What is TEOTWAWKI? A Complete Explanation.


this is teotwawki signthis is teotwawki sign

Introduction to The End of the World

A world-ending catastrophe has been a sort of fantasy reserved for gut wrenching films and books. The world as we know it and the economic, political, and societal institutions within it have been looked on as anything but fragile. The people that have begun the process of preparing for these catastrophes were once looked on as being irrational or paranoid, their preparations regarded as overreactions to irrational fears of a faraway future.

by Derrick James, SHTF blog founder

Yet when you look back on just the events of this past decade, the reality of a catastrophe does not seem just possible, but right around the corner. There is no way to tell just how far away we are from seeing the world’s end, while there’s a lot to be anxious and scared over, the best way to overcome the fear of the unknown is to prepare for it is to prepare for it anyway you can.

Understanding TEOTWAWKI and the deeper implications is pivotal in that preparation.

What is the Definition of TEOTWAWKI?

Inside the prepping world there is a habit of streamlining complex and intense concepts into acronyms. TEOTWAWKI (pronounced “tee-ought-wah-key”) is one of them, and it’s not a word in need of a definition, but an acronym for “The end of the world as we know it.” If you have never heard this phrase before, its most basic definition is the outcome of different events that would ultimately lead to the dissolution of our current economic, political, and societal institutions.

The acronym also has deeper connotations to the preppers (What is a Prepper?) who use it in discussing their preparations. The phrase and acronym are in a sense the end goal for their preparations, each and every decision is based on whether or not it will benefit them if TEOTWAWKI were to happen.

teotwawki survival tribeteotwawki survival tribe
Being part of a post-apocalyptic tribe can help increased your odds of survival after TEOTWAWKI.

What About SHTF?

Before we can dive deeper into the concepts of TEOTWAWKI, we have to take a step backward and look at another popular prepper acronym – SHTF. This acronym is often used interchangeably with TEOTWAWKI, and to an extent, they can seem nearly identical. To understand SHTF and the finer details, read What is SHTF? Introduction, Examples, and Planning.

It can be difficult to separate the acronyms as they connect on so many concepts, yet the easiest way to talk about their differences is where they connect. To make sense of this, you have to look at the concepts and preparations take for WTSHTF (yet another acronym for When The Shit Hits The Fan) as the short-term results of a catastrophe, and that TEOTWAWKI is the longer-lasting impacts on a person or group that survives that SHTF catastrophe. Clear as mud?

Another way of looking at it is that SHTF scenarios may be the beginning of TEOTWAWKI. This also means that a SHTF scenario is much more likely to happen and may not even lead to the end of the world as we know it, but it can be an event that compounds together with other scenarios and thus reaching a level of TEOTWAWKI destruction. An example of potential cascading events such as this:

  1. SHTF Event #1 – A devastating pandemic strikes and people are in stringent quarantines.
  2. SHTF Event #2 – The quarantines lead to economic ruin.
  3. SHTF Event #3 – Economic ruin with no end in sight leads to increases in crime and martial law.
  4. SHTF Event #4 – Countries become unstable, civil wars erupt, and we are in WWIII.
  5. SHTF Event #5 – A nation launches nuclear bombs as electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks.
  6. All SHTF events combined = TEOTWAWKI.

As you can see, SHTF events on their own are not necessarily permanent. They are events that can be severe enough to displace large groups of people, but eventually everything can return to normal. TEOTWAWKI, on the other hand, is the complete and permanent upheaval of everything with no turning back to “life before.”


There is a thread of debate within the prepper world of just how intense the end of the world as we know it has to be. Part of that discussion is whether an entire population must feel the same impact for a situation to be qualified as a TEOTWAWKI scenario. Some people believe that an individual job loss could be under the same umbrella as scenarios that impact the entire nation.

Yet, the phrase is “The End Of The World As WE Know It.” The scenarios leading to it would have to affect at least a large population of people, and include a final transformation that cannot be undone. While the impacts to an individual of a job loss are similar to if we all did, the biggest difference is that there are still jobs and opportunities; whereas in a true TEOTWAWKI scenario, there would be nothing.

What Would it Take for TEOTWAWKI to Happen?

The current state of the world can certainly make you wonder, “What exactly would it take for everything around us to fall apart?”

The short answer is anything that can disrupt the fragile mechanisms and infrastructure that allow us to live like we do. If you break it down, the fact that you are reading this article means that you not only have access to technology, but the electricity to make them function, and the means to connect to the internet. It has taken mankind thousands of years of innovation to come up with the tools and mechanisms that collect and transport the resources it takes to create the creature comforts we enjoy.

Despite the intricacies and efficiencies that we have been able to achieve, it only takes a significant event to pull it all apart. For purposes of this article, I am only going to briefly cover the several major scenarios and causes of TEOTWAWKI.

If you are interested in learning more you can go back to my SHTF article to see the deeper details of the destructive nature that those scenarios could create, ultimately – potentially – bringing on the end of the world as we know it. I will only briefly go over the most talked about scenarios, choosing instead to go into deeper detail about their longer lasting impacts.

Natural Disasters

hurricane katrinahurricane katrina
Hurricane Katrina was a SHTF even that turned many people into preppers.

Natural Disasters are some of the most destructive (and most common) events to have ever happened to mankind. From hurricanes to flash floods, there has been countless damage across every continent and civilization. These scenarios are also some of the easiest to prepare for, due to their relative predictability of both the kinds of conditions and areas in which they happen. Each time a major disaster occurs, it gives a frame of reference to what can happen. Preppers use this frame of reference to ensure that their preparations are successful and effective in matching the severity of any disaster that makes its way to them.

