DISASTER SURVIVAL CHEAT SHEET - Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life - Neil Strauss

Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life - Neil Strauss (2009)


After releasing this book, I knew that the same news organizations that regularly spread fear and panic to boost ratings would, with no irony whatsoever, mock the idea of actually being prepared for emergencies as some sort of extremism.

So, since I’d already learned how to survive scores of worst-case scenarios, I decided to add one more to the list: hostile interviewers. I spent several weeks compiling, from my notes, experiences, and additional sources, a quick guide to answer any survival question they threw at me, no matter how extreme.

For your eyes only, here is a quick primer on how to survive almost anything. Keep in mind this deals mostly with what to do during the crisis itself—not the preparations to make beforehand. That said, if you’d like to correct anything or if there’s an additional scenario you’d like to see included in a future edition, email stslimjim@gmail.com.

Note that, while most of these summaries deal with real-world possibilities, I also prepared for joke questions I was likely to be asked. I’ve included those here as well, since in the end, I was asked about those scenarios just as often. You should be able to tell the two different types of scenarios apart.

In all these cases, whether or not you know what to do, call 911 (or your national equivalent) immediately and get care from a trained, experienced professional—that is, if the system hasn’t already shut down or been overwhelmed.


The key to surviving an infectious disease outbreak is social distancing: Don’t go to work, public gatherings, social events, airports, and other confined public spaces unless absolutely necessary. Protect your orifices: Wear goggles, medical latex or rubber gloves (and remove them without touching the outside surface), and a snug HEPA mask (minimum N95 protection). Dispose of contaminated materials in biohazard containers or clearly marked plastic bags. Keep your hands off your face, carry an alcohol-based hand cleanser with you at all times, and wash your hands several times a day. Be prepared for a larger systemic shutdown as people fall ill or don’t show up to work. And get the necessary antiviral medication or immunization as soon as possible from the national stockpile.

Economic Collapse

The best way to survive an economic collapse is to stay out of debt, find ways to preserve (and keep sufficiently liquid) the money you do have, and, most importantly, become as self-sufficient as possible. Diversify your assets by, for example, putting some of it into precious metals and some into more stable currencies. And, more importantly, if you own your own home and can grow food, raise livestock, and set up rainwater catchments, you’ll have that much less to worry about when the chips are down.

Nuclear Attack

Assuming there’s no advance notice, don’t look at the flash of light. Keep your mouth open during the blast (to help prevent your eardrums from bursting due to the pressure), but cover your mouth and nose—as well as any exposed skin. And get down, preferably under a sturdy object where nothing can fall on you and ideally in a basement. There will be two blast waves, one going out and one on its way back. So, although the heat will be over in a second, stay down for two minutes. The key to survival is distance, shielding, and timing. Basically you want to be as far away as possible; insulated either underground or near the top of the tallest building you can find; and exposed to the radiation for as little time as possible. If you are exposed, you need to decontaminate and have the burns and traumas dealt with as soon as possible. Some survivalists stock up on potassium iodate, which lessens your chance of developing thyroid cancer afterward.


This is assuming you’re not the target (if you are, run in a zig-zag pattern around a corner). Otherwise, if it happens suddenly, and you don’t have time to clear the area or get behind adequate cover, drop to the ground on your stomach with your feet pointed at the shooter. If you get shot, you don’t want to be hit anywhere vital. Be aware when looking for cover that many bullets can penetrate most objects.

Plane Crash

With a serious plane crash, there are things you can do to minimize your risk—like sitting near the back of the plane, being as close to the emergency exit as possible, having your seat belt on tight, being in a crash position, and exiting upwind as soon as the plane hits. But the fact is, you’re probably gonna die. Sorry.

Chemical Attack

Clear the area, and follow the rule of thumb: Get far enough upwind and uphill of the scene so that when you squint at your thumb, it covers the area. Cut off any contaminated clothing (be careful not to pull it over your head). For most agents, rinse any body part under cool water for twenty minutes while cleaning with soap and a bleach solution (ten percent bleach, ninety percent water). A solution of water and five percent baking soda can also help decontaminate your skin. Avoid hot water, which will open your pores. If you can get your hands on DuoDote or MARK-1 auto-injector pens, using these will stop the symptoms of what are called cholinergic agents like sarin gas.

