Aug 072013
 
Coaches such as this 1982 MCI 47 seater are about as generic and ordinary looking as possible.

Coaches such as this 1982 MCI 47 seater are about as generic and ordinary looking as possible.

This is part of a series on using a bus or coach as a bug out vehicle.  If you arrived here from a search engine or link, you might like to consider starting your reading at the first article in the series, and then working through the complete series in sequence.  But you’re of course free to roam through the series in any order you wish.  Links to all the parts are at the end of this article.

Buses come in almost as many makes and models and variations as do passenger cars.  It can be hard to know what to look for when first approaching such an enticing range of choices and options.

This article is not intended to be a complete buyers guide to buses, but rather, it looks at the specific issues to do with selecting a bus to be used as a prepper’s bug-out vehicle.  The factors you consider in such a case are of course different to the factors a local church group might consider when seeking a vehicle to take members from an adjacent car-park to the church door.

Some things also are so self-evident as to not need stating (don’t get a bus that is half-way rusted through, or if the engine won’t start, etc!), and others are covered in the next part of the series, which looks at things to consider when buying a bus.

Range

The first thing you want to understand is the range the bus offers on its tank of diesel.  How many gallons does it hold, and how many miles per gallon does it provide?  The fuel economy of course varies depending on the total weight of the bus and the type of driving you’d be doing – you can make reasonably accurate guesses about both.

You know the route you’ll probably take to your retreat, the distance, and the type of driving needed, and then of course allow a major ‘what if’ factor on top of that to give you a safety margin of extra fuel, ‘just in case’.  You also will have a sense if you’ll be fully loading the vehicle with passengers and gear or not, based on the number of people in your group, and the probable total weight of them and the gear you take with you, so that helps you to know if the fuel economy will be higher or lower than standard.

It goes without saying that the bus must be able to get you all to your retreat with only the fuel in its tank and whatever additional amount you have stored in its luggage compartments, with a reasonable remaining reserve of fuel for ‘just in case’ issues that might arise.  If it can’t do this, you need to look at other buses than can.

As a general rule, you’ll see quite a wide variation in mpg performance of coaches.  We’ve seen some heavy coaches (50,000 lbs GVWR) with claims of as much as 8.5 mpg on their manufacturer’s websites, and we know of coaches that regularly provide 7 – 8 mpg on the open road, but we suggest you start off with a pessimistic expectation of 6.5 – 7 mpg, and then adjust upwards if appropriate.

Weight and Weight Carrying

The next thing we suggest you consider is exactly how much weight the bus can take.  To understand this, you need to understand the maximum gross weight of the bus and also its ‘wet weight’.  The wet weight should be how much the bus weighs, empty but with a full load of fluids – fuel, coolant, oil, and also water for the restroom and drinking water for passengers.  The difference between the wet weight and the gross weight is how much extra weight you can load onto the bus – extra fuel (diesel is heavier than gasoline and weighs about 7.15 lbs/US gallon), people, spare parts, supplies, stores, and whatever else you might load onto the bus.

This will probably not be a limitation because we’re guessing you won’t be filling the coach up with the maximum number of people it has seats for, but you still should check you have sufficient spare capacity.  As motorhome owners know, it is amazing how quickly all that spare capacity gets used up.  Besides which, the more weight it can carry, the more versatile the bus becomes, giving you more opportunities to consider taking extra ‘last minute’ stuff with you, more fuel, etc.  (A word of warning – don’t let the ability to take more ‘last minute’ stuff with you tempt you into not ensuring your retreat is well stocked prior to your arrival.)

Talking about weight, we’re going to assume the bus you select has a GVWR greater than 26,000 lbs.  That means your drivers will need to have Class B commercial drivers licenses, and they will need to follow the requirements for maximum driving time, rest times, etc.  This can be addressed by having multiple drivers on the vehicle if you are planning for a long distance nonstop journey.

If the GVWR is over 33,000 lbs that makes it a Class 8 vehicle.  Between 26,000 and 33,000 lbs is a Class 7 vehicle.

You should also consider not just the bus’s weight carrying in terms of pounds, but also in terms of cubic feet.  Although that probably won’t be a problem, because you can carry some stuff in the passenger compartment, it is still good to know just how much space there is underneath the coach for heavy and bulky items.

Dimensions

This might seem obvious, but some buses are bigger than others.

There are two standard widths for buses – 8′ (96″) and 8’6″ (102″).  This width does not include the extra width taken up by outside mirrors.  The wider bus is of course more comfortable inside, but slightly harder to keep in its lane on the road.  You’ll probably have non-professional drivers, and so might find the six-inch saving to be helpful.

The length of a bus depends on how many rows of seats it has (and the spacing between each row too of course), and you don’t want to go over 45′ if possible.  Some states have maximum length regulations which start to kick in at 45′.  This is unlikely to be a problem, because you’re unlikely to need or want a maximum sized bus.

In general, the shorter the bus, the easier it will be to drive and maneuver, so if you have a choice between a longer and a shorter bus, then, if all things are equal, get the shorter one.

On the other hand, all things are rarely equal!  Do make sure you’ve a bus that is big enough for all of you, plus able to absorb a few more people and a few more things, too.  From that perspective, better to be a little ‘too big’ than a little too small.  You’ll need to decide where the ideal compromise point is for your group, and as we mention in our article about the pluses and minuses of using a coach as a bug-out vehicle, in all seriousness, if your group size grows beyond a certain point, you would be much better advised to operate two smaller buses in convoy than one large bus traveling alone (due to the added ‘fault-tolerance’ you get from two buses – if one has a failure en route, you can hopefully squeeze everyone onto the second and still complete the journey).

Bus heights vary too.  Generally most roads are built to have a minimum clearance of 13’6″, with occasional exceptions, particularly on secondary and local roads.  If your bus is taller than 13’6″, you might start to encounter problems, and you’d have to scout out your route to check if/where you would run into problems and how to bypass them.

You will ideally also have some antennas on the top of your bus, and while you could have very short little antennas, the longer they are the better, so the less tall your bus, the more air space above it you have to ‘fill’ with antennas.

One more thing about bus heights.  Don’t get a double-decker bus.  They have lots of limitations and problems.  They might look nice, and can be fun for a short around-town sightseeing tour, but they do not make good comfortable touring buses.  The main reason for this is that the bus’s motion is magnified on the upper deck, and unless you have smooth straight roads, you may find the rocking and swaying on the upper deck is unpleasant and uncomfortable.

Their top-heavy nature also reduces still further their performance and cornering.  You’re not going to be aggressively cornering in any bus, but a double-decker is even worse than a regular bus.

While you’re thinking about dimensions, have a thought about ground clearances, too.  Does the bus have adjustable air suspension and can it be lifted up higher than normal if necessary on rough and uneven ground?  What are the maximum approach and departure angles it can handle?

Of course, you also need to understand what the requirements for other than ordinary normal road driving might be on your bug-out route and any alternates you might need to consider as well.

Your Bug-Out Bus Doesn’t Need to be Able to Get All the Way to Your Retreat

You also need to appreciate that you don’t need your bus to be able to get all the way to the front doorstep of your retreat.

While that would be wonderful, the key requirement is to use it to get to within the last mile or so of your retreat.  Once you’ve got to that point, you’re presumably in a fairly safe location, and your group members can complete the short remaining balance of the total journey any which way.

Maybe one member of your group can walk or bicycle or whatever the short distance to the retreat, get some sort of other vehicle from the retreat, and use it to ferry your group the short distance to the retreat from the bus (and to transport any heavy/bulky freight that was brought too).

So if there’s a narrow windy uneven forestry road leading the last half mile up to your retreat, it isn’t essential either that you improve the forestry road to handle a bus, or that you get a bus with off-roading capabilities.  It is perfectly valid to consider some other approach to get your group that last remaining distance, and that will allow you to be more realistic about the capabilities of your coach.

Overall Appearance

Here’s an interesting point that you should think about carefully.  You don’t want your coach to ‘look like a million dollars’; on the other hand, you don’t want it to look like a hippy/beater of a bus, either.  As well as general appearance and condition, you also don’t want a bus that is either unusually old or brand new, either (although it is much more difficult to identify a brand new bus than it is to identify a brand new car).

You want your coach to look functional, utilitarian, ordinary, and not out-of-place in a varying range of situations.

Although it is hard to identify a brand new coach, it is easier to identify a very old one (ie 1970s or earlier).  So perhaps try to choose one that doesn’t date back beyond the 1980s and choose a body style and shape that is as inoffensive and unremarkable as possible.

