Standing Up a Post-Disaster Survival Community

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Many preppers have formed a mental picture of the ideal bug out destination being a cabin located in some remote wilderness, well away from any population center. Others imagine an underground bunker where a mutual assistance group (“MAG”) can hunker down and ride things out for as long as is necessary. While these images have their appeal, they also present serious challenges of their own.

In the process of authoring “When There is No FEMA” I had the opportunity to give quite a bit of consideration to the ideal bug out destination, and one question persistently nagged at me – if a survival group is defending a small property in a remote location, then what is to stop a concealed enemy with a high-powered rifle from picking off members of the community one-by-one?   For me this highlights a fatal flaw in the “remote cabin” scenario, and underscores an important principle that should apply to any bug out location … any survival group should control a sufficiently large area that their base of operations is outside of rifle range of the perimeter they control.

This principle suggests that a small group is not necessarily the best group for a survival scenario. A small town, by comparison, has the physical size and raw manpower necessary to control a larger geographic area on a 24×7 basis. Additionally, a small town often has infrastructure such as machine shops, heavy equipment and agricultural land that can allow a local economy to be rebuilt.

Of course no scenario is perfect, and the small-town-as-bugout-destination scenario presents its own set of challenges, perhaps the largest of which is that only a small percentage of the population will be even remotely prepared in advance. While my book has the pages to go into great detail on how to quickly adapt a small community in the wake of social collapse, this article can at least provide an overview of the important topic.

Because great majority of an area’s inhabitants are going to be unprepared every second that passes will be critical. In the immediate aftermath there will be a lot of nervous energy, and this will be the absolute worst time for the clear thinking needed to define a viable survival community. However, that nervous energy could be constructively channeled into executing a plan that has already been developed. This article will cover the basics of such a plan (with this stipulation that there are always 1000 ways to skin the proverbial cat).

Physical security should be one of the first priorities.

Physical security should be one of the first priorities.

All small communities are not created equal. While an urban neighborhood or small suburb may provide the manpower and geographic size to meet post-disaster survival needs, unlike small towns they often do not have the agricultural or industrial base needed to support an independent economy. Additionally, inhabitants in these more urban locations are much less likely to possess the survival skills their rural counterparts take for granted.

There are some critical prerequisites to successfully adapting a small, unprepared community to survive a major disaster. They include:

  • Mitigation of all immediate threats to life and property
  • Producing a community charter that will govern the community.

Mitigation of immediate threats includes such basic activities as putting out fires, tending to the injured and placing sandbags to prevent property from flooding.

The community charter is a document that identifies elected offices and the terms of such offices, sets forth the procedures for electing officers, and defines their responsibilities. It should also specify those within the community who are eligible to vote and the procedures for carrying out elections (in recognition of the crucial factor of time the charter might describe the use of a fair coin toss to decide the outcome of tied elections, rather than requiring time-sensitive runoff elections). The charter should also specify if capital and corporal punishments are to be considered for some offenses and have provisions for such things as amending the charter and the recall of elected leaders.

NOTE: Chapter 14 of “When There is No FEMA” provides a complete, detailed community charter.

The charter should also cover:

  • Printing and minting of new coins and currency for the community
  • Identifying the initial elected and appointed leadership positions within the community and specifying their wages (in the community’s currency)
  • Processes for bringing outsiders into the community
  • Ownership of property
  • Crime and punishment – specifically identifying those crimes for which capital punishment, corporal punishment, or banishment from the community may apply
  • A minimum wage for those working within the community (this critical factor will be discussed in more detail below)
  • Defining guidelines for assessing the value of all physical property within the community
  • Specifying the oaths of office to be taken by all elected and appointed leaders


If the community votes in favor of capital punishment for select crimes It is a good idea to consider counterfeiting as one of the crimes that are candidates for that ultimate punishment.   The corrupting of the community’s monetary system is a direct threat to the lives of all members of the community; thus counterfeiting can reasonably be equated to attempted murder.

Those leaders who are best-suited to lead during non-disaster times are not necessarily the best post-disaster leaders. As a result it would be optimal for new elections to be held to allow those leaders to be installed who are best suited to the new circumstances (NOTE: While new members of the community may move into leadership positions, for obvious reasons those who have best knowledge of critical infrastructure such as water and sewage systems should almost certainly be retained in those typically appointed positions.) In my book I describe the election of a Council consisting of an odd number of members of the community. The odd number is to avoid the possibility of tie votes. Once elected, those council members might vote for who among them will be the council leader. In addition to normal council responsibilities, the Council leader is responsible for scheduling and organizing Council meetings and setting meeting agendas.

