Chapter 6: Survival and Improvisation




I. Resources

PowerPoint slides, Chapter 6

Photos of fire starters, shelters, and improvisation techniques


II. Teaching Points


A. What is survival? (p. 56)

  1. Statistics show that nearly all survival situations today are short term (72 hours or less). 
  2. Long-term situations, although highly publicized, comprise fewer than 5% of all incidents.


B. The necessities of life (p. 58)

  1. Priority 1: Positive Mental Attitude (PMA)

a.       What affects a person mentally also affects him physically. It is important, therefore, to maintain a “can do” outlook. 

b.      Those with a strong will to survive have an advantage in hostile environments. 

c.       Never underestimate the power of the mind.

d.      Survival time: Depends entirely upon the individual


  1. Priority 2: Air

a.       One can survive only a matter of minutes without breathing.

b.      Survival time: 3 to 5 minutes


  1. Priority 3: Shelter

a.       Anything that protects the body can be called shelter. 

b.      There are extreme climates where inadequate shelter can cut survival time to a few hours or less.

c.       Survival time: 3 to 4 hours, depending upon the environment


  1. Priority 4: Rest

a.       Conserving your energy is especially important in a survival situation, both mentally and physically.

b.      Survival time: 30 hours in extremes


  1. Priority 5: Signals

a.       Contrast is key.


  1. Priority 6: Water

a.       Water is essential for body temperature regulation, waste elimination, and digestion of food.

b.      Survival time: 3 days in extremes


  1. Priority 7: Food

a.       Statistics show cases where individuals have gone 40 to 70 days with no caloric intake. 

b.      This fact coupled with current records showing that most survival situations last 72 hours or less emphasizes that procurement of food in a survival situation should be LAST on the list of priorities.

c.       Survival time: 3 weeks or more


C. Response to life-threatening situations (p. 60)

  1. Stage 1: Alarm

a.       State of alertness resulting from some stimulus

  1. Stage 2: Reaction

a.       Anxiety increases as the body gears up for action.

                                                                                                                                       i.      Muscles tighten.

                                                                                                                                     ii.      Sweat glands close down.

                                                                                                                                    iii.      Sugar is released for energy.

                                                                                                                                   iv.      Adrenaline starts to flow.

                                                                                                                                     v.      Heart rate increases.


  1. Stage 3: Response and Options

a.       “Flight or flight” syndrome

b.      Best option is to apply a methodical approach to the program using precise actions and sequential procedures learned through training.

  1. Stage 4: Rest

a.       Sharp emotional letdown after high-energy output

b.      Shock may occur, so be prepared.


C. Comfort zones (p. 61)

  1. Humans are basically creatures of habit. 
    1. Once a habit is established, people become comfortable with their behavior and their surroundings. 
    2. This becomes your “comfort zone.” 
  2. If you never purposely venture outside the zone, it can be extremely unsettling when you find yourself in an unanticipated situation. 
  3. Your anxiety and stress could make it very difficult for you to make decisions¾potentially endangering your life and that of others.


D. Controlling fear (p. 61)

  1. “No passion so effectively robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.” (Edmund Burke, 1729-1797, British statesman and political theorist)
  2. Symptoms of fear:
    1. Physical

i.                     Quickening of pulse, breathlessness

ii.                   Dilation of pupils

iii.                  Increased muscular tension and fatigue

iv.                 Perspiration of hands, feet, and armpits

v.                   Frequent urination

vi.                 Dry mouth and throat, high-pitched voice with stammering

vii.                “Butterflies” and faintness caused by empty stomach

viii.              Nausea and vomiting

    1. Mental

i.                     Irritability, increased hostility

ii.                   Talkative at early states, later speechless

iii.                  Laugh or cry hysterically

iv.                 Confusion, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate

v.                   Feeling of unreality, flight, panic, and sometimes stupor


  1. Controlling your own fear:
    1. Recognize and accept the fear.
    2. Learn how to make decisions quickly and logically by establishing good habits.
    3. Develop self-confidence by regularly expanding your comfort zone.
    4. Be prepared, properly equipped, and have a number of options.
    5. Learn all you can.
    6. Keep a positive mental attitude.


  1. Controlling fear in others:
    1. Cultivate mutual support.
    2. Use good leadership practices.
    3. Practice and demonstrate discipline as a model for others.
    4. Demonstrate a positive mental attitude.
    5. Accept a person’s right to their feelings.
    6. Do not scold others.
    7. Comfort others without encouraging them to feel sorry for themselves.
    8. Involve them in simple tasks; occupy their minds and bodies.


