Back to Basics: Avoiding Conflict When SHTF

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When preparing for emergencies in our lives, preppers often tend to focus first on reactionary needs. We can envision the possibility of a disastrous event happening and we plan for and prepare a response for that event. If we are unable to make it to the store for some reason, we store food and water to take care of our family’s most basic needs. Should we be attacked, we train for self-defense, acquire tools and supplies to even the odds and make plans to defend our castle in the worst case scenario. Many preppers view their plans as solid and naturally expect the other 90% of the population who (we are convinced) hasn’t made any preparations to eventually, some day, show up and try to take what they have. In this case, there is always the expectation of conflict and we routinely discuss how we envision that ending.

But what if we could modify our thought process for a while and first plan on avoiding conflict when SHTF instead of considering violence as the inevitable outcome of the prepper haves versus the unprepared have-nots? For those of you who have been reading the Prepper Journal since we started back in 2013, no I haven’t gone all soft. I still very much expect and prepare for violent action if necessary, but I think too often that is the default prepper or survivalist’s response. I certainly don’t want to ever have to defend my life with deadly force, but I believe in my core that I will do what is necessary to protect the lives of my friends family and any strangers I see who need it. I thought this latest installment of our Back to Basics series could focus on some alternatives to conflict that could end up saving lives in the right situation.

The scenarios I mention below and what usually flavor most articles on this site will assume that some massive disaster has happened. The SHTF event you have been preparing for has occurred and almost instantly you have choices to make. How you decide to handle each situation could mean the difference between coming out alive or suffering needlessly.

Why should we try to avoid conflict?

There are many reasons I can see for eventually engaging in conflict, especially when we are considering a true SHTF scenario. I would argue that there could be just as many if not more reasons why should be avoiding conflict at all costs. Perhaps it’s simpler to say that conflict avoidance should be the first tact you try. Escalations may be a foregone conclusion, but only when you have no other options. Some readers and commenters will say that when lives are on the line, it’s safer to simply blast someone in the face than try to bargain or negotiate but I would argue that taking that approach goes against some of the philosophy that I believe most preppers believe in.

Read More: Back to Basics: Why and How to Stockpile Water for Emergencies

I have written before that I believe prepping is pro-life. Preppers want to live. The want to succeed, to thrive, to overcome obstacles. Preppers and prepping is about hope even when the events we seem to fear would lead many to feel hopeless. I believe that there is a reason we are prepping and it isn’t simply to see how many zombie bodies and empty shell casings we can pile up at our feet. We want a different life perhaps, but it doesn’t automatically come at the expense of everyone else.

Conflict with another person, or people will take a toll on you. Sometimes that toll is lives. Other times it could be the loss of close friends or family. It could be a deal to trade goods that goes the wrong way, the loss of someone who can support you, or the loss of a resource you may need to survive. In a true SHTF scenario, your little survival group is going to need all the help it can get so playing nice as much as is prudent will be to your advantage.

Avoiding Conflict with Looters

I think that one of the first effects of a major SHTF scenario will be migration out of the major metropolitan areas. Looting will follow as the people who stayed behind scrounge for supplies they want in homes and businesses. Any location that appears to have resources the looters need will be a target when the threat of incarceration is gone. When there is no longer any rule of law, even little old grannies will be looting if they want to survive.


Looters in the days closely following the SHTF event will be looking for targets of opportunity. They certainly won’t take on an armed group at first but as the situation deteriorates, they could come back and with more practice and armed with greater numbers. Sure, you could put on a show of force, but you might want to save that for later.

The concepts of the Grey Neighbor come into play here and by simply making your house appear to already have been looted; you might avoid someone viewing your house as a target. Throw some trash and clothes in the yard. Smash a window – provided you can seal that back up with some black plastic. Spray paint some graffiti on the front wall and rip the screen door off one hinge. It may work just enough to make lazier looters skip on past your house.

