The 4 Levels of Disasters (And How to Prepare for Each One)

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Author of The Blackout Book and The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide

Disasters come in all shapes and sizes, and so do your preps. There are four different levels of disasters, from personal emergencies to a full-on SHTF end-of-the-world kind of thing. The good news is, no matter what your level of preparedness or your budget is like, there are things you can do to prep for each one.

Often we get new people on board in our group and they feel so overwhelmed because other folks are much further along in their preparedness efforts. You may be feeling like that yourself by reading this article and others like it. But don’t despair! Start out by prepping for Level 1 Personal Emergencies and  Level 2 Short-Term Situations and then work your way through the other levels.

By dividing them up like this, it’s a whole lot less overwhelming and you will see ways that your Levels 1 and 2 preps can also help you through Levels 3 and 4 catastrophes. Because in the end, while of course,  you need supplies, true disaster preparedness is about your mindset and your skills.

Level 1: Personal Emergencies

This is often the thing that brings people into the outer edges of the preparedness world. I know it was for me. When my first daughter was born, my husband lost his job when she was just a few weeks old. We barely had any food in the house. There were no extra supplies like toilet paper or shampoo. Being penniless with an infant was terrifying.

After things got better, I immediately began stockpiling food and home supplies that were on sale. I never wanted to be in that situation again. Years later, as a single mom, when I lost my job, my stash of supplies was what helped us to weather that personal economic crisis.

These are often money-related.

Personal emergencies can occur in many different ways, but it’s quite often about money or the lack thereof. This can occur for all different reasons. Some examples are job loss, a costly medical expense, or a car repair bill.

The best way to prepare for personal emergencies is to begin building a stockpile by purchasing a little bit extra each time you go to the store. Getting toilet paper? Get 2 packages and put one back. Are canned goods on sale? Buy as much as you can afford of the things your family will eat. Just putting back a little bit extra every week will see you through a personal financial catastrophe. Here’s an article about building a pantry and an article about eating from your pantry when you have no money for groceries.

Secondly, begin building an emergency fund. Having a little bit of money set aside for these rainy days will help it be less disastrous. Here’s some information on building an emergency fund.

Level 2: Short-Term Situations

The next level is those small emergencies that cause some inconvenience but should be no big deal if you’re prepared. It might be a day or two without power, a leak in the water main that causes you to be without running water, or a snowstorm that keeps you stranded at home for a few days.

Level 2 situations are usually not life-threatening but they are a great way to check your preps. Is a potentially severe storm headed your way? Do you have what you need to deal with that 2-day to 2-week power outage? Do you have food that you are able to prepare without power (or food that needs no preparation)? Do you have the stuff to keep the kids from driving you insane because they don’t have their devices? Are you prepared for a water emergency?

These situations are highly unlikely to kill you – they just might make life uncomfortable for a few days. Generally, they are inconveniences as opposed to actual disasters. They’re a great way to practice your preps and see if you have any holes that you should fill before an actual disaster.

To start preparing for this, check out the things you already have on hand. You may be far better prepared than you realized.

Level 3: Manmade and Natural Disasters

Level 3 Disasters are a whole different ballgame. They are bigger emergencies that carry with them the risk of death and destruction of property. Quite often these situations arrive with only a moment’s notice. These disasters are things like wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, severe earthquakes, and tsunamis. Not all disasters are natural ones. There are plane crashes, explosions, terror attacks, bridge or building collapses, chemical spills, levees or dams that break, and nuclear accidents (or attacks.) With some, you have a little bit of warning, like storms that are likely to cause massive flooding, hurricanes, epidemics, ice storms, and volcanic eruptions.

This list is a lot scarier and so diverse that these things can be difficult for which to prepare. But there are some standard things you can do. The supplies that see you through level 2 situations will also help you if you must hole up at home. You should make a thorough evacuation plan so you can leave at a moment’s notice in the event of wildfires, looming floods, chemical spills, or the complete destruction of your home. If you have livestock, you need a plan for them, too.

Be mentally prepared for this.

But the biggest part of being prepared for Level 3 Disasters is in your head. You need to have the right mindset to act immediately in the event of some sudden, epic catastrophe. You also need to learn all you can about the different types of disasters and a great deal of that comes from history: what happened, how were the local areas affected, and what was the difference between survival and death for people at that time? If you have this information, you can make a plan that has a much higher likelihood of success.

