May 232012
 

Even if your house is as visually obscured as this one (unlikely) other things will still give it away.

Some preppers base the security of their retreat on hiding it so that it won’t be found.

They glow with pride about how carefully they’ve chosen their retreat location, and its remoteness from main roads and likely off-road flows of people too.  They mutter about ‘OPSEC’ meaningfully, and talk about keeping an ultra-low profile, and won’t even tell you what state it is located in.

This is all good stuff and great to talk about, but it won’t keep you hidden.

We don’t mean to discourage any of these things, but we do mean to alert you to the fact that it is not possible to keep your retreat 100% hidden, all the time, from everyone.  Maybe careful measures will extend the time it takes for the first adversary to stumble across your retreat, but maybe also your location will be discovered by chance rather than by careful searching.

Sooner or later, you will be found.  And once one person finds you, he will tell someone else, and before you know where you are, everyone in the area will know about your retreat and come visiting.

We discuss the subject of Opsec further in our article ‘The Ugly Flip-sides of Opsec‘ and in that article we recommend you should plan on a controlled release of information about your retreat, on your terms, rather than suffer an uncontrolled exposure at some unknown but certain time in the future.  You should read that article too; for the balance of this article, we focus primarily on the uncontrollable ways in which your retreat will be found.

Some Location Giveaways

Here are some types of unavoidable give-aways that will draw attention to you and your retreat.  Your concern isn’t just the people who stumble across your location by chance, it is also the people who are drawn to it due to some sort of indicator that calls attention to it, even from some distance away.

For example, what will you do for heat?  As soon as you start burning anything, you’re giving off odors that in a de-industrialized rural area will travel a long way.  One more smell in the city means nothing.  But in the countryside, anything out-of-place that doesn’t blend into the natural smells – and particularly a burning smell, something we are instinctively taught to notice and fear, will be much more prominent and will be noticed from a reasonable distance.

You’re not only giving off smells, you might be giving off smoke too, providing a visible indicator pointing to your location and visible for many miles around.

Talking about smells we instinctively react to, what will you eat?  Even if you only cook ‘low odor’ foods (rice and beans, perhaps) those odors will travel a long distance, particularly if the person smelling them has his sense of smell sharpened by hunger.

Don’t worry, we’re not going to ask what you do about bodily waste, but let’s just say there’s a reasonable chance there may be some smells associated with that, too!

What about energy?  Will you have a wind turbine?  If so, won’t that be very obvious, especially when the blades are turning, indicating that it is still operating and being maintained?

Solar cells neatly lined in rows on your roof and kept clean of debris also indicate that rather than being an abandoned old shack, your retreat is a cared for location with added value sophisticated contents.

It is true that generators can run incredibly silently, but it is also true that the outdoors itself can be very silent on occasion, making even the slightest out-of-place sound, like a generator running, draw attention to itself.

Will you ever leave your house?  In the winter, you’ll be making footprints in the snow.   Will you grow any food in the summer – any type of cultivation or other landscaping will of course be obvious.  Will you ever go hunting – the sound of each rifle shot might be heard for miles.

Will you have 24 hour blackout curtains on all the windows – heck, why not just build your retreat with no windows at all, then!  If not, your retreat will be a beacon of light at night.

The Unavoidable Paper Trail that Leads to Your Retreat

Think about everything that has happened from the moment you bought the property.  Your purchase of the property has of course been recorded in the county records.  If there were any existing buildings on the property, those are probably already part of the county records.

Maybe you bought some unimproved land and built your own retreat structure.  Did you file building permits with the county?  Do you have utility connections (visible or not)?  Maybe even internet or telephone service?  Did you have any contractors do any work on your house?  Or building inspectors visit?  Did you get mail or courier deliveries at that address?  Do you have occasional deliveries of propane or firewood or diesel fuel?  Does a septic tank service company visit to pump out your tanks?

Even if you think you’ve done everything off the record, sooner or later, the county assessors will update their database and discover the improvements on your property.  Their staff know the areas they are responsible for very well, and if they find a new driveway that didn’t formerly exist, they’ll want to know where it goes.  If they happen to see a contractor’s truck going in or out of the driveway, they’ll doubly want to know what is going on.  Or maybe they’re just doing one of their two/five/ten year revaluations of all property in the county, and someone notices from an aerial photo the presence of buildings and clear indications of agricultural improvements on a block of land they had formerly categorized as unimproved forestry land.

Have a look at, for example, this impressive site that records all details of every property in the entire state of Montana.  Chances are there’s a similar database either for your state or at least the county within your state, whether it be publicly online or not.

Other Problems

What do you say if meeting locals in the nearby town in terms of where you live?  Someone, and probably several or even many people, know that you’re out there, even if not exactly where – you’ll be the guy who lives somewhere up back of (some other place).

What about your travels to and from your retreat?  Have other people seen vehicles they don’t recognize (ie, your vehicles) in out-of-the-way places and wondered who you are and what you are doing?  Have you left tire marks, or do you have a formal driveway or some other indicator of a house on the property?

And so on and so on.  Will anyone else for 50 miles around you know about your retreat?  Unavoidably, and of course.

There are countless ways your presence will be inadvertently revealed, and your life will be a misery if you try to hide it.

The preceding examples show some things you have done or will unavoidably do that draw attention to your retreat.  But that’s not all.  Your retreat could also be found accidentally.

Accidental Discovery Too

We know that in a Level 2/3 situation, there will be an exodus of people from the cities.  Remember that for every rural dweller at present, there are about five or six city dwellers.  In theory, this suggests that the countryside might become five or six times more crowded with people than before, so this by itself increases the chances of someone stumbling across your retreat unexpectedly.

In addition to that, think of everyone you know who confidently says they’ll hunt deer or other wild game for food in a Level 2/3 situation.  Deer will rapidly become an endangered species, that’s for sure!  The woods will be crawling with hunters all eagerly looking for game to shoot, so if your retreat is anywhere close to any sort of hunting, expect an influx of hunters in your area.  Ditto for fishing.  Ditto again for any food bearing plants in the vicinity.  Maybe even for people seeking to fell trees for building materials or to burn.

There’s another potential source of disclosure too.  Google Maps, Bing, and other mapping providers are increasing the frequency of aerial mapping surveys, and the quality/detail of the images they post online.  Many counties have aerial survey maps online too.

Your retreat might be miles from anywhere, but that won’t stop a plane from snapping a beautiful aerial shot of your retreat from the air as it flies over doing a photo-reconnaissance sweep.  Your dwelling will be online for everyone, everywhere in the world, to see next time they open up Google Maps.

Okay, so this presupposes that Google Maps or any of the other online mapping services is still available in a Level 2/3 scenario – a dubious scenario, for sure.  But if your information is/was online, it is probably also printed out somewhere, and a more resourceful looter will access good old-fashioned printed county records to identify tempting targets to go hit.  If you were a looter, wouldn’t you consider an obscured out-of-the-way retreat to be more tempting than one close to three or four neighbors?

It also means that from whenever your retreat first starts to appear on these documents and online records, there will be a small but growing level of awareness of your presence, prior to WTSHTF.

Summary

Figure on being found, sooner or later.  You can not rely on remaining hidden.  Once one person finds you, expect them to share that information with more and more people.

Unfortunately, the more unusual your location, and the more creative you’ve been at obscuring it, the more ‘interesting’ it will be for people to talk about it, and the more curious they will be about exactly who you are and what you have.

By all means do all you can to extend the time until you are found, and hopefully to minimize the frequency of times you are found, but sooner or later, you will have uninvited ‘guests’ arrive unexpectedly.  You need to have a plan for what to do once the veil of obscurity is lifted from your location.

May 222012
 

It is possible to think of so many different scenarios. Which one is correct? All of them!

As preppers, we have to prepare for two sets of possible future adverse circumstances.  The first is to prepare for some sort of event that interferes with LAWKI (life as we know it), and which diminishes our quality of life to a greater or not quite so great extent, for a short or long time period.

While we all responsibly prepare for the short-term minor events (what we term Level 1 events) the really big deal is preparing for the Level 2 or 3 events (we define Level 1/2/3 events here).

But even this is relatively easy, because we sort of know what things we’ll need, and if we start from an assumption that we’ll be on our own with no external support, no external sources of water, food or energy, we can plan from that worst case but clearly understood scenario.

One of the defining points of the transition from a Level 1 event to a Level 2 or 3 event is the need to leave our normal residence in a Level 2/3 event.  And the reason for needing to do this?  There are several reasons, but the most pressing one is usually the need to ensure our own personal safety.

In a higher density city type environment, we’ll be surrounded by unprepared people who, as the Level 2 event unfolds, will quickly run out of food and out of self-control.  We anticipate lawlessness will reign, and see our safety and survival as best achieved by leaving the lawless city behind us.

But even in our Level 2/3 retreat situation, we necessarily should continue to be concerned about the actions of non-prepared people, because this is the other major adverse circumstance we will have to endure and survive in a major event – the anticipated but unknown negative actions of our fellow citizens.

