Is Your Brain Prepped for Survival?

· Reading Time: 4 minutes

BrushfireAn Australian family’s home was threatened by a bushfire a few years back. Bushfires can move very quickly and become very dangerous very fast. When the warning came via TV broadcast, the family moved quickly to prepare their home. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a plan, and their preparations were scattered, jumbled, and rather ineffective. The fire blocked their evacuation, thus trapping them inside their home. They bunkered down in the bathroom, hoping for the best.

Now, I don’t know about you, but that is definitely not the situation in which I’d like to find myself. Fortunately, this was all part of an ABC Emergency simulation in the form of reality TV. You can watch the 10 minute video right here:



What happened when this family discovered there was a threat quickly approaching their home? They went to work preparing, but as we saw in the video, they didn’t know how to properly prepare. Their brains shut off, as it were, making it difficult to find simple household objects, or even finish a sentence.

This is due to adrenaline. According to Ian Mannix – ABC Local’s manager of Emergency Coverage – the brain gets overwhelmed by this adrenaline, making it nearly impossible to think clearly. There is a way to counter that, however. Mannix said that “in order to behave habitually, people must also practice the plan under as near to real conditions as possible.”

The brain is an interesting thing. You may have talked about what you can do during an emergency, but until you actually practice it, that information probably won’t be there when you need it.

BrainPopular Mechanics spoke with John Leach, a former Royal Air Force combat survival instructor. Leach explains why you can’t rely on your brain if you haven’t trained it for an emergency situation: “We cope by taking in information about our environment, and then building a model of that environment. We don’t respond to our environment, but to the model of our environment.” Popular Mechanics explains further that “if there’s no model, the brain tries to create one, but there’s not enough time for that during an emergency.” That’s where things get sketchy.

When faced with disaster, most people do not act with a clear head. This is what is known as the 10-80-10 theory of survival. In an article by the Daily Mail entitled Is Your Brain Wired to Survive a Disaster?, author Jo Carlowe explains this theory of survival. He points out that, “in a disaster, 10 per cent of people pull themselves together quickly; the majority, 80 per cent, remain stunned and bewildered, while 10 per cent simply freak out.”

From those three groups, who do you suspect will be most likely to survive during a disaster? Chances are it will be the 10 percent who pull themselves together. Fortunately for everybody, if we don’t already think like a survivor – like that 10 percent who can pull themselves together – we can learn to think like one. And that’s what matters here.

Under pressure, your brain may just freeze up. One way to avoid this is to increase your situational and self-awareness. Pay attention to what’s around you. Know where the nearest tornado shelter is, or where a good place to stand would be should an earthquake occur. That kind of stuff.

But one of the best thing you can do is practice.

Just like that Australian family from the video above, if you don’t have a plan – if you don’t practice – then your brain will have nothing to fall back on when the adrenaline starts pumping and overrides all clear thoughts. If you want to be safe during a disaster, you need to train your brain. Practice isn’t just for sports teams and musicians. It’s for every single one of us.

Have you taken the time this month to practice using your emergency preparations? If not, now’s the time to do it. Simulate a disaster with your family. What would happen in the event of, say, an earthquake or tornado? Perhaps the power will be out. So, cut off your power and only use your emergency backup power. What else could happen? With the power off, you might need some other way to cook your dinner. Time to bust out that portable stove and a can of grub from your emergency food storage!

There are so many things that could happen during a disaster. The more you practice, the better prepared you’ll be, the quicker your brain will react to what’s going on, and the safer you’ll be.

Practicing your prep may take additional time, but you’ll be glad you did it when your brain keeps working in the moment you need it.


Practice Your Prep


Additional information:


Go Dark for a Day [blog post]: /blog/18288/go-dark-for-a-day/


Trauma Psychologist Rob Gordon Talks About Disaster Preparedness:


How have you practiced your prep? Share with us in comments!

3 Responses

  • I have a bit of a problem w/ the findings .. I and many of my family members have Panic Disorder – (producing too much adrenaline). In an EM..we go straight into taking charge..AND doing what NEEDS to be done! I did all this while a POLICE Officer & a MILITARY Member .. were BOTH freaking out! I had to get tough with them! I can lift a car off a person, if need be! (Believe me) After the disaster is over..we close the door & THEN have a panic attack!

  • The brain resorts to familiar patterns without your awareness. Practicing for emergencies may seem to be a waste of time. In actuality you are building a brain pattern of repetition so that if an emergency is present, your brain searches for the most prevalent pattern and puts it into action, which is another reason why people fail to react in real emergencies – they haven’t got a plan or practiced, and the brain must devise from scratch in the most adverse conditions. It is most important to have practice fire frills with your children using varios scenarios during the day and especially at night in the dark. We even woke them up a few times at 11 p.m. to have that kind of practice. Remember the fire drills at school? The alarm goes off and every child knows exactly what to do because of all the practice. Think about it.

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