Aug 272012
 

This World War 2 poster equates silence with security. We’re not so sure the concept applies to modern-day WROL retreats.

Many preppers love to boast about their Opsec.

Sometimes they capitalize the term to give it (and them) even more (self)importance.  They particularly love to boast about how no-one for many miles around knows of their retreat location and their presence there.

Some people simultaneously boast of the resilience of their retreat and then turn around and refuse to disclose even the state it is located within.  Why?  What are they scared of, with such a self-described resilient retreat to start with?

Excuse me if I feel a bit like vomiting when I see people quoting military terms but not necessarily knowing what they really mean and misapplying them, or using them in the wrong context, or as a ‘magic spell’ invocation to give them powers of invincibility – as if merely saying the term is all they need to do.

Let’s think about just four implications of someone who obsessively hides their retreat away.  None of them are positive.  Oh – and we’re not even going to number the most important consideration of all – in this day and age, no-one is truly hidden away.

Everyone can be found, and every dwelling leaves fingerprints and footprints in many different public records, private company work records, aerial photos, and so on.

Even if you’re not found by people deliberately searching you out, it is reasonable to expect a lot more people will be roaming around the currently empty woods in a Level 3 situation, and Murphy’s Law mandates that they’ll accidentally discover you.  See our earlier article ‘Is it Reasonable to Expect Your Retreat Will Not be Found‘ for more discussion on this point.

1.  The Need to Hide Away Implies (or Creates) Vulnerabilities

If you have a strong secure retreat and true ‘op sec’ (which doesn’t mean operations secrecy, it means operations security – an important difference of meaning) then you do not need to be so secretive.

Sure, it is never appropriate to brag about things, and to make your retreat a tasty tempting target for all and sundry.  But if you need to be totally hidden away, that implies your retreat is otherwise vulnerable, and therefore, was/is probably a bad choice to start with.

If you start building an expectation, an assumption, and before too long, a reliance on no-one ever finding you, then you’re basing your survival on a terrible risk, and on something you have much less control over than you might think.  Every day you are playing Russian Roulette against the odds of being discovered.

It is important to understand where and when the constraints of Op-sec should apply.  Disclosing that you live ‘over there’ need not be a breach of Opsec.  Revealing the access code to the main gate would be.

You also need to weigh the pros and cons of keeping an ultra low profile.  Are the trade-offs acceptable?  For example, see the next point.

2.  If No-one Knows About You, Who Will Help You

If you’re secretly squirreled away somewhere miles from anywhere, what happens when you inevitably need help?  Best case scenario, bringing in someone or some people to help with whatever your emergency is will destroy whatever secrecy your retreat might have formerly had.  Worst case scenario is you’ll be on your own, without any support and without any community goodwill.

And if the nearby community does discover you, they’ll not see you as a friendly ‘one of us’ – you’ll be an outsider and not entitled to any special treatment.  See our article about becoming part of the solution, not part of the problem, after the collapse of society.

3.  Do You Still Have a Defensive Posture

If your plan revolves around no-one finding your retreat’s location, do you still maintain a defensive posture for the inevitable time when someone does?

Do you still have sentries (or at least some form of remote sensing/monitoring) 24/7?  Did you make your retreat’s exterior walls bullet-resistant and fire-proof?  Or have you allowed your hope that no-one knows where you are lull you into a false sense of security?

This consideration points out one of the weaknesses of the entire opsec advocacy.  You can’t plan your retreat’s security based on the hope that it will never be found.  You must assume it will be found, and by adversaries, and have a plan to respond to that situation when it inevitably (and probably repeatedly) occurs.

So if you are planning for discovery, why delay it?  Why not have the discovery on your terms, rather than on the terms of unknown others?

4.  Who Are Your Neighbors

As part of creating your own secretive retreat, have you been able to spy on and identify and analyze all your neighbors?  If you’re keeping a very low profile yourself, that might be difficult.

For all you know, the next valley over might be the home of a group of domestic Muslim terrorists, or white supremacists, or an outlaw gang.  For that matter, your own valley might also be home to an illegal drug factory or growing operation.

It is difficult to thoroughly identify your neighbors without revealing yourself, and remember also that the same things you are doing to identify your neighbors are techniques that might be done, and possibly to an even more sophisticated level, by your neighbors to you.  Or, for that matter, by federal agencies, who seem to be more than a little interested in secretive groups of people in the American redoubt states.  It is sad but true that the things that encourage us – lawful good ordinary citizens – to move to American redoubt locations also encourage bad people to move there, too.  And it is even sadder, but still true, that some of the values we treasure are misperceived by some as being anti-American, whereas they are in fact totally pro-American.

It seems only fair to acknowledge that if you believe you have managed to obscure your own retreat, then it is possible you could be immediately adjacent to someone else who has similarly disguised their retreat, too.  And while your own motivation for obscuring your retreat is positive and good, theirs may not be quite so positive.

Of course, if you believe you have absolutely uncovered details about all your regional neighbors, isn’t it incredibly myopic of you to simultaneously believe that you’ve managed to simultaneously avoid the prying eyes of other folk around you?

Plus, wouldn’t you rather be friends with your neighbors, so you can call on them for help if ever needed, plus enjoy a better life in normal times – socializing with them, occasionally swapping or sharing or lending things, and so on?

Fighting Against the Inevitable

Here’s an interesting comparison.  It seems that no matter how convoluted an approach our schools and other self-appointed moral leaders adopt, teenagers find out about sex and then experiment with it.  No amount of abstinence advocacy seems to have much effect; indeed one study showed that girls who joined a group pledging to remains virgins until marriage ended up with higher out-of-wedlock pregnancy rates than did other ‘normal’ girls.  You can make contraceptives freely available or withhold them, you can educate teens about every aspect of relationships and physical relations, adopting any type of advocacy perspective, and still teenagers have sex and still teenagers get pregnant.

Our point, in case you are wondering, is that opsec, particularly in a civilian and less controlled environment such as you would be planning with your retreat, is very limited and not very controllable in nature.

It isn’t a case of if your opsec will be punctured and destroyed, it is a case of when.

Just like the teenagers, somehow ‘the truth will out’ – through any one of many dozens of different vectors – and all of a sudden, your secret will be revealed for all to see.  Complete opsec is unachievable to start with, just like keeping all teenagers chaste.

Much better, we suggest, to accept this reality, and to instead manage the release of selected information about yourselves.  Some studies suggest that households that take a matter-of-fact approach to sex end up with teenagers in turn adopting a more restrained view of the topic, rather than being consumed with curiosity about an apparently special super secretive aspect of being an adult.  It is the same with alcohol – families that treat alcohol as a functional normal part of their world have fewer binge drinking teenagers and alcoholics.

So too can it be the same with your retreat.  If you act casually about who you are, and where your retreat is and why, then the locals will accept it in the same low-key ordinary way you present it.

A key part of opsec is not eliminating all information flowing outside of your operation.  It is instead controlling and shaping the information release, and adopting appropriate internal measures to anticipate the outcomes of the information that has been released.

You don’t need to place a public notice in the local newspaper boasting of your new retreat and all the stores you’ve stockpiled, of course.  But you can tell people where you live, and if you’re not there permanently, you can describe it as a vacation home, a hunting/fishing lodge, or whatever else you like.  This changes you from being a subject of speculation and gossip, and instead you become a known normal quantity, and no longer worthy of ongoing discussion.

If you do succeed in clamping down on the release of all information, that actually becomes significant.  As a comparison, these days, one of the ways to find a submarine in the ocean is to look for an area of unexpected silence – the most sophisticated stealthy submarines now create areas not of detectable noise, but of unusual silence.  It is the same with your retreat – if someone is checking off property on a map saying ‘Oh yes, this lot belong to Bill Smith, that lot is forest land, John Jones grows crops here’ then they come to your lot and say ‘Hey, what’s going on here?  We better go see.’

