How to Balance OPSEC and Mutual Assistance


As a military acronym, I know it turns some people off, but I will use it as a contextual analogy, not in a self-proclaimed alpha male, special ops, camouflage and militaristic way.   If you look around at other sites, and I know you do—you will see mentions of OPSEC.  OPSEC means “Operational Security”, or in our context…simply keeping secret—what you have in terms of food storage, supplies, and tools, etc., and what your emergency plans are—so that you are not left open to neighbor or stranger mooching or worse still, actual looting in an emergency scenario.

However, going Lone Wolf in the woods is not going to equate to a success story in the end. Sharing is one thing, and supremely humane, but taking advantage of someone else’s hard work or actually looting (theft by force) is another thing entirely.

Stick with me…

So, what if a major disaster takes place? Yes, what if…

Despite understandable concerns for OPSEC, unless you can:

  • Hunt, fish, forage freely off the land (safely, and in any season)
  • Successfully grow and harvest and store your own garden results
  • Collect and decontaminate your own water
  • Cut firewood, start a fire from nothing (see our article on this), build a log cabin from scratch (okay that was a little bit of a stretch for humor’s sake), or have other options for shelter
  • Can properly store a variety of perishable and non-perishable foods
  • Dig a latrine, and dispose of all your own garbage waste
  • Generate your own heat, and function without common fuel items that require gasoline, propane, etc.,
  • Somehow recreate your prescription medicines
  • Live without your glasses if you lose or break them
  • Have no physical ailments
  • Can lift 50+ pounds
  • Know first aid and CPR and have infinite first aid kit supplies
  • Can repel animal AND human predators
  • Cook creatively and over an open flame
  • Have no serious allergies
  • Defend your family single-handedly
  • Perhaps birth a child in the wild (because births are not always on  schedule, and disasters are not scheduled at all)
  • Don’t need diapers, formula, or important vitamin supplements
  • Make your own tools
  • Mend or create your own clothing
  • Use little or no electrical power or generate your own
  • Make your own coffee beans (for you coffee drinkers!)
  • Have alternatives to over the counter (OTC) items you use like toothpaste, toilet paper
  • Don’t need the internet or your cell phone
  • Can Keep all your kids safe and occupied during long, boring stretches of time
  • Can take care of and provide for all your pets in a pinch
  • Carry all the stuff you need to take care of yourselves in the event of a mandatory or self-determined evacuation
  • Can take care of any special needs people in your family
  • Don’t need insulin or any other life-saving medications,
  • Oh…and never get sick…

You WILL need help in some form at some time in a large scale disaster scenario.

A very tiny percentage of the population can do all that. ESPECIALLY if you are alone or just two people. What if one of you gets sick, gets hurt, or already has a physical challenge or ailment? Especially the person who does more of the heavy physical work. Who is guarding your gear when the other is out foraging or collecting water or chopping firewood or catching that fish for dinner?

Do I really need to know how to build a log cabin for a snow storm?  No, that was a joke, but I get what you may be thinking.  This might sound like over-doing it.  I am mostly talking about incidents on the scale of a 9.0 earthquake in our Cascadia Subduction Zone (for which we are in the time frame of it occurring), not the threat of a wildfire or temporary power outage that is shorter term and very localized. Guess what, Mount St Helens is steaming and rumbling again with many lower level earthquakes as well, and Mount Baker is also an active stratovolcano and in “our backyard”. In December of 2015, we had a 4.9 earthquake centered off Victoria, BC, that was definitely felt in our area. In 2001, the Seattle/Olympia area “Nisqually” earthquake was M6.8, with severe damage.

So, how do we accomplish both “silence” and mutual assistance in the event of an emergency scenario?

In some form or another, and at some point, you’re gonna need some help in a disaster, and so will others.

