Strength in Numbers: Building a Preparedness Team


“Order or disorder depends on organization;  courage or cowardice on circumstances; strength or weakness on dispositions.”

Sun Tzu


In late 2008, I owned and managed a successful business in San Diego, which supported our troops with surveillance training and equipment. As a Navy SEAL, I had the opportunity in my career to visit over 60 countries, including some of the most miserable third-world places on earth.  After every trip overseas and upon my return, I so thoroughly appreciated and marveled at the peaceful existence that we enjoyed here in the US, always looking upon our nation as “Disneyland,” compared to the rest of the world.  2008 was also the first year I began to see the “cracks” in our system.

Enter the financial crisis of 2008, opening up my eyes to the fact that this “Disneyland” cannot, and will not, last forever. So I began to research the foundations of our peace and freedom, eventually forming the conclusion that our nation’s trajectory will likely end badly. Couple that assessment with the dangers of living on Mother Earth, and I found myself of the mindset that I needed to make preparations.  As I suspect, you probably feel the same way too…

I was uniquely qualified to build a system similar to what I used in dangerous countries overseas, looking at situations like survival, bugging in, bugging out, and fighting it out. This time, however, I had my own wife and children to protect and consider. That’s when I turned to one of the most powerful models known to man in survival situations-namely teams.

As a SEAL, I had the fortune to be in one of the most effective, efficient, and deadly teams in the world- The SEAL Teams. We could screen our recruits, select the best, nurture them, and kick them out if we had to. (We also got paid to do this!) However, I discovered that none of those advantages would transfer into a preparedness team. Please allow me to share some of my experiences, successes and failures so you can learn from them.

The first thing I did was to make sure my wife was on board, so I shared a few books with her that hit upon the human traits that we learn from stories.  One Second After, Patriots, and a few other select books brought my intelligent wife up to speed.  Then we talked…Which brings up the 1st principle of a teamStart with your loved ones.  After all, you’ve already chosen to survive your current life with them, so make sure they are ready to be with you post-crisis.

Our kids are relatively young, so it was easy to inject a preparedness attitude in them and involve them in our efforts. We had to look at our extended family to consider their role. In America, extended families are not often lashed up together sharing resources, home, and fortunes, which could possibly change in our uncertain future.  No matter how much you love them, you must consider their role in your preparedness team. This is probably the hardest issue to consider in any team, bringing up the 2nd principle of a team.  Family members should not be automatically included in a team.  They may not care about your team and issues.  They may not want to invest in preparedness.  They may not be available.  They could be such a burden that you put your own children at risk.  That’s a lot to consider.

With my family, I was successful in encouraging many of them to prepare, but not all of them.  So once we were able to afford preparations for my immediate family, we put away some food for those who haven’t prepared, but not much as I’m not rich.

Since we live in San Diego and my income source is tied to the area, we decided to stay here. This brings up the 3rd principle- Decide on your location options; commit to a primary and at least one secondary. This will play into your ability to build a team and its composition.

Once you commit to a location(s), then it’s time to build your team. So what constitutes a good team? I put many hours of research into this question. As a matter of fact, it eventually led me to building the Ready 5 program.

To begin to look at the team, you have to ask yourself what elements are needed in order to survive (and hopefully thrive) during and after any crisis.  Then, it’s a simple matter of finding people who can fulfill the joint objectives of the team.  In our lengthy design, we came up with the following elements (we call domains), which are now the core instruction at Ready 5:

The Fundamental Domains of Preparedness

The Fundamental Domains of Preparedness

Situation Awareness




Practical Fitness

Food and Water




Personal Protection

Financial Preparedness

Enduring Mindset

Now that we knew what needed, we initiated simple conversations with folks we thought were of like-mind.  We settled on a few families and held our first meeting, highlighting the 4th principle:  Regular and objective-oriented meetings are necessary.  As a suggestion and to maintain sanity, we settled on monthly meetings, which seem to work for us.

We began the work of building distinctions, roles, and responsibilities for the group.  Once we did that, then we committed to each other specific promises to hold, depending on the situation. This is the crux of the 5th principle we learned:  A team must build common language, distinctions, objectives, roles, and responsibilities that are core to the group.  Then a firm, unbreakable commitment to each other must be given and received.

There are many ways to design and build the team, including every element of business, social, political, religious, survival, and philosophical concerns. Some of the ways to look at this can be seen in the political and social structures throughout history.  We looked at what has worked and what hasn’t (Communism, for example). Then we built our own standards, one for entrance into the group (we called it the “ante”) and another for continued participation.

The next, and 6th principal establishes the minimum level of action that allows entrance to the group.  Each group needs to have an “ante” to establish a standard that will allow a prospective member to know what is required before, during and after crisis. Plan to establish basic requirements for food (maybe 3, or 6 months’ worth), water filters, and some basic firearms and training. Your people should also continue to search for and talk with prospective members for your group.  Establishing the ante is very important in the resulting discussion and provides a visible way to assess the seriousness of the prospect.

Once the group begins to form and plan together, continued energy must be expended in order to keep it viable. Unless you have an unlimited budget, you’re probably not where you want to be in your preparations, so now you should begin to think and act as a group.  You will establish goals and objectives at your monthly meetings in your efforts to build your individual skills, team skills, food, water, mobility, and other preparations. The 7th and final principle is that the team must continue to grow individually and as a group to build increasing capability in all the domains of preparedness. Our team began to realize that a weakness in one area could be catastrophic to the whole team, so we took a holistic approach and began building in as many options as possible.

The preceding paragraphs outlined our group’s personal journey into building a preparedness team that we’ve come to call our Mutual Assistance Group for Survival (MAGS).  Realizing that there are many different types of MAGS, I wrote an introductory e-book about them for our preparedness students, which is now available to everyone (Building Mutual Assistance Group for Survival (MAGS), on Amazon). It’s a good overview, not a detailed “how-to” book.  There are so many factors to consider that it’s more responsible, I think, to explore the principles and factors that go into a MAGS more thoroughly.  The hard work is still yours to do.  It will be intensive once you really begin to test your MAGS against reality and what may actually happen in our near and medium-term future. People are people, and often don’t get along; so plan for it and build a system that works in all kinds of stressful situations.

I’ve given you some of the fundamental principles to consider in building your team, and want to end this with the most basic of purposes for putting all this work into a team and not to go at it yourself:  Where any two people stand against one, history teaches us that the bigger team will win any competition (survival) or battle. Ask old Sun Tzu, whose favorite odds were ten to one!

About the Author:  Randy Kelley is Head Instructor and a founder of the Ready 5 Preparedness Program ( in San Diego, CA.  He served on the US Navy SEAL Teams as a sniper and surveillance expert until 2005.