Why You Should Build Community Before SHTF, by J.W.

Establishing a network of local contacts is imperative for long-term survival during and after SHTF. As survivalists and preppers, we take excruciating measures to prepare the tiniest details for what events might come. We read up on which ammo will pierce an engine block the best. We invest time choosing food-grade plastic in which to store kitchen staples, and we upgrade to the fanciest water-purification systems and run practice drills for if an intruder were to crash through our front door. Then, we debate those things on the Internet, because we as humans love to get lost in the details. Not only are those fun, but they’re concrete concepts that are easy to wrap our heads around.

However, I can’t help but notice that we invest our time, energy, and money on details like those instead of tackling some of the bigger, more uncomfortable problems. It’s as if we’re beginner golfers wasting time arguing the benefits of graphite shafts over steel, when what they should be doing is hitting golf balls.

All those little preps are great, but they’re all on the tactical level and deal with specific situations. There’s one major strategic piece of survival during a disaster that often isn’t discussed, and some survival sites even specifically say to not do it. Maybe it’s because telling you this doesn’t sell survival gear.

Here’s what you need to do, not just today but regularly and habitually, to prepare for a disaster:

Make getting to know your neighbors a survival goal.

That’s right. Make connections with people around you now, because your survival depends upon it.

Whoa now! That’s an unpopular opinion, to say the very least. Forming bonds with those who live in close proximity goes against the standard survivalist line that hungry people will be reduced to animal-like bandits after supermarkets run dry, looting each other’s homes to get their hands on whatever food or supplies they can, Walking Dead-style, and consequently you’ll have to protect your stash at all costs.

To illustrate, a buddy of mine told me he pictured himself sitting on his roof with his AR taking potshots at starving welfare bums who were trying to abscond with his stash of MREs. “I wonder how they’ll react when they see the body of the last bastard who tried,” he joked.

The mentality that you should take steps to guard your supplies against roaming bands of opportunistic thugs is a popular one. Yes, you should have preparations to do that. However, planning to defend your home fortress as a lone wolf, during and after SHTF, might be a winning strategy in the short term, but in the long term it’s not sustainable. You need the help of others, and not just fellow family members, but others who live near where you do. You need allies, and you need to be allied with others as well.

The self-sufficient, lone wolf with the “I-will-bug-out-and-play-Rambo-in-my-wilderness-retreat” survival paradigm may work well for one or two guys who head into the woods and try to live off the land, and it’s debatable just how self-sufficient they’d actually be for more than a few days. For anybody who says they’re going to wander out into the woods and start living “My Side of the Mountain”-style, good luck with that. A guy who did it and succeeded had to steal to survive, and it was nearly unsustainable. Even Thoreau regularly went to his mom’s house while he was living in the woods near Walden Pond. As a result, a more realistic survival plan is to craft relationships with a bunch of folks who live close enough to you that, if you lost long distance communications, you’d still have a social circle that you could use to get what you need to survive.

The point that I’m trying to make isn’t to let your neighbors and those who live around you in on how prepared you are, nor should you trust them all the time. What I’m trying to say is that there’s a lot of prep value in positive relationships with those who live near you. In the same way that you store supplies in your home for a rainy day, there’s a lot to be gained by, say, doing a favor for somebody who lives nearby and putting that debt in the bank, so to speak, so you can withdraw it when it’s needed.

But what if you bug out? What if they do?

Are you going to stay bugged out for forever and live like the Swiss Family Robinson? In all likelihood, you’re going to return to your permanent home after the worst has passed, whether it’s a storm, civil unrest, earthquake, or other disaster. In a long-term event, like an economic collapse, your community will look less like Hurricane Katrina and more like the Great Depression. Less like World War Z and more like The Grapes of Wrath.

Plus, since your neighbors are a lot like you, they’ll likely bug out themselves and then return to life as usual after the worst is over, at which point they’ll start recovering, which requires access to resources, which requires connections.

Here’s a central question to ask yourself as you’re prepping:

How will you fit into your community once SHTF is over?

