Understanding Emergencies

The foundation of Integrated Skills Group, Understanding Emergencies is the lens through which we view every potential problem and find solutions. Start Here.

May 31, 2020
ISG Team


Everything we do at ISG starts with a somber acceptance that bad stuff happens. It happens with regularity, and it happens to good people, and it happens without explanation.

This isn't a secret, but society generally deals with this knowledge in two ways: blind indifference, or abject over-reaction.

Popular culture has created a sort of post-Cold War 'cult of survivalism', almost none of which takes a sober account of what disaster management means. There are tons of websites that attempt to teach "survivalism" as a culture. You'll need guns, bunkers, guns, stocks of food, and probably a few more guns... for good measure.

We've abandon ship on the mainstream because it's laden with paranoia, fantasy, and above all: bad information. Disaster management needs fewer "Doomsday Preppers" and more regular people who have the skills and latitude to withstand hard times, and still help their communities.

Our bedrock principle is:

Capable individuals create resilient families, which create strong communities, who are less vulnerable to disaster.

We don't want you to conform with our methods, we want you to work with your strengths.

However, we do think there's a template that can help us all get on the same page...

Understanding Emergencies

If we ask ourselves "What is an Emergency?" we find that they universally have something in common:

Emergencies impact our ability to acquire or maintain critical resources needed to survive.

The purpose of this article is to understand how these events impact us, and mold our response in a way that ensures we have access to our critical resources.

First things first. ...what are our critical resources? We use the "Rule of Threes" to define our critical resources.

Humans are generally able to survive 3...
…Minutes without oxygenated blood...
…Hours without shelter...
…Days without water...
…Weeks without food...

The rule of 3's allows us to prioritize immediately at the onset of any emergency.
They are our "Hierarchy of needs", so to speak, and before we look to thrive, we need to make sure we have access to the above.

Let’s take a look at an example to illustrate how emergencies compound to jeopardize our access to these resources.

A Realistic Emergency

You’re driving along a freeway, beginning onto an overpass when your steering wheel jolts. In a fraction of a second, the bridge gives way and the car dives nose-first into the river below. The car begins to fill with water.

Have you considered a situation like this? Can you open your door or window in such a situation? Do you know how the car's weight will affect how it sinks? Elements such as this all play into your ability to survive, and it starts with a finite amount of breathable oxygen. If you're able to escape the sinking vehicle, you'll be cold and wet. In this example, rescue is probably not far away, but you must act quickly and decisively to not succumb to the lack of oxygen, or to die from exposure.

Mississippi River Bridge Collapse, circa 2007. An entire stretch of I35 fell into the river.

This example isn’t a made up situation. It happened.

This occurred in Minnesota, on the sort of bridge you drive over every day without thinking about.

A Classification for Emergencies

Emergencies are events that critically restrict your access to vital resources, but Emergencies are not all the same. It goes without saying that how you respond to a flood is very different than how you respond to a wildfire – but apart from a few exceptions, the way you prepare is the same.

We can evaluate emergencies by assessing duration and intensity.

High intensity situations don’t last long. A car crash, for instance: the crash itself directly compromises your ability to survive by threatening your access to a stable, isothermal environment (car fire), access to oxygen (submersion), circulatory stability (physical trauma and bleeding) and so forth. Once you’ve survived the initial crash, the threat doesn’t disappear, but it does change.


If you escape the vehicle and are not at risk of losing enough blood to cause shock, you still need to be aware that the environment itself could kill you. The emergency is ongoing, but its nature has changed. This subtlety is what separates our Types of Emergencies.

In planning, governments often plan to address emergencies from the ‘top down’.
We see that disaster response teams arrive on site, but have no means of delivery to get resources into a disaster zone. Relief efforts are hampered by routes, access, safety, and honestly, social status.

We believe this means one thing: You alone are responsible for your safety.

The purpose of this information is to allow you to identify, plan, and prepare for emergencies using the Duration/Intensity metric, and a Probability/Proximity metric.

It's not necessary to have specific plans for every different possible type of emergency. Simply knowing what's likely to happen in your area, how long it typically impacts the community, and what resources are unavailable is enough. Then, it's your job to fill in the gaps such as food, sanitation, mobility, and shelter.


The TYPE I: Situation

High Intensity, Short Duration

These events occur very quickly: in most cases on a timeline of seconds to minutes.

Marked by being a direct threat to you, or loved ones in your immediate vicinity, the Type I Emergency requires you take immediate action to preserve life or reduce threats.

