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 162013
 
Earthquake danger zones in WA, OR, ID, MT.

Earthquake danger zones in WA, OR, ID, MT.

On Monday we quoted officials in Los Angeles who bravely told the truth and agreed it would be more than three days before any type of relief could be deployed to people after a major earthquake.

Their take – people should have enough on hand to be self-sufficient for at least two weeks.

On Friday a second story comes out, this time from Seattle, and with Oregon and San Francisco data also linked.  In a more detailed article and analysis, the Seattle Times looked at the likely consequences of a major but not improbably large earthquake occurring in the WA/OR region.

This chart, using information drawn from a Washington State Seismic Safety Committee report, shows the current shortfall between target recovery times and expected recovery times.

The complete 34 page report is available here and on its page 12 is the earthquake danger zone image we use above and an explanation of what it shows.

An earlier document here is also helpful in understanding weaknesses, vulnerabilities and dependencies.

Not Three Days.  And Not Two Weeks.  More Like Many Months.

We don’t know who started the ‘you should prepare for a three-day outage/disruption’ myth, and perhaps the originator’s intentions were good – on the basis that a three-day supply of life’s essentials are better than no supply at all.

But these reports abundantly show that after three days, there will still be next to no infrastructure or emergency support at all if the disruptive event is substantial in nature.

Furthermore, why do the quoted officials now talk about two weeks as the time period people should prepare for?  Their own studies show that two weeks is also a massively inadequate time frame.  Look at the data in their own reports (click the links above).

You can live without water for three days, but the target to restore water services is a week, and the current reality of when water supplies would be restored is an entire year.  Neither the target nor the reality seem close to acceptable, and clearly we must have our own water supplies.

One month for electricity, oil, gas, phone and internet service restoration – that’s the target.  The actual time to restore these services is currently projected at three months.  Okay, maybe you can live without the internet for three months, but without electricity or gas, and no oil products either (ie no petrol or diesel)?

Oregon data is not so clearly presented, but can be seen on the website of their Office of Emergency Management.  Kent Yu, who chaired their Oregon’s resilience planning, is quoted as saying that the current advice to stock up on enough water and food to last three days is laughable.  But his proposed alternative is only slightly less inappropriate, when he says ‘You need to prepare for at least two weeks’.  Clearly the emphasis in his statement needs to be on the modifying phrase ‘at least’.

The Seattle Times article lightly touches on the inter-connected nature of disaster recovery when it points out that if there’s no petrol and diesel, relief crews can’t get to where they need to go, and heavy machinery can’t operate.  But one wonders just how many inter-connected challenges will only be discovered after a disaster, and one wonders whether the current projected recovery times are realistic or wildly optimistic.

For example, the article correctly explains that replacement high voltage transformers would have to be built overseas and shipped here.  But the article says that this can take six months to a year – a statement that implies 6 – 12 months is an unusually long period of time.  In reality, most other analyses and real world experience points to lead times closer to 3 years from ordering to installing a new high voltage transformer.  And, for sure, if there were a sudden surge in demand for replacement transformers, no matter what the current lead times may be, the lead times for an unexpected sudden increase in demand would stretch way out.

Official Projections for San Francisco, Too

It is also interesting to view the seventh and eighth slides in this presentation that show the shortfall between targeted ideal response/recovery times and actual expected response times in San Francisco.  In particular, note how hospitals, which ideally would be disaster resistant, are expected to be out of service for up to 36 months, and emergency utilities, which ideally should be restored within four hours, are expected to be out for 60 days.  Utilities for non-emergency services, which should be restored within 72 hours, are expected to stay out for 60 days.

Also notable is the desire to allow 95% of citizens to be able to shelter in place in their homes within 24 hours of an emergency, but the reality suggests it could take up to 36 months for 95% of citizens to return to their homes (and longer for the unlucky remaining 5%).

A more detailed analysis on the sixth page of this presentation shows in San Francisco that the authorities actually project that only 85% of residents will be back in their homes within 36 months, leaving now 15% still homeless three years after the event.

So, what about public shelters?  The aim is to have them operating within 24 hours, the current reality is it might take four months to get them online.

So, here’s the question to ask your non-prepped friends.  If it takes three years or more to be able to return home, and four months before you can live in a public shelter, and 60 days before there’s any power or water, what are you going to do until then?

Summary

The Washington State Seismic Safety Committee has, as its objective, a 50 year plan to improve the state’s ability to respond to a major (but not improbable) earthquake.  Who knows how long it will actually take, and at present, it has not received any funding or support even to move forward on its 50 year plan.

So, for apparently the next 50 years or more in WA, the official state studies confirm what you already know.  You’ll be on your own for too long, and if you’re not prepared, your very survival is gravely at risk.

Similar studies in Oregon and San Francisco have similar findings.

We don’t know where the myth of ‘prepare for a three-day outage’ comes from, and even the new claim of two weeks seems wildly optimistic too.  These studies all convincingly point to best case scenarios of weeks, months, and in some cases years of outages.

Share this article and our earlier article with your non-prepper friends to show them it isn’t just you who advocates self-sufficiency.  The very people your non-prepper friends hope to save them are saying that they can’t do this.  It is up to us.

Mar 112013
 
Simultaneous fire and flood after Japan's March 2011 earthquake.

Simultaneous fire and flood after Japan’s March 2011 earthquake.