Will you be known as the crazy guy who stocked up on guns and ammo, razor-wire-fenced his compound, blacked out his windows, and has the dead bodies of would-be-looters piled in his yard? Or will you have a circle of friends who respect and protect you because you’ve built connections through talking, trading, and helping one another, and for which you’d do the same? Or best of all, will you be the hub of your neighborhood’s social wheel, through which others must go in order to get to other connections that could benefit them?

Now, you might be thinking “Sure, I’m okay with being the crazy guy… at least I’ll be ALIVE.” What you’re missing, though, is that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s entirely possible to have in place plenty of preps– food, clothing, shelter, fuel, water, security, the whole shebang– and still maintain civil relationships with those around you.

But what about when those few passing bandits take the opportunity to break and enter?

It’s certainly in the realm of possibility, although with the weight of your allies to back you up, you’ll be much better equipped to handle such a situation than you would be if you were an outsider to the community. This is the value of a neighborhood watch. When you try to take everything into your own hands and exclude your neighbors, you lose out not only on each other’s eyes and ears, but also each other’s connections.

Get this; your neighbors are a lot like you.

For the most part, our neighbors are normal, hardworking, smart folks, just like ourselves, who want the same things we do. Sure, there are plenty of bad apples, especially if you live in a place where crime tends to be higher and the folks tend to be rougher, such as trailer parks and the local ghetto. However, don’t let those few spoil the bunch. If you live on the same street or in the same neighborhood, chances are good that the folks who live nearby earn about the same amount of money, have similar cultural backgrounds, watch the same news channels, have the same level of education, and so on.

I hear trumpets of disagreement already starting to blare, but hear me out: You’re likely thinking of the one person who lives nearby who’s different from what goes as “ordinary” in your community; you think of somone with different skin color, the rich or poor guy, the old people, the new family with two little kids, and so forth, because outliers are easy to spot. We, as humans, tend to spot differences much more easily than we spot similarities. But you’re neglecting to realize that most everybody else who lives around you is probably a lot like you. This is especially true in rural areas and small communities.

This makes the people who live around you very valuable in SHTF situations. I’m not only talking about using them as tools to get the stuff that you want, such as bartering your stash of whiskey and cigarettes for their now-empty-tanked car. I’m also not just talking about trading intel, such as where the National Guard is going to be setting up aid stations. Of course, on a strategic level, it’ll be useful to have folks in your circle of friends who have specialized skills. Medicine comes to mind. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a doctor; they could be anybody who could provide basic medical care.

Instead, by having healthy relationships with the people who live close to you– your next door neighbors, two, three, four doors down, the next street over, or who live on the farm a mile down the road from you, as is my case– you preserve and strengthen your standing within your neighborhood community, and you get a lot of trust from those who live nearby. You even might start to get protection. You’ll be seen as a leader, which is especially appropriate considering your sizable survival skill base and cache of stuff to barter.

Having those reliable ties with those around you also strengthens your barter network. Assuming that everybody else will start bartering also, having more connections multiplies the amount of weight you have in the local market economy.

A barter economy is built on social connections.

The mathematical reason this works is because of the number of connections made in just a few degrees of separation. If you have ten solid connections with ten other folks who live around you, and each of them has ten, and each of them has ten, then you have a thousand connections right there you could easily milk for whatever supplies and information you want. If you have twenty connections yourself, then by three degrees of separation you now have a full 2,000 contacts, which is huge.

Back in pre-industrial days, everybody operated this way. If you needed something, you contacted the best person you knew to get it, and if they couldn’t get it, they’d contact the best person and so on. The power was in having the contacts.

Also, there’s gain to be had from being the guy who knows two skilled people who need each other’s skills but don’t know each other. If your small engine mechanic neighbor needs a nurse, and you know where to find one and he doesn’t, that gives you some degree of power. It’s not power so that you can misuse it but that he would be willing to reward you for it, even if it’s only with more trust and goodwill. A lady I know has a bunch of dogs and needs a kennel, and she doesn’t know anybody who has one, but I do. She’d probably bake me a pie or something if I told her. A guy might be into home brewing, but he needs access to clean water; you know a guy with a fancy water purification system. And so on.

