Guest Article: SHTF Intelligence – Getting Started- Part 2, by Samuel Culper

This is the second article in a series about using intelligence for preparedness. I’m starting from square zero, in order to introduce a new crop of Americans to the concept of using intelligence, to prove that there’s a need for intelligence, and to get readers quickly up to speed on how to incorporate it into their security planning. After getting caught up to speed, if you’d like to gain a deeper knowledge and put theory into practice, a book entitled *SHTF Intelligence will show you the way forward. You can find a small homework exercise here.

In the first article, we covered why we need intelligence and an introduction to the Intelligence Cycle. We use this cycle in order to produce early warning intelligence and threat intelligence; those are the top two priorities for the Analysis & Control Element (ACE) in a SHTF situation. Our ACE is the brain where we funnel information and out comes actionable intelligence. The ACE’s job is to inform the leadership about threats in the area, where they might be, and what they might do next. If we can get community involvement and start producing intelligence, then our work will be well worth the effort.

This second article is going to take our intelligence requirements– the things we need to know but don’t– and move on to Phase 2 of the cycle: Collection. (If you haven’t generated any intelligence requirements yet, you can get a start at the homework page.)

In any SHTF situation, we’re going to face one of two problems: either we’re not going to have enough information to make well-informed, time-sensitive decisions, or we’re going to have too much information to wade through, which will slow down our decision-making process. So what’s the lesson? We need to begin developing streams of information now in order to avoid problem number one, and we need to know what to do with that information in order to avoid problem number two. Let’s focus on solving problem number one.

It seems like a poor decision to believe that we’ll have access to lots of information during an SHTF scenario. I’m more than willing to concede that information will not be as inexpensive and easy to collect then as it is now. So the more information we can collect now, the less we’ll have to collect later. For now, while information is inexpensive and easy, we’re going to focus mainly on the Internet and other widely available sources of information.

Inexpensive and Easy Information

Say what you want about Google, but there is no better online tool to collect massive amounts of information. (That obviously goes both ways, as it’s always collecting information about you, so it’s a good idea to use online anonymity tools and an anonymous or pseudonymous email address.) We run into a problem, however, when collecting that information monopolizes our time. Who has time to sit at a desk and search for hours on end for information that may not even exist online? Not me, and that’s why we need to automate collection as much as possible.

Google Alertsis a great resource for automated intelligence collection. Some of my searches include:

  • “Waller County” and “Texas” and “crime”
  • “Waller County” and “Texas” and “drug”
  • “Waller County” and “Texas” and “gang”
  • “Waller County” and “Texas” and “corruption”
  • “Waller County” and “Texas” and “violence”
  • “Waller County” and “Texas” and “Sheriff”
  • “Waller County” and “Texas” and “whatever else is relevant to your security”


Also, be sure to replace “Waller County” with your own town or county and state, and start getting more local information. You could even do searches for the name of your community or subdivision or for nearby landmarks. If you need help creating searches on Google Alerts, then just refer back to your intelligence requirements, which identify your intelligence gaps. (Caveat: You’re likely going to get some articles or posts that aren’t relevant. Don’t worry about them. Focus on what satisfies your requirements or that you can use to produce area intelligence.)

What Google Alerts does for us is creates a daily roll-up of new articles that Google finds about those subjects. I start my day every morning checking my Google Alerts to find more information about my area, and it saves me a great deal of time. Now, assuming that our searches use quality logic, one problem we may run into is a lack of reporting, especially if you live in a very rural area. If that’s the case, then we have a few options. First, I’d encourage you to go volunteer with your county sheriff’s office or local police department and get to know the crime, drug, and gang information from knowledgeable sources. Second, we could approach our local paper, if they’re not already doing it, to start writing more about crime or drugs or gangs (or all three) in the area. Third, if there’s no area paper or they’re not interested, then we could start doing it ourselves. (Local area “micro-papers” like the Appalachian Messenger are a great way to get our message out to the community, as well.)

I’d also encourage you to search Twitter and other social media for your area. For instance, a search for Hempstead, Texas on Twitter doesn’t seem to reveal much pertinent information immediately. However, I’m identifying people who live nearby posting about what’s important to them, and that’s certainly of some intelligence value. After a little digging, I’ve found a like-minded individual and discovered someone who could be a threat to my community.

If you’re concerned about critical infrastructure in the area, I’d steer you towards the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and their US Energy Mapping System, where you can see the critical infrastructure in your county (or across the country). If you’re interested in the human terrain, sites like City Data are great resources with tons of relevant information and mapping tools.

Of course, we can’t forget about the radio networks. You can rely on your Ham radio guy, or you can study for the technician or general class amateur radio test and begin learning Ham radio yourself. Forget about transmitting for a moment. Our ability to listen into communications, whether they’re from first responders, law enforcement, or a Ham radio operator passing along relevant information, is a mission-critical skill for the ACE. If we don’t have around-the-clock monitoring of at least police scanner, then we’re missing out on potentially a lot of important information.

More Difficult Collection Options

In a grid-down situation, or a scenario where our intelligence requirement can’t be satisfied with open source information, we’re going to rely heavily on other humans to collect for us. Let’s steer clear of calling this “source operations”, because it doesn’t need to be that complex or professional to get us through an emergency. By expanding our circle of friends and acquaintances, we’re expanding our access to information. Building rapport and becoming friends with individuals who are likely to have important information is going to greatly increase our ability to maintain situational awareness.

Beyond that, we should be using the eyes and ears of those in our community. We need to get our neighbors “bought in” to the idea that community security is everyone’s responsibility. I hate to use the phrase “See Something, Say Something”, however, DHS is on track to building lots of channels of information of potential intelligence value. Our message to the community could be as simple as, “Let me know if you see anything suspicious.”

Alternatively, starting (or joining) a neighborhood watch program is a great option. Not only will we get access to law enforcement officers and crime information, but we can also build a reporting system and give our community members a seat at the table. It also gives us a great excuse (something we call “cover for action”) to go door-to-door asking questions and providing information as the block leader of the Neighborhood Watch.

Finally, we absolutely need to be using police scanners and any other technology we have in order to stay on top of the changing security situation. In the Ultimate ACE Startup Guide, I’ve outlined what we need, why we need it, and where to get it.

Last Work On Collection

When we consider all the websites, radio frequencies, and humans to which we have access, there’s virtually no end to the potential for collection. (Just ask the NSA.) Having developed intelligence reporting streams is going to pay dividends for us when we have to navigate our way through an SHTF situation, and it’s going to solve problem number one: not having enough information. That’s a problem we can avoid by doing some homework now and setting our community up for success by developing sources to use later when we need to provide security.

In the next article, we’re moving to Phase Three of the Intelligence Cycle, which is Analysis & Processing. I’ll talk about how we can sort through information and begin building intelligence products that will support our mission of community security.

Samuel Culper is the director of Forward Observer, a threat intelligence service that focuses on domestic SHTF issues. He’s a former military and contract intelligence analyst, and author of SHTF Intelligence: An Intelligence Analyst’s Guide to Community Security. You can find out more about the SHTF Intelligence Center at his website.