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

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

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

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

Wrong!

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

Part One – The Four Problems

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

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

1.  Getting There Safely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.  Will Your Retreat be Secure

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

You hope.

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

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

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

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

3.  Will Your Retreat be Functional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.  No Ongoing Farming Activity or Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read About Solutions in Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

Solving the Four Problems of Bugging Out

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

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

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

Solution 1 – Bugging Out Very Early

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solution 2 – A Fulltime Retreat/Farm Manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Solved – The Physical Act of Bugging Out

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

Jun 252013
 
The stunning Tesla S has a best-case range of over 300 miles between battery charges.

The stunning Tesla S has a best-case range of over 300 miles between battery charges.

One of the big problems we all have to consider is what sort of motorized transportation we can use in a Level 2/3 situation.

The problem is that modern-day fuels – gasoline, diesel, liquid propane and compressed natural gas – are all vulnerable to disruptions in supply, processing and distribution such as would occur in any sort of emergency situation, and so we’ll largely be forced to rely on such stored fuel as we may have, and when that runs out, our options become difficult.

Sure, you could look at ways to make your own bio-diesel, and that might become a necessary option.  You could also look at modifying a vehicle to run on wood gas.  And some people, by choice or necessity, will allow themselves to settle for horses or oxen.

But there’s another option worthy of consideration, especially in Level 2 and early Level 3 scenarios.  An electric vehicle that you can recharge from solar or wind power.

This is of course not a cheap option, because the first thing you need to do is buy an electric vehicle.  But if you have the budget to consider such things, and depending on the amount of surplus renewable electricity you expect to be generating each day, it might be your best option.

How Much Electricity Does an Electric Vehicle Use

Just as with any other powered vehicle, the range you get depends on your speed, driving style, and the terrain.

There are some major differences in how battery mileage is tested in the US, Japan and Europe, so we’re generally using US EPA quoted figures, which may or may not be exactly realistic, but which tend to give the lowest claimed ranges, so they are probably better than the other tested range claims.  If you are evaluating electric car ranges, make sure you understand how the range figure was established – the latest US EPA test is a ‘five cycle’ test and more complete than its earlier two-cycle testing.

Their range also depends on how much of the battery’s full charge is used.  Generally it seems to be considered best practice not to 100% deplete the batteries.

  •  A Tesla Model S has either 60 kWhr or 85 kWhr batteries, and can get you 350 miles or more on a single charge in optimum conditions.  We are not certain how much of the total stored charge is used.
  • A 2013 Chevrolet Volt has a 16.5 kWhr battery and a 38 mile range, during the course of which it depletes 10.3 kWhr of its total battery capacity.
  • A Nissan Leaf with a 24 kWhr battery gets 84 miles on a full battery charge, or 75 miles on an unstated lesser amount of charge.
  • AA Ford Focus Electric with a 23 kWhr battery gets 76 miles per EPA figures.

Looking at these and other numbers, it seems fair to say that each mile driven in an electric vehicle takes somewhere in the order of 250 – 300 Whr of electric energy.

To translate that to other terms, you could run a 20 watt LED/CFL lightbulb for 12 – 15 hours with the same amount of power required for an electric vehicle to drive one mile.  You could run a 1600 watt heater for 10 minutes with the same power that takes the electric vehicle one mile.

More Electricity is Required to Charge the Car

Say you have a solar panel setup that gives you 5000 W of power when the sun is shining on them.  You might think that you can connect the solar panels up to your electric vehicle, and if the vehicle has, say, a 20 Whr battery, then a simple calculation suggests that you just need to charge it for four hours and you’ve put 20 kWhrs of charge into it.

Unfortunately, that’s an over-simplification.  You need to adjust for the various inefficiencies and conversion losses you’ll experience from when the power comes out of the solar panels until when it ends up stored in the vehicle battery.  You should figure on as much as 30% of the power from your solar cells being lost in the process of taking them from the original low voltage DC solar cell output to a high voltage input (often in AC) to the charger unit for the vehicle, and through that and in to the batteries themselves.

It would probably be prudent for you to talk to the car manufacturer about a direct DC input to the vehicle’s charging system.  If you can go straight from DC to DC, this might give you a considerable improvement in efficiency, but depending on the vehicle and its DC charge voltage (which could be very high), this might not be feasible.

There is another electricity need as well.  You can’t leave a car with a dead battery.  You need to keep the battery with a certain minimum amount of charge, and because the batteries self-discharge at a slow rate, you need to be topping the vehicle up every week or so whether you are using it or not.

One more thing to consider is that charging your vehicle will probably take considerable time.  If you can provide, say, 5 kW of power, then you’re looking at probably a full sunny day of solar power for a Leaf or Focus to be charged, and two or three days of this to charge a large capacity battery (but longer range) Tesla.

And if you thought you’d pack a portable solar kit in the back of the vehicle and charge it at your destination prior to returning home, that is probably impractical.  If you had a 200 W solar array (uncommon, but here’s a site selling 150 W and 300 W portable panels), then it would take about two hours of charging for each mile of range added to the car.  If there were 8 – 10 hours of sun in a day, that would give you 4 – 5 miles of extra range.

What is the Service Life of a Battery Powered Car

Unlike the lead-acid starter battery in a regular vehicle which works until, one day, it no longer works; electric vehicle batteries don’t usually catastrophically fail.  Instead, they slowly but surely degrade, meaning they hold less and less charge with each successive discharge/recharge cycle.

Their rate of deterioration depends on various things, with the two major issues being the simple passing of time, and the number of cycles of charge/discharge they experience.

Chevrolet warrant their Volt batteries for 100,000 miles or 8 years and estimate that the battery will have lost 20% of its ability to hold a charge by the end of that time.  Its battery warranty is a slightly complex consideration though because the vehicle is dual-fuel; it will be running on its gasoline engine for an unknown percentage of the warranty period, as well as sometimes off its batteries.

Tesla warrant their batteries for eight years and unlimited miles, and will replace them if their capacity diminishes by 30% during that time.

So it seems that we can expect probably ten or more useful years from a battery pack, no matter how much we do or do not use it.  That’s both good and bad – what say TEOTWAWKI occurs just a month or two before you were planning on (needing to) replace your battery pack?  As long as you have a reasonably new battery pack, you’re good for up to ten more years of battery life, but otherwise, you’re going to have a much shorter useful remaining life, and because the batteries slowly decay even if sitting unused, you couldn’t keep a supply of spare batteries to extend the total life of the vehicle.

Needless to say, there’s no way you’ll be able to build your own high-tech lithium ion battery.  Once the one in the car is no longer functional, that’s it until – if/when – the high-tech world we luxuriate in  is restored again.

Uses For an Electric Car

So why would you even want to consider an electric car in a Level 2/3 situation?  After all (at least per our standard definitions) a Level 2 situation is all about living off stored resources until such time as normalcy returns, and a Level 3 situation assumes normalcy won’t return any time in the foreseeable future and requires you to fully transform to a sustainable ongoing lifestyle.

In a Level 2 situation, you’d simply run normal vehicles off stored fuel.  In a Level 3 situation, you’d be reliant on animal power or a low tech type of wood gas burning car – maybe even a steam-powered car.  (Yes, we’ll write about both these concepts in future articles.)

But there may still be room for an alternate technology in both situations.  An electric car reduces your reliance on stored fuel while you still have any (a Chevrolet Volt type solution – a vehicle that will run on either battery or gasoline would be ideal), and in a Level 3 situation, an electric car gives you additional capabilities that animals don’t have – the ability to travel an extended distance at speed, at least for as long as there are passable roads, and to the limit of your battery range.

Unless you spend a lot of money on a Tesla, the present selection of electric vehicles all have limited range – about 30 – 70 miles, depending on driving conditions.  There’ll be no recharging stations for you en route WTSHTF but if your retreat is within 10 or so miles of a local community, making roundtrips between retreat and community possible on a single charge, then in a future Level 2/3 situation, the electric vehicle can be useful.

Clearly, it is not an essential item that you must have as part of your basic core prepping supplies, but if budget and circumstance allows, it might be a valuable additional option.

A Warning Note About Range Claims

It goes without saying that ‘your mileage may vary’ in terms of the actual range you get out of your vehicle.

In addition to all the usual range-affecting factors that you are familiar with when driving a regular gas-powered vehicle, an electric vehicle’s range also varies significantly if you need to use its heater or a/c unit (headlights don’t make such a big difference).

But there’s another factor to also keep in mind.  Every time you discharge and recharge the lithium ion batteries, their capacity diminishes slightly – maybe by less than one tenth of one percent, which sounds like nothing until you think forward to what happens after the 100th or 1000th charging cycle and then all those tiny reductions in storage capacity have become significant.

The chances are that the useful life of your vehicle’s battery system will be determined not by its sudden complete failure, but by its gradual reduction in driving range below the point that you need.  For example, if your retreat is 12 miles from the nearest town, and you have a vehicle with a 35 mile range, you start off, with a brand new battery, needing to drive 24 miles with a 35 mile charge.  That’s easy.

But after some years, the batteries have lost 20% of their storage capacity and you now have to drive 24 miles on a battery that holds a 28 mile charge.  That’s getting to be ‘touch and go’, isn’t it.

Then, in another year or two or three, the batteries reduce down to having the same range as you need to drive, and what happens then?  Remember where we commented, above, that recharging the vehicle away from a heavy-duty high current source of power will take almost literally forever.  In other words, the vehicle has essentially become functionally useless, unless you can arrange for some source of recharging in the local township you make your roundtrip visits to.

Our points here are three-fold.

First, take all range claims with a grain of salt.  They’re probably not as inaccurate as some of the claims made for regular vehicles that you drive ‘normally’, and in the future, you’ll almost definitely drive an electric vehicle as super-economically as possible, but even so, allow yourself a margin of error between the claimed range and the actual range you might get.

