A common, fun theoretical question that you’ll hear pop up among preppers, shooters, outdoorsmen, and other red-blood types is, “who do you want with you after, or during the apocalypse?” Time-honored crowd favorites include various fictional characters, a squad of elite military badasses, or an army of killer robots. Or Chuck Norris, because of course.
This light-hearted query belies a serious one though: who will you take with you? Or will you take your chances on your own? Why should you place trust in anyone besides yourself? When the balloon goes up, will you be facing the grim task ahead with only your wit, skills and determination?
Some of us will have little choice in the matter. Many of us have families, loved ones or dependents that we are and will remain responsible for. Others have close friends, the 3:00AM back-to-back kind who we will take our chances with. Still others will have cast in their lot with a group of like-minded individuals, brought together for the promise of mutual aid.
This article will serve to get you thinking about the social and situational dynamics of survival in a group versus going it alone. Each way has its advantages and disadvantages. If you are allowed any leeway in your response to a particular crisis, your status will heavily influence your chosen response. The variables are significant. Let’s get started.
All glibness aside, if you are reading this article and have a family, husband or wife and children, then you are their first responder and captain. It is up to you to ensure their survival and well-being. You must act as if there is no cavalry coming; there may not be.
Your family will affect your planning in much the same way that any group will. The principles of leadership and personnel management all apply. You must prepare based on their individual capability and needs, which we will discuss in detail in the next section.
First among your preparations must be the cultivation of a strong family culture, one in which the family members all work together for the good of the family. Everyone, from child to elder, has something to contribute.
The other, private thing you must prepare yourself for, as their leader, is that some of them may not survive either the onset or duration of a major event or disaster.
Gut-check time: if one of your closest loved ones dies, perhaps horribly, will you have the grit and determination to press on for the survivors? They are counting on you. Despair and panic are contagious. So is Hope. You will have to save your grief for another time. This requires careful forethought.
Staying at the Homestead or Leave?
A major consideration that may affect your decision to go it alone or seek mutual aid is whether or not you plan to stay or flee to a homestead, compound or similar location in order to ride out whatever disaster may come your way. Running and protecting a large homestead or compound will often require more manpower than a lone individual can muster.
If you are planning long term sustainment living using the renewable resources that a farm or homestead can provide, you had better plan on having at least a few people to help you do it. If you are on a larger homestead or compound, security concerns alone will make extra personnel almost mandatory.
Conversely, a smaller shelter, one well hidden and stocked with provisions will quickly become claustrophobic and unbearable if buttoned up with a group of any size.
People require a certain amount of room to themselves, and it is more than the 3 feet of so of personal space polite society proscribes in the short term. A well-laden store room of food, water and medicine that may last one or two people a long time will deplete with frightening rapidity if it must provision 3 or 4 times as many.
If you have already established one or the other, a bolt-hole for one or two, or a homestead big enough for a family or two, and your current group strategy is not ideal or incompatible, you should shift you planning accordingly.
When planning to survive a crisis in a group, your actions will revolve around who you are in the group. If you are the official or de facto leader, even of a group of two, you’ll be responsible for ensuring that all plans, provisions and equipment are laid in appropriately and in sufficient amounts to sustain your group for the duration of the crisis.
Food, water, medical, weapons, transportation, routes, anticipated threats, etc., all of this will have to be accounted for. Individual skills and ability must be factored into your calculations. Your planning will hinge around the slowest or least able member of the group, as with anything.
If you are not the leader, or are merely a member of a collective (better described as a gathering of individuals coarsely aligned to the same end) or Mutual Assistance Group (MAG- a formalized group of likeminded people committed to a focused survival goal, often with more stringent and discriminatory joiner requirements) you will be responsible for whatever you are assigned based on who you are to that group.
You must also strive to keep yourself and your personal equipment in top, pre-event condition. Do not be “That Guy/Gal.” If you are the incompetent one, the load that slows everyone down, the misfit that is constantly needing correction and assistance, you need to get your head out of your butt and improve, lest you find yourself exiled.
