Skip to content

Emergencies vs Crises – What’s the Difference and Why Does it Matter?

January 31, 2016

TEOTWAWKI. You read about it pretty frequently on prepper sites (if you’ve never encountered it, before, it stands for “the end of the world as we know it”). The other commonly encountered term is a “SHTF event” (as in, “when the s*** hits the fan”). I want to look at these in terms of emergencies and crises. Both of them typically refer to events that will presumably require you to activate one or more of your plans (or parts of them). They are often viewed as more severe than more pedestrian events, such as relatively weak hurricanes or tornadoes, quickly contained wildfires or minor earthquakes. These may cause problems, and may also require you to utilize your preparedness plans and supplies, but the scale is different. There is also a difference in scale between TEOTWAWKI events and SHTF events.


The social unrest as Egypt overthrew its leader. The flooding in New Orleans as a result of Katrina. These are real life situations in which things were more than simply inconvenient. There was real risk to both life and limb, sometimes for an extended period. Still, SHTF events are relatively short lived. Afterward, though there may be significant inconvenience and suffering during the event, and some people might even die, most people will be able to resume their lives, going on as if not much had changed in some cases.


Secrets of Survival lists the following as examples of TEOTWAWKI events for which real people are trying to prepare:

  • Solar flares that disrupt the power grid
  • EMP
  • Asteroid impact
  • Comet collision
  • Yellowstone supervolcano
  • New Madrid earthquake
  • Dirty bombs
  • Biological agent/Deadly highly contagious virus
  • World War III starts with invasion from within
  • Nuclear war

Each of these has, as part of its threat, the potential to bring everything that we view as normal to a complete stop. Millions (or even billions) will die and societies will collapse (think of the US and world populations being reduced to late 19th or early 20th century levels). TEOTWAWKI is, for preppers, the ultimate game changer.


Years ago, I took a leadership class for Navy officers who were on their way to becoming department heads. One of the things we discussed was preparing for emergencies. As part of that, an instructor made a distinction between emergencies and crises. “Emergencies,” he said, “are things you can prepare for. You can’t prepare for a crisis.” I disagreed, until he gave what I think are two vivid examples.

In the movie Apollo 13  both the astronauts in the spacecraft and the crew on the ground initially though they were dealing with an emergency. As a result, they did what they were supposed to do – what they had prepared to do. They consulted the emergency procedures manual. It was only later they began to realize they were dealing with something completely unexpected and something for which they were not at all prepared. They were dealing with a crisis. That the astronauts returned home safely is far more of a testimony to the creativity and “never give up” attitude of everyone involved than to any emergency preparations.

His second example was just as vivid. He talked about parachuting from a plane and said, “If your primary ‘chute fails to open, that is an emergency. If your reserve doesn’t open, that is a crisis!”

How does this relate to SHTF and TEOTWAWKI scenarios? SHTF events are emergencies. You can plan and prepare for them. Even if one occurs, you have a reasonable, perhaps even pretty good, chance of riding out the even in a relatively secure manner without having to spend time in a Red Cross shelter or refugee camp. TEOTWAWKI scenarios are different. Most people, including, I submit, most preppers, will not survive such an event. Those that do will likely face a long, hard future as they attempt to not only survive but to rebuild from the ashes of the world they once knew. In spite of what some people write, you cannot truly prepare for TEOTWAWKI.

SHTF is an emergency. You can prepare for this. TEOTWAWKI is a crisis. You cannot truly prep for this.

What does this mean as regards preparedness? Simply this: be as prepared as you can, for as much as you can (isn’t it interesting that most real world prepping is similar for the vast majority of scenarios?). Be realistic and recognize there are some things that might occur for which there simply is no adequate preparation and if such occurs, you’ll simply have to “wing it” like everyone else – though if you’ve focused on practical skills you may, arguably, have a better chance than most people (which brings us back to self-sufficiency – you can see my thoughts on it here and here, and more and better written stuff on Rachel Falco’s excellent How to Provide for Your Family blog). Focus on what you can prepare for, as part of a lifestyle of self-reliance, and don’t let yourself be induced to expend major time and money preparing for those things that are both unlikely and for which you simply cannot prepare.

From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: