How to Win, No Matter What: The 5 Essentials of Reducing Personal Risk in an Emergency


In an emergency, the sudden danger and sensory overload quickly overwhelms everyone who lacks experience and/or preparation. There are thousands of choices, many which may lead to someone’s death. And it could be your own.

Being presented with this causes most people to freeze, in a moment where time is a limited resource and immediate action is required.

But winning the day, saving a life, and doing it with your wits about you is possible with a little planning, training, and mental preparation.

An Emergency is a situation that involves these key elements:

  1. Unexpected
  2. Dangerous
  3. Requires immediate action
  4. Limited resources


The “Yellowstone” Trauma Kit – Mountain Man Medical


There's no getting around this. Emergencies tend to happen when we are least expecting them. Often, bystanders are seized with hesitation, like deer caught in the headlights they can only stare, because they are unprepared and the unexpected happened so suddenly.

This can be potentially life threatening as you may need to remove yourself from the unsafe environment.

Your safety in an emergency is the top priority. If you are injured while trying to help, you’ve just made the whole emergency much worse. Resources must now be diverted to rescue you along with whoever it was that you were trying to save.

Given the volatility of a constantly evolving emergency, there’s a chance neither of you are saved.

I was shown the picture below when I was a Young Doc. As the story goes, a Marine was crossing open ground when he was struck by a burst of enemy fire. He collapsed in the middle of the street, and a brave corpsman risked his own life to run out from behind cover and drag his wounded Marine to safety. But as he approached, he was himself struck by the enemy and fell next to his Marine.

When everything was over, the wounded Marine was still alive and survived his wounds. The corpsman, however, did not.

While the actions of the corpsman were brave, without a doubt. It was also very foolish. He did nothing to improve the situation, and in fact made it worse because now his team is without an incredibly important asset, their medic.

Nothing worth doing is without risk. All of life is risk. And staying alive in an emergency means mitigating what risk you can and accepting all the rest.



5 Essentials to Come Out on Top

  1. Anticipating Potential Emergencies

It’s impossible to prepare for every conceivable problem that might occur, but with a little planning beforehand, assembling some useful gear, and acquiring a few skills, we can be prepared for almost anything.

  1. Education

If we don’t know what to do when an emergency arrives, we won’t do anything at all. Learning the best steps to take given your particular situation gives you a significant advantage. Knowledge and skills are important tools to have, while weightless, they take time to acquire, and must be occasionally sharpened. Otherwise, they become dull and ineffective.

  1. A Team

Only in the movies do you see a lone hero running in to save the day. In reality, no professional would ever approach an emergency by themselves unless there was no other choice. Even the most elite operate in at least teams of 2.

Having people you trust nearby when crap hits the fan is an incredible luxury that we should plan for whenever possible and especially while doing something potentially hazardous.

Even a heavily experienced emergency scene commander fails to see everything and must rely on his team to provide accurate and reliable information so the scene can be orchestrated more efficiently.

  1. Resource Management

The very nature of an emergency means a lack of everything you need, from manpower to bandages. This is just the name of the game, but we can mitigate this by having resources staged ahead of time. It’s always better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

As the Navy SEALs often quip, “One is none, and 2 is one.”

Having gear that is able fill multiple roles helps to extend your resources when they are dangerously low, as they will likely be in an emergency. This allows you to handle a broader range of situations, and to be more flexible in your response.


Mountain Ankle IFAK Trauma Kit


  1. Scenario Rehearsal and Visualization

One of the most useful skills I’ve encountered when mentally preparing for a dangerous situation is: Scenario Rehearsal and Visualization.

This is often called, “daydreaming” or, “fantasizing” and while it involves many of those elements, it’s a more pointed and directed form of preparing your mind for something difficult, overwhelming, and dangerous.

How it works:

Think up a terrifying situation, something realistic that you could see happening to you. One where the cards are horribly stacked against you. The higher the feelings of anxiety you feel about this situation, the better it is for this exercise. That type of thing you push out of your mind because you’d rather not think about it.

Now, walk yourself through it, but this time, watch yourself overcome every obstacle set in your path with the grace and efficiency of a comic book superhero, without the special powers.

Imagine you’re the hero in this story and rehearse this image of yourself, over and over again, and when the time comes, you will find yourself to be exactly as you have dreamed.


Emergency Trauma Response Training Course


  1. Terry on December 20, 2022 at 6:34 pm

    Excellent points, especially #5. Visualization beforehand of *any* situation in which you might find yourself will be incredibly useful when you have to make decisions under pressure and constraints.

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