Traveling in a group has benefits and challenges: any task or obstacle of any nature is often more easily handled with additional labor, skills and equipment that a group will provide. Potentially threatening individuals or groups, predators that are smaller or less ambitious may very well steer clear of your capable-looking party, especially one visibly armed.
Groups make certain logistical concerns simpler, such as providing work or watch rotations, substitutions in case of sickness, injury or errand and redundant or cross-trained skillsets to draw on in the event of a lost member.
Disadvantages with group activity included drastically increased strain on consumables, everything from food and water to bandages and ammo.
Larger groups are much harder to move discretely and quietly, either on foot or in vehicles. Bolder or more aggressive predators may see your group as a prize worth tackling, owing to the greater potential loot to be had.
Conversely, a group of any significant size may be more intimidating to smaller, neutral groups or individuals, and may lead to a strain on relations. Any negotiations will carry the unspoken promise of greater force being brought to bear by superior numbers if things go sour; everyone fears being ganged-up on.
Personalities will begin to grate over time, even clash. Interpersonal relations must be managed carefully to prevent mutiny. The first time you see how a member handles stress, lack, pain or adversity must not be a live event. An emotional meltdown can easily lead to disaster dominoes: a spiraling circle of enmity, even violence.
If cohesion breaks down entirely, the group will fracture. Leadership is a composite skill, but part of it can be learned and nurtured. Make sure you are working that skill even if you aren’t the leader; an impartial mediator can resolve simmering conflict before it rockets into a fight or outright hostility.
The quality of the group members and your relationship to them will greatly impact group cohesion and performance. If the group is made of up of family members, close friends, neighbors or anyone else you have spent considerable time with and forged close bonds with, you and they will be far more likely to work together well and put in maximum effort.
If your group is a MAG, carefully assess the nuts and bolts of both the group’s induction and vetting processes and the performance and seriousness of the members: do the members all know each other, are they simply neighbors? If not, what is the common thread? Are they from the same community, church, profession? Is training, work detail and building camaraderie an organized task with scheduled sessions or not?
What are the groups bylaws, standards and regulations like? What are the penalties for breaching them? How is it organized? Who makes decisions and settles disputes, a committee, vote or leadership edict? How and why do they restrict or deny membership? Will they permit people with a criminal background or history of moral turpitude?
The answers to these questions will tell you everything you need to know about the trajectory of the group. A group of lazy, listless, lollygagging jokers who talk tons of shop and pat each other on the back are either fools or hobbyists. A group that allows anyone in regardless of performance or ability will be either an impotent band of fools or a mob.
Worse, a group that allows, and even attracts those with mean streaks and criminal backgrounds, with posturing about “the law of the jungle” and “the strong alone will survive’ has all the hallmarks of nascent gang, and will in all probability turn to outright brigandry as soon as the smoke starts to rise. You surely would not want to be associated with any of them.
However, a MAG that has standards for entry and continued membership, good leadership, organization, vision and counts a wide variety of skilled trades and expertise among its ranks will stand as good a chance as any to weather the crisis of a post-SHTF world, in both the short and long term.
Strangers can become fast friends, even surrogate family, when sincerely committed to a mutual, common goal. A MAG that carefully admits only serious preppers of high quality, valuable skill and even temperament is a group that you may be well advised to join if you are able.
Your planning and equipage will be much simpler if all you have to worry about is you. Your calculations for food, water, ammo and all other consumables will be greatly streamlined. You can move quicker and quieter than a group can.
Reacting to new information or emergencies will not be done by committee, and execution will be quicker. Your progress and timetables when moving or working will be determined by your own ability and equipment alone, nothing more. This cuts both ways.
A lone individual will have no extra eyes to watch his back, no extra hands to assist with work or hauling of equipment, and no one to help or heal him if he should become sick or injured.
A relatively small injury that is trivial for a group to accommodate or work around could be a show-stopper, and thusly spell death for a solo prepper. An abundance of caution to prevent incapacitation from injury or sickness is a must.
Lacking other people to shore up gaps in skills and knowledge will limit a solo survivor to whatever knowledge, experience and skills he already possesses along with what technical manuals and texts he has for reference. How-To guides are great, but no substitute for experience and expertise in a given discipline.
