Jul 092012
 

The 1962 Sedan shallow underground nuclear test in NV saw a 104 kT device create a crater 1280 ft wide and 320 ft deep, displacing 12 million tons of earth, and creating two fallout plumes across the US, primarily way over in IA.

The good news is that we have had nuclear weapons for almost 70 years.  The ‘other side’ has had them for about 60 years, although only in militarily significant quantities for the last 45 or so years.

And, excepting of course Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in all that time, there’s not been a single nuclear weapon exploded other than for ‘peaceful’ testing purposes.

Does that mean we can look forward to another 45+ years of peace and safety?

Some optimists might hope that the disbanding of the Soviet Union, and the reductions in nuclear weapons by both Russia and ourselves has reduced the risk of nuclear warfare in the future.  That might be true, but we’re uncertain about that, and (this always surprises people unacquainted with military tactics) the weaker that conventional military forces become, the greater the reliance such states necessarily must have on nuclear weapons.

In addition, we have new nuclear ‘players’ these days – new nations with nuclear weapons, and more nations on the verge of adding nuclear capabilities, too.  The dynamics of the situation have changed.

In the Cold War, the doctrine of ‘mutual assured destruction’ or MAD as it was known was clearly successful.  We knew that any strike by us on the Soviet Union would see tens of thousands of nuclear weapons raining down everywhere in the US homeland.  That dissuaded us from attacking the Soviets.  And they in turn knew that an attack from them on us would see a similarly massive response.

Additionally, we both had ‘second strike’ capabilities.  Even if a first strike by the other side caught us off-guard, we had sufficient second strike capabilities from submarines, from B-52s already in the air on patrol, and from whatever land based missiles we could either launch before they were destroyed or which survived the first round of attack.

These days our second strike abilities are massively diminished.  Yes, we still have 5 or 6 Ohio class ballistic missile submarines at sea at any given time, each with up to 288 nuclear warheads on 24 missiles, but our finest ground missiles (the MX Peacekeepers) have been voluntarily retired, leaving only three fields of Minuteman III missiles (at Warren AFB, WY, Minot AFB, ND and Malmstrom AFB, MT), all of which have been voluntarily downgraded from carrying three warheads each to now only carrying one, and we no longer have B-52s in the air.

How Many Nuclear Weapons Do Potential Enemies Have?

That’s a very relevant question, of course, and not one that allows for an exact answer, unless we are to assume that everything we have been officially told by potentially opposing nations is true.

For example, while it is officially stated that Russia has about 10,000 nuclear warheads and another 4,500 awaiting dismantling (as of 2012) some sources suggest that Russia has concealed large numbers of warheads which it is not officially revealing to the US.

We can’t comment on this, of course, but while we’re pleased that Russia’s total inventory is way down from its high of about 45,000 weapons in the mid 1980s, the simple fact is that however many thousands of warheads it still has are way too many for us to feel good about.

This page is often used as a definitive summation of the world’s nuclear weapons inventory, but some of the information on the page strains one’s credibility – for example, a claim that neither Israel, Pakistan, India, or China have any operational nuclear weapons.  Both India and Pakistan are obsessed with each other and with the possibility of a sudden attack – the thought that neither nation has weapons ready to fire seems unlikely.

As for Israel, as the country knows only too well, it could be overrun by enemy forces in a week or less – it needs to have its weapons ready for instant deployment.

Most of all, to suggest that China also has no weapons in operational status seems very unlikely, as does the suggestion that in total China has no more than about 240 weapons – fewer than France (and note the footnote which says France may have lied about its total number of weapons!).

Even Wikipedia contradicts the claim that China has no operational nuclear weapons, referring to currently deployed Chinese ICBMs such as the Dong Feng 5 and 31 and 31A and possibly other models too, plus whatever China might have in the way of sub launched weapons such as the JL-2, which might be in service on up to four Chinese Type 094 SSBNs that may currently be in service, and in the future on the successor Type 096 boats.

Furthermore, while the Soviet Union understand the concept of MAD, allowing us an uneasy stand-off during the Cold War and to the present day, it is unclear but unlikely as to if the Chinese government also accepts such a concept.  With their much more distributed economic and industrial base, they are naturally more resilient to any nuclear attack, and an attack, if it were to be mounted against China, would require a huge number of warheads to be effective.

It suits the purpose of people advocating for nuclear disarmament to underestimate the count of weapons ranged against us by other countries.  It is easier for them to say we should reduce our weapon numbers based on a suggestion that the other side either doesn’t have many weapons or has already reduced their numbers.  So take the numbers you see on the FAS and other sites with a grain of salt.

Where Would an Enemy Strike?

It is anyone’s guess what and where in the US might be targeted for nuclear attack, either as part of a super-power high-intensity all out conflict, or as a suicidal type attack by a minor nuclear power, or even as a single bomb launched by renegades acting outside of state control.

However, we can make some estimates, and there are actually two very different sets of targeting criteria as between an attack by a minor power and a major power.  For clarity, let’s look at them separately.

Nuclear Attack by a Minor Power

If we have a nuclear war with a minor nuclear power, we can expect them to launch or in some other way transport only a small number of weapons towards us.  These weapons will probably be designed to ‘punish’ us, rather than to take out our nuclear response and military capabilities.

The good news is that not many countries have nuclear weapons.  The two smaller countries that seem to be biggest risks are Pakistan and North Korea.  They will doubtless be joined by Iran some time soon; indeed it is estimated Iran probably has enough nuclear material to make five bombs, even now.  It is thought Pakistan has about 90, and North Korea probably fewer than 10 nuclear weapons.

One other risk is the possibility of ‘loose nukes’.  These are most likely to originate from the former Soviet Union, and due to the confusion and corruption that surrounded the final days of the USSR and the first few years of the new countries formed out of the USSR, it is entirely possible that some weapons disappeared, notwithstanding the official assurances that this never happened.

One final (?) risk is the possibility of surreptitiously built nuclear weapons by groups of terrorists.  This is somewhere between easy and difficult – it is extremely difficult if you don’t have the appropriate materials and equipment, but if you do, it becomes acceptably simple.  If a group of terrorists were able to simply acquire the various materials, from various sources, over time, it becomes no more complicated that putting together furniture from Ikea to assemble them into an explosive device.

Although we for sure can’t read the minds of terrorists and the crazed leaders of countries that hate the US, we’d guess that a list of targets for such an attack would more or less follow a list of major US cities and best known/best-loved US icons, rather than attacking our nuclear warfare capabilities, for the simple reason that a minor power can’t hope to neutralize enough of our nuclear weapons as to have any appreciable impact on our likely response.

So, for sure, New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago would be targeted.  Other major cities that might also be targeted would probably include Houston, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Jose, and Dallas.

Note that this list ignores the huge ‘obvious’ strategy of detonating one or a series of warheads as EMP devices.  In our opinion, this is the most likely strategy that any minor power would use – see our separate article for a discussion on the effects of an EMP attack on the US.

There’s one other possibility – nuclear blackmail, which might include a demonstration of ‘good faith’ where the enemy power attacks a target (city) and threatens additional attacks if certain demands aren’t complied with.  In such a case, we’d guess the attacker would go for a secondary level city rather than a primary city; because the goal would be to coerce and cower, not to enrage.

If the attacking power had recently suffered an attack by us of a specific nature, it might choose to respond in similar manner – a submarine launched cruise missile strike might see some of our submarine bases attacked, for example.  But our guess is most of the time, the highest risk from minor power attacks will be to major civilian population centers.

Nuclear Attack by a Major Power

There are two potentially dangerous major nuclear powers – China and Russia.  The other nuclear equipped major powers – Britain and France – don’t seem to pose such a level of threat.

Russia and official western sources says it has an inventory of about 10,000 nuclear weapons, of which perhaps 1,800 are immediately deployable and operational.  China’s nuclear capabilities are less clear – probably less than Russia’s, but probably more than we officially concede they may have..  Both countries have multiple delivery methods to get nuclear weapons to pretty much anywhere on the planet.

The good news – such as it can be – is that a first strike from a major power would probably be designed more to take out our own military and nuclear capabilities rather than to ‘punish’ our citizens.  Unlike a minor country, Russia and probably China too have the weaponry necessary to credibly attempt to destroy our own nuclear response abilities as part of their first strike, and as long as they have neutered our war-making, and perhaps our industrial base, they have no further need to destroy our population as a whole.

More or less in priority, here are some of the targeting considerations that an enemy power would keep in mind – and, the same as in our discussion of minor powers, this list ignores the EMP option, which we feel to be an overwhelmingly attractive approach for any nuclear aggressor of any size.

Whether an aggressor nation decides to limit their first strike merely to targets in the first category, or how far down the category list they end up going, is impossible to guess at.  It depends on the circumstances at the time.

1.  Our nuclear strike capabilities :  The few remaining missile silos would all be targeted for high yield ground bursts – the absolutely worst type of nuclear explosion from a point of view of subsequent fallout.  Also targeted would be all Strategic Air Command bases, naval installations, military command and control facilities, and major naval assets – especially aircraft carriers and submarines – wherever in the world they were.

2.  Non-nuclear military capabilities :  Most military bases and installations.  Major airports.  Also nuclear research establishments.

3.  Industrial capabilities :  Major manufacturing facilities such as vehicle plants, aircraft plants, and any other major/heavy manufacturing facilities that could be repurposed for building military equipment.

4.  Economic capabilities :  Ports.  Major transportation hubs and bottlenecks.  High tech industries.  New York/Wall St.  Major dams.  Concentrations of industry such as refineries, power generation and pipelines.

5.  Leadership :  Washington DC, of course (if not already targeted in a preceding category).  Major cities and state capitals.  ‘Undisclosed safe locations’ that our politicians plan to retreat to – we mightn’t know their whereabouts, but the other side probably does.

6.  Civilian :  Major population concentrations.  Universities.  Iconic American locations.  Other infrastructure.  Maybe warheads at locations that may trigger volcanic eruptions or earthquakes.

A Note on Accuracy

It is thought that most modern ICBMs can deliver a warhead to a target, thousands of miles away, with an accuracy of about 0.1 miles.

It is not known what disruptive effects there may be when the first missile warheads start exploding in terms of ‘blowing’ other missiles off course.  This phenomenon, known as ‘fratricide’ may well have some impact, causing some warheads to malfunction (either in the form of failing to explode, or perhaps a limited reduced yield explosion, or detonating at an unexpected altitude and/or somewhere off course.  When you have a missile traveling 5,000 – 10,000 miles, it only takes a very small amount of error to result in tens of miles of ‘miss’ distance at the destination.

When calculating your vulnerability to nuclear strikes, you need to consider not only the effects of accurate hits on probable targets, but also the effects of moderately near misses, too.

There’s one more type of accuracy to consider – the accuracy of the target lists the other side has adopted.  There are lots of US military installations that have closed down over the last decade or two – installations that, in their heyday, would have been prime nuclear targets, but which of course, now that they have been closed and abandoned, no longer have any military target value at all.

But has the other side kept its targeting lists up to date?  And, for that matter, does it truly believe that abandoned de-activated facilities have been truly abandoned and de-activated?