E. Mental steps of managing an emergency: STOP! (p. 62)

  1. S¾Stay/stop at the first sign of trouble. Rushing around will only cause confusion and panic.
  2. T¾Think about immediate and future dangers. Analyze the weather, terrain, and available resources to sustain life.
  3. O¾Observe and size up the situation.  Look around for immediate hazards.
  4. P¾Plan the best course of action before implementing any action.  Be deliberate and practical.


F. Shelter (p. 65)

    1. List at least three basic considerations for shelters.

a.       Simple and small¾no bigger than what is absolutely necessary for body protection.

b.      Minimal expenditure of time, energy, and body water.

c.       End construction will minimize body heat loss or gain through the primary mechanisms of temperature transfer in the body.

d.      Best source of immediate shelter is a vehicle

e.       Avoid:

                                                                                                                                       i.      Dry streambeds in desert regions

                                                                                                                                     ii.      Avalanche chutes in steep rocky high country

                                                                                                                                    iii.      Rock fall areas

                                                                                                                                   iv.      Dead trees with large limbs

                                                                                                                                     v.      Exposed mountain saddles or valley openings where strong winds tend to blow

                                                                                                                                   vi.      Low valley areas in winter or autumn where cold air pockets and/or frost may accumulate

                                                                                                                                  vii.      Thick dense woods where moisture tends to accumulate and not dry out

                                                                                                                                viii.      Areas where insects tend to accumulate

f.        It is virtually impossible to build a waterproof and windproof shelter from only natural materials. 

                                                                                                                                       i.      Have some type of manmade material available such as a plastic bag, tarp, or tent fly.

g.       Shelter entrance should be 90 degrees to the prevailing wind.

h.       Proximity to drinking water should not really be a consideration when building a shelter except in extreme desert conditions.

i.         The best shelter material and resources are the ones you carry with you.


G. Fire making sources (p. 69)

  1. Friction
    1. Matches
    2. Bow and drill
    3. Hand drill
    4. Fire saw
    5. Plow board
    6. Fire thong
  1. Spark/heat
    1. Metal match
    2. Flint and steel
    3. Vehicle battery
    4. Cigarette lighter
    5. Magnesium fire starter
    6. Chemicals


H. Signaling (p. 74)

  1. Have signals ready for immediate use.
  2. Use pyrotechnics in a manner that will not jeopardize safety.
  3. Use a ratio of 6:1 on letters or ground marks used (e.g., 3 feet wide by 18 feet long).
  4. Fires are usually very visible at night or in reduced light.
  5. For maximum efficiency, place signal fires in open areas.
  6. White or black smoke can be very visible.
  7. Moving or flashing lights attract attention in virtually any terrain.
  8. Shadows define, emphasize, and make larger any ground-to-air signal.
  9. Movement on a contrasting background attracts attention.
  10. Colored flags, ground cloths, or bright clothing that contrast against the natural terrain, used with movement, are very visible.  Bright royal blue is a very visible color in all environments.
  11. There are very few straight lines and right angles in nature.  Therefore, they attract attention.
  12. Out of place formations, structures, vegetation, or color attracts attention.
  13. Bigger is better.
  14. Choose a spot for signaling that is visible from 360 degrees.
  15. Stay with your stalled or crashed transportation.


I. Water purification methods (p. 81)

  1. Clarification¾the act of removing or filtering sediment from the water.  This should be done prior to purification.
  2. Purification¾the act of killing bacteria, viruses, and parasites in the water.
    1. Boil it.
    2. Add iodine (carefully, too much is toxic).
    3. Use water purification tablets.
    4. Add commercial bleach solution.


J. Personal waste disposal (p. 82)

1. Cat-hole¾efficient way to get rid of human waste in the field

    1. Dig at least 200 feet from any campsite, trail or water source.
    2. Choose a location that isn’t likely to be visited by others.
    3. With the heel of your boot or a small trowel, dig a hole about 6 inches deep, but no deeper than the rich topsoil.
    4. After use, cover the hold completely with dirt.
    1. Bury nothing but human waste (trash should be packed out with you).


K. Personal cleanliness (p. 82)

  1. Good hygiene is essential in the outdoors to safeguard good health.
  2. The smallest abrasion of an unclean body can easily become infected.
  3. Keep hands, face, underarms, crotch, and feet especially clean.
  4. Use biodegradable soap.
  5. Be careful not to dirty lakes and ponds by using them as bathtubs.  Dispose of wastewater in cat-holes.
  6. “Air” bathing is better than nothing.