Second, if your typical roundtrip distance will be close to the claimed range capability of the electric vehicle when new, you’ll only have a limited life before the vehicle’s range has reduced below that you need.

Third, because the effective life of the vehicle will most likely be limited by its gradually reducing range, the longer the range it has when new, the longer its effective life will be before that range has diminished down to useless.

Benefits of an Electric Car

An electric car offers several benefits compared to regular gasoline powered vehicles.

The first benefit is that, as surprising as it may seem, an electric car should be more reliable than a regular internal combustion engine powered vehicle.  It has many fewer moving parts, and many fewer stressed parts.  With the local dealership no longer being available to fix your vehicle any time it develops a problem, a reliable vehicle becomes much more essential.

The second benefit is that electricity is an easier fuel source to create and replenish than petrol.  This might also seem counter-intuitive, but the chances are your retreat will have multiple ways of generating electricity but no ways of making petrol.  At a stretch, you could come up with a bio-diesel or a wood gas type system, but complexity issues start to increase in such cases.

The third benefit is that it is quite likely you will simultaneously be desperately short of energy in general, but also have occasional surpluses of electricity.  An electric car provides a way for you to store and use any surplus electricity you are generating, rather than have it go to waste.

What About the Prius and Other Hybrid Vehicles?

Do not buy a Prius or other hybrid electric vehicle.  These cars essentially have no ‘stand alone’ or independent electric power capacity.  They are designed to recover, store, and re-use power from the vehicle when it brakes, so their batteries have very limited capacity and their electric motors are primarily boost or assist motors, capable of powering the vehicle only at low speeds.

These are great cars, for sure, but they are best thought of as super-efficient gasoline powered cars.  Without available petrol, they are useless; indeed, most of them have no provision for external charging.  They also have very low capacity batteries – a typical Prius has about a 1 kWhr battery, of which only about half is available for use in powering the vehicle.  This is a perfectly sensible design for its prime purpose – recovering and reusing energy that would otherwise be lost every time the vehicle brakes, but it is clearly totally insufficient to allow for fully electric-powered travel for more than a mile or so.

The plug-in version of the Prius has a larger battery – 4.4 kWhr – which gives it about an 11 mile range.  This is great when you have gasoline in the tank to fall back on as soon as the 11 mile range has been used up, but not so great as a purely electric vehicle in a future scenario where gas is no longer available.

Electric Car Models

There are quite a few different models of electric cars out there, although most sell at best only a few thousand units each year, so you’re not likely to find one on the local used car lot any time soon.

Furthermore, it is our sense that the technology is steadily evolving, and with the batteries having a finite life, there are definite costs associated with buying a second-hand electric vehicle.  It is good to delay buying an electric vehicle as long as possible – but if you decide you can afford one and can justify one, be careful of this strategy.  You might find you leave it too late!

Rather than list the vehicles currently available – a list which risks being incomplete and quickly going out of date, we suggest you look at these two Wikipedia pages – a list of electric cars currently available and a list of production battery electric vehicles, to see whatever is currently out there.

Most of the electric vehicles are solely electrically powered.  But there are a few (most notably the Volt) which combined both a regular petrol engine with a battery/electric motor, and while these might have shorter electric ranges, they open up an interesting possibility for the future.

First, their shorter range (ie about 35 miles for a Volt) might be sufficient for short runs between your retreat and the nearest township.  And, second, you might be able to modify the petrol powered engine to run on wood gas.

This would require considerable effort on your part, of course, but by making a hybrid electric/wood gas vehicle, that would seem to give you the best of both worlds for the future.

Summary

In our wonderful modern world, with gasoline prices amazingly low (even $4.50 a gallon is ‘low’ compared to the true replacement/alternate technology costs of energy) and petrol freely available at gas stations open 24/7 just about everywhere in the country, electric cars make no sense for most of us.

While it is true you save money in per mile fuel costs when running on electricity; overall, and for most of us, the up-front extra cost of the electric car outweighs the per mile savings.  Even if there is an eventual saving to be had, the inconvenience of the range limitations of electric vehicles, and the time it takes to recharge them, reduces the use of electric cars to essentially around-town runabouts.

But in the future, when gas disappears from the gas stations, and other liquid fuel replacements become massively more expensive than petrol even at its highest current prices, electric cars may become much more useful for shorter range transportation.  Most of us will find it easier to generate electricity (to power a vehicle) than to create petrol or diesel.

Jun 052013
 
Prepping is open to all, no matter race, color or creed.

Prepping is open to all, no matter race, color or creed.

We received an interesting email from a reader – let’s call him Bill.  He writes :

My family and I are well aware of what is coming down the pike in terms of serious unrest due to a collapsed society.  However we are barely making it financially due to low paying jobs and we have no savings.

We would like to know how can we begin to prepare and most importantly how can we use what little resources to pool with other preppers or like-minded individual so that our family can at least have a chance to survive.

Also because we live in Billings MT, how can we navigate this area to get to people who won’t hold Our RACE (African-American) against us.

Please help us with this if you can.  Thanks, Bill.

Bill raises two very good points (thanks, Bill!).  Let’s look at Bill’s last point, first.

Preppers and Discrimination

Preppers are color blind.  We, perhaps more than any other group in the country, look at a man and first see who he is, what he can do, how he could contribute to our community, what talents and skills he has, and only after considering all these things, notice if he is white, yellow, brown, black or, for that matter, purple with blue stripes (okay, so we’d probably notice that up front!).

Preppers are least likely to be racist in either sense of the word.  They don’t automatically react negatively to any particular race, but also, neither do they automatically believe that any race deserves entitlements or special allowances or anything else.  We treat everyone the same – they are as good as they are.  They’re not any better, but they’re not any worse, either.

It is unfortunate that there is this vague fuzzy linkage that some people perceive between ‘prepping’ and being a ‘survivalist’ which then leads to being a ‘wild mountain man’ which ends up implying either that we are the Unabomber or an Aryan supremacist.

This is unfortunate nonsense.  We are of course nothing more than ordinary folks, added to which is having a responsible concern about our future and a desire to safeguard it.

So, when it comes to discrimination, we know all about it, because we are ourselves discriminated against.  We are sneered at, we are ridiculed, we are insulted, and we are typecast as something we’re not and never have been.

If anything, a typical prepper is probably less concerned about a person’s origins than is common for most other groups in society.  All that matters to us is that you’re not expecting special treatment, and that you’ll pull your own weight as an equal honest productive decent member of society.

This isn’t just me being idealistic.  It is a common thread running through most leading prepper sites and advocates.  I have to believe it is reflected among preppers in general, because it is rational and sensible, and surely preppers, more than anyone else, are the most rational and sensible of people!

So, Bill, hurry to find us and join us.  We understand the challenges you have when people are quick to judge you by applying inappropriate labels just because it is convenient for them to do so; rather than to challenge their prejudices.  But also beware – if you join with us, you might find yourself now doubly pre-judged, being now guilty of being both black and a prepper!  The only good thing is that such stupid people will struggle to also consider you a white supremacist.  🙂

Now for the specific question Bill raises, about how to prepare on a very low-income/budget.

Prepping on a Low Income

This is a huge topic that needs lengthy article series devoted to it (and we’ll doubtless publish some in the future).

But, as some quick commentary in timely reply to Bill’s question, the good news is he isn’t locked in to a high paying job where he currently is.  Maybe it is relatively easy for him to move west some, and to seek alternate employment in one of the small towns in NW Montana.  If he can do that, then he’s much of the way to where he needs to be, both literally and figuratively.

There’s a curious reality in Bill’s position (and that of the many other people in a similar situation).  By not earning a lot of money, he is actually freer to make lifestyle changes than would be the case if he had a job paying, say, $7,000 a month, but with a mortgage, car payments, and other commitments soaking up nearly all of the $7,000.  He has less to lose by changing jobs, and more to gain.

Moving to a safer more viable location is a huge plus, allowing Bill and his family to then consider a future strategy that involves surviving in place rather than needing to create a separate retreat.  That’s a huge plus.  As part of a surviving in place strategy, it is essential to integrate into your local community on as many levels and via as many paths as possible – we’ve several very relevant articles in our section on community related issues, in particular the article on becoming part of the solution rather than part of the problem when your community confronts the stresses arising from WTSHTF.

The next thing for Bill to consider is building up a stockpile of essentials to get him and his family through difficult times.

The first essential thing to possess, in a case where you don’t have a lot of cash, is (are) skill(s).  Indeed, if we had to choose between having a bank full of cash or an in-demand skill, we’d take the skill every time.  As we’ve written about at length, cash will quickly become valueless WTSHTF, whereas if you have an appropriate skill, it will become much more valuable.  That’s not to say that cash, now, isn’t a nice thing to have, but longer term, skills are more valuable.  They don’t run out, and they are more easily transported and converted into other things.

Ideally, you should learn a trade that you can simultaneously hopefully work at now, and also which will continue to be needed in the future.  There are very many such trades, and you’ll know if the work you do is a job that is likely to continue to be needed in the future or not.

A computer programmer?  Probably not.  An investment banker?  Also probably not.  And – gulp – an internet writer?  Hmmm…..  But if you are a basic service provider of some sort, with a skill/trade, and if the things you do/work on are things that will continue to be relevant in the future WTSHTF, then you’re well on your way to successfully surviving.

Note that the skill/trade you develop needs to be one that not only will be relevant in a lower-tech, grid-down, fuel and energy scarce economy, but also needs to be one which can be performed using low-tech tools and equipment.  Furthermore, if it is a type of service or activity which requires consumables, you’ll need to stockpile up on those consumables now, with the assumption being any and all supplies you’ll need to continue your work in a Level 2/3 situation will become essentially unavailable.

