Will You Help Unprepared Family Members Who Want Assistance After a Disaster?

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Over the years, I have received this question about unprepared family members many times. It’s a sticky survival situation in which family and friends inform us they will just come to our house when disaster strikes. Here’s an example of this question from a reader on Facebook:

sticky survival situation

I prep for my family of four (I stockpile, coupon, can, and garden) and am considerate that we have extended family who may need our help if things really hit the fan one day, but I’m stuck trying to figure out how to get the message across to friends and family that they really need to think about taking care of themselves.

I hear the teasing (but not really) statement, “Oh, we’re just going to come here if there’s ever a _______ (insert your choice of disaster).”

I’d never dream of turning someone away, but at what point and how do you say “No”?

They see me preparing, and they don’t think it’s stupid, but they don’t want to invest the time, effort, and/or money to do it themselves. How do I tell them that I’m taking care of mine – they need to take care of theirs? That it’s not my responsibility because they’re too lazy. (Sorry – this sounds more like a rant than a question). I just don’t know how to delicately say, “Get yourself together.”

Since the issue of unprepared family members so common, but also one that is very pressing to many people, I turned to other bloggers and experts in the prepper and survival niche, and asked for their expert advice. The results were phenomenal.

We got such great advice, covering such a wide range of directions, that we’ve divided the responses into two posts. Read this article for round two of the responses about family members who expect you to take care of them after a disaster, both before they land on your doorstep and when (if) they do. This is another area where planning ahead can help you worry less, because you won’t be caught off guard.

image: woman with ponytail wearing glasses looks through the front door peep hole at unprepared family members expecting help after a disaster

Have you Considered Using Psychology?

By Graywolf of Graywolf Survival

This is one of the hardest questions to answer in a general sense. Each family dynamic is different, and each family member has their own idea of how much preparedness is enough. Some feel that anything remotely resembling being prepared for even a short power outage is insane.

If you’re asking the question, it probably means that you’ve already tried all the normal, logical ways to get people to understand, so here are some ways to use psychology to your advantage. If you’re not willing to use basic psychology to help your family survive, you may want to rethink just how ready you are to survive a long-term disaster or SHTF scenario after all.

Get to that first “Yes”

The best way to sell something big to someone is to sell them something small first. Once they buy a small thing, they’re much more likely to buy something bigger. That’s why salespeople try to get you to say “yes” to a few questions before asking you to take a test drive.

By answering yes, they’ve essentially sold you on an idea. Once you’ve bought a few ideas, a test drive is an easy next step. After a test drive, signing your name to a sentence stating that you’d buy the car for $xxx is the next step. After signing your name to that sentence, you’ve already bought so many things from them that buying the car just seems logical to your subconscious.

You do have a huge advantage when someone says that they’re going to head to your house if something happens. Depending on your relationship with that person, it could be your “in,” so to speak. What you need to do is start selling them on small things first.

Keep Talking!

One way to take the topic to the next level is to continue the conversation. When they say that they’re coming over to your place if SHTF, you may want to reply with something to the effect of, “Well, let’s think about that for a minute because you may have something there.” (It never hurts to word something so that it seems like it’s their idea.)

Explain to them that there’s really no way to know if anything will ever happen, and if it ever does, there’s no way to know exactly what the event will be or how it will unfold.

Continue with the fact that because of your concerns, you spend a lot of time trying to hedge your bets and learning how to survive and even thrive if something bad happens for several days or even several years. The problem is that it requires a lot of time and resources to do that for your family, and you’re really having a hard time trying to figure out how your extended family will fit into your life afterward, and you feel terrible about it (you’re trying to build sympathy). Currently, you have barely enough for your immediate family, and if anyone shows up empty-handed afterward, it means that your family will go hungry and not have the supplies they need.

Try to get them to buy-in

The key at this point is to get their buy-in, which can be difficult. It’s human nature to want to help family, and this may be your solution. Explain to them that you’ve been wanting to involve more of the family with some emergency planning, but you don’t know how to go about it. Try to get them on your side of the discussion to come up with a solution.

