Apr 302013
 
Your neighbors should be a positive value-add part of your retreat survival plans.

Your neighbors should be a positive value-add part of your retreat survival plans.

Conventional wisdom suggests that preppers want to locate a retreat far away from anyone else.  We understand the rationale behind this, but we don’t fully agree.

Sure, we’re the first to say you should keep your distance from larger cities.  That’s absolutely so, and we have written about this before.  But we see individual neighbors – and also the inhabitants of small towns – as being very different to the refugees streaming out of larger cities.  Let’s look at why that is.

The concern that motivates people to keep as far away from anyone and everyone and to go through obsessive and probably ultimately unsuccessful ‘opsec’ charades is of course the understandable fear that WTSHTF anyone and everyone who is less well prepped than you, may decide to come after you and seize your preparations, take over your lands, and dispossess you of all you own.

Now that is definitely a risk with marauding refugees from larger cities.  These people are itinerants.  They have nothing other than the clothes on their back and whatever else they can carry and travel with, and so they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by attacking you opportunistically.  If the attack seems likely to fail, they can simply retreat and run away.  No harm done (to them) and the next day, they will try for better luck with another targeted residence, somewhere else (or possibly even return to surprise you a second time).

They can do this with relative impunity, as often as they wish.  Why?  Because if you give chase after them, they will simply keep running away until you give up and return back to your home.  They know, and soon enough you’ll realize too, that after a day or two or three of giving chase, you are going to give up.

Your retreat community needs you, and if you’ve traveled two days away, you’ll have to take another two or three days to return – you’ve been away for four or five days, and each extra day you continue traveling outbound takes you two days away in total, while exhausting you, your supplies, and increasing your vulnerability to unknown and unexpected events in areas you are less familiar with.

Issues With Neighbors

But what about a fellow property owner, next to, or several lots over from you?  They’ve made a commitment to their land, and to their home.  If they get into a dispute with you and it isn’t amicably resolved, you know exactly where to find them, and if you’re so minded, you can do exactly that, at a time and situation of your choosing so as to ensure the best possible outcome for you (and the worst possible outcome for them).

If you get into a conflict, neither of you will want to abandon everything you’ve worked to create and protect and preserve.  You’ll both fight to the finish, or negotiate a truce or surrender, and all but the most pig-headed of people will realize the best approach is to avoid the conflict in the first place.  You both have too much to lose.

There’s another perspective that applies differently to your neighbors than to itinerants as well.  The itinerant has no chance of surviving on his own.  He either has to somehow – by hook or by crook – get the supplies and shelter he needs, or perish in the process.

But your neighbors with the small holdings adjacent to your own – they are some way to self-sufficiency already (and maybe already there).  Both of you can prosper better, together.  By occasionally working together cooperatively you will get a much better outcome to everything than by competing against each other or by simply ignoring each other, or – worst of all, one of you fighting the other and either forcing him off his land and away or instead losing and being forced off your land and sent away.  The clear reality is that you probably (hopefully!) have nothing to compete about or for, and if you can see potential sources of tension, you shouldn’t locate your retreat at that place to start with.

Possible sources of tension might revolve around water rights or access rights.  If you or they need access of the other’s property, that might be a problem, and of course, if there’s a shared water resource (perhaps a river/stream that flows first through one of your properties and then through the other) then that could be an issue too, and these are things you’d need to clearly understand and resolve before buying the property.  You’d also want to make sure that your potential new neighbors don’t believe they have any non-recorded but customary and traditional rights on your property – perhaps they might assert traditional grazing rights for their cattle, or perhaps there are some unclear disputed boundary lines, or who knows what else.

When choosing your retreat property, you should not just rely on title searches and property deeds, you should speak to all your potential new neighbors to understand how they perceive the property you might be buying and its interaction with their property and rights.

Back now to the future, and to put things another way, hopefully your rural neighbors are already committed to the concept of surviving by honest hard work, and hopefully they’ll see that their work can be easier and more successful with an occasional positive interaction with their neighbors.

