DEVELOP CONFIDENCE AND PROFICIENCY VIA THE 6 PILLARS OF SURVIVAL TO GET THROUGH ANY SITUATION LIFE THROWS AT YOU.
Many survival and emergency preparedness experts today use the pyramid approach to survival prioritization. They put food, water and shelter in the largest block at the base and then security, community, sustainability and higher needs in smaller sections at the top of the pyramid.
The American Survival Guide University (ASGU) “6 Pillars of Survival” model takes a different, more linear approach to survival. The six pillars are: food, water, shelter, security, communication and health. In the ASGU system, no single pillar takes priority over another initially. It is up to the survivor to assess their situation and then focus on the pillar that is most important at that time.
There is an old saying that a person can live three hours without shelter, three days without water and three weeks without food. That might be true, but they won’t live three seconds without security in a hostile environment. The point is that it is the situation—not the system—that should determine which survival need is the priority.
Survival is all about assessing the situation and then devising and implementing a plan based on the 6 Pillars of Survival. You have to understand that survival is a fluid and dynamic process, and when the survival environment changes, you need to adjust what you’re doing and move to the appropriate survival pillar. Failing to recognize this, not having good situational awareness or becoming hyper-focused on a lower-priority pillar can make the difference between life and death.
PILLAR 1: FOOD
In the 6 Pillars of Survival, the first pillar is food. The “food” pillar encompasses food, its procurement, storage, preparation and sustainability.
Food procurement can be further broken down into several groups, including the use of traps and snares, survival fishing techniques and equipment, and basic small-game hunting skills. The latter can include field-expedient weapons you build on your own, as well as sling shots, air rifles and various types of firearms.
Food procurement also includes a solid understanding of gathering techniques. Knowing how to identify the edible plants in your environment is key to your survival, making it essential to understand how to apply the Universal Edibility Test. Evaluate vegetative food sources by touching, tasting and then eating one plant part at a time, with long intervals in between. Use the intervals to watch for symptoms of food poisoning or an allergic reaction to the plant part consumed.
Food storage includes methods of preserving food, such as smoking meats, salting, pickling and canning. Food storage also includes processed foods with long shelf lives, such as freeze-dried and canned foods, as well as emergency rations such as “meals ready-to-eat” (MREs).
Food preparation is everything from knowing how to skin and butcher game to how to build and start a fire. Whether you have the tools and resources to do it or need to use field-expedient firecraft, your success will depend on your knowledge and skills.
Your MREs and canned food stores will eventually run out in a long-term survival situation. The shrewd survivor also needs to know how to plant vegetables and fruits and raise livestock such as chickens, goats and sheep if he is going to be able to endure a prolonged post-disaster environment.
PILLAR 2: WATER
The second of the 6 Pillars of Survival is “water,” which includes procurement, preparation and storage. Water is one of the body’s most vital needs for survival.
Water comprises three-quarters of the human body. In a harsh environment, the body loses fluids at an alarming rate and needs to consume as much as 2 liters of water a day to maintain efficiency. It is imperative to locate, purify, drink and store enough water to stay hydrated in a survival situation.
A good rule of thumb is to plan for 1 gallon of water per person per day. However, the fact is that the actual need varies immensely based on a variety of factors. In the end, the only thing that matters is that you find a way to restore the fluids you lose in your specific survival situation.
The first task is to locate a water source. In the absence of a pure drinkable water source such as bottled or filtered water, boiling the water for at least five minutes is a good rule of thumb. The second best choice is rainwater, and the third is fresh water moving over rocks. Finally, stagnant fresh water can be purified, as well, and is a sufficient water source in a survival situation. Brackish and salt water must never be consumed, because they will dehydrate the body and cause hallucinations—and even lead to madness and death.
Even the harshest environments such as arid deserts or oceans can provide fresh water … if you know how to find it. Solar stills can catch precipitation, and some desert and tropical plants have drinkable water in them. Even fish from the sea can provide fresh water by eating their eyes and some of their organs.
Just because water tastes good does not mean it is pure and safe to drink. All water should be considered in need of purification. There are many other ways to purify water if you can’t boil it. You can build a field-expedient filtration device using dirt, leaves, pebbles and ash, or you can use a manufactured water filtration system. If you have bleach or tincture of iodine, you can use it to purify water. Remember that some people are allergic to iodine—and women who are pregnant should never use it.