Avoiding Conflict with your neighbors

This one is trickier because looters might not live next door to you, but your neighbors will be able to watch what is going on at your house all day long. The last thing you want is to have your neighbor working against you. They could turn you in to the authorities as a hoarder and all your supplies could be confiscated. Or, they could form a group against you to take what you have by force, citing the common good. Neighbors would ideally be part of your larger group well in advance of any conflict, but that still could arise if they are desperate.


After the event has settled, check in on your neighbors and see if they need help with anything. It will arouse much less suspicion to dole out some charity early on in the form of food and water when normal supplies would not be exhausted. Offer to let them use some generator time possibly. If you wait for 3 months after the stores have been closed and offer them a sack of rice and some beans and then will be very curious as to why you still have supplies and what else you might have. Help them out and if you feel you can trust them, invite them into your group for mutual aid. They might only be able to contribute extra, willing hands but it would be better than having them as your enemy if you can afford the burden. As with everything else, you will have to make choices about who you open up to.

Avoiding Conflict with your survival group

Many of us already have a stocked bug out retreat ready to go. Even the most prepared group is going to have high levels of stress when you are forced into a less than ideal situation after the SHTF. Tempers will flare and there will be decisions that are met with disagreement. In a very toxic situation, the group could splinter leading to power struggles and worse.

Read More: Prepping 101 – Preppers List of Supplies

Any survival group that is going to succeed will need to have a set of clearly defined rules and everyone’s strict adherence will be necessary. The longer you have been a group and the more times you have been together the better off you will fare but the larger picture is that the group’s survival depends on each member contributing and sometimes sacrificing for the good of the overall group. Negotiation skills and open communication will be key.

Avoiding Conflict with your family

For most of us, our survival group is simply our family. We don’t have a cadre of ex-mil buddies who have been training for years and have fortified bunkers under our ultra-rural enclave in the hills. We will just have the people we are around every day, maybe a couple of friends or extended family that you take in. For people in this situation, I think that fear will be more heightened for the majority of them; they won’t have had the opportunity to think anything through as you have potentially. The unknowns and worry will be huge stressors that they will have to come to grips with and you as the leader will have to manage.


As a leader, you are going to need to exhibit a greater sense of calm than you probably ever would in your day-to-day life simply because everyone will be looking to you for answers. If you are the go-to prepper in the family, there will be many questions. Every decision you make will likely be questioned because the people you are surrounded with don’t know what you do and bring their own opinions and beliefs to every situation.

In the very beginning, as soon as it is practical, you need to sit everyone down and tell them everything you know, what you plan to do and why you think your decisions are best. It may be necessary to get group consensus or create a micro dictatorship for a while. It really depends on the crisis, the people you are dealing with and your style. The main goal is to keep everyone safe and these are probably the people you care most about. Let them know they will be fine, you have a plan and you are prepared. Then prove it with your actions.

Avoiding Conflict with other survivors

Lastly, if you have made it through the disaster, you will be dealing with other survivors. I believe neighborhoods will form communities very quickly post-disaster but due to geography, neighborhoods might remain somewhat isolated. As time goes on, you will meet other people and hopefully form friendships, perhaps barter or simply form a larger community to share resources. Every other group has been through their own tragedy, they have their own fears and securities. Understanding this and helping them mutually, after precautions have been made will be better than some turf war over the garden.

In almost every situation I can think of besides someone kicking down your front door, or shooting at you from the wood line, there is a very good reason to try to avoid conflict. Strangers can become friends. Even enemies can let past grievances die. In a SHTF scenario, if you want to live, avoiding conflict will be one of the highest priorities.

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Freedom-loving American doing what I can to help prepare and inform others. Editor and creator of The Prepper Journal 2013-2017, 2020 -

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Pat, Excellent article, and it should motivate everyone to seriously think about the circumstances they might encounter and how they would deal with them. My first and overriding reaction to conflict with looters is simply this: The only difference between an industrious looter and a lazy looter is the degree of hunger they are experiencing. The hungrier he or she gets, the less likely they are to abide by civil or moral standards. Industrious looters will not care about rule of law in the first place. Second, whether they obtained weapons legally or illegally, you must expect that all looters… Read more »

Pat Henry

Thanks Bolo!

