Disaster preparedness begins with a concept known as the Survival Rule of Threes. Basically, it states that a person cannot live longer than:
- 3 minutes without air
- 3 hours without shelter
- 3 days without water
- 3 weeks without food
This rule will help you prioritize if you ever find yourself in an emergency situation. It should be the foundation and starting point for any preparedness plan.
Nothing is more important than air, shelter, water, and food – in that order.
Keep in mind that these rules are only general guidelines. Individual and specific circumstances should also be taken into consideration.
For example, if you are in a very hot climate, the length of time that you can survive without water may be shortened. Exposure will be an immediate concern in extreme weather, but you could likely survive for several days without shelter if temperatures were comfortable. And, let’s be honest, some people could last a lot longer without food than others.
So, when creating your emergency survival plan, you should begin with the Rule Of Threes. It will help you address the most urgent needs first. However, every disaster situation is different. Therefore, you should also be prepared to use these guidelines to evaluate each circumstance separately.
Survival Rule of Threes Priority Evaluation
Three Minutes Without Air
The average person can only survive three minutes without air, so this should be your first priority. A fire can fill a room or other area with smoke. An earthquake can cause a gas or chemical leak. Chemical spills, volcanic eruptions, or explosions can contaminate air.
So, what can you do? Gas masks are recommended. And, if you can afford to add them to your survival kit, they are the best solution. However, they can be costly. As an alternative, dust masks or damp cotton cloths/bandannas will help filter smoke and fine air-borne debris. Pack several masks or bandannas for each member of your household, as well as extra water bottles to dampen the material. If escaping a burning building, one covering may be enough. But, in the case of wildfires, you may need to be prepared for several days of smoky, dirty air.
An air filtration system may also help prevent harmful chemicals or contaminants from entering your home.
Three Hours Without Shelter
Exposure to extreme weather conditions can lead to frost bite, hypothermia, or heat stroke very quickly. In these situations, finding adequate shelter is important. Include a tarp, blanket, or plastic sheeting in your emergency preparedness kit. You may also want to add duct tape (or waterproof tape) and some type of supports, such as collapsible tent poles or bungee cords. Being able to create a temporary shelter that will keep your family out of the bitter cold, driving rain, or blazing sun can increase the likelihood of survival.
This need is important for almost every disaster situation. BUT, it should be a top priority for those living in areas with a high risk of tornadoes, hurricanes, or earthquakes. These types of disasters can destroy property, leaving many homeless. A shelter can provide a safe refuge during the actual event, and offer necessary protection in the aftermath.
Three Days Without Water
Water is a necessity of life. The human body needs it to survive, and dehydration can be dangerous.
Disaster situations can cause water shortages. Tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and extreme cold can damage water mains. Flooding can contaminate water supply. In some cases, it can take days or even weeks to repair damages.
Your emergency kit should include at least a three day supply of water at 1-3 gallons per person per day. This is enough for both drinking and personal sanitation. As a longer-term solution, pack chlorine bleach or water purification tablets. You may also want to purchase a mini or personal water filtration system such as Life Straw. And, of course, packing a pot or non-electric kettle to boil water is always a good idea.
Three Weeks Without Food
When people create an emergency preparedness kit, they usually focus first on food. Yes, eating is important, but it shouldn’t be your top priority. According to the Rule Of Threes, it’s at the bottom of the list.
Include non-perishable items with a long shelf life such as canned goods or dry, packaged foods. And, don’t forget to rotate your foods regularly based on expiry dates. Also remember to pack everything you need to prepare the food, like a can opener, utensils, and pans.
If you think you may be living outdoors for a long period of time, you may also want to include a fishing rod and/or pack a guide to edible wild berries and plants.
Disaster or emergency situations often require quick decision making. The Survival Rule Of Threes will help you prioritize needs so you can take the necessary actions to keep your family safe.