Dirty Bomb

Cover your face and mouth. Don’t use your cell phone, in case it sets off a secondary device. Since these are usually set off in public places, if you rush toward the exits with everyone else, you risk not only being trampled but also getting injured by a secondary device planted there. Instead, head to the bathroom, (the further away the better) and seal the door. Then find a sprinkler, bust it open, remove your clothing, and decontaminate yourself. If you leave the building, don’t remain outside. Get into the interior room of another building, shut all windows, turn off any ventilation, and decontaminate.

A Robocalypse or Machine Uprising

Purchase giant magnet. Carry it everywhere.


First of all, avoid areas where you think a riot may occur, such as my book-signings. If you must go near an affected area, don’t dress like a member of the group or organization being protested—for example, if people are angry at the banks, don’t wear a businessman’s suit and tie. If you are caught in a riot, think of the crowd like an ocean riptide. Don’t fight it. Go with the flow, and work your way to the outside, where the crowd will be moving slower. Then duck into a door, alley or side-street when you can. Be wary of crossing police lines to safety, since police won’t differentiate between rioters and innocent passers-by. Finally, be prepared for the possibility of a riot agent being deployed: Keep as much as your skin covered as possible, and bring something that will make a tight seal over your eyes (even swim goggles will work). A bandana soaked in vinegar or lemon juice will help protect your mouth and nose. If you are contaminated, follow the previous instructions for a chemical attack.

Chased by a Mob

Carry a canister of CS gas, and run through an alley or narrow enclosure. Then place the can on the ground, and set it off in the path of your pursuers.

Chased by the Mob

Change your name, location, identity, and face. See the following ‘lost chapters’ for details.


Unplug appliances, and move anything important to an upper floor (or elevate off the ground if you live in a one-story building). Plug sewer traps, and turn off gas and electricity (warning: do not touch electrical equipment while standing in water). And get to high, dry ground as soon as possible (like a tall, safe public building or shelter). If walking, use a stick to check the depth of the water and the safety of the ground. Don’t walk or swim through moving water more than six inches deep. Even if the water is still, don’t swim in it because it may contain sewage. If driving, be prepared to abandon your vehicle: six inches of water can stall a car, a foot can float it, and two feet can carry it away.


Pay attention to local reports, and secure your home. Turn off propane tanks, set your refrigerator to its coldest setting, and fill your bathtubs with a supply of water. Turn off utilities if instructed to do so. If you are not able to evacuate in time, close and secure all doors, windows, and blinds. Stay indoors in the most interior and windowless room, closet, or hallway on the lowest level of your home. If necessary, lie on the floor under a table, desk, or other sturdy object and away from anything on the ceiling or walls that can fall on you. Note that if the storm seems to stop, stay where you are; it might just be a temporary respite because the eye of the storm is passing through.


More deadly tornadoes occur in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world. They generally strike between 3 and 7 p.m. If this happens, get to the basement or cellar of a house or local shelter. If you can’t go underground, head to an interior room with no windows, like a bathroom or closet. If possible, duck, cover, and hold in the center of the room under a heavy piece of furniture. Protect your head and neck with your arms or sofa cushions. If you’re outside, remember that you cannot outrun or outdrive a tornado. Pull over where a tree or something can’t fall on the car, get out, and seek shelter in a nearby building. If you can’t get indoors, lie in a protected roadside ditch or crouch next to a strong building. Beware of flooding. If you’re in a building that’s damaged, evacuate with caution immediately afterward.

Winter Storms

If in your car, pull off to the side of a main road, and stay in the vehicle. Turn on your hazard lights only, and operate just the engine and heater for ten minutes per hour (with the window cracked open) to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Occasionally check your exhaust pipes to make sure it’s not blocked. Move around frequently to keep blood flowing and generate warmth. If you're at home and you lose power, use an alternate form of heating (like a fireplace or kerosene heater) in a single family room with proper ventilation. If you don’t have another source of heat, keep everyone well layered and insulated in the same room with all doors to the room closed, and eat plenty of food, which turns to energy. Also turn the faucets on just enough to drip to make sure the pipes don’t freeze. If you are outdoors and can’t find shelter, remember that anything from foliage to newspapers to snow can keep you insulated. Dig a tunnel in a snowbank, leading to a compartment large enough to sit up in. Block the entrance, and pad the ground with leaves or branches, if possible. In all of the above situations, be careful not to overwork or overheat yourself so that you start perspiring while exposed to the cold.

