Why Most People Don’t Survive the First 72 Hours of a Crisis: Don’t Be One of Them

The first 72 hours after a disaster is a crucial survival window. Experts like The Red Cross emphasize the necessity of a 3-day supply cache due to the critical nature of this timeframe. If rescue or recovery doesn’t happen within that 72-hour window, it likely won’t happen at all. Or at least any time soon.

Post-crisis, with utilities down and emergency services potentially unreachable, you’re essentially on your own. While most people won’t survive the first 72 hours, you can if you’re properly prepared. Most of the reasons for people not surviving those first 72 hours are simply down to a lack of preparedness. And do note that I put together this list based on people who survived the initial crisis.

The Critical First 72 Hours

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The first 72 hours are a race against time, with survival chances dwindling post-disaster. Essential services may falter, leaving individuals to rely on their preparedness. Government advisories underscore the importance of self-reliance during these initial hours. Historical events, such as Hurricane Katrina, have shown the dire consequences of waiting for external aid.

Untended Injuries

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Injuries are a leading cause of death in the aftermath of disasters. Trauma, not infection, claims most lives. Whether you’re trapped under rubble or have significant bleeding or crush injuries and can’t access medical care, inadequately treated injuries can kill quickly.

You can mitigate the risk of succumbing to many injuries by learning advanced first aid and undertaking field medic training.

Chaos Post-Disaster

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In the aftermath of a disaster, chaos often ensues, leading to tragic outcomes. Individuals might escape the initial peril only to fall victim to the ensuing panic or lawlessness. For instance, in Yemen, a stampede caused by gunfire at an aid event resulted in 78 deaths. Similarly, looting during crises, like that during the wildfires in Hawaii, poses significant risks to survivors.

Learning gray man techniques is useful in this scenario, to help you make your way through chaos and civil unrest safely.


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Floods present a severe risk during disasters, with the National Weather Service reporting a significant increase in flood-related deaths. Often, these tragedies involve vehicles caught in rising waters. Awareness and preparedness can dramatically improve survival odds in such natural disasters. Listening to NOAA advisories and emergency broadcasts, and knowing how to swim will help you avoid drowning.

Exposure to the Cold

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In severe winter conditions, even those who initially survive can succumb to the cold. One family who wanted to become self-sufficient took off into the woods with no real preparation or knowledge. They failed to get their shelter built before the cold weather hit, and all three were found dead the next spring by a hiker.

Lack of preparedness and inadequate supplies make cold weather extremely dangerous. You need an alternative heat source, appropriate clothing and, wherever possible, a warm, insulated shelter.


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Extreme heat poses a significant threat to survival, with dehydration and heat stroke leading to many fatalities annually. Proper hydration, appropriate attire, and shade are vital to prevent overheating. In 2022, Spain witnessed an 88% increase in deaths due to heat-related conditions compared to the previous year, illustrating the deadly impact of rising temperatures.

The tragedy of a family lost to dehydration during a hike who tried to call for help but had no cell service is a frightening reminder of how dangerous dehydration is, even when we’re not in the midst of a disaster.

Lack of Access to Medication

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For individuals dependent on daily medication, a societal collapse can be immediately life-threatening. Without access to pharmacies or medical facilities, those with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or asthma may face severe complications or death within the first 72 hours.

Food Poisoning

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In the scramble to find food, people might consume expired, contaminated, or improperly prepared food, leading to food poisoning.

Having a supply of shelf-stable food, properly stored, will keep you fed and healthy in a crisis.


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Post-collapse, individuals may attempt tasks they are not trained for, such as starting fires, using tools, or navigating rugged terrain, leading to accidents. Without immediate medical attention, such injuries can quickly become fatal.

Exposure to Contaminated Water

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With the breakdown of infrastructure, clean drinking water can become scarce. Drinking contaminated water can lead to severe gastrointestinal diseases, which, without treatment, can be fatal in a very short time frame.

Panic-Induced Cardiac Arrest

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The intense stress and panic following a societal collapse can induce heart attacks, especially in those with pre-existing heart conditions. The sudden onset of a disaster can spike adrenaline levels, increasing heart rate and blood pressure to fatal levels.

Asphyxiation from Improvised Heating Methods

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In an attempt to stay warm, individuals may use improvised indoor heating methods without proper ventilation, leading to carbon monoxide poisoning. This colorless, odorless gas can cause death in a matter of hours if individuals are sleeping or unaware of the danger.

Violence and Conflict

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The initial chaos can lead to violence as people compete for limited resources. Encounters with looters, territorial disputes, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time can result in fatal injuries during the first critical hours.

Fatal Infections from Minor Wounds

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In a world without immediate access to medical care, even minor cuts or wounds can become infected. Without antibiotics, these infections can rapidly turn septic, leading to death within the first 72 hours, especially if the immune system is already compromised.

Psychological Stress and Suicide

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The overwhelming psychological stress of a societal collapse can lead to acute mental health crises. Without access to support systems or mental health services, individuals struggling with the drastic change may succumb to despair, leading to an increased risk of suicide.

Exposure to Toxic Substances

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The collapse of societal infrastructure can lead to the uncontrolled release of industrial chemicals or toxic substances. Individuals unknowingly exposed to these hazards and without the means to decontaminate can quickly suffer fatal consequences.

Wild Animal Attacks

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With the breakdown of human habitats and the desperation for food, encounters with wild animals may increase, leading to fatal attacks. Especially in areas where city dwellers, who are unused to wild animals, are making an escape to a more rural setting where there’s a large wildlife population.

Inability to Navigate Hazardous Terrains

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Those attempting to flee urban areas may find themselves in unfamiliar, hazardous terrains. Without proper knowledge or tools for navigation, individuals can succumb to falls, drowning, or become trapped in areas from which they cannot escape.

Extreme Weather Events

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Without shelter or proper clothing, individuals are at risk from extreme weather events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, or severe snowstorms. Exposure to harsh conditions without protection can lead to hypothermia, heatstroke, or death from debris and collapsing structures during storms.

Accidental Poisoning from Foraged Foods

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In desperation, individuals may turn to foraging for wild plants or mushrooms, but without proper knowledge, they risk consuming toxic varieties. Accidental poisoning can quickly lead to fatal outcomes, especially without medical interventions available.

20 Crucial Supplies for Surviving a Societal Collapse

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In the face of uncertainty, being well-prepared gives you at least some degree of control and security. The thought of a societal collapse, while extreme, prompts us to consider how we might endure without the conveniences of our current lifestyle. Here’s a list of 20 essential items that could prove indispensable in such a scenario. This guide isn’t about succumbing to fear but embracing preparedness and resilience.

14 Essential Canned Goods for Your Emergency Pantry

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I firmly believe in keeping a well-stocked emergency pantry. While fresh food is ideal, in a survival situation, we may not be that lucky. So, for my family, even though we grow a lot of our own food, canned goods play a crucial role in emergency preparedness. They offer a reliable source of nutrition when access to fresh produce may be limited. The goods you stockpile should be affordable, easy to store, and full of nutrition.

Best Regions in the U.S. to Escape to When Society Collapses

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Choosing a refuge in the event of societal collapse involves weighing the pros and cons of each location against your personal preparedness goals and abilities. Whether you’re drawn to the solitude of the desert or the protective heights of the mountains, the key is finding a place that offers safety and the opportunity for growth and renewal.



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