One of the early realizations that people have as they’re starting to get prepared is that they just don’t want to do it on their own…they want to get prepared with friends, family, and/or neighbors so that if a disaster ever does happen, they won’t be alone.
This is very wise. Complete self-reliance isn’t possible or even desirable for most people. It’s normal to want to have at least some interaction with other people, and it’s normal to not be an expert at every conceivable topic under the sun.
With the realization that we all have limited resources, which is better…getting yourself prepared and then finding a group or finding a group of unprepared people who want to get prepared and going through the journey together as a mutual aid team or group?
To start with, you’ll note that I call it a “mutual aid” team and not a “fire team” or “militia.” That’s because, while the ability to mount an effective common defense MAY be important, having a group of people who you can be real with, go through life with, share good times with, and help each other through down times with is DEFINITELY important, regardless of whether you ever find yourself in a survival situation or not.
Back to the question of whether to start off alone or with a group–An easy way to answer it, and several other prioritization questions is by looking at preparedness like you would building a house.
If you just want to throw up a hasty shelter, you don’t need to do a lot of planning. It won’t weather storms, or last long, but it will give you some basic protection for a short period of time. But if you want something that’s going to last your entire lifetime, you need to do proper planning, lay a solid foundation that will support the structure, and plan out things like plumbing and electrical in advance.
So, using the example of building a house, the individual is going to be the foundation of any mutual aid group. If you do it the other way and spend your time getting together a group of like-minded, yet unprepared people, it’s kind of like building a straw house that’s unstable and fragile. It’s also somewhat like the blind leading the blind.
But, if you take that same time, and get YOURSELF squared away…with basic shelter, fire, water, food, medical, and security skills and supplies, then when you start building your mutual aid group, you’ll have a solid foundation in place already.
Now another big reason to do personal preparedness before group preparedness is to use it as a test. Let’s say you get together with 5 other families and decide to get prepared together. Three months later, 2 of the families have all of their basic supplies for surviving 40 days & 40 nights, one family has a couple of weeks taken care of, and the other two families just have a couple of extra boxes of mac and cheese.
But…and here’s the big but. The two families that haven’t actually done anything know exactly who’s house to go to if something happens and their kids are hungry. This doesn’t mean they’re going to go demand food with a gun in hand, but it does almost guarantee conflict and very difficult decisions in the event of a food shortage.
By building your group before anyone in the group has taken care of themselves, you’ve placed an unnecessary target on yourself and anyone else who actually takes steps to get prepared.
You don’t know who the unprepared members are going to talk with about your group, and you don’t know who they’ll bring with them when they’re looking for food.
They just won’t have as much incentive to keep your group a secret since they don’t have any supplies to get stolen or looted.
You should even step back and take a look at your PERSONAL planning like building a house and make sure you have a solid foundation. There are some basic skills and items that you’ll want to have to build a solid preparedness foundation before working on advanced skills and buying advanced items.
One example of this is taking care of food and water to last you for 40 days or 6 months before you go out and buy a generator and solar combo, a bank of deep cycle batteries, and a heavy duty inverter. One of the most pragmatic reasons for this is that it’s much more likely that you’ll face a simple financial crisis where you NEED your survival food before you face a crises where you NEED backup power.
Another example is learning solid empty-hands defense tactics before spending time and money on firearms, ammo, training, range time, and storage. You’ll ALWAYS have the empty handed skills, but the firearms skills depend on you having your firearm with you when you need it.
Even if you do have your firearm, you might have to fight with your hands to be able to get to your firearm and use it. As you know, I whole heartedly recommend Target Focus Training for empty handed fighting. I’ve bought every VHS and DVD they’ve made since I started using their system in the mid 90s and I’ve done live training with them more times than I can count at this point.
Once you DO have the basics taken care of for you and your family, THEN it’s time to start thinking about creating a mutual aid team.
This is a tricky process…kind of like hiring an employee, going into a business partnership, or even like getting married if you form a formal group. Keep in mind that formal groups are kind of like marriages. Almost all marriages are “made to last” but over half still end in divorce.
If you get a mutual aid team that’s got 6, 10, or 12 people, it’s INCREDIBLY likely that the group makeup will change over time. Long term relationships are difficult with 2 people, let alone 10 or 12.
What I teach my students in the SurviveInPlace Urban Survival Course is to go slowly. Just become friends first. If you think that you’ve found someone dependable, start doing activities together that are slightly stressful to see how well you can work together under stress. This could be as simple as backpacking or playing paintball or it could be going on vacation together.
Use headlines in the news to see if they are on the same page as you on moral, ethical, and preparedness issues and if you think it’s a good fit, move forward.
You may never end up having a super formal group with matching clothes, encrypted radios, group training and other wiz bang cool stuff. It might just be a group of families who help each other out through good times and bad, who go in together to buy bulk supplies, and who have said that they’ll watch the other’s back if things go bad and maybe even live under the same roof if things get real bad.
Remember that the only way to be sure that a secret is kept is to make sure that only one person knows it. The point of saying this is that you should try not to disclose too much of your preparations too early. If you’ve got a year of food, don’t feel like you need to tell people. Just say that you try to buy a little extra every time you go to the store in case you lose your job or things get real bad.
Keep in mind that if a survival situation develops before you have your formal mutual aid team formed, others on your street and in your neighborhood will want to quickly band together to protect your neighborhood from outsiders.
In other words, if you have supplies but no group, you can form a hasty group. If you have a group but no supplies, it’s much more difficult to quickly get several months of supplies.
This very thing happened in New Orleans after Katrina. As soon as the hurricane passed, gangs started their turf war. In response, several neighborhoods quickly blocked the streets, set up rotating watches, and took care of each other until utilities and the supply chain got repaired. The neighborhoods where this happened became incredibly close and are still close to this day.
The editor of Resounding Earth, and pursuer of relatively interesting information, Simon has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing and Journalism from the University of Wales, and is a photo-journalist and writer whose written and photographic work has been represented by the AFP news agency and appeared in newspapers across Europe and Asia.