Tag Archives: First aid

Changes in the Body During a Critical Incident

When under the extreme stress of a critical incident, there are numerous physiological changes that take place to enable our fight or flight response. Knowing these changes exist and training with them in mind can greatly increase your chances of surviving an armed critical incident.

The points I’ll cover today have been widely known of for some time. However, over the last ten or so years, video footage from dashboard cameras, security cameras, and footage from military conflicts has clearly shown how the human body reacts when startled. Also, great strides have been made in neuroscience that have clarified the changes that take place under the stress of a critical incident.

The information in this article is what I have decided to include in the Minnesota permit to carry courses that I will eventually be teaching. I am only adding the information pertinent to the physiological changes. This being the case, some areas such as legal implications or some training techniques that can aid in achieving some maneuvers without looking won’t be mentioned. If you would like that information, feel free to come take a class!  If you are interested in reposting or republishing this information in any way, please contact Chris (at) preparedchristian (dot) net.

External Changes – The Flinch Response

The external things that the body does when startled are instinctual, they take the short path through the brain bypassing any cognitive thought. These instinctual reactions are often called the flinch response; made up of lowering ones center of gravity, orienting towards the threat and moving ones hands in the line of sight relative to the threat.
Lowering of the center of gravity

When startled or threatened, we lower our center of gravity by bending at the knees and leaning slightly forward at the waist. This action takes place before one can process the reason for the action. By bending at the knees we are now ready for quick movement making us better able to flee or to fight. In any sport, you can see athletes lower their center of gravity before jumping, running or just about any other movement.
Orientation to the Threat

When startled or threatened we reflexively turn our attention to the threat. This allows us to take in more information about the threat.
Hands Moved to Line of Sight

This is often described as moving hands up, but in truth, the hands are moved relative to the position of the threat. If the threat was from a snarling dog you would put your hands in your line of sight downward. This has a survival bonus, as we’ll discuss below. Blood is pulled from the extremities and pooled in large muscle groups and in the core. The benefit of this is that if your hands move to your line of sight, and you are deflecting a dog bite, a knife or any other implement that can cut, it will bleed much less.

Internal Changes

Blood is what brings energy to the body. In a critical incident, there are several changes in blood flow. This increases the body’s ability in many ways but also decreases it in others. There are also several other chemicals released that cause various changes as well. Simply elevating your heart rate and then trying to train is not the same as having an elevated heart rate under a critical incident.
Increased Visual Acuity in the Center of Vision and “Tunnel Vision”

In a critical incident there are things that take place to allow the brain to take in more data. First the eye has two types of sensors, rods and cones. Cones are concentrated in the center of the eyes’ field of vision and are responsible for detail. Rods are more densely distributed on the edges of the eyes’ field of vision, and are more sensitive to motion.

The second thing that takes place is that the thalamus filters out non-critical input. By filtering out information that is not critical, we can bring in more critical information in a shorter amount of time. The thalamus filters out non-critical information, which includes anything not in the center of our vision.

Because of the physiological changes in the eye, and the instinctive orientation to the threat, the threat stays in the center of our vision, where the vision is in far greater detail. Coupled with the thalamus filtering out non critical data, you could lose as much as 80% of your field of vision, but what you do see could be in incredible detail.

Because the thalamus is filtering out data from the rods, our vision is decreased, so you probably can’t track multiple targets. Tips on scanning for targets will be offered later.

Because of our decreased field of vision, it is important not to take your eyes off the threat, not to reload, clear a malfunction or for any other reason. It does take some practice to do these things without looking but for several reasons, it is important not to take your eyes off your target. Practicing clearing of malfunctions and reloading without looking can be done at home, either with snap caps or with empty magazines.
Distortion of Time

In Law enforcement studies, 70% of officers involved in a shooting reported experiencing time slowing down. Twenty percent of officers experienced time jumps or things perceived to go faster than they are.

As we learned, the physiological changes in the brain and the changes in the eye allow the thalamus to bring in critical data faster but the temporal lobe, the cognitive part of the brain, isn’t processing this information any faster. For this reason, the cognitive thinking part of your brain is processing twice the amount of data, so it seems like time has slowed down.

You might be wondering why this is important. It is for at least three reasons.

1. Since time distortion and memories might not be credible, don’t provide that information to police right away. Discuss it with a lawyer first. They’ll understand that sometimes memories and recollection of time can be off.
2. If we change the center of our field of vision to our gun, to watch as we reload, we will bring in more data. The cognitive portion of our brain is going to make us think we’re going too slow. If we speed up to compensate, we may make a mistake we wouldn’t have otherwise.
3. If we take our eyes from our threat, we most likely lose focus due to tunnel vision. When we try to find the threat, if our brains have perceived time to have slowed down or sped up, coupled with tunnel vision, chances are good that the threat has moved and we will lose precious seconds relocating it.

