Tag Archives: survival psychology

Spiderman Construction Worker Escaping Fire Impresses Me

27 Mar

The latest viral youtube video shows a construction worker trapped on a balcony while the building burns. He hangs from one balcony and swings to another. That’s no easy feat. You can’t just jump straight down or you’d fall to your death.


Survival Lessons From The Video:

1. Are you physically fit? Even those of us in pretty good shape could have trouble with a jump like that! I pride myself on being in better shape than most, but I’m not sure I could have done that hang, swing, jump. The more physically fit you are, the better your chances of survival. No doubt this guy’s adrenaline was through the roof.

2. Can you hold your own body weight with your fingers? From a ledge and not just a bar? How’s your grip strength?

3. If you work up high or live above the second floor, do you have an emergency escape ladder or rope? Have you thought about how you’d escape a fire? Do you have an emergency fire escape hood?

4. Be careful when you weld. Don’t start a fire. The news say welding may have been the cause of the fire.

5. Is your workshop clean? Sawdust and today’s construction materials are very flammable. Get a Shop Vac. Don’t store extra foam insulation. I need to clear out some of that stuff myself. Fireblock, sheetrock, take steps to make your home less flammable.

6. Can you think under pressure? This guy clearly took his time to think through his options and decided he must act to get off the balcony.

7. Do you have the courage to make a risky move when you feel you absolutely must? How many people on the side of a mountain get to a safe place and are afraid to move from it. They hope help comes, even when they know it won’t. They freeze there. The courage to act under stress and risk is what separates great survivors, like this construction worker, from most of us.

I don’t know if he made the right decision or not. Would the ladder have reached him if he didn’t jump? Was it too big a risk? In retrospect, we never know. All we can do is take a survival situation as it comes and make our best decisions as we go or rely on previous training.

My Philosophy Of Prepping: Have A Plan, What If ? (Part 6)

18 Feb

For those who haven’t read the previous posts, let’s recap: Being a prepper involves a certain mindset. You want to understand the physical world around you. That could mean knowing how to repair your roof or it could mean knowing how to dress a deer. It involves believing you have a right to protect and defend your family against the malicious actions of others. It means you understand you can’t save the whole world. That’s not realistic. You focus on protecting your family.

Part 6 is something I’ve seen in every prepper I’ve ever known. Preppers have a plan. They have backup plans. They always ask: “What if…?” Preppers are planners. Preppers like options. The don’t like being boxed in. They don’t like being limited.

Asking “What if…?” leads you to prepare and plan.

* What if your running water became unavailable for a week? What would you do?

* What if two violent criminals smashed through your front door? How would you respond?

* What if your vehicle broke down while on a deserted road? What course of action would you pursue?

* What if social unrest lead to groceries being unavailable in the stores? How would you feed your family?

Some plans are simple. More complex plans fail. A famous quote goes something like this: “Plans mean nothing. The process of planning means everything.” As you plan, you confront scenarios. Having thought about those scenarios give you a leg up on people who haven’t given any thought to the issue.

Some people mock preppers because of this advanced “What if” thinking. We see this on the Doomsday Preppers TV show. The show asks each featured prepper to tell them one doomsday event they’re prepping for. One prepper preps for economic collapse. Another for a solar flare that knocks out the power grid. A third for a genetic mutation that turns turtles into mutant Ninja killers that seek to destroy the human race. The more extreme scenario the show finds, the more it likes it.

Then an expert smugly comes on at the end and tells people the chances of the event happening is one in a billion. The implicit message: Preppers are idiots worrying about exceptionally unlikely events. The media profits from this negative stereotyping.

Here’s the thing: These preppers are prepared for a whole host of other possibilities. The guy “worried” about mutant turtles is completely prepared for his power going out because of a winter ice storm. If that guy looks at the short list above, he’s prepared for any of those unpleasant scenarios. If I made a list of twenty bad situations, he’s prepared for them. The only thing he has left to work on his is mutant turtle defense.

