Is Your Survival Group On Its Last Breath?

How often do you hear this from your group members?


Man, our survival group stinks.

We’re just a drinking group with a survival problem.

We never do anything cool, all we do is meet every once in a while but nothing ever seems to happen. 


Lucky for you I have some simple ideas how to get our group back on track. You need to start making things happen or your group will fizzle out, they always do.

Fun Fact:

Do you know what the most common problems are in groups?





Why? Well there are a number of reasons but often it’s because it usually isn’t as fun as expected, it truly is that easy. People stop showing up and the people that do show up either do all the work or spend their time socializing or disagreeing.

<<<Caution: Problems being solved ahead>>>

If you want people to spend their valuable time with you building a group, you need to give them something to work with. You must give it an identity and offer people a mission that they believe in. Even if you have a group that has been meeting for a long time you may need to take a step back and make sure you are moving in the right direction. We see groups that have fallen into autopilot mode and that’s not always good.

Championship sports teams don’t just keep winning because they keep winning, they need to re-calibrate and retool their plans, plays and teams to stay fresh and ahead of the game.”

Once we know what we are not doing we can come up with some ideas to get some things done. Those would be called goals. A goal is something that can be accomplished within a reasonable period of time that keeps the ball moving.

I’ll give you an example: have you ever been to meetings where nothing gets accomplished, or you never seem to complete a project, or the team gives up? I know for a fact that some of you right now are nodding your heads because I see it all the time.

“I don’t want excuses, I want results”

This is where the action plan comes in. Once you decide what you want to accomplish you need to take steps to get it done. Did you know that most people who are given responsibility would try harder to complete that responsibility if they believe in the task and know people are counting on them? Especially if they have to stand up at the next meeting and give a status report. You did choose the best people for your group didn’t you? Well you are about to find out.

Let’s get into how we should identify our goals and how to make that action plan so your group is working like a Swiss Watch. We are going to keep it simple and not bite off more than we can chew, for now. Remember, you want people to show up, participate, and go home feeling like they had a good time so they will keep coming back. They probably didn’t sign up for a second job so keep that in mind.

Have you ever heard the saying: “Train as you would fight and fight as you trained?” In order to train for the battle you are expecting, you need to know what you are expecting. Keep it close to the basics because every scenario you can imagine has similar requirements for survival. If you are prepared for an extreme natural disaster you are still pretty well covered in case of a zombie apocalypse. The main difference is the length of time you would need to be self-reliant.

“At the end of the day all you are trying to do is stay fed, watered, healthy and safely sheltered for as long as possible, so just do that stuff.”

How do I get this thing started?

Begin by asking your group a couple of basic questions and see if the answers are at least somewhat similar. If so, you are in good shape. If not then you’ll need to focus your group content at a lower common denominator so everyone is getting what they want from the group.

(Hint, there are no wrong answers, this is just feedback for planning)

  1. What is everyone preparing for?
  2. What are you as group currently doing to get prepared?
  3. Are the families supportive of what you are doing? Why not? What are you doing that turns them off? Maybe you need to refocus at the lower common denominator and re frame the discussion to a vision that is less extreme and more attractive to the layperson to get them involved.
  4. What kinds of things would you like to work on to get better prepared?

Your group is for all intents and purposes an extended family and it may seem like everyone has a different idea on what you should be doing. By clearing up the confusion of the basic stuff you pave the way to doing the cool stuff.

Let’s be SMART about this

Use the SMART method for determining what you want to get done. That’s another way of saying “setting goals.” When you have some ideas of things you want to do, take a moment and see if your idea meets the challenge of being SMART.

Ask yourself, is my idea:






Sample NOT SMART idea:

Let’s go turn Rusty’s house into a fortress! That’s a pretty tall order and could take a very long time not to mention we would all do it differently. Look at the Doomsday Castle as an example of different… and still not done.

Ok, let’s try again:

“How about we go on a camping trip where different people in the group teach skills they are good at to the rest of the group?” Is this a SMART idea? Not yet. It’s the beginning of an idea but not a goal that people can get behind yet. It’s actually more of a thought that will become another lost fantasy unless we nail it down.

How about we try it this way?

Get the leaders to meet sometime before the general group meeting to come up with ideas to get people involved. Then at the group meeting announce that we want to plan a camping trip to Rock Lake Wildlife Area in September where we will have members teach each other skills, try out our gear, cook-out, let the kids play and have some fun.

This meets the SMART guidelines and shows the group is doing fun productive activities.

Now that you have a goal you can put it into action.

The best way to do this is to form a team to make it happen. You can either volunteer or voluntold some people to form the planning team.

They will in turn take the larger problem of organizing the campout and break it into smaller pieces

  • Get available dates for the site in September
  • Get pricing for the site and a list of amenities
  • Create a list of class ideas and instructors
  • Create a time schedule for the event and classes
  • Come up with some social time ideas for the families
  • Plan group meals
  • Make a flyer with all the details for the group

And that’s how it’s done.

By creating good ideas that fit in with what the group is all about and including everyone you will:

  • Increase participation
  • Members will become more committed
  • Families will be involved
  • People will learn new things
  • The teams will work better
  • You will really get to know each other
  • The group will become stronger and more flexible
  • The dead weight of the group will disappear or at least you will know who they are

If you have ideas to share with us of things your group likes to do, post in the comments. People are always looking for good ideas.


