Sunday, 24 June 2012

Acronym Insanity

There is a lot to be said for an aide mémoire in a situation where you might find it hard to remember what you need to do and there is some strict protocol as to how to act, but in the world of survival, understanding and common sense trump survival acronyms every time. In my experience, they are numerous, incomplete contrived and remembering the meaning of the letters is lost over time.

I used to teach PLAN, as Lofty Wiseman prescribes, but being a good scientist, I tested the memory of a number of my students some years later. In almost all cases, they had forgotten the interpretation of the letters or some additional information, here's why:
P is for Protection: That's protection from further danger and protection from the elements using appropriate clothing, shelter and fire. That's two components, one of which is split into three, so really five things to remember from one letter, as well as the word itself, so six.

L is for Location: That's not finding your location, but advertising your location to rescue agencies and passers by using active and passive signals. This is an example of something that might be remembered, but the meaning misremembered.

A is for Acquisition: That's acquisition of water and food, in that order. Again, two components and the letter that is most contrived and that most people forget.

N is for Navigation: More specifically, this is orientation and navigation and is associated with making an informed and effective move from camp. This is a low priority and is not normally required for some weeks.
Can you imagine trying to remember that next month, let alone in a slightly panicked survival situation.

Another example, which Ray Mears favours, is STOP, which has a number of interpretations, though they all come to the same basic conclusion.
If you ask me, STOP is just common sense and essentially boils down to "take a minute to have a think about what you're going to do next".

One of the more complete examples is that of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association:
Know and recognize
That's all pretty sound stuff, but KISSWEP is a bit of a pain to remember and has an unfortunate double letter in it. I think I'd be most likely to get annoying stuck at the first letter too.

Finally, one that really cracks me up is that of the US Military who contrived to use the acronym SURVIVAL with frankly comedic results:
Size up the situation
Undue haste makes waste
Remember where you are
Vanquish fear and panic
Value living
Act like the natives
Learn basic skills/Live by your wits
Dave Canterbury of The Pathfinder School took a different approach, using the same letter over again, introducing the Five Cs of Survivability:
Cutting tool
Very important stuff, but once more, not too easy to remember. Not satisfied with this level of Confusion (pun intended), this list was upgraded to ten:
Cutting tool
Candle (or light)
Combination tool
Now, I don't know about you, but remembering ten words, all beginning with the same letter, in order, is frankly a nightmare. They are based on a sound principal of acquisition of equipment that is hard to come by in nature, but it's all a bit much for the old grey matter.

So who have we forgotten? Bear Grylls of course. Known for his mad cap crusades and frankly barmy survival techniques, one would expect him to use the most contrived and insane acronym of all, but no, he simply presents these four basic priorities:
No acronym, no memory, just succinct rule based on the following few basic principals associated with that which is likely to cause you to die quickest or prolong your survival situation:
  1. Extremes of cold or heat can kill you in hours, though more generally the first night
  2. Unless you are in the middle of the ocean you're never more than two days from rescue*
  3. Dehydration can be staved off for around three days if needs be
  4. Malnutrition is a serious consideration, but not nearly as much as the above
* if someone knows you are missing and knows roughly where you are

Yes, there is more to it than that, but those four basic priorities won't take you far wrong. The rest is arguably instinct, common sense, skills and informed decisions, supported by further knowledge, of course.

No two survival situations are the same, however, by understanding the basic needs of the human body, a little about Search and Rescue (see SAR Starting Point series), nature and the limits of natural resources, we can prioritise and improvise without relying on memory and the strict adherence to an incomplete task list.

As I'm teaching in my Wild Food and Natural Resources Course that you don't need to rely on books, so I am teaching in my survival courses and articles that you don't need an aide mémoire to know what to do in a survival situation. Knowledge & understanding once more supports skills; the basic tenet of all of my work.

Forthcoming articles will develop your knowledge and confidence. Keep reading and do look out for updates via Facebook on the Survival's Cool Blog Page.

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