What is SHTF Like? Real-Life Examples & Survival Tips

Mind4Survival's in-depth interview with Selco Begovic, SHTF survivor.
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Many people have preconceived ideas about what is SHTF that are based on fantasy, lack of experience, and misconceptions. And, it’s those misconceptions, if not prepared for and corrected, that will lead to their struggle, suffering, and in many cases, death when the shit hits the fan.

Fortunately for everyone, there are survivors alive today who can share their years of experience and lessons learned from living in and surviving real-world shit-hits-the-fan scenarios. And in today’s podcast and article, we’re fortunate to have one SHTF survivor here to share his experience and speak about the mindset of SHTF survival.

That SHTF survivor is Selco, who survived years of SHTF in a Balkan city under siege. Selco is an SHTF author, course creator, and regular contributor to The Organic Prepper and is here to share a wealth of SHTF survival information to help make each of us more safe, secure, and prepared.

So, don’t delay! Get started with leveling up your SHTF preparedness game today!

What is the Definition of SHTF

I have this in-depth article on the SHTF meaning, where I show that Dictionary.com defines SHTF by stating, “Shit hitting the fan refers to the ultimate consequences of something turning out, well, shitty.”

That’s a pretty obvious answer when defining what is SHTF. However, when it comes to personal experience, Selco has years of first-hand experience living in and surviving a long-term SHTF scenario. And as a long-term SHTF event is a series of individual SHTF scenarios strung together, Selco is a definite SHTF survivor.

The SHTF Definition

Based on his experiences living in a shit-hits-the-fan situation, Selco has two definitions of what SHTF is – one for non-preppers and another for preppers.

For non-preppers, Selco’s definition of SHTF is:

“An event or situation that overwhelms services and resources.”

When it comes to preppers, Selco defines SHTF as:

“The moment when people realize there are no repercussions or punishments for their actions.”

I believe Selco’s two definitions of what is SHTF can be combined into one definition of SHTF.

The Definition of SHTF:

“An event of a situation that overwhelms services and resources, resulting in a collapse of civil order and society.”

bug-out bag guide

Personal Experiences in an SHTF Situation

Selco’s personal experience is one in which, as his society and the rule of law collapsed, elements of organized crime and others filled the vacuum. In turn, criminal elements took over within a month of the collapse of the rule of law. This led to increased violence and daily struggle.

Based on his experience during such a scenario, Selco points out that the moment criminal elements realize there will be no consequences for their actions should indicate to non-criminals that they are in an SHTF event.

I feel that Selco is describing what Thomas Hobbes views as a person’s life in the “state of nature,” which he proposes will be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The “state of nature” is, in Hobbes’s belief, the state of human existence without the rule of law and civil society. We’re talking total breakdown here – the Shit Hit the Fan.

In Selco’s case, his SHTF scenario began the night the last of the police force stopped showing up to work, and from the moment lawlessness started in the streets, armed groups acted without fear of repercussions.

Two Periods of SHTF Violence

Burned cars

Selco noticed two distinctive periods of violence as the SHTF situation developed as the lawlessness rose. The two periods of violence in a shit hits the fan environment are:

  1. Early violence is “sporadic and crazy violence.”
  2. Later violence is “organized violence with patterns.”

Why Prepare for an SHTF Event?

The purpose of preparing for an SHTF event is, for most people, not to prepare to stay in your house for years and never go out.

The purpose of preparing is to give yourself time for the early violence – the sporadic and crazy violence to settle down and turn into the more predictable organized violence with patterns.

That’s because, for most people, it’s not practicable never to have to leave your home. You will leave your home at some point in the SHTF aftermath of a human-caused or natural disaster.

And, it’s best to prepare and, in so doing, create the opportunity to observe and learn the patterns of your area. Because by understanding the local patterns of life, you will understand best how to minimize your risk and avoid as many problems as possible.

That is if there’s such a thing as avoiding problems during SHTF scenarios.

Timeline for the Decline Into SHTF

Barring some catastrophic event such as a near extinction level natural disaster such as a super volcano, comet strike, etc., the decline from civil society into the chaos of an SHTF scenario happens over time.

Far too often do preppers (including myself) think of SHTF events as instantaneous events that flip society on its head. Fortunately for the human species, that immediate destruction of society and plunge into the apocalypse is the exception rather than the rule.

The far more likely situation is that, as happens much more frequently than extinction events, a crisis develops over time that gradually leads to a breakdown in the fabric of modern society. This can take weeks, months, and with history being the judge, years.

Desperate Times Leads to Opportunism

4 European gang memebrs

And, as a society slides towards or deeper into an SHTF event and the rule of law breaks down, more and more people, out of desperation, will turn to violence and crime to support the needs of their own families.

The reality is that many people act civil and law-abiding when times are good.

However, when the safety and security of society break down into an SHTF scenario, those same people who may be your neighbors and fellow community members stop acting civil. Instead, they result in the SHTF rule of might makes right: “I’m taking care of my own at the expense of others.”

In the end, the neighbor you think is good and decent today may be the person who turns on you when societal disaster strikes.

