May 122012

A FEMA map showing county by county counts of Presidential declared disasters for the period 1964-2007

It is easy to think of prepping as being one single set of actions, designed to prepare for any and all future challenges as/when/if they occur, and of the differences between types of situations and necessary responses as being on a smooth continuum, from trivial and minor to life changing/threatening and major.

This is only partially true, and masks the very different types of situations and preparations required.  There are very different sets of responses to different types of situations – perhaps best to think of prepping like a plane, which you control very differently while taxiing on the ground compared to when flying through the air.

In fact, rather than just two modes of response (like a plane), we suggest it is most helpful to create three different sets of future challenges, and to identify prepping solutions for each of these, because the three different types of preparations are very different from each other.  These three levels of preparing, and the three levels of future challenges, are :

Level 1 :  Short Term

Short term problems are those which are, obviously enough, of short duration.  They are events that clearly have an expected resolution to them via society’s normal mechanisms, and it is just a case of waiting for the issues to be resolved.

An example of a short term problem would be a major storm, flood, or power outage.  Such events could inconvenience you for anywhere from an hour or two up to perhaps a week or two.  Lesser events can be considered, too – having your car break down on the side of the road late at night, for example.

In such cases your response to such challenges generally does not require evacuating your normal residence – indeed, by definition, any Short Term/Level 1 events are ones which do not require you to leave home.

You may lose power, you may lose other utilities, and you may have transportation challenges, and there may be regional disruptions to normal social support functions.  But the functioning of the country as a whole remains unchallenged, and in some form or another, you know that matters will, in the foreseeable future, return to normal.  Society is not disrupted, you don’t have lawlessness or looting.

How/what do you prepare for and respond to a Level 1/Short Term disruption?  Things like an emergency generator and enough fuel to power it for a couple of weeks.  Extra fuel for at least one of your vehicles.  Food and water for a couple of weeks.  A two-way radio, although there’s a good chance your landline and cell phones will still work, as may also your internet.

You only slightly modify your normal lifestyle, and you are secure in the certainty that life will be back to normal well before you’ve exhausted your emergency supplies.

A person can be well prepared for Level 1 events without needing to outlay more than $10,000, and probably without needing to outlay much more than $1,000.

Level 2 :  Medium Term

These are obviously events which are more major than Level 1 events.  We define Level 2 events by the need to abandon your normal residence and move somewhere else.  Level 2 events disrupt the total fabric of your region, and are more open ended in terms of when and how matters will return to normal.  They might be natural – a solar storm wiping out our power grid, for example.  They might be economic – a collapse in the global economy – something which we seem to be flirting with at present.  They might be the result of military action, or could be any one of many other issues – maybe even something minor which then snowballs and destroys the increasingly fragile and delicate state of today’s modern interdependent society.

Level 2 events may even threaten people’s lives due to interruptions not only to utility services such as water, sewer, power/gas, trash, and communications, but also due to disruptions to the distribution system for food, gasoline, and other essentials – disruptions which appear likely to extend beyond the point at which most non-preppers can cope.

Some lawlessness and looting will develop, as desperate people search for food.

On the other hand, these problems, as severe as they are, have some sort of an eventual happy ending and resolution clearly in sight, such as to see the restoration of normal infrastructure and a return to ‘life as we know it’ (LAWKI) at some reasonable point in the future.

How do you prepare for and respond to a Level 2/Medium Term disruption?  You need a secure location where you can shelter from the lawlessness that may envelope cities and other areas of dense population, and where you can create your own little bubble of comfort, safety, and what passes for civilization.

Possibly your retreat will still have essential services connected to it (power most of all), but you’ll be prepared for an eventuality without power.

You’ll live primarily from stored supplies without worrying too much about replenishing them.  Sure, you’ll try and reduce your reliance on external sources of most things, but you’ll not feel the need to become 100% self-reliant or to adopt a 100% sustainable independent life.  Instead, you’ll happily live off your stockpiles of food, energy sources, and whatever else, because you can see a clear restoration of ‘normalcy’ at some point within a year or so.

You need two way radio communication to supplement any remaining ‘normal’ types of communication, but primarily to communicate among yourselves, and perhaps augmented by a shortwave radio receiver so you can keep updated with news of ‘the rest of the world’ and what is happening to resolve the problems your region has suffered.

You may choose to do this independently by yourself, because you have the supplies and resources you need.  Alternatively, and perhaps for optional social reasons rather than for any essential needs, you may choose to band together with other prepared people too.

Level 2 clearly requires a massively greater amount of preparation (and expenditures) than Level 1.  If you have only prepared for Level 1 contingencies, you’ll have a problem surviving a Level 2 event, primarily due to not having a retreat location to move to.  Cities will quickly become lethal environments, and even if you successfully manage to evacuate the city you live in, so what?  Where will you move to?  See our article about the modern day imbalance between city and rural life – there’s no way that small country towns can suddenly accept four times more people than they had before as refugees from the cities.  If you don’t have somewhere to go to, already prepared, you have in effect nowhere to go to.

Preparing for a Level 2 event will cost you anywhere from $100,000 as an absolute bare-bones minimum up to $1 million or more.  These costs will start to encourage you to adopt group/shared solutions.  While two people can never live (or prepare) as cheaply as one, they sure can do so for much less than double the cost.  There’s not only safety in numbers, but economy too.

If you feel it impractical to consider preparing to Level 2 standards yourself, don’t give up.  The reality is that a Level 2 condition is close to essential.  Maybe Code Green can help.  Ask about becoming a member of our cooperative community and how you can benefit from shared investments in Level 2 and Level 3 preparations.

Level 3 :  Long Term

This is the big one.  Society has broken down.  Something has destroyed much of the infrastructure not just of your region, and not just of the United States, but of most of the entire world.  This might be a bio-disaster (a flu pandemic as has several times come very close in the last decade) or a global conflict, or an EMP pulse, or any one of many other events.Y

ou’re not yet reduced to a stone age life-style, but you’ve no idea when you’ll be able to resupply any of the items you’ve stockpiled, and so your focus now is on sustainable ongoing self-contained living.

Whereas in Level 1 events, you happily lived off and even squandered your stored supplies, sure in the knowledge that the event was short term, and in Level 2 events, you were more prudent and glad you had spares for essential items and generous amounts of ‘just in case’ materials, with Level 3 events, you’re not just focused on spares for essential items, but on how to build replacement products from raw materials and how to adjust to a life with massively fewer modern and complex appliances.

You of course have needed to evacuate if you lived in a city, and the lawlessness (or arbitrary capricious unilateral attempts at imposing draconian ‘order’) is pervasive.  It is an ‘every man for himself’ sort of situation, and yes, it may also become a ‘kill or be killed’ situation too.  Starving people, facing certain death for themselves and their families, will have no choice but to fight for food and shelter, and you in turn will have no choice but to defend that which you have.

You need to change your lifestyle so that you can become self-sustaining and self-sufficient.  Sure, you’ll use up your stockpiled supplies as you devolve down to a level of sustainable self-sufficiency, and as you do so, you realize that you might never be able to replace such things.  You need to become both energy and food independent, and your energy independence needs to be not just in the form of PV solar cells (because what do you do as they degrade and fail, in a situation where you have no replacements and where you can’t create the underlying pre-requisite technology to manufacture more) but rather in the form of some type of energy source that you can maintain and operate indefinitely.

Food independence can be slightly modified by trading off surpluses of the types of food you can grow with surpluses of food developed by other nearby families and communities.

You need to become part of a community because you don’t have enough resources, by yourself and with whatever handful of friends and family are with you, to have all the talents, skills, and resources necessary to optimize your life.  You need to be able to communicate, bi-directionally, not just locally and regionally, but nationally and internationally, so as to understand what has happened to and what is happening to the rest of your country and the world, and to coordinate your activities with those of other pockets of survivors.

If you have already prepared for a Level 2 contingency, you’ll have a ‘parachute’ to cushion your crash-landing down into the post-industrial society that you’ll be entering.  The most important thing is you have a place to retreat to, and enough supplies and resources to buy you some time to urgently start adapting to the new future staring you in the face.

It would be better, of course, if you already have some Level 3 planning and preparations in place, but if you’re already at Level 2, you’re way ahead of most other people.

How much does it cost to be prepared for a Level 3 situation?  That’s a question with a huge range of possible answers, and it depends on how much of life’s former comforts you want to try and preserve and for how long, how much you want to have in place to devolve down to less complex forms of technology, and how far you can split such costs with fellow preppers.

