Introducing Rusty of TruePrepper
Rusty founded TruePrepper, a top prepping and survival website, in 2016. Like the website he manages, Rusty emphasizes the importance of risk analysis. As an Air Force veteran and engineer, Rusty is an expert when it comes to identifying and mitigating risks of manmade and natural disasters. Rusty and I discussed his path to preparedness, the most worrying risks today, and how we can best mitigate threats. Below is the transcript:
Realizing His Potential
Bob: On TruePrepper, you’ve shared your journey to becoming a prepper. You’re incredibly candid about how you squandered your potential, yet ultimately enlisted in the Air Force and developed into a disciplined Emergency Management expert with an engineering degree. While the road was winding, you unquestionably found the right destination. Do you think that setbacks strengthen your resolve? Do you think that this type of perseverance is an attribute preppers need to have?
Rusty: Yeah, sometimes setbacks can wake you up. I was coasting through life and that was not helping me grow as a person and be self-accountable. After I reckoned with my shortcomings by enlisting, I kind of subscribed to the idea that continuous self-improvement is the way to go. I’ve learned that perseverance is definitely an attribute preppers have. Resilience is the idea that prepping is built on, and situations that allow preppers to persevere are really where preppers thrive.
Bob: You wrote that growing up, you practiced Tae Kwan Do. This hobby proved to be a “prep” that came in handy, as you were able to stand your ground over a bully. Skill development is critical to being prepared, as you’ve underscored in your posts. Aside from self-defense, what core skills did you develop early on that you found to be helpful over the years? What skills did you find you needed to acquire?
Rusty: Tae Kwan Do seems like a lifetime ago and is definitely a skill I’ve lost over the last 20 years. Just proof that it’s not just skill development, but training that is also important. The military helped me with both. The basic preparedness mindset translated directly from military and emergency management training. Risk analysis was part of the classroom, but situational awareness is one of the more difficult skills to learn outside of the military. Besides the mindset skills, I think finding hobbies and skills that you truly enjoy is key. I’ve leaned into outdoor survival skills because they’re just tons of fun: shooting, fishing, hiking, camping, bushcraft- the list goes on.
Mitigating the Risk of Disaster
Bob: You’ve effectively become an expert in emergency disaster mitigation and response during your time in the military. Having written military response plans for a number of disasters, are you able to identify any common themes across various types of disasters? As an example, are there similarities between the preparedness and response plans created for monsoons and tsunamis? Or, are these different types of disasters mitigated and addressed in a unique way?
Rusty: Most disaster response follows a National Incident Management System (NIMS) framework, and we really only wrote the extension of plans that the ‘general plans’ didn’t cover. General plans are pretty boring (as you would expect) and have a lot in them about agency cooperation, etc. Monsoons and tsunamis would both activate Emergency Operations Centers and Disaster Response Forces as part of the general plan. Those centers and ground forces would refer to specialized plans for specifics on how to respond and the resources (from basically any agency in the world) available to them. Response to attacks (like a nuclear strike) work a little differently, but the plans all prioritize communication, collaboration, and rapid response.
Bob: You’ve seen and helped combat disasters of all varieties. Is there a type of disaster that you find our country is woefully unprepared for? I think it’s easy to argue that the US was poorly prepared for the coronavirus pandemic. What other threat do you see us overly exposed to?
Rusty: Pandemic was the big one and I think we’re still proving that we are still unprepared. We just didn’t have the preparedness level matching the risk. As COVID continues to spread, mutation risk goes up. Just because we currently are in a pandemic- it also doesn’t mean we couldn’t experience an overlap of a completely different virus. Besides pandemics, sophisticated cyber attacks are a huge vulnerability. Our economy, markets, and political sphere are all easy targets and it’s no accident that Iran, Russia, China, and other ‘growing powers’ in the world are pouring resources into developing massive cyber programs.