Summary

Major cities are at risk of a minor power attacking us with nuclear weapons.  Military facilities are for sure at risk of a major power attacking us, as are probably industrial and economic targets too in a first strike, and more general leadership and civilian targets in any second strike.

You need to consider your retreat’s location in terms of where possible nearby nuclear targets may be, and you need to consider your travel route to your retreat based on possible targets on the way.

Jul 092012
 

There’s a bewildering variety of choice of rifles out there. Which one(s) is/are best for preppers?

One of the more polarizing aspects of prepping is that of firearms and their use, not just for hunting game but potentially for self-defense as well.

Some avid preppers prefer to have no involvement with firearms at all, and concentrate more on eco-sensitive sustainable living.  Others seem to devote most of their attentions to weapons and little to anything else.  We suspect, and gently suggest, that the best approach lies somewhere in the middle between these two extremes.

Like it or not, one of the preconditions for a Level 2/3 scenario is the failure of the rule of law, and if there is no-one else we can rely on to protect ourselves, our retreats, our stores and our families, we must be willing and able to do so ourselves.  While there are plenty of pejorative terms that are used to describe the gun-enthusiasts, there’s also a term that can accurately be used to describe the people who prefer to have no contact with firearms at all – they can also be known as, alas, victims.

In the lawlessness that will accompany a collapse of society, you must be prepared to protect and defend yourself, your loved ones, and your property, or else you’ll surely lose everything, having it taken from you by force.

We wrote before on why preppers usually own multiple firearms, and a reader subsequently wrote in to list the firearms he owned himself and why.

The reader referred to, more in passing than as a main part of his interesting commentary, owning some guns mainly due to the relative ease of finding ammunition for them as much as for any other reason.  This is a key point which we felt deserved its own article, so – some months later – here it is.

Choose Your Gun Calibers Based on Ammo Supply

In an extended period of social disruption, it probably goes without saying that people will run out of ammunition.  At the start of any period of social disruption, or just an increase in social anxiety and tension, you can expect to see ammo very quickly sell out in retail stores.

Indeed, even now, ammunition is in somewhat short supply – there have been ammunition shortages for much of the last four years; sometimes extreme in nature and sometimes patchy – both due to greater levels of buying domestically and also due to all the ammo being consumed in our various foreign wars which have been making it hard for the manufacturers to keep up with demand.  At present, ammo is getting in shorter supply again as people buy up prior to the November 2012 election – not due to any concerns about there being battles in the streets, but more due to concerns that if the present President is re-elected, he may act to restrict ammo sales.

Need we spell out that ammunition is definitely something you should stockpile?  It lasts a very long time (if stored in a cool dry environment, you’re probably looking at 50 years or more), and doesn’t take a lot of space.

Ammunition will skyrocket in value as soon as social disorder strikes.  It will become a valuable currency, although be careful who you sell bullets to, for fear of them being subsequently used against you!

The chances are that sooner or later, no matter how much ammo you start off with, you’ll end up running low yourself; or alternatively, you might come across some good value way of acquiring more ammo.  Other than to trade and resell on at a profit, ammo in a caliber that you don’t have any firearms chambered for is not very useful.  So for that reason, it makes sense to have firearms chambered for the most popular types of ammo.  That way, if you should come across a chance to pick up some more ammo on favorable terms, you can respond to the opportunity.

Similarly, if you run out of ammo, then if your guns use a common sort of ammo, you’re more likely to be able to buy some more than if they use a really strange uncommon type of ammo.

So, whether you want to have guns in common calibers to be able to use extra ammo if you have a chance to acquire some, or whether you want to have guns in common calibers to be able to get extra ammo if you need some, either which way, it makes sense to have a mix of different calibers among your firearms.

Here’s what we recommend.  And note that while we are talking about multiple rifles/pistols, we are not suggesting that you – as an individual – necessarily need to build up a huge arsenal yourself.  Instead, we use the term ‘you’ to refer, in the plural, to yourself and the other members of your group/community.

Rimfire

You should stock up on tens of thousands of rounds of .22 LR ammo, and have a range of rifles and pistols to shoot it.  The stuff is extremely cheap, as are the guns that use it, and .22 LR ammo takes up close to no space at all.  You can have ten times as many .22 rounds in the same space as you would ‘normal’ pistol/rifle ammo.

You’ll use your rimfire guns and ammo for training, possibly for ‘warning shot’ type self-defense, and for controlling small varmints.  You’ll not use these underpowered guns and ammo for ‘real’ self-defense however.

Revolvers

There is only one caliber of type of revolver to have – ones chambered for .357 Magnum ammo.  These will work perfectly well with both .357 MAG and .38 SPL ammo, which between them are far and away the most common/popular revolver ammo choice.

The .357 chambered revolver gives you ‘two for one’ because it works with both types of ammo.  We’re not suggesting you should stock .357 ammo in preference to .38 (most of the time we shoot .38 ourselves – it is cheaper and easier – less recoil – to shoot); we’re just saying to make sure you have revolvers that can accept either type of ammo.

Sure, a .44 Magnum or larger handgun comes with a higher dose of testosterone, but the ammo is scarce and expensive to start with, and will only get worse in a situation where ammo is hard to find at the best of times, and the gun isn’t very comfortable to shoot.  Furthermore, the .44 round isn’t really all that more lethal than a .357, and you can probably fire a .357 more accurately, definitely more comfortably, and more quickly than you can a .44 – in other words, you’ll get better results with the .357 than the .44.

And while there are also many other calibers – both bigger and smaller than .38/.357, none of them are worth considering due to their relative rarities and lack of special benefits.

Semi-auto Pistols

Here you have more choices to consider than with revolvers.  There are three main calibers in terms of popularity, which we’ll assess, more or less from most popular to least popular, as being 9mm, .45 ACP and .40 S&W.

Our suggestion – concentrate on the 9mm pistols and ammo for them, but also keep a small supply of .45 ACP and .40 S&W ammo, and pistols to use them too.  If you never need to use the .45 and .40 ammo, you can also use it as trade goods.

We don’t want to get into a debate about which is the ‘best’ caliber and cartridge.  You might believe that .40 or .45 cal pistols have more ‘stopping power’ and you might or might not be correct about that, although the most recent FBI studies are downplaying the importance of caliber entirely.  They have found that the most important factor in stopping power is not bullet caliber but the rapid placement of multiple accurate shots.  This is because all pistol calibers are ballistically ‘inadequate’, unlike most rifle rounds, they will stop an attacker only with a ‘lucky’ or a very well-placed shot.

We’re simply saying that in terms of a pistol caliber when prepping for a troubled future, 9mm is the best choice, not only because of its ubiquity but also because it is smaller and cheaper than the .40 and .45 calibers, and has less recoil, making it more easily controlled and handled by all shooters.

One more thing about these three calibers.  By all means, get reloaded 9mm or .45 ammo, but be careful with .40 reloads.  There is very little spare space inside the casing between the top of the powder and the base of the bullet, and if the bullet should be seated slightly too far, the pressures when the round is fired will be dangerously well in excess of what your pistol is rated to handle.

The other large size caliber of note is 10 mm, but it has never become very common or popular.  Ignore it.  There are many other uncommon calibers too – ignore them all.

Smaller sized calibers also exist, but most are too small/weak to be of practical use.  The one debatable exception is .380 ACP, and over the last five years or so there has been a huge increase in the number of pistols being made in this caliber, due to people wanting smaller sized concealable carry pistols.

You might want a smaller sized concealable carry pistol, in which case perhaps stock up with some .380 ammo as well as a pistol or two to use with it.  But this isn’t a caliber that is ever likely to be a major caliber that you’ll use in great quantities – if you ever have to use your .380 it will be only to fight your way to safety or to a larger caliber gun.

Rifles

You’ll probably need more rifle caliber ammo than any other type of ammo (except perhaps .22 plinking ammo).  This is because you’ll use your rifles for hunting and as your primary self-defense weapon.

The number of rounds of ammo you’ll use for hunting won’t ever be too huge because hopefully you’ll typically be felling game at a rate of one animal per each well-aimed shot.  But if you find yourself having to fight off repeated attacks from gangs of well-armed marauders, you could quickly go through hundreds or even thousands of rounds of rifle ammo in a single session – not because you’re being attacked by that many opponents, but because your shooting is now a mix of ‘suppressive’ fire (keeping the other guys away) as well as more careful aimed fire to actually score hits on the bad guys.

There are three major military calibers – .223, also known as 5.56, .308 also known as 7.62×51, and 7.62×39.  There actually is a slight difference between .223 and 5.56, and between .308 and 7.62×51, but for our purposes and with modern weapons, they can be considered more or less interchangeably.

The 7.62×39 is the caliber that is used by the AK-47 and many other ‘communist’ bloc weapons (we use the quotes because most of these countries are no longer communist).  It is hard to find US manufactured 7.62×39 ammo – all the stuff we’ve knowingly encountered ourselves has been imported, so our guess is that in a major breakdown of society, there’ll be little more 7.62×39 ammo coming in.

For this reason alone we consider it the least favored of the three calibers; but having said that, there’s a huge inventory of this caliber ammo ‘out there’ at present.  People buy it in quantities of thousands of rounds at a time, and many people have AK (and the earlier SKS) type rifles to use it with, so as a trading good, it would be sensible to have some ammo, and it would also make sense to have some rifles that can shoot it too.  It seems that AK rifles are more tolerant of wear, damage, and dirt than are rifles chambered for .223 or .308.

One other consideration with 7.62×39 ammo.  Sometimes this ammo uses corrosive rather than non-corrosive primers, and we’ve heard, anecdotally rather than in our direct personal experience, that sometimes some of the ammo that is labeled as non-corrosive actually is corrosive.  Just about all other modern ammo out there, these days, uses non-corrosive primers, and it is easy to get ‘spoiled’ and not be as diligent with cleaning as is essential when using corrosive ammo.  If you are using 7.62×39 ammo, you will need to check to see if it is corrosive or not, and be more obsessive at cleaning your rifles.

The .308 round is a great dual purpose hunting/self-defense round, and we recommend this become your prime hunting caliber, and that you get some ultra-reliable very accurate bolt-action hunting rifles that are chambered for .308 accordingly.  The Remington 700 seems to be a well regarded rifle and is not unreasonably expensive.

The .308 round is larger, heavier, and more expensive than the other two of these three calibers.  It is also generally more lethal, and possibly superior in self-defense situations.  So if you have a semi-auto magazine fed rifle or two in this caliber, that would be a good thing too.

However, the same issues that saw the US Army and most other armed forces switch from a large-caliber round to a smaller caliber round apply with equal impact to you in your own self-defense requirements.  Smaller lighter rounds are easier to carry and store (and less expensive to buy), and rifles chambered for this round are easier to shoot (lighter and less recoil).  In most cases, the .223/5.56 is more than adequate for self-defense, although it is a less suitable round for hunting game.

We recommend that the major part of your rifle ammo be .223/5.56 accordingly, and that you have a number of AR-15 type semi-auto rifles to use with this ammo.

