How Will FEMA and the Government Handle SHTF?

reppers spend a lot of time figuring out what they’re going to do when the SHTF, where they’re going to go, how they’re going to get there, what they’ll take with them and who, hopefully, will be there waiting for them.

When disaster strikes, and I mean real disaster, you had better have your affairs in order. A real crisis will quickly separate the prepping rockstars from the groupies.

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Also just as important, some preppers invest a lot of time trying to figure out what the government and FEMA in particular are going to do during the same SHTF event.

This is not the idle speculation of enthusiastic conspiracy theorists; the declaring of any state of emergency at the federal and even down to the state level grants the government certain extraordinary powers, and also curtails some of your rights as codified by the Constitution of the United States.

Every prepper should know what to expect out of the government response to a major disaster or crisis.

In this article, we will attempt to cut through some of the static and noise surrounding the issue, and give you just the facts so you can better plan your own response based on what Big Brother will be up to during the same event.

The ‘S’ Has Truly Hit the Fan: Understanding a State of Emergency Declaration

Every prepper is familiar with the acronym ‘SHTF’, meaning, colorfully, that “s*** hits the fan.

This is prepper shorthand in the survival vernacular that simply means something has happened which causes your emergency survival plan to activate. It is a sort of Line in the Sand Event- “Toto, we aren’t in Kansas anymore.”

Of course you won’t catch government agencies using that sort of breezy language, no matter how succinct it is. What we call an SHTF event the government will simply call, in their dry and bland way, a state of emergency.

When a state of emergency is declared at the state or federal level that opens up the door for extraordinary government powers to engage.

The effects of a state of emergency being declared are far-reaching and though I know we do not see many abuses here in the United States, at least not yet, there are some very worrisome passages in the law regarding it.

A state of emergency is defined as a situation in which the pertinent governmental body is empowered to authorize and perform actions that would not normally be permitted under its charter.

What does that mean? Well, for you, it means the government will be wielding extrajudicial authority; the ability to temporarily or for the duration of a crisis suspended the civil rights of citizens, and curtail other freedoms normally guaranteed.

When a state of emergency is officially declared, citizens are supposed to be alerted and notified of what they can expect from the governmental body handling the crisis.

This will naturally come with a set of new rules, regulations and guidelines for what you can and cannot do during the state of emergency.

It is important to note that a state of emergency is not martial law; the two are not synonymous. That being said, a state of emergency is almost always a prerequisite for martial law and the two go together like fish and chips.

You can rest assured that in the truly cataclysmic events that see a state of emergency declared, natural or man-made, martial law will probably follow close behind.

What Powers Does the Government Have Under a SoE?

This is the part that most often, rightly, worries concerned citizens.

While a state of emergency does not necessarily mean a society toppling event has occurred- after all, the mayor of a town can declare a state of emergency and seek aid from the state government if he chooses.

it does mean that the government will be able to flex their muscles more than usual to get things done.

Let’s leave all the local yokel stuff behind for a moment. Most preppers are concerned about a sweeping national-level state of emergency and what that will entail for citizens.

I have some bad news for you, reader. Are you ready for it? As of the year 2020 there are currently more than 30 federal-level, independent states of emergency in effect.

It’s true. Many of these concern themselves with the halting of nuclear weapons proliferation among hostile nations, debarring of hostile governments from accessing their property in the United States and of course a general, heightened alert status as a result of ongoing terror attacks.

Well, that must not be so bad then, right? Maybe, maybe not. At the federal level, the president of the United States only needs his own executive order to authorize a national-level state of emergency.

This is not unchecked, as more than 500 laws curbing and regulating the government’s power will engage when that happens, but it does grant the president several unique abilities including allowing him to declare war without Congressional approval.

Some other provisions are equally scary. Most egregious of all and the one you will hear interested parties quote the most when discussing government overreach and power run amok is that a declared state of emergency effectively lets the government suspended habeas corpus for the citizenry if they choose.

In case you’re legal Latin is a little rusty, habeas corpus means that the government could imprison you without having you brought into court first and formally charged.

It is this more than anything else that fuels fears of mass incarceration with no probable cause or even official court proceedings should the government decide to turn on its citizens.

State of Emergency Declared: What Happens Next?