Auditory Exclusion

Auditory exclusion is the thalamus filtering out auditory data. In law enforcement studies, this occurred for 85% of officers involved in a critical incident. Sometimes all sound was diminished and in others just the sound of the gun shots was diminished.

Selective auditory exclusion is something we’re all familiar with. It is simply the thalamus tuning into one signal over another. Two examples of auditory exclusion in daily life are the ability to carry on a conversation in a noisy restaurant, and children not hearing that they need to clean their rooms.

There have been trainers who have taught that you should occasionally practice without hearing protection. In a critical incident the thalamus protects the ears, this is not the case outside of a critical incident. This is reckless advice that could permanently damage your hearing.
Memory Distortions and no Memory at All

Because of how the senses and brain function during a critical incident, it is possible for there to be memory distortions and even false memories. For instance, an officer reported that the assailant was down a long hallway when in fact there was no hallway at all.

There have been numerous cases where a police officer has gaps missing from a shooting or no memory at all. An article published for the journal of the international association of law enforcement instructors in 2001 states that it is common within the first 24 hours to recall roughly 30% of the occurrence, 50% after 48 hours and 75%-95% after 72-100 hours.

Memories are made differently when formed under extreme stress. There have been cases where a thought enters into the mind during a critical incident and the person believes the thought actually happened. For example, there were two officers involved in a shooting. One officer believed his partner had been shot. When the suspect was killed, the officer still believed his partner had been shot and began to search him looking for the bullet wound to make sure, despite the other officers argument that he was not hit.
Loss of Fine Motor Skills

Under stress, vasoconstriction occurs. As the heart rate rises, blood is pooled into the core and large muscle groups, draining blood from the extremities. This results in a loss of fine motor skills. This means that the ability to efficiently manipulate a slide release, rack the slide and reload a revolver or drop a magazine will be diminished.

Because of loss of motor skills, I don’t recommend you use the slide release to bring the slide forward. Instead, rack the slide with your weak hand, not using your finger tips to do so.

I also think that guns that require a lot of manual dexterity to use are not the best self-defense guns. If you have a firearm with a safety, clumsy magazine release, or any other feature that requires fine motor skills, you will need to practice those actions a significant amount to turn those movements into “muscle memory”.

There is a chance that there is more than one threat. Once the primary threat has been removed, you need to scan for other threats. Remember you’re most likely going to have tunnel vision, so you’ll need to scan thoroughly. There is also a chance you’re effected by auditory exclusion and may not be able to hear verbal threat, or commands from law enforcement.

Don’t just swing your head back and forth. Look at people. Look at hands. Are they armed? Are they coming at you? Is anyone talking to you?

Once you are sure there are no further threats, re-holster and call 911.
Physiological Changes and the Police

There is a school of thought that says if you have to shoot in self-defense, “never talk to police” afterward, or just tell them you need your lawyer. I don’t agree with this. Let’s face it, the person lying on the ground bleeding is a pretty convincing victim. If you don’t give police enough information to tell them “the attacker did this” and you were “afraid for your life” and had to use force to defend yourself, they have no choice but to treat you as the attacker.

Don’t misunderstand, if you must use deadly force, the police most likely are not your friend. They are there to collect information for the prosecutor. After you tell them that you were the victim, and what the attacker did to cause you to be afraid for your life, stop talking.

Why? When looking back over all of the physiological changes that take place, it does not take much to believe that your perception of what happened could be quite different from what actually took place. Any statement that you give police will now be on record and could make you look guilty, or like you may be hiding something.

Instead, tell the police that you know this is very serious, that you will give a statement after you have had time to calm down and speak with your attorney. I also recommend finding a lawyer that is aware of the physiological changes and can guide you through the statement to police.

For this reason, many police departments force all officers to undergo between 12-72 hours of downtime before they speak about the shooting.

I hope this helps shed some light on the body’s response in a critical incident and has given you a few ideas on how you can modify your training to go along with what your body will do during the process.

This article was written by Chris Ray at Prepared Christian.


Surviving At Home: From Bugging In To Bugging Out / Part 1

Surviving At Home / The DayOne Gear BlogWhen it comes to disaster preparedness, most people think immediately of a “bug-out” bag, or even a “get home” bag, or any of the other variations one finds of the general concept of having to put gear on your back and make your way from point A to point B.  It’s much simpler to think about just that initial process of “bugging out” when things go bad, than staying put.

