The Golden Hour: What to Do in the First 60 Minutes of SHTF

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Last Updated on January 14, 2021


Many people are convinced that civilization as we know it will collapse or, at best, experience a prolonged interruption. Very few of those people are actually planning for it and even less are preparing for it in advance. For those of us actually preparing we have forums, books, videos, and meetings to help us get ready for SHTF.

A few are even likely hoping for it for various reasons. What if this collapse occurs in a matter of minutes as well it might in various SHTF scenarios; nuclear war, terrorism, EMP, pandemic, conventional war, civil unrest becoming civil war? I am sure you can add a few to this list. Using the Golden Hour concept from trauma medicine I am proposing a few unusual ways of handling the first hour of SHTF.

In this Golden Hour things you do and do not do will have a profound effect on your chances of a decent survival outcome. The Golden Hour is getting a major trauma victim to a trauma center within an hour. Survival rates plummet by minute 61. What will you do in the first 60 minutes of a sudden SHTF? I expect disagreement and hope the comments will give me some good ideas.

SHTF Happens and you are at Home

Reacting rather than data gathering is the key to all of these situations. As humans used to experiencing normal conditions the sudden ending of the normal is a shock and many react to it by standing still and trying to find out what is going on. The lights go out, you check your phone, you look out the window, and you try to find your battery radio and the flashlights. You are in bed and the loud bang shakes the house violently and the power goes out. You use your phone, you turn on the TV, and you go outside to find out what is going on. You might even go through these actions several times!

WaterBob Emergency water storage holds up to 100 gallons

WaterBob Emergency water storage holds up to 100 gallons

I am not saying these responses are always wrong. Geography etc. has an input into your plan which is a pre-written plan. If you are hundreds of miles from cities then your response might be different especially if you have large volumes of water stored. What I am saying is to get moving early and start using the Water Bob, the clean rain barrels from storage within minutes of any alert that normal no longer might exist. Finding out what has happened is a secondary concern to preparing to survive. Who cares if Russia has attacked the USA or if it was a terrorist bomb? Listen to your gut not to CNN.

Even worse is leaving the home to collect wife (or husband) and kids. During the opening hour, you have to prepare the home for a possible prolonged end of normal life. The wife (or husband) and kids have a plan and they will use it. It might be to hunker down and wait for you knowing it might be a day or two or come home immediately but they know it and you know it. Fight the very human desire to gather the loved ones immediately at the time of crisis unless is your plan and they know it. If you (or they) are at home then the preparing of the home is the best thing you can do for them in the opening hour. You have no idea how long the water or electricity will last.

Obviously, if your children are young you need a plan to collect them but do you need to go immediately? If yes, then go. But the decision is a logical one, not an emotional one. Emotional reactions to sudden shocks often lead to faulty decision-making. It might be best to protect your food and water supplies while the electricity and water remain on before heading out to collect your child from school. An hour or two’s delay in setting out means they get to eat and drink for sure.

If it is a temporary thing you have at worst wasted the water bob and will have to buy a new one (people say you can reuse it but I am not sure water safety is worth the risk). Other things you may consider doing during the first hour is nailing tarps over your raised garden beds and moving supplies into the house or bug out vehicle. What you do not want to be doing is chatting to neighbors or wasting time trying to get information. Something bad seems to have happened so deal with it. How much you know about it is a human desire but preparing is the essential thing in the first hour.

SHTF Happens and you are on the Road

This is the hardest of all situations to experience sudden SHTF yet it is the most common one in society. Motor Vehicle Collisions (they are not ‘accidents’) kill and maim many people each and every day. Plan for this in advance and have a seat belt cutter stored.

However in a sudden SHTF of major local, national, or international scope what is your plan if you are in the vehicle? If the vehicle works get fuel as soon as possible and buy food and water in the first gas station you see using cash but only if it is safe and uncrowded. Then get home or to the preplanned bug out location using the vehicle. Do not delay at all. In a sudden SHTF people literally drive miles in one direction, usually to collect family, and then end up being directed the opposite way by Police. When they finally get home it is burned down or looted. As ever everyone in your family know to stay in place or come home in an SHTF and when to do so. You are not their savior. Your role is to trust them and the written and discussed plan. Get home or to the bug out location and get busy.

Roads in major cities will quickly become impassable.

Roads in major cities will quickly become impassable.