There’s probably an example that relates to this in your normal life.  Have you ever noticed how you make close friends with many of the people you work with, but when you or they change jobs, the friendship quickly evaporates?  It was the common ties created by doing the same job, working for the same company, sharing the same experiences, frustrations, and successes, that built a bond between you, and when those ties were broken, there was little remaining except a quickly fading chance to reminisce about former shared experiences.

A similar thing applies, positively, to your relationship with your neighbors.  You might have nothing in common with them socially, politically, or in any other respect.  But you have a huge common tie binding you together – you are both working to survive in what has become a tough and unforgiving world, and will be sharing many of the same challenges due to your proximity to each other.  Most of all, your respective chance of surviving is increased if your neighbor does well (due to the hope that they might share their success if needed).

These outside forces are of course very less apparent in normal times, and so provide much less motivation for people to interact with their neighbors currently.  But WTSHTF, different rules will apply.

If and when this should happen, you and your neighbors need to realize you are stronger together than apart.

Issues With Nearby Towns

This is a slightly trickier situation, and with different possible win and lose outcomes for you and the people residing in the town, not all of which are clearly either win-win or lose-lose.

The situation here depends very much on the size and type of town that you are close to.  If it is a small town where the residents live in houses with yards and have the potential to grow vegetable gardens and maybe keep some chickens and a pig or two, and/or where some of the other townsfolk are essential service providers for the country living people in the area – people such as yourself and your neighbors – then hopefully the small town is viable as a self-sustaining entity in a Level 2 or 3 situation.  We discuss this in some detail in our article ‘Will your nearby town thrive, survive or fail WTSHTF?‘.

It is important you understand which of these categories (thrive, survive or fail) the town is likely to find itself in.  Clearly you want to be close to a town that will add value to your existence by thriving, and equally clearly, you do not want to be close to one that may threaten it by failing.

If the nearby town is likely to be a net value-add rather than a threat, you have another potential win-win situation, the same as with your neighbors.  For the service providers (doctors, dentists, tradesmen, etc) you are a source of business and food for them, while they in turn are a source of services and capabilities you don’t have within your own retreat and its members.  And in addition to being a customer and a seller of food, you might also have services and skills of your own which they need, and maybe you might also provide employment to some townsfolk too.

The key thing is that your town has to be one which is capable of being self-sustaining.  If that is the case, then they see their future the same way your neighbor sees his future – they see that their future is best assured by working together rather than working apart, or by attempting to take things from you.

If the town is not capable of being self-sustaining, then you have problems.  What is to stop the town from using its resources against you?  In whatever form of county government that may remain, there’s a greater voice and support for a town of 100 than a retreat with 5 on it, and the townsfolk might act to annex you to their town and then make you subject to bylaws and regulations designed to seize your assets and share them with the townsfolk.

These types of semi-legal threats are even more worrying than the illegal threats of an armed gang of townsfolk simply attacking you and taking your supplies from you, because you could find yourself confronting not only a small group of villainous townsfolk, but the local law enforcement agencies, augmented by county and state forces too.

We spoke before about the issue of itinerant roaming opportunists.  They can be a problem, but they are itinerant and so are not likely to be a permanent issue (although you may get regular visits, but from different groups/gangs of itinerants).  A nearby town of needy people – that’s a much more serious thing, because it is a more permanent problem.  If the townsfolk have to choose between abandoning their homes and their town and becoming itinerants themselves, or of simply taking everything you have, which do you think they will choose?

That’s not a problem with an easy solution, because they are living close to you.  If they have no other easier nearby targets, they’re not likely to just ignore you.  They will do something and you will find yourself forced to either accede or respond any way necessary to protect your property and your livelihood.

On the other hand, while a bad town, collectively, poses a problem, if the problems are with just some individuals rather than the town as a whole, it can be a benefit to you and a constraint on the individuals and their actions.

Assuming it is a moderately small town, any action that one or two of the town’s residents might engage you in stands to have consequences to them.  Just like with a troublesome neighbor, you know where to find them, and they are vulnerable to whatever type of reprisals you might choose to take.  Perhaps the town even has some basic type of law enforcement, making such errant folks answerable not just to you and whatever ‘natural justice’ the situation allows for, but also to local law enforcement and their type of justice, too.

