Being a lone wolf prepper might have a few advantages from an OP/Sec (operational security) aspect, but surviving this way long term just really is not realistic.
Forming or joining a mutual assistance groups (MAG) will increase the over all skill set available on the prepper retreat and allow more trained individuals to be on-site for perimeter security and other work details, during a SHTF disaster.
I prefer to dub our mutual assistance group a “tribe.” A tribe is loosely defined as a division of “traditional society” that is comprised of families or small communities linked together by blood, or social, economic, or religious ties and a “common culture.”
A tight-knit group of preppers connected by a desire to survive during a long-term disaster, seems to more than qualify as a tribe.
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One of my prepping pals, Charley Hogwood, wrote the book on mutual assistance groups – literally. Hogwood wrote, MAGS The People Part of Prepping and the Survival Group Handbook, and is the owner operator of the Personal Readiness Education Programs – P.R.E.Ps.
During a past radio show interview with Charley, I asked him why forming mutual assistance groups are important, and why so many preppers are leery about the concept.
Hogwood said many folks fear that someone in the group would eventually turn on them and steal their supplies, or worry others will think they are crazy for even bringing up the idea of forming a survival group.
“Another problem many people have is just finding other people because they don’t know where to look or how to approach others.”Charley Hogwood
The preparedness instructor went on to state that MAG organizers must take the time to fully understand themselves before attempting to start a group based upon their own beliefs and concerns.
Charley also stressed that attempting to shortcut any of the processes involved with forming a mutual assistance group, will most likely eventually result in a disgruntled membership and a dysfunctional organization.
Questions to Ask Yourself and Potential MAG Members
- Before forming or joining a mutual assistance group, there are some very important questions you must ask yourself – soul-search before giving a brutally honest answer.
- Are all of my immediate family members on board with the formation of a MAG, or joining one?
- Do I work well with others, especially when under stress?
- What do I have to offer, by way of skills, to a mutual assistance group?
- Will I be a good tribe leader or a poor follower?
- Am I committed to meeting regularly with MAG members and engaging in survival training?
Unfortunately, mutual assistance groups have been known to fail when not organized properly, due to a lack of commitment by members after the novelty of being a part of the survival group wears off
Other reasons include rules and polices are not being written and adhered to when personality conflicts and other problems arise, and members not feeling their voices are being heard during planning sessions and trainings.
Establishing the Goals of the MAG
Before you can share details about the mutual assistance group with others, you have to know, firmly believe, and be able to recite the answers to the following questions at a moment’s notice and off the top of your head.
A mission statement for the mutual assistance group should be created before moving forward with the recruitment of potential members.
Such a statement will clearly define what the group is and help to firmly relay the commitment to common goals – therefore reducing any confusion about the policies, rules, and planned activities of the MAG.
Some tribes include a membership oath that is repeated at each meeting or gathering to further drive home the mission and mindset of the tribe.
- What are the goals of the mutual assistance group?
- Will all immediate family members be accepted into the group when a head of the household is approved? Does this include adult children of members and their families as well?
- Can members recruit others on their own or speak about the group to outsiders?
- What does the membership vetting process involve?
- Is the MAG ruled by a single person or a committee? Are these positions permanent and how and/or how are leadership members elected to their posts?
- Is there a financial commitment by members?
- What are the rules of the group – what infractions can cause ejection from the group, is there an appeals process, will ejected members receive refunds on dues or their share of stockpiled preps?
- Is there a geographic boundary for membership?
- s there a required or preferred skills, education, or background?
- Is a background check or drug test required?
- Will having a criminal conviction of any type disqualify a person for membership?
- Is a physical examination or the release of medical records required? What type, if any, of medical conditions would disqualify a person for membership?
Mutual Assistance Group Member Search
This is perhaps the trickiest and most important part of starting your own tribe, or connecting with an existing mutual assistance group.
Some MAGs post notices online regarding the possibility of seeking new members, but detailed information is kept private until later stages of contact with the group. The personal information seeker should be kept guarded during the initial stages of the getting acquainted process as well.
For both safety and emergency response time, the search for tribe members should begin with your family, friends, and neighbors.
People you already have a relationship with and a shared commitment to both each other and your community, should help pave the way for the foundation of a successful tribe – even if the folks at the top of your MAGs list have not labeled themselves as preppers.
Sharing your intentions about forming a mutual assistance group should be done as discreetly as possible, especially in small towns where news spreads quickly.
The people who will mock your efforts today, will remember you are a prepper with survival stockpiles, and will converge upon your doorstep either begging or armed when the SHTF.
