Signs of the Times: What are the SHTF Tipping Points?, by CentOre

One of the most crucial decisions a ‘prepper’ will ever have to make is deciding when to stop preparing, and instead, begin surviving.  This is especially difficult when the life one has still contains the last dregs of normality.  It is difficult to make the decision to G.O.O.D. or Bugout in the absence of actual chaos in one’s normal life.  One reason many preppers move to rural areas and isolated retreats is to exchange space and time for having to make the decision to act, or not act, within a very short time frame.  This essay is about whether the signs of collapse can be observed before the SHTF or if the only way to be sure is that a mob is looting your neighbour’s house.  This decision is one that urban preppers must make quickly to avoid being trapped in the chaos of a metropolitan panic where the breakdown of public safety has already occurred.  This decision is one that rural preppers must make early enough to be able to make that “last run to the store(s)” that will always be necessary.  Of course, it is better to be fully prepared than to be partially prepared, and better to be partially prepared than to be unprepared; PPPPPP goes, not without saying, but is so basic that one need not dwell on it here.  (Nevertheless, a very brief digression about the pieces of paper on top of the ‘List of Lists,’ the master and its sub-lists of checklists is necessary.  The is no possibility of detailed planning on der tag except for few broad sorts of decisions, e.g., –going south instead of north, but even this requires a prior plan for what to do in order to go one way or the other.)
War, civil unrest, economic collapse, plague and banditry are all more serious than natural disasters because the solidarity of the community has been disrupted and fear and anxiety can run wild without a civil society’s familiar frame of reference, without the feeling that someone can, and that someone will, help.  The urgent need that those who are prepared must feel is ‘how to get to ground:’ How to know that there is somewhere safe to go and to know how to get there. 

Every group should have a knowledgeable person (a designated intelligence analyst) whose primary pre-TEOTWAWKI task is to formulate, with the group, a way to sample the political, medical, emergency services, economic, and social news for indications of ‘disturbed patterns,’ of roiling events whose consequences don’t seem to die down, of serious disease outbreaks reported in out of the way places, of banks collapsing, and sovereign bond ratings being changed.  The group leadership should receive this information according to the standards it adopts and a monthly, or quarterly, written briefing on this information should go to all the family heads and other adults.

When the analyst, and occasionally the group should make possible forecasts of upcoming events may be put on some sort of notice by its leadership.  Our group put itself on a 72 hour notice last summer during the ‘debt limit crisis’ partly as an exercise and partly because many of the group would have been immediately affected if Federal retirement, VA, Medicare, or Social Security payments had been threatened and they needed to make immediate adjustments to their bill paying.  Forest fires, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest are part of the news collected and analyzed for reasons having to do with our geographic location.  As I write this in January 2012, every person in the group is aware that we will have a foot or so of snow and high winds in the next two days, and that most of it will be immediately melted by rain creating severe road conditions and flooding, and this was conveyed to them through an email message and/or telephone calls.

The real difficulty of course is the forecasting of major societal effects that might result in a call for G.O.O.D. or a Bugout, or the activation of the primary redoubt.  Our group is somewhat cushioned by our relatively rural location and distance from major urban centers. However, many of our members are only ‘partly prepared,’ or are located in an urban center several hours away by current travel standards, and any notice that we could give them that there are some upcoming possible Tipping Points or specific events that might indicate that some final prepping actions for G.O.O.D. should be accelerated. 

So, given the current world and North American situations what are the specific things that our group has directed be tracked?


The election late in 2012 has the potential to be a Tipping Point no matter what the outcome because the country is highly polarized and this is perhaps the most important election since 1912 because there is economic difficulty, two major ideological systems are contesting, and political propaganda of all sorts seems poised to pour out in unending streams.  Attacks on counter demonstrators, especially if firearms are used, any politically motivated assassinations of major political figures, any degrading or outrageous attacks on political candidates or office holders could, some more easily than others, be either the match or the gasoline that could start major civil unrest.  Our group believes that if major unrest is occurring simultaneously in two different major urban areas preppers there should be a G.O.O.D. from the areas of major rioting, others outside those areas should finish their G.O.O.D. packing, and those of us near the primary redoubt should go onto 24-hour notice.  Any nationwide efforts to disqualify significant number of citizens from voting, any system of curfews, any significant vigilante activity and any program of mass arrests would we believe; fall into the same category.  Any prolonged post election recounts, as we saw in 2000, can raise the tension in the country to a high level.  Special attention must be paid to any similar event, should one occur.