Even though it is we who should be making fun of them (and of course we don’t – at least not to their faces), non-preppers like to poke fun at us, and to suggest that we’re in some way foolish, maybe paranoid, and definitely being unnecessarily worried about things we have no reason to worry about.

Unspoken in their thoughts is always the concept that if prepping were prudent, surely the government would either do it for us, or encourage us to do it ourselves.

The curious thing about this perception is that – if they only cared to look and listen – they’d see plenty of examples of government departments at city, county, state and federal levels all encouraging us to become semi-self-sufficient for varying amounts of time.

Here’s the most recent example.

Los Angeles held a memorial ceremony today to commemorate the second anniversary of the March 2011 earthquake in Japan, an event that killed 18,000 and destroyed 300,000 homes, to say nothing of the consequential tsunami which damaged three nuclear reactors and caused the second worst ever release of radiation as a result (only Chernobyl was worse), with fallout spreading even to the US (and causing a panic rush on Potassium Iodide supplies to the point where individual tablets started selling for more than entire bottles previously did).

Fire department officials attending the ceremony urged the public to prepare for future disasters, and said people needed to be able to cope for being at least ‘two weeks on your own’.

Fire Battalion Chief Larry Collins added

The message for a lot of us needs to be, ‘Be ready for anything’.  The message used to be 72 hours, but we’ve seen in disasters like [Hurricane] Katrina, even [Hurricane] Sandy recently, that, really, if it’s wiped out your infrastructure, and your electricity grid and your communications, it will be very likely be more than three days before you start getting food, water and other supplies coming in from outside.

So there you have it, right from the horse’s mouth, as it were (here’s a link to the article).  Be ready for anything, and be able to cope for at least two weeks on your own (what we’d term a Level 1 situation).  That’s with no water, no sewage system, no external food supplies, and no electricity.

Update :  An interesting article came out in Seattle just five days later, with more detailed information on likely disaster response/recovery leadtimes in WA, OR and SFO, and quoting more officials rejecting three-day preparations as being adequate.  We discuss this in more detail here.

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.

Feb 242013
 
Your mom knew what she was saying when she told you to eat your vegetables.

Your mom knew what she was saying when she told you to eat your vegetables.

You already realize that once TSHTF, food will no longer grow on trees.

Well, okay, to the literal-minded of you, of course, apples etc will still grow on trees.  What we mean is that food will no longer be cheap and plentiful, requiring no more effort on your part than a drive to the local supermarket and paying a relatively small amount of money for a relatively large amount of food.

Instead, for most people, providing food for their family will become pretty much their primary activity for most of most days, and they’ll have little spare food left over from their labors.

So, obviously enough, if you waste, say, 10% of the food that comes into your house and kitchen, that means you have to work 10% harder than if you didn’t waste that food.

But there’s another issue that might be more subtle, but which is almost as important.

Saving on Food Means Saving on Water and Energy Too

Yes, food will become very precious and in short supply.  But one or two other things will also almost surely become very precious and in short supply too.  The first of these is water.  Depending on where you live and your water sources, you may find that at some times of the year (or, worse, at all times of the year) you do not conveniently have as much water as you might wish.

The second of these is energy – particularly in the form of electricity, but also more generally in the form of heat and fuel.

So let’s think about the first of these things first, and the second thing, second.  If you have a water shortage, you probably do things like take shorter showers, right?  You’re probably also careful to not flush the toilet more than necessary, and perhaps go easy on washing dishes and clothing too.  Maybe with some care, you can reduce your domestic daily water consumption from 75 – 100 gallons per person down to 50 – 75 gallons, and if you are fastidious, you could get as low as 25 – 50 gallons.

But the greatest need for water is outside your retreat.  It is in the fields, where you water your crops and feel your cattle and other farm animals.  You will probably use 100 times more water in the fields for agricultural purposes than you do in your retreat for household purposes.  So here’s the thing – if you can cut down your food waste by even 2% or 3%, then if you don’t need to grow 2% or 3% more food, the water saving from this will allow you to take long showers whenever you like.

Perhaps the extreme consumer of water is growing cattle.  Depending on your preferred study and analysis, it takes anywhere from 440 gallons to 2500 gallons of water per pound of beef that ends up going in your pot.  If we take a half-way point of 1500 gallons, and if we say you use 50 gallons of water a day, each pound of beef represents a month’s water supply.  That’s not a problem if water is plentiful, but if it is scarce, then it is a massive constraint.

A pound of chicken requires ‘only’ 500 gallons of water.  A pound of corn requires 110 gallons, a pound of wheat 150 gallons, a single egg requires 400 gallons, and a pound of potatoes only needs 10 gallons of water.  (Go to this page, guess at the values, then submit the form for the correct answers and data sources.)

Although your food savings may allow you to take longer showers, they will probably be cold.  Because there is the other constraint that you’re sure to be facing – energy shortages.

You can probably guess what we are about to say.  Growing your food requires a lot of energy – either your energy, or energy from horses and other animals that are helping you, and/or energy from farm machinery if you have fuel for them.

Indeed, you can get locked in a nasty cycle – growing crops to convert into bio-diesel and ethanol to power the machines you need to use to grow the crops you need to power the machines.  That’s a nasty loop to get into.

The bottom line for energy however, is the same as it is for water.  Small savings in the net amount of food you require and consume will translate to bigger savings in the energy you need to produce the food.