Now for a fourth caliber.  Until 1957 the main rifle used by the US Army was the M1 Garand, and chambered for the .30-06 cartridge, a cartridge first released back in 1906 for the Springfield M1903 rifle, and in use pretty much continually ever since.

Of all the ‘other’ hunting rounds (ie other than the .308) the .30-06 is far and away the next most common, due to its former military role.  While the ammunition isn’t quite as common as the other three types, it is the next most common, and it would be wise to consider adding some type of bolt-action sporting/hunting rifle to your collection in this caliber, and keeping some .30-06 ammunition in your inventory as well.

There are dozens of other hunting round calibers, but none of them are very common, and the same is true for the rifles in these other calibers.  Sure, they are often excellent calibers/cartridges/rifles for hunting and self-defense, but you’ll find the calibers/cartridges/rifles you have in these ‘big four’ calibers are more than sufficient for all needs, with one possible exception – see the next section.

Heavy Rifle

There is one important caliber and rifle family that you might wish to consider if you feel you may need to protect yourself against para-military groups deploying lightly armored vehicles against you.  That is the .50 BMG caliber, and some sort of rifle in that caliber to shoot it.

A .50 BMG Barrett or other rifle is very expensive, and the ammunition is very expensive too – both will cost you about ten times the cost of an AR-15 clone and ammo to go with it.  But having even a single rifle in this caliber and a few hundred rounds of ammo would give you a long-range stand-off weapon of stunning power and accuracy that could be used to keep bad people a long way away from you, and to punch through many types of cover to reach the bad guys sheltered behind.

Barrett and the other specialty heavy-caliber rifle manufacturers also make rifles in other calibers too, but these calibers are very unusual and hard to come by.  The .50 BMG is the most common of the heavy caliber cartridges out there, due to it being a military caliber cartridge used in various full auto military weapons.

Shotgun

Everyone is familiar with the classic 12 gauge shotgun.  There are other gauges available – usually smaller caliber gauges such as 16 gauge and 20 gauge and .410, and there are also larger calibers too – 10 gauge and 8 gauge.

But we suggest you don’t get distracted, and stick to 12 gauge only.  The smaller gauges (with the bigger numbers) are of little practical use, and the larger gauges (with the smaller numbers!) while being undoubtedly more powerful don’t really add much practical extra benefit in most normal situations.  The 12 gauge is close to universal in application and ammunition for a 12 gauge is the very most common type of shotshells you’ll find.

You’ll want to get some 00 buck shells and maybe some solid slugs for self-defense purposes, and birdshot shells in several different sizes for hunting birds (the smaller the bird, the smaller the size of shot needed, with – confusingly – the bigger the number of the shot type, the smaller the size of the pellets).

Shotshells come in different lengths – longer shotshells have more space in them both for more shot and for more explosive charge.  The 2 3/4″ length shell is the most common, but you should get shotguns that are chambered to accept 3″ shells too, so as to have more universal compatibility.  If you really wanted to, it would be appropriate to get shotguns chambered to accept the rare 3.5″ shotshells – they will still work perfectly well with the shorter shotshells too, and gives you even greater compatibility with all types of loads you might come across.

Most of the time, your self-defense weapon of choice will be your 5.56mm/.223 AR-15 style rifle, so you don’t need a lot of buckshot ammo for your shotguns.  Get more birdshot for bird hunting than buckshot for self-defense.

Summary

Your most important firearm in any Level 2/3 situation will be your rifle(s) – this is the best weapon for hunting with, and also for self-defense.  Shotguns can be useful for shooting birds, and in very limited situations, for self-defense too.

Pistols are of little or no value when hunting either game or birds, and are of minimal value as a self-defense weapon also, but they do have the benefit of being conveniently portable, so you’ll probably always have one with you, using it merely as a way to enable you to safely fight your way back into your retreat or to your rifle.

In addition to the guns you know you’ll need and use, if money allows, it would be prudent to buy some spare guns in other calibers, just in case you should subsequently have a chance to buy ammunition in a caliber that you wouldn’t otherwise have any use for.

If you were to buy only one gun, we’d recommend it to be a semi-auto .308 caliber rifle.  But hopefully, just like you don’t only have one knife in your kitchen or one screwdriver in your toolbox, you’ll choose to get a broader mix of firearms to serve a broader mix of purposes.

Because ammunition keeps a very long time, we recommend you keep a plentiful supply.

Jul 082012
 

The Maverick Flying Car offers a novel way to possibly make your way to your retreat.

One of the greatest concerns for most preppers is how to get acceptably close to a ‘five nines’ (ie 99.999%) certainty that, in an extreme situation, they can be guaranteed the ability to safely and successfully travel from their normal residence to their retreat.

We’ve discussed the subject from several perspectives in other articles (here’s the category listing for our articles about bugging out) and for people who are choosing to participate in the Code Green community, we are preparing a ‘Halfway House‘ to make it easier to travel to our retreat location.

But the concern unavoidably remains.  As preppers, we necessarily need to prudently consider not only best case scenarios, but also scenarios moving closer and closer to the ultimate worst case, and to establish a level of preparedness and response that we feel represents the best compromise, for each of us, between likely risks, prioritized preparations and – the ultimate constraint for many of us – associated costs.

Here’s a novel new concept that we offer as much for thought as for serious consideration, but which might prove to be of practical interest to some people – the Maverick flying car.

This is one of the more practical car/plane combinations that we’ve seen.  We’ve been following the concept of flying cars for decades, and it is a subject marked primarily by hype and disappointment – by extravagant promises (and even more extravagant associated costs of ownership) and subsequent failures to deliver and failed ventures.

But the Maverick flying car seems to actually make good on its promises, and may offer a practical solution for people who feel unable to rely on road based travel to their retreat, but who don’t wish to commit to the substantial cost and additional complicating factors of a fully aviation based method of travel.

The Maverick is at its best on the road with, among other things, a top speed in the realm of 100 mph and a 0-60 time of 3.9 seconds, as well as some off-road capabilities too which could be helpful if needing to take marginal alternate routes.  It offers a generous 450 mile range, more or less, based on a 30 mpg fuel consumption.  If you drove it carefully on sealed roads at steady speeds, we are certain you’d get appreciably improved range.

If you face obstacles or problems on the road, however, you need only 100 yards to take-off and get airborne (and subsequently you can land in a similarly short distance).  Note that these distances assume no immediate vertical obstacles – if there was a cliff face immediately at the end of the 100 yd take-off distance you’d have a problem!

Note also these vehicles presumably have some weather limitations in terms of the amount of wind and cross wind that can be present to allow them to safely take off and land.  And, with an open cab, you’d want to be sure to be bundled up very warmly before setting off on your journey, especially in winter time.

Range Issues

The vehicle has a greatly reduced range when airborne – in theory about 120 miles.  This would be insufficient for most bugging out purposes, but needs to be considered from two perspectives.

The first perspective is to appreciate that the vehicle is primarily a road vehicle.  You would transition to flight only to bypass obstacles on your path – for example, unplowed roads impassable due to snow, bridges that had fallen, trees blocking the road, or traffic jams.  Maybe you’d actually be able to go all the way to your retreat without needing to take-off at all.

The second perspective is to understand that the stated range – three hours flying time at a cruising speed of 40 mph – assumes a normal weight load on the craft.  There are two strategies to greatly increase the vehicle’s flying range.  The first is simply to overload the vehicle beyond its officially rated capacity.  Its normal certification is for a maximum gross weight of 1320 lbs, but if you fill out paperwork and pay a fee, the FAA will allow the vehicle to operate with a higher maximum gross weight of 1430 lbs.  That extra 110 lbs could be in the form of extra petrol.  The weight of petrol varies with its temperature and specific formulation, but as a rule of thumb, assume 6.25lbs per gallon of petrol, and so 110 lbs equates to 17.5 gallons (assuming you don’t need extra containers) which would give you another 140 airborne miles or 525 road miles, or a mix of both.

Indeed, you can overload the vehicle more than that.  The manufacturer has tested the vehicle at 1500 lbs – a further 70 lbs of weight or 11.2 gallons of gas, giving still more range (90 miles of flight, 170 miles on roads).

There’s another possibility too.  Instead of driving/flying the vehicle with a partner, fly it solo.  The weight that would have been your companion can be fuel instead.

So, one way or another, it seems realistic to expect something in excess of a 750 miles range if driven on the road, and each mile of flight would subtract almost 4 miles from the road range – for example, you could fly 50 miles and drive 560 miles, giving you more than 600 miles of combined air/ground travel.

One last thing about range.  Remember that when you’re flying, you can travel ‘as the crow flies’, in a straight line.  This can be a much more direct path than if you are having to follow every curve and twist and turn on a surface road.  100 miles in a straight line by air is considerably more than 100 miles on the ground.

Summary

Our retreat can only be useful to us if we can be sure of getting there.  Depending on the type of situation that has triggered your decision to ‘bug out’ and to move to your retreat, your normal travel experience may become more challenging.  Indeed, even in normal times, if your route involves mountain passes that can sometimes be closed due to heavy snowfalls in the winter, you may occasionally have problems getting where you need to go.

If the route to your retreat involves a tricky mountain pass in the winter, and/or possibly a major city that you wanted to be able to detour, this ‘mixed mode’ method of bugging out might be ideal and give you the certainty and reassurance you need.

The Maverick ‘flying car’ currently sells for $94,000.  We’ve not seen or flown one, and this is not an endorsement, merely an informational article – you’d need to do your own further research to see if they represent a practical concept for you to consider.  More details on their website and here’s a link to a detailed six page fact sheet.

The FAA has even created a special category of pilot license that is easier to qualify for to enable you to lawfully fly these types of  craft.

Jul 052012
 

Unlike modern towns, those in the ‘wild west’ were designed to be defendable and convenient for their residents.

We consistently urge you to become part of a community of fellow preppers for mutual support in all respects (or to form one if you can’t find a suitable community already out there).

Being part of a community gives you access to extra manpower when you need help with construction projects.  It represents people to buy/sell/trade with.  It offers you access to a wider range of supplies, skills and expertise.  Equally importantly, but intangibly, it gives you companionship and fellowship and moral support, helping you to remain positive and determined to succeed, even in grave adversity.

A community can also potentially provide support in another very important sense – the shared defense of your various properties, something that is of course essential for survival.

But when many preppers think of this concept (and some of us don’t at all, preferring instead a quixotic vision of a lonely battle against the entire world, all by themselves, unassisted), their vision of how a mutual defense agreement would work is sadly not practical.  They think of becoming part of a community with neighbors who will join with them in defending each other and in creating a larger outpost of safety for all the community members.

Now for the problem with this apparently sensible concept.  First, the good news – this is a realistic and viable arrangement in a town or village.

But – the bad news.  It is close to useless to have some sort of support arrangement with people who live on surrounding farms.  If your main dwelling is out of sight of the other homesteads of the other families nearby, there is both no visible sign of support/deterrence to attackers, and there is also no compelling visual urgency and obligation on the part of your neighbors when/if you are attacked.

The Problem of Mutual Support in the Countryside

The attackers see a remote dwelling, all by itself, with no other dwellings anywhere around.  A tasty, tempting, vulnerable target – their ‘best case scenario’ type of encounter.  They don’t care what sort of mutual defense agreements you might have, because if there isn’t anyone with you at the time they attack, to join you in your defense, then what difference does it make?