Even some of the least sophisticated counties have adopted very complete and detailed GISs – geographical information systems that plot every square inch of land in their county, showing who owns it, recording the location of easements, utilities, wells, rivers, streams, lakes, mines, septic systems, buildings, and all manner of other details.  Sometimes this is even publicly accessible online.  It is also used, perhaps with greater detail revealed, by emergency services, by county valuers and assessors, health inspectors, building inspectors, and so on through a huge long list of departments and bureaucracies.

Here is an example of one such database – it covers every property in the entire state of Montana.

If your retreat isn’t already captured in your county’s GIS, it is only a matter of time before it will be, because the state and county agencies revisit and re-inspect properties to update their records on an occasional basis.  You might have managed to create your retreat on land the county thought to be undeveloped forest, but sooner or later, they’ll discover your presence, and then you’ll find yourself in an embarrassing situation – un-permitted improvements, non-standard construction, back taxes, penalties, and you’ll transition from being obscure to being very visible.  Maybe you are already on several different federal GIS databases (not just police and security ones).

It is much better to take control of these matters up-front, and to manage the release of information.  As we said before, you don’t necessarily need to fully share all information about everything, but you need to disclose enough to explain your presence and to make it seem ordinary and normal.

Summary

Right from the minute you buy your retreat land from someone, you are starting to create a paper trail and record of your presence.  Don’t fight it.  Accept it and take the initiative, positively creating the impression you wish to convey in the local community.

The best opsec is not to adopt an unrealistic attempt to hide away from everyone, always.  It is instead a managed release of information on your terms to neutralize potentially harmful speculation and to replace unknowns and curiosity with the impression of whatever semi-normal concept you wish to convey.

Aug 232012
 

The waves of refugees after TEOTWAWKI will be both heart-rending and dangerous.

Shortly after some type of disaster that disrupts the normal flow of food and energy into your nearby towns, people will be forced to leave their residences and fan out into the countryside, foraging for food (and subsequently shelter too).  That is obvious – if there is no food in the town/city, people can either stay where they are and die of thirst or starvation, or they can pro-actively start looking for food.

People will initially look for food on one of two different levels.  The first level is ‘looking for food nearby and returning back to one’s normal home to eat it and continue living’.  The second level is ‘abandoning one’s former residence and moving, as a refugee, towards wherever the possibility of ongoing survival may be greatest’.  A third and fourth type of food seeking will develop later into a crisis.

It is helpful to understand the differing types of contacts you’ll have, because each poses different challenges, problems, threats, and even opportunities, calling for different responses on your part.

And while we consider our four different waves to be more or less chronologically sequential, there will be some overlaps, with some people representing some waves either earlier than most others, or later than most others.

The First Wave

The first wave will start shortly after the social disruption occurs, initially as a trickle, and then successively greater and greater as more and more people run out of food and come to realize that the government won’t magically solve the problem that occurred.

It will only take a week or two before the first type of food-seeking necessarily ends, due to people running out of gas for their vehicles, and being reduced instead to only traveling and foraging as far as they can walk or bicycle (although, on flat terrain, fitter people could fairly easily cycle up to 50 miles out and then 50 miles back home again).

We predict that people in this ‘first wave’ won’t be very threatening, because they will be more in a hurry to cover as much ground as possible to find as much easy food as possible, rather than becoming fixated on specific potential targets.  Plus, the ‘kill or be killed’ reality of tough survival won’t yet have fully penetrated, and the region will have patches of remaining lawfulness alongside areas of growing anarchy.

Furthermore, these people are primarily seeking food only, not shelter.  They’ve not yet accepted that their city residences have become unviable and need to be abandoned.

Your tactic to resist problems from the first wave of food/shelter seekers will be to maintain a low profile, so most of such people pass you by, and to positively respond to people who do come visiting, encouraging them to go find easier targets/food sources elsewhere.

Of course, the further you are from the nearby towns and cities, the fewer the number of people who might stumble upon you.  But you’ll never be 100% guaranteed to be safely far from such itinerant scavengers.  Fortunately the danger they pose to your retreat at this early stage is low, so while your location choice will ideally not be right next to a freeway exit, a mere 10 miles from the city center, you don’t need to keep yourself hundreds of miles away from any and all population concentrations.

The Second Wave

As the first wave ends and is replaced by the second wave, people’s attitudes will be hardening, because their ability to travel far and wide is massively reduced.  They have probably used up most of their emergency food stores, and now, limited primarily by their ability to walk, any source of food becomes one they must take full advantage of.  They can no longer afford the luxury of leaving empty-handed, and their lack of mobility now reduces the number of places they can travel to in search of food.  They have to make the best of every possible opportunity.

The grim reality of the ‘eat or be eaten’ concept will also be one which the survivors can no longer ignore.

If these people come across your retreat, they are likely to be a stronger and more determined adversary than people in the first wave (and people in the second wave could well be the same people who visited more peaceably in the first wave, too).

Fortunately, most of these people in the second wave will still be nomadic and itinerant.  They’ll be traveling in the hope of finding a Shangri-La somewhere that is full of food, energy, and welcoming people keen to help them, and probably won’t yet be in the ‘looking for anywhere to settle’ mode that will come later.  They might hope for overnight shelter, but they’re not yet looking for a place to settle – or, if they are, they’re probably not yet realistic enough to appreciate the value of your retreat.

People will start abandoning their homes anytime after only a very few days of the crisis commencing and once they start to accept that no magic solutions are forthcoming.  This won’t only be due to the lack of food and lack of any future food supply, but may also be due to lack of water, lack of plumbing, and lack of energy in general.  A high-rise apartment with no water, no working elevators, and no lights or heating/cooling will quickly become uninhabitable, food or not.

The second wave will probably diminish after three or so weeks, because by that point, people will have either left the city, or died, or created some sort of semi-stable ongoing basis of existence in the city.

Your strategy during this exodus stage is to be located somewhere reasonably far from the main routes people are likely to travel along.  It is as important that you are off the likely refugee routes, whether you are 1 mile or 100 miles from the major population centers, because people will potentially be traveling long distances in their search for somewhere better to live.

People may fan out slightly from the main routes as they search for food en route, but they will generally follow the major arterial routes.

Major routes will tend to be well maintained highways, and generally we expect people will move to the coasts and south, rather than inland and to the north.  People will, either by reason or instinct, seek out warm climates and water/ocean.  The warm climate reduces their dependency on shelter and energy, and the ocean has the appeal of ‘free fish’ and also some type of instinctive deep-seated lure.

The Third Wave

The third wave will be refugees, the same as the second wave, but this time it will be people looking for somewhere to settle.

These will be people who are becoming more realistic in their expectations, and now rather than mindlessly going anywhere in the hope of finding (nonexistent) salvation, they are now looking for somewhere they can settle and survive for the medium or longer term.

Your appeal to these people is not just the food you have stored, but also your retreat as a whole, the under-way food cultivation, the energy creating resources you have, and everything else you have done to prepare yourselves for this future.

Some of these people will be seeking short-term easy solutions.  They’ll want to rob you of your food, your shelter, and everything else you have.  They have no concern for sustainability, they want to live for the moment, and when they’ve exhausted everything you have, they’ll move on to somewhere else.

Others of these people will be more realistic, but they’ll still want to displace you from your property and take it over.

There will also be a very few people who will be fair and honest and decent, and who will offer to work their way for and with you.  They’ll offer their labor and their skills, in return for your shelter and assistance – probably as a ‘package deal’ for themselves and their other family members.

It would be good if you had a way of responding positively to such people, because they may prove to be valuable additions to your small community.

The Fourth Wave

The fourth wave is very different from the other three.  It is longer lasting and more potentially impactful on your retreat and community.

