Selco: How to Defend Your Home and Yourself When the SHTF

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Author of The Dark Secrets of SHTF Survival and the online course SHTF Survival Boot Camp

Editor’s Note: Have you ever wondered how to defend your home and yourself if the SHTF? In this interview, Selco provides us with information from his personal experience during the occupation of Bosnia. There are many lessons we can learn from his experience. ~ Daisy

What was the most likely crime you would encounter when the SHTF?

Where there is no regular system of law and order you have different kinds of groups who impose that “law and order.” In reality, it is lawlessness or law of whichever group is stronger.

To add to that, when there is not any kind of “law” it is then a matter of a no-rules situation.

That means all kind of violence was there.

In reality, it worked on many different levels. For example, you form an armed neighborhood watch. We did, of some 15 people, in our street. Sometimes, in the middle of the of night, we were faced with a group of 50 men demanding something from us. For example, one was a group of people in uniform who stated that they were government forces and they wanted to check our neighborhood for whatever reason.

We could obey or fight or negotiate. All combination were tested over the time, and sad truth is that when SHTF for serious there is gonna be many different groups who will “represent” government (or law, or order or you name it). But in reality, it all comes down to who will outsmart who.

The most likely crimes were connected with resources because simply at that time and city there were not enough resources.

So it was about who owned how much (resources), and ways to take those resources from other folks.

It worked at a low level. For example, a few guys could kill you in the street and take your possessions, or on a bigger level – a local gang (if strong enough) could own your part of town and terrorize you and other folks by taking your stuff with brute force.

How did you make your home less desirable to criminals?

First, it was important where your home is, even in urban settings your house can be kinda “isolated” or stand in a way that it clearly “sticks out.” That was bad, and you could not change it.

Then it was important what period of SHTF we are talking about. At the starting period of SHTF, it was bad if your house was close to some objects that were interesting for looting, like malls, gas stations, police stations, or similar.

Generally speaking, it was better if your home (we are talking about in the city) was in the area where it was more packed with houses, simply because it was easier to blend in. Also, as the situation worsened we could use close houses too as they became destroyed or abandoned, which gave us more options, especially in terms of security.

The first level of making a  home “less desirable” to criminals was simply blending in. I point it out very often as the most important thing in a home defense plan.

It may seem hard to understand why I point it out so much, but think about it this way:

In order to “pacify” and “own” a city, you need to have a huge military force, organized in a perfect way. Even then it is impossible to be safe in that city. There are many examples of that in modern history.

In my case, and in that SHTF, nobody really “owned” the city. There were many groups trying to accomplish that through different methods. But in reality and on the ground it was a situation where nothing was for sure.

As a result, most of the home invasions were a matter of opportunity. If attackers saw the opportunity they took it.

It was not a rule, but it was very often like that.

As a result, a good plan was not to be that opportunity.

In my case that meant we tried to keep our activities on a low level when it came to giving up information about resources in our home.

For example, if we needed to drag some bags of food home we did it so no one saw it. If we cooked something, sometimes even a nice smell could pose a possible danger.

In short, it was time to be quiet and look for danger.

For example, to transfer it to your world-  if something serious happens there in your city do you want to be the only guy in the neighborhood running a generator? Or do you want to be only one who has a barbecue every night when SHTF?

In my case, sometimes people did even more drastic things, like placing dead animals somewhere so stench could fend off intruders. It was not about scaring the attacker with the stench. It was about a situation where you have 20-30 houses very close to each other, and you have 50 people going through your street, mostly armed. And they look for useful things, they are scavenging. They might take a chance and fight if they find people defending some house, or they might not, you never know.

So you make your house or your entrance and yard look abandoned, deserted destroyed, dirty…by putting some garbage, obstacles from ruins, some dead animals and you hope they will choose some other house because other houses look easier to get in and more desirable.

People do not go gladly into places where they suspect dead things are or go gladly through some obstacles that can hurt them (remember-no doctor). They will choose another target.

