Self-Assess

First and foremost, you yourself must become a valuable member of the tribe. Can you build a fire? Can you cook, sew, grow food or hunt? Are you trained in self-defense? Can you navigate across land or within a city? Can you communicate via shortwave radio? Can you fix a car or build a shelter? Can you blend into your surroundings and travel covertly?

Consider your physical conditioning. Are you able to sustain physical exertion for any period of time? Do you require a supply of regular medications? If you have any special physical needs at all, are they adequately provided for?

Be honest with yourself; it’s not a time for self-deception. The point is to become individually capable and then to become an efficient member of a team.

Build And Expand

If you have a family with children or an elderly parent, then this is your immediate survival group. If both spouses have useful, overlapping capabilities then the family unit will be stronger. If the children are old enough to offer assistance, so much the better.

As the group evolves, each individual’s capabilities must be assessed and duties assigned accordingly. A child may not be able to do more than clean, put out fires or load magazines. An elderly person may not be able do more than cook, stand guard or see after the children, but both children and the elderly can maintain alertness, and this may make all the difference. A family dog’s keen senses make a fine early warning system.

Immediate survival groups should seek other groups to form up with. Such groups are best formed by physical proximity, similarities in outlook and individual capabilities. That group could be a floor of your apartment building or the entire building. An effective group could be formed by a block in a suburban neighborhood or even a subdivision. It’s better to be low-key about your preparations. Once the group is established it will not be open to outsiders.

Select Leadership

You will need an overall leader with a second in command. People with proven leadership ability and perhaps military service at the command level might be ideal, but these roles can also be filled by organized housewives. Everyone should teach his or her job to another so that the group can remain effective in case a person is lost.

Identify Skill Sets

You may have to go outside your immediate geographical area to find people with skill sets your group needs. Everyone on your team should have a knowledge of basic first-aid, but a medical professional or two would be highly desirable, as would a dentist or a veterinarian. You’ll also need people in the building trades, automotive repair, machining, electrical work, farming/gardening, welding—any skilled tradesperson can be valuable to the group. You’ll also need administrators, educators and communicators. Everyone should be able to do more than one job; the more skills in the group the better.

Perform A Field Test

Practice your evolving skills. Plan a weekend outing with your group and perform the duties assigned to each group member. These can be weekend camping trips or gatherings at a member’s house or farm. Turn off the power and water and try coping with privation. Practice small-unit tactics during a hike in the woods. Establish a perimeter and post guards during the gathering. It’s far less stressful to practice your skills before you need them.

Establish A Territory

This may be your own home for a short-term disruption, or an apartment building, city block or suburban subdivision. These could be considered “bug-in” territories. You may also choose to establish a bug-out scenario and relocate to a place in the country; this would require transportation and a transportation plan.

Patrol the area around your territory, maintaining awareness of local activities. Choose whether to display weapons overtly or keep a low profile. Strangers approaching your territory must be stopped and interrogated outside your perimeter. They should not be allowed within your territory—ever. Negotiate or barter outside of your perimeter. Strangers to the group may carry infectious diseases.

Some of the people who approach you may simply want to barter or seek aid. Others may attempt to gather intelligence on your strength of numbers and rules of engagement. You must establish a protocol that governs these encounters, and the protocol must be maintained.

Stockpile Resources

No one can predict how long a disruption may last, so it’s a good idea to plan for a disruption of up to one year’s duration. Your survival group will need ample water, food, clothing, tools, medical supplies/prescriptions, communications gear, weapons and ammunition.

Buy clothing for all seasons using layers to match the elements. Avoid loud colors, and choose earth tones and camouflage outerwear instead. Prefer wool over Gore-Tex, which is noisy. Buy sturdy footwear, plenty of socks, gloves for different duties, headgear, eye and ear protection. Make sure to accumulate extra material for use in barter.

Gauge Your Gear

Acquire basic proficiency with firearms, then consider your tactical equipment. Training with competent people will teach you what you need.

For tactical gear, it is useful to think in terms of three load levels. Your maintenance load is your survival pack, filled with all the items you’ll need to remain in place for some days. Your combat load is a daypack with ammunition, water, some clothing and some food. Your escape and evasion load consists of a padded belt and suspenders or vest that carries ammunition, a pistol, a knife, an individual first-aid kit and water.

Ideally, everyone would have the same items in the same place on their packs so that each group member can go to any pack for support in an emergency. Likewise, there should be commonality in firearms and ammunition.

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE ™ Spring 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.