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A Do-or-die Test Of Will And Know-how

A series of shark attacks at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh have underlined the threat posed to tourists by nature's most efficient killing machines. Although shark attacks are rare, they can be deadly. Four people were injured in the earlier attacks, and a German tourist was killed when a shark reportedly tore off one of her arms and a leg. If you're worried about getting bitten, there are a number of high-tech ways to improve your chances of survival in shark-infested waters, from repellents to electronic countermeasures and body armor.

While the world worries about being eaten alive by sharks, statistics show that far more Americans are killed each year by a more menacing animal: the cow. Scary movies and TV specials may focus on the most frightening-looking predators (Shark Week, anyone?), but that fearmongering is misdirected. The next time you're nervously scanning the surface of the sea for a dorsal fin, remember one thing: Statistically speaking, you are much more likely to be killed by a cow than a shark.

Between 2003 and 2008, 108 people died from cattle-induced injuries across the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's 27 times the whopping four people killed in shark attacks in the United States during the same time period, according to the International Shark Attack File. Nearly all those cow-related fatalities were caused by blunt force trauma to the head or chest; a third of the victims were working in enclosed spaces with cattle.

While the ongoing battle between cow and man is overwhelmingly one-sided (and delicious), the people who work closely with cattle take major risks. "I've been kicked, I've been pushed, I've been charged," says 22-year-old Margaret Dunn, a graduate research assistant studying animal science at Iowa State University. "Like what they say about dogs, they can smell fear." Once, while she was attempting to inoculate a newborn calf as its mother stood nearby, another cow came out of nowhere and knocked her over. Dunn has survived these assaults, and they have not dissuaded her from planning to acquire her own dairy cows someday. The dangers of a farm are just "an occupational hazard," she says.

Close encounters of the bovine kind are not the most lethal aspect of the agriculture industry: That title might go to tractor accidents, which kill about 120 people each year, according to Wayne Sanderson, who conducted the CDC report on cattle-related fatalities. (Sanderson, a professor in the epidemiology department at the University of Kentucky, says farm safety does not fall under the jurisdiction of OSHA and is therefore largely unchecked.) Nevertheless, he says, just as the right equipment and careful driving can keep a tractor from flipping, the right precautions can keep cattle from charging.

The buddy system can be lifesaving when you're in close proximity to large animals, whether you're a rookie or a veteran at dealing with cattle. In fact, the majority of deaths in the CDC study involved older men who had worked with the animals for years. Farms stay within a family less frequently these days, so fewer sons are replacing their fathers, and more farmers in their 60s and 70s must deal with the animals alone. "They used to be able to get out of the way," he says, but that's no longer always the case.

If you're not in immediate danger, but a cow or bull is making you nervous by pawing or snorting, there are steps you can take to keep the animal from charging. "Get something between you and her," Dunn says, suggesting nearby "trees, feed bunk, or other cows as long as they're chill." A calf might be cute, but Sanderson reminds us that its threatened, angry, protective and charging-at-you mama is not. "The golden rule for mama cows is that as soon as she calves, she's a whole different cow," Dunn says.

One hundred years of technological progress can be erased in minutes by nature's fury. Recent disasters have left not only destruction, but also heroism in their wake, and we can learn from the experiences of the survivors. The right tools, skills and mind-setÂ-the survival worldviewÂ-will help you withstand the worst.

Rule No. 1: Exercise if you’re freezing cold. It will warm you up. Rule No. 2: Disregard rule No. 1 if you’re in the water. With hypothermia, blood vessels constrict, reducing the supply of warm blood to the skin. That keeps internal organs warm—which is what you want. But forcing those vessels open by exercising in the water pushes the warm blood to the surface, where it quickly gets chilled. If you’re immersed in water, stay still.

Some 600 people are struck every year by lightning; about 60 are killed. First, the common-sense rules: Don’t be—or be near—the tallest object around, and get rid of metal objects that are in contact with your skin. As a last resort, experts suggest squatting with just the balls of your feet on the ground. Cover your ears, close your mouth and eyes, and hope the bolt rolls over you.