From the point of view of not looking like a million dollars, we would argue against a Mercedes branded coach.  If you do get a Mercedes coach, you might want to consider removing the badges so that it becomes a generic rather than ‘deluxe’ seeming coach.

The very first thing you should do with any coach is make sure it has a plain paint job, and we’d suggest no identifying marks or logos on it.  You can decide what color is best, but we’d suggest that urban camo is not the style to use!

It is also probably best not to add lots of ‘aggressive’ accessories to it such as bull bars or winches or other ‘off-roading’ or ‘expedition’ type equipment – leastways, not to the outside that are plainly visible.  Do whatever you like to the interior, and also keep accessories and equipment in the cargo bays ready to deploy as may be needed, but don’t have them visibly installed unless you do indeed need them.

Talking about the interior, we also suggest that windows should be tinted, so as to obscure who is inside.  You don’t want to have such a high degree of tint as to become unusual, but enough tint to reduce the visibility of the people inside keeps other people guessing, and the less they know, the better it is for you.

Engine and Powertrain Issues

It goes without saying that the more powerful the engine, the better.  When looking at power, you should consider it in the context of the likely total weight of the vehicle when you drive it to your retreat.  How many pounds does each horsepower have to manage?  The fewer, the better.

Private cars can have as few as 10 or less pounds per horsepower (very fast sportscars) to something over 20lbs/hp (stodgy cars).  But with buses, you’ll have massively more pounds per horsepower than even the most underpowered car.

The most powerful ratio we’ve seen is about 90 lbs/hp, and the least powerful is more than 130lbs/hp.  Most modern buses seem to be in the 110 – 130 lbs/hp range.

Something else you should look out for is the type of transmission.  You want as many gears as possible – hopefully six, and ideally many more.  Older buses will have fewer gears than newer ones.

The diesel engines in buses have a very narrow power band, much narrower than in a gasoline powered passenger car, and so you will need more gears to keep the bus in the sweet spot, power wise, no matter what speed it is proceeding at.  Extra gears are particularly beneficial when climbing hills.

These days most buses have automatic transmission, but some buses (particularly older ones) have manual transmissions.  If you get a manual transmission bus, you should understand if the gears have synchromesh on them or if they have an old style ‘crash’ gearbox.  If you have a crash style gearbox, you will find it more difficult to change ‘up’ gears (ie going from 4th gear to 3rd gear, etc).

It would be very nice to have ABS on the bus.  Hopefully you’ll be driving safely and sedately on the way to your retreat, but you have no way of knowing when some other vehicle on the road won’t do something stupid, and ABS might make all the difference between a close call and a nasty accident that disables the bus and prevents you traveling the rest of the way to your retreat.  As truck and coach drivers well know, some passenger car drivers act crazy around large vehicles, cutting in front of them and generally failing to appreciate the space needs large vehicles have.

Passenger Amenities – Bathroom

You’re not seeking a deluxe ultra-luxurious experience, of course.  This is a bus you’ll probably only ever ride on a very few times – there will be occasional ‘rehearsals’ for the group and then of course, a ‘for real’ bug out at some time.

But there are some things you should have.  Most important of all is a rest room on board.  This is for two reasons, one obvious and one not quite so obvious.

The obvious reason is, of course, so you can travel long distances without the need for ‘comfort stops’.  The less obvious reason is that a ‘comfort stop’ takes a terribly long time when it is a group of you on a coach, and will need to occur more regularly than if just two of you in a private car.

Unless you have an unusually disciplined group, when you make a comfort stop you will first take several minutes while people meander off the bus, then the women will make their way to the ladies’ restroom and the inevitable waiting in a long line occurs.  Some people will stop for a smoke, if there is a store nearby some will go to the store, and annoyingly, some will only do these things at the very last minute.  Then you have time to board everyone back onto the bus again, and wait for the last few stragglers.  There’s no way this can be done in less than 20 minutes, unless you’re somewhere with lots of stalls and have a very disciplined group.

Furthermore, if there is no onboard facility, you’ll find you need to make comfort stops more regularly than you expected.  Some people like to swill several cups of coffee immediately prior to a journey, then ten minutes into the journey discover an urgent need for a bathroom break.  Others will drink on board, a few people might have prostate issues, and maybe someone has an upset stomach.

Sure, we’ve been on 2 – 3 hour nonstop drives with a coachload of passengers and no bathroom, but there have been a few very unhappy and uncomfortable people among the group by the time we finally got to a comfort stop!

One last thing about comfort stops.  Depending on the degree of collapse when you bug out, you may find many fewer places with ‘normal’ restrooms available for travelers.  Another reason to seek out a bus with its own self-contained facilities.

Note that some bus restrooms have a washbasin, others do not.  It would be nicer to have one that comes complete with a washbasin.

It might pay to check how many gallons of water can be stored for use in the bathroom and how many uses/flushes that gives you.  Check also what the capacity of the holding tank is, and how easy it is to dump the contents of the ‘black water’ (and ‘grey water’) tanks – the bathroom’s capacity is of course limited both by the amount of fresh water available and, until you can dump it, the amount of black water it can store.

Other Passenger Amenities

If you have a choice between a bus with two entry/exit doors and a coach with only one, take the double doored bus every time.  It can make a big difference in loading/unloading time, particularly in an emergency (see our separate article on tactical considerations).

Older buses have a front door that swings open, more modern buses have doors that slide open.  The sliding open doors are preferable because they don’t require as much clear space alongside the bus.

For a similar reason, if there is a bus with openable/closable emergency exits, rather than one where you must smash a window out of the frame, the one with proper emergency exits is again preferable for tactical reasons.  The same for a bus with a door for the driver.

Some coaches have a separate entry for a wheelchair.  If that is something you need, it would be nice, but if you do not need it, there still might be value in having that feature because it provides another entry/exit, particularly if you need to exit the coach in a hurry for, ahem, ‘tactical’ reasons.

If you anticipate a long journey to your retreat, it would be nice to have a basic kitchenette on the bus as well.  The most important capability is being able to boil water – if you have hot water, you can make coffee, instant soups, and instant noodles.  Beyond that, a microwave would greatly increase the range of food items you could heat up, and a bit of bench space and even a tiny sink would help still further.

A refrigerator is also good to have, but in an emergency, any type of cooler bin would be satisfactory.

One other thing that seems to vary a bit from bus to bus is the overhead storage inside the passenger compartment.  The more overhead space to put things inside the passenger compartment, the better.  Some overhead space is an open parcel shelf type, and sometimes it has doors that can close like on a plane.  But whether it has doors or not, you need to realize that this space is massively smaller than on planes (because there’s not as much vertical height available).  Your people won’t be able to bring as much stuff into the passenger cabin on a bus as they can on a plane – well, not unless you have a designated area where people can pile up their bags.  A typical rollaboard type bag will not fit in the overhead, and the overhead is probably not built to hold great weights, either.  It really is intended for only things like jackets and other outer clothing, and a limited number of true essentials for the journey.

Your people need to realize that the benefits of carrying luggage onto a plane aren’t applicable on a coach.  There is no way their bag can be lost if they place it, themselves, in the under-floor cargo compartments, and there’s no measurable extra delay in getting on or off the coach if their luggage is underneath rather than in the coach.  Only essential items for the journey should be in the passenger compartment – food, drink, meds, books, etc.

It seems common on more modern and upmarket coaches to have DVD players and flat panel screens positioned around the coach, and some even have at seat power – either 110V and/or USB power sockets.  These things are entirely unnecessary in your situation, but if they are provided, well, you wouldn’t refuse it, would you.  And, when negotiating on the price of the coach, if it doesn’t have such things, you could pretend it was important to you and ask for a price reduction as a result!

Summary

You are choosing a bus for a very utilitarian purpose – the prime mission is for the bus to get you safely, securely, and certainly to your retreat in an emergency situation.

Nothing else much matters, as long as the bus is guaranteed to fulfill its only purpose and mission.  You can compromise on any of the ‘nice but not essential’ features, just so long as you don’t compromise on the ‘must have’ features.

Perhaps the most important consideration of all is one we’ve not yet touched upon – the reliability of the bus.  We discuss those issues in the next part of this series.

At the risk of complicating issues, if you do end up with a good quality coach, there might be tempting opportunities to charter it locally, and for reasonably good sums of money too.  That might be an interesting sideline or even main business for you, and one thing is for sure – coaches like to be driven.  You won’t wear it out by adding another few hundred thousand miles onto it, and will be keeping up to date with any issues that might be developing and needing attention.

