You find yourself stuck in a high-rise elevator, all alone. The power cut out suddenly and faint emergency lights are the only thing separating you from complete darkness. What do you do now?

It’s been nearly an hour and you haven’t heard a peep from the outside. The emergency phone is of no use to you — no one has responded to numerous calls for help. You begin to consider what may have caused the elevator to get jammed up, and why no one has come to aid you. Did the grid go down? Was it a routine power outage? An act of terror? No matter what the circumstance, you know that you must get in contact with emergency services, or find a way out. All by yourself.

In scenarios like the one above, escaping danger alone may seem like a daunting task, but a majority of adults have spouses and/or children. If you're a part of this populace, you won’t have the luxury of dealing with an emergency without first considering your family. Keeping yourself and your family members safe brings a substantially higher level of complexity to the table — just imagine how being trapped in that elevator with a concerned spouse, panicked teenage daughter, and crying toddler would amp up the stress level. Or maybe they're trapped in the building's lobby without you. Either way, your own well-being is no longer the only concern.


During short-term situations like active-shooter scenarios or riots at crowded venues, rapid thinking and quick reactions will be necessary to reach safety unscathed along with your loved ones. However, that doesn't mean avoiding the fray in these scenarios is easy. Compare this with a long-term situation resulting from a large-scale terror attack or natural disaster, and you've got yourself a scenario packed with difficulties.

Below, we've proposed a few hypothetical cases that may help you reconsider the viability of your family’s emergency plans. Read on for some family survival tips to consider for a handful of disaster scenarios.

Active Shooter

Keys to Survival

Since active shooter situations typically have little or no warning, and occur in a variety of locations, it's hard to craft and plan the perfect response. Every incident is different, but there are a few common factors to consider.

Upon hearing the first shots, distance yourself from the active scene as quickly as possible while staying low and maintaining quiet communication with your family to avoid any unwanted attention. Stay together if at all possible, and avoid the path of panicked crowds. If you can escape chaos and any confrontation with the shooter within seconds of the first gunshot, that is the goal.

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Ideally, you’ll already have discussed an escape plan, established an emergency meeting location where you’ll reunite with family members, and scoped out nearby barriers where you can take cover in an emergency. Refer to our previous article on vehicular terrorist attacks for more tips. If nothing else, just remember “run, hide, fight” — in that order.


Safety in numbers isn't always an applicable statement. In the line of fire, a target-rich environment ramps up the number of hits an active shooter can achieve on innocent bystanders. Make sure one of your very first decisions is identifying proper cover for your family members to duck behind, or under, while moving out of harm’s way. Freezing up in the middle of an active scene is one of the worst things you can do, as it makes you a vulnerable static target — avoid that at all costs. Even if bulletproof cover isn't available, conceal yourself from the shooter's line of sight.

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If you are in the shooter's immediate vicinity, attempt to get your party to scatter and run for safety at the first possible opening (e.g. when the shooter's back is turned). If you have nowhere to go, fight back as a last resort. Whenever possible, try to carry a concealed weapon where the law permits, and encourage capable family members to do the same. Bringing a gun to a gun fight gives you a lot better odds than bringing a knife or bare hands.

Terrorist Bombing

Keys to Survival

Identifying the precursors of an attack is the first step in keeping your family safe from danger. Keep your eyes peeled when traveling in unfamiliar areas, or when you’re near large groups of people at venues such as sporting events and concerts. Animals use a pack mentality to alert each other of predators outside the group — you can do the same with your family members to remain aware of danger and identify potential threats.

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Keep your family in sight to get a feel for their body language. They may feel that something is out of place, but fail to alert you if you’re too far away. Aside from being proactive and teaching your family a mindset of constant situational awareness, having basic knowledge of medical trauma treatment is never wasted brain space. Knowing how to treat a traumatic injury or shrapnel wound is very valuable knowledge nowadays. Consider taking a day to receive professional first aid training with your family, through a program such as National Stop the Bleed Day.


If you have the rare misfortune to be caught in the midst of a bombing, the most critical piece of initial information is to identify where your family members are immediately after the blast. Staying close together as the crowd frantically mills around is important, and could mean the difference between life and death — assuming the blast wasn't right on top of you.

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Nevertheless, identifying and treating major injuries in your party using a tourniquet and hemostatic clotting agent is priority number one. Secondly, take stock of the situation and scope out any chance of a secondary blast or follow-up attack after the initial bomb. Assessing and addressing injury, and knowing when to get out are two key items that will help you in this type of emergency.

Grid Down

Keys to Survival


Whether it's the result of an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) or some form of massive technological failure, a grid-down situation could last hours, days, weeks, or even longer. Regardless of duration, it's important to know how to work as a family unit to survive. If you have a simple stockpile of food and basic supplies, you can make it work with careful portion control and rationing. Options such as starting a garden or rainwater harvesting can also be a lot easier with your family, as opposed to attempting these tasks on your own.

