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A Marine’s Guide to SHTF planning. (Part One—Print and Keep)

A Marine’s Guide to SHTF planning. (Part One—Print and Keep)

Six P’s

A lot of battles have been won on paper but lost on the battlefield–just ask Napoleon Bonaparte. Although this seems like a jab against planning, it’s just the opposite. I doubt any major battles have been won without good planning. And, poor execution of a good plan gives the same crap results. In the Marines the importance of planning has been enshrined in the “Six P’s ” (Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance).

I was fortunate to have served both as an enlisted grunt, and later, a Marine officer and pilot. I’ve received thousands of dollars worth of survival training, thanks to you, the taxpayer. I say that to make one point: no matter what I’ve learned in the past, how proficient I am with weapons, or how skilled I am in the bush, if I don’t have contingency plans for “right NOW,” I’ll be eaten alive when the SHTF, and so will those who depend on me for leadership and protection.

SHTF can come in many forms

Disaster may come from nature or man, but in either case, survival relies on preparedness. Your neighborhood or place of work may be engulfed in riots, blocking avenues of escape, or a weather phenomenon could wreak havoc on your entire town. Massive prolonged power outages could trigger a region-wide calamity lasting for weeks. Terrorism in the form of suitcase nuclear weapons could paralyze our nation, and devastate our food supply. In each of these cases, are you ready? If you can get your entire SHTF contingency plans on one single sheet of typing paper, you are probably under-prepared.

Let’s take a REALLY hard look at your plan

There is no shortage of good survival videos and books on the internet. Let me begin by saying, although I went through Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE school), as a Marine pilot, I’m no desert or jungle survival expert. If you have a solid plan, you shouldn’t need to be an expert either.

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Remember, SERE school was designed for air crewmen and others most likely to end up in hostile territory with very little to keep them alive. Most of us will never find ourselves in either a jungle or desert environment during a period of civil unrest. In the US or Canada, or even Europe, you would be much more likely to need urban survival skills, or maybe woodland survival, if you make it that far out of the city.

Planning is BO-RING!

In my day (1969) THE most hated class at the Marine officers Basic School in Quantico was logistics (beans, bullets, and band-aids). Taught right after noon chow, our instructor brought a football to class to nail sleeping lieutenants. It was so boring—an absolute snoozer, yet this was actually THE most essential class we took. You can’t fight a war effectively on empty stomachs—or empty magazines.

During the 2003 invasion of Iraq the Marines were racing the Army to see who could get to Baghdad first. Our advancing troops moved so fast, they outran their supply lines. If Saddam’s Revolutionary Guard had been competent, they could have isolated US forces, leaving them without logistics support. It was a major cock-up on both sides, but no military brass were held accountable because there were no real consequences.

I call the above scenario “crap planning, but hoping for the best.”

Unfortunately, just like the US commanders racing across the desert, many preppers are actually counting on the feces NOT hitting the rotating oscillator anytime soon. Content with a half-assed plan but some really cool merchandise, they daydream about Armageddon secretly knowing they’re nowhere near ready. In your case, if I’m wrong about this, I apologize, and you don’t need to read any further; you’re in the top one percent of the class. If you aren’t certain about your plan, or you know you’ve stalled out–read on.

Analyze your plan

Is it weighted more towards imminent catastrophic events (here and now), or “I’ll keep my eyes open and my ear to the ground IN CASE things look like they’re going bad?” Is your logistics checklist complete, or did you just buy the fun stuff like guns and ammo, a cool survival knife, pack, and BDU’s—maybe a boss 4WD vehicle (sitting there with a 1/4 tank of gas)? If you’ve become complacent perhaps this article will give you the kick in the kiester you need to get back on track. Bottom line, we’re all counting on not being alone out there when it’s time to regroup.

Mental plans don’t count

I live in what used to be called tornado alley. I had the best intentions, but I waited to put in a storm shelter until after I was awakened one night by the dreaded sound of a freight train roaring across my pasture. Fortunately, for my family and I, the tornado lifted and only did minor damage to our house. I might be “forgiven” for this lack of plan follow-through if we hadn’t already experienced two other near misses that Spring. Well, we have the shelter now which we also use as a root cellar to store food. Out in the country, that’s called “shutting the barn door after the horse is out.” It’s also called “hoping for the best.”

Hoping for the best vs. the will to act

In just about every self-defense class for women and children, they are taught to struggle, scream, and do everything they can to get away from their attacker BEFORE they can be restrained and kidnapped—because then it’s almost always too late. In SERE school we were taught to resist the enemy with everything we had, and, if captured, always be looking for an escape opportunity BEFORE we arrived at a prison camp.

Years after I got out of the Corps, I ran into the former USMC major who developed the SERE program I went through, including the underground box and the abusive interrogation techniques. At that time we weren’t water boarded; we had our heads shoved under water in what they called “the people’s pond”, Then back in the interrogation room—then back to the pond. The major asked me what I got out of the class, and I replied, “Never get captured!” He smiled and nodded. That’s what it was all about.

Despite how roughly we were treated during capture, only one person even tried (and succeeded) in escaping. The rest of us just rode it out, knowing it would be over in a day or so. I learned a lot about myself during that phase of training. I learned that I could easily talk myself into doing nothing and hoping things wouldn’t get any worse, or a perfect opportunity would present itself to escape. I didn’t have the WILL TO ACT when I needed it.