Backstage with Motley Crue circa 1987

If you’re within a mile radius of the impact zone, make sure you are male, don’t have drugs, and are not with your girlfriend.


Most injuries happen when people are hit by falling objects. So find a sturdy object, like a desk , table, or, if nothing else is available, a strong inside wall. Make sure nothing is above or around you that can fall and harm you, such as a window or chandelier. Then duck, cover, and hold until the shaking stops. When it’s safe, turn off your gas and power; for earthquakes over 5.5, also turn off your water. If you’re in a car, pull over and make sure you’re away from trees, streetlights, and other objects that can crush your vehicle; if outside, stay in an open space, away from windows, power lines, and other hazards. If you are trapped by debris, cover your mouth with your shirt or a handkerchief, and tap on a pipe rather than shout, to avoid inhaling too much dust.


If you live near the ocean, keep a radio on during and after any earthquake to listen for a tsunami warning. If there is one, get inland and to higher ground immediately until you hear it has ended (wave surges can be as much as an hour apart). Note that one visible sign of a coming tsunami is water suddenly receding from the shoreline.

Lightning Storm

If you can’t find an actual shelter, you’re safer in a vehicle than outside—but make sure you’re touching nothing metal in the vehicle. If you feel your hair start to stand on end, immediately squat low to the ground on the balls of your feet. The point is to make yourself the smallest target possible while minimizing your contact with the ground. If struck, and you are conscious, call 911 and get treatment for the electrical entry and exit burns immediately.


If indoors during a fire, use the back of your hand to feel the door from the bottom up, then the doorknob and the crack between the doorframe. If it is cool, leave the room and shut the door behind you. Crawl low under the smoke to the nearest exit. If the door is hot, escape through a window or hang a white sheet outside the window to let fire-fighters know you need rescuing. If your clothes catch on fire, stop immediately (running feeds the fire), then drop and roll until the flames go out. To treat burns, immerse affected area in cool sterile water or in a saline solution. (If more than 20 percent of the body is burned, do not wet the area, because it can lead to hypothermia.) Use burn dressings, which don’t have lint that sticks to the burn. If hands or feet are burned, put gauze between the digits so they don’t stick. Note that most people don’t die of external burns; they are far more likely to die of asphyxiation or internal burns from inhaling super-hot air. Putting a damp rag over your mouth can help in the latter case.

Asteroid or Comet

Quickly get to the other side of the planet when the comet or asteroid hits. Then follow the steps for surviving earthquakes, tsunamis, and winter storms—in that order


The number one priority is to get out of the cold environment, preferably with someone else’s careful assistance. Merely being jostled can cause a heart attack. Try not to walk, use your hands, or eat, and avoid stimulants like coffee. Do not massage your extremities. If possible, have someone else remove your wet clothing, and place dry blankets around you (below and above). You should be warmed slowly and evenly; if it’s too quickly, cardiac arrest can occur.


After getting out of the cold area, remove wet or restrictive clothing, and immerse the affected extremity in a warm water bath between 104 and 108 degrees. Be careful not to touch the sides or bottom of the bath with your skin. Remain immersed until sensation returns, then dress with dry, sterile dressings.


You can differentiate this from heat exhaustion because your skin will be hot and dry instead of sweaty. Rapid and active cooling is key, in an air-conditioned environment if possible. In addition, remove your clothing, and cover yourself with wet towels or sheets, and have someone aggressively fan them. Place ice packs behind your head, along your groin, and at your sides. Monitor your temperature with a thermometer, and continue cooling until it’s under 102.


