Prepping Intel: Collect Valuable Survival In Disasters and Emergencies

You can tell a lot about a man by his survival goals. There are lines in emergency preparedness and sometimes you see the tactical bleed in as well. There is great value in studying military operations and understanding how you can be effective using their techniques.

prepping intel collecting collage

Strangely enough I am often witnessing preppers studying how to breach a room or conduct a firefight from a parked vehicle. I often wonder how these skills overshadowed other, more important, techniques.

When I think of what can be gleaned from the tactical world the first things that come to mind are the softest of soft skills:. Reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. I understand neither are as impressive as running and gunning, but they will be much more valuable in a true survival situation.

After all, the very best way to win a gunfight is to avoid it if it can be avoided!

I want to touch on tools and techniques that can be used to gather valuable survival intelligence. I want you to see threats before they arrive and have the ability to make smart and informed decisions.

Your family is not an army of warfighters. You are survivors and you should use your prepper intel to avoid interaction and danger at all costs.

The Importance of Intel Gathering for Preppers

Gathering as much intel as you can about a developing situation or an ongoing one is it critical if you are a prepper. This isn’t just some want to be LARPing crap, either.

When your life and the lives of your loved ones could potentially be on the line, knowing exactly what you are facing, knowing about additional threats and knowing about changing conditions will greatly influence your planning and your decisions. 

Failing to gather intel or failing to act on it means you are acting stupidly much of the time. No matter how well you have planned, no matter how intricately, your plan will likely not survive very long in a real event.

Conditions will change. The nature of the threat will evolve. You’ll be faced with new obstacles, setbacks and challenges that will test you and anyone else with you, or perhaps change your plan entirely with no warning.

Failing to understand the entirety of the situation will set you up for disaster. Taking off for an on-foot bug-out without assessing the terrain in the aftermath of a major weather event could make for slow and exhausting travel.

During the same thing but by vehicle on a roadway could prove to be a total bust if all of the roads are already hopelessly clogged with stopped or abandoned vehicles.

In fact, even the specific goal of your response could prove to be less than useless. An area that is supposed to be safe and well supplied could prove to be damaged, barren and overrun with desperate survivors and opportunistic looters. Now you are facing a waste of time and resources of your own along with a major hit to morale. 

Gathering intel ahead of time could have prevented that unhappy outcome. You should always keep your eyes, ears and other senses perked for new information that will help you reassess the situation you’re in.

Useful Types of Intel for Preppers

There are various types of intel that can be of use to you in informing your assessment of the overall situation and your immediate surroundings. All of these types have their own nuances and intricacies when it comes to analysis and collection, so you’ll need to practice and equip yourself accordingly in order to make use of them in a live event. Best to practice now!

We will discuss these various intricacies in each of the respective sections below.


The primary sense of humans is vision, and it remains one of the very best methods of gathering intelligence. A keen eye can tell you so much about the environment or the people around you, but our visual perception is limited by the optical apparatus.

In this case, we are limited by how far and how well we can see. Increase the distance and decrease the light and suddenly our primary sense is not much good.

We can make up for this entirely biological limitation by utilizing binoculars, spotting scopes, telescopes and other optical devices.

The power of a magnifying optics allows you to see with perfect clarity and better sharpness at extended distances, and even a modest amount of magnification can make a big difference when it comes to assessing the terrain ahead of you, the disposition of people farther down the road and so much more.

Aside from increasing the range at which your primary sense is useful, the ability to remain farther from a situation while still taking in high quality visual data is absolutely priceless. Some situations you don’t just get to back up out of once you are in them, and detecting these ahead of time, from a safe distance, is a godsend.

A full discussion of such optical devices as this is beyond the confines of this article, but every prepper should have a good set of binoculars that are reasonably portable for easy field use and also a good spotting scope on a tripod for observation over a longer term from a fixed position.

Those who live on higher vantage points or in flat, featureless areas might be able to make good use of an actual telescope for the same purpose.

