Sure, you’re ready for the “big day” when everything goes to hell, and you have to fight to survive. You’ve stocked up on food, water, weapons and ammo…and you’ve got one or more places to go to if you have to bug out. But are you sure no one else is planning on using YOUR supplies? Has anyone taken notice to the location of your stockpiles…and how much you’re stockpiling?
If you are practicing OPSEC, your chances of having someone else take your supplies, and maybe your life, is greatly reduced.
OPSEC – Operations Security, is very important part of protecting the safety of you and your family before and after a major emergency. The most important part of practicing OPSEC is blending in…don’t draw attention to yourself.
In this article we will take a deep dive on OPSEC for preppers, providing both the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ for keeping your private dealings under wraps so that you won’t be dealing with additional problems come the fateful day disaster strikes.
What is OPSEC Exactly?
Let’s go through the OPSEC process before and after a major disaster.
- Identify Critical Information – In this case, critical information is the fact that you’re stocking up supplies, and where you’re stocking up.
- Analysis of Threats – The primary threat is that others will want your supplies, and they most likely won’t be interested in a fair trade, possibly taking the supplies by force.
- Analysis of Vulnerabilities – What could reveal critical information? How could someone find out what you’re stocking up, and where?
- Assessment of Risk – How likely is it that someone finds and takes your supplies?
- Apply appropriate OPSEC Measures – Reduce or eliminate risk through careful planning by addressing known vulnerabilities
That all sounds great, but why is OPSEC important for us preppers?
The Importance of OPSEC
OPSEC is vital for everyone, not just door-kicking, snake-eating military operators. Also, implementing OPSEC should not just be the province of mil-sim larpers. OPSEC is predominantly tightly controlling what information you allow out into the world about your activities, comings, goings and intentions, or at least controlling it as tightly as you can.
What you do is your business, no one else’s, and especially not the business of strangers. As rough as it is to contemplate, strangers, and even some people you think you know, do not have your best interests at heart when the chips are down or when it is their backs up against a wall.
As it turns out, what these people know about you may hurt you. If you are able to remain an enigma to them, or even an entirely unknown quantity, you can head off a ton of potential trouble. And I’m talking about the kind of trouble that preppers can at least afford when things have already gone from bad to worse and heading for worst.
What kind of trouble? How about the kind of trouble that sees you become the victim of a smash-and-grab home invasion? How about the kind of trouble that has throngs of “acquaintances” and “buddies” show up when the sky is darkening, and all with wild eyes and outstretched, upturned palms?
How about the kind of trouble that sees you arrive at your bug-out location only to find it already settled by people waiting on you to get there with their supplies?
Or, even more chillingly, how about the kind of trouble that sees your location recorded on a map board as a red pin, a map board owned by another kind of prepper, a prepper who is amoral, ruthless and entirely a devotee to the law of the jungle?
You and I have both heard these guys pop off before in life and in comment threads around the internet. The ones that joke, “I don’t have to be prepared, I know where I can get a whole bunch of stuff. I’m just going to take it from the previous owner, haha!” I hate to break it to you, some of these people aren’t joking, and many more are willing and able to do it, they just don’t talk about it.
These people are out there, and they are just waiting for a delectable little morsel of information about you or others that they can turn to their advantage.
Choose Your Inner Circle Carefully
One thing you should consider, and be sure and learn from my example, is that you must choose your inner circle with the greatest possible care.
What is the inner circle? What kinds of people compose it? The inner circle is exactly what the name suggests, people who are inside the walls of the world you are trying to build and protect for the people you care about. Beyond this, these are people that are inside the great hall, inside the castle keep.
These are people who are privy to what you are doing, when you are doing it and why. This information is extraordinarily valuable, and even knowing it can put you in a vulnerable position.
For this reason, it should only ever be disclosed with the strictest confidence when trust is guaranteed and assured, and maybe not even then. After all, people who truly don’t know something cannot give it up under duress or accidentally.
