This article was written by: Jonathan Hollerman, a preparedness consultant with Grid Down Consulting. He has written two Amazon top 10 best sellers. Jonathan has a third book on it's way this year so get caught up! His Amazon page

So you’ve decided to make plans to leave town and bug out in the event of a SHTF scenario or a societal collapse and either buy/build a retreat or move in with a rural relative.  You have a plan of action and the financial resources to accomplish your plan, yet you are only one person or single family unit.  The list of items to be accomplished in order to provide a safe haven for yourself or your family is endless.  Even if you hired apreparedness consultant to organize and guide you through the process, you would quickly find yourself overwhelmed.  You cannot reasonably become an expert on “all things prepping” without years of research, education, and most importantly, experience. 

     The reason I emphasize experience is because there is a huge learning curve in gaining the skills to survive on your own.  You can own and read all the best books on homesteading, gardening, OPSEC (Operational Security), food preservation, medical, energy production, etc., but until you have implemented those skills and worked through the nuts and bolts, you cannot rely on that knowledge to sustain you or your family.  You cannot wait until the SHTF and then expect “book knowledge” to guide you through.  That knowledge must be cultivated over time through hands-on experience.  Preparedness is a long-term, constantly evolving process that happens over months and years.  The longer you prepare, the more prepared you will become.

     The more areas of prepping that you need to become proficient in, the longer it will take you to prepare.  Once you gain some experience in these subjects, you will quickly find that it would be nearly impossible to do them all as a single person or family unit.  For instance, you will have to spend countless hours per day gardening, splitting firewood, gathering water, hunting, preserving food, and many other daily tasks all while keeping a 24-hour watch over your livelihood.  You are only one person.  When do you plan on sleeping? 

     In most cases it will be more efficient to team up with others who already have experience in those skills that you lack.  At the same time, while there is strength in numbers, there are also huge logistical and OPSEC concerns with larger groups.  Having fifty like-minded people living and working together after the SHTF would give you a huge security advantage against roaming bands of looters, but it will also make it very difficult to feed that many mouths in one location.  Fifty people will eat an astonishing amount of food on a daily basis.  That is an extraordinary amount of food that must be grown, harvested, stored, protected and prepared each day.  Short of having a multi-million dollar retreat and the proper infrastructure in place, a group that large would be very difficult to sustain.  In my opinion, the sweet spot for a survival retreat group that doesn’t have an extremely wealthy benefactor is between 10 and 16 adult members.  With this size group, you can buy/build an average size home or cabin and have enough personnel to rotate through security and physical labor duties without overwhelming the members of your group.

    So how can you grow to a full retreat when it’s just you and your family right now?  Very carefully!  When looking to form a retreat group or MAG (Mutual Assistance Group), your first priority should ALWAYS be OPSEC.  Who can you trust these days?  The more people you discuss or share your plans with, the more people are likely to show up at your retreat once they are hungry and desperate.  My first recommendation would be to reach out to blood relatives.  Having a majority of your group made up of family members will likely prevent disagreements in a SHTF situation from growing into full-fledged feuds and fracturing the group.  (However, there are exceptions, such as a very dysfunctional or estranged family.) 

     I realize that reaching out to siblings and other family members can be quite intimidating when they don’t see the world the same way you do.  If your extended family members aren’t concerned about the direction of our country or don’t believe that hard times are coming, then it’s because of ignorance.  I am not using that word in a derogatory way; I just mean they are uneducated on the subject.  It’s not like you woke up one day, your head flew off the pillow and you said, “Holy Cow!  I’ve got to buy a year’s worth of freeze dried food for my family!”  That would make you slightly crazy.  You arrived at that point from information you have heard or read through books, internet blogs, and news stories on the subject over the course of months or years.  If your other relatives aren’t preparing, it’s because they haven’t had the same information that you’ve had and you can’t expect to have a realistic conversation on preparedness without educating them first. 