Desperate Time Lead Some to Take Heroic Actions

While desperate times cause many to act evil, they also lead some to act heroically. The fact is that hard times also prompt some people to rise above and become a force for what is right and good about people.

It’s worth knowing that as humans typically follow the path of least resistance, the majority of people that you encounter during an SHTF event may be morally compromised and opportunistic out of desperation.

Therefore, we must be careful about who we trust, confide in, and associate with during an SHTF. And, it’s important to remember that even in the worst of times, not ALL people are evil.

In the end, be careful about who you trust in a shit hits the fan world, and know that at some point, we all have to find people we can trust and rely upon.

What Are the 5 Biggest Shocks When the Shit Hits the Fan?

Person with look of shock

  1. People are shocked at the things they will do to survive.
  2. How fast criminal elements realize the situation and run to fill the power vacuum left by the collapse of society.
  3. How the criminal-run black market establishes itself within a few weeks.
  4. How as the situation deteriorates, gangs become better organized, become militias, and become the de facto government.
  5. There doesn’t have to be a reason for you or a loved one to be killed when the shit hits the fan. During an SHTF scenario, people are routinely killed by mistake, chance, or some thug out having fun. There is no reason. It just happens.

Current Example of an SHTF Situation

The Seattle CHAZ / CHOP

The CHOP / CHAZ in Seattle is a relatively current example of how quickly a society can devolve into a shit-hits-the-fan situation. As a refresher, the CHAZ / CHOP resulted from protests following George Floyd’s death. The protests quickly turned into riots, looting, and the associated destruction of property.

Acting on a decision by city leaders, the police abandoned a police precinct in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle, which resulted in the occupation of that area by armed militia-like thugs who patrolled its streets ruthlessly. Several people were killed in the CHAZ as a result.

While the National Guard eventually dismantled the CHOP / CHAZ, it is a current example of what can happen when SHTF and people take over an area and attempt to establish their own rules.

What People Get Wrong About SHTF Situations

Despite historical evidence, many people look to a catastrophic event such as a major disaster or series of natural disasters occurring on a global scale. Others think of a world war or other major event such as a power grid failure that suddenly throws society into the dark ages.

However, what has repeatedly happened throughout history is some lesser event escalates, which descends a region or nation into a long-term SHTF situation.

Selco’s experience provides an excellent and tragic example of a slow-burning societal breakdown that lasts for months or years and pits neighbors and family members against one another.

Examples of Future Possible SHTF Scenarios

blood red city

The current trajectory of the world and individual nations and communities seems to be towards fragmentation based on politics and perspectives.

Many countries’ situation is similar to that of the Balkans as they plunged into chaos. Hence, Balkanization is about an area that divides internally and destroys itself.

Driving some of that divide is the nationalism developing in many countries—a nationalism with countries closing borders while looking internally and externally for someone to make the boogie man.

As populations fracture over time, we may see many countries worldwide experience civil unrest. Unfortunately, when that happens, the opportunity for international spillover increases. Case in point, the facture of Ukraine in 2014 led the world to its current state of tension.

What is the Most Difficult Part of Living in an SHTF Event

Each person faces their own struggle in an SHTF world.

It can be difficult to find hope when every day feels like you’re stuck in a horrible situation, and the world is going on without you.

When the shit hits the fan, so does hope; therefore, SHTF and the feeling of hopelessness go hand in hand.

How Do People React to SHTF

  1. Some people face and accept the situation.
  2. Some people give up and die.

Don’t judge people based on their looks. The people who appear the least capable and assuming can be some of the most dangerous. Always be wary. See rule #1 below.

Selco SHTF Books link

11 SHTF Survival Mindset Tips to Survive an Extreme SHTF Scenario

Here are eleven SHTF survival tips that helped keep Selco alive:

1. Trust Sparingly

Many people will be dangerous and succumb to fear and become opportunistic. Therefore, limit your exposure to human-centric danger and betrayal. Associate with few, trust even less.

2. Be Organized

Being organized helps with your flexibility to respond effectively to developing situations. In an SHTF world, effectively responding means understanding the problem while also employing the survival skills (mental and physical) to guarantee your SHTF survival.

3. Watch for Patterns

Observe the situation around you over time. Look for patterns of life that you can utilize to add to your safety and resilience.

4. Let the Situation Develop

Stay safe until you know what is going on. Suppose you are prepared and can remain indoors until the situation settles down. In that case, you allow yourself the opportunity to develop the awareness to help you make more effective decisions.

5. Stay Indoors

If you’re staying in your home while the world burns down around you, you are sheltering in place, also known in the prepper world as bugging-in. Hopefully, before bugging in, you fortified your home for an SHTF event. If you haven’t, I have written this article about it, so please get started.

Regardless, when the world outside is melting down, and there is death in the streets, it’s time to avoid the streets. Stay out of sight, out of mind, and behind walls of hopefully bullet-slowing construction.

That means remaining inside a 100% controllable space controlled by you and those you trust (See #1) whenever possible.

6. Be the Invisible Man

Being the gray man is excellent, and the invisible man is where it’s at in an SHTF event.