Once elected, the council members should appoint various others to leadership positions specified in the charter, and assign those appointees the tasks of developing plans for organizing those areas of the community that are within the scope of their responsibilities (any such tasks must have aggressive deadlines assigned).  Appointed positions might include a head of defense, a chief of police, a director of public works, the community banker, a property assessor and directors of health, education, agriculture and finance.

Jump-Starting the Local Economy

As the post-disaster clock ticks, growing seasons for crops come and go, and the members within the community grow more hungry and desperate. Hence it is vital that the local economy be restarted immediately. In the aftermath of a major disaster anyone who does not make this their primary focus is courting misery and death. One of the most important roles in restoring the economy is that of the newly appointed community banker, and the banker’s first job should be to identify a means for the printing of money and the minting of coins.

NOTE: Depending on the nature of the disaster, the role of banker may be one that is not particularly popular.   However, the post-disaster community banker is an entirely different beast than any international bankers who may be considered to have brought about a financial collapse. The role of community banker is critical to the survival of the community in the aftermath of a major disaster.

A currency replacement will need to be created.

A currency replacement will need to be created.

The polish and appearance of the community’s new currency is not particularly important because it can be upgraded at any time (all the banker has to do is to announce that the old currency will become worthless at some specified date, and invite community members to trade that soon-to-be-worthless currency for any superior version of the currency that is developed). The total amount of currency produced should be a fixed value, with all future printed currency either being produced in accordance with a pre-existing plan or as part of a program to replace and retire old, worn currency.

As new currency is produced a quantity of the newly-minted money should be distributed to each member of the community based on their age (and possibly other criteria). This will allow members of the community to immediately begin to make purchases, thereby restarting the economy. A substantial amount of the printed money should also be retained by the new government for purposes of paying wages, purchasing services from other members of the community, or to stimulate certain strategic sectors of the economy. Needless to say, the amount of money printed and minted for the community will be substantial – probably the equivalent of many tens of millions of pre-disaster US dollars in the case of a small town. At the same time, 80%-90% of that money should be held in reserve and dispersed into the community over a period of 5-10 years. It is not even necessary for that reserve money to be printed or minted until there is a need to disperse it; it can simply be kept “on the books”.

A minimum wage is yet another of those factors that are fundamental and critical to the community’s survival. While most communities are not sitting atop piles of precious metals that can be used as the basis of assigning value to its money, the setting of a minimum wage has precisely that effect. Rather than setting a single minimum wage, however, tiers of minimum wage might be set based on the age of the worker. This has the effect of helping younger workers to gravitate into the economy (by creating demand for their less-skilled labor) while at the same time providing a healthy incentive for older workers to nurture their own careers before they can be displaced by younger, lower cost workers.

Another important appointed position within the community is that of the property assessor, who is tasked with the responsibility of assigning value to all physical property within the community. Depending on the size and composition of the community, the assessor may have a need for a staff to work under his or her direction to meet the needs of this position. Using guidelines provided by the charter, the assessor should be able to appraise the value of virtually any physical property for purposes of taxation and/or purchase.

Property Ownership

Ownership of property is another critical linchpin to the stability of the post-disaster community. If property rights are not clearly defined then members of the community will have no faith in the system and will have far less motivation to work. The community charter should take into account the cases of those who owned property within the community pre-disaster, those who have been renting property from current community members, those who have been renting property from outsiders and property within the community that is owned by outsiders. It may be desirable for the community itself to assume ownership of all property owned by outsiders that lies within its physical boundaries.   It would be better for such assets to be contributing to the local economy than for them to deteriorate while waiting for an owner who never appears (and if they do eventually appear then accommodations might be negotiated at that time).

Initial Task Assignments

During each public council meeting new tasks should be assigned to elected and appointed officials and the results of already-completed tasks should be discussed. Initially these tasks may take the form of assignments to develop plans. For example, the head of defense may be tasked with developing a plan for the defense of the community. The director of agriculture may be assigned a task to develop plans for foraging and growing the next season’s crops. These plans can then be reviewed, revised and approved, and would result in work assignments for members of the community (or for companies that exist within the community).

Crime and Punishment

In a post-disaster scenario perspectives on capital and corporal punishment may very well change. For example, given the expected scarcity of the basics for human life, the crime of looting might be equated with attempted murder, which the community may decide warrants capital punishment. Also, because the community may not be able to afford to incarcerate a convicted criminal who could otherwise be working constructively, it may be necessary to carry out corporal punishment for certain offenses (in reality corporal punishment may be more humane than incarceration – would you rather suffer through several lashes from a whip or to be separated from your loved ones for months or years?) Additionally, some crimes may simply merit banishment from the community and forfeiture of assets.

