Mar 052013
 
It takes time to end up with this amount of supplies set aside.  But the sooner you start, the sooner you too will have a resilient set of prepping resources for whatever the future may require.

It takes time to end up with this amount of supplies set aside. But the sooner you start, the sooner you too will have a resilient set of prepping resources for whatever the future may require.

Unless you are blessed with a major seven-figure net worth that you can immediately allocate to your prepping, you need to make choices about what prepping activities you can do and can not do.

Indeed, even if you do have millions of dollars free to invest in prepping, you still have time and resource constraints.  You can’t just snap your fingers and have an instant, fully equipped, fully self-contained retreat appear in a flash of smoke.  The question for all of us is which things do we do first, and what do we leave until later?

It can seem that the costs and complexities of prepping are overwhelming, with the result that some people throw their hands up in despair, and do nothing at all.  That’s not a good thing!

So, assuming you have finite and limited resources, what should you do first?  What can you leave until later, and what can you overlook entirely?

There are ways to evaluate such things and to semi-scientifically set priorities.

Two Factor Formula

Traditional risk analysis involves considering two things.  You assess the severity of the event you are considering, and the likelihood of it occurring.  Maybe rate each on a scale of 0 – 10.  Then multiply the two together, to give you an answer anywhere from 0 to 100.  This is the importance/priority you should give to the event.

This formula is helpful – it gives higher priority to major events than minor events, and higher priority to events that are likely to occur than events which are unlikely to ever come to pass.

Adding a Third Factor

But it is clear the two factor formula was designed by abstract theorists, because it misses out on one very obvious consideration, something we always have to think about in the real world – how affordable is the solution to the problem?  A problem that scores high on the two factor scale might have a totally unaffordable solution, whereas a lower scoring problem might be something we could prepare for with almost no out-of-pocket expense whatsoever.

Maybe we need to add a third factor – affordability, where 0 means totally unaffordable and 10 means costs nothing to implement.

So we now have a three factor score ranging from 0 to 1000.

Is that all we need to consider, or are there are other issues as well as severity of the problem, likelihood of it occurring, and the cost of preparing a solution for the problem?

Adding More Factors

With a bit of thought, you can almost certainly think of other factors.  For example, you might have a high scoring problem that has an affordable solution that goes to the top of your to do list, but there’s only one thing wrong with that calculation – the solution, while affordable, is impossible for some other reason.  Perhaps government regulation, or perhaps lifestyle constraints, or inability to get your spouse/partner to agree with you, or whatever.

So there’s a factor – the feasibility of the solution.  Add a score, from 0 meaning totally impossible through to 10 meaning can be done pretty much immediately with no hassle or problems.  Multiply that to your other three factors, and now you have a four factor score ranging from 0 to 10,000.

Another factor could be something like ‘additional benefits from adopting this thing’.  Maybe you do something which solves one problem but also goes part or all of the way to solving a second problem.  For example, perhaps you are solving a problem ‘risk of forest fire destroying my retreat’ and part of your solution is to put a metal roof on your retreat.  Perhaps the metal roof can then link into another problem/solution ‘Shortage of water’ – the roof can be used to collect rainwater much more efficiently than shakes or a composite roof.

If you hare using this as a factor, don’t use a range from 0 to 10.  If you used 0 for no additional benefits, that would zero out the entire project’s value, and that’s clearly not right.  Maybe you should instead use a range from a neutral 1 (for ‘no additional benefits’) up to a 2 or 3 for additional benefits, or maybe you simply add the score of each project that the solution can assist together to get a total that way.

Another factor is the ease and speed of implementing the solution.  Maybe an issue requires nothing more than five minutes browsing on Amazon and then ordering something from them and having it delivered.  Or maybe an issue would consume every spare minute of your time for the next three months.  Score high for an easy project that takes little of your time, and lower for a difficult project.

How to Set Values for Each Factor

For each factor you are rating, the more desirable or better the factor, the larger the value you should assign to it.

There are two things to consider when assigning values.

The first is to be very careful about assigning a zero value to anything.  Think of the zero as a veto.  Any time you use a zero, you have made your entire calculation reduce down to zero.  It doesn’t matter if every other factor is scoring max, a single zero will drop the total calculation all the way down to zero.

So unless you want to totally kill a project, you should normally consider 1 as least desirable (and 10 as most desirable).

The other thing to consider is the relative importance of different factors.  Maybe one factor is much less important than another factor.  If that is so, we recommend that after you’ve assigned it a value from 0 or 1, and up to 10, you then divide that value by two or three or whatever number you wish to reflect that it is a less important factor than the other factors you are also including in your calculation.

Which leads to the next point.

The Result is Not As Accurate as it Seems

So maybe you end up with a calculation of 4 x 5 x (2/3) x 7 = 93.33 for one possible project, and a calculation of 7 x 7 x (4/3) x 2 = 130.67 for another project.

So obviously, the second project is scoring massively higher than the first project and should be the one you do first, right?

Well, it is true that 130.67 is almost 50% higher than 93.33, but let’s also keep in mind that probably all the values in both calculations are approximate guesses – they are plus or minus at least one or two in rating scores.  Even if only +/- 1, that means that the first project could score as high as 5 x 6 x 3/3 x 8 = 240 and the second project could score as low as 6 x 6 x 3/3 x 1 = 36.