The European Union has been facing major economic difficulties for at least the last year.  The failure of its efforts to refinance the sovereign debt and make the private sector forgive much of that debt in Greece has been in every newspaper in the world.  Furthermore, these difficulties have spread to Ireland, Portugal, Spain and the larger economy of Italy.  Most of the European Union has had its sovereign members debt downgraded in value.  The US financial sector has both direct (ownership of sovereign bonds) and indirect (loans to European Banks being asked to write down their debt) the extent of this involvement is unknown but it probably amounts to somewhat over $100 Billion dollars.  Any recession in Europe will aggravate the situation in the US and cause, depending on the definition used another recession or the flaring up again, of what is now being called the Lesser Depression.  The current slowdown in Chinese industrial production and the increase of its inflation rate also pose considerable risk to the US economy because that would reduce the availability of consumer goods to Americans and lead to our own debt not being purchased by the Chinese to help them deal with their trade surplus.  There is a growing consensus that there may well be a global recession/depression at least as bad as 2008-2009 unless something not currently expected occurs.
Most preppers and Austrian economic aficionados have always expected economic collapse to be triggered by hyperinflation (Zimbabwe, Weimar Germany, etc.) yet the current Lesser Depression more immediately poses an opposite sort of risk.  That is a deflationary spiral where products sit on the shelf, and production declines because fewer and fewer people have cash.  There has been no deflation in the cost of petroleum products, including fertilizers and the costs of transporting goods, so there is inflation in fuel and food.  A recent study of the consequences of the eruption of a volcano in Iceland indicate that if the resource to production and production to consumption chains are disrupted on a global scale then an economic collapse would occur with as little as five days notice if the event affects even one whole continent.  Nor is the possibility of hyper-inflation an illusion, for while much of the cash created by the Federal Reserve [private banking cartel] and Treasury Dept. in 2008 and 2009, has been reabsorbed hundreds of billions of those funds are still in circulation, and that total would be higher except that banks still fear the collapse of sovereign bonds and are hoarding their cash to settle up their credit default swaps (a weird sort of insurance) if a collapse in value occurs because of a sovereign default..  Eventually a long period of rather high stagflation (for those who remember the 1970s) is inevitable.

Therefore, preppers should monitor the financial markets and watch for impending signs of further collapse and the civil unrest that would follow a worldwide economic crisis.  Preppers should also move a small but real amount of their assets into metals, particularly silver because a retreat to visibility valuable ‘money’ is always a factor during periods of economic collapse.


Right now, there are several varieties of H5N1 flu virus in East Asia and one patient in Hong Kong has died.  Chicken and pigeon populations in South China and Hong Kong are being culled as rapidly as possible but dead wild birds with the virus have been found in Macao, Hong Kong and Shanghai, so this is one to watch.

There are several varieties of new flu mutations in the eastern United States from Wisconsin to West Virginia.  Some are H5N1 (bird flu) and at least one has genes from both swine flu and bird flu (this was found in a pre-school program in West Virginia) with no known exposure of anyone to swine or birds.
A particularly virulent form of Cholera has become established in Haiti and a new epidemic is expected as soon as the Haitian rainy season begins.  Its spread to North America is almost inevitable.

Drug resistant bacteria are rather endemic, including a new form of Tuberculosis that is resistant to every known treatment.  Other drug resistant diseases are certain forms of staph, and strep, and the rather gruesome ‘flesh eating’ bacteria now present in most hospitals in the world.  The reservoir in Africa from which repeated episodes of Ebola, and its Marburg variant, have arisen in the Congo (Leopoldville) and Angola has still not been discovered and so its reoccurrence(s) cannot be predicted or prevented until the first cases have been diagnosed.  The fact is that childhood vaccination programs have been resisted by some parents, and therefore, whatever one feels about the vaccines, there are pools of potentially vulnerable patients whose vaccinations have run out or never existed in the US.  If one is comfortable with vaccination then a group goal of having its members up to date on their “Yellow Book’ vaccinations is wise.  

Preppers should tap into the CDC and international data on outbreaks of serious diseases and those of their local county public health departments.  For instance, our group are all aware of cases of Hepatitis C, Nile Fever, Equine Encephalitis, and flu the frequency and severity in near by counties.