Due to the importance of this fourth wave, we have devoted a separate article to it – The Fourth and Deadliest Wave of Refugees.  Please click the link to continue reading.

Jul 142012
 

The darker the color, the greater the density of gang members in the state. Source – FBI 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment.

You know about gangs from the movies, television, and sometimes from the newspapers, right?

You probably understand them to be disaffected lawless groups of underclass urban youth, often from ethnic minorities, and while a problem for sure in the inner cities, not something you’re likely to encounter, either hopefully in your normal daily lives, or – and more to the point – if you ever need to bug out to the safety of your rural retreat.

Many people also assume that because street gangs are lawless and disruptive, and because they deal in and use drugs, and because they seem to be made up of high school dropouts rather than honor roll students, they are anarchistic in nature, uncoordinated, and poorly managed.  Their tendency to kill each other is viewed as further proof of their irrelevancy outside of the narrow geographic areas they can be found in, and outside of the drugs trade they seem to be such a part of.

Unfortunately, while some of the preceding two paragraphs is indeed correct, the most important parts are totally wrong.  Gangs are not a geographically confined phenomenon affecting only their fellow members of the criminal classes.  They have already infiltrated all parts of the US – rural and urban – and are engaged in all types of criminal activity, from ‘white collar’ crimes such as identity theft and mortgage fraud to more traditional activities such as drugs, prostitution and general violent crime.

Gangs members are also more numerous than you might think and steadily increasing in number.  In 2010 it was estimated there were at least 1.4 million gang members in the US (up from a 2008/2009 estimate of 1 million).  In four states (CA ID UT and NM) the gang members outnumber the police by more than six to one, in another seven states there are 4 – 6 gang members for every law enforcement official (NV WA MT ND NE IA MS).

As these numbers hint at, gangs are moving out of the cities and into the rural states and regions.  States with more than four gang members per 1,000 of population in general are CA, NV, ID, NM, IL (all with 6+ per thousand) and AK, WA, UT, WY, CO, NE, KS, OK, MN, IA, MS, TN, NJ and ME (all with 4 – 6 gang members per thousand).  This is illustrated on the map at the top of this article.

Some Scary Facts About Gangs

While some neighborhood gangs remain informal and amorphous casual groupings of people with little interest in anything outside their own territory, most gangs are very different.  These days gangs can be multi-national organizations comprising sometimes tens of thousands of members, and involved in international trade just like many large corporations, albeit of illegal rather than regular goods.  They have hierarchies of leadership, they form alliances with each other, and generally act – in some respects – rationally and in a coordinated manner.

Rather than being made up of aimless drifters and high school dropouts, some gangs even provide scholarships for selected members to go to college to learn regular business skills which can subsequently be applied to benefit the gang.  Other gang members are recruited out of the military, while some gang members remain active in the reserves, so the gangs have the benefit of the finest weapons and training that Uncle Sam can provide.

Gangs also have the latest in military grade weapons, both legal and illegal, and not only do they have higher powered weapons and munitions, they also have the training in how to use them effectively and a complete lack of moral restraint or care of consequences for when it comes to choosing to use them.  They’re not just ‘gang bangers’ with ‘Saturday Night Special’ cheap revolvers stuck down the fronts of their trousers.  Some of them are highly trained and battle hardened weapons experts who have fought in our various foreign wars, and who now are training their fellow gang members in the same combat skills, and with the same equipment – weapons, night optics, protective clothing, and field medical care – as they became proficient with in the armed services.

Gang members also actively seek to join police departments and other government organizations – and often succeed in doing so.  Because of this, some gangs have as good or better intelligence about what the police are doing than what the police have about the gang members – it is difficult with some ethnic groupings to get police informers into gangs, and with our strange obsession about treating illegal aliens as a special privileged class of criminal these days, the determination, particularly at national levels, to give illegal aliens a ‘free ride’ and to look the other way whenever accidentally encountering one has also helped gangs preserve their own ‘opsec’.  Needless to say, significant numbers of gang members are illegal aliens – oh yes, and they’re also actively involved in bringing more illegal aliens into the country as well.

Those gangs that haven’t infiltrated members into local law enforcement might still be able to pretend to be law officers.  Gangs regularly target police vehicles to steal weapons, bullet proof vests, and police ID.

While gangs are happily involved in most traditional forms of crime, they haven’t restricted themselves to only crimes of violence.  They have opportunistically spread into just about every form of illegal endeavor.  Gangs even make use of mortgage banking and identity fraud the same as the best of white-collar criminals.

And while gang members like to flash recognition signs at each other, and to wear particular colors and styles of clothing, that’s not the only way they communicate.  They also use high-tech methods of communication for command and control purposes, including encrypted voice communications, computer to computer links, and throw-away cell phones.

Gangs also use public internet communities as a means of recruiting new gang members, with specific individuals tasked with formal recruiting duties.  Gangs aren’t growing in size as a result of randomness – they are actively – and successfully – recruiting new members, much more successfully than your local church or community group.

Gangs Are Now in Rural Areas as Well as Cities

Gangs have already spread across the country.  They’re not exclusively an inner city/big city problem.  They’re increasingly setting up in rural communities.  The crime you’re seeking to escape from, by moving to a small township somewhere, may have already moved there ahead of you.

Unfortunately, the spread of migrant agricultural workers from Mexico and other Central/South American countries into agri-business states has also had them bring their gangs with them.  And our willingness to welcome refugees has also seen us welcome refugee gangsters as well as refugees, whether they be from Somalia or Russia or anyplace else.

There’s a related consideration to keep in mind as well.  You may not recognize gang members when you see them.  Sure, some gang members are obvious, but not all gang members fit the classic profiles.  In addition to youthful hispanics and blacks, middle-aged white men are gang members too, and as you surely know, we as preppers are often painted with too broad a brush, confusing us with ‘white supremacists’ and ‘neo-nazis’ and ‘fundamentalists’.

While we of course don’t like this blurring of the lines between ordinary law-abiding folk such as ourselves who simply wish to prudently prepare for possible future breakdowns in society, and extremists who wish to contribute to the breakdown in society, there is an uncomfortable element in this confusion.  Sometimes it can be difficult for us to distinguish between fellow law-abiding and prepping ‘good folks’ and other people who while also prepping for an adverse future are most definitely not good folks.

This may be part of the reason why Idaho is shown as having so many gang members.  We’re not sure if all the so-called gang members in ID are truly gang members, or if perhaps they are merely ‘counter-cultural’ types that in the last few years the Department of Justice has been distressingly eager to categorize as either domestic terrorists or gang members.

But, whatever and whoever these folks are, it is always prudent to keep in mind that the person next to you in the store who is also buying up bulk supplies of long life food, cases of ammo, or whatever else, may not necessarily share all the same values as yourself, and may not for sure be the sort of person you’d want to invite into your retreat, either in good times or bad.

Who is Winning the War Against Gangs?

Is there even a ‘war against gangs’, and if there is, do we have any reason to believe it is any less a colossal failure than our war against drugs?

While some elements of local gangs are indeed made up of the dregs of society doing their best to eliminate themselves from the gene pool, there’s precious little evidence that even against such dysfunctional adversaries our law enforcement bodies are winning the upper hand.  No matter how many task forces and initiatives and community groups are formed, and no matter how much money is thrown at the issue, these least threatening types of gangs still seem to be thriving.

The upper elements of regional, national and international gangs are calculating, intelligent and very formidable opponents, and they are definitely growing in numbers and distribution.  As evidence of that is the ongoing growth and spread of their gangs.

The FBI/National Gang Intelligence Center issued a National Gang Threat Assessment document in 2009 (you can read it here) in which they estimated there were about one million gang members in the US.  A new National Gang Threat Assessment document was published in 2011 (you can read it here) in which the estimate had grown to 1.4 million.