This is where Code Green Prep can help.  Ask about becoming a member of our cooperative community and how you can benefit from shared investments in Level 2 and Level 3 preparations.

Here’s a table showing some of the key differences in these three levels of future event and their implications to us as preppers.


Item Level 1 Level 2 Level 3
Duration Short – maybe up to a week or two Medium – perhaps up to a year Longterm
Likelihood of Occuring Varies regionally, but between likely and definite every 5 – 10 years Take your best guess.  A disruptive solar storm = 12% chance every 10 years.  Other risks = you decide. More likely than you’d wish for.  What are the chances of Bird Flu evolving and a global pandemic wiping out a huge slice of the world’s population?  Might Iran or N Korea detonate an EMP over the US?  etc.
Return to Normalcy Assured Very likely Not for a long time, maybe generations
Regional Scope Probably local and limited Extensive, possibly national Definitely national, maybe continental, possibly impacting much/all the world
External Assistance Yes, expected Maybe some, but not much and such resource as there is will be massively over-extended and unable to cope Probably none for extended periods of time
Survivability if Unprepared Yes with some inconvenience and discomfort Marginal to low Very low
Social Disruption Possibly some limited opportunistic rioting and looting, brought under control within a week or so Major, probably new forms of small community government and policing programs will spring up to create pockets of order among much lawlessness Complete.  Organized gangs will dominate
Relocation Can survive in your normal abode Due to breakdown of city services, need to relocate Essential
Food strategy Not a constraint You’ll survive by eating through your stockpiles of food in the hope by the time you’ve eaten it all, order will be restored Your stockpiles of food will give you time to create your own ongoing food sources and to become self sufficient
Energy Some candles, flashlights, warm blankets, open fires, and a generator You’ll reduce your energy needs and rely on a generator and stockpiled fuel, perhaps using some in-place renewable energy sources too. Stockpiled fuel will be used carefully as you transition to energy independence and renewable sources
Defense Stay at home.  Biggest threat will probably be rude/pushy neighbors.  Hopefully no lethal threats or responses needed. Moderately uncoordinated groups of starving people or opportunistic raiders, will probably be able to be repelled by presentation of weapons and maybe occasional skirmishes.  They are looking for easy targets. Organized groups will battle among themselves for regional supremacy, and will ‘fight to the finish’ to take over the assets and resources of others.  Expect stolen military weapons as well as civilian rifles/shotguns/pistols to be used.
Transportation Stay at home Necessary to get to your retreat.  Little need to travel outside your retreat boundaries. Necessary to get to your retreat.  Occasional travel to trade with other groups, roads degraded, few mechanized vehicles.  Pushbikes and horse drawn carts become the norm.  Travel is dangerous due to risks from marauders.
Communication Hopefully some normal forms of comms remain operative – radio, tv, land line, cell phone, internet. Traditional comms largely degraded or disrupted.  Short-range two-way radios to keep in touch with other members of your group.  Shortwave radio receiver for general news. Traditional comms all gone.  Long range two-way radio for comms within your group, and to interact with other groups and to understand the world situation and what the future may bring.
Group Size Small.  You can survive just fine, even if alone. Medium.  Your group/community will essentially be the people who share the retreat with you, providing social interaction, extra skills and additional manpower for some tasks. Large.  You need access to as broad a range of skills as possible, and in a nearby region due to dangers and difficulties of traveling.
Cost of Preparing Low – less than $10,000; probably less than $1,000. High – More than $100,000; potentially as much as $1 million (but possibly shared among a group of people). Maximum :  Everything you can afford and more besides.  Definitely requires group participation to make high-cost items affordable.

When Does Each Level Evolve to the Next Level

Determining the type of event you’re facing depends on three things.  The event itself, the reactions/responses of other people, and the level of preparedness you already have in place.

If you have a realistic 5 year supply of everything you could possibly need, you’re in a Level 2 situation for any event that promises to be resolved within that five year situation.  But if you only have a six month supply, then you’re forced to adopt Level 3 measures even if the event seems likely to be resolved within a year.

And if you’re prepared only for Level 1 events, you’re way short on options for any type of Level 2 or 3 event.

If society ‘gracefully degrades’ without rampant lawlessness, and if support mechanisms remain in place, then what could have become a Level 2 – 3 event may remain as an ‘easy’ Level 2 event.  But if society explodes, then even a survivable Level 1 event assumes Level 2 status due to the need to evacuate the city.

At the risk of repeating ourselves, you need to consider how you can improve your preparedness to be able to respond adequately to Level 2 and Level 3 events.  There’s no real trick to lasting out Level 1 situations, but even a mild Level 2 event will be life threatening to many people in the affected area.  Speak to us about the Code Green Prep cooperative communities, and how it might be possible for you to find strength, safety, security, and financial feasibility as part of a larger group of fellow preppers.

May 102012

Fuel storage systems vary enormously in capacity, cost,  and sophistication

Some preppers have truly impressive fuel dumps, with literally thousands of gallons of gasoline stored at their retreat, representing a multi-year supply, assuming they are using it regularly.

Ooops – that may be an incorrect assumption to make.  If they’re not living in their retreat full-time, their stored fuel is probably just sitting there from one month and year to the next.

What’s more, if they do occasionally take some fuel out for general consumption, and then subsequently top up their tanks again, what has just happened?  It is like the jug of ‘fresh milk’ in the fridge.

Understanding this issue is an important part of developing an appropriate storage plan for your fuel supplies.

The Always Fresh Jug of Milk (or Pot of Coffee) That Goes Stale

Each morning, a housemaid would take out of the fridge and top up the decorative jug of milk and put it on the breakfast table for the family to pour over their cornflakes, into their coffee, and so on.

After breakfast, the maid would return it to the fridge, and top it up again from the carton of milk bought at the supermarket.

But over time, the milk became staler and staler, because each time it was topped up, a little fresh milk was added to a lot of older milk, so that some of the old milk stayed and stayed and stayed.

You might notice a similar thing in a restaurant – the carafe of coffee gets half emptied, and then the hostess tops it up with a partial fresh carafe of coffee.  The next person who gets a cup gets half a cup of fresh and half a cup of stale coffee.  Then, after half the carafe has been emptied again, and it is topped up with fresh coffee again, the next cup has a quarter mix of double stale coffee, a quarter mix of stale coffee, and a half mix of fresh.  And so on and so on, with the average age of the coffee, milk, or whatever, getting older and older each time it has been topped up.

To avoid this, you need to fully empty the container before refilling it.

What Type of Fuels to Store

Perhaps the ‘big three’ liquid fuels that most people consider storing would be gas (petrol), diesel, and propane (lpg).  Note that we are confining this discussion to liquid fuels – please also see our separate detailed article on coal as another possible energy source for your retreat.

Both gas and diesel have storage life challenges, whereas propane is relatively straightforward to store for extended periods of time with little concern about it deteriorating in quality.

You’ll need liquid fuel for some obvious purposes.  The two biggest requirements will probably be power generation and transportation; you may also use liquid fuel for smaller equipment motors, for heating and for cooking.

Ideally it would be great if you could settle on only one form of liquid fuel for all uses.  Certainly generators can be powered by any of these three fuels, and it is possible to get motor vehicles that run on propane or which are dual fuel, running on either gas or propane.

In terms of storage costs, diesel is slightly the lowest (because each gallon of diesel fuel contains more energy than petrol or propane) and propane is the highest (you need special pressurized tanks and propane has the lowest energy content per gallon).

In terms of cost per unit of energy, this varies depending on how much tax you have to pay on the different fuels, and it would be appropriate to research the costs for all three fuels that you would buy for non road transport purposes (and for road transport purposes too of course).  Some states nowadays include all the ‘road/transportation’ taxes in the cost of gas or diesel, even if it is being used for eg farm equipment, boats, or generators.  Others are not quite so unfair in their approach.

The relative price between petrol and diesel doesn’t change a great deal over time, but the relative cost between propane (which is often made from natural gas) and petrol/diesel (which of course comes from oil rather than natural gas) can vary widely.  At present propane seems to have the lowest cost of the three fuels, with diesel perhaps the middle cost item and gas as the highest cost.

In Washington state, at the time of writing, bulk gasoline is about $3.90/gallon for regular, bulk diesel is about $4.10, and bulk propane is about $2.30.

