suburban area, this simply will not be the case.  Remember, manpower will be critical for survival.  The notion of just sitting on a stockpile of food is simply not realistic as others will figure out quickly who has food and who does not.  It is in this moment that working with, and not against your neighbors will enable everyone to survive.

Three Months

What to expect

After three months, it will be apparent that rescue isn’t coming. Governments won’t restructure. After such a long national disaster, any government that shows up in your city will not be there in a friendly, helping capacity.  It will be more feudalistic– community against the community as they compete for natural resources and remaining resources. You are stuck where you are and may be subject to whatever jurisdiction rule holds the most power.

You will likely no longer be in a populous area. Either you left, or they left. The death toll from a prolonged SHTF situation can only be estimated, but even at the low estimates, fully 1/3 of all people will die within the first 90 days. Gone will be the elderly and anyone with a significant medical condition, those receiving medical treatment, or anyone in fragile health. Expect others to die from violence, starvation, dehydration, illness, travel, and exposure to the elements.  The reality is that most people can’t walk ten miles, find food or water, or have the knowledge and skills to survive outside the fragile systems they rely upon.

The world will look very post-apocalyptic, and either small communities will band together and rebuild by sharing labor, knowledge, and resources, or it will remain very fragmented.  By now, you contribute something to the sustainment of your networked community, and your community may have established trade or alliances with other communities.  As much as it is common to think that, as a prepper, you will be able to go it alone, the reality is that you will need a community to survive unless you are completely off-grid in the wilderness. For most preppers, that type of wilderness survival isn’t a possibility.  For most, survival will depend on the cooperation of others.

Understand How It Breaks Down to Understand How To Survive

What to do

There will be no electricity, no water, no hospital, no government, dead telephones, and no internet in a prolonged grid-down situation.  Know your location and assess your place before you find yourself in such dire straits.  Ensure you have paper maps and know the areas of nuclear power plants and dams, which may also fail.  Knowledge is power, so having police scanners, radios, television, CB radio, Ham radios, and some word of mouth will be critical. Any information you can obtain from these resources will be useful.

Running water will stop. Pump stations will stop. Gravity-fed water, those big tanks on the hills you see, will continue to flow for a while, but they will run out since they are not being replenished. Fill the bathtub and every container you have, as water flow may stop. Water heaters typically hold around 40 gallons of water, so you may need to tap this resource to sustain yourself.  You will need the absolute minimum of at least 90 gallons of water per person to get through the first 90 days.  That includes all drinking, washing, and cooking.  You simply cannot survive on less than that.  If feasible, strategize, and implement a rainwater collection system. 

From day one, start rationing your water and your food.  Don’t be a healthy fat person after people have suffered for a month. You will be alerting people. The same is true for cooking food. Make sure the scent isn’t carrying, or you will attract others. You need months of food. Most view this as caloric needs alone. Make sure you are looking at the nutritional qualities of the food. Understand that if you are hunkered down, you will not be burning a ton of calories. If you are on the move, you will be burning lots of calories but will be unable to carry all the calories you will need for a journey of a week or more.  Ensure you have 90 days of pet food on hand and remember their water needs are different. They can drink rainwater without ill effect.

Cash will only have an initial value.  After the first couple of weeks, water, food, and durable goods will be of more importance.  Bartering will hold more value in a prolonged or indefinite collapse.  Supply chains will stop. The just-in-time delivery system with lean inventories will collapse relatively swiftly. Supply trucks will cease to deliver. Expect stores to be looted before the end of the first week.  

Take advantage of any supply handouts for appearance and necessities, but don’t sacrifice your safety if they turn into chaotic mobs grabbing resources. Even if you don’t need the food or water, you can trade it for items you need like winter coats, blankets, or other critical things.


Prepping for a national disaster that will last more than 90 days may seem extreme, but it should be your goal.  If you can survive the first 90 days after a collapse of that magnitude, you will likely be able to survive the long haul and make it to the rebuilding phase.  A return to the way things were before a collapse of that magnitude just isn’t a possibility after 90 days.  Survival is possible, but you’ll inevitably have to rely upon your community and your networks.  Apart from the items you’ve stored up, your significant assets will be your knowledge that you can bring to your community.

Take a look at our other blogs to understand the things you will need, and set your prepping goals for a target of 90 days out.  You will find that the longer the time you can prepare for, the more your chances of survival increase.  At each significant phase of the 90 days, a week out, two weeks out, etcetera, assess whether staying in location or finding someplace new is in your best interest.  Likely, the window of opportunity has closed, but you may find a caravan of people planning to move. Your best bet after the first week or two is to stay put.

As always, please stay safe out there.

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