You may want to use a particularly anti-prepper family member as an example and say that if something really bad happens, you don’t know how you’re going to take care of family members such as this person who will show up needing help. You won’t be able to help them without risking the lives of your immediate family who’ve spent a lot of time and resources (best not to mention money, or it’ll sound like you’re asking for a handout) on being ready in case something happens.

Does this family member have useful skills?

If the person has any particular skill that you’re lacking, it’s an additional tactic. Let them know that you don’t know much about first aid, but you know they learned it in the Boy Scouts. Ask them to come over sometime and help your family prepare in some particular way. This will not only get them closer to you, but they’ll be drawn into seeing more and more what you’re actually doing to prepare and how organized you really are. Let them know some of the knowledge and equipment deficiencies that you have, and ask them how they would solve them.

If you do this correctly, the next step would be to give them ownership of a particular part of your prepping project, such as being the go-to person for medical or mechanical issues. Ownership of a particular project is one of the best ways to get buy-in for someone. They start taking responsibility for it and gain pride when it’s done well.

Ready to launch

Once you have them doing this, it’s usually an easy step to involve them in their own plans. Help them figure out what gear and documents they should have ready in case of fire or local emergency. If you can get them to do that, then having extra supplies such as water and backup food is the next step. Pretty soon, you can work their plans into your plans, such as bugging out, communication, etc.

So by starting off small, you can get them to first crawl your way before they walk and then run alongside you to deal with an emergency situation. If you try to do too much before they understand things from your point of view, they’ll be looking at it from an outside point of view and will immediately turn away. Show them a little, get them to understand it, and then show them some more. Get them to become involved in the process a little more at each step.

Pretty soon, you may find that you have a hard time keeping up with your new prepping partners.

I prepare for my immediate family only

By Patrick Blair of Survival at Home

I have dealt with family members who know I prep, and some of them think I’m “a little out there.” Those same people go on to say that if something ever happens, they’re coming to stay with us. I laugh and tell them they’re just as likely to get locked out as any stranger, and while I may be laughing a little when I say it, I’m almost dead serious about what I say.

You see, when I prep, I prep with my immediate family in mind, that is, my wife, children, and myself. Every cubic inch of storage is in preparation for my family to survive anything that may happen for as long as we can. If we can’t go anywhere for days or, worse, weeks, I want to have the peace of mind to know that we can survive it with no problem. Space-conscious preppers may want to read this article about how to conserve space when your preps threaten to overwhelm your home!

So with all of that said, I do end up telling my other unprepared family members (and friends) who think they’ll just come stay with us exactly that. I can prep for long-term, but I don’t have the time, space, or money to prepare for the whole world. I heavily suggest that they re-evaluate the state of their household and encourage them to get a few extra things. Education is offered, but I cannot prepare for them.

Keep it close to the vest from now on!

By Janet Garman of Timber Creek Farm

This is a tough situation that we, who are making preparations for the unexpected, face all the time. There is one thing that the reader hasn’t mentioned. Has she spoken about the very real possibility that friends and relatives may not be able to safely get to her house? In some of the situations we prep for, sheltering in place is a very real possibility. Friends and relatives have to be informed of this possibility, and this may be the fact that wakes up friends to the need to prep for their own family.

Another thought is that from this point on, I would not talk about the preps she has made with her relatives or friends and neighbors. Keeping this a little closer to the vest may be the better option since she is not surrounded by like-minded people. We talk about our ideas with others that support them and who are making preps. With like-minded people, we can share ideas, experiences, and what we’ve learned.

4 Tips to Get the Message Across to Unprepared Family Members

By Alex Tarsha of Survive Hive

I have been very fortunate in that my wife and extended family are very like-minded. I myself am not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS, or “Mormon”) but living in Utah, most of my neighbors are. LDS folks take preparedness very seriously, so even my neighbors are very supportive of my lifestyle.

That said, it hasn’t always been easy. I am prior military, and one of the many benefits of that experience was the immersion into vast diversity amongst even my small unit. Of course, there were plenty of like-minded folks to interact with, but there were plenty who did not see eye to eye. One of the difficulties in persuading someone to prepare for emergencies when you’re Active Duty is the sense of security provided by the military. They know they will be fed and taken care of, even in a disaster.

