Jul 132013
Perhaps a broken window that lets in wildlife and weather, six months of unattended decay, and your retreat might end up being like this when you arrive.

Perhaps a broken window that lets in wildlife and weather, six months of unattended decay, and your retreat might end up being like this when you arrive.

So you finally find yourself confronted with the need to bug out to your retreat.  The good news is at least you have a bug out location, and you’ve practiced and prepared for the eventuality of having to bug out, unlike most of your neighbors and friends.

You load up your vehicle with everything you need to safely and successfully travel to your retreat, feeling confident and relaxed about having prepared prudently, and set forth.  Because you’ve planned and even practiced this before, you’ve nothing to worry about, right?


In this two-part article series we first look at the problems inevitably associated with bugging out, and then in the second part, consider how to address and solve these problems.

Part One – The Four Problems

It is true that you’re in a better position and have a better prospective future than your un-prepared friends, but your future is far from guaranteed.  Until you get to your retreat, you are as vulnerable as anyone/everyone else – perhaps even more so as you are limited to only what you have in your vehicle – something that offers very little security or resource.  You are now confronting a terrible number of unknowns and variables and risks where anything from random bad luck to more serious things may interfere with your journey to your retreat, your future plans and your future life.

Let’s look at four sets of risks that may interfere with your optimistic expectations.

1.  Getting There Safely

This is probably a risk you’ve thought about already, but just because you’ve thought about it, that doesn’t mean you can protect against it.

Clearly you need to bug out as early as possible, before the rule of law has totally collapsed, before the roads get jam-packed full of other evacuees from your city, and before modern-day ‘highwaymen’ start preying on travelers.

Maybe you are successful at doing this, and manage to beat the rush out of your city, but what happens if you have to travel through other cities on the way to your retreat?  It is one thing to beat everyone out of your city by (say) four hours, but if you need to pass through another city that is four hours driving from the start of your travels, you’ll have no headstart at all on the outflows of desperate people from the second city.  Maybe you beat the rush by a day, but have a two-day drive to your retreat – you’ll be no better off than anyone else on the second day of your travels.

How far is it from where you live to your retreat?  Each mile that you must travel is 1760 yards of potential for a puncture, a radiator hose bursting, or any other sort of unexpected problem with your vehicle.  Each mile that you travel is 5280 feet of risk from any type of unexpected ‘third party’ event – not just evil people doing evil things to you, but ‘innocent’ acts of bad luck such as a traffic accident, perhaps.

Maybe you don’t get involved in an accident yourself, but maybe a semi some miles ahead of you on the freeway has jackknifed and is blocking the freeway, with traffic backed up for miles, and with hours of delay.  Meanwhile you’re burning through your precious gas to keep the car warm (or cool) and you’re at risk of anything and everything in a stationary vehicle.

Talking about weather, do you have any seasonal issues to be concerned about?  Have forest fires ever closed the roads in the summer?  What about snow in the winter?  Remember that you don’t just need the highways to be ploughed and drivable, you need the last few miles of dirt road to your retreat to be passable too.  How will you handle that, if it is an issue?

If you’re in a vehicle visibly loaded with supplies (or, even worse and more conspicuously, towing a trailer), and if word has got out about whatever disaster it is you’re fleeing, you’ve become a tempting tasty target for evil-doers all the way along your route, haven’t you.  Our feeling is that you need to be in an ‘ordinary’ vehicle with no visible amount of extra supplies in it.

It isn’t just evil-doers you need to worry about.  It is do-gooders too.  Maybe the state’s governor has declared martial law and requires all people and vehicles to be off the road during hours of darkness.  So instead of driving all day and all night to your retreat, you suddenly find yourself needing to pull over and anxiously/uncomfortably wait until the morning before you can continue your travels.

Sure, we know that you drive many thousands of miles a year normally, and never have any sorts of problems at all.  But this isn’t normal.  This is anything but normal, and with Murphy’s Law waiting to trap you every possible way, the ‘simple’ act of getting to your retreat will be fraught with risk.

2.  Will Your Retreat be Secure

Okay, we’ll say that you managed the drive to your retreat safely and successfully.  Congratulations.  🙂  And now you’re driving up the driveway, and round the corner, there’s your retreat, ready and waiting to welcome you.

You hope.

What say someone else has decided to make your retreat into their retreat?  What say you arrive to find it already occupied by people who could care less that you say it belongs to you.  They’ve got the retreat, and they’ve got guns and are willing to use them if you don’t leave and abandon your claims to ‘their’ retreat.

Or maybe you find your retreat looted, burned out, vandalized, abandoned, and unlivable.  All your precious preps have disappeared.

Now, please don’t tell us proudly about your ‘op-sec’ and how no-one knows about your retreat.  That’s sadly not true, no matter what you might think and hope.  We discuss the impossibility and the ill-advisedness of trying to keep your retreat secret in our two articles, ‘Is It Realistic to Expect Your Retreat Will Not Be Found‘ and ‘The Ugly Flip-sides of Opsec‘.

Here’s an alarming thought.  Maybe you hire a local person to protect your retreat, and to visit it once or twice a week to make sure it is safe and secure.  But how do you know that he won’t then turn around and make your retreat into his retreat when things go bad?

3.  Will Your Retreat be Functional

Let’s hope for the best, and assume you not only safely made it to your retreat, but that the retreat is still standing, secure, and unoccupied.  Great.  But your problems are not yet over.

You unlock the main door and go in to the house.  You are immediately overwhelmed with the smell of rat urine and feces.  You go to your store rooms and find that you’ve a happy thriving colony of rats, enjoying your supplies, with little or nothing left for you to now survive on.

Or maybe you discover that a pipe burst in the last freeze, and you’ve got water damage throughout the house.

Or maybe some tiles blew off the roof and you’ve had rain and other things coming in through the roof.

Maybe all those things work fine, but you go to flush the toilet and you discover it is blocked.  You don’t know it, but some time over the last year, a tree’s roots broke through the pipe to your septic tank, blocking the flow of water and, ahem, other stuff, and you’re going to have to somehow troubleshoot your problem and fix it.

Maybe you discover that your fuel tanks have rusted through and all your fuel has seeped away, leaving you with empty tanks and polluted ground.