Almost Half of All Food is Currently Wasted

Currently, we live in an extremely wasteful society.  At present, estimates suggest that 40% of all food in the US is wasted, uneaten.  Waste occurs at all steps of the process – in the field, in distribution, and in the supermarket – not just in your house of course, but household waste is still a large and controllable part of this.

One could even say that at present, with food costs low, it makes sense to waste food.  It can be more of a hassle, and more of a time cost, to not waste food.  For example, carrots cost $1/lb or less, and potatoes maybe 20c/lb.  If you earn $30 an hour, taking five more minutes of time to save a pound of carrots or potatoes doesn’t make sense.  The five minutes of time is sort of worth $2.50, whereas you are only saving between 20c and $1 from an activity that has a ‘time cost’ of $2.50.

This is a far from perfect calculation, however, many people perceive, and more or less correctly so, that currently the time costs of being frugal outweigh the savings involved.

The present reality is reflected in other forms too.  For example, if you have a choice between making some vegetable soup from scratch, or opening a tin of Campbell’s soup, many people will reach for the Campbell’s.  Making it yourself might save you $1 in ingredients, but might cost you half an hour or even an hour in extra time.  Ignoring issues such as the quality of the final finished soup, most people understand the value of saving an hour of time and will choose the commercially prepared soup.

But this will all change when the food you eat is not grown by low-cost labor and high levels of mechanization, with no appreciable shortages of anything, probably thousands of miles away and speedily/efficiently flown from their field to your front door, but instead is grown with little mechanization and probably by yourself and your immediate neighbors only.

You are more likely to find that it takes you much more than five minutes of time, as well as lots of resource, to grow a pound of carrots or potatoes, and so if you can save a pound by spending five minutes doing something, it is time well spent.  And as for those cans of soup – they won’t exist at all.

So, how to reduce food waste?  It is easier than you think.  Here are four simple considerations.

1.  Change how you prepare food to minimize waste in preparation

Try to change your cooking style to minimize the waste.  For example, scrub rather than peel potatoes, and the same for carrots.  This will not only reduce your waste, but will increase the nutritional benefits – much of the vitamins and minerals in vegetables are closest to the outside.

If you trim the stalk off broccoli or cabbage or whatever, consider using that for a soup base.

The same thing for the water you boil your vegetables in – that is now a rich nutrient broth of vitamins and minerals.  Reuse it the next time you boil vegetables, then use it for broth or soup too.

Soups (and stews) will become your friends.  They are both great ways of using up leftovers, and reducing the amount of waste that would otherwise occur.

Okay, you can still trim some fat off your meat, but in what is almost certainly a more active lifestyle, maybe you can leave a bit more fat on the meat than you normally would.

2.  Change the type of food you grow

Oh – one more thing about meat.  Beef is by far a more energy and resource intensive type of meat to raise than pork or poultry.  You know that pork is cheaper than beef in the supermarket meat case at present, but the real difference in cost, when you have no subsidies, is much more than double.  Plan to raise pigs, and go easy on the beef.

You’ll of course want (need!) to do a similar thing with the fruits and vegetables you grow as well.  The crops you raise will be determined of course in part by the climate and soil conditions you have, and by the need to rotate crops, but also by which items will give you the greatest yield for the least amount of effort and energy.

At present, with home gardens, people have the luxury of growing the vegetables and fruits they most enjoy, but in a survival situation, you need to switch to those items which return the most nutrition per unit of energy, water, and time expended on your part, and which yield the most output from the smallest amount of ground.  Sure – you might have 10 acres around your retreat to cultivate, but the less distance and more compact your gardening, the more efficient its management becomes when you are more likely to be walking than driving everywhere.

You want to consider seasonality of when foods need to be planted and can be harvested, and also storage issues.  A fruit or vegetable that doesn’t last long and can’t be easily stored for extended time (eg lettuce) is not nearly as sensible a choice as something that can be stored and consumed over the winter season.  Chances are you’ll be growing plenty of potatoes, which are not only a high yielding crop but also a crop that can be stored for an extended time.

3.  Change what you do with cooked food to minimize leftover waste

Adjust the quantities you cook so you don’t end up with too much leftovers that eventually get tossed out, uneaten and spoiled.  Sure, it makes sense to cook in moderately bulk quantities – that can be both time and energy-efficient, but don’t overdo it, and also remember you always have to guard against appetite fatigue setting in.

Be careful at ensuring that you properly store and eat any leftovers you create – for example, quickly cover and refrigerate leftovers after cooking them.

There is nothing worse than leaving a pot of something, especially uncovered, on the stove and allowing it to naturally cool.  As the item cools, it goes through a temperature band which represents the ideal temperature band for bacteria, yeasts and molds to grow, and anything that might land in the item from the general air, or perhaps be introduced by handling, will find itself in an ideal environment to grow.  Keep all pots covered, and once you’ve finished serving out the food, quickly cool them then prepare them for storage, ideally in sealed containers with little or no headspace for air.

At present, with plentiful cheap energy, it is fine to cool things in the fridge, but in an energy scarce situation, you will probably choose to cool them with a water bath before then refrigerating them.

