The Importance of OPSEC


Military organizations around the world have a number of things in common. There are lessons which have been hard won through blood, which pass from one warrior’s mouth to another warrior’s ear. The best of these get codified into military strategy. Since all armies copy from one another, these strategies become universal.

One such strategy is that of OPSEC, operational security. In a nutshell, OPSEC means keeping other people from knowing what you’re doing. This isn’t just limited to keeping that information from the enemy, it includes everyone. You never know who might pass that information on and whom they might pass it on to.

For those of us who are preparing for the next disaster, this concept translates into not allowing others to know that we are prepping and what sorts of preparations we are making. The idea is to keep our activities secret, so that others aren’t tempted to take our preps from us.

One of the very real concerns that preppers have is what all the people who aren’t prepping are going to do if there is ever a serious disaster. As we saw during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, it doesn’t take much to clean out the grocery stores. That was a mild sort of panic too, not the type that can be expected if something major happens which causes a true rush on the grocery stores. In that sort of scenario people won’t have enough food and will most likely panic.

The problem for us isn’t what they do at the grocery store, but what they will do when their cupboards run bare and their children are hungry. Most will probably start by asking for help; but when they can’t get it, they will take more direct action. That could include home invasions; breaking into homes to steal what they need.

Obviously we don’t want to be victims of a home invasion, which is why the subject of OPSEC is important to us. When things turn bad and people are looking for a house to break into, the last thing we want is for them to think of us.

Keeping Your Secrets Secret

The starting point with any operational security is to not talk about what you are doing. That may seem simplistic, but it’s much harder to do than you might realize. We all want to talk about what we’re doing, especially if we find that interesting and exciting. The problem is, those we talk to may find it interesting, while not being exciting. Their interest will be in filing that information away, so that they know where to go, if they need what you have.

Keeping it quite also means keeping your kids from knowing what you’re doing. Children are unable to keep a secret; so letting them in on your secret is about the same as announcing it to the whole city. No matter what they promise, they’ll tell their friends the next time they see them.

The hard part is keeping what you’re doing from family and friends. Those are the people who are going to feel they have a “right” to impose upon you for food or whatever else they need. Your only options to protect yourself are to not tell them, get them to start prepping themselves, or stockpile extra food, so that you have something to give them.

Don’t be Visibly Obvious

One of the things that can give any of us away is looking like a prepper. While there really isn’t a prepper “look,” there are some common things that we do, which people can pick up on. Dressing “tacticool” in the latest from 5.11 might be something you like, but if you do it all the time, people might think that there’s a reason for it. The same can be said for the 4×4 pickup truck in the driveway with a big crash bar on it and four jerry cans of gas.

But there are other things which may not be so obvious, but will definitely arouse the neighbors’ curiosity and cause them to remember. If you come back from the store with six cases of toilet paper in the back of your truck, they might wonder why. Likewise, if they see a truck show up and start unloading cases and cases of food.

The key here is to do things in a way that seems normal. When stockpiling, buy just a little bit at a time, so that it isn’t obvious when you bring it home. That way, you won’t arouse suspicion.

Have a Ready Excuse

Some things just can’t be hidden. If you’re putting solar panels on your roof and building a wind turbine to produce electricity, people will notice. So be ready for that. My neighbors know that I used to be an engineer. They’re used to me working on all sorts of projects in my garage workshop. So they aren’t surprised to see a solar hot water heater or a solar oven in my yard.

Some things can be camouflaged as something else. A 1,000 gallon water tank might be obvious; but an above-ground swimming pool for the kids isn’t. Rainwater capture leading into a 250 gallon cistern may seem a bit eccentric, at least until you tell your neighbors that you prefer watering your vegetable garden with rainwater, because it doesn’t have chlorine in it.

Store it Well

One of the biggest problems is hiding what you’re doing from those who come into your home; friends and family. They can see what you are doing, especially if you don’t have things stashed out of sight. They can also see the things you do, which most “normal” people don’t.

You can handle some of this by explaining that you like the “old ways” of doing things. Canning your own food may not be common nowadays, but it’s not so unusual as to convince them you’re a prepper. The same can be said for smoking your own meat or making your own sausage.

But you can’t really explain a stockpile of food away as being the old ways. Rather, you need to find a way of hiding those things, whether that means having a room that is your pantry or setting aside an area in your basement. Whatever area it is, it should be hidden from view, preferably in an area where guests don’t go.

When a Disaster Hits

The hardest time to maintain OPSEC is during a disaster. It will become extremely obvious to people that you have food, when they don’t. While that can’t be totally eliminated, there are a number of things that you can do:

  • Lose weight – everyone else will be losing weight, whether they want to or not. If you’re nice and plump, it will be obvious.
  • Avoid cooking odors – do whatever you can to keep cooking odors down. Hungry people can smell food cooking from a long ways away.
  • Don’t let trash pile up – burn it, possibly while cooking, so that people can’t see what you’ve been eating by looking at the packaging.
  • Use light discipline – cover your windows with blackout curtains, if you have lights on inside.
  • Use noise disciple – if you have power and are running a radio or watching a movie, keep the volume low enough so that it doesn’t attract attention. Avoid the use of noisy power tools that will give away that you have power.
  • Avoid tactical clothing – no matter how much you might like the tacticool look, it will be a real giveaway at this time.
  • Only run your vehicle in an emergency – gas may be hard to come by, so people may have their cars parked. If you’re driving yours, it will stand out and cause curiosity.

Basically it boils down to looking and acting like everyone else, as much as possible. While you’ll probably be much busier than most, doing things to take care of your family and keep them alive, you don’t need to make that obvious. Try and keep those activities hidden away as much as possible.