Before entering into any dangerous situation, it’s important to have a plan. In tactical or survival settings, developing a thorough plan that allows for alternative approaches as problems arise often means the difference between successfully completing objectives and losing your life—which is why the military has so many acronyms surrounding the concept of planning that we practically need another series of acronyms just to help us remember what they are. We have S.A.L.U.T.E. reports, B.A.M.C.I.S., and a half-dozen more planning tools rammed down our throats throughout training for good reason; planning is the most important action you can take in a life-or-death situation.

So by combining my military-born need to plan for potentially dangerous scenarios that could befall my family and my love for popular culture, I’ve tried to establish a brief list of possible disasters that may warrant your preparation and match them to a movie, television show, or video game that represents the scenario in a fashion that might allow me to use each as a form of shorthand.  Instead of devoting a few thousand words to describing each potential apocalypse themselves, I can say, “Ya know, like in that movie,” and hopefully our collective cultural understanding will leave you with a sense of the dangers therein – or at least with an idea of what to add to your Netflix que.

Despite tying each disaster to a popular culture stand in, the situations I’ll list below are not flights of fancy or purely fictional – they are real possibilities, with real repercussions.  Keeping the tone of this content light doesn’t speak to a lack of potential danger, but rather to my own approach to life and death.  Preparing for the worst ought to be a fun and positive experience whenever it can be, because spending time depressingly ruminating about our own mortality does little to stave it off.  If the end must come from an asteroid falling out of the sky, no amount of prepper breakup poetry scribbled in tears will change that – so we might as well have as many chuckles as we can along the way.

In order to add a little credibility to my ranting, I’ve sourced these potential disasters from a 2015 report produced by the Swedish think tank, Global Challenges Foundation, and Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, titled, “Global Challenges: 12 Risks That Threaten Human Civilization.”


Pop culture examples: Outbreak, World War Z, I am Legend

The Pandemic apocalypse encompasses a lot – everything from a biological weapon, to a fast-spreading disease and even zombies fall under the pandemic umbrella.  The modern era has made the potential for pandemics skyrocket, with international travel becoming faster, easier, and cheaper than ever before and our culture’s overuse of antibiotics encouraging the development of “super bugs” that resist the methods we have in place to prevent, curb, or cure infections.

Depending on the nature of the infection, survivors may be only the tiny percentage of humans that possess a natural immunity to whatever virus, bacteria, fungus, or what-have-you that decimated the human race, which would mean survival is dependent on self-reliance and an ability to live without the support of the modern infrastructure.  If survivors are, instead, the few humans who have managed to avoid infection, the situation becomes much more complicated.  The potential to become infected after the fall of civilization would require a larger emphasis on defense and creating biological barriers than the relatively “rapture-like” empty world immune survivors would face – think the difference between “World War Z” and “I am Legend.”

Asteroid Impact/Super Volcano

Pop culture examples: Volcano, Armageddon, Dante’s Peak

Although these risks originate in very different ways, the repercussions for human life would be quite similar.  A large asteroid impact, like a volcanic eruption, would thrust a huge amount of dust and debris into the world’s atmosphere, resulting on global ramifications after the local destruction caused by the eruption or impact.  In either event, those located close to the initial incident would likely die immediately, regardless of their level of preparation.  Survival for life remaining on earth wouldn’t be easy – with global cloud cover blocking the light needed to maintain plant life on Earth’s surface.

The Yellowstone Super volcano could be a likely candidate for this type of apocalypse.  An eruption similar to those that have occurred in the area historically would put a thirty or forty-mile radius around the eruption zone under feet of lava, with a radius of five hundred miles or more under at inches of “cold ash.”  The repercussions of the eruption would be felt around the world, and could potentially collapse the United States infrastructure – leaving those of us lucky enough to survive under a cloud of ash and with no help on its way.  Having a reliable supply of food and water and avoiding the adverse health effects of inhaling the ash would have to be immediate priorities, followed soon thereafter with establishing a way to feed yourself long-term.


Pop culture examples: Terminator, The Book of Eli, Fallout Series of games, Red Dawn

The war-based apocalypse is perhaps the one we’ve become most accustomed to imagining, thanks in no small part to the constant fear of nuclear annihilation prevalent throughout the cold war.  Many of us grew up fearing death via Intercontinental Ballistic Missile because… well… there was a real chance that it was exactly how we’d go out, with American and Soviet missile teams at the ready to end our world at a moment’s notice, and coming close to doing so on more than one occasion.

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This possibility allows for the most variation in the theme, as different kinds of warfare would result in different apocalypses.  Economic warfare could collapse financial systems, digital warfare could send us back to the dark ages, traditional warfare could turn the planet into the awful trenches of World War 1…and nuclear warfare could make those who die in the initial clash the lucky ones.  Preparing for a world-shattering war can be difficult, as the fight doesn’t need to be at your doorstep for you to be effected by it, but this possibility tends to be the focus of most “preppers” and survivalists alike.

The Black Swan

Pop culture examples: This is the End, Cloverfield, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

A “black swan” is a sudden and unexpected development that changes everything.  Having never read the book nor seen the movie this term is derived from, I have to assume it has something to do with what happens to the planet after Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman kiss…because that’s the only part of the movie my buddies ever seemed to talk about.

In this situation, however, the term “black swan” refers to a sudden and unexpected disaster the likes of which we haven’t even considered yet.  In “This is the End,” a hole to hell opens up and ushers in the end of the world (not unlike “Cabin in the Woods,” which I believe works as a prequel to “This is the End”).  In Cloverfield, Godzilla, and Pacific Rim, the end comes in the form of giant monsters coming out of the sea.  In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” a bureaucratic interstellar mix up results in our planet simple being destroyed to clear the way for construction.  None of these seem very likely… but then, that’s the point.  No matter how much we plan, no matter how hard we prepare, it’s impossible to know what fate may befall us.

Ever since human society developed sufficiently to garner humans a few minutes of free time and an understanding of our own mortality, we’ve worried about the end of the world.  Whether we’re looking at Mayan calendars and wondering if they knew something we don’t, or scientists decide to move the nuclear clock one minute closer to midnight as Putin reveals new nuclear weapon systems, we’re all just trying to take death by the reigns and slow its impending ride toward us and our loved ones.  Planning is an important part of that effort, and it’s through planning that we may come to survive the end of our world – and live to see the start of a new one.

And the first step to creating a plan, is deciding what situation to plan for.

Images courtesy of IO9, ScreenRant

Feature image courtesy of Art of VFX