Updated: May 24
As human beings, we’re the most social of all living things on the planet. The degree to which each of us needs other people may differ but, we all need someone. Nothing truly monumental has ever been accomplished by an individual. Collectively, we become badass!
When I decided to create a prepping podcast and companion blog, I did so because I recognized that so many other preppers were overlooking the topic of community. Food and water; portable generators and firearms; bugout bags and hidden caches are essentials but, they are secondary to someone to watch over you while you sleep or care for you while you recover from a serious injury.
For most people, community starts with family. For some this isn’t an option, but it shouldn’t be a barrier to building a community, either. Pick up your phone and scroll through your contacts. Look around you at the office, as you’re sitting in church or class. What about the guy down the block who always waves at you as he cuts his grass? The nice lady who plants the flowers at the entrance to the building, have you spoken to her lately? See, there are people all around you, many of whom will likely have hidden skills. I suggest that you start with people whom you know. Initiating this type of conversation with random strangers is risky in many ways.
Start small and exercise a high degree of discernment. In normal times, some people are difficult to deal with. This will only be magnified in times of crisis to the extent that it may be dangerous to have them around. While you’re at it, acknowledge the ways in which you’re difficult to deal with and take steps to address this. Ask yourself, who in your circle or on the periphery always seems best prepared for whatever happens? Who comes across as the most level-headed? Who is the natural leader or the person everyone listens to? There’s a world of difference between the people we can work with and those we genuinely like. These differences will come into stark contrast in times of crisis.
Prepping, while gaining in popularity, is still not yet mainstream. There’s still a great deal of misunderstanding and misrepresentation. Of the people you know, most will likely not understand your question when you ask them about their emergency kit or plan for power outages. At best, they’ll laugh and imply that you’re strange. At worst, you become the subject of intense conversation and ridicule. Initially, some people might not understand or be interested but could be with patience and focused guidance. Others will refuse to listen and there’s little you can say to change their minds. Trying to overcome their resistance to the idea of prepping may be futile. No need to argue. Save your energy for those who are receptive, willing to learn and interested in talking with other like-minded individuals.
Even though I have a podcast and blog, I’m selective about how I talk about my site and activities with those I don’t know. Far from being ashamed or embarrassed, I’m doing my thing and prefer to be free from distractions and people who aren’t going to be helpful.
So now that you’ve satisfied the soft skills, it’s time to address the hard skills. Do you know any paramedics, cops, firefighters, or retired military servicemen or women? Do you know a guy who knows a guy who’s into bushcraft? What about nurses, tradespeople, or pharmacists?
Beyond mere utility, your goal is to build a community of people who bring something significant to the table. You may need to rely upon these people to save your life; choose wisely.
Now that you’ve found a few people with whom you're compatible and share common goals, let’s shift the conversation to how to structure the group. We’ve established that even with family, conflict will be inevitable and how you handle those conflicts is critical to the group’s long-term viability. To that end, I suggest that you start off not co-mingling resources. This might seem counter-intuitive so hear me out. The level of preparedness a pair of empty nesters can achieve differs greatly from that of a young family with young children. Similarly, a singleton might find her resources sufficient for her needs but may have little in the way of extra to share with others.
None of what I’m going to suggest is legally binding so you can terminate the agreement and walk away at any time. You can loosely organize yourself based upon a gentlemen’s agreement in which you agree to assist others on a temporary and limited basis. You can also draw up something more complex such as a Memorandum of Agreement or form a Mutual Aid Group. For instance, in a MAG, you agree to help in the form of food, water, shelter, transportation to an alternate location. This type of arrangement works well in a suburban neighborhood as well as in an urban environment. Apartment dwellers and homeowners have the same needs and can address them in much the same way. However, reliance on public transportation is more common in urban environments as it’s severely limited if it exists at all in many suburban areas. Recall that transportation out of the city of New Orleans was a significant contributor to the immense suffering and loss of life during Hurricane Katrina.
A Memorandum of understanding does everything that a MAG does but it also spells out what each party can expect from the other and the goals of the group are agreed upon and in writing. It also contains a risk assignment. The risk assignment addresses the risks associated with your activities and how to manage said risks. More formal than a MAG but, as I said, not legally binding.
