Post-TEOTWAWKI: Groups and Retreats, Pt. 1, by E.M.

There are many articles on the internet concerning the benefits of forming a group of like-minded individuals who could support each other when times get “spicy” for months or even years, either in their own neighborhood or at a remote retreat.  These groups are sometimes referred to as mutual assistance groups. These articles are based on the premise that choosing a “lone wolf” approach after TEOTWAWKI is unsustainable in the long run, and that even expecting a single family to live and thrive on a remote mountaintop after a societal meltdown is unrealistic and ripe for tragedy in the long term. An important reason for the latter view is that a single family cannot maintain proper 24/7 security while tending to all of its daily needs over time.

A problem with many of these articles is that much of the discussion about forming survival groups all too often involves pie-in-the-sky fantasies and unrealistic platitudes.

Nevertheless, the consensus in most of these articles about surviving a long term apocalyptic event, to borrow a phrase from a certain political figure, is “It takes a village.” (For the purposes of this discussion, I am assuming that most SurvivalBlog readers’ first choice for the location of the “village” is not going to be a FEMA camp.)

While there is a host of useful information about survival groups and forming retreats for them in these articles, it is clear after serious scrutiny that the “devil is in the details.”


Let’s get the issue out of the way and then move on by starting with the premise that whether a mutual assistance group is located in a residential neighborhood or at a remote retreat, it will likely be discovered sooner or later. Let’s also assume that it will be better for potential predators to conclude that the area occupied by the group is a “hard target,” and that it is not “the low hanging fruit” in the area. Predators almost always seek out the weak and the old, not the herd bull, because the risk/benefit ratio is in their favor.

Now, moving on, the reality is that most people are tied to where they live, either by their immediate family, their extended family and friends, or their place of employment. Moving to a remote and physically secure location several states away where the population is small and very scattered is not a realistic or attractive choice for many. Giving up retirement benefits, accepting the fact that family and close friends will be seen infrequently, and starting over in the labor market at a lower income/bottom rung are huge incentives for most people to stay where they live. This is especially so when the choice is balanced against the actual likelihood of a mega-collapse of modern society.

In some ways, they are like people who assume the risk of buying homes in a 100-year or 500-year flood plain and choose not to buy expensive flood insurance. Many of them will save money in the long run—while others will be wiped out.

For myriad reasons, many people will stay where they are because they want to do so, not because of family or work issues. They are like Hershel Green, the fictional farm owner in the early seasons of The Walking Dead who, when facing the looming arrival of an enormous Zombie horde, said, “This is my farm. I’ll die here.” It all comes down to this: Life is about choices. Choices have consequences. Make your decision and then move on.

Once a decision is made to “shelter in place” and to stay where they live (and perhaps find a retreat that is not too distant from where they live), then that is when participation in a survival group becomes more attractive to many.


I expect that only a minority of those who read SurvivalBlog on a frequent basis are likely to have kept their interest in preparedness completely secret. There is a natural and well-intentioned impulse for most people to reach out to friends and family in order to convince them to take steps now in order to ensure their safety and well-being after a major national calamity.  (A similar mindset regarding salvation motivates many religiously-oriented people.) Another reason to reach out to friends and family is the belief that these people “will have your back” if society melts down.

The problem is that most efforts to recruit members for a preparedness group will fail. It is very likely that many readers have approached other family members about becoming active in preparedness planning, only to be ignored and written off as their lovable, but eccentric “Uncle Joe.”

If you’ve tried to recruit friends and family, you’ve no doubt heard some say, “I don’t need to do anything now. I’ll just head to your place!” While this may be said by some people in jest, and it is often simply a way to end the discussion, the inescapable truth is that once it is established that the recruiter is a “prepper who has come out of the closet,” most of those people who turned a deaf ear to the recruiter will know exactly where to head when disaster strikes. And all that many of them will be bringing to the “party” is a knife, a fork, and an empty stomach.

Some of these people may actually be welcomed, empty-handed or not. Others? Not so much. Some may be able to lend a hand by simply adding to security efforts. Others may not be of much help at all. And, with regard to all of those neighbors who ignored the recruiter’s proselytizing efforts prior to a major national disaster, count on most of them to view the recruiter’s home as the Neighborhood Supply Depot and the recruiter as the unofficial Neighborhood Quartermaster. The worst case scenario is that they will be standing outside the recruiter’s home after a major national disaster, yelling: “Hoarder! Hoarder!”

Even if a mutual assistance group is formed in advance, the major calamity that would cause the need for a well-organized survival group to come together would have to be a society-changing event. Tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes would not likely be sufficient. (The level of looting and violence that took place after Hurricane Katrina was not typical of what has been seen in places other than New Orleans.) These events are local or regional disasters. Federal aid would begin pouring into the area–even if this aid did not arrive quite as fast as many people would like. While various neighbors might join together to participate in a “Neighborhood Watch on steroids” for a few days or even weeks after the local or regional event occurred, e.g., armed Korean shop owners during the LA riots, this ad hocorganization would not be likely to rise to the level of being classified as a survival group or a mutual assistance group as defined in articles on numerous blogs.

