Scenarios for Survival

Preparation for different survival scenarios entails something of a grading system for the intensity of the anticipated situation. These scenarios fit into five basic categories, three of which are to be expected in North America in the next twenty years.  Non-social survival scenarios (like getting lost in a national park on a hiking trip) are not specifically addressed by this text but mostly fall under scenario one and differ mainly by environment than social situation.  The use of weapons of any kind in these scenarios is largely dependent on the social and legal context, even when the weapons are only used against animals.  Guns for non-social scenarios are largely determined by specific needs.  It is entirely possible that you will not need firearms deal with a flat tire in the desert or a dead boat motor out on the lake, as these are survival situations that are dealt with through common prudence, skill and preparation.  By no means should the reader get the impression that firearms are the only component of a good survival plan or are the panacea for all types of survival challenges.  This chapter and these scenarios deal primarily with the use and role of guns in survivalism and various possible scenarios that the survivalist may encounter. 

Words of caution to those new to the survival scene:  There are folks out there in the world who, for various reasons, decide that they have some secret knowledge about a coming catastrophe.  They move in and out of the fringes of the survival movement occasionally play musical chairs on center stage.  Beware of these crackpots no matter how earnest they sound.  Others simply repeat the latest theories of the coming catastrophe and wait for you to react.  These jokers do not even believe what they are telling you but expect to play you for a fool who will follow it.  I cannot pretend to second guess every major prediction that every self proclaimed seer makes, but I would like to give some guidelines for dealing with them.   I would very much like to name names right now, but some of these jokers have fanatical followers and mean lawyers I don't care to deal with yet.  

Do not bet your life on just one source of information, but the public media is pretty trustworthy on the big stuff.  I have never seen them report an earthquake that did not happen.  They are more likely to cover something up than blow it out of proportion. 
Don't give up a good job or your standing in the community to run off to some group's isolated survival place unless you know for certain that your life will be better there than it is now. 
Don't get in to a panic buying mode and buy survival gear to the extent that you will seriously damage your financial condition if the catastrophic event never materializes.  
Donating money will not make a major disaster go away.  God does not really need your money.  Giving is just a test to see if you are willing to invest in the kingdom of heaven.  If you see some good people struggling with poverty and bad luck, give to them in the name of the Lord.  I have no problem giving money to religious institutions.  Preachers have a right to make a living, but spiritual blackmail is not the way to get it.  It is also right to participate in religious activities through financial sponsorship as long as you truly believe in the organization and the activity. Most of the real crooks have passed away from the Evangelical Christian movement and into other venues.  Now the crooks victimize new agers and people seeking enlightenment from far eastern religions.   The big deal on that is most of the source literature from those religions is in obscure languages and you are left up to interpretations of the cult leader "experts" who twist it to their advantage.  
Don't harm anybody for a belief or organization who you would not be inclined to harm in the first place.  If you hate, your hatred must be your own tool, not somebody else's tool.  If for some reason you need to be pushed into committing an act, it is probably the wrong thing to do.  In the end, you are judged for your own actions, your responsibility is you own.  Only the most responsible leaders will be there to take the responsibility for you, and believe me, that has nothing to do with wealth, power or charisma.  The power for you to pull the trigger is yours and yours alone and it will more likely be you and not your "superiors" who answer for it at trial.  Nobody has the moral authority make that decision for you so don't let them.  No true leader will separate responsibility from authority.  Anybody who separates the two is bullshit; they deserve none of your respect or allegiance.  

We all know that certain social rules are out the window in certain survival situations but the decision to throw those rules out must be tempered by a realistic appraisal of their context.  If I really believed that alien spores were going to attack the planet last year, I would have probably stolen a few truckloads of food and supplies, loaded them on a big boat (stolen also) and headed to sea.  As we all know, the deal was bullshit.   How can someone in good conscience tell people that the world will end and actually expect people to believe it and behave rationally?  I don't have a clue.  

Recently we had the Y2K issue, which had a little more credibility because the government bought the story, but still turned out bullshit.  Irresponsible doomsayers will always be around, but you will notice that they will actually mean less and less as you become better prepared for the survival scenarios.  

