For many years I have argued that the single most important preparation any person can make if they are concerned about future social or economic instability is the preparation of community building. It is the one thing that everyone needs for survival, and unfortunately, it is the one thing even many preparedness “experts” ignore.
When I talk about “community,” I am talking about groups in many forms. Sometimes a community is merely a small collection of families or neighbors; sometimes it is an entire town or county. Sometimes it is built around a local church, sometimes it is rooted in an already functioning political activism meet-up. Regardless of the size of your community, the people who are organized within a group for mutual aid, defense and trade are light years ahead of everyone else when it comes to survival. In fact, if a national crisis scenario escalates to the point of the disappearance of the rule of law, I would say that those without community will scramble to find one or probably die.
That said, there are right ways and wrong ways to go about organizing. There are also guidelines and hard rules to follow if you want your community to be an advantage rather than an obstacle. I have had the opportunity over the years to see many preparedness groups and organizations in action. I have gleaned knowledge from their successes, and also their numerous failures. I have also had the privilege of coordinating a preparedness group in my local area which has been active for the past three and a half years. So, I am speaking from personal experience when it comes to this process.
Here is what I have learned so far…
The Levels Of Organization
There are different levels of organization, low to high, weak to strong. The biggest factor in determining whether or not your group is strong is usually time.
Many people out there do not want to hear about “time.” Why? Because it is one of the few factors that can’t be replicated. You can’t cut corners when it comes to time. What I mean is, any group of people, no matter how close originally, is going to have trouble operating together as a team unless they have had time to train together. They have to get used to each other’s personalities, and quirks. They have to grow accustomed to each others annoying habits; and maybe even grow fond of them. Without plenty of time working together on various projects and training, no group will be able to function as a unit when a real threat arises.
From my observations, it takes at least six months for any group of people to become psychologically acclimated to one another. Until this happens, their performance will be lackluster.
I have run into far too many preppers that plan (if they even have a plan) to organize AFTER a crisis event has already taken shape. These people have been watching too much television. Again, it takes at least six months for a new group to even learn to trust one another. Post crisis, the problem will be doubly difficult.
The liberty movement is a bit obsessed with the concept of organizing on the fly — throwing together slapdash groups of people who have little or no training with each other for security at events like Bundy Ranch or Berkeley. But this is the weakest form of organization. And, in a survival scenario, such organization is likely to fail miserably.
Groups Need Structure
Liberty minded people tend to be very individualistic and also tend to avoid structure like the plague. Organizing them is often like herding cats — debate prone cats skilled at coming up with rationalizations for why the lack of structure in an endeavor is actually an “advantage.”
Sorry, but groups do not last very long without a skeleton to hang onto, and someone has to provide that skeleton. Maybe it’s a “leader,” a coordinator, a “coach,” whatever; the point is, someone has to make a schedule and get people to stick to it. Someone has to plan projects and someone has to find the right people to head up those projects. Someone has to take the responsibility to ensure that the group stays together and productive. Otherwise, what’s the purpose of it?
In my experience the best structure for a preparedness group is to meet once a week on the same day for no more that a few hours maximum unless there is a very specific and important reason. Do not try to make people sit around for six to eight hours while the more “extroverted” members of the group blather all day. Many of them have lives outside of the survival world and will not come back for another meeting.
As a coordinator, you need to plan out projects and training ideas. What has your group accomplished in the past six months? If your honest answer is “nothing much except a lot of talk,” then this is a problem. People get bored. They want to see results. They want to be a part of those results. Endless political discussions and marches in Ranger File through the woods are not going to keep people interested. You will lose your group eventually, and with good reason.
Vetting Group Members
You will hear the term “OPSEC” thrown around haphazardly in preparedness circles as if it is some kind of catch-all answer as to why organizing is impossible or "just plain stupid.” Well, since we’ve already established that having no organization during a social breakdown is true stupidity ending in probable death, I think we need to take a closer look at the notion of OPSEC.
Firstly, Operational Security does not mean hiding in a survival bunker alone or with your immediate family while the world falls apart outside. Let's be clear; you are not going to climb out of the ashes fresh as a daisy to rebuild civilization after all the looters have killed each other off. You are not going to fend off even a meager gang of thieves with just your Remington 870 and a Bowie knife. You are not going to be able to keep your family safe and fed, period.
Security requires eyes and trigger fingers, many of them, 24 hours a day seven days a week. We all have to sleep.
