Rules of Engagement 101

Avatar Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: April 18, 2019
Rules of Engagement 101

This site contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a commission from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you. Full Disclosure Here.

Over the last few years of writing about prepping it has come to my attention that rules of engagement need to be discussed more candidly. As I have met a variety of preppers from all walks of life, it is clear that some are having a hard time understanding the rules of engagement in regular society let along the rules during an SHTF situation.

All too often a military or tactical perspective comes through and that can be a big mistake in the civilian world.

The rules of engagement when meeting a friend or potential enemy are far different in the civilian world than the military.

In the civilian world you are going to be questioned a lot more if you take life.

Those in the military are expected to defend themselves and their unit. If someone is acting hostile, there is going to be less said if the situation turns violent.

In the civilian world, you cannot just shoot someone because they crossed over onto your property. There is no way you are going to get away with that without doing a lot of explaining and being investigated thoroughly.

The tactical look can put people on edge

I have had guys come after me online for merely suggesting that looking tactical is not always a great idea. Sometimes it may be to your advantage but in the regular world, it makes you stand out a lot. If I see a few guys in tactical gear coming up my road or through a field, I am going to immediately be on edge and thinking about how to defend and getting into position.

Now if someone wearing civilian clothes and looking a little rough wanders down my road, I would be cautious but I would consider that maybe they were lost, hurt, or in another rough situation. I might not think that they are out to get me or doing something really bad.

SHTF is not a video game

Unfortunately, a lot of video games lead to some pretty screwy ideas in some people. I don’t mind video games at all. They are entertaining and there are plenty that can help you learn some skills. The problem is when people spend hours on end playing tactical games and try to apply all those principals to real-life situations. Knowing how to engage with people in real life is important and how you approach it can have a big impact on your ability to survive.

Those that think they are going to operate a military-style gang during SHTF may get a surprise.

Numbers matter and while there is no doubt that a gang of people with military training could gain a lot of power, there is also a decent chance that another group will just take them out, especially if they get too out of hand. In the USA there are a lot of people that while they may not have military training, they get out and shoot a lot and have firepower that is far greater than what many realize. It is not a far stretch for someone to have a high-powered rifle ready to rock the minute they see a threat.

People in urban areas rarely have the capability of security and firepower on this level but that still doesn’t mean they won’t be trying to take out the folks that think they can walk all over everyone after SHTF.

Being too arrogant and confident gets people severely injured or killed a lot during good times so during SHTF, the type that tries to be the toughest person in the room is likely to do something foolish and that be the end of them.

People from different backgrounds need to be more understanding and compassionate of each other

Adjusting back into the civilian world is really hard on soldiers and they don’t always have the support they needed to make it as smooth as possible. There are a lot of things that you never forget and they shape you. My father sometimes has to take a step back and consider defense from what is okay for a civilian to do and Vietnam was 50 years ago for him.

Those of us that have not been in the military need to exercise a little patience and point out some differences without getting worked up. Those that are stuck in a military way of thinking need to understand that they have very valuable skills if applied appropriately for civilian situations.

If I mention that tactical is not always a good thing, it should not generate abuse and hostility. Merely sharing Selco’s article “The Dangers Of Looking Tactical”, led to a strong reaction on social media from some that really felt threatened by the suggestion that dressing like you are on a mission makes you stand out.

Your actions during a long emergency and SHTF will be well remembered by survivors.

If you are the hot head that shoots someone because they are trying to get a gallon of gas from your barn or just snooping, your actions can have some major consequences. For starters, people will wonder what happened to this person. There may be witnesses that you don’t even know are there that can carry the message of the death you inflicted. Even 5 years down the road after it seems like it is water under the bridge to you, it may come back to get you.

Another issue is that when situations start to calm down, you may be forced to stand trial for your crimes. A lot of atrocities are got away with during an SHTF situation but that is no guarantee that you will not face any punishment at all by a new government or the old one even if order is restored.

In a war zone or if you are military and protecting your gear, if a thief comes in and you shoot them, there is a good chance that little will be done to punish you. A civilian does not have as much leeway when it comes to making life or death decisions.

It is about following logic and morality to a decision that is best for the situation at hand. There is no best way for everything. The ability to adapt to the emerging reality and blend in as needed is a precious skill to have.

Military engagement involves a lot of people so some lessons learned are not as easy to implement with less. My Dad told me about the Clover formation that his platoon in Vietnam regularly used to more safely move through and area and make sure it was as clear as they could. You need dozens of people to make this effective. Tactical skills are great but they must be applied well to an individual or a small group situation.

Rules of Engagement In Barter Situations

Barter during SHTF is not going to be fun or something that you really want to have to do. Things can get really weird when people are desperate and don’t know who they can or cannot trust. This can take a while to develop in an SHTF situation. Remember that there are gangs and criminal types that will do better than they did pre SHTF. This happened in Venezuela with gang members even a few years ago telling a journalist that they were doing better than before but they were aware that other people not so much. People like this will be in charge of some of the bartering and trade that goes on. They will find a way to get their cut and that means on some level dealing with their extended network.

  1. Follow any rules given when coming to a trade. If the rules are strange and give you a bad feeling, then don’t go. It is up to you to decide the risk you are going to take to get something.
  2.  Tell someone in your group where you are going and if possible a time that you should return. This can be hard in a real SHTF scenario since a situation may develop that means you have to take an alternate route home.
  3.  Do not act too desperate
  4. A person that is desperate is easy to take advantage of.
  5.  Don’t immediately say exactly how much of something you have to trade. Start low but fair when bartering. Offering something of far less value could easily be seen as insulting. You may need to do business with this person or organization again so a degree of respect should be shown. Violence is cheap during an SHTF situation.