Embrace Reality

This is not “fear-based” talk. This is reality based. If you are open minded enough to take it in. All you have to do is some research on disasters of the last say, 15 years, and see what technological or municipal supports fail first, who comes as a responder and how long it takes, what runs out first, and how quickly looting and violence take place. Do the math on the ratio between first responders and the local population. It bothers me when someone broadly labels information as simply fear-based nonsense. Yes, some businesses sell products exploiting common fears to push sales. That bothers me too, but you have to do your research and see what is real and what is speculation and what is just…well, human fertilizer.

As a spectator to Hurricane Katrina, a veteran of a war, a former private investigator and executive protection operator, a self-defense instructor, personal and home protection and gang awareness instructor, from the very beginning—I have been about awareness. For me, this is the hardest part of trying reaching people. Trying to encourage and instruct them on how to take care of themselves in an emergency. Getting people to embrace reality. Having experienced these things I know that people, on the whole, don’t want to address hazards in their world, UNTIL something happens to them or someone they know or another loved one. Then, preparedness becomes a sudden priority. No one wants to think about bad things.  You may be dismissive, saying that these experiences have hardened me or have only tainted me with pessimism and negativity about our world. No, it opens my eyes to various realities, and I never stop seeking information with an open mind.

I genuinely want so much for the world, but I also have to take the world as it really is in reality, rather than having the luxury of just seeing it how I’d LIKE it to be. See, I have this damned reality to deal with. Like it or not, good things often happen, but also bad things can and do happen. Don’t try to argue semantics here. I am not a pessimist, I am a realist—with shades of idealism.  If you want to see every person and event as “good”, we are not on the same planet after all. Don’t feel insulted by that.  Like it or not, there are “good” people and there are people who have no concern for others and see fellow human beings as a source for getting what THEY want. Socially, emotionally, physically or by theft. At varying degrees, that is a predator. If your goals are to take care of your family and loved ones, you need to embrace reality and do what you realistically can to accomplish that.

TRUST is a hard thing to give easily. Some people give trust or assume trust in people (idyllically) or until a person proves otherwise. Some people assume SOME trust in people and then reel out their line a little bit at a time here and there, and some simply shut others out as a “safety”.  I get that.  Just like in life, though, if you shut people out to save yourself (emotionally), you also don’t allow in any positive offerings from other people or events, which is an important part of inner HUMAN sustainability. (I will label that as a Nag Champa moment, for those who get it.)

Start Networking

So, in our community and in our context, it is smart to do some people NETWORKING, if not within the group, then in your local area of neighbors or friends, churches or other social groups.  You already know that there are people who are going to know things that you don’t.  That’s why we have the group;  to share those skills and experiences and allow others to ask questions and seek answers. So, meet other people (preferably in a group function, or perhaps solo), who appear to have similar interests and views.  It’s NOT an easy thing to do, and it’s too easy to dismiss people from your short list for having a few opposing perspectives or habits or activities.

Get to know people who know things that you don’t know

If you think of it in a communal sense, you want to know people who know what you DON’T know, to strengthen a collective effort, and let’s face it, to help YOU (if you are lucky).  Explore what other people’s skills are.  Get an idea of their basic values (in a pseudo-communal sense).  Can you “live” with a person who has those values?  Do they have parental experience?  What is their feel for a sense of “community”? Are they goal oriented?  Team oriented?  Are they open minded?  What is their potential for conflict?  Are they able or willing to take the effort to make themselves available to talk or share skills together?  Do you feel safe with them?  Do they feel genuine in their interactions with you?  (There’s a difference between displaying common courtesy—and a genuine connection to people.)

Assess your own skill and compatibility with others in your community

If you have not done so already, take the time to do a personal assessment of yourself and your skills and weaknesses in the area of emergency preparedness and self-sustainability.  Take the time to get to know more about those people you may want to network with.  It may or may not be a good match for you.  You may end up “letting them go” because there is a conflicting issue that you are unable or unwilling to go beyond.  It happens.  You may let them “in” and then realize that they are way too militant or extreme in their approach to life or prepping in general.  They may “let you go” as well, for some personal reason of their own.  If you couldn’t hypothetically (or literally) go camping with them and their family, you probably are not going to feel like a good connection/match.