I understand your point with respect to looters and it definitely depends on the situation for me anyway. My ability or maybe the likelihood of avoiding confrontation decreases with the severity of the situation and risks apparent with each circumstance. I am not going to talk nice to anyone who is on the front porch trying to get in.



Okay, first of all, I agree that each and every time someone comes around in a SHTF scenario is a situation in which survival just became an even bigger immediate concern. I would contend however that it doesn’t HAVE to become a confrontation. What about honest refugees who are good at heart who are in need of help, and who would be trustworthy given the chance? Sure, you can’t just let them in, give them access to things, etc. On the other hand, if I got a gut feeling about them that said they weren’t so bad, then yes I… Read more »


You can confront without it leading to conflict. There is a difference.


The sister in law had a four day power outage last week due to an ice storm. Her place is rural and would make a nice retreat. Her social set up is awful. It was awful before and the mini shtf did not improve it. Despite chatting to her a lot about prepping she had no water and had to drive on ice and tree covered roads to buy it before it ran out which it did day three. This was very localized but that alone has freaked her out. The lazy husband, live in friend, and addled boy child… Read more »


Huples, I don’t mean to judge, but honestly, it sounds like your SIL in a toxic house. Three losers living there, while she goes and hauls the mail is a recipe for isolation and ostracism. She needs to get out and meet those neighbors. Not knowing the locals is bad. Real bad. Don’t have to be old homies, but have to be friendly. She’s got some terribly valuable skills NOW and even more so AFTER. Just letting it drop that she’s a nurse up at XX hospital is enough to etch into peoples memory. As for your strategy, it makes… Read more »


Thanks Bob, Yes it is toxic and your appraisal of the work load is accurate. Decades in the making. Drives me nuts as with a bit of cash it’d be an excellent secondary bug out for me. I’m doing an overview on it for them and I’d already identified knowing the neighbours well. The wrecked house is only if other houses are wrecked. I believe every house intact or not will get stripped in a major shtf. The signs are a great idea especially if the neighbours are helping you out. I’m using “Ontario Ministry of Emergency Management” as the… Read more »


Hey Pat, first of all thanks for writing an article for public consumption. I really liked this article. It seems our brief conversation spurred you into thoughts that I hadn’t envisioned myself. But that’s the beauty of conversation. I had a question for you, that I think is easy to answer quickly, but that I would ask you (or anyone else) to consider carefully before answering. At what point do you make a show of force to avoid conflict? For example, if I see three guys walking up to my retreat that are armed, would you come out with 4… Read more »


Just my own view, but I don’t think this is a simple question at all, nor is there a ‘one size fits all’ answer. Are they neighbors doing a security sweep through the area? Did they walk around the barricade that you placed on the road leading to your retreat? Does the road lead to other properties? Did you post signs warning people not to enter? Are they approaching in broad daylight? Are they moving in a purposeful but covert manner? What if you don’t have 4 or 5 more people that are capable with firearms? Is it your intent… Read more »


Absolutely agreed. I’m not trying to find a “one size fits all” answer. As such, I need to clarify my question.
I’m asking, is there a situation in which, you will always come to the front, locked, cocked, and ready to roll? This is when they have not already attempted to engage in dangerous activities that jeopardize your health, safety, or long term survival ability, in that momwnt or prior attempts.
As you stated, there are simply too many variables to simply say “I will always come out ready to fight” or some such for every situation.


In a word, yes. Given a full blown SHTF situation, if they get to my door, they’re too close. How would I (or you) know that they haven’t already looted nearby homes or killed the occupants? I’ll qualify my answer by saying that I live on acreage in a rural area with a handful of neighbors in sight (also on acreage). Under normal circumstances there is no pedestrian traffic – ever. We have one road that leads to our properties. That road is where we will block entry. If “three armed men” get to my house, something has gone terribly… Read more »


*nods* I can see that. I live in similar circumstances. On the other hand, IF I saw someone in a SHTF scenario, I would be MORE worried if I didn’t see them armed. What do they know that I dont? Or are they trying to sneak in and appear unarmed? Etc.


