Surviving the Disaster Golden Hour – Part 1, by J.M.

Editor’s Introductory Note:  This lengthy article will be posted in five parts. Please reserve most of your comments until after Part 5 is posted, on Saturday.

If you’ve ever had any involvement with trauma medical care (especially in the military) you’ve probably heard the term ‘The Golden Hour’. This is generally considered to be the hour immediately following a traumatic injury in which medical treatment to prevent irreversible internal damage and optimize the chance of survival is most effective. For this article, I’m going to re-purpose the term ‘Golden Hour’ and use it to frame a discussion about surviving the period immediately following a local disaster. What I consider a ‘local’ disaster is an event with dangerous consequences that impacts you and yours at a minimum but stops short of impacting a large part of the country. This can be anything from a vehicle accident up to an earthquake. As a result I’m also assuming that some form of rescue or other assistance will be available eventually.

Many people in the prepper community tend to focus primarily on long-term survival for wide-ranging end-of-the-world-type events like a financial meltdown, societal collapse, EMP/CME, nuclear war, meteorite impact, zombie apocalypse, etc. However, if you stop and think about what really happens on a daily basis you’d realize you’re a lot more likely to be involved in a short-term localized disaster like a car crash, building fire, wildfire, earthquake, flood, explosion, etc. Unfortunately, when such emergencies do occur, most people tend to be woefully unprepared. Think of the videos and image you’ve seen of the immediate aftermath of events such as 9/11, the Paradise fire, the Beirut explosion, Hurricane Katrina and many other events – people are trying to escape the fires, smoke, debris, dust clouds, floods, collapsed buildings and other aftermath in order to survive. In many cases the people that do succeed in getting out alive frequently suffer from long-term health impacts due to injuries and the conditions they were subject to. Even many of the long-term events that preppers like to focus on can have dramatic impacts to your health and safety early in their evolution – a lot of those scenarios will start with short-term localized conditions such as explosions, fires, riots, etc.

The most common approach that many people espouse when this issue is discussed is to suggest simply avoiding locations and situations where you might be subject to localized emergencies. While that sounds good, it’s almost impossible to accomplish in real life. Even if you live in the middle of nowhere you could still be subject to wildfires, earthquakes, dust storms, building fires, bridge collapses and other events that can quickly kill you if you’re not prepared. This doesn’t mean that planning and situational awareness aren’t critical – you should still make sure you understand what types of events can occur wherever you go, what steps you can take to minimize their impact and what your options are to get out alive if they do happen. For example:

  • You’re visiting a sports complex in the winter after a big snow storm, so you should consider what you would do if the roof collapses due to the weight of snow and ice. Are you paying attention by listening for the types of structural noises that would precede a collapse? Are you looking up occasionally? Do you always know where the nearest exit or strong support structures are?
  • You’re in a city on business and terrorists pull off another 9/11-type attack. Do you have an emergency exit route mapped out? Will you be able to breathe and see where you’re going while you’re exfiltrating? Can you get clear of any rubble that may get in your way?
  • You’re out backpacking in the mountains in the summer in an area that’s experiencing a drought. Did you check if there are any wildfires in the areas? Do you have alternate escape routes mapped out in case a fire springs up? Do you have an easy access to a bail-out bag with a first-aid kit, water, etc. in case you have to dump your full backpack and run? Can you survive running through smoke for a period of time if the wind shifts and the fire starts moving towards you? Do you have a handheld GPS capability in case visibility suddenly drops due to smoke?
  • You’re driving to visit relatives during the holidays and your vehicle skids down a steep embankment in an isolated area during a blizzard. Do you have enough gear in your car to keep everyone warm and survive until you can get help? Do you have multiple ways to signal for help?

Planning, risk avoidance and situational awareness are critical factors in any disaster scenario, and applying these to tactical emergencies can significantly increase your odds of surviving a short-term localized disaster or the opening act of a longer-term SHTF event. Having the world’s greatest Get Home Bag (GHB) in your vehicle doesn’t do you a lot of good if you can’t get clear of whatever immediate danger you’re in to get to it.


When it comes to emergency scenarios there are literally an infinite number of combinations that can happen in an infinite number of ways, but for the purposes of this discussion I’m going to try to breakdown some basic temporal criteria to consider their types and effects.