There’s no augmented and credible indication of you being a ‘hard’ target rather than a soft target.  There’s no upfront deterrence.  You’re still highly likely to be attacked.

Now let’s think about what happens if you are attacked.  Presumably you sound some sort of alarm – a siren or something – that is an agreed upon call for assistance.  Now try to think very carefully about what will happen next.

How many of your neighbors will instead rush inside their own dwellings and shutter their windows and hunker down defensively?  That’s sure an easier choice for them than to go out in the open, and seek out the people attacking you.  Remember, the warning you have sounded is not currently placing them personally at risk – how many wives will say to their husbands ‘Please don’t go, because if you get injured, there are no advanced medical facilities to treat you, and if you die, who will work our farm with me, who will support me and our children?’

If your house was just over the street from them, they would both feel more directly threatened and also more directly obliged.  But being some distance away, and out of sight, there is the temptation to say ‘Oh, sorry, didn’t hear the alarm.  I had my iPod headphones on and didn’t hear the siren at all’ (or ‘I was napping’ or ‘I was working on some noisy machinery’ or any other excuse they choose).

Or maybe they will ‘make haste slowly’ and very slowly travel to your dwelling, in the hope that by the time they get there, it will all be over and the bad guys safely gone.  ‘Oh, sorry, I came as quickly as I could’.  ‘Sorry, I was in the shower, and so I had to rinse the soap off, get dried, blow-dry my hair, have a fresh shave, etc before I could come’.

Let’s however be positive and assume that your neighbors do respond.  Even if they hurry, how long will it take for them to stop what they are doing, to prepare for battle and to get appropriate clothing, supplies and weapons, then more time to stealthily approach your property, and then still more time for them to meet up with other neighbors until there was a sufficient force to mount an attack from the rear on your attackers?

It doesn’t matter so much how fast the first person will arrive – he would be foolish to do anything until joined by others.  The key time measure is how long it takes the slower people to bolster the numbers to the point they jointly feel able to enter the battle.

Don’t forget to allow for the probability that your neighbors don’t have any motorized transport – or, even if they did, they’d not use it, preferring a slow stealthy sneaky surprise attack from the rear.

That points out another key issue.  Any sort of support from your neighbors would have to involve multiple neighbors all helping in a coordinated manner.  You couldn’t expect one only neighbor to come, and from an outdoors exposed position try to help you (from inside your dwelling) fight off multiple attackers.  That would be close to suicide for him.  If the attackers suddenly came under fire from someone in the open, of course they’d shift their focus from you in your dwelling (because you are in a defensive not attacking posture, and aren’t going anywhere) to the sudden new threat from the rear or side.

So there you are, on your 20+ acre lot, with neighbors also on 20+ acre lots.  How many neighbors will agree to come and help you, how many will even hear your alarm, and how long will it take?

Oh – and how long might it take your attackers, who will have ambushed you on their terms, to overwhelm you and overrun your dwelling?  You will probably be dead, your supplies all looted, and the bad guys already gone, before any support reaches you.

A Town/Village Alternative

Now think through a similar scenario, but this time in a township where a cluster of a dozen or more homes are all located close to each other.  There are signs posted on the routes in to the township advising that martial law is in effect, telling looters they’ll be shot on sight, and requiring strangers to check in with the local ‘sheriff’ if they wish to visit the town.

Any stranger approaching sees not just one isolated homestead, alone by itself, but a cluster of houses all close to each other.  They  see signs indicating an active community defense plan is in place, and they realize they can’t just single out one of the houses to attack – if they do anything to any of the houses,  the other residents from the other houses will also respond.

Most of the time, they’ll pass the town completely by, preferring to find easier pickings elsewhere – like, for example, a single homestead all by itself with no nearby neighbors (sound familiar?).

Put yourself in the shoes of your neighbors again.  This time when you sound your alarm, there’s no way they can’t hear it, and they just have to look out the window to see what is going down, and indeed, they might even be able to participate in the battle by simply shooting from their window, too.

And because they can see the bad guys, maybe no more than 50 yards away from their own front door, they feel equally threatened, because they know if the bad guys have the cojones to ride into town and openly attack one of its residences, they’ll not stop at only one.

This is not a situation where selfish self-interest would motivate your neighbors to ignore your call for help, with the distance giving them excuses for doing so.  It is not a situation where even if they did help, it would probably be too little and too late.  Instead your neighbors will be motivated to fight as desperately as you are, because they are almost at as much risk as you, and they can effectively join the fight in a minute or less, from defensive safe positions.  They’re not doing this out of any altruism – they’re doing it as much for their own good as they are to help you.

So – in the township you are less likely to be attacked in the first place, and if you are attacked, you are more likely to get almost instant and effective support from your fellow townsfolk.

Now tell us again where you plan to build your retreat?

We’re not saying you should set up a retreat in the form of a house in a small town on a typical quarter acre lot.  Sure, you can still have your 20+ acres, and indeed, sure, you should have a decent sized parcel of land.  But set your main dwelling in a cluster with other folks, even if that means you’ve got a bit of a journey to get from your front door to your land.  After all, with 20+ acres, most of it will be some distance from your front door anyway, so it’s not necessarily a big deal to have almost all of it a distance away.

And by all means have a ‘kitchen garden’ or a greenhouse on your in-town lot, too.  This will be a great convenience, particularly in the winter months.

Choose Your Community Wisely

The key part of this concept of course revolves around finding a community group where you’ll be united in a common goal of self-defense and survival.

There’s no guarantee that moving into an existing community will also instantly surround you with like-minded souls.  Indeed, some of the smaller rural towns seem to have a curious mix of people, including some ‘counter-culturalists’ and old hippies, maybe some ‘migrant workers’ (aka illegal immigrants), and some yuppies from the city who have lifestyle properties in the countryside, maybe some low-density alternate-lifestyle organic farmers, and who knows who else.

Not all of the people in these categories are people you’d immediately want to rely on watching your back in a difficult situation.  Worst of all, some of these people may even prove to be ‘part of the problem’ rather than helping you in the solution when a Level 2/3 situation occurs.

Furthermore, the layout and design of most rural towns is not necessarily optimized to create a defensive enclave.  Many people seek privacy from their neighbors and attempt to avoid sight-lines, whereas for defensive purposes, it is better to be closer together and to have nothing between properties that attackers could use as cover.  And the houses are not built to withstand rifle fire – either from attackers or from fellow townsfolk who are shooting at attackers in situations where your house is unavoidably in the background.

We’re not saying it is impossible to find a suitable township, and even a so-so township may be better that nothing.  But it does point to the benefits of joining, or at least getting close to, a custom community such as with ourselves (or developing your own) so that you know you’re together with people who share a similar approach to surviving and succeeding in a Level 2/3 situation.

Jul 042012
 

Weather changes from an optional bonus part of our choice of location at present, to a mandatory component of choosing a suitable retreat location.

We all know about weather, right?  Warm and sunny with a clear blue sky and a gentle breeze is nice.  Cold, windy, rainy or snowy – all that is nasty.

Perhaps weather has even had a moderate impact on your choice of where you live at present.  And/or maybe it is something you like to complain about.

Well, whatever you formerly felt about weather, and however important weather was to you in your choice of current location, multiply that by, oh, let’s say one hundred times, to now appreciate how important weather will be to you in your retreat.

There are several reasons for this.

Weather Will Impact Us More Directly

First, currently we massively modify the weather as we experience it personally, without even really thinking about it.  We heat or cool our homes, our cars, our offices, our shopping malls.  If the weather is too hot, we can stay out of the sun, somewhere air-conditioned to be cool.  If it is too cold, we can get out of the cold, and turn the heating up a bit more.

In a Level 2/3 situation, we won’t be able to conveniently do any of those things.  We won’t work in a nice comfortable air-conditioned office – we’ll be working outdoors, in the fields, much of the time.  If it is hot out there, we just have to suck it in, and the same if it is cold.

Heating or cooling our houses will be problematic.  Energy will be in short supply, rather than essentially limitless as it is at present, and that which might be available will be massively more expensive.  We may be able to heat our homes by way of a wood burning stove or fireplace, although even a convenient ongoing supply of firewood is far from assured (imagine if you had to hand carry every log you burn, several miles from where you felled a tree to your dwelling).

Cooling our houses will be even more difficult – a/c units use a lot of energy and are moderately complex – if they fail, they’ll probably then be out of service for the duration of the Level 2/3 event.

Snow Will Be More Serious a Challenge

Another weather impact that will become more severe is snow.  Currently, and particularly if you live in an area with regular snow falls in the winter, snow removal is more or less something you almost take for granted.  The good news part of that is that, almost certainly, your local city roads department have teams of men and machinery that keep your roads passable.  They start off by laying chemicals down on the road surface to stop ice forming, then they go through with snow plows and grit/salt spreaders, and although there may be many feet of snow on the fields, the roads are, most of the time, passable.

Little or none of that will happen in a Level 2/3 situation.  There’ll be no working machinery, and even if there was, there’d be more essential uses for any remaining diesel fuel.

If you’re in an area that gets significant snow accumulation during the winter, you need to figure on being essentially cut off from other places, other than travel by snowmobile or horse – both of which are – albeit in their differing ways, complex and expensive solutions.

So, at our retreat, our personal life experience will be massively more impacted by weather than it is at present.

Weather Impacts On Our Water and Food Supply

One key element of weather is rainfall.

If an area doesn’t have an adequate supply of rainfall through most of the year – hopefully balancing carefully between ‘too much’ and ‘too little’ than you’re either not going to be able to live there, or will need to have an absolutely certain alternate supply of water – either from a well (or wells) or spring(s) or from a river/stream (and you’ll have no end of hassle getting the rights to take water from ‘your’ river/stream if such rights don’t come already attached to the property title).

Of course you need water for yourself, and of course you will also need water for growing crops and for any animals you may be raising too.

Note also that the hotter the temperatures, the more water you’ll need (due to increasing amounts of water being baked out of the ground by the sun, and due to evaporative losses from any holding tanks you have.  Sure, you’ll drink more water too, but that is a totally trivial consideration compared to the extra hundreds/thousands of gallons of water you’ll need each day to care for your crops.

Another key element of weather is what is termed the ‘growing season’ – which in the US is a fairly arbitrary measure that simply tells you the number of days between the last frost in spring and the first frost in fall, or, even more simply, between the last day that night temperatures fall below 32° in spring and the first day in fall that they start to drop below 32° again.

As such it isn’t really telling you much about how fast your crops may grow or how bountiful they will be, but it is one of a number of quick easy measures that gives you some rules of thumb to apply to the weather and its impacts on your ability to grow crops.

Other factors that impact on crop growing range from things like soil type to average and peak temperatures to sunlight hours and intensity to elevation.  And, as already discussed, rainfall or compensatory irrigation.

A more meaningful measure to assess plant growth rates is Growing Degree Days (click the link for a definition).