Given how difficult it is in the first place for most people to find like-minded individuals to join a group, the odds are that members who actually join the group would be scattered geographically, especially if these members were selected because they had special skills. Those who offer not much more than a Bachelor’s of Arts in Women’s Studies or a keen insight into the growth potential of emerging tech start-ups will not be high on the recruitment list absent other skills they might have. Just how many useful survival group members are likely to be recruited within, say, a short walking distance of each other?

Given the nature of the threat after a national calamity, how many likely recruits in the neighborhood will have serious firearms and law enforcement or military training? It is not as if every member has to have experience defending the CIA compound in Benghazi, or defending the mission station at Rorke’s Drift, but it would sure help if most knew how to use firearms well. In Blue States, in particular, this experience is less common—which, of course, is one of the reasons they are Blue States.

Articles about survival groups usually mention the need for recruiting those with firearms training. In order not to be off-putting, something rarely addressed in these articles is that those with firearms training must be actually ready to kill in a heartbeat if the group’s safety is seriously threatened. Call it a warrior’s mindset. Even simple firearms training will come up short if the willingness to kill is missing. Nurturers are fine, and are actually necessary for a group’s success, but without a sufficient number of “shooters” the group is merely composed of victims-in-waiting if the threat level is high.

Who Can You Count On?

Take a look around your neighborhood. Just how many men do you count who could willingly drop the hammer if it became necessary to defend their neighbors from serious harm? How many women do you count? Just because they have a gun and know how to use it does not mean that you can depend on them to do what needs to be done. Consider the unreliable colonial militia that often ran from the fight at the first sign of serious danger. These are not the people you need.

Successfully defending any of the group members’ homes will be dependent on sufficient manpower and firepower. Keep in mind that any stick-built, 2×4 and drywall home is extraordinarily deficient as a bullet stopper and that it is also extraordinarily vulnerable to the threat of fire.

For these reasons, in a Mad Max world, most members’ homes would hardly be the equivalent of Harlech Castle as a defensive position. As a result, it is likely that hard choices will need to be made by group members concerning whose home and street will be defended while others are abandoned. Issues such as amenities and living space, elevation, avenues of approach, and fields of fire, among other matters, would be important factors in the selection. If the group is planning on defending itself from the Golden Horde, or even from a much less potent force, it will be important to avoid at the get-go to choose a location where Col. Travis and Davey Crockett-type results are not likely to be the expected outcome.

(Note: This is the first of a three-part series.  Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.)


  1. This is a needed article! I am now very elderly, have been seriously “prepping” for MANY years. To say I am disappointed in my lack of ability to convince virtually no one this is a worth while life effort, is an understatement. I do have plenty of those “jokers” in my life who will show up at the door…or at least plan to. That whole evolution is going to be virtually impossible in a serious meltdown, so they will not be an actual factor.

    The only thing that makes me continue, is that I’m doing almost nothing that both sets of grandparents did not do as a matter of course(I’m a depression kid). Might be the failing memories of an old man…but all our neighbors were like minded

    1. Great article. I have also had the negative experience of trying to convince people that prepping is a necessity. Not a single person will follow through. I don’t beg or speak in a panic. I am a retired LEO and unfortunately none of the guys I worked with do much more then stock up on ammo. My neighbors closest to me I hardly know and from what I can tell, prepping is not a concern to them. Frustrated.

  2. Great start to a series E.M.
    To add to your points about firearms, most have never had so much as a paintball fired AT them in anger. Shooting perfect groups at the range or hitting a stationary deer at 200 yards will never tell you how your group members will react when bullets start coming from the opposite direction. Believing a firefight will only go one way is the most dangerous delusion. Force-on-force training is a must.

  3. Some people can be ruthless but it takes an immediate need for them to be so, and until that mom sees one of her kids being choked and carried off, she probably won’t ever pick up a weapon or feel the blood rushing to her head. Like the peaceful neighbor who puts up with a lot but one day is pushed just that little bit over the line by a whining neighborhood mooch and shoots him out of hand. You don’t know what you are capable of until the emergency is hot upon your heels, the unlikeliest folks can turn out to be heroes. This always assumes of course that the rule of law is nonexistent and no cops will be showing up.

  4. So far, so good. This article is definitely based in reality. Have tried to keep my preps a secret although just buying 20 gallons of water from the local supermarket produced the comment, ” are you some kind of prepper ? ”

    No, was my response. The local water is bad ( it really is ) and left it at that. So there is an attitude from your neighbors in times of trouble they are entitled to your supplies.

