08 May 2012

Doomsday prepping: what are the odds?

With the advent of NatGeo's Doomsday Preppers, it's easy to think that prepping is all about preparing for the end of civilization. However, it's more important that you start by getting prepared for things that you are most likely to face in your life, rather than focusing on the "end of the world" scenarios.

For example, it's far more probable that you'll face death from a house fire than a plane crash, which in turn is more likely than dying in an earthquake.

To help you sort through these probabilities and help a little in figuring out what to prepare for, let's take a look at some statistics.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

The above graphics are interesting and informative, but you can find a better discussion in The Odds of Dying by Robert Roy Britt. That's a good article, overall, but here is the relevant excerpt of probabilities from the article:
The list below is not complete. Rather it includes life-ending scenarios that carry some of the highest odds for U.S. residents, along with the chances of checking out in more bizarre fashion. 
Health-related statistics and categories with high-odds (like heart disease at 1-in-5) are among the most statistically significant, sort of. All odds fluctuate from year-to-year. Toss in a flu pandemic — some 50 million died in 1918 — and all bets are off. The World Health Organization recently warned that the next such bout could kill 7 million people "in a best case scenario." That's not in the odds below. 
The more specific figures are based on 2001, the most recent year for which complete data are available. Other odds, indicated with an asterisk (*) are based on long-term data. All figures below are for U.S. residents: 
Cause of Death Lifetime Odds
Heart Disease 1-in-5
Cancer 1-in-7
Stroke 1-in-23
Accidental Injury 1-in-36
Motor Vehicle Accident* 1-in-100
Intentional Self-harm (suicide) 1-in-121
Falling Down 1-in-246
Assault by Firearm 1-in-325
Fire or Smoke 1-in-1,116
Natural Forces (heat, cold, storms, quakes, etc.) 1-in-3,357
Electrocution* 1-in-5,000
Drowning 1-in-8,942
Air Travel Accident* 1-in-20,000
Flood* (included also in Natural Forces above) 1-in-30,000
Legal Execution 1-in-58,618
Tornado* (included also in Natural Forces above) 1-in-60,000
Lightning Strike (included also in Natural Forces above) 1-in-83,930
Snake, Bee or other Venomous Bite or Sting* 1-in-100,000
Earthquake (included also in Natural Forces above) 1-in-131,890
Dog Attack 1-in-147,717
Asteroid Impact* 1-in-200,000**
Tsunami* 1-in-500,000
Fireworks Discharge 1-in-615,488

** Perhaps 1-in-500,000
Of course, these are broad, average probabilities for all Americans. In your preparedness, it's very important to consider the unique aspects of you life circumstances. For example, where you live plays a big part in your assessment. If you live on the San Andreas Fault, your odds of dying in an earthquake are probably far more likely than average.

Finally, regardless of what you need to prepare for, it's really more important to develop your self-reliance in the face of changing circumstances in your life. In other words, be as able as you can to adapt to the change that a disaster brings and live in the resulting circumstances. Building that kind of self-reliant mentality to go along with your physical preparations is the real goal.


  1. There are more things to prepare for than death or near death occurrences.

    What are the odds you'll lose your job or suffer from long term unemployment? And what are the odds you'll become disabled, temporarily or long term, and suffer a decrease in livelihood?

    These are two of the things I'm most concerned about preparing for. They could leave me and my family homeless if I'm not prepared for them, both financially (by paying off as much debt as possible so I'm less likely to lose things like my car or home) and with stored goods like food, water and basic needs supplies.

    1. Hi Michelle, thanks for the comment! You're absolutely correct, there are other things to prepare for. That's why we advocate "self-reliance" as much (our more) than just "preparedness."

      Prepping for one event, or even one category of event, may leave you blind-sided by something different, as you pointed out. Good call!

  2. LOL! I love this.

    No way that I am more likely to die of a dog attack than falling object.

    1. So, you think an asteroid strike is more likely than a pack of wild dogs?