That is the first line of defense. The second line is you and the people inside waiting with guns.

Now, this may look stupid to you. You might say, “Oh, this is the US. It does not work like that here.” But think about principles, maybe in your case some CDC label (“infectious diseases” or “bodies inside”) works.

For example, in my case, a sign warning of “mines” would do a pretty good job but it might be good only for my region.

It is all about deterring those who are thinking about coming to your home.

(For more information on not having your home look like a target, go here.)

How did you secure your doors and windows?

First, it was very important not to “trap yourself” in. There was no sense, if you were under attack, being so well fortified that you could not get out.

Alternate exit and entrances were very useful at that time, not only because of defense. Very often, it was good to leave and enter your home invisibly. You were never sure who monitored you and the stuff you were taking into your home.

Most of our houses are brick or stone houses, so from that point pretty good for smaller calibers. Very soon people started to reinforce doors and windows with whatever was available that offered protection.

One of the coolest was steel sewage covers. Those covers offered good protection. The favorite was dirt bags in combination with boards (planking).

Of course, we used also whatever was available, so a laundry machine, for example, was a good addition for “plugging” a hole.

Can you tell us about your home defense plan? How did you defend your home?

The house was always guarded, all the time.

Depending on the situation (or let us use the term “threat level”) it was guarded and defended in layers. The outer layer, for example, started on the street, through the neighboring abandoned house, then to the last layer – our house.

If you had to fight, it was bad if you failed to use outer levels and the fight started in your house.

If you choose to avoid fighting, then the outer levels may not be implemented at all. You could wait and hope to avoid the fight unless they attacked your home.

Another good term that comes to mind is that the situation was dynamic. Based on that, we adapted.

Sometimes the situation dictated that the threat would be eliminated quickly out in the street.

No rules.

We were not soldiers, and the people who attacked us were not soldiers in most of the situations. We were closer to some kind of militia probably when it came to the rules of fighting.

Our weapons and condition was a matter of many other factors:

  • how much ammo we had
  • how many sick group members
  • did some of us had a grenade in a given moment

Then it was a question of how the attackers looked to us:

  • organized or not
  • what kind of weapon they had
  • any visible fighting skills
  • RPGs
  • organized gang or bunch of desperate folks

Every situation was different.

How great was the risk of being assaulted when you were away from home?

It was a great risk because you were exposed much more to the danger than being inside your home.

It is important to understand that sooner or later you’ll be forced to go out, and in urban settings that means you meet other people.

The point of prepping is to postpone that moment (by having a lot of resources in your home) until you figure out what is going on outside.

You can try to minimize the risk of violence when you are out by carefully planning all your trips and tasks and using as much information available in that planning. But in reality, in urban settings, there are simply too many factors. You never knew what you find out outside your home while you are looking for firewood for example.

Were women victimized? How did they protect themselves?

In any societal breakdowns, women are victimized.

Also in any modern society, there are certain people who are, let’s say sick, but they are under the care of the system (or simply scared of system and punishment that the system will bring to them if they assault women.)

When society’s laws are out, that punishment is also out, so those kind of people are on the hunt.

Women’s victimization is also brought on another level. Powerful groups (gangs) had their own prisons with women inside. That was used as a kind of reward for gang members.

It was also used in a way of bringing terror to the people. For example, rape was used as a punishment in a lot of cases if people would not obey.

It was part of a special war policy if you can call it like that, to know as a fact that women from your family, for example, could end up in a private rape prison.

Fear and terror was a big part of everything.

Women protected themselves in two ways (actually just like males did):

  • by belonging to some group, like a family, group of friends or similar-sharing their knowledge and role in that survival group
  • by joining some other group, more let us say sinister group and looking for safety there in exchange for other activities.

What were the ways people protected themselves?

The most effective way was by organizing into groups that had something in common. The more things, they had in common, the better the group was. People with things in common are more trustful.

Of course, common sense says that no matter how much a group was trustful, if they did not have enough skills and the will to use violence, chances for them were poor.