How a TruePrepper Finds Our Current State of Affairs
Bob: I imagine you, more than most, find the coronavirus pandemic response to be particularly frustrating. The US and other countries around the world seem to have botched each step of the response effort. From population education to vaccine rollout, errors have cost lives. Have you found all of this to be surprising? While you may have been prepared, do you think this pandemic has exposed the world’s lack of preparation?
Rusty: Oh yeah, it is like watching a slow-motion train wreck. From the inside perspective, it is especially frustrating to see written plans ignored or poorly executed. FEMA has a POD system plan that is specifically designed for pandemics and newly developed vaccine rollouts. I’ve seen little mention of it so far, and nothing that mentions activating the plan fully. I understand why the CDC took a stance against masking early on to prevent a run on medical equipment, but that proved to be a bad choice since it fractured the US population on the effectiveness of masks (which are obviously effective when worn properly).
Bob: In the midst of the health crisis, we’re seeing increasing levels of civil unrest. Political divisions, wealth gaps, and anger across the spectrum are plaguing our nation. What’s your take on all of this? Do you think the worst of this is behind us, or have we yet to reach a boiling point? How do you suggest we prepare?
Rusty: I think that social media is a big part of the blame here. We’ve allowed an echo chamber to be constructed and then we made it a part of our daily lives. It amplifies fringe thought with confirmation bias. The pandemic worsened this, because social media became a larger part of our communication during lockdowns and quarantines. Because we’re not in person, we feel the ability to be less civil and humane to each other on social media. There are many problems in society, but until we can talk about and solve problems with civility- the pot will boil hotter.
How Rusty Identifies and Manages Risks
Bob: One of my favorite posts on TruePrepper is the TrueRisk Analysis. I haven’t seen a guide that is as comprehensive or more thoroughly thought out anywhere else. I’m not going to ask you to regurgitate what you explained in 20,000 words on TruePrepper, but can you touch upon your general risk analysis framework? How do you prioritize your prepping? At what point do you take action?
Rusty: That’s one of my earliest creations on TruePrepper but still something I work on today. It’s a labor of love- 20,000 words and it’s still no where near complete. The idea was that we would compile a general risk analysis on an average American. I still have people ask me about faraday bags for an EMP, but don’t have a fire extinguisher in their house. To make the TrueRisk tool, I used publicly available US data from each of these areas:
- Forecasted Probability
- Historical Frequency
- Mitigation Potential
- Historical Loss of Life
- Historical Damage
- Forecasted Impact
- Range of Impact
- Combination Potential
If you’re going to do a risk analysis on your own, you don’t need to go through all of this though- a little bit of research and a lot of common sense can go a long way.
Rusty’s Collaborators and Influences
Bob: You have a number of other writers on TruePrepper, all of whom are prepping and survival experts. Do you have others within the prepping community that you’ve collaborated with over the years? Are there any early influences or continued mentorship relationships that you have?
Rusty: Some of my first contacts after starting TruePrepper in 2016 were with Todd from Prepper Website and Paul from SHTF Preparedness (who has moved on since). Both of them were extremely welcoming with me new to the ‘prep blog’ community, and I would encourage anyone starting out with a website to reach out to Todd who is just a really good guy.
Following Rusty and the TruePrepper Writers
Bob: Aside from your website, how can people stay up to date with your advice?
Rusty: Subscribing to our email list is the best way to stay up to date. We’re on the social sites that I was complaining about earlier (I know- a little hypocritical, right?) We keep updates on all of those as well. (Facebook, Twitter)
Bob: Not only do I want to thank you for your time during this interview, I want to thank you for your service. I’ve learned a ton and appreciate what you’ve given to the community.
Rusty: Thanks for having me, Bob! It seems like less people are thanking veterans these days, but I’ll tell you we appreciate it when people do. I’m glad to be a part of the prepping community and think we have something really special here. People from all over the world and all types of backgrounds get into prepping, and we don’t let any differences break us apart or stop us from achieving our goal of resilience and perseverance. Just another way the world could take a cue from preppers.