SHTF Intelligence: Getting Started (Part Four)


This is the fourth and last 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. For a better foundation, be sure to read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.  And check out the Ultimate ACE Startup Guide, too.


Brief recap: In the first article, we established that prepared communities need intelligence because they’re going to have blind spots during an emergency or disaster. I recommended writing out a list called Intelligence Requirements. Before we build a house, we need to be organized with the right tools and materials. The same is true of intelligence, and our requirements prepare for us the path ahead.  In the second article, I talked about shopping at the hardware store for our materials list.  Once we have our requirements, we need to start satisfying them through intelligence gathering.  I wanted to stress that we have to automate collection as much as possible now, and I offered some strategies on how to accomplish that.  Collect information now while it’s cheap, easy, and readily available.  Tomorrow it comes at a premium.  The third article is about what we need to do immediately following an SHTF scenario.  Consider it the “man your battle stations” article.

Our goals during an SHTF scenario should be producing early warning and threat intelligence.  Phase Four of the Intelligence Cycle is production, which is the form our intelligence takes.  For instance, we identify some gang members in the area, or we identify the location of a police roadblock, or maybe we’re tipped off about a threat in the area.  We’ve received the information, it’s been vetted, and we assess that the information is accurate.  Before we alert members of the group, we need to figure out how we’re going to spread the message.  This is not a particularly difficult step, because we’re so limited in our options during an SHTF scenario.

I would recommend using what’s called a BOLO, or Be On the Look Out.  This is simple and straightforward, and it quickly allows us to push out threat intelligence.  What should people do with a BOLO alert?  Be on the look out.  Everyone can understand that, so there needs to be a phone number or radio call sign and frequency, or some other information about means of contact to report a sighting.  For dissemination, the BOLO can be delivered over an hourly or daily local radio address, it can be printed out on a sheet of paper (image below), and/or briefed at a daily community meeting.

Standard law enforcement BOLO

Standard law enforcement BOLO


Now comes the most important part — how do we spread awareness and get community involvement?  In a worst-case SHTF scenario, I envision something like this for my community…

I go door to door around my neighborhood and check on my neighbors, all of whom I already know.  I explain that I’ve set up a listening post and am monitoring the emergency situation.  I ask for help in keeping their eyes peeled.  If they are very responsive, then I get them signed up for a proactive community watch (think A Failure of Civility), where they will help me monitor who’s coming in and out of the neighborhood, as well as what’s going on just outside that line of sight.  For everyone else, I will explain that we’ll be working 24/7 to alert the neighborhood about what’s going on.  Doing this, or having someone go around door to door for me, will allow us to gauge the neighborhood’s attitudes and opinions about what’s going on (not to mention, identifying who’s home and who’s not).  We call this ‘atmospherics’ and, as an intelligence analyst, it’s vital for me to understand the mood of the community.

Now here comes the difficult part.  In a grid-down or any other SHTF situation, how do I do push out intelligence to the community?  Grid-down: by courier and word of mouth, most likely.  Here are a number of ways that we can disseminate the early warning and/or threat intelligence to community members of like-mind who agree to help provide security for the area.  What follows are merely some suggestions…

  1. Town hall meetings – As long as we have incoming information, one of my first steps for my neighborhood is to establish a daily town hall where community members are briefed on the day’s new information.  At least for my area, being proactive and building a sense of cooperation is part of my plan to ensure that we all stay as calm as possible.  The other part of this town hall includes eliciting feedback about those who will be in need.  It’s a great way for me to update my neighbors on what’s going on, and in turn continue to gather information about developing situations in the community.  Additionally, this provides me a great deal of legitimacy that I can use to ensure that we make good security decisions.  The last thing I want is for the neighborhood to descend into a Mad-Max-esque sequel where poor decisions can exploit a sense of panic or unrest.  That begins with building cooperation on a neighbor-to-neighbor basis.
  2. Radio nets – We should already be linking up with ham radio operators in the area (and becoming ham radio operators ourselves — I recommend the Gordon West books on Technician Class and General Class ham licenses).  This is not only going to be key in expanding my access to information, but this is also going to allow me to disseminate intelligence to my own area.  Outside of high frequency ham radio, we have some other options, especially concerning low-power transmissions that would just cover the bubble of our immediate area.  Transmitting on a predetermined VHF/UHF frequency would allow the neighborhood access to our scheduled updates.  Another option is FM radio.  By the letter of the law, I believe one must obtain a license to transmit on low-power AM/FM.  Transmitting on a local FM frequency would be a great way to provide scheduled updates to the area, too.  The time is now to link up with local radio operators who are like-minded, and begin identifying solutions for your area.  Get your local radio expert to weigh in on what’s best for your area.
  3. Micro-newspapers – The Appalachian Messenger is a great example of a micro-newspaper.  It was started to compete with their local liberal paper, and is enjoying great circulation for their area.  This may not be a great solution for the average community, but as long as we have the means, then we can churn out a one-pager each week containing the weekly roll-up of information — an intelligence summary, if you will.
  4. Phone calls – Yeah, I know — it puts you “on the grid”, but there’s no more efficient way of getting into contact with folks as long as cell towers are working.  My first preference is to meet with community members face to face; however, I’d also like to attempt to call neighbors who aren’t home and find out where they are.  As one caveat: remember to never transmit sensitive information electronically, including via email or phone.


As we round out this SHTF Intelligence: Getting Started series, I just want to encourage everyone again to consider information as a part of preparedness.  We don’t need to be James Bond or begin complex espionage operations; but we do need access to timely, relevant, accurate, specific, actionable, and predictive information.  Having all the food, water, guns, and medical supplies in the world does you little good if you suffer what we call ‘strategic shock’, or being exploited by a threat that you didn’t know existed.  Please learn about active and potential threats in your area.  Intelligence reduces uncertainty, and I want to give my family and community every operational advantage over area threats.  That includes domain awareness — the informational advantage over those threats.  If we can remain better informed than they are, then we have a significant advantage.

If you enjoyed this series, then be sure to check out my book, SHTF Intelligence: An Intelligence Analyst’s Guide to Community Security.  At around 200 pages, it’s a thorough read, but contains everything you need to know, step by step, in order to set up an area intelligence section.  Every community needs a way to gather and analyze information, and this book is a great way to build that capability.  Just follow the instructions.  Intelligence may not be something that you’re particularly interested in, however, I’d recommend having the book on your shelf for when you find that special someone who wants to pick up the mantle for your group or community.


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