Some assholes have tried to make their own doomsday scenarios take place.   People have been caught from time to time trying to unleash chemical and biological weapons on cities for no apparent reason other than a twisted love of anarchy.

I still remember the people who predicted fire and revolution in connection with the Rodney King case.  The LA riots were a prime example of how people can instigate such a thing.  The LA police led on that something was brewing and the gangsters fired the coals to make the event happen.  The gangsters looted the citizens and businesses and the cops got lots of emergency grant money from the tax payers (citizens and businesses).   The truth is that both the cops and the gangsters ended up better off after the riots.   What kept the riots from happening again was not any improvements in law enforcement but the bloodbath guaranteed by angry armed citizens who had prepared for the sequel.  

None of this is to say that none of the things that some people are predicting will come to pass.  I just want to give the reader some sober reality in the off chance that interest in this website has been spawned by some predictions of doom from some self proclaimed prophet. 

Most survival scenarios that you are likely to deal with simply do not involve the end of the world.  On the other hand it is entirely realistic to expect to deal with scenarios up to level two in your lifetime.   There is no clear defining line between the scenarios.  In fact, the transition can be very gradual or somewhat sporadic.   

The survivor is almost always going to be best prepared to deal with scenarios when the basics are covered in ways that give you the resources to have multiple plans and options available in the various scenarios.   Your three basic aims in a survival scenario are going to be maintaining health, security, and  economic activity at sustainable levels which will act as a basis for opportunities to improve your life and the lives of those around you.  What you can control in large part is your level of preparation, what you usually cannot control is the occurrence of the crisis itself.   Your basics are going to include food, water, transportation, weapons and security, medical care, and economic resources.   All of those basics intermingle in various aspects of your life even when you are not in a survival scenario, but management of that is often done by someone else.   The police take care of your security, your boss makes sure the company is still running, your doctor takes care of your medical needs, you get your food at the grocery store, or simply place your order with the service worker when you sit down at an establishment to eat.   The restaurant has some security, if nothing else but a phone with which to dial 911, the company probably maintains extensive communication resources to ensure participation in commerce, and the tax lady makes sure the cops and firemen get paid (or so they say).   Realize with the occurrence of survival crisis scenarios, this social network can break down due to a number of causes that will affect some aspects of life more than others, and you need to think through these scenarios to determine where you are going to focus and prioritize your preparations.  

Scenario Zero: (no significant challenge) This is hopefully where you are now. This is where you may be threatened by random crime, and maybe some government action (everybody breaks one law or another in their daily lives whether it is a traffic law, zoning ordinance, drug law, tax law, environmental law, or something else), but nothing seems immediate. The economy is fairly stable but possibly going downhill in affluent places as world markets converge under agreements like GATT and NAFTA which are likely to place downward pressure on living standards in nations that once had high standards of living (U.S. and Canada).  Survivalists should use this time to prepare for higher threat level scenarios by procuring survival items, making contingency plans, and training for the possible scenarios to come.  Undue legal risks should be avoided at this level.  Here, survivors do not normally carry weapons, but the weapons are kept available for training and for emergencies. The recreational use of weapons is a normal activity. Rural survivors sometimes contend with hostile animals like feral dogs or the occasional marauding coyote.  Survivors stockpiling weapons under these conditions are unlikely to attract much attention as long as the great majority of their activities are legal.  Normal commercial sources should be intact.

Scenario zero situations are not necessarily zero risk situations.  In fact, they can be more dangerous to the prepared survivalist than someone who is not a survivalist or prepared person at all.  This is because the social order is intact and the economy may be strong and the survivor may have very little social credibility in a world where social credibility is critically important to success.  This can lead to social isolation, legal problems and the resulting financial difficulties.  We can look at the biblical story of Noah who spent forty years building the ark that God told him to build.  His peers and even the rulers of the day ridiculed him.  Such is the treatment that many survivalist suffer in modern society.  Unfortunately, this often leads to hostility that can result in being targeted by law enforcement, greedy civil actions and harassment.  It is very important for survival groups to build and strengthen both social and economic ties in the scenario zero situation.  

