If there is one theme that I preach repeatedly for survival situations, it is to practice before your life depends upon your skills. So many survivalists pour through books, videos, and television shows learning every little trick in the book. However, too many people stop there. I cannot count how many times I expected a survival technique to be simple, yet it turned out to be nearly impossible. More importantly, I like to focus on time sensitive situations that would really create natural pressure. In this article I will cover situations you need to practice both alone and with your family.
First we can look at bugging in situations. When you make the decision to lock down, there is an order of tasks to complete and a small amount of time to get them completed. This is a family ordeal unless you live alone, so sit down with a pen and paper and get your family involved. When the bug in decision is made somebody needs to do inventory, to secure the property, to gather or run out for supplies, and to get weapons ready for defense.
Obviously you do not want small children loading guns, but you also want to assign the most difficult tasks to the most experienced and physically able members of your family. A person with a bum knee would be ideal to board up windows or gather weapons. Somebody with a good feel for the time frame of the emergency should be the one handling inventory or rounding up supplies. Make these decisions in advance and do a few trial runs to ensure everybody knows their role. Time how long it takes to get locked down.
Step 1 – Plan out assignments for each person (Inventory, supply run, windows, perimeter, pets and small children, weapons).
Step 2 – Use a timer to see how long it takes to safely complete all tasks. Take notes as you go on anybody that looks lost or confused.
Step 3 – Assess the completion of the tasks. Is your property secure? Do you have the needed supplies? Is everybody inside and locked down?
Step 4 – Make changes to your assignments or provide additional guidance. Run the drill again to see if the time or completion improves.
The opposite of this situation would be preparing to bug out. Again, you have a small amount of time to get everybody prepared and moving in the right direction. Make sure all bug out bags are packed and in a common location by the door. If you have pets or small children, assign somebody to get them together.
If there is food or water to take, make sure somebody gets it into your bags. Finally, make sure everybody knows and practices leaving on foot or by vehicle. Drill who will be leading, who will be navigating, and who will be keeping an eye out for threats. Time how long it takes to get from your home to a safe place.
Step 1 – Gather everybody and assign tasks (gathering small children and pets, collecting weapons, food and water, a last second inventory, ensuring everybody has their BOB, locking down the house as you leave, checking vehicle for fluids).
Step 2 – Assign roles for travel (lead hiker/driver, navigation, lookout, kids and pets duty).
Step 3 – Run the drill with a timer and first see how long it takes you to get out of your home and safely away from the property. Take notes as you go. This drill will feel rushed so the notes are vital.
Step 4 – Take the drill a step further and give your family some distance to cover. Go on foot for a few miles or take your vehicle during a time of bad traffic.
Step 5 – Assess the completion of the tasks. Did your family forget to bring anything vital? Is everybody accounted for? Did the property get locked down so looters can’t get it? How long did it take you to get to safety?
Step 6 – Make changes and run it again. Try to improve the time it takes you to get to safety.
Gathering the Family
A scenario that could relate to either bugging in or bugging out is moving each family member to the same location. For most families daytime disasters can result in both parents being at different workplaces, and all the kids being at different schools. Designate and practice one parent or driving teen to pick up each child and move them away from congested locations like schools and daycares. Pick a public rendezvous point where traffic will not be an issue and practice getting the whole family together during rush hour. Mark a paper map with short cuts that can shave minutes off your drive time.
Step 1 – Create a plan. Assign each person that can drive a family member that cannot. Get out a paper map and plot the locations of each person. Then figure out where to meet.
Step 2 – Time how long it takes to get each member of the family away from congested areas. Each person needs to be at least a mile from any schools, daycares, shopping centers, or large office buildings.
Step 3 – Time how long it takes to get the whole family together at the rendezvous point.
Step 4 – Time how long it takes to get everybody from that point to your home or other secure location.