It’s difficult for the mind of a prepper not to plan and prepare. He wants something to prep for, even if he’s already prepared for nearly anything life can throw at him.

Some people just don’t think this way. Some people will hop in their car and drive across a desert without giving the journey a second thought. It usually turns out fine. Not always.

The prepper asks: “What if the car gets a flat tire along the journey?”

Non-Prepper: I’ll call AAA for help.

Prepper: What if you can’t get a cell phone signal?

Non-Prepper: Ah, I’ll change the tire myself!

Prepper: Is your spare tire in the trunk inflated?

Non-Prepper: It should be. Why wouldn’t it be?

Prepper: Because many spares are very low on air or flat. Do you know how to use your jack?

Non-Prepper: Ah, aren’t there instructions on it?

Prepper: Have you looked at them?

Non-Prepper: No.

Prepper: OK. Let’s give the benefit of the doubt. You have a good tire. You have a jack. You get your tire repaired. You continue the journey. Wonderful. What if your radiator hose bursts instead of a flat tire? What do you do then? Cell phone still doesn’t work.

Non-Prepper: I’d wait for another vehicle! HA! I’d catch a ride with them.

Prepper: What if it doesn’t come? Ever. You took a road rarely used. You don’t see another car for three days.

Non-Prepper: I’d wait.

Prepper: Do you have water in your car? You do know you’ll be pretty weak in three days, right?

Going through “What if” scenarios not only helps you prepare, it helps you make better decisions. After the conversation, the non-prepper could keep a map in his car and stick to the better known roads. He can check his spare tire. He’ll have a better sense of when he’s putting himself in risky situations. He’ll know it’s risky to drive across a desert without keeping some water in the car.

My Philosophy Of Prepping: You Can’t Save Everybody (Part 5)

14 Feb

In Part 4 I wrote about the need to purchase supplies and how difficult it was to build your preparations without money. Thoughtfully Prepping corrected me, adding this doesn’t mean we should drive ourselves into the poorhouse purchasing tons of “prepper” supplies. That’s 100% correct. New preppers shouldn’t mistakenly believe they need to purchase all the “stuff” so many promote as essential. Stick to the basics. Stay within your budget.

There is a paradox when it comes to who prepares. Many affluent people, who have the financial wherewithal to make great preparations fail to prepare at all. Many people with much less money see the need to prepare and work hard to scrimp and save so they can stockpile a few essentials for a rainy day. Why is this?

I call this the lesson of sweat-soldering copper pipe. Watch students learn how to solder copper pipe. You can emphasize safety. They’ll keep their hands away from the flame, that’s pretty scary. They know what a direct torch would do to flesh. You’ll tell them to remember metal is a good conductor and that it gets very hot and could burn them. They won’t touch the soldered joint directly. They get that. Without fail, at least one student, who usually does a great job soldering, will grab the end of a short practice pipe they just soldered. He’ll be excited to admire his wonderful work close up. Clink. The pipe hits the ground and a few curses echo throughout the shop.

The thing is, this student will never burn himself again when soldering. The lesson is burned into their brain. There is a big difference between an intellectual knowledge of something and a visceral understanding of it. Everybody knows metal is a good conductor. Ergo, if you heat one end of a short pipe with a torch, you should be careful about grabbing the other end. That’s not the same thing as having experienced it yourself.

Why do people become preppers? For many, they’ve experienced some visceral event indelibly burned into their brain, no different than if they touched a hot copper pipe. Some preppers struggled financially. They physically despise credit cards and not having financial reserves. They know what it’s like not to have food in the pantry. Those who lived through the Great Depression stuff their pantry. They hesitate to throw things out that could be repurposed. This is a visceral response.

The modern family who has always had money might intellectually realize they could suffer a job loss. Maybe later they’ll save something, after they buy a new car.

Many preppers have a military background. Too many have seen things no human should be forced to experience. If you’ve seen the evil that can befall the innocent, it’s difficult to allow yourself to be defenseless in the future. Difficult, but not impossible. Some people can build up walls of denial that what they’ve seen can’t happen to them. Soldiers who served in Somalia shake their heads and say it couldn’t happen in America, ever. People who’ve witnessed a violent assault rationalize they’d never be the target of such pointless violence, ever.