Now that you have located and purified your water, you will need to find a way to store it. There is a plethora of available water storage techniques. Tarps and barrels can be turned into modified rain-catchers, and bamboo can be cut and turned into efficient water containers. Cups, water bottles, milk jugs, canteens, CamelBak-style water systems, condoms … the list goes on and on.
Without water in a survival situation, you will most assuredly die. Take this pillar seriously, and survive to live another day.
PILLAR 3: SHELTER
In the ASGU 6 Pillars of Survival system, “shelter” includes living quarters of all sorts, clothing and related equipment. Having the right gear and getting out of the elements in a survival situation are extremely vital.
The human body can only survive several hours when exposed to extreme weather conditions without the proper clothing or equipment. In life-threatening weather conditions, such as tropical storms, hurricanes or blizzards, decent shelter is a requirement for survival.
Shelter, itself, covers a wide spectrum of scenarios, from dangerous situations in the wild to hunkering down at home. In some cases, you might be trying to survive the elements and must find your shelter or construct a lean-to, teepee or a debris hut. In homesteading situations, you might be able to use your home as your shelter. Even so, chances are that you’ll be living off the grid or you’ll be trying to survive in the aftermath of an event that caused a prolonged power outage.
In order to provide shelter for yourself and your family, you might need to be familiar with rope work and lashing, as well as knots and basic construction skills. It will also be important to have some basic mechanical skills so you can maintain a home generator or get a vehicle running. It is almost impossible to be proficient at everything, and that is why it is so important, particularly when homesteading, to establish a network of friends with different skills related to all six survival pillars.
PILLAR 4: SECURITY
While other pillars such as food, water and shelter will sometimes take priority, when you’re in a hostile environment, the security pillar is more critical than the others in the 6 Pillars of Survival.
First and foremost, it is imperative to gain tactical sense and understand your environment if you are to survive. Too many times, survival books and magazines promote firearms for those interested in emergency preparedness and self-reliance/ self-defense, but they give little or no guidance as to how to employ those weapons tactically and efficiently.
“Security” also encompasses firearm and mid-range weapon selection. A good survival firearm should be versatile and able to do multiple things. Air rifles are good for target practice, shooting fundamentals training and small-game hunting. A .22 rifle can also do many of the same things—and more. Compound bows or crossbows, pistols, medium- to long-range rifles, a hunting rifle with a high-powered scope and shotguns all have positives and negatives to consider for appropriateness for your situation before they are added to your arsenal.
Tactical understanding of a battlefield and the ability to employ multiple weapon systems in a coordinated effort to destroy an enemy does not come easy. It takes hundreds of hours of rehearsals and combat drills to become proficient at tactical fighting and maneuvers.
Close-quarters battle (CQB) is an entirely different skillset that requires thousands of reflexive fire drills and structural clearing drills to gain muscle memory and become a lethal practitioner. Fighting room to room, floor to floor and house to house comprises some of the most dangerous fighting in the world and should not be attempted by amateurs.
In order to provide security, it might also be necessary to understand how to establish and execute a reconnaissance, an ambush and a raid. This would be useful when your property is being intruded upon by trespassers wishing to do you or your family harm or in an extreme event, such as an occupation by a foreign army.
You might not always be in a position to use firearms to defend yourself. This is the reason it is essential to take the time and put in the effort to learn how to fight both with your body and with a knife or other objects. Basic combatives techniques—grappling, joint manipulation, neural override, knife and stick fighting, and any of the martial or mixed martial arts—will take 100 percent commitment and dedication to learn. In return, these techniques will provide you with the skills and confidence to provide security for yourself and your family.
Finally, it is important to have at least a rudimentary understanding of home security systems and other passive security devices and deterrents such as alarms and cameras. Never count on anyone else to protect you in a survival situation. Be aggressive; utilize surprise, speed and violence of action. Never compromise security, and you might survive to see another day.
PILLAR 5: COMMUNICATION
One of the first things you should try to do in a survival situation is think about how you can signal other people to help get you out of the situation you’re in. For this reason, fifth in the 6 Pillars of Survival is comms.
