What you need to know about OPSEC for Preppers
What is Opsec? Well, let me give you a brief example. I bought that shirt (left pic) because I thought it was funny. But I don’t wear it outside of my house. Why? Well, what does that shirt tell you? Other than I have a sense of humor, it says that maybe I really do have a plan for the Apocalypse. And if I have a plan….then I have supplies and gear.
While this is true, I don’t want everyone out there knowing it.
That is, in a nutshell, opsec for preppers. But that example is a bit over simplistic. There is more to opsec than that.
Opsec, short for Operational Security, means that you are keeping information from one or more potential adversaries. This includes people that may you not even consider to be adversaries right now, but could become so in a long-term SHTF situation. This could be your neighbors, co-workers, or distant relatives etc. It could also be thugs and criminals in everyday life.
This information you want to keep under wraps can include details about you, your family or group, your gear and supplies, your home, your SHTF plans, etc. This is information that you do NOT want others to know because it could potentially be used against you if everything were to ever go to hell in a hand-basket.
For example, what happens if friends, neighbors, distant family, etc visit you in your home, and see shelves lined with row after row of food, water, medical supplies, etc? You can imagine what will be the first thing they remember in a SHTF scenario. This is especially true if they have gone a day or two without food.
Suddenly, they could be looking to you for help. Help that you may not be able to give. And in a worse case scenario, they could decide to simply take it from you if they are desperate enough.
Another example is purchasing a new, big screen TV and then leaving the box it came in out by the curb for the garbage truck. This tells everyone who happens by your house that you have a new, huge, valuable TV inside your house. Is this something you would want potential burglars to know? Your house could suddenly become a target for thieves. A target that you were not before they saw the TV box.
So with these ideas in mind, I wanted to give you some “food for thought” about keeping and maintaining a low profile with any pre-disaster prepping. And I’ll also talk a little about what to do in situations where you may not be able to keep a low profile.
Clues – Indicators
Clues and indicators are little things that by themselves may not represent much, but when factored together could start to draw a picture about you/your preps to other people.
This includes things like allowing people to see you preps. Talking to others about “being prepared” and prepping, even in general terms. Dressing in tactical clothing frequently, or having an obvious bug out vehicle in your driveway are some HUGE indicators.
Now clearly talking about/showing your preps is a big indicator. More like dead giveaway really. And so it is easy to think that by simply NOT doing that, you will be just fine. But there is so much more it than that.
There are other, subtle indicators that you need to be aware of. Things such as leaving certain reading material on your desk at work. Books or magazines on EMPs or other disaster scenarios could be a clue. Leaving prepper websites up on your computer screen for others to see is another indicator.
Even small things like certain stickers on the back of your car or truck could be enough. NRA stickers tell folks that you enjoy your firearms. That may not mean much by itself, but when factored in with other clues it could start to draw a picture about you. A picture that may or may not be true, but certainly one you don’t want out there.
Clues could also be things that you DON’T do which could be out of the norm. For example, I had a friend that was an amateur race car driver. He built his own stock race cars, and raced on the weekends at some local tracks. He bought a brand new F250, and put his big racing logo on the back window. His wive’s car and his car hauler trailer were parked in his driveway, and his brand new F250 truck was parked in the street in front of his house.
I don’t know about you, but I would not want to park a brand new truck in the street (even in a nice residential neighborhood) if I could help it. The fact that his truck (or wive’s car) is not in the garage could be a clue that something was being stored in the garage. The car hauler trailer in the driveway could also be a clue, as is the giant racing logo in the back window of the truck.
Even without knowing the back story, parking a brand new truck (with a large racing logo in the window) in the street every day along with a car hauler trailer in the driveway would be clues to others that there might be something in his garage. In this case, it is his racing car.
Another example of “indicators” would be watching your neighbor across the street carry in their weekly groceries. They do this every week, so you might not give it any notice. But then you begin to notice the amount of their groceries is increasing significantly. However, the weekly trip remains the same, and you do not notice more people living there.
