Survival Planning Using the Military Decision Making Process, by A.J.

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There are literally thousands of resources out there for the prepper and would-be survivalist giving advice on the best Bug-Out Bag (BOB), Bug-Out Vehicle (BOV), or necessities to pack into your Bug-out Bag (BOG) or the well stocked first aid kit.  All of this advice is great, however, one thing most of these references have in common is that they all tell the individual prepper he or she needs to assess his or her needs and current situation in order to determine their individual needs.  One thing I have noticed is the dearth of advice on HOW to plan for survival.  I propose using a tried and true tool that can easily be learned and is actually quite intuitive.
The US Military (as well as NATO partners and others) use what is known at the Military Decision Making Process, or MDMP, to plan every level of mission from a squad attack to the invasion of a foreign country.  The tool incorporates gathering all available information, developing Courses of Action (COAs), analyzing them, comparing the results, and deciding on a plan.  The level detail of the planning is dependent only on the amount of information available and the time one has to plan.  As a 25 year military veteran, I have discovered that I subconsciously use MDMP in virtually every decision I make, often without even realizing it, and you probably do as well.
MDMP is a seven step process consisting of:  Receipt of Mission, Mission Analysis, COA Development, COA Analysis, COA Comparison, COA Approval, and Orders Production.  After the plan is developed and briefed, rehearsals are conducted and then are always followed by an After Action Review or AAR.  Each of these steps is comprised of substeps.  I will take you through each of the steps and some of the more relevant substeps and give examples of how they apply to prepping.

  •  Receipt of Mission:  In the military, orders are passed from higher to lower and a subordinate staff will usually start planning off of their higher headquarters guidance and specified tasks.  Oftentimes, however, a commander owning battlespace will develop a plan on his own, based on broad overarching guidance from their higher.  This step, while simple, is critical.  The substeps include conducting an Initial Assessment, Updating Staff Estimates, and Preparing for Mission Analysis.  The outputs are generally Guidance from the Commander and a first Warning Order to subordinate units.

For the Prepper:  Obviously, you do not have a higher headquarters issuing you specified tasks, but you are a battlespace owner (your land, your house, your apartment) and you have been given guidance from such places as FEMA and other Federal Agencies, sites like, survival books and numerous other resources.  You have recognized the threat to yourselves and your families and are determined to develop a plan.  Step 1 for the Prepper includes gathering, and understanding, all of these guides, determining your basic requirement (shelter for you and your family of ‘X’, local threats (proximity to nuclear power plants or other high value/high risk targets, etc), pets, and so on.  Make a list.  Preparing for mission analysis is nothing more than gathering all your references together as well as planning tools you might need (note paper, dry erase boards, maps, manuals, lists, etc).

  •  Mission Analysis:  This step, in my humble opinion, is by far the most important step requiring the most detailed analysis and time.  Inputs to this step include the mission from higher, original estimates from the staff (of in the case of the individual prepper, yourself), and all facts and assumptions.  The substeps of Mission Analysis consist of Analysis of the Higher HQ Mission/Intent (See Step 1), Identify Specified and Implied Tasks, Review Task Organization and Assets, Determine Restrictions or Constraints, Assess Risk, and Identify Critical Facts and Assumptions.  Outputs from this step include:  Initial Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB), Restated Mission (5Ws), Commander’s Intent/Guidance, Warning Order 2, Staff Products, Battlefield Framework, and conduct Preliminary Movement.

For the Prepper:  After your have gathered all your products mentioned in step 1, make a list of all the things you NEED to do (specified tasks), and think you SHOULD do (implied tasks).  For example, you determine that you NEED to defend your family against marauders.  Implied tasks include acquiring weapons and ammunition and practice your marksmanship.  Write all these down on separate lists.  Your review of your task organization is straight forward; e.g.  I have a family of five (wife and three sons), and a dog.  Assets gets more detailed: e.g. an SUV that seats 7, is diesel powered and four wheel drive, and has a range of about 200 miles when fully loaded and full tank; a semi-automatic rifle, a deer rifle, a 12 gauge shotgun, a 9mm pistol, and a .38; a house on a ¼ acre lot in a sub-development with basement and a hunting cabin on a 200 acre lot in the mountains 45 miles from home.  Make this list detailed including all equipment and assets you have.  You will quickly realize where you are short once you have it all listed on paper.  Next are your restrictions and constraints.  Restrictions are imposed upon you such as laws and regulations, constraints are things beyond your control (such as my sons are too young to drive).  Next, assess risks to you and yours.  For example, there is a nuclear reactor 10 miles straight line distance from our house.  Finally, identify critical facts and assumptions.  These are hugely important and need more that a little brain power.  Examples of facts may be that my Bug Out Location is 45 miles away that can easily be reached by my SUV in any weather, however our sedan would not make the drive in deep snow.  The primary (and quickest) route takes us through a major metropolitan area of over 2 million people, the alternate route makes the drive more than an hour longer and through very rural areas.  Assumptions are critical to identify, but keep in mind that they must be valid and necessary based upon your analysis of the situation.  It might be fun to assume the zombie apocalypse, but probably not a valid or necessary assumption.  A more valid assumption may be that I will have enough warning to load our vehicles and reach our BOL before the SHTF, or that I won’t.  If I assume that I won’t, then that whole plan is not valid.

