One of the core principles we have taught is to be ready for 72-hour stay in a survival situation. Pack what you need to live on, keep it light-weight, be ready for the conditions at hand. This last fall and winter I decided to stop and reflect on these principles and just how they held up to the hundreds of case studies I poured through, interviews with survivors, and any other research I could get my paws on.
While the “Court of AIQ” is still in session, I felt a need to look deeper into some practical aspects of survival and rescue. From the multitude of resources, going out to the field to re-test standards and principles, and discussing search and rescue with guys and gals who are out there when a hiker is reported to be lost, I came to several conclusions that might change some of our views.
First, is the time to rescue we teach our students to expect when in a survival situation. In the past we have worked with a Rule of 72 and going with gear to self-support for 3-days. In reality, from the time of report of missing person or group to time of discovery varies depending on the activity.
- From reports and interviews with both the FAA and Civil Air Patrol and additional research, the following time frames are a guideline for rescue once a report has been filed:
- General Aviation Aircraft or Off-Road vehicle:Up to 3 days
- Average Hunters, Hikers, or Campers: Up to 7 days
- Back Country Campers, Horse Packing, ATV Supported Hunting, Mountaineering, and Expeditions: Up to 30 days
- If you find yourself beyond the 30 days, feel free to stop by the post office and pick up change of address cards because you are no longer lost, you are a local resident.
This will most likely impact our philosophy of the 72 hour bag and create the need for us to adjust the curriculum for surviving up to a week since we often deal with hunters going into the back country by horse or ATV. We will still teach that food needs to be in the bag, simply because rations can be extended by supplementing them with game or other edibles during the survivor’s ordeal.
Second, is going to be on our focus of packing food and food procurement. We have stayed away from teaching food procurement, preparation, and cooking in most of our workshops, the exception is our kids camp where we teach field dressing of trout. We will add into our seminars how to catch both fish and game as well as prepare, cook, and consume survival game.
We need to be up front with the effects of long-term hunger. Travel in Southwest Asia and Africa when I was younger I saw the effect of starvation first-hand. This increased my interest in the behaviors and breakdown of society when food is scarce. Based on research of how hunger effects the brain and influences behavior, here are four phases of hunger a healthy person may endure. This does not take into account lack of clean water, socio-political impacts, external cultural stressors, environmental stressors, or extreme weather conditions.
Hungry and Bad: Due to low blood sugar- anger, foul moods, general “bad-assery” erupts to the surface, creates tension in a group, or short temper tantrums.
Hungry and Sad: By this point the body begins to feed off of its reserves. The survivor (s) will to give up, cries to God to remove the situation, depression, and withdrawal can kick in. Hallucinations about food or rescue can be present.
Starving and Crazy: We often overstate our hunger as “starving”, but in this phase, the body is beyond feeding from reserves, it is now beginning to dysfunction. Lack of food decreases the size of organs that work in digestion, diarrhea becomes common in the survivor, and they become desperate. This is the crazy phase where cannibalism seems to be a likely alternative.
Starving and Subdued: Strong hallucinations are common in this phase as is a schizophrenic state. The body is in its final stages of shutting down, and there is a complete withdrawal of the survivor. The mind is closing its doors for business.
While all of these phases could be placed on a one to five-week time frame, I have not found any documentation that draws definitive lines in the sand. Also the age, health, mental strength, previous dietary needs, etc all have strong influences on any amount of time someone will progress through the phases of hunger. For some it might be three weeks, while others it could be up to ten. There are just too many variables.
Water and the Long Term Survivor
The last is water procurement and treatment. Here I want to simply acknowledge that we are still researching this. I am still studying long-term survival situations where water is scarce and the survivor needs to safely secure and procure drinkable water. The team is meeting with water safety officials from FEMA this next year so we can have a better understanding and see how our courses will grow.
This is a journey and we continue to learn….that’s what makes the discipline so exciting.