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The Preparedness Hierarchy of Needs

June 24, 2021 0 Comments

When we think about preparedness, stocking up on food and water comes to mind—or toilet paper, as we saw last year. However, while these things are important, they aren’t the first things you need in a survival situation.

Let’s say you go on a hike and lose your way. You likely have a protein bar in your bag and a water bottle. But what will you do if you wind up lost overnight and the weather is against you? Having shelter and clothing that protects against the elements is much more important than the water and food in your backpack.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs explains how certain needs must be met before we can move on to others. That’s why it is important to consider this hierarchy with preparedness in mind.

Understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

In 1943, Abraham Maslow wrote a paper entitled "A Theory of Human Motivation." The basic idea is that humans are motivated to meet needs. Specifically, they are motivated to meet needs in a certain order. Humans must meet basic needs before they can move on to more advanced needs.

According to Very Well Mind, “As a humanist, Maslow believed that people have an inborn desire to be self-actualized, that is, to be all they can be. In order to achieve these ultimate goals, however, a number of more basic needs must be met such as the need for food, safety, love, and self-esteem.”

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is depicted as a triangle with the most basic needs at the large base and the most complex (self-actualization) at the small top of the triangle. They are arranged in this order:

  1. Physical
  2. Security
  3. Social
  4. Ego
  5. Self-Actualization

Very Well Mind explains, “Needs at the bottom of the pyramid are basic physical requirements including the need for food, water, sleep, and warmth. Once these lower-level needs have been met, people can move on to the next level of needs, which are for safety and security.”

How Preparedness Fits into the Hierarchy

Now, let’s take this concept and apply it to preparedness. Since our basic needs are physical, such as food, water, and warmth, these needs must be met first in a crisis. However, in what order should they be prioritized?

The preparedness hierarchy of needs places the most basic physical needs according to the Rule of Three. The Rule of Three prioritizes what matters the most based on how much time you have available in a crisis.

  • Humans can survive for only three minutes without air.
  • Humans can survive for only three hours without shelter.
  • Humans can survive for only three days without water.
  • Humans can survive for only three weeks without food.

Essentially, shelter isn’t important if you can’t breathe. Water isn’t important if your body isn’t sheltered against extreme conditions (think hypothermia). Food isn’t important if you don’t have water.

The Importance of Air

Oxygen is an essential human need, and one that we may take for granted in emergency planning; just ask anyone who’s had an anaphylactic allergic reaction.

When you go without oxygen, you may experience cerebral hypoxia. Medline Plus explains, “Cerebral hypoxia occurs when there is not enough oxygen getting to the brain. The brain needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients to function. Cerebral hypoxia affects the largest parts of the brain, called the cerebral hemispheres.”

Just a few minutes without oxygen can cause severe brain damage and may even be fatal. Cerebral hypoxia can be caused by choking, smoke inhalation, pressure on the windpipe, drowning, anaphylactic shock, and more (all of which are possibilities in severe crises).

How to prepare:

  • Know basic first aid, such as the Heimlich maneuver and CPR.
  • If you need an EpiPen, never travel without it.
  • Learn how to swim.
  • Look for pockets of air should you be trapped.

The Importance of Shelter

As long as you have oxygen, the next thing to focus on is shelter.

When we discuss shelter, we also include clothing because it helps shelter your body against the elements. Unfortunately, many people think shelter is a later priority. However, extreme weather can cause significant injury or death before lack of food or water will.

Let’s go back to our hiking example. If you thought you were going on a simple daytime hike, you may not have packed clothing appropriate for nighttime weather in higher altitudes. This is a serious issue. Or, what happens if you fall in a frozen lake? If you don’t have a way to get dry and warm, hypothermia will set in, and finding food won’t matter.

Backcountry Chronicles shares this harrowing example: “Several years ago […], two people on vacation went out for an afternoon hike above 9,000 feet on a beautiful September day. They didn’t tell anyone where they were going, and they evidently ignored advice from someone who claimed they were told to take more clothes in case the weather changed. The weather did change, the clouds rolled in, visibility decreased, and it started snowing. Nobody knew they were missing until their plane arrived in Atlanta without them 5 days later. Their bodies were found the following Spring.”

How to prepare:

  • Prepare for the unexpected. Pack clothing that is appropriate for the environment and conditions.
  • Stock up on emergency blankets and fire starters.
  • Learn survival skills, including how to build fires and shelters.
  • Know how to get warm, such as stuffing clothing with leaves and vegetation.

See also The 8 Types of Fires Every Survivalist Needs to Know How to Build.

The Importance of Water

Like oxygen, water is essential. Business Insider explains, “At least 60% of the adult body is made of it and every living cell in the body needs it to keep functioning. Water acts as a lubricant for our joints, regulates our body temperature through sweating and respiration, and helps to flush waste.” The problem is that our body is constantly using and losing water, which means it must be continuously replenished.

If you don’t have enough water in your body or are dehydrated, your blood volume may drop. This is an extremely dangerous situation that can be fatal. Hence, the Rule of Three days for water. However, it is important to understand that the number of days humans can go without water greatly depends on the situation. For example, in extreme heat, you will likely be unable to make it three days without water.

There’s another issue. In extreme survival situations, you can’t simply drink any water you find. Much of the water in the wilderness is not suitable for drinking because it contains harmful pathogens. If you drink unsafe water, you may make things even worse for yourself. If you contract E. coli, you will wind up losing far more water than you take in.

How to prepare:

The Importance of Food

Many people think emergency preparedness begins and ends with food. While food is essential for survival, our bodies can last much longer without food than they can without water, shelter, or air. The Rule of Three dictates that we can go three weeks without food. However, that doesn’t mean you should neglect food preparedness.

You will need to find food should you find yourself trapped in a survival situation. If you have food in your vehicle or your hiking pack, you will need to make it last. Ration it. You should also know how to forage for food, which means learning how to identify edible wild foods.

Moving Up the Pyramid – Security

At this point, we’ve really only covered the bottom level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. Once these physical basics are covered, you should begin moving up the pyramid. Next on your list of priorities is security. More than just shelter, security involves knowing how to protect yourself and how to perform first aid.

Once you feel secure, you will move on to meeting higher-level needs, such as social needs. While we pride ourselves on our self-reliance, much can be said about the importance of community in survival situations. Whether you simply need community support or trustworthy people for bartering, your social needs are also important for survival. However, only after your basic needs have been met.

See also 20 Outdoor Survival Items and Skills That May Save Your Life.

When in survival situations, remember the Rule of Three, friends.

In liberty,

Elizabeth Anderson

Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply





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