PrepperPsych 101: The Law of Universal Precautions

We wouldn’t be preppers if we didn’t believe that we might meet a Black Swan.

Black swans are only a tiny fraction of all swans … but if you meet enough swans, eventually you’ll meet a black one. Thanks, DickDaniels* for the image

Black swans are so uncommon that statisticians use the term to refer to very rare events.  We prep for black swans …  EMPs, pandemics, etc. … because we understand they can and sometimes will occur.  You may feel sad about or superior to (or both) those poor suckers who fall for the Normalcy Bias:  the natural human tendency to believe that things will always happen like they usually happen.  

Where preppers get into trouble is when the Normalcy Bias teams up with the Availability Bias:  the tendency to pay more attention to things that come easily to mind than things that don’t.  Dramatic things get our attention and come easily to mind — there’s the EMPs and pandemics again.  Less dramatic things, like accidents that affect only one or a few people at a time, don’t get our attention.  Being common doesn’t even make those those accidents make much of an impression on us; they’re hardly even news.  Until they happen to you.

How many preppers have a Get Home Bag in the car in case there’s a terrorist attack that forces them to walk home, but still check their phones while they drive?  Yet distracted driving (phones being the biggest distraction) kill more people than drunk driving.  Say you’re an awesome driver, and there’s less than one in a thousand chance that that second that you glance at the phone will be the one second where the kid, or the deer, or the other driver invades your lane — how many times do you suppose you glance at that phone in the course of a year or three?  Each tiny risk adds up over time, making a bad outcome Sometime pretty darned likely.

That’s where the Law of Universal Precautions comes in.  I learned it my first day working with potentially infectious materials:  You treat every single sample as if you know for sure it’s infectious; because sooner or later you Will be right.  You just don’t know when.  

  • Every gun is loaded. (Salty and I get laughed at for checking every gun we’re handed; but he’s done that with an ‘unloaded’ pistol and had a hot round pop out.)
  • Every critical piece of equipment will break. (Which is why Two is One in Prepper-World)
  • Every drive will have the guy in front of you slam on his brakes at max power for zero reason.
  • Every water source is full of Cholera.  (ok, I give certified potable water a pass on this one)
  • The knife will slip during every cut (so don’t have body parts in its path).
  • You get the picture.

Does that mean we live in fear of these potentially tragic events?  Heck no!  It’d be a waste of a good life to worry over so many small probabilities.  The trick is to develop habits such that the black swan doesn’t get a chance to bite you in the rear.  (Swans are mean, by the way.) . I didn’t get advance notice the day I needed my seat belt to not be launched full speed through the windshield — but I was wearing it.  I hope you will too.

*By DickDaniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons



  1. This doesn’t sound much different than Murphy’s Law. “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” As a prepper, I have always found Murphy to be a tremendous motivator.

  2. “I needed my seat belt to not be launched full speed through the windshield” is an assumption not a proven fact. The steering wheel or something else might have stopped you from flying out. Seat belts can kill you as well as save you. A car was hit at the drivers door by a huge cement truck. Mat was thrown into the passenger seat. Had he been wearing a seatbelt he would have been crushed as the left side of the car was pushed a against the transmission tunnel. Mat walked away with only bruises. Have you noticed that when someone is killed in a car accident: if he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt it is mentioned in the news, if he was wearing a seatbelt the fact is ignored?
    I brought this up to demonstrate how presenting assumption as proven facts or leaving out contradictory information is a form of brainwashing. it is used to deceive people into believing the propagation of vested interests is true.
    We never know what is going to happen and acting on the wrong information can get you killed.The only real defence you have is to listen to both for and against; pay as much attention to what they don’t say as to what they did say then make tour own decision.

    • Statistics don’t predict individual cases, as your example shows. However, statistics Do tell you what’s more likely to happen. People wearing seat belts survive accidents at a *much* higher frequency than to people without them.