But it is not very meaningful to simply compare the respective costs per gallon of fuel, because each gallon of fuel delivers a different amount of energy, measured in BTU/gal, or if you prefer, in MJ either per liter or kilogram.

To match these per gallon costs to costs per BTU of energy, gasoline is about 3.12c per 1,000 BTU, diesel is 3.00c (and you’ll get better efficiency – ie more power – from each BTU as well) and propane is 2.52c; clearly the cheapest of the three fuels in terms of ongoing costs of propane.

Diesel motors are typically more expensive than petrol motors, but they are also typically massively more reliable and much better for extended operation (such as with a generator) and also can usually be modified to accept bio-diesel type products of various sorts, making them more flexible for the long-term where your bunkered stores of fuel are diminishing with no replacement in sight.

On the other hand, just about everything from hedge trimmers to chainsaws to cars, trucks, boats and planes can be found with gasoline powered motors.

And while it is hard to envision a situation where you’d feel you had spare fuel you didn’t need, if you wanted to trade fuel for something else with someone else, they are probably most likely to need gasoline first, diesel second, and propane third.

Relative Perishability of Liquid Fuels

Petrol and diesel are perishable.  Both fuels can have a problem with moisture – particularly petrol with alcohol added to it; the complex mixture of chemicals that makes up petrol (petrol is not just one pure liquid, it is a veritable soup of different chemicals) can decompose and change properties, and these days there are bacteria, algae and fungi that enjoy living in and eating diesel.

Here’s an excellent article with a fascinating graph that gives a good overview of the complexity of what is blended into gasoline, and some of the issues associated with modern fuels and the engines that run them.

The bottom line – you can risk harming your engine with older diesel or petrol, and or the engine might simply fail to run at all.  Generally both petrol and diesel starts to become appreciably affected by aging within about 3 – 6 months (or less) of being purchased.

Apart from doing the same things with fuel as you do with food (ie keeping it in a cool dry dark place) you’d want to provide a good seal on the tanks (to stop moisture and oxygen coming in and volatile compounds going out) and should treat the fuel with PRI-G (for petrol) or PRI-D (for diesel) once every year.  Diesel might also require some PRI-SOLV and/or PRI-OCIDE too.

PRI-G and PRI-D need to be applied to fuel annually, although some tests have suggested that a single dose of PRI will have positive effects spanning more than a year.  One gallon of PRI-G/D will treat 2,000 gallons of fuel, at a cost of 4 – 6 cents/gallon/year.  If you buy in bulk drums rather than 1 gallon containers, the price can drop further.

With such a low cost per gallon, and with the desire to have as good quality as possible fuel, you should add PRI each year, at least until such time as you run out of PRI itself.

It is unclear how many years of life you can get by adding the PRI to the fuel each year, but it seems at least ten years, and perhaps more like 15.

There’s another issue to consider as well when planning for an extended period of living on one’s own.  How long does the PRI product itself last?  The manufacturer says that it has a shelf life, in unopened containers, of three years, and recommends it be stored out of sunlight and in a cool place.  We endorse that recommendation, of course, and suggest you keep it somewhere as cool and dark as possible, and plan for perhaps no more than a five-year effective life.

So, in total, it seems you can probably manage to store diesel and petrol for at least six years before needing access to a freshly made supply of PRI.

There is a better known product also for sale, STA-BIL.  It is more expensive and based on their claims, seems to be not as effective (in terms of long life extension) as PRI.

The PRI products also claim to be able to rejuvenate and restore old fuel that hasn’t been treated with PRI previously.  STA-BIL says their product can’t do this.

A fuel ‘polishing’ system – at the very least, some fine filters, and perhaps even a centrifugal system – would also be recommended, particular for diesel, so as to ensure the fuel when you use it is as clean as possible and least likely to block the injectors in a diesel engine.  ‘You are what you eat/drink’ applies not just to the need for us to consume healthy food ourselves, but to our mechanical equipment too.

Propane on the other hand is relatively inert and can last for an uncertain amount of time, but probably some number of decades.

The problem with extended storage of propane will relate more to the integrity of the tank it is stored in and the seals where fittings connect to the tank and each other.  The propane is under pressure in the tank – several hundred pounds per square inch, so even the slightest bit of a leak along a weld seam or seal will see propane slowly escape over the time it is stored.

Your Fuel Dump Needs to Have Multiple Tanks

Remember our comments above about the jug of ‘fresh’ milk or coffee?  If you are going to have a fuel dump at your retreat, you need to have at least two and ideally four or five or more tanks.  You should empty each tank fully, in sequence, and only refill tanks when they are completely empty.

That way the amount of stale fuel carried over from one refueling cycle to the next is minimized, and by having four or five tanks instead of only one or two, you will in theory only have one of your four or five tanks empty at any time, meaning your total fuel supply never drops much below about 80% full.  With only two tanks, you’d not trigger a refill event until after you’d used up half your total supply, a much less positive situation.

Note that this is less a requirement for propane, due to it not appreciably aging.  It is more acceptable to simply top up your propane tanks, mixing new propane in with the old.

Storage Tanks

Some companies will rent you storage tanks if you contract to buy your fuel needs from them.  The rental cost can be anywhere from $1 a year up to much more than that, depending on both the size of the tank and your projected fuel purchases.

While it seems appealing to get a subsidized tank as part of a supply deal, remember that favorite aphorism – TANSTAAFL – and realize that a subsidized tank is actually being subsidized not by your supplier, but by you.  You just don’t necessarily realize this is what is happening, the way the numbers are presented to you, but for sure, the underlying costs of the ‘free’ storage tank are being paid for by you.

You’re also locked into only one supplier.  And you’re more or less stuck with the size tank they agree to lease to you – and for sure this will be much too small a size if you’re wanting to be able to store several years worth of projected supply.

There’s another thing about leasing storage tanks from someone else.  When LAWKI ends, what is to stop the supplier from turning up on your doorstep and saying ‘sorry, we want our tank back, here’s your $1 returned to you’.  They could quite credibly claim that ‘force majeure’ allowed them to terminate their contract.  Sure, they’ll give you a day or two to transfer the fuel which you own out of their tank and to some other storage facility (or probably would agree to buy it back from you at whatever price you earlier paid for it), but where or how are you going to transfer propane?  How many 20lb barbeque sized tanks would it take to hold 1,000 gallons of propane?  (Answer = 210 tanks).

You probably wouldn’t have thousands of gallons of storage facility for gas or diesel either, but the loss of your propane tank would sure be a worst case scenario.

So our suggestion is that you should buy your own tanks for storage.  If you’re storing petrol or diesel, we suggest you use underground tanks – they are discreet, they are temperature controlled and kept cool year round (by the earth around them), and they are protected from many types of physical risk or threat or abuse.

Propane Storage Options

Propane is trickier to store than petrol or diesel, due to it being kept under pressure when in liquid form.

Although it is possible to have underground propane tanks, they are more prone to problems, in particular because they flex and move as between when they are nearly full and nearly empty.  It is possible to create satisfactory underground storage for propane, but the risk of problems is higher, and in a post TEOTWAWKI situation, you can’t simply telephone the local propane tank servicing company and have them repair/replace a tank and refill it with replacement propane if you discover your tank has sprung a leak and emptied out.

On the other hand, an above ground tank is more vulnerable to physical attack/accident and is a more obvious visual clue that you probably have some valuable and tempting fuel on your property.  If fire and building codes permit, it might be appropriate to consider erecting a shell building around your tanks to at least obscure them from prying eyes.

A 1000 gallon above ground propane tank costs $2200 – $2500, and installation is likely to be that much again, so there’s a major cost associated with a propane store.  In other words, you’re looking at an all up price of about $5/gallon for a large-sized propane storage facility.

As an alternative, you could buy a huge propane trailer to be truck hauled.  These could have capacities of 10,000 – 25,000 gallons, and would cost you, ex-China, $30,000 – $50,000 plus shipping.  This would reduce your overall cost per gallon for storage, and you could probably buy propane at even lower costs, but your up-front investment would be larger (this is an understatement) and you’d have additional licensing requirements.

There are smaller sized tanks too – 500 and 250 gallon tanks, and even smaller ones than that, but as the tank size goes down, the cost per gallon of storage capacity starts to increase.  The sweet spot for most people will be in the form of multiple 500 or 1000 gallon tanks.

