Is There Strength in Numbers? Critical Considerations When Forming a Mutual Assistance Group

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This is not an article on how to form a mutual assistance group. It’s a discussion of the things to consider before trying to form such a group.

When things are tough, it’s usually better to be a member of the pack than a lone wolf. That would seem to be true for a SHTF situation, but it may not be as straightforward as it sounds. Is organizing your neighborhood to work together in an emergency realistic or not? I am not referring to a short-term emergency like everyone being snowed in or the aftermath of a storm. I am talking about the kind of long-term TEOTWAWKI crisis that has long-lasting ramifications for survival.

Organizing people in your community or neighborhood into a mutual assistance survival group (MAG) with the intention of working together in a world-changing crisis is something that warrants a great deal of thought and consideration. Failure to do so could reduce your chances of survival rather than enhancing them.

Geography Plays a Big Part

In a major crisis, geography is going to play a key role in who you have to work with. Unless you are forced to evacuate due to a serious threat like fire, flooding, or a toxic chemical spill, the best course of action is generally to stay in your home. No matter what kind of arrangements you have made for bugging out, you will rarely be able to carry the quantity of food, shelter, medical, and other supplies with you that you have at home. 

But that also means that you will only have the people who live nearby as a pool to draw on when deciding whether or not to form a cooperative group. In a true long-term SHTF scenario, your group will probably consist of people living within 5 miles of you. The suitability of those people as partners in survival is going to depend on several factors.

Trust is Everything

The biggest factor in finding people to work with is trust, pure and simple. How well do you know your neighbors? What kind of people are they? Can you rely on them in a crisis? Will they turn out to be more of a problem than a solution? And worst of all, is there a chance they might turn on you if things get tough?

I am not talking about what they have to offer in terms of skills and resources. I’m talking about them as people. Are they the kind of people you can trust with the well-being of yourself and your loved ones? There’s no way to quantify how to determine that. You simply have to get to know them well enough to decide for yourself. If you cannot say that you trust them 100%, it might be better to avoid a discussion about what to do in a crisis with them altogether.

Depending on where you live and how spread out people are, it is oftentimes best to work with a group you already know and trust – preferably people who already share at least some of your philosophy. A church group is a good example. Others might include community organizations or lodges, any group where you already know people and have a good feeling about their outlooks and attitudes.

Truthfully, your opinion of people is going to be largely subjective. A lot will rely on your gut feeling about them. Some Prepper gurus recommend having prospective members fill out an application, complete with a background check. That is an option, and you may feel that is a good way to go, but personally, if someone wanted me to fill out an application to be a member of their mutual assistance group, I think that would send up some red flags that would make me decide to look elsewhere. At the very least, they would have to reciprocate with an application and background check for me to review.

Apartments, Suburbia, and the Country

Your living arrangement is going to be another major factor in how realistic it is to work with neighbors as a mutual assistance survival group. 

Apartments

Unfortunately, folks who live in apartments will have the most difficult time in a long-term crisis. For one thing, apartments are small compared to houses, so they will likely have fewer preparedness supplies to fall back on. Apartment complexes have a high density of people for the size of the area. That means there will be a lot of competition for limited resources. 

Finally, apartment populations are much more transient than single-family dwellings. People come and go a lot, so it may be difficult to get to know your neighbors. I said earlier that it is generally better to stay in your home rather than bugging out. However, if you live in a crowded apartment complex, bugging out might be a better option.

Suburbia

Suburbs, older residential areas, and subdivisions are the next level of living arrangements. Everyone lives in single-family dwellings with at least a small building lot of their own. They have more room for living essentials like food and necessities. That means they will probably be more prepared to be on their own, at least for a while. 

Depending on the neighborhood, people may know their neighbors better and may already have a relationship with some folks. All those factors will make deciding to form a group an easier process, both because you know your neighbors and because you can easily form a small group that will have a well-defined boundary.

Rural

Rural settings are by far the most sustainable in terms of SHTF scenarios. By rural, I am not referring to a homestead far out in the hinterlands with no neighbors for miles. Most of us would consider that an ideal setting and isolated enough that any group would all be living on the same property anyway. I am talking about rural areas where you have neighbors, but they do not live right next to you. 

