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Make Ready! Defensive Conditions and Posture During Emergencies

In the last episode, I gave a more detailed breakdown of Scenario-X. I also touched on the idea of defensive conditions (DEFCONs) used by the US Government. In this episode, I want to build on that by talking through the importance of posture as both a tool of defense and diplomacy.

A lot of people in the 2A world are too quick to talk about employing small unit tactics, rocking full battle rattle, and otherwise being on constant war footing. The truth, however, is that you are simply unlikely to go from zero to battle rattle in a disaster scenario like ours.

Most of your time will be spent on the more mundane tasks of just staying alive and dealing with the suck. Things like taking care of your family and community with food, maintenance, education, health, and medical all still need to happen. The run up to war footing happens gradually, and often with some warning that things are about to go badly.

So let’s dig in.

Posture and Diplomacy

It’s not a secret that I spent my military career not as a door kicker, but as a nuclear weapons officer. My primary career field was about launching nuclear weapons, should I ever have been directed to by the President of the United States.

As part of my experience, I spent a lot of time learning about the history of nuclear policy, and saw real-time how posture was used both as a way to prepare for conflict, but also influence the decisions of other world powers. While ICBMs themselves are relatively poor instruments of posture, as the sit quietly in their underground silos, there’s something else to be said about parking nuclear-capable bombers on runways within range of adversaries and running exercises on over international waters nearby.

The purpose of presenting yourself as a formidable foe is causing your opponent to hesitate and evaluate their chances of winning against you. They may still win in the end, should they still go forward with an attack, but they must do a calculation about what they will lose in the process. If they decide that the chance of being destroyed is high, and the cost of winning against you isn’t worth what they gain, they will probably not engage.

This is called deterrence, and it is among the most important political tools with governments. It also has a lot of implications for you.

The Cost-Benefit Analysis Backfire

One of the Colonels I used to work for back in the day was a loud and rambunctious man who used to brag about being the only Catholic Pakistani with a Texas accent you’d ever meet. We loved him for his attitude and how he took care of people. Among the many rants he went on during our briefings, he used to opine that deterrence was fundamentally a calculation of skill multiplied by will.

At its heart, your enemy must gauge whether you actually have the capability to do what you say, and if you have the fortitude to follow through with it.

This is a tricky calculation, though. One of the purposes of deterrence is to respond to perceived threats and prevent them from escalating. On the other end of the spectrum is a risk that raising your posture too far beyond what the situation calls for. This might cause you to seem like the aggressor, and your adversary raises their posture as well. This is a spiral of escalation, and we nearly saw it come to a terrible end during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

So the game must be played with nuance. 

Scenario-X, Posture, and Deterrence

So why am I going down this rabbit hole of international politics and deterrence? Well, in short, it’s because all of the same rules apply at a local level as they do at the international level. True, you and I don’t have nuclear weapons, bombers, and massive armies to array on the battlefield to make the point.

But then neither does your opponent.

The purpose of this is to explain why immediately going to war footing with your group of 35-40 isn’t the right call. As fun as it might be to imagine yourself becoming the local war lord in Scenario-X, reality doesn’t really work that way.

For example, when it comes time to connect with other neighborhoods to create mutual defense agreements, share supplies, and do other basic tasks- you don’t want to be seen as an aggressor who is merely presenting the illusion of choice to either “go along with us or die.”

On the other hand, you definitely want to present enough of a posture that passersby and those with nefarious intent decide your community probably isn’t worth the trouble.

So how do we do that?

Community Defense Alert Conditions

First off, understand that there is no one-size-fits-all standard here. Everything I’m about to say is purely based on my opinion, observations, and what makes sense to me based on my experience in a wildly different context.

That said, there are some basic principles that you should consider. Firstly is the importance of a simple system for communicating current posture. In this system, everyone should understand how their role is affected by changes to the alert condition, and should practice performing those actions from time to time.

Second, your current alert condition, the actions you take when changing conditions, should not be advertised. I do not advocate for a flag system or any observable means to identify something might be amiss to an outsider. It’s something that should be communicated privately, in person, or using some kind of coded phrases.

Why do I think this? Well, it’s a security measure in of itself. Should a smart adversary decide to test you, they can watch for the indicators of something changing like flags, lights, audible signals, etc. If they then associate those with specific actions, then they can learn to poke holes in your defense and circumvent deterrence.

The LERTCON System

In the last Scenario-X post, I discussed some fundamentals of the US Governments DEFCON conditions. This is a great example to follow because you can see how the escalation happens over time. At least in theory.