Depending on the item, cooked food may last longer than raw food, so plan what you have in the way of raw food and how/when you cook it.  As we said in the preceding paragraph, stews and soups will be your friends.  Don’t let appetite fatigue set in – you must vary your meals, but you also will find that some types of food preparation work better for you than others in terms of the ‘yield’ of edible food compared to raw food you start with, how much energy it takes to cook the food, and how long the prepared item lasts and can be eaten.

4.  Don’t throw away any food items – use everything in some way or another

Disable the waste disposal unit in your sink and instead place a filter over the drain so that no food goes down the drain and all is salvaged for some purpose.

This will help you two ways.  It will salvage a lot of food scraps that otherwise would disappear, and it will reduce the biomass inputs into your septic system (we are assuming your retreat will almost surely have a septic system).  Remember that pretty much all the solid that goes into the septic system will sooner or later need to be cleaned/cleared out of the tanks, and when you consider that after TEOTWAWKI, you can’t just call the local septic pumping service and have their truck come up and do it all, as if by magic, in an easy simple procedure.  You’ll have to do it yourself.  It will be smelly, dirty, and nasty; definitely something you want to do as infrequently as possible.

Any truly waste food unfit for humans should be fed to animals if possible.  And if that still leaves some items left over, put them into your compost bins.

Summary

Your life in a Level 3 situation will be defined and constrained by two related factors – the amount of energy available to you, compared to the amount you need; and the amount of food available to you, also compared to the amount you need.

Because growing food is an energy intensive process, anything and everything you can do to minimize your food needs will be beneficial, and help you better manage both your food needs and your energy needs.

With food, the adage ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ is very true.  Every reduction in the amount of food that goes into your kitchen will greatly pay off (maybe nine-fold, maybe more) in reducing the inputs you need to grow the food in the first place, giving you a better lifestyle overall and/or making you hopefully food ‘wealthy’ rather than food ‘poor’.

Feb 192013
 
High capability remote controlled drones can be purchased for civilian use and costing as little as $1000 or less.  But be careful how you integrate such capabilities into your retreat's defensive strategies.

High capability remote-controlled drones can be purchased for civilian use and costing as little as $1000 or less. But be careful how you integrate such capabilities into your retreat’s defensive strategies.

I was reading an article on the comprehensive Survivalblog website – an impressive site that should be on your ‘must visit’ list.  It has a huge compilation of content, albeit some of it user-contributed and occasionally overlapping and repetitive in nature.

This particular article was about using radio controlled planes/helicopters (ie what are commonly now being termed ‘drones’) for reconnaissance and security purposes at one’s retreat.

The author of the article was talking about how these sorts of devices (possibly augmented by fixed wireless remote cameras too) provide excellent security and surveillance, and can even send live audio and video feeds direct to his cell phone and tablet, wherever he was.  It all sounded wonderful and appealing, and I could understand the author’s enthusiasm for the concepts he was proposing.

But.

This is the part which gave me pause, and served as the inspiration for the article you are now reading :

The other clear benefit to employing drones to keep watch, is that even if the device is spotted, and even engaged and disabled, it’s much better than risking losing a member of your team, or family. Machines are expendable, and replaceable, while people clearly are not.

A much better scenario would be to be sitting snuggly in a central command area equipped with CCTV monitors, powered perhaps by a genset, or re-chargeable solar/battery banks. Or even streaming into your laptop, I-phone or I-pad, regardless of your location relevant to the drones area of observation.

This is all great stuff, and as a high-tech gadget lover myself, music to my ears.  But there are three huge assumptions inherent in his recommendations.

The first assumption is not one to be discussed here – and that is the assumption that glorified ‘toys’ can provide an effective and secure observation/security/surveillance system, saving you from needing to have ‘boots on the ground’ out there, in observation posts and walking patrols.  That’s an assumption I’m very uncomfortable with; and so much so that it should be the subject of a separate post all on its own.

Suffice it to say that any type of security system is best with multiple layers of sensors and sensing, and that there’s still nothing out there that can entirely replace the good old Mark 1 Human Eyeball and Ear.  And whereas people and ‘human sensors’ are moderately all-weather capable and can be deployed for some hours at a time, most drones costing less than five or six figures are very limited in their weather handling, their range and their endurance.

The other two assumptions are what we wish to discuss in this article.

His second assumption – when he says that machines are expendable and replaceable, yes, that is definitely true today.  You can order spare parts or complete new machines online or over the phone today and expect them delivered a day or two later.  And probably you’d keep at least one spare for such a mission critical capability on-site, too.

The third assumption – when he talks about streaming video into a laptop, iPhone or iPad, regardless of location, that too is largely true today, as long as you are within a Wi-Fi or wireless data coverage area.  Of course, many of our retreat locations suffer from poor cell phone signals at the best of times, and very few also have good fast data service, but that is a known variable that can be factored in to one’s planning.

But – and here’s the huge, enormous, overpowering but.  What happens in a Level 2 or 3 situation (defined here)?  Even a Level 1 situation will pose problems.

What happens when the grid goes down, and society suffers a short, medium, or long-term collapse?  How do these assumptions withstand this type of adverse scenario, which is, after all, the scenario we are planning for?

You can’t then go online and order things, because the internet will be down.  Within a few days, landline phone service will become increasingly fractured too – where will the phone companies get electricity from to power their exchanges, their repeaters, and everything else needed to drive the wired phone system?  Sure, you probably understand that if you have traditional ‘POTS’ (Plain Old Telephone Service) at your home/retreat, you don’t need power for a wired phone to work – but that is because the phone company is powering the system at its end.  What happens when they lose power?