The Unknown Variables Posed By Non-Preppers

Please excuse us if you don’t share a similar viewpoint about the anticipated negative actions of non-preppers in a major breakdown of society.  May we explain?

Our perception is based on what we feel to be a gritty reality – people will do whatever they have to do in order to survive, if the circumstances are extreme enough.  Sure, we believe in the innate goodness of people, the same as you do, but we also believe that when people – and their families – are starving to death; if they see a chance to get life-sustaining food, they will do anything and everything they possibly can to take that food, no matter what is required.

This sort of motivation can make honest decent people into criminals.

We also acknowledge that while most people are basically good, unfortunately some people are basically bad.  You already know this, too.  You call those types of people murderers, sex offenders, arsonists, violent offenders of all sorts, gang members, and so on.  You probably support their incarceration, whole of life sentencing, ‘three strikes and you’re out’ laws, and maybe even the death penalty.  Even the most idealistic of people can’t close their eyes to the ongoing level of violence that goes on in our society today.

The underlying reasons or demographics are irrelevant – the ugly but unavoidable fact is that some people are just plain bad.  Almost 1% of our population is in jail on any given day, and you can decide how many more percent should be with them, and you can worry about the former inmates that are now free but not reformed.

We see that good people will be forced to do bad things due to the underlying basic imperative need to survive.  But we also see that bad people will do very bad things, just because they can and want to, for fun, and because the normal law and order imperatives will be massively weakened (as is repeatedly shown, all around the world, in gratuitous rioting and looting events).

Planning For Encounters With Malefactors

So, we wonder and worry about what to expect as we shelter inside our retreats.  More to the point, we don’t just wonder/worry about what we’ll do while safely inside our retreat.  We also worry/wonder about when we’re exposed outside – doing gardening, tending to livestock, traveling to the neighbor to trade our surplus foodstuffs for his, and so on.

Some people have developed elaborate theories about the types of encounters they’ll have.  Some people support their theories by referring to what has occurred in other societies during times of social disorder.  Other people have developed very different theories, possibly supported by very different factual underpinnings.

Who is right?  What can we expect?  And, as preppers, the essential question we ask ourselves is surely – How can we prepare for such events?

Plan and Prepare For Everything

Well, there is both good and bad in what we have to suggest.  There is no one single right answer.  All answers, all predictions and prognostications, are correct, to some degree.  And all are likely to occur, in some random sequence of events, to some people, some of the time.

We must plan for all possible scenarios.  We can not restrict our planning to what we consider to be the most sensible, the most likely types of encounters.  We know everyone is different with different preferences.  That is why there are dozens of different types of baked beans to choose from in the stores.  We know everyone has different opinions – that is why horse races can occur with a spread of betting over the widely different horses.  We know some people do incredibly stupid and unpredictable things.  But if we haven’t planned for that incredibly stupid or unpredictable thing, maybe we end up being the stupid person, and a victim of the unpredicted thing.

This is the key take-away point of this article.  Don’t just plan for one type of scenario when it comes to people and their actions.  Plan for them all, from the mildest to the wildest.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that when you’ve identified the most likely type of events, that these will be the only events you encounter.  Even if you can think exactly like some type of malefactor (we won’t ask how that is!) you can’t think like other types of malefactors.  But they are all out there, and we need to plan for the unexpected as well as the expected.

Scenarios for Encounters

Maybe some people will just lose the will to live and quietly die in back alleys.  Maybe other people will beg and plead for food, then go away, nonviolently, if refused.

Notching up a level, maybe some others will attempt to take food by force, but will give up when confronted by superior force, without any shots being fired.  Maybe some of these people, if able to take food without needing to kill to do so, would proceed to take food, but would turn away if required to kill first.

Notching up another level, maybe some people will indeed trade shots, but if they don’t quickly triumph, they will then give up and go away, looking for easier pickings/takings elsewhere.

And getting closer to extreme, maybe some people will fight to the death, having made it a point of honor to win the encounter, or die in the attempt, no matter what.

Different Tactics

Maybe some people will simply and noisily storm the front door in the mid-day sun.

Maybe others will sneakily plot and plan to surprise you when your door is open.  Maybe they’ll lie in wait for you in your fields.

Maybe some will kidnap one member of your party and try to bargain their safe return in exchange for food.  Maybe others will simply kill anyone they encounter (and, yes, maybe even eat them too!).  Note – if you don’t consider the possibility of cannibalism in your defensive strategies, you are not thinking far enough outside the box.  A yucky thought, for sure, but civilized rules will be in abeyance in an extreme scenario.

Maybe some will impatiently mount a battle, but if they don’t quickly triumph, and if they start taking casualties, go away defeated, never to return.

Maybe others, if unsuccessful in a first attack, will instead redouble their determination and come back, perhaps in greater force, and mount a more prepared planned and sustained assault.

Some people will approach from the obvious quarter.  Others will approach from unexpected places.

Varying Group Size

Maybe you’ll encounter some people on their own.  Maybe you’ll encounter small bands of 4 – 6.  Maybe you’ll encounter larger groups of 10 – 20.

Maybe you’ll think you’re defending yourself against a group of four attacking you from the front, when all of a sudden, ten more people appear from behind.

A Range of Skill Levels

Most people will have a gun – maybe a ‘good’ gun and maybe a ‘bad’ gun (you can decide what the terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’ mean in this context!).  Some will be good shots.  Some will be sniper level shots.  Others, as often as not, will be poor shots.

Some will have no knowledge of tactics or how to behave under fire.  Others will be veterans who have fought in one of our country’s many recent overseas wars, and will be skilled at such things (see our article about the rising problem of gangs and how some gangs deliberately have some members serve in the military so they have military level training and skills within their group).

Some opponents will quickly learn combat skills, and others will run away the first time a bullet zings angrily overhead.

All Sorts of Equipment and Weapons

The most common weapon you’ll encounter will be some type of rifle.  Some optimistic types might try to assault your retreat with only a pistol, and a few might bring a shotgun to the party.

But who is not to say that some people won’t have a fearsome .50 cal BMG rifle that will punch holes in just about anything it hits?  Maybe someone has developed his own explosive charges, and maybe someone else has developed a cannon or mortar?  And don’t forget the person with the Molotov cocktail, either.  Fire can be one of your most fearsome challenges.

Maybe someone from SCA has created an old-fashioned catapult, or a battering ram, or something else like that?

Maybe someone has liberated a tank or APC or other military vehicle/weapon from the local armory and can safely assault your retreat from behind the vehicle’s armor, and knock down your front door with their vehicle.

Frequency of Encounter and Group Coordination

Maybe you’ll go six months and not see anyone.  Maybe you’ll end up with a dozen encounters within as many days.

Maybe you’ll have outsmarted the entire world with your choice of ‘out of the way’ location.  Maybe one or two backwoodsman type hunters will stumble across your retreat while you’re complacently reveling in the success of your secret.

Or maybe other people will have thought the same way as you, and will be specifically going to JWR’s American Redoubt areas and looking for preppers and all their food and supplies, using the same factors to guess where you might be as you used to decide where to go.

Maybe roving gangs will meet and share stories and swap details of potential targets.  The gang you fought off last week might encourage another gang to return next week.

Maybe self-appointed ‘warlords’ will claim control of a district and everyone in it.  Maybe – really worrying – he’ll have some degree of pseudo-legal status or actual legal status, and is levying ‘taxes’ on all residents in the area.  With 100 of his troops acting as tax collectors.

The preceding sub-sections have been intended not to list all the possibilities, but to open your thinking to the range of possibilities that may occur.  Don’t stop thinking – this is not a complete list!  You should be able to come up with plenty more.

Summary

It is easy to anticipate the basic issues and challenges we’ll face in a major Level 2 or 3 event.  Take away all external support.  No more electricity or gas or internet.  No more 7-11 or supermarket.  No more Home Depot or Office Depot or any other type of depot.  That’s okay.  We can anticipate and plan and prepare for these things.

But the hardest thing to anticipate?  The actions of our non-prepped fellow citizens.  Think of as many scenarios and nightmares as you can, then drink a fifth of bourbon, and think of some more.  Any – or all – of these might come to pass (well, maybe not that one with the mutant alien zombies that you came up with half-way through your second fifth, right before you fell asleep!).

Because we can’t predict exactly which of these encounters we will face, we should plan and prepare for all of them.

We can harden our retreats to make them resistant to all but the most serious of attacks, we can design our lots to make them easy to defend and hard to attack, and – most of all – we can either join an existing community right from the get-go, or if not, we can group together with our neighbors to create a new form of law and order and mutual support and early warning system.

For More Information

If you’re specifically interested in researching potential future scenarios and how normal people might respond to them, we suggest you follow our category of articles on Communities.

Beyond that, we’ve a lot of information on all types of prepper related topics.  Please roam far and wide around our site.  Thanks for visiting.

May 202012
 

A septic system is simple, reliable and an effective solution to your human waste disposal needs

Some people have made elaborate preparations for a Level 2/3 event.  They have bought their retreat.  They have their food, their fuel, their guns, their water supply, and their generator.

They’ve planned the typical one gallon of water per person per day, and hopefully allowed more than that for all the other uses one needs water for too.  And their food stores are more than sufficient.