The gray man operates on the premise that you may be seen, but you’ll be so non-descript that you won’t attract any extra attention.

The invisible man operates on the premise that anyone seen, such as the gray man, can be shot, killed, targeted, etc.

Therefore, when living in a patternless and chaotic situation, remain out of sight, behind closed doors with no lights. No smells. No nothing.

7. Take It One Day at a Time

Take it one day at a time when the SHTF gets deep and the day-to-day going gets hard. Focus on the here and now. Tomorrow will come when it does. Focusing on tomorrow takes the focus off what’s happening today, leaving you more vulnerable to currently evolving threats.

8. Be Deliberate – Plan Everything

While each situation is unique and deserves its utmost attention. Don’t take leaving your home for granted, even when things settle down. Always move out in twos or threes and plan your entire move before leaving your home’s safety, security, and invisibility.

One person traveling alone in an SHTF world is a victim waiting to happen. Two or more people make a supporting element or a fire team, which means more effective safety, security, and flexibility. Heck, at a minimum, a second person provides a check against any stupid ideas I may have, and that’s a huge benefit!

9. Be Situationally Aware

You must keep your ear to the ground and get a feel for the evolving situation. Listen to what people are saying. Feel if there’s an unusual tension in the air. Yes, there will be tension in the air because it’s an SHTF situation.

The question is, what for the SHTF world is out of SHTF order? That means there’s a paradigm shift in your environmental baseline.

What’s the change?

Why’s it happening?

How will it impact you?

10. Lone Wolves Die Fast and Alone

Some preppers operate off the mistaken premise that when the shit this the fan, they’ll head to the woods, live out of their backpack, and do their best Robinson Caruso impersonation until they feel it’s safe to reintegrate like a World War 2 Japanese Holdout, into society.

It’s a terrible idea to be alone when disaster strikes. Going it alone during a natural disaster, world war, or other depressing SHTF reality sets the lone wolf up for failure when the bad stuff hits.

SHTF means “shit” for a reason. Things are going to suck, and as such, a person needs help dealing with 24/7/365 security needs, severe sickness should you become ill, and any number of events and situations that can cause life-impacting problems.

The answer is to develop a network of values-aligned, mutually supportive, and trustworthy people now. Finding reliable help during a human-made or natural disaster is not the best time to form an effective mutual assistance group. The time to do that is now before the shit hits the fan.

11. Understand Your Circles of Influence

Stone circles

Start by imaging circles nested within other circles. The first circle is you, and your circle sits within another circle representing your close family. Both those nested circles are within another circle representing your neighbors, and so on in ever-expanding and increasing circles of influence.

When it comes to your circles of influence, even though you would like to change the world, the amount of influence you have on the outer rings is limited. However, you do influence the inner circles, such as those represented by you and your family, friends, and loved ones.

The fact is, each of us has only a limited amount of time, energy, and resources. We are all limited in where we can direct our time and energy. Unfortunately, many people today, through social media and other sources, focus their energy on outside circles, where their influence is limited or non-existent.

This focus on things they cannot control comes at the expense of time and effort spent focusing on what you can influence, such as you, your family, and friends. And that’s the point of Selco’s Circles.

During an SHTF event, and probably more often than many will care to admit, focus your bandwidth on what’s truly important, you and your loved ones in the inner circles. Don’t waste your time and effort on the outer rings and the things you cannot influence.

In the end, especially in a significant disaster or SHTF scenario, your time should be focused on surviving, improving your situation, and living your best life possible, not what’s happening in someone’s outside circle.

The Bottom Line on What is SHTF

According to Selco, when the shit hits the fan, the bottom line is being both a survivalist (having the skills) and a prepper (having things ready). Selco reminds us that stockpiling supplies for a natural disaster, world war, or another SHTF scenario is excellent. However, eventually, the supplies will run out, and you’ll be forced out into the catastrophic event, where your SHTF survival will depend on your skills, such as self-defense, first aid, communication, mechanical abilities, etc.

So, whether you’re preparing for modern life to end on the heels of a global-scale natural disaster, world war, cyber attacks, power grid failure, civil unrest, or another major event, the key is to prepare both physically and mentally now, before your world is turned upside down when the shit hits the fan.

It happened to Selco and others. It can happen to you.

What are your thoughts on preparing for the shit to hit the fan? Please tell us about your experience and SHTF preparedness insights in the comments below!

Additional Resources:


Stay safe,

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What is SHTF Like? Real-Life Examples & Survival Tips


  1. Chris Lynch on January 7, 2024 at 4:29 pm

    From our experience following a hurricane event that knocked down regional power, water, some road access, and communications for some time (were few cell phones back in the late 90’s), situational awareness also entails the means of effective communication and information flow within your community (neigborhood) as well as from the surrounding town or city regarding what’s going on. Supplies deliveries, aid, updates, etc. It was interesting how fast rumors travel too. Some with good elements of truth and others more speculative, wishful, or just very late and no longer accurate. Make a choice on what to believe, assess risk, and have a bias for action to keep a step ahead of the masses. Good relationships and an established trust with neighbors can develop quickly and is key to knowing opportunities or threats.

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