OPSEC: Taking On a Low Profile, Gray Man Style

Paranoid Prepper recently did a very nice piece on Operational Security (OPSEC), or how to not advertise your preps.  You can find it here.  It got Salty and I to thinking, and since our situation is somewhat different from Paranoid Prepper’s, we offered our perspective in this podcast.  

Why Bother?

Why bother with OPSEC?  Way back in 1999, during the Y2K scare, Salty got a case of MREs he’d ordered delivered to work.  When a coworker saw them, he immediately half-joked “So if the grocery stores run out of food, I guess I know where to come now.  You wouldn’t let my kids starve, would you?”  The problem with people knowing you’re a prepper is that when they have needs, and have discovered the government is not taking care of them, they’ll likely be turning to you.  If a lot of people know what you have, that’s a lot of people turning to you.  Now, we live in a small town, but we can’t feed them all … and who we do take care of should be our choice.

Perception is key

Paranoid Prepper hit it on the head about being a ‘gray man’; someone not worth much attention.  Sometimes being a ‘gray man’ is not about what you do, but how you do it: Holing up in a ‘prepper’s retreat’ is creepy. Enjoying time at our hunting cabin, everybody around here understands. Wearing military surplus digital camo would make you seem paranoid and possibly violent; wearing hunting camo makes you, well, a local. (Unless it all matches and your boots are new; that makes you an out-of-town deer hunter.)  Buying cases of canned goods against a coming Apocalypse makes you unhinged, doing so because of a ridiculously good deal makes you, well, rather coupon-happy, but not beyond the pale.  

Out here in the hinterlands, this hunting camo will make you blend in both in the woods and in town. Military spec camo would look odd in town.

Let them see what they expect to see

Here’s the thing: As stated in the podcast quote above, people largely see what they expect to see. We can’t help it; there’s way too much detail in the world around us to actively notice and process all of it, so we pick up some pieces and our brains interpret that …. According to their expectations. As preppers, we can use that.

People expect to see pretty plants around houses. Cherry trees, flowering kale, and trellises laden with grapes are all pretty plants — and great preps.  Put in a neat vegetable garden in the back, and if anyone questions it, pointing out how much better home grown tomatoes taste, or  that you ‘want to know what’s actually in your food’ usually puts a stop to the questions.  In fact, in some neighborhoods the best camo is to talk the New Agey/yuppie mantras.  Talk about saving the planet by harvesting your own rainwater makes people tune right out; they won’t then see it as ’emergency water storage’.  Buying or growing special foods in bulk for ‘allergy ablation’ (<– pretty fake use of this word, but it sounds pretty good, eh?) or because ‘all the processed foods are full of gluten’ makes you seem just like everybody else.

What neighbor could object to such a lovely ornamental garden? They don’t have to know it’s edible.

Humor is also a great deflector.  Answer any nosy questions with an outrageous yarn, and the questioner is unlikely to press for a more direct answer.  Why are you putting up a big radio antenna?  Why, this internet thing is just a fad … just you wait, radio will come back big time and I’ll Be Ready!

How can you encourage your neighbors to prep without breaking OPSEC?

There are lots of reasons to want your neighbors to be prepping too.  How do you encourage that without marking yourself as ‘one of those Doomsday Preppers’?

Talking about — or better, visibly using — preps for whatever minor disasters are common in your area is a great start.  Being able to jump your own car on a bitterly cold morning or ride out a snowstorm or hurricane in comfort is something anyone can relate to, and it may get them thinking further.  You can even come at that approach sideways, by bringing up the kinds of preps that are very useful but No One associates with Doomsday Preppers. 

One example of this is earthquake insurance.  Did you know normal home insurance doesn’t cover earthquakes or floods? Does your neighbor know? (You can buy rider policies for both very cheaply by the way; unless you’re silly enough to live on a floodplain.)  I know that kind of discussion is in no way TactiCool, but hey, it doesn’t take Einstein to go from ‘hey, maybe I should have earthquake insurance’ to ‘hey, there could after all be an earthquake’.  Or the topic can come up as you commiserate with those folk in the Phillipines – wouldn’t it stink to still not have power so long after the storms?

To keep OPSEC doesn’t mean you have to avoid prepping topics entirely; and you’re probably doing more good in the world if you don’t.  It just means you don’t ‘stick out’ by being seen as ‘the guy who’s got enough food to feed an army in there’.




  1. “You wouldn’t let my kids starve, would you?” grrrrr.
    My comeback would immediately be: “What about YOU not letting your kids starve”.

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