The FBI say, to partially explain and excuse this apparent 40% leap in gang membership in a mere two years, that the reason for the growth in their estimate is in part due to better intelligence in 2011.  But that’s not reassuring at any level – if the FBI couldn’t estimate gang numbers to within 40% of the real count in 2009, what else were they overlooking then, and what else are they still overlooking now?  They didn’t say, in their 2009 report ‘this number might be off by 40%’; how are we to know that the 1.4 million count now is any more accurate?

There is a lot of information about gangs on the internet of course, and while the two FBI reports are more authoritative than many other sources, they have to be read in context with the FBI’s own constraints and framing agenda.  Does it suit the FBI, in cases where a judgment call could be made, to be alarmist or to be calming in how they interpret the incomplete and raw data they receive?

If you want to know more, we suggest you should do a fairly open-minded and broad review of the published literature, and most of all, make sure you accept it free of the constraints of normal civilized behavior.  Many of these gangs live a life and interact with normal people in a way that truly is (or could be) your worst nightmare, and unfortunately, it is in the rural communities these days where they are often most dominant.

At least in the inner cities, a confrontation between gang members and police can see tens if not hundreds of police rush to the location in only a few minutes, backed up by SWAT teams, helicopters, and all sorts of other formidable resources.  But what about in a lightly populated county, where there might only be half a dozen sheriff’s deputies on duty at a given time, and half of them are 50+ miles away from the other half?  This is distressingly a common circumstance in some areas these days – where one or two policemen realize that reinforcements are at least 30 minutes away and potentially an hour or more away, and even if the reinforcements all turn up magically in just a few minutes, they’ll still be outnumbered ten to one by the gang members they are confronting.

We know, from discussions with law enforcement officers and third parties, about counties where the police are massively outnumbered by gang members and where the gangs have pretty much taken over the county.  Normal residents have either moved out or been forced to adjust their lives to accept the impact and presence of the gangs around them.  The police will still happily give us, as ordinary law-abiding folks who support our local police and accept the rule of law, a ticket for doing 33 mph in a 30 mph zone, but if you’re a gang member, they’ll develop sudden selective blindness.

The police are used to ordinary criminals mouthing off when they are arrested, making all sorts of wild threats about what they will do when they get free, variously to the police officers and their families.  They also know that 99.9% of the time, these threats are empty and without any meaning.  But if the police overstep the bounds of the uneasy informal truces with their local gangs, they know that the threats are very real.

This creates for an uneasy sort of truce between the police and the gangs, with the gangs in the ascendancy.

Who is winning the war against gangs?  Isn’t it obvious?  The war is over, ended before it even started.  The gangs have won.

Implications for Preppers

We headed this article with the claim that gangs are possibly your biggest security threat.  Hopefully the article has opened your eyes to how and why this can be so.

In particular, consider the following points :

  • Gangs are everywhere, including quite possibly in the towns and countryside close to your retreat.  In other words, they’re already dangerously close to you.
  • Gangs have many members, and are affiliated with potentially tens of thousands of fellow gang members in other branches of the gang.  In other words, they outnumber you, maybe by ten to one, maybe by one hundred to one.
  • Gangs have well-developed military competencies, and the weapons to match.  In other words, expect to be confronted by battle hardened combatants armed with heavy caliber automatic weapons.
  • Gangs have no moral restraints acting on them.  They break the law with relative impunity now, and in a crisis seeing a collapse of society and its normal values, they’ll be even freer in their actions then.  In other words, what’s yours risks becoming theirs.

What can you do?  There are some small glimmers of hope.  While the gangs are not constrained by normal moral or legal considerations, they do have a moderately rational leadership.  Their future success doesn’t depend exclusively on plundering your retreat – they can turn away from you and concentrate on other easier opportunities if it suits them to do so.  They’ve shown they can co-exist alongside local law enforcement, provided that the local law doesn’t become too bothersome.  If you can create a ‘win-win’ that will result in that outcome, so much the better.  (We have some thoughts on such scenarios, and you’ll understand our hesitation in publishing them for all to see.)

On the other hand, they’ll not be fazed by the thought of a ‘lose-lose’ situation.  Particularly in a Level 2/3 event, they’ll have no shortage of people wishing to join their gang, and if they have to sacrifice 50 or 100 new recruits as part of an operation to eliminate you and your retreat, they’ll probably happily do so.

The likely impact of gangs on you and your retreat underscores, yet again, the essential need for you to be part of a medium or larger sized community, whether it be a Code Green community, one you create yourselves, or any other similar sort of arrangement.  If it is just you against 50 gang members, you know how that story will end.  But if it is 50 (or 100) of you against 50 gang members, you have a better range of endings to work towards.

Jul 112012
 

How many people do you need in your community in order to ensure its viability and safety? The answer will surprise you.

As we’ve several times detailed, to create a secure retreat, you need some sort of community defense program – either in the form of a suitable sized group sharing your retreat with you, or by forming a local ‘neighborhood watch’ program, albeit on steroids and armed for bear.

If we calculate the minimum size of security force we need, we can extrapolate from that to get an ideal of the minimum size that a group as a whole can be.  Clearly, there’s probably no upper limit that would be a problem for most of us, but – as we calculate in this article – there is indeed a lower limit that may be a challenge in some situations.

In planning your security needs, there are two main factors to keep in mind.  The first is you’ll need some type of 24/7 perimeter security on watch to give you warning of the appearance of any marauders, and the second is you’ll need a team of armed people to help you fight them off.

What Perimeter Do You Need to Patrol and Secure?

The first issue is to decide what your patrol zone will be and what your secure zone will be.  The two may not necessarily be identical.

Obviously, your retreat building itself will need to be patrolled and secured, and if you are part of a community, their retreat buildings will also need to be patrolled and secured.  This points to the benefit of a small cluster of retreat dwellings close together – it is easier to patrol all buildings and the common areas between them if they are close together.  (See also our article on Community Mutual Defense Pacts and the situations in which they will or won’t work for more discussion on this important topic.)

One of the key things about a perimeter is that everywhere inside it is reasonably secure – the perimeter encloses an area such that people can not cross the perimeter without being detected.  For this reason, perimeters usually have some sort of physical barrier so as to require people crossing it to make a conscious decision to do so (meaning that if you find an intruder inside your perimeter, you know they are not there by innocent mistake) and also to make it easier for you to detect them while they are crossing the barrier, meaning you can patrol your perimeter with fewer people.  The barrier hopefully also provides you and your fellow sentries with some security so you can’t be ambushed or picked off by distant snipers.

Establishing a secure perimeter can be a problem if you have a geographically distributed group of retreat dwellings.  You can patrol/secure each dwelling, but you can’t patrol the land between them, which also makes it dangerous for people from one dwelling to travel to another one, whether it be for social purposes or to provide reinforcement in time of attack.

Note that the area you patrol – your perimeter – need not be the same as the area you defend.  Maybe you have obscured listening/observation posts around your property, but when the sentries at such locations detect people coming towards them, they merely sound the alarm and then stealthily withdraw back to the main defended location.

Another situation could have you needing to patrol your fields to protect your livestock from rustling and possibly even to protect your crops from being stolen too.

Clearly, the more area you need to patrol, the more people you will need on patrol.  Which leads to our next point.

How Many People as Sentries

Even if you are only patrolling/protecting your own retreat, you can’t just share sentry duty with your spouse during the day, and lock the front door and bolt the windows when you both go to bed at night.  You need to be actively looking for threatening people, and you need to intercept them before they get dangerously close to your dwelling.

Note that ‘dangerously close’ is actually quite a long way away – a person can sprint almost 100 yards in ten seconds.  How much warning do you need to suddenly be ready to defend your house and loved ones from a surprise attack – almost surely plenty more than ten seconds.

You don’t want to be woken up late at night to the sound and other sensations of attackers already attempting to crash through your front door, and pouring burning liquids in through any openings in your retreat walls.  You need to have sufficient people on sentry duty, at least during the nights, and ideally all day every day, as to ensure you can never be attacked by surprise.