Efforts should be made to 'legitimize" survival planning in scenario zero situations.  This is in many ways similar to covert operations where the activity appears to be for one purpose but is actually for another.  Weapons and equipment can be bought for "collections", bulk foods bought for the "big savings" and commo gear put together as a "hobby".   Individuals can conduct training under the guise of re-enactment groups, and education for police, military or security related careers.  Some well organized survival groups even open multi role businesses that offer opportunities to obtain weapons, training and equipment.  Involvement in civil groups like the Explorer scouts, search and rescue groups and the Red Cross can actually net you some outside sponsorship for equipment and training expenses.  Involvement in extreme sports and sport shooting are good cover activities for getting weapons, equipment and training.   Service in the military and law enforcement are traditionally popular activities for survivalists.  Many, if not most, survivalists have spent part of their lives in the military and or law enforcement. 

Scenario One: Here things heat up a bit. This can be the high-tension period before a major uprising or during an upward swing in the crime rate, even if it is just localized.  It can also exist during postwar occupation by a hostile power.  It is also the scenario that accompanies on again off again racial or economic conflict.  A situation like this may involve local gang conflicts and unusually heavy-handed police action.  This type of situation poses a moderate but sporadic danger to the survivalist. The local economy may be disrupted or unstable, causing some people to see crime as a means of survival. Violent confrontations happen, but they usually involve small numbers of people and/ or limited force, like fistfights, knife fights, and the occasional shooting incident.  This type of scenario is ongoing is some of the worst urban jungles and some rural areas where "outlaws" congregate.

Preparation for this kind of scenario includes a basic arsenal and moderate amounts of ammunition. Spare parts should not be much of an issue. Most weapons, parts and ammunition should be available through commercial channels. It is usually better to buy ammo in bulk anyway, but if funds are tight, donít sweat it too much. You can usually live without spare parts in this scenario as long as the guns are of decent quality and at least test fired every six months. Changes in law may make it important to stock up on spare magazines and certain parts if you anticipate future shortages. Other combat gear is not particularly important but may be nice to have.

Also note that scenario one situations can be the most complex and challenging because government and social structures remain intact.   It is this environment in which security personnel often find themselves responsible for dealing with the risks of others.   These individuals will often require specialized training, education and equipment to deal with the complexities of level 1 threats which can prove quite dangerous to those under their care while not being a particular threat to society at large.   The vast majority of the executive and VIP security environment takes place within a scenario one environment.  

On occasion, this scenario can happen where individuals or small numbers of people are experiencing personal disasters or financial hardship (like the closing of a factory that employed most of the town). In this scenario, individual safety and welfare is the responsibility of the individual but the authorities may not readily admit it. Any major action on the part of combatants and/or lawbreakers (like poachers) is likely to draw a coordinated government response but that response may be hampered due to limited resources. Survivalists in this scenario may occasionally opt to carry side arms (usually concealed) and keep long guns closely available. This type of scenario usually does not call for activation of group contingency plans (gathering at the retreat) but individuals will most likely need to be very security conscious and take extra security measures that do not disrupt their lives to the extent that they cannot function in their regular professions. Persons driving cross-country or through major metropolitan areas are likely to encounter scenario one situations.  Any area with a high crime rate and a low clearance rate (lots of crimes happen but nobody gets caught and sent to jail) is home to a scenario one. Scenario one situations are nearly all caused by social factors. It is possible for individuals, especially of the lower economic classes (the indigent, slum and ghetto residents, the working poor) to experience an ongoing Scenario One situation while the rest of society, even in the same town, does not. Recreational use of weapons may be restricted by laws and or practical security concerns. Hostile covert activity is the biggest armed threat to the survivalist, usually in the form of attempts to rob or extort assets from the survivor by means of force and deception. Armed conflict in scenario one is usually small scale and covert. Assume that there will be a functional legal system to contend with in the aftermath of a deadly confrontation.

