Tornadoes, floods, and fires are just three examples of localized and very personal SHTF events we experienced last year, and they illustrate the devastation of an event for which immediate early warning is possible. We can be warned of a tornado and take shelter. We can evacuate our homes in case of an impending flood or fire. Since we are dealing with the probability of SHTF scenarios, Mother Nature is 100%.

But at the regional or national level, we face more unpredictable events for which there is little warning: an electromagnetic pulse, or perhaps a cyber-attack on a critical infrastructure, or a financial or monetary crisis that plunges millions into a very real SHTF scenario. A cyber attack on the New York Stock Exchange will not directly affect you, but the second- and third-order effects will be felt at all levels and threaten your community. Therefore, we need to prepare not for a cyber-attack per se, but for the consequences of that cyber-attack that will affect your community.

No matter what, we need to be able to gather information to make decisions to protect our families. Maybe by eavesdropping or bugging at doors? What path should we take if we are no longer in business? If we listen, how can we be warned in time of imminent danger?

How to stay light in a SHTF situation

I’m going to show you some ways to reduce uncertainty in an FHTS situation. I spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and in both cases it was a matter of life and death 24 hours a day. As an intelligence analyst, I had to brief the commander on the security situation and threats. His job was to make decisions based on the information we gave. If we didn’t have incoming information, we couldn’t produce information. And that’s why information is an essential part of public safety. If we want to provide security in a SHTF scenario, we need to know more about the threats. We need real-time information.

In 2014, a small group of volunteers and I were on a mission to monitor the unrest in Ferguson. The first phase of combat surveillance began with a process I call intelligence preparation. (You can watch the entire webinar here.) We analyzed the strength, location, and capabilities of local security forces. If we knew what equipment they had, we could better understand how they would react to a disturbance. Similarly, we analyzed protest groups and identified those associated with them.

What these two groups have in common is that they have both produced information useful for intelligence. By doing something as simple as listening to a police scanner, our team was able to track down the police and National Guard, which is currently being reported. Meanwhile, we scoured the accounts of prominent protesters on Twitter for real-time information.

In the figure below, we have taken the local emergency frequencies and placed these locations on a map using Google Earth. Warfighter 33 was the call sign for the National Guard Tactical Operations Center, which was located in the target’s parking lot. We also linked several National Guard posts when they provided their location. It wasn’t rocket science, but it began to help us understand the security situation. This is a very primitive form of signal intelligence, or SIGINT.

During the night, we continued to search for photos that had been uploaded on social media and in press articles. Then we drew them on a map. Very quickly we had a very good idea of which areas were generally safe and which were the most active as the riots developed and eventually burned down. If we lived in Ferguson, we could use this information to refer our friends and family to us or to help them protect themselves from threats. All this information was publicly available, which is why we call it Open Source Intelligence, or OSINT.

What should I do if there is a network situation?

That certainly complicates things. Before I answer that question, let me ask you a question: On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is intelligence in a SHTF situation? (I’d say 10, but I admit I’m a little biased).

First of all, you need to understand that there can still be power on the network during a power outage. As long as there are generators, and since there was no MDP, someone somewhere will have electricity. My local police say they have enough fuel for two weeks of emergency power. That’s good to know, and it’s an advantage to gather information before a SHTF event, as opposed to struggling after a SHTF. If they are receiving power and communicating in a SHTF situation, or maybe some radio amateurs, we still need intercept capabilities. Otherwise we are at a great disadvantage.

If there is no energy, then we must rely on human intelligence called HUMINT. It means going out and talking to people. It could mean a reconnaissance patrol. The mounted cavalry were the eyes and ears of the commander in mounted engineering. Snipers and advance observers, who are under cover and tasked with observing and reporting enemy activity, are often excellent intelligence gatherers. Another example is an observation post equipped with a field telephone that provides intelligence.

While all of these examples are military in nature, there are similar equivalents in the community. Think about this: Technology is a power multiplier. With SIGINT or OSINT, we can collect very broad and very deep information. This is a ratio of 1:n. We have a receiving platform, in this case a radio receiver, and we can scan a very large area to gather information from anyone who is broadcasting. But when it comes to human intelligence, we often have a 1:1 ratio, meaning a collector is talking to a source at any given time. It’s a slow and difficult way to do business.

So instead of 1:1, consider the elasticity of this ratio. If a person is only allowed to collect information from one person at a time, wouldn’t it make sense to scale this ratio up to 10:10 or 100:100? Absolutely. Every pair of eyes and ears is a sensor, so as part of the intelligence community, whose job it is to provide information for the safety of the community, we should absolutely be interested in encouraging community members to passively collect large amounts of information. All of this information comes back to us, and we then engage in the difficult task of gathering and evaluating this information to obtain intelligence.

Intelligence does not come by itself, so it is our duty to build that capacity. The more accurate the information we have, the better informed we can be. Without being properly informed beforehand, risky and urgent decisions have become much more difficult.

Samuel Culper is director of Forward Observer, an intelligence service that focuses on internal SHTF issues. He is a former military and contract intelligence analyst and author of SHTF Intelligence: A guide for public safety analysts. You can find out more about the SHTF Intelligence Centre on its website.

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