No matter what the fuel, we’d prefer to have two half sized tanks rather than one full sized tank.  That way if something should happen to a tank, you’re not risking your entire fuel supply.

Tank Maintenance

Diesel and petrol tanks need occasional maintenance – primarily to do with draining any water that may have accumulated on the bottom of the tanks, and repairing any rusting the water may have caused.

In ground tanks probably have sacrificial anodes attached, so these anodes rust away rather than the tanks.  The anodes need to be replaced from time to time.

All tanks (including propane) need to have seals checked.

For these reasons it is good to have a multiple tank storage system, allowing you to take one tank offline for maintenance and repair without compromising the amount of fuel you keep in store.

Lubricant Too

Would we be stating the obvious by mentioning the need to also keep lubricants for whatever engines will be burning the fuels you are storing?

Keeping oil clean and fresh is even more important when engine failures are not just costly and inconvenient, but may become life threatening and mean the difference between power and/or transportation and not.

Fortunately you probably won’t need thousands of gallons of lubricants.


Adopting the best practices detailed in this article, you can realistically expect to be able to store petrol or diesel for at least five years, and propane for pretty much as long as you choose to.

Propane is the best value fuel, but it has the highest up-front costs of buying the storage tanks you’ll need.  Diesel is probably best for generators.  Petrol (gasoline) the usually the most expensive fuel, and harder on engines than propane, but is also the fuel you are most likely to be able to use with the most number of engines.

For ongoing use and general ‘normal’ living, we’d recommend propane, storing enough for a year or so of normal consumption – whatever represents a sweet spot as between cost of the storage units and cost per refill and the quantity discounts you might be able to secure.

For medium/long-term disaster preparedness, and to power vehicles of various sorts, you might want to have bulk supplies of diesel and/or petrol to augment the propane you keep on hand.

May 092012

Amateur Radio is an invaluable communication tool for after TEOTWAWKI and easily used by anyone with only a moderate amount of training required.

(Note – this article is a mix of ‘easy to understand’ material and some material which requires some knowledge of radio technologies.  You can read and learn from it either as a currently non-expert or as a more knowledgeable person, and so other than this comment, we make no apologies for some of the more complex content herein.)

A key part of any disaster scenario will be keeping in touch with other prepped people.

It is reasonable to assume that traditional methods of communication – landline phone, cell phone, fax and internet will degrade in quality and availability, either slowly or quickly, so if you don’t have some alternate method of communicating, you’ll end up completely out of touch and disconnected from supportive groups of fellow preppers.

Having multi-band radio receivers so you can receive AM, FM, weather, shortwave and miscellaneous other radio broadcasts is clearly an essential tool in your prepping kit.  But before too long, you will feel the need to transmit as well as simply receive information – whether it is to coordinate with other members of your group during the day, or for as simple a matter as to ask your nearest known neighbor if you can trade something you need for something he might need, or for something urgent like needing assistance due to a medical or security emergency.

FCC Regulations on Radio Transmitters

All devices that transmit radio waves are subject to FCC regulations.  Remember that just because there is a breakdown in social order, current regulations don’t just disappear and cease to apply – besides which, you’ll want to practice with your comms equipment prior to any disaster, so you should plan to, as much as possible, conform to existing FCC regulations.

The FCC can sometimes be quite draconian in terms of tracking down and penalizing operators of unlicensed or illegal radio equipment – meaning either people operating on frequencies they are not permitted to use, or people using equipment for unauthorized purposes, or using radio equipment that is too powerful for the terms of their license.

It is best not to run the risk of a confrontation with the FCC, because if you do commit an offense, you could be liable not just for the loss of your equipment and the loss of your license, but also for severe fines and potentially even a two-year prison term.  In addition, many of the FCC rules simply make good sense in terms of how best to use the radio waves on a shared basis with all the other people seeking to use them too.

Most radio transmitters require some sort of license – some licenses can be obtained simply by filling out a form and paying a fee, others require you to pass a technical knowledge exam (so as to become an amateur or ‘ham’ radio operator).

Licenses are sometimes given only to businesses wanting to use radios for business purposes, other times only to individuals for personal non-business use.

In a few cases, it is also possible to legally buy unlicensed radio transmitters.  The most common of these are the ‘old fashioned’ CB radios and the more modern FRS radios.  They suffer from some disadvantages however, including lack of range and sometimes greatly congested channels, made worse by appalling idiots playing on the channels and interfering with people having more sensible needs to use the channels.

For all intents and purposes, all radio receivers are unlicensed.  And note also while it is necessary to get a license before operating a radio transmitter and broadcasting in a frequency band that requires licensing as a condition of its operation, it is possible to buy a transmitter without a license, and to lawfully own it.  You only need the license when you’re going to plug it in, turn it on, and hit the ‘Transmit’ button.

Becoming a Ham Operator

If you become a ham radio operator, you get automatic permission to operate transmitters in more frequency bands.  You’re no longer stuck with the limited number of licensed and unlicensed frequency bands and the equipment limitations also imposed on such uses.  You can also use more powerful equipment with better range, and you can use frequencies that are much less congested.

There are three categories of ham operator, with successively more difficult tests to pass in order to become licensed.  The lowest category is the Technician Class.  To get a Technician class license you need to sit a 35 multi-choice question test, and get at least 26 answers correct.  You no longer need to be proficient at Morse Code (the need to be able to send and receive Morse code was abolished in 2007).

The 35 questions are selected from a published set of 396 possible questions, so it is possible to simply do a bit of ‘rote learning’ and memorize the answers to these questions without needing to learn much in the way of underlying theory or electronics.  But because many of the questions are to do with the rules and regulations rather than technical aspects of radio operation, you do need to do some study prior to sitting the test, even if you truly know all about radios from a technical perspective.

The Limitations of a Technician License and VHF/UHF Operation

Getting a Technician’s license is a great first step, and massively opens up your options for short-range radio communications.  Basically, you will be able to use a variety of types of radios that transmit in the VHF and UHF brands, and all such radios are essentially range limited to ‘line of sight’; and indeed, sometimes it is quite literally line of sight – if there are obstructions between you and the person you’re hoping to communicate with, you’ll not be able to do so, or only at greatly reduced ranges.

There are ways to extend the practical range of your communications by adding repeater stations to rebroadcast your transmissions on to another area, but in an extended period of loss of normal civilization and services, it is unrealistic to expect repeater stations will continue in operation, because they of course rely upon electricity to function.  As soon as the power grid goes down, and possibly after a very short period of battery back up operation, these repeater stations will go off the air, too.

Yes, you could set up a PV (solar cell) array and batteries as a way of making a repeater station into a self-contained independently operating unit, but you’d need a sizeable PV array, good sunlight, and big batteries if the repeater was to operate 24/7 and carry much traffic on it.

HF Gives Preppers a Whole New Use for Ham Radio

There’s another approach which might work better in many cases, and which will also extend the range of your radio communications massively – switching to HF bands instead of VHF and higher.  This will give you the ability not only to have line of sight and repeater-augmented additional range within your local region, but will give you coverage across much of the US and sometimes all the way around the world.

Your use of ham radio then switches from being a tactical level service allowing you to maintain contact with other local members of your own group, to instead becoming a strategic asset, and instead of communicating primarily with fellow group members, you now have the ability to contact fellow hams in the US and beyond (there are about 700,000 hams in the US and perhaps 3 million world-wide; many hams are also, to a greater or lesser extent, also preppers).

You can use the ability to communicate beyond your immediate zone for a huge range of things.  You can coordinate trading of supplies (this is a bit marginal in terms of FCC regulations which prohibit using amateur licenses for commercial purposes), security information, weather information, and general news about the evolution of the problem that disrupted society and the recovery of the country – and world – from that problem.

Information is power.  HF radio gives you access to much more information than you’d otherwise get during any massive disruption to normal society and its services.  And while the news you get from outside your area might not always be good, your sense of isolation is reduced, and with it, you can build up that essential element of your survival – a positive feeling of hope for the future.

The ‘General’ Amateur Radio License Gives You HF Privileges

So now you agree that being able to use some HF bands will be an essential part of your communications strategy.

To be granted permission to use HF bands, you need to pass a second test – the FCC’s General License test.  This is in the same format as the Technician test (35 multi-choice questions, with a need to get 26 correct to pass, and a slightly larger pool of 456 questions from which they are drawn), and indeed some of the questions in the General test are identical to those in the Technician test.  So you’re part-way to passing your General License as soon as you’ve obtained your Technician license.