Wow, so the first project is probably about a 93.33 score, but could be as high as 240, and the second project is probably about a 130.67 score, but could be as low as 36.

In other words, the two projects are pretty similar in rating.  You would want to see a much bigger gap between them than merely a 50% differential in order for a significant different in priorities to be assigned.

Oh – one more thing.  The 93.33 score?  Just because this is how your calculator shows it, don’t be obsessive about showing all the decimal places.  We already know it could score as high as 240, and it could also score as low as 24, so it is perfectly fine to round the 93.33 to the nearest five units, and perhaps call it 95.  And the same for the 130.67 of course, which might be anywhere between 36 and 320 – call that an even 130.

Considering Other Issues Too

So – don’t get too hung up on the exact numbers you are generating from your multi-factor calculations.  You need to also apply some subjective and ‘qualitative’ tools to your analysis as well as the quantitative calculations you’ve been doing, plus a healthy measure of common sense when looking at the answers you get.

Some of these other issues are philosophical – which things ‘feel’ best and most closely seem to fit with your view of the problems you wish to prepare for and how you are creating solutions?

There’s also the value in a balanced cohesive approach to problem solving.  There’s no point in getting a brilliant totally bulletproof (and maybe quite literally so!) solution to one element of risk if that still leaves another element of the similar risk totally unaddressed.

For example, if there are (say) three different things that need to be done to make you able to live without external help for three weeks (perhaps food, water and energy) which is better – to have a complete three-week solution for one of these three factors, to have a half solution good for a week or two for the second factor, but nothing at all yet done for the third factor?  Or to have each of the three factors partially addressed so that you currently are good for a week or so on all three counts, and are continuing to step-wise improve your prepping in all three areas more or less simultaneously?

We’d probably say the second approach was the better approach.  Remember – a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and so perhaps you are best to start off with a complete but not very strong chain, then upgrade to a complete stronger chain, and then stronger again and so on, rather than to make an impregnable chain, one link at a time, but which is of no use at all until it is completed.

This brings us to a point which is so important that we list it by itself :

The Excellent is the Enemy of the Good

This is a concept you need to take to heart and keep close to you in everything you do.  We’ll explain this concept with an analogy.  One time I was managing a promotional activity that would be greatly boosted by having a sales brochure.  Think of it as something like perhaps selling new cars in the days before the internet and tablets made brochures more or less obsolete – sure, you can do it without a brochure, but with a brochure is better.

Well, I decided that I’d create such an amazingly wonderful brochure that it would be ten times better than any of the competitors’ brochures out there.  This would be such an incredible brochure that it would just about sell the product, as soon as a prospect saw the brochure.  It would have twice as many pages.  Twice as many color pictures,  Twice as many helpful tables and feature lists.  It would be updated twice as often.  And so on and so on – everything would be better than other brochures out there.

So I worked and worked and worked at preparing this amazing brochure.  In the middle of the process, the product changed, and I thought to myself ‘good job I hadn’t sent the brochure to be printed, this way I’ve saved the cost of a wasted brochure printing run’.

The new product changes made me make some changes to the brochure.  And then a competitor came out with some interesting new features and selling strategies, so I redesigned the brochure to reflect that.  My company opened another office, so we redid the brochure to reflect our two sales and service locations – that was a great new feature to promote.

We hired a professional brochure designer to bless our project, and she made changes, and we hired a professional copywriter to write some of the advertising copy, and that required some layout changes – more space for some things, and less for others.

This story is stretching out and stretching out, isn’t it.  As did the brochure project.  It took almost five years for that brochure to first appear on a brochure rack, and while it was a great brochure, just as I’d hoped; the ugly fact was that for five long years, we’d had no brochure at all.

A better strategy would have been to urgently quickly come up with a ‘me too’ type brochure, so that at least we had something.  Then, and based on our real world experience of what was working and not working in the brochure, to come out with a second version.  And then a third, and so on.

If we’d have done that, we’d have been at a much better point than we were at when we first released our super-brochure, and probably our ‘normal’ brochure’s evolution over those five years would have moved it beyond where the first untested super-brochure was.

So – the excellent (brochure) was the enemy of the good (brochure).  Our company was harmed for five years while we obsessed over this brochure project.

Another shorter example, perhaps.  Microsoft recently launched Windows 8.  Windows 1.0 came out in November 1985.  Imaging if Microsoft hadn’t released Windows 1, or 2, or 3, or any of the preceding versions of Windows, while it kept on improving and improving the product prior to suddenly then releasing it as Windows 8.  That would clearly have been a massive mistake, wouldn’t it.

Or, at a simpler level, when any software company releases its software, it subsequently comes out with new versions and bug fixes and so on.  The graphics drivers for my computer’s graphics card are now at version 307, for example.  Imagine if nVidia waited until it had an almost perfect version of its graphics drivers before releasing its card?  Heck, the card would still be unreleased, because I’ll wager within a month or two, there’ll be a new version 308 driver out there.

You get the point, I hope.  The excellent is the enemy of the good.

It is easy to see how this could translate to a prepping situation, isn’t it.  You decide, for example, that you want state of the art ultra-high efficiency photo-voltaic panels.  They cost much more, you have to save up for longer to buy them, and a new generation of PV panels comes out, and so on, and for all the time you’re saving up for the super panels, you have no panels at all and no solar power generation capabilities.  Surely it would be better to buy a regular set of PV panels, and then to upgrade or add to them in the future, so as to get your retreat or primary residence outfitted with some solar power as soon as possible.  If you subsequent upgrade the panels, the first panels aren’t wasted.  They can be supplemental panels, or if there’s no room left to mount them, they can be spares.