This kind of scenario can also be prevalent in places where the social status quo is maintained through corruption of local government and the establishment of quasi-governmental Mafiosi which "tax" the local economy through crime. This can happen through a steady extortion by an established organization or through random collection of assets through major criminal activities like home invasion robbery, kidnapping, car jacking and the robbery of businesses. It is usual for some degree of cooperation to exist between corrupt elements of government and organized crime.  The survivor will likely be seen as a threat to this status quo and the survival group targeted by hostile efforts.  These efforts may also include incentives for people to engage in hostile activity that they would not normally do.   People who you once thought you could trust may look for opportunities to betray you or your group.   Information security becomes important in this scenario level.  

It is helpful to have your basic set of weapons and gear put together for this scenario, but you may be able to get by without hurrying about it.  Most important is getting the stuff together before the situation deteriorates.   Priorities should focus on any immediate anticipated changes in the legal situation as government is still mostly in control.   Situational awareness of your areas of operation and the people who are most likely to encounter or associate with remain important in these scenarios.   Remember that although you probably need very little or any of a survival arsenal in day to day life, you will need it when you need it and if you need it but don't have it, it is probably too late.  

Scenario Two: Limited guerrilla warfare, civil unrest. This scenario requires the open carrying of weapons and justifies the open carrying of combat rifles and shotguns. The "normal" economy and social order have been disrupted and there is no clear authority in control.  Price gouging, looting, and robbery are common. Some goods will be made unavailable through regular (scenario one) channels. The aftermath of hurricane Bob in Florida and the LA riots are examples. Shooting incidents and outright combat will be a part of life in the early stages and will eventually taper off as one faction gains control (usually the government). Government authorities will most likely declare martial law (a clear indication that it is a scenario two) and may restrict travel and other activities. Governments will probably attempt to disarm and or control the public and warring factions. In reality, the government has little control beyond the localized use of force and the rationing of resources like utilities, food, water and petroleum based fuels.

Choi Sai Choi BeatingThis type of scenario is one of the most unpredictable. Occasionally, outlaw factions may gain control and survivalists might feel the need to purposefully escalate to scenario three or abandon the area. Survivalists in scenario two will implement contingency plans and usually begin survival activities at the retreat. Emergency supplies will begin to be consumed on a regular basis but usually for no more than one or two weeks at a time. Small scale acts of terror and or sabotage are common, but group vs. group gun battles are less common. Survivalists may opt to keep certain weapons hidden but easily available in order to avoid the attention of the authorities during martial law and localized area suppression operations. Long guns with folding stocks (more portable and easier to hide but with greater firepower than just handguns) and specially constructed hiding places may be necessary where contacts with powerful hostiles, informers, scouts and or lookouts are likely.  Most armed conflict will be clandestine in nature, most frequently in the form of organized surprise attacks and or other openly hostile actions that are secretly prepared but openly carried out.

It is also common in scenario two situations for authorities to give unofficial "license" for certain segments of society to attack others.   This is where the survivors must develop organizational structures and strategies for protection.  Many, if not most, of the genocides of the 20th century started out as these kinds of situations and then developed into worse.  Unfortunately for them, most of the victims of these atrocities chose passive victim status.   It can be a difficult choice to make when you are faced with either submitting to abuse and terror of escalating to limited guerilla warfare.  These efforts should usually parallel diplomatic efforts if there is to be any resolution to the conflict.   Diplomatic efforts without the ability to use force are little more than organized begging.

Not only are good supplies of weapons and ammunition important in this scenario, but so is your other combat gear.  Body armor is a good idea here,  as is a tactical vest or set of combat webgear.   The law is of less concern than adequate protection.   Be prepared to use unconventional procurement methods and operate clandestinely.   The bad news is that if you are not well armed and equipped going into this scenario, you have probably waited too long to be well armed and equipped.  

Scenario two conditions are also common to what the military think-tankers call "fourth generation warfare".  In the old days,  it was called low intensity conflict, but fourth generation warfare has an element that is relatively new.  That is the use of force with deniability.   As such,  attacks can be anonymous and the motives unclear, but the attacks themselves no less coordinated.  Attacks can take several forms, from those immediately orchestrated to kill or maim, to others that are aimed at causing economic damage.  A very significant element of actions in fourth generation warfare is that of public sentiment.  It is also one of the major reasons that national governments often find themselves unable or unwilling to address attacks made in this type of warfare.  For more information about the relationship between fourth generation warfare and scenario two threats to the survivor; click here.  

