Saturday, February 02, 2008

Survival: A Primer

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.
-Charles Darwin

Be Prepared
-Scout Motto

Contrary to some of my posts, survival is very, very important to me. When I head out on an adventure I really want to return (eventually) to Misseswether and the Wethergirls. This instinct for survival plays a role in my everyday life, not just on adventures. Living in Houston there are definate threats (hurricanes, flooding, chemical plant toxin release, etc) that one needs to be aware of and prepared for. When Hurricane Rita was heading straight for Houston it quickly became apparent to my neighbors that I was the "Go To" guy for advice on what to do before she hit us. Luckily, the hurricane swerved away from Houston, but my reputation remaind. Since then a number of neighbors/coworkers/friends have asked me for preparedness advice. Being a teacher at heart, I've developed a primer to survival to help guide people in preparing for the threats in their lives. Without further delay, I introduce The Triangle of Survival.


Sure, luck will always play a part in survival, but I'm focusing only on what a person can control. So, let's explore this deeper.

Planning/Preparations, Gear, and Resourcefulness. Laid out in print they seem self evident. This blatent obviousness is why a lot of people, even those who profess to being prepared, completely miss them. Some people rely strictly on buying gear thinking each new shiney gizmo will add another layer of safety to their lives while others disdain anything more than a knife and a loincloth. Some spend a great deal of time thinking about stuff but never actually try/do anything. They read a book on edible plants then picture themselves saving a planeful of 19-yr old co-eds after crashing in the Andes. Others dabble lightly in two or three of these and consider themselves ready, but their lack of imagination about possible events and low-quality gear leaves them woefully impaired.

Okay, so back to The Triangle. What's the big deal? Well, like I said these are the things YOU can control. Let's look at them deeper, starting with Planning/Preparation.

Planning & Preparation
This corner of the triangle covers all the preplanning involved in survival. Under this topic falls all your thinking about possible threats, assigning likelihoods of these threats, researching about how to handle these threats, and then any steps you take to diminish these threats. Examples of this are things like checking the weather report, analyzing your financial situation, learning where any hazardous material depots may be nearby, exercizing to improve your health, or learning how to make fire by rubbiing sticks together. Planning & Preparation is sort of a catch-all for the verbs, the "doing stuff" of being prepared. The saying "Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance" is very true. If you don't know what threats are out there you can quickly become screwed. The same goes if you know what the threats are but don't actually get off your tush and do something about them. Knowledge without experience/practice is rarely enough. Very few people (me included) can learn just by reading a book, not to mention "the book" was most likely written for a climate/situation much different than yours! There's a quote in the military that goes, "In a crisis one does not rise to one's level of expectations but rather falls to one's level of training." This is very true.

Here's an example of Planning and Preparation from my life. Before building our house the areas around here suffered a flood. This alerted us to the risk and so we did two things, we bought flood insurance and we wrote up a plan on what to do if it looked like we might be flooded. A few years after moving in Tropical Storm Allison hit and the water began to rise. According to our plan it should have only taken about one hour to prep the house. In reality, it ended up taking over three hours as we discovered things we hadn't considered. Luckily, the water didn't make it up into our house.

Sidenote 1: Being in shape is a VITAL PART of preparation no matter what threat you may face.

Okay, back to the triangle. As you figure out the threats and begin preparing for them you enter many people's answer to survival: Gear!

Gear is the dangerous one. Many people have the misconception that they can just buy some techno-magical device or year's supply of food and they are go to go. There's nothing wrong with buying gear. The problem is buying gear because it's cool rather than because it fits in with your threat assesment/abatement plan. If you've done your planning properly you are much more likely to acquire the proper gear for your situation. A down sleeping bag may work great in cold desert nights but if it turns into a soggy mass while trapped on a mountain you can end up royally screwed. Plan first, THEN buy gear based on YOUR likely situations, not the situations some magazine (or blog) writer a thousand miles away. Gear reviews are a good starting point, but please make sure the test situations match your own, especially if it's something you may need to save your life.

Sidenote 2: MRE's and Ammo. If your gear consists of eighteen crates of MRE's and 10,000 round of ammo maybe you should spend a bit more time on the Planning & Prepartation corner of the triangle.

Sidenote 3: First aid kits often fall into a this trap in one of two ways. In many cases your average store-bought complete kit is often woefully inadequate for anything more than minor cuts and scrapes. On the other hand, some people start adding all sorts of heavy-duty medical stuff to their first aid bags even through they don't have the slightest idea how to use them. You may have a suture kit in your bag but unless you stitch people up for a living just keep those needles/thread sealed. Scalpels? What, you are going to remove the appendix of some kid in the mall food court? Know your limits and stay within them. Don't make matters worse.

Okay, so now you've figured out what threats you may face and you have the gear you need. Then suddenly your friend's truck breaks down stranding you and him 25 miles away from anywhere and your gear is reduced to a pocket knife and shoes laces. This is where the third corner of the triangle comes into play.

Resourcefulness covers what you can pull out of your brain. It's your knowledge and creativity that allows you, the natural tool-building top of the food chain, to figure out what to do when reality blindsides you. Primitive skills, first aid training, mechanical knowledge, etc... The more you know the more likely you are to be able to find a solution to your problem. Learning and practicing falls under Planning & Preparation. Think MacGyver or Les Stroud. Figuring out how to use this knowledge/gear to save your ass is resourcefulness. Figuring out how to use this knowledge/gear to save your ass is resourcefulness. The neat thing about becoming resourceful is that the better you become the less gear you need. The bad thing is that becoming resourceful can take a lot of effort, hence the reason most people just buy gear.

Basically, it seems to me people get into trouble because they focus heavily on one corner of the triangle to the detriment of the other two. Luckily, in most cases it seems like having two of the corners covered will get you through an incident but to truely be equipped to survive you need to cover all three.

Anyway, just some thoughts that have been rattling around in my head. I don't know if they'll actually help anyone but if they do that'd be cool.

Adventure! Excitement! Getting Home Again!


Dr. Zombie said...

Merriwether -

Great post!

Although your quote from Darwin is great, I would suggest that there is always room on the evolutionary chain for sneakiness and cunning. : )

The resourcefulness piece is so often overlooked when planning ahead. Just as important a skill as being able to shoot, or drive a stick shift, or anything that involves practice - is the ability to look at a problem and ask one's self "WWMD?" (What Would McGuyver Do?)

Merriwether the Adventurer said...

Thanks, Dr. Z! You are right about sneakiness and cunning. They can often be far more effective than a frontal assult.


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