How will you then order a replacement drone?  You can’t, can you.  All of a sudden, that ‘expendable and replaceable’ item has become precious and irreplaceable.

Okay, we’re absolutely not saying you should carelessly hazard the lives of your community members instead (although a cynic might point out that replacement community members might be more readily available than replacement high-tech drones!).  We’re simply saying that basing your retreat’s defense strategy on the assumption that your main asset for observation and local intelligence gathering is conveniently available in limitless quantities and can be freely sacrificed is not a good idea.

The second of the two paragraphs we quoted above has another enormous assumption built-in to it.  While it is true that you could create your own LAN within your retreat, and you could of course use Wi-Fi routers to provide a wireless network that your portable computer devices could connect to, the range and coverage of this network will be limited and much less than the author’s expectations of being available ‘regardless of your location’.

Using omni-directional wireless hubs, you can expect a range of little more than 100 ft in the ‘best’ indoor situations, reducing substantially for every wall, floor or ceiling the signal needs to travel through.  An outside Wi-Fi antenna can radiate its signal 300 ft or maybe slightly more.

These ranges can be massively extended by using special directional antennas on both the Wi-Fi hub and the Wi-Fi device that is connecting to the hub, but an iPhone or iPad has no way of adding an external antenna to boost its range, and while a directional antenna will give you more range in its favored direction, the rest of the 360° of coverage area will have correspondingly less coverage.

Furthermore, when your device gets out of Wi-Fi coverage and switches to use the wireless phone company’s data signal instead (3G, 4G, LTE, whatever) that embodies a huge assumption – that the wireless company is still providing service, and that there is an internet connection between the device that receives the drone’s transmissions and the wireless company’s servers.  That’s just not going to happen – it only takes one link in the complex chain of dependencies between your drone’s receiver and your phone to go down for the connection as a whole to totally fail.

Don’t get us wrong.  As we said before, we love technology, and our own retreat is full of high-tech features and capabilities too.  But we’ve planned for a future where there are no external resources, and we fully expect our high-tech capabilities to degrade over time, so we have fall-back alternate approaches ready to deploy as this happens.

You must not rely upon being able to get resupply of anything.  Not food, not fuel, and definitely nothing high-tech.  You must not rely upon the continued existence of any external communications of any sort with the outside world – not data, not phone, not even snail-mail.

This is part of the differentiation between a Level 2 and a Level 3 event.  In a Level 2 event, you can plan to use your stocks and stores of ‘modern day’ conveniences (as long as they don’t require external support from sources and services outside your retreat) in the semi-confident expectation/hope that by the time you have used them all up, life will be back to normal.

But the Level 3 event – a longer term one than a Level 2 event, with a slower recovery back to ‘normal’ life – assumes that you are exhausting your accumulated inventories of everything and are having to shift to a type of sustainable life-style that you can support indefinitely, due to an extended time without the benefits of our modern world being restored.

Summary

Our point is simply this.  Examine very carefully the assumptions on which you are basing your planning and preparing.  Have you – like the writer of this article – accidentally slipped in some assumptions that the world we experience and enjoy at present will still be there to support you in an uncertain future?

If so, adapt your plan to reflect a situation where this external support resource is not available.

Feb 182013
 
The time to buy your essentials of all types is before the panic sets in.  Seems obvious, but most people fail to do so.

The time to buy your essentials of all types is before the panic sets in. Seems obvious, but most people fail to do so.

It is now just over two months since the Sandy Hook shooting caused an increase in the rate of buying firearms and ammunition due to people’s concerns about new restrictive legislation, and their hope that the legislation wouldn’t apply retrospectively to existing firearms, magazines, and ammunition.

We’re not primarily a firearms focused website, and our main perspective on this matter is to examine this real life example of our economy’s fragility and inability to quickly respond to changes in the supply/demand equation.  What happens with firearms could just as easily happen to fuel or medical supplies or food items – or anything else at all.

It is true that gun store shelves are no longer totally bare, but if you look at the price tags on the rifles and pistols now available for sale, you’ll notice steep increases in price.  Ammunition is also returning to the shelves, but in limited quantities and again at much higher prices.  Here’s a recent article from, of all places, USA Today that confirms these issues continue to be a problem.

We also can quote an interesting report that was published on a private member only website, explaining some of the constraints that firearms manufacturers are facing.

Smith & Wesson : Is running at full capacity making 300+ guns/day-mainly M&P pistols. They are unable to produce any more guns to help with the shortages.

RUGER :  Plans to increase from 75% to 100% in the next 90 days.

FNH :  Moving from 50% production to 75% by Feb 1st and 100% by March 1.

Remington :  Maxed out.

Armalite :  Maxed out.

DPMS :  Can’t get enough parts to produce any more product.

COLT :  Production runs increasing weekly but restricted by shortages of bolt carriers.

LWRC :  Making only black guns, running at full capacity…can’t get enough gun quality steel to make barrels.

Springfield Armory :  Only company who says it can ‘meet demand’ but meeting this demand sees them running 30-45 days behind.

AMMO :  Every caliber is now allocated! We are looking at a nationwide shortage of all calibers over the next 9 months. All plants are producing as much ammo as possible with 1 BILLION rounds produced weekly. Most is military followed by law enforcement, and civilians are third in line.