Drown-proofing is a technique developed in the 1940s by legendary Georgia Tech swim coach Fred Lanoue. It enables you to stay alive for hours without exhausting yourself. Here’s how it works: Most humans are naturally buoyant—we float, but just below the surface. So rest by floating facedown in the water with arms out, scarecrow-style. Every 15 seconds, raise your arms to the surface, then push down. The motion causes your head to rise above the surface long enough for you to take a breath.

Every year, 8000 people are bitten by snakes—drunken men are statistically over-represented—but few bites are fatal. To check if you’ve been bitten by a poisonous snake, look for a pair of deep puncture marks. Swelling will be quick, so remove constricting items such as jewelry. Now, try to stay calm and keep the bite below heart level as you head to the nearest hospital. What about slicing the bite and sucking out the venom? It doesn’t work, and you might slice into something that can’t be easily repaired.

Wild-animal attacks will get you on the Discovery Channel, but they’re extremely rare. Dog bites send 885,000 people to the doctor every year. “Never run from an aggressive dog,” says Jeremy Talamantes of K-9 Behavior Services. “If you do, you’re just bait.” Conventional wisdom cautions people to freeze, but Talamantes takes it further. “You want to stand your ground, puff yourself up and yell, ‘Get back!’ That’s going to hurt the dog’s confidence, and most times it’ll stay back.”

For a major wound, apply direct pressure by clamping your hand on the wound, then elevate the injury above the heart to slow blood flow. If bleeding continues for 30 minutes, use clothes to wrap the site in a pressure dressing. “Don’t keep checking to see if it’s working, even if it’s bloody” says Dr. Jeff Gutterman, a fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “That’s a classic mistake.” If the bleeding doesn’t stop after another 30 minutes, tie off the wound a few inches above the site. If you get emergency help within several hours you probably won’t lose the limb.

Our complex world is more disaster-prone than ever -- but there's plenty we can do about it. Self-reliant, community-minded individuals can help people get through a major event when all else fails. Here's a simple truth: It's better to bend than to break, and it's best to be prepared for the worst. This age-old wisdom is going by a new name in slide-rule circles: "Resilience engineering" starts with the insight that it's smart to design and maintain systems so they have some give. That means building technologies that offer extra capacity to handle sudden loads, plenty of warning when normal operations are beginning to break down, backup systems in case things do go wrong, diverse digital architectures so that a single bug doesn't produce widespread failure, and decentralization so that when (not "if") communication breaks down things don't grind to a halt.

When it comes to large-scale emergencies, the country has a hidden weapon--and we can do more with this resource. I'm talking about a populace filled with self-reliant, community-minded individuals. During a major crisis, on the order of Katrina or a serious California earthquake, relief services can be overwhelmed. When individuals are prepared to look after themselves for a while, with food, water and medicine on hand, and alternative sources of heat or power, it makes a big difference. The government can't take care of everybody at once. If disaster-relief staffs don't have to worry about you, they can take care of others--which means that being self-reliant can actually help your community. A self-reliant attitude is good, but skills help mightily, too. Citizen training is available through the Red Cross, Community Emergency Response Teams and Neighborhood Emergency Response Teams.

The downed plane, the busted ATV, the wrong turn on the trail--each can land you in a do-or-die test of will and know-how. Here's the good news: You can make it. If you followed the advice contained in hoary survival guidebooks, maybe not. Forget notions of jigging fish and building elaborate log structures. There's a new, more practical set of priorities, say experts, derived from what's being taught at the leading edge of military survival schools. "Our focus now is on rescue, not long-term survival training," says Caleb Randles, an instructor at the Air Force Survival School at Fairchild AFB in Washington state.

What works for the military makes sense for the millions of hunters, hikers, snowmobilers and others who explore the outdoors every year. "Statistically, search and rescue personnel will find you within the first three days, dead or alive," says Cody Lundin, a survival trainer and the author of 98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive!

Outdoors / Survival. Popular Mechanics All Access .

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