     Trying to educate your family on the threat of hard times doesn’t mean you buy them a copy of James Wesley Rawles’ How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It, and expect them to jump on board.  Even though there is some good prepping information in it, they will likely never crack the cover of a manual like that.  You have to start slowly by forwarding them articles on the threat you are preparing for.  On my website, GridDownConsulting.com, I have links to literally dozens of convincing articles from reputable news sources on the threat of losing the electric grid.  Once they show a little more interest but are still skeptical, you can share the dozens of links to official government and intelligence reports I have there as well.  If they like to read novels, I would highly recommend William Forstchen’s One Second After, an entertaining read from a very accomplished author which paints a bleak picture of how a grid down scenario would affect everyday life.  If they enjoy watching movies, buy a copy of Electric Armageddon produced by National Geographic and let them borrow it.  That movie depicts how fast society would collapse after the loss of the electric grid due to a cyber attack.  While I disagree with how the end insinuates that normal life will quickly resume after society has completely fallen apart, it does present some very good visuals of how fast normal social order would collapse without electricity. 

     Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that your group would be made up strictly of extended family members.  Since living with another person or family relies heavily on mutual trust and friendship, the next obvious people to approach would be existing friends.  But not any friend will do.  Unlike the responsibility you have to help family members during a crisis, your friends should have some sort of survival-related skill they can bring to the table.  Don’t approach your accountant friend who hates the outdoors just because he’s your friend and it’s easier than approaching a stranger.  When seeking people outside your family to join your group, it’s important that you are looking to fill specific roles for your group.  You should approach friends who are doctors, mechanics, farmers, hunters, and those with tactical experience and other skills that would be needed in a SHTF scenario.

     Even after you have arranged a group with a few family members and friends with specific skills, you will likely still have need for a member or two to fill a specific missing role.  Having a rural retreat or MAG that doesn’t have members with gardening, medical, or tactical experience would be a huge mistake!  If you can’t gain those skills from people inside your immediate sphere of friends and family, you will need to reach out to people you don’t know.  Randomly approaching your family doctor or the person who works on your car would not be very effective (and likely very awkward) unless you have reason to believe they have similar views as yourself.  A better strategy would be to join online preparedness forums and prepping groups that meet to hone their skills.  One website to check is Meetup.com for groups in your area. 

     One benefit to reaching out online rather than approaching people you already know is your ability to maintain anonymity.  You can easily create a separate email account for such activity while operating under a fake name.  Your objective here is to eventually meet and interview someone to join your group, not to brag about or discuss your current preparations!  You wouldn’t discuss your life insurance policy or the status of your bank account with a complete stranger; keep your preparations just as private.  Beware!  There are dishonorable individuals who are too lazy to prepare themselves and troll those websites to gain intel on locations to loot after the SHTF.  The only information you need to disclose is that you have a retreat group or MAG that is looking for someone to fill _____ role. 

     Just like any job search engine, you will likely get people who respond, desperate to join a group, who will lie or exaggerate their qualifications for the position.  Be sure they know up front that you will require proof of their experience if you meet them in person.  When you do find a couple people who may fit the role, be sure that you use a false name and only meet them in a public place—NEVER at your home or your retreat!  They will likely have lots of questions about your group, but it is important that you resist the urge to share any specific information and politely let them know that you will be happy to share more information only after they have been chosen.  If they are serious about their preparations, they will understand your need to keep things private.  Some people may not like that, and if that’s the case, let them leave.  Just because they have a skill you really need, don’t relent and share private information with them until you are absolutely 100% sure they are a good fit for your group. 

     The one exception to this rule is in the area of security.  Without giving specifics, I wouldn’t hesitate to really talk up the group’s tactical training and your airtight retreat security.  In case the individual finds out who you really are or where your retreat is, you’ll want them to have some healthy fear of your group and really think twice about trying to approach your retreat after the SHTF.  I wouldn’t outright lie about your security, though.  If you eventually end up choosing them to join your group and they realize you lied to them, it could ruin your trustworthiness.