In your present life, you probably don’t need to grow all the food you eat.  Indeed, more likely, you don’t grow any of it at all.  But when you’re at your retreat, you’ll either need to grow all the food you need, or alternatively have some other product or service you can trade with other local residents for their surplus food.

If you’re hoping to trade some other product or service for food, that requires two things – first, it requires you to have some other product or service you can create or provide on a renewable ongoing basis, and secondly, it requires people conveniently close to you who both have a need for your product/service and who are able to exchange surplus food of their own for your product service.  Unless all of these requirements are met, you’ll go hungry.  From this perspective, there are less variables outside your control if you make your first priority to be able to grow sufficient food, directly, yourself, on your own land.

Either which way, either you or your neighbors need to be able to grow food readily and in generous amounts – there’s no way you’ll be getting in regular twice weekly air freighted shipments of fresh food from South America!  If your retreat location is not in a fertile area that readily grows crops, both you and all your neighbors will suffer a depressed – or even an unsustainable – standard of living.

It is definitely a positive if the general area you choose is good for everyone in that area and their food production.  It is much better to be part of a moderately prosperous and sustaining region than it is to be surrounded by people even more desperate than you in their attempts to survive in a future adverse situation.

Choose a location with better weather.  You could potentially grow twice as much food there, and enjoy a substantially better lifestyle, than if you go somewhere with bad weather.

Weather and Energy

We mentioned before about how extreme weather can require us to consume more energy to compensate for the bad weather.  But weather can also help us with energy.  For example, if we’re somewhere with lots of clear skies and sunny days, then we can get more energy from solar cell arrays than we could from somewhere bedeviled by constant cloudy overcast days.

And if we’re somewhere that has wind that is neither too strong nor too weak, and reliably steady, day in and day out, maybe we could get some wind power too from a wind turbine.

If we had to choose between a place optimized for solar or a place optimized for wind power, we’d probably advocate choosing the better solar location.  Solar cells have no moving parts and are reasonably resilient and can be expected to last 20, 30, even 40 years and more with little or no maintenance required (other than keeping them clean).  Wind generators, on the other hand, are complex, unreliable, and maintenance intensive.

When Bad Weather Can be Good

There’s one situation when bad weather can be a good thing.  If a Level 2/3 event occurs in winter, it is reasonable to assume that most people, when evacuating the cities, will probably stream south or in whichever other direction most quickly gets them to warmer parts of the country.  They’ll hurry through the colder areas with no intention of attempting to settle there.

This would not so strongly apply if the Phase 3 and 4 stages of an event occurred during a balmy warm summer.  Some people, gifted with some foresight, would still head towards warmer climate areas, but others would live in the moment and go anywhere nearby where food and shelter were possibly present.

Weather – Very Important.  But Only One of Many Factors

Okay, so we’ve spent the last little while talking about how vitally important weather will be to you in your retreat.  All of that is true.

But it isn’t the only factor to keep in mind when determining where to locate your retreat.  Unfortunately, the parts of the US with the best overall weather are usually totally unsuited for retreating to, due to other factors that also have to be considered.

If one considered only weather, much of California would be great to retreat to, for example.  But the state laws make it close to impossible to realistically plan for a viable retreat in California (either before or after WTSHTF), and many of the other great locations are too close to major cities, too.

All the best weather locations have already been settled in – sad, but close to true.  That makes evaluating weather issues harder, not easier, because you’re going to have to decide which parts of the overall weather subject you can most and least compromise on, and to balance out the better or worse weather with other issues that relate to your retreat location as well.

But, having said that, and recognizing you will never get a ‘perfect’ location by any measure at all, while it is acceptable to allow some compromise in weather, you mustn’t go beyond the point that prevents you and your neighbors from being able to grow more than enough food to survive and have a bit left over besides.

How to Evaluate Weather Issues to Determine Suitable Retreat Locations

Please see related articles for more on this vital topic (weather) and a discussion on how to actually rate different locations on their weather suitability.  Here’s a category listing of weather related articles.

Jul 042012
 

We must plan and prepare for an uncomfortable period of extended lawlessness as part of a Level 2/3 Event.

Conventional wisdom paints an apocalyptic but not very detailed picture of social breakdown in a Level 2 or 3 situation (note – it might be helpful to refresh your understanding of what we define as Level 1, 2 and 3 events).

In the past, we’ve suggested there wouldn’t be an instant collapse of social order and there wouldn’t be an instant mass exodus out of the cities.  That’s not to say the collapse won’t happen (we’re sadly certain that it will), it just is unlikely to happen immediately and instantly.

It is helpful to understand the evolving stages of social order, disorder, and then – hopefully – order once more that will transpire during such situations.  If we understand this process, we can adapt our own responses to the changing world around us – and we can also draw some encouragement from the likely eventual resolution.

Here’s how we see things as unfolding.  We make these predictions based on broad reading of social literature, studies of past social collapses, consensus discussions on the topic, and our own best guesses.  No-one really knows for sure what will happen, but we think this is a reasonably likely overall evolution.  Some parts of the six phases might be more or less prominent, but just as how a wheel has to fully rotate 360 degrees to complete a full circle, each part of it needs to occur as part of the process to the next part and to the final phase six resolution.

The time each part of the process will take is of course conjecture on our part, particularly Phases Three and Four.  So consider this in broad outline and adapt it as you wish to make it part of your own planning.

Phase One – A False Calm

The first part of a Level 2/3 event may last anywhere from a day to two weeks.  This will be the period during which people slowly come to accept and comprehend that life as they formerly knew it has massively changed, and that there won’t be a magical ‘rescue’ by some government service.

During this time, the rule of law will probably continue more or less unchanged.  Indeed, the first steps that the civic leaders will probably undertake in response to the situation will be to declare states of emergency, call out the national guard, set curfews, limit the amount of food one can buy, and so on.

Not only will such steps be taken in an attempt to preserve the status quo, but the people tasked with implementing such orders (police, national guard, etc) will be compliant and act as directed, as will most of the civilian population.

The predominant underlying motivation in phase one will be ‘let’s all keep it together, and we will manage to survive in an orderly and civilized manner’, combined with a paralysis of belief and action in response to a situation beyond most people’s comprehension, and of course, the hope/expectation that someone, somewhere, will come to everyone’s rescue and save the day.  It will take some days before supplies start to run out and the local/regional support structures start to undeniably crumble and fail.

Phase Two – A Growing Panic

Unfortunately, people can only remain so calm for so long when they’re starving.  When people run out of food, and when the local supermarkets and distribution centers also run out of food (actually, this will occur first – panic buying will see the supermarkets empty out in a day or two), and when no more food comes in to replace the consumed food, people find themselves with two stark choices – lie down and passively die, or do whatever it takes to search out and take food for themselves and their families.

Maybe some form of community sharing will be instituted, but some people will refuse to share their own resources, while other people will realize they can get more by taking than they’d get by passively accepting their ‘fair’ share.  The community sharing concept will not prove a success as a result – and even if it were to be a success, how long can it continue?  A week?  Two?  With no new deliveries of food, the available supplies will quickly be exhausted.  You can’t share nothing.

This challenge will apply just as much to the law enforcement personnel as it will to the civilian population, and eventually, law enforcement personnel will abandon their duties and join in the growing free-for-all that is developing.

Isolated outbreaks will grow and multiply, and before too long, the ‘rule of law’ will have vanished and people will be doing whatever they need to do, either to protect the food and shelter they do have, or to seek out and take food and shelter from those who have it.

The cities will become bloodbaths with no remaining organized law enforcement.

The predominant feeling in Phase Two will be a combination of panic and anger.  ‘How could this happen to me?’ and ‘This is not fair!’ will be how much of the population perceives things, and there will come a tipping point where the former Phase One idealistic hope of ‘Everyone else is being calm and peaceful, therefore I should behave that way too’ will transition to ‘Everyone else is looting and pillaging, therefore I need to as well to get my fair share’ – a feeling made all the more essential by the clear evidence that if you don’t fend for yourself, no-one else is going to do it for you.

This phase – the breakdown of law and order, while most people remain focused on their urban/suburban residences and lifestyles – will last a short while, with Phase Three starting almost immediately and then growing more and more dominant until the cities become hollowed out.

Phase Three – Abandoning the Cities

It will quickly become apparent to people that there are no remaining sources of food in the cities, and for most people, both no way to grow their own food and also no safety in their current residences.

Again, people will have two stark choices.  Lie down and die, or roam further afield in search for food and safety.

This will inevitably drive people out of the cities.  Think of all the images you’ve seen of streams of refugees from war-ravaged areas, traveling sometimes many hundreds of miles, leaving their old world behind and heading towards a very uncertain alternate life.  That’s what will happen, except there probably won’t be any UN sponsored refugee camps or friendly countries to host people.

A lot depends on whether the situation is a regional, national, or continent-spanning event, of course.  But even if some countries remain unharmed and unaffected by whatever event it was, the numbers don’t work well in our favor.  Most refugee situations involve no more than a few million refugees, and there are wealthy nations with huge resources available to assist the refugees – most notably, the US itself.  If something occurs to destroy the resources of the US, and if there are suddenly 300 million of us all needing food urgently, how can any other nation adequately respond?

It is one thing for a nation of 300 million to assist 3 million refugees.  But how can a nation of 3 million (or 30 million) now turn around and help the US with its 300 million people, all simultaneously now needy and starving?  The sheer logistics of moving the food and distributing it are impossible to start with, and every other part of a coordinated rescue mission for the entire US also suffers from the sheer enormity of the project.

The refugees may be preyed upon by gangs of opportunists, and may also themselves be roving marauders.  They’ve got to eat, after all, so they’ll have no choice but to find food wherever it is to be found, and to take it whenever they can.

The predominant feeling at this point is ‘Every man for himself’ and ‘I’ve nowhere to go and nothing to do except fight for survival at any and all costs’.

We see this phase as lasting several weeks to several months.

Phase Four – Nowhere is Safe

As people move out of the cities, they’ll variously stop and settle in places or convert to an extended nomadic lifestyle.  What else can they do except just plain die?  An appreciable percentage of the population will indeed die – either from exposure/lack of shelter, from disease, from hunger, or from violent encounters.

It is impossible to see how this can not occur – in the circumstance that a Level 2/3 event occurs on a national basis, it will interfere with the ongoing highly mechanized process of agriculture, and even the labor dependent parts will be disrupted by farm hands joining in the social disorder too.  The country won’t be able to make enough food to feed itself.

Whatever way you run the numbers, anywhere from perhaps a half the population to three-quarters or more of the population won’t survive through the end of the first winter – even if food were plentiful, energy will be scarce, and people will die of exposure as well as of starvation.  And that’s before we start to think about the disease that will ravage through survivor camps, killing off massive numbers of people too.

People who try to establish themselves in some form of sustainable environment for the future will find themselves being challenged by people who don’t want to invest in a future which – to them – is unsure and unlikely; these latter people will be living for the moment and will take what they can, and squander resources recklessly while living ‘high risk’ lifestyles.

A farmer who keeps a herd of dairy cattle will see his cattle taken from him and slaughtered – people would rather have the meat now than a supply of milk for years to come.  A farmer with a supply of seed potatoes for next year’s planting will see them taken by people who want to eat food now and who can’t wait many months for the seed potatoes to be planted and to bring in a full new crop.

