Jun 202014
 
The lighter the shading, the less corrupt the state.

The lighter the shading, the less corrupt the state.

Here’s a dry-as-dust academic article that basically says that the ten most corrupt states in the US spent about $1300 per state resident more in government monies each year, perhaps as a result of that corruption.

It is unsurprising that corrupt states overspend public money.  And, of course, we’d all probably prefer to live in an ‘honest’ state.

There’s one reason in particular why we feel that honest states are important for us as preppers – if/when we have a major Level 2/3 situation occur, we suggest that the more honest the state, the (slightly) less likely there will be an orchestrated public taking of private property (ie of our supplies) and the greater the respect for pre-existing rules of law and private property rights.

A huge problem is how do you measure corruption?  Endemic corruption usually occurs in regions where laws are poorly enforced, and where courts are unlikely to impose severe punishments.

This report measures a wide array of convicted crimes by officials : accepting bribes, awarding government contracts to vendors without competitive bidding, accepting kickbacks from private entities engaged in or pursuing business with the government, overstating travel expenses or hours worked, selling information on criminal histories and law enforcement information to private companies, mail fraud, using government credit cards for personal purchases, sexual misconduct, falsifying official documents, theft of government computer equipment for an international computer piracy group, extortion, robbery, and soliciting bribes by police officers, possession with intent to distribute narcotics, and smuggling illegal aliens.

We can only guess if the levels of convictions matches the underlying level of actual active corruption.  But, if we assume there is at least some weak correlation between the two, it is interesting to see how the states match up.  Unfortunately, although the article ranks the states from least to most corrupt, it provides no data as to how much difference in perceived corruption levels there is between the most and least corrupt states.

It also makes no attempt to get more finely focused than state-wide data.  If you think of some states, there may be some corrupt big cities and also some stalwartly honest smaller towns and rural counties.

Data has been obtained from convictions between 1976 – 2008.

So, use this data with a grain of salt.  But, as always, it provides another small hint as to better and worse places to choose to base your future retreat.

States Ranked from Least to Most Corrupt

1 Oregon 26 Hawaii
2 Washington 27 Rhode Island
3 Minnesota 28 Maryland
4 Nebraska 29 Delaware
5 Iowa 30 New Jersey
6 Vermont 31 Georgia
7 Utah 32 West Virginia
8 New Hampshire 33 Montana
9 Colorado 34 Virginia
10 Kansas 35 Missouri
11 Wisconsin 36 South Carolina
12 Wyoming 37 North Dakota
13 Idaho 38 Ohio
14 Michigan 39 New York
15 North Carolina 40 Oklahoma
16 Indiana 41 Florida
17 Arizona 42 Kentucky
18 Maine 43 South Dakota
19 Texas 44 Alaska
20 Nevada 45 Alabama
21 Arkansas 46 Pennsylvania
22 California 47 Illinois
23 New Mexico 48 Tennessee
24 Connecticut 49 Louisiana
25 Massachusetts 50 Mississippi

 

It is interesting to see the major difference in rating between Idaho (a good rating of 13th) and adjoining Montana, with a disappointing placing of 33rd.

But, and as we said before, these numbers are dubious rather than definite.

Jun 182014
 
A freestanding device such as this allows you to conveniently convert any regular toilet for use by someone with mobility impairments.

A freestanding device such as this allows you to conveniently convert any regular toilet for use by someone with mobility impairments.

When we consider living at our retreat after TEOTWAWKI, we probably have a semi-heroic vision of ourselves and our fellow community members acting as modern-day Robinson Crusoes, struggling – successfully – against the various problems we expectedly and unexpectedly encounter in the very changed world that we suddenly find ourselves in.

Let’s hope that’s the way things happen.

But we must also realize that there’s every good chance that this vision is likely to be subject to some major changes due to all manner of unexpected and semi-random events, and the key part of being a prudent prepper is to try and identify and anticipate as many of these unexpected events as possible, and to have solutions in place for them.  I’ve just now had such an event occur personally, and so am sharing the lessons I’m now learning at considerable cost and inconvenience with you in the hope your own future won’t be as impacted as mine has been.

I’ve lived for over half a century.  During that time, each ski season, and occasionally at other times of year too, I’ve seen people in various casts and other devices, clearly recovering from various sprained/fractured/broken bones.  And, of course, from time to time, I see people in wheelchairs too.  But – and I’m embarrassed to make this confession – I’d never really ever expected such a misfortune to happen to me.

The how and why of it doesn’t matter, but suffice it to say that I now find myself massively ‘mobility impaired’ and expect to remain that way for an extended time into the future.  It has been an interesting experience at every step along the way, and I’ve been wondering as to how many of the issues and needs experienced could/would be handled in the future, right from the first step of calling 911 from my cell phone and having seven paramedics attend (okay, so they probably could have managed with three or four, but it demonstrated, yet again, why you need your retreat to be part of a broader community of like-minded folk who you can turn to when needed in emergencies such as this).

I’m also wondering how any future medical center can operate without an X-ray machine.  That’s a topic for another time, but yes, you can buy used X-ray machines on eBay!

The chances of members of your retreat community experiencing all manner of different injuries is much greater than you might expect.  WTSHTF, you’ll all find yourselves suddenly in a somewhat unfamiliar environment, and for many of you, your life which prior to then may have been fairly sedentary and ‘safe’ will now involve much greater degrees of exercise and physical stress, creating lots of unexpected nasty ways for accidents to happen.

Note also that accidents need not involve machinery and such awful things as attacking yourself with a runaway chainsaw.  Accidents can also happen from simple things like slipping/falling on an icy pathway, or doing something else which on the face of it seems totally safe and commonplace, but which ends up going unexpectedly wrong (and when you’re physically fatigued, the chances of all such misadventures greatly increase).  Falling off a bicycle (or horse), or possibly combat wounds of any and all types – whatever it might be, there are an abundant series of ways in which your life could suddenly change.

Indeed, at present, in our ‘normal’ world, one out of three adults over the age of 65 experiences a fall each year, and falls are the leading cause of injury to people in this age group.

The point of this article is to urge you to design your retreat structure and immediately surrounding exterior access-ways so as to be convenient for people who are or who may become disabled in some form or another.  Fortunately, the basics of this can be covered simply and with little hassle, particularly if in the planning stages of your retreat.

The key requirements are to have a living area that has no steps in any part of it, a bathroom that is also disabled friendly, and dimensions for doorways and corridors that allow for wheelchair access.  Maybe you have a multi-level retreat structure (indeed, we recommend you should) but you need to ensure that a person can reasonably live for an extended time while only on one level.  At its most simplistic, that means having a bathroom on every level, and some space that can do duty as a living/sleeping area.  This is particularly valuable on the lowest level, making it easiest for any injured person to enter and exit the retreat, either for the purpose of visiting nearby healthcare services or in the case of any sort of emergency.

One more thought about location.  The chances are your retreat will not have a lot of spare manpower, and so you might want to think about the type of tasks that people suffering various forms of injury and mobility impairment can conduct, and design/locate such task spaces to make them conveniently accessible as a result.

Outside your retreat, if you have steps leading up/down to your entry-way, you should either supplement them with a ramp or alternatively, have hand rails – ideally on both sides of the steps.  Maybe you don’t want the handrails as permanent fixtures, but at least have mounting points for posts and rails to be added if/when the need arises.

The Terrible Barrier that even a Small Step Poses

Maybe you’re the kind of person who bounds up half a dozen flights of stairs, taking them two at a time, and not needing to pause to catch your breath at the top.  Maybe instead, you take stairs easily and slowly, and can manage to go between floors but with a certain amount of exertion and exhaustion.

But no matter how hard you find it to go up or down a typical 14/15 step flight of stairs, you have no inkling of how difficult even a one inch rise becomes to the mobility impaired.

Yes, read that again and remember it.  Even a one inch rise becomes an appreciable barrier to someone in a wheelchair, and much more than two or three inches becomes a challenge for a person using a walker or crutches.

You need to have a core part of your retreat with no rises/falls at all.

One more thing about stairs.  Make sure all stairs have handrails, ideally on both sides.  In addition – and this is something you’ll only appreciate when you’re trying to struggle up them on one leg and crutches – it is very helpful to have extensions on the handrails beyond the top of each flight of stairs, so a person climbing up the stairs can still reach forward for support, even when about to go from the last stair in the flight to the landing beyond.

Designing for a Wheelchair

A typical wheelchair is specified as being 26″ wide, but there are of course variations, and while you’ll not have problems with fitting narrower wheelchairs into wider spaces, if for some reason you end up with a wider chair, then you may be creating more issues than the extra width is worth to you.