    Working at the local prison it was easy to make plans for SHTF. Now retired living in an upscale suburb surrounded by useless yuppies the prospect for mutual aid is dismal .

    Working on joining a auxiliary department. LE and military are the only useful souls i can think of for bad times ahead with the occasional tradesmen or truck driver that’s aware of the impending trouble.

    Plan on using hit and run ambushes well away from the house. Everyone points out the fallacy of going all “Rambo” , but there have been Japanese soldiers and woodland hermits that have avoiding people for years.

    It’s my only plan. Probably be dead in a week 🙂

    1. Ambushing is not exactly hermit-like behavior. If you start ambushing people you will likely be unable to avoid people. You’ll likely find yourself on a kill list and be systematically sought out.

      1. Well the idea was to “take the fight to the enemy”. See bad guy activity in your area, engage at a safe distance from ones domicile.

        Disappear back into the woods. If successful might even make that area a no-go zone. People walk in,vanish sort of thing.

        As this author points out the chances of making a cohesive “survival group” is pretty slim. Trying to gather a loose bunch of people whether they by neighbors, co-workers, even family will be a recipe for disaster .

        Existing groups like LE, military and even street gangs stand a better chance.

        With rules/regulations, rank/hierarchy they will be very deadly opponents indeed.

        1. I am growing more and more self-conscious going out hunting and simply exploring in the Redoubt for fear of someone taking a shot at me. Or, even worse, my young sons. The rules for distinguishing “good guys” from “bad guys” seems to vary wildly from one group/individual to the next.

          1. Interesting. Always thought living out in the country would give someone the best chance of surviving.

            One group I know plans on dropping concrete barriers out at the state highway to prevent people from driving into the town, commandeering the gas station and grocery store then set up their own little militia to ward off any invaders.

            Their policy is to shoot all outsiders on site .

            It doesn’t get any better in the city. Have heard retired cops at local gun shop bragging they have no need to prepare, they have a gun. Of course my response was, that’s nice so do I !

            So , yeah, it’s going to be very hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

            Good luck and God bless.

  5. It is very important that young men be taught basic combat skills in their late teens. Other nations, cultures and religions do it, but Westerners for the most part, want no part of it. I talk to young men every day with no interest in this subject, their minds full of frivolous skills and information. When the empire declines and chaos reigns, it will probably be too late. This will be critical to survival in the coming years. Departing from the following, the father needs to make sure it gets done, use Valor Ridge or Front Sight if you have to.

    “We are steadily asked about the age at which to teach young people to shoot. The answer to this obviously depends upon the particular individual; not only his physical maturity but his desire. Apart from these considerations, however, I think it important to understand that it is the duty of the father to teach the son to shoot. Before the young man leaves home, there are certain things he should know and certain skills he should acquire, apart from any state-sponsored activity. Certainly the youngster should be taught to swim, strongly and safely, at distance. And young people of either sex should be taught to drive a motor vehicle, and if at all possible, how to fly a light airplane. I believe a youngster should be taught the rudiments of hand-to-hand combat, unarmed, together with basic survival skills. The list is long, but it is a parent’s duty to make sure that the child does not go forth into the world helpless in the face of its perils. Shooting, of course, is our business, and shooting should not be left up to the state.” – Jeff Cooper

    1. In pre-modern Japan, samurai women were trained to fight with weapons to defend their homes/castles when the men were absent or at war. I’ve seen a woodblock print; the young woman is armed with something resembling a halberd. They were distance weapons, not swords or knives, to keep a stronger opponent at bay.

      Home defense does not require the ability to backpack fifty miles.

      In a TEOTWAWKI situation, there will be plenty of children and babies because there will be no effective birth control methods, other than the ovulation method, which very few women have been trained in. Pills are so much easier (though not more effective).

      Consider having the women specialize in home defense. Those children and babies should provide sufficient motive.

  6. Schützenfest, has anyone ever been to one of these, something small at the local level,

    “During the Middle Ages, many towns had to find ways to defend themselves from gangs of marauders. For this reason clubs and associations were founded, comparable to militias; these paramilitary associations were sanctioned for the first time in the Law for the Defensive Constitution of the Towns by King Henry I, and officially integrated into the towns’ defense plans. Accompanying the military exercises and physical examinations of the towns’ contingents, festivities were held combined with festive processions. Participants from other parishes and at times even the feudal heads of state were also invited to these Marksmen’s Courts (Schützenhöfe). However, the self-confident spirit of the townsfolk that marked these festivities was not always regarded positively by the authorities. For this reason, different traditions developed in different regions. The military significance lessened over the course of the centuries and became meaningless with the creation of regular troops and garrisons for national defence. The Schützenfests however continued in the form of a regional patriotic tradition. ”

    Excluding the big national events, does this kind of thing happen at the local level here in CONUS?