One time might not mean anything, and you dismiss it without a second thought. But when you begin to notice a pattern of your neighbor taking in far more groceries than they use every week, it triggers something in your brain to take notice. It is out of the ordinary…and not within their “baseline.”
A “baseline” is how people and environments act when things are “normal”. This “normal” can be different for different people and places.
For example, at a sunny beach you would expect people wearing swim wear, laying out in the sun, swimming, and generally having fun. If a man shows up in a dark, 3 piece suit, you will most likely notice him right away. This is because he is out of the baseline. I go into a lot more detail on baseline in my article on situational awareness. Read it here.
If you have a neighbor who is meticulous about keeping up with their lawn and flower garden, you would quickly notice if the grass was no longer being cut, and weeds were popping up. It is outside of their “norm”, and it could lead you to believe that something may not be right.
When you do or say things outside of your baseline, it can cause people to take notice. This type of activity is what you need to be conscious of. Sometimes, it is not as easy as you may think.
These concepts come into play with opsec. Now that you know about the concepts, I’ll show how they work.
OPSEC – The Concepts of…
Opsec can basically be broken down into 3 parts:
- Determine what/who/how you have that needs to be protected
- Determine who it needs to be protected from
- Find ways and means of protecting it
This seems fairly self-explanatory, and we talked a little about it in the beginning of this article. But let’s take a look at these three concepts a little closer.
What to protect
This concept is fairly easy to understand, but not always easy to define. Obviously your preps/gear is something you want to keep quiet as much as possible. When food and water become scarce, you don’t want to become a target in a grid down situation.
If people around you think that you are in the same boat as they are, they aren’t as likely to come to you for help. But if folks think you are a prepper, then they will not believe that you are in the “same boat”. They will start looking to you for their survival needs. Even discussing prepping in general terms might be enough for some people to draw a conclusion that you prep and therefore have supplies and gear on hand. Supplies and gear they DON’T have in a survival situation.
Something else that would be important to protect is your SHTF plans, bug out location, routes of getting there, etc.
For example, say that if everything goes bad, you and your family plan on going to Uncle Bob’s. He’s a part of your prep group, and his place has the resources you and your family need to survive. One day while at work, the talk around the water cooler is the subject of last night’s The Walking Dead episode. The course of the conversion leads to what people would do in this event, and you casually mention that you would just go to your uncle Bob’s. He has plenty of food and gear to survive. No harm right?
Maybe…or maybe not.
In today’s technological age, you can find out all sorts of information on folks. A little internet search on you could also reveal info on your family. Unless you have multiple uncle Bobs, someone could probably figure out who your uncle Bob is, and where he lives.
Let’s throw in something else. Say that a week into a TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) event, one of your now very hungry and desperate co-workers remembers what you said about uncle Bob. What you didn’t know is that he briefly dated your cousin (uncle Bob’s daughter), and knows where uncle Bob lives. See where this is going?
Obviously this is worst-case scenario and most folks probably won’t go researching your uncle Bob. But it illiterates just how easy it is to let something seemingly innocent slip out, and the possible unintended consequences of it.
Life lesson: Sometimes it is better to just remain silent!
When it comes down to what you need to protect, think of it like this; in a SHTF scenario, ask yourself questions like these:
- What is the value of this (thing, info, etc) to you in terms of survival in SHTF?
- Is it something that could drastically alter your plans if it is lost, stolen, or compromised?
- It is something that someone else might want?
- Want bad enough to possibly harm you or others for?
The more often you find yourself answering maybe or yes to these questions, the more value it is to you and possibly other people. And the more value it is, the more you probably want to keep it on the down-low!
Who to protect from
My example of the TV box by the curb is used to show how information about you can make its way to potential thieves. Obviously thieves and other criminals would be people you need to protect yourself against. I go into a lot more detail on securing your house from criminal in Crime prevention tips from a veteran cop. Be sure to check it out.
But what about in a grid down scenario? Or a WROL (Without Rule Of Law) event?