Step 5 – Adjust your strategy to try to get everybody reaching the rendezvous point at the same time. This may mean moving the location to accommodate those that travel slower. You can step up the difficulty by running the drill during rush hour or after a sporting event lets out.
Another drill to run in your home is evacuating during a house fire. Your workplace probably has an evacuation plan, but what if an electrical fire breaks out at home in the middle of the night. Sit down with your family and designate who will gather small children and pets. Assign one person to make sure they grab their cell phone and have them call 911 as soon as they have left the building. Ensure everybody knows where fire extinguishers are located, but designate one adult to decide whether to try and fight the flames or just bail and wait for help. Again, practice this drill several times by setting a loud alarm to go off in the middle of the night.
Step 1 – Sit down with the family and assign tasks to each person (gathering small children and pets, grabbing a cell to call 911, ensuring everybody made it outside, deciding whether to use a fire extinguisher or not).
Step 2 – Tell your family that the drill starts when a loud alarm clock goes off in the hallway, but do not tell them what time it will go off. Try to pick times that would catch them off guard (middle of the night or in the morning when getting ready for the day).
Step 3 – Run the drill and take notes as you go. Use a timer to see how long it takes to get everybody to safety and how long it takes to get the extinguisher and get back to the fire.
Step 4 – Make adjustments and run it again. You should be able to get the whole family out of the house in less than 2 minutes with practice. To step up the difficulty, cut the power so the drill must be done in complete darkness.
Another common household disaster is flooding. As you practice this situation, you will have to decide if wind damage will be a concern. When flooding is related to hurricanes, you will also need to board up windows and secure the exterior. Cell phones would likely be down so practice alternative communication methods.
Ensure everybody in the family knows to focus their efforts on the lowest spot in the house. Designate one person to cut power to areas that will have standing water. Have a designated place to which you can move furniture, and make sure anybody physically able can help with the effort. Have a cache of dry clothes and blankets, and verify that everybody knows where they are. If safety gets to be an issue, have a higher ground area for everybody to meet and wait for help.
Step 1 – Gather everybody to assign tasks and to designate an area for furniture. Also determine a safe area of higher ground to move to if safety is an issue.
Step 2 – Practice moving the most valuable items to your designated area with a timer. Make sure somebody cuts the power first.
Step 3 – Douse each other with cold water and then scramble to get to your high ground area and change into dry clothes. May want to do this one on a hot day.
Riot survival is another good drill to practice with your family. If you are in a crowd and disaster strikes, your family needs to know how to act. The next time you are at a sporting event or concert, have your family pretend that the crowd has gotten hostile. Teach them to walk diagonally across the crowd with arms locked, but never against the crowd. Show them how to be a gray man and blend in while avoiding eye contact and confrontation. Show them the back alleys and shortcuts that will get you all to safety.
Step 1 – Run through a list of do’s and don’ts for moving through a riot. Make sure everybody understands the danger.
Step 2 – Find a crowded place, lock arms, and time how long it takes you to get safely out of the crowd. If you notice anybody talking to people in the crowd, making eye contact, or moving against the flow of people then make everybody start over.
Step 3 – Review with everybody the things they did right and wrong. Run it again to improve your time.
Building a shelter quickly can absolutely save your life if you are stuck in the wild. Show your family how to build a lean-to or debris shelter with only natural materials. Time this drill and then show them how much faster you can build a shelter with a tarp or emergency blanket. If you live in an area with lots of snow, show them how to build a snow cave. If you live in the tropics, show them how to make a raised platform. Ensure everybody participates.
Step 1 – Show everybody how to make a simple shelter with natural materials.
Step 2 – Tear it down and make them build one without your help. Time how long it takes.
Step 3 – Build a shelter with a tarp or emergency blanket and show them the time difference.
Step 4 – Take it down and make them build one.
Step 5 – Make suggestions and run it again to improve your time.
