The Survival Pattern & Priorities

The Survival Pattern & Priorities

Search & Rescue Mission

Guest Author Trevor Page on a Search & Rescue Mission. 

Todays post lays out some very core concepts and skills when it comes to survival. Do you know the basics of all of these?

I asked Trevor Page to write a guest post for our Changing World Community. Trevor is a Wilderness Safety and Survival Instructor with the International Canadian School of Survival (ICSOS), found at

Here is what Trevor had to say about Survival priorities and  what you can learn from emergency responders in being better prepared in our quickly changing world!

Written by Trevor Page

Our Own S.O.P.

We’ve often heard emergency services talking about Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) such as: IAs (Immediate Actions), Contact Drills, and the like. The reason they have so many SOPs (and so many acronyms for them) is that in an emergency the rational mind goes into a form of shock; it tends to quit, freeze, delay, etc. This is normal.

The major difference between someone who effectively responds to an emergency, and someone who reacts with hesitation, is their level of training.

First-responder professionals are trained to the point that they don’t need to think. It becomes automatic. Emergency services will likely be able to rationally respond faster than your average civilian (and all the varying degrees between them) because they’ve received the training and experienced it before.

Most “survival situations” actually occur when someone becomes lost, and - instead of stopping themselves when they are simply disoriented, finding clarity, and retracing their path - they reactively push forward until they’re risking their life.

So what can the average person do, short of joining the military or the Emergency Services profession, to be ready for an emergency?

You can still prepare, plan, and drill. No matter what the emergency or situation, even in daily life when something’s gone awry, we can follow our own “Standard Operating Procedure”: S.T.O.P.!

S - Sit

“take a knee”, sip some water, grab a snack, breathe, rest, and lower the heart rate. Uncontrolled movement is panic. An elevated heart rate without purpose is panic. You must become calm, cool, and collected. 

T - Think

what has happened, what is happening, what will happen next, and what needs to happen soon

O - Observe

tiers of gear/circles of survival: ­ what do I have: “on me” (clothing, pockets), “with me” (backpack or daypack, etc.), “within reach” (office desk, buddies, if driving ­ your vehicle, etc.), “within sight” (look around you, what can you see (x­-ray vision is helpful but not necessary). You’re looking for resources, but you’re also looking for additional hazards (i.e., rushing river, sunset coming, looks like rain, wildfire, etc.)

P - Plan

what will you do in the next '30': 30 seconds, 30 minutes, 30 hours, 30 days (if realistic)


get ‘er done, make it happen, act!

Survival Priorities

Alright, you’ve STOP(ped)! You’re calm, cool, collected. You’ve made a plan, but is it an effective plan? Is it the right plan? It is if it works. There is no other goalpost, no matter how much others may question it. However, it may not work ­- and you might die. So let’s come up with some helpful guidelines: the Priorities of Survival. In survival situations, you can live:

  • Seconds without your mind. If you can’t think straight, you might do something stupid. We’ll call this the “Hold my Beer” syndrome.
  • Minutes without air in your lungs and blood in your heart. The first step in administering first aid (after scene survey) is always, more or less, check for breathing, stop the bleeding, address critical problems.
  • Hours without protection from the elements. You’ll die of “exposure”, a collection of various effects on your body usually culminating in hypothermia (or hyperthermia / heat stroke)
  • Days without water. Humans are about 70% water; it’s used to digest food, circulate blood (and warmth), lubricate joints, conduct neural messages, and so much more.
  •  Weeks without food. 3 weeks. Not the best idea, but doable.
  •  Months without rescue. (Remember we’re talking survival, not a planned expedition.)

If all these needs are meet, you can then move onto a discussion of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,­ but we’ll leave that for another article.

The Survival Pattern

These priorities can now provide a basis for our “Survival Pattern”. Fun fact, this pattern is taught by NATO militaries (including the Canadian Forces), because it works. 

The Survival Pattern:
Our Needs In The Order They Present Themselves
  1. 1.   First Aid - As stated above, Critical Problems only give you minutes to treat. We’ll survive the rest -­ though it might hurt - but severe injuries must be treated immediately to prevent them getting worse.
  2. 2.   Fire - Fire is added because in cold weather you can’t build a fire if you’re frozen! It also acts as a signal, cooks food, boils water, and serves as a morale boost.
  3. 3.   Shelter - Protection from the elements in whichever shelter will be effective and easy for the environment with the materials/resources at hand.
  4. 4.   Signals - We want to be rescued (we did not choose this situation), so once the immediate (less than 24 hour) needs are met, we focus on signalling. The sooner we are found, the sooner we get to go home.
  5. 5.   Water and Food - Finally we shift our attention to upcoming needs: collecting water and gathering what food we can to survive for however long it takes rescue to find us. (You left a trip plan with a contact person right?)