As mentioned above, the friends and neighbors of today could be big adversaries of tomorrow in a SHTF event. While these folks might be friendly when times are good, just think about how people are when they are hungry and desperate. Now think about desperate people on your door step because they know you prep.
You may love your 3rd cousin Billy. But if you had to choose between your wife and kids or Billy, well, sorry Billy. Hence you tell them you cannot help them, and turn them away. But if you think that is the end of it, you could be in for an unpleasant surprise.
Those unexpected people you turned away could very easily become adversarial if they get desperate.
What would you do to protect your spouse? Your children? Your family? Just about anything right? If they were sick and dying, would you risk your life to get them medicine? Would you consider stealing to feed your starving children? Clearly you would, or at least you would entertain the idea. I can tell you that absolutely I would to save my family.
Guess what….so will they! And when they see (or just think) that you have food, water, medical supplies, etc, they need for their family, you are no longer a friend or neighbor. You are an obstacle in their way of protecting themselves and/or their family.
Once they realize you won’t be helping them, you then become an adversary to them. (That makes them an adversary to you!) And at that point, they will begin to use what information they have on you to try to find weaknesses. Weaknesses they can use and exploit to gain what you have and they need!
So in the beginning, I would protect from EVERYONE outside of your immediate family. Eventually at some point, you might need to start looking at including others within your prepping circle. Going “Lone-wolf” is not something I’d recommend. Hence your Opsec will change based upon finding a group. We will cover prep groups in a just a moment.
How to protect it
I have given several different examples of clues and indicators that you want to be mindful of. By now you realize that practicing Opsec isn’t just about keeping your mouth shut. It’s also being mindful of your actions and other indicators that could draw attention to yourself.
It’s about knowing that your appearance and your actions (including things you DON’T do) that could tell more about you than you realize. Your goal here is to try to reduce or even eliminate these indicators, and stay within your baseline.
You must also make sure that your family and people in your group understand this concept as well.
For example, I run this website, so clearly I am a prepper. But no one outside of my immediate family know that I run it. (There might even be a few immediate family members that don’t know about the site.) The ones that do know I have told them to keep it “hush-hush”.
My son helped me with a few of the graphics, and even posted a few links to articles on some social media like Reddit. He obviously wanted to see the site grow.
I have talked to him in the past about keeping things quiet. But one day he came home and told me that a friend or two of his at school had talked about prepping, and he mentioned his dad running this site.
Ouch…now for me that is starting to get a bit too close to home. His heart was in the right place, but I don’t think he realized that now local people in the area might have the beginning information they might need if things go south. Hopefully, nothing ever comes of this. But I know it was a bit more than what I was wanting to get out.
I spoke to him about it. Said I wasn’t angry, but I used this as a learning situation to make him aware of what could happen if too much is said to the wrong people. It also taught me the importance of making sure everyone in our group understood Opsec.
Be aware of what you post on social media. Following lots of prepper groups and posting lots of prepper articles on Facebook or Twitter is another big indicator. Clearly you want to use social media to increase your knowledge on the many topics of prepping. Just be cautious about it. If you can hide parts of your profiles that deal with prepping, do so!
Opsec is not for just pre-SHTF situations either. It is even MORE important during SHTF or afterwards. Remember me talking about staying within your baseline? Well, if the baseline in your area changes, you need to change with it.
For example, say that a disaster strikes your community. Food/supply lines are set up by the government for those caught in the disaster. Your non-prepper friends and neighbors will be in those lines waiting for food and water. If they show up every few days for government food/water, but never see you there, what will they start to think?
You have plenty of preps and don’t need the supplies. But you not taking the given supplies tells other people something about you. They will start to wonder why you don’t need that food and water. They might start asking questions.
If the neighbors continue to smell cooking food coming from your house when they have not eaten in a day or two, what are they going to think? If they see you hauling out bags of trash (or burning it) containing empty food containers when they haven’t eaten in two days, what are they going to think?
You have to continue to practice Opsec even if everything does go to hell in a hand basket. In reality, it is even more important in those situations.
