It's true -- you don't have to be a "survivalist" to be a "survivor." I'm a "survivor" of many disasters, but I'm not a "survivalist." Though I have learned much from those who are self-identified survivalists and have great respect for their knowledge and skills, I believe all of us as "regular people" can take basic steps that allow us to be a survivor in case of a severe emergency or disaster.
To increase your chances of being a disaster survivor you can:
1) Learn about what to do in various emergency or disaster scenarios. All of us can identify various kinds of disasters or emergencies that are common to where we live and learn about how to appropriately respond to them. For example, I live in Illinois and as such should know the basics of what to do in case of earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards, chemical spills or explosions (freight trains come within a mile of my home), nuclear accidents (we have 11 nuclear reactors in Illinois), and floods.
Such knowledge is readily available on the web (from this emergency preparedness blog among other sources), in books, in pamphlets, from local emergency responders, etc. You don't need to become an expert in emergency response to learn and remember such basics "Drop, Cover, Hold On" in an earthquake, "get out of your car and into a ditch" in a tornado, or "have a 72 hour emergency kit in case you have to evacuate or shelter-in-place" in any number of disaster scenarios.
I used to worry about trying to memorize and keep in mind the "10 bullet points for how to respond to each type of disaster". I have come to believe that one can get and retain most of the "survivor knowledge" they will really need by just occasionally learning about these events and thinking about the key things to do and not do. A lot of it comes down to common sense once you learn some of the basic principles of response.
When it comes to knowledge of how to respond, you don't have to be a trained survivalist to survive a disaster.
2) Have an emergency kit and emergency supplies. As I share constantly in this blog and as the U.S. Government has told us for years now, everyone should have an emergency kit and adequate supplies to last for at least 72 hours (3 days) on their own after a disaster. Hurricane Katrina taught us that even in America, you can go hungry and be thirsty if you are not prepared to meet your own needs after a catastrophic disaster.
I personally am prepared to support my family's basic needs for much longer than 72 hours, but this minimum is a good place to start. For relatively little money you can either build your own emergency kit or buy an emergency kit that will meet your basic needs. Remember, its about "sustaining life" not "sustaining lifestyle" for those few days after a disaster. Your absolute survival essentials can be fit into one backpack. That same backpack of supplies can be used to help you evacuate or shelter-in-place.
You don't have to own the ultimate survival knife in order to survive most disasters and emergencies. I love cool survival gadgets as much as the next guy, but basic supplies will do for most scenarios. Any regular person can obtain an emergency kit that may not contain all the high-end specialized gear a trained survivalist may desire, but that will work just fine to help you be a survivor in a disaster.
3) Have a basic plan of how to evacuate or shelter-in-place. If you have the basic knowledge of how to survive a given catastrophic event, and you have the supplies to meet your basic needs for a period of time, you can top that off by thinking through your emergency plan.
The appropriate response to most catastrophic disasters will require you to do one of two things to avoid harm or to deal with the event's aftermath: evacuate of shelter-in-place. If you have to evacuate, you'll need to know how you will gather family members, and where you will go before you actually have to leave. Evacuation can happen in a real hurry in some scenarios and the time for preparation is over when the time for action has arrived. Plan in advance.
Shelter-in-place plans also require some forethought. Thinking through your plans will help you better ensure that you have the right emergency supplies in place to respond to an emergency at a moments notice.
As in other aspects of emergency preparation, your plans don't have to be elaborate. SEAL Team Six level planning and practice is not necessary. Just think through the basics and make sure that all family members or colleagues in the workplace know what the plan is.
Following these basic approaches to emergency preparedness will allow you to survive most of what might come at you in this life in the way of emergencies or disasters. Don't be intimidated by the emergency preparedness process. You don't need to be a survivalist to be a survivor.