      Absolutely one should listen to both sides and make a reasoned decision; I’m with you there. It’s important to also weight the quality of evidence. Summary outcomes of thousands of accidents (that’s the statistics about probability of survival with and without belts) is far better evidence than scattered anecdotes, which is all the counter-evidence available on this point. People have an inherent bias to be swayed by stories, and so are tempted to put undue weight on the anecdotes. I worked with that tendency by making my case with a real story; but the statistics back that story.

      As for that story: I was there. I felt the seatbelt holding me back as both I started to fly forward and the windshield crashed backwards, so even held by the belts my nose ended up within inches of the collapsed windshield. Would I have launched through it? Perhaps not, I might instead have just been a red paste on its interior; but as I had (55 mph speed x 120 lb of mass) worth of momentum to stop, I was exceptionally glad to have done it with straps safely positioned rather than with my face hitting a glass wall.

    • I’ve worked in local media for over 35 years, and have covered many, many fatal accidents. If there is one overwhelming common theme it’s that people (in the same accident) who are wearing their seatbelts generally survive whereas people who are not are most likely the ones that die.

      This is ESPECIALLY true in truck and SUV accidents, where it is exceedingly common that a person gets ejected from the vehicle.

      I could tell you horror stories all day long from some of the stuff I have seen, but I’ll just give one example I remember vividly from about 25 years ago. A Ford Ranger overturned on a rural highway and an un-belted 9-year-old girl was thrown clear. The truck rolled over her. Her seatbelted mom and other sibling (also belted) were uninjured.

      True, this is just one example but I’ve seen this type of thing over and over, and while it sounds tragic to tell hear on the internet, I assure you standing nearby hearing the unrestrained grief of a mother who just lost her child and seeing… THAT… is something that I unfortunately will NEVER forget.

      Wear your belt, or don’t. That’s entirely up to you. Statistics show that it’s safer to wear them or not, but it’s (supposedly) a free country, so do what you want to do.

      • IF this is a free country and people are allowed to choose to wear a seat belt or not, why are they punished with a fine if they don’t? You just provided a perfect example of how the media works to brainwash people by presenting a distorted view of things.

        • Seat belt usage where it is against the law runs from 80-90 percent.

          Therefore, 10-20 (more or less) percent of the population choose not to wear them.

          That’s not spin, it’s just stats that are easily searchable (and actually quite variable due to difference in state laws).

          For example, in Missouri, many people in heavy duty pickups do not wear seatbelts because it’s legal to not wear them. My Chevy 2500 is exempt from seatbelt laws in my state because it’s licensed at 18,000 pounds (as are almost all three-quarter ton trucks), so I can choose to wear them or not without regard to law.

          Just an example.

          • What about the other people who are not exempt? Out of the 80 to 90 percent who wear a seatbelt where required by law, how many are doing it because they believe in it o they are wearing them because they don’t want to pay a fine? Most of the people I know wear a seatbelt out of fear of punishment if caught for not wearing them.
            What are those statistics?
            Give me one good reason why people should be punished for something they didn’t do?
            It is not just the seatbelt law I object to but anything you are punished for because you didn’t do it. How many people are fined, had their property confiscated or imprisioned for something they didn’t do like failing to obey a dictators commands Terrorists use force and threats peaceful people don’t.
            Laws should apply equally to all with no exceptions. What applies to one person must apply to all. If not a two tier society forms with one tier able to do what ever they want and the other only what they are told to. That is a master and slave society.
            This is a blog about the law of universal precautions and this is the one precaution we should take.
            Thank you for listening.

          • For my own part; I don’t think it should be a Law, because, Freedom. (as you in essence say) . I do think people should wear them, because it’s a prep with high likelihood of big returns in continued health and happiness, if made a habit. But I don’t mistake my opinion for something that should be a compulsion. All I ask is that I not be compelled me to pay medical or other bills for other people that they accrued by doing things I consider bad choices.