Some SHTF scenarios will see the vehicle fail or be blocked in its progress. Abandon the vehicle immediately gathering all useful supplies and get moving away from people and towards home or the bug out location. Drive alternative routes if possible but a vehicle is not going to last long in a major SHTF so try not to be attached to it! Again chatting to people, trying their phones, and wondering what is going on is pointless. It is bad and that is all you need to know. Use the sides of highways to move away from the groups of scared, annoyed, and confused people on the road. No need to walk up the exit ramps as you have the physical ability to use less usual routes. You always have a paper map however basic and a get home bag in the car.

Transit by boat, plane, or train in a sudden SHTF is problematic. In your Golden Hour gather supplies, learn exits, and start thinking how best to get out and home. Water in train, boat, and plane washrooms is not drinkable but empty a recycling bin and fill up those bottles with it. You should have a few water purification tablets on you at all times. Do not bother washing out those bottles. People are not really that infectious (this advice is NOT to be followed in a pandemic) and you can easily get 10 liters or more of okay water stored up in the first few minutes of the SHTF while everyone else is shouting into dead phones. By Day Two you will be very happy you did this in those first few minutes.

As a rule, I never travel by boat other than short ferry rides and I cannot see a good outcome in SHTF on a cruise ship but if you cruise at least carry your own flotation vests and survival kit.

Experiencing a sudden and dreadful SHTF on a plane might be interesting. If it falls out of the sky then all the prepping you have done will hopefully be used by your loved ones. However, diversion and being kept in an airport is more likely in a sudden SHTF. Carry cash in large amounts and try to carry some cash that can be used in the countries you are flying over or near. If the power is on and you can use credit cards to immediately start an alternative route home. In 9-11 people were stuck in Canada for up to four days when they could have got home via train and bus if they had started immediately. A few hours later and there were no seats available! If a small nuclear war is the cause of air travel suspension imagine how long you might be stuck somewhere and how likely is it you will be well treated?

If a SHTF is likely I’d advise you to call sick and stay at home even if you have a cruise booked but SHTF can happen with almost no warning and what you do immediately can make or break your survival chances.

SHTF Happens and you are at Work, School, or the Mall

Ideally using your preplanned route(s) and get home bag you will immediately start home. If the car park is a mess or the car will not work immediately abandon it after getting the supplies. In sudden and serious SHTF roads and car parks likely will be both slower than walking and less safe.


If it is a chemical or nuclear SHTF you might need to shelter in place. Know where the washrooms are especially those deep in the building and infrequently used. If mushroom clouds bloom on the horizon people will mainly rush to their cars and attempt to flee home not that home is a magically safe place. Go to the nearest couple of recycling bins, open them, and carry the trash bags loaded with cans and bottles to the washroom (preferably one on a lower level). Dump them out and start filling them with tap water. Don’t bother cleaning them out. Try to get 50 liters or more. Do this immediately and you can store up 4 weeks’ worth in minutes. Store it in a cubical, lock it, and climb out. At this point try to buy food as you head for the car but do not if it will take time. At the car grab everything useful and back to the washroom. Bunker in and trust your loved ones are similarly safe.

It is unlikely people will use the washrooms in Malls and schools in these scenarios especially those out-of-the-way ones. If they do all your stuff is in a locked cubical. Food and warmth are not the priority in the Golden Hour but water and security are. Consider breaking all the lights in your washroom after securing the water and jamming the door. Consider breaking all the lights in the corridor outside and pulling stuff into it. Initially, people will not take hard routes.

Looting supplies is reasonable once people have gone and Security has left. Before then the chances of getting into trouble make it not worth the risk. Most fast food places have the food (such as it is) in the back. Mall, workplace, and School offices have lockers and many will have something to eat inside if you take your time looking through them. At work know who keeps food at their desks (you do I hope!). Most people will grab their keys and bags and flee towards home leaving behind a lot of food and useful items.

Many people think about using coins to raid vending machines. Maybe this is a good idea but water is from the washroom taps and the recycling bins and lining up slowly buying chocolate bars might make you a target. In a sudden SHTF, it is more than likely you can use your small crowbar from your get home bag to access the vending machines the next day. You are going to be sitting in dark for at least a week but I’d try to do this for four weeks. Then you go home. Radiation will hopefully not kill you in four weeks but likely will the first day.

Many places have drapes and carpets that you can cut up to make sleeping ‘bags’ and this is the sort of re-purposing you need to do in SHTF. Keep active and do whatever you need to do to optimize your survival chances.

The hardest part is not fleeing but thinking, planning, and acting. Prepping is a state of mind as much as anything and I hope this article gets you thinking a bit. Much of it is arguable so please argue!