Integrating Newcomers into the Community

It is inevitable that outsiders will eventually wish to become part of a successful community. Any such petition should be considered from multiple perspectives. Does the newcomer have a special skill or knowledge that could benefit the community? Is the community in need of physical labor which the newcomer is capable of performing? Is some member of the community willing to speak in favor of the newcomer or to otherwise sponsor the newcomer into the community? Ultimately the decision to accept the newcomer into the community should rest with the Council or those it appoints for this purpose.

Merging with Other Communities

Historically the merging of small communities under difficult circumstances has been a very bloody affair. Often the reluctance of two communities to merge simply reflects the resistance of the community’s leadership to loss of authority. The community charter should outline a means through which two communities could merge while avoiding wasteful conflict. One approach might be to make all decisions regarding potential community mergers through majority vote. Another approach might be to provide a “golden parachute” (e.g. highly desirable employment) to any displaced elected community members in the event that their position is eliminated due to such a merger.


I will paraphrase the American inventor Thomas Edison and say that, while it is essential for a community to adapt itself in the wake of a major disaster, and that adaptation does require establishing leadership and developing plans, the ultimate survival of that community will consist of one percent inspiration (electing officials and planning) and ninety-nine percent perspiration (carrying out those plans). Deadlines assigned for planning should be aggressive, and work under those plans should commence immediately and have its own tight deadlines.

As most members of the community have not prepared themselves prior to the disaster they should work as though their lives hang in the balance – because that is exactly the case!

About the Author: Richard Bryant is author of the preparedness book “When There is No FEMA – Survival for Normal People in (Very) Abnormal Times” and a long-time preparedness group organizer in Central Florida. He has recently relocated permanently to his disaster retreat in rural West Tennessee. The first 60 pages of his book are available for review and download at http://nofema.com.


  1. usmarinestanker

    November 5, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    I love this article. I don’t want to say that I consider myself “above” the “mundane” because I believe everyone will and must spend a great majority of each day working to provide for that day, but I have a natural talent for organizing and leadership speaks to me. Growing up I always loved board and video games that revolved around building communities and civilizations from scratch because of the multi-faceted thought process and considerations that must be included to balance all the variables.

    I will definitely be buying this book.

    But, having led several democratic volunteer sport and hobby organizations, the biggest problem I ran into, even with having governing charters clearly spelled out, was keeping all the various participants happy and willing to continue with the group when their vision didn’t coincide with “the plan”. Our groups were small – at max just over 20 people – and very strong-willed (athletic alpha males). I’ve got the people skills and the gift of gab to persuade people, but being a hobby organization, there was no real force of law/consequences to keep people in line because they could simply quit and then the group would lose key members/interest/participation, etc and fall apart. What are your suggestions to combat that? Do you propose that since this is a real life scenario and people will want to resume normalcy as fast as possible because it provides the best chance of survival that they will perhaps be more willing to go with the flow or not rock the boat?

    Also, you mention “small town”, what size is that? The town in which I live has 80,000 people and yet it is smaller than Detroit where I was raised in geography, population, and mentality. I would assume that is too large for the individual prepper to apply these skills because a fairly strong government structure is extant and would most likely not collapse barring the most extreme of scenarios. I would think this level of planning and participation by the individual prepper would work best with a couple hundred to a couple thousand people, in a fairly removed location so long as the mechanical infrastructure you mention is in place.

    Really cool things to think about, and very much in line with my belief that small towns will continue fairly unchanged (http://www.theprepperjournal.com/2014/07/30/value-bring-survival-situation/) and be the focal point of rebuilding post-massive collapse scenario.

  2. Brian

    November 5, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    I just purchased this book and will be adding it to my library of prep books. There’s just an importance to have a physical copy rather than depend on the electronic versions.

    This article makes me wonder if they’d watched the TV show “Jericho”. Pretty much everything mentioned here was depicted in that TV show. There’s the added element of roving gangs that would have to be dealt with, and hopefully geographic boundaries in small towns could assist with that significantly (they dealt with this in the TV show as well). Then there’s dealing with the “problem people” that already exist in the town. If you live in a small town, you likely know who these people are. They will need to be dealt with in approved ways.