However, the harsh reality is that bugging out is the last thing you should ever want to do.  The entire concept of bugging out requires that you be willing to sacrifice the known for the unknown.  In order to be willing to take this step you should have no other option available to you.  In contrast to bugging out, if you have spent any time or money prepping your home (or even if you haven’t), your odds of making it through a disaster by “bugging in” to your own (or even a friend’s or loved one’s) home are far better than biking, driving or walking to a destination that may even be worse than the one you are trying to escape.

In this article I would like to give you a brief overview of how to bug-in to your home, all the way up to the point where you may not have any other choice than to bug out.  Bear in mind that the bug-out situation is far less likely to happen than the need to bug-in, so put your primary resources to prepping your home base first.

At my survival school, we run (among many other things) many urban survival courses that start with what we call the “Urban Core Basic,” which is 50 hours of hands-on skills training and scenarios to introduce all students to the same level of basic urban survival skills.  The very first thing we do as a class, is focus on securing the 5-acre portion of our training facility that we hold this course on, and then create some kind of secure shelter(s) for our class as a group.  This is the “nesting instinct” and there’s a reason for it.  Having a home or even just home base to work with greatly increases your chances of survival.  It also greatly helps overall morale and attitude, which – make no mistake about it – are every bit as important as all of the other necessities combined.

If you don’t believe me on this, take the “homeless challenge,” which is another training scenario we put some of our more advanced urban survival students through.  Forcing yourself to live on the street with nothing more than the clothes on your back (especially in an unknown area) will wear you down very quickly.  This is no different than having to bug out through different areas to reach a destination.  In a bugout situation you are essentially in unknown territory, having to walk many miles every day, deal with hunger, thirst, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, illness and security issues.

While this may seem to be a romantic notion that is idealized by Hollywood fantasy, the actual reality of bugging out in a post-SHTF environment is that unless you have seriously trained for it at least weekly if not daily, and are working with other people who have done the same, it is most likely a quick way to become nothing more than a walking re-supply for people who were smart or more fortunate than you and stuck to their own home base rather than bugging out, and who don’t mind taking everything you have, to include your body or life.

So while it is obviously a very sound idea to have a planned bug-out destination (or even several), along with a “get-home” bag in the car and/or office, the purpose of this article is to walk through a more important step of prepping your own home and neighborhood (i.e. “home base”) for a post-disaster situation.

Prepping your Home Base

As with everything in the realm of disaster preparedness, it’s best to start and stick with the simplest concepts.  We already know the basic necessities of almost any survival situation:  Fire, Water, Food, Shelter and Security.  In an urban environment, or any environment that involves our home, we can break these 5 necessities down in several different ways, and in doing so the essential concepts expand just a little bit into sub-areas.  I like to break it down as follows: Water, Food, Heat/Cold, Power, Communication, Light, Health and Security. As an example of this break-down of needs, rather than just the basic necessity of “fire” we ideally need to be able to both heat and cool things like food or possibly even our living environment.

1)    Water:  This is one of the areas where many people miscalculate, and it is really one of the simplest and most crucial needs.  My advice is to tackle the issue of water before you try to take on anything else, because it is so easy to take care of and doesn’t require a lot of financial investment.  The biggest mistake most people make is that they woefully underestimate the amount of water they need because they don’t take into consideration exactly how much and for how many things we use water.

  1. Water to drink – This is of course the most obvious need.  But how much, exactly?  Plan on a minimum of 1 gallon per day, per person for your hydration needs.  This is probably more than you need to survive at a bare minimum inside your home base, but plan on using that much drinking water anyway.  Firstly because it doesn’t take that much room or money to plan for that amount and also because you’ll be glad you overestimated a little.  As an additional backup water plan, you should also invest in at least one water filtration system (for example: Berkey water filters), and also invest in one or more of the numerous and inexpensive, portable bugout-bag type systems.

However the first and most important necessity to start with is having a supply of water that does not need filtration or purifying.  It is very simple to buy several 55-gallon, food-grade plastic barrels.  The prices for these range from about $25 – $50, depending on whether they are new or used, and also depending on whether they already have a spout installed at the bottom or not.  Alternatively, the 5-7 gallon plastic water containers you can buy for under $10 will work as well.  They are usually square and stack neatly.