But that’s a very optional ‘extra’ or ‘bonus’ consideration way removed from the core purpose of owning some type of coach.  Don’t get distracted by it – but don’t overlook it, either.

Please Continue Reading Our Bus Series of Articles

This is part of a broader series of articles on the concept of using a bus as a bug-out vehicle.  You can see our other articles, conveniently linked below, and of course, we have plenty of other articles on the broader subject of bugging out as well.

Part 0 –  Introduction

Part 1 –  The Pluses and Minuses of Using a Bus/Coach as a Bug-Out Vehicle

Part 2 –  Things to Consider When Evaluating Buses/Coaches as Bug-Out Vehicles

Part 3 –  Things to Consider When Buying a Bus/Coach

Part 4 –  Tactical Considerations When Traveling by Bus/Coach

Part 5 –  Coordinating a Community Bug-Out Event

Aug 072013
 
There is a small galley/kitchenette as well as restroom at the rear of this 1995 Prevost, 46 seats, about $25,000.

There is a small galley/kitchenette as well as restroom at the rear of this 1995 Prevost, 46 seats, about $25,000.

This is part of a series on using a bus or coach as a bug out vehicle.  If you arrived here from a search engine or link, you might like to consider starting your reading at the first article in the series, and then working through the complete series in sequence.  But you’re of course free to roam through the series in any order you wish.  Links to all the parts are at the end of this article.

We hate buying used cars, indeed, one of the major reasons we sometimes buy new cars is to avoid the unpleasantness of buying a used car, and to spare ourselves the subsequent weeks of anxiety, fearing that we’ll discover all sorts of problems with the car shortly after having bought it.

Fortunately, if you’re buying a cheap second-hand car, there’s a limit to the amount of money at risk.  Worst case scenario, you sell it for not much less than what you paid for it, and so you’re only out-of-pocket maybe a few thousand dollars.  However, if you buy a used bus for, say, $20,000, and with the much more illiquid market for used buses, your total exposure is much greater – you can’t easily and quickly ‘flip’ a bus if you realize you made a mistake.  Not only can most parts on a bus cost a great deal more than on a passenger car to start with, there are many more parts and systems to maintain on a bus than on a car.

This article is not intended to be a step by step complete list of everything to look out for, to check, and to inspect, when buying a used bus.  We will link to some articles with some of that material, but the ultimate bottom line has to be ‘hire experts to check out a bus before you buy it’.

How Much Does a Used Bus Cost?

This is probably one of your first questions, and understandably so.  Used buses vary in price the same as do used cars – it depends on the make/model, its age and condition, and all the other sorts of things, very much the same way that used car prices vary, too.

However, some things are not exactly the same as with cars.  You don’t need to be quite so sensitive to the miles a bus has been driven or even its calendar age – some buses (eg MCI brand) claim to have been designed for 30 year and 3 million mile lives, and could of course continue to be maintained beyond that point, too.  So whereas passenger cars are starting to get past their prime at, say, 150,000 miles and ten years, for a commercial coach, it might be just getting into its prime at that point.

It is common for coaches, as the years and miles pass, to have either new engines and transmissions installed to replace worn engines, or major overhauls which are almost as good as new engines, greatly extending the lives of their power plants.  Interiors may have been completely redone, too, making an old coach a bit like an old axe – it is an old axe, but the handle has been replaced a couple of times, as has the head too!

How long does a diesel motor last?  Some manufacturers actually quote statistical time periods – for example, the B50 life, which means that is the point where there is a 50% chance the engine will need major work done on it.  That’s not the same as a certainty, though, and major work isn’t the same as saying it needs to be replaced.

The actual life varies depending on whether it is worked hard and stressed, or if it has an easy duty cycle, is not stressed, and spends most of its time on long runs cruising at steady speed and moderate throttle settings.  So you can’t really guess whether an engine with, say, 10,000 hours on it is near the end or the beginning of its life (but we mention some techniques, below, that will give you a reasonable idea).

You’ll find buses for sale from under $10,000 up to over $100,000, and you’ll probably find one that is ideal for your requirements in the $20,000 – $50,000 price range.

That is either a lot of money or very little money, depending on your perspective.  Spread it over 20 or 30 people, and it is perhaps $1000 per person, and maybe $100 a year (again per person) for insurance, maintenance, storage, occasional test drives, etc.

Used buses are an extraordinary bargain.  You might find yourself getting a good condition used bus for only 1% or 2% of its new replacement cost; how often can you say the same thing about a car?  That would be like buying a car for $500, in good condition and with half its life still remaining, with its new price at $50,000.

The reason for this is that after a certain point, used buses are no longer of interest to commercial bus operators, and the only other market for them are the ‘bottom feeders’ – social groups looking for bargain priced transportation for their members, and private individuals wanting to convert a bus chassis into a custom motor home.  So you really can get a great deal and a great value on a used bus, but please see our section further below for advice on how to avoid getting stuck with a lemon.

The most important thing to remember is that bus owner/operators tend to sell them for a different reason than car owners sell their cars.  Car owners might sell a perfectly good car, just because they want a newer/better car.  Bus owners tend to keep their buses longer, and are more likely to wait until some costly repair item comes due and then decide that rather than spend tens of thousands of dollars extending the life of their old bus, they’ll buy a new bus instead.

That’s not the only reason buses are sold – sometimes companies go out of business, or lose a contract and so downsize their fleet, and sometimes they decide to standardize on a particular model of coach, or maybe they feel a need for largely cosmetic upgrades, and find it easier to finance new buses than to pay to gut and rebuild an older coach’s interior to modern state of the art standards.

Our point here is important.  Used buses are more likely to have incipient or actual problems than used cars.  If you’re buying a used bus directly from its owner, ask him to his face ‘Why are you selling this bus’ and see if you get an honest answer or not.  Some used buses will be perfectly good and exactly as they are described, but others will have obscured problems and it will be up to you to find them.

Negotiating the Price Down

One more thing about price.  As we mentioned above, the market for used buses is somewhat ‘illiquid’.  By that we mean that it might take a while for a bus to sell – much longer than it might take for a car to sell.  What that means is that the price of a used bus is probably more negotiable than the price of a used car.  See what you can do to drive the price down.

The seller will of course have a realistic idea of what the bus is worth to ‘the right buyer’, but he also will understand that the coach will be worth much less to someone who isn’t the ‘right’ buyer – someone who wants a coach, but who wants a coach bigger or smaller than his coach, with more features or with fewer features, a newer coach or an older coach, and so on.  Not only will the seller understand how much the coach is worth to the right buyer, he’ll also understand how it is not a perfect match to people looking for other types of coaches, and if you present yourself as someone looking for a different sort of coach, he then will understand that he either has to discount the price of his coach to adjust its value to match the different parameters you are looking for, or lose you as a potential buyer and keep waiting for the right buyer to stumble across him and his coach.

His worst case scenario is probably selling it to someone who wants to convert the coach to a motorhome.  All they want is the chassis and engine.  The next to worst case is selling it to a school or church for short excursions – they’re mainly looking for low price (and possibly lots of seats) rather than any upgrades.

Due to the illiquid nature of the used coach marketplace, and depending on the degree of eagerness to sell on the part of the seller, they may be willing to discount more than you’d expect to get their bus sold, but only if they perceive that it isn’t the bus you’re looking for.  This is quite different to cars.  A five – ten year old used four door four-cylinder car is more or less generic, isn’t it, and, apart from variations to do with mileage and condition, they all tend to sell for much the same price to much the same people.  And a dealer knows if he doesn’t sell the car to someone today, there’ll be someone along tomorrow he can hope to sell it to instead.

But with coaches, the potential buyers may be far and few between, and the features of each coach varies widely from that of other coaches for sale.  While a broker/dealer will be able to respond by offering you different coach configurations that are also for sale on his lot, if you are dealing directly with someone who has one coach for sale, he might be willing to adjust the price to compensate for the features you tell him his coach is lacking.

Keep in mind also that coach dealers/brokers usually charge a 15% or so commission when they sell a coach on behalf of a client.  If you cut out the middle man, you should benefit from at least some of that saving.

So, do we need to tell you this?  Whenever you’re looking at a coach, you need to wear your best poker face.  It isn’t just ‘OPSEC’ that imposes a ‘do not disclose’ restriction on your ability to fully explain what you’re looking for.  It is not wanting to let on what is important and valuable to you.

You need to show an open-minded intelligent interest, but never let on if there is anything that you like and which is important to you.  Treat those things as ‘so who cares’.  If you discover it has extra long-range tanks fitted, your response would be ‘but who wants to weigh the coach down with all that extra diesel when there are gas stations every 10 or 20 miles’ – even though that’s a tremendously positive feature for your requirement.