So now that I have explained my background, I’d like to quickly share with you some lessons I’ve learned. I will try not to elaborate too much in order to keep it semi-short:

Strategies for Persuasion

  1. Do not pressure anybody. Make a compelling, persuasive argument using verifiable factual evidence and leave it to them to make the commitment.
  2. Keep outlandish improbabilities to yourself, for example, a zombie apocalypse. It just furthers the stereotypical paranoid “Doomsday Prepper” persona, which is not what our community needs.
  3. I have had great success in “the proof is in the pudding.” Even a small scale power-outage provides you the opportunity to show how much better quality of life is when even minimally prepared, as well as an opportunity to interact with others regarding preparedness.
  4. Start small. The gift of an emergency backpack or an emergency vehicle kit is non-threatening and appreciated by most everyone.

I, too, cannot imagine turning others away who are in need, but I am prepared to do so should the necessity present itself. Take the time to mentally prepare yourself for the conversation where you may have to respond, “Sorry, but if something happens, and you come here looking for help, I may not be in a position to support you and yours as well.”

In my own experience, often a simple “I’d be glad to help those willing to help themselves” has been subtle enough to avoid hurt feelings, but powerful enough to get the point across to unprepared family members.

These scenarios are often difficult, but mental preparedness is equally as important as a good stockpile.

Handling Unprepared Family Members Round 2

Don’t stop now! Read this post for part 2 of our online roundtable on how to handle family members who don’t prepare but are expecting help from you. One of these approaches might be just the answer you’ve been looking for. Or you might tweak one of these approaches.

Let me know in the comments how you think you’ll handle unprepared family members.

Originally published June 19, 2014; updated by the Survival Mom editors.

35 thoughts on “Will You Help Unprepared Family Members Who Want Assistance After a Disaster?”

  1. NancyB from Many LA

    Sounds cruel, but it’s always the few doing the work. Most people want to reap the rewards of that few that actually work. I think it’s fair to say: If you don’t prepare yourself, you need to send me $ so that I can do it for you. Also, you need to learn some skills that will be needed, in return for prepping yourself.

  2. I actually have never had this problem. The problem I have is when I have spoken with family, friends, and neighbors, they don’t see the need for being prepared. Every single one of them believe that the police and FEMA will come to our rescue. I don’t even tell them I’m a prepper but have spoken to them about just saving up some extra food and water and medications in the case of a natural disaster. We are prone to having tornadoes around here so that is typically the scenario I use. They all just say they don’t need to worry about being prepared because the government will come to help. So a part of me wonders if they would ever just show up. I’m all for helping people though so I have multiple emergency bags to give out to people. The sad truth is that I honestly just wouldn’t have the room to allow anyone else to stay with us. We are a family of 6. I almost believe no one would even bother coming to my house in a phtf situation because they would sit around waiting for the government to show up to help them. It is beyond sad.

  3. I have two responses and have used the first one already during hurricane Wilma in ’05. “One never knows if their plan is too little, just enough or over the top until the trouble passes, but my plan does not include anyone who can afford to prepare but chooses not to” This is the response for those I have no interest in taking care of due to the obvious. For those I really care about-When they say they are coming over, I tell them, ” Great! bring over your—-months of food, water, Rx, and self defense equip. We will both be stronger with our increased and shared skills.” This stops them in their tracks.. If they ask about what I mean, I tell them. Most just let it pass with a strange look. Some day, S will HTF . I just hope that those I care about will surprise me with their preparations.

  4. Sometimes you also need to accept there is no reasoning with some people. I have many relatives who think ” the Lord Jesus Christ will take all the Christians to heaven before anything bad happens” or they will stand there and gladly be shot because that means they get to go to heaven sooner. I don’t even trust them to protect my children from injury in an shtf situtation because of this. I think at that point you just need to tell them No, unless you do something to help yourself I won’t help you.
    These same people bought a sofa that broke the first week it was bought. Instead of demanding it be fixed or exchanged for free they gave up after the first no from the company. They have been living with it for about 4 yrs now. Now you can’t even sit on it yet they haven’t bought a new one. The wife is waiting for the husband to do something about it because he is the leader in the house.

