Survival and Likert Scales

In my last blog I covered the topic of skin-level survival EDC and described what I carry, and how I could add to that. This prompted a few friends to send me their own suggestions. Some of these were excellent, others…:P For simplicity my blog just covered the items I personally have. There are other alternatives, and some people will have other priorities. I will cover options on another day.
Some friends in particular (you know who you are!) will often send me a link to some survival gadget they have discovered. While I enjoy seeing these, and hope that they continue to send them, my response is often rather neutral. In many cases I often have the same capability in an item that I already have, which is more compact, more reliable, more readily available or cheaper.
The root of this is the need to distinguish between what is essential and what is just “nice to have”. Too many kit lists pile on lots of “may be useful” items without any real consideration of probability of need.
For example, I recently came across a list of suggested items for inclusion in a “survival necklace”. One of the items was “alcohol hand sanitizer”. Unless you work in healthcare, you should not need to carry this. Your average person does not need to clean their hands every twenty minutes. That is not how immune systems work. For actual wounds, alcohol wipes are more compact and more practical. “But you can start fires using sanitizer” you may protest. True, but it is simpler with some tissue, cotton wool, or many other, more versatile, EDC items I already carry. A bottle of sanitizer is also pretty bulky for a necklace!
A friend of mine suggested a “wasp kit” as part of his EDC. Other than your usual first aid items, I would not recommend this. I leave wasps alone and they tend to return the favour. If they hang around too much I can shoo them out the window, cover what is attracting them or trap them under a glass and release them out the window. I don't do the silly dance some people do, nor the statue impression. I have not been stung in well over 40 years. My chances of getting stung are extremely unlikely, so no “wasp kit”. If I was allergic to wasp or bee stings my EDC would include suitable items. The likelihood of being stung remains the same, but its consequences make these items more important.
My EDC includes a trio of lock picks, which have proved useful on certain occasions. Their weight is negligible. I only carry my larger, more capable sets when I know I am going to need them. If you cannot pick locks, however, there is no point in carrying any picks.
What we need is a method to evaluate the usefulness of an item in the light of the probability of need and portability.
I have mentioned the book “Mind Hacks” by Ron Hale-Evans before. Hack #44 has an interesting application for the Likert Scale. In his example he creates two seven-point scales, one for probability, the other for importance. 1 is “very unimportant” or “very improbable”. 2 is “improbable/unimportant”, 3 is “somewhat improbable/unimportant”, 4 is “neither important nor unimportant” or “neither improbable nor probable”. 5, 6 and 7 are correspondingly “somewhat probable/important”, “probable/important” and “very probable/important”. The author arranges these in a 7 x 7 matrix to judge priority.
Using one of our previous examples, I judge the likelihood of my being stung by a wasp as “very improbable” so having a value of “1”. If I was stung, it would be unpleasant, but for me it would not be life-threatening, so would count as unimportant in the greater scheme of things. A 2 or 3 at most, but perhaps a 1. If I multiply my value for probability against that importance I get a value of between 1 and 3. Doubling this for an approximate percentage gives me 2-6%, which confirms my decision not to carry specific items. If I was allergic, however, the importance of being stung would be 6 or 7, 12-14%. If I was someone whose usual reaction to a wasp was to piss it off, probability would be higher.

Use these values as a guide, rather than something that must be strictly adhered to. You will note that the distribution is atypical, “neutral being only 32% and 50% somewhat probable and somewhat important. There is no “set percentage” past which things automatically become essential or redundant. Variables such as environment may change the scores you assign. In most situations not being able to make a hot drink is a minor problem. In sub-zero conditions it is more of a priority. The wasp sting did not score more than 14%, but if allergic it is potentially life-threatening so still something you should plan for.
Obviously our survival equipment should prioritize items that are important and likely to be needed. We can also easily create other Likert scales other than probability and importance. Bulk and weight can be considered. Important/necessary items that are low in bulk/weight go into our skin-level EDC. Bulkier/heavier items that are less important/necessary go into backpacks etc.
Play around with this concept and see if it helps with your planning and kit selection.