Building a fire is another practice that can save your life, and it can be tougher than you would think. These drills should be done in stages. First show them how much tinder, kindling, and fuel they need to gather and how to build a fire with a lighter or matches. Then increase the difficulty by showing them the use of a ferro rod or bow drill. Teach them what kind of wood is needed for friction fire. To really sink in the urgency, time them on building a fire in the rain or snow.
Step 1 – Show everybody how to build a friction fire, a fire with a ferro rod, and a fire with a lighter.
Step 2 – Make them build a lighter fire without your help and time them.
Step 3 – Make them build a ferro rod fire without your help and time them.
Step 4 – Make them build a friction fire without your help and time them.
Step 5 – Make them build any kind of fire in the rain or snow and time them.
Step 6 – Give them feedback and run it again to improve the times focusing on the ones that were most difficult.
Related to building a fire, showing your family how to help somebody that has fallen through the ice is very important. You need to first explain to never risk their own safety to get somebody out of the water, but instead to extend a rope or pole to them. The remainder of the drill is all about speed. You only have a few minutes to dry off and warm up, so hammer this home. Have somebody building a fire while somebody else rolls the victim in snow to dry them off. Get their clothes stripped off and practice using body heat in a sleeping bag. Finally get water boiling to warm them up from the inside.
Step 1 – Wait until there is snow on the ground and mark a big circle or rectangle to represent ice.
Step 2 – Put one person in the center and have your family rescue them without crossing onto the ice themselves.
Step 3 – Have one person build a fire while everybody else helps to pretend to dry off the victim and use body heat to warm them up.
There are a few other first aid techniques that should be drilled with the whole family. CPR and mouth to mouth are two that everybody should know and practice. Helping a choking victim is another important drill. In fact, I actually saved my wife from choking just a few years ago. Stopping the bleeding on severe cuts is very important. Emphasize pressure, elevation, and tourniquets only as a last measure. Teach how to build makeshift crutches or a splint for an arm or leg. You never know when the family member with the most medical training might be unconscious and needing help, so teach everybody these tactics.
Step 1 – Designate one person to be the victim and tell them what their ailment is, but do not tell anybody else.
Step 2 – Have the rest of the family diagnose the issue by communicating with the victim. You can add visible symptoms as well if appropriate.
Step 3 – Have them treat the victim using life-saving first aid methods.
If severely dehydrated, the time it takes you to purify water might be vital. I suggest drilling your family on purifying water by building a fire, building a filter, digging a proximity well, and purifying in sunlight. It would also be smart to practice rainwater catches and solar stills. Time each method to show them which options will help save them the fastest.
Step 1 – Train everybody on how to most quickly purify water.
Step 2 – Supply them with natural materials and have them decide the quickest option. Time them on how long it takes and note how effective they are.
Step 3 – Give them a different set of materials and see if they change their method.
Step 4 – Discuss and repeat to improve times.
Finally, how to react to large predators should be discussed and practiced. Many people make the incorrect decision to run when they feel threatened. Pretend to be different species of predators and see how they react. If they are not in immediate danger, have them practice building a fire inside a boma and have them sharpen spears. Show them that being proactive is often more effective than waiting to be attacked.
Step 1 – Treat this like charades and pretend to be an animal coming around the corner in close proximity to them.
Step 2 – See how they react based on the type of animal you are and either attack or walk away depending on how they respond.
Step 3 – if they respond correctly, ask them to then build a camp for the night that would protect them from this type of animal. If they get it wrong, explain why and do it again with a different type of animal.
It is easy to fall into the habit of explaining or displaying these skills rather than drilling them. This is a mistake. Everybody that is able should be required to physically participate in the drills. Just watching or listening is not enough. It is likely that you will know much more than the rest of your family on these subjects, so it may get frustrating to watch them fumble around. Remember that you were once the novice, and in some cases may still be a novice. Have patience and make sure each person is able to struggle their way to a solution. It will make for a much more memorable lesson.