Or maybe you decide you will build a retreat for 20 people, with three-foot thick exterior walls.  But while you are saving up the money to get this construction started, you have no retreat at all.  Perhaps it would be better to build a retreat for five people and with normal exterior walls, then after you’ve got that up, start adding more modules to the property, and start reinforcing the exterior walls.  Which would you prefer if you needed to bug out today – a completed retreat, albeit too small and vulnerable to cannon fire; or plans for a spacious impregnable retreat for which the first foundation had yet to be laid?

This leads us to a very important related concept.

The Tortoise and the Hare

You know the story of the tortoise and the hare, of course, and you also know which one of them crossed the finishing line first.

With prepping, don’t be dismayed at the enormity of the task you are setting yourself.

Instead, start prepping right now, and slowly but steadily build up your preparations.  Maybe the very first thing you do is get a large container to store some water.  That’s something you could probably do today – indeed, here’s a challenge :  Click this link to Amazon and buy a water storage container right now.  🙂

Maybe the second thing is the next time you go to Costco or Wal-Mart, buy a few extra cans of food and start building up a store of extra food.  And so on.  Little by little, but always steadily building up your reserves and your resources.

Even small modest investments in your prepping will massively transform your ability to comfortably survive a Level 1 event.  It is true that creating a level of resilience to withstand a Level 2 event will be more challenging, and a Level 3 event more challenging again, but don’t submit to the challenge, but confront and surmount it.

In particular this is one of the benefits of joining a community of like-minded folks (whether it be the Code Green community or anything/anyone else) – you can pool your resources and create something that is more individually affordable and simultaneously something which is more viable as a group for surviving a Level 2/3 event.

Progress is a Series of Small Steps in the Right Direction

What we are saying is that while your prepping journey may be long and may be arduous, it is feasible and possible (and necessary).  Like any journey, you simply put one foot in front of the other, and then repeat, while ensuring you are proceeding in the right direction.

Use the resources on this and other sites to ensure you are proceeding in the right direction, and move forwards as best you can.

Mar 042013
 
Carbon dioxide (pictured) and monoxide meters are an important safety precaution if you plan on having any type of fires indoors.

Carbon dioxide (pictured) and monoxide meters are an important safety precaution if you plan on having any type of fires indoors.

So there you are, all hunkered down in your retreat.  The temperature is below freezing outside, but you’re happy and warm inside, both because your dwelling is ultra-insulated and also because you’ve a nice low-tech fire burning in the fireplace, providing a warm cheery ambiance and keeping you all nice and toasty.

That’s a nice mental image, isn’t it.  And if you have an open fire in an open fireplace, you’re probably okay, but many people – especially less well prepared people – when they find themselves encountering a situation where their normal source of heat fails, may resort to emergency methods of keeping warm that invariably end up with burning something in a way that isn’t a typical part of their normal living.

The problem is that if you have a fire in an enclosed area, what happens to the products of the fire’s combustion?  The smoke and toxic gases, carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2)?  If they have nowhere to go, or aren’t being vented at the same rate they are being produced, you will start to get accumulations of these products.  And that can be a bad thing.

About Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide is naturally present in the atmosphere at a concentration of about 390 parts per million (by volume; by weight the measure is about 590 parts per million, but most measurements use the volumetric method).

People naturally produce CO2 as an output gas from breathing (assuming we breathe in air with almost no CO2  present then about 4% – 5% of the gas we breathe out is CO2), so any type of enclosed space with people in it starts to have elevated levels of CO2, no matter if there are any fires in the room or not.  The smaller the space, the greater the number of people, and the less the amount of fresh air that flows into the space and the less the amount of stale air that flows out, the higher the CO2 level may become.  Normal buildings typically have anywhere from maybe 1500 – 5000 parts per million of CO2 in them.

When carbon dioxide levels reach 10,000 parts per million (ppm) – or a 1% concentration, more sensitive people might start to feel somewhat drowsy.  At 5% people start to experience shortness of breath, dizziness, faster heart rate, headaches and confusion.  Concentration levels over 8% start to become fatal.

So we are fairly tolerant of elevated CO2 levels and the body quickly recovers from an exposure to higher than optimum levels of CO2.

Carbon monoxide is a much deadlier gas.  Normal concentrations of CO in the atmosphere are about 0.1 ppm (measured by volume not weight – CO is slightly lighter than air, whereas CO2 is slightly heavier than air).  In a typical house, concentrations are perhaps in the order of 0.5 – 5.0 ppm.

Whereas a 1% level of CO2 causes many people no ill effects at all, the same level of CO would cause unconsciousness within a couple of breaths and death within 3 minutes.  And whereas a level of 2500 – 4000 ppm of CO2 is considered normal inside a building, that level of CO would cause headaches, dizziness and nausea in 5 – 10 minutes and death within 30 minutes.

OSHA says that CO levels should be kept below 50 ppm.

Detecting Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide

The good news is that the smoke/toxic gases such as you get from a normal open fire (we’ll oversimplify and consider the two as being the same) are readily detected.  When your eyes start to water, and you find yourself coughing, you know you’ve a ventilation problem, and you’ll be forced to do something to solve the problem.

