What is a Disaster?

Before describing a large-scale disaster, we must understand the natural design of supply chains.

Supply Chains

A supply chain is large-scale system that follows a general flow from extraction to consumption:
  1. Raw materials are harvested/extracted/mined/farmed from nature.
  2. A logistics group (often by truck, but also by ship or rail) takes it to another place for refining.
  3. The thing is refined into something more useful (e.g., coal into carbon rods).
  4. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 (with other things going through Steps 1 through 3) until it’s a finished product for consumers.
  5. Send the finished goods to a distributor via logistics (e.g., trucking, rail, ship).
  6. The distributor sends things to vendors as requested/needed.
  7. The vendors sell their goods to consumers (i.e., most of us for most things).

The beauty of this system is that it’s not centralized, so it’s relatively easy for any step of the chain to receive different inputs (e.g., processing soy milk instead of cow’s milk) or send different outputs (e.g., ship to an online instead of in-person wholesaler).

If anything bad happens to any part of the system (e.g., a mine caves in), there’s usually alternatives to the primary source. Sometimes the supplies get more expensive (extra shipping costs, international tariffs, etc.), but the supply chain maintains itself as long as consumers are willing to buy the finished products.

Supply Chain Failure

In the smallest sense, a personal crisis is never really a breakdown of any supply chain:
  • A house fire or significant plumbing failure
  • Thieves breaking in and stealing things
  • Lightning or some other natural disaster striking no more than a few houses
  • Conflicts among people which end with someone getting hurt or killed

Many people are prepared for personal crises (e.g., insurance), but not much worse.

A supply chain temporarily fails when entire communities are affected:
  • Natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes.
  • Somewhat man-made disasters like pandemics, power plant shutdowns, and industrial accidents.
  • Local small-scale political instability like a media panic, terrorism, or rioting.
  • Political instability in neighboring countries that were formerly trading freely.
  • Panics about apocalyptic situations or disasters, irrespective of a legitimate disaster.

Short-term disasters simply require short-term preparation.

On the other hand, some disasters are long-term:
  • Large-scale natural disasters that destroy most of the infrastructure (like a Category 5 hurricane).
  • Large-scale pandemics that kill a significant proportion of the people.
  • Political revolution, such as a new government seizing power or a coup.
  • War with neighboring countries, especially with long-term effects like landmines and nuclear fallout.

Finally, any aspect of civilization in a society will collapse when 5 conditions occur at once:
  1. People make enough impact on the ecosystem that it changes to that culture’s disadvantage.
  2. The weather shifts unfavorably to that culture.
  3. That group of people pull away from mutually beneficial friendly groups.
  4. Relative military strength worsens that group’s relationships with other hostile groups.
  5. The group uses deconstructive or short-term solutions to solve its problems.


We tend to preoccupy ourselves with unlikely events and ignore likely ones, and fiction often makes our expectations of disasters even more ridiculous:
  • Specific viruses that uniquely mutate/kill humanity (e.g., The Walking Dead).
  • Tyrannical government that radically changes the sociopolitical landscape (e.g., Nineteen Eighty Four, Brave New World).
  • Global thermonuclear war (e.g, Doctor Strangelove).
  • AI/robots that rapidly decides to destroy humanity (e.g, Terminator).
  • Extraterrestrials that invade earth (e.g, War of the Worlds, Independence Day).
  • Absurdly violent natural disasters (e.g, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow).
  • Huge interstellar events that render earth barely inhabitable (e.g, The Wandering Earth).

Dwelling on long-term disasters will utterly destroy any satisfaction you may find in life:
  • You only need to know what to generally do, since it’s impossible to plan for all possible long-term disasters.
  • Further, focusing on worst-case scenarios tend to make us more unreasonable (and sometimes violent), which can sabotage everyone’s happiness.

To counter anxiety, we must focus only on what will likely happen, then worry about the unlikely things if they arise:
  • You can’t be prepared for all possible circumstances, but you must be willing and able to adapt your lifestyle when adverse circumstances arise.
  • We expect to live indefinitely, but we can only stockpile for months, any anything further is mentally unbalanced and expensive hoarding.
  • Each disaster is uniquely different, so your ability to creatively improvise is usually more important than stockpiling.
  • Nothing can precisely prepare you for what may come, so worry more about what you can control, and resign the rest to fate.