Operations Planning for Your Family

Due to the nature of survival it is wise to prepare for what to do in case someone becomes incapacitated, missing or leaves for some reason, even if the event or absence is only temporary.  A disruption event can happen at any time; it doesn’t matter where everyone is or what they are doing.

To ensure that the family can come together and continue to operate you will want to do some key tasks ahead of time.

First we want to understand the different types of event that could happen and how they relate to your situation at the time. A tornado, for instance, is a very possible event that will drastically affect a relatively small number of people at one time and usually occurs with predictable severe weather. Often the tornado strikes during the day when everyone is separated, but not always. As for an event from the complete other end of the spectrum, a massive grid down power outage that keeps a city without electricity for many days, weeks or months will affect large numbers of people and cause all sorts of societal problems and could happen at anytime.

In either of these scenarios there is one thing in common, you and your family.  You have already stocked and planned for what to do in case of disaster, but have you planned on what exactly to do if someone is lost or incapacitated? What if that person, or even you, are the only one who knows how to survive, operate a well pump, flip a breaker, shoot a weapon safely, access a bank account, contact relatives, etc. In short, are you or the kids prepared to take over the leadership position in case the worst happens?

In the case of a large scale event you may have to bug out or you may even have people coming to you. In a survival group there are usually several people with key skills, but for a small family, this may not always be the case. In a complex survival situation it will be very difficult to know and do everything by yourself so why not plan ahead so you can keep operating if such a time comes.

Top 5 reasons you will need to consider a continuity or succession plan:

    • A key person is delayed by  disaster conditions or travel restrictions
    • Someone is injured, ill, lost or killed along the way
    • Someone cannot participate because of their own lack of planning
    • Not able to communicate for some reason leaving everyone else in the dark
    • Perhaps a key person just chose to not participate for some reason

How do we get started?

The first steps are to identify who is key to the plan and identify an alternate person who is not in the primary member’s traveling party or immediate family. This is to give the best chance of the alternate showing up and staying with the survival group, family or community. The alternate should be able to perform the duties of the primary and be trained properly. Importantly, the alternate must be made aware of his/her title as alternate, and must voluntarily accept the assignment. At this point the alternate will provide all possible contact info to include an out of area relay contact so that there is the best chance of communication.

*Important tip: Anytime an out of area contact is to be used as a relay point for information, the information relay person must be made aware of the arrangement and be ready to answer calls from unusual numbers.

Next is to identify key operations. These are tasks or processes that must be done to provide for the safety and welfare of the family or survival group in an emergency.

Key operations may include:

  • Activating the emergency plan

  • Collecting everyone from work, school, shopping or other travels

  • Security: protecting everyone and everything from loss or destruction at all times

  • Food and water provisions to keep everyone going strong for the predetermined period of time. i.e. 3 days, 3 months, 1 year, etc.

  • Sheltering: keeping everyone out of the elements

  • Energy for warmth, power or communications

  • Transportation to re-position resources or evacuation

  • Medical response to injuries and safety oversight during emergency activities

  • Site safety such as immediate response to fire, flood, wind events, dangerous people

  • Communication with each other and outside world. Use your Commo Plan to stay in contact and set up a relay contact that is far away from the event location

  • Evacuation/convoy in case of rapid displacement

But what about the smaller disasters?

Not every event is the coming apocalypse, what happens if a family member is in a car accident? Your wallet gets lost, you must hurry to a family emergency out of town for several days. Who will hold down the fort, feed the kids and pay the bills?

This is when your Family Contingency Binder (FCB) will prove to be a lifesaver, This is a notebook that contains all of your operational information from critical documents such as birth certificates to credit cards to insurance policies and vehicle titles.

The FCB also has your emergency plans, maps to important places, passwords to everything, medical information, wills and trusts, Powers of Attorney for someone to handle your affairs and those of your children and actual written phone numbers to everyone important in your life (just in case you lost your cell phone too).

Just as with planning for alternate key personnel, alternate methods to achieve key operations should be defined, documented and communicated to all personnel within the group or family, not just those involved in those operations. Resilience depends on a group wide effort and everyone should know what is supposed to happen and how it should get done, this way people can adapt as needed and remain close to any defined objectives or wishes. Be sure to keep all of this information secure and under lock and key but don’t forget to make sure that several people know how to access it in an emergency.

If a sudden emergency strikes and you must evacuate quickly, try to take your binder, it will have everything you need to recover from a burned out home, prove who you are and get your life back on track.

When you take some time to prepare the people in your life as well as the stuff on the shelf you will begin to see that you may need less stuff. Share your plans and expectations with the people around you so they can be there when you need them the most and have them do the same. Give everyone the tools they would need to stand in for you if something happens, because something always happens.

For more information on group and family contingency planning, check out The Survival Group Handbook at 

Survival Leadership: Taking Your Group From Peacetime to Disaster Activation

All of a sudden a major event happens that directly affects your group to the point you are forced to activate. You aren’t ready; the group has only recently started working together.  How are you going to get this Motley crew all moving as a team?Some members are highly motivated and some still appear hesitant to open up yet. Attendance has been up and down. Before the event the group was more of a volunteer organization, after the event they need to be a family. Such a situation would be a challenge for any leader who is tasked with a team but when the team is not used to operating together the job becomes that much more difficult.