  1. Water for sanitation – Most people don’t consider this aspect, so let’s think about it here:  Disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes create an huge mess of sewage, salt-water (near the coast), agricultural waste, and much more.  This means that even a minor cut, abrasion or laceration can become life or limb threatening, especially if medical care is limited.  Proper sanitation means that we need water for washing off (shower), cleaning our teeth, cleaning out wounds and other first aid needs.  Also we need water for helping clean and take care of toilet needs, whether that amounts to 5-gallon buckets, trash bags, or even a trench in your back yard.


  1. Water for food – If you’re growing your own food (and you should be), then of course you will need water for that.  In most urban areas it is rare to find very much water supply that is gravity-fed.  This means that a power outage results in no water supply for your home, garden, greenhouse, etc.  How much water does it take to keep your food growing?  Do you know?  One way to track this is to set up a gravity drip system with PVC pipe drip irrigation (drill holes in it) and a 35 or 55 gallon drum.  It doesn’t cost much to create this and saves a lot of water even when your water supply isn’t restricted.  Rainwater collection or other sources of gray water are also a very good plan.  Rainwater collection, depending on where you live, is a good plan for drinking water too, but requires specific filtration in that case as well.  Bear in mind that there are some states where rainwater collection is actually illegal.  The constitutionality of this kind of regulatory practice is outside the scope of this article, but it is something to be aware of before you start building your own system.


2)    Food:  Disaster food prepping should be thought of in at least two categories.  Short-term and long-term food supply.  By “short term” I am talking about time periods of two weeks or less.  What a lot of prepper-type suppliers will try to sell you on is the concept of MRE’s and freeze-dried food-storage solutions like Mountain House for your home food supply.  While it’s true that these have calories to keep you alive for a short-term disaster (less than a few weeks) they are not any kind of real food for the medium or long haul.  The only real advantage you get from those short-term foods is portability and weight.  So I’d recommend having Mountain House or MRE’s in a small supply that you can either pack into your car or bugout bag very quickly (if not already pre-packed), in case you have to become mobile.  Otherwise use real food for your home-base prepping and stay away from prepackaged food entirely for that purpose.

You can very easily and inexpensively take care of all of your food supplies.  Start with extremely inexpensive with foods like beans (red beans, lentils, etc.) and rice.  Then build up from that starting point by using food drying (dehydrators like the Excaliber brand, for instance, can be bought starting at around $100) dry canning, wet canning, mylar and food-grade storage buckets to package and store your food.  The important thing is to store your long-term food in vacuum sealed containers that will allow your food supplies to keep for several years.  Storing your food in this manner is a skill, but one that is very easily learned.  We teach these skills at my school, but you can also learn many of them on your own through “YouTube University” or through good books.

One very important concept to keep in mind however is that “food fatigue” is a very real and imminent concept if you are planning on living on stored food for months or even years.  To really understand how to work with stored food, you must also change your lifestyle as a part of your prepping.  What I mean by this is that you must begin using and cooking with your stored food on some kind of regular basis.  Doing this will allow you to rotate through your long-term food stores as well as understanding what kinds of flavorings, spices and sauces you also need to avoid food fatigue.  This will help keep both your own and your loved ones’ morale and attitude sharp.

Finally, any real long-term food storage plan is incomplete without the talking about gardening and backyard livestock such as chickens, rabbits, ducks, goats, etc.   Again in reference to the myths that are propagated by prepping-supply stores, this does not mean simply buying a can of heirloom seeds and storing them at the back of your pantry, thinking you’re all ready to grow your own food after society collapses.  This means actively gardening right now.  Raising food to live on takes work and most of all experience and time.  You have to fail for at least a few years at gardening to get good at it.  Understanding soil health, composting, vermiculture, droughts, insects, disease, harvesting, winter gardening, seed harvesting and so forth are all necessary aspects of growing your own food that you can only learn from experience.  Not from books. A good analogy to this would be:

Not having any experience in growing a garden for actual food you need to live off of and expecting your non-hybrid seeds to fulfill this part of your plan is similar to reading about starting a friction fire using a hand-drill and then assuming you can do it on that day when it’s 40 degrees Fahrenheit, raining and you’re almost hypothermic.  Some of the related subjects (and of course also subjects we teach at my school) are:  Raised bed gardening, “guerilla” gardening, wicking beds, aquaponics, permaculture, vertical and forest gardening.  If you are interested in herbalism, I highly suggest you start growing those kinds of plants as well, while also learning to identify those that grow naturally in your surroundings whether urban or rural.  I also talk (and interview many other experts) a lot about herbalism and growing your own food, urban survival and a myriad of other preparedness topics on my podcast, if you are looking for more information on these subjects.