At the very least, you need three people to do lookout duty.  This would allow for duty cycles of four hours on, eight hours off, every day (56 hours on duty every week for each of three people).  Three people means one person always on duty.

But there’s a problem with that – and we’re assuming that the area you are patrolling is small enough and laid out so that a single person is all that is needed to adequately patrol it.  If you have only one sentry, what happens if that one person is taken out in a sneaky surprise attack?  You then have nothing and no-one between you and your attackers.

So perhaps you need two people on duty all the time, in the hope that one of the two will survive long enough to sound an alarm – and also doubling the chances of the sentries spotting the bad guys before the bad guys launch their attack.

So this means you need six people at a minimum to keep two people on duty all the time.  And that is assuming a well laid out retreat and patrol path that allows for one two-man team to effectively patrol the entire perimeter.

You might think that in a survival situation, people won’t mind working longer shifts.  Union and state/federal labor laws probably won’t apply in such a scenario!

That is true, but the reality is that you can’t keep people fresh and alert for more than four hours on sentry duty at a time; indeed, two-hour or three-hour shifts would be vastly better than four-hour shifts.

You also need to allow people a chance to be well rested (ie at least one break of at least 8 hours) and to give them a measure of time to just ‘live their lives’ as well.  Maybe you could work a schedule with three three-hour shifts, a nine-hour break and two three-hour breaks, but that would be about the absolute maximum for ongoing ordinary operations, and all you’ve done is get one extra hour per sentry per day.

In reality, you’ll need to have more than six people on your sentry duty roster.  You need someone to coordinate the schedules, you need to allow time for sickness and other special events, and so on.

For sure, the six or more sentry personnel can also be contributing to your retreat in other ways when not sleeping or standing sentry duty, but this number – six – represents one measure of the minimum size group of people you need for a secure retreat in a Level 2 situation.

This number probably surprises you.  Just to stand sentry duty to detect the possible approach of bad guys will require six people, each working 56 hours a week minimum.

The good news is that one of the two sentries on duty at any time need not be an adult with skill at arms.  One person could be a child – with probably better eyesight and hearing than an adult, a child could be a good sentry, although they need to be old enough to have sufficient concentration span to remain alert for their shift.

How Many People as Defenders

It is fairly easy to do as we just did, to work the numbers and to decide you need at least six people available to rotate shifts as sentries.  But what happens when a group of marauders approach and attack you?

Clearly at that point, everyone who can aim and shoot a rifle will be doing exactly that.  There’s no such thing as having too many defenders.  But there is definitely a problem about having too few.

As an awfully absolute bare minimum, you want at least two people able to be your primary fire team engaging the attackers.  You then want to still have some sentries, scanning around the rest of your perimeter, looking for additional attackers suddenly appearing from the sides or rear.

You also need a support person bringing additional ammunition supplies and anything else that may be needed to the active shooters.  This person might also do double duty as a corpsman/medic, in the event that you suffer casualties among your own people.

You need at least one person in a ‘ready reserve’.  Best case scenario, they do nothing.  Neutral case scenario, they are called upon to successfully defend against an attack from a new zone (but this will be one person on your side, and probably two or more attackers – a ready reserve of one is very few, especially when you can’t afford to take people away from your primary fire team either).  Worst case scenario, they have to replace an incapacitated member of the primary fire team.

So, add that up, and you need 2 on the primary fire team, one support person, at least one lookout, and hopefully plenty more than one person in your ready reserve – five people altogether as a terrible minimum, better six or seven (or eight or nine…).

Yes, five people is adequate to successfully defend against one attacker.  You might think that you only need two people to successfully defend, from your somewhat fortified position, and while that is sort of true, you need to be alert and able to respond to additional threats that suddenly appear at the same time.  So you need five people to be reasonably sure of winning against one attacker (in part because you can never be sure there is only one person).

The good news is that you don’t need five more people for each additional attacker.  But it would be nice to have at least as many people shooting back as there are people shooting at you, and you do need the support resources too.

You’ll probably be faced with many more than one person attacking you.  How many should you anticipate?

How Many People as Attackers

How many people do you think might attack you?  That’s a tremendously unknown but important number.  It depends a bit on the makeup of the group of people attacking you.  Are they an ad-hoc group of people joined together in the common cause of stealing food, or are they members of a traditional gang?

Ad-hoc groups are probably going to be at least five in number – any less than that and they’d not feel secure at attacking a defended position and would either leave you alone or join up with other individuals or groups.

On the other hand, smaller groups of 2 or 3 or 4 might adopt a stealthy approach and subterfuge – appearing initially as harmless helpless refugees or whatever, getting close to or even inside your retreat, and only then surprising you and overwhelming you in your unprepared state.  Anyone who approaches your retreat is a potential threat.

We guess ad hoc groups of attackers would tend to be around 8 – 20 people in number.  More than 20 gets complicated to manage/control, and becomes vulnerable to ‘splinter groups’ forming and breaking away, while less than 8 and the group will still be keen to recruit more participants.

Furthermore, if ad-hoc groups get much larger, they’ll start to delegate duties, and it is reasonable to expect that any initial foraging teams will probably be only eight or so people – this is more than enough to overwhelm unprotected or lightly protected retreats.

So for these type of newly formed ad-hoc groups, we guess you’ll be encountering at least five and probably more people attacking you.  But, the more secure and impressive your own retreat, the greater the size of the attacking group, because smaller groups will simply pass you by while looking for easier pickings and larger groups will apply more of their force to the assault.  Maybe the first team sees your retreat and security, then goes back to the main group and suggests that the initial approach/attack be with a larger attacking force.

As for more traditional street gang type groups, that’s a much bigger worry.

Organized Gangs

Way back in 2005, a Department of Justice report estimated there were 21,500 gangs in the US, and 731,000 active gang members.  There’s an interesting piece of information in this data – it seems the average gang size, in 2005, was 34 people.

A second set of statistics in 2007 claims 30,000 gangs and 800,000 gang members.  This works out to a lower count of 27 per gang.

Another set of statistics, in 2009, claims 900,000 gang members plus another 147,000 gang members in prisons, but doesn’t provide a count of the number of gangs.

A 2011 FBI report estimated 1.4 million people in gangs.  We can only guess what the count of gangs and gang members may be now.

None of these numbers are exact, but two things are apparent.  First, gang membership is increasing at a dismaying rate.  Second, it seems likely to expect that most gangs will have between 25 – 40 members.

If we look at this number of 25 – 40 people per gang, it seems reasonable to assume that if it is a gang type group of people attacking you, there could be as many as half their members in an attack force, and certainly eight or more people.

Perhaps the initial attack might be about eight people, and then after you fight them off, the survivors go back and bring the rest of the gang back for round two of the battle – maybe the second time around you find yourself up against 30 attackers.

We feel the gang threat may be the gravest threat you face – see our separate article that analyses gang issues in more detail.

Realistic Sized Security Force

There are many other factors that go into determining the size of security force you need.  But for this overview, let’s simply say that you need at least ten people who can effectively fight to defend your retreat, and if you can scale this up further, so much the better.

Of course, in an emergency, most adults will be pressed into service to defend the retreat, so we’re simply saying your group needs to include at least ten able-bodied arms-bearing adults at a minimum and preferably more like twenty, so as to be able to defend itself against occasional attacks.

If your retreat is unusually large, you may need even more people, just so you don’t have any exposed undefended external walls.

Not Just Able Bodied Adults

The chances are your community will not just be exclusively able-bodied adults (and we’re also assuming that all adults, both male and female, will be able to and will agree to bear arms in support of the community).  You’ll for sure have some children too, and maybe also elderly people less able to contribute significantly to the defense of the community.