Scenario Three: Open guerrilla warfare. In this scenario there is open warfare and skirmishes are common. Heavy weapons are sometimes used by combatants and regular civil authority is severely disrupted.  Food shortages and rationing occur, along with restricted travel and martial law.  Here, force rules the day. Survivalists may undergo periods of virtual siege at the retreat and may be called upon to engage in direct combat if the retreat is attacked or as part of a local militia formed to protect the area. 

These situations will often  end up involving "neutral peacekeeping forces".  These "neutral forces" will not overtly take sides in a conflict but will frequently favor certain factions in a conflict that involves multiple sides.   This is a critical situation for a survival group and the behavior of peacekeeping forces will have a tremendous influence on what will constitute appropriate activities on the part of the survival group.   

One example of this was the Lebanese Civil war which most agree started around 1975, peaked in the late 1980s and largely subsided in the late 1990s.  


Some sides will make use of combat aircraft or modified vehicles. The economy and social order will develop its own dynamic form of "structure". Survivalists will most likely to need large amounts of ammunition and spare parts for weapons, but there also may be supplies of captured and black market weapons available as entrepreneurs begin to serve newfound market demands. A well-stocked retreat and well-rehearsed contingency plans are essential to surviving a scenario three. Positive relations with outside allies will help, but stronger groups and networks may be able to survive more or less on their own. Ambitious survivors will have some manufacturing along with more advanced recovery and salvage capabilities in this scenario.

Government and possibly peacekeeping forces are likely to establish zones of control where travel is closely monitored by checkpoints where people and vehicles are regularly searched.  These checkpoints usually control access to economically important areas and main roads.  Also expect a high level of security at military posts, hospitals, government buildings and airports.   Powerful military forces in the area may perceive survival groups or militias as a threat to their operations against opposing military forces or guerillas. 

Roving checkpoints are an element of dynamic operations carried out by various factions from government forces, to peacekeepers, to guerillas to private security personnel.  Again the usual object of checkpoints is to prevent the passage of contraband material, enemy infiltrators and fugitives.  

It is common for checkpoints to involve the use of dogs to search for bombs and narcotics as the animals can quickly and easily detect these things unless extensive efforts have been taken to conceal trace odors from the dog.   The vehicle or item is usually not thoroughly searched unless the dog detects odors that it has been trained to detect. 

Travel in areas with active checkpoints is very risky.  The only reason an armed force is going to use recurring checkpoints is to limit the flow of normal commerce and restrict the liberty of the population.  It is fairly common in areas where a governing body is attempting to assert control.   Roadblocks are also commonly used by guerillas, terrorists and security forces.  They may even be used by rival survivors.  Survivors should become familiar with the operation of security checkpoints and roadblocks in order to maintain security in their areas of control.  

Scenario Four: Open conventional warfare. This scenario is characterized by common use of heavy weapons, severe economic instability, and common gun battles between large groups of people with organized and coherent leadership structures. An example would be Europe during W.W.II, the Confederacy during the Civil War, or the situation in several parts of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Combat aircraft will also be in common use. The real question lies in what role the survivors will play.  Survival groups will most likely resemble full-fledged military organizations and will need to form alliances with outside forces in order to survive.  Survival groups may absorb local government authority by default if the survival group represents the only stable social order. It will be important to be able to replace equipment and replenish supplies in this scenario.   

If the survival group is small and or weak, it will be necessary to align with one of the more powerful military factions operating  in the area.  This will usually be in the form of a friendly government but might also be a powerful business interest as is the case in parts of Africa.  Survivors unable to coordinate their efforts with others must be prepared to abandon the area altogether.   Another option would be total isolation in a bunker or retreat for months at a time.   Survivors must be prepared for this contingency if conventional warfare is a possibility.   In Lebanon, this meant alliances based primarily on religion.   To the left is a group of Phalanxist Christians receiving instruction on the Kalachnikov rifle.   Ironically,  hostile Muslim factions were provided with these weapons by Syria out of Pan-Arab loyalty, and then individual arms merchants were quickly corrupted by wealthier Christians into supplying weapons for a profit.   Large numbers of Christians were murdered by Islamic terrorists before more or less conventional Moslem guerilla forces began to attack Christian neighborhoods and towns in an effort to "cleanse" Lebanon of Christian influence.   The first "peacekeeping" forces were from Moslem countries and saw their role as one to facilitate Christian evacuation, not defense or maintenance of a peace.   It was a combination of quick access to black market weapons and the preparation of a few survivalist minded people in the Christian communities that prevented what would have been a Christian holocaust at the hands of militant Islam.   