And if you uncover something the coach doesn’t have, then play that up.

Of course, you don’t want to show yourself as a lost cause, or else the seller won’t try as hard as he could.  Make it clear that all problems can be solved by an adjustment in the selling price, and then see exactly how much of an adjustment you can secure.

Things to Look For

There are some things you can understand and evaluate yourself, and other things you’ll need expert advice on, when it comes to appraising a bus.

The first thing you want to see is a complete maintenance history for the bus.  Keep in mind that any maintenance records and receipts that don’t show the bus’s serial number need to be considered skeptically – how do you know that the work relates to the bus you are considering, rather than to another bus?  You can sort of get an idea if the time of the repair and the mileage shown on the repair paperwork is consistent with other paperwork for other repairs at other times, but it is less persuasive than ‘proper’ records that show serial numbers.

You’ll get a feeling from the maintenance history as to what has gone wrong, what goes wrong regularly, and what the repair costs are.  Don’t forget to adjust up costs for repairs dating back five or ten years to reflect today’s higher costs.  That will help you form a realistic expectation of what your ongoing costs may be.

It is also interesting to see if the vehicle has had any major parts replaced or reconditioned.  If the engine was replaced, is the new engine the same make/model as the original?  Or is it less powerful?  Or maybe more powerful?

You should also follow through the ownership history on the bus, and don’t be afraid to call past owners and ask them why they sold the vehicle.  Was it a good or bad vehicle while in their service?  Was it in any crashes?  And so on.

You should ascertain who in your area could work on your bus for you, and check with them about their experience with that model of bus.  Is it a known good or bad model?  Are spare parts readily available?  Are they more or less expensive to work on and repair than other buses?  In our opinion, lack of local service/support, and difficulties getting spare parts are deal breaking issues.  They will greatly increase the cost of the coach’s maintenance, and the length of time that even a simple issue takes it out of service.  Even worse, if you have the bus fail to function, if you are then up either for towing charges to a further away service location, or having to pay to have a mechanic travel some distance to go work on your coach, you can guess at the negative implications of either of those situations.

Ask for copies of oil analyses that have been done on the bus.  An oil analysis tells you as much about the condition of a bus’s engine as does a blood test tell a doctor about the state of your general health.  While they are seldom/never done on passenger cars, they are a regular part of maintaining a diesel engine, and you should have an expert interpret the recent oil analyses on the bus you’re interested in buying.  Get a new analysis done, too, for the most up-to-date information.

If the seller can’t show you past oil analyses, that tells you either they are hiding something or else they didn’t care enough about the bus’s preventative maintenance as to have them done.

At about this stage, you should also speak to an insurance broker and find out what the likely costs of insurance will be.  Is it a more expensive than normal model to insure?  A less expensive than normal?  If it is either, find out why (if possible).  Or is there a reason why it can’t be insured at all?

What is the remaining life on the tires, and how much will it cost for new tires?

Is it a ‘Project’ Bus

Is this a bus you can drive off the lot and use, exactly as it is (apart from any specific enhancements you’ll need to do to any bus you might choose), or is this a bus that will need some work done to it before it can be relied upon to work as needed and required?

Some people will happily buy ‘project’ houses and cars, either because they enjoy working on such projects, or perhaps because, due to their skills and expertise, they believe they can make a decent profit by fixing them up and selling them on.

We admire such people, and wish them good fortune doing such things, and some people have a very nice sideline and income-boost from doing exactly this.

But unless you have skills working on diesel engines and power trains and associated equipment, and working on bus bodywork and all the other fixtures and services on a modern coach, you should not consider taking on a project to upgrade and repair a ‘project’ bus.  You’ll find it could become a massive time drain, you’ll find you need additional specialty tools and equipment, and of course each week that the bus is in pieces while you work on it is also a week that you don’t have your bus available for instant deployment if you should suddenly need to bug out.

We strongly recommend you choose a bus that needs the minimum of work to bring it to a high standard of reliability and availability.  You will surely find it better to pay a bit more money up front for a reasonably known quantity and quality of bus, rather than save a bit of money to start, then spend countless hours over countless weeks, and countless thousands of dollars, for however long into the future.

One of the things about a ‘project’ bus is that it has probably been neglected in all its different systems for some time.  Remember that a coach is a bit like a boat – they are both traveling towns.  They have their own electrical and electronic systems, water systems, sewer systems, and of course, all the mechanical and other engineering issues too.  There’s a great deal more that can (and does) go wrong on a bus than on a passenger car, and fixing things can be much more complicated and awkward (and, of course, expensive).

A Formal Inspection

At about this point, you are starting to get a feeling for the bus and its condition and its value.  If all looks good, now you’ll need to get a formal bus inspection, where you hire an expert mechanic/appraiser to work through the bus, checking and testing all its systems.  You of course want the engine and transmission checked, plus the electrical system and air conditioning.  But that’s not all, you also want the frame and suspension and coach work all inspected too – sometimes a bus’s life is limited not by its engine, but by its frame and rust problems.

We’ve sometimes had such inspections where the inspector has ended his inspection early, listed a dismaying list of problems he’s found, and ending with the recommendation that we not waste any more time on his inspection or on the bus at all.  Other times, we’ve had inspectors come with a moderate list of issues and a recommendation to proceed to use the list of issues to negotiate the purchase price, and to buy with confidence because the coach is basically clean and in good condition.  Or perhaps they can notice areas where there have been poor quality repairs, neglected problems and deferred maintenance items, and can warn that it is likely to be expensive to maintain in the future.

We’ve always learned something from these inspections, and we’ve always been able to use the results to help us negotiate the price down – the inspections pay for themselves directly that way, and more besides, plus they give you peace of mind.

When you have the inspection done, don’t just accept a written report; spend time talking about the coach with the bus inspector.  He’ll have seen lots of buses, of course, and can put the overall condition and quality of this particular bus into perspective – is it about the same as all the others of a similar age and price, is it better, or is it worse?

He can also give you a feeling for if it has been a well-cared for bus or not.  In particular, he can tell you if there are obvious examples of deferred maintenance items piling up, or if the bus has been regularly maintained with everything that needs doing being done when required.

Here’s a useful checklist of issues to consider when buying a bus; indeed the site has a lot of good content on it.

The most important things for you are a reliable frame and power train.  You don’t need the fancy interior upgrades so much; and you want a nondescript bus rather than one which shouts ‘luxury’.  From this point of view, an older (but not unusually old) bus is probably better and more discreet than a nearly brand new bus with glossy white paint gleaming in the sun.

Where to Buy a Used Bus

Where does anyone buy anything these days?  The internet, of course.  While Amazon doesn’t sell used buses, eBay certainly does (at the time of writing, they had 246 used buses listed).  We really like the ability to see historical details on past auctions on eBay – both to see what prices buses actually sell for, and also to see what buses don’t get sold.  That helps us get a better feeling for values and market demand.

There are other specialty bus-selling sites on the internet such as this one, and then there are regional bus broker sites as well (here’s one that covers the Pacific Northwest, and it has a link to a related site in Las Vegas too).  We occasionally even find buses on Craigslist.

Please Continue Reading Our Bus Series of Articles

This is part of a broader series of articles on the concept of using a bus as a bug-out vehicle.  You can see our other articles, conveniently linked below, and of course, we have plenty of other articles on the broader subject of bugging out as well.

Part 0 –  Introduction

Part 1 –  The Pluses and Minuses of Using a Bus/Coach as a Bug-Out Vehicle

Part 2 –  Things to Consider When Evaluating Buses/Coaches as Bug-Out Vehicles

Part 3 –  Things to Consider When Buying a Bus/Coach

Part 4 –  Tactical Considerations When Traveling by Bus/Coach

Part 5 –  Coordinating a Community Bug-Out Event

Aug 072013
 
Don't this let happen to your bug-out bus.

Don’t this let happen to your bug-out bus.

This is part of a series on using a bus or coach as a bug out vehicle.  If you arrived here from a search engine or link, you might like to consider starting your reading at the first article in the series, and then working through the complete series in sequence.  But you’re of course free to roam through the series in any order you wish.  Links to all the parts are at the end of this article.

If a group of you are traveling by bus, you have a very different tactical environment associated with your travels and any threats that may arise along the way than you would if traveling by car.  Not necessarily worse, and not necessarily better, but definitely different.

Here is a discussion on some of the things you should consider and prepare for.

Hardening the Bus

Depending on how well prepared you choose to be, and how risky a bug-out experience you anticipate, you might consider doing some things to your bus once you’ve bought it, to boost its tactical resilience.