MAGPUL is behind 1 MILLION mags, do not expect any large quantities of Magpul anytime soon.

RELOADERS :  ALL Remington, Winchester, CCI & Federal primers are going to ammo FIRST. There are no extras for reloading purposes… it could be 6-9 months before things get caught up.

Distributors have nothing on the shelves.  What comes in daily goes out, nothing in reserve.

Confirming the comments about ammunition above – indeed, revealing the situation to be much worse, this next quote just appeared on the website for Stockpile Defense, a supplier of bulk ammunition to the Front Sight firearms training school in Nevada.  They say their best case scenario is to get only 20% of the ammo they have ordered this year.  One wonders what their worst case scenario might be!

Due to extreme shortages in the ammunition market at this time supplies have run VERY LOW. We continue to get as much ammunition as possible regardless of price. Prices have also increased as much as 50% on some items. At this time we can not guarantee an adequate supply for all students. 9mm and .223 are the hardest to come by.

We are asking students to plan ahead and bring what ammunition you can for the class. We apologize for this inconvenience and please be assured that we are doing EVERYTHING in our power to keep everyone shooting. These are extremely volatile times and conditions are changing on a daily basis. Please check the website often for updates.

Again, we apologize for this inconvenience in these matters and we appreciate your understanding.

Please bring as much ammunition you can with you. We will supplement the rest. We are trying to supply between 500-1000 students per week and at this junction we just are not able to acquire enough ammo to supply all of your needs. We are very sorry for this.

We have 50 million rounds of ammunition on order for the 2013 year. We will not see all of this delivered. If we see 10 million that is my projected best case scenario.

The Growth in Gun/Ammo Demand Isn’t as Huge as You Might Think

It is worth repeating that these extreme shortages of both guns and ammunition are not because of an extreme increase in demand.

There have been only modest increases in firearms sales.  The FBI reports the following number of calls in to their ‘NICS’ service – every time a person buys a firearm from a dealer, the dealer has to call NICS for an instant background check.  Not all calls to NICS are for firearm sales, and some calls represent a sale of multiple firearms, but as a rule of thumb measure, the volume of NICS calls tracks the volume of new gun sales in the country.

The FBI show the following results :

Month Most Recent     Previous Year     Increase in number     Increase in percent
December     2,783,765 1,862,327 921,438 49.5%
January 2,495,440 1,377,301 1,118,139 81.2%

In particular, note that the total number of checks in January decreased compared to December.  Whether this is due to lessening of demand, or just inability to supply, we don’t know.

So these modest increases have totally destroyed the industry’s ability to supply.

Modern Manufacturing is No Longer Flexible

We wrote before on how modern manufacturing is subject to multiple dependencies – for example, a car manufacturer can’t make more cars if he can’t get more of all the sub-assemblies that go into making the car from their suppliers.  For example, the car manufacturer probably buys in its engine management computer systems from other manufacturers.  And these other manufacturers probably buy in the circuit boards, the chips, and so on that go into the units.  And the circuit board manufacturers in turn buy in the components that they then make into the prepared circuit boards, and so on and so on.

The highest profile example of this trend is Boeing.  It used to design and build airplanes from almost the base raw materials.  Originally it would make its own engines, too; but after being broken up due to anti-competitive issues, it split off its engine manufacturing (and its airline operations too) and concentrated on the airplane building.

But now, with its new 787 airplane, it has outsourced not just much of the design, but most of the building too, reducing its role to that of coordinator and final assembler of the airplane from the subassemblies other companies have made.

The good sense of that strategy is very much in question currently.  Not only was the 787 many years late in its development process, but the entire fleet have now been grounded due to safety concerns.  The plane’s electrical system – designed by one company, with batteries from another, integrated by a third company, and with control systems from a fourth company, are showing an alarming tendency to burst into flames, and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist or even an airplane engineer to understand that this is not a good thing.

Somewhere along the way, it seems that Boeing lost control of the overall management and safety architecture of its new plane development, and rather than becoming the ‘Dreamliner’ that it fancifully named its new plane, it is instead more of a nightmare for Boeing, the airlines who have bought them, and the public who may have to anxiously fly in them.

We are seeing the multiple dependencies problem play out with guns and ammo too.  A shortage of bolt carriers is limiting Colt’s production; a shortage of gun quality steel is impacting on LWRC and a shortage of all parts in general is impacting DPMS.  As for ammunition, we know there is now a shortage of primers, and who knows what else as well.

Automation Prevents Flexibility

The other key issue is that all the automation that goes into modern-day manufacturing – while a very good thing from the perspective of low-cost high-efficiency manufacturing – means that increases in production rates may require buying more machinery for the factory.

It was an easy step, decades ago, for a factory to simply hire more workers, particularly for relatively unskilled jobs that didn’t require a huge investment or delay in a training process, and of course, when demand cycles reduced, to let those people go again.  There was little up-front cost, little leadtime/delay, and no ongoing liability.

But a company can’t buy a multi-million dollar machine, and probably also need to build a new bay in their factory to house it, at short notice.  Even if it somehow could, how long would it take to build the new factory extension, and to receive the new equipment it had ordered?  And, after having done this, it would then be saddled with the machinery in the event that there was a future downturn in demand.

It also used to be that manufacturers would have reserve capacity in their factories – the ability to add a second or third shift, for example.  But more and more, manufacturers are preferring to soak up their ‘surge capacity’ rather than buying in more capacity, and so they don’t have as much reserve capacity now.