But ask them about what happens to the food and water after it is used, and they’ll look at you blankly.  Explain some more, and they’ll get into an elaborate discussion about toilet seats on 5 gallon plastic pails, about ‘Humanure’, maybe about cutting trenches and tossing handfuls of soil or lime on top of one’s outputs.

None of it sounds very pleasant, for sure.

Why aren’t more people simply having a septic system installed at their retreat?  Costs to install a system are low (in the overall scheme of setting up a retreat costs) and the impact on allowing for a much more comfortable life when living at the retreat is enormous.

Maybe some people look upon septic systems with underserved scorn.  They are an excellent, reliable, and low-tech way of handling human waste, and are good as a solution for people living away from a reliable city sewer system in normal times as well as in adverse times.  We’ve lived in septic served houses ourselves and have never had any problems – indeed, the most unreliable sewage system we ever had was where the line to the city sewer would get blocked, regular as clockwork, every two or so years, by roots from the neighbor’s nearby large tree.

Here’s a quick introduction to the subject of septics.

Septic systems vary in size depending on the ‘load’ that is expected to be placed on them (perhaps better to say the load that will be placed in them!).  The rule of thumb is to guess at the load based on the number of bedrooms in the house the system is servicing, and to assume two people per bedroom, and each person representing 60 – 75 gallons of liquid (and solid) a day.

If you are careful, and perhaps if you use 1.6 gallon per flush toilets rather than the earlier 3.5 – 5 gallon per flush toilets, and if you have modern water conserving washing machines and dishwashers, you’ll be able to get down below the 60 gallon per person guesstimate, but for designing your system to county code standards, you’ll need to use whatever their formula is.

Once you know the gallons per day that need to be managed, you double it and that tells you the size of the tank itself.  A three bedroom house would represent a load of about 360 gallons/day (at 60 gallons per person) which doubled represents 720 gallons of tank capacity.

A sweet spot in tank prices seems to be 1000 gallon capacity (which will probably cost you $500 – $800 or so).  This is also the usual capacity of a septic tank pumping truck, and it makes good sense to match your tank capacity with a pump truck’s capacity (prior to WTSHTF).  There is never any harm in ‘too large’ a tank capacity – this is a good thing as it extends the time between pump-outs.

The other thing you need to work out is more complicated.  This is the size of the drainfield, and it is determined not just by the gallonage per day, but also by the type of soil you’ll be draining the tank into.  That same three bedroom house might need as small as a 300 sq ft drainfield (best case scenario) or as large as an 1800 sq ft drainfield (a bad scenario).  You need to call in the experts to do soil analysis, perc tests, and drainfield design.

The all up cost of a septic system for a three bedroom house may be in the range of $2500 – $4500 to install, plus permit fees and initial consultation costs, assuming a reasonably positive situation and a gravity fed system.  If you need to have a pressure system, then the cost is more likely to be around $4000 – $6500 plus permits and consulting.  Worst case scenario, with a ‘mound’ type system, you could be spending $9,000 – $20,000.

A well designed septic system running at the level it was designed for (or less) will need to be pumped out or in some other way emptied every couple of years or so.  Larger tanks require emptying less frequently.  Other than that, they should reliably work for a couple of decades without needing much attention.

Gravity systems are, as their name implies, gravity fed.  Pressure and mound systems need pumps with infrequent duty cycles and low powered motors.  They should not overload your power resources at all.

If you are careful about what you put into your septic system – especially if you don’t use a sink garbage disposal unit to increase the amount of bio-mass going into the system (you shouldn’t waste food scraps that way, anyway – either use them for feeding animals or for composting), and limit the inputs to only the, ahem, human outputs, your system will largely take care of itself.

You should also try not to have sudden peaks of inputs.  If you have a system that anticipates 420 gallons a day, it is better to give it 400 gallons a day for three days in a row than to give it 100 gallons today, 1000 gallons the next day, and 100 gallons the third day, because you want everything to have at least two days in the tank before moving on to the drainfield.  This gives time for solids to settle to the bottom (and fats to the top) leaving just a relatively free of other stuff liquid to go into the drainfield.

Recommendations for Preppers

Clearly we are recommending you should build a septic system at your retreat.

There are two extra considerations to keep in mind.

The first is that, if at all possible, try to avoid the need to have a system that requires pumps.  This will reduce the number of things that might go wrong and/or need maintenance, and also reduce the energy cost of operating your septic system.  If the entire system is fully gravity powered, then you have a very resilient system – much better to spend more up front to get a robust system than to go a cheaper route only to find yourself with a system that becomes inoperative subsequently at a time when you can no longer easily access cheap energy and ready support.

The second consideration is to over-specify everything, and to massively increase the holding tank capacities too.  We’re not quite sure what you’d do at the point where the tank needs to be pumped, so best put that day off as long as possible.

Pumping is inevitable.  The septic system works by settling the solids to the bottom of the holding tank and having the liquid overflow feed out through the drainfield.  Sooner or later, the level of solids will reach the point where they need to be pumped out.  Better to make that time as far into the future as possible, by which time there will hopefully be some infrastructure available to respond to the need.

Here’s an excellent site with much more information on the topic.

May 192012
 

Food riots will become general riots and then general lawlessness and disorder in a Level 2/3 event. Maintaining your security is your biggest challenge if you with to survive such a scenario.

Many preppers are individualists, and their initial assumption – that society will collapse in some form or another – is extended perhaps too far.

Yes, they rightly assume they need to plan for a future with no help from normal external support services, and there’s an unspoken element of ‘It will be every man for himself’ WTSHTF.  This is probably even true, to at least some extent.

But this sensible focus on self-reliance blinds some people to the essential need to form or join a community of fellow preppers as part of a Level 2 or 3 response plan.

It is reasonable to prepare for a Level 1 event that requires nothing more than turning on the generator at home and waiting out the restoration of normal services while eating stockpiled food.  Apart from having some friends around for social purposes and to fight off the boredom that might otherwise ensue if television, radio, and internet services are affected, you don’t actually need a support community of other people to see you through the Level 1 event.

But when you are instead responding to a longer term more severe Level 2 or 3 event, you have a very different set of issues you need to prepare for.

Most People Underestimate the Size of Group they Need

Just as common as the people who give no thought at all to creating a community any larger than their immediately family are the people who create a small group – perhaps a group of three couples get together.  That would be six people, maybe a couple of children, maybe an older generation person or two as well, but in total, probably under 12 people, and only six of them able-bodied adults.

Don’t get us wrong.  A group of six adults banded together is very much better than a couple all by themselves.  But is it good enough to really tilt the odds in your favor in a full Level 2 situation?  We don’t think so.  Read other articles in our series on communities and defending your retreat for discussions on why this is.

In the balance of this article, we consider some of the implications of managing a larger sized community.

Size/Type of Retreat

A typical American family home has between three and five bedrooms, and maybe two or three bathrooms.  That works very well for a matchingly typical American family of perhaps two adults and two children, boosted by occasional short-term guests.

But say you establish a community of 25 people?  How will that work?  Sure, you can pack a lot of people into even an ordinary house for a short term, especially if you have a working sewage line that takes your sewage away, and efficient cooking facilities.

From a social point of view, there are good reasons to split your group into a reasonable number of small ‘single family apartments’ or even separate dwellings.  From a security point of view, you want to have one single external wall to defend, and to have this external wall as small and strong as possible.

There is another thing to consider as well.  If you’re considering building a custom dwelling for your group of 25 or so people, suitable to withstand a Level 2 event, what will you do if the actual event is or becomes a Level 3 event?

As you’ll see in our article about community sizes for Level 3 events, you need an appreciably larger group to survive a Level 3 event.  Shouldn’t you be building a structure that will be suitable for a Level 3 community rather than a Level 2 community?

With this in mind, we generally advocate you should construct something analogous to a block of condos if you are establishing a larger community.  This article tells you more about the benefits and reasons for this.

Even a ‘Simple’ Level 2 Retreat is Not Simple

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.  But your biggest challenge in surviving a Level 2 situation is not food or water or shelter or energy.  It is security.  And the second biggest challenge is the unforeseen, the unpredictable, the unexpected, and the not-planned-for.

The only realistic way to enhance your security is to get more people into your immediate retreat community.  Having friendly neighbors half a mile down the road is no use to you.  They are out of sight.  Even if you had a way of signaling them for help – and assuming your attackers didn’t get you by surprise – by the time your neighbors decided to risk their lives coming to help you, and by the time they got to your retreat, it would be too late.

Out of Sight = Out of Mind

This brings up a couple of relevant points.

The first is to appreciate that in a Level 2 or 3 situation, any sort of gunshot wound is much more potentially lethal than it is today, with first class hospitals and paramedics close by.  Closely related is the fact that the loss of a person in a small community is much more damaging in a Level 2/3 situation than it is today – here, people can be ‘replenished’ with new neighbors moving in; and whether they are nice or not is really not all that vitally important.  Post WTSHTF, you become intensely reliant on the people in your extended immediate family unit.

