survival priorities

Survival Priorities During Emergency or Crisis

Prioritizing one’s survival priorities while in an emergency situation. When it comes to survival, every emergency or crisis is unique. The setting, the weather, the people, and the events combine to create its own unique occurrence. However with that said, there are a few constants. For example, the cold can kill you faster than dehydration. A lack of water can kill you faster than starvation. And a panicked decision can get you killed immediately.

Whether you are planning for, or actually going through an emergency or disaster, consider the following information about one’s survival priorities.

First, I will mention the “rule of threes”. A human might only survive for:

  • 3 Minutes without air 
  • 3 Hours without shelter in a harsh environment
  • Three Days without water 
  • Three Weeks without food 

[ Read: Rule Of Three – Survival Priorities And Decision Making ]

That’s great to know, and helps with decision making. However, lets take it a step further than that. Originally, the U.S. Air Force came up with the following list of 7 survival priorities. This list is often referenced within the context of wilderness survival.

  1. STOP (Stop; Think; Observe; Plan)
  2. Provide First Aid
  3. Seek shelter
  4. Build a fire
  5. Signal for help
  6. Drink water
  7. Food: Don’t worry about it

The number one survival priority is a positive mental attitude. Do Not Panic… Stop what you’re doing. Think about what just happened /the present situation. Observe what’s going on around you, and the present situation. Maintain a positive attitude and come up with a plan of action.

Positive Mental Attitude For Survival

Beginning with, and keeping a positive attitude that includes the ability to adapt, to think clearly. One’s immediate assessment, decisions and subsequent actions are foremost.

With mental toughness, you can tolerate hard conditions better and do what needs to be done.

To the best of your ability, stay positive, be tough, avoid panic, work hard and take care of the worst problem first.

[ Read: Improvise, Adapt, Overcome ]

Chances are that if you’re with other people during the emergency or crisis, many of them may panic, babble, and they will tend to make bad decisions. What’s worse is that others will be affected by it too. Panic can be contagious. And stupid decisions from a loudmouth can lead to further disastrous results. Be aware of this. Take charge if you can. Or, don’t follow the crowd if they’re being stupid…

During an emergency situation, asses the situation and mitigate any of the following:

Immediate Survival Priorities

– Air / Oxygen. We need air, and the ability to breathe.
– Safety / Security. Immediate danger, threats, security.
– First Aid. Stabilize if necessary.

Top Survival Priorities

– Body Core Temperature. Hypothermia can set in fast. Overheating too.
– Shelter. Protection from the environment when necessary.
– Fire. If required – body core temp., water purification, food.
– Hydration. Three days without water, and… (not good!).

More Survival Priority Thoughts

– Food. Maintain caloric energy to keep going.
– Transportation. To safety. Under your own power or other means.
– Operational Security & Defense If the situation warrants. 2 or 4 legged.
– Sleep. Without sleep, decision making abilities will deteriorate.

One Version Of The Rule of Threes

  • If you PANIC you could be dead in 3 seconds.
  • If you have no OXYGEN you could be dead in 3 minutes.
  • When you have no SHELTER under harsh conditions you could be dead in 3 hours.
  • If you have no WATER you could be dead in 3 days.
  • If you have no FOOD you could be dead in 3 weeks.

Note: Shelter includes body core temperature. Maintaining with safe limits.

[ Read: The 5 & 10 C’s of Survival ]

The following survival priority tips come from the US Army Survival Manual: FM 21-76 (October 1970)

  • Size Up the Situation
  • Use All Your Senses, Undue Haste Makes Waste
  • Remember Where You Are
  • Vanquish Fear and Panic
  • Improvise
  • Value Living
  • Act Like the Natives
  • Live by Your Wits, but for now…Learn Basic Skills

I wrote about it (here)

Someone on the blog once posted the following:

Survival Priority Lesson learned from the Corps and my current job as a Fire/Medic:

  1. The emergency has already happened, you can’t change that.
  2. Stay calm, or at least look calm, your family needs a leader.
  3. Is there still a threat? Take cover.
  4. Don’t needlessly expose yourself to a threat you cannot overcome, you’re no good to your family dead, they need a leader not a dead hero.
  5. Make a decision and go with it.
  6. The enemy of good enough is perfect; better an okay plan enacted now, than a great plan enacted after it is too late to make a difference.