The sad fact is, you can’t save everyone. It doesn’t matter how much you love them, care about them, and want the very best for them. Some people will dismiss good advice and won’t face unpleasant realities. Some people will be paralyzed by fear or inaction or something else and you just can’t help them.

Experts who study survivors of disasters know this. In airplane crashes or boat capsizes, many passengers will freeze. They’ll just shutdown. You can’t lead them to safety as we see in the movies. They won’t respond, and you’ll only perish if you try to save them.

This is a hard thing to come to terms with for many people. Preppers who realize this focus on preparing themselves and their family.


Economic Collapse Preparation

1 Nov

How do you prepare for economic collapse? Here are some ideas:

1) Reduce/eliminate debt. Debt can destroy you. If a person’s income drops and they can’t make ends meet, they often pull out the credit cards. The problem: If you can’t make ends meet now, how are you going to make ends meet when you not only have your current expenses but need to pay for past purchases with interest?

Reducing debt is easier said than done. To achieve it, you’ll need to increase your income or reduce your expenses. The positive: Once you’re debt free, you’ll have more money for getting by and for prepping.

2) Reduce expenses. This will mean you’ll have more money for preparations. If at all possible, live below your means. I’m not asking you to give up all pleasures, hobbies, or fun expenditures. But isn’t there something you can cut back on that isn’t contributing to your life?

To keep this in perspective, there is the story of Frank. Frank worked hard his whole life and saved whatever he could. He skipped many things he wanted to do. He wanted to go to Alaska for a hunt. He didn’t. He wanted to take his wife to Hawaii. He didn’t. He had plenty of money for his retirement. He was going to start living the good life. He retired. He died the next day after he retired. You don’t want to be recklessly spending. You don’t want to be Frank either. Find a happy balance.

3) Start a small business or find ways to earn extra cash. Moonlight. Build a second marketable skill or undertake a new course of study. This can give you money to pay off debt and spend on your other preps. It can give you a source of income that isn’t dependent on your current job.

4) Ask yourself: How secure is my current job? Would another position be better? Some preppers might not like to hear this, but from a prepping standpoint, one of the best jobs might be a government job. Government employees receive good benefits, and they’re likely to be paid. Even in the current government shutdown, employees were given pay for the time they were off. Private businesses are more likely to take a ruthless cost cutting (i.e. job cutting) approach to a drop in their sales.

5) Update your resume. Keep it interesting. Keep references current. Many people give up their job search after a few months. You’ll have a better chance getting hired if you keep seeking work! Be persistent. Network with people who might know who’s hiring people in your fields. The longer you remain unemployed the more likely your career will suffer in the long run. Consider this scary scenario: Tomorrow, you lose your job. What plan of action do you have?

6) Stock up on consummables. Food especially, but also soap, toothpaste, garbage bags, and anything you regularly use. You’ll be protected from inflation. Only stock up on the things you REALLY use, not the things you think you MIGHT use.

What are your key staples? Two cheap foods I like are Spaghetti and Tuna Helper. A jar of Spaghetti sauce can be purchased for $1 when on sale. The noodles for $1. For about $1 per person for two people, you have a warm and tasty meal. Same for the Tuna Helper. Buy your supplies when they’re on sale to get the most bang for your buck. If you forget what things cost, keep a price book so you’ll know when an item is a steal.

7) Keep cash available. They’ll always be something you’ll need to pay for with cash. Some preppers think cash and financial assets will be worthless in a financial crisis. It’s more likely they’ll just be devalued.

In many economic collapses, it’s not that things aren’t available. It’s that people lack the money to purchase them. One example: Germany: “While there were few shortages of food, millions found themselves without the means to obtain it.”

7) Learn skills that help you get by with less money. Do-it-yourself repair and gardening are two examples. The less money you must shell out to others the better. Could you have a family member cut your hair to save a barber visit? Do you use coupons to save money?

