The Myth of “Prepare for Everything”

Every so often, I come across an opinion that goes: “Hey, if I just prepare for [insert EMP or other worst case disaster scenario here], then I’m prepared for anything.” The latest version is, “If I just prepare for a total stoppage of fuel and commerce, then I’ll be prepared for anything.” Let’s deconstruct this myth by examining its two critical flaws.

The first major problem with this logic is that it ignores constraints on time and resources. During an emergency, we will all quickly find that we’re in constant need of more manpower, more time, and more resources. The longer the emergency lasts, the more exponential these needs become.

We have to sleep. Your four-person team gets cut in half (or gets cut by a quarter) if you want 24-hour coverage. We get injured. An ankle sprain, back injury, or illness cuts your four-person team to three, and then you still need 24-hour coverage. We can run out of food and clean water (it can be destroyed, stolen, eaten by rats or bugs, contaminated, etc.), our gear can/will break, you could be forced to bug out and leave things behind, and any number of Murphy’s Laws can happen. The most extreme events are the rarest, but these things have a potential of occurring during an emergency. All this means that our plans can go awry. Building redundancy is generally expensive, and unforeseen conditions can catch us ill-prepared. What are the chances that, by preparing for one catch-all event, you fail to prepare for an unexpected condition? By putting all your eggs in one basket, you’re really limiting yourself to the expectations of just a single event.

For instance, our requirements for dealing with floods, like Hurricane Harvey and Houston last year, are going to be different from fuel shortages, or earthquakes, or riots. Yes, you may need some of the same things — food, water, means of self-defense — but your living conditions, quality of life, ability to self-sustain, and potential threats are going to require different tools and resources. Preparing for the second- and third- order effects of an EMP is going to be much different than preparing for a hurricane or economic collapse. For instance, efforts toward securing your electronics, battery banks, and electrical production against the effects of EMP are going to be useless during a hurricane, earthquake, or cyber attack. By preparing for an EMP, you are spending time and resources that could otherwise go towards a more likely event. By preparing for one event, you ignore the needs and requirements of other events, and then have unexpected constraints. These are the things that quickly lead to mission failure.

One great thing about intelligence is that, after understanding the event, the threats, and the second- and third-order effects, we’re in a much better position to prioritize our needs. The first problem of the catch-all event is a high potential for the misallocation of resources and the failure to adequately prioritize resources to meet the needs of unexpected, but more likely conditions.

The second major problem with the logic of the catch-all event is that we shouldn’t be preparing for EMPs (stay with me). We shouldn’t be preparing for economic collapse, or societal collapse. In yesterday’s post, I pointed out:

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.

Another great thing about intelligence is that it gives us a framework to understand cause and effect. Event x happens, which causes y and z to happen. Understanding these chain of events is the most important part of being prepared, because we identify what needs our attention, what’s likely to happen, and then we can develop a plan to be prepared for those follow-on events.

By preparing for an EMP or for a stoppage of commerce, what are you actually preparing for? Needy neighbors. The diminished rule of law. An increase in criminality. Looting. Riots. Increase in gang activity. Lack of medical care. Lack of public services and dozens of other things. So stop saying that you’re preparing for an EMP because you’re not. This is what you should be preparing for, not matter the cause. Because if the lights go out, nothing works, and you have a lot of uncertainty about the present and the future, does the cause really matter? Or do the effects that you’re going to deal with in your community and possibly on your door step matter more?

To use a crude analogy, the solution to being prepared is not to pick the biggest bowling ball and prepare for it. The solution is to prepare for the pins that will be bowled over. The size and color of the bowling ball doesn’t matter. If you want to be prepared in the best possible way, prepare for the individual follow-on effects of the bowling ball that’s most likely to impact your lane.

If you want more information on how to do that, on how to identify threats and characteristics of your community that will positively or negative affect you, then I encourage you to spend some time thinking about your specific needs and your potential competition in a resource-scarce environment.

If you want to get head and shoulders above your competition, then do an Area Study. Those serious about community security complete an Area Study. You can enroll in online training, like the Area Intelligence Course, and or have our intelligence veterans build you a custom threat intelligence product. We build Area Studies & Assessments for preparedness groups, community security teams, neighborhood watch groups, home owners associations, and other concerned citizens.

If you enjoyed this article and want more of my thoughts on intelligence, security, and defense for an uncertain future, be sure to subscribe to my email updates.


Always Out Front,

Samuel Culper


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Samuel Culper is a former military intelligence NCO and contract Intelligence analyst. He spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now the intelligence and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.


  1. The more I read about conflict, the smaller “your group of four” sounds to me, and the more I understand what someone like John Mosby is trying to say about forging a cohesive group of people that share values, culture and history. For example, reading about modern Mexican cartels, I can see how even well-organized groups bump up against one another and compete over territory, resources or influence. How will “my group of four” respond to being caught in the middle of something like that?

    Reading about conflicts around the world, you can see local people have a range of responses. David Killcullen in Out of the Mountains lists several ways locals react to conflict/collapse: fleeing, passivity, armed neutrality, hedging, swinging, committing, and self-arming. So a cohesive group may be able to field a range of responses, while a less-prepared group is likely to be more reactive.

    Based on what I read here, as well as on MountainGuerrilla, Brushbeater, Sparks and Failure of Civility, it seems the best way to start prepping for service disruptions, needy neighbors, increased conflict and uncertainty is to strengthen and maintain networks of rapport and exchange (info, goods, services) now in order to meet a range of potential future contingencies in a more resilient way.

    Would be interesting to read some case studies/specific examples about how groups, from cartels to “accidental guerrillas,” employ info gathering/sharing as part of their “culture.”

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