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It’s not my thing but open all electronic safes, guns and valuables, and the garage immediately you suspect shtf

Cruella DeVille

Uh uh. ll those devices should (must) have manual locks and mechanisms to allow use should the electronics die. I’d spend more time physically baring the doors, and any ground level windows, as well as assuring your water supplies.


Yes. Gun safes are not my thing but I have safes with manual locks. Electronic locks are getting common so it should be an early thing. Unless you have a manual override key which would be taped to it early on. I would have any guns very accessible early on. Not sure about sealing all the doors in the first hour but my plan is bringing wood inside for fire wood and to stack in front of ground and first floor windows as well as sealing one of the two exit doors. I kind of meant “general prepiing of the… Read more »

R. Ann

Hey, H, You mention “plan”. Like, future tense. Just for reference, how often does your grid power go out and-or your backup system come on (or your backup system NOT come on, if you flip a switch or it flips automatically)? Thanks! “In sudden SHTF people literally drive miles in one direction, usually to collect family, and then end up being directed the opposite way by Police. When they finally get home it is burned down or looted.” – The last sentence is what’s kind of catching me. With the exception of a few forest fires/wildfires that didn’t stay contained… Read more »


The entire article is conjecture thankfully RA, I’m on about a sudden and large shtf event that is not obvious in advance that is likely civilization ending. Obviously wildfires and slow war build ups are different from a sudden attack and communications monitoring is vital in those events. I’m not on about a local tornado but at best a regional war or large meteor hit. A civilization ending shtf. If mushroom clouds suddenly appear on the horizon your water pressure might last days but everyone will be storing water and radioactive water will soon be in those pipes. The emergency… Read more »


Having gone through a SHTF-EMP caused by the city’s street light contractor who fried everything electrical in our home, thank goodness the surge protectors kept the home from burning down, had to replace some circuit breakers that melted from the 560 volts the power company measured was coming into our home. The EMP lasted about 45 minutes before the power company shut off the power to the few homes damaged. Nothing is going to work foks in an EMP attack, nothing, no gas pumps water pumps, the pay points in grocery stores, banks, not arm machine will work, period! This… Read more »

R. Ann

“I’m on about a sudden and large shtf event that is not obvious in advance that is likely civilization ending.”
– That’s cool. I’m still kind of curious how often your power goes out since the advice (from the article) is to go into full-on batten-the-hatches without delay every time the lights go out, and if this is actually something you do-do, or just a plan.


Actually rarely and usually at night so I’m at work. Power out is signal not a sign. I’d expect other things to happen that might alert me. I’d check the phone. No cell signal or land signal then I’d react. Internet on and how so? Any lights in the sky or rumblings? What I am saying is in the event of an actual major shtf are your priorities written out and logical or are they emotional? Everyone has their own priorities. Mine I shared and I’m hoping for constructive feedback to improve my plans. What are your trip signal RA… Read more »

R. Ann

Mine are soooo event and location oriented. In the “sudden” events, I’m sensitive to: – Dirty bomb (super localized) – EMP (regional; low possibility of widespread) – Nuke (regional; low possibility of multiple for widespread) – Internet virus (widespread or build-up fast-moving contagion) – Chemical release (localized to regional – factory, train car, rig-hauled; explosion or derailment, water contamination from highway) – Fuel depot fire (BIIIGGGG boom, and potentially fast moving – localized with potential regional effects and later threat) With absolutely zero comms and no radio, there are only a few potentials for what’s happened. Power line cuts become… Read more »


Good tip about hotel bath tubs.
I’d try for four weeks bunkering in in nbc.
I can pre store water in the garage but it is heavy and not as secure as the main building. It’ll take no time to carry the old rain barrels in and fill them with the hose. Wood is stored outside and inside the garage. Priority is the outside wood needs to be inside the home ASAP.

R. Ann

You’d mentioned avoiding rushing out in some cases and hunkering in an office or other workspace. A small, inexpensive, handy tool for that and for urban dwellers is another one I carry traveling: 4 way silcock key You use them to open faucets that don’t have handles, like the kinds you sometimes/regularly see outside fuel stations and stores. Even if there’s no remaining pressure at the taps, if the mains have been shut off and sometimes even if the mains are jacked, water will still be in the pipes. With the lower elevation compared to sinks, you can usually still… Read more »


I got one and all four sockets are too big for my 1949s radiators! It’s also heavy but I’d carry it. I’ve heard multi tools work as well. Not tried it out due to worries with the law.