By  on December 16, 2013

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article from Sam.

Until then, what would you say is the most important thing to have on hand when bugging in?

Let me know below.

About Sam Coffman

With a lifetime of experience in wilderness living and over 10 years’ experience as a U.S. Special Forces (aka “Green Beret”) Medic as well as U.S. Army Interrogator, Sam Coffman brings a rich background to the subject of survival and preparedness in any situation. He owns a survival school (The Human Path) in Central Texas that trains students in hands-on, scenario-based and real world survival situations from primitive to urban to post-disaster, and then provides a way for them to use what they learn while working as teams in remote Nicaragua and elsewhere. Subjects taught at his school range from primitive skills and urban escape and evasion, to tactics, wilderness first aid, tracking, sustainable gardening & aquaponics, blacksmithing and a huge curriculum in plant medicine (herbalism) in post-disaster or remote environments.

This article can also be viewed at Survival Life

One Mans Quick Thinking Saves Lives

One Mans Quick Thinking Saves Lives / The DayOne Gear BlogA Massive winter storm passed through the country recently, covering 67% of the U.S. was covered in snow and ice!  While unfortunately many were left without heat and power, some tried to make the best of it.  But a quick jaunt through the snow can quickly turn into a survival situation if you’re not prepared.

But that leads to the question… If you’re caught outside in the middle of winter, without supplies…

How do you survive?

One mans quick thinking recently saved his family and turned what would have otherwise been a recovery mission into a successful rescue.

So what did he do?

Read below to find out

(CNN) – The 2006 silver Jeep Wrangler with a black top carried the excited family of six into the back country of northwestern Nevada for a playful weekend outing in the snow.

Those moments of adventure dissolved into a fight for survival after the vehicle turned over, slid down an embankment on its top and ended up in a crevice 15 miles from Lovelock.

When dawn broke Monday to a temperature of 21 below zero, the situation for James Glanton, 34, and his girlfriend, Christina McIntee, and four children could have been desperate.

Instead, they kept their heads. They didn’t try to walk out of danger, thereby making it easier for rescuers to find them.

Those rescuers did find them about midday Tuesday, nearly 48 hours after the ordeal began. And, within hours, an incredible story of resourcefulness and steady nerves began to trickle out.

Keeping warm

The couple, who were without extra blankets, started a fire outside after the Jeep overturned. They heated rocks and placed them in the spare tire to keep the children, ages 3 to 10, warm at night.

“I have never heard of such a thing, but I think it was pretty clever of him,” Paul Burke, who coordinated the rescue effort for the state Department of Public Safety, said of Glanton’s tactics.

“To the extent he was ingenious about it, that is one for the books,” Burke told CNN on Tuesday evening.

When three residents finally found the family and their vehicle during a massive search, the family had little food left, so resident Salvador Paredes pulled a candy bar from his pocket and shared it with them.

Glanton and McIntee, 25, along with their two children — Evan and Chloe — and McIntee’s niece and nephew, were taken to Pershing General Hospital.

So how are they doing?

View the original article to find out

This mans ingenuity saved his family from a very serious situation, and I don’t want to take away from that.


Things could have been much different had he had his vehicle properly stocked with cold weather emergency preps.

Below is just a short list of items that I put together for a friend of mines trip to Michigan last year.

It includes:

1: Insulated lunchbox, the insulation is normally used to keep your lunch cold, but for an emergency kit, can be used to the opposite effect. The insulation will actually keep your supplies from freezing solid.

2: 2400 calorie ration bars.  These mayday ration bars taste a bit like apple pie and don’t induce thirst. They actually taste fantastic with a bit of milk… but be warned, they will sit like a lead pellet in your stomach.

2: Liters of water. These mayday water rations come in individual 4.25 oz Mylar pouches.  I prefer the Mylar pouches over the juice box style containers as they take up much less space, weigh less, are much more durable and they are not damaged if the water does freeze.  The ones that I have come with a Ziploc pouch with a  pour spout.  I don’t like the idea of pouring out every pouch into the container, but it would work well to put snow in and wait for it to melt.

( if you don’t have the food and water supplies lying around you can get a head start byclicking here)

1: Pocket first aid kit. Not much in it but it never hurts to have some band aids and alcohol swabs.

2:  Space blankets.  These emergency blankets work but they make a ton of noise and tear easily which is why I suggest packing a few normal blankets for comfort.

1: Bic Lighter. Sure you could try to start a fire with a couple of sticks… but If you can do it with the single flick of a bic, why the hell would you want to do it any other way.

