My original intent for this post was to survey various levels of emergencies and describe possible preps for each. However, as I went over what would be discussed in such a post, a theme very quickly became apparent to me: the circumstances surrounding an emergency will determine how severe and dire that emergency is. Every emergency will have both the forced circumstances of the emergency as well as the circumstances that we bring to the emergency. A prepper seeks to create circumstances that will downgrade or alleviate the severity of an emergency.
Theoretical Levels of Emergency
Level C: These are mundane unexpected inconveniences with practically no risk to health or well being. These could be things like your car breaking down on your way to work, and you have wait until a tow truck arrives; the power goes off during an average storm and is restored later that day; or you get lost during a road trip far from home. Each of these instances is an unforeseen hardship, but on a very low level.
Level B: Level B emergencies pose slightly more risk to health and well being. These could be things like a mid level storm knocks out your town's power and blocks roads for a couple days with flooding and debris. Another example could be if you break a bone during a car accident in your city and need medical attention. Level B emergencies pose some threat to health and well being, but are readily remedied.
Level A: This level of emergency poses a high risk to health and well being. It could be a long duration event like a hurricane that shuts down roads and power for over a week's time and has violent flooding. An example of a Level A emergency could also be a short duration event like getting assaulted by a mugger who has a gun. The week long aftermath of a larger storm could result in no food or clean drinking water being available of days and weeks. A large storm could also bring flooding that sweeps away everything in its path weather it be people, cars or houses. An encounter with a violent armed assailant could be deadly in the blink of an eye. These are Level A emergencies because of the high risk they pose to life and well being.
SHTF: While the other levels of emergencies above are terms that I made up, "SHTF" is an acronym common in the prepper community to describe an emergency so large and far reaching that its totality is difficult to fully comprehend. Only large scale emergencies qualify for this level. These would be things like a foreign army invades your country, a large portion of the nation's power grid goes down from an electromagnetic pulse, or a total currency collapse occurs. In each of these situations, the normal flow of society is so interupted that electrical power, clean water, and emergency response services can all go down in the same time period and there is great risk to the well being and lives of the general population. These bad circumstances can lead to other bad circumstances like social unrest, mass population migrations, and so on. It is difficult to predict all the many areas of society that will be affected by such large scale events. For those who don't know, the acronym come from a proverbial instance when the S*** Hits The Fan and gets spread everywhere.
Every emergency that you encounter will have be done so both with the circumstances of the emergency and the circumstances that you bring to the emergency. Let's take the example of a car breaking down. Under "normal" circumstances, you are on your way to work and no more than a few miles from home, you call a tow truck, and within a few hours (after a tow, a meeting with a repair shop, and either a taxi or rental car) you are back to your normal routine. No big deal, right?
Well, now let's say that your car slides off a snowy road and gets stuck. You call for a tow truck, but a tow truck can't get to you for several hours because other cars in other parts of your locale have also gone off the road. The temperature is below freezing, and you did not dress appropriately (thinking that you would be in a warm car an not out in the elements). Now what would normally be a Level C emergency just got upgraded to at least a Level B. If you can't get someone to come and give you a ride, you will have to wait on the side of the road for 3 or 4 hours in freezing temperatures without proper protection from the cold. Frostbite and or hypothermia are real possibilities and even have the chance of being life threatening.
While I was living up North, this actually happened to me. Many people had also gone off the road in the snow, and it would be half a day before a tow truck could come to me. Thankfully, I had been scheduled to work outside that day, so I was dressed in very warm winter clothing and boots. I realized though that if I hadn't been, I would have been in a really dangerous situation. Ever after that, whenever I drove anywhere (even to work or a friend's house) I would be sure to bring clothing that would protect me from the outdoor elements in the event I might get stuck or break down. I wouldn't always where them, but I would always throw an extra coat and pair of boots in my car just in case.
The same thing can happen when it is hot out. Imagine if your car breaks down on a hot summer day when the temperature is at or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. If your cell phone was dead or you didn't bring your phone, then you would have to walk to a gas station or other premise to ask for help. Depending on how far that walk is (like from somewhere on a highway) walking in that heat could be very dangerous. There have been many cases, especially in Southern states, of people passing out from heat stroke or dehydration doing just this - having to walk away from their vehicle during a hot summer day. For this reason, I always wear or at least bring a hat with me during the summer to keep the sun off my head, and I always bring a bottle of water (my current bottle holds up to 32 ounces).
You can see how even a slight change in circumstance can turn what would normally be a mundane inconvenience into a life threatening situation. Some circumstances we can't control (like the weather) while other circumstances we can control (like what we bring with us).
Emergencies During Emergencies
Another way that a more mundane emergency can be aggravated into a larger one is when an emergency situation arises during an already ongoing emergency. For example, a hurricane is coming through your city and the roadways and power supply is already massively interrupted. Now imagine that you slip and break your arm. Under "normal" circumstances this would qualify for a Level B emergency because though you are hurt, you can call for EMS to come and take you to a hospital. However, if many roads are blocked and first responders are already helping many other people evacuate, it might be a while before a fire fighter, police officer, or emergency medical technician can get to you; depending on what roads go to your house and if they are blocked, first responders might not be able to get close to you at all. Suddenly, the moderate emergency of a broken arm becomes a larger and more life threatening emergency as help that is usually available is no longer easy to get. This is why it is very important for families to keep well stocked and thorough first aid kits and be trained in how to use it. Preppers must keep in mind how lower level emergencies can quickly become aggravated during the course of another emergency.
The main objective in prepping is to create circumstances that alleviate or reduce the threatening circumstances of an emergency. A stranded driver who has appropriate clothing and water will do better than a stranded driver who does not have protection from the elements nor has drinking water. A family who has stored food and drinking water will do better during a large storm than a family who has no food or water stores. Even small simple preparations can turn potentially life threatening circumstances into minor inconveniences. For those preppers out there who are working to protect their families from what ever may happen, you know well that it is a great act of love to prepare to save the lives of your loved ones. Keep after it.