  •  Course of Action Development:  Develop at least two Courses of Action (COAs), three is better, but more than three is probably too many.  In this step the staff Analyzes Relative Combat Power (friendly  assets vs. the enemy’s  assets), Generate Options,  Array Initial Forces (where friendly forces are arrayed as well as the best information on the enemy are arrayed), Develop the Scheme of Maneuver, Assign Headquarters, and prepare COA statements and sketches.  The COA sketch is a one page (usually PowerPoint) diagram that shows a map of the plan with all the critical tasks listed along one side.   COAs need to pass the suitability, feasibility, acceptability, distinguishability, and completeness tests.  This means that the plans each need to be realistic given the assets, restraints, constraints, and assumptions listed in the previous step.  The two to three COAs need to be distinct from each other, not just minor variations of the same plan.  And they need to be complete.  Of course, they have to also be acceptable…. nuke ‘em all, is not an option.

For the Prepper:  Your COA development is very similar with just some minor tweaks from the military model.  Your relative combat power is listed in your assets (weapons, vehicles. etc) and your adversaries come from your assumptions (in a possible scenario one could anticipate groups of up to a half dozen armed marauders, well armed but poorly trained). Now is when you generate your options:  do I Bug In or Bug Out, for example?  You array your initial forces on a map:  we are here, they are there.  Developing your scheme of maneuver entails adding detail to your COAs.  If Bugging In, then you are in essence planning a defense.  What is your perimeter?  Where are your defenses, chokepoints, and vulnerabilities?  Where is your strongpoint?  If Bugging Out, what are your routes?  Where are you most vulnerable?  How are you moving (together or linking up at a rally point, for example)?  If your COA involves others, you would break individual or group tasks down at this point.  Who brings what to the party?  Who is responsible for food, fuel, ammo, shelter, and so on?  Finally, as much of this information as possible is arrayed on your sketches of your COAs so that the picture speaks for itself.

  •  Course of Action Analysis.  This step is known as wargaming.  The staff have gathered all the information available, determined assets available and the assets the enemy has, identified facts and assumptions, and developed a couple of plans.  Now the plan is put to the test in a table top exercise.  There are rules to wargaming.  At all times, remain unbiased towards a COA.  If someone want a COA to “win” it will.  Approach wargaming as an honest assessment of the plans to determine their strengths and weakness.  Next, list the advantages and disadvantages of each.  This is done as the wargaming progresses and is tracked on a board.  Continually assess the COA feasibility, acceptability, and suitability.  If, while wargaming, it is determined a COA just won’t work, then we stop wargaming it.  No sense of wasting time on a plan that is impossible to accomplish.  Next, avoid drawing premature conclusions and gathering facts to support such conclusions.  This is a scientific process and picking and choosing information to support one COA over the other is not an option.  Finally, compare the COAs in the next step, not during wargaming.  When wargaming, focus on one COA at a time, from start to finish, without discussing how this COA has an advantage over the other.  Wargaming takes preparation.  All the tools used for wargaming are gathered in advance (maps, toy vehicles, toy Soldiers, methods to record actions and reactions, etc).  List all the friendly forces.  List all your assumptions so you can refer back to them for validity and necessity.  List known critical events and decision point.  Determine evaluation criteria, which means on what basis are we going to evaluate the COAs (survivability, cost, risk, etc)?  Select the wargaming method, which can vary on the COA.  Typically, a defense is wargamed in a box, whereas a movement is often done using the Avenue-in-depth technique.  Next,  the method to record and display results is selected, which is typically a dry erase board or large sheet of paper with each of the critical events listed across the top and friendly and enemy forces listed down the sides.  Finally war game the COA from start to finish.  Go friendly action, enemy reaction, friendly counteraction for each event (or enemy action, friendly action, enemy counter action if the enemy strikes first).  One member is dedicated to the enemy side, who fights to win for the enemy (could even represent the natural disaster).  And remember to record everything.