Maybe everything works well, but after a week or two, you discover that there’s a design problem with your heating system, and it keeps giving problems and eventually becomes totally broken.  Or perhaps bad wiring burns out/shorts out your battery system.  Maybe ‘infant mortality’ (the propensity for electronic devices to sometimes fail early in their life) strikes and destroys your charging system or some other essential element of your retreat.

Maybe it is a more low tech problem.  Your well proves not to be capable of sustained supply of water – sure, it tested fine for a 15 minute test, but now you’re using it, day in and day out, it runs dry.  Or the reality of the power your solar cells can provide proves to be massively less than the theoretical amount they should have delivered.  You can probably think of many more vulnerabilities.

There are countless things that can go wrong with a property, both while it is occupied and also while it is unoccupied.  Unless you’ve been using the retreat on a regular and sustained basis, you have no way of knowing if the reality of its practical ability to support you will be the same as its theoretical promises.  You’ve no way of knowing if the equipment and services you’ve built into it will prove to be reliable low-maintenance and sufficient for your needs – indeed, you don’t even know for sure what your actual needs may be.

4.  No Ongoing Farming Activity or Experience

Okay, now let’s assume that none of these preceding three potential problem areas are giving you any grief.  Lucky you!  So let’s now look at the fourth potential issue.

Depending on when you arrive at your retreat, sooner or later you’re going to need to switch from eating from stored food supplies to growing your own future food needs.  And when you do this, if you are doing it for the first time, you’ve a huge new Pandora’s Box of unknown uncertain issues to confront and resolve.

Sure, you’ve got books galore on how to grow your own food, but have you actually ever done it, for real, before?  More to the point, have you done it for several seasons in a row at your actual retreat location?  The answer to this question is almost certainly no.

So now – for the first time – you find yourself grappling with who knows how many problems and issues.  Insects and other infestations and wildlife might attack/destroy/kill/eat all your harvest.  The soil might be lacking in some sort of nutrient – or it might have too much of another type of chemical in it – do you know how to understand and correct that?

You might do a great job of planting and caring for the crops, but when it comes to harvesting, you might discover that you lack the manpower to harvest the food before it spoils.  Sure, you grew a perfect crop, but you only managed to harvest a quarter of it.

You might discover that one part of your property has the wrong type of soil and another part has too much water (or too little water).  Another part might have too little sun.  And protecting your crops from wildlife and diseases will be a full-time job.  All the deer you were so enchanted to see when you first bought the property – what do you think they eat?  Yes, your food!

Farming is something that requires more than book learning.  It requires skill and experience – both in general terms and also in the specific issues and challenges posed by your particular property.  It is more than likely that your first few years of cropping will be full of challenges and disappointments.

If you are raising animals, that too is far from a guaranteed ‘can’t lose’ scenario.  Where do the animals come from to start with?  Who will care for their health?  Where will their feed come from?  Who will slaughter/butcher them?  Where will the meat be stored?

None of these issues are impossible to resolve, but they all assume a great supply of experience and know-how.

Read About Solutions in Part Two

If you’ve read this far, you now understand that bugging out is not as easy as it sounds, and, perhaps more importantly, moving into an empty unused retreat and relying on it instantly becoming the resource you hope it to be is something fraught with many uncertainties and possible problems.

The good news is that these problems are not impossible to solve.  Please now click on to the second part of this article – ‘The Three Solutions to the Four Problems of Bugging Out‘.

Jul 132013
It is vastly preferable not to have to start farming your land from scratch after a disaster.  Better to have the farm already operating as a going concern.

It is vastly preferable not to have to start farming your land from scratch after a disaster. Better to have the farm already operating as a going concern.

This is the second part of a two-part article about issues to do with viably bugging out and transitioning to ongoing life in your retreat.  If you arrived here direct from a search engine or other website link, you might choose to first read the first part which sets out the four main problems associated with bugging out, and then return back here to read about the three solutions we propose.

Solving the Four Problems of Bugging Out

In the first part of this article, we explained the four main categories of problems with the typical concept of maintaining a bug-out retreat and moving there in a crisis :

  • It may be difficult to get to when you actually need to bug-out
  • The retreat or may not be available and in good condition when you get there
  • The retreat may quickly prove to have problems and limitations once you start to live there
  • The reality of starting to provide your own food may turn out to be much more difficult than you’d hoped for

There are solutions to all these problems, please now read on.

Solution 1 – Bugging Out Very Early

In its ultimate form this solution might seem extreme, and it might be massively life changing, but it is also the ideal answer.  Move to your retreat now and live there permanently.  That way, when – if – TSHTF, you are already in place, with a known quantity as your retreat, with all systems tested and functioning.  The only major impact will be you switch from enjoying the convenience of electricity from the national grid and local utility company, and you can no longer order in supplies of liquid/gaseous fuels as and when you need it.  Oh, and the local country store can no longer be counted on to have much of anything for sale, either.

But at least you are already in place, already set up, and your lifestyle changes are minor rather than major.

You might perceive it impossible to turn your back on your high paying jobs, your city lifestyle, and everything else.  That might be true (in which case, keep reading, for our second best solution), but maybe you should also revisit some of your assumptions about what you need and must have.

For example, you can live much more inexpensively in the country than in the city, and things which you formerly perceived as essential and necessary ($100+ meals several times a week when eating out, tickets to expensive shows, expensive business clothing, etc) can be replaced with much less expensive but still pleasant alternates (alternating between having friends for dinner and going to their place for a meal, or treating yourself to a meal at the local diner where dinner for two costs $20, enjoying the less sophisticated but more sincere amateur and high school productions, plays, musicals, and wearing comfortable unassuming clothing rather than name brand fashions).

Instead of needing to pay for both your residence in the city and your retreat, you now only need to pay for your retreat, which probably costs less than your in-city residence.  And maybe instead of an impressive 4,000+ sq ft mansion, you realize that for your family of four, you can live perfectly comfortably and conveniently in a still spacious 2,000 sq ft residence.  You no longer need to choose a property as much to impress and as a visible statement of your ‘success’ and affluence, instead, you can now choose a property for functionality, convenience, and appropriateness.  Instead of making payments on (eg) a million dollar home on a one-eighth of an acre lot, you’ll own, outright, (eg) a half million dollar home on a five acre lot.  Oh, you’ll also be saving money on property taxes and insurance, too.