Suffice it to say that the inner circle should be very small. The teeming throngs, the masses, the acquaintances and all the passersby should not be privy to the same things that you’re inner circle are. Definitely not!
Just like telling someone who you love, and you think loves you, your deepest, darkest secrets only ever makes your softest parts vulnerable when they turn on you, the same can be said for your inner circle.
The members of Your inner circle may not know quite all, but they will know quite a bit about what material preps you are acquiring, what places you are preparing and fortifying as bug out locations, they’ll know what you have on hand and in what quantities, and they’ll know what your plan is and your schedule in any given circumstance. Powerful, powerful information for bad actors.
So, who will you choose to be part of your inner circle?
Deciding Who Is In, and Who is Out
Determining who will be part of your prepping Brain trust is not always easy. Most Preppers I know default on this to immediate family and closest friends, though even this may not be advisable.
Consider that your family members might be inveterate gossipers or ratchet jaws and incapable of keeping a secret even when they sincerely want to.
Perhaps your friends don’t share the same attitudes and life ways that you do, no matter how long you have known them and how close you are, and for that reason they will never take things as seriously as you do.
For some of us, we won’t have any choice when it comes to our closest family, such as a spouse, and I would argue that if this is a problem you have bigger issues in your life than keeping your preparations a secret.
Generally, anyone who is in among your closest confidants in this regard must be absolutely, positively trustworthy and loyal to you above all the outside factors of the world, and you must think long and hard about their personal honor before trusting them in these matters.
Consider also how likely they are to put their back up against yours when things really go south. Is this someone you can depend on, truly and totally, to back you up and you know they can depend on you to do the same? Or is it someone who will grab hold of the closest branch when trouble strikes, oaths be damned?
Ask yourself if this prospective ally is:
- Honorable: do they have identifiable principles that they stick to, even when it hurts them, and do they go back on their word once a situation turns against them or their feelings get hurt?
- Steadfast: how much have you been through with this person? You have years or decades of fellowship or experience with them, or are they a mayfly or seasonal friend?
- Loyal: has your relationship ever been tested when caught between another person or party? Who did they side with and why? If they sided with someone else against you, what was their reason and was it honorable or merely for expedience or personal gain?
- Present: is this a person that is in your life regularly? To what end? What is the basis of your relationship and who benefits? When you need help or when there is trouble are you among the very first people on a contact list to call?
- Tested: when the chips were down and emotions were running high, how did this person do by you? Did they get it done, fail, or buckle under pressure and then make excuses?
If you are answering in the negative to most of the assessments listed above, then this person has no business being in your inner circle. Is better to be alone than to try and get through a real crisis with flaky, flimsy or suspect people at your side and back.
Assembling an ad hoc team out of bystanders is one thing, but attempting to craft and protect a world of your own, one worth fighting in surviving for, with those same people is.
You Might Be Friends Now, but Only For a Season
Consider who you count among your prepper friends, also. In this age of oversharing and conspicuous consumption as a replacement for having an actual personality, it is easy to fall into the trap of branding yourself as a prepper, or that guy, and calibrate your networking accordingly. This may very well be a mistake and one you could pay dearly for in a serious societal collapse.
I might be too hard on people who like to make other prepper friends and put themselves out there as a prepper in kind. It is natural that like-minded people will want to congregate and create relationships or at least meaningful and fun interactions with each other. Birds of a feather and all that.
However, this does not mean that your new pal is a true friend, someone you can count on, and even if you are on good terms it does not mean that things will stay that way.
People may be inherently good, but then again they may be not, or their goodness is entirely mercenary or self-serving in nature. your prepper pal who you went hunting and fishing with or even camping with a few times could carry a grudge that would put the Hatfields or the McCoys to shame should you wrong him or he only perceived that you have wronged him.
In his thirst for revenge or his pettiness he might betray you to people who would harm you, pointing your way bad people or desperate people who might prey on you. He might even decide to do the same for his own benefit.