If you have 15 able-bodied adults at a minimum, what does that mean for the overall total community size?  Will there be another 10 children and elderly?  Or another 20?  You can of course influence the answer to this question by selecting who you choose to bring in to your community, but the chances are that at the very least, 15 able-bodied adults will mean a total community size of 25.

Let’s run the numbers some more about what the minimum size community could effectively be.  You’ll be surprised.

What is the Minimum Sized Community

So, to successfully patrol your retreat, you need at least six people working as sentries full-time (ie 56 hrs/week each).  If your retreat or patrolled perimeter is larger than what can be adequately monitored by one single two-man team, you might need 12 people (for two teams) or 18 (for three teams) or some other multiple of six.

If your retreat has six adults as sentries, people who are full-time diverted from ‘productive’ duties such as caring for livestock, growing crops, and so on, clearly it needs to have perhaps another six adults who can do productive duties to provide the food and ongoing shelter and energy needs for the group of 12 as a whole.  These other six people could double as part-time members of the defense force in the event that an attack eventuates.

Remember also that a community will typically have some people who are less productive – retirees and children.  Indeed, younger children are not only less productive themselves, but will also drain productive adult resources by needing to be cared for and educated.

So we start with six adults, minimum, just for sentry duties.  Then another six adults to produce food for the group, now totaling 12.  Maybe these 12 people are joined by 8 less productive children or adults, who need another four adults to care for them directly or to indirectly add to the community’s overall food and energy production.  And now the four extra adults bring additional less productive companions with them too, and so on, over and over.

It is easy to see how the practical minimum size of a single retreat/contiguous community can rapidly swell to way more than 25 people in total, and ideally more like 30 or even 40.  Which probably means you split into two or more dwellings (but see our article advocating a multi-unit condo block rather than free standing dwellings), and may need at least one more set of six sentries, plus the support people now needed for them, and on it goes.

Before you know where you are, you’re looking at 50+ people, and wishing you had more.

Implications for Preppers

We’ve several times pointed out the need to join or create a community so as to establish a viable sized group – not only for defense, but for other purposes too.  However, this is the first time we’ve put a number alongside the claim.  Depending on the physical layout of your retreat(s) and the make-up of your group (as between fully productive adults and less productive seniors and children) you need somewhere between 25 and 50 people as a minimum viable sized group.

Chances are you’ll be as surprised at this as we were, the first time we did the calculation.  But check our logic, and if you can see some other way of working the numbers, let us know.

We started out, probably like you, planning our own retreat for just our immediate family members.  Then we decided to invite in a few selected and trusted very close friends, because we sensed that there was safety, security, and strength in numbers.  But now that we’ve seen how many people we really need to be more certain of securely surviving a Level 2/3 scenario, we’ve evolved our thinking and are now offering the Code Green Community concept, inviting you to consider joining with us as part of a larger more viable group.

Consider joining us by all means.  Alternatively, of course you can do your own thing – either close to us or anywhere else in the country.  But whatever you do, make sure you do it as part of an integrated group; don’t plan on only yourself, your spouse, and immediate family members going it alone.  Whether it is a security problem or something quite different, it is just too risky to attempt to survive in a very small group.

Jul 112012
 

London’s 2011 riots yet again demonstrated the ugly streak of evil that lurks close below the surface of modern society.

(Note – it might be helpful to refresh your understanding of what we define as Level 1, 2 and 3 events.)

The main challenge you will have in a Level 2 situation is security.  While you probably will have food and energy supplies for a year or two (or three….), most ‘normal’ unprepared people have no energy stockpiles and little food.  Within a week, most people will be increasingly forced to ‘forage’ for their food – and we use this word ‘forage’ as a euphemism for more than simple ‘stealing’, because stealing is a familiar and non-violent sounding term.

Interestingly, we see the greatest problems being in the early days of any Level 2/3 scenario.  There is probably an evolutionary process that society will shake down through – we discuss this in our article on the security/lawlessness cycle here.

In that article we lightly touch on the concept that people will be forced to choose between starvation and forcibly taking such food and shelter as they can, by any means necessary.  Let’s look into this in some more detail both in terms of the types of risks and threats you’ll face, and how you need to prepare for them.

Level 2 Risks :  (a)  Lawless Gangs

We have regularly seen, both in the US and elsewhere in the world, the propensity of some groups of society to degenerate into violent lawlessness any time society hiccups and normal law enforcement activities pause.

These people violently riot and loot (and attack and murder) for the sheer devilry and ‘fun’ of it, and because they are laboring under some bizarre view of reality that makes them feel entitled to behave that way, and also for the opportunistic chance to enrich themselves by carrying away color televisions and other home electronics from stores they are looting.

How much more aggressive will they be in a Level 2 situation?  It seems realistic to accept that normal law enforcement will be massively reduced in a Level 2 situation.  Even if all the police and other law enforcement personnel still report for duty, the same as normal, they’ll be overwhelmed by the number of problems suddenly dropping in their lap.

As we saw in, for example, the Los Angeles riots in 1992, normal law enforcement numbers can be completely inadequate for any outbreaks of mass violence, and in a Level 2 situation, not only will there be even greater disorder, there will not be regional and national reserves of manpower to call upon, because every other region will also be struggling to keep ahead of their own problems.  The inability of local law enforcement to deal with rioting is the flipside of the coin to do with the police relying on the general consent and acquiescence of the communities they police – when this starts to fail, so too does the policing, whether it be as we say in Los Angeles in 1992, or more recently in London in 2011, or anywhere else.

Add to that the fact that such roving gangs of people won’t only be looting for fun and for personal enrichment, and they won’t just be seeking things such as computers, iPhones, and suchlike.  They’ll be as threatened with starvation as anyone else, and they’ll be looting for food and survival, too – just more vigorously and violently then everyone else.

Level 2 Risks :  (b)  Organized Gangs

A much greater threat is the presence of organized gangs – bikers, drug distribution networks, street gangs, and such like.  While there aren’t as many of these people as there will be, initially, of lawless gangs, they are organized, disciplined, and totally amoral.

They are also determined.  Whereas lawless groups of people – ad hoc gangs – are opportunistic and will attack easy targets and avoid hard targets, organized gangs will be willing to attack all types of targets – weak targets because they can, and hard targets because they pose potential threats to the organized gang that will otherwise seek to become the new power structure in a region.

Even worse, many of these gangs are vaguely prepping for the future, too.  They’re poised, waiting to attack society as soon as it becomes feasible to do so.

Level 2 Risks :  (c)  Starving People

We don’t need guns if/when a person politely comes up and knocks on our door and asks if we can spare any food.  If we are unable to help out, they thank us for our time and leave again.

But do you really think that is what will happen?

Let’s say 50% of the population only has food for three days or less, another 25% for about ten days, another 20% for about twenty days.  And let’s say it becomes obvious to everyone that the Level 2 situation will take not days or weeks, but many months to be resolved.

In three days, half the population will be looking at empty pantries.  What will they do?

Within another week, 75% of the population will have no food, and there will be a growing realization by everyone, whether they still have food or not, that there is no hope of any arriving any time soon.  What will all these people do?

Over the next ten days, they’ll be joined by just about everyone else.  In less than three weeks – probably much less – more than 95% of the population will be starving.

Will these people politely knock on your door, and then just shuffle off and die quietly on the street if you refuse to share your own limited supply of food with them?  It is possible that a pacifist single person might do this, but what about a man (or woman) with a spouse and children to feed?  Will they just passively let their entire family die of starvation, while watching you and a very few others continue to eat almost normally?

Here’s the logic they face :

You can threaten to shoot me with your gun, but if I don’t take your food from you, I’ll definitely die of starvation, so it makes sense for me to risk being shot while doing anything and everything necessary to take your food from you.  If I have to choose between you dying, or me and my family dying, you will be the one I prefer to see die.