1: Box of weatherproof matches. Redundancy is key when it comes to fire starting

1: Survival whistle.  If your caught In a snowstorm you need to do everything possible to make sure you are seen or heard, the whistle might not be the most effective means of doing so but it can’t hurt. It also has a flint on the side to help with fire starting.

1: Snack Kit ( not pictured). This part of the kit is completely up to your choosing but I like to have a few sticks of beef jerky, some bouillon cubes and tea bags or instant coffee, basically anything that will help improve the mood of an increasingly aggravating situation.

1: Portable solid fuel camp stove with fuel tablets.  If you’re out in the cold a nice warm cup of soup or tea can really improve your morale and who wants to drink a mug of cold chicken flavored soup?

1: stainless steel mug ( not pictured) Holds the soup and can be used over the stove without harm to the mug.

If you don’t feel like making your own Check this one out:

AAA 65-Piece Winter Severe Weather Travel Kit

If you will be traveling on the roads during this winter make sure that you also know these great winter driving tips

Click here to learn how to be safe on the roads in icy conditions.

P.S. I’m calling on the Survival Life community members from the northern climate.  What would you suggest for those of us that are not quite as acclimated to the cold weather as you are?

What would you put in your vehicle to make sure you stay safe and warm?

Any tips you can get would be helpful!

By  on December 13, 2013

This article can also be viewed at Survival Life

About ‘Above Average’ Joe

I am just an average guy with a passion for learning. I am excited to share the things I learn with you but I am most interested in learning from you. Survival Life is more than just one man. It is a growing and living community of individuals; all with the desire to be prepared to survive and thrive no matter what this world throws at us. I look forward to growing with you! Feel free to follow me on google+

Stay Clean, Stay Healthy, SURVIVE

Stay Clean, Stay Healthy, SURVIVE / The DayOne Gear BlogIt blows my mind how many times I’ve seen someone emerge from a stall in a public restroom and walk out without washing their hands. Yet basic hygiene and hand washing goes a huge way in preventing illness, especially gastrointestinal infection.

This is of paramount importance in survival. By definition, if you’re in a survival situation normal life has already gone down the pan. You are already at a disadvantage, you may be traumatized, injured, weak, cold, wet, tired or hungry at the outset. The very last thing you need is to get sick as well. Particularly if there are others counting on you.

At home and in my work life I am regularly the butt of jokes because of my concern with hygiene. Obsession some have called it, though I beg to differ. My cameramen and family often call me Howard Hughes or Mom because I go round squirting them with antibacterial hand gel and other such things. However I’m rarely sick with coughs and colds and even more rarely do I get sickness and diarrhea. I put this down to my ‘obsession’. This is even more remarkable when you consider the nature of my work, I’ve spent a good proportion of the last 20 years traveling to Developing Nations and living off the beaten track when I’m there.

The following is by no means a definitive list but these hints and tips have helped keep me healthy and functioning when others have gone down.

Soap and water. Hand washing hand washing hand washing! Use clean water and soap whenever you can. I can’t express how important this is.  Our hands are vectors that transport pathogens to our mouths, noses, eyes, other areas of the skin, from person to person directly or via contaminated surfaces and food.

Soap works by creating a chemical reaction which breaks up dirt and makes it easy to wash away in water. The Ancient Babylonians were using it way back in 2800 BC and people have continued to use it throughout the centuries. Just not often enough at times!

A recent study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine asked volunteers to deliberately contaminate their hands by rubbing them over surfaces in public places like buses and museums. They found that washing hands with water alone reduced the level of fecal bacteria present by 49% but soap and water dropped it down to 81%. That’s a lot less poo floating around just from simple hand washing with soap and water!

Ash. Any backwoodsman or frontierswoman worth their salt will tell you that you can make soap by mixing lye with fat. Lye can be made from ash. Out in the field when I haven’t had access to soap I have often washed my hands with clean wood ash and water. The gritty texture helps to mechanically remove dirt and the high PH level kills germs. It’s harsh on your skin, very drying, and your hands typically look more dirty afterwards but they are actually much cleaner.

You can also use wood ash to clean cooking pots and utensils. By adding ash and water to an oily cooking pot and mushing it around you can remove the grease. When the ash, water and oils combine you are actually creating a rudimentary form of soap. The greasier the pot the better the soap. As ever, make sure your water is sterilized first by heating it to a rolling boil.

On a side note, ash is also a great covering for field toilets or ‘cat holes’. The ash dries out the feces and that combined with the high PH level helps destroy pathogens.  It gets rid of nasty smells too which is never a bad thing and reduces flies, which is always a very good thing.