The second is that not only is the downside to putting one’s life at risk much greater in this sort of scenario, but also it is tactically ill-advised to leave your own retreat exposed and unprotected.  If your neighbors tell you they are being attacked, unfortunately the wise thing to do is to go to alert/lockdown in your own retreat, not to go rushing off over semi-open ground to help them.

The only people you can count on to be for sure committed to helping you are the people who are equally at risk as you.  This topic is discussed further in the article about how community mutual defense pacts sometimes work, and sometimes don’t.

How to Anticipate the Unanticipated

We suggest the second biggest challenge you will confront is something you didn’t expect, and didn’t plan or prepare for.  Or maybe it is something that you thought to be safely unlikely to occur, or something you couldn’t afford to plan for.

The best defense in such a case is diversity and redundancy of resource.  The more people in your community, the more skill sets you have.  Maybe you have someone with experience and background suitable for whatever goes unexpectedly wrong.  Or maybe a freak accident sees you lose a key member of your community – in a small community, you might now be weakened by the loss of skills that no-one else has; in a larger community, there is more chance that someone else has a similar skillset already.

An Introduction to Retreat Design Considerations

Creating an appropriate retreat capable of housing multiple families for an extended period of time in a secure environment almost always requires a custom designed/built dwelling.  This is a separate subject, but two quick points to consider.

Normal houses are not built for security; they are built for comfort and for an open airy feel, and are constructed out of low-cost non-ballistic resistant materials.  Did you know a typical rifle round can travel through the exterior of a house, through every interior wall, and then out through the other exterior wall on the opposite side of the house, and if the bullet encountered anyone on its path through the house, or even someone on the outside on the far side, it could inflict a lethal injury on the person too?

Secondly, you don’t want your ‘castle’ to become your coffin.  If your retreat is made of wood – either the walls or roof – you’re at risk of being burned out.  It is very foreseeable that if people can’t get to you, they’ll decide ‘Well, if we can’t get his food, he can’t have it either’ and simply set fire to your building and watch the building, its contents and its inhabitants all burn to the ground.

Bottom line – constructing a suitable retreat for a sizeable community is a specialized task.  Code Green Prep is creating communities and specialized retreats for our community members.  We would be pleased to consider you as a possible member of a Code Green community, or to assist you create your own community.

May 172012
 

When all else fails, a hand operated pump may yet become necessary!

If you have a well, you need a pump to do two things for you – one obvious, the other perhaps not quite so obvious.

First, you need to pump the water from whatever level the water table is underground up to the surface.  Second, you need to then pressurize the water for ongoing distribution from the well-head.

Considering the second point first, home water pressures are typically in the range of 30 – 80 psi, with 45 – 60 being considered optimum.  Each pound per square inch (psi) of water pressure is equivalent to raising the water 2.31 ft, so a 20 psi pressure can be thought of as the same as adding another 46.2 ft, 40 psi is more like another 92.4 ft, and 60 psi is 138.6 ft.

So simply add however many feet of desired ‘pressure equivalent’ to the depth the water is at to find a total water lifting height.  We recommend you consider a lower pressure rather than a higher pressure – sure, your showers won’t be quite so wonderful, but your plumbing system will be less stressed and less likely to leak – probably a more than satisfactory trade-off for most of us.

In a perfectly efficient pumping situation, you would be able to lift 319.5 gallons one foot by using one Watt hour of power.

But pumps are rarely perfectly efficient.  Typical efficiencies range from around 40% up to about 70% in the best case scenario.  Smaller pumps are typically less efficient than larger pumps.  If we aim for 55% as a mid point, this suggests 175 gallons can be lifted one foot with one Watt hour of power.

Note – usually efficiency trade-offs are balanced in part by cost considerations (the other part being unavoidable design issues), and these considerations are based on an assumption that energy is freely available and affordable.  Neither is a valid assumption in a Level 2 or 3 scenario, so we urge you to pay extra up front for the best efficiency possible.  A more efficient system in any scenario might have an impractically long apparent pay-back period in today’s situation, but when your energy becomes in short supply and massively more precious than it is today, the pay-back periods will become very short indeed.

If you have a 100 ft deep well, and if you want to pressurize your water to a bare minimum of 30 psi (ie another 69 ft of lifting), each gallon of water you pump will require almost exactly 1 Watt hour of power (assuming the 55% efficiency).  You could pump 1000 gallons for a kWh of power.

Here’s an excellent explanation of how these figures were derived.

So that is the energy cost of pumping water – about one kWh for 1000 gallons lifted 169 ft (a combination of well depth and pressure height) in a realistic type of scenario.  More lift means more energy, of course.

In an off-grid situation, where are you going to get that 1 kWh of energy from?  Let’s see what it might require in meaningful terms.

Solar Power

A 10 sq ft solar cell array would generate about 100 – 125 Watt hours in an hour of bright sun; allow for inefficiencies in converting to battery power or whatever else, and say best case scenario is 100 Watt hours per hour of direct sun.  So this one solar cell array would provide sufficient power to pump 100 gallons/hour of water in bright sun.  In not quite so bright sun, of course, you’ll get less energy and it will take more hours of ordinary obscured sun and cloudy days to generate the same amount of accumulated Watt hours of power.

You’d need to work out how many gallons a day of water you need to be able to pump, and match that to a suitably sized solar cell array; and probably you’d add some storage – either battery or water to balance out between bright sunny days and dark cloudy days.  On bright sunny days you’d either divert the extra energy into a bank of batteries or simply pump more water than you consume, storing the surplus in tanks, and on dark cloudy days you’ll either run the pump from batteries or take your water from the tank storage.

Our personal preference is to store the surplus energy in the form of water in tanks.  It is the simplest and lowest-tech solution, and there is much less to go wrong and fewer inefficiencies in having water sitting in a tank than in having electricity being converted into and out of a bank of storage batteries.

Generator Power

If you were running a diesel generator, a rule of thumb is that a gallon of diesel will convert to about 10 kWh of energy.

Allow for inefficiencies in storing the electricity from the generator into and out of a battery bank, and say perhaps 7 kWh net of energy from a gallon of diesel, which means a gallon of diesel will be good for about 7,000 gallons of water pumped.

A gasoline powered generator would deliver appreciably fewer kWh of energy per gallon of gas, and is also less reliable, so we generally don’t recommend gasoline generators.

Alternatively a diesel powered water pump could be used at the well.  You’d have fewer energy conversion losses and might get better efficiency, closer to the 10 kWh of energy per gallon theoretical maximum, but this gives you another diesel motor to maintain and care for, adding to the complexity of the equipment you have at your retreat.

The other consideration of course is that sooner or later, you will run out of stored diesel and may not be able to replace it, while the sun will continue shining hopefully for as long as we need it to.

Summary

Well water is not ‘free’.  It has a clear energy cost associated with it, depending on the depth of your well – the deeper the well, the greater the energy needed to lift the water up to the surface and to pressurize it for distribution.

Fortunately, the energy required to bring water to the surface is not excessive.  Depending on the amount of sun where you live, a solar cell array that probably costs $1000 or so would be enough to power a pump capable of giving you several hundred gallons of water on most average not-too-cloudy days, and some storage tanks for the pumped water would give you a store of water for cloudy days when insufficient water could be pumped by the solar powered pump.

May 162012
 

Rainwater tanks come in all colors, shapes, sizes, and materials.

Storing rainwater of course has cost associated with it.

You’ll want to store enough to make sense, but not too much.  There’s another issue too – in some drier areas, the amount of water you need for the dry months exceeds the amount of water you can collect and store in the wet months, so you need to calculate both the amount of water to store and then to confirm you’ll actually be able to collect that much during the wetter months.

Sadly, the final calculation is not as exact as it might seem.  Sure, you’ll have surrounded yourself with vast masses of rainfall data as part of your calculating, but as you’ll see from the worked example below, at the end of the process, you end up making some subjective guesses.  Feel free to ask us if you have questions or need help.

Getting the Raw Data You Need to Do Your Calculation

The key issue now is understanding the rainfall pattern you’ll experience at your location.  This involves both some science and some art.

The science is simply retrieving historical rainfall data.  The art lies in translating historic rainfall data, which varies from year to year, into the acceptably likely/moderately worst case scenarios that you want to build into your planning, and in taking rainfall data from weather stations that might not be close to your location and equating their rainfall data to what will actually happen at your location.

It is an easy thing to go to various different websites and get average monthly rainfall data for a range of different locations around the country.  We have some links in this article, just a bit further down.

Equating Rainfall at Weather Stations to Rainfall at Your Location

So how to equate this rainfall data with what happens where you are.  Maybe you are 50 miles away from where the nearest data is collected.  That could be okay, but maybe you’re in the rain shadow on the other side of a mountain range from where the data is obtained.  Ooops.  That’s not going to work, is it!

So find the best data you can, and if you can’t find any good data, maybe consider averaging the data from several reasonably close locations.  It is better than nothing.  In particular, use the National Weather Service rainfall maps (link below) to get a sense of the rainfall patterns and distributions for where you live compared to where the sampling stations are.

