The Emergency Survival Manual:
294 Life-Saving Skills

By Joseph Pred
224 pages, illustrated
$19.40 Paperback or $3.95 Kindle version
Publisher: Weldon Owen (October 6, 2015)
ISBN-13: 978-1616289546

Reviewed by Gila Hayes

Every now and then I enjoy a reminder about skills and equipment – purpose made and improvised – to get through emergencies, natural disasters and accidents. I was scouring the Internet a few months ago when I ran across what could best be called a book of lists – yes, there is some prose, but generally, its mini-chapters briefly highlight the 294 life-saving skills comprising The Emergency Survival Manual, published by Outdoor Life.

EMS BkAuthor Joseph Pred explains that he wrote the manual “for everyday people who want to be more informed and prepared, no matter what life brings.” Skills are the key to managing emergencies instead of being stressed out and overwhelmed by feeling powerless, he writes.

Awareness plays a big role in avoiding risks, as self-defense students know. Avoid being blindsided by paying attention to the unusual, then when something’s not right, consider your options, take action and keep moving, Pred teaches. While most of our members know these and related concepts through the lens of self defense, Pred writes, “The ‘enemy’ could be severe weather, an earthquake, or a bad traffic accident—anything unpredictable that can harm you or hamper your progress. So, create plans, but be open-minded in order to adjust to the changing circumstances. If you are rigid in your approach, your outcomes will be more limited.”

Pred discusses first aid supplies ranging from purpose-made splints, slings, bandages, chest trauma seals, tourniquets and more, followed by an outline of items found in most homes that can be pressed into service if the “real” supplies are not available. While amusing and memorable, the illustrations and lists emphasize that acting promptly is the key. While it is better to have a full kit of supplies, if you don’t, you still must figure out an alternative and use it.

The next section takes on a more serious tone, with advice to first responders and good citizen helpers about the danger of tunnel vision at an emergency scene. “Choosing to step back and maintain your own safety when someone is hurt or in danger is never an easy decision, but if you endanger yourself, then there will be another victim,” Pred notes.

Before barging in, he advises, pause in a safe area away from traffic, fire, or other hazards. Look for dangers from the victim or others. Look up to avoid falling objects. Look around to be sure frightened or injured animals aren’t going to inadvertently become involved. Scan for damaged electrical devices, power lines or cords. Wear protective gear to be sure you stay safe. Prepare in advance by learning first aid and CPR at a minimum, and ideally advanced first aid and automated external defibrillator use, he urges. In addition to reviewing basic first aid principles, details are given on how to prepare for medevac, improvising splints and using slings.

I found the section on treating burns interesting, and Pred later addresses smoke inhalation, pointing out that it’s a risk in non-emergency conditions as well as during a house fire or wildfire. He explains what the various colors and numbers mean on the fire diamond symbol, something many wouldn’t know, but useful in calling in an emergency or knowing how to safely approach an accident. At this point in the manual, I realized that although the eBook is on my phone, I also want a paper copy to maximize availability of the reference charts.

The manual details causes, symptoms and preliminary care for heat stroke, chemical burns, exposure to poisons, electrical shock, frost bite and hypothermia. It outlines when to rush to the hospital and when home care will be sufficient. While much of the focus is surviving disasters, routine safety and addressing minor emergencies goes better when we recognize symptoms, treat them promptly and avert complications. “Most emergencies you’ll face in life won’t be large-scale disasters, but that doesn’t mean they’re not serious,” Pred comments.

Since we can’t always choose where we’ll be when trouble strikes, Pred discusses strategies to reduce damage whether at home, work, school or out in public. If a civil emergency arises, try to determine three escape routes so if the preferred plan fails, you’re ready to switch to another, he writes. He briefly addresses reacting if a problem begins during your commute or while you are on a longer trip. Your ability to cope depends on protecting documents, cash and smart phones from mundane risks like pickpockets, he continues. There’s even a section on surviving a sinking ship or an airplane crash. Addressing airplane crashes, Pred writes, “Whenever you fly, wear practical clothing including a top with long sleeves, pants made of natural materials, and sturdy shoes. Proper clothing will help you to evacuate quickly and can protect you from sharp metal or flash burns, or if you have to run over burning jet fuel.”

Several sections address flood survival, including cars and water, getting unstuck from mud, and crossing fast moving water on foot if no other alternative exists. In addition to larger dangers, floods create in-home hazards from the utilities, and while it’s best to let professionals shut them off, Pred points out that we have to know the location and basics for dealing with the home’s power, gas and water lines. When utilities are disrupted, you’ll need toilet alternatives if, as is often advocated, you choose to shelter in place, so sanitary disposal for human waste using five-gallon buckets, trash bags and kitty litter is illustrated.

When power goes out, families have to decide what food is spoiled and what can be saved. When you get it wrong, the resulting sickness can be catastrophic, so Pred gives an extensive list of foods that are dangerous if left at over 40 degrees for a couple of hours, as well as other guidelines for food safety when refrigeration fails.

Pred explains how strong solar flares can disrupt technology-dependent utilities, GPS signals and communications. Maintaining paper maps and navigational ability is important, he writes. Maybe the grid will stay up and you will be able to access your tech solutions, but he adds, redundancy is crucial when you can’t.

Pred observes that when facing a natural disaster, the decision to evacuate or remain and weather the trouble at home “could be the toughest and most important decision you make in the time before, during, or after a disaster.” He provides a decision tree to help speed the decision, pointing out that both staying and evacuating entail risks. For those staying at home, the manual has multiple sections on food storage and preparation under adverse conditions. Water purification is covered, including improvised water distillation to remove contaminants and microbes.

If you’ve been evacuated, hazards may have developed in your home while you were absent, ranging from gas leaks, structural damage, wild animal infestations and more. Pred gives a check list for returning home that he makes available at through a “downloadable forms” link at the very bottom of the webpage.

A recurring theme in the manual is acting now to avoid failing to prepare. At various points, tips on engaging other family members and children in preparation are offered, and at another point, various preparatory tasks are assigned by month.

Pred teaches prioritizing needs at the beginning of a survival situation. First, he writes, decide to survive and attend to first aid. Next, address shelter, fire, communications, water and finally food, in that order. No amount of equipment determines who survives and who does not. Individual resilience combines inner strength, mental toughness, motivation and adaptability, he details.

The Emergency Survival Manual is not an ordinary book with chapters comprised of multi sentence paragraphs of well-crafted prose. The material is in list format, concise and often, motivated to learn more detail, the book sent me off on a tangent to research the sources Pred recommended. The manual is like a map of numerous risks one might face over the course of a long and interesting life, outlined in little briefings that lend themselves to quick review. Many of the sections conclude with checklists, recommended apps, and other resources. I’m glad I bought it.

To read more of this month's journal, please click here.