8) Build connections to others, especially people who have skills you lack. In an excellent analysis, the Russian economic collapse is compared to what collapse might look like in America. An important point: In many cultures, people are surrounded by extended family. In America, it’s more likely we’re “stranded among strangers.”

Those connections are important for personal well being, but from a more mercenary perspective, the more you’re connected to others, the more help you can get from them. Obviously, don’t be a mooch. Reciprocate and help them too!

If you live in the city, do you know a rancher who’ll sell you a slab of beef or cattle for butcher at a great deal? Do you know somebody who does electrical wiring? Plumbing? Auto repair?

There are countless ways personal connections help. If you need to purchase a vehicle and a car dealer is a close friend, he might let you get a car from a dealer only car auction.

Unless you’re close family, there are some things that don’t work as well. The more “professional” the service, the more likely the person wants to be paid in cash: Dentists, doctors, lawyers, etc., don’t want to trade for their services. Because they don’t hang out with plumbers, mechanics, and electricians, they often pay through the nose for those services in return.

9) Forget the guns. If you read my book or have spent time on this blog, you’ll know I’m a long-time gun guy. I strongly believe in owning guns for personal protection. But in most economic collapses, if you have a carry pistol and a shotgun with a hundred shells, you’ll be more than adequately prepared.

What about selling guns in a crisis? It could work. But if financial bad times really hit America, huge numbers of guys will be selling guns on gunbroker and prices will fall drastically. They’ll need the cash to pay the rent.

10) Take care of health issues you can today. You might not have health insurance in the future. Don’t worry so much about stocking medical supplies as much as prevention and general health.

Two areas come immediately to mind: Dental care and immunizations. Neglected teeth can create a whole host of health problems. The bacteria in your mouth can affect your whole body. If you’re short of funds, visits to the dentist are one thing many people postpone. The more proactive you are now, the better.

With disastrous sanitation conditions in Syria and a lack of healthcare because of war, Polio has returned.

If people can’t pay for garbage collection and forego immunizations, diseases once thought nearly eradicated could return here.

If you’re at that age, get a colonoscopy.

11) Get in physical shape to better deal with stress. Take up a physical activity if you lack one. If you don’t like exercise, spend more time mowing your lawn and doing other activities around your home. A Swedish study showed NEPA, or Non-Exercise Physical Activity, played a significant role in keeping people healthy. “Performing home repairs, cutting the lawn, car maintenance, skiing, hunting and gathering mushrooms or berries” were some of the beneficial NEPAs associated with Swedish culture.

12) Prepare yourself mentally for economic hardship.
Said simply: Economic stress sucks. Poverty sucks. It’s a vicious cycle that takes a toll on the mind. Studies have shown a person struggling with financial problems can effectively lose 13 IQ points due to the stress.
If you’re stressed out about being able to pay the bills, you won’t sleep well either. That hinders the mind’s ability to repair itself.

Under these circumstances it’s difficult to keep a positive mental attitude and a productive mindset.  The better job you can do of this, the better off you’ll be.

Because you’re on this blog page, you’ve already taken an important step to being better mentally prepared for an economic collapse.

Charlie Palmer -author The Prepper Next Door: A Practical Guide For Disaster And Emergency Planning (link to prepper book on Amazon.)

Prepper Book Review: The Survivors Club

7 Jun

Having been a prepper for over thirty years, I’ve read my share of survival books, survivalist books, and prepper books. Most of what I’ve learned, one way or the other, happened decades ago. I’ve read books on combat, war, wilderness survival, self defense, homesteading, and self sufficiency. I’m pretty much read out of the genera. As they say, there’s no new thing under the sun. Sure, I’ll learn something interesting here or there, but I seldom feel compelled to read a new survival book. The one group of books that still gets my attention are the books which chronicle true stories of survival. These books objectively ask the question: What separates a real life survivor from a non-survivor?