As the saying goes, there is a thin line between love and hate, and a friendship that goes down in flaming wreckage might well turn out to be the genesis of a feud that you can ill afford when the chips are really down.
Beware Social Engineering
Social engineering threats all of the most insidious and pervasive that Preppers will face. Criminals and Bad actors of all kinds rely on a wide network of social connections to facilitate their crimes and Ensure they go down smoothly and by the numbers.
For instance, your daughter might be hanging out with a prospective suitor that seems for all the world like a good kid.
Unfortunately, his brother is not a good kid and even though he isn’t hanging around your daughter your daughter’s little boyfriend could be feeding information about you, knowingly or not, back to his bad actor brother and his equally bad friends.
This could get you set up for anything from a burglary to a straight-up home invasion looking for guns, money, gold or anything else of value to these people. It could get your daughter’s life endangered whether or not you know it.
In some circumstances it might get a big, red pin put on somebody’s map board just in case, a pin that they will follow up on when society goes completely upside down. In essence, your home, remote cabin or whatever else has been designated as a loot box for a raider in waiting.
Another common social engineering attack is that of the office snitch. This could be a co-worker, HR supervisor or anyone else who is entirely too happy to report and embellish factoids about prohibited persons and their lifestyles.
Do you believe in a culture of personal readiness for moral as well as practical reasons? By golly, you look just like one of those right wing militia Neo-Nazi types and are probably just waiting to shoot up the office! Consider the sensitivity of the environment and the audience wherever you go.
How do you limit or eliminate social engineering threats? To a degree, so long as you have any social connections at all, you cannot but you can greatly reduce the reach of them.
First, and the overarching point of this article, keep your business your business, and ensure that all of the people in your inner circle understand how essential it is that they do the same.
They do not discuss the business of the family or the inner circle with anyone else under any circumstances. Establish so-called red Line topics and make sure that the social blackout on discussing them is enforced by any means necessary.
This might mean elaborately concocted cover stories. It might mean straight up lying to coworkers, friends of friends and other people who are not of your tribe and definitely not part of your inner circle. As far as I’m concerned, that’s okay.
Leave No Trace for Prying Eyes
This next element is of particular concern for those of us who live in densely populated urban areas, particularly apartments or condos, but also those of us who live in suburbia, especially in leftist strongholds.
There are always prying eyes around you, you have to make it a point to keep your acquisitions and your activities under wraps from anyone who might observe.
And much the same way as social engineering described above, this can lead to juicy gossip or actionable Intel making its way around to people who don’t need it, or at the very least can make your life difficult when someone inflates innocent activity with ominous foreboding.
Make it a point to load and unload your vehicle of purchases, equipment transport and other acquisitions in a garage if at all possible.
If you are carrying ammunition, firearms, survival rations or anything else of an obviously prepper-centric nature it should be concealed inside something else or transported in such a way that it is not only hidden but indiscernible. Don’t make the mistake of thinking people are so stupid they can’t figure out what you were up to.
While it is true most people are pretty dang stupid, if you don’t look like an avid tennis player I seriously doubt most people will be fooled by that oversized tennis racket bag that you move back and forth to your vehicle while dressed in tactical apparel on Saturday mornings.
This extends to all manner of other elements of your life and your preparations. This is not to say that you should be ashamed of it, far from it, but you must take all reasonable precautions to prevent people from seeing what you are all about. It is nobody’s business but yours.
Lower Your “Social” Signature
Lastly, get over the idea of prepping as identity. You don’t live to prep, and if you do get a life. You prep in order to live. If you think in your head what a stereotypical prepper looks like, you probably have a pretty good picture. If it is tactical boots, round the clock camouflage or 5.11 pants, morale patches and other assorted clownery you need to do everything you can to avoid looking like them.
At all times, yourself and your vehicle should reflect your social or professional environment and nothing more. Get rid of the stupid vanity plate.
Take off the stupid decal stickers proclaiming your favorite gun manufacturer. Nobody is fooled by that vest you are wearing that is decidedly not concealing that giant, cancerous lump behind it on your strong side hip.