In order to effectively lead other people the leader must understand how they think and what their individual motivations are. Why is this important in a survival group? I’m going to ask you to role play a little in order to see outside of today and into a post disaster scenario.

The Group Member


Begin by imagining yourself as a normal everyday citizen; maybe you have a couple of children in school. You go to work everyday and make the ends meet. Your schedule keeps you always on the go but you realize that the world has dramatically changed and you aren’t sure if your family is ready to go it alone when the lights go out. You’ve met a few people and formed a survival group. The group gets together once a month or so and it’s never convenient. You aren’t in a panic about the apocalypse or anything so if you miss a meeting so what, right?

The leader of the group is all into it and wants to prepare with a sense of urgency, you would like to have the luxury of time and money and be involved but it is what it is right now. You are feeling pressured to do more with the group by several members. A couple others are feeling the same way and the problem is self-perpetuating. Morale is low and you wonder if you are in the right group or if a group is even a good idea.

The Group Leader

Now place yourself in the mind of the leader. You know that time is short and the group is faltering. The usual story of 20% of the people are doing 80% of the work is holding true. What can you do to get this thing turned around? In reality, sometimes all you can do is be very organized, delegate where possible and manage people by what motivates them individually. You may even need to ask someone to leave the group if they are causing trouble. You should also look at yourself and verify if you are in fact the best choice to lead the survival group. Is there someone else better suited to the politics of leadership?

Let’s go back to the disaster event trigger. Your young group was a bit of a mess before the event but will they all snap in line now that it’s for real? Possibly but it won’t be pretty right away. There is a reason for building the group ahead of time.

Imagine if we didn’t have a standing army until war was upon us. Aside from our Constitutional intentions it wouldn’t be practical to wait for war to build an army. We would have our lunch money taken away as a nation by those who prepared and trained ahead of time.

The same goes for the survival group.

The survival group leader should make an effort to operate the group, as close to post disaster as possible so there will smaller adjustments when something does happen. There will be challenges in order to walk this line between charismatic leader and tyrant. The more the group finds ways to integrate into each other’s lives the easier it will be to transition into survival mode. So what are some group planning ideas that will integrate people better?

  • Attempt to choose members all in the same geographic area so they can get together more often
  • Consider having meetings and training centrally located
  • Plan events as far in the future as possible for scheduling
  • Training events should be fun and informative
  • Be organized in all areas so as to not waste people’s time
  • Delegate tasks to others based on their skills and schedules
  • If someone never wants to help decide if they are needed in the group
  • Don’t overwork the cheerleaders, spread the load
  • Choose the leaders who best fit the role
  • Vet your members based on your group goals and needs
  • Have some sort of food or snacks at all meetings.

If an event occurs that your group has to come together it will be important to operate as a team. This goes without saying but many times group members are not used to operating at a stressful level for long periods of time. The leader should realize this and try to strike the balance of how hard to push different personalities.

So what should the survival group leaders be doing now?

  • Learning everyone’s name and personality including their family as much as possible
  • Offer training ideas and schedule learning events based directly on group skill levels and needs
  • Delegate initiatives and research to group members to get them involved and spread the workload
  • When assigning tasks agree to a follow up date with the member or committee to keep things moving
  • Follow up on assigned tasks when you said you would
  • Monitor current events and communicate concerns as needed
  • Create an event calendar as far in advance as possible.
  • Promote the 4-Cs of highly successful relationships at all times
    • Communication
    • Cooperation
    • Coordination
    • Collaboration

The survival group is kind of like a volunteer fire department, the members don’t have to be there in the first place but when they are at a fire they have to be there in mind and body. There can be no compromise. The closer you train to the event you expect, the more effective you will be when the event happens. Members should take their affiliation seriously or bow out and leaders should have the vision, fortitude, and ability to guide the group through dark times.

Martial Law and Your Survival Group: What To Do If It Hits Your Town

Recent events have again reminded us just how divided we can be as a population. Throughout American history we have been challenged to find common ground within a melting pot of ethnicity, socioeconomic stratification and political maneuvering. What will you do when it lands violently in your front yard?

Sometimes the big picture blurs out who are truly being affected. Hint: it’s us the individual citizens and the family next door. If you are reading this it is a safe assumption that you have begun to take your family’s safety and preparedness more seriously.  There has been a smoldering divide in our communities that seems to be flaring up more often lately, most recently, there has been a storm brewing over the militarization of the police at the local level. With the situation in Ferguson Missouri demonstrating a total distrust of police after the shooting of an unarmed black teen and the overwhelming military style projection of force by the state, has the match been lit for emotional contagion?

Emotional contagion is a condition that spreads when an event happens that gets a community upset enough to protest in the streets in a way that attracts people from other areas to join the cause. After a while there is seemingly little connection to the facts of the original case and now the street becomes the venue to air all sort of grievances.

So what does this all have to do with the survival group? Everything. This is all part of your situational awareness. In Ferguson you have seen the media coverage. What did you notice this time as opposed to other unrest events? I saw that almost every newscast was conducted in a normal middle class looking neighborhood. The cameras were literally broadcasting from the front yards of houses, not parking lots of some big city urban center or some far away avenue where corporate elite businesses were being destroyed. Sure there has been plenty of looting but the battles have moved onto the side streets right outside the bedroom windows of innocent families. Did those people expect a running street war with international media coverage? That’s not all that changed this time around, when have you ever heard of news crews being attacked with tear gas, threatened with violence from police and even arrested just for covering the news?

