June 2007

Principles Of Survival From SS&R

By Mike Wallace
Superstition Search & Rescue
#2 Of 3: A Survival Series


 Preparation is not a typical subject discussed when talking about a survival situation.  I feel it is the most obvious and most overlooked tool for surviving a crisis. 

How much easier would it be to survive with water, a knife, a flash light or fire starter than without?  It seems too obvious, but time and time again, we rescue people who have none of these items. 

Whether on water or land always be prepared by bringing the basic tools to survive. 


  • Make a plan and tell some one.
  • Never boat or hike alone.
  • Always have water or the ability to find or purify water for consumption (one gallon a day)
  • Include the following items: map of the area, compass, fire starter (water proof), extra food, extra clothing, flash light (extra batteries), knife, first-aid kit, signal devices, body protection, any other needed survival item.

Preparation is crucial to longevity of survival.  It is a simple choice that could save your life.

Fear Management
 In the summer of 2002, a young lady who had been on a day hike in the Arizona desert was reported missing. Search teams from Maricopa and Pinal County were called out to find her.

The area in which she was lost was saturated with ground, horse and air support.  She wandered for three days, lost in the desert.  She also hid from the rescuers who were trying to save her.

What would cause a person to hide or flee from the very thing that could save them?  The answer is terror! 

Most of us have not experienced pure terror. This makes it hard to comprehend individuals’ avoiding aid that could save their life.  The reality is that a very large percentage of people who get lost do just that! 

It is a natural result of the mechanics of physical response to life threatening situations.  There are four stages to one’s initial response in a time of crisis, whether the crisis is real or just perceived.

Stage 1. Alarm — a state of alertness as a result of stimulus.  Anxiety appears as a natural reaction to what could happen.

 Stage 2. Reaction — the physical body gears up for action.  The entire body, physically and mentally, prepares for what could possibility happen. Symptoms of stage include a. muscles tightening, b. sweat glands closing down, c. sugar being released for energy, d. adrenaline starting to flow, and e. heart rate increasing.

 Stage 3. Response and options (fight or flight syndrome) — adrenaline is dumped into the system. A person should only allow oneself to progress to this stage as a last resort to a real life-threatening situation.  The physical and emotional drain of the fight-or-flight syndrome on the body uses huge amounts of precious reserves. Possible negative symptoms of stage 3 are a. confusion and loss of the ability to think rationally  — also, refusal to believe that the situation you are in is very serious or is happening at all, b. complete panic and possibly frozen limbs and mind - could experience weakness, crying, trembling, nausea, and vomiting

 Stage 4. Rest — sharp emotional and physical let down after a high output of energy.  This will happen eventually whether wanted or not.  Symptoms of stage 4 include a complete drain, both physically and emotionally, and shock.

None Is Beneficial

None of the above physical reactions to mental stress is beneficial when in a survival circumstance.  There are a lot of theories about priority of tasks to maximize your ability to survive. 

Some would argue that shelter is the most important; others, a source of water.  These are both vital to sustain life.  

Since each survival situation is different, it is almost impossible to list any single task that is first and most important — except one. You have to save yourself from yourself! 

Mental stress is directly tied to physical stress. Both will burn much needed energy reserves.  Fear/anxiety is a normal response to a crisis. 

Managing your body in an emergency is the key to survival.  Failure to manage your body will directly affect your ability to exist in any environment for any amount of time. 

Don’t think because you’re a specimen of manhood, bulging in brawn and mental capacity, that you’re not vulnerable to terror and irrational behavior.  If anxiety and fear are allowed to evolve on a natural course, it won’t matter how strapping or intelligent you are. 

Search and Rescue will more than likely find you and pry you off the tree you are hugging in hysteria, if you are lucky!

Editor’s Note: The third and final article in Mike Wallace’s series from Superstition Search & Rescue will deal with controlling fear. For more information, contact him at (480) 228-7733 or (480) 981-5433 or at azsr87@yahoo.com or the team at www.superstition-sar.org