It is ‘good practice’ to look for doorway openings of at least 32″ to accommodate a wheelchair that is able to go directly through the door, and 36″ wide if the wheelchair has to do some turning or go through on an angle.  Many interior doors are 30″ wide, and that’s okay in a pinch, but in such cases, be careful of what the true net width of the doorway is.  If the door itself can not fully swing almost 180 degrees, then the width of the door will reduce the effective width of the door frame, and if there is any type of fascia/strip around the door frame, that might narrow down the actual effective width too.

Strangely, it is far from uncommon to see bathrooms with narrower doorways, often only 24″ wide.  You clearly can’t fit a 26″ wide wheelchair through a 24″ doorway and will need to remodel at least one bathroom for a wider entrance.  Frame walkers will generally not exceed 24″ in width, but sometimes you might need to swap the wheels from being on the outside of the legs to the inside to get them to conform to that width.  Generally the broader/wider the walker base, the more stable it is, so only do this if necessary.

In confined rooms (again, most commonly bathrooms) the swept area the door covers as it swings open and shut might be a concern as well.  Make sure the door can be opened and closed by a wheelchair-bound person, and that they can move around the room as needed while the door is opening and closing.

If you are designing wheelchair ramps, you should probably build them out of concrete, because this gives you simultaneously the most permanent and long-lasting material and also one with good non-slip properties.  Wooden ramps would likely be short-lived, higher maintenance, and slippery when wet.

The official ADA specification for wheelchair ramps (which does not apply to private dwellings) is for a slope/rise of no more than one inch per foot of length (ie 1:12) and a maximum length before a rest/level area of 30 ft.  You could use a slightly steeper rise if you needed to, up to as much as 2:12, particularly if the person in the wheelchair can be sure to have someone assisting them.

A standard wheelchair is 42″ long from the back of the rear wheels to the front of the footrests, and you should allow another 6″ or so in front of that for your full foot.  Lap height is about 27″ and the arms are at about 30″, while the seat is 19″.

Bathrooms and Toilets

Much of your dwelling can ignore accessibility issues if necessary, as long as you realize that doing so may make such areas into ‘no go’ areas when/while a person becomes mobility impaired.  An example of such optional areas could be the laundry room, storage and utility rooms, and even functional rooms such as kitchens (as long as there are other people to do the cooking).

But one room that will be essential is a bathroom/toilet.  You can design toilets right from the get-go to be accessible, which basically means giving them a higher seat height and support rails alongside, but there’s another approach that might also be worth considering – getting a toilet seat on a frame that stands around/over a normal toilet and which can be positioned in place as, when and if needed.

This can also be a dual purpose device that can be a portable commode as well as a toilet seat extender.  Amazon have plenty to choose from; indeed, I’ve been using Amazon as a primary supplier for much/most of the various things I’ve needed during my present situation.  Amazingly, some seemingly very common medical supplies have proven either to be totally unavailable locally or else stocked only in such limited supply (and great cost) as to be impractical, whereas Amazon and their two-day delivery has reliably arranged for bulk supplies of everything I’ve needed.

If/when the person’s injury allows them to shower, a walk-in/wheel-in shower is a wonderful thing, or, failing that, some type of shower seat would be necessary for them to sit on.  Needless to say, you’ll want all bathroom surfaces to be as non-slip as possible, particularly when wet either with water or condensation.  Small bathrooms are better than big ones, because you can put support rails all the way around and the affected person is therefore always close to solid stable support as they move around the room.

Aids, Devices and Supplies

Talking about bulk supplies, the chances are your first aid kit has all the ‘usual stuff’ in it, but how much of such things do you actually have?  Maybe you have a dozen gauze bandages, maybe more.

To put things in context, during the course of three weeks I used up 168 rolls of gauze, each measuring 4″ wide by 4 yards long – that’s over 1/3 of a mile of 4″ gauze, for dressing a single set of wounds.  I’m sure that I could have made do with less, but go count your rolls of gauze in your medical supply lockers and the chances are you’ll appreciate that whatever supply you have will become inadequate after only one or two unfortunate events.

Oh yes, and in among the rest of your meds, do you have a generous supply of laxatives?  Not a ‘nice’ topic to talk about, but an essential one for someone who becomes practically bed-bound, and all the more so with many of the likely meds they might be taking having a strong constipative side effect.  Currently, our strong recommendation is for Mira-lax or a generic equivalent.  We’ll spare you the details, but trust us.  It works much better than many of the sennosides based products.

Do you also have a pair of crutches in your medical locker?  A walker?  A wheelchair?  Other assistive devices and mobility aids?

The good news is that a lot of this type of gear is remarkably inexpensive when purchased from Craigslist or local charities who recycle such things.  Even a reasonable wheelchair can be yours for perhaps as little as $50.  On the other hand, brand new gear on Amazon is also often very affordable – for example, not only the commodes mentioned above, but pairs of crutches for under $30, and at those sorts of price points, maybe it is better to get new rather than used.

You know that new gear is reasonably sterile, and you know that it still has a decent amount of life and use ahead of it, whereas some second-hand gear such as walkers get increasingly wobbly and less secure, the more they are used.

Depending on where and how you expect your community members to live while afflicted with a disability (and with reduced access to any type of medical care, disabilities are not only more likely, but are also likely to be more impactful and longer lasting) you might need to add extra things such as grab rails in strategic locations around showers and beds, and perhaps it might be best to keep an inventory of such things uninstalled, and then add them to locations as may be indicated.  Ummm – do we need to point out that towel rails are not load bearing structures and will rip out of the wall with only a very slight amount of force being placed on them.

Talking about such things, there are also devices such as transfer boards to make it easier to move from one thing to another, and Hoyer lifts to help people get in and out of bed.

A further word of advice.  Some of these things are of course manufactured to different weight limits.  Maybe no-one in your retreat weighs over 200 lbs, so you think you’ll never need anything with a weight capacity over 250lbs?  Not necessarily so.  We know people who have put on well over 100 lbs of extra weight as a result of an extended period of forced inactivity.

This is also a further reason to buy new rather than used.  You have no knowledge of the history of anything you buy used, and for all you know, it may have been massively overstressed in the past and be about to fail after only a slight amount of very gentle additional use.

Summary

Some people plan for an uncertain future as if it will be little more than a slightly fun adventure.  The reality is and will be much grimmer, and in some form or another, there is a dismayingly high probability that some members of your community will experience injuries that will impair their mobility, possibly for extended time periods, and which will require assistive devices and appropriate design of your retreat.

Plan for it now so you’ll be prepared for it when it happens.

Jun 172014
 
Another tool in your retreat site selection process.

Another tool in your retreat site selection process.

Most of us have a preconceived view that some states are ‘better’ than others and more suitable for people wishing to experience a prepared lifestyle.  The American Redoubt region in particular seems to be considered by many as an ideal region, but that contains a handful of states and many counties and regions.

Here’s a rather simplistic webpage that allows you to answer seven questions with yes/no/not applicable as answers, and to select a possible state you are considering living within.  From that limited data, it then reports the five towns which have their population believed to most closely match your own opinions.

The information comes from, ironically enough, a company that specializes in helping Democratic causes and campaigns.

Needless to say, there’s a great deal more to consider than the seven yes/no/don’t care questions asked by this program, but it is interesting to see where the resulting clusters of people ‘most like you’ end up being located within your preferred states.

For example, we’d have expected our answers to suggest moving to northern Idaho but the townships returned were all in southern Idaho.  In Montana, there was a preference for eastern Montana whereas we’d otherwise look to north/western Montana.

There’s of course another use for this web page/mapping.  Put in the opposite answers and see the places in your preferred state you might wish to avoid!

May 102014
 
Chances are you'll end up choosing to cover most, if not all your roof with solar panels.

Chances are you’ll end up choosing to cover most, if not all your roof with solar panels.

This is a further part of our series on solar energy.  Please also visit our sections on energy in general and solar energy in particular for more related articles.

What makes a roof better or less suited for having solar panels mounted on it?  How should you design a new retreat structure, and/or, if looking at buying an existing dwelling, how do you know if it is optimized for solar?

Answering these questions is reasonably straightforward.  To start with, if you are looking at buying an existing retreat structure, it absolutely must have a southerly facing roof and an unobstructed view of the southern sky from directly south to about 75° either side of directly south.  You don’t need a full 180° of clearance, but anything much less than 75° either side of south means you’ll start losing some morning or evening sun.

Ideally the roof should have a fairly steep pitch on it.  The ideal angle for solar panels is to have them angled at the same number of degrees as the latitude the panels are at.  That means, if you’re in a northern state, you probably want to have a 45° angle, or even possibly slightly more.  If you think of a line between the two Portlands, the one in Oregon is at 45.5° N and the one in Maine is at 43.7° N, that gives you an intuitive feeling for your likely latitude, and remember that much of the Canadian border follows the 49th parallel, ie, 49° N.  To be more exact, you can instantly see any latitude anywhere from Google Earth and other mapping programs.