Let’s say for whatever reason, a state of emergency has been declared by a local mayor, a state governor or even the president of the United States himself- The Big Cheese.

This will be done when the governing authority determines that whatever natural or man-made disaster has occurred has done enough damage or will strain logistics enough that they think it is a good idea to call in the cavalry.

This is usually only done when a lack of resources or manpower would result in additional loss of life or ongoing damage in a persistent event. As a rule, most states of emergency get declared to make resources available to the governing party faster and nothing more.

But there’s a catch. A declaration of a state of emergency will help more resources get into the affected area quicker, resources that will typically provide medical care, evacuation and food to victims…

It also allows the government party that issued a state of emergency to close governmental offices in their jurisdiction, curtail freedom of movement, employ curfews and even, most radically, put a hard-stop on the sale of commodities among citizens.

All that applies at the state and local level. If you were to be living under a federal state of emergency, all of the above applies but the federal government will also be able to legally summon the militia, freeze assets as it sees fit, completely halt trade and seize private property.

I already mentioned the suspension of habeas corpus above. What’s worse, federally declared states of emergency can last for years, even decades.

Everyone alive today is familiar with the states of emergency declared in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks; they are all, almost without exception, in force to this very day.

Timeline of a Declared State of Emergency

Governments at the state and federal level will follow a sort of playbook when state of emergency is declared. If you know the scope of the disaster that has affected your state or area, you can better predict when and what the federal government will do.

Step 1: Disaster Occurs, Preliminary Disaster Report Ordered by Governor.

The president of the United States will only provide aid and assistance to the state government after the governor of that state has officially requested it.

Note that a state governor does not have to wait for a disaster to strike before submitting a preliminary disaster report; if a disaster looks bad enough on the approach they might submit it early, allowing the federal government to declare a state of emergency ahead of time.

Step 2: Local or State Government Reacts to Disaster.

At this time, state and local governments will begin coordinating rescue and response efforts at the local level.

The entire time, the breadth and extent of the damage is being assessed to determine if more federal assistance will be required. Any local or state level disaster preparedness plans might be enacted depending on the nature of the disaster.

Step 3: State of Emergency Declared, FEMA Activated.

After the state governor requests aid from the President, the President will declare a state of emergency and activate FEMA, who will then deploy to the site of or area around the incident as quickly as possible.

The immediate near-term goal of FEMA is to provide relief to anyone and everyone who has been affected by the disaster, as well as better ascertain the scope of the issue.

Step 4: FEMA Makes Determination on Implementation of Federal Response Plan.

There is a crucial fork in the road before state-level and local governments can gain access to Federal funding and more resources.

FEMA must make the determination that the disaster and its effects are so severe there’s no way local and state-level governments can deal with the situation of their own volition.

If that is the case, FEMA will implement the FRP, or Federal Response Plan, which will authorize the state to work with FEMA to gain access to the mentioned Federal resources.

Step 5: Federal Funding Expedited to State and Local Level Governments, FEMA requisitions additional federal agencies.

At this point the president will be able to channel funds directly to state and local level governments in order to help with anything they see fit.

It is at this time that FEMA will begin requisitioning a couple of dozen federal agencies and smaller departments in order to start getting a handle on a disaster.

Note that anytime the federal government declares a state of emergency at a state or local level you can take this as a surefire indicator the disaster is quite severe and almost completely beyond the abilities of local and state governments to mitigate on their own.

Interestingly, the President also has the authority to provide assistance to privatized relief efforts as well as public sector ones.

Step 6: Additional Federal Assistance Deployed. The federal government will make available for the duration of the crisis loans, federal grants, specialist personnel, supplies and equipment that may be necessary for rescue, relief and mitigation efforts in the aftermath of the disaster.

For most disasters, the federal government will focus on providing the technical assistance necessary to shore up state and local level operations.

Remember that all of the above can actually take place prior to the onset of a disaster, if it is something big and slow moving like a hurricane that you can see coming and prepare for several days or even a week in advance.

This might have significant second- and third-order effects if the federal government acts rashly and forcefully in advance of an approaching disaster.

What about Martial Law?

Martial law could be implemented on the backside of any state of emergency declaration, and if that happens the legal landscape is going to change for you, and in a big way.