     Don’t just improvise these interviews either.  Think long and hard about specific questions you want to ask and write them down, like an employer would.  Ask them what they are preparing for and be sure it lines up with your group’s approach to a SHTF.  If they fear an alien invasion and start talking about the mothership, you need to move on!  Ask about their work experience, family life, criminal history, current preparation level, religious beliefs, etc.  Ask them to give you an example of a stressful situation they have been in and how they overcame it.  Be sure to take notes during these interviews so you can compare them with different applicants.  Once you make a decision, you MUST perform a background check on the individual.  Do not skip this step!  If you find any negative information or find that they have lied about their past, you must move on to the next applicant.  If they lie to you in their first meeting, they’ll likely lie to you in the future and you need to be sure you can trust the people you are bringing into your group and around your family.

     Don’t be in a hurry and just accept anyone.  Follow your gut instincts.  Unlike a job position where you can simply fire someone if they don’t work out, this relationship will be closer to a marriage.  If things don’t work out over time, the situation could get messy, especially if they have invested time and money helping you build your retreat and formed emotional ties and relationships with the other retreat members.  Potentially, you could end up spending decades living with this person or family and it’s important they are a good match for your group.  That not only goes for the men, who typically get along easily, it also goes for the many spouses involved.  Remember, it’s much easier to invite someone into your group than it is to get rid of them. 

     Once you have found someone you like, the next step would be to gather with other retreat members so everyone can become acquainted.   I still wouldn’t have them over to your house or retreat yet.  Consider organizing a picnic or barbeque at a park or something similar where everyone can interact.  Once you have the other retreat members’ blessings, I would recommend pulling them into the group a little at a time and slowly dispersing your retreat information as they get more involved.  After they start attending meetings and retreat work weekends, I recommend having them invest more sweat equity at first rather than financial resources.  That way, if a couple months down the road you are forced to remove them from the group for any reason, you won’t have a huge payback to get them to go quietly.

     When accepting outsiders into your group, it is imperative that they understand and agree to several things.  The first is that they will be required to attend your group’s meetings and monthly work/training weekends at the retreat.  Secondly, I would insist that they store their 1-year food supply at the retreat location to demonstrate that they are serious.  A lot of people talk a big game where prepping is concerned but hesitate to put their money where their mouth is.  If they haven’t invested in a year’s worth of food yet, I would put a timeline on it.  Never bring in someone who promises to buy their long term food “in the future” or insists they want to store it at home, because they may end up showing up after the SHTF with their hat in hand expecting you to feed them.  I am not insinuating that you don’t return their food if the relationship doesn’t work out, I’m just saying that having their food stored at your retreat shows they are committed to showing up when things go south.

     The third requirement should be for them to be willing to cross train into other areas as well.  As a retreat group, it’s important that everyone has at least a little experience in each area of survival.  Every adult member must be willing to learn about the safe operation and handling of firearms, learn to garden, learn to can, learn to take care of animals, learn emergency medical, learn how to walk a patrol, etc.…  The person you interviewed may be a doctor first, but he must be willing and eager to learn other aspects of survival as well.  Just because he’s a surgeon doesn’t mean he isn’t going to need to pitch in and get his hands dirty in the garden or take a watch at a lookout post after the SHTF.

     It’s also vitally important that your potential group member’s morals and values line up with your existing group’s.  That’s not to say that Christians and someone from the Jewish faith can’t live and work together in harmony.  However, a person’s views on life and morality do matter.  I would find out their thoughts on taking lives in a SHTF scenario, looting, and other hot button topics related to survival.  What holds them to their morals and values?  Their responses can give you a pretty good snapshot about the type of person they are.  The problem is that most people tend to lose values in desperate situations, and the less morals they start out with the faster they lose them.  If you don’t believe me, read The Lucifer Effect by Stanford Professor Philip Zimbardo.  While I don’t completely agree with him theologically, his book is definitely eye-opening.  He is one of the professors who performed the Stanford Prison Experiment in the early 1970s.   If you don’t know about this, be sure to Google it.  His life’s research revolved around how good people can do bad things.  He has studied things from how the German populace so easily went along with genocide, to how regular soldiers do terrible things in wartime, to how normal everyday people can sometimes do horrific deeds when they are in a stressful environment with little oversight.  A person’s personality type and religious beliefs matter! 