- You can also join community and regional groups to network with individuals who may share a common interest in preparedness and possess vital skills too.
- Volunteer fire department
- County, regional, or municipal emergency response for trained volunteers or mounted volunteer search and rescue team
- Become an adult volunteer with 4-H or scouting groups
- Red Cross
- Granger Movement and Farmers’ Alliances
- VFW or American Legion
- Hunting and shooting sports clubs
Opportunities to network with other potential preppers in your region, with at least some measure of privacy, do exist online as well.
- The Mainstream Preppers Groups website offers a search feature to locate other survivalists in your region.
- The Prepper Groups website also serves as a portal for people searching to form a survival group or to join an existing one.
- The Preppers page on the MeetUps website also offers the chance to meet other like-minded people from your state of region.
- If you are seeking a life partner to help you survive the end of the world, several online dating websites catering solely to preppers, homesteaders, an off grid livers also exist.
Types of People You Should be Recruiting
- Medical professionals, paraprofessionals, former military medics, firefighters, medical and health field students, veterinarians, and individuals in the dental and optometry fields.
- Individuals with weapons training, either professionally or personally – veterans, active duty military, police officers, prison guards, law enforcement retirees, police officer trainees, ROTC students, gunsmiths, reloading professionals and hobbyists, hunters, and archers.
- Farmers, gardeners, homesteaders, agriculture professionals and students, and individuals with nutrition, food preparation, and preservation experience.
- Farriers, blacksmiths, trappers, and butchers
- Individuals with alternative energy experience, off grid livers, engineers, and mechanics
- Teachers – children in the MAG group will need to receive a basic education and vocational training during a long-term disaster.
- Anglers and individuals with aquaponics and water management and treatment.
Skills List for Potential Members
Prospectie MAG members may not have worked professionally in any of the fields noted below, but that does not mean they do not have adequate knowledge and skills in multiple categories.
- Hunting with guns, bows, and/or traps
- Farming, ranching, and/or homesteading
- Automotive repair
- Livestock care
- Medical and/or first aid training
- Orienteering and primitive camping
- Off grid living
- Alternative medicine
- Alternative fuel
- Food preservation, including smoking meat
- Electrical engineering
- Candle making
- Cheese making
- Butter making
- Shoe making
- Knot tying
- Food fermentation
Interviewing Mutual Assistance Group Prospective Members
A few good members is far better than have a plethora of mediocre folks in your tribe.
Simply because a prospective member does not possess the quality skill set you are seeking, does not necessarily mean their application should be tossed from the pile.
Skills can be learned if the desire is there, the proper mindset, however, is almost impossible to develop in some cases.
Searching for members may have be a painstaking and time-consuming task, but the process of approving applicants you do not already have a personal connection with, will be far more in-depth and at least equally important. If you get this step wrong, the mutual assistance group will likely fall apart even before the SHTF.
Recommended MAG Interview Questions
1. Have you ever belong to a MAG before? If yes, why are you no longer a member.
2. Why do you want to join a mutual assistance group?
3. Are you preparing for a specific type of SHTF disaster?
4. How long could you survive at your current skill level and with the supplies you have stockpiled, if the SHTF today – and explain why and how in detail.
5. How many family members do you want to have join the MAG?
6. List the age and health details for the applicant and each proposed family member.
7. List of skills the applicant and family members possess.
8. Distance the applicant lives from the mutual assistance group’s survival retreat.
After the mutual assistance group applicant has completed and passed the questionnaire stage, and in person or video chat should take place.
When discussing the MAG and the attributes of the applicant in greater detail, do not only listen the the answers the person is giving, but look for character and personality cues that could give greater insight into the overall demeanor of the applicant.
• Is the applicant too timid or overbearing?
• Does the applicant’s mindset and views on controversial topics or deeply held belief mesh or run contrary to those of the group?
• Are they truly committed to being prepared?
• Include the spouse and children (as age appropriate) into the interview process. Are they committed to joining the MAG and prepping also, or merely being dragged along at the urging of the applicant?
• Do the applicant’s answers seem rehearsed or too textbook, or spoken directly off the cuff and from the heart?
• Ask specific questions about the skills and weapons the applicant stated on the questionnaire he or she possesses to fully determine if the indicated level of mastery truly exists.
• Ask the potential tribe member about the skills he or she believes are most important for a prepper to possess, and what skills are on the top of their “to do” list.
An organized mutual assistance group will have a far better chance at surviving an apocalyptic event than a disorganized one. There are several different leadership and organizational styles which can prevent confusion and chaos when training for a doomsday disaster – and after the SHTF scenario happens.