Predators, especially in groups, will find a lone person an easy mark, as the gaps in their awareness all around are more numerous and easily exploited. Superior numbers alone will prove insurmountable for most when lies give way to gunfire, and barring an extreme disparity in weaponry, positioning, skill or some other x-factor will often mean death, or incapacitation followed by death.
Confidence is fine, but hubris is fatal: you are Superman, John Wick, or The Hulk until you get shot, shanked or run over; then you are just rotting meat on disintegrating bone.
On the other hand, a lone prepper may have an easier time of dealing with neutral parties, especially small groups and individuals owing to a reduced threat profile.
Mind, you can’t be sporting the Wasteland Marauder™ look and expect to be treated with open arms, but assuming you otherwise look and act respectably you will likely go farther than a similarly presenting party.
If on the move, especially through unknown but occupied areas, social and personal skills will still be crucial, even after a major catastrophe. Humanity endures, so bring your manners and empathy with you.
Alone, you won’t have to put up with your annoying-as-can-be fellow prepper Bill, but you will have to put up with someone even worse: YOU. That’s right, the man or woman in the mirror, and all the voices inside your head. People are social organisms, and we are affected by the people around us, lifted up or depressed.
Face it, you might not be good company, especially for yourself. There has been many a person, alone, well provisioned, found after a crisis or disaster situation that committed suicide or simply died in the face of mounting stress, despair or grief.
Don’t assume that because you have laid in a ton of food, water, equipment and such, and practice your skills when the sun is shining and you have a binge-session of Game of Thrones to look forward to later that you’ll be good to go in an a crisis.
The bleak, terrifying enormity of a high-level disaster or regional catastrophe may shatter flimsy false confidence in equipment and hobby-esque “training.” Have a serious heart to heart with yourself. Put yourself, willingly, in grueling tests of will and mettle. Only then will you have any idea of what you will be capable of.
Your mind is your first weapon, your first tool, and your first companion. If it is deficient in any area, it will be major weak point, a fissure that will grow with stress and trial until it is a crater that blots out reason and clear thinking. Don’t neglect it.
Bugging Out Alone vs. With A Group
We have a separate article dedicated to discussing this exact issue when it comes to bug out scenarios here.
It is the author’s opinion that while lone, rugged, exceptional or lucky individuals have survived disasters and ongoing crises of terrible implication and effect, they are far outnumbered by the number of isolated people that have perished in the face of similar circumstances.
In a true catastrophe, only a group or even people brought together by chance and working for a common goal, will have the manpower, breadth of skills, and redundancy to ensure survival and longevity.
There is simply too much that can occur that will seal the fate of a solo survivor, but could be avoided or prevented by cohesive, well trained and loyal band of compatriots, be they relatives or otherwise.
This is not to say that if you are a solo prepper you should abandon your plan for self-sufficiency, especially if sheltering in place alone, to seek out a group or start rolling friends and family into the program. Your situation may be unique and so completely precludes my analysis of your criteria for equipage and decision making.
If the disaster you wind up facing is of limited scope, either duration or area, you could handily endure or escape all on your own with nary a hiccup.
As discussed above, you will have advantages over groups, not the least of which will be your superior reaction time: the necessity of communications and rendezvousing with other group members may be lengthy, even proving impossible depending on the type and suddenness of the event.
You won’t have that problem, and barring any urge to be the Good Samaritan, you can load and go at the first whiff of trouble if you choose.
If you have a family, your survival group is mostly chosen for you. For anyone else, you have more discretion in who, if anyone, you choose to depend on in order to weather the ‘S’ striking the proverbial fan.
A group of serious, committed and skilled people is a huge asset, but you may be better off taking your chances alone if your only option is a posse of loosely connected personalities who don’t have their act together or hearts in the right place.
Whatever your choice, make sure you understand the unique challenges that each approach presents and prepare for them accordingly.
Is your plan group or solo-centric? Are you in the process of getting your group up to snuff, or are you searching for viable members in your locale? Let us know in the comments!
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.