This post originally ran at on 02 January 2019.

I don’t presume to speak for the “Preparedness Community” so I say the following as both a member and an observer: there are areas ripe for improvement.

It’s 2019 and while you’re reviewing your New Year resolutions, here are five things that absolutely must change for the Prepper Community in 2019 if we want to move the ball forward. (The podcast version is below.)



1. It’s time to move past bug out bags, lensatic compasses, and fire starters. We have to move past the focus on the accumulation of “stuff” for the sake of preparedness. The list of standard click-bait fare doesn’t offer readers anything new, and the quality of these articles has not progressed in the past ten years. Furthermore, the focus is almost entirely on buying things that make us feel safe and prepared, but they’re not addressing anything beyond the most basic needs in a SHTF scenario.

Case in point: there are thousands of articles on bug out bags or some variation thereof — 90 percent of which offer nothing new, unique, or helpful, and 50 percent of which are “below average” when it comes to advice. There are probably hundreds of bug out bag articles for every one article on the work of building a community, setting up an information sharing network, and organizing a neighborhood response to an emergency scenario. The most effective emergency preparedness is not a well-packed bug out bag, but a well-directed team of local people solving local problems. That means that you need to turn your neighbors and community members into preppers. And there aren’t nearly enough articles on this important topic, which is my point. (I take this point to heart and will start taking my own medicine.)

Furthermore, there’s a definite sense that having gear means you’re prepared. You’ve heard this before. “After I bought muh third gun, I wasn’t really any more prepared than when I bought muh first, so I went and bought 17 more just in case.” The same goes for tourniquets, radios, tactical gear, and anything else folks are buying but not using to develop skills. If you have the gear, you have to learn how to use it.

More than ten years since the birth of the modern preparedness community, it’s time for everyone to move past the basic stuff. The websites still promoting the “stuff equals preparedness” mantra are holding the community back from the real work of long-term and networked preparedness. The accumulation of “stuff” is entirely the wrong focus. So enough with the bug out bag articles. (There’s really one video you need to watch, here: Let’s put our heads together and start addressing more complex problems.


2. It’s time to prioritize skills ahead of the “stuff” we’ve accumulated. My observation: people in this community are way more proud of the “stuff” they’ve accumulated than the skills they’ve developed. Instead of buying that next $1,000 tub of Mountain House, go take a ham radio course, or a concealed carry/gun fighting course, or an intelligence gathering course, or attend a sales conference and learn how to talk to people. Learn how to carry on a conversation and identify the needs of your neighbors, or learn how to enlist their help and build a team for the next emergency, before the next emergency. The more cooperation you’re able to build now, the less dependent you’ll be on what you’re storing up, anyway.


3. It’s time to stop “training” and start developing skills. Maybe this imperative comes down to a game of semantics, but the volume of time you spend training cannot be a metric for skills development. Plinking thousands of rounds on a square range won’t make you a gunfighter. Conflating your range time with your ability to win a gunfight is wrong, yet that’s exactly what many people do. Training must have an objective, and the development of our skills must be measured. The next time you go to the range, or go do any other kind of training, ask yourself what skills are you actually trying to develop? What task are you trying to improve? Are you trying to shorten your draw stroke? Are you trying to become faster and more accurate with reflexive shooting? How can you measure your results? For all the time and resources you’re spending, what is your objective? Unless you’re training for a specific and measurable objective, most of the time and resources are going out the window. Be deliberate with your training time and develop skills. For most people, that means getting expert advice, so pony up the dough for a reputable trainer and then continue refining those skills on your own. Skill level is what matters, not your training time. And in terms of skills, develop your Mission Essential Task List (METL) and then go get the training required to master those skills. (METL refresher here.) Once you learn these skills, you have to demonstrate proficiency in as near a real-world training environment as you or someone else can create. If you can’t demonstrate proficiency, you do not have the skill.


4. It’s time to allow analysis to drive our decision-making instead of allowing fear to drive us. Back in 2008 when I first started reading SurvivalBlog, I was in the pits of despair. I was a sergeant in Baghdad, listening to Ron Paul and Alex Jones in my time off (two figures to whom I had recently been introduced), and I was gravely concerned that the United States Government was going to collapse. More specifically, my fear was that a government collapse would preclude me from getting back home to my family, and I remember feeling a sense of urgency and fear over that. My frame of reference was very narrow and, looking back, that narrow frame is what allowed that fear to thrive. We as a community, some more than others, spend a lot of time reading some really bad takes about what’s going to happen in the future. A random cruise through Prepper YouTube will yield dozens of such doomsday videos with tens of thousands or more views. Much of that content is fear-driven, not analysis-driven, which is why so many predictions turn out to be wrong. And not only do those doom and gloom predictions turn out to be wrong, they end up steering readers, listeners, and viewers into making some really bad decisions based on some really bad perspectives. (For example: on numerous occasions, collapse economist David Stockman has predicted a stock market crash that precedes economic collapse. Lots of people have made decisions based on his bad calls. That’s unfortunate.) Fear of the future can be a great motivator, but he’s a horrible master. Don’t allow fear to master you.