    It would seem to me that disaster situations would bring a level of cohesion initially and could help set things up, and it would be paramount to ensure that things didn’t spiral into a dictatorship. That said, I’ve always preferred the Technocracy. The people who know the most about farming ought to be in charge of it (you wouldn’t want me in that role). The people who know the most about medicine (I’m thinking surgeons here) ought to be in charge of it. The same goes for utilities, etc. While I don’t live in a very small town, I do not live in a city. Still, I’ll bet we’re upward of 45,000 people by now. It seems to me that the author of this article means to suggest only towns that are geographically separated units (GSU’s). In my town, you can go to the edge of town and not see any difference between it and the next. Maybe a small town in this description means a four-digit number population that’s also a GSU.

  3. Scott

    November 7, 2014 at 8:46 am

    Print Money?
    Collect Taxes?
    A budding statist.

    • usmarinestanker

      November 7, 2014 at 10:08 am

      Really? Every group besides the smallest of voluntary hobby groups organizes in some fashion and has dues (taxes). Money or good or services make the world go round. Setting up a small economy in a beneficial way with the consent of those involved is a far cry from the crap sandwich we deal with today.

      I will agree that all systems usually grow and become corrupt over time, but if things are kept small and mechanisms in place to reset and remove bad players or policies, then a small economy like described can do wonders.

      • Scott

        November 7, 2014 at 11:34 am

        What will make the the town money function as a medium of exchange? There will be little confidence after a collapse or disaster. That leaves ” Its money because I said so and I have a gun. All fiat currencies have/will fail over time because the guy with the gun abuses the right to print. Confidence in a currency or true money takes time (it helps greatly if the currency has a commodity value). Taxes are a way for the king/gov to take stuff without having to brandish a gun. But if you fail to pay, don’t be surprised to find yourself down range. It all starts out with good intentions but… You want to make the world a better place, go ahead, volunteer, millions of us do. Free trade to mutual benefit without force and coercion is the only sustainable way to live. I would like to offer Murray Rothbard as primer to Libertarian thought.
        Stay Moral,

        • usmarinestanker

          November 7, 2014 at 5:34 pm

          I am a fan of bartering and would do it willingly if the economical situation allowed for it. I am also very leery of government (large or small) having too much power and the ability or legislated right/authority/physical power to enforce rules/laws with which I disagree. However, not all laws are bad.

          “What will make the town money function as a medium of exchange?” Acceptance by those who are in the community (talking small town here) and enforcement by punishment. This is no different than any other society that has made rules (laws) and enforced them. To not have them will be anarchy.

          To get everyone to accept it I think it would be important to make the currency something that all parties have access to (in the book it is suggested to distribute it). If a town decided to use “garbanzo beans” and only one person had them then there’d be no incentive to accept the beans as money. The system has to be fair for people to believe in it and use it. This could take some time, but flexibility and open, honest communication would help this a lot in the early stages.

          And as for the enforcement, well, any law or rule without enforcement is just a suggestion. When living with other people we need to make/codify common accepted and unaccepted behaviors in order to get along (social contract) or else we end up in anarchy which Thomas Hobbes (author of “Leviathan”) termed “natural condition” (actually it was Latin: bellum omnium contra omnes meaning war of all against all.)

          I am absolutely 100% in favor of having as few rules/laws as possible (big fan of natural law), but this is really only possible if everyone either lives far apart and doesn’t pose a threat to someone else’s security, or if everyone has the same values and beliefs. The larger the group of people that get together causes more and more disparate views to be forced under a common banner, resulting in the need for laws which supercede individual liberty (sacrifice) in the name of common peace/good (security) etc.

          If we’re going to have laws in a survival situation, those pertaining to currency are some I am personally inclined to be ok with.