John, I humbly disagree with your last statement. ALWAYS come out ready to fight. Just because you are ready doesn’t mean that is your intention. Some Marine General (Mattis?) said it oh so well, when he said ‘have a plan to kill everyone you meet.” I suppose I don’t see TEOTWAIKI looks a lot like Fallujah in 2005. Being armed is practical. Being locked and loaded is sensible. Having restraint is critical. As for the idea of the ‘show of force,’ it doesn’t mean Wyatt, Doc, Virgil, and Morgan walking down the street to the OK Corral to confront trouble.… Read more »


Very ably said. I was tempted to respond, but you’ve identified the key tactical points very succinctly. Yes – It was Gen. Mattis. God bless the USMC.


I think you’re having a hard time reading what I said, and not injecting more than what I said. I never said I wouldn’t be ready to fight. I said I wouldn’t be coming out about to throw down every single time. Am I ready, willing, and able to throw down if it becomes necessary? Yes, of course. But that doesn’t mean I’m looking to fight every time.


For the record, I didn’t say “simple” I said it was easy to answer quickly.

Pat Henry

I agree with Bolo that it really isn’t a simple question. Above all, I think the situation you are in determines a lot about your potential courses of actions. Let’s assume it really is a SHTF scenario. Bad stuff has happened. Hypothetically, three guys walking up to your retreat (assume it is remote, guarded, fenced, posted, etc.) Anyone approaching should be challenged. How they are addressed will largely be dependent on a lot of factors, your resources, the terrain, your intelligence, their appearance/demeanor. Too many variables to state quickly. A show of force may be necessary, but you could also… Read more »


As it won’t allow me to simply repost a comment I have made (very forethoughtful), I will simply say to read what I wrote in response to Bolofia.


I will also note, I never said simple.


Please, please, please. Never expose your people (kids, wife, husband, etc.) needlessly. Ambush. Think Rodgers’ Rangers, not the British at Yorktown.

Never more than one person exposed to potential enemy fire. Everyone else should be hidden in pre-determined fighting positions with at least 6″ of solid (wood, cement, etc.) frontal cover. Dirt doesn’t count in the first 6″


It’s important to understand that most home structures are fundamentally insecure against attack. Wood and stucco buildings, doors and windows will not stop a bullet. If you intend to prevent the predation of SHTF looters, you must be prepared to stop them before they reach your home. That could mean barricades to your subdivision, roadblocks on your street or the road leading to your property, or concealed (manned and armed) observation posts that provide the ability to stop intruders before they get close to your house. A thousand yards is better than 200. Two hundred yards is better than 25… Read more »


I absolutely agree. If your primary dwelling security is a closed and locked door, you are living very dangerously. Best case scenario involves having your primary security further out in the form of LP/OPs with an eye to patrolling further out than that. This requires a group, but the further out you identify a threat the more you can do mitigate it’s ability to harm you.


if you want to avoid confrontation, AVOID OTHER PEOPLE.
its not necessarily the event that will kill you, but the actions and reactions of other people that might.


Easier said than done unless you are constantly on the move with screeners moving with you for 360 degree intelligence.

The Last Conservative Democrat

1. Members of your group are probably not going to have everything they need, and it’s unlikely you are going to be either able or willing to give up yours to flesh out there supplies. 2. The time to scavenge the empty houses in your area is the day BEFORE other scavengers hit it. Not the day AFTER. 3. Cohesiveness is critical in any group. You can build cohesiveness by scavenging as a group. But how to do that safely? First thing first is to acknowledge the facts of your situation: you need the supplies that the original owners are… Read more »

Pat Henry

Sounds like a great idea for a post!

The Last Conservative Democrat

OK I guess I can take a shot at that. I’ll need a few days to get with my group and get there input: I already started with my best friend and his wife. Giving my personal opinion is nice for the ego, but I learned long ago that the true measure of a man is his ability to learn the truth and reasoning behind his peers advice as well as from his own mistakes.

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