You can also ask local residents for reality checks about what they might remember or have recorded for past years.  Perhaps they can at least answer some simple questions like ‘how often is there no rain at all in July’ and ‘what is the longest gap between decent rains’ and ‘which month do you need to water the crops the most’.

If you want to get really obsessive, you can even go to the archives of the local newspaper and track daily weather from back issues of the paper.

How Much Information is Enough/Too Much

This last suggestion (going through back issues of the local paper) points out a happy fact.  Much of this information is ‘scientific guesswork’ – sure, the historical rain data is a matter of fact, but applying what happened last year, last decade, last century, to predict what will happen next week or month or year – there comes the guesswork.

So there’s only so much data you need.  There’s little point in spending lots of time and money to go from a 75% understanding of past rainfall to a 90% understanding, if you then go and make a guess with a huge +/- 100% factor in it anyway.

Averages, Maximums, Minimums

Now for the second part of the puzzle.  You’ve probably managed to find a chart of average monthly rainfall measurements, and you might have adjusted this a bit for any variations between the data you’ve found and the reality of your exact location.

But – here’s the problem.  To start off with an example, the average US family formerly used to consist of two adults and 2.5 children.  But have you ever seen a half child?  You can visit as many houses as you like, and while you’ll find many with two and many with three children, you’ll never find a house with half a child.

Another way of looking at an average is to say that an average is the number whereby half the time the reality is higher than this number, and the other half the time, the number is lower than this number.

What that means with rainfall numbers is that the monthly average rainfall will be, for half the time, higher than the actual rainfall.  Sometimes the actual rainfall might be a little less than the monthly average, and sometimes it might be a lot less.  This doesn’t matter to the statistician who has neatly calculated his 100 yr average number, but for you, it could mean the difference between having water and not having water – yes, the difference between life and death.

What you need to do is to establish a number a bit like flood plain numbers (you know, the 50 year and 100 year flood plain zones).  Do you want to base your needs on an average monthly rainfall figure that is half the time more positive than the actual rainfall will be in reality?  We suggest not.

But now comes the guesswork.  Do you want to use a monthly rainfall figure in your planning that is too high one year in three?  Or one year in five?  One year in ten?  How about one year in 50 or 100?

There is a cost associated with this, of course.  The more you want to plan for drier than normal years, the larger you’ll need to make your water storage capacity to carry you over from the good/wet months to the bad/dry months, and so the greater your cost will be.  Plus, sooner or later, you’ll end up with a number so huge that you’ll never be able to fill it based on the rainfall from the preceding wetter months (which circles us back, in such cases, to the need for a second water source).

You must look at a minimum of 10 years of data for each month you are studying.  If there is little variation from one year to the next, then you don’t have to build as big a safety margin into your figuring.  But if the numbers are all over the place, clearly you’re going to have to assume something close to the worst for planning your water needs.

But within what looks like a consistent set of data for perhaps 10 years can be other hidden longer term cycles – some weather cycles have a 60 or longer year period to go from minimum to maximum and back to minimum again.  Maybe the ten years you are looking at are the ten years at the best part of the cycle, which is now trending towards the worst part, which could show extremely different numbers.

At the very least, get an extended data series on an annual basis so you can see what overall variation there is, and if you’re looking at marginal weather and rainfall, you will need to be more careful about the data you are using.

Daily or Monthly or What Data

The longer the time period, the less variation in the numbers you’ll get.  If you look at annual rainfall totals, these will vary much less from year to year than if you look at each month’s data.  Whereas the chances are that your region’s annual rainfall is never zero, the chances may be that some months in some years, there’ll be an inch or more of rain, but in some months of other years, there might be not the slightest sprinkle for the entire 30 days.

The time period you need to drill down to depends to an extent on the size of the storage capacity you’ll be building.  The smaller the capacity, the more accurately you need to know when water will come in to replace the water going out.

Generally the monthly data is sufficient for most purposes.

However, daily data is useful for understanding how the rain falls during a month, so as to know whether to adjust the total rainfall to reflect light sprinkles that have little collectable net rain or not (see our section on Real World Imperfections in our earlier article on rainwater collection).

A Worked Example

Let’s have a look at some real world data for Seattle – not because we recommend that as a bug out location, of course, but just because there is readily obtainable information for the area.

First, let’s state our assumptions that we are using, above.  To be consistent with our earlier article on How Much Rainwater Can You Collect From Your Roof, let’s keep the same figure – 50 gallons of water a day or 1500 gallons a month for our basic household needs.  We also said that each inch of rain on our hypothetical roof will give us up to 763 gallons of collectible water.  So, by happy coincidence, it seems that as long as we are getting 2″ of water a month, we’re in good shape.

Can we be sure of getting at least 2″ of rain every month?  The first thing we do is look at the monthly average rainfall figures.  Let’s have a look at them on this page (other pages will have slightly different figures) :

 

Month Rainfall
January 5.5
February 4.2
March 3.7
April 2.5
May 1.7
June 1.5
July 0.8
August 1.1
September 1.9
October 3.5
November 5.9
December 5.9
Annual Total  38.1

 

Which brings us to the first important point.  If we looked just at the total rainfall for the year, we’d see 38.1″.  We need 24″, so upon seeing 38.1″, we might mistakenly think ‘Great, we have no problem’ and not look any further.

But look at the individual months.  You’ll see that the five month block from May through September all show less than 2″ of rain per month.  And if we look back at April, its 2.5″ figure looks a bit anxiety-causing too – remember this average is the number which will be too high half the time.  So with a need to have 2″ of rain in April, and no opportunity to top up with extra rain in May, we need to get an understanding for the possible variation of rain in April too.

Let’s now look carefully at the six months we’re worried about (April through September) and not only look at their monthly averages, but at the actual real rainfall that was measured in recent years.

We’ll take the information from this site.  The next table took a lot of time to type in, so please be appropriately respectful of the information presented to you!  And, just to show another thing, we are using their averages rather than those in the preceding table – quite a big difference in some cases, too.  (It seems this service changes their averages on a shorter sample of years than some of the other time bases).

We immediately noticed that regularly, the September rainfall was less than the 2″ we needed, so for those years, we looked at the October rainfall too, and with a shaky 2.17″ in 2008 for October, we looked at that year’s November.  The same thing happened in 2006, although massive rains in November helped the region catch up on its very dry summer.  Although the averages above suggested there’d be no problem in October, for one of the ten years in this sample there was.  If we don’t want to risk running out of water in October one year in ten, we need to look at that month too.

There’s more, with another deceptive average.  We also noticed that April couldn’t guarantee us 2″ of rain in three of the ten years either, so we added March data for years where that was necessary.  Fortunately, March rain was always above the 2″ we needed, so there was no need to look further back.

Month Avg  2011  2010  2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002 
March 3.75 3.65 4.42 2.18 2.13 6.49
April 2.59 4.47 3.49 3.36 1.90 0.69 2.73 3.68 0.65 2.74 4.29
May 1.78 3.20 2.83 3.61 0.89 1.46 1.65 3.32 2.53 1.16 1.11
June 1.49 1.42 2.49 0.18 1.64 1.34 1.67 1.63 0.81 0.51 1.73
July 0.79 0.71 0.31 0.06 0.48 1.44 0.06 1.03 0.16 0.06 0.64
August 0.88 0.13 0.64 1.16 2.87 0.73 0.02 0.29 3.00 0.32 0.04
September 1.50 1.29 4.80 1.75 0.78 3.16 1.43 0.95 2.80 0.89 0.42
October 3.48 3.45 5.54 2.17 1.55 3.01 8.95 0.66
November 6.57 6.52 15.63 3.71

 

Okay, hopefully your eyes aren’t glazing over from the over 80 data points in the above table.  Let’s first quickly skim through the data, month by month, and note the huge difference between wet years and dry years.  August went from 0.02″ all the way up to 3.00″.  October in 2002 had a mere 0.66″ of rain, but the next year, it had 8.95″.

Clearly the average monthly figures obscure massive swings from one year to the next.

Let’s now look at both the worst and the second worst rainfall figures for each month.  If we want to allow for a ‘one time in ten’ being wrong, we’d take the worst figure.  If we were prepared to consider a ‘one time in five years’ then we’d take the second worst figure.

Month Worst  Second
March 2.13 n/a
April 0.65 0.69
May 0.89 1.11
June 0.18 0.51
July 0.06 0.06
August 0.02 0.04
September 0.42 0.78
October 0.66 1.55
November 3.71 n/a

 

So we are now starting to make sort of progress, with an easy conclusion to draw and a difficult piece of further analysis.

The easy conclusion is that we can say we can reliably expect, on 1 April each year, to have full tanks due to having had more rain than we needed in March (and February and before).

We can also say that we can reliably expect, more or less on 1 November, that the rate of rainfall will start to increase above our offtake level.  We’d probably want to have a week or so remaining supply in case the November rains came late, but we know, for sure, that by the end of November, we’ll have received more rain than we consumed, and will end up the month with more water in our tanks than we started with.

Now for the really important part – the seven months of April through October.

If we wanted to be super conservative, we could simply take the lowest reading for each of these seven months and use that as the figure to work from.