For the prepper:  This is pretty straightforward.  Take your Bug In COA and play it out from the time you determine the need to Bug In until you think it is safe to come out.  What are the threats; be they natural, manmade, or mutant, and how can they defeat you?  Discuss how you will defeat each threat based on your assets and forces that you have on hand.  When you determine a shortfall, write it down.  Do not say you will do something you have no capability of, such as “well, I will have landmines around the perimeter.”  Really?  Where are you going to get landmines?  When are you going to put them in, camouflage them, control their detonation, and recover them?  Be realistic.  After you have wargamed that COA, wargame the other from start to finish.  If your second COA is to Bug Out, play through getting from somewhere else (such as your place of work) to your house in order to load vehicles.  How long will out load take and who does what?  War game both your primary and alternate routes.  And don’t forget to war game what happens when you get to your Bug Out Location.  You are essentially Bugging In there, so war game that as well.  That might have a completely different set of threats and conditions.  When you are done wargaming, you should have a list of the strengths and weaknesses of both of your plans.  You have identified where there are risks.  Now the assumptions that you made earlier are either emphasized or discarded.  Additionally, you may have developed branches and sequels to your plans that you hadn’t thought of before (If X happens, I will do A, if Y happens, I will do B).  All of these should be written down as well.

Step 5:  Course of Action Comparison.  Now is the time that the various COAs are compared to determine which is the best and therefore which plan to go with.  The actual comparison of the COAs is critical.  We use any technique that facilitates reaching the best decision.  Start by evaluating each COA from different perspectives, using the evaluation criteria that was already established.  Now, compare the COAs to determine the one with the highest likelihood of success against the most likely enemy threat and the most dangerous enemy threat.  This is done through a simple matrix with COAs listed across the top and the evaluation criteria listed down the side.  The criteria can be weighted in order to give more strength to those criteria which is most important.  Then each COA is scored, usually 1, 2, or 3.  If certain criterion is given a weight of 3, then the results would be 3, 6 and 9 respectively, with lowest score being best.  After each COA is graded and weighted, they are totaled and the one with the lowest score wins.  You now have your COA.
For the prepper:  The process is the same.  The only real difference would be the criteria you evaluate the COAs against.  For example, the military might use such things as Fires, Intelligence, Air Defense, and Combat Service

Support.  The prepper would use criteria such as Survivability, Risk, Simplicity, Cost, etc.
Step 6:  Course of Action Approval.  Within the military, this is a formalized brief to the commander by the staff with detailing the results of the wargaming process and their recommended COA.  At the end of the briefing, the command decides on a COA and then issues final planning guidance.  Since you are the commander, it is ultimately your decision; therefore there is not much to cover in this step.

Step 7:  Orders Production.  Now that the COA has been approved, the staff gets to work finalizing the plan that will result in an order to subordinate units.  All the information gathered during wargaming is gathered, including branches and sequels to the plan, and incorporated into the plan as  either tasks to subordinate units  or coordinating instructions that apply to multiple units.  The plan also identifies risks and implements control measures to reduce those risks.  The commander reviews the final plan which is then issued via a variety of means.

For the prepper:  Now that you have your plan, and have seen where you are vulnerable, you can write everything down into one cohesive document.  This can include maps and directions, a list of division of responsibilities within the family or your group, load plans for vehicles and packing lists.  This is a good time to also list those items you identified you need to support your plan, but don’t currently have on hand.  This is your new shopping list.  This way you are purchasing what you will NEED to support your plan, not what you THINK you need and can help reduce waste.

Finally, after the plan is issued to everyone, and everyone understands the plan, comes the time to rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse again.  Time is the main limiting factor here. If you have a solid plan for TEOTWAWKI you can rehearse it with everyone involved in your plan at any time.  Try to do it under a variety of conditions such as night time, high traffic times, middle of winter, in the rain, etc.  After each rehearsal, conduct an After Actions Review to discuss what the plan was, what went right and what went wrong.  Only then can you identify faults in your plan that you didn’t realize while planning  in the comfort of your living room and further develop other contingencies to counter those problems.

The Military Decision Making Process was designed to handle any kind of operation, take all factors into consideration, and come up with the best plan in order to accomplish the mission.  Prepping for when TSHTF is no different and is the method I use to ensure the survival of my family.

FM 5-0, Army Planning and Orders Production, 20 January, 2005, Defense Printing Office

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This page contains a single entry by Jim Rawles published on June 21, 2012 2:14 AM.

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