Three Categories of Disasters


Not all disasters are created equal. In fact, we can go so far as to say that no two disasters are created equal. There are many types of disasters that we can face, and each of them can vary in intensity, scope and the number of lives affected. Preparing for only one type of disaster is a mistake, as it might leave you vulnerable to another.

There has been a trend in the prepping and survival community to focus on the “big disasters,” what many refer to as TEOTWAWKI events. That stands for “The end of the world as we know it.” It’s not referring to the end of the world, but rather the end of the kind of life we are all accustomed to living. It’s a disaster that’s so massive, that we have to adapt our lifestyle to it, making our post-disaster lives discernibly different than our pre-disaster lives.

We can look at the COVID-19 pandemic as being a TEOTWAWKI event to some extent. Here, in the post-COVID world, we wear masks, practice social distancing, work from home and are more likely to order take-out, than eat in a restaurant. The world hasn’t ended, but life has definitely changed. The question that remains is whether these are permanent changes or not.

Preppers tend to look at TEOTWAWKI events, because if we prepare for them, we will have prepared for any lesser disaster that might come along. There is some logic in this, as we want to work our way towards being ready for anything that comes along.

The problem with looking at TEOTWAWKI events is that it can give us a warped view of what a disaster is really like. If we’re expecting the world as we know it to fall apart in a day, then when a disaster comes on us slowly, we don’t see what’s happening. Not only that, but we may react in an inappropriate way, such as going around visibly armed against intruders, when there’s no real reason to expect anyone to try and break into your home to steal your food stockpile.

Don’t get me wrong, we should still keep those major disasters in mind, but we shouldn’t necessarily focus on them. There are other disasters with a smaller scope, which we are much more likely to encounter. Those should be our main concern.

We can divide disasters down into three basic groups:

  • Personal Disasters – These are things like the loss of a job, a family member dying, or a major illness. They affect your family as much as a natural disaster might, but they only affect your family. Some of the same preps we do for natural disasters can help you make it through a personal disaster, because they will help meet your family’s basic needs.
  • Regional Disasters – This category covers anything that can affect your city, state or region. The most common things we find here are natural disasters: hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes. But it can also include man-made disasters, such as wildfires and chemical spills. You will not be alone in dealing with the disaster, as your friends and neighbors will probably have the same problems to deal with.
  • Major Disasters – Here we find things that can affect the entire country or even the world. The most common one discussed today is an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) taking out the electrical grid. That would be a true TEOTWAWKI event. But there are other things, not so drastic, which also qualify, such as major financial collapse.

Of these three categories, the one we are all most likely to experience is a personal disaster. After that, we’re likely to experience a regional disaster and then finally a major disaster. If we ignore COVID-19, we may go our entire lives without ever experiencing a major disaster. But we just don’t know. We can’t ignore it, because the possibility does exist, but suffering through a natural disaster and rebuilding afterwards is much more likely.

Risk Management

In business, there is a field of study known as risk management. The basic concept is to identify risks that can affect the business and then develop means of mitigating those risks. In a sense, that’s what prepping is all about. We take known risks, such as a major disease, and develop a way of mitigating the damage that might cause to us and our families. In this case, buy health insurance.

Of course, insurance isn’t the solution to all problems. Your insurance agent isn’t going to be brining you fresh drinking water if the municipal water system is out due to flooding. So we do other things as well; things that help us to be self-sufficient in the midst of those crises.

How we prioritize which disasters we should prepare for depends on how likely that disaster is and how big an impact it will have on our lives, if we don’t prepare. We can set up a matrix like the one below, to categorize these various risks are and how important it is to develop a strategy for them.

Impact if the Disaster Occurs
1 2 3 4 5
Low Some Difficult Serious Major
Likelihood 1 Almost None Zombie Apocalypse
2 Unlikely Foreign Invasion
3 Can Happen Daughter is Pregnant Loss of Job or Income
4 Probably Natural Disaster Epidemic EMP
5 Very Likely Flu or cold Car Breaks Down


This chart is obviously not complete, as it doesn’t cover all the possible disasters any of us can face. for example, I have listed “natural disasters” as one item, when it should really be several separate items for each type of natural disaster that occurs in your area. This matrix was created to serve only as an example, demonstrating how to develop your own risk matrix. The next step is to list the disasters, based upon the score you have given them in this chart. To determine that score, add the two numbers corresponding with the likelihood and impact for that particular event.

  • EMP – 9
  • Epidemic – 8
  • Natural disaster – 7
  • Car breaks down – 7
  • Loss of job or income – 6
  • Flu or cold – 6
  • Zombie apocalypse – 6
  • Daughter is pregnant – 4
  • Foreign invasion – 4

We now have a list of potential disasters, where we can see how important each one is, based upon the combination of likelihood and impact of each disaster. Because of its great impact and severity, an EMP tops the list. But that doesn’t mean that an EMP is likely. A zombie apocalypse has only three points less, because it is highly unlikely, even though if it did happen, it would be very hard to deal with… at least, if you believe all the movies it would be.

This system is nothing more than a tool to help you prioritize and shouldn’t be taken to be anything else. Even though an EMP receives a higher total score, I would say that the increased likelihood of a natural disasters makes it more sensible to concentrate on that first, especially if you are new to prepping. But at some point in time, you will want to add EMP preparedness to your overall survival plan.