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Neighborhood Watch: How to Assess Your Neighbors’ Capacity to Handle Emergencies

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Our metro area already exceeded last year’s murder rate by mid-year. Three of those deaths were in the neighborhood just one over from mine. While the numbers aren’t high compared to big cities, the percentage increase is staggering. So when our neighborhood began observing strange vehicles and odd behavior on our street, neighbors started to compare notes and make a plan.

As I talked with people on my street in small groups or individually I was struck by the varied reactions of my immediate neighbors, some of whom I’ve known for years. Now, this is a situation we are facing in an intact society, but these responses could also be indicative of how people would react in a disaster situation.

While I’ve paraphrased their words and changed names, there are actual people behind each of these reactions, so it was a very valuable insight into what my particular neighbors might be like in a crisis. Maybe yours, too.

image: neighborhood watch woman in red knit cap looking over fence listening to neighbors

Neighborhood Watch Programs

I’m using the phrase ‘neighborhood watch’ differently from how it is commonly used. I’m referring to observing the people living around you to get a feel for what their capacity for handling emergencies is, not specifically to a crime prevention program, although as you’ll see as you read further, that capacity overlaps with home security.

Let’s talk for a minute about a neighborhood watch group, though.

What is Neighborhood Watch?

Neighborhood Watch is about “crime prevention through cohesiveness and collaboration.” (That right there sounds like something that would be good to have in a disaster, right?) Community members collaborate with neighbors and law enforcement for the purposes of crime deterrence and making the community safer.

How to start one in your neighborhood

If you don’t have one in your neighborhood, you can start one using this “How to Start A Neighborhood Watch Group in 5 Easy Steps” guide; the more active participation you garner, the more effective your group can be. Once you have a group, you can then begin liaising with law enforcement agencies to conduct training and build skills.

One of the most important of these skills is situational awareness. These observation skills are critical for not only preventing crime but also for recognizing potential terrorist activity and things that are “not normal” or are “out of place.”

Going through the process of organizing residents in this way would undoubtedly yield similar information as I garnered through an actual problem-solving event with neighbors.

image: national neighborhood watch infographic
5 Steps to Organizing a Neighborhood Watch Program

Attitudes of Neighbors

As I mentioned, there were a variety of mindsets among my neighbors about activities in our neighborhood that concerned us. By examining each response, I gained an idea of how each person might best be utilized in a disaster. Here is a round-up of my analyses:

“Put up security signs”

Jesse suggested we all put security signs in our front yards whether or not we had security systems. In our locale, this wasn’t a bad idea. Would-be criminals might pause before committing crimes where they would potentially be recorded and give us the appearance, of active security.

However, in a survival situation the less attention you can draw to your group, probably the better. Jesse is at least willing to take immediate action of some kind. So perhaps in an emergency, he could be in charge of some aspect of organizing or providing security.

“Contact the police”

Margaret suggested we immediately contact the police and let them handle it. In our circumstance, this is also an appropriate response, even though it had already been pointed out that we had virtually no solid information to give them yet.

A few years ago, this neighborhood had a rash of car break-ins, most of which were reported to the police. Without a description of any related vehicles or persons, the police were unable to solve these crimes. They just sent a letter out to those affected essentially closing the case. With this as history for our area, most of the neighbors felt it was unlikely the police could or would be able to do much at this stage.

In a survival situation, it’s also highly unlikely that the authorities would be available. They might not be able to get to an area or may be overwhelmed, or communications would be affected. Our neighborhood may be essentially responsible for itself. So Margaret has shown that she would rather let someone else be in charge. In a survival situation, the leader might simply assign her to the necessary tasks.

“Wait and see”

Steve and Addie each suggested collecting more information, with the goal of being able to contact the authorities with concrete information in the near future. Extra vigilance was definitely called for. In fact, this is ultimately what our neighborhood decided to do.

These neighbors are concerned, but not quite ready to take action. In a survival situation, as well, extra vigilance is vital. But an action plan may have to be more hands-on, involving people in the neighborhood group.

Ready personal firearms

Both Cliff and Austin reminded their wives and daughters of the location of their personal firearms. In our situation, this is a very good precaution. After all, there have been actual murders just one neighborhood over! This type of defense would be invaluable.

These neighbors understand that the potential is there for something serious to happen. They have obviously thought through some worst-case scenarios. Austin and Cliff will probably need the least convincing to take action and could be considered for leadership roles in an actual emergency.

No interest or action

Alan and Esther just said, “I’ll keep an eye out,” and Carol only said “Thanks.”  And that’s probably fine. Most other neighbors were at least mildly concerned and several were ready to take some action.

In a survival situation, though, these neighbors may be good helpers who just need some direction. But they may also turn out to be free-loaders. Your group may need to make it very clear that everyone has to participate in order to receive the benefits of a group, such as increased security or shared food.


