I guess a lot of that depends on how bad the shit is. There are so many ways that things can go wrong in our environment. Are you prepared for the power being off for a few days? How about if its off for a few months? What if there is no clean running water, if the roads are not passable, or if your home is so damaged, you can't re- enter it. What if you can't buy food, if you are injured, what if..... ?
We have all seen our brothers and sisters around the world put into horrific situations that happen suddenly( the Quebec ice storm, the Haitian earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami, civil unrest and war). How prepared are you to cope when the lights go out and services are not available? Would you know what to do?
The experience that changed my life was an ice storm. I was living in Chilliwack BC at the time in a one bedroom apartment. I had zero emergency supplies on hand when the power went out. It took awhile to sink in just how dire things really were. We had electric baseboard heaters, so it didn't take long for it to get really,really cold once there was no power to run them. Then boredom set in, but shoot, no tv, no radio, no lights to see by to play cards etc. Hmm , well lets go eat something. Wait, can't defrost anything, can't toast anything, can't heat anything up, don't really have much in the way of food that needs no preparation. Well how about going and soaking in the bath to kill some time and warm up. Wait for it, no power means no hot water either. OK, this is starting to freak me out, lets get out of here and go buy some food. Well, the whole town has lost power, the ice is so thick that it had completely coated the car in about 8 inches of ice and welded it right to the road. Couldn't drive anywhere, the roads impassable even if I could get in the car. All the restaurants are closed as are the grocery stores. Can't buy food, can't get warm, can't leave town, can't call anyone, now what? ( This was back in the day of no cell phones or Internet. The phones lines were all down, nobody could call out to the world!)
That went on for four days! I was shocked to think I could have died right in the middle of civilization all because there was no power. How reliant we had become on that switch on the wall always functioning for us. On food always being available 24/7, on being able to go out and just purchase whatever we needed whenever we wanted it. When all that was taken away in the blink of an eye, we reverted back to helpless babes. I vowed then and there to never be caught with my pants down again. I took courses in primitive living skills and first aid, I stocked up with emergency supplies of all kinds, I made a point of every home I lived in since then having a wood heat source.(preferably a wood stove with a surface to cook on, but a fireplace at the minimum.) I also keep a propane camp stove handy. As I design my home, I am always thinking , worst case scenario, how comfortable would I be here if the SHTF.
There are tons of books written about survival techniques, so I'm not going to write one here as there are so many things to know. I will give you my version of the short form of what you need to do to survive, the rest you will need to research yourself. I highly recommend that you make it a priority to inform yourself. God forbid anything should ever happen, hopefully it won't, but if it does, it happens in seconds and there is no time to think how to react, by then, you just have to be ready.
At the very least, I would recommend taking first aid courses on a regular basis. Practice with family and friends. Pick random times and say to each other, "this is a drill, I'm having a heart attack, drank some poison, broke a bone" etc etc. Pick random things and have the person explain or show you how they would treat you. Do it at unexpected times, when they are sleeping, in the bath, busy doing something. Why, because that's how it will be in real life. I've saved a few peoples lives and both times, I was woken out of a deep sleep to do it. I had to assess the situation, stay calm and do the right thing , with only seconds to react. I am so grateful I was able to do what needed to be done. Buy a good first aid book and keep it handy next to your first aid kit which should be full and extensive ( think of every way you could be hurt or in discomfort and have a remedy available). When the SHTF, help may not be available for days, it will be up to you to keep yourself and others alive. An infected cut could kill someone, so don't overlook minor injuries.
Buy a copy( or several ) of the SAS survival guide. They make a nice pocket size addition that covers most of what you need to know to stay alive in an emergency. Keep one in the car, one in the house, one at work. You may not be able to access one or more of those places depending on what happens. Personally, I keep a first aid book and SAS guide as bathroom reading material. I can read short bits of info at a time and keep it fresh in my mind when it's needed.
Priority sequence for staying alive is :
1. treat any medical emergencies, stabilize people before moving them if possible.
2.depending on the climate your in, figure out how your going to avoid hypothermia or heat stroke( both can kill in a matter of hours, this is your absolute priority!)
3. figure out your best source of clean drinking water. Dehydration can kill you in a couple of days. Don't drink dirty water in desperation, dying of diarrhea is worse than dying of thirst. You would be better off drinking your own urine than bad water. ( really , honestly, look it up !)