The biggest difference and the one thing that got my attention was the sniper sitting on top of a SWAT vehicle actively aiming his weapon at the crowd as if scanning for targets, one finger pull away from starting the next revolution. Somewhere along the way the lessons of Kent State have been lost. In today’s militarized society it seems as if we have turned the page on airing our differences. There are a lot of societal reasons that we won’t go into here that are fueling this divide. For now we are just setting the stage to discuss how we will survive and navigate the changing social terrain. Conflict is here and sides are being chosen. For those families caught in the perimeter of such conflicts it would be wise to be ready.

First we need to talk a little about martial law. As we have seen there has been an evolving cast of characters in Ferguson. Initially it was the local police department, then the SWAT team, then more SWAT teams with verified pentagon issued military surplus. The escalation only incited anger as more heavily armed troops arrived with such things as sound cannons (LRAD), flash-bang grenade volleys, clouds of tear gas and various non-lethal weapons backed up by very lethal supporting elements. This arms race has only caused a run on body armor, gas masks and gun sales. Upon seeing the failure to quell the protests the State Police were called in to replace the other forces and shortly it was obvious that wasn’t working either so the National Guard has been deployed.

Does this indicate martial law? Possibly and likely in this case, there is no precise definition of martial law. You won’t find martial law in the Constitution and there is no working definition of how to organize or implement martial law in any State Constitution. It can be inferred that when the military assumes authority to enforce the law we are experiencing a form of martial law. We can also make the assumption based on the progression of events in Ferguson that if the situation persists or emotional contagion spreads to other areas, so will the level of enforcement.

There have been a number of martial law deployments in our history and they have increased in the last fifty years. Often the deployments were in response to impending danger to a community for everything from union unrest to natural disaster to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Hawaii was under martial law for two years after the attack. Recently and notably Watertown Massachusetts could be seen as the latest recipient of martial law. In the aftermath and subsequent search for the Boston bombers the entire city was under siege by thousands of agents brought in from all over the country. Citizens were told to stay home and door-to-door searches were essentially mandatory without warrant or probable cause. To my knowledge, such a siege has not been done since the Revolutionary War.

Were there survival group members in the conflict perimeter? For this discussion we will say yes. What should you as a survival group do if this kind of scenario were to burst into your yard? I’m reminded of an old saying, “If you look out the window and 60 minutes is on your lawn, it’s going to be a bad day.”

There are a number of steps to take when this or worse comes to your house. First and foremost immediate actions must be taken to provide for the immediate safety of the family inside and possibly the timely evacuation if the situation degrades quickly.

What do I do first?

  • Secure all the doors and windows
  • Keep the noise levels low in house so you can hear anything that might happen
  • IMPORTANT: take a headcount of all personnel and family members.
    • Never, never assume everyone is accounted for
    • To do a headcount line everyone up and count off. Each person MUST say his or her number out loud.
  • Get everyone prepared to evacuate immediately, just in case
  • Get kids dressed and shoes on
    • Dress accordingly for climate and threat
  • Leash the dog
  • Arm yourselves accordingly
  • Flashlights issued
  • Grab your identification
  • Grab a paper map of your area so you can plot a safe direction later on if your routes are blocked
  • Put all cell phones in pockets
  • Grab a phone charger for later and put in your pocket
  • Issue any gas masks you may have.
    • If you don’t have any masks, wet some t-shirts and wear them as respiratory protection.
    • Also use eye protection for everyone. Swim goggles will help to keep tear gas from eyes so you can see, otherwise use safety goggles that have a face seal
  • If it is hot outside consider wetting your shirt to reduce heat injuries from running
  • If evacuating take some water to drink and rinse your eyes out.
    • Also consider carrying some milk to rinse pepper spray and tear gas from eyes, the cream in milk neutralizes pepper spray
  • Of course grab your bug-out bag but you won’t need all that primitive survival stuff this time, You will only be evacuating the protest area and going somewhere safe
  • Turn down lights to get your eyes adjusted to the dark outside
  • Keep everyone away from windows and stay near floor in case of stray bullets
  • If possible, stage a guard near all entries
  • Position fire extinguishers accordingly and designate knowledgeable users
  • Fill bathtubs and keep buckets nearby
  • Clear paths through yard for escape, move chairs and bicycles out of the way
  • Consider loading some Evac supplies in car and turn the car facing the road, keep keys in pocket
  • Wet large towels to possibly use as fire blankets and cover bodies during a hot evacuation
  • If you have bars on windows do not use that room as a retreat unless you can get out
  • If you have a deadbolt lock that uses a key to get out, place the key in the lock ahead of time
  • Make sure everyone knows where to meet outside in case of fire
    • Make them say it out loud
  • Do the same for a neighborhood meeting location. This is important if someone is not home during an emergency or you get separated
  • Activate your Commo Plan even if you don’t think it is necessary. Be sure to reach your out of area contact as well. This is important for concerned family in other areas who cannot reach you
  • If there is a lockdown on your neighborhood no one will be allowed in so your survival group may not be able to reach you
  • Do not evacuate into unknown or dangerous conditions unless your location or home becomes no longer safe to occupy
  • If you are evacuating be sure to approach the line of law enforcement carefully. You do not want to appear as a threat, consider how you might be armed and how they may respond
  • If you are caught in a crowd of rioters or looters try to blend in and not be a target to either side
  • If the crowd is moving, fall to the back or move to the edge to avoid being hit by projectiles from either side of the conflict
  • Law enforcement always leaves an exit for protesters to disburse, find it and use it
  • If you evacuate in a vehicle, be ready at any moment to ditch it and move on foot. This means any packs must be zipped up, kid’s shoes on their feet and tied, no sandals or flip-flops. Someone should be riding shotgun and there is a reason they call it that.
  • Travel light and don’t attract attention
  • Keep in mind that if there is civil unrest in the area, there will be three kinds of people outside:
    • the police,
    • armed citizens protecting their possessions and businesses and
    • protesters/looters.
      • There may also be trigger-happy people armed inside their homes. You do not want to surprise any of these people. Be careful when moving around on other people’s property.
  • When moving as a group or family, assume a patrol style configuration. This means to place all children, vulnerable people and assets in the center of the column and place adults who are able to observe, recognize and react to any threats in the front, back and sides as you move.
  • Remember your headcount and check it regularly to verify you have everyone. Always check the count after running or moving through an obstacle.
  • In a tactical or silent environment the count should be initiated from the front, passed back to the rear and back up to the front. This is done by placing a hand on the person in front of you and whispering the number back up to the front of the line or patrol. Once everyone is accounted for you can continue to move.
  • If there is a separation in the group it is the fault of the person ahead of the lost member. Make it a point to only move as fast as the slowest person and look behind you every few moments.