Apocalypse fiction often romanticizes antisocial behavior, but other people are your most powerful resource:
  • Any group of people between 2 to 30 can very easily distribute roles, protect each other, and start specializing (with more people meaning more specialization).
  • Stay friends with your neighbors, since they’ll be more available than response teams.
  • Find people in your community who have the same sane, risk-averse attitude as you.

Be very cautious about the antisocial “prepper” culture:
  • Many of the preppers are mentally unwell, and often sabotage success in civilization for a theoretical disaster.
  • Most preppers are also hoarders, and their disorganization will make it impossible to handle a legitimate crisis.
  • In the event of a disaster, they’ll often be completely focused on themselves, so they’ll likely be useless for any group tasks and will disrupt the harmony of everyone working together to prevent a crisis.

The 1889 Hobo Code of Conduct is applicable to anyone in a survival situation:
  1. Decide your own life; don’t let another person run or rule you.
  2. When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.
  3. Don’t take advantage of someone in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos.
  4. Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so, you not only help a business along but ensure employment should you return to that town again.
  5. When you can’t find employment, create work by using your added talents at crafts.
  6. Don’t allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals’ treatment of other hobos.
  7. When camping in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as much, if not worse than you.
  8. Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are camping.
  9. If in a community camp, always pitch in and help.
  10. Try to stay clean, and wash up wherever possible.
  11. When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal risks, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.
  12. Don’t cause problems in a train yard; another hobo will be coming along who will need passage through that yard.
  13. Don’t allow other hobos to molest children; expose all molesters to authorities. They are the worst garbage to infest any society.
  14. Help all runaway children, and try to inspire them to return home.
  15. Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.

Cover every likely event

Have a pre-planned escape and disaster routine for all likely events:
  • Plan for the most likely disasters that may happen in your region.
  • Ask where you’d go and what you’d need to bring.

Make survival bags for each member of the household, with plans for various crises:
  • Have meetings to discuss likely possible events with your household and neighbors.
  • At the end of the discussion, everyone should feel they’re ready to approach a disaster.

Plan for the worst likely event, and forgive yourself if something happens you had no control over.

Expect death, for either yourself or anyone you love, and learn to recover from whatever happens.

General prep

All of your planning will definitely take money, and any emergency will need money until you find a new routine, so learn to manage money well and make a survival budget.

Adopt a relatively minimalist lifestyle before a crisis happens:
  • You don’t need to sell all your possessions and live in an RV, but have a clear distinction between your “must go with” and “can leave behind” possessions.
  • Consider what it will take to replace any of your possessions, and make a “must replace” list if you need.

Broaden your investing horizons and consider various forms of insurance as “disaster investment”.

Manage risks with a wide variety of easily adaptable tools:
  • Maintain your cash in multiple unrelated banks, such as a large national bank and a local credit union.
  • Keep at least some of your money across different foreign currencies, in case a government suffers mass inflation.
  • Education, specifically skills you like that aren’t your normal career:
    • Woodworking/carpentry
    • Metalworking, knife-making, gunsmithing
    • Glassblowing, pottery
    • Sewing embroidery, leather crafting, toy making
    • Amateur electronics, robotics, computer programming
    • Graphical design, creative writing, public speaking
    • Farming or hunting
  • Get small, easily tradable, permanently useful commodities, such as hard liquor, lighters, ammunition, and cigarettes.
    • Liquor (particularly vodka) also has antiseptic and herbal medicinal properties.

Avoid some of the over-hyped survival pitfalls:
  • Don’t buy gold/silver/platinum.
    • Ads about buying a commodity are because people make money from it.
    • Keeping bars of precious metal at your house is a very real risk to where insurance companies won’t adequately cover it, so keep them in bank safe deposit boxes (~$20/year) if you trust banks.
    • Gold is difficult to break apart for staples like bread, so only use it to store and move money large-scale.
  • Cryptocurrencies, since you should know what they are before investing in them.
  • Commodities and futures, though you can really lose money if you don’t know what you’re doing.

While you have time, make a critical decision right now to stay or go in a long-term disaster:
  • If you want to stay in the area, buy a plot of land that’s relatively remote from city centers and make it your “base”.
  • If you want to stay mobile, get a sophisticated framework to keep yourself connected into the social grid of society as-you-go.

You can’t be prepared for all possibilities at the same time:
  • Building out a nuclear fallout shelter isn’t useful if you have to flee the country.
  • The most important survival skill is understanding what to do in specific situations, and a lot of it comes from direct experience.

No matter what, everyone can benefit from simple short-term plans.

If you want the complete list of things to buy, here’s the disaster checklist.