But what say you are using a clean burning heat source such as a kerosene heater or even just running all the burners on your gas stove full on?  Then there are few or no smoke/toxic gas byproducts that you can readily detect, but the fire is still creating CO and CO2.  It has to – all fires create CO2 and most fires also create CO to a varying extent.  The better fed with oxygen the fire, the less CO; the more oxygen starved, the more CO.

Both of these gases are impossible for us to detect.  They are clear, tasteless and odorless, and cause no irritation on our skin or in our lungs.  They are silent but deadly killers.

The good news is that there are inexpensive and effective detectors for carbon monoxide.

The bad news is that carbon dioxide detectors are more expensive.  However, as a rule of thumb, if the smell of the burning fire becomes objectionable, then you need to do something about that for all reasons, including concern about possible CO2 buildup.  Many people choose not to worry about CO2 levels at all, and certainly our advice to you is to have a carbon monoxide detection/alarm system operational as the higher priority (and regular smoke detectors simply to detect fires as a safety measure too).

You can conveniently buy a wide range of carbon monoxide detectors on Amazon.  Your local hardware store probably has them on the shelf, too, although probably not in quite such a wide range of makes and models.

It is much more difficult to find carbon dioxide detectors, and a Google search typically brings up only carbon monoxide detectors.  This difficulty is made even worse by the propensity for some people to confuse the two gases, and so even when people talk about CO2 detectors maybe they actually mean CO detectors.

Here is one website that clearly does sell CO2 detectors.

Oh – one more important thing.  When buying CO and CO2 detectors, be sure to get ones which are battery-powered.  They won’t be much use to you otherwise, because in an emergency where you need to resort to alternative heating strategies, this almost surely means that you’ve also lost mains power.

Smoke Detectors Won’t Help

Note that smoke detectors do not detect either carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide.  Although there are two different types of smoke detectors (ionization and photo-electric) both work by detecting particulate matter rather than gas.  They are simply – as their name implies – devices that detect smoke, rather than specific gases or even heat concentrations.

There are some combo units that combine a smoke detector and a CO detector too, but you should not assume your smoke detector also detects CO – and being as how that makes it more expensive, if it doesn’t say it does, then it probably doesn’t.

Summary

If there is any expectation that you’ll be burning fuel indoors, it is prudent to have carbon monoxide detectors to monitor the CO levels that will build up from the fire.  Modern super-insulated buildings ‘leak’ less air, and so can trap CO much more readily than older drafty structures.  It is prudent to insulate your retreat and regular dwelling as much as possible to save on energy, both normally and in a crisis, and when you do this, it becomes prudent to add a carbon monoxide detector too.

Carbon dioxide is much less deadly than carbon monoxide, so adding a CO2 detector is less essential, but still good practice.

Mar 032013
 
The remoteness of your retreat and the adverse nature of your situation can create massive mental stress.

The remoteness of your retreat and the adverse nature of your situation can create massive mental stress.

Did you know the biggest problem that happily married people have?  It is not being forced to spend time apart.  Quite the opposite.  The biggest problem is spending ‘too much’ time together!

This sure sounds counter-intuitive, and maybe it depends on how you define ‘happily married’ and ‘too much time together’.  But consistently, surveys suggest that problems arise in many marriages when the couple spends an unusually greater amount of time together than normal.  This might be in the form of one partner retiring, or being out of work, and we can understand the stress associated with such events, and how the stress could flow through to the relationship in general.

But it can also apply to spending too much ‘happy making’ time together, too.  One of the more dangerous activities for a couple to share is going on vacation.  That’s definitely counter-intuitive, but whether counter-intuitive or not, it is also definitely real (and something that travel agents don’t tell you when encouraging you to go on romantic vacations together!).

So – think about this.  If a two-week dream vacation can cause a couple to almost come to physical blows, and if the unplanned extra time together when one person is out of work is also problematic, what do you think would happen after TSHTF and you suddenly find yourself living extremely closely together, for all of every day?

Plus, if you have no other social distractions such as the internet, television, or even the telephone, you’ll truly be tripping over each other.

Not Just Your Spouse

Now let’s make it even worse.  All of a sudden, you’ve had to rush to your retreat, where you’re joined by – oh no.  Your draconian mother in law has turned up, and your opinionated brother-in-law is there too – actually, you have nothing wrong with opinions, it is just that your brother-in-law always has opposite ones to your own.  And your daughter-in-law with her screaming baby.

You dread holiday events such as Thanksgiving and Christmas and being under the same roof as some of your extended family even for a day or two, and now you’re suddenly finding yourselves thrown together for who knows – months?  Maybe even years, if someone doesn’t kill someone else first!

Rather than being a festive cheerful event that you can all go through the comfortable established ritual motions more or less in unison, and with the aid of lashings of alcohol; instead it is an unexpected unhappy event, and you’ve run out of drink.  Oh – and you all have to share the one overworked smelly toilet together, too.  🙂

This reality is more likely to be the one you end up confronting, than an idealized ‘we’ll all be happy and united in the harmony of all working together to survive’ concept that some people half-visualize without thinking things through.

You’re going to need to set up some ground-rules for how to ‘keep the peace’ in your retreat.  The most important of these ground-rules and arrangements will be giving everyone some personal space – both literally, in terms of setting up private personal areas for each person as much as is possible; a place where they can be quiet and undisturbed and retreat to; and also figuratively, in terms of code of conduct and behavior; not rudely interfering (perhaps not even politely interfering) with people as they do their own personal activities.