Quite opposite to some myths, violence was not a solution for everything. Very often it led to death.

The knowledge of how to use violence was very cool, but much more important was the skill to judge WHEN to use violence and when to chose some other way (run, negotiate, trade…)

What are your suggestions for ways we can prepare now to keep our homes and selves safe when the SHTF?

There are no magic solutions.

I am talking from the point of urban survival, and there are two reasons for that:

  1. I experienced urban collapse so I have experience there


  1. Most of the people live in some kind of urban settings, so chances are big you are gonna experience it too.

There is a popular myth that all of us who live in urban settings will “bug out” to our rural retreat on time (I have that plan too), but in reality lot of us who even have the good bug out places out of the urban centers will simply fail to reach it on time. This is reality.

So a few urban survival suggestions to defend your home:

  1. Do not be alone when SHTF. No matter how romantic it looks to be the lone wolf, it is hard and almost impossible to survive it alone without help. You are gonna be sick, you are gonna be forced to be on guard 24 hrs a day, you are gonna have a hard time looking for resources…
  2. Find like-minded people (preferably before SHTF). You need time to find people, and you need time to get to know those people.
  3. Be ready for violence. Both physically and mentally, practice with your weapon and be very familiar with your skills and especially with your limitations. Use common sense in choosing your weapons. Check what is useful to have in your situation.(For example, in my situation it made sense to have AK, CZ and similar.)
  4. Look at your home from the point of defending/attacking it. Look today how your home stands, how you can improve it, for example in “deterring” possible attackers, neighboring houses, ways of approach, possible booby traps, ways to quickly reinforce your home…

At the end, you need to get up and work pretty hard in order to be prepared for a real collapse, No internet article can teach you that. It can only give you highlights or possible direction.

About Selco:

Selco survived the Balkan war of the 90s in a city under siege, without electricity, running water, or food distribution. 

In his online works, he gives an inside view of the reality of survival under the harshest conditions. He reviews what works and what doesn’t, tells you the hard lessons he learned, and shares how he prepares today.

He never stopped learning about survival and preparedness since the war. Regardless of what happens, chances are you will never experience extreme situations as Selco did. But you have the chance to learn from him and how he faced death for months.

Real survival is not romantic or idealistic. It is brutal, hard and unfair. Let Selco take you into that world.

Picture of Selco


Selco survived the Balkan war of the 90s in a city under siege, without electricity, running water, or food distribution. In his online works, he gives an inside view of the reality of survival under the harshest conditions. He reviews what works and what doesn’t, tells you the hard lessons he learned, and shares how he prepares today. He never stopped learning about survival and preparedness since the war. Regardless what happens, chances are you will never experience extreme situations as Selco did. But you have the chance to learn from him and how he faced death for months. Read more of Selco's articles here. Buy his PDF books here. Take advantage of a deep and profound insight into his knowledge by signing up for his unrivaled online course. Real survival is not romantic or idealistic. It is brutal, hard and unfair. Let Selco take you into that world.

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  • So I guess planning on having a garden and relying on growing fruits and vegetables is not the best plan but more like an invitation to come and raid it?

    • Learn about what food plants will grow natively in your area without much care. Then plant them randomly as landscaping or hedgerow plants.

    • Consider as part of your diet, foods that can be stored and then used as sprouts, shoots, microgreens and fermented foods. Meals in a jar that need not be “cooked” in the conventional way whose smells would attract unwanted visitors in a SHTF situation. Think of kimchee. Have a supply of hardtack and permiccan onhand.
      Amaranth is looked upon as a weed in some places that would blend in a vacant lot landscape (until people learn to recognize it’s value as a very nutritious food that is easy to grow in southern areas. See “Eat the Weeds” with Greene Dean on online.).

      • … and once you ‘re acclimatized to eating “weeds” (most food as we know them today were weeds that we wouldn’t recognize them from what they looked like only a few centuries ago.) then it’s a slippery slope to Lumbricus terrestris (worm) farms, followed by imagining your neighbor as bone marrow.

