Before we can start working on the Rules of Three and preparing, we
need to look at the time frame we are dealing with. This is true for
every stage of the process.
Survival schools teach the 4/4/40 levels.
- 1 to 4 days: Short term
- 4 to 40 days: Medium term
- 40+ days: Long term
The skills and resources you need to survive for a day or two are
completely different from the skills and resources you need to survive
for 4 to 40 days which is completely different again from the skills
and resources you need to survive long term.
And, you need to add to that your long term goal…
To live and live well
Living is much different from surviving. I can survive in a three
season tent with tarp thrown over it, huddling for warmth, trying to
find enough food to stay alive. I would much rather live in my house
with a wood cooking stove with the family sleeping in the kitchen in
“Short term” is considered to be anything less than 4 days. We hear
stories about this sort of survival all the time. You are probably
- the guy that was trapped in his car for 3 days and survived on
nothing but Taco Bell hot sauce. (And the extra weight he carried
- the people that were trapped on I95 in the winter of 2021-2022. Some
were there for more than 24 hours.
This is sometimes the easiest to deal with. This is the “spend money
and it’s done” level of preparing. A 72 hour bar for each person and a
few liters of water and you have the food and water covered. Medical
is a bit different, but not that bad. You should carry a couple of days
worth of your daily medications with you.
These types of emergencies are often the result of weather or single
point failure. They are not systemic in nature. And often they are of
a limited nature.
- Weather takes down the power lines and you are without power for a
- You can’t get home from the office because of road conditions.
- You got lost in the woods but were able to call for rescue.
- The creek done rose and the bridge is under water.
- The excavator took out all services to your block
In most of these situations, a little bit of planning will get you
through. That and following the biggest rule of them all: Don’t
A few years ago I came back into the house after spending a few hours
tilling the field. It wasn’t late, the sun was still up. When I got
into the living room it looked like a cheap romantic flick set.
The power had gone out, about 2 hours earlier. One of my family had
started the wood cook stove and it was up to temperature to cook
dinner. But the other members had gone into panic mode. There were 2
or 3 dozen candles in the living room/dining room plus 4 oil lamps.
And all of them were burning.
The only light source they hadn’t used was my Coleman lantern, and
that was because they couldn’t find it. (Yeah, I did hide some things
It was still light outside, but the panic they felt led them to
light all those candles and lamps. Panic caused them to use resources that
were unneeded and which could have been difficult to replace.
For medium term survival, we do need some actual preparation. For
a long week without any travel, the food you have in your
refrigerator, freezer and pantry should take you through. A 72 hour
bar and a few liters of water in your car is more than enough.
But what if it is for a week?
After a whole week without power, the food in your fridge will
probably go bad. You’ll use up your eggs and butter. Your bread will
either be almost gone or going moldy. You need to have some
preparations in place to make it through.
This is the place where you can spend a whole lot of money to get what
you need for your 40 days. “Survival food buckets” run from around
$100 to north of $250. And the price per meal varies even more. The
nice thing is that it is easy. Spend your dollars, and you have your 30 day
supply of food.
Water becomes a bigger issue. You can easily store enough water for 4
days. You should consider a gallon a day per person. So four days
without water for a family of four is just over 12 gallons. 3 five
gallon jerry cans will do it. A six pack of water bricks would do it.
But in the medium term you need to be able to collect, transport, and
clean your water to make it potable. This is a different problem from
just storing and using water.
Your medication requirements change, too. You might have a 7 day supply
of your daily medication with you at all times. But do you have a 30
day supply? What if you are just about at the end of this month’s
Huddling around a indoor-safe heater for three or four days is very
doable. Handling 3 or 4 weeks? Or 10 weeks? That’s a bit different.
Do you have enough fuel on hand to keep your heat going for 1 to 10
Do you have an auxiliary source of heat that uses a different type of
And do you know how to use all the tools and resources you have? And
can you do it?
Example: You have five gallon jerry cans. You have a fresh water
source only a half mile from your location. Have you ever tried to
carry 80 lbs a half mile? Can you still do it? Hanging from your
hand? Have you tried using a wheelbarrow to transport your cans? A
dolly? Your bicycle?
This is where you are transitioning from what you have stored, to
hunting/gathering. What is available for you to gather? Gathering can
mean standing in line at the FEMA line to get your 1000Kcal meal for
the day. It could mean bread lines or trading unskilled labor for
It means being able to plant crops and bring them up. It means being
able to raise livestock. For food (eggs, milk, and later meat), for
shelter (hides into clothing or tarps, fur into yarn and cloth). It
means having skills that people want and are willing to trade for.
And it means being able to keep all the goods you have. That raider
that just wants your last “survival bucket” doesn’t care that you are
the guy that is fixing all the broken machinery in town. All he wants
is that bucket, and if you and yours end up dead so he and his aren’t
hungry that night, that’s okay with him.
There is a famous Dilbert cartoon on disaster planning. Dilbert
explains what he has to Alice. Alice replies with, “I’m preparing
too. I have your home address and I noticed that your preparations
are light on defensive weaponry.” pause “Can you add some protein
bars to the shopping list?”
I was part of a prepping group for a while. I left when I realized
that the loudest member was a raider. He was never interested in any
part of preparing except the weapons. He was always trying to get
information from other members on what they had.
He has learned enough that he has stated explicitly that our part of
the state is a no-go zone for his people. We have proven to him that
we are a hard target.
Note, a hard target doesn’t mean that you can’t be cracked. It just
means that it is easier, cheaper and safer to take on other targets.
The 4/4/40 layout applies to medical as well. Except we aren’t
talking about days, but instead minutes and hours. Medical is about
keeping a person alive for the next 4 minutes. Then keeping them
alive until EMS arrives in the next 40 minutes.
And all of that is much different from keeping somebody alive for 40
hours without full up medical services.
Thank you to Capt CJ in the comments for pointing me at the 4/4/40.
This is the method we have been using but I had not seen it broken
down this way before. It is helpful to have a formalized way of
looking at time issues.