It is acceptable to have a somewhat flatter pitch (or a steeper pitch, but that’s less likely!), but once your pitch starts to be more than perhaps 15° away from your latitude, you’re going to start to feel a loss in solar energy production.  A 15° differential will cost you 3.5%, and the loss of power starts to quickly rise from that point forward.

If you are going to build your own retreat, choose a lot that will allow you to build with this southerly aspect, and design your roof for as close to your ideal pitch as is practical.  One thing is likely – you’ll be getting a lot of attic space that way!

Indeed, if you don’t have height restrictions, rather than having a typical ridge line roof with two equal roof sides rising to meet in the middle, why not consider a single sloping roof, going all the way up to the top.  This would give you a lot of extra space above your top level in your structure, and while this space would be facing to the north rather than south, it could surely be used for just about any normal purpose.

How Much Roof Area Do You Need?

Now, the next question becomes either ‘how much roof area do you need’ (if you’re designing a new dwelling) or ‘how much power can you get from the roof you have’ (if you’re buying an existing retreat structure.

The answer to both questions is very much ‘it depends’.  But there are some simple rules of thumb you can use.

At present, it seems that a typical solar panel measures about 39.13″ x 65.04″, and typically generates about 250W according to its official specification sheet.  Some panels will give you fewer watts for this panel size, and some higher priced ones will go up to 275W for the same size.

The panel is close to 18.35 sq ft in size.  So, divide 250W by 18.35 sq ft, and here’s a rule of thumb :  Ideally, with reasonably efficient solar cells in the panels, you can get about 13.5 watts of solar power per square foot of roof area.  If you make adjustments to allow for not every square inch of roof space being usable, and leaving some maintenance walkway space and such like, we’d probably suggest that for quick guesstimate calculations, you figure on 11 watts per square foot of roof.

A 250W panel, which seems to be about the sweet spot for price vs performance, will cost about $250 (plus the associated costs for wiring, installation, control systems, and so on).  This points to another rule of thumb – figure about $1 per watt of panel capacity, plus more to install, etc, the panels and power from them.

Remember that your total roof area will be greater than the footprint of your dwelling.  The slope means it has more length on it, and there is probably some overhang that adds to the roof dimensions too.  But remember also to deduct any parts of the roof that aren’t southerly facing – the ‘other side’ of a typical two-sided roof, the ‘hip’ sides of a hipped roof, and so on.  Also, if there are corners and sides to your roof, possibly the sides might shade the main south-facing roof portion, potentially almost halving the power production on areas that would be shaded.

You probably have a target amount of power generating capacity you would like for your retreat (see our article on ‘How Much Solar Power Generating Capacity Do You Need‘ for more discussion on this).  Multiply your roof square footage by 11, to see an approximate maximum generating capacity for your roof.  Is that above, below, or close to your target capacity?

If your roof clearly has more than enough space for the generating capacity you need/want, then you can relax, and proceed with all the other things to consider when evaluating current retreats or planning your own custom retreat.

If your roof is marginally close to meeting your power requirements, maybe you should calculate things more carefully.  In this case, we suggest the easiest thing to do is to get scissors and paper.  Cut out a large shape that represents the portion of your roof that is southerly facing.  Then cut out, to the same scale, the number of 250W panels you want to place on your roof (maybe, to make things quicker/easier, cut out larger shapes that represent strips of 2, 3, 4 panels).

Lay the panel shapes out on the roof shape.  Leave some aisles for you to walk along (or up and down) so that you can access your roof for maintenance (hopefully seldom) and cleaning (depending on where you live, cleaning will be a reasonably regular activity).  We suggest you allow about 2ft wide corridors, and you design things so you’re readily able to reach panels with a ‘window washing’ type extendable handled cleaning device (which indeed might be a window washer).  Maybe you can plan to reach out 9′ or so from where you are standing.  So that would allow for aisles every 18′ if you access the panels from both sides, and perhaps you’d want the first aisle 9′ from the edge of the roof.

We don’t know why, but we see very few roof installations that leave aisles to make it easy to access the panels, but we feel this to be essential.  It doesn’t take much dust or dirt or leaves or branches or bird poo or whatever to massively reduce a panel’s power output, so we believe regular panel cleaning is essential.  Perhaps the designs with no walk-ways assume that you’ll do the cleaning from a ladder or from the other side of the roof, and those are both possible options.  But if you’re like us, the easier something is to do, the more likely you are to do it, and so we’re keen to make this as easy as possible for us.

So, lay out the panels as best you can and see how many will fit.  The good news is the panels can be laid in either direction – long side horizontal (ie ‘landscape’) or long side vertical (ie ‘portrait’).  While it mightn’t look so nice aesthetically, you can even have a mix of different orientations, any way that will allow for best space utilization.

Measuring Roof Slope and True Roof Surface Area

If you can conveniently climb onto your roof and safely walk around on it, then the easiest thing to do is measure it directly.

But if this is not so practical, you’ll need to measure what you can on the ground and then adjust based on the roof slope for the actual roof surface area.

There are two typical ways of measuring roof slope.  One – less common in the US – is to talk about the angle of the roof slope.  The other is to talk about the slope in terms of units of vertical rise per so many units of horizontal run.

You probably know – or can easily measure – the horizontal length of the building footprint, and you also can probably measure the vertical rise.  It is also possible to measure the degrees of inclination with only some relatively simple tools, but for most of us it will be easier to measure the horizontal length and rise.

Let’s look at a worked example.  Say you have a roof that has a 30 foot ‘footprint’ – ie, it covers 30 ft of horizontal level floor.  It has a single ridge in the middle, and the rise from either end to the middle is 6 feet.

If you remember way back to your trigonometry days, you might remember Pythagoras’ Theorem for finding the length of the third side of a triangle.  The sum of the squares of the other two sides equals the square of the hypotenuse, right?  And in the case of your roof, you now know the two sides around the right angle (ie 6 feet for the rise and 15 ft for the horizontal length).  So

62 + 152 = 36 + 225 = 261, and √261 = 16.2

The roof length is 16.2 ft – not much more than the length on the ground in the case of what would be a fairly moderate slope on the roof.

Oh, and for the sake of completeness, if you do know the angle of the roof and the horizontal length to the ridge point, then you can calculate the roof length by the formula

Roof length = Horizontal length divided by the cosine of the angle.

For example, a roof with a 30 degree pitch and a 15 foot horizontal length to its ridge would have a length of

15/cos(30°) = 15/0.866 = 17.4 ft.

A Sample Calculation

Say you have a 1250 sq ft building footprint (perhaps 25′ x 50′).  Say you extend your roof one foot over this footprint for eaves/overhang (generally it is common to have greater overhang).  And you give the roof a 45° degree pitch.

Of course, you want the long side of the house to be facing south.

If you have a standard single ridged roof, with no hips, and if the roof is in equal halves about the central ridge, then the actual dimensions for each half will be 52′ long (the 50′ width plus an extra foot at each end) and the width will be 37.4′ (the 25 ft flat length becomes a 35.4 ft length on a 45° angle, plus an extra foot of overhang at each end).  But remember that only half of this is facing the sun, so in total, you have 972 sq ft of roof area facing the sun.

Now let’s allow for some maintenance aisles.  Should these lanes run along the roof, or up and down it?  We’re not sure which is better, you can decide.  But let’s simply, for now, set aside 20% of the gross area to leave you room for these aisles.  So your 972 sq ft of panel area has a net usable area of 778 sq ft.

We’d round that down a bit further and call it 750 sq ft.  Or, alternatively, because you are using real dimensions rather than trying to give a generic example, now is a good time to start mixing and matching the actual dimensions of panels to the space on your roof.

For this exercise, we randomly chose a fairly standard size panel, measuring 39.13″ x 65.04″, which we’ll call 40″ x 66″ for our calculation.  These panels are rated at about 250 watts, which means that each ten square inches of panel is giving you almost 1 watt, or, if you prefer, each square foot is giving you about 13.5 watts.

Now let’s first do a ‘perfect world’ calculation.  Our roof has 52′ x 18.7′ dimensions, or 624″ x 224″, which is 139,776 square inches.  Our panels are 2640 sq inches each, so in theory, we can somehow fit up to 52.9 panels on the roof.  If we do the quick rule of thumb and reduce that by 20% (for aisle-ways), that points to 42.4 panels, which we’ll round down to 42.

That suggests our roof can provide a maximum of 250W x 42 panels, = 10.5 kW of power.  That’s actually a reasonably good number for most retreats and most purposes.  These panels would cost about $9,500, plus extra for mounting accessories, mounting, wiring, and so on.