And of course, we can’t overstate the whims of fate. If your home is crushed by a meteor or leveled by an explosion at the house next door, no amount of preparedness will help. The same is true for catastrophes like plane crashes or car accidents. In those cases, it is truly the luck of the draw. But as Louis Pasteur said, chance favors the prepared mind. Do all you can to be ready and you’ll have a much greater chance of survival.

Level 4: SHTF Event

This is an all-out, epic, long-term disaster of catastrophic proportions that changes absolutely everything. Some examples are war (see Selco’s articles for an example of this), utter financial collapse (Jose can tell you how awful this is), an EMP strike or solar flare that takes out the grid for years, nuclear winter, or the hurricane that took out power for a year in parts of Puerto Rico.

This is a whole lot harder to prepare for. It is said that in the event of a long-term grid-down situation, as many as 90% of Americans would die within the first year.

No matter how much food and supplies you store, eventually they are going to run out, so for a Level 4 SHTF Event, I’m not telling you to just stockpile up to the rafters. (Although if you have the money, it can’t hurt.)

Self-reliance is key.

To survive this, you have to focus on self-reliant skills: growing and preserving food, acquiring water, making clothing, home medicine, and building structures from raw materials. It can certainly be done, but you need to start now learning how to do these things. If your finances are limited (like most of ours are) your sights should be set on knowledge and skills.

It doesn’t even have to cost a lot of money with the abundant information available on YouTube and on websites across the internet. But don’t just watch a video or read about it. Actually get out there and get your hands dirty. It’s the only way to know whether the concept works when put into practice.

What kind of catastrophe has you prepping?

Of course, real life isn’t like an episode of Doomsday Preppers, which is edited to make the prepper look like a total lunatic who is only focused on the meteor scheduled to strike the earth at midnight on June 26, 2099. In real life, we prepare for a wide variety of events, and the cool thing about that is how your preps for one thing often work for another.

Here are some tips on how to identify your risks and create your own personalized prepping plan.

Remember, if you are just starting out, you don’t have to be ready for a Level 4 SHTF Event right away. You can start off slowly and plug away a little bit every month and the next thing you know, you’ll be handling emergencies large and small with aplomb. Every single event is a learning experience that gets you better prepared for the next one. Nobody – not even those of us who have been at it for a decade or more – is ready for anything. And if they tell you that they are, they’re either deluded or lying. Just keep putting things back and learning new skills. Your awareness alone has you far more prepared than those who are blithely unaware

What disaster do you find the most likely in your area? What has you the most concerned? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • With Gordon coming at us I was not worried. I have food and water for my live-in family. I realized though that my children-who live away from me, may not have been prepared. They were also closer to the event than I was. On Sunday, I started reminding them of what they need to make it through for at least three days. If the event went on longer they could have come to my house-I have plenty!. It was a wake up for me…they also need to prepare!

  • We are working on learning to be more self-sustaining for a Level 4 catastrophe such a a major financial failure or electrical grid down or wide spread civil unrest. We want to be less dependent on commercial stores, growing more variety of veges, harvesting our own animals, improving our building and repair skills and increasing our security.

  • First concern is wildland fire, second is earthquake, both are not “if” but “when”. Major problem is water for gardening. I’ve got an experimental garden going, will this grow, will that, that’s all hand watered and boy am I using a lot of water. And lately it only rains here December through March.

    • You might want to investigate xeriscaping and using grey water. You can also capture rainwater, as long as it’s legal where you are!

  • We too were expecting Gordon in our neck of the woods, although we knew we’d be on the fringes…. but on the east side so would see the bigger share of wind and rain. We did have to figure out how to protect our camper that we are in the process of rebuilding after discovering massive structural damage in the backend from longterm leaks long before we bought it. We ended up tarping the camper and weighing the tarp on the roof with solid cement blocks. We ran rope through and from every eyelet, added pipe insulation to the rope as chafing gear to protect the roof and corners. Used Gorilla tape to pleat any excess tarp fabric. Everything held in stiff tropical storm force winds (40-60mph here) and 17 inches of rain.