To start with, every event has conditions leading up to its occurrence. An electrical fire might be due to someone carelessly nicking a power wire near some flammable material, a gas explosion might be caused by a corroded gas line leaking, a tsunami can be caused by an underwater earthquake, a wildfire could be started due to a lightning strike during drought conditions, a thunderstorm spawns tornados, etc. For some events there may be no way to detect these causative conditions or to understand their significance prior to the event occurring, but in many instances there are signs that, if heeded, could save your life. The timeframe for these leading conditions could encompass anything from seconds prior to the event up to months or even years. And no, I’m not going to discuss the butterfly effect here.

The next phase is when the actual impact of the event begins. This can be the moment that the flame ignites, an earthquake occurs or a meteorite hits the earth. Some event impact manifestations can be categorized as rapidly energetic, such as an explosion, earthquake or roof collapse. Others such as a fire or flood may start smaller and spread their impact more slowly. For rapid energetic events the best way to avoid serious injury or death is to not be close to where the energy transfer occurs – e.g. next to an explosion, under a roof that collapses, etc. Other than being aware of possible events and being as far from their energy transfer as possible there isn’t a lot of you can do at this phase if you are impacted by a rapidly energetic event – you either make it or you don’t, although you could survive and be seriously injured. Chaos theory also comes into play – there are plenty of documented stories of people surviving uninjured when near an explosion or inside a building that collapses.

Next is the active impact phase – this is the period immediately after an initial rapid event or during an ongoing slower-evolving event where you’re still in danger and you need to get somewhere else in order to survive. I’ll be covering this phase later in this article.

I consider an event to be done (at least from my perspective) when me and anyone I’m responsible for are safe from its immediate impacts.


When planning for and dealing with events you should try to ascertain what the impacts are and the scope of those impacts. For example:

  • A building fire has an initial impact of extreme heat in what starts as a localized area and (typically) spreads, along with smoke over a larger area that also spreads. There is also frequently structural damage to the building, which can cause walls and roofs to collapse. As the fire spreads it can encounter dangerous chemicals or explosive compressed gas, resulting in additional subsequent impacts.
  • An earthquake initially causes a lot of structural damage, with subsequent fires, explosions and further building collapses over the impacted area, and is frequently followed by aftershocks which can cause even more damage.
  • A tsunami starts with a high-energy wall of water knocking down pretty much everything in its path, with further flooding, structural collapses and potential immersion in contaminated water later on.
  • An explosion has an initial massive overpressure, frequently followed by fires, smoke, debris, structural collapse, etc. Consider the 9/11 terrorist attack in NYC – clouds of smoke and dust were present at quite a distance from ground zero for hours after the initial attacks, and the resulting fine particulates were still being stirred up weeks and months later.

Tertiary impacts such as large mobs trying to evacuate the area can also impact you by slowing down your own escape or even trampling you, resulting in injury or death.

(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 2.)


  1. Nearly four feet of water in my house from Katrina turned me into a prepper. For my wife and I, Katrina was not a major hardship more of a very significant inconvenience. However, for many it was exactly what you describe. Nine months later when we moved back to our house A great many families were living in homes that had not even started repairs. They lived without utilities, gas stations, food stores and medial care for several weeks or more. Red Cross, Salvation Army and a host of outside groups, manly church sponsored, did excellent work but the need was so large they were overwhelmed. Government assistance was limited, but the local sheriff secure the area and looting was minimal. We did not suffer that, but we observed and acted upon it. It was my first encounter with a hurricane having moved to Louisiana a little more than a year previous. We evacuated to Jackson, MS and then to my son’s in Woodlands, Texas as Katrina made Jackson uninhabitable. That is when I learned how far inland hurricanes can cause dark cities, no gas stations and no restaurants. Fortunately we had enough supplies to hold us over. The First lesson was to have enough gasoline to get out of the disaster area. Coming back the first time was the lesson to have enough gasoline to get in and out again. My wife’s employer sent her to a Houston regional office and mine first sent me to Baltimore but later back to Pascagoula,MS as I was employed by the USCGA. Less than a month later Rita hit the Houston and my wife had to evacuate to my son’s house again. On our first trip to Houston I had rented a storage unit for things we had salvaged from the house and I had immediately bought a generator and several gas can among other items before they disappeared. We also had contracted the house repair with a Houston area contractor. My wife knew that State Farm had “trusted Contractors” and we chose one. We have been blessed by God in our life and had the resources to fund the initial demolition work before we received any insurance funds and knew how to expedite the adjusters so were we were among the early recipients of the money to rebuild. As a result of this experience I recommend having two high limit national credit cards, a major bank with excellent online banking (which now is about universal) and a bill paying service that is located far removed from your location ( no mail delivery in our area for months and pick up only started weeks after the storm). We pay the full balance due on all our credit cards when due, we have no CC debt. At the time of Katrina we were fortunate to have those and made the process much easier. Our bill paying service was located in SD, and we never missed a payment because bills were sent there and pay was electronically deposited in one of two banks where we to maintain checking and savings. The Katrina experience led me to start reading about preparedness and which led me in a very circuits route to We are now able to survive for months if the utilities stay on and at least two months without. Working on a sustainable water source now. Articles and comments here have been both inspiration and educational. My hobby now is to look for permanent retreat property, I look at lots of data on potential property and unfortunately at my age the nearest hospital is a primary consideration. SR should encourage advertisers to state the distance and drive time to the nearest hospital as an aid to old folks like me.