    • I like the idea of hidden gardens, or gardens hidden in plain sight.
      I have seen a few gardens around here where while you can plainly see them, they are also in the open. Anyone wants to come raiding, they are very exposed to those in the house.

    • Start an indoor garden, not visible from the street. Unfortunately, that won’t be enough to replace all one’s nutritional needs. But will be better than nothing.

    • Many city-dwellers do not know what root crops look like, above ground, so it might help to consider planting those, among weeds and separated (not in rows), and then leave them alone until harvest, unless you can safely water when needed, of course. You may lose a few to bugs, but most people will just see weeds and pass them by without visible produce. I have some potatoes that I didn’t cook, that I am going to try to grow in some hay/straw near a sunny window in the garage (but will be invisible from ground-level outside). I believe I read somewhere that they will grow easily in that medium, but I will have to re-read a bit; I wanted to mention it, though, in case it was an option for you.

  • good luck with this. I’m in a suburban area. All the houses out here are JUNK. y ou have (if you are lucky) 3/8 inch sheetrock, then 4 inches insulation, then tyvek (if you are lucky), mabye some 1/2 plywood, and chicken wire and 1/8 inch stucco in AZ.

    I’d have to REBUILD the whole house! I believe my air rifle would penetrate the walls.
    might as well stand in the window, it might over more “protection”.

    Next problem, everyone around me is a flaming liberal. If they knew I own guns, they probably rat me out ASAP.

    I’m screwed, I’m with the sheeple!!

    • Some simple suggestions: For a front building veneer, just beneath the window level, 4” brick facing with ¾” air spacing and ¼” gravel between two ½ to ¾” plywood sheathing probably would slow and fragment up to a 5.56mm ball round. Also brick planters in front of the windows. An offset front door foyer with side gun slots (perhaps a cross pattern opening) if anyone makes it through the front entrance. Ninety-degree side walls to create a cross-fire zone like the end tower on forts or castles. Openings in the roof. Plenty of sandbags below waist high inside the house by the exterior walls. Tunnels to adjacent houses to create wider cross-fire zones or as an escape routes since the will be burned down. Then think about making wider security/defensible concentric zones from the house since as Pastor Joe Fox said, “If they’re at your mailbox, it’s too late”.

      Liberal neighbors. Once the SHTF as Selco (The major Dude) wrote politics goes out the window and possessions matter.

      • There is some guy who runs a site call Box-O-Truth (or something like that), who will shoot various firearms/calibers through different medium to see what and how rounds actually perform.
        I like your idea of layered sheathing.
        I was thinking of a post-SHTF, impromptu, build a box like that using 2×4(6, or 8s or whatever is on hand). Layer with sheet metal,dirt, rocks, whatever is on hand. Made big enough to span a window to provide a degree of protection.
        Sandbags could work (been there, done that), but I currently dont have any on hand or that many.
        I guess I could use my firewood in a real emergency. Just move it indoors from the wood shed.

        • The above suggestion is something off the web and purely hearsay (… but then if it’s off the Internet, it must be the truth?) I imagine refraction of debris from an exit hole into an interior space would be a concern. Perhaps Selco or Daisy might have observed the effect of that in masonry walls from Bosnia.

  • I am enjoying reading some of your pages here. I know that selling space on your page means that I can read for free, my biggest pet peeve for all these pages of anyone’s is, When you are asking for example, Who am I voting for or do I like a certain politician. I think that these questions are very much off base and from all I have read, these questions are being asked so that Google will have better content for ME. I don’t like these kinds of questions and I don’t answer them.
    If I vote for any candidate, it is only for MY eyes only, not the worlds eyes.
    But I am liking some of the content, and will continue to read, and ignore the things that I can not change, and I do have the courage and knowledge to know the difference.
    Thank you for allowing me to read your pages, and comment on some of the content.

    • Do you have a ad-blocker installed on your device?
      I highly recommend using FireFox browser, and then adding one of many ad-blockers. Cuts down on that kind of thing.
      I hate those auto-play vids that I am not interested in!