Now, since I primarily teach Wilderness Safety & Survival, students sometimes say, “well, this is great when I’m outdoors, but this has no relevance for the rest of my life.”

What a time to be alive, when survival is no longer a daily task. We live in a society that has developed such an extensive and complex level of infrastructure that such mundane tasks such as water procurement and food storage can be taken for granted with barely a thought.

And yet, even less than 100 years ago (and still many places on the planet today), most people needed to plan their daily life: buckets of water from the well, food canning for the winter months, ice blocks for the ice house in the summer months, firewood for heating and cooking; the 'daily survival task list' goes on and on.

Again, such thoughts and tasks in today’s setting seem unnecessary, turn on the tap, flick the switch, etc.

However, the big question is: what would you do if public utilities and infrastructure collapse?

Whether for a day (in the winter!) or a few weeks? We may take it for granted, but infrastructure is given, it is not guaranteed (ask your utility provider if they will renew your contract with a 24/7/­365 guarantee!).

In the last twenty years, we can look at the:

  • Québec Ice Storm
  • Southern Ontario Black Out
  • Winnipeg Boil Water Incident
  • Water problem in Walkerton
  • Hurricane Katrina
  • Southeast Asia Tsunami
  • Japanese Earthquake
  • Haiti
  • Puerto Rico
  • Many, many other scenarios

With luck most of us will never experience such events, and yet ­somebody somewhere is usually living through one of these every day.

So you’re in an urban setting, you’ve accepted “the event” could happen. How does the Survival Pattern apply here?

1. First Aid

No matter where you are, First Aid is always your first priority. Are you hurt? Do you have a well stocked first aid kit? Have you used it? When was the last time you refreshed your first aid skills such as CPR? Do you require certain medications (eg. diabetes, chronic pain, etc.)

Check out the Gear Store for useful supplies.

2. Fire

Of course, you could light a Fire in the backyard ­ who doesn’t enjoy that? But: how long would your firewood supply last? Do you have a secondary means of heating yourself/home? Or cooking your food? And could you light a fire in the rain without modern fire starters? 

3. Shelter

In the urban setting, Shelter is usually easy, stay home! But what if your house sustains damage? What if you need to evacuate? Where will you go? Do you have a Ready­Bag to grab? Does it have some minimal shelter, bedding, or privacy supplies?

Check out Changing Worlds post on the different Layers of Shelter and our video on building a shelter inside of your home if the power is out and the temperature drops. 

4. Signals

Day-­to­-day we live in a world rich in communication and information technology Signals. But what happens when they get overloaded or damaged? How can you communicate with family and loved ones? Do you have a means of knowing what’s going on in the community, region, world? The first disaster is “the event”, the second disaster is always misinformation. Do you have a battery operated radio? Do you know where there’s a community poster board?

5. Water​

A steel vessel can be used to safely boil water.

The water main breaks, the sewage system backs up; you now have no reliable potable Water source. Have you stocked water? Can you get water (before the grocery stores sell out)? Can you collect rainwater or other sources? Can you treat the water so it’s safe to drink? Okay, you have water ­ now what about washrooms and waste: how will you store or dispose of waste (both “regular” garbage, and human)?

We are a big fan of Berky Water Filters for back-up & everyday use, especially in Urban settings. Check them out through our affiliate link. 

6. Food

Okay, you’ve easily made it through “the event”, your immediate needs are met. A few days have gone by, emergency services are organized and reaching the community. Unfortunately, they may not reach you for another few days, maybe even a week.

Do you have enough food stocked to last? A garden to supplement your meals? Could you forage from natural landscape?

Check out this post on food security here: Survival Gardening in a Changing Climate

The better prepared you are, the less likely you’ll be hit with the consequences.

Make a plan, but don’t agonize over every little detail; the benefit is in the planning. Any action, every action puts you one step closer to preparedness.

 Yes, the Survival Pattern was developed with respect to wilderness survival situations, and yet it addresses our basic needs regardless of where we might find ourselves. The next time you hear that a community is facing a major natural disaster or infrastructure failure ask yourself: what would I do, what could my family do? What can we do before it happens?

Get Your Friends and Family Involved, Thinking and Planning

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