Because of the nature of the Type I Emergency, our first and most immediate goal is to do one of two things:

  1. Escape
  2. Stop the threat.

To do so, we must assess the Type I emergencies we’re likely to face, understand how they restrict our access to our critical resources, and what we need to have and do to escape them. Common Type Emergencies are robbery or assault, active shooters, car wrecks, or medical emergencies (choking, anaphylaxis, bleeding, etc).

The concept of "Everyday Carry" has been flogged to uselessness. If you're not familiar with it, it's the concept that you should be carrying certain things on a daily basis. We agree. Here's what's more important: The skill to use those items effectively.

If we go beyond the internet rambling, here's what we want from our EDC:

  • Accessibility: it needs to be carried in such a way that it's easy to access when needed.
  • Carryability: It needs to be of a size that makes it easy to carry and dress around.
  • Efficacy: It needs to be an item with a track record of reliability.

These items are "Items of Immediate Necessity" or IINs, and they're our First line of defense against rapid onset, short duration emergencies. Because of that, we don't need to get wrapped around the axle about having "nice to have" stuff on us all the time; it's great to have a thumb drive, but it won't save anyone's life.

Conversely, it doesn’t matter if you have a box of emergencies lighters and firelogs at home – you need to have that firestarter on your person for it to make a difference. If you don't, you better have the skill to augment your lack of equipment. It does you no good to have a tourniquet at home in a drawer if you’re bleeding out on the side of the road. While understanding emergencies is integrally tied to having the proper equipment and the skill to use them, our focus here is to discuss the situations that make such precautions necessary.

The flash mob is the embedded Type I in the general situation of widespread rioting, which is the Type II.

To learn more about IINs and EDC tools, please check out the following articles:
The Core Four of EDC
Lines of Equipment, Part 1: EDC

TYPE II: Disaster

Moderate Intensity, Moderate Duration

A Type II Emergency is an ongoing situation that impacts your ability to acquire vital resources, but is not directly threatening you.

Think of it like this: during Hurricane Katrina (Or Sandy, or Harvey), the initial storm surge and wind was the Type I; it directly threatened your life by way of drowning, flying debris, falling limbs and the like. Once that passed, the emergency wasn't over. What came next was the Type II.

This second stage emergency cut off roads, meaning supplies couldn't get through. EMS and Fire Departments were cut off from emergencies they could have otherwise handled. The toxic stew that flooded the landscape wasn't going to kill you immediately, but it definitely posed a risk to your safety and your access to resources.

Perhaps the most important thing about the Type II is that while once it sets in, the most immediate threat is gone but it creates a scenario in which increased incidences of Type I emergencies are likely.

Remember the looting that followed the last major disaster? While access to civil services are compromised for the law abiding, it's important to remember that those services often 'hold the line', and in their absence, opportunists fill the void.

Sometimes they're violent.

However, and we believe this is important, these events happen with regularity, and the "survival" community drastically over-estimates the amount of looters and guns. The National Institute of Medicine has done a great job of debunking a lot of the prepper claims of civil breakdown, and it can (and absolutely should) be read here:

Disaster Mythology and Facts in Light of Hurricane Katrina

So we need to have a plan for that that goes beyond the official government "72 hour kit", but let's not get carried away thinking society is going to descend into anarchy in 3 days, or whatever the trope is. History has shown us time and time again that just isn't what happens with any regularity.

So put down Guns and Ammo, and think about where you'll poop if the water treatment plants aren't operational. That's the stuff that doesn't make it to TV or Apocalyptic pop culture.

What we want for the Type II emergency is the ability to deliberately plan and sustain ourselves around a rapidly changing situation; said another way, we need just enough comfort to allow us to stay composed. We can do this with our 2nd Line equipment: Sustainment Bag.

The concept of bugging out and having a bug out bag is a desperate gamble and a last resort. The "bug out" plan is essentially a path to becoming a refugee. Sustainment keeps you in the fight long enough to make good decisions.


These emergencies extend from between several hours to several weeks… and in rare instances (such as hurricane Katrina) months. Some of the common elements of the Type II are:

1. Infrastructure is damaged

During Katrina, survivors of the initial storm still had an entire city of 360,000 people who were not prepared to live on their own in a city with no infrastructure for 5 weeks. The survivors weren’t ready for a city without delivery trucks. New Orleans had a badly damaged Fire/EMS/Police response framework and damaged sanitation systems. People were unable to travel due to the roads and bridges that were destroyed.

The result was not glamourous. People were left on their own, and many didn't have the skills, mobility, or supplies to see them through.

2. They introduce the increased likelihood of Type I emergencies.

Embedded in the problems from point 1 above, is that the chances of becoming a victim of interpersonal violence can increase dramatically. This is the logical outflow of resource scarcity – when there is not enough of a resource to go around, it becomes more valuable. The list of things people will do to acquire those items grows to include criminal behavior.