You don’t want to look like a target, and a Target is indeed what you are when you advertise what you are all about.
Even if there isn’t a gun and other goodies in the truck most would be thieves and other malefactors will make an attempt on yours as soon as they think they are able in the hopes of securing one. Barring that, they will follow you home and try then.
Follow home attacks and home invasions are rising precipitously over the past couple of years and you don’t want to get highlighted for such an attack because you don’t have a personality and try to substitute manufacturers’ apparel for it instead.
Loose Lips Sink Ships (and Bug Outs!)
Mark my words: The only secret is a self-keeping one. You have doubtlessly heard the old wartime admonishment that “loose lips sink ships”. It is catchy, but it is also true. When one person with crucial information (or even information that they think is meaningless) talks about an operation it has a way of propagating.
One “trusted friend” tells their trusted friend who tells their trusted friend and pretty sure half the civilian population (consisting solely of trusted friends) knows about it… and that means your enemy knows about it!
Then, everybody wants to act shocked on the day when your ships get torpedoed and your trains bombed at the station. “Oh no, how could this have happened!?” Today, we would say it happened because someone tweeted! It sounds comedic, but it’s true, and the outcome is anything but funny.
An offhand remark you make to a co-worker or associate could be the first thread in the rope woven to hang you.
Even discussing sensitive topics with people you nominally trust such as neighbors or distant relations could eventually find its way to the ears and intentions of people you would do best to avoid. Having an active online presence often compounds this issue.
It is no stretch to say that most folks today have some sort of online social media presence. Most mundane people are guilty of oversharing way, way too much about too many personal topics.
I like to think that the majority of preppers know better than to behave that way, and sharply curtail what they share on social media, but even seemingly innocent sharing of information can be turned against you. Posting pictures of an ongoing vacation, for instance, lets people know that you aren’t at home.
Even folks who take pains to scrub and sanitize what information can be gleaned from their various posts can still get caught by persistent or intelligent threats who can put two and two together.
Posting regularly on prepper-centric disaster preparedness boards asking questions, giving feedback and so forth without any other personal information could still potentially be linked to you and a profile built around it and other posts when people start to connect the dots.
Preppers, like most good guys and good gals, commit a grave error by thinking that all bad guys are stupid dunderheads who can’t do no right, even in their criminal enterprise.
Though many criminals are fools and pay the price, we aren’t worried about the riff raff. You might be surprised to learn just how smart many of them are, and how good they are at their jobs. Any worth their salt will tell you that the worst sin you can commit is underestimating your opponent you have to avoid this mistake.
Examples of OPSEC in Action
So, how do we actually take these measures as part of our prepping plans? Let’s start by analyzing before a major disaster.
Before a Major Disaster: Three example vulnerabilities
Threat: Someone else will want your supplies. This threat is applicable to all of the following vulnerabilities.
Vulnerability: A neighbor sees you carrying large amounts of canned goods/water/ammo into your house.
Assessment of Risk: Compromise of the fact that you are stockpiling supplies at home could lead to others seeking to take those supplies.
OPSEC Measures: Build your stockpile gradually…don’t show up two days in a row with a pickup filled with canned goods/water/etc, this will draw attention.
Vulnerability: You mention to a storage rental employee that you are storing food and other supplies in your storage unit.
Assessment of Risk: Compromise of the fact that you are stockpiling supplies could lead to others seeking to take those supplies.
OPSEC Measures: “Loose lips sink ships”. The military follows a concept called “Need to know”…if someone doesn’t need to know what you’re doing, don’t tell them.
Vulnerability: You have a 4x4 hooked up to a camper at all times in your back yard. Neighbors have noticed that you seem to keep this camper well stocked with food and water.
Assessment of Risk: Compromise of your bug out vehicle could result in that vehicle being stolen in an emergency before you are able to get to it.