          • Scott

            November 7, 2014 at 8:16 pm

            I am not a fan of bartering. It is time consuming and leaves one at the mercy of coincidences of wants. Money could be the greatest invention of all time. Trading value for value instead of force and theft. Fiat paper is not money. In Mr. Bryant’s article he explains that 10% of the currency should be distributed to everyone. What will it buy? Why will it be accepted? What happens if they don’t. Garbanzo beans are a commodity and have food value and more suitable as a currency than fancy pieces of paper. If someone does have all of the Garbanzo Beans/Money Why is that a problem; work for him or exchange value for value. Bryant adds “At the same time, 80%-90% of that money should be held in reserve and dispersed into the community over a period of 5-10 years”. If the GDP does not keep pace and is stagnant, huge inflation will occur. And to whom is the currency distributed. producers? slackers? friends? Cronies?
            And what about the tax issue? What happens if someone can’t pay.
            Does the government seize their property. If so, the owner never owned it. Then what, the community owns it? When I said statist, I meant it. When the gov has the ability to make the laws and has the guns to back them, the people are in peril. When the gov controls the currency they are part of every transaction. Why?
            As for large communities and disparate views, I believe only two rules are necessary for harmony: 1)The INITIATION of force is immoral and should be banned in all human interaction 2) Fraud and theft should also be banned.
            Jefferson said ” My right to swings my fists violently ends at your nose”. Don’t hurt me and don’t take my stuff. Which by the way, are the first two rules the gov breaks when dealing with every citizen. The implications of the two rules are truly vast. I would love for you to check out Murray Rothbard’s (For A New Liberty) and (What Has The Government done to our money. Murray has it covered. Your turn!
            Stay Moral,

            • usmarinestanker

              November 7, 2014 at 10:22 pm

              Scott I like your thinking. We’re talking some of the same lingo, just using different words. I’ll look up Rothbard’s book next time I’m at the library. Thanks for the info and the exchange of ideas.
              The concept of the natural law is exactly what you said – don’t initiate violence against others and don’t use fraud. I’m onboard 100% and in a perfect world we could use those as our sole governing principles. But we don’t live in a perfect world, hence the need for additional rules (laws) governing societal interaction (Even God had 10 commandments… :-P)
              Believe me, even though (or really, perhaps because) I was in the military, my parents were authoritarian, and I work for a police department, I am HUGELY in favor of as few laws as possible. I see on a daily basis the power (sometimes used responsibly, sometimes not) that government has been given and how it chooses to enforce it through threat and execution of physical violence. Giving up liberty for safety and security via laws and allowing them to be enforced is in no way done lightly. And even though Ben Franklin disparaged that concept (often taken out of context) he and the other Founding Fathers still laid down law and saw the wisdom and necessity behind being able to enforce it.
              The problem isn’t with laws in general or the power to tax and enforce laws specifically, the problem is with the imperfect, corruptable, and even simply differently-thinking people creating and executing the laws. “The government” is nothing more than the people who instituted it and keep it going. If the people stopped doing bad things, so would the government.
              Even if we only had the natural law, who would enforce the two rules? How would “they” do it? The only way to enforce punishment and instill a form of fear for compliance (because not everyone does the right thing simply because its the right thing to do) is to have someone or a group in charge (government) and give them the authority and muscle (police) to punish people (violence). Laws without enforcement are just suggestions. Right there we’ve violated the natural law trying to enforce the natural law.
              And as for money, I’m not an economist so I certainly don’t have all the answers. But money is whatever people say it is – paper, metals, food, shiny rocks, seashells, pink crayons, etc. If you and I find value in something that someone else finds ridiculous, does that diminish the value it has to us? Money is, in fact, bartering – just with a more widely accepted currency that isn’t so much subject to “the mercy of coincidences of wants” as you aptly put it. But if the money used in Town A is different from the money in Town B, an impasse as troublesome or as innocuous as the people want it to be exists and we’re back to square one.
              As an example: If Trader 1 decides to accept a transaction of apples for Town B money from Trader 2 that’s all fine and good (freedom, right?). But if Trader 1 brings it back to Town A and the people refuse to accept it, what then? What if “the government” makes an allowance, or equivalence/rate of exchange for Town A money compared to Town B money? Is that allowed? Does it matter “who” the government is or to what extent they still represent the people, OR, are we to simply have each family or free adult make up their own rates? Let’s change this to a more modern-day prepper scenario. What if Town A uses US Silver Eagles as the standard currency and Town B uses gold flakes/powder/nuggets? What if one town is using troy ounces and the other is using metric? What if your scales are calibrated differently from theirs? Who regulates this?
              This is why I am in favor of laws and enforcement of them to some extent – pretty much extending to public interactions for what I believe is the common good. The outcomes are dependent upon the will of the governed and will remain towards the better end of the spectrum if the people remain vigilant and actively limit their government.
              Semper Fi

    • RedClay

      July 6, 2016 at 2:30 pm

      For currency, I’d recommend using silver coins (including junk silver), & rounds of .22 ammo. Any money printed or minted is vulnerable to counterfeiting. Silver coins & 22 ammo have concrete value & are relatively common.

  4. violentpandaporn

    August 31, 2015 at 10:47 pm

    No offense…but all of you are bat shit crazy! Figured I’d let ya know, but I’m sure it won’t matter lol.

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