There are two words I really hate using: collapse and civil war.
One of the most important things we can do as intelligence collectors and analysts is to be deliberate and precise with our words. As an intelligence analyst trying to provide my commander with accurate intelligence, nothing made that task more difficult than reading vague or poorly written intelligence information reports. An intelligence collector may be highly skilled — he may know how to ask the right questions, prompt valuable responses, and ingratiate himself with sources who have the informational goods — but if he can’t clearly, concisely, and accurately report that information, then he’s of much lesser value to the team. I rarely had the luxury of being able to get in contact with a reporting officer and ask, “What in the world did you mean by this? What did the source actually say, verbatim?”
And that’s why I hate using the words “civil war” and “collapse”, because they’re not specific. Whenever I read the words “societal collapse” or “economic collapse”, I wonder: collapse to what level? 100% collapse? 50% collapse? (Even a 25% collapse in employment and living standards is going to cause significant problems.) One could argue that we’re witnessing a societal collapse right now — a collapse of established, normative sociopolitical behavior and attitudes. It might be more accurate and specific to say that we’ve entered into a period of societal decline, but it only goes to show just how vague the word “collapse” actually is. The collapse of the Roman Empire lasted for centuries, and we only know that because we can read the history. I wonder if those living in any given 50 year period of that collapse understood that collapse was occurring. The same can be said of civil war. Will states be fighting each other in the Second Civil War? Is the North invading the South again? Will we be battling for control over Washington D.C.? What, exactly, is meant by the term civil war?
Now, you may be thinking, Well, that’s just a semantic game. Everyone knows what a civil war is. This may work for a cursory understanding of where we’re headed, but in intelligence we deal with specifics. The commander needs to know the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the situation. You don’t prepare for a civil war, you don’t prepare for an electromagnetic pulse, you don’t prepare for economic collapse. You prepare for the effects of these events. And if we’re not deliberate with our understanding of these threats and their second- and third-order effects, then we’re not truly prepared.
With that in mind, let’s identify a solution to the vagaries of “collapse” by putting it on a spectrum. I’d start off by asking myself, on a scale of 1 to 100, what would be the earliest indication of decline or collapse I’d see in my community? Probably people being laid off. If that becomes a trend, then we see a spike in unemployment. That’s certainly an indicator of decline, however short-lived, endemic, or permanent it becomes.
Worse than that, other indicators might be electrical brownouts, internet blackouts, fuel shortages, dollar decline, or some other case of systems disruption. If short-lived, maybe it’s just a sign that things aren’t “normal”, however, in prolonged cases these will have very significant effects.
Beyond that, we might have outbreaks of violence. The sporadic riots and protests to which we’ve become accustomed to seeing is an indicator of decline or instability. Sustained rioting or political violence is a potential indicator of collapse. Also along those lines are the instability, unrest, criminality, and/or violence that begins occurring in our communities as a result of unemployment, systems disruption, or political strife. That’s a little more collapsey than just an increase in unemployment.
Beyond that, we have the failure of government at local/city, state, and/or federal levels; and/or permanent or near-permanent disruption of public services and utilities. Now this is actually collapse. And I’m not talking about a weekend government shutdown. I’m talking about senators and representatives getting out of town and going back home. This is an end to welfare deposits, and national debt repayment, and social security checks. Worst case scenario, this is true, actual collapse. Given some context, most anything prior to this is decidedly not.
Here’s a little chart I drew up to help us understand.
There are undoubtedly other benchmarks we can apply to collapse, from 0% to 100%, and maybe that’s a good exercise for your preparedness group. How will we know when we’re at 10% on a scale of 100% total collapse? What does 25% or 50% collapse actually look like in our community? What types of events or activities will that entail? (As always, remember our maxim: The more extreme the prediction, the less likely it is to come true. We can look at this chart, left to right, as more likely to less likely.)
Once you answer these questions, then you’re performing the work of intelligence. Thinking through, applying some metrics, and answering these questions is the difference between moving from a ball park answer to a home plate answer. This is the incredible utility and value of intelligence, so I hope you’ll take some time to get a step ahead of your peers by getting serious about it.
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