This phenomenon we call “resource hysteria”. People who are increasingly desperate for a decreasing amount of supplies quickly revert to 'me first' behavior.

Eleanor Learmonth and Jenny Tabakoff's excellent book "No Mercy: True Stories of Disaster, Survival, and Brutality" does a good job illustrating resource hysteria. Read it. It's worth your time.

3. Points 1 and 2 above occur on an indefinite timeline.

This is important because there is a relationship between duration and survivability: the longer the situation effects you, the more likely you are to succumb to it. The Type II emergency may not be resolved quickly, it’s important to note that the situation is always resolved. So as dicey as these situations may be, they are temporary.

With that acknowledged, if all you've got is 72 hours worth of supplies, where are you when you reach hour 840, as happened in New Orleans? How do you feel when you've gone through everything and you're not even 10% to a resolution?
Hopefully your route plan has you avoiding places like this.

Let that sink in.

The final mention with the Type II is this is where you often hear the concept of "bug out" come from. Banish it from your vocabulary.

There are two types of evacuation: preemptive, and emergency. If you're trying to walk your way out of a catastrophe, you're a refugee, not a glamorous rough-neck with a rifle and a devil-may-care attitude.

You'll need a tremendous amount of fitness, skill, and specific equipment to improve your situation by leaving the affected area... especially by foot. If you plan on leaving by car, stop by our Driving series and pay special attention to the planning section.

The roads aren't always an option, and urban survival is something you can't learn from YouTube celebrities that don't look like they're missing any meals.

Type III: Catastrophe

Low Intensity, Indefinite Duration

The Type III emergency has two key differences from the Type II, but is otherwise the same. First, it occurs on a timeline that is measured in years, such as a Civil War. Second, it fundamentally changes the way you live.

The collapse of the USSR entirely cut off Cuba and North Korea from oil imports. The life of the citizen in those countries changed in a way that would impact generations, and the nations dealt with the problem very differently. Those country didn't have a choice. This is to say there is no solution, only outcomes.

In the United States, these types of scenarios are very unlikely, but they do exist. The Yellowstone Caldera, A significantly strong HEMP event, a Near-earth object impacting the planet... All are possibilities, however remote, and this is a very partial list of less likely situations. An economic collapse as the result of a global war, for instance, is more likely and would produce a Type III emergency.

The fundamental changes that occur with a Type III emergency mean that you will be required to accept being thrust into a new role. In this type of emergency – also known as a collapse – you have a low intensity, long duration predicament.

This is to say there is no solutions, only outcomes.


A permanent reduction in access to critical resources is the "mark" of the Type III. People have less access to sanitation, clean water, food, medical care, emergency services and so forth.

This increases the danger of the situation. For instance, being shot with a handgun at the time of this writing (1/2017) is likely to resolve without you dying, by a wide margin (~80% of survival). Special thanks to rapid EMS response, surgeons, excellent sterilization protocols, etc.

Without those things, it's not hard to imagine a return to medical standards of the 1940’s.

That paints a very different expectation, in terms of the outcome of violent encounters.

Type III emergencies mean not only will the Type I and II’s become more common, their outcomes will be more lethal. An example of this would be the political killings that accompanied the Russian Revolution; For the White Russians, it was a Type 2 emergency with embedded type 1 assassinations. For those who survived the revolution however, it was 70+ years of secret police, Gulags, and political re-education.

That was the Type III.

Your only choice is to adapt, or escape.


This framework is designed to do 3 main things:

  1. Provide an all-encompassing way to assess emergencies.
  2. Filter the likelihood of those emergencies through the probability/proximity metric, and the time/intensity metric to help asses the most pressing matters first.
  3. Give you a baseline understanding of what needs to be done in terms of skillset, preparation, and equipment.

We hope that you'll reference this article often as you look through our other material. Nearly everything we do here can be drawn back to this framework... It is the foundation and capstone of our approach to problem solving, and everything else you read here will start and end with a firm understanding of the Types of Emergencies.

The truth is, too much emphasis is placed on simply buying measures to comfort yourself and those that do pursue resilience often do it in a way that's not enjoyable. In our view, we can become more skilled and able by doing things that are enjoyable, such as hiking and camping, horseback riding, competitive shooting, lock sport, and getting certified for 1st Aid/CPR. You don't have to put a normal life on hold to be prepared... in fact, doing so will only hurt your odds of having the supportive network you'll need.

Take care, and stay one step ahead,

ISG Team

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