And, even if they did, remember the issue we opened with.  They might be able to double their output, but what if their sub-assembly supplier can’t also double their output to match?

Manufacturers Deliberately Operate Very Close to Capacity

It makes no financial sense for a company to invest in two very expensive machines that each run one shift a day.  Instead most companies these days would prefer to operate one expensive machine for two shifts a day, and, if demand grows further, to add a third shift too.

This makes financial sense, but what then happens if demand increases but the manufacturers are already running at close to full capacity?

The other part of this picture is what happens when all manufacturers are running at close to maximum capacity and then one of the manufacturers is knocked off-line – unscheduled maintenance, even scheduled maintenance, or whatever.  We see this happen regularly these days in the oil/gas industry, where the closing of two or three refineries simultaneously around the country (for different reasons, but coincidentally at the same time) massively drives up the price of gas at the pump.  Indeed, as we write this, we are staring at huge increases in gas prices at the pump, at the same time that crude oil supplies are abundant.

This points to an interesting related point.  Manufacturers benefit from artificial shortages.  When there is a shortage of product, the manufacturers no longer have to compete with each other, but instead they can all push their prices up and enjoy the bonus windfall profits that come their way.

We see this also in the aviation industry.  As more and more airlines disappear (little more than ten years ago there were more than ten major airlines in the US, with last week’s announcement of the AA/US merger, we are now down to only three) and with the remaining airlines deliberately limiting their flights, we not only get to suffer more flights in the middle seat, but we have to pay more for the tickets, too.

Another example – the recent increases in vegetable prices, with some vegetables increasing in price more than 50% almost overnight, due to weather issues in some areas reducing supplies.  Now you could fairly say that it is very hard to match the supply and demand with a perishable product, but the fact remains that – with the entire world as potential suppliers of foodstuffs, we have seen prices for basic vegetables such as even broccoli shoot up from under $1.50/lb to around $3.00/lb.

Empty Warehouses

Another change is the lack of finished goods inventory.  In the past, it was common for companies at every step of the supply/distribution chain to hold reserves of product, so any sudden surges in demand could be satisfied from the warehouses full of finished products.  And by the time demand had persisted to the point that the manufacturers needed to increase their production rates, their sub-assembly suppliers also had reserve capacity to help them respond to increased production and offtake rates.

As we can vividly see from the above information, such capabilities are no longer commonplace.  So here we are, arguably the world’s most advanced nation and the world’s largest economy, and unable to supply even 20% of the ordinary normal demand for ammunition for the entire year ahead.

Bear in mind also that a lot of the firearms and ammunition sold in the US is imported.  Why can’t factories elsewhere in the world also supply enough for our needs?  Has a slight uptick in demand in the US overloaded the entire world’s manufacturing capacity?  As unthinkable as it may seem, the answer compellingly seems to be ‘yes, it has’.

Summary

The bottom line is obvious.  You need to at all times keep a reasonable inventory of all products you need and consume/purchase on a regular basis.  With a simple stock rotation system, this costs you nothing, and because it enables you to buy when products are at low prices to grow your inventory, and to use from inventory when prices are high at the store, you can actually ‘earn a return’ on your investment in your own supplies of food and other items.

The example of continuing shortages of firearms and ammunition shows that it only takes a small shift in demand to overwhelm the entire supply chain, meaning that most product becomes totally unavailable, and what little still passes through the distribution channels skyrockets up in price.

The time to stock up on essentials is now, when they are plentiful, not in the future after panic buying has already set in.

Dec 042012
 

You have an accident in a deserted middle-of-nowhere location. How do you survive for possibly several days until help arrives?

You are probably prepared – in your home – for Level 1 events (see our definition of Level 1/2/3 events here).  But what say you are somewhere else – such as, for example, your car, when something occurs, not to much to the region, but to you directly?  How prepared are you for that?

We’ve ourselves several times experienced what might perhaps be a personal Level ¼ or Level ½ event in a vehicle – a short-term event that may be either happily trivial or alarmingly impactful, depending on our state of preparedness and the randomness of various factors such as time of day and weather.

If your vehicle breaks down in an unsafe location, for example, you’re going to have to evacuate the vehicle and wait for assistance in a place of safety.  No big deal, you might say.  But what if it is snowing, with a bitterly cold wind, and what say when you got into your vehicle in your nice warm garage, all you were wearing was a shirt and trousers?  How long are you going to last, standing around outside, in thin trousers and a short-sleeved shirt when the wind chill factor is bringing the temperature down to -20°?

Temperature extremes are probably the biggest thing you need to prepare for and protect against.  And it isn’t just extremes of cold.  Heat can be a concern, too.  Maybe you’re driving in a remote area and your vehicle stalls and won’t restart.  You’re on a road which has maybe one, maybe two cars a day, and let’s say, instead of a blizzard, this time you’re in the desert in 100° heat (massively more in the car due to the ‘hothouse’ effect as the sun shines in the window, and outside the car, you’ve still got the sun bearing straight down on you.  How much water do you have, if you end up out there for a day or two or three before someone comes along and agrees to help?