Having a group
Opsec has a flip side to it. That being that you may want to meet a few like-minded individuals with whom you can depend upon in a long-term SHTF event now, BEFORE it happens. This means that you may have to open your mouth about prepping.
Going “Lone-wolf” is not always a great idea. No matter what all preps/gear you have, or survival skills you possess, at some point you are going to need someone to watch your back. I mean, you gotta sleep sometime, right?
You understand that while prepping can help you out, those preps can only take you so far. For example, what happens if a family member breaks a leg? Or worse, gets a severe medical condition outside the scope of your abilities to deal with? You are going to need someone with medical skills. (Or others skills you may not have.) It might be wise to find other like-minded people in your area that bring those type of skills that you lack to the table. (BEFORE the SHTF.) This is doubly true in a long-term grid down scenario.
In my group. each of us has certain aspects of prepping that we focus on. By spreading out our talents, abilities, and money invested, we are more prepared. We can each focus on one or two aspects, allowing others to focus on other areas. This allows more to be accomplished.
In addition to being able to pool your resources and skills, there is also safety in numbers. What if (during a grid down event) your neighbors show up demanding some of your food? If it’s just you trying to defend against a starving crowd, that may not be a winnable fight.
But what if the crowd realizes there are several armed and determined people in your group? Now the prospects of easy pickings are gone! They might have to fight you, but they realize they are going to meet definite resistance. Now the crowd might move on to try and find an easier target!
Trying to build a prepper group could take an entire article by itself. So in the interest of time and space, I’ll instead provide this video that will give you some ideas on finding a prepper group in your area.
Anyway, you eventually might have to decide who to let into your little Opsec circle. That means talking about your preps and your plans. Just be forewarned NOT to tell too much at first, as the video mentioned. Study potential groups members LONG before you open up about what all you have.
And while you want to make sure they have something to offer your group, always be aware that YOU need to have something to offer as well.
Who Are the People In My Neighborhood?
Get to know your neighbors now, when times are good. I know I mentioned that neighbors could be an adversary if things go really bad. But they could also be allies instead. Knowing which they could be NOW could make a huge difference if things go bad later. Here is an article on I wrote on getting to know your neighbors for a potential SHTF event.
Keep in mind that friends and neighbors can be a welcome addition in small or localized emergencies. So talking to them about what to do in case of events like tornadoes, hurricanes, etc could prove to be hugely beneficial.
So absolutely be friendly with your neighbors. Sure, you don’t have to talk about your preps. But avoiding them because you want to keep your secrets could make you come across as paranoid. Then you might get that “weird neighbor” label from everyone else and draw some unwanted attention later on.
And who knows…maybe you will discover that some of your friends and neighbors share some of your same values when it comes to being prepared. As always, be cautious about how much you tell them before you decide that you can fully trust them.
Becoming the Porcupine
There will be times where you simply cannot conceal everything about you. Despite your best efforts, in today’s modern age, information is too easily accessible. Enter your full name and state you live in into Google and see what comes up. Probably a lot more than you realize.
There might be some things about your preps/gear/supplies that you simply cannot hide or keep secret. Maybe you have chickens or a garden in your backyard. Maybe you have a rain catchment system on your house. Whatever it is, eventually people will see it. And if the time comes that they get really hungry or they need water, they will remember what you have.
In those situations, you want to become “the porcupine”. The porcupine is not a vicious predator, as it eat leaves and tree bark. But predators typically keep their distance from them.
As you can see from the picture to the right, that lion wants nothing to do with the porcupine. Can you blame her?
The lion is bigger, stronger, and faster than the porcupine. And if she really wanted to, she could kill it. But it would be a very painful experience for the lion. And so she leaves the porcupine alone. This is part of being the porcupine.
Even if the bad guys are bigger and stronger, you want them to realize that tangling with you will NOT be a cake walk! You are not easy prey, and you will not roll over. That will give the bad guys pause and make them reassess whether they should look elsewhere.