R. Ann

I include this link only because you mentioned weight, and I’m used to steel being maybe half a pound and aluminum being maybe 1/3#. I’ve run into calling things different names, and a name meaning different things, that’s all. You may have crazy metric sizes or something up there in Cold Dark North. Haven’t done any plumbing there and never asked anybody. (Will now.) If you’d like to make sure you have a decent size(s) for compatibility, siddle up to a couple of owners somewhere, you’re interested in outdoor faucet vulnerability for businesses. Do they run into trouble, how… Read more »

James Stratton

Put a quarter, nickel or penny inside to take up the slack.

Jonny Dplrbl

Ditto… no electronic-only locks for me. If it has one, it must have a mechanical backup… as do most garage doors and safes. Ditto on water and security. That reminds me… I need to make some pre-cut plywood for my securing low windows at some point. This will save time.


R Ann, you amaze me with your thoughtful articles and comments.
I’m not new to prepping, but am new to The Prepper Journal. I’ve always prided myself on thinking outside the box, but would never have thought of packing a 4-way sillcock. I just ordered two off eBay that cost me a buck or two more than one would have locally. Thank you so much!


I think you will have a bit more than a hr. in rural areas. In the cities, especially high value targets, youre probably toast! For a EMP, it will take goverment a while before they let the public know how bad it is once they determine what has happened to avoid panic. In a nuclear strike, military will probably know by radar tracking, but again, not let public know to avoid panic. Either way, they will declare martial law to restrict movement for the impact zones or affected areas of the EMP. If you suspect something, get where you want… Read more »


Thanks Christopher. Absolutely get moving immediately if your home is not bug out location one. Same thing. Get motoring not channel surfing if your gut says the shtf is real. Emp no power, no cell, no electronics. Takes about 30 seconds to verify that and then stArt preparing hard before others notice it’s not a regular power out. Our lines of travel are not car dependant and should allow movement unless a regiment is in the ravines. There won’t be. Our home is primary bug in location but I’m considering the rural cottage (not in a lake) as equal. Depends… Read more »


famous word of eddie murphy regarding ghost in house ” get the blank out!” I am man and turned the channel and it didn’t work so i got the blank out” LMAO

Palomino Girl

Good advice. I might add that along with my seatbelt cutter, I also have a window punch, a spring loaded device to break the windshield or side window if you can’t get out of the car. Learned that when I was a volunteer firefighter/EMT. These two items are velcroed to my dash in every vehicle I drive.


I have a combined one. Great idea about the Velcro. Inverted would make ours possibly move out of reach

Bill Wood

I was intrigued by the first line of the second paragraph.


Unless you have access to Airforce One it would be lol


Some of the points made early on are really weird and also plain wrong. Taking care that wife/kids are safe is the absolute number 1 priority. It’s one thing to have to improvise for clean water and sufficient food supplies. But if you realise that your partner or kids are dead (or worse) and you could have done something about it, all your glorious preparedness is worthless. People seem to not want to think about this, when it comes to prepping, but the most dangerous threat in any SHTF scenario is your own mind. Contrary to popular belief, in actual… Read more »


Good points sidremus. I stand with my decision made with my partner that she is old enough, trained enough, and smart enough not to require me rushing down town or to the cottage to ‘save’ her in an shtf. Knowing and discussing various scenarios it was crystal clear to us that the lucky sob at home needs to crank the home up not try to radio or drive to see if the other is okay. Your point about mind set is a good one but I read it as not trusting your partner to get home herself. Now if mine… Read more »


I, too, like Sidremus’ reply. Much of prepping talk is infused with certainties that something will work. Something is very likely to not work, that we had planned on working. And at any rate, the life we live is so dependent on things working, it is hard to completely plan for all that will not work. ~ I would rate being on nearly a hugging basis with your neighbors a basic need. And, with Sidremus, I think it would be far too distracting to be separated from my most dear loved ones, especially if they have no heart for prepping… Read more »


Thanks I agree with you. If my gf was not able to handle shtf I’d make a plan for that. Likely a baofung in a metal box in her car and supplies in her car in addition to what we have already for bugging in at work if a nuke goes off. I have lots of water around me so I’m not bothered. It is getting additional water in the house to literally bug in in the early days that is my focus. I can also easily collect rain water using tarps on the balcony 10×10 we installed above the… Read more »


interview people who have beem through some stuff.shock is the big another.Stupidity is a big one.big shtf,200 mil will die the first week most likly more,just in the USA then its one thing after another all over the world…now its tiime for round two, but your not over round one.better talk toJesus about it now! Pray for a spirit of decernment..strar now.

Ramon C

Thanks! actually I wanted to know …….. and this article has helped me in understanding this. Keep Writing!

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