- Single Leader – This style of MAG management and organization works best in small group scenarios. The leader can create a committee or committees which handle assigned tasks and report to him or her directly.
- Council Leadership – Large mutual assistance groups are often organized with a council leadership style. The council can be comprised of the found members exclusively, or rotate via vote at designated intervals.
- Combination Leadership – A leader and a council can both serve in a leadership capacity. Such a system would function like a town council and a mayor.
- Election System – Some mutual assistance groups function either primarily or entirely by majority rule. Votes on issues, training sessions, leadership positions, how money is spent, ejecting members, etc. Ballots can be cast anonymously or via a simple raising of the hands after an issue is presented to the entire group.
- Food cultivation
- Food preservation
- Training coordinators
- Medical, health, and hygiene
- Armory and reloading
- Membership recruitment and review
- Preparedness stockpiles – or warehouse inventory
- Hunting, fishing and foraging
- Water collection
- • Child care
- • Sanitation
Typically, mutual assistance group members live in close proximity to one another, allowing regularly scheduled meetings, work details at the survival retreat, and training sessions.
A defined manner of communication, with both secondary and third options serving as back-up for the preferred mode of communication, must be put into place to coincide not only with regularly scheduled events, but when the MAG is activated when disaster strikes.
- Communicate via a private or public group on social media. Both Facebook and Google+ offers thee types of groups.
- Cellphone group texting and an old-fashioned phone calling tree.
- Landline phone calling tree
- HAM radio
- 2-way radios for on-site communications and as a relay system if members live close together in the same neighborhood or community.
There are many ways to organize a mutual assistance group. Survival planning is not a one size fits all kind of affair. The two most important aspects to remember, regardless of the size of the group, are organization and operational security.
Conducting a full background check on each member, at their expense, is highly recommended. The submission of a recent physical or a medication examination on-site, and the release of all physical and mental health records, is highly advised, as well.
Rules governing the types of allowable criminal backgrounds and medical problems, must be created before interviewing or accepting members. The rules must be the same for everyone, regardless of how well you know them.
Changing the rules to accommodate a member should be a group decision, to avoid the type of animosity and distrust that can kill a mutual assistance group while still in its infancy.
The MAG in Action
So what might a scenario look like where your MAG has to take action, not just talk and plan? Let’s look at an example: a natural disaster.
Severe storms, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and earthquakes can all wreak havoc on communities and individuals.
In the aftermath of a natural disaster, it’s often up to mutual assistance groups to help members get back on their feet.
In the immediate aftermath of the event, the MAG members would likely start trying to raise one another or check in according to pre-arranged plans. They may also start sharing information about damage, needs, and resources.
If there is a designated leader or action committee, they may begin directing efforts according to highest and best purposes or even coordinating with responding emergency services and agencies, i.e. FEMA, DHS, DOE, etc.
This is bound to be a stressful situation, but once the initial shock of the event has subsided, the MAG will likely start to take more actionable steps.
This might include setting up a distribution center for group food and supplies, as well as details to verify the safety and whereabouts of any members unaccounted for.
Primary efforts will likely revolve around ensuring all members have access to needed supplies, establishing where needed utilities are still active and safe and verifying that existing shelters, or what’s left of them, are still safe for habitation.
Great energy will necessarily be directed to clearing trees and other debris from roads that would impede access and transportation.
Once that is complete, transportation arrangements will be made for group members that need to be relocated or perhaps for the entire mag if the situation is untenable.
Evacuation routes and rendezvous points will be determined and transportation scheduled using what vehicles are available.
In case the situation is stable and human occupation is ongoing, members will be dispatched according to highest and best purposes.
Be they pre-arranged, ad-hoc or through voluntary partnership to complete work details, clean up, demolition, search and rescue and other tasks as needed. Any members who have experience as contractor or in related fields will likely lead these efforts.
In the days and weeks following the disaster, the MAG will continue to provide support to constituent members however possible.
This may mean anything from checking in on elderly members or family or those with young children to helping clear debris and rebuild homes.
The group will also work to maintain communication and keep everyone updated on available resources and recovery efforts. How far the group will go when it comes to “non-essential” efforts like restoration work is variable.
MAGs can provide essential “aftermath” services like food, water, and shelter; connect members with resources like cleanup crews or financial assistance programs; and offer emotional support in what can be a difficult time.
In some cases, MAGs even coordinate the efforts of multiple groups to provide more comprehensive support to affected members.
If you’re part of a MAG, it’s important to know what kind of action your group is authorized to take. Make sure you have a clear plan for what to do in the event of a disaster, and be sure everyone in the group knows their role. In the meantime, stay safe and be prepared.
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.