Why Intelligence Deserves a Role in Survival, Preparedness, and Community Security – Forward Observer Shop

Why Intelligence Deserves a Role in Survival, Preparedness, and Community Security

For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing selections of SHTF Intelligence: An Intelligence Analyst’s Guide to Community Security.  I’m also about to publish a shorter version, about 20 pages, called Intelligence & Community Security. Sign up with your email below and I’ll send you the ebook for free.


If the lights went out tomorrow – if some catastrophic event occurred, perhaps the event for which you are preparing – then then my number one concern is the ability to anticipate the effects on our community. For instance, a cyber attack that disables portions of the power grid for 12 hours is going to produce much different conditions than the persistent effects of a viral epidemic.

No matter the cause of the event, one thing that Intelligence does for us is that it allows us to reduce uncertainty about the future. It makes little sense to prepare for a highly unlikely event, when we can establish scenarios that are more likely to occur based on an examination of the facts instead of on the fear mongering that surrounds the highly unlikely scenarios.

One of the largest problems facing our preparedness community is the condition of being the “least-most prepared”. You probably know someone who falls in that category. These folks have the most preparations – the most stored food and water, the most medicine, the most firearms and ammunition – but are actually among the least prepared for the future. They may have have tons of gear but they have no clue how to use it. Or they may be a small island of preparedness in a bottomless sea of needy people. Either way, all their preparations are less likely to sustain their family and more likely to sustain whoever capitalizes on their lack of intelligence and misfortune.

The people who fall into the category of the “least-most prepared” may have all the gear and storage, but they still have lots of uncertainty. They haven’t started to answer some basic questions about what types of threats they’ll face in any given scenario, or what the local effects would be of a national, regional, or local emergency. They don’t know when an event is going to happen. They don’t what it’s going to look like. They don’t know how it will affect their home and community. And they don’t know what specific threats will be posed to them.

Having all the stuff does us little good if we haven’t identified and don’t understand the threat we’re facing. And when we don’t understand the threat, we make ourselves extremely vulnerable to strategic shock; that is, being exploited by a threat we didn’t know existed or for which we weren’t prepared. In one sentence: your stuff is useless to you if you aren’t prepared to defend it, and you aren’t prepared to defend it unless you understand the threats. And that’s where intelligence collection and analysis come in.

I think the proverbial “nine meals from anarchy” is an adequate initial description of any SHTF event. That idiom describes the length of time between a disruption in public services and logistical systems, and empty grocery stores being the least of your worries. The higher the population density, the shorter that window becomes. The more people, the greater the need. How your living conditions are affected may vary greatly in any scenario, but the critical need for threat intelligence will stay the same. It doesn’t matter whether you live in Star Valley, Wyoming or on Staten Island, New York; you will need threat intelligence as part of your day to day survival.

One thing that separates those who are least-most prepared and those who are best prepared is access to early warning information and threat reporting — in other words, access to timely information in order to produce Intelligence. Regardless of the trigger event and your community environment, you’re going to find yourself in one of two situations:

1) You’re not going to have enough information to make timely, informed decisions; or

2) You’re going to have so much information that you will be less able to find valuable information on which to make those timely decisions.

If I were a betting man, my money would be on the former for many in the preparedness community.

Intelligence can do a lot for us. Before we get into how to incorporate Intelligence into our preparations, we have to cover some basics. First is the difference between Intelligence and Intelligence information. If we imagine a thousand-piece puzzle, then each puzzle piece is a separate piece of Intelligence information. It’s not likely that I could examine one puzzle piece and accurately describe the contents of the whole puzzle. But as we begin to put the puzzle pieces together – first the edges and working our way in – then we begin to see the whole picture. We’re combining different pieces of information to get a better idea of the whole picture. Now we’re dealing with Intelligence.


Intelligence – information having been triaged for accuracy and then analyzed; meets the needs of timely decision-making.

Intelligence Information – raw, unrefined and unverified data

All Intelligence is information, but not all information is Intelligence. In other words, hearsay or the Internet rumor mill is decidedly not Intelligence. Information doesn’t become Intelligence until it’s checked for veracity (truthfulness), synthesized with other information or existing intelligence, and then put into production as finished Intelligence. And only one type of person can produce Intelligence: the Intelligence Analyst. There’s good reason why nations don’t act on information; they act on Intelligence. Information is subject to the whims of its originators and not necessarily to the harsh grind of reality. Ultimately, finished Intelligence should be that harsh grind of reality.

Intelligence provides the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of the battlespace. We as Intelligence Analysts are the fuel filter in a high performance engine; the fuel being Intelligence information itself. The Intelligence gatherers are the gas station attendants, to use a crude analogy, constantly pumping information into the tank. Without that Intelligence information, the machine doesn’t have the fuel to accomplish the mission. Without a filter, inaccurate information is pushed into the engine, so it’s our job as analysts to ensure that we’re running on the highest-octane information available. And without our Intelligence, the driver of our machine can’t get to where he wants to go. Each player has a critical role in Intelligence; whether it’s collection, analysis, or the pointy end of the spear receiving the Intelligence.

In tomorrow’s post, we’ll continue on with some basic understanding of intelligence and then get into some more in-depth topics. Sign up below to receive my forthcoming ebook Intelligence & Community Security,., or purchase the full-length SHTF Intelligence: An Intelligence Analysts Guide to Community Security here.




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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