I see this question all the time. “If SHTF are you gonna bug in or bug out?” Some people say they’re gonna hunker down no matter what. Some people say they’re bugging out no matter what.
Well, it’s not all that simple.
First of all, you have to define SHTF. To me, SHTF means that for an extended period (several weeks maybe) or much longer, your entire way of life has been uprooted. It doesn’t mean that aliens had to have landed or that the entire world has gone to civil war due to a complete economic collapse. Hurricane Katrina, a large earthquake, a flood like Thailand gets occasionally that wipes out your town – those are SHTF events.
Once you define it that way (or however you feel like defining it for your own purposes), you have to decide what threats there are out there to your way of life (or your life itself), and what risks those threats pose. You can’t protect yourself from every possible threat out there so you have to come up with a plan based on what risks you want to devote your resources to in order to mitigate them.
When to bug out
Bugging in vs bugging out
One of the biggest arguments is the bugging-in-vs-bugging-out one. Which do you plan for? The truth is that you have to plan for both. The key is to decide under what circumstances you’re gonna leave the comforts of your home.
If you have a family or are going to be riding out a SHTF or disaster scenario with others, you need to do a bit more planning in advance than if you’re doing things alone.
This is because when things do go South, you may not be with each other. You’ll either need to establish comms with each other or hook up somewhere. Either way, you need to plan things out.
When making your overall bug out plan, a key decision is gonna be when you bug out. You need to think this through pretty well because you need to know what to stock, what to cache, what to plan and what to learn in advance based on the scenarios you’re going to be dealing with.
So let’s first deal with the stupid argument that people have when they say, “I only need to plan for bugging (in/out) because I’m not gonna (leave/stay) no matter what.
If you’re not planning on bugging out, no matter what the circumstances, what’re you gonna do if your house isn’t livable and you haven’t planned any bugout plan at all? Dumbass. Now you’re screwed. Not much of a prepper if you’re stuck in your stubborn ways and just arbitrarily decide you’re not gonna plan for one of the biggest life-changing events that might happen. You have to plan on both bugging in and bugging out, and most of the time, you’ll be bugging in.
I don’t need a bug out plan
Let’s look at some scenarios where you’d have absolutely no choice but to bug out:
- Your house burns down
- A tornado/hurricane/flood/tsunami/earthquake wipes out your neighborhood
- A chemical spill happens nearby
- The government decides that for whatever reason, evacuation is mandatory
I don’t need a bug in plan
In the same vein, you can’t just have a bug out plan and not plan on bugging in at all. What if the power in your neighborhood goes out for a few days? You gonna pack up the kids, head out in your bug out vehicle with your INCH (I’m Not Coming Home) bag and that’s it? You’d be causing undue hardship and wasting supplies.
Let’s look at a few reasons why you might have no choice but to bug in or delay bugging out even if you had planned on bugging out:
- Your neighborhood is quarantined by the government due to a virus. Martial law is declared and no movement is allowed
- Some weather comes in (storms/snow/whatever) that don’t let you move
- Your bug out vehicle becomes disabled
- Your chosen bug out route is temporarily impassable
- You haven’t been able to reach all those in your party and didn’t have an adequate plan to get them to your bug out location without you
- You or one of your party are incapacitated and can’t be moved
- SHTF and one of you is kidnapped
You need to make sure your home (or office, or car, or wherever you may be caught when STHF) has enough water, food, power, protection and comms to hold you for an extended period. If you’re gonna survive in place, you need to come up with a good bug in plan!
Either way, there are myriad reasons why you may have no choice but to either stay at home longer than you had anticipated or have to bug out before you had planned. This means at some point, you’ll have to when you’re gonna bug out.
Deciding when to bug out
The best overall bug out plan is to decide under what circumstances you’re gonna bug out (and with whom) so you have a better idea how long you’ll be bugging in and what you’ll need to support you for that long. Then make your bug in plan based on that.
I’m not gonna go into the whole bug in plan or bug out plan here because I’d need a whole ebook to explain either. Heck, just one of those could fill an entire book.
What you need to do is just look at why you’d have to leave your house and communicate that with the others so they know if you’re gonna be leaving. You should have a communications plan already in place but sometimes circumstances arise that make your plan irrelevant or maybe things have changed and your plan didn’t involve all the people it now does.
You obviously need a good plan for what you put in your bug out bag. You also need to know where you’re going. If you’re bugging out without a plan of where to bug out to, you’re just going outside. Find a location and develop a good bug out route plan to get there. If it’s far (and it probably will be) then you may want to plan some caches along the way.
Either way, sit down together and decide what events would trigger you leaving and then exactly what each of you is going to do based on what’s going on and exactly where you’re at when it happens.
The easy choices
Obviously if your house burns down, the choice has been taken from you. Hopefully you’ve built some of your planning around something like this and not kept your only bugout bag sitting there ready to go by your front door. You may not be home when SHTF so you may end up having to bug out while already on the road.
In these cases, there’s not really a lot of discussion that needs to happen because you’re probably gonna recognize when you can’t stay home. You just need to have a plan of action of what everyone’s gonna do in these circumstances.
Again, this is outside the scope of this article but you should be thinking about things like hooking up at a pre-designated rally point, making comms with each other, or just moving out to the bugout location on your own. Can’t tell you what to do here Bud; don’t know your circumstances.
