In any dangerous situation, our first goal is to survive. So, it is worth asking the question, what do we really need to survive? I've come up with a list of six items:
- Air that is safe to breathe.
- Water that is safe to drink.
- Food that is safe to eat.
- Protection from the elements.
- Protection from physical threats.
- Ability to deal with injuries and disease.
That's it. Those are the things we need in order to live. Of course, there are other things that would be nice to have, that would allow us to survive easier and with comfort, and even to thrive. But this article is about what we need to live - the basics of survival.
Now, lets take a deeper look at each of these basic necessities.
Air that is safe to breathe.
Oxygen. Without it we can only survive for a few minutes. Luckily, its in the air all around us (unless we are under water or in outer space). But, it is not always safe to breathe. There are times that the air is so polluted it can be dangerous. Remember what the air was like in the vicinity of the 9/11 tragedy. And many large cities around the world have air so dirty from vehicle and industry exhaust that residents are often warned to stay inside and to wear masks if they must go out. Its not just pollution and smoke that can make air dangerous to breathe, but also biological and chemical agents.
Consider your particular circumstances and concerns. Do you live in a place where serious air pollution is a problem? Or near factories or power plants that may accidentally release chemicals, radiation, or other toxins into the air? If so, you may want to move to a safer location. Concerned about nuclear threats? Don't live near nuclear power plants or military targets. Concerned about pandemics (avoid high population densities) or biological warfare? Read up on nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) preparedness.
At a minimum, I suggest everyone have several surgical masks (on Amazon: currently $9.99 for 100) at home and the office, and in their bug-out bags, get-home bags, and vehicles. More committed survivalists may consider adding gas masks to their supplies for more complete NBC protection.
Water that is safe to drink.
We can only survive a couple of days at the most without water (and dying of thirst is a particularly miserable and painful way to die). Storing water is a top priority for survival, but water is incredibly bulky and heavy. We also need to have the ability to collect and treat water. Pollution, germs, parasites, and other toxins can make water unsafe to drink, so filtering and treating water we collect is extremely important.
A personal water filter is something we should have in our bug-out bags and get-home bags or car kits. There are many different ones available to choose from, so pick one that suits your needs and lifestyle. A larger water filter for the home is a good idea, too.
See my article Emergency Water Storage for a complete guide.
Food that is safe to eat.
The good news is that we can live many weeks, or even months if we are otherwise healthy, without food. The bad news is it won't be fun. And the lack of food will negatively impact our concentration, focus, physical coordination, reflexes, and energy-levels, as well as compromise our immune system. Not good in a survival situation, or any other situation for that matter.
The typical recommendation from FEMA and similar groups is to have three days of food in our bug-out or survival packs, and two weeks worth of food at home. Both of these recommendations fall way short, in my opinion. Strive for at least one week's food in your bug-out bag. And at home, I would consider two month's worth of food storage to be the absolute minimum. Serious survivalists typically aim for at least one year or more worth of food. (Book Recommendation: Peggy Layton's Emergency Food Storage & Survival Handbook.)
Protection from the elements.
The elements - cold, heat, wind, rain, ice - can kill a healthy person in a matter of hours, or less, under certain conditions. Dry, warm clothing, gloves, blankets, rain gear, and some form of shelter aren't just nice to have in a survival situation, they can be critical. In addition to a change of clothes, try to include a sleeping bag and a tent with the bug-out bag. In the winter, I keep a large blanket and extra gloves and toboggans in my vehicles. Tarps also have many uses, including temporary shelter.
A Go-Time Life Bivy (available on Amazon) or other emergency sleeping bag/shelter may be a compact and low-weight alternative to include in your bug-out bag or to carry in your vehicle.
Protection from physical threats.
Most likely, physical threats will come from our fellow man (desperate people do desperate things), but may also come from dangerous wildlife (bears, wolves, feral dogs, poisonous snakes). We need to have the ability to defend ourselves (guns & ammo being typically the most effective means, but certainly not the only means), and the training to do so effectively. Pay particular attention to the "training" part of that statement. That's something you have to do BEFORE you need it.
Ability to deal with injuries and disease.
This means both prevention and treatment. Proper equipment (gloves, work boots, safety glasses, etc.), as well as common sense, will go a long way to preventing many injuries. See my article Preppers' Guide to Workshop and DIY Safety for more on safety and injury prevention.
First aid training and supplies are critical. Get training now, rather than trying to read a first aid manual while someone is bleeding out. We should include a small individual first aid kit as part of our every-day carry. A larger, more complete kit should be with the bug-out bag. A first aid kit can also be carried in our vehicles. Our homes and bug-out retreat (if we have one), should be fully stocked with first aid and medical supplies at all times.
Don't forget about your prescription medications. Work with your doctor to get extra medication to include in your bug-out bags. Sometimes they can write 90-day prescriptions instead of the typical 30-day, or even authorize an early refill if you are "going out-of-town" for a few weeks (it all depends on what the medication is, what the state law is, and what your doctor is willing to do).
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