There is also a third category of ham license which gives you access to slightly larger frequency bands in the HF spectrum – the ‘Extra’ License.  This has a similar test again, with 50 multi-choice questions (and 735 questions in the ‘pool’ from which questions are drawn).  The questions are appreciably more difficult, and you are required to get 37 of them correct.

Of course, although full understanding of the questions/answers requires a huge amount more knowledge, they are as susceptible to ‘cram-learning’ as are any other pre-disclosed multi-choice tests.

Some people will want to get an ‘Extra’ license just because they see it as a challenge.  Others might worry about congestion on the HF bands and want to get into the more exclusive remaining bandwidth that only Extra licensed operators can use.  Our guess is that the congestion on the HF bands will be reduced in some type of post-TEOTWAWKI scenario, and also that some operators will think nothing about ‘trespassing’ into the parts of the spectrum currently reserved only for Extra operators in such a scenario.

Furthermore, with many fewer Extra licensed operators out there to start with, there will be fewer additional people to potentially communicate with if you too get an Extra license, and all those Extra licensees can be reached through General frequencies, too.

So while we urge you to get a General class license, we view the Extra enhancement as being of minimal value for preppers.  Keen ham enthusiasts will of course want to get an Extra license.

Note that although there are about 700,000 ham radio operators in the US, only about half have the General or Extra license that allows them access to HF bands.

Test Taking Strategy

In order to get a Technician license, you need to pass one test (it is called the ‘Element 2’ test).  In order to get a General license, you need to pass both the Element 2 and also the Element 3 test; and you can probably guess – an Extra license requires you to pass three tests – Elements 2, 3 & 4.

You can sit these tests at the same time, and there is no extra testing fee for sitting more than one test at a time.  And because you’ll be busy studying up a lot of stuff for the Element 2 test which will be helpful for Element 3 and even Element 4 too, if you are able to devote some more time, and if you already have a basic grounding in this material, it might make sense to try and do at least two and perhaps even all three tests at the same time, as the result of one single period of intensive prior study.

Not to boast, but the writer found that his general knowledge, augmented by a couple of hours of study, was sufficient to easily pass the Element 2 test and to score better than 50% on the Element 3 test – not a passing grade, but indicative that not a huge amount more study is needed to upgrade your skills from those you develop to pass the Element 2 test to those needed to go on and get the Element 3 certification too.

Otherwise, if you pass Element 2 now, then do nothing for a year, you’ll have forgotten much of the Element 2 material and you’ll need to re-study that as well as the new Element 3 material.  And the same for Element 4, which builds on your knowledge gained in Elements 2 and 3.

Truly Learn – Don’t Just Selectively Cram

It is of course possible to just memorize all the questions and their answers without any understanding of the meaning of either the question or the answer.

Some of the questions are frustrating in the sense that they ask you questions which you’ll probably not need to ever know the answers to, or which due to their complexity and volatility, you’ll probably print out and display on sheets around your transmitter equipment.  In such cases, rote-learning is fine (for example, do you really need to commit to memory which bands allow communication with space stations).  Some of the questions are self-serving – do you need to know the underlying complexity of how the test questions are designed and administered to you?  Again, learn those by rote.

And do you really need to understand all about the ITU, CEPT and IARP agreements before answering the question which asks which one gives reciprocal operating rights between the US and some Central/South American countries and their hams (it is IARP in case you really must know).  This too is something you might simply learn by rote.

But much of the general radio knowledge and theory is stuff you should learn and understand as comprehensively as possible.  If you do find yourself confronting a TEOTWAWKI situation, you’ll probably be the only resource available for maintaining and managing your radio system, and some underlying knowledge and competency could then become essential when you’re trying to work out why your system isn’t working as you think it should, or how and when to best punch out a signal to the other coast or beyond.

License Details

The good news is that the license you receive is good for ten years, and is completely free of charge.  Amazing – the government provides this to you completely for free.

You don’t need to re-sit the tests as long as you keep your license renewed every ten years.

You will be semi-randomly assigned a call sign identifier; and if you wish, you can apply for a vanity call sign to replace the initial random call sign.  This will cost you just under $15 for a ten-year vanity call sign.  Vanity call signs can be shorter and/or might contain some special combination of letters that means something to you such as your initials; but not all number and letter sequences are available, due to a need to coordinate your call sign with those of everyone else, everywhere else in the world.

Make Sure You Are Learning For the Current Test

The questions used for the three tests are updated once every four years.  During the four year life of each set of questions, there are occasionally minor tweaks or changes – primarily in the form of changing the wording in questions and answers to make them clearer, and occasionally withdrawing a question entirely if it is superseded by changes in FCC regulations or general usage and practice.

If you are buying or otherwise accessing study materials and guides, make sure they relate to the test set that is currently in place.  Older versions of books and software might be out of date.

At the time of writing, the current sets of test questions run through :

Technician :  These expire June 30, 2014

General :  These expire June 30, 2015

Extra :  These expire June 30, 2016.  Note that the previous test series expired on 30 June 2012, and there are still some places selling or otherwise providing study test materials based on the older test series.  Make sure you’re basing your study on the new set of questions.


The FCC of course has a website, but it isn’t very immediately helpful or useful to most would-be ham operators.

The major organization for amateur radio enthusiasts is the American Radio Relay League or ARRL as it is generally known, and their website can be considered as the prime starting point for any research you need to do.

You can find details of when and where you can go to sit the tests on their site here.  It seems that you never have to wait more than a few weeks to find a reasonably convenient testing location.

The official question and answer pools for each of the three exams can be seen on the NCVEC website.

This website has a free downloadable program that you can use on a PC to test yourself on all the questions for each exam.  It is reasonably good, but lacks the diagrams that some questions refer to (download those from the NCVEC website).

This site generates sample tests from the test pools, so you can test yourself ‘for real’ and see how you are progressing.

This is another site which generates sample tests, and sometimes also provides study guide material for the questions being asked.

Here is probably the best book to help you learn and prepare for the Technician License, and the companion book for the General License.  This is the third book in the series, for the Extra License, but make sure the link takes you to the correct edition (due to the test series changing in June 2012).

All three books come with excellent software that help you evaluate your study and, if a question puzzles you, they link you to the appropriate section of the book so you can selectively study only the parts you need to know, rather than learn everything in the book in total.


Using radio services that are restricted to licensed ham amateur radio operators will give you enhanced local/tactical communications capabilities.

Getting an advanced ham license (either the General or the Extra license) will allow you to use potentially globe-circling HF bands as well as local/line-of-sight VHF/UHF bands; the ability to communicate with people outside your immediate area might seem like an irrelevant luxury in a time of maximum difficulty, but the information you can share with people further away is more likely to become an essential element of surviving and prospering.

May 082012

Justice is a fickle friend, and laws for safe sane times may not apply with equal sense in an extreme situation

(This is an enormous – and essential – topic, we’ll come back to it repeatedly in future articles.)

None of us really know what to expect after TEOTWAWKI.  It is prudent to imagine a range of ‘worst case’ scenarios and to prepare for them to varying degrees.

The whole concept of TEOTWAWKI involves vague perceptions of lawlessness, of the break-down of government and law and order; with post-apocalyptic images of roving bands of marauders looting and pillaging, and armed shoot-outs between preppers in their fortified retreats and attackers trying to invade their dwellings and steal their food.

Much of this may indeed occur, and we are right to be prepared for such breakdowns in our social fabric.  But even though government may be paralyzed and ineffective, the rule of law will remain in place unless formally repealed.  Murder remains murder.  Stealing remains stealing.  And that is just the start – it is not only such ‘prime directives’ as these that will continue to apply.  Alas, all the gazillion and one other rules and regulations that currently attempt to keep our orderly lives well maintained will also remain in force, even though they clearly would be dysfunctional and would interfere with all our desperate attempts at survival.

Think about it this way – at the present time, just because there is no policeman within ten miles or twenty minutes doesn’t mean all the applicable laws don’t apply to what you’re doing and where you are.  Just because you’ve not been audited on your taxes before doesn’t mean you don’t still have to fully and accurately disclose all your income.

And just because you ‘got away with’ something at the actual moment you did it, that doesn’t mean it won’t come back to haunt you a day, week, month, year, or possibly decade or longer in the future.