Earth. If you don’t have access to ash, clean dry soil or sand with water can also be effective for hand washing. There is no antibacterial action here (and it is possible that the soil itself may contain contaminants) but again the abrasive action of rubbing the grit against your skin removes grease and dirt that harbor germs.

Fire. On many occasions I have used the same knife to kill game, skin it, gut it, cook it and eat it. All without washing the blade in between times. To date, thankfully, I haven’t managed to give myself food poisoning. This is because I sterilize the knife with heat before I begin the cooking process. You can do this by plunging the blade in the flames of a fire and holding it there for a while but I prefer to shove it into the hot coals of a fire. The temperatures are higher and it’s more controlled so you’re less likely to burn your hand.

Go Colonial. During the hay days of the British Empire thousands of Brits and their families left the relative comfort and sophistication of olden days Britain and headed out to pastures new in Africa, the Middle East, India and beyond. They were exposed to an entirely alien way of living – different temperatures, customs, foods and different germs. One way they kept themselves healthy was by following a simple mantra when it came to eating:

“If you can boil it, peel it or cook it, you can eat it. If not, forget it.”

In survival scenarios, after natural disasters or when I’m traveling in remote locations I try and follow these rules to the letter. If it’s not you doing the cooking, police whoever is. Make sure your food is piping hot and thoroughly cooked.  Avoid things like ice cream and salad like the plague.

After hurricanes and the like I tend to steer clear of restaurants and cafes for a while, even ‘trusted’ chains. They may have had power outages. You don’t know how long it took for their back up generators to kick in or whether or not their fridges and freezers started to warm up and provide a happy little place for bacteria to breed. Sometimes though you don’t have choice.  In these instances I become vegetarian, when storage systems fail it’s easier to keep veggies safe than it is meat. French fries and bottled water are my go to, or known brand bottled drinks like Diet Coke if the water is all gone Boring and not very nutritious but it will keep you alive and safe until better times.

Use Booze. Using a knife or other eating utensil, or even a stick with it’s bark stripped off, is great way to avoid putting dirty hands on your food when hand washing is unavailable.  But obviously the implement itself must be clean. I always carry a little flask of booze in my survival kit, if you can’t wash your fork or shove it in a fire, spirit alcohols such as whiskey and vodka make an excellent disinfectant. In eateries in far flung places I always order a whiskey with my meal, even breakfast, purely to sterilize the silverware. Though I have been known to drink it afterwards.  Waste not, want not….!

Left is not right to wipe! I was very surprised the first time I visited Southern India to see that everyone, even middle class professional folk like doctors and lawyers, ate with their hands. Or more precisely with their hand, their right hand. I’ve since seen this practice all over South East Asia, in Arab countries and in parts of Africa. Many Hindus and Muslims reserve their left hand for wiping their bottoms and their right hand for eating. It makes perfect hygiene sense in places where water is scarce. I’ve employed this technique out in the bush, it takes a little getting used to but is very helpful in preventing cross contamination.

In conclusion. Out in the field I work almost exclusively with men. ‘All ball crews’ as my husband fondly calls them. We’re often in very rugged terrain and camera equipment is heavy (and expensive) so a little extra muscle helps. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that a lot of men – not all -but a lot of men take hygiene matters less seriously than women. Some even act if cleanliness is affront to their masculinity. I implore everyone to heed hygiene and not to bow to peer pressure or preconceptions. In a survival situation it may just save your life, or at very least save you some hardship.

I recall a trip I made to Rwanda to film mountain gorillas about 12 years ago. We were in the west of the country right on the border with volatile Congo. It was just a few short years after the Rwandan genocide and things were still a little sketchy. My ‘all ball crew’ and I were eating at a roadside café and they were laughing at me because of my hygiene regimen.

I had just been for a pee in an open air urinal so I didn’t have to go inside to the private one and touch all the dirty doors and locks, then I’d slathered myself in antibacterial hand gel, wiped the table down, ordered some boring fried vegetables and a whiskey to clean my knife and fork. They thought this was hilarious and somewhat unnecessary. That night we headed into the mountains and everyone was very sick. Except me. My poor soundman spent the best part of eight hours puking and squeezing his guts out by candle light into a dismal Rwandan long-drop toilet full of mosquitoes and spiders.

Thankfully everyone recovered, but without medicine to hand it could have been a different story. I’ll take teasing about my hygiene ‘obsession’ anytime and live to tell the tale and get home to my loved ones. I hope you do too.