Study the evacuation plans of the emergency management authorities in your area and identify ways in which you can use these resources to fill in the gaps in your plan. For example, if you lack transportation, you will need to arrange pick up and transport to a temporary shelter. In the absence of public transit, school buses as well as private coach fleets are used in this capacity in times of crisis. Before SHTF, take the time to become familiar with what assistance you can expect from your local authorities.
As you’re taking stock of your membership, a needs analysis is essential. You’ll do several but, you need to know early on who will need transportation out of the area. Who needs assistance with household chores and simple errands? Again, a proper needs analysis helps you to identify these issues early and plan accordingly. You don’t need to be clairvoyant to see the implications here. I’m not going any deeper into this topic as I plan to do a deep dive in an upcoming post.
I mentioned food and water earlier. Assume there’s no need to evacuate but the family down the block needs food and water to get them through the weekend. The neighbor at the end of the hall needs to take his medication with food. Identifying such scenarios in advance, allows for a quicker response and there’s the added benefit of no guesswork or haggling involved.
Again, all of this can be agreed upon quickly and easily. There’s no need to sign memorandums of understanding unless that’s the route you’re most interested in. Some might prefer a more tightly organized structure with clearly defined expectations spelled out. Such a group might have rigid criteria by which potential new members are evaluated. Again, if this works for you, have at it. Regardless of how you choose to structure and organize yourselves, be clear on your “triggers” for activation.
Do you follow the model in which your state’s governor declares an emergency? Do you want greater flexibility to get people in motion at the first signs of a major storm approaching your area? Again, how you organize yourself really comes down to personal preference and what the group agrees to. The next big item to consider is how to manage the inevitable conflict.
Even though you’ve chosen wisely and surrounded yourself with family, close friends and like-minded individuals, you will still disagree on the best course of action and how to use your limited resources most effectively. More troublingly, you may delight in spending far too much time assessing blame and demonizing others not as cool as you based upon their religion, politics, ethnicity, and a list of other pointless factors. Time is a luxury and what little you have should not be spent in such a wasteful and delusional manner.
My best advice is to be mindful of the limited scope of your mission and avoid name-calling and other behaviors that denigrate others. Aside from assuaging your bruised feelings, owning, and shutting down the snowflakes isn’t going to solve any of the significant issues facing you and your group. The goal isn’t to bury the hatchet in your rival’s skull while he’s asleep. The overarching goal of why you linked up in the first place should be the glue that holds you together and helps you collectively work through difficult decisions.
So how do you avoid becoming yet another dysfunctional, mutual admiration society? For starters:
Everyone should have equal status. No one voice or opinion bloc should have more weight than the next. If the guy with the most toys is always in charge, the group is doomed to failure. Why you came together in the first place should always be top of mind.
The broader and more diverse your group, the greater the flow of ideas and creativity. We all reach the finish line in different ways and having more ideas as to how to do that can be both inspirational and lifesaving.
Beyond mere good looks, everyone must bring a useful skill or ability to the table. This is where the tradesmen, nurses, and bush craftsman come into play. Also, don’t overlook the comedians and counselors. We fight the greatest battles in our heads and sometimes we need to change how we fight those battles. The therapeutic and practical values of laughter can’t be dismissed.
You can’t do everything for everyone. Don’t be afraid to say no or to offer less assistance than initially asked for. In the same way as you’d put on your own oxygen mask before helping another, if your needs aren’t met, you can’t help anyone else.
The more people who know that you have Pop Tarts, weed and pizza the more people will come with their hands out looking for a handout. Be discreet; be careful and above all, be smart. Carelessness and its first cousin, stupidity, will sink the group and place you all at greater risk. As a group, decide how you want to discuss the group’s resources with outsiders, if at all.
Finally, I’d advise forming a small group. I won’t try to put a number on it but I’d definitely say less than twenty. Big groups aren’t unwieldy and small groups aren’t more stable. My preference just skews toward a small group.
Again, you can leave anytime you want or if your personal situation requires you to move elsewhere. Sometimes the presence of another gives us the courage and sense of purpose to go on.