Instead of buying or leasing a new premium brand vehicle every year or two, you buy an ‘old junker’ (that in truth is neither old nor junk) and keep it for ten years.  It has fewer electronics, but is much more reliable because of that, and both easier and cheaper to repair when it does give trouble.  A more modest older car can save you the better part of $1,000 a month right from the get go.

And instead of working a 50 hour week, plus another ten hours on commuting, you now have 60 hours free to farm your property or work in a local business/store in the nearby town.  Maybe you can even take advantage of tele-commuting and still do some of your previous work, but remotely from your retreat rather than in person in the office.

Instead of spending hundreds of dollars a month on a health club, and tens of hours doing artificial exercise in a gym, you instead spend time working in the fields, simultaneously getting exercise and instead of spending money, earning money and growing food.

When you actually start to pick apart the elements of your modern lifestyle and convert them to an alternate lifestyle, you might be astonished at how it proves possible to turn your back on many of the seductive traps of modern-day consumerism and end up with a truly relaxing, healthy, enjoyable lifestyle in the country.

We’d also suggest you consider not just the concept of moving to a solitary retreat where you live on your own.  Moving to become part of a prepping-focused self-sufficient community means you’re part of a group of like-minded people, with similar values and objectives.  You’ll quickly fit in with such people, and be able to benefit from the synergy that comes from being part of a larger community.  Our Code Green Community represents one such approach to this, but there are of course others too.

We discuss this concept from a slightly different perspective in an earlier article we published, ‘Bugging Out Very Early – a Lifestyle Choice‘.  It is for sure a massive change in lifestyle, but one we urge you to consider.

Solution 2 – A Fulltime Retreat/Farm Manager

The second solution is an interesting one to consider.  You should contract with someone to farm your retreat property, and to maintain its grounds and the security of your dwelling.  Maybe they even live on the property themselves (in a separate building).  This would be a farm manager type person.

If your retreat is going to be adequate to support you and your family and anyone else who would join you, then it should also be adequate, in normal times, to be farmed on a commercial basis such that the income from its farming activities is at least enough to pay the farm manager’s salary, and maybe even leaving you with some extra cash generated too to cover the costs of owning your retreat.  Maybe the income generated by actively working your retreat property will allow you to afford a larger, more productive and therefore more viable and life-sustaining property right from the get-go.

This means that if/when you need to evacuate to your retreat, you arrive at a self-supporting farm that is already in operation as a going concern, and even complete with skilled staff on-site.  Sure, you’ll need to adjust its operation – it will no longer be able to benefit from mechanized agriculture, but it is better to downsize an ongoing farm than to need to start one from scratch.

You and your farm manager will already know the most productive patches of land, what grows best and where, and how to succeed in spite of animals, disease, and other natural challenges.

This is of course also a feature of our Code Green Community – you can have your lands farmed in absence, and your dwelling reasonably secured and policed, but it is also something you could realistically arrange for your own ‘stand alone’ retreat property too.

The only thing to be slightly aware of is the possible danger that your farm manager comes to view your farm as his farm, and when you arrive to settle there, he may feel unwilling to relinquish control of it.  You’ll need to pick your manager carefully and be sure to positively assert and demonstrate your ownership/management/leadership at all times prior to arriving so as to ensure such problems don’t arise.

Solution 3 – Moving to an ‘Added Value’ Retreat Community

Maybe neither of these first two approaches are feasible.  There are some people, in some situations, where that is unavoidably the case.  That is unfortunate, but it is no reason to despair.

Instead, you can consider ‘added value’ retreat communities, where you’d be joining a community of like-minded people, with some of the community already living in place, thereby providing security for your retreat facility, and making it easier for you to join a going concern rather than starting everything, on your own, from scratch once you evacuate to your retreat.  Maybe you don’t even wish to live an agrarian lifestyle, working on a farm in the fields.  Maybe you wish to provide some type of services or do something else within a community – anything from being a storekeeper to a restaurant owner to a doctor or other professional service provider.  While we all focus first and foremost on the most essential things – shelter, water, and food – the reality is that an optimized life in a Level 2 or 3 situation will require a lot more than ‘just’ growing food and eating it.

Our Code Green Community would be one such solution, others may also exist, or you might create your own with a group of friends.

Not Solved – The Physical Act of Bugging Out

The preceding three solutions have been focused on ensuring you have a viable sustainable living situation after having transitioned/bugged out.

But if you are choosing to remain in place until a time when you need to bug out in response to an emergency situation, you still need to focus very clearly on the most certain and secure way to travel to your retreat in a crisis.

You need to be able to go to your retreat well in advance of problems growing to a point of social collapse, and/or you need to be able to quickly get to your retreat securely when problems become unmistakably and unavoidably present.  The latter solution seems to revolve around non-traditional means of transportation – either the extra flexibility of motorcycles or the freedom from infrastructure that an airplane provides.

We discuss these issues more in our section on bugging out.


By obvious definition and implication, when a crisis occurs, WTSHTF, it is then too late to discover weaknesses, shortcomings, problems, and overlooked forgotten essentials that are present in our retreat.  We need to have all these matters addressed and resolved well prior to any situation that tests their efficacy in ultimate measure.

In the first part of this article, we looked at some of the types of problems you might expect to encounter when activating your bug-out plan and hunkering down to survive a crisis.  In this second part, we suggest some solutions to minimize the possibility of such problems arising and interfering with your ability to safely and securely survive.

We’d wish you good luck, but luck should have nothing to do with your chance of succeeding in an adverse future.  You need to be well planned and well prepared.

Jul 072013
The Midland WR300 and the WR-120B are excellent and affordable SAME equipped NWR EAS compatible radios.

The Midland WR300 and the WR-120B are excellent and affordable SAME equipped NWR EAS compatible radios.

We’ve written before about the need to urgently make your way to your shelter if you receive a warning of pending nuclear attack, and about setting a policy for how long you wait for others to join you in your shelter.

But these considerations overlook one vital issue.  How can you get any such warnings of any type of pending disaster that you need to respond to?  It isn’t just pending nuclear Armageddon you have to be worried about, either.  All sorts of weather related events, or other local emergencies – dangerous chemical spills, public safety/law enforcement alerts, and so on – might occur, and it would be advantageous to be among the first to know of such issues.