A guy who’s popular, well-liked, and demonstrates value has a whole lot better chance of survival than somebody who’s not included in any social circle.

It’ll pay to be seen as somebody with value. Therefore, you should continuously try to build relationships with the people who live close to you. In fact, you might already have a leg up. If you live in a place where nobody really knows each other (i.e., any suburban city or larger), you have a blank canvas that you can make your own, and if the crazy cat lady two doors down doesn’t know the veterinarian four doors down but you do, then you have some power, because putting them in touch would make them both more willing to help you out.

Here’s your “to-do” list:

  • When you see somebody who lives close to you outside, go introduce yourself to them and chitchat. The simple fact that you took the first step to meet them will make you look like a leader.
  • Say “hello” to the folks you see on the sidewalk. Be approachable.
  • Try to get others to trust and respect you. Be a good neighbor. Keep your property clean, and don’t be a nuisance. Mowing grass before dawn, letting your dog poop in others’ yards, and hanging “No Trespassing” signs around your yard won’t score you any points, just to scrape the surface.
  • Be generous; for example, a new family who moved near me once brought all their neighbors a fresh loaf of homemade bread, and it paid huge dividends to them down the road in terms of trust. That’s something that simply opens the door to a positive neighbor relationship from day one. Plus, I know they have basic cooking skills, and I have lots of flour. Also, offering a beer is seldom turned down.
  • When you talk to the folks who live near you, practice the basic How to Win Friends and Influence People-style advice– talk about them, find out what they’re passionate about, and hint that you might have a way to get them what they want.
  • If you think it’s appropriate, invite one of your neighbors over for a barbecue or dinner or something. The point is that you’re showing an interest in them, and so down the road you could call on them. When SHTF happens, you’ll have an ally.
  • Make a point to get to know the people around you– what their talents are, what they have at home, if they’re threats, and how you could deal with them, and what they have to offer you.

These are good pieces of advice for anybody, anyway.

All the while, keep practicing your finely-honed prepper observational skills. Here are some things to think about:

  • Are these people or their family members a possible threat?
  • What do they want that you have, or know how to get your hands on?
  • Is their home well-defended?
  • Do they have skills that would be useful to you, or to somebody else you know?
  • Do they have items worth bartering or even fighting for?
  • What are their needs, and how could you help them reach them?
  • Are they sheeple, destined to be only casualties?

Remember when interacting to be reasonable. Don’t spout off about how you’re a prepper and you have home surveillance and 10,000 cans of beanie weenies to support you in the economic collapse that is sure to happen any second now. Don’t be dumb.

As you get to know more of the folks who live nearby, it’s useful to keep basic information on them in a notebook. Don’t be creepy, but something as simple as “John who lives at 312 Oak Street, has a wife, one teenage boy, two dogs, plays tennis, and works at Walmart.” Do it discreetly when you get home, of course.

What they won’t know is that “Unassuming, Neighborly Ol’ You” is actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing, prepared for the hairiest of situations. In a SHTF scenario skills become tremendously more valuable. You, as a survivalist, own exactly the kinds of skills that other folks will be looking for. You know how to live with less, how to cook from scratch, how to grow a garden with next to nothing, woodsmanship, how to identify edible plants, how to hunt and make your own weapons, blacksmithing, and what have you. Trade those skills, or teach them, for a sizable fee after SHTF. While you certainly shouldn’t bet the farm by being dependent on your ability to barter after SHTF, your chances of survival move way up the sliding scale because of extra flexibility you’ve built in.

So there you go.

We need to be much, much more proactive. Make friends with your neighbors. Don’t advertise how well off you are; your survival might depend on it. Plus, doing this makes your community better, anyway. In fact, that is community.

Your best chance at making it in a widespread SHTF disaster might lie in the social groundwork you’re laying today. In a long-term SHTF event, such as an economic collapse, it won’t matter as much how many cool survival gadgets you own, what kind of tactical vest you wear, or how many rounds of ammunition you’ve stockpiled. What will matter more is the size of the network of social connections you have.

Also, remember not to get lost in the details.