If you were keen to maximize the power from your roof, you could get slightly more efficient panels that generate 275 watts from the same surface area.  But these more efficient panels are also very much more expensive – your cost for 42 panels is likely to increase from about $9,500 up to about $14,600, while your power output will go from 10.5kW up to 11.55 kW.  You’re paying an extra $5,100 for 1 kW of extra generating capacity – that’s a lot of extra money, and maybe it is better to think about spending the money to adapt your roof so it can accept four more of the standard panels (which would add the same additional capacity), or perhaps, use the money to build a shed and put the panels on top of that.  You need an extra 75 sq ft for the four extra panels.

Another approach is to have more of your roof pitching up in the southerly direction, and less or none in the northerly direction.  This will raise the maximum height of the structure, but if that’s not a problem, then go for it.  You’re sure to find a use for the extra internal space you are creating, too.

Personally we generally prefer to have more low efficiency panels rather than fewer high-efficiency panels.  Not only is it cheaper, but the loss of a single panel is not so serious, and our sense is that lower efficiency panels might be more reliable and ‘less stressed’ than higher efficiency panels.  But we have nothing to back up that perception.

If your target power generating capacity is around 10 kW, then you don’t need to do anything more at this stage.  You know that for 10 kW, you’ll need 40 panels, and you know that your roof has enough space for up to 52 panels, depending on layout and service lanes, so clearly that is going to work.

But if you are keen to get every possible watt you can, and you’re thinking of paying a great deal more for higher efficiency panels, now is the time to do an actual layout diagram for how your roof could be set out, using the cut out shapes.

Summary

We provided a couple of rules of thumb in this article.  There’s one more rule of thumb, or perhaps assumption, that seems fair.  It is probable that you’ll want to cover your entire roof with solar panels; especially if you have a multi-level retreat (ie more total floor area, and more living space, but with a smaller footprint and roof area).

The information in this article helps you understand how to calculate how many solar panels you can get on your roof.

May 082014
 
Patterns of volcano ash fallout from past mega eruptions.

Patterns of volcano ash fallout from past mega eruptions.

Although there are plenty of people who are concerned that the Feds are indeed secretly preparing for future problems (ie, not in the way we might wish and hope for), maybe we should also be pleased to learn of such things.  Is it possible the Feds have both a bug-out plan and also a distant safe retreat for us all?  Or, at least, for some lucky souls among us?

Here’s an interesting article which, on a very thin level of evidence, suggests that maybe the Feds have made – or are making – or are trying to make – plans for a mass exodus of Americans in the event of a national disaster such as an eruption of the mega-volcano in Yellowstone (and probably in the case of other major disasters too).

According to the article and its sources, in such a case, the US might send (ie, fly) an unknown number of millions of us to South Africa, or maybe Brazil, Argentina, or Australia (can I put my name down for Australia, please).

But, really and realistically, how practical is this?

First, do you remember the Iceland volcano eruption of a few years ago, and how it disrupted air traffic for weeks?  A mega-volcano eruption in the US may cause similar problems in the air.  Or the ash (and possibly lava too) may impact on runways and ground operations, making it impossible for planes to land, spend time on the ground, and take-off again.  How would the millions of people affected by the eruption get to staging points and to operating international airports?

But, let’s ignore that for now.  Let’s simply consider how long it would take to fly 10 million people to South Africa.  For the sake of argument, let’s say people fly on 500 seater Airbus A380s, the largest passenger planes currently flying.  That means we need 20,000 flights.  At the time of writing, a total of 128 A380s have been delivered by Airbus, none of which are owned/operated by US airlines.  But let’s say the US can charter half of these – 64 planes.  That means each plane has to do 312 roundtrips between the US and South Africa.  In other words, it would take over a year to evacuate all 10 million people.

Okay, so there’s no reason why the US couldn’t also use 400 seater 747s and 300 seater 777s as well.  Could it possibly cobble together a fleet of 250 planes, averaging 400 seats each?  We’re not sure about that, but let’s say it could be done.  That means each roundtrip would see 100,000 people moved out of the US – assuming perhaps 36 hour roundtrip durations, that would mean in five or six months the 10 million people had been successfully evacuated.

But, what if it is 20 million or 200 million?  That means one year, or ten years.

And, ummm, what will people do while patiently waiting weeks, months or years for their turn to be evacuated?  Where will they live?  What will they eat?

Talking about eating, how will the host country then suddenly handle a massive influx of millions of people?  South Africa has a population of 51 million, many (most?) of whom live in severe poverty.  How could it handle a sudden addition of many millions more people?  What living standard could we expect?  (Of the other countries mentioned, Argentina has 41 million people, Australia 23 million, and Brazil 199 million.)

That also begs the question – if it takes six months or six years to evacuate a person, and if there will be major infrastructure and support problems where the people are being relocated, is flying them half-way around the world the best way to handle the disruption?

The article in the South African newspaper says we would have ‘a few weeks or days’ of warning prior to an eruption.  But, with an evacuation rate of 100,000 per day – and an uncertain amount of time to spool up the evacuation process to that rate, combined with the unwillingness of people to suddenly abandon their lives and homes and leave, perhaps forever, with no more than one or two suitcases each, how many people could actually be evacuated in those few days or weeks?  A million?  That’s probably only a very small percentage of the people who would be impacted by the Yellowstone volcano coming cataclysmically to life.

So just how impactful and helpful might any such evacuation program be?  Is this the best the government can come up with – evacuating as many of us as possible to South Africa?  And, oh yes, South Africa doesn’t want us, no matter how much our government is offering to bribe them ($10 billion a year just to have the contingency open!) for fear that their country would be overrun by white people.  Hmmm – why is it only offensive outrageous racism when white people say that about blacks, but never vice versa?  There are 45 million black/colored South Africans at present – just how many white Americans are too many?

One also wonders, based on the objection of being inundated by too many white folk, whether or not such relocation is being proposed as a temporary or permanent measure.  Still it is nice to think that maybe the government is planning to fly us to some exotic location rather than intern us in a FEMA camp!

Perhaps the most interesting thing in the article is the map image at the top (we have a small size version of it at the top of our article, too).  It is interesting to see how the ash from past eruptions has spread across the country – and when you think that radioactivity would follow a similar dispersion/fallout path (assuming similar release locations, of course) it is clear that it is much better to be west rather than east of any potential events.

Oh – and as for the government being there to save us after a national disaster?  And should you keep your passport current, just in case of a sudden unexpected relocation to some far away foreign country?  Call us cynical if you must, but we think you’d be well advised not to rely on this ‘deus ex machina’ coming along to save you.  Continue to plan and prepare to be self-reliant is by far the wiser choice.

May 062014
 
Sharecropping is often associated with poverty and exploitation as implied by this 1935 picture of cotton sharecroppers, but there's no reason why you can't create a fair and mutually beneficial agreement to allow third parties as tenants on your retreat acreage.

Sharecropping is often associated with poverty and exploitation as implied by this 1935 picture of cotton sharecroppers, but there’s no reason why you can’t create a fair and mutually beneficial agreement to allow third parties as tenants on your retreat acreage.

If you are fortunate, you have managed to secure a reasonably large lot for your retreat, and if you are very fortunate, the chances are your lot will be larger than what you could work yourself in terms of cultivating crops, grazing livestock, and so on, particularly in a future scenario where mechanical productivity aids like tractors are no longer available to help you in your work.

There are plenty of good reasons why you should wish to have a larger-than-you-can-handle lot size.  For example, it allows you to expand the number of people you admit to your retreat, because extra people can productively be put to work to provide food for themselves and extra for everyone else.  It also gives you a geographical buffer against natural disasters and unexpected misfortunes, ranging from fires to floods, infestations, and who knows what all else.  It also gives you a ‘buffer zone’ and some added isolation and security.

If the commonly held views are correct, if/when a major crisis destroys our society, it is likely there’ll be some sort of exodus of people from the cities and from the towns, too.  These people will be looking for land to settle on and live on, and when they see your large spread, they’ll feel entitled to take some ‘fair’ (in their eyes) portion of it for themselves, especially if it is land that is lying fallow and not being actively in production by yourself.

This is not just conjecture or speculation.  We confidently assert that it will happen, because there is plenty of historical precedence for such things – you only have to look back 150 years in our history to see plenty of examples of such things as our own west was settled.

This is the point where some preppers start to mutter darkly about weapons and tactics and all that sort of stuff.  We’re not so sure that’s the best response because there may likely be some downside to you and your family members if you and the other people truly do start trading shots, and in this type of future, with diminished access to any type of healthcare, and the essential role of everyone in your community, such things are likely to be more impactful than they already are now.

If you do this, you’ll be reliving the range ‘wars’ and recreating the tensions between the cattle barons and the homesteaders in the late 1800s during our country’s ‘cowboy’ era, and such altercations seldom brought any good to any of the people involved.

