Operational security or “opsec”is vital for everyone. You need to be as aware of threats as possible, and if a threat can’t be prevented from becoming reality, you must consider how to deal with it. This article lays out the steps you can take to improve your situational awareness, to prevent threats from causing harm, and plan defense systems if you must take serious action.
Table of Contents
Who and what needs protection?
The more you have to protect, the more complicated your plan will be.
What are the abilities of those in your group?
The number of people available to contribute is important, but you must also consider their actual abilities. You might have to be a protector and caregiver to some. At the same time, you should not underestimate the abilities of others. Older people and those with disabilities are often written off as a liability when they are anything but. For example, my Dad is a Vietnam veteran with many disabilities and poor eyesight as a result, but I guarantee that with a rifle, he can defend his home better than most. Skills matter.
What are the threats you are most likely to face based on your location and personal situation? Below is a list of potential threats: Some will apply to you, others will not. It’s crucial to think carefully about any past interactions that you have had with others.
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Political or civil unrest
Periodic unrest has occurred throughout history, but what we are currently experiencing seems particularly concerning. The mainstream media claims it is about race, gender, equality, COVID-19, etc. However, I am afraid the root of a lot of the unrest is really competition for resources and a certain quality of life that is quickly becoming a thing of the past for many regardless of what groups they identify with.
Techno-narcissism is the belief that no matter what, we can use technology to make up for the depletion of fossil fuels. This thought system has us fighting over renewable energy and other “fixes” that cannot work on a large enough scale to make up for more demands from more people for energy to support the lifestyle we are used to. For more information on this concept, I recommend my friend James Howard Kunstler’s book, “Living In The Long Emergency”.
The availability of fossil fuels and easy money is past.
We can’t use technological magic to get ourselves out of the mess we’re in. You need to take steps to protect yourself and your family because the unrest is likely to occur repeatedly over the next decade. If you’re near or in a city, you’re at a disadvantage, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t act to improve your security and ability to defend yourself.
People typically think of a stalker as someone who admires another to the point of obsession, but people are also stalked and harassed by those who hate them. For example, journalists, actors, and government officials often attract attention from people who are not fans. Job-related decisions that affect the lives of others can also make you a target. Consider a social worker in charge of making decisions regarding whether a parent can have access to their children, or a domestic violence center worker who cannot provide an angry spouse any info about or access to their victim. When I lived in Ketchikan, Alaska, I was asked to apply for a women’s domestic violence shelter position. Although the pay was good, it was not enough for the risk involved. It was a small community, and the center had bullet holes in it from abusers trying to get what they wanted.
Stalking is more common than ever.
According to a recent National Violence Against Women Survey, In the United States, one out of every 12 women (8.2 million) and one out of every 45 men (2 million) have been stalked at some time in their lives. This figure is just for offline stalking. When cyberstalking is added in, the number is likely much higher.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world regardless of how serious you believe it is or was. It’s easy to forget that even if we conquer COVID-19, we live in an era of massive globalization that could facilitate the spread of future diseases. Throughout human history, there have been many pandemics. However, many were more localized because people simply did not travel as much. Spanish Flu spread widely because of WWI.
The threat of contracting a disease is there. Even if you feel the COVID-19 statistics are not accurate, it is fool hardy to say that it is 100% fake. During an epidemic it is important to pay attention to trends within your community and region regardless what the mainstream media is saying.
Natural disasters can make it hard or even impossible to secure everything that’s important to you. There may come a time when you’ll have to make difficult decisions. Abandoning your home during a natural disaster can expose it to looting. People were looting homes in California during the 2020 wildfires. One might say that the fires were going to take the homes anyway, but that’s not always true. Sometimes, evacuations are precautionary, or people leave because of health issues that are not conducive to a smoky environment.
During hurricanes and floods, looting can also be a major problem. During Katrina, armed residents protected townships and private homes.
A natural disaster can also tie up emergency services and law enforcement. That means you might be responsible for your own security and emergency health care. You must be prepared to be your own first responder.
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Do not underestimate people.
I’ve seen a lot of big talkers online that dismiss some people as not being capable of doing certain things based on their physical appearance, upbringing, etc. Although these big talkers might have better skills than those they are talking about, it’s important to remember that weapons and luck can turn the table. Also, it doesn’t take that much physical strength to shoot a gun and hit a target. It isn’t always about physical strength or wit. Overconfidence can lead to foolish decisions that allow potential threats to defeat those who are stronger and more skilled.
