Does networking matter in SHTF preparedness?

I’ve been teaching Area Study Live on Tuesday nights, and it’s been a lot of fun to teach so far.

It’s a course we started earlier this month that takes students through each phase of building an Area Study; partly via live online lecture.

Last night, a student had a question about the people who live in his neighborhood.

Outside your family, those are the people who matter the most because they’ll likely have the greatest impact on your safety and security.

They may positively or negatively impact you, which is why we look at who they are, find out more about them, and ultimately — hopefully — bring them on board our community security effort.

Here are three fundamental truths about networking for SHTF preparedness…

First, your neighbors and the people who live in your area of operations get to make decisions about what happens there, too. They may have an entirely different agenda than you.

Most of us simply want peace and security in our neighborhood during a disaster. We better accomplish that if we can find neighbors who also want that. Then we can begin informing and influencing them to think about a future in distress. Once we educate them about what could potentially happen (or they educate themselves), then we can get them on board.

If we fail to do that, then we risk having zero influence in our own community before and during a disaster. The ability to influence our neighbors when we need their cooperation is way underrated. That skill simply doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Second, the ability to pick up the phone or ring someone’s door bell and have a discussion — i.e., collect information of intelligence value — is invaluable. It’s way underrated. Most people don’t plan for any kind of knowledge management during a disaster, much less in real-time, and it’s going to be another disaster for them.

Knowing people and having relationships with them gives us a bridge between our questions and their answers. You or I can’t know everything, but if we know enough people, then we’ll likely have access to what we don’t know. No one is as smart as everyone, as the saying goes.

The fact is that the larger our network, the more eyes and ears we’re going to have during a disaster. And if that disaster is protracted and occurs over days or weeks, people are going to find out real fast just how valuable real-time information is.

That’s why I teach intelligence and that’s why people listen — because they know intelligence is mission-critical. If that’s you, then congratulations: you’re in the 95th percentile of your peers.

And third, teams matter. There’s a reason why military units operate in teams. More specifically, there’s a reason why the world’s most elite military units all operate in small teams. Because teams give us advantages, they bring us a broad array of skills, and each member contributes to accomplish the mission.

I’m not a doctor. Or an engineer. Or a mechanic. But I have those people in my group. They know things I don’t and can do things I can’t. Humans are really good at solving problems they’ve solved before. The average human, however, is not good at solving problems he’s never encountered before.

A team of contributors with skills equals more problems that can be solved. Ultimately, this network increases our survivability because we can collectively solve a wide range of problems.

In closing, the words “preparedness” and “survival” are often associated with guns and food and gear.  All that’s important, but I’m here with a different take.

Soft skills, especially regarding intelligence gathering and influencing people, are way underrated. They don’t receive enough attention, and not gaining these skills is sabotaging your level of preparedness.

All the people who’ve bought retreat properties and bug out locations, and invested thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in food and gear, are in for a rude awakening when they realize that they have virtually no situational awareness and no ability to quickly solve that problem at scale.

A rhetorical question for you: What can you do today to improve your ability to gather information and influence your friends, family, peers, and neighbors?

Developing those skills is a way better use of time and resources than that 14th month of stored food you’re going to tuck away.


Always Out Front,
Samuel Culper

P.S. – Disagree? Let me know by commenting why I’m wrong.



Samuel Culper 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. Moving aggressively to find common ground with neighbors (perchance recruiting some to overt intel-gathering) works for a community of people who give you reason to trust them. If some of those neighbors are snitches-in-waiting (some of mine may be; I simply haven’t had the bandwidth to apply effective but innocent-seeming tests yet) then more prudence seems called for. Further, if you’re “new kid on the block” and the neighbors have all lived in the same spot for half a century, you could easily (if inadvertently) give them reason to withdraw trust in you. You’d end up spinning your wheels then – anything you did to ingratiate yourself might worsen their distrust. I’m in such a neighborhood now. The neighbors I’ve met come across as affable. That does not yet mean they would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me in the event of SHTF. Or I with them. Mis-steps in such a neighborhood could be a bell that can’t be un-rung. I will continue with caution – the above is NOT an excuse to give up

  2. There’s an irrefutable corollary, by way of former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld:

    You’ll face SHTF with the neighborhood/community you have, not the one you wish you had.
    People who ignore that reality will live to rue the day.

    Reaching out is nice, but like the enemy, your neighbors get a vote.
    Some of them because they are that enemy.

    Which makes that Red-Yellow-Blue-Green local analysis critical.

    Anything from disasters to civil shenanigans will not be region-to-region, or state-to-state (which is why any flavor of “Let’s hate on everyone from State XX or City ZZ” is so much jack@$$ical hooey), they will be door-to-door.

    Do what you can to find out what’s behind anything inside an hour’s walk, and then make inroads with the like-minded.

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