The harder choices
What if the choice isn’t so clear? There are certainly situations where you may be sitting there wondering if you should be staying home or pulling up stakes and jumping in the 4×4.
There are many gray areas that the argument could be made both ways. What you need to do is know what you need to consider when deciding to bug out.
Do you have all the information to make your decision? Hopefully your bug in plan (which you’ve essentially activated when you started your decision-making process of whether to stay or pop smoke) involved some kind of communications.
Before you can make a decision to bug out, you need to know the situation on the ground, not only in your general vicinity but along the various routes you may be taking to your bugout location and at the location itself.
If you have a ham radio, life is much easier. You’ve hopefully developed not only the skills needed to get your comms up in several situations but also a network of people on different frequencies that you can reach to find out what’s going on.
The Emergency Broadcast Network. In addition to your television and radio, even if you don’t have a ham radio license, you should at least have a shortwave radio. You can’t transmit with it but you can hear what’s going on.
The authorities are gonna be putting out information when disasters occur. It’s up to you personally to decide what to do with that information but you should at least know what they’re telling you. If they’ve decided that you must evacuate or if martial law has been declared and you’re not allowed to move, you need to know that.
Do you have everyone? Do you know where the others are and what their situation is? Is anyone hurt? Are others now in your party that you hadn’t originally planned on? If you have a lot of unknowns here, you’re probably gonna have to delay bugging out until you figure them out.
Your commo plan can’t cover every circumstance but if you’ve done one properly, you’ll at least know when you’ve missed something and hopefully know what each other is now gonna do so you can have a better chance of hooking up later.
The dangers of bugging out
In general in an emergency situation, bugging out is inherently more dangerous than bugging in. In a natural disaster, roads will be torn up, power lines down, chemicals and diseases may be rampant. You just don’t know what you’ll be facing. You need to factor these unknowns in when making your decision.
If you’ve gotten everyone together, have a decent idea of what you’re facing, and decided that the benefits of bugging out outweigh the dangers you’ll be facing, you need to have everyone on board. If you have the time, pull everyone together and talk it out.
Lay everything out that you know. You are the leader – this is the time to act like one. Being a leader means that you are there for your people, not that they are there for you. Let them know what you know and that you are considering them in your decision. Let them know that you’ve thought it through and when you’ve made the decision to bug out that it’s a sound one.
Laying everything out that you know will help you make sure you’re making the best decision. It may seem like the best thing to bug out at first but until you really go through your plan and bounce it off your current situation, you just don’t know. Break it all down and see what you have.
No matter how well-trained you are compared to the others in your party, you don’t know everything. Not only do you not only not know everything about bugging out, you don’t know everything about the situation. Someone in your group may have an idea that you haven’t considered. They may also know something about what’s going on that you didn’t know. You won’t know until you do this.
In a small group dynamic, buy-in is extremely important. You may have enough leadership that they’ll blindly follow you no matter what but in most cases, they’re not sheep. Having dissension amongst the troops isn’t a good thing.
The answer isn’t to shut them down and tell them they’re doing what you say, the answer is to get them to buy into the plan and want to do what you need them to do. They may not revolt if they don’t agree but at least they’ll see your reasoning and follow because it’s best for the group and they trust that you know what you’re doing.
You have to give them a voice to express their thoughts and feelings so you know where they stand and so they know that you heard them. Don’t make the mistake of not involving your group in your decisions.
By taking the lead in making this plan in the first place, you’ve already established yourself as the leader. By pulling in the data to make your decisions and then executing the necessary steps to solve the problems your group faces, you act like the leader they expect.
When I went through Army Officer training, we learned that leadership isn’t just about executing, it’s also about image. You can be making all the right decisions and be doing exactly what your group needs to do in order to survive but if you don’t portray yourself as the leader, they’ll not only start doubting your plan, they’ll start sabotaging it.
Take steps to manage their perceptions of your leadership When you’re in doubt, it’s sometimes best to let them know that and sometimes best to just make the decision without them knowing. This perception management should start today with how they see your planning and how you execute when you practice.
What you don’t want to do is act like you’re making a decision based on sound intel and judgement and then they find out you were bullshitting. They’ll start questioning your decisions from that point on. Leadership is all about trust. Don’t betray that trust.
On the other side of the coin, you don’t want to always put everything up for a debate or always let them know that you really don’t know what you’re doing.
The truth is that you probably won’t have any idea what you’re doing when SHTF and you’ll be falling back to whatever plans you’ve made and whatever limited information you have. Your plans will never be thorough enough and your intel will never tell you everything. Sometimes you need to just act like you know what you’re doing and run with it.
Don’t be the hardass that sticks with a decision no matter what or won’t take input from your team when they see a different way to do things but remember that you’re running the show. If you say go; they go.
The decision when to bug out doesn’t start after SHTF, it starts now. You need to make gather information, gear and skills now and make your plans. You also need to start developing your buy-in and leadership image with your group now as well. When SHTF, they’re gonna be scared and confused, and they won’t know what to do. If you want to be the hero, you gotta start today.
In the end, make a good plan now and gather your information the best you can when SHTF. When it comes time, make a decision and run with it. When the world is falling apart around you, those who’ve developed the best plans and made the best teams will survive. Are you the leader that your family needs?