  5. Great post and I enjoyed reading the comments. I seriously can’t believe after Hurricane Katrina that ANYONE trusts the government to “come take care of them’. I have bought extra rice and plan on giving that out. I tell them that we have a large family and we have to take care of the little ones first and there are four of them! They are welcome to plain rice, that is all I will be giving out. And when it is gone it is gone.
    This is really one of my pet peeves… I have a friend who goes to Vegas and yet is not even prepared for the situation. Sigh…

  6. It drives me nut that my close family wont prep. My mother-in -law lives over an hour away and she wont even keep a case of extra water in the house. Also my parents, who started me on preping, are now split and also have no supplies. I know I can’t feed them with what we have but I cant imagine turning away our own parents! I wish they would understand or even know that they might not even be able to make it to our home. I am attempting to add in for them but am out of room already and greadly eye ball all 3 empty homes!

  7. I’m just curious. I like to prepare, but I am not big on guns. I have a couple, but not an arsenal by any means. What do you say to someone who says “I’ll come and take what you won’t give”. I’ve even gone so far as to tell others that half of my stash will be poisoned since I am not a big gun person…(to make them think twice before they try to take)…

  8. As my mum says ‘those who don’t work, don’t eat’ this was usually a threat when we were younger to get our chores done or no dessert, but it’s still true for us grown ups. Put in the work and you’ll get to eat

  9. I once read a good response. It went something like this, ” Great, here’s your ticket for admission.” And on the ticket is listed the essentials that they would need to bring with them. Like x amount of beans, rice, ammo, water, skills, etc. Most people would laugh it off, but it might get a few thinking. Of course I would only give tickets to people I would actually consider welcoming into our home! We have often said, “You can try, but we’ll be long gone.” By the time non-preppers read the writing on the wall (after they realize the gov’t isn’t coming to rescue them), preppers will have bugged out, or dug in to shelter in place.

  10. I’ve had this conversation many times. Now I tell them, I’m willing to help them set up gardens, chicken and rabbit pens. I’ll work building a water collection system and share all the knowledge that I’ve accumulated over the years. I’ll teach to their hearts content. If they show up at my place after a disaster the door will be barred against them. My preps are for me and my immediate family. I have no debt to you and I will not let you make me your slave because you refuse to prepare.


  11. Up here in the north where winters are deadly, “How do I tell them that I’m taking care of mine” means the whole family, not just the immediate family unit. Everyone realizes winters can kill, so the general attitude is helpful. I was one of those people who planned on going to my aunt’s in an extended power outage… not because I don’t prepare, but because her house had better SHTF heating… We are all stronger together!

  12. Before I started prepping, I told one of my co-workers who was a prepper that I’d be coming to his house in case of a disaster, but jokingly. His response to me was “That’s what the guns are for.” I could tell that he meant it. I started prepping myself about a month later.

  13. For Brandy
    You might want to remind those neighbors about Hurricane Katrina, and the facts regarding rescue and help by FEMA. You can do searches about that disaster, and how FEMA is STILL being hounded by negative responses to it’s (lack of) real help in a timely manner, or at all.

  14. To Shell: Maybe you might consider being more tight lipped regarding talking to others than family regarding your prepping stores. It is not wise to share the particulars with strangers or acquaintances, since what you have just described will most likely be your results: those who know you have food and other necessities WILL come and try to take what you have carefully stocked for your own and your families’ survival.

    Sharing that skills and prepping is a good idea, without giving details is maybe ok, but giving more than that is like telling people you will be gone on vacation for weeks and that your locks are broken.

    In a SHTF scenario, all the “bad” comes out of normal people and survival kicks in, making even good people AND bad come together in a mob mentality for their own needs: YOU don’t count at that time.

  15. Give them a copy of “The Little Ren Hen” for Christmas. Honestly, I think the best tactic is to share with anyone who will listen the government/red cross etc. 72 hour plan. Like me,once they look into and get that together, they might start looking into more. Show your family your 72 hour preps but no more. I’m planning on giving my Mom and step-dad, who want for nothing, a basic 72 hour survival kit and a car survival kit for Christmas.

