COIN: Seven Lines of Effort for Prepper Security – Forward Observer Shop

COIN: Seven Lines of Effort for Prepper Security

One threat that many preppers are likely to face post-SHTF is that of the criminal insurgent, or groups of criminals, gangs, mobs, and looters.  This criminal threat will manifest for a few reasons; namely out of the criminal’s need to survive, the availability of unprepared, soft targets, and the community’s inability to enforce laws in a Without Rule of Law scenario.

Learn all you can about your Ashraf and Bedu. Get to know their families, clans and tribes, friends and enemies, wells, hills and roads. – T. E. Lawrence

One question that ought to be answered is, “How long after SHTF, and under what conditions, will the criminal threat become active in my area?”  That’s a question best answered by the intelligence element.  This article assumes that many communities will eventually encounter the conditions that support a criminal insurgent threat, and that the best way to fight against the criminal insurgent threat is through Counterinsurgency (COIN).  The criminal insurgent defined is the individual, or group of individuals, who are not only actively engaging in common criminality, but also actively working against the re-establishment of the rule of law.  In other words, it’s in the criminal insurgent’s best interest to work against any system that attempts to bring security back to the area.

COIN is and has always been, even before being named Counterinsurgency, about the people.  There are wars that involve tanks and planes fighting for domination, and then there are wars of the people.  In COIN, the populace is the center of attention; every plan is viewed through the lens of the populace, and every action is put through the paces of the populace.  In short, as the populace goes, so goes the war.

The worst case scenario is that the criminal insurgent receives support from any segment of the populace.  Let’s look at Ferguson, Missouri briefly.  Are there members of that community who don’t support the rioters?  Yes.  But are there members of that community who like the police and perceived injustice less?  Are there members of that community who believe, as much as they may be against it, that violent protests are the only way to effect change?  Yes, there are, which is why those rioters are finding cover from the protestors and the community.  If there wasn’t a significant part of the population who supported violent protests, then there would be very little violence and it wouldn’t last very long.  Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, as the saying goes; and in this case, there is some level of support for the activities that go on there.

When considering a COIN plan for your community, first ask yourself, “What does this community want?  What will this community want in a post-SHTF scenario?”  To be honest, you may have a segment of the population who will tolerate criminality as long as it benefits them.  As long as they benefit, they will tolerate it, and you may even find that they begin actively supporting that criminality if it helps them achieve their goals, i.e., survival.

To start COIN planning, we need to look at the seven lines of effort (slightly modified from its traditional form in FM 3-24.2 Tactics in COIN):

1. Establish Local Security – What will your community want?  They’ll want what nearly all humans want: to be secure without the threat of violence against them and their family.  If the criminal insurgent gives that to the populace, then the populace will find a very good reason to support the criminal insurgent.  It’s therefore incumbent on you to be prepared before the SHTF and be ready to step in to provide this fundamental service to your community.  If you can bring and/or maintain security without losing the trust of the people, then you will be successful.  Lose the trust of the people, though, by having your volunteers loot, rape, or plunder, and the populace may seek, or form, a viable alternative.

2. Establish Local ‘Control’ – By control, I mean positive control of the situation, not coercion of the people.  In fact, coercion of the people is a destabilizing factor; one which we are experiencing in America right now.  Bringing security, however, must be the first step, but security is not governance.  And I’m not talking about taxes or legislation, here.  Establishing local control means establishing legitimacy by forming a judicial system, enforcing Constitutional laws on government, and generally protecting the citizenry against internal and external threats — the very basic tenets of limited government.  Ask yourself, To whom will this community lend their support, and why?  Answer that question, and you’ll be well on your way to establishing local control of the situation.  Despite your best efforts, your community may support warlordism or the law of the jungle, instead of reforming or greatly diminishing the authority of local governance… but warlordism and the law of the jungle are still forms of governance.  I’m sorry if that’s the case, but it’s probably time to move if you find yourself in that situation. For all others, you can prevent warlordism and ‘might makes right’ by making these plans beforehand.

3. Support for Local Security – Once you’ve provided security for the community, are enforcing laws, and generally keeping the peace, then you’ll need to continue to keep the support for your efforts.  That means doing everything above board and allowing the populace to have some skin in the game.  It also means training up at least a semi-professional security staff who are effective at solving problems the least intrusively (to the populace) as possible and who make good decisions.

4. Support for Governance – How will you build support for local governance?  If things get bad enough, building support for governance is going to be a huge problem for a lot of people.  How do you get the average citizen to “buy-in” to your plan?  Starting at the community-level, you could simply form an agreement that all disputes will be taken up by a third party, like a judicial system.  However you decide to solve problems, disputes could arise that may negatively impact your legitimacy in the eyes of the populace.  Maintain that support by being fair.

5. Restore Essential Services – Creature comforts come down to water and electricity.  Both of these may be disrupted; in fact, it’s probably in the criminal insurgent’s best interest to keep essential services out of commission.  So once essential services are restored, how are you going to protect and maintain them?

6. Support Economic/Infrastructure Development – Five words: Intelligence Preparation of the Community.  How can you create meaningful work as soon as possible?  What are the demands in your area?  What goods and services can your area supply to others?  Other things to consider are transportation and telecommunications.  Being able to communicate easily, i.e., the restoration of phone lines, for instance, will make commerce much easier.  Safe roads capable of supporting commerce is another piece of this puzzle.

7. Conduct Information Engagement  – Simultaneously, we need a way to ‘exploit’ all the positive contributions we’re making in the community.  How are we going to get out this information to the public?  How are we going to shame criminals and continue to turn the public’s opinion against these criminal insurgents?  How are we going to publicize attacks against the community and frame them in a way so that the populace will continue to turn against these threats?  On the flip side, we need to keep our ears to the ground and learn how the populace feels and what they think.  If they think we’re doing a good job, then they’ll continue their support.  If they think we’re doing poorly, then they may find a good reason to support someone else.


Mike Shelby is a former military intelligence NCO and contract intelligence analyst. He spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now the intelligence and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.


  1. This jibes with my current white-paper entitled “Congratulations. Now YOU’RE the Police!”

    Should be wrapped up and forwarded to various SHTF blogs by early Dec.

    I’m no expert…but I managed to survive some pretty retarded shit.

  2. Interesting. The zombie thing has ran its course. It would be good fiction to apply these principles. I think most emergency planners overlook the basics. I suspect the most important factor in a SHTF scebario is building an organization and sense of community. This discusses that challenge. Every one of these 7 points is about building an organization and community. Sure this is about security, but it still comes down to the basics of organization and community.

    My fear is our community “leaders” don’t know beans about building a community from nothing. They don’t know how to build it from a grassroots block by block level if they had to.

    Thanks. Good read.

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