Several years ago, I was teaching an SHTF Intelligence Course in North Carolina, and a student emailed to let me know that he couldn’t make it. I asked why, and the student responded that the course was over 60 miles from where he lived, and he was worried that if an SHTF event were to occur that weekend, then he wouldn’t be able to get back home. The course went on as scheduled, a dozen students learned SHTF Intelligence skills, that guy didn’t, and none of us experienced an SHTF event.

Frequent readers and listeners know my maxim: the more extreme the prediction, the less likely it is to come true. Low frequency events don’t occur often. That’s not to say that one will never happen, just that they’re rare. And the chances that any black swan event will happen on any given day are extraordinarily rare. There is a better way to drive decision-making than counting on the worst to happen.

We can, in fact, obtain a more accurate perspective on what’s happening or what’s likely to happen in the future through the work of intelligence. It’s not easy; it’s very time consuming and there’s a steep learning curve. But through consuming lots of information and applying some analytical rigor, we can get a much better picture of what’s more likely and less likely to occur in the future. Structured analysis gives you a much better perspective on the future (it’s measurable) than reading prognosticators vying for traffic and ad revenue.

In the most likely SHTF scenario, you’re not going to be rubbing sticks together in the woods to survive, you’re going to be trying to figure out what you and your kids or adult children will do without a job for a couple years.

You’re going to be more worried about random criminality in your neighborhood or a week-long power outage than you will be about an EMP.

You’re more likely to be concerned with finding and using money or a store of value than you will be about running around in the woods in camo and shooting guns with your compatriots.

You’re going to be more concerned with long-term and persistent corruption in local politics and law enforcement than you will be about a grid-down, martial law, or civil war scenarios.

That’s not to say that none of these things will ever happen, just that they’re so unlikely that more of your time would be better spent preparing for the effects of the more likely scenarios.

It’s important to take stock of all the threats and risks, but it’s also important to be realistic. It’s important to think clearly and soberly about the future with a wide and deep frame of reference, and not be controlled by fear or by fear-mongering.

There’s that great quote by Thomas Sowell: “The problem isn’t that Johnny can’t read. The problem isn’t even that Johnny can’t think. The problem is that Johnny doesn’t know what thinking is; he confuses it with feeling.” Similarly, many in the preparedness community can’t think and their decisions are driven by emotional reaction. Their problem is that they confuse an emotional, fear-based reaction with thinking. That’s 100% normal (it’s a survival heuristic), but that’s not thinking critically. And then these people, who think they’re thinking, write articles on prominent prepper/survival websites and feature some pretty heinous analytical leaps that lead them to some very poor conclusions. That inspires more irrational fear, which drives poor decision-making.

We do run the grave risk of some tough years ahead; that’s why I continue to prepare. I would even say that dark days are likely. But a well-reasoned approach to local threats will do more for you than allowing fear to drive your decision-making. Be prepared to deal with specific threats and implications that are unique to your locality. When you prepare for economic collapse or a grid-down event, you’re actually preparing for the local effects of those events. If you can’t form some conclusions about what those effects and threats will be locally and regionally, and then develop some plan to mitigate or deal with them, then you’re really not all that prepared. Prepare for the specific threats and conditions, and you’ll be head and shoulders above your prepping peers.


5. It’s time to get serious about where our center of gravity is. First of all, predicting the future is a heck of a way to make a living, most are not good at it, and the longer the timeline, the more difficult that task becomes. But given the past several months, it’s not that difficult for me to see a scenario where a Democrat is moving into the White House in January 2021. Whether it’s in 2021, 2025, or 2029, I have a high degree of confidence that as long as elections are held, there will be another Democratic president. And all those who work for or those whose success is tied to a Republican administration will have to find a new job. Similarly, your job, your community, or your region is likely tied to an industry or company. That thing is one part, maybe the entirety, of your center of gravity.

For instance, by the stroke of a pen, the coal industry in America was killed. That pen was in Washington D.C., but its effects were felt across the country. Coal workers’ center of gravity — not just their jobs and industry, but the livelihoods and well-being of their families — was disrupted by a veritable stranger in the White House. That’s not the only industry that’s going to be disrupted over the next few years.

It’s time to get serious about where your personal center of gravity is, and also the center of gravity for your community. Think of a gyroscope and its center of gravity, which is spinning at its core. The gyroscope stays standing as long as its core is spinning, but when that core slows down, the gyroscope starts to wobble and then eventually falls over. The same thing happens to entire regions when a center of gravity is disrupted.

First-order thinking is to develop a backup plan in case some part of your center of gravity is disrupted. That’s a good start, but what’s even better is to identify the parts of your center of gravity that carry the greatest risk of disruption and work towards decoupling yourself from that dependency. Long-term preparedness is taking those element of our spinning core.

All those “off-grid” folks who network and barter at the local food co-op are trying to decouple themselves from everything in a system at risk of disruption or collapse. We know what’s at risk: banking and finance, fuel and energy, large scale agriculture, access to clean water, the list goes on and on down to your local government and local law enforcement.

If you’re at risk, adjust your center of gravity and get serious about building local economic systems and resilient communities. Identify the things are you dependent upon, and then find some tenable solutions. Ensure that your center of gravity is relatively unencumbered from these sectors at risk of disruption. And go back to Imperative #4, which is using intelligence to drive your decision-making.


Maybe you have some imperatives of your own, or other areas where we as a community can improve. What are your observations? Let me know in the comments section below!


Always Out Front,
Samuel Culper