This will be true during any type of crisis, too.  For example, if you need to get a building permit before commencing construction of a barn, and if you need to get a building inspector to then sign off on the building before it can be occupied; if you don’t do these things during a crisis, you may find your barn will be condemned and pulled down once the authorities resume their reign over us.

If you set up a local radio station for your community, you would be liable for FCC fines and possibly even imprisonment when they get back to enforcing such things.

Shoot a deer or a duck out of season and without a permit, or with a type of firearm not permitted for such purposes, and you’ve still committed a crime which in some states could see you subsequently get locked up.  There’s no exception to these laws for ‘except if starving or after the end of the world as we know it’.

And if you should discharge any firearms inside city limits, that could prove a problem, too.  If the discharging of a firearm resulted in the death or injury of another person, sooner or later, you’ll find yourself staring at an investigation that threatens you with a potential murder charge.

Understand one more thing.  Such investigations will likely be brought by the people who were and are resentful of your preparedness, and your ability to more comfortably survive through the tough times than they did.  They won’t say so in as many words, but they’ll be out to get their own back at you.  They’ll be starting to judge you from the standard that you should have shared everything you had with all the people who didn’t bother to prepare; they’ll consider you as little better than baby killers (indeed, it is a certainty that babies (and people of all other ages) will die during a major extended emergency, and they’ll be the first to say ‘So why didn’t you sacrifice all your food, all your fuel, all your shelter, and everything else you so selfishly hoarded, so these children of these poor illegal immigrants could survive’.

These people will truly believe that you should have risked your own future as a valid sacrifice towards the future of others who formerly sneered and laughed at you for your prepping.  They’ll say ‘Who are you to play God and to decide who gets to live and who doesn’t?’ – by which they mean, you have usurped their rights to control your life and the lives of everyone else their petty bureaucratic powers allow them to interfere in.

When they have legal authority over you in some form again, they’ll seek to punish you – ostensibly for violating a city ordinance like parking too long on a city street or who knows what else, but in reality for simply having been better prepared and not suffering as much as they did.

How to Protect Against Such Outcomes and Problems

There are two very important things you should do :  Select an area where the people start off with values as close to yours as possible; and actively make yourself part of the ‘solution’, not part of the ‘problem’.

You’d not want to go into full survivalist mode in downtown Los Angeles or Chicago or Washington DC or New York or Boston (or lots of other similar places too).  You’ll be breaking all sorts of laws with every breath you take, and when order is restored, the politicians, the policemen, and the potential members of any juries will all look askance at you and be prejudged towards punishing you for your good sense and prudence.

You may have heard police officers and other government officials boast that they can always find some law that everyone they ever meet has broken or is currently breaking.  ‘We can always find a reason to stop you and write you out a ticket’ sort of thing.

On the other hand, in smaller towns in rural midwestern and northwestern states, you’ll find many people still believe in individual initiative and personal responsibility, and would be less likely to think ill of you as a prepper.  Indeed, they’re probably semi-preppers themselves (maybe even full-on preppers), and in a small rural community, more likely to be able to ride out any breakdowns in society than would be the case in the large cities.

This is a much better place to site yourself to start with.  And when you do, don’t be a stranger to the community.  Integrate yourself into it.  Join some social groups, a local church, and so on.  Participate in local events.  Help in community fundraising.  See about becoming a part-time city police or country sheriff’s deputy.  Run for a seat on the local council.

Get yourself known and liked, and if you can influence local policy, so much the better.

You don’t want a group of uniformed strangers turning up on your doorstep to confiscate all your firearms or arrest you for some ridiculous charge; you want your friends to tell you they are running interference for you, or at the worst, to ask you to give them one or two guns just for show.

If things go really bad and you subsequently find yourself facing a judge and jury, you want them to be people as much like you as possible, and sympathetic to you personally and your values in general.  While the jury members will probably be selected only from people who don’t personally know and like you, you’ll want them to be friends of friends, and/or to know and respect people you can subsequently call as character witnesses in any trial.

Be a Prudent Prepper, Not an Extreme Survivalist

This is another area where proper prudent prepping is massively at variance with the ugly image of ‘extremist survivalists’.  Extremist survivalists try to create an alternate reality outside of the world they are unavoidably a part of.  This is never going to be possible, and we see the spectacular results of such failures at places like Waco in Texas.

Prudent preppers try to fit into society and co-exist amicably with ‘normal people’.  They realize there is no practical alternative.  Domestic enemies of our government have no rights and no recourse and no escape.  There’s no way you can run and no way you can hide from the awesome capabilities of our armed forces.

Occasional small bands of roaming marauders armed with pistols, rifles and shotguns – those you can probably fight off.  But hundreds or thousands of National Guardsmen and US Armed Forces?

And your ‘bullet proof’ retreat, guaranteed to protect you against .308 rounds?  Worst case scenario – the US Air Force has bunker buster bombs that will penetrate down through over 200 ft of earth or more than 100 ft of reinforced concrete.  How’s your retreat looking now?

Never mind the Air Force’s bunker busting bombs.  Just a single tank from the nearest National Guard post, and/or just regular troops with an M-72 LAW or an M-136/AT-4 can destroy just about any fortified retreat, and instead of firing semi-auto rounds, they’ll be using crew served heavier caliber weapons.

It truly is much better to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.


They say that after the end of the world, the one species that will for sure remain, survive and flourish are cockroaches.  Maybe so, maybe not.

Never mind the cockroaches.  Government bureaucracy will be the absolute last thing to disappear – and, regrettably, the first thing to return.

Your prepping needs to be based on the ability to conform to as many of the present and potential future ’emergency’ laws as may be possible and to avoid escalated conflict with the authorities, whatever and whoever they may be, during and after an emergency.

May 072012

Two cans, side by side, of the same product in the store, one with more than twice the shelf life of the other

Nothing lasts forever – least of all, alas, ourselves.  But, if we can ignore that most relevant of all issues (at least for now), let’s instead look at how long any food item will last, and how can we give it maximum longevity.

In a very simplified form, the life of any food item varies depending on a number of different factors.  Some types of food are more sensitive to some storage issues, others are less sensitive, and of course, some types of food start off with only short shelf lives and little chance of extending them, whereas other food items are inherently long-lived and can be extended considerably further.

It seems that the current ‘state of the art’ for extended shelf life products is expressed in the commonly found freeze-dried foods that offer the promise of a 25 year shelf life.  Is this realistic?  Ask us in twenty-something years!

Not to get ahead of the article, but even a tin of freeze-dried product with a 25 year shelf life claim can have a longer or shorter life depending on a number of facts as to how it is stored.  Of course, the tin of product has been designed to control many of those factors just by nature of it being a sealed tin, but others still apply.

So let’s consider the major factors as they relate to any and all food products and the shelf life you can expect from them :

  • Bio-activity (ie fresh fruit or meat going ‘rotten’, seed germinating, etc)
  • Water/moisture – (Both humidity and liquid water can trigger or accelerate bio-activity)
  • Oxygen (and sometimes other gases too)
  • Light (although some things may be activated also by the lack of light)
  • External contamination/pests/etc
  • Temperature (usually the cooler the better)

The one reliable constant factor that can be said in all cases is that the warmer the temperature an item is stored at, the more rapidly it will spoil, whereas the cooler the temperature, the longer it will last.

Having said that, there are practical limits to how cold you should chill items down to.  Sometimes it is not a good thing to freeze items – the freezing of the moisture inside the item may break up the item’s cells, making it go mushy when unfrozen.  But in most cases, keeping an item down around 40° or thereabouts will appreciably extend the life of the item in question.

How to Tell if Food is Still Good or Bad?

The words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ need quote marks around them in the heading, because they are subjective measures rather than absolute measures.  And they can have several different meanings.

One measure of bad food is when an item has become unhealthy to eat – when it has acquired a significant level of harmful bacteria or toxins such as to make a person eating the food item unwell.  Even this is not an absolute measure, because some people have stronger stomachs than others.

Another measure is when a food item no longer looks attractive or smells appealing.  These of course are subjective measures too, and it is fair to say that what looks unappealing to a person in middle class suburban comfort today might look extremely appealing to a starving person post TEOTWAWKI tomorrow.

Our sense of ‘bad’ food is a fairly reliable predictor of safe/unsafe food.  If food looks and smells bad, and if you proceed to taste it and it tastes bad too, it probably is bad.

Yet another measure is when the nutritional value of the food item has reduced down to something close to zero.  This is impossible to detect by looking/smelling/tasting; but you’ll find out empirically.  If after eating a food item for several days, your weight goes down and health deteriorates, probably the food has lost most of its nutritional value.