The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life by Ben Sherwood is in this class. Sherwood isn’t a survivalist. He’s a journalist. He approaches the topic objectively and without bias. He has no particular ax to grind or agenda to push. If you’re looking for a book to understand the basic psychology of survival, this is a great choice.

If you have extensive military survival training or other survival training, you’ll immediately recognize much of what’s in this book. Some of it will appear common sense. It’s interesting to see how this knowledge plays out for other people in different situations.

What are some of the book’s lessons?

1. In disasters, many people don’t panic. They freeze. They suffer brain lock. The way I remember this being portrayed is that when a person is confronted with something completely alien, their brain searches for similar situations to decide how to respond.

For most of us, in most disasters, we don’t have experience or a mental script to fall back on. Most people haven’t been in a crashing airplane, a burning building, or attacked by a psychotic with a knife. Our mental search draws a blank and we search the mind again, risking putting us into an infinite mental loop.

Some people want to deny the reality of the situation they find themselves in. The book does a great job of discussing this.

The corollary to this is that if you know you might confront a particular emergency, it’s best if you have some training. The training will give you a blueprint of how to respond. The blueprint will never exactly match the situation, but it’s a start. Sherwood describes how he, as an author, got access to participate in Navy helicopter crash training. As part of the book, he participates in commercial airplane crash evacuation.

2. Situational awareness is crucial. Situational awareness encompasses many things. It means you appreciate the risks you face. You’re as aware as you can be of the situation you find yourself in. You’re aware of your resources and limitations.

An important example Sherwood talks about is a professor who studies “inattentional blindness.” This means we can only visibly focus on a narrow range at one time. To take in more of what’s happening we need to look around and pay attention. As many drivers know, we should constantly be visually scanning for threats. The eyes should be moving. The professor makes it a point to consciously scan a traffic intersection for those nefarious drivers who run red lights and cause many accidents. Sherwood writes about this in the context of accidents and luck. Many accidents can be prevented by extra awareness. You’ll have better “luck” in life if you pay attention.

Another good example is counting seats on an airplane and knowing where the exits are. As Sherwood experienced in his crash training, a plane could be filled with thick smoke and you might not be able to see your hand in front of your face. Where is the nearest exit? If you’ve counted seats, you could move seat to seat with your hands as your guide.

3. The role of active passiveness is important. Just because you aren’t active, doesn’t mean you aren’t thinking and formulating a plan of action. You’re mentally scanning for opportunities before you seize on one.

I’ll take an example, not from the book, but from the news. The terrorists who bombed the marathon car jacked a guy. When one car jacker went to get gas and the other put down his weapon and started playing with a GPS device, the hostage made his get away. If you’re ever in a situation like this, there is a huge difference between being passive and being actively passive. See, too, the role of situational awareness. You want to take in all the information you can and seize the best opportunity.

4. You need to make good decisions. Sometimes your decision will be made instinctively and other times analytically. Sherwood tells the story of a lady who fell onto a knitting needle that entered her heart. She realized that pulling it out was like taking a cork out of a bottle. She left needle removal to the doctors. This was credited with saving her life. Ironically, the book says famous crocodile hunter Steve Irwin did the exact opposite when he was stung by a bull ray. He ripped out the stinger, possibly severing his atrium, killing him.

5. If you want to live, you need to keep fighting. We won’t all make the right decisions in every emergency and it can kill us. So, too, some situations aren’t survivable. But if you really want to live, you can have much more impact than you might think.

In one of the saddest stories in the book, a troubled young man jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge. Deciding he wants to live, on the way down, he makes it a point to right himself so his legs will enter first. On impact, his arms, legs, and much of his body is smashed and he’s forty feet below the surface of the water. Had he landed head first, he would have died instantly. But he can’t swim due to his injuries, and he prays for God to help him. A sea lion nudges him from underneath and gets him to the surface.

For those people who like taking online tests, the book ends with a “Survivor Profiler” test you can take online.

Review by Charlie Palmer -author, The Prepper Next Door: A Practical Guide For Disaster And Emergency Planning