What are we preparing for? Let’s get specific… – Forward Observer Shop

What are we preparing for? Let’s get specific…

I just got back from a week outside the office and am catching up on the circus that was last week.

For the past several days, I had the chance to unplug: no computer, no internet, no cell phone. (I can highly recommend doing this from time to time.)

As I get back into the swing of things, I want to address a pretty fundamental question.

What are we actually preparing for? Or maybe a better question, What should we be preparing for?

The benefit of intelligence, specifically the benefit of our work here at Forward Observer, is that we reduce uncertainty about the future and connect the dots of a period of domestic conflict in America.

During my time I away, I was asked if I was a “prepper”.

Well, yeah, basically. The explanation is pretty simple.

We rely on systems. Systems get disrupted. The larger the scale of our systems, the larger the impact. And we in the United States have some pretty complex and simultaneously vulnerable systems.

Our ability to navigate the effects of these disruptions depends on us being prepared for them. You may not be a “prepper” but you should certainly be preparing for inevitable emergencies.

And that brings us to my main point today. What should we actually be preparing for?

The best way to answer this question is to divide the answers into three categories: tactical, operational, and strategic. (Read this for a primer on these levels.)

What strategic level events or trends will affect you?

Let’s use as an example the next global financial crisis and U.S. recession; two events which could happen simultaneously. (Each week in our National Intelligence Bulletin, we report on the latest developments and indicators.)

How will another major recession affect you? How will a global economic slowdown and financial crisis affect you?

This is a strategic and national-level threat, but it will have tactical-level (local) effects.

The key to being very specific about what we’re preparing for is to look at these strategic-level events as a series of cascading effects. This is what we call second- and third-order effects.

For example, a pedestrian flicks his cigarette out into a dry forest. A fire starts; that’s the first-order effect. Then the fire grows and threatens homes; that’s the second-order effect. Then mandatory evacuations follow, which is the third-order effect. Then we have looters, which is the fourth-order effect. We can continue on from there, but this should be our line of thinking.

So how do we know the risk to our local areas during the next recession and/or financial crisis?

Let’s start by looking at industries most deeply affected by previous recessions: construction, durable goods, retail sector, and professional services were all hammered. (Durable goods refers to automobiles, electronics and appliances, recreational products, etc.)

We might start thinking about the types of employers in our community who fit into those industries. Now we’ve identified some intelligence gaps.

  1. Identify the construction companies in my area most likely to be impacted by the recession.
  2. Identify the retail outlets in my area most likely to be impacted by the recession.
  3. Identify the professional services companies in my area most likely to be impacted by the recession.
  4. Identify the durable goods outlets in my area most likely to be impacted by the recession.

If we start looking at the risk of unemployment in our neighborhoods, then we may start to get a really good sense of who’s going to be affected and have a much better picture of the economic health of our community.

Every area won’t be affected in the same way; there were some areas that actually fared well during the 2008 recession, but there were many that didn’t. And then we add in budget cuts for emergency services, like police and firefighters, and we can see just how badly some areas may be affected.

There’s a growing concern that the next recession could rival 2008’s because debt levels today are actually higher than they were in 2008. We could very well see more bubbles bursting in the next couple years.

So the next steps are to perform this analysis for your own area, add the findings to your Area Study, and then think through how to mitigate the risks. There are lots of other strategic-level scenarios: the loss of the U.S. dollar as the world reserve currency, a war with Russia or China that involves cyber attacks against the United States, a failed election, organized political violence.

There are many others and we report on them each week.


If you want to follow along as we connect the dots and reduce uncertainty about the future, I invite you to sign up for our intelligence reports. Signing up is quick and easy, and you can read our latest reporting immediately.

If you want to learn more about how to gather intelligence to better prepare for America’s tumultuous future, you can sign up for the Schoolhouse, our online training area where intelligence and special operations veterans teach intelligence, security, and defense skills.

Or if you’re just interested in receiving my latest thoughts, you can sign up to my email list below. No spam. No fluff. Just intelligence, security, and defense for an uncertain future.


Always Out Front,
Samuel Culper



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.

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