A person who has stored sufficient food to feed himself and his family, frugally, for a year, will see a mob take that food from him, eat some of it, waste some of it, and take the rest away with them.

A person who attempts to resist (and fails) may find himself tortured or killed (or first one then the other).  A person who attempts to barricade themselves in their secure retreat may find an attacking mob will simply choose to burn his entire retreat to the ground – with him still in it, of course.

The mob mentality would rather see the person and the mob lose everything rather than the person keep anything for himself.  Win-win will be an abandoned concept.  Win-lose will be the order of the day, and lose-lose will also be an unfortunate approach that is widely adopted too.

Some people might keep a social conscience and attempt to lead a good and lawful life.  Those people will also be known by another name – ‘victims’.  It will be kill or be killed; and those who are not willing to aggressively defend themselves, their loved ones and their possessions will find themselves losing everything.

The predominant feeling at this point will be a ruthless pursuit of the need to survive short-term, never mind the longer term, and never mind the cost or casualties of what one does to survive.  There will be no law and no formal consequences to any actions.

The duration of Phase Four depends a bit on the seasons and the location – a harsh winter will impose calm (and/or an icy death) on people, as well as restricting movement, whereas an extended summer will allow for nomadic roving groups of lawless looters.  We of course can’t guess when during the year a level 2/3 situation may suddenly erupt, but we will say that Phase Four will run through until the winter, at which point – especially in places with harsher winters – it will diminish in scope, and by the next spring, conditions may be ready for Phase Five.

Phase Five – A New Form of Social Order

Out of even the direst chaos, some new structure inevitably evolves.  We see two areas of evolution that will slowly start to coalesce out of the Phase Four anarchy.

On the apparently minus side, the bad guys will start to form into organized groups.  There already are groups of bad guys in place – biker and street gangs – and they will grow enormously in size and power.  Other groups will form on an ad hoc and semi-random basis.

We say this is an apparently minus development.  The good part of this is that any type of organized group starts to get a structure, some controls, some vision, and some concept of a future.  Most of the ‘lawless’ groups on the planet, both now and in the past, have actually been bound by very strict internal codes of conduct and behavior – their lawlessness, as has been perceived by ordinary society, is more a form of culture clash between the culture and values of the group and the society in which they live, and a harsher set of consequences for people who broke their own internal rules of conduct than society imposes on people in general.

This is as true in nature as it is in human society.  The most effective parasites do not kill off their hosts; indeed some parasites create classic win-win systems with their hosts so that both benefit from the association.  We see this with organized crime too, with the classic win-win being the payment of protection money to a local gang.

We won’t debate the interesting point about the differences between paying protection money to a gang or paying taxes to fund the local police department; but if you look at it dispassionately, you’ll see that in both cases, the people making the payments do so in the hope of getting a positive consequence (protection) and in the matching hope of avoiding a negative consequence (a beating or a term of imprisonment).

So we see formal gangs setting up regional territories.  If you pay them protection money, they’ll otherwise leave you alone, and will endeavor to keep other would-be predatory groups away from you.  If you want to travel along ‘their’ road, you’ll have to pay a ‘toll’ to do so.  And so on.

We will also see groups of citizens getting together to re-constitute some sort of citizen based law enforcement, first in some sort of mutual defense agreement, and subsequently by sharing in the costs of full-time law enforcement officers, aided by citizen deputies as needed.

Some areas will be controlled by citizen groups, and others by gangsters.  The citizen groups will have no interest in attacking gangsters out of their area, while the gangsters will occasionally be tempted by the thought of expanding, with ‘border clashes’ occurring from time to time as the two groups test each other’s resolve.  An uneasy truce will lie over much of the country.

Within the alternating framework of either citizen or gangster controlled areas there will still be crime on a more individual rather than organized level.  We predict that penalties for crime will increase – a return to the earlier settler days with summary hanging being the punishment for cattle-rustling, for example.

There may also be marauding gangs who opportunistically tour through areas, whether gang or citizen controlled.  Life will be dangerous, but survivable.

Crime detection/solving will be massively less effective than previously, due to the loss of the high-tech aids the police have come to rely upon.  More crime might be unsolved, but the flipside of that will be that criminals who are caught will be subject to more severe penalties.

Any people incarcerated will have to ‘work their passage’ – society will not have spare resource to feed, shelter, and entertain criminals.  Whether as a punishment or just as a necessity, criminals will find themselves involved in hard labor and harsh conditions during their imprisonment.

The liberal ‘touchy-feely’ crowd who likes to fill prisons with better food and televisions and recreational equipment than many people have outside the prison walls will either have died off (been killed) or will have had their eyes opened and their value systems changed to the point where, like reformed smokers now being aggressively anti-smoking, they may be the first to demand more and more hangings for lesser and lesser offenses.

The key social and support elements will become family based as the smallest support unit, and then faith/congregation (or, in secular areas, block associations) based.  Formal civic government will be bare-bones and will be focused primarily on getting essential life-support services to everyone, rather than funding minority empowerment projects that benefit only narrow groups of special interests.

People will be too busy concentrating on surviving to care about topics such as gay rights (either pro or con) or women’s issues or black history.  Environmental concerns and constraints will vanish – as we see in the world today, only wealthy people enjoying comfortable safe lifestyles can afford such concerns.

The prevailing attitude in this phase will be a grim determination to survive, and a return to a social code of acceptable behavior.

The duration of Phase Five is hard to guess at.  A decade?  A generation?  It really depends on how society as a whole feels it has learned lessons from the circumstances of the Level 2/3 event, and how it might redefine itself for the future, and also on how fast or slow ‘civilization’ in terms of services and products return to something equating to normal.

Phase Five slowly starts to blend into Phase Six, and one of the tools for this will be the growth of trading and contacts between individual settlements.

Phase Six – A Return to Normalcy

As the things that took man from the stone age to the wood age to the iron age to the industrial age to the information age return, so too will society start to adapt and become more refined and nuanced.

As trading starts to spread from one settlement to the next – made possible by the restoration of safety to traveling between settlements – this will help encourage further economies and efficiencies of scale, and economies will start to become less micro-economies and more regional in nature, with improvements in overall living standards for all in the region.

People will start to have the luxury of spare time, and spare money, and will stop living lives constrained by their immediate neighborhood and this year’s crop.  Instead, they’ll again start to think of other things and the longer term.  As Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs explains, as each level of essential survival is achieved, a new set of objectives and challenges replace them, evolving to higher order issues such as esteem and, at the top, self-actualization.

The prevailing attitude will become one of confidence and assuredness.

What We Need to Do as Preppers

At the very beginning of the six phase cycle, we need to take advantage of the ‘grace period’ that is ours during Phase One. and use this to give us a head start towards getting to our retreats and preparing for the difficulties that will follow.

Ideally, of course, we want to bug out before the civilian authorities start to impose restrictive emergency/martial law controls on people and their movements.

We need to be alert to the onset of a Level 2/3 event, and as soon as we view one as underway, we need to immediately bug out.  During the Phase One ‘False Calm’ we won’t draw so much attention to ourselves driving somewhere in a vehicle, and we’ll encounter fewer threats and problems on the way.

But as soon as the situation clicks over to Phase Two and Three, life becomes much more difficult if we are still in transit on the way to our retreat location.

Hopefully we’ll miss most of Phases Two and Three, because we’ll be well away from the larger cities.  Hopefully, also, we’ll be prepared to confront Phase 4 in a way that will enhance our chances of surviving through it.

More to the point, our understanding of this process is such that – hopefully – we are already laying the seeds of establishing a Phase Five for the region our retreat is located; we want to very quickly make not just our personal retreat but the area it is part of become a haven of citizen-supported mutual cooperation and safety, with sufficient resolve and strength to fight off both uncoordinated attacks and also to stake your claim to your area as being citizen-controlled rather than a gang-controlled area.

Succeeding in creating a positive Phase Five community will help you move forward into Phase Six.

Jul 042012
 

It is important to maintain an appealing variety of food in a Level 2/3 situation. You don’t need deluxe buffets, but you do need regular variety.

As a youngster, I used to live in city with a chocolate factory.  We all envied the workers enormously, because they were allowed to eat all the chocolate they wanted.  No limit.  They couldn’t take any home, but they could eat as much as they could cram in each day during their shift.  Truly, a child’s dream come true.

But the chocolate factory managers were smarter than we children gave them credit.  After a possible brief period of gluttony, without exception, the workers lost interest in the chocolate that surrounded them.  They were suffering from selective ‘appetite fatigue’.

Appetite fatigue is one of those things that few people ever have cause to think about.  We eat something today, something different tomorrow, and different again the next day.  Even for something that is a favorite, like ice cream, we can go to Baskin Robbins and choose from 31 different flavors (actually, count them next time you’re in a BR store – chances are it has way more than 31).

But if you’re hunkered down in a difficult situation with merely whatever food you’ve stored on hand, your menu choices might be more limited.  Rice and beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day.  Try that sometime – well, actually, better you don’t.  Trust us on this – after only a very few days, you’ll find yourself preferring to starve rather than face another plate of rice and beans.

Appetite Fatigue Can Kill

We are guilty of trivializing appetite fatigue by talking about eating ‘too much’ chocolate (apparently there is such a thing as too much chocolate – who’d a thought?).  Appetite fatigue was first understood when people were discovered who had starved to death, while still having food around them.  The appetite fatigue they experienced was so overwhelming that the people ended up starving rather than continuing to eat food which no longer had any appeal.

Appetite fatigue is a problem for combat troops in the field, who in the past would be eating the same rations, day in and day out, for extended periods.  The decline in appetite and eating as a result caused health problems for the soldiers and diminished their combat effectiveness, which is why a supply of reasonably decent and varied food is now an important part of the support system of modern soldiers.

More recently, appetite fatigue has been a problem for astronauts as well.  It isn’t just extravagant indulgence that sees astronauts enjoying more than the science-fiction postulated concept of unvarying concentrated food paste for every meal.

There’s a subtler element to appetite fatigue as well.  Even if people continue eating, albeit unenthusiastically, their morale will drop if the food is unvaryingly bland and boring.  One of the greatest essential factors in your ongoing survival and success will be your ability to maintain a positive mental attitude, a ‘we will win/succeed/triumph’ approach to your life, and an upbeat way of handling life’s various ups and downs.  Good varied food helps this enormously, bland boring food hinders it equally enormously.

Appetite fatigue is generally thought to set in after about 30 days of routine eating, but some people report suffering from it after much shorter periods.

You need to very carefully guard against appetite fatigue, by varying your daily food as much as you can.  Don’t take the easy way out and simply follow the cooking instructions on the side of the pail of dehydrated food you’re eating from.  Use those to understand the general approach to cooking the food, but after you’ve understood that, use the entire range of other foodstuffs and cooking procedures you have available to you in terms of how you cook the food.

Here are some suggestions.

Style of Cooking

Most things can be cooked either by boiling or with a drier heat – in the oven or in a pan, and maybe also by frying, and while barbecuing is basically a variation on a dry heat cooking process, no-one can deny that the smoky flavor it imparts to food almost qualifies it as a different form of cooking entirely.