Hopefully these thoughts and lists of survival priorities will help some of you. It’s good to have this in your head, just in case you’re hurled into an emergency situation or crisis.


  1. Good solid info. One thing that really seems to help people, put them to work. Most folks are not accustomed to bloody and chaotic situations. They tend to freeze up and just stare at the “mess.” Give them a specific task. Allows them to focus on a small portion of the BIG picture. Usually, once they feel as though they are helping, their whole brain begins to re-focus. Most folks actually want to help, but don’t know what to do.

    I’m thinking we all might be in unfamiliar situations soon.

  2. Hygiene. I noticed in the book Patriots which I am reading right now, no mention of hygiene was mentioned except toothbrushes, salt and soda when the toothpaste runs out and toilet paper. There are 11 people at the bugout with maybe two more coming if they make it. That is a lot of poop for a septic system. I guess poop is not as exciting to read about as guns, radios, tactics, gear, and get away vehicles. A third or fourth level priority it seems. Maybe I have not read far enough yet.

    1. If this is the JWR book, continue to read. These are addressed in the book – perhaps it’s just later than where you are reading. I do remember one of the wives had collected telephone books when they were in Chicago. I believe they also had a plan c. If not in that book of his, one of the others he wrote. I lived in Chicago for a period of time and that’s a lot of paper. I also remember the discussion of the other but I will let you get to that point.

    2. Mrs. U,
      Recently did a major overhaul of lateral field. All new stuff; pipe, gravel, appropriate grade, clean out of tank, etc. An important issue. There are some ways to deal with reducing paper waste through the septic system. It requires frequent attention and burning. Gray water can be utilized for plants and needn’t be run through the septic system. Some things are as simple as boys pee outside. Stock up on sanitation helpers, bacteria for adding to the system.

      A simple reminder to a houseful of people about outhouses in the winter should get everyone on the same page. In the end, outhouses may eventually be needed. It’s obviously doable, but no one wants to use an outhouse. Sure beats the alternative though. A 5 gallon bucket with one of those foam swimming noodles fashioned on the edge of the bucket works well. It ya tape a walmart bag on the inside of the bucket before use, well it’s better.

      1. Three tanks in the septic system here, 1 solids, 2 liquids.
        The thought was build the outhouse over the solids tank, depending on how full it is
        that would eliminate filling with wasted water from flushing and if it’s the main tank it would last a long time, possibly years.
        Not a huge problem pumping the nasty water out first.

        1. Horse, Brilliant! Add a stinky stack pipe and sounds like you’re in business. At DFM’s cabin we also collect all used paper separately and burn it later. Keeps accumulation of material way down.

    3. Outhouses, a great way to contaminate your groundwater system for good. They were ‘okay’ back when we were taught that water flowing in a stream “cleaned itself” after 50 feet. LOL. If things go south, there will be a huge die off caused by poor sanitation. Keep your septic systems working well, have the tanks pumped every 4 years! ( no, they don’t just “dissolve” all the solids to liquid)

      1. Minerjim, what I do every 3-4 months is the following: take a 5 gal. bucket put in 3 gals. of water, add 1-2 lb. of brown sugar, and 3 pouches of yeast. Stir and let sit for 24-48 hrs. Then pour equal amounts down all of my drains. Had a new septic tank put in in 2007, just had it cleaned out late last year (I thought I was going to have a big problem but, nope I didn’t). The guy that came to clean it out could not believe how little I had of solids.

        NEVER EVER USE RID X ! My father found out the hard way about what Rid X does to the leach field (he had to put in a whole new septic tank in another location on the property, luckily for him 3 ft. down to 10 ft. he hit course gravel).

        1. Blackjack22,
          That regimine helps, but you still gotta figure on a pump out every so often. All that farm dirt you wash off goes in there, and it does not devolve. At a minimum folks should have it checked every 4 years, then pump accordingly. Most people just forget them, until problems arise, then it’s often too late.