While most civilian radios have limited ranges, ham radios are relatively inexpensive and have incredible ranges. Satellite radios and telephones are also excellent ways to communicate your position and condition in an emergency or when more-common means of communication are not an option. Other electronic signaling devices include white light and infrared strobe lights, personal locater beacons (PLBs) and laser markers.
A Faraday cage is a sealed field—for example, a wooden box with an electrically conductive outer layer that will protect the contents of the box from things such as solar storms and electromagnetic pulses (EMPs), which can damage or incapacitate electronic devices. Having a Faraday cage will allow you to have a location to store your electronic communication devices and protect them in the event of an EMP or similar event.
There are also many non-electronic options: signal fires, colored signal panels, and smoke signals and flares. Aircraft can be signaled with something as simple as a small mirror from a makeup case. If you are trying to make contact in a survival situation, you should also know the Morse Code SOS distress signal: three dots, three dashes, three dots. Communication is an essential element of the Six Pillars of Survival, and it can save your life or the lives of your loved ones.
PILLAR 6: HEALTH
In a survival situation, there might be no first responders, doctors or nurses to take care of you or your family, so it will be absolutely essential for you to have an in-depth knowledge of medial treatment. The last of the 6 Pillars of Survival involve knowledge of first aid, CPR and survival medicine, such as using herbs and plants to cure or treat certain ailments.
It is also important to understand the need to stock up on the medications you need most to survive. Those with a condition that requires constant medication should have at least a 90-day supply on hand, in case their ability to refill those prescriptions is compromised. Options such as livestock medications are possible, but only when extreme care is taken. Proper titration is essential, and an overdose can be deadly, so this should only be done in a true worst-case, SHTF situation.
Field sanitation and hygiene are musts, because keeping clean will mitigate the risk of spreading infectious diseases and prevent illness. Field-expedient toilets can be constructed using a 5-gallon bucket with a plastic bag liner and some kitty litter to absorb feces and urine.
Knowing your environment and learning about all the poisonous plants and dangerous animals in your area are also great ideas that can help lower the risk of illness or injury.
There are innumerable books on the market and Internet sites dedicated to home remedies for common medical problems. Take advantage of these resources and learn all you can. You can’t afford to get an infection in an environment in which a splinter left untreated can lead to infection, sepsis and death.
Don’t forget your psychological and spiritual health. Keeping a good attitude and just staying calm in a survival situation can save your life. Having faith in something bigger than yourself can also give you determination and strength to get you through the hardest survival situations.
Understanding how to manage your health and learning the fundamentals of field medicine and first aid are paramount in your path to self-preservation and overall preparedness for any situation you might face.
THE BEST TOOL OF ALL
The American Survival Guide University’s 6 Pillars of Survival are good guidelines to help you understand the things about which you must be cognizant in order to survive.
You should always have an emergency bugout plan for yourself and your family, including instructions to meet at a common rally point familiar to all. Print directions to your rally point and give a set to all family members to keep in their bugout bags (along with food, water, medicine and basic survival gear).
For you homesteaders: Start storing food, water, ammunition, firearms, medicines and hygiene supplies, as well as anything else you will need over a prolonged period of time.
Purchasing a home generator (along with fuel and supplies) and getting the generator hardwired into your fuse box by an electrician are also wise for the short term. For the long term, consider renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar power.
Outside the 6 Pillars of Survival, other skills that will most likely be necessary in a survival situation are land navigation and basic map reading. Understanding the Military Grid Reference System (MGRS) and having a 1:50,000 map of your area of operation or property will be quite helpful. Learning how to use a map, protractor, compass, the sun, shadows, the moon and stars will be essential skills if you can’t access the Global Positioning System (GPS).
The greatest tool and weapon you have to keep yourself alive in a survival situation is your mind. Remember: Stay calm, assess the situation, make a plan, and implement it in order to save your life and the lives of your loved ones. Having a tool to work with, such as ASGU’s 6 Pillars of Survival, will make you a more confident and proficient survivor and overwhelmingly increase your odds of making it through any situation that life throws at you.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the March 2017 print issue of American Survival Guide.