A Related Problem – Cabin Fever

A related challenge will be what is often termed ‘cabin fever’ – an emotional disturbance that can affect people living closely together in a small and isolated space.  If a group of you are in a remote retreat, you’re half-way to cabin fever already; now toss in a couple of decent snowfalls so that you can’t really go outside much, and you’re definitely in cabin fever territory.

Here’s an interesting article from a couple who spent nine months together in the Antarctic.  The article points out that cabin fever is prone to develop and can lead to lethal outcomes.

The couple’s observation that external stresses flow through to international and relationship stresses is self-evidently true, and would be a huge factor in a post-TEOTWAWKI lifestyle.

We don’t have sure-fire solutions.  But here’s an interesting article that has ten suggestions to avoid/overcome cabin fever, and while it wasn’t written for preppers, much of its suggestions flow through to us, too.

One scenario which also has similarities is prison and we should endeavor to learn from that (but hopefully not at first hand!).  Considering lessons from prison life, there would be several things to take on board, in particular the concept of exercising and of educating yourself.

Assuming you are not busy all day working in the fields (which would be a massive help in minimizing cabin fever issues anyway), take time to learn a new skill and/or practice/enjoy a skill you already possess (preferably a quiet activity – learning to play the drums or trumpet might help you feel better but would almost certainly impact on other people in your retreat!).

Boredom Can Be Deadly Too

It isn’t just cabin fever which can lead to problems (and potentially lethal fights between your retreat members).  People can literally die of boredom.

The flip-side of this coin is equally relevant and important – ‘losing the will to survive’.  You’ll be in a high stress environment, and you need all your community members to stay as positive as possible and to continue fighting against the challenges and adversity you find yourself now confronting.  People who become passive and cease to pull their weight will create a nasty self-fulfilling cycle of failure that will not only drag them down but impact negatively on everyone around them too.

You may have already seen these types of behaviors in people, yourself.  You know – the person who lived for their job, and when they retire, suddenly find they have nothing at all to do.  Within a year or two, they’re dead; not due to any chronic ill-health that had plagued them for years, but perhaps because they just lost the will to live.

Many of the same strategies for fighting cabin fever apply to boredom too.  Here is an article that offers up six solutions to boredom, and this article has ten different approaches – admittedly not all of which would apply to a retreat situation, but with some imagination, they could be adapted.  For example, instead of going to a sporting event, arrange a sporting event between the people in your group.

Summary

Most people focus on the physical aspects of surviving in adverse circumstances – ensuring they have shelter, water, food, and energy.  Those are all essential things, but managing the mental and emotional situation you will find yourself in is every bit as important as the physical/tangible parts of your prepping.

Consider the deadly trio of mental woes – cabin fever, boredom, and stressed relationships, and manage your emotional environment as carefully as you do your physical environment, manage your emotional health as well as you do your physical health.

Mar 022013
 
Countries need constitutions.  Your community needs a similar document.

Countries need constitutions. Your community needs a similar document.

If you follow our advice, you will seek to create or join a community retreat of like-minded folk rather than attempt to survive on your lonesome.

The inescapable reality is that one person, one couple, one family, even one extended group of family and friends; all these small groupings of people are probably too small to viably survive a Level 3 and possible even a shorter Level 2 scenario (defined here).  See our section on Communities for articles on the need to be part of a larger community.

As you probably already know from personal experience, it is difficult enough keeping everyone on the same page in any small family unit with a more or less understood hierarchy of authority.

This problem grows as the community size grows, and probably in an exponential rather than linear manner, and as it loses the bonds of family, it becomes even more anarchic.  At the same time, an appropriate and cohesive community government and management is clearly essential, and becomes more necessary as the community increases in size.

With a very thin line separating success from disaster, and with no external support resources eager to come rushing to your aid if there are problems, you have to optimally solve all problems that come your community’s way; you have to get it right every time, and you need the unanimity of support of your people united behind you in common purpose.  You have to be able to organize and manage the people in your group and to have them working cohesively together, rather than doing a dozen different things, a dozen different ways, with no coordination.

How to achieve this?

Even Homogenous Groups of People are Naturally Very Diverse

Even if your prepper retreat community is only your own extended family, that is probably an enormously diverse group of people with very different views on things, and of very different ages and backgrounds.

You might have the weird aunt, the obstreperous uncle, the drunk cousin, the addicted nephew, the strong-willed imperial grandmother, the aged infirm grandfather, the rebellious teenager, the left-wing sister and the right-wing brother, and a spouse that you either do or don’t get on well with, to say nothing of all the other stereotypes that uncomfortably end up taking roost in all families.

Invite in another family group, and all of a sudden you have all their foibles too.

As you become a community of people from different backgrounds, you’ll also encounter very great differences in personal and financial power.  One person might be struggling to make ends meet, the other person might be a dot-com millionaire.  One person might be a high court judge, and the other might be a high-rise janitor.

Indeed, here’s an interesting paradox.  With all due respect to the millionaire and the judge, both of whom are used to being in positions of great authority and view themselves as very successful and very wise; when it comes to surviving in a Level 2 or 3 scenario, it may well be that the much more practical skills of the janitor or working class wage earner are more helpful and valuable, and the life/world experiences of these people more attuned to deciding how to operate the community as a whole.