Humans are quite fragile, and it just takes a second for everything to change. Don’t let your guard down if it is apparent that a threat is real. Remember, sometimes it’s a numbers game. More people with less equipment can overcome those who are better armed.
To do well at OpSec, you must understand a few things about potential adversaries. Keep the following in mind.
Moral justification and violence
Even though someone’s actions or beliefs might seem appalling or immoral to you, they typically believe they are right. People believe what they say even if it seems ludicrous to the person hearing it.
If someone feels morally justified or that they are doing something “for the greater good,” they are capable of some pretty awful things. The following example has to do with religion. It’s not to discredit anyone’s faith, but I think it illustrates my point well.
Years ago, I had a long conversation with several people who worked in a mental health hospital. This particular institution was primarily for the severely mentally ill. Both employees told me that they had very few personal safety concerns or fear of those who said “the devil was telling them to do things.” The people they feared the most were those who said, “Jesus or God wants me to do this.” The people who thought something evil was talking to them stopped themselves from doing things because they recognized it was morally reprehensible. Those who thought they were doing it for God were more likely to do something the voices in their head told them because they believed it was morally righteous and doing God’s work.
Personal gain and basic needs
Some people will do whatever it takes to get what they want. During difficult economic times or TEOTWAWKI situations, people might commit unsavory acts to meet their basic needs for things like food or medicine. It’s not just the typical criminal element either. The average person who feels they have no choice might do things they normally wouldn’t. People with children are unlikely to sit around while their child goes hungry or doesn’t get the medical care they need.
Sometimes a situation occurs suddenly and without warning. However, most of the time, there are warning signs of potential danger or hazards. The answers to these questions are critical information.
- Has crime increased in your area? Have you looked at the statistics in your area and surrounding communities recently? What crimes are the most common?
- What alert services are available? Does your county or local police department have a notification service that you can sign up for?
- Is vandalism increasing in your area?
- Has there been an increase in homelessness or drug activity?
- Have there been protests in your area, or are they moving closer to your neighborhood?
- Have any friends, relatives, or neighbors started acting more hostile or unfriendly to you?
- Are you associated or closely related to anyone who is moderate to heavily involved in criminal activity?
Crime is on the rise in many areas. Don’t think that it has not or will not happen in your town or area. Plenty of “you don’t want to be caught out alone” neighborhoods were once nice places to live and raise a family.
My local sheriff’s office has an alert system you can sign up for that texts or calls you if there is a threat. This happened recently when an armed and violent person was running from the police about a mile away from my home. It’s nice to be in the loop when major incidents occur.
The opioid and fentanyl issues in America are tragic. After 39 years of the “War on Drugs,” the problem is worse than ever. It has created a massive homeless population, even in areas with historically low rates of homelessness. Desperation leads to crime. If someone’s mental state is shaky at best, they are less likely to make rational decisions.
Protests and civil unrest occur in cities and suburbs too. Politically motivated vandalism is also on the rise. Putting up an election sign can incite others. Ask yourself if it is worth it and whether it will make a difference. I’m not saying don’t do it, just consider what might happen if you do and be prepared.
Regardless of how you lead your life, you could have a close relative who doesn’t make good decisions. That could put you in harm’s way. Threatening or harassing family members is an old trick. Some people will try to get their “due” one way or another.
It is critical to be realistic about what you are capable of doing physically and financially. I see a lot of talk in various groups and forums about the aggressive actions people fantasize about taking. Many of these people have no intention of actually doing anything, and others are likely to make foolhardy decisions because they do not realize their limitations.
Some things to consider:
- Numbers matter. No matter how tough or trained you are, there are only so many people you can take on without being overwhelmed.
- Weapons can help level the playing field, but they are not everything.
- Weapons can make some people more confident than they should be, leading to rash decisions.
- No one becomes an instant superhero or soldier.
- Gain the skills you need now because they will not magically appear later.
It’s easier to plan if you think about security as a series of layers.
- Outer perimeter or property line
- Yard or approach
- Front door
- Interior of the home
Look at an aerial shot of your place on Google Earth or the online GIS database for the county you live in. You may even want to print out a copy or two.
Answering the questions below will give you answers that are critical information for your home security plan.
- What are the easiest and hardest routes to approach your property?