Homestead maintenance, cooking, and auto repair can also be delegated and executed at the same time to use time more efficiently. Practice working together before disaster strikes, and optimize tasks to make the most of the natural strengths of each family member.


Having no electricity can really wear on people who are used to being connected to technology every day. This is true for a lot of Americans, but especially the younger generations. Preparing a generator with plenty of gas can be a great solution to have some power for lighting, attempts at communication, and charging devices (assuming there's still a network for your devices).


You alone may not care about a long-term power outage, but as far as morale goes for your family, access to a few electronic conveniences will make a huge difference. A small generator can also power handy devices such as water pumps, appliances, or heaters. These solutions are great to keep around just in case the lights go out!

Natural Disaster

Keys to Survival

Natural disasters can range from severe wildfires all the way to major flooding and blizzards, depending on your geographical location. Regardless of the situation, general preparedness and keeping a stockpile of food and medicine can determine you and your family's fate. Before disaster hits, work together during shopping trips to gradually build up supplies based on what your entire family needs. Depending on the type of disaster, shelter, food preparation, and general hygiene will become keys to keeping the family morale high.


Work together to make your shelter situation the best it can be, even if that means replacing your torn apart roof with a robust tarp, boarding up windows, or creating a makeshift fireplace to stay warm when all means of heat have been knocked out in a chilling blizzard. Utilize your strength in numbers to troubleshoot hangups that would otherwise be arduous to take on alone. Try making tasks fun for kids by turning them into competitions, and offering morale-boosting prizes for completing these tasks.


Just recently during Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, the world sat and watched as major flooding and storm damage destroyed shopping centers, homes, and entire cities. With this came a sudden depletion of food for those bracing for the storms. As a family, beef up your food storage and protect it to best suit the type of disaster most likely to strike your area.


Stockpiling enough shelf-stable food and water for your family creates an essential safety net.

The largest challenges during a natural disaster are access to food, clean water, and first aid, so hitting the clearance medicine section at the store and bolstering your pantry will save you much heartache during an emergency situation. Be sure you have enough of these resources to sustain every one of your family members, plus an extra safety margin. Consider keeping logs of normal resource usage on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis to better estimate how much you’ll need to stockpile.

Civil Unrest

Keys to Survival

Unless you live under a rock, you would have noticed that there's been a sharp increase in riots and protests in the United States recently due to a myriad of social and political issues. Unfortunately, during these events there are often innocent civilians caught in the middle, and these bystanders may be affected in some unfortunate ways.

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An attempted military coup in Turkey quickly led to mass violence in the streets.

Looting and destruction of property is common during these types of events, and keeping your property locked down tight is important. Having more people to assist in fortifying your dwelling is a huge benefit, and can lead to a much easier time during a crisis event. Also, taking watch shifts as a family to prevent any intrusion is a benefit that a lone survivor may not have. Keeping alert and working together to stay safe until authorities regain control can be the difference between peace and pure chaos.


Depending on your location, arming yourself with weapons may be difficult. Even if you already have access to a wide range of firearms, not all members of your family may be fully comfortable using them, which can pose quite the risk if you need to hand them a firearm for protection. Take some time as a family and hit the range to practice your shooting skills and safety discipline. It's a fun and educational way to better prepare for the worst, and also gives a great opportunity to teach your loved ones something new.

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With proper training, even a simple flashlight can double as a helpful impact weapon.

Aside from firearms, it's also important that your family has an idea of what weapons can be improvised during any type of neighborhood invasion. Baseball bats, chairs, and garden equipment make effective improvised weapons in a pinch. Also, small pepper spray canisters nearing their expiration can usually be found in clearance aisles of big box stores. Don't be fooled, most of the time the expiration dates are more of a guide than gospel.


No matter what the situation, the safety of your loved ones always comes first. It's definitely true during a catastrophe that a more people equals more exposure to risk. But a larger group also yields more resources, manpower, and intelligence on the situation. Managed correctly, this can lead to a better chance of survival.


However, knowing what to do is only half the battle. Training and hands-on preparation are essential to making any plan work in the real world. Employing tactics or plans can be much harder in the heat of the moment, so don't forget that NOW is the time to get your family involved.


Taking your loved ones along with you to shop for your stockpile, or even going over simple drills at home could save you in a life or death scenario. In an emergency, you’ll need your family to work together like a well-oiled machine, rather than panic and squabble due to inadequate preparation.

About the Author

Jim Henry is a physical security and surveillance expert who has spent all of his adult life working to keep people out of places they shouldn’t be, and locating individuals who need to be found. Prior to his current employment in the private sector, where he works as a government contractor, Henry was a Surveillance Investigator for The Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, PA. He also worked in Erie, PA in a similar role. Before that, Henry was busy building a diverse portfolio of education, studying countersurveillance, critical infrastructure protection, and threat detection. Even though most of his current work remains secret, Henry is very vocal about his love for firearms, writing, EDC gear, hiking with his dog, and spending time with his family.

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