People in rural settings tend to be more independent and better prepared than folks in urban or suburban settings. Depending on how long you have lived there and how constant the local population is, you may already know many of the people. They are also likely to have better skills and resources for self-sufficiency and mutual assistance, such as carpentry, mechanics, gardening, hunting, and general farming and woodcraft.

Talents and Contributions

A mutual assistance survival group is only as effective as the talents of its members make it. Again, this is going to depend, at least in part, on where you live and the surrounding environment. Apartment dwellers are generally going to have a narrower range of skills than other areas. That’s not to say they aren’t as smart as everyone else; it’s just that many apartment dwellers are young and/or work in service industries such as retail and office jobs.

Decide ahead of time what talents and skills your group will need, and then look for reliable members to fill them. Remember that in a true TEOTWAWKI scenario, you will be completely on your own for everything. That includes shelter, food, water, medical care, and defense. There will very likely be no electricity for lights, refrigeration, or pumping water. Fuel for vehicles will be hard to come by, and gasoline will be too stale to use after a year or so. Medical and dental care, as well as medications, will be difficult to obtain. Examples of critical skills include:

  • Medical – This includes everything from emergency lifesaving to suturing wounds to dentistry. You will need someone who can provide care as well as build up a supply of critical medications like antibiotics.
  • Carpentry – This might be better termed as a handyman. Carpentry, plumbing, roof repair, and building whatever you need with the available tools and materials.
  • Mechanical – Vehicles will be important for as long as fuel is available, but a good mechanic will be useful for putting together whatever kinds of makeshift gizmos the group may need to make life easier.
  • Homesteading, Farming, and Gardening – Growing food is self-explanatory. But what about other needs like sanitation, making soap, washing clothes, purifying water, preserving meat and other foods, and caring for any livestock you’re able to keep? Many of these skills have been lost over time.
  • Hunting and Woodcraft – Living off the land is a pipe dream in many areas where the human population is dense. But if you are in an area where you can find game or fish, you will need someone who has the experience and skills to succeed at it. 
  • Teaching – Teaching children to read and do arithmetic will be important. So will developing and implementing a plan to cross-train group members in each other’s skills. 
  • Military – This boils down to the organization and defense of the group. Weapons training, small unit tactics, planning, and tactical leadership in a crisis will be critical to the survival of the group. 
  • Leadership – I left this one for last because it is the most important skill you can have. Any successful group needs overall leadership. This is not just military-style leadership, it is also going to include organization and administrative skills, logistics, motivation, counseling, and conflict resolution. If you know someone who would be better at it than you, there is no shame in forming a group but asking someone else to lead it or be a co-leader.

Personalities

Skills can be learned, but people pretty much come with whatever personality they have. Never forget that a survival situation is going to be highly stressful. Issues like no electricity, shortages of food and clean water, caring for people with illnesses or injuries, imbalances in people’s level of preparedness, and general uncertainty and fear will bring out people’s true personalities. 

 The people you invite to be part of a MAG must have stable personalities and be able to work cooperatively as part of a group. The idea of doing a background and criminal history check is all well and good, and I would be unlikely to include most career criminals in my group, but I have personally known people who had been in trouble with the law who were much better people than some others who were considered upstanding citizens. 

Each person must be evaluated on an individual basis. A highly skilled individual who is hot-headed, argumentative, selfish, impatient, or has a difficult personality may not be worth the friction they would cause in a crisis. That decision can only be made based on your knowledge of the person and the rest of the group.

Just Keeping it Real

Forming a mutual assistance group is not as simple as finding people with the right skills. The questions you should be asking yourself as you consider members are:

  • Can you trust them?
  • How prepared are they to survive?
  • What do they offer the group (leadership, talents, skills, experience)?
  • Are your personalities compatible?
  • Are they a team player?
  • Are they geographically close enough for them and the group to be mutually supporting?

Failure to consider these things in advance could be more devastating than the crisis itself.

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