If inhaled, get into fresh air immediately. If absorbed on the skin, brush it off. If swallowed, use activated charcoal (for medications only and if less than twenty minute have passed) and call poison control. Bring whatever poisoned you to the hospital. Be careful to lie on your side, in case you vomit. If the poisoning happens to be a heroin or other opium overdose, Narcan will block the opium receptor sites.


First move: get out of the water. If it’s too late, the next best option is to remain calm and back away toward a more crowded area. Often, if you flee, you will be chased. However, if the shark is attacking, much like a human being, it’s not going to want to want to get in a fight it may lose. So strike it as hard and as rapidly as you can in the gills or the eyes (even better if you have a piece of wood to stab with) and hope that it’s a cowardly shark who retreats.


Bear attacks are generally defensive. So in general, don’t be an idiot and try to get close to a bear. If a bear attacks, you cannot outrun or outclimb it, and you’re not safe in your car. Your best bet with a defensive attack from a bear is, unfortunately if it catches up to you, to lie still and be quiet and show you’re not a threat. Or you can spritz it with bear-deterrent pepper spray, which actually exists. Shark-repelling waterproof sunscreen has yet to be invented, but it’s a get-rich-quick idea waiting to happen.

Mountain Lion

Unlike bears, a mountain lion attack is predatory. As with a shark, if there’s no other option, you need to show it that you’re a predator, not prey. And only prey runs. So the only option is to make yourself appear bigger and more threatening. Spread your arms and your jacket, stand erect on your tiptoes, throw sticks and stones—whatever it takes. If the lion continues the attack, don’t run, don’t turn your back on it, and don’t play dead—or you will be dead. Believe it or not, people have saved their lives by fighting back.

Alligator or Crocodile

The eyes are the most vulnerable part of these reptiles, so thrust a finger or sharp object into one. Even covering its eyes will slow it down. The second most vulnerable part of the alligator is the nostrils. As with a shark or a mountain lion, you’re fighting to scare if off. If your arm or leg is inside the alligator, there’s a flap of tissue behind the tongue. Striking this valve downward (especially if the reptile is going underwater) can force its mouth open.


Most zombies only enter homes through windows, doors, and other openings. In addition, they aren’t very good climbers or swimmers, and not as smart or coordinated as when they were living. Ways to be safe including sealing yourself in a house on stilts with no staircase, a bomb shelter, or a boat at sea. If you want to combine the best of both techniques, stay underwater in a submarine until the crisis ends.

Poisonous Snake or Spider

If bitten, the strategy is to limit the spread of the venom while getting to an urgent care center with antivenin. Cleanse the wound, keep the affected area below the level of the heart, and use constricting bands two inches below and two inches above the bite to prevent the venom from circulating. Then splint the limb, and keep physical activity to a minimum. Do not eat or drink anything, and, unless it’s a black widow bite, do not use ice on the wound.


Climb out of reach, or remove an item of your clothing and wave or throw it. Bulls charge toward motion, not color.


Do not try to burn a tick on your skin. Take tweezers, grasp its body, and pull it out. Contrary to the myth, the head will not get stuck. Cover the area with disinfectant, and save the tick if possible in case symptoms develop. Look for a bull’s eye pattern at the bite site, as well as a rash, fever, or painful joint swelling, three days after the bite, all of which can indicate Lyme disease.

Jellyfish or Manowar

While peeing on the sting can sometimes work to inactivate the poison, the more reliable and socially acceptable method is using rubbing alcohol or vinegar. Be careful not to rub the area, which will activate the stingers. Remove the tentacles afterward by scraping them out. (a razor works for this) Adding talcum powder or baking soda, mixed with sea water, will help.

Killer Bees

Don’t swat at them. Not only are they attracted to movement, but if you kill one bee, it actually attracts more. Instead, run inside a shelter or, if there’s nowhere safe nearby, dash through bushes or very high grass while protecting your eyes, nose, and mouth. Jumping into a lake won’t help: You may be safe when you go underwater, but they will wait for you to surface and resume the attack.


Unlike with jellyfish, urinating on aliens is an effective form of defense. If you live in an area prone to alien abductions, consider wearing steel-reinforced underpants to prevent anal probes. Many species will explode after drinking carbonated beverages, such as Coca-Cola.


Wear a tinfoil hat. This will protect you from everything else.