Disaster Preparedness – Stress Testing Your Ability

Mental toughnessAnyone truly serious about disaster preparedness (Preppers and First-Responders) need to constantly ask the question; am I ready mentally and physically for a short term or long term emergency or disaster situation. Regular self assessment is key in being prepared for almost any situation. Simply assuming you can handle the stresses of an emergency or a more serious situation is a mistake. By testing yourself, you will gain critically important insights into your limitations. Sometimes, movie characters do get it right; “A man’s got to know his limitations” – Clint Eastwood (movie ‘Dirty Harry’)

In my opinion, ‘this’ is the most important question. And the reason is simple; if you are not properly prepared mentally and physically for an unexpected event, all the equipment, food storage and emergency supplies in the world won’t help you.

Soldiers going into battle for the first time all wonder how they will react and hold up under the actual stress of a battlefield. For a soldier, this question can only really be answered on the battlefield.

Preparing for unexpected events such as emergencies and disasters is different than preparing for war. And there are various methods to conduct self-assessment of your mental and physical readiness.

And as I have said and written many times; “Rule #1 in survival is, Don’t Get Dead”.

Some people might have asked the question; how can I prepare myself mentally for unexpected events?

This is a great question because of the inherent logic in understanding that if you fail mentally, you fail totally in your survival efforts. And if you’re a parent, family-head or group leader, such a failure may adversely impact others who depend upon you for leadership.

Morale is key when it comes to group dynamics during times of stress, especially during crises, and morale is a function of mental preparedness.

There are many ways to test mental preparedness using physical stressors, and no one method is perfect for everyone. In order to grow and develop both mentally and physically, you must move out of your own personal ‘comfort zone’ and place yourself into challenging but controlled training situations.

Prepper Parenting

Capt. Bill’s son William III running survival course 2013

I am not familiar with all possible methodologies for assessing and testing personal mental and physical readiness; I am familiar with the methods that I use, which I believe might be of value to some readers.

breakfast lunch and dinnerFasting: Some people use fasting as a means for losing weight or ‘cleansing’, which may be a valuable side-effect for some people, but I use it for another reason. I will, every few months or so go on a 3-day fast. During the period of fasting I will maintain my hydration at enhanced levels using lime-aid (lime-juice instead of lemon-juice in the water because the limes make the water alkaline), but no sugar; instead I use stevia as a sweetener, which adds no calories. Sometimes I will integrate various ‘detox’ teas into my hydration drinks such as dandelion root tea, and things along those lines. I will not drink any other liquids, or eat any food during those 3-days. During that period of time while fasting, I maintain my regular work sleep schedule, including basic exercise. I will still attend all served meals, including any meal services at home and at work but I do not eat. In my case, if I am at a meal service or in the field, I have a thermos with my lime-aide drink, which I will sip while others around me eat. Setting up these conditions provides a test of will-power and discipline, which are critical assets in any tough situation. Sounds easier than it is! When I complete my fast, I will initially eat very small meals (about one-half a normal serving) for the first day, which is an important step. Your stomach will have shrunk somewhat, so you will feel full with much less food than prior to your fast.

free food

Fasting also gives you a chance to see how it feels to go without food for an extended period, which is likely at the onset of an emergency or disaster; situational constraints sometimes makes eating a low priority. It tests and conditions your body and it allows you to experience how well you cope with environmental stresses during the course of a normal day in situations at work and around other people and your family. As we all know, some people can get grumpy when they don’t eat regularly. And in a real disaster, being under severe stress and being grumpy can lead to unwanted results. By setting up this situation, you can work on your personal discipline and social skills under stress in a controlled set of conditions. Some people who have blood sugar issues and/or other illnesses or conditions should get approval from their physician before engaging in fasting. Learn more on fasting here.

sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation: Sleep deprivation is another stress test that I practice every few months when I am not at sea. At sea, the crew, including the captain (me), run 4-6 hour watches around the clock (since ships travel 24/7 at sea), so you are operating equipment with intermittent sleep on irregular schedules. On such occasions, on a vessel with a small crew, you might stand watch for 4-6 hours, and then sleep for 4-6 hours, round the clock. When I am in port, I utilize various sleep deprivation tests, which range from staying awake for 36 hours straight, to using a wake-sleep schedule of 4-6 hours for the same 36 hour period, all the while continuing my regular work schedule aboard ship. If you have a regular job, this training may be more difficult to implement and any impairment that you might experience may not be well-taken by your employer, so if you're serious about this kind of training, you will need to be creative, possibly utilizing a 3-day weekend. During sleep deprivation training you should have people around you note any irregularities that they perceive about your attitude and ability. People with any illnesses or conditions should consult their physician before employing any such training. And unless you are proven in your ability to deal with the effects of limited sleep, you should avoid operating any equipment, machinery or vehicles.

bill on training hike
Capt. Bill on training hike with son William III in backpack 1979 (note AR-15 rifle)

Physical Training: When it comes to physical training, I like long distance hiking with a full backpack. My wife and I have been hiking since the early 70’s and continue to hike today. Training that simulates real conditions is the most valuable in my opinion. Working out at the gym with free weights is great, and I encourage that too, but it’s not what will simulate bugging-out over land in an emergency. You should start hiking incrementally. So maybe you schedule your first 4-6 hikes about 3 days apart. These first hikes are 5 miles long with a 20 pound backpack. Hiking needs to be maintained at a good walking pace, but not jogging. You are simulating escaping a hazardous area by relocating to a safe area. On such a short distance, you should not take any extended breaks (a very brief break 2.5 miles in for hydration is important), so you would complete the entire hike without any rest stops.

The next increment would be to add ten-pounds to the weight of your backpack, bringing it to a total weight of 30 pounds. Most people will find that this added weigh will make a big difference in their stamina and it would be permissible to take a 5 minute breather and hydration break at 2.5 miles into the 5 mile course, which should be repeated several times over the course of a ten day period. The next increment would be to then reduce the backpack weight down to 20 pounds again and increase the length of the course to 10 miles, with a 5-minute breather at the 5 mile mark and brief hydration breaks every 2.5 miles (or as needed based on personal need). After you have mastered that distance and weight, you then increase the weight in your backpack back up to 30-pounds and hike the same 10 miles, this time with breather/hydration stops every 2.5 miles. As you master the distances and weights, you can modify the exercise to include just one breather/hydration break at the 5-mile mark in the 10 mile course. Using the same incremental adjustments, you should work your way up to a 20-mile course, carrying a 30 pound backpack. This training should only be attempted by people who are free of illnesses and with the approval of your physician. By mastering a 20-mile course carrying gear, the odds of relocating yourself to a safe area during an actual emergency or disaster are greatly improved.

Advanced Stress Training: About once a year I will engage in fasting, sleep deprivation and hiking during the same 3-day period. This should never be attempted unless you have the expressed approval of your physician, and, you have already mastered and are reasonably comfortable doing each of the prior tests separately on prior occasions, having had your doctor’s approval. When you integrate all of the stressors together, lack of food, lack of sleep and exercise (hiking), it really taxes your body and thus stress-tests your mind. At this point, you are for all intents and purposes simulating bugging-out in a real disaster; I.E. running for your life. For the purposes of this article and its basic scope of considerations, we won’t consider adding simulated hostilities during such stressors. That said, once you are able to deal with this level of training, you should have a decent chance of dealing some levels of additional stress.

Your greatest asset in disaster preparedness is your mind, and it must be tested and developed on a regular basis. Any hunter knows that if you don’t clean and oil your rifle on a regular schedule, it will rust and become unreliable. The same goes for your mind; the last thing you need during any crisis is to find you are mentally un-prepared.

Cheers! Capt. Bill

Capt. William E. Simpson – USMM
Semper Veritas / Semper Paratus

About the Author:


Capt. William E. Simpson II is a U.S. Merchant Marine Officer with decades of boating and expedition sailing experience, having logged more than 150,000 miles at sea. Capt. Simpson has successfully survived long-term ‘off the grid’ at sea and at remote uninhabited desert islands with his family ...


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One thought on “Disaster Preparedness – Stress Testing Your Ability”

  • markww

    One thing that is important is visit a army surplus store. They have survival stuff from first aid to cooking books and survival manuals shelters like tents cots cooking equipment ,boots survival wear and many other things prepper's need during a collapse.

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