So the most valuable asset to accumulate is a productive skill.  That will be most beneficial in the medium and longer terms.  But, short-term, there will definitely be challenges as the local economy goes through an upheaval, so you do need to build up an inventory of essential things to live on/with/from, too.  It is very likely that there’ll be a period of some days, weeks, possibly even months as things adjust to the new reality where very little work and income will be available to anyone, no matter how essential their skills and services.  An economist would say this is due to the market becoming very inefficient, we’ll simply say ‘trust us on this’.  🙂

One way to stockpile food and other supplies on a very limited budget is to build a ‘food coop’ with other local families and work it so you buy a bulk and cheaper supply of food items than you’d normally buy yourself, splitting each purchase up between the members of your coop.  Instead of buying food, one meal sized portion at a time, from the local supermarket, you buy food ten or twenty meal sized portions at a time, and buy from Costco or the local wholesale grocery supply store.  Spread that between several different families, and then you’ll discover some magic.  The money you were previously spending to buy one meal is now stretching to buy you two.

Now for the important part.  Put the extra food that you got with your money into your preparedness store, meaning you paid what you’d normally pay for one unit of food, you received the one unit you need, and you also got some extra bonus which you’re now using to grow your food supply.  If you continue that way, you’ll find your store of extra food is slowly growing, and at no cost.

As you start to grow a food supply, the next thing to do is to now start shifting the money you’re saving by buying food in bulk and instead of using it to accumulate food, use the savings to start accumulating other essential items you need.

As for water, the key constraint with water is not the cost of the water, but means to store it.  What we do ourselves is to keep all the empty glass and some of the empty plastic containers we use, thoroughly clean them out, then fill them to the absolute top with boiled water and store them in a cool dark place.

We fill them with boiled water, all the way to the top, so as to keep as little oxygen mixed in with the water as possible, thereby discouraging the growth of whatever nasty things there are that might otherwise start to grow in the water.  We have these stored in date order, and every few years, we’ll empty and refill them again in sequence, on a rolling basis, so we always have a mix of ‘new’ and ‘old’ water.

We also have water purification equipment so that we can ‘make’ our own clean water from whatever other sources come to hand.

We’re not saying any of this is easy, and for sure, we all wish we could win the lottery and be able to prep free of financial constraints.

Don’t expect to instantly create a ten-year supply of everything.  But start off building up a 24 hour reserve, then grow it as best you can, and if you consistently keep doing this, before you know it, you’ll find yourself massively better prepared than you are today.

It is amazing also how some life-style changes can make major differences in the amount of disposable cash remaining out of each paycheck.  We know some people with fairly high incomes who are poor, living from paycheck to paycheck, because they waste so much of their money.  And we know some people with low incomes but who have surplus discretionary cash as a result of living carefully.

Don’t eat out so much.  Cook food from basics, rather than heat up prepared foods.  Eat more vegetables and fruit and less steak.  We’re not saying you should give up smoking and drinking if those are (two of) your vices, but maybe smoke/drink a little less, and choose a slightly cheaper brand.  Downgrade your cable tv package.  Don’t go to movies as often.  Plan your travels in your car so instead of making two separate trips, you do everything in one trip.

Pay down high interest debt, and don’t fall into the careless trap of running up late and overdraft fees.

Stop buying Starbucks coffees, and instead make yourself a coffee at home to take with you.  Even make a box lunch rather than buy take-out each lunchtime.  And so on.

The most important suggestion we have is to remember the old saying about how a successful journey is made not in a single leap, but by a consistent ongoing series of small steps, all in hopefully the correct direction.

It is amazing the difference that small tweaks change.  We estimate that by planning our driving, we save probably $30/week in gas for our vehicle alone, and if you use a rule of thumb that other costs for a vehicle are about the same as the gas cost, that means we’re saving $60 – plus, by better managing our travels, we have more free time and waste less of it stuck in traffic.  More money, and more time to spend it – oooops.  Nope, that’s not right.  More money, and more time to develop new skills.  🙂

Don’t go looking for easy answers.  They don’t exist.  But don’t despair.  Simply dedicate yourself to a slow steady series of steps moving you closer and closer to your goal.

Summary

Although it is true that many very wealthy people do invest heavily into prepping for their future, being a prepper is not something exclusively reserved to members of the unofficial ‘rich white boy’ club alone.

Preppers span the entire spectrum of age, race, income, occupation, education, and every other demographic you can consider.

Prepping is an inclusionary concept – we who currently prep always welcome more people to join us and become preppers too, because the better prepped our neighbors are, the more likely they are to positively ‘add value’ and help us mutually survive in a future adverse scenario, and the less likely they are to become a problem.

So, Bill, please take heart and in good cheer move your own prepping forward as best you can.

Apr 302013
 
Small country towns have been dying out in recent decades.  A Level 2/3 situation will see their resurgence.

Small country towns have been dying out in recent decades. A Level 2/3 situation will see their resurgence.

One of the key things in developing your retreat is to create or become part of a community.  You can’t viably ‘go it alone’ in a Level 3 situation (although it is possible to do so in a Level 1 or 2 situation).

Depending on the scope of your plans, there are several ways to become part of a community.  Most people immediately assume they will have a multi-acre block of land to themselves, and as for becoming part of a community, they will simply befriend their adjoining land-owners immediately around them, and – hey, presto!  Instant community.

That’s fine, and if it works for you, so much the better.  But a rural community of adjacent farmers/ranchers is not the only type of community that will be created, or which currently exists and may survive, and further more, while working together with your rural neighbors is both essential and positive, the chances are that even when you pool all your various resources and abilities together, there are still large gaps in needed skill sets, abilities, equipment, and so on.

Even in the most extreme of Level 3 situations, there will be a need for small service towns/villages.  These will be (and currently are) places where the nearby farmers can go to buy sell and trade, to get services, to benefit from pooled resources such as education, healthcare, maybe law enforcement that require at least a small amount of ‘economy of scale’ to be feasible, and also as a place to socialize and to meet as a community to discuss/resolve regional issues.

This is very different in concept from most towns and cities these days.  Modern and larger urban creations exist purely for themselves and are sustained internally (or externally via concepts that would not apply after TEOTWAWKI), rather than to service the surrounding country dwellers.

In contrast, a rural town is more outward looking and exists as a service point for its immediately adjacent rural community.  It has an essentially similar economic base today as it has always done ever since the founding of our country, and as it has done for centuries prior to then in the UK and Europe.  It is typically small, with perhaps a one room schoolhouse, a one cell jail, a general store, a doctor, a dentist, a couple of specialty stores and service providers, maybe a lodging house, church, bar and restaurant, and is almost always located strategically on a route to somewhere (and more likely, is not on a spur to a larger town/city, but is on a road that connects larger population concentrations on either side of it).

The Evolution of Rural Towns

These days many rural towns have grown in size to become larger than has historically been the case (or have simply died out entirely).  This is because the ease of modern-day transportation has meant that instead of the local community needing small towns every ten miles, it is now sufficient to have larger towns every twenty or thirty miles.  The traveling time and cost and inconvenience to go 20 – 30 miles today is less than it was to go a mere ten miles in an earlier time.

But please note the distance constraint will become an issue again in a Level 2/3 situation, when road maintenance will be neglected and fuel for vehicles will be either scarce or prohibitively expensive or possibly both.  Instead of thinking ‘I can drive 70 miles on the freeway to a town in an hour, and pay only $6 in gas to do so’ people will think ‘it will take me almost two hours to travel by horse and cart ten miles, and more than a day to travel 70 miles’, and so closer towns will become essential once more.

The key thing about any town is that if it is to survive in Level 2 and 3 situations, it will be because it exists to provide services to the people living rurally in the immediate area.

Many small rural towns these days exist for reasons other than primarily being a service provider to nearby rural residents.  Don’t confuse these types of towns with real locally focused towns, because these other ‘artificial’ towns are less likely to survive.

For example, if a town is currently a tourist retreat, it will not survive (there won’t be many tourists in such a dystopian future).  If it is based around some type of local industry that relies upon the normal social and economic functioning of the normal world, it again will not survive (what happens when the industrial employer can no longer source its raw materials or sell its finished goods, and so can not pay its employees?).  This is as true if it is a traditional industry (perhaps a saw mill) or a ‘new’ industry (maybe a server farm for an internet company).

If it is a retirement town with a large community of senior citizens living off their retirement checks, and augmented healthcare services to meet their needs, it again will not survive (what happens when those retirement checks stop coming in?).

Another factor when considering the viability of a small town is to evaluate its dependence on external sources of water, food and energy.  Clearly, the more it needs to bring these three essential commodities in from ‘somewhere else’, the more its future viability is vulnerable to the disruption of the supplies of these things.

A viable town has its own water supply nearby, and sources its food from nearby farms.  Energy is more of a concern, with it being rare to find a small town that has its own city energy source.  And even if it did, the chances are that the energy generation relies upon bringing in supplies of coal, natural gas, or oil fuel.  Only if the town has a dam and hydro power is it reasonably energy-independent.

Why are we raising these issues?  Four reasons.

Four Reasons Why a Nearby Town is Important to You

First, if it is your plan to create a rural retreat, you still need to have an eye to being within reach of a nearby small township.  You can’t possibly hope to have every skill set, every experience, every knowledge base, every type of equipment, and so on, yourself, on your retreat.  You will need to be able to turn to specialist providers of supplemental skills from time to time.

You’ll also want a place where you can buy things you need and don’t have, sell things you have produced, and/or trade and exchange and barter the one for the other.

Some type of town within a reasonable distance (think non-motorized transport when evaluating distances) is therefore a huge benefit and boost to your own survivability.