The first thing to do would be to consider protecting the engine compartment from rifle fire.  Our grim expectation is that if you get into a fire-fight, the bad guys are more likely to be using rifles than pistols, and the much more inadequate level of protection against pistol rounds will do no good if they are indeed unloading rifles in your general direction.

If there’s a danger of a single lucky shot disabling the bus, you should ensure that such a lucky shot is not possible, because for sure, Murphy’s Law will otherwise ensure that this single ‘one in a million’ lucky shot will unerringly do the maximum possible damage.

Try and use lightweight materials if possible, and of course, keep the weight down as low as possible to keep the bus stable.  The good news is that you have a great deal more extra weight carrying capacity on a bus than you do on a regular vehicle, so why not use some of that weight capacity to harden the engine compartment?

You might also want to consider creating two partial safe zones inside the bus as well.  You don’t need to armor the entire vehicle, you just need to create perhaps two safe zones – one around the driver, and the other in an area where everyone can crowd together if the bus comes under fire.  As long as there are no people present, you can have bullets shooting into one side of the bus and out the other side without causing any real problems or threatening the viability of the bus or its passengers, but a safe zone where everyone can shelter might be a nice extra feature.

Other vulnerabilities to consider providing protection for would be the fuel tank area, and of course the tires, too.

If you do get in a fire fight, you know that, for sure, you’re going to lose a lot of the window glass.  You should have some type of strong plastic sheeting (8 mil Surlyn or nylon, perhaps) and duct tape (of course!) that you could use to put temporary patch repairs in place to allow you to complete your journey without having the bus interior totally exposed to the elements.

It would help to have some support spars as well so that the size squares of unsupported sheeting are not too huge.  Even the windows along the side will experience a surprising amount of pressure from the slip-stream and the more reinforcing you can provide, the better it will withstand the stresses on the balance of your journey.  As for the front windshield, you’ll need a lattice of support elements to provide some strength, and you might want to consider traveling with some Lexan/Plexiglass type sheets that could be used to cover the largest parts of the front window-glass.

This would be particularly essential if your bug out route takes you places where, at some times of year and some times of day, temperatures drop very low.  But even in warm weather, if you get stuck in a dust storm or rain storm, you’ll be desperately hoping to maintain the integrity of the bus interior!

As a related issue, you should have your group bring warm weather gear with them when you bug-out, in case of any problems losing windows and not being able to maintain a comfortable temperature inside the coach.

Night Issues

If it is possible that your bug-out travels will require traveling at night (and, realistically, because there’s no way of knowing when you might initiate a bug-out, it seems entirely possible that there will be some night travel involved), you should ensure the bus has not only excellent headlights, but also has floodlights all around its periphery so if it stops, you can illuminate all the area around the bus and clearly see anyone and anything present.

If you wanted to keep the bus as inconspicuous as possible, these floodlights could be installed inside the bus, shining through the window glass when turned on.

In addition to the floodlighting to reasonably evenly light up everywhere all around the bus, you also want to have several remote controllable spotlights.  If a threat does appear, you can highlight them with your spotlights, and being remote-controlled, the operators are not being threatened by any fire that is directed at/around the spotlights.

The spotlights can also be used as a non-lethal defensive countermeasure while driving along – if you have other vehicles that are acting in a threatening manner, you might choose to use the spotlights to dazzle the drivers of these vehicles and hopefully cause them to back off.

Night fighting either involves total stealth and no light at all, or else an overwhelming use of light to the point of literally blinding the enemy.  There’s no way your bus can be stealthy, so instead you want to dominate and control the use of light.

Although you’ll be lighting up the area around the coach, if you are stopped or in any type of situation with an elevated element of risk, turn off all lights inside the coach.  This won’t make the coach invisible, of course, but it will make you, inside the coach, close to invisible.  All that people outside the coach will hopefully see are dark windows and they will have no idea what is inside, apart from light leakage coming in from the other side of the bus and shining through it.  You, inside, however, will be able to clearly see outside, and without any internal reflections obscuring your view.

For this reason, we also prefer darker colors on seats, floors, walls and ceilings rather than high gloss light colors.  Curtains are a bit of a mixed blessing, tactically speaking.  If you draw curtains, you are impacting on your ability to see out, as well as other people’s ability to see in, and if you move or open a curtain, its movement might be apparent to observers outside.

Above and Below the Passenger Compartment

If the bus has skylights, that is a plus.  If it doesn’t, you might want to consider cutting two or three skylights into the bus roof, and make sure they don’t just lift up but that they can slide fully back.  Have some type of easily erected ladders or platforms underneath them, and these will become very useful at low speed and when stopped as observation posts and defensive fire locations.

These ladder type platforms would need to be able to be quickly rigged and secured to either the bus floor or ceiling (in many respects a ceiling mount is better ) so that a person can stand on it with their head and upper body protruding out the top of the bus, even while the bus is moving.

One more thing.  You should also consider a trapdoor in the coach floor, somewhere, that allows people to move from the passenger compartment down into one of the luggage bays underneath.  The doors on either side of the luggage bay should be able to be opened from the inside, and maybe there would be another trapdoor from the luggage bay floor to the outside of the bus and the road surface below.  If there’s not a lot of ground clearance, this might not allow for people to leave the vehicle, but it might allow for you to disperse caltrops to interfere with any vehicles pursuing you – in such a case, make sure that they don’t get caught in your bus’s rear tires (maybe you have chutes which feed/disperse the caltrops out onto the road surface behind the rear tires).

This trapdoor and internally openable luggage bay doors will enable you to stealthily move people out of the passenger compartment and maybe out of the bus entirely (while it is stopped, of course!).

We don’t know for sure, but our guess is that if adversaries start shooting at the bus, they will probably be shooting up higher into the passenger compartment, rather than down low into the cargo bays.  Having an accessible area in one of the cargo bays might be a safer place for people to shelter in just for the simple reason it might attract less fire.

Personnel and Duties

The bus should be managed by a driver, a relief driver (for long distances, maybe you’ll need a third driver too), and a ‘commander’ (and probably a relief commander too).  The drivers are in charge of, obviously enough, driving.  The commander is in charge of navigating and communicating with any other vehicles traveling in convoy, and monitoring other radio channels to get any possible intelligence about the conditions to expect ahead.

In addition, you need some fire support team members – people who will man the skylights, and people who will exit and secure the bus perimeter whenever it stops.  Ideally you’d have at least two skylights (one person on each) and as many people as you can manage for the outside protection team (one on each corner of the coach as a minimum, plus one or two to escort the driver/commander if they need to interact with potentially hostile groups).

When you do bug out, we’d suggest that you have one, two or more ‘escort’ vehicles with the bus – either cars or motorcycles.

Clearly there would be good purpose in having a scout vehicle traveling a mile or two ahead of the bus – sufficiently far for the bus to be out of sight, and sufficiently far for any threat warnings to be radioed back to the bus in time for it to stop while still out of sight.  At the same time, you don’t want this scout vehicle to be too far ahead or else conditions might change between when it passes a point and when the bus goes past it, some time later (and you’ll probably only have limited radio range in any case).

Another vehicle should provide rear security – advising of any fast-moving and potentially threatening traffic coming up from behind.  It would normally be just out of sight of the coach (so as to have more lead-time to warn the coach), but if it encountered potential threats, it would close up the distance so as to provide closer-in eyes on the situation until it was resolved.

Both vehicles should have at least two people in them – one to concentrate on driving, and the other person to be in charge of spotting issues, communicating with the bus, and, if it becomes necessary, providing appropriate fire support to defend themselves and the bus.

Please remember also our suggestion made in some of the earlier articles that as your group size increases, you should consider splitting up into two buses rather than crowding into one.  That way your ‘convoy’ becomes more resilient and the loss of either bus doesn’t mean the total loss of all transportation.

When you plan your route, you should also plan a series of shifts (assuming you have sufficient personnel).  To a certain extent, your driver shifts may be constrained by the DoT regulations for duty and rest hours, but these only start to become troublesome when the total travel time becomes more lengthy.  Ideally you’d have all people (drivers, commanders, and the personnel manning the escort vehicles) working maybe two hours on and then two or more hours off.  That would help everyone to maintain optimum alertness.

On the other hand, you’ve probably driven long distances without a break in the past, and while your alertness and reaction times doubtless suffered, you’ve still successfully completed the journey.  This is something we’d recommend, but clearly is not an essential must-do issue.