There’s another point as well.  Just because you are all apparently united in terms of being concerned about how to survive possible future adverse events, that does not mean you agree on much at all.  You might have different views about which possible risks are the most important and which are the least important.  You might have different views about how to prepare for and respond to each risk.

You might have different views about how the community should be funded, and different views about the community’s social values.  Some of you might anticipate a dystopian ‘Mad Max’ type of future, others of you might cling to a utopian hope of the nobleness of spirit of people allowing for a cooperative graceful decay in social support without major disruptions.  Some of you might seek to mandate that everyone be trained in self-defense and carry weapons with them all the time; others of you might wish to create a gun-free oasis where everyone treats everyone else with positive courtesy and respect.  Some of you might be beyond Attila the Hun on the extreme right of social values, others of you might be way to the left of Marx.

How can you accommodate all these very different opinions and value systems in your community without coming to blows and having your community splinter and fail?

The High Stakes Associated with Your Community’s Values and Direction

Some people might think ‘we won’t have any problems, because we are all fellow preppers, so we all have a common set of values’.

Unfortunately, as we have just touched on above, the concept of being ‘united’ because you are all preppers is a total fallacy.  This one point of commonality no more unites you in all other respects than would, well, all owning Chevrolet cars, or all liking music performed by Bob Dylan.

Because you are not just debating a trivial point like whether you should go out for Mexican rather than Italian food, or whether you should open the cabernet or the merlot, but instead are discussing matters which you view as being literally life and death, we anticipate that levels of heated argument could quickly become the norm rather than the exception.

One person might believe that the most important risk to protect from is that of nuclear attack/radioactive fallout, and is insisting that you all live in underground bunkers with hydroponic systems in the lower levels for food, whereas the person adjacent sees that as a non-event and instead worries about an economic collapse and insists on developing a self-supporting rural economy with everyone living above ground and working outdoors in the fields.

Another person might believe the most important risk to protect against is an EMP event, and insisting on creating a lifestyle that does not rely on vulnerable electronics at all, which the person opposite embraces technology and insists on using it as much as possible to help enhance the community’s standard of living.

There is the person who believes it will be necessary to dedicate most of the community’s resource to building an impregnable fortress against the certainty of repeated and sustained attack by hostile forces, and next to them there is the person who sees little or no danger from other groups and wishes to concentrate on building up sustainable resources and to live in ‘regular’ housing rather than thick-walled castles.

How then can you possibly hope to find a middle path that pleases everyone?

That’s a trick question, because the answer to it is ‘You can’t and shouldn’t’.  It is an unachievable impossible objective, and one best not attempted.

For example, if you ask the person wanting to set up in a deep underground cellar to instead agree to live in an above ground rambler, you are asking them to sacrifice their fundamental precept as it applies to prepping.  They won’t do that.

And on the other hand, if your community ends up with both above and below ground structures, and simultaneously is both high-tech and low-tech, and is founded on principles of peace, love, and the nobility of one’s fellow humans while at the same time requiring everyone to be armed and ready to use deadly force, well, that’s not a community at all, is it.  Which leads to a clear conclusion.

You Can’t Please Everyone

You should not try to create a community that is exactly what everyone wants.  Clearly it is impossible to combine some of the polar opposite viewpoints, even in the limited examples in the previous section.

While there truly is wisdom in crowds, and it is beneficial to have a broad range of opinions and viewpoints in your community so that all matters are considered; at the end of the day, you have to focus your limited resources in some areas and de-emphasize other areas.  You have to prioritize your prepping activities and undertakings.

You don’t want to be myopic and single-minded in your approach to what you do, but you do want to be focused on doing some things well, and having a clarity of mission and purpose.  It is definitely true that none of us have a guaranteed accurate and complete understanding of what the future may hold, and so we need to be open to a range of possible future outcomes, but it is also definitely true that we don’t have limitless funding to create a robust survival solution for every possible future risk.  We have to focus and prioritize.

As we start to focus and prioritize, we start to become a more attractive proposition to some potential community members, while becoming less appealing to other potential members.  Hopefully the one part balances out the other part, but the important thing is that people who join are doing so having already, up front, agreed with the basic concepts of what the community will be all about.

The Community Mission Statement

Noting how ideally you will become a group of people with a reasonable number of shared values, it makes sense to codify these points, so that everyone understands what they are.

You need to create a community ‘mission statement’ – a similar sort of thing to a corporate mission statement – a statement of purpose for your community, enshrining its values, assumptions, and priorities.

Corporate mission statements have become a lot fuzzier and less focused, and have become cluttered with a bunch of politically correct irrelevant nonsense.  The more specific you write your mission statement, the clearer a ‘guiding light’ and directional purpose you have for the future.

If you say ‘we are creating a hippy community practicing free love and natural living with lots of magic mushrooms and other lifestyle activities’ then people can choose to join it or not.  You might instead say ‘we are adopting a strict Amish/Muslim/whatever approach to our community and everyone must fully comply with the lifestyle and philosophy underpinning it’ then again people are free to become a part of that community or not.

Once you have decided on the guiding principles and general direction and focus of your group, people can make an informed decision if they wish to participate, with the understanding, knowledge and acceptance of what it is they are joining and signing up for.  The key thing is that people understand what they are getting involved with, and will hopefully self-select so that your community members are supportive of your community’s core values and precepts.

Sure, some people will choose not to join your community.  But that is okay.  You can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t try.