You need to understand this.  If you refuse to feed your best friend in a post Level 2/3 situation, then he, just as much as any stranger, has no choice but to use whatever means necessary to take your food from you, because it is essential tp the survival of himself and his family.

You also need to remember how people are so brilliantly good at justifying any actions to themselves.  The same people who laughed at you for stockpiling food will now be demanding it from you as their ‘right’ – ‘You have no right not to share your food with us, you can’t just leave us to die, you selfish so-and-so’.  That’s only one small step removed from ‘You are trying to kill us by withholding food from us’ and ‘You’ve more food than you could possibly need yourself, there should be a law against such selfishness’.

After they’ve demonized you in their own mind, and played up their own deserving victim status, they’ll feel totally justified to shoot you in your doorway, and then to clamber over your dead body and to loot your house of all its supplies.

We are deliberately writing this in vivid shock terms, but you need to understand and accept this.  If it sounds impossible to you, ask yourself – and answer the question – what will starving people do instead when they see you with plenty of food while they have none?

Some people might find it unlikely that their friendly next door neighbors will turn around and use any and all means up to and including lethal force to take food from them.  We agree this is unlikely, but we realistically fear that it is much more likely that your neighbors (and, of course, strangers too) will do this than it is that they’ll just peacefully and calmly resign themselves to die of starvation and lie waiting for death to occur in their own homes.

Implications

No matter where you have your retreat located, sooner or later it will be found by groups of starving marauders and/or opportunistic gangs (see our article on ‘Is it Realistic to Expect Your Retreat Will Not be Found‘).  The only three things you don’t know is how long it will be until you are first confronted by starving/looting marauders, how often such confrontations will occur into the future, and how many people you’ll encounter on each occasion.

The one thing you can be sure of is that these people mean to take your food and other supplies and resources from you, and if they have to do it by force, they won’t even pause to think twice.  Indeed, their resentment at you being well prepared is such they’ll feel you ‘deserve to die’ – this is about as warped as illogic can get, but do you want to bet your life that this is not how people will end up thinking?

You will have become the evil ‘1%’ that has recently been demonized by the ‘Occupy Wall St’ protesters.  We’ve seen, over the last year, people trying to wrap themselves in the righteous mantle of being part of a supposed 99% of the country, using this supposed ‘moral majority’ empowerment to advocate violence and sanctions against the remaining 1% of the country – even though the supposed 99% group are – quite obviously to those of us who truly are mainstream – anything but representative members of the majority.  They’re as much a 1% minority group as are the people they claim that their ‘majority status’ empowers them to act against.

We make these points not so much to criticize the Occupy Wall St people (although we definitely don’t support them) but rather to point out how people readily make completely ridiculous claims about themselves so as to give themselves a self-claimed mantle of legitimacy that then empowers them to do whatever lawless and wrong acts they wish.

The same people who are keen to live off government handouts today, and who believe that rich people should be taxed and then taxed some more so that they (the ‘99%’) don’t need to do any work themselves, will of course now resent you for doing the very thing they will have laughed at you about before the Level 2 event – preparing prudently and storing food.

They won’t now consider it to have been prudent preparation and storing of your food.  They will claim it to be immorally selfish hoarding of food that should belong to the community (and, in particular, to them).  Your refusal to give all your food to them means that you are denying them the right to live.  So, of course, they’ll feel totally morally empowered to at the very least take all your food from you, and if they have to shoot you in the process, so be it.

Summary

You need to plan your retreat not just from a perspective of weather and suitability for agricultural purposes and everything else.  You also need to plan to make it defendable against people keen to rob you by force, even by lethal force if necessary.

The most important adage is ‘safety in numbers’.  You need to become part of a community to share the burden of defending your properties, and to have the strength in numbers necessary to prevail against attacks by evildoers.

Jul 092012
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose Your Gun Calibers Based on Ammo Supply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rimfire

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

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

Revolvers

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

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

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

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

Semi-auto Pistols

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rifles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heavy Rifle

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

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

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

Shotgun

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

Jul 052012
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Problem of Mutual Support in the Countryside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Town/Village Alternative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose Your Community Wisely

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

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

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

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

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

Jul 042012
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phase One – A False Calm

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

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

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

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

Phase Two – A Growing Panic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phase Three – Abandoning the Cities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phase Four – Nowhere is Safe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phase Five – A New Form of Social Order

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phase Six – A Return to Normalcy

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

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

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

The prevailing attitude will become one of confidence and assuredness.

What We Need to Do as Preppers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 232012
 

The concrete block in the upper image is shown again in the lower image, totally destroyed after only two .308 rounds hit it. See below for linked article.

There are two distinctive things about your retreat that sets it aside from most normal houses.

Firstly, it is possible it may be uninhabited for months at a time when life is proceeding happily as normal.  It may also be in an out-of-the-way location.  A very tempting target for burglars.

Secondly, when things do all go to hell in a handbasket, and you are living there during a Level 2 or 3 situation, you’ll need to have a much more robust defense against attackers than just a lock and safety chain on your front door and catches on your windows.

Let’s discuss these issues.

No-one Home Security Requirements

There’s nothing a burglar or a vandal likes better than to find an empty house in an out-of-the-way location.

With no neighbors or passing cars to observe them, they can take their time breaking into the place and doing whatever they wish to do.  Indeed, the longer it obviously is since someone was last there, the more inviting the place becomes to burglars and others with evil intent – once inside, they might even decide to stay overnight or longer, feeling no pressure at all about the possible return at any moment of the owner.

Even if they can’t manage to gain entry to a locked retreat, they’ll probably smash a bunch of windows in their frustrated efforts to get in, thereby opening the interior up to the outside weather and to wildlife – creatures that might do as much damage as people.

Although you might say – and be correct to say – that in reality, there are very few structures that can’t be opened by a group of motivated determined skilled burglars with time on their hands, the chances are that uninvited visitors to your unattended retreat will be more likely to be just casual passers-by seeking easy targets of opportunity.  They won’t have safe-cracking type tools with them, and they’ll probably not have skilled locksmiths with them either.  If some work with a crowbar and axe won’t get them through the doors/windows (or exterior walls) they’ll probably give up and move on to the next tempting target instead.

Nonetheless, it would be excellent if there were a way to get a remotely monitorable alarm system at your retreat, so that if the alarm is triggered, you can then look at a real-time video feed and decide if it is a benign passing deer, or a not so benign would-be intruder.  If the latter, you can maybe call the local county sheriff and have them send someone out.

This also assumes you have not done anything to suggest your retreat is of unusual interest or has anything of value inside.  We’d suggest its exterior be nondescript and plain rather than flashy and fancy.

You need to appreciate that most normal home construction is designed to prevent honest people from mistakenly entering the wrong house, uninvited.  It won’t do any good at all to a burglar armed with an axe and a crowbar.  The fancy lock on your door can stay locked – the burglar will just remove the door from its jam!  And needless to say, any areas of glass are almost certainly liable to be destroyed by a few good blows from something heavy like an axe.

You can’t build your retreat using normal construction methods and make it truly burglar proof.  If you buy an existing dwelling, you almost have to consider tearing it down and rebuilding from scratch – or, alternatively, adding a new exterior protective layer all the way around.

Level 2/3 Scenario Defense

The other situation is WTSHTF and you need to bug out to your retreat.

Sooner or later, you will have an armed group of attackers keen to separate you from your food and other goodies.  They might ask you politely first, but if you refuse – as you certainly should – their next move will be not nearly so polite.

Figure on being found, sooner or later (see our article about the inevitability of your hidden retreat being found).  Now, what happens after you’ve refused the request/demand for you to hand over all your food (and everything else of value or use)?  It is hard to imagine these people will just walk away empty-handed.

They’ll either lay siege and try to starve you out, or in the more likely event they’re not so patient, they’ll actively try to force your surrender and/or attempt to force their way in.

