10-80-10 survival principle

Hey everyone!!

I recently learned from a church lesson about some people going through an earthquake and the speaker talked about the 10-80-10 principle. I had never heard of it and wanted to share it with you all and see what your thoughts were. 

In a disaster there will be three groups of people:

–10% of people will be just fine, be able to pull themselves together relatively quickly and take charge of the situation.

–80% of people will not know what to do, be in shock, and will wait for others to give them instructions.

–10% of people will go nuts, panic, and put themselves or others into greater danger. 

I’m sure this principle will apply to other areas as well, maybe like with a work assignment or something. Maybe there is a correlation between the old fight-flight-or freeze?

What are your thoughts on this? What group do you think you would be in? Are there friends or family members that you can place in each category? What can we do to put ourselves into that 10% that can handle a disaster well?

Mental and emotional prepping is at times even more important than having a first aid kit or solar panel. Even if you have all the preps in the world, if you aren’t able to cope with things you won’t survive.


  • Comments (12)

    • 1

      what is the source of this principle?

      • 3

        I hadn’t heard of this either so did a quick Google search and found that it’s actually a thing. 

        And Liz, I think you are right about a correlation between the flight, fight, or freeze. That was part of the first search result:


      • 2

        Thanks for sharing those results Olly. 

        Hikermor, I just heard about it from a teacher at church, I hadn’t done any research beyond that.

    • 5

      Sounds about right to me.  This is similar to the 80/20 church rule, where 20% of members do 80% of the work.

      I don’t panic and my wife says I don’t take instruction well, so I guess I’m in the 10% that will be just fine & I have no problem leading.  I was an Air Force officer and have run my own business with 20+ employees the rest of my life.

      • 2

        I’m sure many in the military have developed and learned the skills to be apart of the 10% just fine group. That’s good that you are able to lead your family and maybe community through a possible disaster.

    • 6

      I consider practicing this situational awareness and action are part of prepping skills. I recently read a book called Thinking: Fast and Slow which describes a lot of cognitive psychological research by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman. One study showed that a small number of persons will actually act to help another when a group is alerted. I think this is what is behind the first aid training of pointing to a person and telling them to call 911. This sort of training and practice (and discussions on this forum) will help us be in the good 10%.  I know am by being the one to stop to help at a car accident, being the first (and nearly only) to act when a friend hit his head diving into a pool in front of a group of us, preparing my household and work project to shelter in place well before the stay at home orders were issued in March 2020. 

      I think that we saw this as part of the pandemic – the majority of people (80%?) did not know what to do.  So they fell back on other emergency practices and purchased a lot of water which was never at risk in my area. 

      I’ve also witnessed that last 10% when in college:  We had a fire alarm go off in our dorm at 4am (actual small fire in the trash room too) and I nearly had to slap one of my roommates who was getting hysterical.  It was snowing outside and I was calmly repeating that she needed to put on shoes and a coat so we could exit the building safely.  

    • 4

      Good morning Liz,

      In reply;

      Using same categories, I use different percentages. 3% just fine. My philosophy is that realistic, worst case scenarios will have many injured plus an overlap to those with infectious illnesses – all coupled to the blood borne pathogen presence from the injured.

      I’m in the “just fine” group but besides taking charge, am also doing much physical work. Yes, I can catalog friends, family, neighbors, in groupings.

      Mental and emotional preparedness ALWAYS most important.

      This is “Hurricane Alley” and we go through all this on an annual basis.

      This thread requires the mention of the prepper term “YOYO” – You’re On Your Own”.  The small hospital and clinic will be supersaturated during a severe hurricane.  Rescue vehicles … too few even in good times … are useless when roads blocked by stalled cars. 

      Just for thought and planning purposes in re above groupings: strangers.

      • 3

        Your comment Bob has got me thinking about something. You placed yourself in the “just fine” group, and my theory is that if we had all of the members or readers of this site go through a disaster, I am sure the numbers would be skewed because people who are here, participating, wanting to learn and improve are naturally part of that “just fine” group. We want to take charge over our situation and we have been trained well. That’s why we are here. 

        But by taking a random sample of average people, I’m sure the 10-80-10 rule would apply and be accurate. 

      • 2

        I agree, many preppers probably are the born leaders and will know what to do in an emergency. And they are that way because they took the time beforehand to learn what to do.

      • 3

        Good afternoon Oily,

        “Just fine” comes from Liz’s provided definition – able to pull themselves together, take charge”.

        I don’t use the 10-18-10 rule.  My experience shows ~ 3% maintain composure and take some form of providing emergency structure for the group to sustain itself and go onward.

        This has been my experience here in Hurricane Alley, as a reserve Federal Emergency Manager and in the oil industry.  Some of my military service showed the 3% rule at work.  Most did not.

        The ratio of a random sample of average people would be a constant.  It would still plot out about the same. I’d hold off on using word “accurate”.  Ten percent typically will not “automatically” work traffic, check disaster area for victims, check assembled group for those not speaking English, checking for those on oxygen, the pregnant, unaccompanied children,…

    • 3

      I think most of the people here are likely to be in the “handle disaster well” category. But I know for certain my fiance will panic. Given our high frequency of visitors and temporary guests, it is most likely I will have other panicked people with me as well.

      Probably the best thing you can do is to have a plan. First aid/CPR training is really helpful in giving you a taste of what that might look like. Person collapses, designate someone to call 911, check for a reaction, no reaction -> CPR. I mentally and physically walk through escape routes for fire and active shooters at work. Think about how you will manage someone who is panicking or someone who is hesitant. A lot of people naturally respond to calm, authoritative commands. Keep it simple and they will follow.

    • 1

      I can identify people in my life in all three categories. Within that 80%, I think that can be broken down into further categories such as XX% will snap out of shock and figure out a plan after 2 weeks, XX% will take 4 weeks, XX% will just sit on their hands and wait until being told what to do.