Secondly, not all current towns are the same.  Some will fail just as surely and completely as the big cities, while others will survive and may even thrive.  For example, the small town with the struggling hardware store and grocery shop will find that people no longer drive an extra 40 miles to go to Wal-Mart, Costco, or Home Depot, but instead necessarily return to doing business at the closer alternate.

You need to evaluate the towns that are close to potential retreat locations and assess if they are likely to survive and to add value to your retreat lifestyle, or if they are more likely to fail and instead become a source of problems for you at your retreat.

Thirdly, many people make an automatic assumption that a retreat needs to be in a deserted rural area, ‘safely’ far away from other people.  That’s not necessarily the case at all.  If life on a farm isn’t your idea of a good time, maybe you have a set of skills and personal lifestyle preferences that would fit better into a small town environment.  Maybe instead of being a land-owner needing a blacksmith, you can become the blacksmith.  Maybe you can establish the trading mart where the local people (both town-folk and farmers) do their buying, selling and bartering.  Maybe you can become the local saloon owner.  The local schoolmaster or schoolmistress.  And so on.

Fourthly, and this is the big one, maybe there is an opportunity for you to start your own new town.  If there have been towns close down over the last 100 years, but if there is still a reasonable rural population, who now rely on good transportation options to travel further distances, maybe you could consider establishing a new fledgling township and activate it if/when a Level 2/3 event occurs.

This would require some considerable capital investment on a very speculative basis, and so is not suitable for many people to consider.  But creating a substantial rural retreat is not an inexpensive concept either, and so maybe it might be a more appealing concept for you to prepare a skeleton of a new township.  You’d probably still have some ‘town gardens’ in it for immediate food growing, but rather than creating a rural retreat with the purpose of keeping people away for safety, maybe your strategy instead is to create the kernel of a settlement that could grow into a service town, and instead of keeping people away, you’d want to welcome people into it for safety.

Summary

Whatever your relationship will be with a town, being either a part of or close to a ‘good’ town that will survive is a key part of your retreat location evaluation and decision.

Apr 292013
 
Our 'advanced' society comprises an underlying and obscured labyrinthine linked series of dependencies.  Like falling dominoes, one single failure could bring everything down.

Our ‘advanced’ society comprises an underlying and obscured labyrinthine linked series of dependencies. Like falling dominoes, one single failure could bring everything down.

Much of this article might be thought of as ‘preaching to the converted’.  The chances are you’re already accepting on the basic tenets of the need to prepare for an uncertain future.

So why are we writing it?  Not only to reinforce in your own mind the wisdom of what you do and why, but to help you when discussing prepping with your non-prepper friends and colleagues.  Feel free to share this article with them; maybe it might open the eyes of one or two people who read it.  We hope so.

The Domino Theory is a concept with many applications.  First formulated by President Eisenhower in 1954, the theory originally held that communism would attack and take over countries, one by one by one, with each country’s fall to communism being accelerated by the fall of its neighbor.

This process was said to run in a sequence from China to Korea to Vietnam to Laos to Cambodia and on to Thailand, then Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma and India.  Clearly that didn’t actually happen (thankfully!) and for a while the theory was discredited.

But the theory can be used in many different applications, not just political, although it continues to be regularly used to argue politics.  For example, the theory has recently been used by people on both sides of current Middle East issues, arguing either that the spread of Muslim extremism is following a domino pattern while others are claiming that Middle East democracies (ummm – exactly which would those be?) may also take root and grow in a domino fashion.

Of course, you understand the analogy, right?  Set up a row of dominoes, spaced slightly apart, then knock the first over and watch the rest of them following in a wave, each set off by its neighbor.  Indeed, treat yourself to a light break for a few minutes and watch this video clip of dominoes falling in a chain (during the course of which two new domino world records were established).  It is strangely compelling, and there are many similar clips on Youtube.

So what does this have to do with prepping (other than possibly being a suitable activity to enjoy on long winter evenings at your retreat, while surviving internet or television)?

We preppers see the world we live in as becoming more and more like a chain of dominoes.  And whereas in a domino falling game, the rules say you start with only one domino being pushed over and then watch to see if all of the others fall, sequentially, we see the world as having several lines of dominoes all leading in to a central target, and with any of the dominoes on any of the lines being able to fall over and to start the chain reaction down the rest of their line to the central target.

That central target, by the way, is us and our current lifestyle, which we preppers understand as being full of dependencies and vulnerabilities, any one of which might tip over and start a domino type chain of events that end up destroying the lives of ourselves and everyone around us.

These chains of events occur in two ways.  The first are chains of events that result in a massive disruption in society, and the second are the chains of events that sees the disrupted society become a destroyed society – an anarchistic situation where the rule of law has disappeared and the government is no longer there to help us.

How could this happen?  Well, it just takes a single seed event to start a chain reaction, sort of like the child’s rhyme ‘For want of a nail, a shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, a horse was lost’ and which concludes with an entire kingdom being lost.

Two More Ways of Looking at the Domino Theory as it Applies to Preppers

Non-aware people – a phrase used by preppers to describe people who believe there are no risks or dangers inherent in our lives, and who believe the future continuity of a supportive society is assured – tell us that our concerns are needless, and say that there’s no possible way that some of the things we see as risks could ever become problems.

Let’s look at two more perspectives on this – one theoretical and one very real.

For the theoretical example, and in more modern terms than the rhyme about the horse’s lost shoe, people sometimes ask the question ‘If a butterfly flaps its wings in (your choice of a remote far away minor country), might it result in a (hurricane/tornado/whatever) in (your choice of major western city)?’.

In case you wondered, scientists have considered this question at length, and have come up with formulas to express the situation, which it seems is best summed up, in non-scientific terms, by saying ‘it depends’.  🙂

The underlying point in the question is ‘can a really small and safe seeming event end up as the catalyst that creates a huge disaster.  Non-preppers tell us to relax and not worry.  But we are like people who see a tiny leak appear in a huge damn, and worry if the leak will widen, if the crack will spread, and if, as a result, the damn will eventually crumble, with the tiny leak becoming a raging torrent.

This brings us to the real-life example.  You should go read an analysis of an airline disaster as published by whatever country’s air transportation safety board was responsible for investigating the event.  We’ve read plenty of them.

Almost without fail, all airplane disasters start off with a single small event which, in and of itself, is not fatal.  It may not even be serious.  But it is the initial precipitating event that starts the line of dominoes toppling.

For example – the pilot in command leaves the cockpit of the plane, with the two more junior pilots now piloting the plane.  Domino one.  One of the pilots is unhappy with his love life and hadn’t slept well the previous night.  Domino two.  Unusual weather causes an airspeed sensor pitot tube to ice over, and to stop sending accurate information to the flight management computer.  Domino three.  The flight management computer can’t understand its conflicting results and goes into error mode.  Domino four.  The two pilots misunderstand the error mode and do the wrong thing.  Domino five.  They call the senior pilot back to the cockpit but he just passively stands behind the two junior pilots rather than taking command.  Domino six.  One of the two pilots makes a wrong command with his joystick controller and doesn’t tell the other two pilots what he has done.  Domino seven.  The two pilots send conflicting commands to the airplane computer and don’t realize they are doing it.  Domino eight.  The dominos keep falling for five minutes, at which point the plane crashes into the sea killing everyone aboard.

Does that all sound unrealistic and impossible?  Not so.  We’ve just described the crash an Air France A330 in the South Atlantic in 2009.  The initial events were all easy to recover from, but due to a combination of mistakes and bad luck and who knows what else, 228 people died.

Back to prepping again.  Our point is that things that should never ever occur – like three highly trained pilots misunderstanding one of the simplest things in flying a plane – that when you have a plane in a stall, you push the plane’s nose down rather than pull it up – sometimes can and do occur.  Some of us are trained pilots, and to us it is unthinkable that AF447 crashed, with three skilled commercial pilots having five minutes to recover the plane from the first alarm to the final crash.  But, unthinkable or not, the plane did crash, and not because of a big huge vulnerability, but due to a semi-random chain of events that resulted in unexpected tragedy.

It can happen with planes – not only can, but does.  It can happen with anything and everything else as well – that is, after all, the quintessential concept of ‘accident’, isn’t it.  Just like if you toss a coin enough times, you’ll eventually end up with an unbroken sequence of it always landing heads, so too can ‘accidents’ happen in every other part of our life and our society.  Most accidents are small and ‘self-healing’ but there is always the possibility of a really big disaster.

Let’s see just one example of how a sequence of events results in society disintegrating in front of us.

The Dominoes Fall, Part One

Let’s start with a minor event, because the point of our article is that cataclysmic events can start from the smallest and most trivial of initiating circumstances.  It is the obscured way that the innocuous flapping of the butterfly’s wings grows to become a thunderstorm that is the problem.

In this case, let’s start with a person answering their cell phone while driving along on the highway.  Whether legal or not, we all do this, on a regular basis.  This is the first domino.

The person’s eyes glaze over as they talk, then realize they are drifting out of their lane and across the center line.  Another domino – and again, something we’ve often seen on the roads.  Startled, they over-correct and their car swerves in front of a truck.  There’s the next domino now falling, and we’re still talking commonplace events.

The truck fishtails as the driver attempts to avoid the car.  Another domino.

The truck rolls over, down a bank, and comes to rest when it hits a power pylon.  And another domino.

Now the dominoes turn a corner, and the traffic events change to a very different series of events.  The dominoes continue to fall.

The power pylon is knocked over, breaking the wires it was supporting.  Domino falls.

The power line was only a medium capacity line (we’re not going to cheat and make it easy!).  The utility that was using the power from the line switches its feed to an alternate path through the grid.  The next domino wavers – will it fall or not.

Ooops – over it goes.  Much of our grid operates at close to capacity already, and much of it is aging and in less than prime condition.  The loss of one circuit has overloaded the alternate circuit, and suddenly a transformer blows.