Speaking of telescopes, rifle scopes can be employed for this task and this gives good utility to what is otherwise a gun site, but care must be taken when employing a rifle scope in this way because the bore will naturally cover whatever the scope is pointed at.

Furthermore, anyone who sees you assessing an area with your scope will not be able to tell that you are not aiming a rifle at something, potentially even at them, and you should expect them to react accordingly.

Radio / Electronic Transmissions

One of the best ways to gather reliable intelligence as quickly as possible is through electronic means. Radio transmissions of all kinds along with internet-based communications such as that afforded by cellular phones, email, text messages and the like can rapidly transmit voice, photograph, text and more so long as the intricate networks that make these systems function are still operational.

Radio is somewhat more robust than internet and cell phone communication in this regard, as anyone with a transmitter can at least get a message out over a certain distance, though this is highly dependent upon the power of the transmitter, the terrain, atmospherics and of course the skill of the operator.

If unencrypted, anyone with a radio set to the same channel can listen in, and this means that eavesdropping on everything from private conversations to official police or other agency chatter is possible.

One device that all preppers should have and know how to use is an emergency radio, specifically one that is specially set up to receive NOAA broadcasts and other emergency warnings from government agencies and institutions.

These signals are sent out by multiple base stations in any given area, and are very likely to be the last things that will go offline after a catastrophe. although you cannot transmit, you’ll always be able to listen in as most radios of this type feature a built-in hand crank dynamo to charge their internal battery.

Although some preppers believe that cell phones and internet-based comms will go down just as soon as something bad happens, this is more often than not not the case, happily. these systems function on distributed networks and even the loss of one or two towers will not necessarily offline a local area.

Sure, damage to major fiber optic service lines and other major components could result in regional outages, but these systems are also robust, with modern smartphones being able to get messages and calls out over the air or using existing wi-fi networks.

One thing to consider with cellular networks and internet in particular is bandwidth, and you can rest assured that there will be an awful lot of people attempting to use the networks for all sorts of things in the immediate aftermath of an event.

This means you will likely get an “all circuits are busy” message, an out of service tone and other such hindrances. You can keep trying, or you can resort to using text and email which needs only to squirt out a much smaller quantity of data in a packet for meaningful communication to occur.

Text in particular is much more likely to be sent and received in a timely fashion when networks are impeded and experiencing heavy traffic.

Trace and Track

Sometimes all of the intelligence you need to make an informed decision will be right in front of you, but you will need a highly refined eye and some special skill sets to interpret it.

Every person and every animal that moves through an environment changes that environment subtly, either directly via leaving footprints and other evidence of passage or by leaving behind some trace of its presence, maybe hair, fibers, trash or droppings. It might even be a distinct odor left behind, biological or otherwise.

Particularly when you are assessing an area for habitability or are looking for people or animals in particular, pay close attention to the ground, foliage and any other surface or object that the person or animal might have interacted with.

Footprints, broken twigs, trampled grass, removed or smeared dust or dirt or mud, and similar signs are all indicators that something has moved through the environment. Learning how to read the fine details of the track can tell you approximately when this took place, i.e., whether or not the trail is hot or cold.

This could be crucially important information if you are traveling on what should be a little or never used path only to discover it has a huge mishmash of footprints that are reasonably fresh.

If this is your bug-out route, you know you are not the only person that knows about it, and the chances are that if this many people know about it others will be following close behind. Do you even chance traveling along this route or do you just adjust where you will camp for the night? That is intel in action!

Also keep an eye out for trace and leavings. A discarded wrapper or piece of packaging that appears fresh could indicate humans were moving through.

Feces or urine might indicate the same or the presence of an animal. When you open your eyes and really start seeing what is in the environment around you, and what it can tell you, your powers of deduction can greatly inform you of who is in the area.


The hardware needed for collecting this valuable survival intel comes in many forms. You may be surprised to see some of the items we will talk about in this article

Each will pull intel from a specific area. It’s important that your intelligence plan can pull info from local and national sources.