What you don’t see is the specific actions that happen from one step to the next, if any. That’s because it absolutely changes depending on the location, job function, and other factors.

But how might this system get used for your community in Scenario-X? I think that’s a great thought exercise, so let’s dive into it.

For illustration purposes, I’m defining this as “Alert Condition” as opposed to any other number of options like DEFCON, FPCON, WARCON, etc. It doesn’t really matter what you call it for yourself, so just go with me here.

LERTCON 5 – Normal Readiness

You might get confused and think that LERTCON 5 means “all is well” and equate to no security needed. That’s not true, though. We should always plan to have some measure of security, whether it’s active patrolling of the perimeter, discrete listening/observation posts, and good community security practices overall.

LERTCON 5 simply means that there isn’t any indication that something is amiss. For all intents and purposes, it is just day-to-day life. Before a disaster, you might think of this as having a neighborhood watch, regular communication with your neighbors, and sharing information. After a disaster, not a whole lot changes other than an increased need to network and communicate with your neighbors.

To me, LERTCON 5 is mainly about planning. You and your group should already be thinking about security measures long before an actual disaster happens. I realize that this is a tough ask for a lot of folks, so some of these things might not actually happen until after the need has already arisen. If you can do them earlier, though, then all the better.

Specific activities at this level:

  • Get to know your neighbors/group, catalog general skillsets, fitness levels, and build phone trees/communications plans
  • Establish a regular meetup to build rapport and trade information about what’s going on in the community
  • Perform an area study of your community and its surroundings, obtain maps, identify key points for defense, listening/observation posts, and possible cache locations. Look for paths of ingress/egress, natural lines of drift, and more
  • Develop a signals operating instruction (SOI) with frequency plans, callsigns, brevity matrices, and others
  • Acquire any specialized equipment to support your community such as communications, observation, defensive, medical, and other supplies

By the time we’re in a Senario-X situation, though, we’re probably already past this and on to the next level.

LERTCON 4 – Heightened Awareness

This is really the first step up, yet it’s a subtle one that shouldn’t really be seen as out of the ordinary. At this level, you don’t have any specific indication that a threat is looming or something is wrong- beyond the disaster scenario itself. This is the stage where your group is preparing to actively protect ourselves and our families from threats.

However, now is NOT the time to start planning things. Instead, you should be implementing the plans you made during LERTCON 5, before all of this started happening. If you haven’t finished at least the basics of those plans, then now you have a fire under your butt to get it done.

Some other specific actions that occur to me:

  • Establish a command post for centralizing communication and coordination of security and logistics
  • Organize your group into teams of four to six with specific job tasks so that they can focus on any skills they need to learn and provide 24-hour coverage of their jobs as needed
  • With communications, much more time should be spent listening and logging with a scanner than transmitting
  • Consolidate vital supplies (i.e. medical, weapons/ammo, tooling, food, water etc.) to the cache areas identified during LERTCON 5, plan to protect these areas as they will be seen as valuable to outsiders and insiders alike
  • Assign roles and tasks to individuals based on their skills and abilities (if not already done before)
  • Set up discrete LPOPs according to your earlier plan (if you did it) to provide ongoing awareness of what’s coming/going from the area
  • Establish security patrols with discrete load outs (think 2-3 magazines per person carried with discretion)
  • Implement the SOI developed earlier to keep communication up between the group
  • Keep life as normal as possible with a regular routine for every member of the group and their families to participate in

This is likely to be daily life under Scenario-X. You and your group should be able to sustain LERTCON 4 indefinitely, so the goal isn’t to go wild with security measures. We’re just trying to maintain our awareness of the environment and provide a layer of security (visible and otherwise) for a subtle deterrence effect.

You’re not presenting yourself as hostile, just prepared. I suggest routinely, but randomly, running drills and exercises simulating higher LERTCON levels to keep everyone practiced and on their toes.

LERTCON 3 – Conflict Possible

At this stage, you’ve got an indication that something is on the horizon. Maybe it’s reports of attacks on nearby communities, or perhaps radio chatter about pending conflict directly with you. This is the first time you’re significantly raising your posture in order to provide serious deterrence.

If LERTCON 4 was about presenting the image of a community that’s aware and prepared, LERTCON 3 is about presenting the image of “Do NOT mess with us.”