    Had this been a storm like Irma, our preps would have been totally different. We’d have put up hurricane shutters, taken down all of the garden fences and tomato cages, put everything that could possibly be blown around inside the garage or barn, taken down the hay arches in both pastures, burnt the brush pile, put identification collars on the goats and horse, placed haybales in the safe area between 2 buildings to encourage the livestock to hang out there. Locked our front gates and prayed the boundary fences held. We’d have done our best to protect the camper, but known it most likely would be a pile of rubble in Category 4 hurricane winds.

    We’d have gotten out the big ice chest and water cooler, brought in the propane lanterns, staged heavier tools, heavy tarps and plywood on the back porch so as to be ready for any repairs.

    We’d have made sure all laundry was washed, dishes clean, showers taken. Made sure there were crates set up for all the cats and dog…trying to dig a scared cat out from under the bed in the middle of the night when the wind is howling like a banshee and stuff is pounding on the hurricane shutters is not fun! Better to crate them beforehand and be able to safely move them as needed than get scratched or bit trying to get them out of a hidey hole.

    My point… we try to evaluate and plan and prepare for the most likely events in our area. We also listen to that little voice inside. For Gordon we did a reasonable amount of preparation. For Hurricanes Ivan in 2004 and Irma in 2017 we went full bore. My husband has learned if I am still feeling that urgent pressure to put stuff away or bring the camping gear in… it’s likely to be needed.

  • Prepping is my hobby. I spend what many families spend on hobbies on obtaining things I need to be prepared.

    In my neck of the woods it is snowstorms. I hate snow. When one is forecasted for my area, the second I hear about it I spring into action. (ok, maybe not “spring”, but I get moving)
    Laundry is done up to the minute, dishwasher run, toilets cleaned, showers taken, including washing my waist length hair. While the machines run I get out the first level preps: Candles (cuz I like the smell), the LED flashlights, putting new batteries in them or locating the correct size batteries and getting down the oil lamps.

    If the forecast looks like it is going to hit, I cook up several meals that can be eaten cold or warmed on top of the wood stove. Chicken is a favorite because it can be eaten cold or warm. Top off my water supplies. And make sure the snow shovel is standing up by the step, not flat on the ground like one time. Sigh.

    • “And make sure the snow shovel is standing up by the step, not flat on the ground like one time. Sigh.”


  • Seems like the most important thing is to remain realistic about what you can reasonably do to continually prepare for the most probable events where you live.

    That of course can change but as you say above “… as Louis Pasteur said, chance favors the prepared mind.”

  • Several years ago, my husband applied for Disability through Social Security. It took three LONG years for him to be approved. We were fortunate to receive some assistance through food stamps, prescription assistance, energy assistance, etc. But after all was said and done, we had $25/month left for emergencies. If it had not been for our preps, I am not sure we would have made it. We have rebuilt and were in good shape for the Texas Blizzard of 2021, which was a wonderful tool for identifying our weaknesses. I consistently tell my loved one to prepare…it’s not too late to get started.

  • No matter which one it’s the basic pillars that are important. Things like food, water, shelter, medical and security. Those will get you through most expected and unexpected emergencies.
    Once you’ve established those then look hard at what you need. Here you probably need that $3K tornado shelter way more than a thermal scope for the apocalypse. That carport won’t get you ohhs and ahhs from your drinking buddies, like a brand name tacticool, but with hailstorms up to softball size your vehicle is still ready to go in an emergency.
    Sometimes that adulting thing is preparedness but it’s hard to tell that to the new tattoo beard oiled crowd.

  • One thing I would put in Level One is personal finances. Get command of you finances. Look into a credit union. Ours offers personal finance management advisement as a free service for members.
    IF you can, put aside some money for emergencies. Could be as little as $20 a paycheck into a coffee can, and dont touch it (I knew a Marine who did that, doubled that every time he got a promotion and his wife when she got a raise, had to open a savings account as it got that big. They were able to use it as a down payment on their first home). A number of financial advisors recommend having at least 6 months of savings in case of a job loss. Some even recommend a year. Yeah, sounds out there, but we are about half way to the 6 month goal.