In so many ways, that is exactly how the criminals and thugs of today are. They are looking for easy targets that won’t offer resistance. But if they realize that there could be problems when sizing up their target, they typically move on and go off searching for easier prey.
The video below shows 3 armed home invaders being chased off by a single Asian lady with a gun. One of the invaders was hit and died of his gun shot wound. You would think that 3 to 1 odds would embolden the bad guys. But once they realized the home owner was armed and willing to use deadly force, they scattered like roaches.
Becoming the porcupine is not always fool-proof and not without some risk. Sometimes, the “bad guys” win. But you should know by now that nothing in life is fool-proof or without some sort of risk.
To give you an example of being the porcupine, let’s look at my situation. I walk out my front door every morning with a badge and a gun on. Even now when my assignment does not require me to wear a uniform, I still carry out a rifle bag and a tactical bullet proof vest with the word POLICE in big, bold letters on both sides. I load this stuff in my truck every day. I take in into my house every evening.
It should be obvious to everyone in my neighborhood that I am a police officer. They should easily ascertain that I have items such as firearms and ammunition on me and in my house. I cannot hide it. If things go were to ever go really bad, people might decide that they need those firearms more than I do. Or they might decide that is open season on police officers…even more so than normal.
So I become the porcupine.
I sometimes wear tactical clothing when in the neighborhood. There is a closet full of gun shirts in my house, and wear them from time to time. I also have this Molon Labe sticker on my truck. This might seem counter-intuitive to everything you just read here. But there are actually two reasons I do it.
First, in my very gun friendly state, it is not unusual to see people wearing firearm related shirts. It’s quite common to see things like NRA stickers, Gadsden flag stickers, or Smith and Wesson decals on trucks and cars. So for me, I am very much within the baseline for my area.
Second, it let’s folks know that I might be armed, and that I do have firearm experience and skills. And hopefully, it gives the message that I am not one to be messed with.
Because many times I cannot blend in and go unnoticed in my neighborhood, I figure I will “walk with my porcupine quills out” so to speak. In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, I speak softly, but carry a big stick.
This doesn’t mean I’m not nice and friendly with the people I meet. I still want to be a good neighbor. I still carry CONCEALED off duty as well. No need to draw even more attention to myself. But when I walk my dog in my neighborhood, I sometimes have a SIG or Benelli shirt on.
I also have a demeanor that lets people know I am alert and paying attention. No need to look like an easy target. I talk about this in my article on situational awareness. Click the link to read it.
As I stated above, the porcupine is NOT a predator, nor are they vicious. But they will readily defend themselves. So when being “the porcupine” you do NOT want to be perceived as a threat or a predator. Being perceived as a threat in a SHTF situation can quickly MAKE you a target. Instead you want to try to appear unassuming, but also someone not to be messed with.
Porcupine Part Deux
When we bought our homestead many years ago, we were surrounded by farm land and grazing pasture for cattle. We were in a very rural area, many miles away from town. You went down an old dirt road well off the main road to get to our homestead.
He was in the Army for a few years, and had some medic training. He and his wife have always been ready and willing to lend a hand. So while we have never openly talked about prepping with them (other than the “hey, if we have a tornado, we have a shelter” talk), we realized that we could most likely work together if things got really bad.
To the north and to the east of us, a man owned many, many acres of grazing land for his cattle. He didn’t live in the area, but would visit every other day or so to check on his cattle.
A few years ago, the man suddenly and unexpectedly died. His wife did not want to mess with his cattle or the land. She sold the cows, and began dividing the land into “acreages” and selling them off. Over the last year, we went from having one friendly and potentially helpful neighbor to now having 3 or 4 more neighbors.
While they seemed friendly enough, we could tell within just a few months that one neighbor could be a headache in the future. I won’t go into detail here, but let’s just say that we are keeping an eye on them.
In addition, suburban sprawl is slowly making its way toward the homestead. Over the past year or two, the drive out there is not as secluded as it used to be. New houses are popping up here and there. Not huge numbers of homes, but enough that I take notice.