There’s another consideration, as well.  If you choose to aggressively defend your land, it will be something you will need to do on an ongoing basis.  Some people will appear today, and after you beat them off, another group might appear tomorrow or next week.  You will need to win every one of these ‘battles’, and hopefully to do so bloodlessly too.  Sooner or later, you’ll find you’ll lose rather than win.  To be realistic rather than defeatist, you can’t fight against all 330 million of your fellow Americans (or even the massively smaller percentage who will actually come to your land).

If you have land that is not being used to best purpose at present, why not cooperate with such people and strive to create a win-win arrangement for you and them.  Why not encourage them to settle, and even help them get established.

If you do this, you populate your land and change the dynamic for future encounters – it is no longer a case of you being seen to be selfishly keeping to yourself more land than you can possibly need or use, but instead, it will be land that is being fully developed by people living on the land, which changes the moral equation from a dubious situation to one where you clearly hold the high ground, should other opportunists come along and seek to displace you and the people also sharing your land with you.

Now for the best part of all.  By bringing more people onto your land, you are creating a stronger, more robust and resilient community, and likely with a larger pool of talents and skills.  Furthermore, when you allow these people to start working parts of your land, you don’t just let them do this for free.  You of course charge them a ‘rental’ for the use of your land, and possibly for the use of your tools and other resources and facilities, and for seed, and so on.

Do we need to stress that any ‘rental’ that you charge must be fair, and must allow the people on your land to benefit as well as you.  If you get too greedy, you’ll change the dynamic from ‘win-win’ cooperation to a ‘win-lose’ confrontation that is counter-productive.  Think of it like a tax – we might grumble a bit, but we don’t mind paying a minimal tax when we can see fair value in return for it, but if we were to be slapped with a 90% tax, then many people in such cases feel completely justified in lying and cheating to avoid the tax, and/or will simply not work as hard because they see nearly all their earnings going to the government rather than flowing through to themselves.

Models for Sharing Your Land

There is nothing new about the concept of allowing other people to work part of your land.  For centuries, societies have had various arrangements, from feudal systems in the middle ages, through clan/crofting systems, to much more modern share-cropping, tenant farming, and farming cooperative arrangements.

Some people criticize some of these arrangements, and indeed, some can be validly criticized.  But the criticism should be understood as applying more to the specific allocations and shares rather than to the underlying methodology.  For example, something that might be fair on a 25/75 split might be grossly unfair if all the details were the same except for the split being changed to 75/25.

From your perspective, if you have land that you aren’t using and won’t be using, any sort of return on that land becomes a bonus, and apart from wanting to ensure you get a fair share, there is no need to drive too hard a bargain, particularly in view of the other benefits of growing your local support community.

The return you should expect also depends on what you are doing and how you are helping your new ‘tenants’.  If you simply allow them the use of your land and do nothing else, then a small share of whatever they produce is all you can fairly expect – maybe in the order of 10%.  But if you also provide housing, and if you give them a start by providing them some livestock or seed, and maybe you also provide them with tools and productivity enhancements, and perhaps you also provide some expertise and assistance in how to develop the land, and if you also provide them food until such time as they start to become self-supporting, then each of these value-adds on your part can be fairly reflected in a larger share of the outputs they create.

Needless to say, you should never create a scenario where it is impossible for your tenants to be self-supporting.  You don’t want to create too vast a wealth-inequality as between you and your tenants.  If you are enjoying huge feasts while they’re struggling to put any food on their table at all, that’s a recipe for a tenant uprising, and you truly don’t want that.

In centuries past, exploitive share-cropping arrangements survived because there was no precedent for other arrangements, and because all the power was controlled by the owners rather than by the tenants.  It took a very long time and much evolution of social values for the appallingly exploitive and unfair former arrangements to eventually die out.  We do not feel it would be easy or appropriate to seek a return to such times, because these days, everyone has much more egalitarian expectations for their personal wealth and well-being.

We urge you to be fair to the point of being generous with any such tenancy agreements you enter into.  There is truly not a lot of ‘cost’ to you in allowing your under-utilized land to be better utilized, and there’s an enormous amount of upside if you do so on a win-win basis that fairly rewards the tenant and encourages them to truly ‘treat the land as if it were their own’.

Some Suggested Issues to Record in an Agreement

We would suggest that you record your tenancy agreements formally, in writing, and in as rigorous and extensive a form as possible.  This is simply common sense and gives both you and your future tenant some certainty and protection.

We are not attorneys, and you probably should get a standard agreement blank formally drawn up by an attorney, in advance of any problems, and then use it for all tenancies that might come your way in the future, simply filling in the specific gaps and adjusting the provisions to suit each unique scenario.  So, not to give legal advice, but merely to provide some talking points and suggestions to consider when you discuss this with your attorney, an agreement should cover issues such as :

  • The area being let to your tenant, described both legally and in unambiguous terms that can be understood without recourse to district plans.
  • The term the tenant can have the land for, and on what basis the term can be extended subsequently, or ended prior to its scheduled expiration.
  • In what form should the land and anything else used by the tenant be returned to you at the expiry of the agreement.
  • What happens if the tenant dies or leaves prior to the expiry of the agreement – can the tenant pass the ‘lease’ on to someone else or does the land revert to you, and if the lease is being passed on (or sold) to someone else, who gets the proceeds of the sale.
  • What you are providing to the tenant over and above access to the land – initially and into the future.  How about things such as seed, fertilizer, water, tools and equipment, and storage?  Are there any buildings/sheds included?  What about energy – are you providing any energy in any form?
  • The tenant’s right to things that might come from or through your land such as water in particular, and similarly, your right to the same things that might come from or through the tenant’s land.
  • The tenant’s right of access to his land through your land and your obligations (if any) to maintain such accessways, and in turn, your right of access to your land through the tenant’s land, if applicable.
  • Fencing obligations between the tenant’s land, your land, and possibly other land – who is required to do what.
  • Liability for stray stock or other harm from other things kept on your land that intrudes on the tenant’s land and vice versa.  This might also extend to things like the possibly harmful effects of trees that shelter/shade the other person’s land, or the equally harmful effects if something on one party’s land is removed, causing impacts to the other party’s land (for example a wind break planting of trees, or vegetation that was stabilizing a hillside that once removed caused a landslide, and so on).
  • What the tenant’s obligations are to actually work the land following best practices and doing so full-time, and what the consequences would be if the tenant fails to meet these obligations.  The concept here is that if you are allowing someone to farm your land, you want to have that person do so sensibly and well, and fairly creating additional ‘wealth’ for both you and him.
  • What you will receive from the tenant in return for allowing the tenant to use your land (a share of whatever is produced, or money, or labor, or whatever else – and either a fixed amount or a varying amount, and how it is calculated).
  • If you are getting a share of a harvested crop, who gets to decide when the crop is harvested?  If you are getting a share of the proceeds after selling the crop, who gets to decide how and where it is sold – maybe something might be able to be sold for more money later on, but maybe the tenant (or you) needs the cash immediately – how is that resolved?
  • Will your share of whatever it is you are getting be delivered to you, or are you required to collect it from the field or from somewhere else, or will the tenant store it for you until you decide to collect it, or maybe, if it is something that will be sold on to other people, will the tenant deliver it to an appropriate market location?  For that matter, are you expected to participate in any crop harvesting, livestock slaughter, etc?
  • What aspects of the land use can the tenant independently decide and control and which aspects can you insist on being observed/followed/implemented – for example, can the tenant decide to switch crops from corn to potatoes, or to swap pigs for cows?  Or, for that matter, to swap from crops to animals (and of course, vice versa)?  Can the tenant decide to intensively farm land to the point where the soil fertility is harmed, or can you insist on rotating crops and leaving fields fallow some years?
  • What happens in a bad year if the tenant fails to get the yield he expects from the land, due to no fault of his own?  Maybe the tenant gets a larger share of the first amount of yield from the land, then a lesser share of the extra yield above that.
  • What happens in a good year if the tenant gets a better yield than anticipated?  Following on from the last question, maybe if the tenant gets a better than normal yield, he should get a larger share of the ‘bonus’ extra harvest, because you have now got all the return you fairly anticipated, and the tenant’s own hard labor and/or expertise should be fairly rewarded.
  • Any obligations the tenant has to source supplies from you or from designated suppliers?  On the one hand, you don’t want to play the trick of forcing tenants to buy from you at inflated prices, on the other hand, if you can combine your purchases of some items, maybe you can negotiate better prices for both you and your various tenants.  Also, maybe there are some issues with some suppliers that you are aware of that cause you to be wary of dealing with them and you want to ‘quality control’ your tenants’ actions to prevent them from buying bad product.
  • A process whereby any changes to any of the terms or shares/splits/payments can be negotiated or will be changed in the future.  No matter how diligently you, your attorneys, and also your tenant and his attorneys may work at creating a complete agreement to cover all future eventualities, for sure there will be unforeseen issues arise and assumptions that need to be corrected appearing from time to time, and you need a fair way to be able to negotiate changes that protects both you and the tenant.
  • Your rights of access and inspection to confirm and verify the tenant’s processes, procedures, and calculations of your entitled shares.
  • How you will resolve disputes and misunderstandings about the contents of the agreement (both if the formal legal system remains in place or if it fails) and who will pay the cost of such dispute adjudication.  The consequences and sanctions that either party can levy on the other in the event that one party is found not to be meeting their obligations under the agreement, and how they will be calculated.
  • A recitation of the overarching principles and laws under which the agreement is framed and the parties expect to be used to interpret the agreement in the case of any future disagreement.