     Hands down, the most important thing you need to stress to a potential group member is the need to keep your group’s plans completely private!  This is absolutely non-negotiable.  In your first meeting warn them that if they are caught discussing your groups plans outside the group, it is just cause for immediate removal.  I realize that every situation is different and should it ever come to pass, your group can make a judgement call at that time whether to remove them or give them a warning based on the severity of the information leaked.  However, as far as they need to know, any discussion of the group to outsiders will result in their immediate removal.

     In addition, make it clear that they CAN NOT under any circumstances bring anyone else to the retreat when they arrive after the SHTF.  This is a controversial topic and one that very rarely gets brought up when discussing retreat groups and MAG’s.  However, in my opinion, this is the most important item to discuss when planning a retreat.  Between their first meeting with you and their second, you need to insist that they have a discussion with their spouse about the other members of their extended family.  Are they seriously prepared to leave their siblings, parents, and grandparents behind to fend for themselves?  This is a controversial subject, but if every member of your group showed up with just a single loved one that they couldn’t leave behind, your food storage will never get you through the first winter.  Even if the majority of your group is related, when the food runs out and people start to starve, your group will fall apart and turn on itself.  It is human nature… it is the Lucifer Effect!  Honestly, I suspect this will be the downfall of many prepper retreats when the SHTF!  The number one threat to a retreat is running out of long-term food storage too soon!

     Every member of your group must understand that if he/she shows up with outsiders after the SHTF, you will politely turn over their food storage and ask them all to leave.  Whether or not you actually do this when the time comes is another story, but they must not doubt your resolve to turn them away if needed.  The ONE exception to this rule is if the individual had stored extra food for the person(s) he planned to bring with him (without hiding his intentions from the group).  For example, retreat member “Joe” has discussed the threat of a collapse with his parents numerous times and they just refuse to see the light.  He can’t stomach the thought of leaving them behind so he buys a year’s worth of extra food for both his mom and dad and plans to just show up at their house on day 1 post-SHTF and drag them along to the retreat.  At the planning point, it would need to be discussed and voted on within the group.  I am not against it as long as it doesn’t get too far out of control.  If every member does the same thing, you need to be sure you have the proper facilities to house everyone and enough garden space and livestock to support the extra members.  The member must also make sure the individuals they are bringing are kept in the dark until the day comes to grab them on their way out of town.  Without the ability of the group to vet the newcomers, it is too risky for them to know anything about the retreat.  If this is unacceptable to the person trying to join your group, you need to advise them to start their own group for their own family.

     Even with the best laid plans, you can never know how things are going to end up after a societal collapse.  Each person is different and they all have their own way with dealing with stressful situations.  You may end up with members who close up emotionally and just sit in a corner in despair.  You may have members who become agitated, angry, or even violent.  Some of the people planning to come to the retreat may not leave in time and never show up.  You never know how people are going to react.  If you don’t have an agreed upon leadership structure for your group in place before the SHTF, you are asking for bedlam.  It’s best to make these decisions about who to let into your group and how it will be structured before the SHTF and while everyone still has their sanity.

This article was written by: Jonathan Hollerman, a preparedness consultant with Grid Down Consulting. He has written two Amazon top 10 best sellers. Jonathan has a third book on it's way this year so get caught up! His Amazon page

 From his website:

Within a single month EMP rose to Amazon’s Top Ten Bestseller’s List in both its genres where it stayed for almost four months.  Nearly 50,000 copies have been sold to date and the book has received over 400 positive reviews maintaining a 4½ out of 5 Star rating on Amazon.

     I decided to pen EMP: Equipping Modern Patriots a few years ago when a lot of the prepping manuals and post-apocalyptic books I was reading were offering terrible advice from “experts” who had no professional survival experience or even a basic understanding of the sociological impacts of food deprivation and extreme environments. 

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