Due to poor design and random bad luck (this time we’re giving ourselves some help) the loss of power meant that the control circuitry for the distribution system also fails.  The backup generator failed to start.  A couple more dominoes fall.

The failed control circuitry means that the regional grid doesn’t properly reconfigure itself.  A couple more transformers overload and fail, and high tension distribution lines melt and fall.  There’s a few more dominoes.

The regional grid was formerly a net contributor of power to the national grid, but now is a net recipient of power, overloading other parts of the national grid.  In spectacular showers of sparks and noisy explosions, more transformers fail.  The grid consumes itself, just like a domino pyramid collapsing.

In less than five minutes from the car swerving in front of the truck, the nation’s entire electricity grid has gone dark.  Some local power utilities are still generating local power for their local consumers, but the vast majority of the nation, which relies on the grid to transport power from where it is generated to where it is consumed, are now without power.

So, big deal you might think.  Change over a few blown fuses, string a few replacement wires between pylons, and we’re back to normal in a day or two?  Sorry, no.

Those failed transformers can’t be repaired.  They need to be replaced, and we no longer make them in the US.  It will take more than two years before replacements start arriving from China, and maybe ten years before all of them are back online.

But whether it is ten years, two years, ten months, or even ‘only’ two months before power is restored, we have many more problems that will start occurring in the next ten minutes and the next ten hours and the next ten days.

The Dominos Fall Ever Faster

The dominoes are still falling.  They turn another corner then split into multiple parallel streams, and keep going.  The implications of a near total power loss for our modern society – which is totally reliant on electricity for almost everything – are catastrophic.

One domino stream has to do with the loss of power in the food storage industry.  Refrigeration and freezer units fail, meaning the nation’s inventory of food in cool stores starts to spoil.  Within a few days, much of it is no longer edible.  And as for ordering up replacement food – how can that be done, and where will it come from?  Because –

No power means no communications.  No cell phones, no internet, no landline phones.  Even if the emergency services had power themselves, they would be largely cut off from each other and unable to communicate and coordinate disaster recovery actions.

Think about the loss of communications.  We don’t just mean that your teenage children can’t now spend all day compulsively texting each other or posting on Facebook.  ATMs stop working, as do banks with electronic only records of accounts.

Another stream has to do with the loss of power in FEMA and the regional emergency coordination centers.  Sure, they’ve backup generators, but how much fuel do they have for them?  As for more fuel, well, no power means the pumps at gas stations don’t work, and no power means the refineries don’t work either.

Another stream has to do with life’s modern essentials.  How about water?  No power means no pumps – not for water in to your residence, nor for sewage out of it, either.

Before you know it, everything in your world has stopped working, because everything in your world either directly or indirectly needs electricity.

But wait, that’s the good news.  Now for the really bad news.

The Dominoes Fall, Part Two

So we’ve seen how a driver answering their cell phone ended up with most of the United States without power.  What happens next?

For the first  few minutes, nothing much happens.  And we truly mean nothing much happens.  Failed traffic lights will put our cities into instant gridlock.

But very soon, some clever person realizes ‘no power means no burglar alarms, and gridlock means police can’t get here quickly’ and he breaks into a store.  The dominoes quickly start falling down that path as copycats note the growing crime wave of looters acting with seeming impunity.  Not only are there no burglar alarms, there are no regular phones or cell phones either, and even if there were, without power to their computers and radios, there is no way that the police dispatchers could coordinate sending police to multiple crime scenes.  Before too long, the police cruisers will be without petrol anyway.  Meanwhile, gun control laws in the largest and most crime ridden cities mean that store owners and individuals are helpless to resist the crime wave that engulfs them.

So what happens next along that domino line?  Soon the looting becomes general rioting, and then, either by accident or deliberately, a building catches fire.

Even if the local fire department could be advised of this and attend the fire, what are they going to do?  There’s no water pressure in the fire hydrants, remember.

Okay, so they have a few pumper trucks that can maybe suck water out of the hydrants (not sure about this, but possibly), but what happens when they run out of diesel?

Soon you have the city ablaze, both from accidental fires spreading unchecked and from copycat arsonists.

At this point, the police have not just been unable to respond, they’ve chosen not to respond (just like in the LA riots).  There are too many rioters out there, and too few police, who have to cluster together in larger numbers due to not being able to keep communications up and speedily travel from one hot spot to the next.

So the city is decaying into lawlessness, one domino at a time.

The dominoes turn another corner.  Stores quickly run out of food.  The looters realize that you can’t eat big screen televisions, and shift their focus to food.

It isn’t just the stores that run out of food.  People start to quickly run out of food, too.  They’re already struggling to survive with no water, and now are realizing that if/when they manage to get sufficient safe drinking water, they’re merely replacing one pressing problem with another one, the lack of food.

Not only are they running low on food.  The 25% or whatever of the adult population who smokes are running out of cigarettes.  The percent of people on addictive drugs are running low on their supplies.  You know that these groups of citizens will be becoming anxious and irritable, to put it mildly.

Meantime, there’s another line of dominoes toppling.  You can flip a coin and decide if it is midsummer or midwinter, but either way, the lack of energy to heat or cool dwellings means that people in poor health are suffering, and those who can get to hospitals are finding little solace or assistance there.  There’s a growing healthcare crisis, not yet affecting normal healthy people, but starting to become an issue.  People injured in the rioting are finding it harder to get medical care, and the general restlessness of the ‘normal’ and law-abiding citizenry is growing.  Their initial passive complacent ‘the government will save us’ attitude is being replaced with annoyed outrage – ‘why isn’t the government saving me?’.

The ‘government’ can’t save its citizens, because government employees are suffering the same problems themselves, and are also having to choose between protecting themselves and their family by abandoning their government related duties, or leaving their families unprotected in an increasingly hostile environment and risking their lives attempting to control an uncontrollable wave of civil disorder.

The ones who do honorably report for duty find themselves undermanned with insufficient colleagues to do anything, and find themselves confronted with no support from other government sources and resources, and quickly decide the situation is hopeless and if everyone else is abandoning their jobs, they should do the same.

Anarchy takes over from order.  But even as anarchy seems to be ruling supreme, a new guiding principle becomes more and more apparent – the growing need to ensure one’s personal immediate survival.  The need for shelter, water and food.

Apartment dwellers are moving out of their apartments – who wants to live on the 10th or 20th floor of a building with no elevators operating and no water?  Others are being forced out by fires.  Still others are abandoning their homes due to safety concerns or the need to find food.  Where do all these people go and what do they do?

How long will it be before begging in the streets for help, shelter, water and food becomes demanding in the streets?  How long before people start taking not just goods from stores, but life’s essentials from other people, and by force?

Time for a new line of dominoes to start falling over.  The infrastructure repair workers – people who had been trying to restore power in whatever limited amount possible – start abandoning their jobs.  They too have no water or food, and their families are being threatened just as much as anyone else’s.

And another line of dominoes now starts falling over too.  What a few people had first started doing has become now a city-wide exodus – people are abandoning their city, fleeing to the suburbs and then on beyond, looking for refuge and safety from the civil disorder, and looking for shelter, water and food.

What Happens Next?

Sorry, all the dominoes have now fallen over.  Society has been destroyed.  The people tasked with protecting and defending society have fled their posts, and (this is the real kicker) the people tasked with restoring society’s services have also fled their posts, too.  The city dwellers are fleeing their cities – but where will they go?  Who will support them and how?  Lots of questions, none of which come with good answers.

For more on this topic, please refer to Why Cities Will Unavoidably Become Lawless within a Week or Two of a Level 2/3 Event, which talks some more about how cities will fail when their support structures fail.

And for more on where people can go to when evacuating a city, we have several articles, including perhaps this one – Rural America’s Decline Means Urban America’s Increased Vulnerability.

And as to what will happen next, here’s a good article – The Four Waves of Food and Shelter Seekers.

Could it Really Get That Bad?

Many people acknowledge that society could suffer a massive failure, but refuse to accept that the net result would be lawlessness and much worse.  They prefer to think that respect for the concept of the rule of law and the treasuring of human life above all else would remain, and that people would behave honorably and well.

Perhaps some people might indeed set shining examples of unselfish good behavior.  But the thing that can’t be avoided is – what happens when people are starving, and they have to choose between allowing their spouses, children, and other dependents to die of hunger while acting honestly and nobly, or doing whatever it takes – anything it takes – to get food any way possible?

No matter how basically decent and honest most people are most of the time, when it becomes life or death, many people will choose life, no matter how it is to be achieved.  Cities will inevitably become a ‘kill or be killed’ environment.

A breakdown in society and destruction of the rule of law doesn’t require everyone to ‘go bad’.  The tipping point requires only a very few people to act that way – this has been proven time and time again with the great ‘revolutions’ in history – revolutions that now seemed inevitable and which are misperceived as having been conducted with the active support of the overwhelming majority of citizens, but which in reality were brought about by only an active few.

You may or may not be certain how you and your friends would behave, but you can be absolutely certain that enough other people will act lawlessly and violently to make ordinary normal life impossible.

Summary

Who would have thought that the US could be brought to its knees by a careless driver swerving on the freeway?

We’re not saying the scenario we walked you through is guaranteed to occur.  We agree that it ‘shouldn’t’ occur, and we agree that it is very unlikely.  But, planes that ‘shouldn’t’ crash still do, and sometimes with 100% fatal results.

We’re also not saying this is the only way that our society could be brought to its knees.  Actually, we’re saying something much worse than that – we are saying that this sequence of events is only one of countless hundreds of ways in which the multiple dependencies on which our current world around us is based could collapse and all fall down, leaving nothing behind.