Summary

Allowing third parties onto your land, and helping them work that land on a fair and mutually beneficial basis is, well, exactly that – fair and mutually beneficial.

Adding extra people, even at an arm’s length type of tenancy arrangement, can only help the viability of you and your immediate retreat family/community.  This type of tenancy arrangement is a useful midway point as between totally turning people away, at one extreme, and immediately welcoming them into your retreat as equal members at the other extreme.

It truly is a win-win, and so much so that you might choose to anticipate such an occurrence by adding some extra structures on parts of your land that would be suitable for such tenancies.

Mar 212014
 
A split system heat pump for heating and cooling your retreat might be surprisingly practical to consider.

A split system heat pump for heating and cooling your retreat might be surprisingly practical to consider.

One of the basic principles of planning a retreat is to minimize your energy needs, and a key part of that is the design of the retreat so as to make it as well insulated as possible.  This will cut down on your heating energy requirements in the colder months, and should also cut down on your cooling energy requirements in the warmer months.

Well, that’s the theory of it, anyway.  The reality is a bit different.

The thing is that while a well insulated house will slow down the rate at which outside heat comes in to your house, it also traps the heat inside and, well, keeps it there, which can mean that inside temperatures will rise to match the outside temperatures, no matter how extreme it may be outside, and you’ll be forced to ‘give in’ and open up all the doors and windows in the summer months, just to get some air flow, even if of hot ambient air.

You’ll also try to also flush out the hot air in the coolest hours of the night, so you start off each day with as low an indoor temperature as possible, and for the first part of the day, as it inexorably rises, you’ll be moderately comfortable, then when inside and outside temperatures approach the same point, you switch from an all shut up to an all open strategy for the rest of the day.

A related issue may be humidity control, depending on if you’re blessed with a relatively dry climate or cursed with a humid one.

This heating effect is of course more pronounced in summer than winter.  In winter, it is a good thing, but in summer, not so good.  Our bodies are radiating heat all the time (100W – 150W for a typical moderately active adult, less while we sleep, more when doing strenuous physical activity), and all the energy we use indoors eventually ends up as heat, too.  So, depending on your energy consumption each day, you probably have the equivalent of a one bar heater on all day every day, which is why, all year round, your indoors temperature is warmer than outdoors, even before you start adding specific additional heating.

We, ourselves, hate being hot, and productivity studies have shown people become materially less productive whenever temperatures start to climb above 70°.  We also hate trying to sleep in a hot stuffy room, and can confirm from personal experience the additional studies that correlate good or bad sleeping with the ambient room temperature.  We love air conditioning.

On the other hand, air conditioning can consume large amounts of energy.  A typical 110V a/c window unit will run at about 1 watt for every 10 BTU of cooling – a 10,000 BTU unit would draw 1000 watts, although note that its duty cycle – that is, the amount of time it will be on – will be maybe 25% – 50%, so you’re getting an hour of cooling for maybe only 250 – 500 watt hours of energy.  Larger a/c systems, and using higher voltages and/or three-phase power, can be more efficient than this and give you more cooling per Watt hour.

As an interesting additional comment, did you know that because a/c units simply shift heat rather than create cold, they move more heat than the energy they consume.  This has implications for both winter and summer – if you have a heat pump, it will create probably two to three times as much heat per kWh of energy as would a normal resistance heater, depending on the temperature of the outside air.  Cooling units typically ‘suck out’ three or four times as much energy as they consume.

Energy Efficiency Issues

Needless to say, if you are installing a/c at your retreat, you want it to be as energy-efficient as possible.

In the US, a/c systems are given a SEER rating or sometimes an EER rating.  Both are a measure of their energy efficiency – the higher the number, the better.  SEER numbers are higher than EER numbers for the same unit by about 15% (ie something with a 14 EER rating would be the closely similar to something else with a 17 SEER rating.

Normally, when a person buys an a/c unit, they give some passing thought to the SEER rating, but pay more attention to other issues like the cost, the noise level, and so on.  However, for a grid-down situation, where energy is never plentiful and always ‘expensive’ in some form or another, you’ll want to make the SEER rating one of your primary focuses.

Generally, split systems, with a unit outside and a separate unit inside are more efficient than all-in-one units such as are typically installed in window frames.  Split systems can give you SEER ratings into the mid to high 20s; all-in-one units struggle to reach 15.

Heating Too?

As we hinted at obliquely above, if you’ll be needing to use electrical heating in the winter, do consider a heat pump rather than just basic simple resistance heaters, because you’ll get two or three times as much heat from each unit of electrical energy with a heat pump than a regular resistance heater.

The efficiency of a heat pump, for heating purposes, depends on its design and the outside temperatures you’ll likely encounter.  The colder it is outside, the less efficient the heat pump becomes.

There are heat pumps specifically designed to work better in very low outside temperatures, and beyond that, you can also switch from an air-exchange heat pump to one with underground piping, transferring the heat from the warmer ground rather than from the cooler air.  Underground piped systems can become quite a lot more complicated and expensive, so we’d consider those with caution, unless you really need an electrically powered heating solution for your retreat.

In general, we’d hesitate to recommend relying primarily on a solar based electrical heating system, unless you’re so overflowing with solar power that you have plenty spare, even on the coldest and least sunny winter days.  If, for whatever reason, you have no other sources of energy from which to create heat (such as firewood), then maybe you have to use solar, and in such a case, it might be a better and more direct approach to simply install a solar heating system, directly transferring what heat there might be from the sun from outside to inside.

Whereas with cooling, the more sun there is, the more you need cooling, and the more solar power you have available to meet that need, with heating, the equation is the opposite.  The less there is sun, the more you need heating, but the less solar energy you have available, in any form, to use for heat.

But, having said that, we’d probably look at the cost difference between getting a cooling-only a/c system and a dual heat/cool system.  If there’s not a lot of difference in cost, we’d get the dual purpose system, because on the days when we do have surplus solar power, why not save our firewood or other energy sources and use the solar power for our heating needs.

Your A/C Needs are Matched by Your Solar Power Outputs

So, as mentioned in the preceding paragraph, there’s a wonderful thing about solar power that makes it sensible to consider about using your solar power to drive an a/c unit.  The stronger the sun, the higher the temperatures, and, at the same time, the greater the power output from your solar panels.  Okay, so that’s a bit of a simplification – in some areas, it can be hot, humid and horrible, even if there’s little or no sun at all, but in other areas, if the sun is obscured, the temperatures drop.

Our point is simply this.  You’ve probably tailored your solar power system to provide you all the power you need in the winter months with little sunlight.  So, now you’re in the summer months, with more and stronger sun each day, you’ll be getting a lot more energy from your solar setup – maybe even more than you need.  Because of the close relationship between your solar panels generating more ‘bonus’ energy for your use, and the times when you’d most benefit from a/c, it becomes possible to plan to use your a/c only when you have surplus spare power, because those times are also the times you most want your a/c running.

So, if the climate warrants it, go ahead and treat yourself, and fit some a/c to your retreat.

Aug 252013
 
Hopefully your group will be happy and positive, but chances are the stress and the rush will make for a difficult time for all.

Hopefully your group will be happy and positive, but chances are the stress and the rush will make for a difficult time for all.

This is the fourth part of a series on coordinating a bug-out action among a group of people who hope to all travel together to a retreat location.

If you arrived here direct from another link or search engine, you might wish to start reading at the first article (‘The Group Dynamic‘) and then work your way in sequence through the rest of the series.

As we’ve commented before in this series, the more people in a group, the massively more complex any attempt to manage and coordinate them all becomes.  Add to that the extraordinary high stress level everyone will be experiencing, and add still further some unexpected problems that may be interfering with your bug out process as part of whatever event it is that caused you to bug out, and no part of the bugging out will be easy or simple.

You need to get your group members to accept some discipline and constraints during the bug out process.  Right from the decision to bug out being made, everyone’s lives are massively changing and the world has instantly become a much tougher and less forgiving place, and there will be less time for discussion, and a more urgent need for (appropriate and coordinated) action.  People have to become responsible for themselves, and realize that there won’t be any second chances or other people to blame for their actions in this less forgiving future.

That’s not to say you should start acting like a parade ground sergeant major in a bad mood, and whatever you can do to give kindly reassurance and to radiate calm yourself will go a long way to help your group members, and give them confidence in you, and help them accept your advice and directions.