In scenarios where seconds may literally make a life and death difference to your ability to adequately respond to an urgent threat, you can’t rely on noticing an item on the television news or hearing a special announcement on a regular radio.  You need some type of specific warning system that will grab your attention directly if an urgent warning is issued.

The good news is that there is a national system in place for such warning messages to be promulgated, and it is tied in to the National Weather Service – the NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR) service.  You can get special radio receivers that will be activated by such warnings (see below for details).

These Emergency Alert System (EAS) emergency messages are sent out with additional data attached to them, specifying the type of alert message and the county it applies to.  Messages can be for a single county, for up to 31 different counties, for an entire state (or multiple states), or for the entire nation.  The geographic tagging of the message is referred to as Specific Area Message Encoding or SAME.

Alert messages fall into one of various different descriptive categories (ranging from Avalanche watch messages to volcano warnings) and have one of four different status codes signifying their degree of immediacy.  The four codes are :


  • A WARNING is an event that alone poses a significant threat to public safety and/or property, probability of occurrence and location is high, and the onset time is relatively short.
  • A WATCH meets the classification of a warning, but either the onset time, probability of occurrence, or location is uncertain.
  • An EMERGENCY is an event that, by itself, would not kill or injure or do property damage, but indirectly may cause other things to happen that result in a hazard. For example, a major power or telephone loss in a large city alone is not a direct hazard, but disruption to other critical services could create a variety of conditions that could directly threaten public safety.
  • A STATEMENT is a message containing follow-up information to a warning, watch, or emergency.

Emergency and Statement type messages are sometimes grouped together as ‘Advisory’ messages, making for a three level set of categories.

Here’s a list of different message types that might be sent as part of a NWR EAS message.

SAME/EAS Capable Radios

Clearly it makes sense to buy a specific radio designed to receive these types of messages.  The radio, while switched on, would normally be silent and would only come to life if it received a message coded to the county or counties that you wanted to receive alert messages for.

Ideally, you’d want the radio to be mains operated but with a battery backup capability so if the power goes out, the radio will still continue functioning.

You want to be able to program the radio as to which counties you wish to receive alert messages about.  We suggest you should program alerts for adjacent counties as well as your own county, especially if your county is small or you are close to the boundary with another county.

Some radios also allow you to filter out some types of alerts that you don’t want to be advised about – for example, if you live a long way from the coast, you might not be interested in coastal flood warnings, and you might decide to forego receiving child abduction messages no matter where you live.

And, of course, you want to be sure the radio has some type of loud warning device – an alarm or siren – that will sound when it receives a warning so you’ll be instantly notified.

noaaSome radios might be certified as complying with either the Public Alert Standard or as being approved by the NOAA as having the necessary capabilities for the system.  You can see the two logos displayed here.  Radios that are so certified might not be fully featured, and ones that have not paid for the certification may be equally featured or even better.  So these certifications are interesting, but not mandatory.

publicalertWhile some model radios can be expensive, you can also find excellent units for under $30 – for example, this Midland WR-120B which sells for about $25 at Amazon .  If you wanted to spend a bit more, the Midland WR-300 is also a good choice (about $45), but doesn’t have any additional ‘must have’ features compared to its cheaper cousin, the WR-120B.


All the preparations in the world will be useless if you’re not warned in time to respond to a sudden unexpected threat.

The NWR EAS system might send out warnings in time for you to respond to them, but only if you have a compatible radio receiver that will ‘switch on’ and alarm/alert you when it receives the specific types of warnings you have told it to respond to.

While the NWR EAS system isn’t guaranteed to always give you adequate notice of all pending threats, it certainly increases your odds of being alerted in time to adequately respond.  With compatible radios costing as little as $25, it is something you should invest in.

Jul 072013
A great value versatile radio that gives you access to many additional frequencies.

A great value versatile radio that gives you access to many additional frequencies.

You almost certainly know that the FCC has very stringent restrictions and requirements about what frequencies you can transmit on, and severe penalties it imposes on people who fail to observe these limitations.  But did you know that the FCC waives all such restrictions in emergencies?

If you find yourself in a true emergency situation – such as we prepare for – then if you’re a licensed ham operator, you can use pretty much any frequencies at all in order to conduct emergency communications.

The FCC Regulations in Subpart E of Part 97 relate to the use of amateur radio equipment provide special dispensation in emergencies :

§ 97.403   Safety of life and protection of property.

No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station of any means of radiocommunication at its disposal to provide essential communication needs in connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property when normal communication systems are not available.

§ 97.405   Station in distress.

(a) No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station in distress of any means at its disposal to attract attention, make known its condition and location, and obtain assistance.

(b) No provision of these rules prevents the use by a station, in the exceptional circumstances described in paragraph (a) of this section, of any means of radiocommunications at its disposal to assist a station in distress.

In other words, at least as it applies to already licensed ham operators, if there’s an emergency, you can communicate on any frequency, in any form, if you have the capabilities and equipment to do so.

Note there is no similar dispensation for GMRS/MURS/FRS/CB radio users, and it is largely absent from regular ‘radio telephone’ type commercial radio operators also.  This provision to communicate in any manner and means extends only to licensed ham radio operators, in part because they are more likely to have flexible equipment at hand and the knowledge about how to use it in a non-standard manner, and in part because ham operators have traditionally been called on to provide emergency communication services.

So if you are a ham operator, your communications flexibility becomes very much greater WTSHTF.  We suggest you plan for this and use it accordingly.

Going Off-Band to Avoid Congestion

Most of the short-range ham frequencies are fairly uncongested most of the time, because most hams seldom use their radios, and because the short-range nature of VHF/UHF communications mean multiple people can be using the same frequency, as long as there is sufficient distance between them so they don’t interfere with each other (the same concept as how cell phones work).  But this is likely to change in an emergency, particularly when cell phones stop working, and it is reasonable to expect anywhere from a ten-fold to a one-hundred fold increase in radio traffic by ham operators.

Ham frequencies that have longer ranges are and will be even more congested, due to a single user on one frequency potentially blocking out all other users on that frequency across the country, maybe even across the globe.  There will of course be requirements for longer range communications in a Level 2/3 situation as well as short-range tactical communications, and we’ll discuss the best way to handle these needs in a subsequent article.