Civil Unrest, Terrorist Actions and Armed Insurrection

The differences between civil unrest, terrorist acts and armed insurrection to the average person in the street are differences without any distinction for the impact of the psychological and physical damage will be the same but important nonetheless.  Civil unrest in the form of mass protests leading to riots, property damage, and injuries and/or death of bystanders, protestors and security forces is usually triggered by a small event whose occurrence is unpredictable.  That is, one can certainly predict the potential for such events, but not their certain occurrence.  Civil unrest is a product of public outrage or fear that can quickly spread into a larger and more dangerous situation, which begins because of larger problems in a society.  The commission of terrorist acts is a strategic tactic used by a small group to intentionally cause unexpected bloody chaos in locations where the psychological and physical damage can be maximized.  This can range from slaughtering school children to destroying iconic sites (World Trade Center, the Pentagon, Federal Buildings, the Shiite holy places in Iraq, the train station in Madrid). 

Like recent horror movies the real intent of terrorism is the creation of shock, and pressure on the authorities.  It is like the game entitled ‘See What You Made Me Do” from the book Games People Play which was popular in the 1970s.  The greater the security force effort to control a terrorist campaign the more draconian the restrictions on normal life become and the public generally moves closer to becoming involved in civil unrest.  An armed insurrection generally begins as civil unrest that becomes widespread rather than being limited to individual outbursts.  A number of loosely affiliated groups will be actively fighting against the security forces and a command structure will emerge over time.  Armed insurrections, even those with considerable public support, will generally be unsuccessful unless fighters gain a foreign source of funds and equipment outside the country.  This is not to say however, that an armed force cannot overthrow the government, for if a portion of the security forces changes sides, or decides to act ‘to save the nation’ using equipment and personnel originally created by the government, then it will fall.  This has generally been the means by which modern states have fallen (Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, Iran, Libya, Tunisia, Nigeria, etc., etc. are all examples of this).

Given this framework then, what might result in the overthrow of the American Government?

  • The current sociopolitical and economic situation has many elements that have already led to a low level of civil unrest.  Both the Tea Party and the Occupy movements are groups that could become the basis for more serious civil unrest if they are violently repressed or if they are penetrated by those who want to cause violence to create a situation where the government might fall.  Therefore, preppers should monitor those groups and make sure that members are aware of civil unrest arising from either group or from situations in which they have a physical confrontation with each other or the authorities.  The spilt between more ‘fundamentalist’ religious groups and the mainstream society also has the potential for being the trigger for civil unrest (the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church that protests at military funerals because it believes that God is punishing the US for giving homosexuals civil rights, the scattered terrorist acts involving the murder and/or bombing of abortion providers offices and homes,).  The presence of anarchists at demonstrations involving economic policy (the Seattle riots, and others) could also trigger an incident of civil unrest if there is a broad crackdown on the majority of peaceful protestors.  Many urban gangs, and Neo-Nazis, have had a policy of encouraging their members joining the military in order that they have a trained cadre if they go to ‘war’ with another group or in cases of widespread civil unrest.
  • For most of American history, homegrown terrorism has been minimal, though occasionally serious because of its potentials when economic conditions are poor or political tensions are high.  The Oklahoma City bombing, according to those involved, was in part inspired by a fictional scenario in the racist novel “The “Turner Diaries,” which in the book triggered armed insurrection by extreme right wing and neo-Nazi groups.  Of course, no insurrection resulted from that event.  I personally think that a general uprising against the US Government is unlikely in the absence of a long series of provocative ‘public’ actions by groups with both political and religious motivations.  However, it is quite clear that since 9/11/2001 the US has progressively moved towards being a ‘security state’ with many forms of now legal citizen surveillance and statutory restraints upon traditional civil liberties.  Every succeeding administration has simply extended its ‘security state’ authority and eventually those effects may well trigger mass resistance.
  • If a civilian-driven, armed insurrection is unlikely it is possible to conceive of a coup by the US Military.  However, while one can conceive of it, it cannot be considered probable.  There are a few situations, the death of most national leadership if a weapon of mass destruction were used in Washington, DC, for instance, in which a military takeover would in fact be legitimate.  Eventually the existence of a voluntary military and a family based military officer and NCO cadre may result in a cultural disconnection of the military culture from civil society but, while there are a few indicators that this may be occurring, it is clear that it has not progressed to the level of contempt for civil society that engenders military coups.