    1. Bob, I so appreciate you sharing your life changing stories that we may learn from them. I especially liked:

      “The First lesson was to have enough gasoline to get out of the disaster area. Coming back the first time was the lesson to have enough gasoline to get in and out again.”

      “As a result of this experience I recommend having two high limit national credit cards, a major bank with excellent online banking (which now is about universal) and a bill paying service that is located far removed from your location ( no mail delivery in our area for months and pick up only started weeks after the storm)”

      What a blessing your family was able to get out in time and not get hurt in those disasters. During the aftermath of Katrina, one of my sons was a college freshman. He called home one day to explain he would not be coming home during spring break because he had joined a group to go help build a house for Katrina victims. Our hearts were proud as he helped those in need. (bias on my part)

      I think may of us join you in taking hospital distance into consideration, if not for ourselves, then for our parents or other loved ones. Blessings on your search.

  2. Great start to a good series. It caused me to stop and look at the earthquake maps in the area of Idaho I’m attempting to purchase property. I lived through the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in California (6.9M). I was in the big station wagon with the 4 Littles and just backing out of a driveway when suddenly the entire car started rocking back and forth. I thought I had run over something large! I hit the brakes and watched as the ground heaved and the telephone poles and trees whipped back and forth in an almost impossible way. I realized then that we were having a large earthquake. After the shaking subsided, I slowly drove to my mother’s house to see if she was okay. All the traffic lights were out and when I arrived she was standing in the front yard crying and slightly hysterical. I walked through her house surveying the damage and listening to her (kept kids in the car since there was broken glass everywhere). My home across the valley was not damaged, but many homes, bridges, and buildings were destroyed.

    Since I’ve been in Idaho, the Central Idaho earthquake hit in 2020 (6.5M) that rocked my entire house. I recall just sitting there, knowing that there was no way I could get out fast enough. The violent movement generally lasts about 10-15 seconds and I was in a spot where I knew nothing would fall on me. I also was experiencing a morbid curiosity to see if my cabin would hold up. If you grew up in California, earthquakes are not that big of a deal. I’ve never lived through a hurricane or tornado, so I don’t know what that’s like. I’m sure everyone has some experiences to share!

  3. Something that goes hand and hand with this is the probability of making a bad decision early on (or just before) in an emergency that can put you in danger or prevent your escaping danger. Typically as an emergency situation develops the information you need to make good decisions is not available and/or the emergency hasn’t fully exposed the risks so what information you have may turn out to be wrong.