But the response that disheartened me the most was from Paula, who said something like, “Oh yeah that’s been going on for a while now.” She had apparently observed the odd behavior longer than anyone else, but hadn’t done or said anything about it! This probably increased the odds of something bad happening before anyone else was aware there was a problem. In a survival situation, however, this person could mean disaster for the safety of your group!

If I was at all in charge of assigning roles, I would have Paula doing physical labor or any other repetitive tasks with plenty of oversight. I wouldn’t let her take a single overnight watch shift, or do anything remotely related to the security or possibly decision-making of the group.

That may sound harsh, but this type of person has already shown themselves to be uninterested in the safety or welfare of others. There will be many other lives riding on such security and decisions in a survival situation.

Take charge and make a plan

There’s a natural leader in every group. For our situation, it was merely convenient to make Steve the point person and put Beth in charge of future neighborhood communications. In a survival situation, making decisions and quickly implementing a plan could be the difference between life and death. This neighbor might have to be… YOU.

Are you prepared to take charge?

You may be the only one in a disaster situation that has thought through the implications of the grid going down or looters after a natural disaster. Your mental preparation may mean that you see what’s coming next while others are still coming to terms with whatever’s just happened.

Develop a Like-Minded Group

Another thing that these responses made clear to me is that it’s important to develop a group or network of other preppers in your immediate area. I’m not talking about online, in your state, or even in your metro area. Find people who actually live within six blocks of you that share your preparedness mindset. People that you could walk to, transfer supplies from, or share watch duties in the case of local emergency. Consider inviting everyone to your place for a potluck, or rent a park shelter for a cookout, and start building this community now.

The Importance of Developing Neighborly Relationships Now

Keep in mind you will have a diverse group of personalities, experiences, and political beliefs. It is very unlikely that everyone will regard the level of danger with the same gravity. It is also unlikely that everyone will agree to the necessity for certain actions. Maintaining a good neighborly relationship now will go a long way if we have to navigate a frightening situation together in the future.

Take these action steps today!

You don’t have to wait for criminal activity to begin assessing your neighbors. Take a few moments to sketch out your immediate neighborhood. Here are some questions to think about:

  • What might various reactions be?
  • What might be a good role for each of them in a local emergency?
  • What can you do today to maintain good neighborly relations?
  • Who is physically nearby that would make your go-to prepper group?

Keep your notes handy and as you gain more information add to and revise your initial impressions. Also, consider organizing a neighborhood watch program if you don’t currently have one.


Observing the people living around you can be an effective way to assess their capacity for handling emergencies. By paying attention to their behaviors, communication styles, and general preparedness, you can better understand how they might respond in a crisis.

However, it is important to remember that everyone reacts differently to stress and unexpected situations, and it is crucial to approach any emergency with empathy and compassion. By building strong relationships with your community and working together to develop emergency preparedness plans, you can increase the likelihood of a successful outcome in the face of adversity.

What useful information have you learned from observing your neighbors?

Originally published Octber 14, 2017; updated by The Survival Mom editors.

3 thoughts on “Neighborhood Watch: How to Assess Your Neighbors’ Capacity to Handle Emergencies”

  1. Great post. I often do mental exercises like this when I’m in work meetings or PTA meetings. It’s interesting how some people, on the surface seem like they’d be great leaders, or complete wimps…but when you actually hear and see how they contribute in a group dynamic, it’s really eye opening. Sometimes the quietest people are actually the most observant, and those with the loudest voices actually don’t have any real ideas or willingness to pitch in.

  2. Excellent article. I would like to add a bit from my own experience. After moving to a new home in another state (Oklahoma), even after meeting with neighbors, I could not be sure that they would not bring me trouble. From my acquaintances, I heard that the neighbors themselves may not pose a threat to the values ​​in my house, but they can accidentally give a tip to a friend-thief without suspecting this.
    I recommend using dog alarm and door blockers, like me. A good thief can be detained. As for persons who have some life troubles, it will not just stop them, in some ways even save him.

  3. Surprised I didn’t spot this article first time around 5-6 years ago >>> it’s a prepper topic that doesn’t get near enough emphasis – Know your neighborhood !!!!

    if you’re prepping correctly you should have a Bug In & Bug Out plan – Who’s going to be in the neighborhood foxhole with you? – Who’s going to be the royal pain-in-the-azz sabotaging any efforts to protect everyone? >>> you better know ahead of time if the response is to be timely

    most likely you don’t want to break your personal OPSEC by trying to organize a MAG from the nearby locals – doesn’t mean you need to live in a void of unknowns that would be vital assets in a SHTF – organizing a block party to gain more intimate knowledge & socialize isn’t the worst idea – never know what lurks behind those closed doors – they don’t know you’re a closet prepper – ????

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