    Getting out of debt. I know, easier said than done, but it can be done.
    Identify all your debts, prioritize them from the highest interest rate on down. Try to put double the payment at the highest interest rate debt, and the regular for the other debts. Once the highest debt is paid off, then take those monies and then apply them to the next debt and so on.
    It can be done. We just paid off the other car, adding to the savings and are now putting additional monies at the principle payment on the house every month.
    It was not easy, takes discipline, budgeting, doing more with less, or with a cheap cut of meat vs that porterhouse steak (I only get steak on my birthday). Wants vs needs, pay only in cash and all those other droll sayings.
    There is a degree of security in being out of debt and having some savings.

    • Absolutely Marine that savings and retirement is definitely not easy but will save you more times than a lot of other toys

    • This is VERY important @1StMarineJarHead.

      It keep telling that it’s important to have something outside the system (gold, silver, crypto and some cash) because an ICE9 event would have people freaking out for money and streets running wild.

      It has happened before, not once or twice but many times over (recently in Argentina, Cyprus and Greece). It has happened in U.S. before too, but people don’t consider that just like they overlook/downplay other SHTF possibilities. An economic collapse of sorts is already taking place.

      • “an ICE9 event”

        didn’t that already happen in 2007/8? but the system is still functional.

        • Nah that was a walk in the park. I’m not sure we’d be discussing it here today if it had happened, maybe not.

          This is something else. We came close on September 2019, though.

    • “Identify all your debts”

      what about the debt that the government has run up in your name?

    • Check out local banks for a debt considation loan, the lower interest rate could mean getting it paid down faster.

  • With the Basel III agreement of the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) scheduled to take effect June 28th and a minimum of 3 Suisse banks working towards compliance today, I believe we will likely see a world-wide financial crises looming in the very near future. The American dollar will surely lose its status as the world’s reserve currency, and inflation will skyrocket. All of the world’s governments are diluting the value of their currencies by printing “stimulus,” and the costs of goods and services are rising at unprecedented rates and levels. It may be in everyone’s best interests to sock away a bit of gold or silver. These are tangible assets that have inherent value and do not rely on electricity or the internet to be traded. While it’s true that you cannot eat precious metals, it’s also true that those having them can always eat.

    • Food, water, shelter, and a store of value like precious metals, all have a place in everyone’s preparation for hard times.

      You can’t eat silver, true, but you might be able to barter that ounce of silver for ten gallons of gas, or getting a dentist to fill a cavity.

      Survival requires preparation for many contingencies, which means having a variety of resources.

  • I generally tell people who are new to prepping to do some research on the types of natural disasters in their area. Local hazards like the chemical plant a mile up wind or train derailments are other possibilities that could put a focus on advanced preparations.

    After that make a list of things that will help – staying warm / shelter, clothing for all seasons of the year, food, water, fire and heat. The list isn’t so much items as types – shelter could be tarps or tents. Once they have a list it’s time to go through the house to see what section s they can check off and make a note.

    Once they’ve gone through what they already have they will know what they dont have and what they need to fill those gaps.

    There should be three lists – needs (to fill in gaps), nice yo haves (don’t need it but it will make things easier) and lastly wants (already have a small camp stove, but want the high one that runs on every flamable liquid known).

    Thrift stores and garage sales are a great place to get something to fill those gaps and for the other two lists. The items may not be perfect but they are budget friendly.

    Keep an eye out for sales. I still want that high end camp stove but I don’t need it. I have two others that I found for really good deals. I also have a small alcohol stove and a twig stove.

    Along the way to some of those wants you end up with extras. These can be used as backups, barter or to help a family member or friend.

    I don’t prepare for any one thing. I prepare for the most likely things to affect me like -40 temperatures with 40 mile per hour wind, a short growing season, chemical train derailment a couple of miles up wind and the economy tanking.

    Sometimes preparing means taking a much more stable job that makes less money. I did that a few months ago because the job would be one of the very last to go in my area.

  • Prepare for what is most likely? Well………

    Having grown up in a semi-rural place where it was not unusual for the electricity to be out from a few hours to a few days because of weather, as well as being campers because we couldn’t afford hotels, it was second nature to be prepared for a level 2 emergency. Well, a level 2 can last up to a week.