MREs as an Interesting Example of Time vs Temperature

Just exactly how much extra storage life can you expect by keeping your stores cooler than you otherwise would?  There’s no exact answer to that question, but a couple of elaborate tests of MREs give us some clues.

Testing of the MRE formulation in the 1980s (which included free-dried food items) by the Army’s Natick laboratory were conducted, using a panel of ‘average’ people, and having them do subjective taste testing, with the results then averaged to try and create some consistent measures.

These taste tests showed that the shelf life of MREs ranged from as short as one month if the MREs were stored at 120° to as long as 130 months if the MREs were stored at 60°.

The report said that longer shelf life would be possible at temperatures below 60°, but the test did not have the time to study this.  It also said that food which was rejected by the panelists as unappealing was still nutritious and healthy, even though it no longer looked, smelled or tasted appealing.

Here’s a table showing the results.

Storage Life
months increase
(from previous row)
% increase
(from previous row)
120 1 n/a n/a
110 5 4 400%
100 22 17 340%
90 55 33 150%
80 76 21 40%
70 100 24 30%
60 130 30 30%


The key learning point here is not so much the increase in shelf life between 120° and 110°, but more relevantly, the increase in shelf life between 70° (the temperature are houses are at, most of the time) and 60°.

The implication of this is that we can increase the shelf life of many products that we store by a sizeable amount – 30%, which in many cases will mean another year or more of shelf life – by doing nothing more complicated than keeping them in the coolest part of the house.  That closet in your basement, rather than upstairs in the sunny pantry.

After the reformulation of MREs, a new set of tests was run.  The results aren’t directly mappable to the other set of results, and show the new MREs have much shorter shelf lives.  Here’s the best guess we can make on the new results to show them in similar format to the old ones

Storage Life
months increase
(from previous row)
% increase
(from previous row)
120 1 n/a n/a
110 2.5 1.5 150%
100 6 3.5 140%
90 18 12 200%
80 36 18 100%
70 40 4 10%
60 48 8 20%
50 60 12 25%


These results are interesting because they add another data point – the additional extension in shelf life at 50° rather than at 60°.

The earlier set of results showed a 30% shelf life extension by going from 70° down to 60°; this newer set shows a lower 20% extension, with a further 25% extension if dropping the temperature by another 10°.  While not quite as drastic as the earlier set of results, 20% is still better than nothing, and probably for no more effort than moving your stores from one part of your house to another, and in the possible event that this cool area averages closer to 50° than 60°, you’re getting as much as 45% extra life compared to leaving them in the warmer part of your house.

Here’s a good page with some interesting pictures of applesauce and cheese spread (click them to see more) that has been stored at different temperatures and times.

Why the Variation in Shelf Life Extensions?

You’ll see there is no constant variation in shelf life extensions per ten degrees of temperature change – either in terms of months or percentages.  This is slightly puzzling because most chemical reactions speed up at a constant rate related to temperature increases, and so we would normally expect to see steady percentage changes.

There are two factors at issue here for why some ten degree steps have larger or smaller impacts on shelf life than others.

The first is sampling and testing errors.  There is no scientific exact way of rating food as good or bad based on appearance and taste, so the personal preferences of the samplers will add an element of randomness to the numbers.  We’d suggest all numbers be viewed as plus or minus 10% of reality, which enables us to say, for example in the second set of results ‘10% plus a 10% sampling error is within the same zone as 25% less a 10% sampling error’.

The second is that different processes are triggered at different temperature points.  Some processes might be dormant at all temperatures below a certain number, but ‘wake up’ and start impacting on shelf life above a certain point.

What Does the Shelf Life Statement on a Food Item Mean?

So there you are, looking at your can of baked beans, and studying the ‘Best By’ date printed on it.  How was that determined, and what happens the day after this date?

The USDA has a page that explains some of the distinctions between ‘Use By’, ‘Sell By’, and ‘Best By’ dates.  Some of what they say is vague and meaningless, and the key take-away point is that these dates for non-perishable food items (ie not raw meat, fruit, etc) are not very exact or scientific.

We suspect – but absolutely don’t know for sure – that some food manufacturers find themselves steering a compromise path between setting dates that are too ridiculously short (which might discourage people from buying their products) and dates which are extended well into the future (which would reduce the amount of food people either junk or eat in a rush due to it being about to expire, and which also could create liability if the food is not well stored).

The significance of the date you see is not actually the date itself, but how far into the future it is.  If we say that, to be on the safe side, manufacturers assume a storage temperature of 80°, and you actually store the item at 50°, then this could be enough to give you an extra 65% of storage life.  So if the date shows you have two years remaining when you buy the item, maybe that means you really have, in your cooler store, an equivalent of just over three years.

Plus also remember that these dates are when the food first starts to become less than prime/perfect.  There’s an unknown amount of extra time into the future before it becomes appreciably less than appealing.

Pure Seed and Grain Storage – More Temperature Dependent

Here is an excellent page of information about storing grains and seeds, including rice and wheat.  It cites the USDA in claiming that a 10.1°F change in temperature will halve or double the shelf life of the product being stored (depending on if the temperature goes up or down).

The two main points from this page are to keep items cool and oxygen free, and that whole wheat keeps a lot longer than flour, and white rice much longer than brown – you probably already knew these things, and now you’ll understand why, too.

These rates of change are much greater than observed with the MREs.  We guess this may be because the MREs have been treated to give them some longevity so the usual ‘laws’ of biological activity and their dependence on temperature have been modified.

Special Case :  Medicines

Very good news here.  The expiry dates on medicines are ridiculously conservative.  With the exception of insulin, liquid suspension antibiotics and nitroglycerin, most medications can be considered to remain active and potent for ten years beyond their expiration dates.

Again, the same as other items, the cooler you keep them, the longer they’ll last.

Useful Tip :  Check Shelf Life in the Store Before Buying

You probably know, when buying milk or other products with a short shelf life, it pays to check the expiry date before selecting the product in the store.  Sometimes you’ll note a carton several back from the one in front might have a week or more of extra shelf life – ie, the milk cartons in front offer one week, and the ones behind them offer two weeks.  If you’re not sure how long the carton of milk will last you, it for sure makes sense to take one from the back of the line.

Surprisingly, this is true of other items too.  We were in a local supermarket today and observed cans of tomatoes on sale.  Tomatoes – an acidic product – typically have a shorter shelf life.  Some of the cans were showing an expiry of March 2013 (ie 10 months from now) but some of them were showing an expiry of March 2014 (ie 22 months from now – more than twice as long).

And if we were to store them in a cool place, getting perhaps a 50% extension in shelf life as a result, that would get us an extra 18 months of storage time on the longer dated product.

This was an astonishing difference in shelf life statements.  So if you’re buying even canned goods that you won’t be immediately opening and eating, be sure to check the shelf life statements on the cans, and choose your cans accordingly.


Shelf life statements on food items you purchase are not exact magical dates whereby the food is perfect up until midnight on that date, and then useless/dangerous from that point forwards.  If anything, these dates represent the shortest amount of life you can expect from food items, not the longest.

Shelf life of all items is massively influenced by temperature.  A change of 10° may as much as double (or halve) the shelf life of food items; there will be less impact on pre-processed items, more impact on unprocessed items.

Always keep everything as cool as possible, but most products should be kept slightly above freezing point.

Apr 292012

The Fifth Annual ‘Rich States, Poor States’ report has just been published

Where should your retreat be based?

There are lots of issues to consider in answering that question, and depending on the respective importance people give to the different factors to be considered, you will see a group of people, all given the same raw facts, come to completely different decisions with no two people reaching the same conclusion.

One factor to consider is the economic health of the state you are choosing to live in ‘normally’ and/or choosing to retreat to if all goes wrong in the future.

The good sense in living in an economically prosperous state in ordinary normal times is obvious.  But we suggest that even after ‘the end of the world as we know it’ you’ll still be better off in a state that was, until that time, prosperous.

In general, prosperous states interfere less with their citizens, and their citizens in turn are content to enjoy their own good lifestyles without obsessing too much if their neighbors have it better than them or not.  Prosperous states, by definition, tend to have more people employed and fewer people on benefits, and if you had to choose between having people on state benefits or successful fully employed people living in your area, you’d probably prefer the latter.