The massive increase in the number of hams suddenly wanting to use their radios will make for very busy/congested airwaves, and just like a busy freeway ends up carrying fewer cars because the traffic starts to slow down, making the situation worse; the congestion on the radio waves will make things very difficult, with lots of people transmitting over the top of other people, causing for repeated retransmissions, adding still further to the congestion and hassle.

On the other hand, some of the other frequencies currently allocated to other types of services will free up, and may have never been used much to start with, and/or might have been in use by devices with only a very limited range, and in places far enough from you as to allow you to ‘share’ the same frequency without interference.  For example, the mall security at the shopping mall on the other side of the metroplex might have some frequencies allocated to it, but if you’re more than a few miles away from the mall, you could use those frequencies without any problems from the low-powered hand-held sets in use at the mall.

Overall, the entire radio spectrum ‘from DC to daylight’ is more or less fully allocated, but that’s not to say that some parts of the spectrum won’t be more available than others in an emergency.  Here’s an interesting chart which shows, as of August 2011, how the total radio spectrum has been allocated (this is the most recent chart currently available, as of July 2013), and here’s a slightly more detailed table showing the same data plus some additional information about uses, too.

But what does it mean when you see a block of frequencies allocated to, eg, ‘Mobile’?  That’s a very general term that could mean just about any sort of commercial use.

There’s another useful way of getting a feeling for what frequencies are being used for in your area, and that’s to go to a site such as RadioReference.com, and click through to your state and your county, and then you’ll see lists of frequency allocations.  There are also scanner guide books that list frequencies and who has been assigned them in even greater detail.

The Official Ham Frequencies

For the purpose of short-range tactical communications (ie basically line of sight) you will want to use VHF or UHF equipment.  HF equipment has longer range and requires larger antennas, and anything with higher than UHF frequencies is too specialized for most general purposes and the equipment needed not so freely available or affordable.

In other words, you want equipment that operates from about 50 MHz up to about 1000 MHz.  Within this range, the most common ham bands are :

  • 6 Meters ie 50.0 – 54.0 MHz (VHF)
  • 2 Meters ie 144.0 – 148.0 MHz (VHF)
  • 1.25 Meters ie 219.0 – 220.0 MHz and 222.0 – 225.0 MHz (VHF)
  • 70 Centimeters ie 420.0 – 450.0 MHz (UHF)
  • 33 Centimeters ie 902.0 – 928.0 MHz (UHF)

The most commonly used frequencies (ie the frequencies with the most readily available and affordable equipment) are the 2 meter and 70 cm bands.

Some inexpensive ham equipment covers not just the official 2 meter band, but a broader range (typically about 140 – 170 MHz), and some of the equipment for the 70cm band goes much wider too (from about 400 – 500 MHz).

Choosing the Best Alternate Frequencies

There are two simple things to consider when choosing the best alternate frequencies.  The first is to choose frequencies which truly are empty and unlikely to be monitored.  The second is to match the frequencies to your equipment capabilities of course.

Depending on where you’re located, a useful block of frequencies to consider using would be the maritime frequencies.  Here’s a list of the VHF maritime frequencies.  If you’re more than ten miles or so from the water or a navigable river, then these frequencies are probably sitting empty.  However, we’d recommend you don’t use the Chanel 16 or 70 emergency channels.

If you’re not close to any railroad, then their frequencies are probably massively unused too.  Here’s a list.

On the other hand, marine radios are not uncommon, and many people like to listen to train frequencies if they think there will be trains in their area.

Generally, the ‘best’ frequencies will be ones very close to ham bands for which you already have suitable antennas for.

If you are going to a non amateur assigned frequency, you should listen very carefully to make sure the channel is truly free and that you’re not interfering with someone else’s legitimate use/need for the frequency that has been assigned to them.

One more possibility is to use non-standard frequencies.  If you’re looking at a part of the radio frequency spectrum that normally has 25 kHz spacing between frequencies, why not use a frequency that is halfway between two standard frequencies, and if you switch to narrow FM, you’d be able to carry on your communications on that intermediate frequency and possibly not even be detected by, be interfered by, or in turn interfere with, people using the regular frequencies.

There’s no way of knowing, in advance, what frequencies other hams mightn’t ‘take over’ and claim as their own as well, so you’ll have to hunt around the dial until you find a relatively unused chunk of spectrum that you can use.

Make Sure You Have Flexible Equipment

So, in theory, in a genuine emergency situation, you are free to use any frequencies and any power levels you wish.  That’s great, but what if your radio gear only works on the exact ham bands and nowhere else?  There’s a very good chance that might be the case.

It is common for amateur radio gear to be capable of receiving over a broad range of frequencies, but to be very tightly restricted to only being able to transmit on official FCC approved amateur frequencies.

However, there are some exceptions to this – for example, the AnyTone AT-5888UV (pictured at the start of this article) is a very nice VHF/UHF mobile radio (and suspiciously very similar to much more expensive Yaesu radios…..) that is capable of transmitting not just in the narrowly defined 2m and 70cm bands, but more broadly over a range from 136 – 174 MHz and from 400 – 490 MHz.  Amazon sells it for under $300.

The lovely little Baofeng UV-5R handheld radios have a similar capacity, transmitting from 136 – 174MHz and 400 – 480 MHz (or possibly even to 520 MHz).  Amazon sell them for under $40 each.

Make Sure You Have Appropriate Antennas

Your antenna is probably ‘tuned’ for a narrow band of frequencies.  It will most efficiently transmit and receive at a particular frequency, which is usually in the middle of its designed frequency band, and will work successively less well the further away from that particular frequency you are working on.

If you are going to be working in non-official frequencies, and if the non-official frequencies are more than a few percent away from the official frequency band the antenna was designed for, you might want to consider modifying the antenna to retune it for best performance at the new frequency band.

Modifying an antenna most simplistically means making it longer if your frequency is getting lower, and making it shorter if your frequency is getting higher.  You would use a SWR meter to help find the sweet spot where the SWR is lowest (see our article about installing and tuning antennas for more information on how to do this).


It is likely that the official ham bands will be very congested WTSHTF.  Fortunately, it is lawful for licensed ham operators to use any other frequencies they can in valid emergency situations.