- Where are the blind spots where a perpetrator would have good cover?
- What is above? Are there buildings close enough for you to be observed or targeted from?
- How close are you to places that could be hot spots for trouble during civil unrest or political upheaval? Government buildings and grocery stores alike could be targets for trouble.
- Is your main entryway set back from the road? How big is the buffer zone between you and other public or private property?
Fences and fortifications
It’s important to remember that unless someone has specifically targeted you or your family, making access difficult may cause them to go after an easier target. Consider how much easier it is to get across the lawn of someone with no fence versus the lawn of a family with an 8-foot fence?
Fences can easily be fortified with spikes or barbed wire on the top.
Layers of fencing make sense for a larger property or homestead. On our farm, we have a lot of fences and gates so we can rotate our grazers. As a result, it’s hard to figure out how to get to our house. So, if you have acreage, you might consider a perimeter fence of woven wire field fence and another fence that encompasses your house, yard, gardens, etc.
Game or security cameras
Game cameras can be run on batteries and make sense for some locations. There are a variety of security camera systems on the market. Cameras can be strategically placed to alert you to approaching threats.
Fake cameras can be placed where you cannot put a real one. Dummy cameras are often mixed in with real security cameras to make a system appear to have more coverage.
An alarm system can be basic or complicated. Homemade tripwire alarms are cheap and easy, although some of the more inexpensive keychain alarms don’t hold up in bad weather. However, they might still be worth it for a spur of the moment alarm. Here’s the link to the keychain alarm I bought. To make a tripwire alarm, just attach the alarm pull side to a thin rope or tripwire. A high-tensile fishing line will also work. Attach the other side however you can. When triggered, the stretched wire will pull the alarm, and you’ll hear a 140db alarm.
Driveway alarms let you know if someone is walking up your driveway or a car is approaching. These systems vary greatly as far as range and sensitivity. You may have to do a lot of research to find the right system for your property if it’s large or mountainous.
Many things in your front yard or on your property can be used as a projectile during civil unrest. Lawn furniture and décor should be stored if you feel your area is becoming unsafe or a target for potential trouble.
Window security film
Applying security film to your windows can prevent intruders and keep glass from shattering into deadly shards. For an extensive overview of window security film, check out my article “Improving Your Home Defense and Personal Safety with Window Security Film”.
Window bars and grilles
In many urban areas, bars and grilles are used on first and even second-story windows. They are expensive and obscure your view. Many people do not want to look out from between bars. That being said, bars and grilles are useful and seem to be necessary in high crime areas. Another disadvantage of bars is that they can make it difficult to escape in a fire or other emergency.
Dark and hidden areas help criminals. Motion sensor lights can solve this problem. Some such lights have a battery backup or charge during the day via solar panels, giving you lights that operate even in a power outage. For some more ideas to burglar proof your home, check out this post.
I recommend that every family have a firearm. In my experience, many who are undecided about guns find that they enjoy shooting after they learn how to do so safely.
For home defense, a 12-gauge shotgun is a common starting point. One advantage is that the shot is less likely to penetrate neighboring walls and rooms if you have to use it. They are also easy to use and command respect.
A concealable handgun is another popular choice. Some of the more common calibers are 9mm, 45 ACP, .380, and .357.
Among major home defense rifles, the AR-15 is the most popular choice. I grew up with AK-47s, so that’s what I have. Both are popular, but there are other options, including the 30-06.
No gun is perfect for all situations. That’s why many people choose to have a handgun, shotgun, and major defensive rifle. Start with one and buy the others as your situation allows.
During uncertain times, firearms can be in high demand. If you do not have one already, pay attention to Brownell’s website or Classic Firearms.
A few examples of non-lethal weapons:
Action and training
- Have a fallback position, and make sure everyone in the family knows it.
- Teach everyone in the family some form of self-defense.
- Practice. If you haven’t shot your gun in six months, will you be comfortable using it to defend yourself? Can you be sure that it will operate well?
- Consider when you should retreat.
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- Dress down when appropriate. This means no bright colors, hair, jewelry, or obviously fancy clothing. Makeup attracts attention too.
- Observe your surroundings constantly. Survey the area for threats.
- Know where all the closest exits are in a building. If you’re in a building for the first time, scan for exits.
- Consider sitting close to exits or at least near enough that your pathway cannot be easily blocked.