Or maybe the car runs just fine, but a tire punctured, and your spare is either missing or flat.  Maybe it is something even more frustrating such as not being able to take the nuts off the lugs that secure the wheel to the axle due to a missing tire tool.  The good news is you can shelter inside the car, with the engine running, and you can use the vehicle’s heater or a/c to maintain a comfortable temperature.  The bad news is, you’re burning gas at a rate of 0.5 – 1.0 gallons/hour.  How many gallons of gas do you have with you?

What happens if your car runs off the road, down a cliff, and ends up in a stream at the bottom.  Maybe you have broken a limb, and can’t go far from the vehicle for help.  Will you have warm clothing, and some water and food, to keep you alive and comfortable until rescuers find you?

Another issue/risk is any type of vehicle accident at all that might injure people in your or another car.

Our point is simply this.  We spend large amounts of our lives in our cars, and there are plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong in the car.  These problems aren’t always life threatening, but they sometimes could be, and even if not life threatening, they can certainly be massively inconvenient and mini Level 1 situations for you and anyone else in the car with you.

Checklists of Things to Keep in Your Vehicles

We recommend you should keep the following things in your car at all times to assist you in an emergency :

  • Warm clothing and blankets sufficient for one person more than normally travels in your car
  • Wet weather gear – ponchos, umbrellas
  • Fresh water (a gallon or more), maybe some long life food as well
  • First Aid Kit – the more extensive, the better, ideally in a professional green colored carry bag
  • Fuses (at least three of each type)
  • Spare windshield wipers
  • Everything you need to change a tire
  • Spare engine fluids (anti-freeze, washer fluid, brake fluid, transmission fluid, engine oil)
  • LED flashlight
  • Car charger for your and other family members’ cell phones
  • Emergency Cash
  • Whistle
  • Knife – perhaps a Swiss Army type multifunction knife
  • Five gallon can of fuel

Beyond these high priority essentials, you might want to add some additional items :

  • Jumper cables
  • Tow strap
  • CB Radio (and external antenna) that will run from car battery or included internal batteries
  • Roadside Flares
  • In-the-air signaling flares
  • Emergency (LED) strobe lights
  • Duct tape
  • Air compressor for tires and tire pressure gauge
  • Fire extinguisher (1A10BC or a 5lb ABC or larger unit)
  • Basic tool kit – assorted screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrenches
  • Gloves, cloths/towels, and wetwipes

Extra Cold Weather Gear

If you are going somewhere cold, you should add some or all of these extra items :

  • Chains/cables
  • Shovel – with a handle that, when extended, can reach at least half way under the vehicle
  • Windshield scraper
  • Gumboots/snow boots
  • Gloves and hats and scarves
  • Spare batteries for flashlights
  • Handwarmers

Extra Remote Location Gear

If you are going somewhere remote, you might want to add extra spare parts such as fan belts, hoses, and more tools such as a complete socket set.  How about some spare headlight bulbs, too?

Ask your car dealer’s repair department what items occasionally (regularly!) fail on your model vehicle, and if they are user replaceable, keep spares of those.  Maybe a service manual would be helpful, too.

If you’ll be spending some time in a remote location, check on the coverage maps for your wireless service provider.  Will there be cell phone coverage where you’ll be?

If it is very marginal, you might want to consider a cell phone repeater/signal booster – Wilson Electronics make the best ones.  Even their entry-level cradle model units (under $100 on Amazon) can make a big difference to the range of your phone.  Don’t get the $10 sticker things you stick on your phone – they do absolutely nothing at all.

Even More Things

Here is a list of additional items to consider for you and your vehicle.  You can decide which might be useful or justifiable based on your vehicles, your travel habits, and your lifestyle.

For example, if you’re a lady often driving in high-heeled shoes, keeping a pair of walking shoes in the car would be a good thing to do; but if you’re a man driving to and from outdoor work sites, you probably have functional shoes on already.

  • Foam tire sealant
  • Traffic cones or triangles
  • Hi-viz jacket
  • Walking shoes
  • Battery powered AM/FM/Weather radio
  • Paper, pens, pencils
  • Paracord – 100ft or more of 550 paracord
  • Signaling mirror
  • List of emergency contacts, numbers, details
  • Self defense items such as pepper spray or firearms
  • Toilet paper and tissues
  • Books, games, cards
  • Tarpaulin
  • Kitty litter – lighter than sand to sprinkle on ice/snow for traction

The Weight Penalty of Emergency Equipment

You might be thinking ‘If I load all of this into my vehicle’s trunk, I’ve added another 100lbs to the deadweight of the car.  That’ll kill my fuel efficiency and engine performance.’

As for engine performance, the chances are your vehicle weighs something over 4000lbs already.  Adding 100 lbs to it is a very small percentage of its total (2.5% in this example) and is the same as adding a young teenager into the car.  The difference in performance will be minimal and almost not noticed.

Fuel efficiency is generally believed to reduce by about 1% – 2% for every 100lbs of load you add (see, for example, this site).  That’s hardly material, either.

So don’t let these concerns prevent you from having a full emergency kit in all your vehicles, all the time.  Chances are it isn’t going to weigh 100lbs anyway!

Summary

Unless you live in mid-town Manhattan and never drive off the island, you’ll at times be driving in places which could pose problems to you if your car were to fail or be in an accident.

You should always keep a core of essential items in your car, and augment them any time you are driving somewhere out of the ordinary.  Furthermore, you should regularly check the contents of your emergency kit, replacing things that have been ‘borrowed’ or which have expired.