Some obvious changes to behavior that occur to me might include:

  • Supplement LPOPs with additional defensive positions to provide additional defensive capability (don’t give away the location of your LPOPs by having defensive positions in the same spot)
  • Set up pre-planned entry control points to limit access to only specific ways in or out of the area. Everyone coming and going should be positively identified
  •  Increase the amount of ammunition carried by each defender, consider raising the profile of load carriage equipment from battle belts to full LBE or battle belts + chest rigs
  • Begin 24-hour operations with additional key positions. That might me one person awake, one person asleep with “boots on” to react quickly, and one person on rest status only to be called up in an emergency (side note: this scales up, and ideally you would actually have at least two each for whatever the role is- but you get the idea, this is why I suggested teams of 6).
  • Increase patrol frequency and/or personnel assigned to patrol
  • Put remaining group on “Minuteman” status, meaning they are free to rest, but should be prepared to get up and spring into action with short notice

One of the goals here is to be subtle but visible. While you know the current status and some of the other actions you’re taking, such as increased security at LPOPs, entry control, and quick reaction procedures, you don’t necessarily want to advertise it.

A smart adversary will test you. They will poke around and see how you react to various actions they take. If your shifts in posture are obvious and predictable, then they can be countered.

LERTCON 3 is not meant to held indefinitely. You can do it for a while, but keeping it up for a long period will cause extra fatigue, morale issues, and diplomatic issues with other surrounding communities.

LERTCON 2 – Conflict Likely

At this stage, you have specific and actionable reason to believe that an attack is likely to happen soon within your community. In my opinion, not a whole lot changes from LERTCON 3 to LERTCON 2 as far as your visible posture.

What does change is pulling vulnerable groups (i.e. families and children) that you identified back in LERTCON 5 and 4 away from the perimeter and towards designed safe areas that are easy to protect. That’s not to say put everyone in one location, as that’s also an easy target. Be smart.

You might also upgrade your “Minuteman” force to something a bit more consolidated and mobile. For example, keep your quick reaction force(s) together in strategic locations with a vehicle to quickly get where they need to be. This also means looking at your logistics capabilities with runners to provide ammunition, supplies, and pull anyone injured back to a safer area.

Some specific actions to consider:

  • Pull vulnerable group members away from the perimeter and towards safer areas
  • Put all group members on 24-hour operations with them either “up” or “down with boots on.” No more rest status allowed.
  • Consolidate quick reaction force(s) to pre-planned strategic locations for deployment
  • Prepare logistics runners for action (i.e. ammo and casualties)
Implementing LERTCON 2 will cause hardship amongst your group and their families. You should not sustain it for long periods due to mental/physical fatigue of the group.
 
From a visible posture standpoint, nothing is changing significantly. You’re already presenting your community as “hard to kill” with everythign up to this point. Now the goal is preparing the battlespace by reducing the risk to the vulnerable and readying your group to effectively respond in a moment’s notice.
 

LERTCON 1 – Attack Imminent (or underway)

At this point, the fight is on. If you’ve done everything right up to this point, then you have no further actions to pursue other than winning the fight at hand and dealing with the aftermath of it.

Good luck and God Speed.

Wrapping Up

As a reminder, what I’ve said here is merely my opinion based on what I’ve read and experience. I’m not a force protection expert by any means, and there is very likely to be things that I’ve missed here.

The goal of this episode is merely to introduce you to the concept of posture and how you might apply it to your situation. There are a great number of books and resources out there available to dig into each of the topics I brought up here, and I’m hoping to bring those to you as we continue down the Scenario-X series.

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Matt

Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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3 Comments
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Paul
Paul
Guest

Like the ‘Lertcon’ mod! As I write this – Russia is invading Ukraine. Puts things in perspective on many levels.

Mitch
Mitch
Guest

“A lot of people in the 2A world are too quick to talk about employing small unit tactics, rocking full battle rattle, and otherwise being on constant war footing.”

That’s a surprising perspective for me Matt. I say this because the 2A world that I knew 3 or 4 years ago was more concerned with buying the newest flashlight every 6 months and trying to convince their wife to let them order a dual tube WP setup. I remember getting laughed out of facebook groups for even suggesting people learn to work as a team. “What do you think’s gonna happen? World War III or something?” These facebook groups were closely associated with major nationally recognized instructors whose names you know. I also remember getting funny looks from dudes at carbine courses for wearing a chest rig.

If you’ve heard more mumblings about SUT’s, I’m at least glad its on the table for discussion at this point. But your statements following the quote above hold true.

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