  • Another excellent interview with Selco, with much useful information. Thank you both. Great comments as welll! Stealth gardening is a great idea, as may be utilizing some container gardening in hidden spots. I agree, the home we live in is ‘junk’ as far as ‘protection’, the layout precludes an interior ‘safe’ room, and would need a ton of reinforcement. We would be best served by making our home look ‘destroyed’ or ‘devastated. I agree 100% with knowing the symbols used by rescue teams, and if in use in your area, marking your home in such a way that it would be avoided.

    • Right on about modern housing construction.
      I was a volunteer fire fighter. Many times a heavy duty chain saw will cut a new door in the side of most homes in a minute or two.
      A decent ax can make quick work on a door.

      • Since Selco is European (Middle Europe, not Eastern Europe) most of the housing construction is masonry with red tile roofs, especially along the Dalmatian Coastline. In American it’s usually cheap Dryvit and chicken-wire as mentioned in Bob S.’s post above. People wanted the biggest homes for the cheapest price, so that’s we have. Both types of houses burn. If SHTF then going underground would be a consideration. It worked for the Vietnamese at Cu Chi, Che Shah, etc.

        Btw, to understand European close-packed housing see Christopher Alexander’s book “Pattern Language”. It might have some ideas for rebuilding communities.

        William S. Lind on Traditional Right has two recent articles, “The View From Olympus: A Big Win for 4GW” and “The View From Olympus: A 4GW Impeachment”. Combining the two: If the large urban cities come under siege then possibly gangs or some Fourth-Generational Force will fill in the vacuum when the State, as we know it, collapses. To become the new legitimate recognized they will provide the basic social services. Whelter afterwards it evolves into a Nation-State or Anarchy who knows?

        William S. Lind has a book “Retroculture: Taking Back America”. It also has ideas for rebuilding communities.

        During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans the police would spray-paint the houses they confiscated guns from so their ‘cousin’ gang members’ could rob them. Similar markings could be seen in videos of the Bosnian War.

        • … er, from above, “To become the new legitimate recognized (?) they will provide the basic social services.” Meant to write “the new recognized legitimate power”.

          1stMarineJarHead, like your balanced comments. Marines would basically be the only ones who thanked you for building something for them. Whelter that was because they weren’t given much to begin with, it was appreciated. Note for other posters, if a Marine gives you an instruction or warning, listen.

          Also, appreciate OR but along with Sharon above, I wonder about the number of cookies. Granted a girl has to make a living, it comes with the terrain.

          • Thank you John.
            I appreciate your comment and take it as a great compliment.
            As I gained rank, I experienced first hand what it looks like from a lowly PFC, to a Senior NCO. Things look different from a basic rifleman to being a squad leader, or platoon SGT. Then things like manpower, logistics, unit cohesion, really come into play.
            For a pop-culture reference, the HBO series, Band of Brothers is a good example.
            And, a great degree of just plain common sense.
            I try to apply those judiciously to life.

            Again, I thank you John.

            • You’re welcome and vice-versa.

              Then you’re a Mustang-er. I always respected them as the backbone of the military.

              • LOL!
                No, never a Mustang-er.
                But when I was in Intel, I was commonly the lowest ranking person in the room, briefing a full bird COL or even Stars.
                We had to go in as you would in a court of law: able to provide the facts and back my assessments up with facts as I was expected to defend my position against officers.
                I had many a intense and interesting conversations with officers. I can say, as my conviction to the going into court mentality, I held my own against more than a few high ranking officers and earned their respect.
                My Fit-Reps reflected that.
                On two occasions, from different officers (one OPS one INTEL), I was refereed to as “. . . the scary smart one.”

  • The de-escalation here will make the Balkans look tame because of the number of weapons, armor and ammo already on hand with regular folks. I know there are many liberals without but that number is changing rapidly as they abandon their own ideas and principles to arm up.
    Large gangs will indeed be a major issue and very quickly. Very few are able to handle because even now folks wait for “someone” to do “something” in even minor emergencies.
    Selco has laid out a few things for you to do now and look for now to resource later. This ain’t a gardening conversation.