It is very important for the survivors to be well informed about military activities in the area.  It is critical to have good communications, reconnaissance assets and the ability to get news from the outside world.   Food and supply shortages are far more common than weapon shortages in an area in which there is conventional warfare.  In fact looting and salvage operations should make it fairly easy to obtain weapons and equipment as was the case in the Lebanese Civil war where militia members frequently provided their own weapons and equipment through a variety of sources which included the black market, loot, salvage and in some cases, outside sponsorship.   As the conflict progressed, factions were given weapons and equipment from various military powers with an interest in the area.    It might be easier for the smart survivor to have barter goods available to purchase items that others pick up on the battlefield rather than risk unnecessary risk.  It will also be important for survivors to be able to evacuate an area with as many assets intact.  In a worst case scenario, this means evacuating to a different country or continent.  Survivors should be prepared with travel documentation like passports and enough money for the trip.  One decent way to move wealth is to keep bank accounts in neutral or secure friendly countries.   Part of a survival group's plan must include setting up life in another country if it becomes necessary.  

Scenario Five: Hell on earth? The apocalypse? You will definitely need divine help to survive this one. Consult you local clergy, and settle any unresolved issues with God. This included the use of heavy weapons on a massive scale and the occasional use of weapons of mass destruction. This is essentially the atomic holocaust scenarios that have been around since the cold war and are predicted from time to time by various religious figures and government analysts. Here, we are talking about radioactive cannibals and armor clad road warriors driving methane fueled dune buggies.

Unfortunately, this kind of scenario is not entirely unheard of.   This usually happens in the stalemate of a conventional war where the major warring factions have broken down to the point they do not retain any significant military order.   That is where you end up with a lot of the chaos you find in particularly miserable points in history in some places, like when the Khmer Rouge were rampaging through Cambodia or  parts of Africa when they had thrown off colonial powers, but had not established functional governments to replace them.  Human life becomes incredibly cheap under these circumstances.   Famine often comes about because the resources needed for maintaining security are  unsustainable when calculated against the need for labor resources dedicated to trade and agriculture.   Thus, the survivor has to consider those three factors as being critically important, and if there cannot be a sustainable balance of security, trade and agriculture in the region, you have to seriously consider evacuating the area, or finding some way to establish a community that is isolated either by natural or man-made obstacles like major terrain features, bodies of water, or vast distances.  

Hopefully this will give you some basis to work from when deciding exactly what preparations you will make in order to survive. We all must hope for the best while pragmatically preparing for the worst. If you have decided that an armed approach to the road ahead is appropriate then read on.

Addendum August 2005

My six step threat scenario environment system was originally laid out in 1996 in an early draft of what was going to be a book which then later ended up on this website.   Since then, security and policy analysts have begun to standardize a rating system based on degrees of threat and the security profiles that are appropriate for that threat.    SOC-SMG is an intelligence and threat analysis company operating worldwide but well known for their activities currently in Iraq and their reports are relied on extensively by government and private agencies.   Their rating system is similar to mine, and I will be integrating elements of it into further texts.

Their threat assessment levels tend to be very broad, but run on this (simplistic) scale:

1 Minimum threat of physical harm  Petty crime is the most common threat

2 Low threat of physical harm, petty crime and infrequent demonstrations are the most common threats

3 Medium threat f physical harm, petty crime and demonstrations are common and violent acts do occur

4 High threat of physical harm due to violent acts associated with crime, demonstrations or terrorism

5 Very high threat of physical harm due to violent acts associated with crime, terrorism, demonstrations or war.



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