Prepper Dilemma: Survival vs Service

Prepping tends to be selfish, unless undertaken collectively, as in a community of people who are also prepping. I'm not using 'selfish' as criticism, merely observation. Prepping is activity directed towards survival, something every living thing is programmed to do, so there isn't anything negative about it. Survival is what all species are engaged in.

Humans, however, and developed animals, often sacrifice a little or a great deal to help members of their own species and even members of other species. YouTube is a wealth of videos showing Hippos challenging Crocodiles to defend a Gazelle or other hapless creature facing death. There is even a case of a Lion 'adopting' a baby Gazelle, the Lion's normal prey, and protecting it from attack by other Lions.

Humans, of course, are known for heroic acts of sacrifice as well, and it's humans I will discuss now. Prepping among humans is, as the word suggests, preparing for trouble, and for the purpose of this discussion, let's say the 'event' or crisis for which we are preparing is serious enough to force survivors to flee cities and seek shelter elsewhere. Most preppers are aware that there are many things that could happen that would result in cities becoming uninhabitable prisons, so I won't elaborate (see Why Avoid Cities).

Our story begins with such an event and you and your family bugging out (escaping) to a shelter you have prepared for this purpose, far from the city. It's your survival retreat, and you have invested considerable time, labor and money to make it secure and to stock it with food, water and other supplies - enough to last all of you for three years. You and your spouse and two kids have unpacked and settled in and are about to sit down to your first meal, when there's a knock at the door. You all look at each other with the same question: Did you tell anyone about this place?

Imagine for a minute that this really is you, alone or with a friend or family, and somebody knocks on your retreat door. What goes through your mind? Here are some possibilities:

"Oh, shit, it's probably John and Mary and their kids. I knew it was a bad idea to tell them." Or,

"Oh, shit, somebody followed me/us. What if they're armed?" [I suggest keeping this in mind as you design and build your retreat, so you can deal with 'bad' people without actual confrontation.]

You ask through the door, "Who's there?" The reply comes, "It's John and Mary. Hi guys, can we come in? We have our three kids too." You are relieved that it's ONLY John, Mary and their kids, but relief soon turns to dilemma: What are you going to do?

Okay, let's look at the positive. Instead of a gang of armed looters who planned to kill you and then move into your comfy retreat, it's your old friend John and his whole family who probably expect to move into your comfy retreat. Why else are they AT your retreat? If you didn't plan for this, then you didn't prep.

Whether or not you have any intention of accommodating your friends permanently, if you trusted them enough to tell them about your rereat, you should probably invite them in. If you have decided that your retreat and its supplies are for the survival of you and yours (friend, family), then at some point you will have to tell that to your guests. This is a purely personal matter, your decision, and it will be influenced by many factors. You can't tell guests they can stay, and you can't tell them to leave, without...

Carefully considering all these things:

1. What is your 'take' on the 'event' that prompted you to take shelter? Does it look like it will last for a month, a year or does it look like the  'dark ages' and requiring generations to fix?

2. Can you provide for yourself and your guests for this length of time? (See also 7 below.)

3. The question "Is there room for them?" is not as relevant as it was in 'normal' times, when one person slept in a room. Visit India or another poor country and see how many bodies can sleep in a room when required. 'Like sardines' is an accurate metaphor. Physical space is not the issue.

4. If you have decided that you will not shelter guests, perhaps you know a place they can stay, but there is still the matter of food and water.

5. You can give them a C.A.R.E. package to last them a week or so and tell them you cannot shelter them. Perhaps suggest a safe alternative.

6. Nobody can demand that you risk/shorten your life in order to save them, but you may volunteer to do so.

7. Do your guests have firearms, can they shoot? Or are you now expected to protect them from harm? This could be huge. Sooner or later, guests will go outside the protection of your retreat. Are you their bodyguard? Can you take on that responsibility? If someone is shot by a looter or thug, is it your fault?

8. Are your guests liabilities or assets? Can they contribute, earn their keep? If you have seeds, perhaps they can grow food.

9. Did you promise anyone shelter? Did someone show up uninvited?

10. If you did not promise your guests they have a place and if you didn't plan for them, you can be honest about both points. You can let them stay the night and then discuss it in the morning. That relieves the tension of the moment and gives you time to think.

11. If shelter is more of an issue than food and water, perhaps you have a shed or other structure that an be converted into living space. You might get along better with guests if they are not in your space day and night.

12. If the John and Mary clan are suitable members for your 'community', you might wonder why you didn't make arrangements with them in advance. The point is, if you know people who you think might show up at your retreat after an 'event', and if you consider them to be competent and trustworthy, why not create the reatreat for all of you from the beginning?

Let's say that you slept on it and in the morning decided that, for whatever reasons, your guests will have to find shelter elsewhere. How do you think your guests will react to this news. Try to predict several reactions, so you can prepare for them. They will be disappointed at least, furious possibly, violent perhaps? They're your friends, so you know better what to expect. In any case, think of ways you can help them that won't compromise your own safety and/or survival. Perhaps you know another shelter they could use. You could give them seeds to help get their garden going, if the place has water. You might offer to feed them until their own food supply is established, and then work out a trade. They could repay your seeds when they harvest.

A lot will depend on how close these people are to you. For those we love, we make heroic sacrifices. However, this is different, because it may be that the more you give to your guests, the less you have for yourself and your own family. What's also odd is that there are couples and families where one is a prepper and the other isn't. Oh, it gets crazier, when your spouse thinks your obsessive prepping is a waste of time, money and most of the garage! Not to mention that you don't show her half that much attention. Imagine trying to prepare a survival retreat for yourself and your spouse who can't understand why you have gone nuts and rant on about conspiracies and government takeover, martial law, EMP, grid down, currency collapse, food shortages and zombies. Okay, you don't have to talk about zombies to be considered crazy. But how many times have you mentioned anything related to prepping and seen those eyes roll? I talk about this elsewhere on this site (FAQ), so I won't say more here. 

I believe the best way to prepare is to make alliances with people you trust with similar awareness of current events and a similar strong desire to be somewhere else when it gets really ugly. If you are a prepper community and somebody shows up uninvited, it's different that when you are alone or with a partner and/or kids. For an interesting account (fiction) of this scenario, I recommend Patriots by James Wesley Rawles. In fact, I suggest every prepper read this book, because, although it's fiction, it contains a huge amount of practical information. His later books are not as favorably reviewed, but his earlier one, How to Survive TEOTWAWKI, is another valuable resource. For both books, see Resources


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