    • Well said Matt in OK.
      I think, unfortunately, there will be some who will just take shots at others for being a skin color (could be any) without even knowing who they are (the scene in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket where the gunner in the helo is just shooting people and cries “Get some!” comes to mind, that is just plain wrong).
      I see a lot of guys on forums who are all about long range shots, and have no idea who they might be shooting at.
      They call it Overwatch, but what it really is, is stupid killing for killing sake.
      And sad.

    • Hey Matt

      I agree that Selco has laid it out for us out to read.
      And I agree that this ain’t no gardening conversation.

      Yet, there is the elephant in the room subjects that I rarely if ever see mentioned or commentated regarding Selco’s articles.

      Fear and Terror.

      Woman’s Prisons.

      Holding the Family as hostages to keep you check.

      These are in Selco’s article above but they haven’t been commentated on as far I see.
      I shied away and would rather discuss plywood thicknesses.

      Reading about them gave me the urge to throw up. The same feeling I get when I see a kid with cancer, grey and wearing a baseball cap to cover their bald head from chemo therapy.

      Do posters know one of the primary targets of snipers during the seige of Sarajevo were children as it would break-up the whole family unit?
      Perhaps if they did they wouldn’t have some idiotic fanasty about lone wolf gunman gathered from video games and hero worshipping books.
      Then again, if they didn’t care then these are some of the animals I’d be concerned about when the SHTF.

      Btw, what happens to women also happens to men.

      • J.I.C. there is any misunderstanding with my reference to kids going thru chemo and the gut reaction I get is because it just doesn’t seem fair.

        I think I can empathize with and rationalize the situation about an adult going thru chemo. That is reality.

        But with kids it doesn’t seem fair.
        Sorry if the above came off callous.

      • From Wikipedia,

        Radovan Karadzic … is a Bosnian Serb former politician … who served as the President of Republika Srpska during the Bosnian War.

        Trained as a psychiatrist. …studied in neurotic disorders.

        Under his direction and command, Bosnian Serb forces initiated the Siege of Sarajevo. He was accused of by the ICTY of ordering the Srebrenica genocide in 1995, directing Bosnian Serb forces to “create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival of life” in the UN safe area.

        Similar to Srebrenica the Siege of Sarajevo could be said was planned and engineered by a psychiatrist trained in neurotic disorders to create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival of life.

        It was planned from top-down rather than as the MSN reported “that’s what the people do there” or “that’s the Balkans.”.

        So the terror and fear was consciously planned ahead of the wars. Years, fifty years?

        Try and wrap your head around that. It may help you during the SHTF.

      • This was also posted but bears repeating,

        There were two Tito’s, Josef Broz and his replacement, mostly likely by the Russians around 1937 just in time for WWII. The original Tito has some of his fingers missing, was of a different height and spoke with a Croatian accent. The latter Tito had all his fingers and was not recognized by the village he was born in. And so forth and so on.

        While it would be difficult to predict the future, we can still study history.

  • Scatter wild foods and medicinals along with grains so they look natural. Add some hardy greens. Its a survival garden if your regular garden is raided. I can and dehydrate from my garden and fruit trees but I have wild things as well. I use from both and add to the “wild” also. I even have some alfalfa that came up volunteer. I see it gets a bit of water and I make tea from the tips or add some to salads for me. I cut arms full to feed to chickens ducks, and rabbits and dry a lot to feed leaves added to winter seeds. I keep adding to the scattered medicinals. Part of my chickens are in a coop and pen, part live free range. I catch the free range hens with chick’s and raise them with the penned flock. Later the hen and a chick or two are returned to free range again. They stay with a couple of big protective roosters. They roost at night in a tall thick bush. In daytime they roam freely. I don’t get their eggs but I always get some good hens each year. They would be hard for strangers to catch.

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