Martial law is the military assumption of control over civilian law enforcement and government functions. That means that military law and order will now apply to you and the rest of the citizenry for the duration.

You will be expected to obey and subject to the authority of any military personnel involved , and can expect searches, checkpoints and other regimented methods of control for access and movement.

If you are detained and formally charged with a crime (assuming you are not detained indefinitely without benefit of habeas corpus as described above) you will be subject to a military tribunal for all proceedings, not a typical civilian court.

At best under martial law, you can expect typical policing functions of government to be replaced by military equivalents. In theory, this will be no more obstructive or intrusive than a typical day.

At its worst, however, you will be subject to invasive inspections, searches and plenty of hoop-jumping in order to get through your day. It is not out of the question that citizens will be confined to their homes, all other considerations secondary.

When martial law is declared, you can “temporarily” say bye-bye to the following civil rights. Remember, reader, that there is nothing so permanent as a temporary government initiative:

  • 1st Amendment – Freedom of Speech, Assembly and the Press
  • 2nd Amendment – The Right to Keep and Bear Arms
  • 3rd Amendment – Freedom from Housing Soldiers
  • 4th Amendment – Protection from Unreasonable Search and Seizure
  • 5th Amendment – Protection of Life, Liberty and Property

The declaration of martial law is a rarity in the United States, and anytime you hear it done you can be sure you will be dealing with a big problem.

Federal Response to SHTF and You

Knowing what you know now after reading all the above and seeing the typical state level and federal response to various disasters when a state of emergency is declared, you might think it is a bit fantastical to believe that the federal government would choose to abuse its power under such circumstances.

Well, reader, if history teaches us anything it is that the inevitable outcome of government accumulation of power is abuse. It might not happen this year, or next, but it is as inevitable as a rising and setting of the sun.

Remind yourself that the broadest possible use of any declared state of emergency and the accompanying powers on the federal level is for the government to restore order.

In tandem with extraordinary powers granted by a declared state of emergency.

This could allow our government and government agents to imprison en masse anyone who they saw as agitators, political partisans, domestic terrorists or any other political buzzword that the government slaps on people who make life inconvenient for them.

This will all be couched under the auspices of police action and keeping the peace.

At the minimum, if things start to get out of hand and the feds have declared a state of emergency you can expect the following mandates to be implemented and enforced at the local level:

  • Government-mandated fixing of prices for various goods and commodities. This will be done under the auspices of eliminating scalping and price gouging.
  • Federal forces may be mobilized to confiscate property, supplies and equipment from citizens in order to assist with emergency relief efforts.
  • Citizens themselves may be conscripted in order to provide manpower for federal government initiatives.
  • Curfews will be put into place, widespread and strictly enforced.
  • Citizens may be relocated at the whim of the government with no say-so in where they are heading. This will be carried out by force if necessary.
  • Federal government is likely to institute hard bans on travel in, around and even potentially out of areas affected under the umbrella of the state of emergency.

All of the above paints a pretty grim picture by itself. But it gets worse. Oh yes, reader, it can always get worse. During a declared state of emergency, the federal government and all of its agents or any others conscripted to act on its behalf are completely exempt from all civil liability.

Read that again and let it sink in. If that does not make your stomach turn with the possibilities of abuse, then I don’t know what will. That’s what makes some folks who don’t trust governments so wary of investing the federal government with emergency powers to assist with local issues.

As a prepper, you should never, ever outsource your safety to anyone else, including the supposedly benevolent federal government.

You can never get lazy, trust that someone else is handling it, or believe that the authorities will have the situation sewn up as neatly and as equitably as you pleas once they come on the scene.

History has furnished us with too many examples of simple human errors in judgment and lapses in critical thinking resulting in near atrocity for the people affected.

Do not be lulled into a complacent state by the presence of any uniformed officials sent by the government. You must always be putting in work to achieve a positive outcome when disaster strikes.


The federal government relies on clearly established procedures for declaring and implementing a state of emergency at the national or local level.

Knowing these procedures, and the timing thereof, can give you a leg up on the situation prior to the arrival of federal aid and agents. It will also pay to know what extraordinary powers the federal government is granted during a declared state of emergency, and how these will curtail your own rights.

Only by knowing what to expect will you be able to properly react, no matter what the situation is.


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