If you do implement a two hour shift series, we’d probably work them so you alternate between short two minute change-overs and – if the situation allows – longer 10 – 15 minute changeovers, giving everyone on the coach a chance to get off, stretch their legs, get some fresh air, and then get back on again for the next four hours.  But if you let people off the coach, you need to keep a tight control on them and not end up with people randomly wandering off in all directions, including into potentially not-safe areas, and causing delay and hassle when it comes time to move out again.  People should be allowed off the coach, but if they want some exercise, they can get that by walking/jogging around the coach, close to the coach, and not by going out to some other point and (hopefully) back again.  Everyone should stay in earshot and sight of everyone else.

Visibility

You don’t want to have any blind spots around the coach, either while you are driving or when you are stopped.  In particular, directly behind the coach and not in view of your outside rear-view mirrors is a vulnerable area.  You can fit a standard back-up video camera that will let you see the immediate zone directly behind the coach, and that could be supplemented by adding a second camera that provides not quite such wide-angle coverage, but aimed slightly further back, so as to help you see not only people and things in the six feet or so immediately behind the coach, but also in the sixty or more feet beyond that, too.

The areas to the front of the bus and to the sides, straight out, can be fairly readily guarded by direct vision, although depending on your location, there might be another blindspot or at least ill-covered spot directly around the coach.  We’d probably consider adding a couple of rearward facing cameras, mounted at the front of the vehicle, to give good side coverage.

What to Do if Stopped

If the bus ever does have to stop in ambiguous and potentially hostile circumstances (and when you’re bugging out, pretty much everywhere should be considered as potentially hostile), the first thing to do is not stop in the ‘obvious’ place.  If an ambush is being set up, it will be focused on the obvious place where they want you to stop.  Stop short of that spot, or past that spot, or off to one side of it.  Wherever you do stop, make sure the bus is positioned for an easy getaway, with the wheels already pointing where you would proceed and more or less in line with the most unobstructed path.

The last consideration when stopping is how best to use the size and shape of the bus as a tactical plus rather than minus.  You want as little of the bus exposed to possible attack as possible – rather than having the whole broadside of the bus exposed to raking fire, you want to present the front or rear only – ideally the rear.  You also want the coach as a shield to protect your entry/exit doors.  Think about how a police cruiser parks when doing a traffic stop – it always parks behind the stopped vehicle, and angled or shifted out some feet from directly behind, so as to put the cruiser’s engine block between the stopped vehicle and the officer while he exits his cruiser.  You want to think a similar thought when stopping your coach.

We’d advocate having a rapid egress of your defensive support team through all exits in a subtle (or not so subtle) show of force.  That is the main reason why we prefer buses with two passenger exit doors rather than one, plus another driver door on the other side, and ideally with emergency exits that can be opened and closed without smashing windows and harming the bus’s ability to continue traveling on after the exits have been used.

Getting your defensive support team off the coach quickly is something you want to practice, and is something that you would initiate prior to the bus stopping.  When it seems likely that the bus will have to stop, the support team will already be moving from wherever they were sitting to locations close to the doors, and kitting up with whatever they will choose to take with them off the bus.

In such a case, as the support team exits the bus, some should quickly move to defensive positions around the bus (ie at the corners of the bus), as well as some escorting the designated group leader to participate in the actual interaction with whoever is present.  The escort vehicles should keep a moderate distance away (maybe 100 yards) so they can see the ‘broader picture’ around the bus while being close enough to give fire support if needed.

If the coach has skylights, then you should have people positioned in the skylights ready to provide suppressive fire, causing the aggressors to need to take cover while the people off the coach re-board and the coach gets under way.  The suppressive fire would continue (and be supported by fire from the escort vehicles) as long as the aggressors were in range and not obscured by turns in the road – a big slow bus is a bullet magnet and probably has its engine at the rear, too (you may or may not have added some ballistic protection to the engine compartment).  You want to minimize the amount of fire being sent back at you for as long as possible, and to convey a very strong impression to the aggressors that they should leave you well alone and concentrate on easier more vulnerable targets in the future.

There is one more tactical consideration when using a bus.  You should research your route and all possible alternate paths to confirm their suitability for buses.  Don’t take anything for granted, particularly on secondary roads.  Make sure that there are no problems with clearances, grades, surfaces, narrow bridges, and so on.

Please Continue Reading Our Bus Series of Articles

This is part of a broader series of articles on the concept of using a bus as a bug-out vehicle.  You can see our other articles, conveniently linked below, and of course, we have plenty of other articles on the broader subject of bugging out as well.

Part 0 –  Introduction

Part 1 –  The Pluses and Minuses of Using a Bus/Coach as a Bug-Out Vehicle

Part 2 –  Things to Consider When Evaluating Buses/Coaches as Bug-Out Vehicles

Part 3 –  Things to Consider When Buying a Bus/Coach

Part 4 –  Tactical Considerations When Traveling by Bus/Coach

Part 5 –  Coordinating a Community Bug-Out Event

Aug 022013
 
Beware the lure of foreign countries as a bug-out location.

Beware the lure of foreign countries as a bug-out location.

In theory, a prepper would be most comfortable in a more libertarian environment.  Less government participation in people’s lives implies less to go wrong in the case of some sort of societal collapse, and a more libertarian environment also suggests it would be easier for preppers to quietly prep as they see fit, free of interference or constraint.

Here’s an article on Britain’s Daily Telegraph website that claims to be a guide to the world’s most libertarian countries.

But we have to say we find the countries on the list surprising, and the tests used to determine the most libertarian countries simplistic and inappropriate.

Are we about to suddenly move to North Korea (one of the recommended countries) – or Canada, which is, unbelievably, also on the list?  Not in a million years.  If anything, this article’s selections reads like a list of countries to avoid at all costs.

Maybe the US isn’t such a bad place to live in after all.  In all seriousness, we are all of course most familiar with our own country’s shortcomings and challenges, because we live here.  The grass on the other side can indeed seem greener.  But speaking as one who has lived and worked in other countries, I have to say that while I see our own problems and challenges vividly, I see at least as many everywhere else in the world, too.

In case you can’t see the article, it recommends countries as follows :

(a)  Drug Policies :  Portugal, Czech Republic, North Korea.

(b)  Gay Rights :  Argentina, Netherlands, South Africa

(c)  Prostitution :  Canada, Germany, Netherlands

(d)  Taxes :  Andorra, Monaco, Jersey

(e)  Corruption :  Denmark, New Zealand.  Avoid Russia and Somalia.

Aug 012013
 
Chaotic scenes in emergency warehouse hospitals during the 1918-20 Flu Pandemic.

Chaotic scenes in emergency warehouse hospitals during the 1918-20 Flu Pandemic.

One of the problems we wrestle with is when we should bug out to our retreat.  When does a Level 1 situation become a Level 2 situation, and when should our strategy shift from staying where we are, to abandoning city life and bugging out to our retreat?  We’ve written about many aspects to do with bugging out and when we should do so before.

A major concern when bugging out is to beat the rush of other people, all seeking to abandon the cities at the same time, such as to make safe efficient travel impossible.  Talking about safe travel, we also wish to bug out before travel becomes actively dangerous, with modern-day highwaymen preying on distressed evacuees.

A not so commonly stated concern, but surely one which must be of equal importance, is beating any travel restrictions that might be imposed on people by county, state and federal authorities.

How likely is it that there would be travel restrictions imposed in an emergency?  Although it would seem that the right to travel is a derivative right from the First Amendment’s right to peaceably assemble (ie anywhere), the reality may be different and there is no end of examples of our rights being trampled on, both in the normal course of day-to-day living, and of course, in special situations which the authorities seem to believe allow them to suspend the Constitution and its protections.

Of course, the reactions by the authorities will vary depending on the emergency, but a new research paper by three researchers at MIT would seem to encourage such travel restrictions, at least in the case of epidemics and other biological type emergencies.

The study shows that even only a moderately contagious disease could see the rate of infection decrease by 50% if the authorities were to restrict where people could travel.  That’s a strong argument in favor of imposing travel restrictions and you can be sure that it has been well received by the people who might wish to act in such a way in the future.

One could even argue that in this particular case, restricting people’s freedom to travel as they wish and choose is a fair and appropriate thing to do for the greater good of everyone, but that’s not going to be very comforting to you, is it, when it prevents you from escaping a disease-ridden city and making it safely to your rural retreat!

Restrictions on travel could be enacted very quickly and with no warning.  A decree, possibly by state governors and almost certainly by the nation’s President, is all that would be required, and of course, the very nature of a travel restriction is that the authorities would not want to give any warning or allow a grace period, because that would encourage and accelerate people’s travel plans.  We saw restrictions on travel and public assembly during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-20, so the precedent is already in place.