So, OPSEC to the degree that you have no community around you is unacceptable in survival terms. Therefore, you have to apply OPSEC more intelligently. This means vetting the people you work with and train with. Do they have an ugly criminal record? Are they former or current drug addicts (“addict” might be subject to interpretation — a guy smoking a joint now and then is probably not an issue but a guy popping Oxycontin on a regular basis should not be trusted)? Do they have a violent personality? Are they prone to overemotional reactions?
Vetting is also not necessarily limited to potential criminality. Is a person incredibly lazy? Do they always have an excuse as to why they can’t help with something? Do they have a tendency to try to take credit for other people’s work? Are they abrasive and difficult to get along with in numerous ways? Are they narcissistic? Are they always attempting to hijack discussions or the group itself and make it all about them? Do they lie about their training level and background?
All of these traits and more could be grounds to remove these folks from a group in the early stages of organizing. This is the real world of OPSEC — going through the difficult process of finding trustworthy people before a crisis ever happens.
Leadership: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
Leadership happens, it’s just the way it is. No matter how individualistic a group is, when the world starts to go schizophrenic, everyone starts looking for the men with the plan.
In the best case scenario, this has been done far in advance. The experts in your community have been found over months or years of training and successful projects. These experts also work closely with each other and are open to ideas without being indecisive. They function seamlessly with the rest of the group and the group trusts them because they have earned that trust through leadership by example. They have no interest in self aggrandizement or “glory.” They have no interest in being in charge for the sake of being in charge. In fact, the best leaders are often people that begrudgingly accept leadership, and only because they happen to be the best qualified.
Beware of group members that seem to want leadership a little too much. Watch out for hotheads and fakes that talk up their skills but are always giving orders rather than participating or helping. Beware of guys who love to “plan.” So-called idea men that always have a new scheme to discuss but never follow a single plan through to completion. But most of all, beware of the narcissists; these people will not only not do much to help you, but they will sabotage any and every project you do have in the works in order to co-opt everyone’s attention and energy. If you STILL manage to get some work done, you’ll find them trying to take credit. It is truly an amazing thing to behold a narcissist in action.
Know People's Limitations
This is pretty straightforward. I have seen training groups in which old men with hip replacements were asked to march through the woods and hills alongside young men actually fit for field work. Now, this is perhaps a noble thing, but not practical. It holds back the people who are capable, and puts undo stress on the people who are not. Every person in a group should know how to defend themselves TO THE BEST OF THEIR ABILITY. It is important to make that distinction. When coordinating a group, it is your job to have the insight to know what each person's limitations are.
Otherwise, training turns into a circus, and nothing is ever accomplished. It is a sure sign that the leadership either does not have a clue, or, they don't have a clue and they are deliberately creating a circus so that no one notices their incompetence.
All Is Revealed Through Training And Work
So, how do you go about not only keeping a group together, but also shield that group from the blunderings of poor candidates for members and leadership? Simple: Training and work.
The group I work with has found that regular training in numerous areas of defense and preparedness makes it very easy to pick out fakes, hotheads and general laziness. Every time we’ve had a guy come through claiming to be retired Navy Seal/ Green Beret/ Special Ops ninja war veteran, all we had to do was ask him to gear up and join us for some simple team movement, or breaking contact, or we just asked him to put some rounds in the X at a reasonable range, perhaps while on the shot clock. And almost every time, the braggers fail miserably. Some of them buy some gear and don’t even know how to put it on before they arrive to train. If you find yourself cringing the whole time a self proclaimed expert is training with you, then something is wrong.
Hard work is also a great vetting tool. On the days where you have to practice digging a position, who is suddenly too busy? Maybe your medical team is running a class that requires some study the night before; the next day who has practiced and who hasn’t? Who wants to help with projects and who slinks off with other matters to attend to? We are all prone to lazy behavior at times, but you should be looking for people who suffer from this problem in a chronic way and make a clean break with them long before a crisis event unfolds.
Organization Is Absolutely Necessary To Survival
There is no way around it — through modern history the people who are most organized during a disaster are the most likely to live. The people who are not organized have to rely on luck. I don’t believe in luck.
Community is a source of defense, a source of skill sets, a source of production, a source of trade and a source of psychological comfort. One person or one small family will never be able to replicate all the skills and resources needed to endure in a widespread crisis. It’s not just about numbers, it’s also about cooperation. A man alone might be invisible for a time, but the second he is accidentally found he is done for. His preparations are then subject to the whims of the group that finds him. He might also find himself sick, or physically injured, and then what? Who watches over this secret squirrel and his bounty of preps? No one.
I have been asked many times in the past what the most important preparedness item is? What one thing would I recommend over all else? My answer is always “community.” It is the most vital prep, and it is the most neglected.