Earlier articles in this series have covered how to keep in contact with group members, and how to make and convey a decision to bug out.  We’ll continue the narrative from the point where you’ve advised everyone that a bug-out has been called.

Communicating with Group Members On Their Way to the Rendezvous

Don’t think that after having told each group member of the bug-out decision, then you have done all you need to do.  It would be very valuable to keep in touch with everyone as they make their way to the rendezvous point.  After all, the group as a whole is weakened if not everyone can join up with the group, and conversely, it is strengthened if everyone can join in.  So for the good of the group, as well as for the good of the individual members, you want to ‘quality control’ every part of the bugging out process.

Traffic and tactical condition reports can be shared among group members as they make their way to the rendezvous point.  That might prove to be very helpful and will help group members make realtime decisions about which route to take to the rendezvous, based on reports from other group members about traffic and safety issues.  And, worst case scenario, if something goes wrong with someone, they could tell you ‘Sorry, we’ve been blocked in by stalled traffic and don’t think we can make it in time, don’t wait for us’ and that would free the other group members to leave sooner.

It also means that rather than sitting, waiting (and doubtless worrying), with no idea of where people are and when they might arrive, the group at the bus knows, with regular updates, where their other members are and how soon they expect to arrive.  That helps everyone to feel slightly less helpless and slightly more ‘in control’ – or, at least, informed.

Bugging-Out Ground Rules

We precede this with a reminder that group members have an obligation to the group to participate in the bug-out event, and to do so in the most practical and positive nature possible.  Each group member both gives the other group members added safety and security, and also receives the same back again, but this concept assumes that all group members have optimized their bug-out actions so as to be least likely to have problems and most likely to be able to participate fully.

So this fairly means that all group members can be expected to conform to certain group norms and expectations.

With that in mind, you should have both a list of ‘mandatory’ items that people are required to have with them when the group bugs out, and also a ‘maximum’ restriction on how much people can bring with them.

If people are bugging out by car, the mandatory items would clearly start with ‘sufficient fuel for the journey plus an emergency reserve of extra fuel’, and might extend to essential spares for the vehicle, perhaps some defensive equipment, bad weather clothing, and anything else that would be prudent or necessary for the journey.  The maximum restriction in such a case would probably only be something like ‘no more than you can conveniently fit in your car’.

If people will be sharing cars, then the maximum restriction needs to be better understood.  There’s a huge difference in space per person when a car has two, three or four people in it – two people gives each person half the trunk and half the back seat – probably more than they’ll need, but four people gives each person one-quarter of the trunk and no space inside the vehicle at all – quite likely less space than they want.

If people will be on a group coach, then you will need to set limits on the size and weight of bags to go in the cargo bays and to be brought onto the coach.

Needless to say, you probably won’t be obsessively checking every person and their vehicle for all mandatory items, but also needless to say, if a person suffers problems on the journey due to not having some item that was required, then that would be their problem, not a group problem.

This might sound harsh, but it has to be understood and accepted that people who fail to comply with the requirements will be expected to suffer the consequences, and the safety of the group absolutely will not be compromised due to a group member’s noncompliance.

While this might seem to be ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’ – as we’ve said before, the group is strengthened by having everyone participate successfully, and weakened by anyone who fails to come, it could also be thought that a person who fails to comply with the clear list of procedures and protocols for the bug-out is likely to pose additional nonconforming problems at the retreat.  Consider it ‘evolution in action’ if such people are lost on the way to the retreat as a result of their noncompliance with group policies.

In a post-TEOTWAWKI situation, there will be no ‘safety nets’ and ‘second chances’ for people – or for the groups they jointly make up.  If people make mistakes, or do the wrong thing, they may suffer grave consequences – as may also the other people in their group who are relying upon them to do their necessary part of the group’s survival plan.  If something is broken through misuse, there’ll be no going to the store to get another one.  If something is wasted, you can’t replace it tomorrow.

The concept of being responsible for oneself and one’s actions and their consequences – a concept currently out-of-fashion in many parts of our society – will need to be revived and accepted, for the good of the individuals directly, and for the good of the groups they belong to.

For example, a person can no longer say ‘it is your fault for not explaining this clearly enough and warning me about the dangers’.  Instead, the situation will be ‘it is your fault for not asking for clarification if there were things you didn’t completely understand’.  That is a huge paradigm shift which you’ll have to clearly spell out to everyone joining you.

The only slightly counter-balanced concept to this is that the loss of a person weakens the group as a whole.  The group needs to protect itself wherever possible and prudent, but the degree of risk the group will accept in order to save a member will be ‘appropriate’ rather than extravagant.

To rephrase that last statement another way, the current concept of ‘there is nothing more precious than a(ny) human life’ will need to be revisited.

These are concepts very much at odds with today’s mainstream thought.  You need to understand the reasons for these changes, and get them accepted by everyone in your group.  We’ll talk more about this in other articles, outside of this specific article series.

Coordinating the Vehicle Load Out

If you have multiple vehicles all traveling to the same destination, the chances are you’ll end up with one vehicle that has only one or two people in it, and others with three or four.  It makes tactical sense to have the same number of people in each vehicle, or at least to have a minimum number in each vehicle – a minimum of two, three is better, and four better still (see our article on convoys for a discussion of each person’s duties/role).

You might consider having some people leave their car behind and consolidating into fewer vehicles with more people per vehicle.  If there is room in the vehicles (after whatever supplies might be loaded in) and if there are already a reasonable number of vehicles in the convoy, this would be good, but if you have very few vehicles, you probably would prefer more vehicles in case any get disabled on the journey.

Needless to say, if consolidating, eg, a vehicle with one person and a vehicle with three people, don’t automatically assume the person by themselves should go join the group of three.  Make that decision based on the suitability of the vehicles, and perhaps also based on who you’d feel most comfortable leading the group.  Maybe the group of three should go join the individual.

You might also want to equalize stores over vehicles, for even loading and even dispersion of critical supplies, meaning that if something bad happens to one vehicle, you don’t find yourself having lost your entire supply of some vital thing.

One more thing about stores.  Ideally, everything you need is already at your retreat.  The only things that your group should be bringing with them now are ‘comfort’ items (and some perishable fresh food, perhaps) that aren’t an essential part of ensuring a comfortable life at the retreat.  By all means, if there is spare space in a vehicle, and if it doesn’t slow down the bug out process, of course people can bring more stuff with them, but the priority, in coordinating the vehicle load out, is to get at least two, preferably three, and ideally four people per vehicle, and if you do that, there’s unlikely to be much remaining space for stores.

A note of realism too – the chances are that you won’t have much time to finesse these details – as soon as everyone is at the rendezvous point they’ll quite understandably be keen to move out.  So the more that is pre-planned prior to the bug-out, the better.

The Need to Practice, Practice, Practice

We again return to the fundamental truth about how group dynamics become massively more complicated, due to the growing nature of the group and its lack of experience interacting closely together with each other.  This needs to be anticipated and avoided, as much as possible.

One of the ways of countering and controlling these complications is to have as many things as possible planned and specified in advance, and we’ve been talking about many of these issues in this article.

But, invariably, there will be many things arise on the day that you had not earlier considered or planned for.  So, what do you do?

You carry out ‘dress rehearsals’.  You do practice drills, at different times of the day and night, and on different days of the week, and in different weather.

You can’t push too aggressive a schedule of drills of course – consider how sullenly many people respond to fire drills to see how some people will quickly be turned off by army drill type repetitive practice.

You can also selectively practice with just one or two group members.  Maybe you have an arrangement whereby when you hold a full group practice, the last two car loads of people to arrive will be required to do an extra practice the next week, or something like that, so as to motivate the group members.  A fun thing like ‘the first third of the people who arrive will have drinks bought for them by the last third’ would also add an edge to the event, but probably there will be some people who just because of their location relative to the rendezvous will always be first.

The practice times should be in morning and evening rush hours, on weekends, late at night, on hot days and in the snow.

We suggest that the group should agree on a window of time, at some point during which, a practice rendezvous will be called.  The broader the window of time, the better, so people aren’t ‘cheating’ and being ready to rush out the door, all ready to go.

There’s another, more subtle reason for practicing (and planning).  The bug-out process will be high-stress for everyone.  The more that people have practiced, the more comfortable they will be with the ‘real thing’ and the better they will perform.  That much is perhaps obvious (but can’t be overstressed).  The more subtle thing is that the more practiced you are, as group leader, the better you will be able to lead, and the more calm and confident you can project yourself.  This will calm and soothe your group members, and also encourage their compliance with your requests.

Sometimes you might just practice having everyone get to the rendezvous.  Other times you might then drive some distance in a convoy too.  Perhaps you might even create some ‘thought experiments’ and announce that roads are closed and require people to divert, and randomly declare vehicles to have problems.  For sure, you want to have everyone skilled at changing tires, and maybe you could have an occasional fan-belt break scenario too.