But here’s an interesting thought.  Look at any of these months – let’s say August, for example.  In our table of lowest values, the lowest rainfall for August is 0.02″ (in 2006).  Now look at September.  Our lowest rainfall for September is 0.42″, in 2002.  Add these together, and you get 0.44″ for the two months.

But – and here’s the complicating factor.  In August 2006, we had the 0.02″, but in September 2006, we then had 1.43″ of rain – add these together and you get 1.45″ over two months.

If we look at the lowest September figure of 0.42″ in 2002, if we add the 2002 August figure of 0.04″ to that, we end up with 0.46″ – not very much more than the two lows, but still more.

So here’s the question.  We have one chance in ten that any given month’s figure is the lowest.  But what is the chance of the next month after that also being the lowest?  Does the weather in one month influence the weather the next month?  Sure, people talk about ‘dry summers’ or whatever, but is that a perception or a reality?

Let’s create another table, for the three most critical months (June, July, August).  We’ll compare the total of the lowest numbers from any year with the totals for each year.

Lowest  Second  2011  2010  2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
0.26 0.61 2.26 3.44 1.40 4.99 3.51 1.75 2.95 3.97 0.89 2.41

 

So now we know that if we cherry pick the lowest months from each year, we can end up with the lowest total of 0.26″, and if we go to the second lowest, we are at 0.61″.  But if we insist that each month be linked to the month before and after, the lowest number now is 0.89″ and the next lowest number is 1.49″.

Confused yet?  So, what is your feeling – how much rain should we project to be sure of receiving in the three months of June, July and August?  We’re not going to answer that ourselves, because clearly there is no single right answer.

When you’ve answered that question to your own satisfaction, it is time for the key question :  How much rain do you think we’ll get for the entire period from 1 April through to sometime in early/mid November?

Clearly, there’s no exact or correct answer.  Depending on the level of risk you are prepared to accept for being wrong depends on the number you’ll choose.  If you guess wrong, then during the course of the dry months, you’ll realize the rain isn’t coming as it should, and you’ll see your water levels dropping below the levels you projected them to be, so you can start to adjust your water usage habits some.

That is relatively practical when you started off with a fair/generous projection of water usage to start with, and of course much harder if you were rather optimistic/aggressive about your water savings, giving you little room to cut back.

Further Interpretation of the Data

We’re going to look across the entire dry spell, from 1 April through to some time in November (let’s allow 500 gallons for November), and use our second worst numbers for each month.

But then we’re going to look at the individual months and see how the rain fell in those months and start adjusting for the less efficient collection of light sprinkles compared to the more efficient collection of downpours.

For example, in September’s 0.78″ result for 2008, we look at the relevant data and analyze the rainfall, day by day.

The first day with rain was the 20th, when temperatures ranged from 54 – 58, and the wind was 3.7 mph, and 0.54″ of rain fell.  We’ll say that 0.51″ of that was collected – after a long dry spell, albeit a damp day or two prior, there was probably a lot of moisture absorption and some evaporation off the roof going on.

On the next day another 0.02″ of rain fell, but the temperatures were warmer and the winds stronger, so we’re going to say none of that was collected.

On the 22nd, 0.01″ of rain fell, and that’s the minimum needed just to wet the roof, so we’ll ignore that.

On the 24th, we had 0.12″ of rain, and we’ll count 0.10″ as collectible.

On the 25th, temperatures were warm, the wind was strong, and 0.09″ of rain fell.  We’re going to say that only 0.045″ of that was collectible.

So add these adjusted figures together and round down, and instead of 0.78″, we have a net collection of 0.65″ of usable rain.

Let’s say after doing similar calculations for the other months, we end up with 3.8″ of rain in total that we can be sure will actually make it into our tanks.  This provides us with 2900 gallons of water.  But we are going to use 7 months of consumption at 1500 gallons a month, and we want 500 gallons left over on 1 November – a total requirement of 11,000 gallons.

So after adjusting for the rain that will come in , we need to start on 1 April with 8,100 gallons of water stored.  Now let’s adjust for evaporation – 0.25% a day, perhaps.  This means, for the seven month, 210 day period, we’ll lose 52.5% of our water.  We need to increase our storage from 8100 gallons up to say 12,500 gallons.

Can We Get the Rain We Need in the Wet Months to Fill Our Tanks

12,500 gallons is a lot of water.  It represents 16.4″ of rainfall.  Can we be sure of getting 16.4″ of rain during the wet months of November through March?

Yes, we probably can, even in a worst case scenario, but only just.  We’d simply repeat the analysis that we’ve already done for the dry season, and this time do it for the wet season to get a feeling for likely worst case scenarios.

In this case, our tanks will take the rest of the year to fill, and sometimes might not fill until early in the new year, giving only a few months of happily overflowing tanks and water-richness, before entering into another extended period of anxiously looking up at the sky each day.

The point to be aware of here, slightly obscured from using rainy Seattle’s data, is that the amount of rain we can collect in rainy months is sometimes insufficient for the drier months.  There’s no point in making the storage capacity any larger than the total amount of water likely to be collected off the roof.

Summary

So, we have learned both a general and a specific lesson from this example.  The specific lesson is how to work through a calculation for the water you’ll need based on your area’s rainfall patterns and your family’s water consumption.

The general lesson hasn’t yet been stated until now, but it needs to be considered.  Creating a water storage system capable of storing 12,500 gallons of water requires a sizeable amount of tankerage, and probably they will be at ground level so you’ll then need a water pump to transfer the water up to a holding tank in the ceiling for regular usage, so the water isn’t energy free.

Even a teensy-tiny well (2 gallons/hour capacity – barely a trickle) and perhaps a single 1500 gallon buffer/holding tank would give you the same results as your enormous 12,500 gallon rainwater collection system, and at massively lower cost.

These numbers were based on the climate in Seattle, an area renowned for its rain (albeit, as we’ve now seen in detail, somewhat unfairly).  Imagine how much worse it would be in a drier climate.  If we say 8 months with no water, that would call for 12,000 gallons, plus 500 for early November, and then if we say a higher 0.3% evaporation rate over 240 days, and you’d need to start off the dry season with 21,500 gallons of water stored.

There’s probably no way you could collect that much water during the shorter rainy season in this hypothetical alternate location, so like it or not, you’ll need a secondary water source right from the get-go in such cases.

One last point, if we may.  If you’re in a water scarce scenario, all other buildings on your property should also collect the water off their roofs too.  If you have a tool shed/workshop, an animal shed/barn, or whatever else, these could potentially double or more the rain you can collect.  And here’s the strange outcome of that.  If you are collecting twice as much rain, you don’t need as much storage.

May 132012
 

Initially it will be ‘other people’ and ‘bad people’ rioting and looting. But within a week or two, it will be your neighbors, too.

We came across an interesting article on a survivalist blog.  The writer said he believed that too many people are being too negative in terms of their projections about what will happen after TEOTWAWKI.

This writer spoke about his belief in the basic goodness of the American people, and offered up various high-minded platitudes to this effect.  As well as platitudes, he also described in some detail a scenario that he believed would apply.

Basically, it was the ‘neighborhood watch on steroids’ concept, where the residents in a neighborhood all banded together to defend themselves against roving gangs of looters and rioters.

A mean-minded person would point out that his reference to roving gangs of goblins already acknowledged that cities would become lawless to a greater or lesser extent.  But let’s not score points through rhetoric, and let’s concentrate instead on the viability of smaller neighborhood communities managing to keep law and order within their own cul-de-sac or apartment complex or gated community or whatever.

He added the comment ‘around where I live, there are more rifles than people’; that may or may not be true about where you live, but it doesn’t really matter and obscures an appreciation of the issues that do matter.

Let’s simply agree with this optimistic view of the future – that you and your neighbors have lots of weapons, are decent honest people, and you all effectively band together harmoniously and create your own micro-community and safe zone, keeping the goblins away.

Bravo.

But….

What happens next?

By this we simply mean, what happens when food starts to run low in your little micro-community? We see three breakdown events occurring in the days after the creation of your neighborhood cooperative.

First Breakdown

The first level of breakdown will be when your tiny self-defense cooperative is first formed.  What’s the betting that part of the deal will be the organizers saying ‘We need to join together and pool our resources for our shared common good’.  Now that all sounds fine and dandy when they’re saying ‘We all need to take turns watching out for raiders and repelling them’ but the chances they are also saying ‘And let’s pool all our food and other survival resources’.

So right from day one, you’ll be under pressure from your fellow law-abiding neighbors to share away everything you have to help them.  In return for this, they are offering additional security – ostensibly from others outside your neighborhood, but the unwritten unstated ugliness is you’re also getting security from them, too.

However, let’s say this is not a problem.  Maybe you are all equally prepared, so redistribution of all your supplies has little effect.

Second Breakdown

But now for stage two.  Some people in your community have strangely used up their share of the pooled community supplies much faster than others.  Are they secretly hoarding food?  Eating twice as much as anyone else?  Or just being wasteful?  Whatever the cause, your community and you now have your second social crisis.  Do you reward these people’s bad behavior and give them more food – especially because, at this point, everyone’s supplies are now diminishing.