          • Every individual is responsible and accountable for his or her own actions. You are not responsible for someone else’s medical bills unless you caused the injury. claiming other wise is only another way for the parasites to make others to take care of them.

  3. I like your post and agree with what you say and I hope you keep up the good work. The point I wanted to make was pay as much attention to what they don’t say as to what they did say then make tour own decision.
    In your reply you did not say what caused you to fly forward while the windshield crashed backwards. This contradicts the law of inertia. However a greater force will overcome a lesser force. Unless you explain how it happened your credibility is greatly diminished. But that is your concern not mine.
    I hope this has been some help. When I was learning my harshest and most relentless critics were my greatest benefactors although I won’t say what I wanted to them at the time.

    • The vehicle hit steel wires that were streched across the road. Those wieres were still strongly earth-anchored on one end, and attached to most of a electrical pole on the other end (a lot of weight). When the car hit the wires, there was a sudden and HARD decelleration as the anchor held (for a while) and the pole shot up and slammed into the passenger side of the car, denting it in more than a foot and collapsing the entire side of the car.

      It’s really hard to describe in words, but if you’ve ever seen a long string of electrical poles that changes directions, if you look you will see bracing wires coming off the pole and over to another pole, as part of the anchoring system. It was the “second” pole that was knocked down by the drunk driver, dropping the guying wires across the highway. Half inch woven steel wires.

      It was about midnight, and we had just stopped in at McDonalds to wake up and walk around, so I was totally wide awake… had another hour or so to go before we got home… and the accident occurred a mile north of town on a very cold, windy night. I had to walk back into town (this was before the days of cell phones) and find a pay phone. before I did, I got the worst of the debris off the road so nobody else would hit it.

      The town we were in is the local Highway Patrol HQ, so I saw the police car scream past me light & siren on. I walked the mile back and found the officer cleaning the road some more… it was obvious that somebody had hit the pole and knocked it down and it wasn’t us (they left plenty of parts of their red Ford truck in the ditch), most probably a drunk who was able to get the truck to drive off so he wasn’t arrested. Our blue car didn’t match the parts left behind.

      It was such a strange accident that the officer in charge called the people at the headquarters and said “you guys have got to come see this one, it’s… weird…”

      They came, then they all went out searching for the damaged truck and the DUI arrest (or at least the leaving the scene of an accident arrest).

      Because the debris was caused by an accident, and the person left the scene, it was considered (legally) damage created by a hit-and-run.

        • Totally and entirely beside the point, but I think it’s interesting so I will share it.

          This accident happened on a curve, and I saw the wires at the very last minute (far too late to stop) before we hit them… the wires peeled back the hood and threw it threw the windshield (not far enough to hit us, but it blinded me entirely), and cut through both the radiator and battery (which spewed liquid and acid into the slipstream). Both headlights and both parking lots were out, so I was driving blind down a road in the dark with no vision out front, and all I could see were sparks flying all over the place… I though I had hit live wires because of the sparks, but it turns out it was just the steel being dragged on the highway.

          Because the car’s speed went from 55 down to about 20 MPH (we were dragging wires and the pole I was able to get it stopped).

          None of the doors would open except the rear driver side (the front clip was driving back jamming my driver’s side door and the passenger side of the car was just demolished by the pole), so I had to crawl into the back and out that door… not knowing if there were any live wires, in pitch blackness. We had our emergency bag which had flashlights and supplies, so we were able to cope with it.

          Neither of us had a scratch on us, even though most of the glass in the car was busted out.

          To this day, though, if I am driving and something long blows across the road in front of me my subconcious takes over and I slam on the brakes… there was a roll of TP tangled in a fence last Halloween that stretched across the highway, and I darned near put the car in a ditch getting it stopped before I even knew what I was doing.

          Yeah, kinda beside the point, but it’s an interesting story how that one quick sight of those wires burned it into my brain.

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