  16. I don’t see a lot of men commenting on here. As a man I can see you are all living in fantasyland. Honey, you will need to let your family in, escpecially the men. Because someone else is coming who is bigger and badder, with more people and bigger guns than you have, and they are just going to blow into your property and take it all, maybe even some of your women. Your fantasy of you have prepared and now “I WILL NOT LET ANYONE IN!” and that you, your precious hubby and your two toddlers are going to stand against the world …. you won’t even last a week. It will be survival of the fittest and chances are in the first couple days a more fit group is coming to take it all. lol

  17. This was a great article! However, I think it is concerning that the person who is asking this question has already told so many people about her preps. Be careful who you talk to.

  18. I have told a few people, who I have tried to get to do some prepping going…that I only accept people into my group that have skills I need. I have a group of two prepping moms and our families. The other people we tell them, they will be considered bait for whatever esle we need if they insist on trying to join us. Mostly I again direct them to the sites and encourage them to start small.

  19. I usually refer friends to the parable of the ant & the grasshopper. I then say why don’t I come to your house instead? Their response to that question is usually enough to get them to look into the mirror. In regards to firearms…they are used to protect ones family in our homes. Our guns won’t be needed until someone breaks in. Castle doctorine.

  20. Just tell them “Great, C’mon over.
    “And by the way, these are my emergency prepping reserves. Your emergency reserves must still be in cash, so how about we share that right now?”

  21. I have tried to get friends and family to prep. Even a weeks worth of food and water would be great. One of my friends told me he “collects” money and didn’t need to prep. I told him if the SHTF, he may need to spend all of it on a bottle of water. He just laughed and said he was coming to my house. I laughed and said “You’ll be greeted with a shotgun too!”

  22. I had the privilege, to have had a “friend” who claimed she was coming to my place, like it was an honour! When given her a chance to do her part, it was clear, she was there to take and not give AND surprised she got the boot!!!!! 🙂

  23. I simply say “well if everyone shows up @ my house, then we’re going to run out of food very quickly. Then we’ll all starve together, and you’ll all wish you’d prepared yourselves instead of expecting me to prep for us all.” But then, I’m not the most tactful person….

  24. one way is to use guilt psychology …..
    like when they say they will come to you in trouble … just say ….

    how can you even think like that !!! My wife/son/brother care so much about you, and you want to let him go hungry/ get him in trouble by not preparing while we ourself are not able to care for our own self !!!! we are so much already short on preparations and by not preparing you want to burden my wife/son/brother etc who care so much about you !!!!!! 😉

  25. I don’t even have enough for myself. That is the simple, cruel truth. Everyone who might show up here has far more resources than I do, in every aspect. The answer is already “no”. I don’t even have enough space, much less anything else.
    I suppose if I were well-off, I might have the luxury of debating this in my head. It is definitely a question everyone should ask themselves NOW, not later.

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  27. StillPreparing

    Being a widow has shown who truly cares about you and who truly doesn’t. That unfortunately includes family, I know I’m not alone bc many on the widow boards feel same. With that said, we were always been prepared, if for nothing else for emergencies. It’s proven time and time again that an extra can of soup or beans or whatever was beneficial to have when unexpected came. Sadly the adult kids don’t care, even though they’ve seen the proof of benefits. It’s quite discouraging and can even be depressing to know that you are preparing for them too, but at the end of the day they do not care even to do same for you. Reason I’m writing this is that people need to be realistic in their expectations of who has their back and who doesn’t, one may be surprised when family doesn’t help then expects everything. It’s going to be a personal choice if you want to help, I know I will despite the circumstances bc I feel as only parent left , they are still my kids, my family. How things have changed though is I no longer consider buying what they would like, as I used to, and instead buy enough of what I like to eat to share. Beggars can’t be choosy.

  28. They will be given a tarp, knife, ferro rod, fishing/snare kit, and canteen, then told to leave. If they refuse they will be immediately shot and buried. They know this, and likely won’t be coming by.

