Your Survival Priorities


Living in a modern, industrialized, western society has largely shielded us from having to think about survival. Our focus tends to be on the “bigger picture” of our political affiliation, our relationships and whether or not we can wangle a promotion at the office. We expect the water to come on when we turn the faucet and the lights to come on when we flip the switch.

As a society, we have invested a fortune in building a massive infrastructure to meet our needs. That’s why the water flows and the lights turn on. It’s also why we can buy bread in the grocery store without having to stand in line. Our work and that of the generations who have come before, has ensured that we have what we need, when we need it.

So how do we handle that? We invent new things that we need. We decide that we can’t live without the latest model of our smartphone. We stress out over our car being older than our neighbors’. We focus on things that make us (momentarily) happy, rather than the things we need. After all, the things we need will always be there. They always have and they always will, right?

But all it takes for the things we need to disappear is a good storm. If the power goes out, we’re without much of what we need. Most of us don’t know what to do, other than call someone and ask if their power is out as well. We wait for someone to fix it, because someone always does.

But what if they don’t? What if they can’t?

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, there were people who were without the basic necessities of live for weeks. Some areas of New Orleans didn’t have electrical power for five weeks. People were digging in dumpsters for food, six weeks after the hurricane had left. They weren’t prepared and they didn’t know what to do.

If you ask most people today what their survival priorities are, they’ll probably tell you their cell phone and their credit card. But that’s not actually true. It’s merely one more thing that shows how little we understand our own needs. If we’re going to survive when those needs aren’t delivered to our doors, then we have to know what they are.

The way we identify our most important survival priorities is by how long we can live without them. When we understand that, we get a very real picture of what our priorities are:

  • We will die in 3 minutes without oxygen
  • We will die in 30 minutes without maintaining our body temperature
  • We will die in 3 days without clean drinking water
  • We will die in 30 days without food

Notice how all of those numbers are 3s? We call that the Rule of 3s. Whenever any of us is faced with a survival situation, that short list determines our priorities. Before we think of anything else, we need to ensure that our bodies have those four things.

Perhaps you’ve heard that we need “food, clothing and shelter” to survive. That answer is obviously only partly true; it’s missing water and oxygen. Whoever came up with it was thinking from a sociological point of view, rather than a survival one. Nevertheless, all three things they mentioned are priorities for survival. Even though clothing and shelter aren’t listed in the Rule of 3s, they are how we maintain our body temperature, so they are rather high survival priorities.

But survival doesn’t actually end with meeting the items listed in the Rule of 3s. While those are our highest survival priorities, there are other things that can preempt them at times. There are also things which we need to have, in order to have all of those need met. So, we usually add:

  • Fire or the means to start a fire – useful for heat, light, cooking food, defense and purifying water
  • First-aid – if someone in our party is injured, first-aid can be essential; without it, they could bleed out
  • Self-defense – there are others who might want to hurt or even kill us to get what we want. Without the ability to defend ourselves, none of the rest of it matters
  • Communications – there are many times when we need to communicate with others so that we can be rescued or so that we can get news about a disaster

The study of survival concentrates on meeting these seven needs, leaving the need for oxygen out. While oxygen is our most important survival necessity, the reality is that there is little we can do if there is no oxygen.

But studying survival is actually a bit more complicated than just studying those seven areas, because survival is also affected by where we are. While we always need to maintain our body heat, have clean water to drink and food to eat, it’s considerably different trying to meet those needs in the city, than it is trying to meet those needs in the wild.

True preparedness requires that we be ready in all circumstances. That often means knowing a variety of strategies and skills we can use, depending on the circumstances we find ourselves in. It also means having the necessary equipment and supplies to use in all of those various circumstances. Of those three different things:

  • Knowledge supersedes equipment and supplies – if you have enough knowledge, you can produce the equipment and supplies you need
  • Equipment generally supersedes supplies – if you have the right equipment, you can harvest the supplies you need from nature

Nevertheless, prepping concentrates on all three of those areas. In fact, it concentrates heavily on stockpiling supplies. While we might be able to harvest those supplies from nature, it is much easier to survive, if we don’t have to.

Prepping also takes into account the need to move from one location to another, “bugging out” or leaving your home to go to an alternate location, should your home be no longer tenable. It didn’t matter how well the people of Southeast Houston were prepared for a hurricane, when the flooding started, they still had to bug out.

Even so, the main survival retreat for us all is our home. It’s just not the only one. We need to be prepared to meet those survival priorities, no matter where life takes us or where we have to go.