The path to an armed insurrection in the USA must therefore lead from political or religious conflicts, during a time of economic difficulties to civil unrest.  Scattered civil unrest must then spread to several regions of the country, probably as the consequence of terrorist actions by several small-unrelated groups and a shotgun approach to restrictions on traditional civil liberties by security forces.  Given widespread civil unrest, armed ‘bandit’ bands would probably begin to strike at commercial targets for funds.  Ideologically motivated bands would target loot and attack civil government.  If that begins then some groups will began to act as vigilantes against both the bandits and the ideologically oriented groups.  Of course, the situation would vary from place to place and some group’s behaviour would inevitably shade across several of these categories since taxation can begin as theft and law and order begin as actions against those viewed as guilty or irreligious.  Even in this extremity, however, there is unlikely to be a government overthrow unless the security forces become participants rather than a control upon the situation. 

Recommendations for Preppers That Involve a Heightened Response

Heightened Attention

The current situation requires heightened attention to public and economic events.  This may be handled by a general requirement that all members listen to news at least daily or by having the group’s analyst(s) monitor events and summarize them on a weekly/monthly basis.  This summary should then be forwarded to the Group’s leadership and, at their discretion, to the whole group or certain members.

First Level Response

Analysis noting a major increase in the risk of emergencies ranging from the approach of severe weather or local fires to major national events like assassinations, riots, or impending controversial legislation should be forwarded to members by group leadership.  The response to these notifications should be limited to updating ‘last buy’ lists, topping off fuel storage, etc.

Second Level Response

Analysis noting further escalations of national or global tensions, or reasonable prediction of localized extreme danger (fires, floods, civil disturbances) should trigger a notice to engage in immediate need purchasing, and final packing of Bug Out Bags (BOB), loading of vehicles and a group leadership decision of whether to bug out or open the primary retreat.  This should also result in the designation of pre-selected alternate assembly points.  This level notice should be from 24 to 72 hours in advance of the emergency if possible.  In some especially time constrained situations this can be combined with a Level Three Response Notice.

Third Level Response

This involves notice to group members living four or more hours away from the group to start moving towards the Primary if appropriate.  Local members should begin moving storage items not already cached at the Primary or a designated alternative to that location and preparations to actually staff and logistically prepare the Primary for incoming members of the Group should begin.  If the emergency has a high probability of lasting more than 30 days then ‘in extremis’ buy lists should be activated as members travel to their homes prior to actually beginning their response or for those who arrive early at the Primary after their gear and supply drop off has occurred.

Final Response Level

This level of notice could actually occur at any of the levels listed above if circumstances require it.  The implication of this level of notice is to drop everything and get away from members urban area or their residence if it is in the path of a dangerous situation.  It may require the abandonment of gear or supplies not already cached or transported to the Primary or an Assembly Point/Temporary Bug Out Location.  It should not be used for anything but extra-ordinary immediate danger (Tornado, Volcanic eruption, tsunami, dam break or flash flooding, violent rioting in particular neighbourhoods) in locations containing group members.

Referenced Publications:

  • Supervolcano: Eruption by  Harry Turtledove,  432 pages, Roc (December 6, 2011) ISBN-10: 0451464206 ISBN-13: 978-0451464200
  • There are examples of the response times that range the world: Katrina, Indian Ocean Tsunami, Mexico City earthquake, Pakistani Floods, Haiti’s earthquake.
  • See, for instance, “State of Arizona Emergency Management Plan” ,  and discussion in the FEMA National Response Plan, which is focused on evacuations in Hurricane Zones, are mentions severe logistical difficulties in evacuations in the American West.  (Or, the similar document for your area of concern.)
  • See Intelligence Preparation for the Intelligent Prepper,  by L.R., 1/13/2012.  There, L.R. points out that the aforementioned function is only the beginning of securing Operational Security for the group.
  • For the example of how the US Homeland Security Department does this see the “Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Initiative Update (1/6/2012).  Note: Pay special attention to Appendixes A and B where what is monitored and what is considered significant to the government is listed. 
  • Preparing for High-impact, Low-probability Events: Lessons from Eyjafjallajökull.  Chatham  House International (1/12/2012)
  • “Games People Play: The Basic Handbook of Transactional Analysis  Eric Berne, 216 pages,  Ballantine Books 1996; ISBN-10: 0345410033, ISBN-13: 978-0345410030
  •  “The Turner Diaries: A Novel,  Andrew MacDonald (pseudonym for the racist and white separatist William Luther Pierce), Abe Books, 224 pages, Barricade Books, 2nd edition 1996, ISBN-10: 1569800863, ISBN-13: 978-1569800867

About The Authors: CentOre is a loosely connected group of people in the Oregon High Desert interested in improving our existing skills, and learning new skills that will enhance our odds when it hits.)