Most of all, we’re suggesting that – contrary to the misperceptions of many – our society is becoming increasingly more and more vulnerable rather than more and more resilient.  Energy – and electricity in particular – is one of the core essentials that our society is built upon, and if the supply of energy were to be disrupted, society could quickly and spectacularly fail before such time as energy supplies could be restored.

We’re saying that – if you’re not already – you should become a prepper, and start to prepare for a life where you can not rely on the government saving the day in an emergency.  The only people you can for sure rely upon are yourself, your immediate family, and your closest friends.  The only food, water and energy will be that you’ve stored for yourselves or can create with your own resources and efforts.

Please see our introductory series of articles about prepping for more information about who preppers are, what their concerns are, and what they are doing about their concerns.

Apr 282013
 
A computer reconstruction of the 19th century Fort Laramie, WY.  Do the 'wild west' forts validate or invalidate the concept of defending your retreat?

A computer reconstruction of the 19th century Fort Laramie, WY. Do the ‘wild west’ forts validate or invalidate the concept of defending your retreat?

An awkward issue that preppers have to confront when planning for a possible problematic future is what to expect from other people.

Will people peacefully unite and work together effectively to create win-win examples of mutual survival?  Or will some group of society (maybe only a small minority) take advantage of a possible collapse of law-enforcement and in an anarchistic manner run amok in an orgy of looting, pillaging and plundering?

Opinions differ greatly as to what might occur.  But the simple fact that there are credible concerns about a general decay into lawlessness is enough to require prudent preppers to plan for this.  Whichever outcome might happen, a prudent prepper must necessarily consider not only the best case scenarios but also the worst case scenarios, and for sure, roving gangs of violent people who simply take anything they want by force is an unpleasant situation and some type of preparation for this must be considered and provided for.

A central part of the planning and preparing process revolves around one very big question :  Is it practical to make your retreat fully secure against determined attackers?  Is it even possible to do so?  When (or if) you find yourself confronted by an armed gang of looters, what should you do?  Shelter in your retreat?  Run away, leaving everything behind?  Fight to protect yourselves and your possessions?

There are many different opinions on how to respond to such an event, and you should form your own decision after having carefully considered all perspectives, all opinions, and – most of all – all facts.

It is certainly true that it is difficult to build a totally safe and secure retreat, especially while trying to keep the cost of construction to an affordable level.  Modern munitions have enormous power and can destroy very heavily fortified structures.  Besides which, if the first explosive device fails to blow a hole in your outside wall, an attacker may simply repeat a second and third time, progressively weakening your external fortifications until they eventually fail.

So, if any structure can potentially be defeated by a well armed and determined attacker, is there any point in spending potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars to strengthen it, in a case where such strength will always sooner or later be insufficient?  This is clearly a very important question and concept, and one which demands consideration.

A letter was posted on the Survivalblog website recently that raised some of these often discussed issues.  It is short, so to save you clicking to the link, this is what it said

A comment on the dual ring village concept. If it is advanced as a defense tactic, I would urge remembering that the walled-town versus siegecraft dynamic is thousands of years old, and the survival of walled towns and cities is only possible if they are:

  1. Provisioned to last longer than the besieging force, which is of course free to forage and be resupplied
  2. Fireproof
  3. Relieved by a friendly force from outside.

They are also utterly obsolete since the development of artillery bombardment, still more so since the airplane and missile. Sad but true.

IMHO, safety today must rely on:

  1. Invisibility or insignificance to possible enemy
  2. Effective surveillance of a wide perimeter
  3. Mobile defense force to engage potential enemy at a distance

War is not only Hell, but quite expensive!

We don’t disagree with the writer’s first three points, although in truth there is a great deal more than just three factors that apply to considering the dynamics of siege situations and their likely outcomes.  While the walled-town vs siege dynamic is thousands of years old, it is only in the last 500 – 1000 years that the relative safety of the walled-town has diminished compared to the ability of attackers to broach the fortifications.  Furthermore, it is less than 200 years ago when fortified positions were still being used to good effect, here in the US, to protect against Indians and outlaws – a reasonable analog of the situation that might be expected WTSHTF.

Indeed, the decline of forts in the US came not due to their failure to protect the people within them, but due to the peace and stability and stronger law enforcement that made such forts no longer essential.

If we were to look at history for lessons – and this is always a valid thing to do – we’d suggest that history has actually validated rather than invalidated the concept of fortified dwellings.

But let’s put the writer’s introductory comments to one side, because that’s not the main problem we have.  Keep reading on past his first three points and the conclusion he draws from them.

Now comes the trap.  We’re sure this writer didn’t deliberately adopt this well-known technique of demagoguery, but see what is happening here, and be aware when it is used to try to persuade you of other things in other situations.

The process is simple.  First you get the person you are trying to persuade to agree with you on some points which may range from ‘obviously’ true to probably true.  In the process you establish yourself as a credible expert in the person’s mind and get them in the habit of agreeing with you.  Salesmen are taught the same thing – you ask the prospect a series of questions to which the answer is ‘Yes’ then you ask him the big question – ‘Will you buy my used car’ and before the prospect has thought fully about it, he has reflexively answered yes again.

So, after the series of obviously true statements and agreements, second, comes the ‘sucker punch’.  You use the agreements on the initial points as a launching platform to adduce the apparently incontrovertible validity of some other points which superficially seem to be related to the points you’ve agreed upon, but which in truth may be completely unrelated and not directly linked.

Now, as we said, we’re sure the writer of this letter was well-meaning rather than trying to trick us, but – in our opinion – the net result is that he offers up three uncontroversial facts about a complex topic, and then slides from that to three opinions which are far from universally accepted.

Let’s focus in on his three claims.

1.  Safety relies on being invisible or insignificant to a possible enemy

Well, for sure, if you are invisible, your problems are reduced.  But – ummm, which aisle of the local store sells invisibility cloaks?  If you don’t have an invisibility cloak – and also the ‘absorbs all smells’ cloak and the ‘blocks all noise’ cloak, and if they are not large enough to cover your entire retreat, cultivated lands, wells, driveways, fencing, etc, then you’re not going to be invisible.

So saying that safety relies on being invisible is impractical and unrealistic.  You may as well say ‘safety relies on being invulnerable’ – and that’s about as likely as becoming invisible.

We do agree that it is prudent to observe ‘opsec’ and to minimize one’s profile to the world around one.  But we believe it is wildly improbable that you’ll remain undetected, longer term, and when you are detected, you need to have plans in place for how to now resolve problems.

The other half of the writer’s first point is to be insignificant.  But is this what you want, and is it possible, and even if it were, does it guarantee you a successful outcome when being confronted by a group of bad guys?  We think not.

Firstly, insignificant opponents are easy opponents.  Who would a theoretical enemy rather engage – a strong substantial well prepared force, or an insignificant small group of unarmed survivors?

Secondly, who wants to prep to be ‘insignificant’ in a future without rule of law?  Doesn’t the very fact that we have prepared and have supplies of food, shelter, energy, and everything else automatically shift us from the ‘insignificant’ to the ‘tempting’ category?  Is he saying ‘become starving and homeless and you’ll be okay’?

We should also think about the opposite to what he is saying – when he says that insignificant groups of people are safe, is he suggesting that marauders are drawn to making kamikaze type attacks on much stronger groups of well prepared communities?  That sure sounds counter-intuitive!

We’d suggest that in a future adverse situation, roving marauders will be opportunists, and will go after the ‘low hanging fruit’ – they’ll pick fights with people they know they can dominate, while leaving stronger adversaries well alone.

There’s one more thing as well.  This being insignificant thing – were you ever bullied at school (or, perhaps, were you a bully)?  Whichever you were, who were the people bullies would most pick on?  The highly visible popular students, or the less visible loners?  The lettered sports team jocks, or the puny weaklings?

How well did being insignificant work against bullies at school?  So tell me how being insignificant would work against bullies in a future dystopian world where bullies are running amok, free of any negative consequences?

There is never safety in weakness.  Only in strength.  So, this first claim seems to be in part impractical/impossible, and in other part, completely the opposite of what is more likely to occur.

2.  Safety relies on effective surveillance of a wide perimeter

There are a lot of assumptions wrapped up into this statement.  First of all, it seems to contradict his first point – an insignificant group lacks the resources to keep effective watch on a wide perimeter.  We’re not sure how wide a perimeter he is thinking of, but let’s say he is suggesting a one-quarter mile radius from your central retreat dwelling.  That makes for an 8300 foot perimeter – more than a mile and a half of perimeter.

For another measure, let’s say you have a ten-acre roughly square-shaped block of land, and you establish your perimeter on the boundary of your ten-acre block.  That perimeter would be probably about 3000 ft (a mile is 5280 ft), but that’s not a ‘wide’ perimeter.  It means you will see your opponents more or less at the same time they see the first signs of your property and the give-away indicators of fencing, cultivation, crops, animals, or whatever else.

It may not be practical to have a forward perimeter beyond your property – if you have neighbors, do they want you running patrols and maintaining forward observation posts on their land?  But if it is possible, and you have a perimeter another 150 ft out from your boundary, then you now have a 4,000 ft perimeter to patrol.

How many people will be required to patrol somewhere between 3000 and 8300 ft of perimeter?  That depends of course on the terrain and what type of vegetation you have.  Best case scenario might be eight people (say one in each corner of the 3000 ft ‘box’ and one in the middle of each side); worst case scenario could be 28 people (one every 100 yards with an 8300 ft perimeter).  You might be able to get away with fewer people during the day, and you’d probably need more people at night.

Now, even with ‘only’ eight people on duty, and let’s say that each person works eight hours a day, seven days a week, that still means you need a total team of 24 sentries to guard your perimeter, plus some additional staff for supervisors, central headquarter coordinating, and so on.  And that’s your best case scenario.  With the larger perimeter, you could end up needing 100 people for your total sentry/observation team.