Before, we felt like we could talk to the first neighbor and most likely work together in a WROL type situation. But now there are several different family groups in our area. Yes, they are many acres away. But it is obvious that we have chickens. We have rabbits. We have a garden, and have large rain barrels in place. This is stuff we can’t hide.
If neighbors in our area don’t have food and water, they certainly know who does. Like I said, you can’t hide or conceal this.
In a perfect world we could just sell the homestead, and move to a more secluded locale. But this is not a perfect world. We have too much invested and now have things in place that we cannot simply just pick up and move. Basically, it is NOT financially feasible for us to move.
Before, we counted on being somewhat secluded as part of our plans. We didn’t talk about our preps, but we also didn’t have neighbors who could see them. That luxury is not the luxury it once was.
It made us re-evaluate our plans for a WROL or SHTF situation.
Now we have taken a more “porcupine” approach. We set up a little gun range on part of our property. And once or sometimes twice a month, we go out there and practice. Sometimes we shoot handguns. Sometimes it’s rifles. Occasionally a few shotguns. And by we I mean several members of our group.
While firearms practice is always a good thing to do, it also lets the people in our area know that we have the means, ability, and determination to protect our life and liberty should we have to. We are not to be trifled with if things go really bad.
This is NOT meant to be intimidating. We aren’t trying to scare people. We are still friendly and neighborly with those in our area. And in most situations, we would not hesitate to help out if times get rough. But in a truly bad, long-term, grid down situation, we will protect our own.
OPSEC = Paranoid?
There will be some who read this and think that I’m overly paranoid. That maybe I think everyone out there has evil intent.
To this I say that is completely false. I see a lot of good in the world. I see people coming together in times of disaster. There are churches and other organizations helping people in need out every day. I see people in communities everywhere trying to make a positive change in their neighborhood.
There is some good in this world.
But I also see the bad in people EVERY day. I see people’s’ greed, slothfulness, addiction, abused children, etc on a daily basis. Unfortunately, I see children neglected because mommy needs her fix and daddy is nowhere to be seen.
I see people who break into homes of the elderly and beat, rob, and even murder them. I see people who have a complete and utter disdain for their fellow-man and society in general.
So I know first hand what people have the potential to become if things go really bad.
I do not want to come across as heartless. I have a job where helping people in distress is a top priority. But in a true, WROL situation, the FIRST priority has to be to you and your family or group. If you are in a position to help others, I’m not advising you not too. That is something you will have to decide should that situation ever arise. But you need to be aware of the risks.
You may not know just how long this bad situation will last. What you thought would last just several days could drag on for weeks or even longer. As we all know, having a 3 month supply for a family of 4 runs out MUCH more quickly when you start adding unexpected people to the mix. You now run the risk of not being able to feed your family long-term during a crisis because others (who did not take the time to prepare) are leaching your preps.
You may not be aware of other potential problems that letting more people into your group during or after a SHTF situation could entail. Are there still more people that are following behind this group and will show up later demanding help as well? This would further stretch your resources thin.
What are these new folks’ mental state? According to a report from Time magazine, 1 in 5 Americans now takes medication for one or more psychological disorders. In a bad situation that lasts more than just a few days, many of these people will run out of their meds. Trust me, as a police officer I have seen the results of people who have quit taking their behavioral medicines. I’ve seen in countless times, and it is not a pretty sight. The problems from this will be magnified far greater in a SHTF situation!
These are just a few of the dozens of things to consider when it comes to helping out in a really bad SHTF situation.
I’m not trying to promote paranoia or fear. But I want you to understand that your actions today, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem, could have far reaching, unintended consequences in the future.
Ultimately you must decide how much, or how little you say to others. In reality, Opsec is about finding a balance between the two. Say too much and you risk many of the problems I mentioned above. Say too little and you could lose out on finding a group that could help you long-term.
Hopefully this article made you more aware of the concepts and ideas of Opsec. Hopefully you will take these lessons to heart. And hopefully, we never have a long-term grid down scenario!
Stay safe out there!
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