For a printable version of this post, click HERE

Feel free to print and post this information on your refrigerator or in your Family Contingency Binder as a reference. Hopefully you will never need it but in an emergency, panic and tunnel vision can overcome the best-prepared person. There is nothing wrong with using a cheat sheet because in true survival, all is fair.

Stay alert preppers!

For more information on survival groups and preparedness, make sure you check out The Survival Group Handbook: How To Plan, Organize and Lead People for Short or Long Term Survival, available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle here:

Also stay in touch with Charley Hogwood and P.R.E.P. at our website,

Reverse OPSEC: Intel Gathering For Survival

OPSEC is just an acronym for Operational Security, a fancy way of saying keep your secrets. We all know that there are things to keep to yourself for your own protection. We have all heard it before; don’t share your most personal information. But one man’s privacy is another man’s Intel. How does one walk the line between keeping your own secrets while simultaneously trying to learn about other people? Have you ever wondered how to be the person who gathers the intel? Let’s start with an example situation where you have two choices, either you can be the investigator or the investigated:

Why we practice OPSEC

A word of caution, there are people out there who try to gain information from you for less than honorable purposes. Some people are natural con artists. Unfortunately I’ve seen this in action when some self purported free meeting in the park “survival expert” would lure unwitting families to hear various discussions on preparing for doomsday. Aside from plenty of questionable knowledge there was a more nefarious angle. This person was able to convince others that in an “eat or be eaten” world, they should already know who in their area had resources such as food storage, equipment, fruit trees or even who may be elderly. Why all this “intel gathering”? Because the so called expert framed it as a preparedness plan, if you know where the resources are, there’s no need to store your own because you can rely on other people’s hard work (or misfortune, depending on how you look at it).  But there’s more to this story than meets the eye, as the “expert” was not only encouraging people to steal, he was actually mapping out how to get the resources for himself! The moral of this story is that OPSEC remains a priority when planning for your post-SHTF life.

Which Side Of The Conversation Are You On?

Let’s say you’ve found yourself talking survival with someone and all of a sudden, as conversations often do, you are far from where you started. In that moment youhave this sudden panic. “Did I share something I shouldn’t have? How well do you know this person with all the slick questions? Is this an innocent chat or is this person possibly a threat at some point in the future?”

Situational awareness is not just for dark parking lots, it is for everything all the time. History is riddled with examples of people being lulled into a false sense of security only to have that confidence betrayed later. Now that you’ve put the tin foil on and you’re hiding in your home vowing never to speak to anyone ever again, let me reassure you that not everyone is out to steal your secrets. At some point in the future your survival may depend on information trusted to someone else.

Information as Currency

Imagine yourself trying to navigate a hostile-ridden existence, trying to navigate a long bug-out with the family through unfamiliar territory. You’ve heard rumors of criminal activity in the area and hints that there may be a route of safe passage that is safely guarded. Think of something like an underground railroad. In this instance, it’s going to be very important to try and gain as much information about the area as possible. While food and gear are the “usual” barter items, If you have knowledge of value this is where you will want to start playing some cards.

If you as the new, unknown people just start asking all kinds of questions you may not be trusted with any information or worse, you may attract some very unwanted attention. To fly low under the radar but seem trustworthy in such a skeptical environment you’ll want to seem nonthreatening. The gray man approach is a good start but you want to come off as easy to talk to. In this case your currency may be information. While you may not be able to talk your way into something tangible such as food or gear, you may be able to loosen the lips of someone else just enough to learn the lay of the land.

The Moral Of The Story

While you are going about your everyday survival it pays to keep your ears and eyes very open to information and opportunity because at some point you may have nothing else, but you might know something that will keep you alive. This is also the time to start practicing situational awareness with  your family, making sure that they understand that  learning  about their environment could be the deciding factor for future survival.

Stay alert preppers!