It is foreseeable, in any future disruptive emergency, that one of the first things the authorities will attempt to do is ‘freeze in place’ the current situation.  That is understandable, because currently they have a reasonably accurate understanding of population distributions and therefore, the population based issues and needs and potential problems, and if people started moving every which where after an emergency, the authorities would fear they were becoming even less able to adequately and appropriately respond.  It seems only too likely that the authorities will decide that so as to ‘better help us all’, the first thing they should do is limit and restrict our abilities to help ourselves.

The bottom line to those of us with remote retreats?  We need to move there at the first sign of problems.

We talk about this need repeatedly in our series on bugging out, and if you were to read just a single one of our articles, perhaps it should be this one which talks about the difficulties we will have and the delays we will likely create in making the decision to bug out.

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

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

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

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

Wrong!

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

Part One – The Four Problems

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

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

1.  Getting There Safely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.  Will Your Retreat be Secure

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

You hope.

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

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

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

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

3.  Will Your Retreat be Functional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.  No Ongoing Farming Activity or Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read About Solutions in Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

Solving the Four Problems of Bugging Out

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

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

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

Solution 1 – Bugging Out Very Early

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solution 2 – A Fulltime Retreat/Farm Manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Solved – The Physical Act of Bugging Out

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

May 222013
 
Many major western cities are dangerously unstable and the slightest spark can set off rioting; it is only our present massive police resources that keeps these tendencies in check.

Many major western cities are dangerously unstable and the slightest spark can set off rioting; it is only our present massive police resources that keeps these tendencies in check.

We have written several times about how major population groupings (ie cities) will collapse ‘shortly’ after the essential elements of life cease to smoothly flow in to them as needed.  When there’s no water, no sewage, no food, no gas and no electricity, things will unavoidably get very nasty.

In an earlier post we suggested that cities will decay into violent anarchistic morasses within a week or two.  In that article we were deliberately trying to look at a ‘best case scenario’ (don’t laugh – the collapse of cities taking a week or two is, alas, a best case scenario!).  Our projection was based on the ‘best case’ hope that people would remain passive for a few days and it would only be when people realized no help was coming and they were starting to starve that things would turn truly nasty.

One of our readers, ‘Lt. Dan’, wrote in to share his perspective of what might go down, and alas, it is not nearly as sunny and optimistic as our earlier best case hope.  His point is that violence will break out immediately.  There will not be days of ambiguity before things start to fail.

He says that in known ‘hot spots’ in larger cities, the violence will start at once, and as soon as the violent offenders realize that the police response is inadequate (or totally missing) it will skyrocket in scope and extent.

This is a key issue for us, because it impacts on our decision about when to ‘Get Out Of Dodge’ (GOOD) and hightail it to our remote retreat.  How much time do we have to decide what to do between when a massive problem occurs and when the city becomes lawless?

Lt. Dan writes :

As a retired LEO with over 30 yrs dealing with “society” I have a number of thoughts on this topic. I grew up on a working farm not close to any major metro center but in adulthood joined a sizable metro PD.  So I have perspective from various angles.

The speed and spread of lawlessness with be much faster than most will think.  Even now in “quiet” times LE staffing is usually based on the lowest number of officers to reasonably handle a “normal” day.  Any event(s) beyond “normal” immediately overwhelm on-duty forces.  Planned events like anarchists protesting the latest capitalist conference allow time to plan for enough ON-DUTY personnel (plus resources from other agencies) to be available when violence breaks out.

In most major metro areas there are areas the police routinely avoid because they’re too hazardous.  The violent elements in these areas are constantly looking to explode their violence at a moment’s notice when the opportunity happens.  And when it happens it will spread like a ruptured gasoline storage tank afire.  LE forces will be quickly overwhelmed and retreat to a safe place/bunker for self-preservation.

Most LEO’s have families and a desire for self-preservation.  If the collapse involves monetary problems (like no paychecks) the officers will not be reporting to duty, they’ll be protecting their own.  When this happens the initial violent outbreaks will mushroom like a nuclear reaction.  If the officers are being paid yet, they’ll set up a “containment perimeter” IF they have enough manpower…. which is highly unlikely in a regional or national SHTF scenario.

On other really scary thought I never see mentioned is…. what happens to the tens of thousands of violent criminals in prisons??

In a farming community where religion/moral values are generally much higher than urban dwellers, the problems of violence will be much reduced.  Plus everyone usually knows each other so its harder to want to take advantage of them.  One tip for urbanites…..farmers are not working their butts off to feed the city slickers (who’ve been ridiculing them for years as hicks, etc) and they certainly will not welcome the urbanites showing up during a crisis.

We asked Dan about his comments and background, and he told us a bit more about how he has formed the views he has – and, let’s face it, thirty years in a major metro police department and retiring as a lieutenant gives him a lot of credibility, particularly on police related operational issues and on matters to do with how people will (mis)behave when given half a chance to do so.

Now that he can ‘tell it like it is’ we asked him in particular about something that opinions widely vary on – will the police bravely ‘man the battlements’ and fight to the last man in a failing and doomed effort to save civilization, or will they adopt – as he suggests above – a ‘my family first, everyone else second’ approach when they see the inevitability of a city’s collapse.

Dan replied :

When I first started on the PD in the 70’s I was stuck in the Comm room and on boring nights I’d actually read the Civil Defense binders (HUGE things) full of detail, much theoretical.  For example, upon receiving alert of a nuke attack we were supposed to call a long list of elected officials and city unit directors etc.  We all knew it’d be a total waste of time to call these clueless government people because all they’d do is panic and babble on the phone asking US what to do!

We (cops) talked openly in the Comm Room about what we’d do and we decided we’d immediately leave our posts and spend our remaining time with family.  The point being alerting totally clueless and incompetent “leaders” would do nothing except add to the panic and confusion over which we (cops) would have ZERO control over.

It is important to understand how much we can learn from past ‘lessons’ with breakdowns in cities (in the case of the US, the L.A. riots being a prime example) and how much we have to adjust for a future breakdown of society.

We suggest that the big difference is that in past events, the problem has been successfully contained to a restricted region, and the police have had, in effect, virtually unlimited reinforcements and resupply, and there has never been any question of what the ultimate outcome would be – of course law and order would triumph.

But in a future society-destroying event, none of this applies.  The police will have no resupply or reinforcement, and problems will break out in multiple locations.

We agree with Lt. Dan that very quickly, the police will see the unwinnable nature of the contest and will switch from attempting to defend a disintegrating society from itself, and will focus instead on attempting to ensure the safe survival of themselves and their immediate family and friends.

Summary

Lt. Dan puts it very vividly when he writes

[Violence] will spread like a ruptured gasoline storage tank afire

This means that if you have a GOOD plan and a retreat to go to, you need to be ready to activate this sooner than you might have otherwise hoped for.  As soon as you hear the first word of lawlessness, rioting, looting, and general disorder breaking out, you should accept that this will spread like wildfire across the entire city, and leave as quickly as you can.

Oh – one more unsettling thought.  How will you learn that violence has broken out in another part of the city if the internet is down, and radio and television stations are also down?  Even if some broadcasters remain in service, they’ll probably have limited sources of information and it might take a while for them to become appraised of events and to then broadcast them.

It is also reasonable to guess that broadcasters will be asked ‘not to spread panic’ and so initial reports of violence breaking out might be downplayed or omitted entirely.

Choosing when to bug-out is a difficult but essential issue.  You need to be willing to leave before it becomes too late, and with inertia and resistance to change and desperate hope all encouraging you to delay your decision, you need to fight these tendencies.  Better to leave ‘too soon’ and return back again some time later, safely; than to leave it too late and suffer the consequences.

We talk about the issues to do with making your bug-out decision here.

Feb 102013
 
No-one wants to get stuck in the snow.  But surely we do want the right to choose, for ourselves, if we try to travel in bad weather or not.

No-one wants to get stuck in the snow. But surely we do want the right to choose, for ourselves, if we try to travel in bad weather or not.

One of the major dichotomies between preppers and non-preppers is what they expect of the government in a time of crisis.

Non-preppers typically assume ‘We don’t need to do anything ourselves to prepare for a crisis, because if one ever should occur, the government will be there to help us’.  Preppers are more likely to think ‘Sooner or later a severe crisis will occur; one which will overwhelm the government’s ability to care for everyone, and so we need to be able to independently care for ourselves’.