  4. On 27 June, 1992, the Crater Peak vent on the south side of Mt. Spurr awoke. The ash cloud came to Anchorage resulting in a shutdown of the Anchorage International airport and Elmendorf AFB now part of (JBER). Things were Chaotic for several days due to the ash and the damage it could do to vehicles and your health. The pilots of a KLM 747 flying at night towards Anchorage didn’t see the ash cloud and flew into it. The resulting damage to the engines almost brought the passenger airplane down. The silica in the ash cloud went through the hot section of the engines forming glass on the turbine blades while ash got into air intakes like pilot tubes.
    Then on 30 November 2018 at 08:30 Anchorage had a 7.1 earthquake that created a lot of damage to buildings and roads. It also started several fires in Anchorage.
    With the Mt. Spurr eruption there were several days of seismic activity on the volcano BUT when it finally erupted we, herein Anchorage, had about two or three hours warning of the impending ash cloud. The November 7.1 earthquake we had about one second from the start of slow shaking until all He77 broke loose.
    You must always be prepared for what will happen in your area and you will be prepared for what might happen.

  5. Bob, thanks for sharing your experiences here. You gave a great list of items to do NOW to prepare for future unplanned emergencies.

    One I highly suggest is what I did a few years ago: I got a Pacific Pride gas card which gets me access to card reader gas stations in over a thousand locations across the western US.

    There are hundreds of small, unattended locations where the public cannot pull in and pay at the pump or window, but with your PP or other fleet cards and a PIN, you can get gas and diesel. In a fuel crisis- where power is still available, of course- you can fuel up while the rest of the world is lined up at the pay pumps.

    You could even have the option of getting fuel and bartering it to others who cannot access the pump.

    I got fleet cards for 5 members of the family, and keep one in each vehicle with a hint for the PIN written on each card sleeve.

    Getting fuel during those first Golden Hours is critical. In our case it is to top off our stocked supplies. Our top priority storage location is still in a vehicle fuel tank, then in our 5 and 15 gallon storage containers.

    Thank you, J.M., for this series.

    1. Wheatley Fisher, About a year ago, one of my twenty-something nephews said, “Aunt Krissy, why do you have sooo many gas cans?”

      I explained to him that I have a memory of something that he has no concept of.

      I remember being a little girl in the early 70’s, and waiting in an extremely long line to get gas with my dad at a gas station because there was a NATIONAL shortage on gas. Not a local or zone shortage like after hurricane Katrina or Sandy but the ENTIRE nation was short on gas. My nephew looked at me in wonder and nearly disbelief…

      Pacific Pride, their gas locations and cards are completely new information for me.
      I remember seeing a few of them up and down I-5 on the west coast but assumed they were only for big trucking rigs.

      How does one get extra cards for family members? Do you pay the bill or do they pay their own?

      I love learning new things! Thank you.

      In addition, I second your, “thank you,” to J.M. for this series.

  6. It seems the gals are less prepared for the possibility of having to walk home, if there was a disaster of some type.

    At a safety meeting at work one time, a woman from The State Office for Emergencies, asked everyone in the audience, to raise their hand, if they knew where their Children’s School would take their child, if their was a need to evacuate the school.

    NO one in a room of about 110 people raised their hand. It was a quiet room. The woman from The State Office for Emergencies had been through such a response before.
    … … The woman explained, if there is an emergency requiring school evacuations, there are ~>preplanned locations and alternatives for the children; where they would be located to a safe location. The kids are released by the authorities only to parents or a prior designated person. [That’s what she said]

    She said the information is readily available about the safe locations, and is placed in the school office. Plus sometimes the parents are given the information, when the kids are enrolled in the school.

    1. GGHD – good point about planning not just for yourself but your loved ones. I tend to imply it later in the discussion but I don’t explicitly call it out. Thanks.

    2. In 1980 I was living in Southern California when they had one of their massive fires burned more than 400 homes. In the first hour or so of the fire I could see that it was spreading quickly so I called my children’s school to see if they had plans to send the kids home. No! they assured me and if they did decide to send the kids home all the parents would be called ahead of time. Whew! But after another hour the fire was spreading for miles and smoke was billowing over the city so I took off work at 1PM and drove home to make sure to be there when the kids got out of school. Both of them, 8 and 11 years old, had been released mere minutes after I contacted the school and had been sitting at home. By then the fire was in fact getting nearer so we evacuated. Bottom line; in a real fast moving emergency nothing works as planned.

      1. OneGuy, Wow. I will never forget your story and lessons. I will pass this on to my kids who have children just starting school at their church. I grew up a latch-key kid myself, and your story sends shivers up my spine each time I read it. What a great dad you were to decide to be there early!
        I feel so blessed to learn from your experience. Thank you!!!!! Krissy

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