Talking about barbecuing, in an emergency, mildly burning the food can help to add a different flavor to the food, too (but don’t get too carried away with this – burning food adds carcinogens, although that is probably going to be the least of your worries in a survival situation!).  In addition to fast barbecuing, there is also slow smoking as a totally different cooking process too.

So be as creative as you can in how you cook your food.

Food Combinations

Mix different foods together to create different types of meals – with different appearance, different flavors, different mouth feel.

One strategy can be, if you have (for example) four different food items, work out all the different combinations of two of the items and try moving through them so each day you have a different meal.  In the case of four items, A, B, C & D your choices would be AB AC AD BC BD CD – six different ways to combine four items.

Also consider adding some non-traditional items together.  While many of us are probably fairly traditional ‘meat, potato and veg’ type eaters, one of the strategies that award-winning top rated chefs use to create ‘interesting’ dishes is to combine food types and flavors that aren’t traditionally combined.  Raisins or sultanas or fruit with meat, for example.

Be a bit careful with your experimenting, and better to do some experimenting with your long-term bulk stored food items prior to a Level 2/3 situation, so you know in advance some of the things that work and the ones which, alas, are failures.  Start building up your own cookbook of recipes that can turn ordinary food into imaginative different eating experiences.

Spices for Food

One way to vary your food is to use a different spice palette with the food one day compared to another.

We use the term ‘palette’ advisedly.  Spices can be a bit like paints.  If you randomly mix paint together, you always end up with a muddy brown, right?  It takes skillful selection of colors to create interesting new colors that are different to each other, rather than all generically brown.

It is the same with spices.  You want to selectively mix spices together to create specific flavor combinations, rather than end up with a generic mix of all flavors.  Maybe one day you make your rice spicy with a pepper sauce.  The next day you add a curry blend.  The next day might see some Italian type herbs.  The next day might see some cumin, then maybe paprika, then maybe lavender, then the next day perhaps a salty beef stock, and the following day a vegetable mix.  That’s eight different flavor sensations, all very different to each other.

Of course, the underlying product is still unchanging rice, but by selected use of spices you have changed its flavor profoundly from one day to the next.  There are still remaining elements that contribute to appetite fatigue such as mouth feel and visual appearance, but you can work on those too.  Fluffy rice on day, sticky the next, fried the day after, for example.

Spices are an essential ingredient for any cook who feels the need (as we all should and must) to extend our bland generic foodstuffs and to make them more interesting to eat.  They will help us fight off appetite fatigue.

Spices as a Trade Good

Spices can be a great trading item.  They take up very little space, they last a long time, and they can be very high value.

Another positive feature of them is that you can profitably buy herbs and spices in bulk at massively lower costs than you pay to get a small container of them at the supermarket.  It is common to see products being sold in 5lb or larger bulk quantities at prices per pound the same or even less than the price you pay per ounce for small jars of the product in your local supermarket.

So quite apart from any increase in value that they’ll gain in a Level 2/3 situation, there is an underlying profit opportunity as between what people perceive a given measure of a spice as being worth and what you can buy it for.

Needless to say, if you’re buying spices in bulk, you’ll need to be careful how you store them so as to get longest life from them and to preserve their distinctive smells and tastes.

We suggest you also stock up on salt – a seasoning so essential and commonplace that many people take it for granted.  The great thing about salt is that it lasts forever, with no special storage requirements (well, best to keep it in as dry a place as possible, but that is all).

Sugar is another product that pretty much lasts forever and which could make a suitable trading good, and one thing is for sure – most people have a great appetite for sugared foods.  If you had to choose between sugar and salt, we’d advocate salt, because a month or year supply of salt is much less than what a person might hope to have in sugar – in other words, you can sell less salt for more money than you can sugar.

Sauces

We mentioned, above, one of the ‘secrets’ of good cooks – combining food items that you’d not normally consider combining so as to create new taste experiences.

Another ‘secret’ (we put quotes around this word because it isn’t really a secret at all, it is just something many people overlook) is the preparation of sauces to go with prepared food.

A sauce can transform something as bland as chicken breast (which, as you surely know, scores about zero on the flavor intensity scale if just boiled by itself) or pasta (another thing with close to zero built-in flavor) and make it into an explosion of intense flavor.  If your main entree item choices are limited, consider creating a variety of different sauces to accompany them.  So you can have your chicken breast (or whatever else) first varied by how you cook it, secondly varied by some spicing and seasoning, third varied by what other food items accompany it, and fourth varied by different sauces.

Soups

Talking about liquids, there’s another way to provide food – both vegetables and meat – and that’s in the form of soups.

Soups are not only a nice change of eating experience, but they are also a great way to use leftovers and discarded food items.  Soups (and stews) can use ‘seconds’, present as a way to get more nutrition from bones, and also provide a strong base to add flavors too.  A generic vegetable soup with some sort of stock base can then be flavored several different ways to make it seem like quite a different soup, and can have different types of garnishes to further change its appearance.

Maybe you can take your generic vegetable/bean/pea soup, and one day then add a bunch of fresh carrots to it and serve it as carrot soup, then the next day, repeat with broccoli and have broccoli soup, and so on.

Food Presentation and Appearance

Food that looks good is usually as easy to prepare as food that doesn’t.  If you can vary the presentation of your food and make it look nice and dress it up on the plate, the eyes tell the brain that the food will be nice and enjoyable.

There is a reason that restaurants garnish their food with little bits of stuff that you mightn’t even eat.  Truly, eye appeal is almost as important as taste/flavor.  You should do the same.  Little bits of presentation pizzazz add greatly to the overall morale and ‘feel good’ factor in your group, too.

Candy and Dessert Too

Talking about morale, which – as we mentioned above – is almost as important as nutrition, comfort and snack and ‘treat’ foods are an enormous morale booster.  Boiled candies have a very long life (and are easy to make), and can add a dash of color on the side of a meal, as well as providing a small treat.

Desserts and cakes are also positive experiences, and while you don’t need every meal to include a lavish selection of sumptuous and sinful dessert confections, it is great to occasionally include these trivially small but greatly appreciated indulgences and treats.

Occasional Special Meals Help Carry People Over

Even if you are doing all the things we mention above, you are still going through an unvarying ritual of meals that are similar in overall eating experience.  Just the routine of sitting down at the table, at a similar time, and eating a similar sized meal on a similar sized plate with similar knives and forks becomes boring.

So we suggest you vary the style and presentation of the food.  One variation can be on a formal scheduled basis – for example, families used to have a traditional ‘Sunday roast’ where once a week there’d be a more special meal and family event.  We suggest you do this, with perhaps a two or three course meal instead of a single course, and maybe use different plates and cutlery if possible too – why not even dress up for the meal.

This sort of event not only helps measure the passing of time, but also reminds you of your overall ‘civilized’ nature and the ongoing success of how you are managing in your Level 2/3 situation.

We also suggest, on a more random basis, so as to add to the casualness of it, that you occasionally have different formats for eating.  Maybe ‘build your own burgers’ (or tacos or whatever) which you then eat with your hands.  Or have a ‘hot pot’ type meal where people gather around a boiling pot of broth and stick thinly sliced pieces of meats and vegetables in to quickly cook and eat them that way.

However you do it, you want to vary every possible aspect of the eating experience so as to fight off appetite fatigue and to maintain a positive morale in your group.

Summary

When planning meals during any sort of extended situation, you need to consciously make an effort to vary the type of food you are eating by varying how you cook it, how you flavor it, what you combine it with, and how you present it.  Varied meals help to maintain the group’s positive morale and also combats potential appetite fatigue.

In your preparing, you want to first make sure you have several different ways to cook food.  Second, you want to vary the type of food you store as much as possible, so as to have flexibility in your meal choices.  Third you want to present the food in different formats and ways, so as not just to be altering the food experiences but also the eating experience too.

One key consideration is to have a generous inventory of herbs, spices and other seasonings and garnishes, both for your own use and as a potential trading good.

Jul 022012
 

There are many reasons to plan a multi-unit condo rather than to build a single family retreat.

In considering a retreat structure – a place to live securely, comfortably and sustainably, a place to store and protect yourselves and your resources, we encourage you to think beyond the obvious.

The obvious is to build a single family dwelling, perhaps slightly altered in design and construction to make it more resilient, but, nonetheless, a single family dwelling all the same.

You doubtless already realize and accept that your dwelling structure will be one of your greatest costs in setting up your retreat, along with the cost of the land it lies upon.  In such a case, surely one of the key things for you to consider in your planning is how to optimize your dwelling structure, and how to get the best possible structure constructed in the most effective and affordable manner.

Here’s an area where two (or three or more) can live almost as cheaply as one.

Our suggestion is simple.  Don’t build a single family dwelling.  Build – at the very least – a duplex, for two families.  Much better still, build a four-plex – two units up and two units down – and for even greater effectiveness, build a squat condo block, maybe two or three levels high, and with four units, each with two common walls, and with shared floor/ceilings as well.

The Cost Benefits of Multi-unit Construction

Why is a condo block (or any other form of multi-unit construction) almost always more cost effective than an equivalent series of single family dwellings?

First, because your construction costs will reduce, when expressed in terms of costs per square foot.  This is because you’ll be sharing some common parts of the structure – each of those common walls are doing the work of two walls, otherwise, for example.  You’ll only need one large roof rather than twelve.  And so on.

You’ll also be sharing exterior elements – the landscaping, driveway, provision of utilities, all these sorts of things will be little increased in cost if done for multiple units as they would be if done for a single residence.

And when contractors need to bring special equipment on site, in a situation where typically their setup up and clean up costs are almost as great as their actual ‘doing the job’ costs, and part of their ‘doing the job’ costs involves in learning what to do, before doing it typically only once rather than repeatedly, there’ll only be one set of these various setup costs but now split over multiple units.  The contractors will also work more efficiently by repeating their tasks over multiple units, and your costs will drop in line with these benefits.

So you’ll end up getting a lot more structure at a lot lower cost per square foot.

The second benefit will be in the ongoing occupancy of the units.  They’ll be massively more energy efficient, and in a Level 2/3 scenario, energy becomes one of the most precious resources of all.  The costs to heat (or cool) will skyrocket up compared to what they are today, so anything to make your dwelling more energy efficient is a huge plus.

A well capable of supporting a dozen residences can sometimes be only slightly more expensive than a well for one residence – a typical well has most of its costs in the digging and provisioning of it – beyond that, its capacity is seldom used anywhere close to maximum.

What goes in must come out – which is our polite way of pointing out that a larger septic system can be constructed at a lower overall cost than could a series of separate individual systems.

The units will also have less maintenance because there are fewer exterior walls exposed to the elements, and less roof too for that matter.

So your ongoing ownership costs will be lower (per unit) than they would be for private residences, too.

Benefits In a Level 2/3 Situation

Looking to a time when a scenario actually unfolds, you’ll get much better value and results from being able to share common resources such as a generator and other services and tools than you would if you had to create these resources uniquely for yourself.