So with somewhere between 25 and 100 able-bodied members of your community who are full-time tasked with doing nothing other than effectively surveilling a wide perimeter, one has to ask – how practical is that?

But let’s wave our magic wand over this part of his statement (you know, the one we used for our invisibility cloak too) and now ponder the next thought – what happens when an enemy force is detected approaching our invisible and insignificant community?  The writer answers that question in his third and last point.

3.  A Mobile Defense Force is Required to Engage Potential Enemies at a Distance

This is another very complicated concept that is not adequately conveyed in a short statement.  While it may be good military doctrine in the normal world to engage in such actions, in a Level 3 situation in particular, very different rules apply.  In a normal (or historical) military conflict, both forces are willing to accept casualties as part of furthering their cause, because they are assured of a vast to the point of almost limitless resupply of soldiers and munitions from ‘back home’ and because the commanders who make such decisions are not the fathers, brothers, and close personal friends of the soldiers they are willingly sacrificing.

But in a Level 3 situation, you only have the people with you in your community, and no replacements.  Plus, they are not strangers.  They are your friends and family.  What father will happily send his son out on a risky mission that might simultaneously see him lose his son and also see his community lose one of their precious able-bodied members?  Keep in mind also, with a collapse in health care resources, even small battlefield wounds will become life threatening.

There’s a terrible imbalance in this, too.  Although your community will have a small and irreplaceable resource of manpower – and a similarly small and irreplaceable resource of weaponry and munitions – it will be confronting a seemingly limitless number of roving gangs of aggressors.  Sure, you might successfully fight one gang off this week, but what about next week, the week after, and so on?

As we point out in our article about gangs being your biggest security threat, there were 1.4 million gang members in the US in 2010.  Now, of course, not all 1.4 million of those people are going to singlemindedly attack you, if for no other reason than geographical distances and the sure fact that many of them will lose their lives doing other things, elsewhere.  But how many more gang members will they recruit, and how many new gangs of all types will spring up when the rule of law evaporates?

So our first point is that in a future Level 3 situation, you are going to want to do all you can to protect your people and to avoid risking their lives and wellbeing.  You’ll not want to gratuitously start any firefights that you couldn’t otherwise avoid.

There’s more to critique in the writer’s third suggestion/statement, too.  If you are going to engage potential enemies, as he recommends, you need to surprise and ambush them.  So you’re going to have to have prepared ambush locations and defensive positions all around your retreat and wherever else you might choose to initiate contacts.

This strategy also links in to his earlier comment about a wide perimeter.  If your sentry perimeter is your property line or just beyond, or only one-quarter mile from your retreat, it will be impossible to ‘engage at a distance’ when you might not detect enemies until they are almost upon you.

Remember also you need to allow time from when your sentries have sounded an alarm to when your reaction force can group together and travel to the point of encounter.  This is indeed another reason for wanting to set your perimeter out as far as you can.

But if you extend your perimeter out to, say, 1 mile, you’ll have all sorts of issues with patrolling on other people’s land, and your manpower requirements will increase enormously.  You could quickly end up needing 500 people for sentry duty, and much more sophisticated communications systems to control and coordinate them all.  So that’s not going to work very well either, is it.

There’s also the simultaneous moral and tactical issue about what do you do when encountering – to use the writer’s term – a potential enemy?  If you do as he advocates and engage them at a distance, does that mean you’re opening fire on people who may have been quite peaceful and having no intention of attacking you?  Does that mean you’re killing people who didn’t even know you were there (remember, you’re also supposed to be insignificant and invisible)?

Or, if you’re giving them warnings, haven’t you just revealed your presence, and ceased to be both insignificant and invisible?  And, having given them a warning, you’ve now lost the initiative – they can decide, after making a show of retreating away, whether they’ll stay away, or if they’ll circle around and attack you unawares from another side.  (Oh, right, yes – your effective surveillance of a wide perimeter is keeping you safe.  Maybe.)

We could go on – for example, we could wonder how mobile the mobile force the writer advocates would actually be in a Level 3 situation.

Are we talking horses, or vehicles – if the latter, just how much gas do you have to burn on roving mobile patrols, and how complete an inventory of spares for the vehicles you’re using all day every day?  What type of roading will be required?  And how invisible/insignificant are you being with motorized patrols?

Alternatively, if you’re going to use horses, they aren’t a free source of mobility.  Horses require feeding, stabling, training, medical care, and so on.  You’ve just added yet another layer of complexity and cost and overhead to your retreat community.  Not only do you now have some hundreds of people full-time on sentry duty, but you now need a mobile force of, shall we say, 50 cavalrymen, and they in turn require how many extra people to care for their 50+ horses?

Remember the concept of a ‘horse acre’ – each horse requires almost an acre of farmland to be supported.  So the first 50 acres of your retreat are required for the cavalry horses, and the first 500 adults in your retreat are all either sentries or soldiers, and if we say you need another 1000 people to do productive work to cover their own needs plus those of the 500 strong security group, and if we say that these 1500 adults have on average at least one other family member, your retreat community has now grown to 3000 people.

Is that still small and insignificant?

Actually, we are probably being conservative about the proportion of ‘support people’ and civilians that are required to underpin your security force.  It is rare to find a country with more than 5% of their population in the armed services.  Even in the gravest parts of Britain’s struggle in both World Wars One and Two, with the entire country locked in a life and death struggle and every part of the economy devoted to supporting it troops, and with the civilian population suffering rationing of everything – food, clothing, energy, you name it – the largest force that Britain could field was only about 10% of their entire population, and that was for only a brief part of the war.

With possibly less automation in your post-WTSHTF community, and with the need to have a sustainable allocation of resources to defense compared to simple food production and survival, it is unlikely you could have much more than 5% of your total retreat population tasked with defense duties, and/or no more than 10% of your adult militarily fit (generally considered to be 17 – 49) population.

So there’s a rule of thumb – multiply your defense team numbers by 10 to get the total number of 17 – 49 year olds in your group, and by 20 to get a minimum total group size of all ages.  Or, working backwards, divide the count of adult able people in your group by ten and that’s about how many you can afford to spare for defense duties.

Some Alternative Thoughts

Okay, so the three ideas proposed by the letter writer don’t really make much sense, do they.  But we do probably all agree that being besieged by an opposing force is not a good situation, either.

So what is the solution?

This brings us to another trick of demagoguery.  Are the initial three statements, the statements we agreed with, actually applicable to our situation?  As we hinted at before, we suggest not.  We’re not talking about medieval wars between states, when brightly colored knights on horses jousted in a chivalrous manner with each other, and armies mounted sieges against lovely crenelated castles surrounded by moats, located obligingly on open fields.

We are talking about a roving group of marauders, probably numbering from a low of perhaps 10 up to a high of probably less than 50.  For sure, if they encounter us, they would be keen to take whatever they wished from us, but if they can’t do that, will they devote the next many months or years of their lives to mounting a siege?  Or will they give up and move on, because for sure, some miles further on will be some other small community who perhaps truly is insignificant and easier to plunder?

If fortified settlements worked well in the wild west against similar types of bandit groups, wouldn’t they work well again in a future Level 3 situation?

Our point is this – a strong well fortified central retreat is more likely to discourage rather than to encourage attackers to press on with an attack.  Sure, they might start off by attempting to overwhelm your group, but if they fail at the easy stuff, are they then going to risk losing more of their people and sweating the hard stuff?  We suggest not.

While it is true that modern artillery and air delivered munitions are beyond what we could realistically build defenses against, how likely is it that a roving group of marauders will be towing field artillery pieces, or have an airforce at their command?  Even if they did have some military grade munitions, do you think they would have many of such things, or maybe just one or two that they were reluctant to squander?

So what level of protection do you need to build into your retreat?

Realistic Construction Standards for Your Retreat

We suggest you design a retreat that can withstand being shot at by heavier caliber rifles, and which is fireproof.

It is certainly conceivable that attackers would have rifles, and it is certainly conceivable that their rifles would be in full size calibers such as 7.62×51 (ie .308) rather than in lighter calibers such as 5.56 (ie .223) or 762.×39 (ie Soviet type AK-47 calibre).

So your retreat should be built to be able to withstand multiple hits in a single location from .308 and similar calibers, and be constructed of a material that you can readily repair at the end of any such attack.

It also has to be strong enough to resist physical assault – in other words, if attackers get to your retreat’s exterior walls, you don’t want them to be able to break windows and climb in, or to knock down doors with a battering ram.  You want to physically block them by your exterior wall while you pour defensive fire down on them from protected positions on the top of the wall.

Talking about fire, it is certainly conceivable that attackers could somehow get incendiary devices to the walls and roof of your retreat.  The strongest walls are useless to you if you have a shake roof which the bad guys set on fire.

If you have wood on your walls or roof, then you’re vulnerable to this type of attack.  But if you have stone, adobe, metal, or concrete, you are safe from the threat of fire, too.

There’s a lot more to this topic – a lot more on both sides of the discussion – and we’ll come back to it again in future articles.  But for now, can we suggest that it is possible to envisage a viable future that doesn’t involve 500 sentries and soldiers, invisibility cloaks, and contradictory and morally unsound strategies.

Summary

The question of how to optimize one’s ability to survive against attacking marauders is a key and critical issue that you need to consider.  We’re not saying that every day will see you battling afresh against new groups of attackers – such events may be very rare indeed.  But, rare as they may be, they are not unforeseeable and may occur.

The problem becomes of how much resource to invest into anticipatory defenses.  A text-book perfect solution would require an impossible amount of manpower and resource.  You will need to compromise, accordingly.  But we don’t think there is safety in weakness; surely there is only safety in strength.

We’re reminded of the story about how to survive a bear attack if you’re unarmed.  You don’t need to be able to outrun the bear.  You just need to be able to outrun the people you’re with.