    Locally I don’t see much chance of a level 3 emergency other than a long-term electrical failure. A long-term electrical failure will also take out the water, as the local water supply comes from electricity pumped wells. We already have plans to bug out to a relative’s place who has an off-grid well should that happen. But locally there’s no record of earthquakes, nothing to burn for wild fires, no local manufacturing involving chemicals, and so forth.

    I would include nuclear attack as part of a level 4 SHTF situation. I hope I’m wrong, but I expect that this summer. Along with an invasion of the U.S. We can expect the main road to our bug out destination to be blocked, but hopefully a side road will be passable. It’s too late to be thinking about learning Chinese, who I expect to invade.

    For me, the big question is what will happen after the war? What sort of society will we inhabit? What will be our technical level?

    • I think your thinking might just be on the right track. I don’t think this administration is gonna handle this one well. They seem be asleep at the wheel, not really paying full attention and not focused on serious issues. SO if we want it done right we need to do it ourselves. However on the other hand, we discuss prepping and doing ALL of this preparing, but about 90% will die within the first year anyway. WHY would we want to survive after the SHTF? The world would not be the same again. We would not have any technology at our disposal at that time. NO phones, no television, no internet, no hot water, probably no cold water either, no electricity, no heat, and what about medicine. Anyone on oxygen would die pretty soon and anyone taking prescription medication would also b/c they would not be able to get anymore medicine…It would be a world that we would not want to live in, and chances are slim many of us would survive at all… SO it would be depopulation to the max…Just thinking, would I even want to be in the world after a Nuclear War…As the article states sooner or later people will run out of what they had stockpiled then what? People have bunkers under the ground all set up, and that’s all well and good, but eventually they must come up to earth again and what will they see? How will they function? What will they do or drink, or eat? Oh my, it’s a terrifying thought for many, especially those who are alone…Trust and Faith in GOD will be all they will have at that time…Man will fail them, but GOD will never fail them…

    • I wonder if any invasion would take place six months to a year after an attack, which I think would be more likely an assault on the electric grid. Less damage to farmland, dams, factories and other resources that the invaders covet, than a nuclear attack.

      Six months to a year after such an attack on the grid, most of our population would have died off, making an invasion easier.

      Unless we fight back with a guerrilla style war (which can be effective, witness Afghanistan,) I would think that our technical level will be whatever the conquerors want it to be.
      That could be medieval serfs without electricity or techno-slavery in factory-cities.

  • Some updates since this article and comments were created in May of 2021

    In July 2021 the Great Reset band of globalist thugs held a Cyber Polygon simulation of a huge grid shutdown. Their history of doing simulations of various catastrophes has been that the real thing always follows their simulations. Then today’s December 14th PreppersDailyNews carried a story about 10 nations including the US conducting a another grid shutdown simulation. For perspective, in 1930 in the early stages of the Great Depression some 30% of the population still lived on farms — prior to Rural Electrification. That 30% of people had the land, animals, equipment, and skills to produce their own food and there were still many people who starved to death. Today that percentage is down to the 1-2% range. The implications are obvious.

    Today there is a threat to outlaw physical cash and replace it with a totally digital money that would be controlled, surveilled, taxed, or instantly confiscated by governments and/or central banks — a total destruction of US constitutional protections. The obvious conflict is when or if there comes an extended grid down disaster. The combination of no power, no food-producing ability, and the total disability of all digital money would be a mind-bending disaster.

    This is in addition to the eugenics obsessed groups pushing mandatory vaccines with unending booster shots. Already there is a lawsuit in India against Bill Gates for murder over deaths caused by such vaccines. The number of deaths and/or crippling side effects in this country from those vaccines are no small hazard. The global death estimates from 50 to 100 million people from the Rockefeller vaccine circa 1918+ (falsely labeled to this day as the “Spanish Flu”) are in position to pale in comparison to today’s stated intention of the globalist vaccine pushers who want to reduce populations by the billions.

    Are any of those threats I’ve listed in anything other than category 4?

    Finally, there was the recent announcement that none of the extensive comments to The Organic Prepper’s decade+ archives of articles will be included on the 32GB flash drive intended to ship to buyers starting on January 15, 2022. Only you can assess which category that falls into … just as only you can assess what compensatory measures you can take to preserve at least some of that invaluable information PLUS access to it during an extended power outage of unknown length.


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