For more info on survival groups, check out The Survival Group Handbook available on Amazon in both paperback AND Kindle:

Does Your Group Have A C.O.O.P.? [No, we aren’t talking chickens]

What if a member who holds an important position becomes incapacitated or missing? What will your group or family do if an event happens that causes a serious disruption in your normal situation?


Since pandemic is all the rage right now we’ll use illness as our trigger event.

Today began as any other day with kids going back to school after a long hot summer break. The parents are off to work. The mother is a nurse in an emergency room the father a police officer. The news over the last few weeks has spent so much time talking about sickness in some distant land that we began to ignore it. Every case that pops up over here has been tested negative so far so it’s probably hype anyway. Even still you have taken all the appropriate cautions. You’ve increased the hand washing, stocked your sick room supplies and even prepared your survival group as much as they would listen. But life gets in the way of the best plans.

This morning one of the kids complained of a headache… isn’t that how the story always begins? It’s probably nothing, a new school year with kids coughing all over each other it’ll pass. Next thing you know you or a family member is down for the count. Then another case of symptoms shows up in the city, and another. Regardless of announced test results and cautions people are getting shaky as more become ill.  A protest forms downtown because people are upset that the drugs are being sent to other countries and supplies are low. The protest brings the sick out with the healthy making things worse. Many don’t even realize they are sick because of the possible three-week incubation time. Looting begins and people are arriving from other towns to join in on the spoils of rioting only to take the illness back to their communities.

Civil unrest spreads, food is running low at the stores because trucking is spotty due to rising fuel prices and people are staying home from work. Law enforcement begins to restrict travel, health department workers in bio suits are televised removing sick people from homes and the 24 hour news cycle creates panic by reassuring everyone to not panic. People are avoiding hospitals and staff is hit hard by infection.

You finally convince everyone that it’s time. You begin the group activation only to find out that several members aren’t feeling well and one of your families was injured in a riot while trying to escape their burning apartment building. On top of all this the travel restrictions are preventing your only survival group medic from getting to your retreat location.

What are you going to do now? With the group in such disarray how will you ever pull it together? If the situation persists the group might collapse.


The Continuity Of Operations Plan (COOP) is a contingency that automatically jumps into action when such an event happens.

The COOP is a term borrowed from emergency management. When 9/11 happened the businesses in the WTC and surrounding areas were immediately and catastrophically affected. Because those businesses were a part of the financial fabric of our society, their loss had ripple effects globally. The companies who had the foresight to create and maintain contingency plans were the ones who were able to get back to work the quickest.

So why should a survival group consider such an approach? There are several areas within a group that if disrupted, might cause confusion, chaos or even unsafe conditions. You have already gone to all the trouble of planning for your food, water shelter and other necessities of survival, shouldn’t you plan to preserve all of these efforts if when something doesn’t go as expected? *For the purposes of our discussion we are going to be a little clinical with respect to loss of life and hard earned preparedness so don’t be offended as we proceed. 

We talked about the COOP, now let’s adapt that framework to the survival group. We probably don’t need to worry about some of the aspects of a business COOP such as customers, IT, compliance and such but we do need to keep ourselves in the business of survival.

A Group Continuity Plan (GCP) is like an overall backup plan that pulls everything together and clearly lays out what to do and how to do it. The best part is that once you give it some thought, there is not much to do except work the plan.

The GCP will benefit your family or survival group in the following ways:

  • Loss of life or injury to personnel-
    • You will identify ahead of time who steps in to fill a role immediately after a loss
  • Damage to critical resources-
    • This includes supplies, equipment, shelter location, transportation, etc.
  • Damage to reputation-
    • In a world where projection of power or even imagined strength is a weapon, any perceived weakness could make you a target. Being able to roll with the punches and not miss a beat shows that you are organized, ready and able to fight back.

You may have some plans already such as activation, contingency, or even emergency response plans. That is great and you should have these plans in place. But there is something to remember about plans and General Dwight Eisenhower may have said it best, “Plans are worthless; however the planning process is priceless.”

One of the weaknesses of specific plans is that they are limited in focus and tend to address only certain aspects of the group only to ignore other important areas. Survival requires a holistic approach. This means that everything is somehow connected and tasks should work in concert with each other.  The Group Continuity Plan is more of an integrated approach that ties everything together.

As you begin to think about how to create a GCP follow these concepts:

  • Consider risks to your group. A hazard analysis will identify what could go wrong and how it would affect you. Think of ways to reduce these risks or recover quickly from them. This is important.
    • What could happen?
    • How likely is it to happen?
    • Identify by priority
  • Consider the impacts to the group
    • Who would be affected?
    • What would be affected?
    • Do we have a backup person, piece or place?
    • Prioritize by importance
  • Group continuity strategy
    • Identify options to work around the impacts
    • Assign alternate roles
    • Identify back up equipment
    • Combine with existing contingency plans to make solutions flow more easily
  • Develop Group Continuity Plan (GCP)
    • Make sure everyone knows and understands their primary and alternate role
    • Make sure everyone knows where things are and where back up locations are
    • Try to pre-position alternates of critical resources in another location if possible
    • If there are any legal concerns you may need to consider such as child custody, financial account access, etc. you may need to draw up delegations of authority or Powers of Attorney.
    • Make sure everyone knows when to perform their alternate roles so there is no down time while waiting for someone to make a decision
    • Communicate everything to everyone as much as possible while keeping OPSEC in mind
  • Test your plans
    • Conduct training and exercises to make sure everyone understands what they are supposed to do
    • Testing the plan helps to identify problems and solutions
    • Surprise testing or drills is very effective at reinforcing correct actions
  • Maintain your plan
    • Any time a person is changed or a technology is upgraded you must update the plan
    • Plans must include contact information as well as procedures and must be kept up to date
    • Anytime a new version is created, the old version must be destroyed to avoid outdated information
    • Plans must be shared between everyone involved. A plan is no good if kept on a shelf and hidden from the people who are expected to participate

While it may seem like too much trouble or too high a level for a small survival group, coming up with some ideas to keep you moving is well worth the effort. Don’t let all these acronyms and concepts worry you, at the end of the day all we need to do is create a well-considered backup plan to keep the survival group safe and healthy.