    1. Yes !!! Schützenfests do still happen in CONUS. One here in West Central Iowa at the Five Mile House south of Westside, IA,, and one near Omaha due to the German American Club in Omaha

  7. Just go to any outdoor pistol range , everybody stands there shooting and thinks they are great marksmen. Most don’t take any tactical classes let alone learn to draw & shoot. We have draw booths at the range, never used. May as well they stick to video games. Also I told one of the few friends, You come empty handed in a crisis, expect a small helping of lead before you make it to the front door. Wish I could afford a farm.

  8. I LONG ago knew what I could/would do if it came down to my survival or someone I cared about. Am just thankful never have – yet – had to. Most people seem to be inwardly fearful about examining that side of their personality. It is critical that one knows both the “angel” and the “devil” that sit on their shoulders, and know that sometimes the “devil” is the only thing that stands a chance of keeping them or those they value alive! Introspection is a critical skill to acquire to KNOW when you might use “deadly force” to stay alive! Sadly, my younger relatives so far seem to shrink from the “thought” of using means still available to most Americans to save themselves. They hide their heads in the sand and act like “everything will be ok” and someone else, ie. govt/LEO’s will save them!

  9. Started prepping,seriously, around 1984. My wifes comment at the time was “do what you want,just leave me out of it” so I did 🙂 fast forward 16 yrs. She finally came around,we moved to a small town, somewhere north of Mass. The town I now live in is filled with mostly semi self reliant people, the kind I was looking for. I have no doubt that the ones I have met are people I can count on,and they feel the same about me. The point being,except for my daughter and grandson(41 and 22 respectively) I don’t expect anyone from my past to make it up here,despite my years of trying to persuade them to at least start prepping. So be it, they don’t know where we live,and probably couldn’t get here on their own anyway. Find people in the community you want around you,stop trying to change anyones mind it won’t happen. Just go on with preparing,trust me you’ll find plenty of compatible people th kind you want around you.As for those you leave behind? Sucks to be them,not your problem.

  10. Great article! And for all the reasons described in it, my inability to find a trust-worthy group remains my greatest failure in two decades of Prepping. I consider it unfortunate so many readers seem to focus on weapons and killing mindsets.

    Even a casual study of past public disasters affirms far more will die of disease and starvation, than from bullets. Those who intend to offer their shooter skills & mentality to a hard-pressed group–in exchange for food & shelter–may likely find their ‘skillset’ is a cheap commodity in a market featuring an over-abundance of cheap guns for hire. As opposed to the few medical, communications, and Intelligence-trained types in the scene.

  11. As the old saying goes “necessity is the mother of invention” I think that in a survival situation necessity will be the mother of cooperation. For all the technological advances we still have some very basic traits that have remained with us (the human race) for hundreds of years. When you think back, tribes were very common for the collective defense of people. I believe that in a post-TEOTWAWKI world people will be forced to work together or die. Those that won’t, and I suspect even those that can’t, will find no pity as survival of the fittest (both mentally and physically) will carry the day.

    Cooperation between those with physical strengthen and this will intellectual strength will have to work together for each to survive. I think back to my military days when I worked with people for Collective survival yet in the civilian world we would not have ever considered even speaking or looking at each other. Those social issues like race, social class, and life style (rural/suburban/urban) don’t matter – it’s work and fight together or risk dying. Leadership, true leadership, not what we have in many of our city, state and federal governments today is what will also be needed.

  12. Re: Shooters

    In his biography, Dick Winters, a retired Army Major from WW2, RIP, who was considered one of the finest leaders of that war, was featured in the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers, noted that only about 15% are “killers”. These were the soldiers who were consider the most effective in battle. This percentage was from the highly trained Airborne troops. Band of Brothers along with the movie, Saving Private Ryan are said to reenact what battle would be like, better than most of Hollywood’s portrayals.

    I’ve experienced much of what you have so far have written. It took years of sweat and disappointment , then years of prayer to get it right, and eventually find the ‘right stuff.’ There will always be deficiencies and problems to overcome, and that’s why having a team of problems solvers, with a never quit, or a ‘can do’ attitude is critical. This what Special Forces is looking for. Having combat experienced members would be a good thing too. And having equally yoked people is priceless.

    Stuff is essential, but even tons stuff ain’t enough, when there is not enough of the right attitude to make it happen, and a warrior’s mindset to protect it. I would happily give up stuff to have the ‘right stuff’ with me. Having God in ours lives is number one, but ‘security’ will be job one.

  13. @Michael, you might consider joining a church or some kind of club (gardening, Ham radio, etc) and see where it leads. Gun skills are important but you cannot eat bullets. I, too, am turned off by the types you mention and they worry me as well.

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