By  on December 9, 2013

This article can also be viewed at Survival Life

About Ruth England

Ruth England has made a career traveling the globe doing unusual things in little known places. She has tracked tigers in Chitwan Nepal, swum with sharks in Australia, eaten tadpole soup in Borneo and much more while filming in over 100 foreign locations from the Arctic Circle to the volcanoes of Rwanda in Africa. Most recently she starred with her Green Beret husband Mykel Hawke in Discovery Channel’s hit survival show Man Woman Wild. Ruth and her husband are currently filming a new series for Travel Channel. Most importantly, Ruth is a devoted mother to a young son. For More Information about Ruth, please click here.

Drills to Test Your Preparedness

Throughout life we are tested in a variety of ways; to see how much we learned, how skillful we have become, how resilient we are and in many more ways. Preparedness is no different! We may have some idea of how well prepared we are but there are only two ways to know for sure; by actually having an event that puts all of our planning into action, or by testing it before an event takes place.

I have come up with six types of drills that you could use to put your plans and preps to the test. First let me give some tips that might make these smoother with less resistance from the family.

Some of these drills will take a lot less time than others. Taking five minutes to do a fire or tornado drill isn’t that big of a deal. However, deciding to do a black out drill over a weekend isn’t something you want to do on a moment’s notice. Give everyone plenty of notice about the drills that will take more time. This gives everyone time to find things to occupy themselves without electricity.

The goal of doing these drills is to learn your shortcomings. Document anything and everything that you find you’re lacking in. If you plan ahead for some of these drills, you might discover some things you need to correct before the actual drill. Add these items to the list as well. For example, if you plan to do a blackout drill in two weeks and you decide to cook all hot meals on the grill, you might check to make sure you have enough propane. If you notice that you need to fill up, there is a good chance that you might be low on propane in the future. Getting another full propane tank might be prudent.


Fire Drill

Children are no strangers to fire drills. Schools do them a few times a year. Businesses have started doing them as well. Doing them at home makes good sense but they can be a little trickier, especially if you don’t live on the ground floor. If you have pets make sure to include them. If you live in an area where wild fires are common, this could become more of a bug out drill.


Tornado Drill

There are a lot of us who live in areas where tornados are a part of life. How long does it take your family to get to your shelter? Trudee can get herself and all of the dogs to the basement in less than thirty seconds. She grabs treats and they all follow her. If you live in an area that is prone to other extreme weather, run a drill for it!
Bug Out Drill

There are two types of bug out drills, one to see just how long it would take your family to get the vehicle packed and everyone inside and the other to see how long it takes to get packed and living with only what you packed. The time it takes to get packed and be ready to pull out should be measured in minutes; preferably less than fifteen. If you’re going to actually bug out to your BOL and live off of what you packed, you’re definitely going to want to give the family plenty of warning.


Kitchen Sink Drill

I named this drill the kitchen sink drill because you have time to pack everything, including “the kitchen sink”. The name of this drill is facetious. I don’t really think you should pack everything. This would be an event that is much longer-lasting than an event for a typical bug out, like a wildfire. You have plenty of warning and there is a high chance that your home may catch fire. For this event you need to move quickly but have enough time to take items that may be needed for a longer stay away from home. Having a list written ahead of time that names the items to grab and their locations will save a lot of time.


Blackout Drill

This is one of the drills you’ll want to give the family plenty of warning about, so they can make plans. There are many different ways to do this. I have read of people shutting off the main breaker. Others unplug everything except the fridge and the freezer. If you do this they should both be off limits. Put the food you plan on eating for the weekend in coolers. The goal is to only use items that require no electricity. If you have a generator, you run the generator to power the items you want to use. If you are on city water and sewer, keep in mind that if there is a blackout in your area, you won’t have running water. Make sure you have plenty of things to keep everyone busy. I also recommend doing this when the temperatures are bearable. While true that there is a chance you could lose power when the temps are not pleasant, the first time or two you do this drill it is to find holes. After that, if you want to test things when the temps are more extreme, use caution, but go for it!
Civil Unrest/Batten Down Drills

This drill could be added to some of the others or done on its own. I don’t expect much civil unrest where I live, but if there were, among other things, I would be standing watch after dark. Having a plan in place for spouses to share four hour watches during the night is a completely different thing than actually doing it. Here are a couple articles I have written on this type of situation. They are called Keeping Watch Once It’s Hit the Fan and Light, Sound and Smell Discipline.
This article can also be viewed at Prepared Christian

Final Thoughts

I hope these drills are helpful. If you follow through on any of them, I would love to hear about them!
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