What should the survival group/family leadership be doing at this time?

  • Identify threats and hazards to your group and location
  • Prioritize those hazards beginning with the most immediate danger to your safety
  • Figure out the critical who and what might be affected if a hazard happens
  • Figure out who would automatically replace that person (and tell them both)
  • Figure out where to fall back to if your location is damaged or compromised (retreat)
  • Account for any special concerns such as contagion
  • Teach and train everyone in the family/survival group the skills to operate in both primary and alternate roles
  • Gather the stuff you need based on the average skill level your group has (Don’t overestimate skill levels)
  • Keep on the lookout for changes and problems at all times. Keep information current
  • Write down technical instructions, Information and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
  • Share latest version of all information with everyone. Don’t assume everyone understands everything. Ask review questions and make them say it out loud

What should everyone else in the survival group be doing?

  • Stay current on events
  • Continue to focus on your preps
  • Avoid complacency, crisis usually comes as a surprise and no one operates effectively when caught off guard
  • If a new hazard threatens, such as a pandemic, adjust your efforts by collecting the proper skills and equipment to address the changing conditions
  • Ramp up you preparedness in accordance with the situation. It is far easier to methodically work up to a higher level of ready than to go from zero to OMG
  • Listen to the group leaders. You chose them to do a job and they must have your support to get it done
  • Take the initiative when you see something that needs to be done. You are part of a team; the 80/20 rule cannot be in effect in a survival situation. The survival group will require a 100% effort to be successful

If your survival group or family is not interested in planning for a possible continuity disruption, it will be like herding cats for a bath when crisis strikes. Bring up the subject at your next meeting and be prepared to make a sensible case. Many groups already struggle with leadership but when it’s not there in times of emergency everyone misses it.

If you find your group activated in such a scenario it will be important to communicate to them that just because it seems the world is collapsing on the outside, you cannot afford to sit back. The group will require more commitment, more discipline and more teamwork than before in order to make up for all the lost comforts of pre-disaster life.

Want more info on survival groups? Check out my book: The Survival Group Handbook: How to Plan, Organize and Lead People for Short or Long Term Survival, available in paperback AND Kindle here:

Pandemic Planning For Your Survival Group. Part 2

In part one of our pandemic series we addressed some basic planning issues and talked about personal protective gear (PPE) for the group. Here in part two, we’re going to address some basic social protocols and focus on group leadership. Remember, for all of these plans, it’s important to make sure that everyone in your group is on the same page and working towards a common goal.

Social Distancing For The Group

The goal is to reduce exposure to illness and changing some of our accepted social norms can do this. Handshakes, hugs and cheek kisses upon greeting each other should be replaced with non-contact greetings. One community in Africa has had success in replacing these norms by placing the right hand over the heart and offering a slight head bow. This is just an example, you should feel free to use whatever works. The important thing is that everyone follow suit or it will not be as effective

As time passes the survival group will inevitably run into nutrition and exercise deficiencies. It is important to keep the immune system as strong as possible for many reasons other than mass health emergency. If the survival group allows itself to become lazy in their health all the other tasks of daily survival will also suffer further perpetuating the condition and morale of the group.

What Should Group Leadership Be Doing?

Leadership should be involved at every level of group operations whether in daily family life or full on survival group activation. In the case of a pandemic activation the leadership must establish a culture of awareness and respect for the contagion and general health of the group. This will be done by setting rules for members to strictly follow with respect to hygiene and contact

When you face an indiscriminant enemy such as contagion you cannot afford to be at all complacent. Leaders must lead by example and be able to achieve buy-in by all group members by demonstrating a solid vision that directly relates to the group’s goals.

In the case of potential pandemic, leaders would be wise to establish a team dedicated to coming up with solutions for dealing with possible infection such as health awareness and monitoring, isolation and quarantine settings, establishing inventory of supporting supplies and education of the group, this must include all family members. It would also be a good idea to select a member or two to monitor the news cycle from multiple, reputable sources for situational information. The group should already have an ongoing education effort but there should be enough flexibility in the training schedule to address emerging threats such as this. Included in the training should be a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the security plan in how to deal with outside contact and how to react to possible contamination. The SOP should include action drills to expose any problems

As a backstop against rash decisions in fearful territory such as contagion it would be wise to establish one member as the Devil’s Advocate for all major issues and decisions. The reason for this is to prevent groupthink. This is a condition where a seemingly good idea or train of thought gets fast tracked because it feels like the thing to do. The Devil’s Advocate is tasked with finding reasons to object. If the D/A can’t find solid reasons to object and convince the team to slow down, then the idea moves forward. This should help to prevent paranoia or false information from derailing the group’s efforts, which is a likely problem in a pandemic scenario.