  29. This is a true story! I have acquaintances that I recently, several months ago, introduced to prepping. They live in a rural setting, on a private road near a fairly major highway. There are 4 families living along the road, all have property from 5-30 acres, and all are well equipped financially. After getting my acquaintance on board for prepping, she went at it big time, getting her house in order and prepping for the possibility that their 3 adult children will show up, and will most likely have only minimal supplies. On her own, she figured out that being alone is NOT the way to do things if an area needs security. With this in mind, my friend contacted the other residents about prepping, in particular forming an alliance of sorts in the event of a shtf incident where the local area becomes a haven for refugees from the large city located 30 miles from us. The responses, initially, were very positive, surprising considering that two of the families are Calif transplants, What followed was even more surprising. After the initial positive response, one Cali family, #2, mentioned that prepping was too much work, too expensive, and took up too much of their time, plus if anything happens our kids will be coming here and we’ll be with them. As far as sealing our road, which had been a suggestion, “bad people would just go around and through the woods, so count us out on that.” All the families living on the road have equipment such as tractors, excavators, and dump trucks, but “why tear our stuff up on a possibility?” They disassociated themselves from the “group,” Cali family #3 continued prepping, and when queried about friends and relatives showing up unannounced their reply was “We have told our friends and kids what we are doing and we let them know that they should be prepping too. They said they would just show up if anything happened, so we are prepared to shoot them if and when they do. We WILL NOT share!” Family #4 is a woman, very conservative and well-armed, who has a disabled husband. She will prep but has reached the conclusion that her husband will be an insurmountable burden for her and “the group” so she will simply bug in and await what happens, but will shoot any intruders. Quite a variance in views.

  30. There’s two major concerns to ponder here – Do you actually have enough to be sharing? – and – Where does the family tree stop????

    You think you’re sitting pretty – have a year’s ready supply of food with some self sufficiency fill in and you have the rest of the recommended prepper stockpile well covered – and – the GOV is passing out the “word” that the current SHTF will be short one of just a third year – half year at most >>>> have spares to share which you do – 2 months later a more serious SHTF spawned by the initial SHTF erupts and it’s looking YEARS >>>> ooooooops

    and in regard to family – all you need to do is look at the “big wedding” or “the big family Christmas – and – you can see that “family” won’t be deadstopping with your brother’s wife – there’s her whole side of the family – and – it continues on down thru the family relationship tree >>>> in short – absolutely everyone has at least one family member that’s treasured and they don’t want suffering much less dying of starvation

    and if you don’t know the fatal implication of sitting on a food pile with a mixed congregation knowing about it >>> just go over the UTubes of Black Fridays of the past – and they were only after a cheap widescreen ….

  31. For what it’s worth, I don’t see them(family) being able to draw near. Most of my family is a ways away and the road restrictions will prevent travel. Maybe neighbors, but only ones who took the time to get to know who I am.

  32. Since 1996 getting prepared. Helped 30 groups get started, our group was 40 people (adult age), now down to about 15 because they lost interest, didn’t want to help out, whatever.

    Groups we help start down to 12 or 13. Their problem one day, especially now with prices going up and some items not available.

    Yes started in 1996, rotating stock out every year, spending around $5,000 per year, throwing out what goes bad but going back to topic, how to turn away when the time comes.

    How will they get here?
    What will they bring?
    What will they expect to receive?
    What will they be up against should they come?

    Some have stated the obvious, “I’ll just come to your house” is common, my answer no one gets in without the password. Password? “I’ll just ask your wife” My reply, “I haven’t made one up yet and you’ll have to get past other people coming here, people that don’t know you…”

    The look on their face tells me I’m in the right mode… Just don’t bother because what we have cost us trips, vacations, home repairs. upgrades, getting our driveway repaved, etc.

    Needless to say we are not invited out that much, except with our group and this suites me just fine.

  33. I used to be pretty much “no you’re not” answer to this question and it took a lot of talking to other preppers that gave a lot of good points to think about and I came up with my new response. “Dont come empty handed”! Very few people have seen whats on the long term shelves and noone has seen whats hidden away. So when they say they are coming, I say lets go see what meals you think you will like. It aint gonna be pretty and leave the complaints at the door. I do try to keep a lot of kid friendly classics. Unfortunately the family members that I would prefer to show up wont make it unless they get ahead of the chaos. They are the ones that have taken some steps to preparedness.

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