When people turn up in their vehicles at the rendezvous point, you should also do safety checks on the vehicles and their spare parts.  Are all fluids topped up?  Are fan belts and hoses in good order and condition?  Sufficient tread and inflation on the tires?  And so on.

Remember the saying ‘Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance’.  Remember it, and then adopt it!

This is the fourth part of a six part series about bugging out as a group.  Please now read on through the other parts of this series.

Part 1 – The Group Dynamic

Part 2 – Initiating a Bug-Out

Part 3 – Communicating the Bug-Out Decision

Part 4 – Managing the Bug-Out

(The final two parts will be released in the following days, please come back to read it, and consider getting our site updates sent to you via RSS or email or Twitter (choose your preferred method from the box near the top right of this page headed ‘Get Free Updates’).

Part 5 – A Policy on Uninvited Guests

Part 6 – Traveling in Convoy

Aug 202013
 
You may need to use many different forms of communication when attempting to reach your members prior to bugging out.

You may need to use many different forms of communication when attempting to reach your members prior to bugging out.

This is the third part of a series on coordinating a bug-out action among a group of people who hope to all travel together to a retreat location.

If you arrived here direct from another link or search engine, you might wish to start reading at the first article (‘The Group Dynamic‘) and then work your way in sequence through the rest of the series.

A key part of making a bug-out decision and then implementing it is communicating with group members.  You need to be able to have good communication to go through whatever type of consultative process you do so as to decide when to initiate a bug-out, then you absolutely need to ensure that everyone in your group knows about the bug-out, and you will want to keep in touch with them as they move to the rendezvous location.

Layers of Communication Alternatives

No matter what the emergency situation that is causing you to consider bugging out, it is likely that it will be accompanied by increasing difficulties of communication.  You should have a group communication plan worked out, whereby you each know how to contact other group members, and you establish a series of alternate methods of communication.

For example, you might agree you’ll try to contact first by cell phone, second by landline, third by Skype, fourth by other messaging programs (Yahoo, ICQ, or whatever else), fifth by text message, sixth by email, and seventh by wireless radio (or whatever other process you agree upon).

There are other ways of getting in touch too – other cell phone type messaging products such as TextPlus and WhatsApp and Google’s messaging program.  But these are layered on top of basic cell phone data service – if there is a problem with cell phone data, then they will not work.

It is best that you have a way to send out a group message quickly to everyone, and then if the situation allows, follow up with interactive calls where possible to make sure each person gets the message.

Those people who you can’t interactively contact should be sent messages by all non-interactive methods (ie text message, perhaps through multiple text messaging services, and emails, perhaps to multiple email addresses).  You should also send out radio messages – hopefully having them acknowledged too.

The Burden of Responsibility for Sending/Receiving Messages

Clearly, with an interactive message system, you know for sure if the message has been received or not.  When you’re communicating via a non-interactive process, you never know if the person got the message or not, and that leaves a very uncomfortable area of ambiguity.  Did they get the message or not?  And should you keep trying to contact them every which other way?

Now for a very important thing.  You and your group need to understand that the responsibility to convey a message successfully lies not with the person sending the message, but with the person receiving it.  In particular, if a person forgets their cell phone, or if its battery dies, or if it is on silent mode, or out of coverage, that is their fault, not the fault of the person trying to send them a message.

You as the sender of the message will of course do all you can to get the message to everyone in your group, but once a schedule has been set, there might come a time when you’ve not even be able to reach people before your group is due to depart, or possibly you’ve reached someone late, and they say they can’t make it to the meeting point in time.  That is not your fault, that is their fault, and the rest of the group can’t have their plans and safe travel arrangements threatened by the failure of some group members to keep adequately in contact.

Make sure everyone understands these ground rules.  If they do, they will become more active and less passive when it comes to being contactable.

Be Careful What You Say

If you are communicating by radio, you should not use real names or addresses, unless you want to have all sorts of uninvited and unwanted guests arriving at your rendezvous point as well.

You need to have agreed upon frequencies for your radio contact, of course, and agreed ‘clear code’ terms to use if communicating by radio on a public channel that other people will be listening to.  It is illegal to use code when using radios, and if you do use code, you also attract interest.  Better to use plain language that sounds sort of sensible and doesn’t make other people wonder who you are, where you are, and what you’re doing.  Just be vague about the details of what you’re arranging.  Talking about ‘our club meeting’ instead of a bug-out, and talking about ‘Alan’s place’ as a reference to the first possible rendezvous point, Bill’s place for the second alternate, Charlie’s for the third and so on (the first letter of the name indicating the location number) also sounds normal.

So you could say ‘Peter, do you copy?  Did you get our message for our club meeting which will now be held today at 5pm, and Edward’s place?  This is Bill, (call sign) calling Peter (call sign) or anyone who can relay to him.’

That sounds reasonably normal, and in the course of the conversation you’ve advised that a bug-out is being called for today at 5pm at the fifth possible location.

Some people would go even further and say you should obscure the time, too – perhaps by specifying a time two hours later than the real-time you’ll meet – for example, if you are meeting at 3pm, you would say 5pm, and everyone would know to take two hours off the stated time.

We’re a bit ambivalent about that.  Our concern is that no matter how much you train and practice, there’s a danger that someone will forget about the two-hour time shift and turn up at the wrong time – they will add rather than subtract, or forget to do either.  Better just to obscure the location and not worry about specifying the exact correct time.

The message you need to convey to your group members is very short and simple.  The group has decided to bug out, and you simply need to confirm the rendezvous point and the rendezvous time.  Probably you’ll have pre-agreed upon one or two or three possible rendezvous points, so you won’t even need to spell out the location and directions in any detail, all you need to do is tell them which rendezvous point will be used.

A text message could simply be “GOOD LOC2 3PM” – the ‘GOOD’ being an acronym for the phrase ‘Get Out of Dodge’ (as in ‘we are about to bug out), ‘LOC2’ means ‘meet at the second location’, and do we need to explain what 3PM means?

Keep messages short.  You don’t have time to chat – you can do that when you’re safely at your retreat.

A Rendezvous Point

Most people would prefer a rendezvous point to be on the outskirts of the city and on the same side of the city as you’ll be proceeding towards the retreat.  It would help if there were somewhere appropriate for group members to park their cars if you were all then going by shared community coach – a park and ride facility would be a good choice.  If you are driving in convoy, then that isn’t so much a consideration and you just want a safe place where you can wait until everyone is present.

Depending on the exact situation of your city and where in it your members are located will depend on where you choose as a rendezvous point.  You want to minimize the distance that members travel alone to the rendezvous point, but you also want to minimize the time that any of you are in the most perilous inner parts of your city.

Sometimes it might make sense to have two meeting points.  This depends on the layout of the city area you live in, where your group members are located around the city, and where you’ll all be traveling to.

If you have two meeting points rather than one, be careful not to make things overly complicated, and be sure that there really is good value in having two meeting points.  Usually there isn’t.

If you are grouping together to travel by coach, it becomes more important to protect the safety of the coach, and so to rendezvous a bit further out of the city center.

One thing we suggest you don’t do though is make it a group matter to coordinate things within each family or ‘carload’ of people who are traveling to the rendezvous point.  Each group member has their own personal responsibility to arrange their own travel to the group rendezvous point.  If some group members want to arrange among themselves some sort of one-on-one coordination of travel plans, that is between them.  The responsibility of the group, for the group, only starts when people reach the group rendezvous point.

That’s not to say you would be unhelpful, on the actual day, if a group member said ‘Help, my car is stuck in the parking garage and the door won’t open, is anyone able to collect me?’  You’d of course help them to find any alternate way to get to your rendezvous point, but only if it didn’t delay the departure time or imperil other group members.

To put this another way, the group has one or possibly two official rendezvous points.  If people want to create sub-rendezvous points where individuals meet up prior to continuing on to the main group rendezvous point, that is fine, but those arrangements should be direct personal arrangements, not part of the group meeting plan – otherwise, things will become massively too complicated with too many different rendezvous points and dependencies.

The group has its main meeting point or two, beyond that, people do whatever they want, however they want, to get to the group meeting point.

This is the third part of a six-part series about bugging out as a group.  Please now read on through the other parts of this series.

Part 1 – The Group Dynamic

Part 2 – Initiating a Bug-Out

Part 3 – Communicating the Bug-Out Decision

Part 4 – Managing the Bug-Out

(The final two parts will be released in the following days, please come back to read it, and consider getting our site updates sent to you via RSS or email or Twitter (choose your preferred method from the box near the top right of this page headed ‘Get Free Updates’).

Part 5 – A Policy on Uninvited Guests

Part 6 – Traveling in Convoy