Finally, leadership should also convey an open door style policy in which members are not afraid to bring concerns. By creating this openness, team members will be more likely to communicate issues that might become serious if concealed.

The list of hazards seems to be growing everyday. Something stuck in my mind that changed my way of thinking with respect to planning. I was reading a global security report on predicted threats from a geopolitical perspective. This was back in 2012. There were all the expected concerns such as trouble in the Middle East, Africa becoming more terror related, global food problems, Euro crisis, China expansion, etc. The thing that stood out was the summary from an American military planning officer. He was quoted as saying that no matter what we predict and plan for there is always something that seemingly comes out of nowhere and changes everything.

The moral of the story here is to plan for all the most likely problems but be aware that something can come out of left field at any moment. Your family’s survival may hinge on your ability to quickly adapt to changing conditions.

Pandemic Planning for Your Survival Group

How Does A Pandemic Affect A Survival Group?

Your survival group was created to be a cushion between you and society at large should something serious come along. As we attempt to prepare at the family level we only have so many resources to work with. So what do we do when of all things, something like Ebola pops up? Most of us already consider things like the Avian Flu but Ebola can pop up like gophers in the garden. Influenza is tracked with some predictability and we usually have a pretty good idea when it’s most active and what we should do to be ready. Ebola seems to be more along the lines of a bioterror event in that we may get very little if any warning that it’s in our community until symptoms are recognized and tests are verified. This is due to its potential long incubation period of upwards of 21 days. By then it is possible that the number of infected is cascading.

So what does this mean to the survival group?

Timing is everything if your plan is to wait and see what’s going to happen. The gamble is that if you act too soon you may have committed your resources and now what do you do if nothing happens? On the other hand if you wait until cases begin popping up randomly across the country you may get swept up in the panic or possibly something the government likes to call “containment.” An additional concern is that if your group is like most everyone else going to work and school everyday, how do you deal with the potential of introducing illness into the group once activated. Is it practical to isolate every member for 21 days? Another level of awareness to have is to understand the time the virus can survive on a surface. In the case of Ebola, the virus is said to be viable on surfaces for several days. In Africa they are trying to sanitize everything, even spraying disinfectant on the sidewalks. So in the event of a major outbreak should we be concerned with our just in time commerce system moving the virus around on boxes and vehicles? See how easy paranoia can slip in?

Let’s take a look at the potential for disruption in a pandemic event. We won’t go too far into this but just to give you a refresher. The following list will help you in planning. Some of these things may not be as high priority depending on your level of preparedness and proximity to urban areas. With that being said, there aren’t many things that will empty a city but lack of essential services and raging contagion might be pretty high on the list so take transient populations into account as you plan.

The short list of hazards to think about for contagion:

  • Panic buying
  • Civil unrest
  • Containment/quarantine/travel restrictions
  • General paranoia
  • Medical centers overwhelmed or avoided all together
  • Unwillingness to seek medical care for other health conditions out of fear
  • Workers staying home
  • Services spotty or non-existent
  • Commerce interrupted/truckers stay home
  • Food and water shortages
  • First responders affected/over worked

In the National Pandemic Strategy the US government estimates that as many as 40% of workers may stay home leading to severe strain on essential services.

So what is the plan?

First there are plenty of things you can do. Take a look at your supplies and ask yourself; can we survive for at least three months with no outside contact? Three months is the projected time a pandemic wave is expected to last in a community. Next think about your possible exposure. The best thing to do here is to promote a healthy culture of hygiene. Make hand washing a requirement for everyone you come into contact with. Now is the time to beef up your personal protective equipment (PPE). You should already have supplies or get home bags in your vehicles and work spaces be sure you have a good quality respirator mask such as a 3M brand N95 mask rated for medical procedures. Cheap dust masks usually don’t hold up to moisture and will not seal adequately. For those of us with facial hair you should know that even a 5 o’clock shadow would prevent a seal and allow sneeze droplets or splash to enter the mask. Technically, even an N95 mask should be fit tested and taught how to put on and take off correctly and safely.

Part of your supplies in each location should include disinfectant or bleach. But remember that liquid bleach begins to lose effectiveness in 6 months so don’t buy large quantities unless you think you will need it.

In a group survival location you will have many people in a small area, which could act as an incubator for germs so you may want to create a plan for regular decontamination of all living spaces and common equipment. For example, there will be a lot of traffic in the kitchen area as well as places like HAM radio rooms, guard posts, vehicles and common lounging areas. The group should have a medic who constantly monitors each member for signs of illness. The medic should work with group leaders to establish an area where isolation can be set up. As part of your planning you should have hard copies of information on how to set up a hot area for isolation and a decon area for those who care for patients. The isolation room should be away from other common areas as much as possible.

Once the group activates due to mass contagion it is essential to make every effort to prevent the illness into the survival group’s retreat location. To better secure your members, establish a security buffer around the home or buildings that you use. This buffer will need to be monitored for intrusion at all times. If an infected burglar were to infiltrate the home, disease could be introduced.  All personnel who may find themselves in contact with outsiders should carry at least the basic PPE of mask, sealed eye protection and nitrile long cuff exam gloves.

Stay tuned for part 2 of our Pandemic and Your Survival Group series, where we will talk about survival group leadership and other contingency plans for your group.

You can always check out a copy of our book, The Survival Group Handbook on Amazon at

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