Accordingly you should buy radio equipment that is capable of transmitting and receiving outside of the ham bands, and you should research the other frequencies to find little used frequencies that you could switch to for emergency communications in a future scenario.

Make sure you have antennas optimized for these frequencies.

Jul 012013
This shelter/bunker has easy access and would allow people to quickly make their way to safety.

This shelter/bunker has easy access and would allow people to quickly make their way to safety.

If you have a shelter and are unfortunately in a region where there’s a danger of being caught by the initial immediate effects of a nuclear explosion, then of course you must get into the shelter and have it secured, shut, prior to any bombs being detonated.

Assuming you even get any warning about an imminent attack (and that’s a very big assumption which we evaluate in a separate article), you almost certainly won’t know how long it will be from when you receive the warning to when the warheads might arrive and explode above you.  In another article, we calculate that the very best case scenario might see you with a five minute warning, maximum; and the more likely scenarios have warnings being too late and not being sent out (and/or not being received by you) until after the missiles have arrived.

So you truly are in a situation where seconds count.  Best case scenario, you have no more than 300 seconds (ie five minutes) from the start of a warning message until the explosion.  More likely, you may have only one or two minutes to get into your shelter.

It goes without saying that of course you want for you and as many other members of your group as are presently close to your shelter, to get into it and have it secured prior to the bomb(s) going off.  Read on for some thoughts about how to make this as achievable as possible.

With most retreat/shelter layouts, you should be able to get to your shelter and inside it in less than 60 seconds (depends how quickly you can get its door open and closed, of course).  Some people might be closer and able to do so in under 30 seconds.  Others may be more distant (we talk about that a bit further on).

You and everyone else must, the instant you get a warning, stop anything/everything you are doing and move immediately to the shelter, because you have no way of knowing if the warning you have received leaves you with 10 seconds or 10 minutes of time before the bombs start exploding around you.

Warning/Alerting Others in Your Group

The only thing you need to do, prior to rushing to your shelter as urgently as possible, is to warn the other people in your group and summon them to the shelter.  We suggest the best way to do this is not by calling out to them, but by sounding a (very loud) audible alarm.

Do not use a method that puts the responsibility on you to make sure other people have heard and understood the alarm.  And do not use some type of alarm system that will delay your own rush to the shelter.  All you should have to do is flip a switch somewhere close by on your likely route to the shelter.

Use some type of general alarm and make sure it is clearly understood that there will be no checking up, so when the alarm goes off, it is everyone’s personal responsibility to hear it, recognize it, respond to it, and get to the shelter before it closes, without assistance.  Sadly, we as a nation have largely turned out back on the concept of personal responsibility, so this may require a paradigm shift, and some passive aggressive responses from some of your group who are slowest to accept this concept (you may uncover this when you do rehearsals – see below).

The only exception to personal responsibility would be, of course, for people who genuinely truly do need assistance.  The aged, infirm, and the very young.

Perhaps the best alarm system would be to have a series of sirens or alarm bells installed around your residence, connected up to a car battery that is being trickle charged by a standby battery charger.  These would be all activated by any one of a series of switches around the house, all in parallel, so that turning any one of them on will activate all the alarms.  The battery/mains power source means that if there’s a power cut, your alarm system will still remain functional, potentially for days or weeks until the power is restored (the alarm system will not be drawing appreciable power until it is activated).

With multiple alarm devices, you can locate them wherever people may be and wherever distracting noises may be present.

If this is too complicated, then a simple system could be to use warning horns that run off cans of compressed air, and have those in multiple locations in your house on the route to your shelter.  Have them in a cradle with a lever so that you can pull the lever down to actuate the device and have it stay actuated for however long there is air in the can.  You can just quickly flip it on and then continue on your way to the shelter.

Failing that, even simple whistles that you can blow, in several places around the house, might be a suitable alternate way of providing a loud can’t be missed urgent alarm sound, but if you’re blowing a whistle as hard as you can, you’re going to be slowing yourself down on your own rush to the shelter.

You’ll be able to test this of course and get a feeling for how clearly a whistle or air horn can be heard in the furthest away nooks and crannies of your residence and the grounds immediately outside.  Probably you’ll find it necessary to use an electric siren system with multiple sirens – these are easy to design and construct.

Note that the human ear will detect an intermittent sound better than a steady sound.  So instead of one long blast of the air horn, or one huge blow of the whistle, you want repeated multiple short blasts.  Each sound should be at least half a second in duration.  Electronic siren devices with programmable siren tones might be better, from this perspective, than steadily sounding alarm bells.

Three final suggestions about this.

First, make sure the alarm sound is very different to other alarms and warnings and sounds in and around your house.  You don’t want it to be confused with your alarm clock, the timer on the microwave, a carbon monoxide detector, a smoke detector, the neighbor’s burglar alarm, your car alarm, etc.

Second, don’t make the alarms ridiculously deafeningly loud, and don’t choose a siren sound pattern that is disorienting (fast warbles are particularly disorienting).  You want to alert people, not disorient and confuse them.

Third, have an alarm cut-off switch in your shelter, so that when you close up your shelter, you can turn off the alarms.  This does two things.  First, it gets rid of the noise in the background that might otherwise continue for many hours.  Secondly, people know that if/when the alert siren stops, that means the shelter has been closed and they should make other emergency arrangements for shelter.

Whatever method of warning other people in and around your house you choose, of course you must test it to ensure that everyone can hear it, everywhere in the house, no matter what they’re doing.  The person singing in the shower, the person with headphones on listening to their iPod, the person laughing and giggling with friends, the person watching a loud movie, the heavy sleeper in their far away bedroom, the person mowing the lawn outside and so on – all of them must be absolutely able to clearly hear the alarm.

Map Out Travel Times to the Shelter

The next part of your planning is to understand how long it will take people to get to the shelter from different parts of your residence and adjoining property.

You want to do test drills from various locations so you build up an understanding of what the range of times will be to take people to get to your shelter.  Time both faster/nimbler members of your group and slower/less dextrous members too, so as to get best and worst case scenarios.

As you do this, you’ll quickly see that, for example, people can get from everywhere in your house to the shelter in a maximum of (whatever number) seconds, and where the furthest away (from a traveling time point of view) locations are.