OPSEC Measures: Don’t be obvious about your bug out vehicle. Keep your supplies hidden inside, only transfer what’s necessary to your vehicle when the time comes.
Look at your current preparedness actions; are you drawing attention to yourself? What can you do to reduce or eliminate others noticing your preparedness?
After a Major Disaster: Three example vulnerabilities
Threat: Someone else will want your supplies, vehicle, or shelter. This threat is applicable to all of the following vulnerabilities.
Vulnerability: Your location is the only one in the neighborhood with electricity (battery backup).
Assessment of Risk: Like moths to a candle, anyone who sees your lights are on when no one else has power will flock to your location, and try to take your supplies and/or shelter.
OPSEC Measures: If no one else has power and you do, turn off all the lights, the TV, everything…make it look like you have no power. Keep yourself from being a target of those who didn’t prepare.
Vulnerability: Your generator creates a LOT of noise.
Assessment of Risk: Anyone who hears your generator will come to investigate. They may decide to try to take your supplies and/or your shelter.
OPSEC Measures: It may be a good idea not to run your generator unless you know others aren’t in the area anymore. An even better idea is build an enclosure around your generator (don’t attach it to your house, carbon monoxide can kill) to muffle the sound, so others don’t know you still have power.
Vulnerability: Your bug out vehicle appears well maintained, well equipped, and is a desirable target for thieves.
Assessment of Risk: Your bug out vehicle may be your lifeline, and if anyone takes it from you, you may be stranded, possibly without supplies.
OPSEC Measures: Don’t use a brand new F-350 with a brand new deluxe camper for your bug-out vehicle. Smaller is better. Consider an older vehicle with visible rust on the body, as well as possibly an older camper, if you must have a camper. An excellent alternative may be an older mid-size van. But don’t pick a vehicle that looks like it’s been through hell and back, as that too will cause you to stand out in a crowd.
Best Practices for Maintaining OPSEC
Maintaining OPSEC can be tricky, even frustrating. When you are enthusiastic about prepping, spreading the good word and setting an example for other people to follow it is only natural that you would want to talk all about what you have going on.
But sadly, in these trying times you can drastically improve your security situation all the way around by just shutting up about what you’ve got going on on the prepping front, in every sector. Just stop talking about it.
There are exceptions, of course, but it is exceptions that only serve to prove the rule. You should only discuss your plans, purchases, itinerary and inventory, along with your strengths and weaknesses, with people you trust- people you really, really trust.
It is easy to say you trust someone but an entirely different matter to determine if they are worthy of that level of trust. It is time to audit the people you have in your innermost circle.
Should you trust your nephew just because he is the child of one of your siblings, and blood kin to you? What if he has a known propensity for being a criminal turd, and hangs out with equally criminal friends?
Yeah, advertising the fact that you have tons of guns stashed in your home to him is probably a bad idea, as is blabbing about it to his parents, even though one of them is your brother or sister.
Unless, of course, you have a level of trust with your sibling that is ironclad and you know they will neither betray your trust or make a mistake that will see it slip accidentally.
And as sad as it is to contemplate, the same goes for your neighbors. having good neighbors, genuinely good neighbors, that you can rely on and trust is a blessing, but because it is a blessing, that means it’s rare. Letting all of your business out to a neighbor whom you trust based solely on proximity is a pretty lunatic idea in my book.
It doesn’t make you shifty and it doesn’t mean you don’t care just because you keep your private dealings completely private. It might rankle, but sometimes you are completely justified to lie about it.
You only need to worry about being answerable and being your “true self” with people who both rate and deserve it. Doing so is strangers, especially strangers who are likely to hurt you, is crazy.
In summary, preparedness is about a lot more than how much supplies you can stock up, or even having a bug out plan. It’s great to have a small stockpile of weapons to defend yourself with. It’s even better if you never have to use them, thanks to good OPSEC practices.
- How to conduct an OPSEC assessment
- The Operations Security Professional’s Association
- DoD OPSEC Manual
last update: 11/24/2021