Yup, there’s going to be some shooting, isn’t there.  And, for your part of the shooting, you have two requirements.  The first is to be able to be protected from incoming fire, and the second is to be able to shoot back from advantageous positions of relative safety.

Now, just as normal home construction makes it easy for bad guys to break in, you’ll probably be unsurprised to learn that normal home construction does not normally consider making a residence’s exterior walls bullet proof.

Let’s understand just how powerful rifle rounds actually are.

Penetrating Capabilities of Rifle Rounds

Although pistol and shotgun rounds can also be a problem, your real threat is from rifles.  Not so much from ‘special’ rifles and not even from special bullets either.  Just from regular standard hunting/sporting rifles, chambered in any of the very common calibers, including .30-06 and .308 and to a lesser extent, even the .223 round as well.

A regular 5.56/.223 round can penetrate through 12 sheets of pine (see this site).  Metal covered doors are so useless that even a tiny pocket pistol can shoot through them (see this report).  Rifle rounds can also go through 15″ of phone book pages (see here).  Here’s a web page that shows a 7.62/.308 round going through 8.5″ of tree trunk then on through sort of 6.5″ of phone book and still having energy after having traveled through that.  Another person reports shooting his 8mm Mauser through 16″ telephone poles.

Here is an interesting study on many different exterior wall surfaces by many different rifle rounds.  Most rifle rounds penetrated most materials, and those that didn’t would generally cause major damage to the exterior cladding to make it more susceptible to penetration if a second round landed in the same place.

Here are two excellent pages (one two) showing the results of shooting at CMU blocks (concrete masonry units) with a range of rifle and pistol rounds.  Read the descriptions and look at the linked pictures (the picture at the top of this article was formed from a ‘before’ and ‘after’ picture on those pages).  These are vivid indicators of how weak filled concrete blocks will be when confronted with rifle fire.

The bottom line is simply this – Rifle rounds will go through pretty much any amount of wood and/or plenty of concrete and still be dangerous to you inside.

Bullet Resistant vs Bullet Proof

So you need to upgrade your exterior walls to make them somewhere between bullet resistant and bullet proof.

What is the difference?  There is an important difference in these terms.  A bullet resistant barrier will not allow a single round to penetrate, and neither will it allow for ‘spalling’ (ie bits flying off the inside of the barrier) to occur.  But, if you fire several rounds all in the one spot (or within a reasonably close distance of each other) the barrier will successively weaken and after sufficient hits, it will give way in that area.  The concrete block shown at the top can be considered bullet resistant.

A bullet proof barrier on the other hand can calmly accept incoming fire all day in the one position and not weaken at all.  The backstop of the gun range you train at is bullet proof.

In practical terms (because bullet proofing is impressively expensive), you’ll probably settle for some type of bullet resistant exterior wall, and ideally one that can be repaired and restored back to 100% integrity at the end of an encounter.  Maybe some of the obvious ‘bullet magnet’ points will be given extra strengthening, but for the rest, you’ll hope that the bad guys give up after some hundreds/thousands of rounds, most of which randomly distribute themselves fairly evenly around your exterior walls.

Bullet magnet points would be anything that looks vulnerable/weak/openable, and anything that you’ll be shooting from.

Your choice of materials will be influenced to an extent by your budget and just exactly how thick you want your walls to be.  We will discuss building construction materials in other articles.

Something to consider is whether you want your retreat to have a sturdy impregnable fortress look to it, or if you’d prefer it to be a ‘stealth’ secure location.  Opinions differ as to which is the better strategy.

An obviously strong resilient fortress might discourage casual looters from mounting an attack.  On the other hand, it might also signal ‘Hey, we’re well prepared here, we probably have lots of goodies inside’.  And a fortress type structure might encourage a stealth/sneak attack rather than an open/overt attack (on this point, we suspect most attacks will be semi-stealthy anyway).

There is no way of knowing what your attackers might think or how they will behave.  In fact, we suggest it would be foolish to try to come up with the exact set of thoughts and actions an attacker would have – see our article on not being able to predict how people will behave WTSHTF.  Instead, you should plan and prepare for all types of behaviors, both sensible and stupid.

Windows

We suggest your retreat have as few windows as possible.  They are a security risk and also increase your need to heat your building in winter and cool it in summer due to probably having less insulating properties than the rest of your exterior walls.

You will want some, because they will do double duty as places for you to observe the outside and to shoot from.  These should be high up and small.

Being high up means that people from the outside, shooting in, will have to angle their shots upwards.  Any rounds that penetrate will tend to go up towards the ceiling and beyond rather than travel through the house, hitting anyone in its path.

Being high up also makes it harder for someone to come along and look in, break in, and climb in.

Being small will make it harder for people to climb in the window, and it will slow them down and make them vulnerable while they are climbing in.

It is also easier to protect a small window area and to provide back-up levels of resistance so that if (when) the glass is shot out, there is something else – maybe a hardened steel plate – to protect the building interior.

The Risk of Fire

The most dangerous thing that worries a sailor?  Fire.  That might sound ridiculous when you’re on a boat surrounded by water, but it is for sure the truth.  More boats have been lost as a result of fire that from any other cause (assuming moderately competent seamanship).

The same is true of your retreat.  It goes without saying that the friendly local fire brigade will almost certainly not be functioning as normal in a Level 2/3 scenario.  If you have a fire, you’ll have to control it yourself.

Now that will be stressful enough in the normal course of events, but what if the fire was deliberately caused by people who are attacking you and laying siege to your retreat?  If they’ve set fire to your building exterior, and maybe its roof, and possibly managed to get some Molotov cocktails in through windows as well, and now they’re waiting to pick you off as you rush out of the burning building, all of a sudden your retreat is not a safety structure for you, it has become a death trap instead.

Okay, some people might design a bolt hole/cellar they can retreat to, and others might have a secret tunnel/exit from their retreat.  But that’s not really the point, is it.  Maybe you escape, but you’ve left behind everything you owned and possessed – you’re no longer one of the well prepared survivors, you’re now one of the homeless horde of desperate predators.

You need to ensure the exterior of your dwelling is impervious to fire.  An accidental fire can be started from any one of way too many causes – even natural ‘Acts of God’ like lightning strikes.

A deliberate fire might be started from one of two main sources – either as a result of someone shooting incendiary or tracer type rounds into your structure, or as a result of someone using Molotov cocktail type weapons to initiate the fire.  Both your roof and your exterior walls are vulnerable, and if your windows can’t be kept securely shut, the rooms they open into are also vulnerable.

So – no wood on the exterior of your building, right?  Brick, metal, stone – all these are good.  Concrete is moderate.

If using metal (and you probably won’t be) note that it would conduct any intense heat on the outside to the inside, so if you had wooden framing up against a steel exterior wall, the wood framing would be at risk.

Generally however, the type of Molotov cocktail type fire starting device that would likely be used won’t burn for an extended time or intensely.  If it can get something else started burning, it has done its job; if it can’t, then the pint or quart of fire starter contained within it will burn quickly and then burn out.

To protect against this type of attack, you also must make sure there is nothing that could burn close to the exterior walls on the outside, either.

Summary

The chances are that at some point, you will have burglars try to break into your retreat, and at some point, you will have people shooting at you while you are in your retreat.

The design considerations to protect you against burglary also get you half-way towards protection against violent assault.

You need a structure that is burglar proof, bullet-proof (or, at the very least, repairably bullet resistant) and also fireproof.

This is more difficult than you might think.  Normal rifle bullets will penetrate more than 12″ of wood and still be lethal the other side, and three or four rounds landing on a typical 8″ x 8″ x 16″ concrete block (even if the hollow spaces have been filled with concrete) will demolish the block completely.

Difficult – yes.  Impossible – no.  And, also, essential for the security of your retreat.