If you have some people who are less agile on stairs or whatever, of course their travel times will prove to be significantly different if there are stairs or other complicating factors.

Please understand, at this point, that mapping out the times is not the same as setting a policy for how long you’ll wait for people to get to the shelter, but it certainly is the step prior to that and provides you with helpful data to consider when making those difficult decisions, discussed in the next article.

There’s also one other thing to consider when looking at time it takes to get to the shelter.  The key issue is how much more time it will take people from further away to get to the shelter than it will take people close by.  That is the most difficult time, when some people are already in the shelter and waiting anxiously for the door to be closed and for safety to envelop them.

Rehearsing Shelter Alerts

You need to carry out rehearsal drills to instill the appropriate instincts in everyone in your group to move to your shelter instantly and also to check for things like the ability for your alert/warning sound to be heard.

Do we need to tell you that once an alarm is sounded, don’t pause to grab anything (because everything you need for an extended stay in the shelter must be already pre-positioned in the shelter), don’t fuss over opening/closing doors/windows, don’t turn anything on or off, just go directly to your shelter.  Nothing else matters, because you’re anticipating a scenario where everything outside the shelter is about to be completely destroyed, after all!

Some rehearsals can be simple timed exercises to see how long it takes each person to get to the shelter, and see what issues each person experienced in terms of delays and problems, then work on fixes to optimize those issues.

Depending on the type of entrance to your shelter, you might also discover problems having a number of people all transit through it at once.  If that is the case, see which way works best – slow people first, fast people second, or vice versa, and see if there’s a way for more able-bodied people to assist the less able-bodied people.

If you have a vertical shaft with a ladder leading down into a shelter, maybe there’s a way you could augment that with a ‘fireman’s pole’ on the other side of the shaft, opposite the ladder?  That way some people could use the pole to quickly go down while others use the ladder.

We suggest you never have a total surprise alert, because the adrenalin caused by an unexpected and apparently for real alert might prove too much for the weaker hearted among you.  But it would be acceptable to say ‘Some time today or tomorrow I’ll sound the alarm’ – there’s no need to have everyone ready, waiting, and already prepared.

Now for an important thing.  After a few ‘normal’ rehearsals, you want to then start adding a new element into the practicing.  You want to deliberately be late, yourself, and subsequently secretly arrange with other individuals for them to be late.  You are now rehearsing not just the ‘getting to the shelter in time’ scenario but also the ‘closing the door in the face of late-comers’ scenario, and this is an essential thing to rehearse.  Not only does it give the door closer the confidence to do so, but it also impresses on the stragglers that the door will close at the agreed upon time (see our separate article on how to set these policies).

A Policy For Unexpected Guests

What say you have friends visiting when an alarm is sounded.  What do you do – leave them staring in amazement as you suddenly all get up, open a hitherto unseen ‘secret panel’ in the wall behind them, and rush down a flight of stairs without a word of explanation?  Or try to hastily tell them what is happening and invite them in to your shelter with you?

On the basis of safety in numbers, and on the basis of it is probably easier to include them than to exclude them, you probably should plan your shelter to have some extra capacity – extra space, extra beds, extra food, and so on.  So, in the event an alarm should occur when you have guests visiting, and all other things being equal, you invite them too.

This assumes that the visitors are people who you are generally compatible with and who truly would add to the overall dynamics and resilience of your group.  The problem is that your group will have had time to already prepare their attitudes and mindset to the scenario that is now unfolding, and hopefully have some fortitude with which to face the future.  Non-prepping friends might bring with them all the dysfunctional attitudes and expectations that have made our society as unstable as it presently is.  Which would be worse?  To exclude them from entry to your shelter at the get-go (quite possibly at gunpoint) or to eject them from the shelter some days later (again quite possibly at gunpoint)?


All your investment in a shelter is wasted if you and the rest of your family/group can’t get there in time, before any bombs start to go off around you.

You need to plan and then practice the process of making your way to your shelter as quickly as possible, because if an alert is ever sounded, you may have mere seconds to get from wherever you are to the safety of your shelter.

Jul 012013
A nice shelter entrance, designed so blast waves will be partially deflected off the door.

A nice shelter entrance, designed so blast waves will be partially deflected off the door.

So you have invested in a blast/radiation shelter, and done all the necessary things to stock it and prepare for an emergency.  And then, one day, an emergency truly occurs.  You all (presumably) rush to the shelter, but inevitably, some of you get there before others of your group or family.

How long do you keep the shelter door open, waiting for the slower and slowest people to get there?

This is probably the most difficult consideration for you to grapple with.  How long do you keep the shelter open (and thereby imperiling everyone already inside it) while you want for the slowest (or furthest away) members of your group to reach it?   For example, what do you do if you have four family members in/around the house, and when the warning sounds, two of you are able to get to the shelter within 30 seconds, the third is somewhere that will take a minute, and the fourth is two minutes away.  Do you wait the extra minute and a half for the fourth person to arrive, or do you shut and lock the shelter after the third person?  For that matter, do you even wait for the third person?

Another way of looking at it is should the three of you who have made it to the shelter now risk your safety by leaving the shelter open for the fourth person to join you?  Remember, you have no way of knowing if there’ll be an explosion in your area in 5 seconds, 5 minutes, 5 hours, or maybe not at all.

There are a couple of ways you could create a policy to cover this situation, and probably the first thing to do would be to understand the likely ‘worst case scenario’ times it would take people who are outside the house, but close to it, to get from where they are to the shelter.  If our next article we talk about, amongst other things, creating a type of time/distance map so everyone knows how long it will take to get to the shelter from wherever they are when the alarm is sounded.

This can also help people to understand, based on their location, if they will be able to get to the shelter or not.  If they know in advance they are out of range, they can consider alternate temporary shelter arrangements and then go the rest of the way to the main shelter subsequently.

A Recommended Solution to This Problem

The best approach to allowing stragglers to be admitted without risking the people who arrived in plenty of time is to consider an ‘airlock’ sort of design for the main entrance to your shelter.  This will allow a person in through the outer-most door into an intermediate chamber.  After they have closed the outer-most door, you open the inner door and allow them the rest of the way in.  This would be a suitable solution that allows additional people in to your shelter safely, while not requiring the people who have already reached the shelter to compromise their own safety in the process.