In our case, to survive an attack by marauders doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be either invisible or invulnerable.  It just means you’ve got to be less tempting a target than other people in the surrounding area.

Don’t get us wrong.  The best case scenario of all would be for your neighbors to be similarly hard targets, so that word gets out that your entire region is best avoided.  But first make your own retreat community strong; and only after that, work to help your neighbors on a basis of mutual support, too.

We’ve spent much of this article critiquing the letter we quoted.  But hopefully through the critiques, you can see implied positive strategies and approaches, and we’ll write more on how best to protect your retreat in further articles.

Mar 062013
 
Should you use a storage locker for your supplies?  If you do, we'd recommend parking your vehicle to obscure the view into your locker when visiting.

Should you use a storage locker for your supplies? If you do, we’d recommend parking your vehicle to obscure the view into your locker when visiting.

We’ve seen several writers recommend keeping some of your prepping supplies in a regular commercial self-storage rental-unit, instead of – or as well as – at your retreat.  They suggest you should choose a storage locker facility that allows you 24/7 access and which you can secure yourself and access externally.

People advocating this strategy say that using a commercial storage unit may be more secure than filling up your ‘cabin in the woods’ with everything you have accumulated, and they are half correct about this.

The part they are half correct about is that at present, with life as we know it continuing on in its normal fashion, your retreat is probably unlived in for much/most of the year, and therefore is vulnerable to attack.

It is close to impossible to make any type of structure totally burglar-proof.  Assuming your retreat is out of sight of the main road and neighbors, there’s nothing to stop burglars from using a crow-bar or chain-saw or in any other way, forcing their way into your retreat, at their leisure; and loading up anything and everything they want, completely undisturbed and unseen.

Your retreat is vulnerable not only to professional burglars but also to casual vandalism.  If people get the sense that there’s a little used mainly vacant house, they might decide to break in just for the sheer devilry of doing so.

On the other hand, commercial storage units are moderately secure and it is uncommon for individual units to be broken into.  The more secure storage units have individual alarms on each unit that will sound if the person renting the unit does not enter a personal access code prior to opening the door.

The least secure units have their doors secured by padlocks.  The reason this is insecure is that most padlocks can be defeated in only a few seconds by a pair of bolt-cutters; furthermore, after the thieves have cut off your padlock and entered your unit to take whatever they want, they can then re-secure your unit with a replacement padlock, leaving no obvious external sign of unauthorized entry.  Even worse, they could return the next day and simply open the padlock with their key, and for all anyone else would know, they were the rightful owner of the locker.  You’d not know anything about this until returning to the locker yourself to find an unfamiliar padlock on your door.

Issues and Risks of Storage Units

Some of the issues and risks to do with storing your supplies in a storage locker can be mitigated and reduced by prudent action on your part.

For example, if the storage facility you are considering does not have security that monitors and alarms any time a locker door is opened without an appropriate access code being entered, you could probably set up your own internal alarm at the storage unit so that when your unit’s door is opened, a disarm code needs to be quickly entered into an alarm unit, and if not done so, it will either sound a very loud alarm to alert the management and scare off the intruders, and/or dial a phone number to alert your or someone else about the unauthorized access (Use a Google phone number that will ring simultaneously to multiple numbers).  Clearly you want a storage unit with a power outlet, and an alarm with a battery backup.

There are two further vulnerabilities of a commercial storage unit.  Both are fairly small vulnerabilities, but one should not lose sight of them.

First, it is possible that the police or some other law enforcement body might get a search warrant to search an entire storage unit complex due to some part of it being suspected of being used to store something illegal (we are aware of this happening in a slightly different context with safe deposit box facilities).  If you had anything potentially embarrassing in your storage unit, it could be discovered in such a case, and while there would be a debate subsequently about if your items could be seized or not under the terms of the warrant the police were acting on, it would be at the very least an embarrassment and probably would require some time, trouble, and attorney fees for you to retrieve whatever it might be that the police seized.

Even if you had nothing embarrassing present, it is possible the police action could make everything unavailable for some time while they worked out what belonged to who and so on.

The other vulnerability could be the storage unit operator/owner breaking in to your unit – either illegally or legally.  Perhaps you set up some sort of regular auto-pay for the monthly rental, and maybe something changes to invalidate the payments, and maybe you don’t realize this, and the next thing you know, the owner/operator has broken in to your unit and is auctioning off its contents to recover lost rent, and has done something to everything else that you had stored there.

This happened to us.  We used a technique to obscure our actual identity when hiring the locker, but unfortunately, when the regular auto payments failed (unbeknownst to us), the facility manager couldn’t contact us, and we arrived one day to find our unit double locked by the manager, and about to be opened and the contents auctioned off.  Just as well we turned up when we did.

There’s another consideration to keep in mind as well.  It is a remote and unlikely risk, but it is also a risk that wiped out everything I had stored at a storage facility, some years ago.  This is the risk of fire (or any other sort of external ‘natural’ peril such as flood or who knows what).  You’ve probably seen pictures or video of floods, and I’ve definitely seen storage facilities suffering from flood waters the same as other businesses around them.  But in my case, the problem was fire.

A huge fire destroyed the large warehouse/storage facility, and its entire contents too.  There’s actually a weird ending to that story – I discovered that my regular homeowner’s insurance would cover me, and lodged a claim for what I’d lost.  The insurance company immediately paid out, but then almost as quickly, told me it would not renew my cover for the future, due to my having an ‘unexpected loss’.

Isn’t that what insurance is all about – protection against ‘unexpected losses’?  Apparently some insurance companies don’t realize or don’t accept they are in the business of covering for unexpected losses!  They are happy to accept your premiums, but don’t like to ever then pay out.

If you have your insurance cancelled/not renewed, you will find it very difficult to get alternate insurance at normal rates from anyone else, because all insurers tell each other when they blacklist a person.

So make sure you specify to your insurer that you are covering goods at both your primary residence and at a storage locker too; that way there will be less risk of your insurance company giving you a hard time if/when you make a claim.

Of course, there’s probably no way you’ll be able to effectively claim on insurance WTSHTF, but you could have a loss prior to then, and in such a case, you could indeed file a claim and get reimbursed.  And after life returns to normal after a major event, you may have some ability to get some sort of reimbursement from whatever remains of the insurance company – there’s a likelihood that whatever sort of government survives, will choose to help out in such cases.

The Moment at Which a Storage Locker Ceases to be a Good Strategy

So, while life continues normally, a storage locker is probably a good place to securely keep supplies.

But what about WTSHTF?  At that point, your retreat becomes comparatively more safe because you have people living there, and at the same time, your storage locker becomes massively less safe.

Our guess is that storage lockers will quickly become a high priority target for any roving hoards of looters.  If you’re not able to quickly – and safely – get to your storage locker and transport its contents to your retreat, then you run the risk of losing whatever you stored there.  Either the items will be stolen or it will become impossible/impractical/unsafe for you to journey to the storage locker and collect whatever you have stored.

This also indicates an important consideration when choosing a storage facility – its location.  You don’t want to use one in the center of a major population concentration.

You want to choose a storage facility on the outskirts of the population concentration, and on the same side of it as your retreat is, meaning that to travel between your storage facility and your retreat, you only need to go to the outskirts of the city, not into the center, and -worst of all – not through the city to a storage facility on the far side.

Op-Sec and Storage Lockers

If you are using a storage locker, you need to consider some simple ‘Op sec’ issues.

Assume that your every move is being watched whenever you are on the facility premises/grounds, and avoid doing anything unusual or ‘interesting’.  Move only nondescript things in and out of your unit.  Buy some packing boxes – plain brown cardboard boxes – and put whatever you are moving into these outer boxes.  That way, all any observer would see is you carrying generic cartons in and out of your unit.  That is much less tempting than seeing you carrying in boxes of food and ammo and whatever else.

Needless to say, if you are storing long guns – rifles and shotguns – either break them down so they too can fit in normal dimensioned cartons or choose cartons that have unnecessary extra width and/or depth to them so as to make it less obvious what is inside them.

We’d also suggest you don’t go to your storage unit too regularly, that you don’t load or unload too much stuff each time you do go, and that you generally go at semi-normal times of day or night, so as to seem totally ordinary and boring and not arouse any interest whatsoever.

But maybe do make a point of visiting once a quarter or so, and also make a show of taking things out of your locker as well as placing them in.  They can be empty boxes that you are moving, but just show some signs of using your locker for ‘ordinary’ purposes – ie as an overflow storage facility for a regular household where you sometimes put spare stuff into storage and sometimes take stuff out of storage to use.

If you had a taste for the theatrical, you could even do something like make a big show of carrying a box with part of an artificial Christmas tree sticking out of it in and out of your unit each Christmas season.

And, of course, try to minimize the potential for casual passers-by to see into your unit whenever you have its door open, and if there’s a possibility, try to keep stuff looking boring and ordinary inside your unit.

Summary

There is good sense in storing your supplies in more than one location.  If something might cause the supplies at one location to become unavailable to you, you still have your alternate location(s) too.

A storage locker can be a good place to keep supplies, but if you use one, you need to be careful at what you let people know and see about your stores, and will need to be able to quickly and safely clear out your supplies WTSHTF.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Factor Formula

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

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

Adding a Third Factor

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

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

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

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

Adding More Factors

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

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

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

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

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

How to Set Values for Each Factor

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

There are two things to consider when assigning values.

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

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

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

Which leads to the next point.

The Result is Not As Accurate as it Seems

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

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

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

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

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

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

Considering Other Issues Too

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Excellent is the Enemy of the Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This leads us to a very important related concept.

The Tortoise and the Hare

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

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

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

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

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

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

Progress is a Series of Small Steps in the Right Direction

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

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