Emergency Radio

One of the most telltale signs of a disaster is the power outage. Whether we are talking about something monumental and life threatening or a simple thunderstorm, everything changes when the lights go out. Your news source is gone, once your cell battery runs out, and your access to information becomes incredibly limited.

This one-way method of receiving information is so crucial. Get yourself a quality hand crank radio or a solar radio. Battery powered is not a bad idea either. I am making efforts to get away from all batteries that aren’t rechargeable. This is a preparedness goal of mine.

The emergency radio will give you a great base knowledge of what has happened and what is the extent of the damage. This can be a major help in your next steps.

Ham Radio

Don’t get all crazy about licensing. People see ham radio and they start losing their minds about licensing. If you have a desire to get your license and start broadcasting that is completely fine. Let me give you two pieces of advice:

  1. You don’t need a license to broadcast in a disaster
  2. You can listen to all the channels for free

Having a portable ham radio gives you the option to gather that important intel. If you find yourself in a situation where you need help you can get on that thing and broadcast away in times of disaster.

No matter which route you go having one of these great radios is very important. Here is a quick list of emergency and prepper channels.

Police Scanner

Now we will focus the lens a little more on local intel. Having access to a police scanner can give you a sitrep on what is happening with local emergency services. Many disaster scenarios promise a moment when the local law enforcement will disband. That could happen. Wouldn’t you like to know exactly when that happens?

Using a police scanner will also give you ears on the levels suspicious activity, fire and other situations. Once these services are overwhelmed it is time to change your mindset. You are alone, and you are your last line of defense.

Start fooling around with a police scanner today. Don’t wait until the lights go out to search for the right channels and learn how to use the thing!


Now, if you really want to know what’s happening around you in a disaster, I mean right around you, invest in a drone. A good drone that has some weight to it and a quality 4k camera. You will be able to get a picture of your immediate area, streets, roads, violence, damage and much more while never having to step foot into those areas.

Reporters have to see a problem before they can report it to you. With a drone you become the reporter. This is a great way to make sure your bugout route is not compromised before you even get out of the neighborhood. No point in loading up the car if you a piece of road washed away.

Drones are also a fantastic addition to foot travel as well. You can look ahead or behind you if you suspect violence or another group tailing yours.



We talked about tactical skills and the types of opportunities therein. We also discussed crazy tactical skills that preppers and survivalists are training on for no good reason! Recon is one such skill for the prepper who wants to play army man. Recon skills are incredibly important in times of disaster.

Like any other skill you must understand and practice. Now, if you are a hunter you are probably doing some very basic recon work each year in the woods. You call it scouting.

Here is a recon and security field guide pdf. It’s a big boy and it’s a little dated (2001) but the theory and the skills are there.


The most underutilized and most valuable resource in all of preparedness is your community. We have become the isolated apes. This isolation is having serious effects on the people around us and society on a whole.

Do you know who lives in your community? If you are around first responders, you will find out all sorts of information from the. Maybe you have elected officials in your community. They could be another wealth of information.

The intelligence that you glean from your community is priceless. Get to know your neighbors today!

Get Intelligent Today

Don’t waste any more time. You have the answers right in front of you. Having access to this valuable survival intelligence will give you strength beyond strength. It will bolster all your other preparedness plans.

The bugout gets better, the bug in gets better as well. Your overall response to disaster will be greatly improved using powerful intelligence gathering methods.

updated 01/27/2022

3 thoughts on “Prepping Intel: Collect Valuable Survival In Disasters and Emergencies”

  1. Excellent article.
    Another important tool for Intelligence and Recon is the use of Google Earth satellite imagery. If you intend to bug out to a particular destination or defend your home turf, Google Earth can provide an enormous amount of information in the analysis and planning stage.

    I have used this tool for years to successfully locate and analyze active smuggling trails in the border area of Arizona, before setting foot on the trail.

  2. While not the most likely scenario, an EMP may render electronics useless. I highly recommend having a handheld ham radio as well as other communications like FGRS radios and a small crank radio, in an EMP hardened box.

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