Here’s a rather academic analysis of corporate mission statements that might be worth reading, if for no other reason than to see the handful of sample corporate mission statements it highlights within it, ranging from very short to quite long.

If you do read the linked analysis, you’ll see that in part they are fairly dismissive of corporate mission statements.  But a corporation has other governing documents over and above its mission statement, and it exists within a huge abundant morass of legislative requirements for how and what it does, and so it doesn’t ‘need’ a mission statement quite as much.

Your community is starting with probably no governing documents at all and little in the way of legislative oversight, and anticipates a possible future where legislative oversight may be even less present than it is now.  And, unlike a corporation where the only things at risk are people’s jobs and investments (not that these aren’t important!) in your community, you’ll be facing life and death issues.  The stakes are much higher for your community than for any company.

What Should You Put in a Community Mission Statement?

Think of a Community Mission Statement, perhaps, as you would the US Constitution – you want it to be broad in principle, but also reasonably short and easy to understand and not open to misinterpretation.  It should be general and talk about the concepts at a high level – the overall strategies rather than the specific tactics.

As an example, the US Constitution says, in its sixteenth amendment

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

All this does is to allow the government to collect taxes.  It doesn’t set tax rates, or specify deductions, or write anything like that into the Constitution, those details are subsequently managed by passing laws that conform to the Constitution.

The Constitution – and your Mission Statement – is and should be a document which is semi-fixed in form and difficult to change.  The laws made by the governing body are more readily enacted and amended, and the regulations made under the laws are even more readily made and changed.

The Mission Statement should have general statements about the moral and social principles the group will adhere to, and how its governing structures will operate and be appointed.  The Constitution should also have details on how it too can be changed or modified.

Ideally, you should also prepare a broader code of governance (ie the equivalent of the laws that have been enacted under the Constitution), and we’ll write more about that in subsequent articles.  But, first things first, and so you should start off, right now, with a mission statement, or ‘definition of purpose’ or ‘reason for being’ or ‘plan of management’ or whatever else you want to call the document.

You’ll almost certainly come up with subsequent documents in the future, and make changes to what you start off with, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

Now for some very important things.

First, do we need to point out that this should be a written document.  Don’t just think about it, and then tell people who will be joining you ‘This is our mission’ and talk casually about your general thoughts.  Spoken words can be forgotten or misunderstood or disputed.  Written words can indeed also be misunderstood and disputed (that’s what lawyers do for a living!), but at least they are there, on paper, and provide a starting point for subsequent discussions and analysis of ‘so what did we actually mean when we said that’.

Second, involve everyone currently identified as participating in your community in the creation of the founding document.  You’ll want to do this carefully, and you’ll want to give everyone a chance to ‘buy in’ to the concept.  Have a series of meetings where you draft and then think about, then revise and think about the form and content of your mission statement, and work through it until you’ve come up with something everyone agrees upon.

Now – one important thing.  Although we are urging you to obtain broad agreement from all ‘stakeholders’ in your new mission statement, you don’t want to compromise its content or water it down to a meaningless jumble of empty statements – to use an example from above, you don’t want to end up with a community that will be half in an underground bunker breathing air through anti-radiation filters, and the other half in sprawling unprotected ramblers above ground.

If you can’t reach agreement with some of the people who are planning to join/form this community with you, then you should be delighted that you are having this discussion and disagreement now, prior to TSHTF, and at a time when you are not talking about life or death decisions and implications, and when any of your group can still back out of your community concept gracefully and switch to other communities more closely aligned with their views.

While you don’t want to force dissent and divisions, you do want to get the basic ‘ground rules’ understood and accepted now, and if you can’t get agreement, don’t end up with a useless compromise.  Dissolve your group and form a new group with a more closely shared common view about how you wish to approach the future.

Another important thing – once you have created your mission statement, get every present and every future adult member of your group to sign a document acknowledging that they have read the mission statement, that they have had it explained to them to their satisfaction and they are sure they understand what it means, that they have had all the opportunity they need to ask questions and get answers about it, and that they accept the mission statement and agree to abide by it as a member of the community, and that they agree that if they subsequently have issues with the mission statement, they will either work through the formal designated approach to get the mission statement changed, and/or (if not successful) agree to either leave the community or abandon their dissent and appropriately and positively be bound by the mission statement as it changes.

This statement should also acknowledge that if the mission statement subsequent changes via the provision for amending it that exists, they agree to accept the revised mission statement, and/or to attempt its orderly change or to leave the community.

Get them to have their agreement notarized, to further stress their formal acceptance.  This is analogous to the Naturalization Ceremony that new US citizens go through.  They are tested on their knowledge of the US constitution and general form of government, and then they have to complete a formal oath agreeing to respect and uphold the constitution.

This agreement from each member may or may not have any legal force and binding nature at all, but it has a moral status associated with it.  If someone complains, you can say ‘I understand your feelings, but you agreed to this when you accepted our mission statement – see, here’s your signature on the form here; and if you’re not comfortable with it now, you know what your choices are’.

It gives you the moral high ground, in other words.  How you choose to use that moral high ground is up to you!

A Possible Form of Compromise

Although we said your community can’t possibly include groups of people with starkly opposite views, that’s not to say you should rudely reject such people when you encounter them.  Because there is an underlying point of commonality – the desire to prepare for and to survive an uncertain and troubled future.  You agree on that, you just disagree on how to best do this.