However, don’t “let someone go”, simply because “they don’t bring enough to the table” at this moment to ensure YOUR fullest survival.  We are ALL learning.  At least those who don’t let ego get in their way.  Even veteran skill-set people continue to learn more about their own craft.  And others.  How about encouraging that person or persons to acquire new skills, perhaps together with you or within the group rather than only being a faceless, shadow Internet spectator.  I consider “contributing” (skills) as anything that can help the whole, whether it is elder care skills, cooking or simply pedaling a generator bike.  Those and many more skills that are often dismissed as trivial, are in fact IMPORTANT SKILLS with which you could not only use yourself but contribute to a group effort. It doesn’t have to be big game tracking that you know, or electronics or construction or metal working. But, don’t stop learning either.

Over time, you will feel when it is right for you to share more information with new networked people.  Ask them relevant questions, too.  You certainly don’t want to take a virtual stranger to your house and show them your food stocks, cool hidden safe, generator, tools, stocks, bonds, precious metal IRA investments, fuel stores, and water filtration devices.  If you don’t trust someone with your kids, you probably won’t be socializing much, but that doesn’t happen overnight anyway.  Decide if their secondary perspectives are something you can tolerate realistically.  Does it matter that you might be 21 years old and doing general studies, or are a drywall contractor who smokes, or that you have tattoos that are questionable as family friendly?  Maybe it does, and maybe it doesn’t—when you look at the driving goals of emergency preparedness and self-sustainability.

Try to foster others growth

John Lennon had a concept of “bagism”, whereby if we were all covered completely in an opaque bag, we could not preconceive our notions of other people based on an outward appearance.  That is a pretty far stretch for most people, but I come back to the point.  (Who know they’d see a John Lennon reference in a “Prepper” article!)  Instead, take the time to learn more about them as a person and each other’s skills, a little at a time, while perhaps encouraging the other to shore up the areas they may be weak in (versus simply dismissing them on that issue).  No one wants to deal with an emergency situation with others who do not contribute to an effort, and those who expect others to pull up the slack for them.

Also, consider that contributing has many faces in a group effort…  If this person is doing nothing to prepare, while you have full shelves and various gear or methods for dealing with survival issues, and you are learning as much as you can, then they will not be a good contact for you anyway.  This contact will become a moocher, letting others do the work for their shortcomings of preparation.  Don’t rely simply on the notion that after a disaster you can just come knocking on the door of a group member and you’ll be safe and live communally.  Any group effort takes great planning and understanding and that group effort to make that kind of thing work.  And TRUST.

A disaster doesn’t care how old you are, what your politics are, or your gender, or orientation, or skin color. It is not a discerner of how many piercings you have if you are a neo-hippie or a technology geek, or your national origin. It could care less if you are a college graduate, have a gray pony tail or a bald head, on public assistance, make six digits a year, live check-to-check, are a leather-clad biker or a nuclear physicist, are fit for a marathon, are a loner or social butterfly.

Disasters aren’t scheduled and they are unbiased.  It often takes the great adversity of disaster for people to put those things aside and work together. After that, we marvel how great it was that people came together in the face of tragedy.  Underneath, most of us are like that unity of effort. Why wait until it’s in-your-face?  The smarter thing to do is to start dealing with it now.  Proactively, rather than re-actively.  What’s the downside there?  You met some new people and you have extra food to eat at home.

So, OPSEC and mutual assistance are a matter of carefully, but realistically cultivating your network of mutually minded persons on the road to emergency preparedness and self-sustainability.

Talk to people.  Get more involved in group activities and training opportunities. If you are not local, then look for similar groups to cultivate those contacts in your region.  It’s another great way to learn more about new “contacts” in your EP network.  You learn more skills, and more about people who have a similar point-of-view. Also, you are likely to find good contacts that fit your criteria and basic frame of mind.

Look for a genuine cultivation of trust and the willingness to keep learning and planning.  Get out and learn and share.

Guest Post From Richard Martin: (Richard Martin is the founder of both WCP and NWEP, for the community.)

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