4. find safe shelter and a way to provide heat if necessary
5. find a way to let others know you are in trouble
6.look for food (this one is not as important, you can actually live quite awhile without food, people do it all the time. The danger is in getting weak when you need your strength and wits about you. ( a caution here, if you were starving and you came across some rabbits and decided to eat them, you would die even faster. Why? Your body needs fats and rabbit is too lean.Rabbit starvation, also referred to as protein poisoning or mal de caribou, is a form of acute malnutrition caused by excess consumption of any lean meat (e.g., rabbit) coupled with a lack of other sources of nutrients usually in combination with other stressors, such as severe cold or dry environment. Symptoms include diarrhea, headache, fatigue, low blood pressure and heart rate, and a vague discomfort and hunger that can only be satisfied by consumption of fat or carbohydrates. If you can't find some carbs or fat to eat with it, you would be better off not eating it at all. You might want to put a book on edible foliage in that bathroom reading library.
There are many ways to accomplish the steps above. This is where you need to educate yourself on all the ways to keep warm , find water etc. Your local environment will give you some ideas of the kind of dangers you could face and you should know the edible and medicinal properties of your local vegetation.
The Basics ( the list can really be endless for trying to be prepared, everything from a bugout bag to a full on bunker could be had, but here are some things that can come in handy for sure)
1. windup flashlight/radio . This is a priority, you need to be able to see and news updates can be helpful, you may not always have batteries or power so windup is best)
2. candles,water/wind proof matches/lighters, steel wool or birch bark( both will light when wet)
3. axe/ hatchet, a good knife( carbon steel blade is best, that along with a piece of flint and you have another source of spark for a fire)
4. water sterilizing methods( bleach, iodine pills, filtration pumps, or some way to heat water to boiling, at the very least one pot or camp kettle with a lid and a small flat grill which can be useful to put over rocks and hold your pot)
5. steel soled boots, work gloves,sturdy clothes ( you may be digging your way out of rubble)
6. first aid kit ( can't spend enough here, be prepared)
7. wool blankets and wool socks ( they retain body heat even when wet and wool socks won't give you blisters if you have to walk out of the area) ,space blanket
8. plastic bags of various sizes, can use them to collect water from small trickles and all kinds of other uses( as a rain coat, keeping your stuff dry etc)
9. signal mirror and whistle, bright coloured toque
10. bungy cords( you can rig up almost anything with some well placed bungy cords and a tarp or two)
11. snares, fish hooks, fishing line, tin foil, bouillon cubes,dehydrated food, power bars
I think if I had all this along with my first aid book and SAS survival book in a backpack, I would be ok for quite awhile. Depending on any room left in the bag, cash ( cards may not work), a compass, writing stuff to leave notes for people, a few clothespins, rope, a Swiss army knife type of thing, useful items for trade ( coffee, sugar, tampons,tobacco). I don't believe in firearms but if you think it will come to that to survive make sure its clean , serviced and you have lots of ammunition. A small lightweight hammock to sleep off the ground. Try and keep your bag as light as possible, you won't be carrying it very far if it weighs 200 pounds. Make sure it all fits in a backpack. You want to be able to walk with your hands free. An external frame pack is best as you can lash more stuff to it if need be. Make sure it has a really good, thick waist belt and padded adjustable shoulder straps.
Oh and don't forget your pets and their needs!
If your in an earthquake, your best odds of survival are by crouching next to a solid object that won't compress such as a couch. Survivors are almost always found in pockets where the debris hadn't crushed them. Don't go under things but right beside something big and bulky and away from falling objects like bookcases.
Don't live in a state of fear, just be ready and informed, so that if you have to make life saving decisions, you will make the right ones. Outfit your home so that if the power was to go off tonight, you could stay warm, heat some food, and be able to see what you are doing. Practice safety drills with your family and make sure everyone knows what the alternative plan is if you get separated ( a meeting place or an outside contact to leave messages with.)
Here are some good resources to check out
Rabbitstick-Wintercount this is a link to two awesome yearly events, Rabbitstick and Wintercount where you can go and learn hands-on primitive living skills. Everything from how to start a fire without matches to building shelters. They have some of the most knowledge instructors in the world and it is an experience you will never forget.
The Society of PrimitiveTechnology excellent magazine and article archives
Backtracks Abo Links lots of great links here to all things primitive related
Equipped to Survive they rate the small personal survival kits - very good site
Knol thoughts on what to put in your bug-out-bag(BOB)
Homemade Survival Tin well thought out small survival tin
Militia Homepage tons of informative articles on everything you need to know to survive and protect yourself
SHTF Plan lots of articles and links
SHTF Forum awesome forum with tons of posts on all kinds of survival related subjects
Be prepared! as the Boy Scouts say
The SHTF for millions of people this year alone, what if......................... it was you?