We live in a world where many people keep their head down. People spend a lot of time staring at phones or tablets when they’re walking down the street. Loud music in headphones is another distraction that can muffle out potential threats.
Having the right mindset for situational awareness is essential. We all have our ideas of how things should be. For example, one hears comments about how people should be able to walk down a street wearing whatever they want and not be harassed. Many go on to do just that because that’s the way it should be. And that doesn’t necessarily mean scantily clad. Wearing clothing with logos or even certain colors can draw attention. Other women have become livid when I stated that sure you should be able to wear whatever you want, but there are consequences to that. We do not live in an ideal world.
Be careful what you announce on social media.
Announcing that you are going to be away from your home is fool hardy. You do not need to post pics of you and your family out in town while you are still there. If you have a photo you want to share, wait until after you are home.
People on vacation or business trips need to be especially careful. If someone sees that you are going to be gone for an extended time period it makes it far easier to plan a theft.
An adversary could use social media to catch you unaware.
Don’t be an idealist. It could get you hurt or killed.
When I was 11 years old, I looked a lot older. It wasn’t just creepy people or pedophile types that thought I was older. Regular adults thought I was 15 or 16. I could get away with driving around town when there weren’t many people around. My Dad is a Vietnam veteran and raised me without my mother around. He gave me the tools and taught me the skills I needed to protect myself if necessary. First, it was how to get out of holds and land some kicks and punches. He gave me my first pocketknife when I was 8. By the time I was 13, I had that and a can of pepper spray.
This is an example of being aware of a threat and giving a kid the mindset needed to practice good situational awareness but having a plan if the use of force is necessary.
Everyone needs to learn that friendly actions don’t always mean someone has the best overall intentions. Friendly actions are often used to gain trust.
Even something as innocent as a bumper sticker can increase your vulnerability. People give a lot of information away on the backs of their cars. Even if a bumper sticker is just cute, it still says something about the person driving the car. The worst culprits for this are bumper stickers from schools and the stick-figure window stickers that tell everyone how many people and pets are in a home. Sometimes the figures also show what the adults in the house do for a living. It’s good to be proud of your family, but you don’t need to advertise this info on your car.
Op Sec means being alert and aware while also not giving away too much information about your personal affairs. This doesn’t mean that you have to appear unfriendly. If someone wants to know more than you want to tell them, try to change the subject. Many Op Sec practices do not involve anything that most people will notice either.
Changing the way you think and act takes time. If you slip up, don’t be too hard on yourself. Good Op Sec becomes second nature over time.
The Department of Defense has an excellent free online OpSec course and test you can take online whenever you want. Click here for more info.
Single Women Take Charge
I’m a member of quite a few online preparedness groups. I once asked the women in a large group what they were taught in terms of self-defense and situational awareness when they were young. I also asked their ages to get an idea of how it varied by generation.
The results were eye-opening. Many women were taught little to nothing. Some were taught to actually urinate or defecate in their pants if attacked or to never ask a man for help if someone was chasing them or for any other reason.
Regardless of how wrong it is, women can be targeted by certain types. Let’s not pretend that is going to change anytime soon. As painful as it is for some to admit, men and women are not the same. I have worked on plenty of crews that were mostly men and the size and strength difference is there no matter how much some try to deny it.
Please don’t take this as a slight against single mothers, but homes without a male figure were the ones that seemed to teach very little defense. This is probably partly a time issue and that women are typically not as aggressive about defense as men. There are only so many hours in a day, and single parents barely have a minute as it is.
There were also women who are serious about defense. One responded said that her mother taught her to shoot and many other defensive tactics that plenty of two-parent homes didn’t teach their children. If you’re a single mom, please take the time to learn self-defense and teach it to your kids, so that neither you nor they are victimized. You don’t have to train with a firearm to be safer and less likely to be a victim. I am a fan of firearms, but I realize they’re not for everyone.
If you can’t attend a class in person, there are many online videos available.
All decisions have consequences. Your decisions may not always work out the way you hoped. After a situation occurs, it’s a good idea to review what when well and what went wrong and come up with solutions to get better results if you’re ever in a similar situation.
It’s impossible to consider and plan for everything. I spend a lot of my life trying to do just that because I am a survival and separateness writer and specialist by trade. It’s easy to drive yourself crazy with all the what-ifs. You just have to do the best you can and allow yourself time for other things.