If you do this, we recommend you have some simple mechanical interlocks that will make it impossible for both doors to be open simultaneously.  That way there can’t be any ‘cheating’ or mistakes that cause both doors to be open, risking everyone inside if a blast occurs during this vulnerable period.

The ‘air lock’ section should be large enough for several people to easily be in it at a time, so as not to slow down the process too much for everyone.

This type of approach will also be helpful when you start venturing out of the shelter during the period of time after the bombing has ended, but while you need to stay in the shelter for protection against dangerous nearby radioactivity.  The ‘airlock’ design (with the two doors offset so that if both doors were open at the same time, it would not be possible to see from the shelter, through both doors, and to the outside) and augmented with a decontamination facility in the airlock passage would allow people to go in and out without allowing radiation or fallout contamination to enter.

As a much less desirable alternative, and depending on the type of shelter design, maybe it is possible to quickly reopen and reclose the door again to let other people in – that way the door would only briefly open for a few seconds for another person or two to quickly come in, then the door would close again.  If you have some baffles protecting the door so that, even if the door were fully open, there would be no direct radiation or heat path from a possible explosion point to inside your shelter, and the force of the blast wave would be dissipated, that would help reduce that risk, but of course, there’s a tremendous and potentially fatal difference, particularly if you’re within the radius of the initial fireball, as between having your door even slightly open and securely shut.

Our preference and recommendation is for an ‘airlock’ type approach – this will also be useful when people venture out and return during any subsequent period of dangerous outside radioactivity.

Have a Formal Policy that Determines When You Shut Your Shelter Door

If you don’t end up with an ‘airlock’ type arrangement, then you need a policy for when the door will be shut and locked.  Whatever you settle on, you first need to fully discuss and then mutually agree on it, and then, put it in writing so that there is no misunderstanding and everyone knows what to do and when to close the door.  That way, there are no feelings of guilt or blame attached, either for people who get there in time or for those who might not.

A formal policy also means that people who know they won’t be able to make it to the shelter will know that up front, and instead of wasting valuable time unsuccessfully getting to the shelter, can immediately work on whatever alternate option might exist.

The first possible formal policy approach would be to say that you will wait for everyone to arrive.  That’s for sure one approach, although it then ties the fate of all of you to the actions of the slowest of you, and also removes the pressure on the slowest person to be as ultimately fast as they can be, because they know you’ll wait for them.  It is probably the worst policy to consider, so while we mention it, we don’t recommend it.

A second policy would be to say that the first person to the shelter starts a timer with a pre-agreed upon time period.  When the timer finishes, the shelter door closes, no matter who or how many of you are still out there.  You could decide if that timer would be for 30 seconds, a minute, or however long you feel necessary.

A related approach is for the activation of the alarm to also activate a timer, and when the alarm has been sounding for a specified time, as agreed in advance and shown on the timer, whoever is in the shelter will then close it, no matter who is not yet there.

The third approach would be to say that if there are, eg, four of you in your group in total, then the shelter will stay open for so many seconds after the second or third of you arrive.

A fourth approach would be, and let’s again say there are four of you, then you say that when the third person gets into the shelter, if the fourth person isn’t in sight of the shelter door and within a couple of seconds of entering, the door will shut.  Of course, you can set a policy so it isn’t just the second to last person who triggers the conditional door closing, you could decide that ‘the majority rules’ and as soon as half your group have reached the shelter, then there is only a very few seconds before the door closes.

There are many other ways you could agree on when the door will be closed.

Our own preference would be to set a timer based on either from the start of the alarm signal or when the very first or second person arrives.  If you wait until most of your group has arrived, there’s a danger that some people will say ‘don’t worry, we’ll wait for you, Bill, and with all three of us not yet there, they won’t close the door’.  But if you make it so the first or second person activates the timer, and that the door should close at the end of that time period, no matter who or how many people remain outside, then there can’t be any ‘collusion’ and everyone will be headed as fast as they can to the shelter.

One more thing.  When the time to close the door is reached, you must then close the door, no matter if there is someone only seconds away.  Because if you delay for that person, then maybe when they have got in, there will then be another person coming into view, also only seconds away.  So you delay a second time, and now you’ve added however longer of risk with the door open to the entire group inside the shelter.  When the time to close is reached, the door shuts, even if it slams shut in the face of someone within inches of reaching it.

Your group also needs to understand that this is all about the survival of the fittest and the most committed, which will be the way of the new world.  The person in charge of closing the door needs to give most priority to protecting the well-being of those people who did get to the shelter in the agreed upon time.  It is not appropriate to risk the safety of all who did comply in the possibly futile hope of allowing non-compliant group members to get to the shelter too.

We also urge you to use a timer, because that makes it an impersonal decision.  As soon as the timer signals the end of the timing period, the door must be closed.  It is no-one’s fault, and no individual’s personal mean-minded decision to close the door in the face of people rushing towards the shelter.  It was a group decision to set the process the way it has been set, and a group responsibility to now honor the arrangement agreed.

Temporary Shelters

Your main shelter will be equipped for you to live there for a month, ideally for longer.  But if you don’t have an airlock system to allow people to come in at any time, and if you have a significant probability that some people won’t be able to make it to the main shelter before you close and lock the entrance, perhaps you might need to consider a temporary shelter that would be suitable for protection from the initial blast effects only, and in which people could stay in briefly and then make their way the rest of the way to the main shelter as soon as it was safe.

There will be a window of safety between when the bombs have stopped exploding and when the fallout starts to come down where there’ll be little radioactivity outside, making it safe for people to quickly move from a temporary shelter to the main shelter.  That will only be for 30 minutes or so, however, so in such a case, we’d suggest timing from the first blast, waiting maybe 20 minutes or so (in case of additional bombs), then rushing from the temporary shelter to the main shelter.


We recommend you design your shelter with an ‘airlock’ type entry so as to allow for people to safely enter the shelter even as a blast is occurring nearby.  This avoids the ugly issue which you’d otherwise need to consider and plan for – what to do with stragglers when you’re all rushing to your shelter.

If you don’t have this type of airlock, you need to agree that it is not fair that everyone else in your group is put at risk while the shelter remains open and vulnerable due to some people being slow to get to the shelter.  You need to be prepared to close and lock the door after an agreed upon time period, no matter who remains outside.