Emergency Communications and OPSEC

Keeping emergency communications secure

Some things should not be shared

When you set up an emergency communications plan for your family, talk about the plan with them. Keeping everything just in your own head won’t help them. But talking about your plans freely with the world may not be in your best interests, either.

It’s wise to know when to keep your trap shut.  So how do you strike the right balance of talking with your family, talking with those who need to know some of your plans, and being silent? Enter: Operational Security Plans (OPSEC). 

What Is OPSEC?

OPSEC is a system used by the military and law enforcement to isolate sensitive information. Sometimes folks call it a “need-to-know” system. If you don’t have a need to know something sensitive, you should not be able to have the information.  OPSEC is a method we all can use to keep sensitive information out of the hands of potential bad guys.

This is not as dramatic as it sounds. In everyday life, we all make choices about

  • what information to share (your bank account number, your date of birth, your social security number, etc.)
  • how to share the information
  • who gets to know the information
  • and what reasons allow someone to know the information

We all know that there are threats to our personal security all around. Sometimes just the nature of living in this interconnected world makes us vulnerable. Sometimes we do something foolish or well-meaning or simply trivial without thinking about the consequences and we expose a vulnerable spot.

Think about that the next time you  post a photo of yourself with your new rifle on Facebook. It may be just another Saturday to you, but it could set in motion a series of events that escalate into tragedy.

How Can You Use OPSEC?

There’s more to it than just deciding never to speak to anyone ever again. That would not be very practical. But it does mean taking a serious look at how you share information.

Look around at your lifestyle and be honest about potential threats, what resources you’ll need to combat them and the desired outcome(s). Then, plan for it. And don’t wait to start planning. You’re a sitting duck waiting and we all know what happens to sitting ducks.

The truth is if you don’t know the threat then you won’t know how to protect yourself from it. What resources will you need for dealing with that threat? What outcome will you be OK living with for the rest of your days? Ask yourselves these questions and then get to it:

  1. What do you need to guard? People, places and things
  2. Who/what do you have to defend against? People, nature
  3. What does an adversary want to know? Passwords, bank numbers, etc.
  4. How can they find the information or pieces of it to put it all together?
  5. How can you shield the information?

Remember, an OPSEC is good for more than just protecting against adversaries who mean to cause personal harm. It can be tailored for anything – think about weather events, terrorist attacks, even health epidemics.

Emergency Communications and OPSEC

Emergency planning is not a one-time deal, as you all know. It takes practice, dedication, and a consistent mind-set. Adding OPSEC to your emergency communications planning is the same drill. Things have a way of changing and those changes can affect your plans. So set and forget is not on. Instead, set and review.

How often do you need to review? No one answer is right for everyone. The important thing is to review regularly, especially if there are children involved. One suggestion is to set aside one hour a week to review your OPSEC with family.

Everyone in your family circle, including children of a certain age, should participate in developing and reviewing the plan. And everyone should have something new to report each time. Maybe it is a change in the neighborhood. Maybe someone asked questions that seem off. The point is to keep aware of your OPSEC intentions during your day-to-day life and think about what you see and hear with that in mind. Otherwise, you risk loss of interest. Or worse, you’ll end up doing all of the work yourself, no one else in the family will feel any ownership of the plan, and you become just a talking head.

What if your family members do not buy into the emergency planning? Remember, talking about any kind of threat may be dismissed with the wave of the hand. If you need these family members to be part of your plan, keep talking anyway. Be persistent about why the planning matters but don’t try to scare anyone into compliance. Discuss it logically, logistically and tactically. Acknowledge the fear or other emotions folks may have but don’t get stuck there.

And here’s where it gets a little tricky. Details of an OPSEC plan are on a need-to-know basis. ALL family members need to know the plan at an appropriate level or the plan can’t work for all of you in times of need. But each family member really does not need to know all of it. For instance, a child may only need to know what to do when something particular happens. Decide ahead of time who needs to know what and when they need to know it. Then stick to that set of decisions.

Don’t stop there. Think about folks outside of the family who might need to know parts of your emergency communications plans. Think about when, where and how to discuss it. From an OPSEC point of view, the fewer people who know all the details,  the safer you and your family are.

Is OPSEC Right For You?

Bottom line is really careful preparedness and planning with vigilance. Using OPSEC with your emergency plans of all sorts may help you control the process better. But don’t get stuck in the details. You know what you need to be prepared for. OPSEC is one tool to help you keep that planning secure.

You might also enjoy other posts so far in this series:

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About Bret Smith

I am a long-time lover of all things outdoors. Whether hunting, shooting, fishing or just hiking and camping, I take every opportunity to enjoy nature and share it with others.

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