    4. They restricted in-house to those too sick to go outside. I think they used a trenched latrine and discussed location. I think they had gravity fed water from above the latrine location. JWR basically took his TEOTWAWKI book and loosely put it to a fictional story. Writing style improved with each of his fictional books I thought.

  3. we have gone through many hurricanes
    this what we have always done and it has always worked for us,
    first look around and make an assessment of the situation,
    do you have running water, if so gather as much as possible while you can.
    are the lights still on. that will be the strongest indicator as to how much damage has been done. no lights, uh oh, here we go again. our power lines here are so old all it takes is one chicken snake or squirrel to shut down half the county for a day.
    once we make an initial assessment around the house and get everything squared away here i start to make contacts with the neighbors to make sure they are alright and to make a plan for clearing roads if necessary.
    cash money,– you may end up needing more than you think so plan ahead. disasters don’t have timelines.
    most of us here in my area have gone through that enough times its almost like a snow day for kids. days off work for a while ; )
    everyone standing around the BBQ grills and fire pit’s for weeks at a time.
    Ken mentioned mental toughness, that comes through practice, and having been in situations where you have to live without. there are many, sadly, in this world that will fall dead in four days without running water, electricity, cell phones or common sense.

    1. scout……I agree, a good prepper is by the very definition a PROACTIVE type individual, and can anticipate situations, others are REACTIVE not necessarily bad just a different frame of mind and have to play catch up. We here at this great blog(thank you Ken for your years of work keeping this site working) try to adhere to the first type. My choice would be able to have the group here as a local set of neighbors ready to group together just like in the book patriots, like minded and ready to stand “ united”. Unfortunately, over the years, my association with like minded individuals has been like ships passing each other in the night. Being the “ realist” I am the sheepdog ready to make my last stand and do my best until I meet my savior.

  4. The enemy is overwhelming fear, panic, giving up, over exertion …. maybe some confidence and even a little humor in the given situation if not immediately life threatening. Some positives like a little first aid if called for, an improvised crutch if needed, a sheltered cave or overhang to get out of the rain and cold wind, a little rest to get ones bearings, some dry socks, … Survival begins in the mind.

    1. hermit us,
      that’s the truth. spot on! confidence and humor can go a long way to ease the fears in others. panic is never a good thing among a group or population. a very good point!

    2. Perhaps if we all do the 5 senses grounding technique
      (Good for focus/helpful for anxiety and observation and situational awareness?)
      5 things you can SEE
      4 things you can FEEL
      3 things you can HEAR
      2 things you can SMELL
      1 thing you can TASTE

      1. Most people can not deal with an overload of their senses. I suggest a focus on the narrow initial priorities listed many times on this site. Let me give you an example of sensory overload, not possible but I think most would get the connection, if we had the smell capabilities of a dog, we would never leave our house.

  5. Good article. . . . While we are in a relatively quiet pause folks should take this as a list and use what resources they have to check off as much as possible. . . .
    Air – masks for smokey/dusty conditions. . . .
    Shelter – a place to call home. Tents/tarps for camping indoors in case of no heat in winter. And extra clothes for local conditions so laundry is not an immediate requirement. . . .
    Water – enough set aside in bottles and tanks to get people and animals through a short time without having to wander far. . . .
    Food – to save time, heating resources, and prevent odor of food cooking, have enough ready-to-eat for people and animals for a while. . . .
    First aid supplies, enough fuel set aside to get to or go for help if needed.
    Critical priorities first; then continue stacking it to the rafters.

  6. A very good reference :
    “DEEP SURVIVAL – Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why ”
    by Laurence Gonzales

    The ‘will to survive’ is Paramount.

  7. It’s easy to panic; if not full-out panic, then at least focusing on one thing and not letting yourself see the best way out. Been there, done that, if only for a minute or two. I think that the best thing to stop panic from coming at all is to go through scenarios in your head before they happen. You can’t predict every single thing that might happen to you, but the more that you have thought of ahead of time, the more chance at least some part of that will be relevant to what really does happen, and you will be ready to move ahead.

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