Why not suggest – and even help – people with different perspectives to set up neighboring communities.  You can have the hippy commune to the north, the low-tech EMP-safe community to the south, the nuclear bunkered people to the west, and the high-tech group to the east.

If it turns out their view of the future is more correct than your own, then you might benefit greatly from their presence!  And if your community and their community is both flourishing, you have trading partners, a broader diversity of people and resources, and enhanced ‘safety in numbers’.

You are still free to build your community the way you wish, and by welcoming neighbors, this in no way detracts from your vision and mission.

Mar 022013
 
The red dots are pumping stations on our national gas pipelines.  The Chinese military may now have the capability to destroy a thousand of these simultaneously through only a few computer keystrokes.

The red dots are pumping stations on our national gas pipelines. The Chinese military may now have the capability to destroy a thousand of these simultaneously through only a few computer keystrokes.

Due to its current abundance and low-cost per unit of energy, the US is becoming increasingly dependent on natural gas.

Already, 30% of all electricity comes from power stations burning natural gas.  Conversion programs to convert buses and trucks from diesel to natural gas are becoming increasingly popular due to the massive cost savings operators can quickly get from their investments.  And if you have gas to your residence, you know that the cost of the gas has dropped over the last few years, while electricity costs have stayed the same or risen, making it more and more appropriate to use gas for heating your water and your house and on your stove top.

An interesting thing about natural gas is that most people perceive it as ultra-reliable and as close to guaranteed to be always available as possible.  We’ve doubtless all experienced power outages from time to time, but when have you ever had an unexpected unscheduled gas outage?  Probably never; indeed some people view their gas supply as so ultra reliable that their emergency generator uses natural gas as its energy source.

Unfortunately, while historically it is true that our gas supply has been ultra-reliable, today it is also true that the gas supply has become ultra-vulnerable to disruption.

Almost all the gas that is used somewhere comes from somewhere else, and travels from where it is extracted/processed to where it is consumed, by pipeline.  For sure, pipelines are physically vulnerable – a stick of dynamite could destroy a segment of pipeline any time and any where, but doing so requires ‘boots on the ground’ – you need people to physically get explosives, travel to vulnerable/accessible stretches of pipeline, blow them up, then escape safely.  None of that is impossible, but it is difficult and requires a substantial number of saboteurs if they are to have an appreciable impact on the supply lines.

We try to make it a little difficult for such attacks to occur; information on the exact location of gas pipelines and the related control stations is somewhat restricted.

But there’s an easier way, which the Chinese military have been preparing.  This article reveals that during a six month period in 2012, cyber-attacks traced back to the Chinese military were detected on 23 pipeline operators (there are about 30 major pipeline operators in the US), and includes the explanation that with the information stolen and access obtained through these cyber-attacks, it would be possible to cause enormous damage, either sequentially or simultaneously, and with the attackers never needing to leave the safety of their bases in China.

The article gives the example of using the access gained to mess up control settings so as to cause a thousand pumping/compression stations to simultaneously explode.  Destroying a pumping station is more serious than just knocking a hole in the side of the pipeline, and takes longer to repair.

Now think about the implications of this.  Not only would we lose the 30% of our electricity that is currently generated from natural gas, but we’d also lose the use of natural gas sourced energy in industry and at home, too, massively increasing our demand for the electricity that would already have become seriously in short supply.

Most households with gas for heating and cooking use more energy from natural gas than from electricity, so household demand for electricity would more than double (in winter, not so much in summer).  The same in many commercial applications, too.

As you may recall from the California electricity crisis back in 2000 – 2001, even a very small shortfall in electricity supply can be enough to massively mess things up.

Maybe this would not destroy our society entirely, but it would sure change our lifestyles substantially.  And all it would take to cause this is a few keystrokes on a computer somewhere in China – and who’s not to say that other countries hostile to the US don’t have similar capabilities or haven’t been given the information obtained by the Chinese cyber-terrorists?

Implications

Our point is simply this.  Scratch the surface of most of the essential underpinnings of our modern-day society and lifestyle, and examine the things we most take for granted, and you’ll find ugly exposed vulnerabilities that are growing rather than diminishing in size and scale and scope.  Barbed wire fences and armed patrols might provide physical security for our nation’s critical infrastructure, but the preferred form of attack these days is not this old-fashioned method involving real people doing real things to real structures, it is a ‘virtual’ attack via computer, a form of attack that we seem to be much less able to defend against.

Your non-prepping friends probably have no idea that a branch of the Chinese military, deploying a team of cyber-terrorists, now has the capability to destroy our natural gas supply system, which is part of the reason they are not preppers.  But you know, and hopefully you continue to prepare for and anticipate potential crises of all forms.

Oh – one last thing.  If a cyber-attack were to be launched against the US, of course it wouldn’t be only limited to our gas pipelines.  These same hacking exploits that created the pipeline vulnerability have been occurring regularly on other elements of our infrastructure, opening up vulnerabilities in many other parts of the fabric which binds our society functionally together.

The overwhelming impact of a cyber-attack would make Pearl Harbor look like nothing more significant than a gnat on an elephant’s rear.  A full-out cyber-attack would destroy just about everything we need to survive currently – energy, water, food, sewer, communications, you name it.  Such an attack, from start to finish, would take less than five minutes, and would have no prior warning at all.

Be prepared.  Be very prepared.