Prosperous states also tend to have lower rates of crime, probably because more people are working and getting a good living honestly.

We’re not saying this is the most important factor by any means when choosing locations, but it is one of the many factors to consider, and we mention it now due to the release of the fifth annual ranking of states in terms of their economic outlooks.  This study – ‘Rich States, Poor States’ and published by the American Legislative Exchange Council lists the ten best states as being :

1  Utah

2  South Dakota

3  Virginia

4  Wyoming

5  Idaho

6  Colorado

7  North Dakota

8  Tennessee

9  Missouri

10  Florida

And the ten worst states?  They are :

41  Pennsylvania

42  Rhode Island

43  Oregon

44  Illinois

45  New Jersey

46  Hawaii

47  California

48  Maine

49  Vermont

50  New York

The entire 125 page report can be downloaded from ALEC’s site for free.  It includes detailed analyses of each state’s economic condition and policies, and lots more information too.

Apr 292012

The timeless nature of the Cessna 182 is shown in this 2009 picture of a 1956 model – ie, when it was already 53 years old.

One of the big challenges we must consider and confront is how we would manage to get from our normal residences to our retreats if/when a major disaster is about to occur (or has already occurred).

The ideal choice is, of course, to simply hop into the family car and drive there normally.  But doing this would only be possible if you were able to anticipate any such disasters and get all the way to your retreat some hours before anyone else started to react the same way, and before the roads started to clog up with vehicles and become a giant solid unmoving parking lot.

In the best case scenario, you could do this; indeed not just in best case scenarios but also in more generally anticipated scenarios too.  We discuss the likelihood of traffic congestion interfering with your ‘bug out’ activities here.

Nonetheless, as a prudent prepper, you need to consider not only reasonable scenarios but unreasonable scenarios too.  And planes can be useful not just for avoiding road congestion, but for other reasons too.

Planes Are Useful Alternatives for Many Reasons

A plane can of course get you anywhere quicker than any vehicle can.

A plane can allow you to delay your decision to bug out, because you don’t need to be so concerned about beating the traffic.  Sometimes it can be advantageous to delay a decision as long as prudent, and if you have a plane as a transportation option, you have more time up your sleeve.

A plane gives you another route to where you’re going.  Maybe the roads are closed due to bad weather or as a side effect of the situation that triggered the crisis.  An earthquake, for example, might have caused bridges to fall, a volcano erupting might destroy roads with molten lava runs.

Weather issues may have a much greater impact on travel by road in a Level 2 or 3 scenario.  For example, if a road is washed out, it may not be repaired again.  Or, if a heavy snowfall occurs, there might be no snow removal crews and no snow removal equipment to clear the road, causing it to remain closed all winter long.

While planes are also weather dependent to an extent, the type of weather issues that affect them are short-term rather than potentially 3+ months in duration, and they give you a second chance in the game and more ways to get from where you were to where you want to be.

Most planes don’t have more range than a car with lots of additional gas tanks, but their speed means that what might be a two or three day journey by car can be done comfortably in a single day in a plane, with just one take-off and one landing.

Because plane travel is not dependent on roads, you never run the situation of ‘you can’t get there from here’ – you simply fly directly, the shortest way you wish, between any two points, whereas the roads underneath you might meander around and detour through dog-leg loops, adding hundreds of miles to your journey.

Planes travel is also safer – you’re not going to get speeding tickets or otherwise hassled, whether by law enforcement or other drivers and onlookers while flying through the air.

Flying to Your Retreat In Your Own Airplane

We offer this suggestion completely seriously.  If you live not a long way from a general aviation airport (ie one where private planes can be stored, and where they fly in and out), and if the budget allows it, consider buying a private plane.

A plane as a bug-out-vehicle has the huge advantage that it is not likely to suffer congested roadways.  On the other hand, it relies upon some infrastructure being in place both where it will depart from and where it will land and provides a somewhat weather-dependent means of transportation.

It also has limitations in terms of how many people and how much cargo it can carry (assuming you get a small single engined plane) – although maybe you can ferry people and materials to your retreat in two or three journeys if you can’t fit everything you must get into the plane for a single flight.

Even Better – a Float Plane

Maybe both your normal residence and your retreat is closer to a lake than to an airport (or to a sheltered bay in the ocean).  In such a case, a float plane is better than a regular plane, because whereas airports can experience problems (for example an earthquake which rips up the runway), and may even be operating under emergency air traffic control restrictions that impede private flying, lakes have no such problems at all.

Float planes are more weather dependent, and also become more limited to daylight hours of operation only, so there are trade-offs to consider and evaluate.

Airport/Lake Location Doesn’t Matter for Your Retreat So Much

Note also that the most important issue is the proximity of a suitable lake or airport to your normal location.  It doesn’t matter nearly as much at your retreat.  This is because we are assuming it may be very difficult to travel from your home to the airport or lake where the plane takes off from, but it will probably be comparatively easy to travel on from where you land to your final retreat, due to it being in a low density rural location where the roads are unlikely to be jammed full of people urgently trying to get out of town.

It is much more practical to plan to drive the last 5 or 10, or even 50 or 100 miles to your retreat once you’ve got out of and away from the major population centers.  You need to take to the air to get out of the cities, but once you’re in a rural setting, you can more comfortably plan to complete your journey with relatively few problems by some type of automobile.

Note also the Code Green Halfway House – maybe your objective is merely to fly to the Code Green Halfway House, at which point you can then retrieve a backup vehicle, freshen up, and complete your journey the next day.

Time is Money – Speed is Survival

If you are driving by car to your retreat, you’ll be traveling at the same speed as everyone else who is also evacuating the city you live in.  You’ll be potentially at risk from the people in the cars all around you every minute of your journey, and they’ll be ‘with you’ every part of the way.  And when you finally arrive at your retreat, you might find some unwelcome and uninvited strangers have already got there before you!

But a plane gives you two huge advantages.  The first advantage is that you’re flying at 120 – 180 mph rather than driving at anything from 0 – 70 mph, depending on traffic.  The second is that you’re traveling quite literally ‘as the crow flies’ – in a straight line, the shortest route possible.  These advantage combine to help you get where you’re going massively more quickly, and apart from the vulnerabilities getting to the city airport you fly out of, the rest of the way is comparatively safe.

The Cost of a Plane

Planes are not as expensive as you might think.  While you can certainly spend over a million dollars for a plane, older planes can be had for as little as $50,000.

A 30 – 40 year old single engine Cessna 172, capable of carrying four people (ie a pilot plus three others) and a little freight (depending on passenger weights and how much fuel is loaded) up to 850 miles on a full 56 gallon tank of gas, while cruising at 140 mph can probably be purchased for something in the range of $50,000 – $75,000.  Newer, larger, faster planes, and with more range, of course go up in price, but you can still get something good for $100,000 or less.

Airplanes are subject to strict maintenance, inspection and certification requirements, and are also flown many fewer hours each year than a car is driven.  You can buy an older plane with much more confidence than you would an older car.

You’d of course need to get a private pilot’s license, and you might want other family members to get one too in case you’re incapacitated, and for more overall operational flexibility.  Learning to fly is more complicated than learning to drive, of course, but 80+ year old grandmothers have learned to fly, as have 15 year old teenagers, and every type of person in between.

Spread the Cost More Ways

Consider getting another couple to buy into the plane with you.  A four seater plane can hold four people, after all, and one of the key things you want to do is to have more people in or adjacent to your retreat than just yourself.  There is safety in numbers, and if those same numbers can also reduce the cost of buying and maintaining a plane, so much the better.

Operational Considerations

You need a plane and you need somewhere secure to store it at your home airport or lake.  You need a private pilot’s license.

You’ll want to keep the plane fully fueled, and if you might be ferrying passengers and supplies on multiple flights, you’ll want a supply of fuel at your destination and possibly top-up fuel at your home base as well (depending on how far the plane must fly for each roundtrip).

You’ll also need a vehicle and somewhere secure to store it at the place you’ll be flying to.

Most airplane engines run on a special type of ‘av gas’ but some planes and their engines can be adapted to run on regular automobile gasoline.  If you had your plane modified for regular auto gasoline, it would be more versatile and easier to refuel in the future.

Although you’d want to make use of the latest GPS and avionics, be sure you can navigate without GPS because many worst case scenarios involve the loss of GPS service.

Read More On This Topic

This article has proved popular, and we’ve now added a second article with much more information – More on Planes as Bug-Out Vehicles.