Which is the more correct opinion?  That’s essentially an unanswerable question, but we get hints about the possible answer from occasional regional emergencies and crises.  For example, Hurricane Sandy, three months ago, saw some people without power or water and even without shelter for days, weeks, and in a few extreme cases, without suitable solutions a month and more later.

Lessons from a Level 1 Event – Snowstorm Nemo

As this article is being written, the snowstorm Nemo is dumping snow across the northeast of the US, exactly as had been predicted for some days prior to its commencement.  And this relatively minor Level 1 event (ie short duration and/or of only limited/regional impact) gives us another glimpse of what might occur when something really big and bad occurs without warning.

As reported here, the governor of Massachusetts astonished both his state and the entire country when he announced on Friday afternoon, before the storm hit, that he was banning all traffic on all roads.  Not just banning rear wheel drive cars on freeways, not just requiring ‘traction devices’ on vehicles (ie chains), but outright banning all vehicles, no matter what their snow capabilities, and on all roads, no matter how snow-covered or snow free they may be.  Freeways, highways, surface streets, minor roads, the lot.

The serious of his ban was underscored with the penalties offenders are being threatened with.  Up to a $500 fine and/or up to a year in jail.

Although an extreme and rare measure, his actions were then matched by the governors of Connecticut and Rhode Island.

How would you – how do you – feel at having your state’s governor suddenly announce a total ban on vehicular travel, for no reason greater than a shortly to arrive snowstorm?  Is the greatest nation on the earth’s best response to bad weather to lock its citizens indoors for the duration, and to cower from the storm’s effects?

Is the first casualty of an adverse event to be civil liberty and freedom?  Even a half-decent constitutional lawyer would come up with grave concerns about the constitutionality of such a blanket ban on all forms of travel (other than by foot).

Was This a Rational Act?

But, ignoring those sorts of thoughts for now (if you can) – how exactly is forbidding us from driving anywhere actually helping us?  There’s also the underlying and offensive assumption that we can’t be trusted to act sensibly in bad weather ourselves and that therefore the government needs to decide for us, and issue a blanket ban on everyone’s travel, no matter how able they and their vehicle might be to travel in the snow or not.

There is also the question, not asked by the regular media – in areas where the snow removal crews have literally given up and gone home, what happens in an emergency?  What happens if there is a fire?  A medical emergency?  Or an outbreak of lawlessness?  How can fire, paramedics or police get to the location?

What if you work shifts and were at work when the travel ban was announced?  Or were about to drive to work?

Most of all, and turning now to the question this article is headed by, can we count on ‘the authorities’ – a dismayingly long list of organizations and individuals who claim the power to control and restrict our lives – to act rationally and appropriately when confronting an emergency?  Is it sufficient for us to sit back, do nothing, and rely on the government to save the day?

Or would it be prudent to prepare for extreme and adverse situations and to be able to care for ourselves?

These types of actions reveal another reason why preppers seek a retreat location in some states but not in others.  Where would you rather be – a state which bans you from travel, whether you could safely travel or not, or a state that says ‘You’re an adult, you’re responsible for your own actions, and we already have laws forbidding unsafe types of driving.  Do what works best for you.’?

There’s an uncomfortable feeling of deja vu associated with the governors’ edict banning all road traffic.  It is both different – but also similar – to the decision after Hurricane Katrina to impound the firearms of lawful citizens.

Are the Police Mindless Automatons When it Comes to Enforcing Unjust/Unconstitutional Laws?

We’ve often had people discuss various future scenarios with us and tell us ‘Sure, the authorities may issue unconstitutional bans on all sort of things, but our police or military would never enforce them’.

Unfortunately, that is – and demonstrably – not the way the system works.  Apart from extremely egregious edicts – for example, if the MA governor had said ‘Shoot anyone, at sight, without warning, if they are driving on the road after 4pm’, it is not the role of front line police officers to question the validity of the orders they are given.  They are not attorneys and certainly not scholars of constitutional law and civil liberties.  It is their job to do what they are told to do on the basis of what seems to be, on the face of it, appropriate following of their chain of command and the assumption that their superiors know more than they do about the validity of the orders they are being given.

Typically the police take the pragmatic view that it is their job to simplistically enforce the laws as they are written, and it is the job of the courts to decide if the laws are fair, right, and proper.  Remember, although the police may arrest you and detain you, they are actually not determining your guilt or sentencing you to punishment.  They are simply stopping you doing what appears to probably illegal or harmful activity and delivering you to a court for the court’s decision as to if your actions were acceptable and – if illegal – what the consequences should be.

In that case, the police are as likely to give ‘the benefit of the doubt’ to the court as they are to you.  If they are not sure if a law is being broken or not, but if things feel wrong to them, they will probably assume the law might be being broken and proceed accordingly.

The police will of course adapt their enforcement actions based on court decisions, and sometimes their internal legal department will issue advice and guidance as to how new laws should be applied.  But whereas most normal laws and regulations occur with plenty of advance notice, allowing everyone to consider and prepare their positions for how it will be implemented and enforced, emergency regulations happen with little or no notice and no time for a careful and rational discussion about the underlying validity of the edict or how it is to be applied.

Again, the best answer to the question ‘What would happen/what would they do’ is to look at past examples.

How many police officers in New Orleans refused to seize privately owned firearms?  We’re unaware of any massive resistance at all by the police to that draconian edict.

Has there been any push-back by police at any level, or perhaps by their unions, to the ‘no-one can travel’ orders?  If there has, it sure hasn’t made the papers.  Indeed, unlike the outrage that welled, but only long after the firearms confiscation, there’s been precious little outrage to the decision to ban all traffic.

There are other smaller examples too – small to us, but huge to the people affected by them.  How about the man arrested on charges of ‘hoarding’ petrol after Hurricane Sandy – he went to the gas station with three or four five gallon containers, buying gas on behalf of himself and neighbors.  He wasn’t hoarding, he was sensibly helping his neighbors and cutting down on congestion and problems.  But his cooperating and coordinating with his neighbors got him arrested as a hoarder, and none of the people got their petrol.

All of these examples point to one last lesson.  We already know that, as preppers, we’re a minority in society today.  We need to remember that the rest of society does not share much of the same mindset that we have, and in an extreme situation, may (will) not act the way we’d expect ‘rational’ people (ie people sharing our mindset) would act.  We say this not to disparage – after all, it is a precondition and underlying tenet of faith that supports the democratic process that not only does the majority rule, but generally, the majority also rules appropriately and correctly.

When to Bug Out

There’s one more thing for people to consider as well.  This event shows that the authorities will happily suspend our civil rights before something possibly bad happens, because it is ‘best for us’ if they do so.

For those of us who consider bugging out, but who like to delay that decision as late as possible, perhaps it is necessary to rethink that strategy.  If the authorities impose travel bans or 24 hr curfews or call it whatever you like in the future, you’re clearly unable to bug out.  It would be terrible to be just about to leave when a travel prohibition takes effect.

It may be something else – maybe there will be a law passed compelling people to share their food.  Sounds unthinkable?  Not really.  Seizing lawfully owned firearms was unthinkable, banning all travel for any purpose in any type of vehicle also seems unthinkable.  You need – as a prepper – to consider the unthinkable, and to see the world not just from your logical and fair-minded perspective, but from other perspectives too.

As regrettable as it may seem, the possibility of massive changes to our rights and freedoms may make it advisable to bug out even earlier than you otherwise might choose to do.

Lessons for Preppers

Preppers generally predict and plan for a future with a collapse of government and a lack of any government response after a major impactful event.  But there’s another type of future too – where the government goes into overdrive, and rather than doing nothing, might start doing the wrong thing.  Perhaps that is an even worse future, and certainly one which also needs to be considered.

As we repeatedly see in minor Level 1 type events, when TSHTF, even in a small way, the authorities can not be consistently relied upon to always act rationally and appropriately.

Furthermore, incorrect and inappropriate decisions by the authorities are likely to be implemented and applied without any second guessing by the agencies in charge of enforcing the decisions – possibly police and other law enforcement, but maybe other agencies ranging from health to environmental to energy.

Preppers need to anticipate not only a future negative event, but they also need to anticipate dysfunctional responses by the authorities – responses that may harm and restrict the ability of preppers to benefit from their preparations and to survive quietly and unhindered by the authorities.

A plan to respond to a future emergency, while prepared fastidiously to be compliant with all ‘normal’ laws that are in place in normal times, might fail due to emergency restrictions and regulations imposed in the panic of a crisis.

For these reasons, we suggest that bugging out early, and moving to a retreat location where the authorities are less likely to inappropriately respond to problems, is an essential consideration.