With any measure of remaining civilization, this is almost certainly what will happen, because not only will some people be lobbying for more food, half the other people will also be looking ahead to the point where they too will be needing support from anyone who still has surplus food.  So they’ll support the concept of daily redistributions of food based on need, because they see themselves becoming net beneficiaries of the policy, too.  A bit like taxing a few wealthy people to feed the many poor people, right?

Besides which, while you might have had to shoot at and maybe even hit looters attempting to attack your community, they have all been strangers at a distance, and there’s been a life or death, them or us, element to the encounter.  But are you to let one of your neighbors starve in front of you?  And will they just passively starve while you continue to eat, or will they fight you to get your food?

The outcome of this second breakdown is almost certain – you give up still more of your own prepared supplies in exchange for a little bit more peace and safety within your community.

Third Breakdown

Now for stage three, and this is the point where we feel we must surely ‘win’ the argument (we use quotes, because we wish we were wrong, but we fear we are right).

You’re now at the point where everyone in your community group has exhausted their food supplies.  What do you do now?

Your choices are starkly simple.  You stay where you are, and slowly starve to death, or alternatively, you do whatever it takes to get additional food for your friends, your families, and yourselves.

This is the point where all community members, of all communities, have no choice but to become ‘lawless looters’ – except that it won’t just be empty stores you’ll be smashing into to steal food from.  The stores will already have been emptied, days or weeks ago.  The only places where you can get food now are places where people still have food and are protecting their food from people like – yes, from people like you.

What do you do when your polite request for a gift of food is rebuffed?  What do you do after you’ve offered to pay them with money, with valuables, with anything at all they care to ask for, and they’ve still refused to sell/exchange even a single food item?

Most people will manage to become morally outraged at this, and so will then see what happens next not as their own transition to a lawless looter, but instead, they’ll see themselves as morally empowered to fairly redistribute the remaining food and to stop selfish people from illegally hoarding more food than they could ever truly need.

These people will not see themselves as killing the current lawful owners of whatever food remains.  They’ll see themselves saving the lives of many others when they secure the food and redistribute it.

Indeed, what passes for the remaining lawful authorities will probably pass urgent laws making it illegal to keep more than a day or two of food in one’s house, requiring ‘hoarders’ to give up their food, and authorizing any necessary level of force to take it from these demon selfish ‘hoarders’.  (Do we need to add that the people passing such laws are very unlikely to be preppers?)

The Life or Death Question That Has Only One Answer

We agree with the person who wrote the positive heartwarming article.  Many communities will band together to create isolated pockets of safety where the rule of law prevails.  Maybe even entire towns and cities will do so.

But what happens when the food runs out?  Let’s assume there’s less than a week of food for the community.  Maybe on half rations, that will keep people reasonably healthy and comfortable for two weeks.  But if there’s no clear sign of food resupply coming any time soon, at some point people will be forced to choose between taking food by force from wherever they can find it, or passively dying of starvation in their dwellings.

A starving person has no choice – they have to do whatever it takes to find food.

How Fast Will the Collapse Occur

Probably the total collapse of society doesn’t occur instantly.  Depending on the nature of the Level 2/3 event, it may take some days or even weeks for a clear understanding of the changed world to be broadly accepted.

Maybe the authorities will succeed in maintaining order to start with.  But police and national guardsmen have to eat, too, and so do their families.  This sets in place another no-win situation.  Either the security forces are given food while the rest of the population starves, or else the security forces starve alongside the population as a whole.

In the former case, the alienation between the communities and the security forces will grow to the point where ordinary people will no longer feel inhibited at revolting against uniformed officers with guns and badges.  In the latter case, the security forces won’t hesitate too long to join in the lawlessness themselves, because if they don’t, they’ll die.

Things might slowly decay over the course of a week or two – maybe even three or four, but if populations can’t eat lawfully, they’ll do whatever it takes to get food, any way they can.

And because of the very nature of cities and our country today, there is no way that urban concentrations can become self-supporting.  Some cities have a million or more people, and little or no food growing resources within 100 miles.

Do you know how much food a typical person needs to eat every day?  Let’s say, on low rations, they need half a pound of solids (plus lots of water).  That is 500,000 lbs of solids every day – 250 tons of food a day to support a million people.  Where will 250 tons of food a day come from?

People can’t start planting gardens today and harvesting enough food to live tomorrow.  Apartment dwellers can’t do it at all.  People with yards would need seed, fertilizer, and patience – what say the Level 2/3 event comes just after the end of a growing season, with perhaps 200 non-growing days now to wait through before seed can be sown and crops started?

Without the promise of adequate resupplies of food, there is no avoiding this outcome.  Level 3 events, by definition, imply no resupply for over a year, Level 2 events for somewhere between some weeks and a year or so.

The collapse will come, at a rate determined by the remaining supply of food and the certainty of future resupply.  The cities will become totally lawless and anarchistic, and the former city dwellers will necessarily stream out from the cities in their essential quest for food.

These people will stop only when they find food or die.

What You Must Do

Prepping for a Level 2 or 3 event must start from the decision that you will abandon your urban residence and flee to a safer retreat, far from urban concentrations of people.

Stockpiling food in an urban location will only result in it being taken from you and you finding yourself no better equipped to survive than the unprepared people all around you.

You must develop a plan to leave the city and to live in a place where you have stockpiled food and where you can transition to a self-contained and sustainable lifestyle.  City living does not, will not, and can not allow for this.

Are We Being Too Optimistic?

You might think this article is negative – perhaps even too negative.  So please now consider reading an article based on comments from a veteran police officer, but if you don’t have the time to read the entire article, its title will give you a clue as to what it says :  Cities Will Collapse Even Sooner Than We Fear.

May 122012
 

Why limit yourself to small floatplanes. The updated G-111 Grumman Albatross can hold up to 28 passengers and three crew.

We received several emails from readers – and pilots – commenting on and asking questions about our earlier article recommending a floatplane as a bug-out vehicle.

It was not and is not our intention to fully explain all issues of owning and flying a plane to non-pilots as part of what was a 1600 word article – there’s just way too much complexity.  Our intention was/is to point out the key issues and to encourage you to further research an option you may not have otherwise considered.

We did feel it a bit unfair to be accused of failing to point out several downsides to relying on a plane, when they were indeed specifically mentioned in the article (such as, for example, the possible loss of GPS as a navaid).  Hey guys – read the articles before you criticize them for not including things that actually are in them!

Anyway, the article drew a lot of interest, so we are pleased to provide some more introduction to this topic.  Here are some more comments in a further 2800 words of content.  If you haven’t already, perhaps you should read our original article first, then come back here for some additional considerations.

1.  Location Issues

The big concern we all have in a bug-out situation is getting stuck in an increasingly insecure and dangerous mess of traffic along with everyone else leaving our urban area, fleeing whatever Level 2 or 3 disaster it is that is causing the exodus.

In this article, we look carefully at the risk of getting stuck in a mass exodus of traffic, and actually conclude that such a risk is minor rather than substantial.  But just because a risk is minor does not mean it is not still present.

From the risk-averse perspective of continuing to be concerned about being stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, the ability to fly over the top of the stalled traffic, cruising at 150 mph in the uncongested sky while people below are inching along in stop and go, bumper to bumper traffic sure sounds wonderful, in theory.

But there are some challenges that will affect some people more than others.  The first is getting to your plane in the area you live, and being able to fly it out of the region.

If you have a regular plane, this assumes that the airport the plane is housed at is reasonably accessible to you, and it further assumes there is a cooperative air traffic control system still in place, or, failing that, at least a clear taxiway and runway that you can get to in your plane to take off.

More assumptions – some survivalist blogs have posted comments from people saying that if something goes seriously wrong, they’ll simply head to the airport and steal the first plane they can get their hands on.  What happens if that is your plane?  You are assuming that your plane will be waiting for you, and in flyable condition.  What say the event that forces your evacuation has impacted on the airport, and the planes there?

This of course is part of the reason we like float planes.  They can be discreetly moored or garaged on the shore of pretty much any lake with enough straight-line distance to take-off; or on the side of the ocean, or sometimes even on a stretch of river or reservoir.  The people who think of stealing a plane at an airport are less likely to know about your plane on a lake (assuming it is discreetly stored) and also fewer people know how to fly float planes than know how to fly regular planes.

1.1  Destination Location Issues

You don’t need to be able to fly right up to your retreat’s front door – although for sure that would be ideal.  The bug-out plane flight can be limited to merely getting you out of the major urban area you need to leave, and over the top of any other urban zones or other obstacles on the way.

As long as you have some pre-positioned vehicles, or an ultra-reliable person who can and will for sure be there to meet you, you can fly to pretty much anywhere that achieves the objectives in the previous paragraph (another reason for needing good long-distance radio comms).

We are assuming that your retreat will be at least 100 miles from major population centers and some distance from smaller towns and definitely removed from major roads and routes.

Make sure that wherever you do land is located so there are no remaining potential obstacles in your path to your ultimate destination.  Obstacles could be other major population centers, or the need to cross over freeways or other routes that will be quickly filled with refugees from cities (not just the city you are leaving behind, maybe from other cities too – possibly even traveling in the opposite direction).