A larger generator is more efficient in terms of translating gallons of diesel into kWhrs of electricity.  And with diesel at a huge premium in a Level 2+ scenario, anything to extend the value out of each precious gallon is definitely a plus.  If you’re considering wind power, you get value benefits from larger units, and reliability benefits from being able to now have two or three units erected rather than just one.  (Note that solar cells are, however, a notable exception – the costs for solar cell arrays increase close to exactly in proportion to the increased sizes of the arrays, with only relatively small economy of scale benefits).

There’s another huge benefit.  If you build a twelve unit condo complex, and get eleven other families to move in with you, then you have instantly created a community of maybe 50 people, possibly more, maybe less.

This is great when you need extra manpower to help with a special task, and it is also great for social reasons and for defense, too.  You immediately have people to turn to for help, people to sell your surplus production to, and people to buy things from that you can’t also produce yourself.  You even have people to share a meal with – there’s another thought – take turns at cooking, because a person can cook for four almost as readily as for two, and it takes almost the same energy to cook a roast and boil vegetables for four as for two.  Talking about sharing meals, you also have people to relax and socialize with.

There are many other areas and examples of how sharing duties can work enormously to everyone’s benefit, making all involved more productive and more content.  The extra people benefit will end up being more valuable to you than the lower construction costs and ongoing operating costs of your dwelling.

Zoning and Building Codes

A possible (probable) constraint could be the applicable building and zoning codes for where you choose to set up your retreat.  But if it is possible, an eight or twelve unit condo complex would be hugely better than a single family dwelling, and the potential benefits more than justify going through some hoops to get the appropriate permissions.

Although zoning may seem to discourage multi-unit condos where you’re looking at setting up, sometimes it is possible to talk your way through these challenges, especially if you have multiple parcels of land – it might be possible to persuade the county to recognize that you have six parcels of land,  each of which allow two residential units, and so you’re simply asking to build all twelve units in one single block, which would create less disruption and allow more of the land to remain in productive agricultural use.

Usually the restriction on multiple dwellings on rural land has an underlying practical desire to leave the land as farmland rather than to have it become semi-urban sprawl.  You don’t represent a semi-urban sprawl, you represent the intended use – people wishing to farm and care for the land they’ll be living on, so you just have to work out the best way to ‘sell’ this to the local authorities (and we use the word ‘sell’ advisedly, sometimes an offer to pay for some ‘offsets’ will help get your permits – offsets are other things that the county would like to do elsewhere, or enhancements to nearby areas, or something like that to increase the overall standard of the area).

Alternatively, maybe you can buy land adjacent to an incorporated city, and get your land annexed into the city, with an agreed upon zoning code from the city to allow for the construction of the units you desire.

Zoning can be a challenge, for sure, but it is not an insuperable problem, particularly if you have friendly local officials –  and you’d be crazy to consider a location where the local officials were not friendly.

Remember our advice to do everything in full compliance with all city, county, state and federal laws, so as not to create any legal vulnerabilities that could subsequently be used against you by people who ‘have not’ and who are keen to take from those who ‘have’.

Summary

A multi-family dwelling will cost less per square foot to build, will cost less to own and maintain, and in an actual Level 2/3 scenario, will provide you with an instant and essential support community of friends and fellow preppers.

If it is not practical for you to consider creating your own multi-family mini-community, consider joining someone else’s.  We’d of course encourage you to become a part of a Code Green Community, but there are various other options out there for you as well.

Jul 012012
 

The speed and path of the derecho windstorm.

Struggling to bump the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes split-up off the front page has been the unusual ‘derecho’ storm that hit the nation’s capital and nearby states on Friday evening, resulting in at least 22 deaths, widespread damage, and over 4 million residences losing power.  MD, OH, VA, WV and DC have all declared states of emergency.

At the time of writing this – Sunday morning, some 36+ hours later, things have stopped getting worse and are now slowly recovering, and some understanding is evolving about the overall magnitude of what occurred.

Perhaps the most significant challenge remaining is over a million households are still without power.  Many are still also without water and/or phone service (either or both landline and cell phone).  Many gas stations lost power and were unable to provide fuel, and panic buying quickly emptied out ones which remained open.  And while we often associate storms with cold weather, the area is sweltering under a heat wave, aggravated by high humidity levels, making the lack of power for air conditioning a further inconvenience.

Utility companies are working as fast as they can to restore power, but are predicting that some people will be without power for up to a week.  One utility (Pepco) estimates that over 35,000 households will still be without power next Friday at 11pm.  At least six other utilities also have customers currently without power.

This is something approaching a Level 1 type event, albeit on a limited regional nature, and so offers us some useful lessons.

Update Monday :  It is now 2.5 days since the storm, and there are still more than 2 million households without power all the way from IL in the west to DC in the east.  This article reports several utilities as describing the damage to their power grids as ‘catastrophic’ – clearly a bit of rhetoric designed to excuse their slow restoration of power, but nonetheless, some millions of people would probably currently find themselves agreeing with the statement.

Update Tuesday :  It is now 3.5 days since the storm, and media reports are saying ‘millions remain without power’ and adding they are likely to remain powerless for several more days.

Update Wednesday :  Happy July 4th to everyone, but not so happy to the more than one million customers (ie many million people) who remain without power, 4.5 days after the storm.  See this article, for example.  We’ll stop the daily updates because we think the point has by now been well illustrated.

Some Lessons

Perhaps the most interesting lesson of all is that not even people living in the nation’s capital and the extremely affluent adjoining counties are guaranteed uninterrupted utilities.  Disasters can strike anywhere, and while it is true the derecho type storm was unusual, that is the whole thing about prepping.  Prepping is all about preparing for unusual events.  Everyone prepares for normal common frequent events.  Only people with foresight concern themselves with abnormal, uncommon and infrequent events.

Let’s put the strength of this derecho storm in perspective (if you’re unfamiliar with the term, here’s an explanation of what a derecho is).  While destructive, it was far from overwhelming in its power.  It was equivalent to a Level 1 hurricane.  Wind speeds were gusting over 70 mph and occasionally peaking over 80 mph in places.  Our utilities don’t design a huge degree of resilience into their networks, with the largest culprit of all being, of course, trees falling over above ground power lines.  One has to assume the utilities simply find it cheaper to occasionally repair outages than to invest more heavily in preventative maintenance up front.

There is also the fact that the storm was not well forecast, meaning people were ‘unprepared’.  On the one hand, claiming to be ‘unprepared’ is a fairly meaningless statement by many of the utility companies – being as how the only preparation they can do is to pre-position additional repair crews to work on the damage.  On the other hand, it is another reminder that even the United States, arguably the most technologically advanced country in the world, we are far from perfect at both predicting/forecasting significant bad weather events and also in withstanding their effects.

There should be something very humbling to everyone about how a glorified windstorm can do this much damage and catch us unawares in the process.

Although most outcomes were regional, one outcome that was more nationwide were outages to some computer ‘cloud’ services.  Amazon’s cloud services suffered a regional failure that caused various companies (most notably Netflix) to lose some services for periods of time.  This was the second Amazon cloud failure in a month.  As we’ve said before, computer cloud services are very appealing in many respects, but the reliability of cloud computing continues to be proven to be less that what one would hope for.

Clearly, to withstand something like this you need to be able to survive in place for a week or more without needing external resources, although in this particular event, community support shelters were available, and due to the geographically restricted nature of the event, people always had the option of simply traveling out of the affected area.  You need water, food, and energy as your number one, two and three priorities.

Energy is in two forms.  First, energy to power your household’s energy needs (probably in the form of gasoline, diesel or propane to fuel a generator).  Second, and more optionally, energy to power your transportation.

Beyond that point you can start adding increasingly less essential but still nice to have services such as bi-directional communications capabilities – to tell people you are safe, and to ask other people if they are safe, to communicate with emergency services if needed (oh – 911 service was down in many areas, although sometimes it was possible to call police and fire departments on their non-emergency numbers – make sure you have these for your local services), and to get updates on when normal services and utilities will be restored.

An increasing number of people now have only cell phones, not landlines.  It is true that sometimes cell phones are more reliable than landlines, but it is also true that sometimes the opposite is the case.  For the most resilient communication capabilities, you should retain a basic landline service as well as cell phone service.  Also keep in mind that when cell phone networks are overloaded, it is usually easiest to get text messages sent and received, even when you can’t place or receive voice calls.  Make sure your phone is capable of texting, and that you (and the people you’ll want to keep in touch with) know how to do this.

There is also the matter of, ahem, bathroom facilities.  While the news reports didn’t make such a big thing about this (one wonders why not) it is a fairly safe assumption that the municipalities that lost power for their water systems probably also lost power to their sewage systems.

It was also interesting to read about people who were torn between staying in place or ‘retreating’ to some other location.  They didn’t know when they would get power restored, and so didn’t know whether they should attempt to wait it out or go somewhere else until power was restored back home.

This is in line with the projections in our earlier article about when people will decide to bug out.  Our expectation is that most events will result not in a flash sudden decision by everyone at the same time to leave an area, to ‘bug out’, but rather by a gradual process, which means that the roads shouldn’t all jam up instantly and suddenly – and, most important of all – very quickly after an event occurs.

Useless Advice Awards

Some public officials love to offer advice, even if the advice is not necessarily very helpful.  Here are two examples of useless advice.

An award must go to the people who offered this advice – boil all water and let it cool before drinking it.

That’s sensible advice, ordinarily, but for people with no power and 100 degree temperatures, it does beg the two obvious questions – how will the water be boiled, and how will it then cool down again?

Better advice would have been to recommend people either boil their water if they have power, or treat the water, if they have water treatment chemicals or UV water purifiers or other specialty equipment.  But of course, the public officials making these comments realize that very few people have planned and prepared to already have such equipment, and the people who do have such equipment probably don’t need to be advised about its use.

The second award goes to the person who first cautioned that gas-powered generators create a lot of carbon monoxide.  He said that, to be safe, the generator should not be inside either your home or garage.  Okay, we can understand that.  But he also said that you should plug your electrical appliances directly into the generator if possible.

We are trying to understand how a generator, safely located in the open, some distance away from your house, can also have your household appliances – typically with two or three foot cords – directly connected to it.

Better advice would have been to recommend that people install a cut-over switch and run an appropriately rated connecting cable from the generator to the cut-over switch, but that advice doesn’t do much good to people who don’t have such things already pre-installed, and the people who do have such things pre-installed don’t need to be told to use them.  But the official could at least have said ‘run multiple extension cords from the generator to the house, use as heavy a gauge wire as possible, and keep their lengths as short as possible’.

Instead, the official wished to avoid all liability for his ‘helpful advice’ and so offered nonsensical advice that, while – in abstract theory – is correct, in the real world is useless and totally unhelpful.

Summary

The derecho storm that impacted on the DC region on Friday night created a minor, localized, and relatively brief Level 1 event for millions of households, some of whom will remain without power for at least a week.

None of what occurred should surprise us as preppers, although non-preppers are probably dismayed to see how vulnerable even the nation’s capital remains to the raw forces of nature.

It is helpful (for those of us who do not live in that area) to mentally put ourselves in the place of people there and quickly run through our checklist of how we’d manage without power and water, and with no gas at the local gas station either, for a week.