Joining A Group or Engaging with a Refugee

If you find yourself alone or just with a single other person, you may want to find the security of a group.

Rules of Engagement

  1. Do not go to a group empty-handed if you want a higher chance of acceptance. If you don’t have anything material to offer like food or medical supplies than you should let the group know of your skills. This is why it is so important to learn skills before SHTF.
  2. Ask to hear any rules. It shows consideration when you ask the rules before you are told. This gives people a chance to get on the same page so there are no major misunderstandings or offense later on.
  3. If you are lucky enough to be accepted, prove your worth to your group. Actions matter a lot and can gain you allies. If you are turned away, then find a way to move on. Seeking vengeance doesn’t always work out so well for anyone. Spend your energy on surviving and finding another group that you are more suitable for. Try to gain more skills if that is something you are lacking.

If you are approached by someone that wishes to join your group.

  1. Find out as much as you can about a person. It can be hard to tell if someone is actually lying but you should be aware of the inconsistencies in someone’s story
  2. Ask questions to learn what skills they have to offer the group.
  3. Observe them as well as you can for signs of disease or illness. While I am not going to say you should not try to help someone, you may need to quarantine them for a while to avoid spreading anything.
  4. Ask others in your group how they feel about this person joining. During a major SHTF situation, it is better for everyone to be comfortable living and working so closely. Conditions will arise where people get annoyed no matter what but you do want to avoid too much animosity in your group.
  5. Consider if the benefits outweigh the costs. You may only have so much of everything and need to watch your reserves.
  6. Consider the threat level if you turn this person away. Will they retaliate? There is always the chance of at least a petty theft but possibly worse. If someone is not in their right mind, they could cause a lot of trouble.
  7. Take extra precautions if you turn someone away. While people have to move on to survive, they may try to stay
  8. If someone is accepted, try to get them oriented and involved with the group. Watch for warning signs but also praise when something is done well. People need to know their worth.

Use common sense if you must engage any group or person for the first time. No matter if you are the person approaching someone or a group or if someone approaches you, look for any useful things that stand out about a person.

Look someone over well and look for indications that can tell you more about them.

  • Are there signs that a person is sick or injured?
  • Is the person openly carrying a lot of weapons or decked out in a way that they could be hiding quite a bit?

Large clothing and packs can hide a lot. Be cautious if someone is acting too jumpy or keeps their hands where they can grab a weapon fast. During an SHTF scenario, a lot of people may keep their hand on the gun more and that means that you need to exercise some caution.

  • Are there visible tattoos or jewelry that show someone is part of a particular religion or group? It is good to be aware if someone has the tattoo of a gang or hate group visible to all. Be aware of what things like that look like. Your area may have specific tattoos and symbols that indicate affiliations. When I was a teenager in Washington State, I remember paying attention to what the graffiti said on the walls so I could identify gang symbols. We had Southern California gang issues even back in the 90s. Religious symbols are often just someone expressing faith and may mean nothing other than you have someone that believes in God.

    Make sure that you don’t just sneak up on someone or a group

    Announcing your arrival and putting your hands up shows trust and no intent to do harm. All situations are different but I will say that you should announce your arrival and not just sneak up on someone. Even startling someone by getting too close before you speak can get you hurt or killed.

I learned a long time ago that you don’t want to sneak up on someone because my Dad just taught me that. As a Vietnam veteran with severe PTSD, my Dad cannot have people just wake him up and you don’t want to come up behind him. I always kept my distance if I had to wake him up or if something loud was going on and I needed to get his attention, I would wave my arms or something and get his attention from a greater distance. He explained about the waking up or sneaking up issue because he would never be able to get over hurting his kid or someone else he loved.

During very difficult times people on both sides may have a complete lack of trust and comfort no matter what.

Some people may want to have someone covering them with a rifle even in case someone gets out of line when approaching a group. This is part of SHTF reality and people might come to expect to have the bead of a rifle on them when the approach.

If you are coming in on other people don’t be surprised when you get told to put everything down or even frisked for weapons. People afraid for the safety of themselves and their homes and that have possibly seen atrocities of a catastrophic level are not going to care about how uncomfortable they are making you by searching you if they give you a chance to interact with them.

Do you have any suggestions for rules of engagement during a long emergency? Have you been in a situation where you had to be cautious in your approach?

Samantha Biggers can be reached at

Aff | Tactical Flashlight

[DEAL] Ultrabright Tactical Flashlight

Never be Vulnerable in the Dark Again

Get This Deal
Aff | Emergency Blanket
[DEAL] Emergency Survival Blanket Get Cheap Security

2 Responses to “Rules of Engagement 101”

  1. Good article. Articles like this can never really express the chaos and violence that could ensue in SHTF situation. It makes me thankful for the civil stability we have now. 3 days without power and stuff in the stores could turn things around pretty quick.

  2. Great post, Samantha! I agree there are way too many ‘armchair warriors’ out there who have no clue what real ‘engagement’ could be like. I am not a veteran (my thanks to all military, honestly), but I am the daughter of a cop, and have family members and friends who served in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the various Gulf engagements. I know very well having to be quick/keep a distance when waking someone up. But back to the ‘armchair warriors’ as I call them…Like you called it, they think their video game ‘experience’ is going to ‘get them through’. Or they have ‘arms’ but have never really put them to use, but think they are big and strong and they’re ‘tough’ cuz they wear camo. They’ve obviously never learned about the ‘grey man’ concept. DH tells me all the time about how the guys he works with ‘brag’ about ‘what they’ve got’ . DH always tells them, you will never know what we have. We have a neighbor, who brags about his ‘arms’ and tries to taunt ppl into fights so he can show it all off (I think he secretly wants to shoot someone, just to show he can). So many clueless idiots out there. Sorry for the rant, I could go on…

Leave a Reply