Sometimes the lack of a will to act is laziness, like not wanting to deal with the boring logistics of survival planning. But often this defect is actually a misplaced notion of survival, like the victim being hit, or threatened with a weapon, who obediently gets in the perp’s vehicle rather than risk further injury. In either case, it could get you or those who depend on you, killed.

Back to the PLAN

Over the next few articles we are going to put together a near-complete (you never stop updating) plan. We’re going to do this by asking and answering some essential questions. Each plan is as unique as the individual or team’s current situation, so let’s begin with the people involved. If it’s just you, then this part will be easy.


  1. How many people are you planning for/who is in charge?
  2. What is each person’s life situation (do they work, go to school, stay at home)?
  3. Health/disability issues (including meds needed)
  4. Ages
  5. Training levels/deficiencies
  6. Attitude toward survival planning/training
  7. Rendezvous: How/where will everyone assemble
  8. Is everyone’s gear packed and staged somewhere
  9. Who might show up at last minute—what will you do

The old USMC fire team organization of one leader to three riflemen doesn’t always pan out when planning for survival. Sometimes it’s all left up to one person to get things done. Unfortunately, the less your people know how to do, and the more people you have to carry, the more likely it is that your plan will fall apart when things get serious. Be honest with yourself (no “pie-in-the-sky” assumptions). You also have to be honest with the individuals in your group about their current capabilities. This assessment is a great starting point to improve your plan.


These issues can be the toughest to work around. If some people in your group require medication on a regular basis, you might be able to begin stockpiling it, depending on the shelf life. For elderly people, or those with physical disabilities, you have to factor in how and where it will affect your plan. If someone needs surgery to correct an issue, get it done sooner rather than later. Extra eye glasses should be stockpiled, dental work kept current, joint braces, crutches and canes should be on your list, as well as preventive medicine objects like toothbrushes and baking soda (lasts a lot longer than toothpaste—and cheaper).


It’s crucial for everyone who is capable to have a specific role based on their abilities, and be trained in it, otherwise the leader ends up having to micro-manage each situation. If you are a family unit, as the kids get older they can take on more and more, allowing you to expand your plan. Training should be fun; combine it with group outings to learn map and compass, shooting and camping skills, etc. Teach your kids how to drive, even before they are legally allowed to get a license. Get as many people certified in first aid as possible. Winter is a great time to do that. Your local Red Cross probably has classes. Even better if someone can get EMT or paramedic certified.


Attitudes toward a survival mindset can either make or break your plan. TV and movie writers like to make fun of anyone who is a “prepper.” We all know, once these same people run out of bean sprouts and lentil burgers, they are history. But, they do damage societal attitudes about being prepared at the SHTF level. The best you can do for your group is to provide counter-points to the anti-prepper narratives and remind the group that discussing prepping publicly just sets them up for ridicule and gives the wrong people too much information on their resources and plans.


Where are your team members—how will they get to the rally point(s)? That is the big question, because everyone is so mobile and so busy, trying to come up with a single plan to gather everyone in an emergency is impossible. It’s not likely that everyone will be sitting on their duffle bags when it’s time to go. The other issue is how you will notify everyone when you’ve decided to initiate your plan. Cell phones are great, if they are working, but if a major emergency happens, they are often tied up. Everyone should know the conditions that represent the “go” signal. If someone jumps early, don’t criticize–they were paying attention.

Practice Rallying.

Many moons ago, there was a type of party called “Come as you are.” Participants knew that the host might call at any time during a weekend for everyone to gather, and you had to wear whatever you were in when the call came through. I never attended one of these, but the idea is perfect for a rally practice. Once everyone arrives, debrief and see what issues came up during the practice run—then adjust your plan if necessary.


I won’t bother to cover what you should include in your go-bag. There must be fifty articles written about that online, plus there are so many variables depending on where you are going, how long, weather conditions, space available, etc. The main thing is to have a detailed list for each individual and a separate one for the group. The next step is to insure everyone can put their hands on their gear quickly. Practice packing everything up; it doesn’t do any good to have a ton of equipment/supplies and a half-ton truck to carry them.

Uninvited guests

Now let’s look at drop-ins. These are people who have done absolutely nothing to prepare, but want to tag along at the last minute. I won’t pretend to know how your team will deal with that situation; it’s very personal and none of my business. Just know that drop-ins should be in your plan, and you need to discuss this situation with the team. This issue may be one of the most emotionally difficult to deal with. One suggestion is to ask group members who they think might show up. It could be a boyfriend or girlfriend, brother or sister. If you think it’s likely, decide if you want to set aside extra provisions just in case. Whatever you decide, do it in advance and stick with it. The Ant and the Grasshopper, we’ve all heard the story.

In Part Two I’ll discuss having sub-plans for different scenarios like the ones I mentioned in the third paragraph above. In years past, most of us were thinking Armageddon type situations, so there was just one plan required, get the HELL out of Dodge! Realistically, it might not make sense to launch into your End-of-days plan if the conditions don’t warrant it. More on that later.

You will be able to read the entire series as it is published at this link.

David Brockett is a Vietnam Veteran and former Marine aviator. He’s also volunteered with the US Forest Service as a wilderness ranger and horse packer in the Wind River range. He writes fiction and historical fiction, as well as articles on politics, religion, gun-rights, preparedness, and current events. In his free time, he volunteers with veteran’s groups and community projects. He and his wife divide their time between their home state of Texas and Idaho.

I think you’d enjoy checking out our two sister sites where you’ll find fresh articles daily:

DC Dirty Laundry and DC Clothesline

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