If you are making one single trip and are happy to then discard the plane, particularly in response to a Level 3 event, you can probably fly to anywhere that has suitable area to land, no matter whether it be a restricted area such as a reservoir or something or not.  If you’re just going to be landing, getting out of the plane, transferring immediately to waiting vehicles, then driving away, by the time any local officials have responded to your flight, you’ll be already gone.  But if you don’t want to completely ‘burn your bridges’ and if you also want to be able to do some practice runs, you’ll need to be a bit more sensitive to where you legally can and can’t land your plane.

2.  Getting to Your Plane

Wherever your plane is, it is reasonable to anticipate a moderately worst case scenario that all the roads will be jammed, in all directions.  Unless you live extremely close to your plane, getting to your plane could be difficult.

Our recommendation, for what is probably a short journey, is to consider a bicycle, a powered bicycle, or a motorbike.  Being as how the airplane is limiting the amount of stuff you can take with you when you fly out of your urban area, the inability to load up a car full of gear is not so relevant.

On the other hand, your journey to where your plane is located may take you further in to the center of the urban area, and possibly through areas with rioting and looting.  You’re vulnerable as one or two people on an open bike, whereas at least in a regular vehicle you have some more protection against casual violence by bystanders.

Again, a plus for floatplanes is if you live in an area with several different lakes to choose from.

3.  How Large a Lake or Other Body of Water Is Needed

This depends a bit on the type of float plane you would fly, the altitude the body of water is at, the temperature, wind and water conditions and how fully loaded the plane would be.

It also depends on what is directly in front of you after taking off.  If there are any nearby vertical obstructions (buildings, hills, whatever) you not only need to be able to take-off but also to gain enough altitude to fly over the top of these obstructions, or to have enough room to do a gentle turn away from them towards a clearer direction to gain altitude.

Best case scenario, you should hope for about a half mile of straight water.  Some planes can take off in less space, others may require more.

The same issues also apply to the amount of straight-line water you’ll need to land, although landing generally requires less distance than taking off.

Note that higher temperatures and elevations require longer distances, as of course do more fully laden planes.  Tail winds are very bad, head winds are good, and water conditions are best with a slight ripple, but not large waves and also not glassy smooth conditions.

In a river, it is great to take off down-river, and slightly better to land up-river.

4.  Float Planes May Have Lower Load Limits and Shorter Range

The floats probably weigh more than a conventional undercarriage for a plane, so be sure, when checking out plane options, that you’re understanding the specifications for a float-fitted plane rather than a conventional version of the same model plane.

Lower load limits mean not just fewer passengers and less stuff, but perhaps also less fuel, which means less range.  And while we don’t have exact figures at hand, we’ll guess that floats are slightly less aerodynamic and may cause the plane to burn fuel slightly faster during the cruise portion of flight, due to greater wind resistance.

With each pound of load capacity being greatly needed, either for people, things, or fuel, this might also give you and anyone else flying with you the inducement you need to lose a little weight.  In a light plane, each pound you lose allows you to add enough extra fuel to extend the plane’s range by 5 – 10 miles.

5.  Navigational Issues

Many Level 2/3 scenarios might include the disabling of some or all of the common navigational aids that pilots rely upon to work out where they are and where they are going, and so you should plan on being able to get where you need to go using nothing more than a compass, paper map, and timer.

Needless to say, you can’t stop and ask for directions when flying a plane, and if you’re planning on using nearly all your fuel to get where you need to go, you can’t afford to waste any fuel by unnecessary flying around or low-altitude flying, trying to recognize land-marks.

You’ll of course need to practice flying the route using only compass, map and timer, several times.  With the wonderful nature of modern navaids (VOR, ADF, and especially moving map type GPS units) these traditional navigational skills have been largely overlooked by many of us.

It also goes without saying that almost certainly, the place you’ll choose to land at your destination doesn’t have modern airport landing aids – neither ILS or even VASI type aids.

This also leads to the next point.

6.  Weather and Time Issues

Essentially you’ll need to be flying in some type of modified VFR type scenario, primarily due to the possible need to navigate visually.

You could do this by going above the clouds, flying on a certain heading for a certain time, then popping down below the clouds for a quick look-see and adjustment from time to time, of course.

Float planes are more weather sensitive, when taking off and landing, than regular planes on regular runways.

Your biggest concern is probably the weather and light conditions at your destination, because even though you might have back-up landing locations, you almost certainly don’t have any personal support resources (ie vehicles) at these backup locations, and in a SHTF type situation, you might have no way of getting any weather reports relating to your destination before heading to it.

The likely need for visual navigation, and the challenges of landing on a lake, probably mean that most of your traveling, and particularly the final part of it, will need to be done in the daytime.  This might force you to spend some number of additional uncomfortable and dangerous hours staying in the urban concentration before you can leave.

7.  Multiple Trips to Evacuate Multiple People

A possibility is to consider making more than one trip to evacuate your group members.  If you have a four seater plane, this means you can take yourself and three others in one flight – four altogether.  If you could return, you could then load another three people for a second flight, making a total of seven.  With a six seater, this would allow for 11 people in two flights.

In such a case, you need to consider where you choose as your destination.  It doesn’t need to be as close as possible to your retreat – although the closer to your ultimate destination, the better.  It just needs to be safely far away (in terms of both distance and leadtime) from the exodus of other people leaving the city.

If you choose a point 100 air miles away, that might be 120 road miles, and might take you just under an hour from climbing onboard the plane to getting off it at the other end (cruising at 120 mph, slower on the climb, and time to taxi in and out).  Flying back to get a second load of passengers would take you maybe another two hours for the roundtrip, perhaps a little less (and assuming no need to refuel in the middle).

Add perhaps 30 minutes to get to your plane from your residence, and so in total, your group would be all able to leave the far away location 3 1/2 hours after you started your evacuation.  But that same 3 1/2 hours also gives plenty of time for the first elements of any exodus of people in regular cars to be at the same place.

A 100 mile flight is fine if you make it only once, but if you need to go back, it is better to fly further, or to a point that will not require you to then travel overland via a major arterial evacuation route.

A location 150 miles away (say 180 road miles) would take you about 4 3/4 hours or so from when you leave your house to when the plane returns with the second load.  There would be many fewer vehicles at that same distance – some will have turned off, some will have run out of gas, and only the very early ‘advance guard’ of people will be driving by at that point, and perhaps due to their ‘success’ they’ll not be such potential threats.

A 200 mile distance (240 road miles) is probably getting close to the safe range of your plane on a single tank of fuel ( ie 600 flying miles, plus three take-offs and climbs to cruising altitude).  This would be a 6 hour total maneuver.

Of course, if two trips are good, are three trips better?  If four seats are good and six seats better, how about eight, ten, twelve or more seats?  It is hard to decide where to draw the line, which brings us to one of the key constraints.

If you were making multiple trips to collect members of your group, this opens up another possibility.  There’s no reason why you have to return to the same location to load more people each time.  Maybe you go to a different place to collect other people, and maybe you even become a glorified bus, making multiple stops for different people in locations that work for each person.

It also means, assuming you have radio communications, that you can vary the pickup location based on where the people you are collecting can get to, based on traffic and weather conditions, etc.

Keep in mind that sooner or later, if you’re doing multiple runs, you’ll probably need to refuel your plane.  This would be preferably done at the distant location, which is more likely to be more secure.

At the close-in location to the city, you have too many uncontrolled variables that might impact on your security and safety.  You’ll want to be able to swoop in, land, quickly load your passengers, and then leave again before any local people have formed into a group and come to commandeer your plane or to say ‘You can’t do that here’ or whatever other form of interference they may choose to mount.

8.  Cost

It should go without saying that flying is far from the lowest cost way of traveling to your retreat.  You need to buy a plane, and then you have all the ongoing costs of keeping it maintained, insured, and hangared.  You also need vehicles to get you to your plane – vehicles that will of course then be abandoned, and other vehicles to get you from your plane to your retreat – vehicles that are in addition to the vehicles you own and normally drive in the city.

Depending on the size of your family group, your plane, and the feasibility of doing two (or more) trips to bring more people with you, it might be possible to share the costs of a plane with other people, making it more affordable.

This might also remove you from the need to get a pilot’s license and to get type rated for a float plane.  If someone else in the group can do the flying, so much the better for you.

This is something where the Code Green Community may be able to help.  Contact us if this is something you’d like to participate in.

An Alternative Type of Plane

Please also visit our article on a Flying Car for a compromise vehicle that can be both flown and driven.

Apr 292012
 

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

Where should your retreat be based?

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

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

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

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

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

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

1  Utah

2  South Dakota

3  Virginia

4  Wyoming

5  Idaho

6  Colorado

7  North Dakota

8  Tennessee

9  Missouri

10  Florida

And the ten worst states?  They are :

41  Pennsylvania

42  Rhode Island

43  Oregon

44  Illinois

45  New Jersey

46  Hawaii

47  California

48  Maine

49  Vermont

50  New York

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