Certain kinds of disasters typically only happen in certain areas of the country. A blizzard is not very likely in the arid deserts of the Southwest, nor is a tsunami going to Midwest. This makes the potential of an individual natural disaster to incite TEOTWAWKI much less likely. An exception to that might be an asteroid strike or the eruption of a super volcano. Regardless, the chances of a natural disaster leading to TEOTWWKI goes up significantly if multiple disasters strike at the same moment, or if a strong enough chain reaction of damage is set off.

Grid Down by EMP, Solar Flare, or Hacker Attack

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August 2012, a solar flare erupted on the sun’s surface and caused auroras to be seen on Earth.

A big concern of natural disasters is that they could cause a complete failure of our electrical infrastructure, or “The Grid.” These are typically localized, short-term SHTF events, however. If a more far-reaching attack on our electrical grid were to occur (EMP or computer hack), the results could be quite different. Imagine, for a moment, if an EMP hit and the entire Eastern Seaboard of the United States went down with no sign of when power would come back on. Ask yourself:

  • What would happen if people lost the ability to heat their homes in the winter?
  • What if no one could freeze or cool their food?
  • Where would the majority of people get their news if they lost their internet connection?
  • Would people be able to go to work?
  • How long would it go on?
  • How would the United States respond to the country responsible for the attack?

This is an illustration of our modern dependence on an increasingly fragile social system. Of course, the grid could go down for reasons other than an EMP event. A hacker attack is one. A massive solar flare/geomagnetic storm is another. The Carrington Event of 1859 is such an example. Of course, in 1859 there was no real “grid” to go down, so society escaped the massive damage that such an event would cause today. We don’t live like we used to!

Political Upheaval and War

mongol conquest castlemongol conquest castle
The Mongols captured almost 20% of the Earth’s land in the early 13th century. The death toll from these wars was 60-70 million, and led to the construction of hardened castles such as this one in Slovakia.

Government determines a lot of what we can and cannot do. The parameters set for us are supposed to protect us, enable us to provide for ourselves, as well as ensure our rights as citizens. Whether it’s an enforced speed limit on a highway or the Constitution itself, the laws and regulations established by politicians are intended to keep an equal opportunity for each of us to be able to pursue the way of life we want and protect us from outside interference.

That being said, politicians are only humans that have flaws just like the rest of us. Corruption, agendas, and overall bad decision-making can (and has) led to a contentious and turbulent political climates filled with civil outcry and radical ideology. Whatever the political reason, it wouldn’t take much to send us into a chaotic frenzy and social upheaval. Within that chaos, insurmountable amounts of damage can be dealt upon both the physical and cultural government institutions.

In either scenario there will be years, if not decades, of unrest and possibly several more revolutions as people fight to return to the original government or try to escape the new one.

Nuclear Anihalation

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The Titan II ICBM missile was one of the most powerful nuclear weapons of the United States during the Cold War.

There are hardly any scenarios that can wreak as much havoc, or as quickly, as a nuclear war. The sheer magnitude of the wave of heat and fire alone will cause enormous damage for miles surrounding the explosion. After the explosion comes the intense radiation that makes its way into everything around it, including the ash that gets spread even further from the source.

The threat of nuclear violence has always been discussed on and off, even in non-prepper communities the topic comes up, and gave way to many post-apocalyptic movies that imagined what life would be like after such an exchange.

The massive destruction and persistent radiation will force people into a limited amount of safe areas, especially if multiple strikes occur. If there is a nuclear winter, the sun will be unable to nurture the plant life on earth causing massive die offs and extinctions. Survivors would be left with only limited amounts of processed and preserved foods to live off. Talk about TEOTWAWKI!

Preparing for the End

Prepping for TEOTWAWKI is radically different than prepping for SHTF. When all hell breaks loose and everything we love about this world finally dissolves, the urban landscape will see enormous destruction. People will stampede out of the urban and suburban landscapes trying to distance themselves from one another. In the short term, you will have to pick a strategy and stick to it the best that you can before someone, or something comes along and forces you to start over.

As time goes on, more and more people will die and there will be more space for you to move through and less pressure on natural resources, but anything man-made will have to be fought over or you’ll have to come up with natural alternatives. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of survival strategies. Many of them work on a short-term basis but quickly become less useful as time goes on. Intuition and creative problem solving will be some of the most important skills in a new world.

TEOTWAWKI Conclusion

People spend a lot of time fantasizing about the many ways that our society will eventually fall apart, especially when it comes to plotting out the more exciting aspects of gear and technicalities of surviving drastic circumstances. I can promise you this, however, TEOTWAWKI will be anything but a cakewalk. The day that we have to leave behind the life we knew will be the worst day of our lives. There is no real way to prepare for the mental and emotional impact, or the decisions that we will have to make after that to ensure survival.

Not everyone will be ready, or capable of accomplishing this. In fact, much what determines how we do will be determined by luck, not preparations. Most of us will be caught up in the pandemonium and destruction; but collectively, we are a capable people. There have been great feats performed by even the humblest of individuals. The more you put into the preparing for the end the more likely you are to rise above the chaos.

Even though the smallest bit of preparation can make a significant difference, you owe it to yourself and those that will depend on you to provide for them, to be dedicated to ensuring that when the time comes you will be able to.

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