Mutual Security Issues Apply to Neighbors and Towns, Too

There’s one more thing to consider as well – another reason why you should band together with both your neighbors and your local town.

If a gang of outlaws moves into your area, then today they might attack you, but then tomorrow they might attack your neighbor, and the next day, the next neighbor and so on.  This is also true of small towns – if a gang starts terrorizing the outlying ranchers, how long before they start terrorizing the town dwellers, too?  This isn’t just a hypothetical situation – it is happening with Mexican gangs in parts of Eastern WA already, and that’s in a situation supposedly where the rule of law is intact and supreme.

If the town ends the menace of a gang, you benefit too, and if you end the menace of a gang, the town and your neighbors all benefit also.  So it makes selfish good sense to cooperate – and anything which appeals to a person’s selfishness is much more likely to win their cooperation than something which requires more abstract concepts of honor and justice!

You Might Need to Explain These Issues

What we’ve written might seem intuitive to you, but it might not necessarily be intuitive to your neighbors and to the nearby town.  Don’t assume that they all are thinking the same way you are, and joining the mental dots together in the same pattern.  We’d suggest you discreetly talk about such things with your neighbors, and with people who would be advantaged by cooperating with you in the town as well.

But don’t go at this like a bull in heat.  Be oblique and cautious, because you don’t want to get a reputation as being strange, unusual, and eccentric.

We’d suggest you slowly get to know your neighbors as if by chance, and only after you’ve had some casual conversations with them about the weather, sport, life in general, or whatever else, that you then start to talk about some ‘what if’ scenarios.  If it is clear that they have no concept about such things, or perhaps they are very individualistic and private and not wanting to interact/cooperate with others, then don’t press the point for now – you can always revisit the topic in the future.  But if they do show sympathy and understanding, simply indicate that in any uncertain future you’d prefer to work cooperatively with them for mutual benefit.

You can certainly easily enough explain your shared situation when it comes to shared problems and needs and external threats.  As for the potential of disputes between the two of you, you can say ‘Heck, there’s no way I’d want to start an argument with you because you know where to find me, and I guess (give a polite laugh here to remove the sting of the statement) I guess you don’t really want to start an argument with me either because I know where to find you too!’

As for townsfolk, we’ve written elsewhere about how to integrate into your local community.  You should do this, and as you get to know local merchants and service providers, there will come times when you’ll be relaxing over a meal or drink, and you can ‘think out loud’ about hypothetical future scenarios and how the town and its surrounding population would be well advised to club together if things went bad.  See who agrees with you, and who rejects the idea as fanciful, impossible, irrelevant or inappropriate, and selectively build ties with those who agree with you.

Summary

Your future survival depends not just on yourself and the other members of your prepper community retreat.  Like it or not, it also depends on the other people around you, living on neighboring blocks of land, and in the nearby town (or towns).

Your objective is to create not just a neutral ‘live and let live’ arrangement with your neighbors and adjacent town-folk, but rather to set the scene for the quick establishment of a mutual cooperation and support setup if TSHTF.  This will greatly enhance your standard of living, your resilience, and your ability to withstand disastrous events of all kinds.

Apr 282013
 
We recommend you should build up not out when designing your retreat dwelling.

We recommend you should build up not out when designing your retreat dwelling.

When it comes to choosing a retreat, you will find that there are no suitably constructed dwellings already built and in place.

If you want to have a long-lasting retreat structure (and of course you do!) you’ll have to design it to very different criteria than how a typical spec-builder does.  He of course wishes to create the ‘most’ structure for the lowest cost, and only needs it to remain fully functional until its new-home warranty expires.

We discuss the limitations of normal home design and construction techniques in this linked article specifically, and in the retreat design topic in general.

Let’s consider the implications of one major choice you need to make.  Should your retreat be a sprawling rambler type dwelling or should it have a smaller ground footprint and be two or more stories high?

We recommend you build a multi-level dwelling, and would suggest three levels to be a good compromise to adopt.  Here is a review of the various issues that are associated with choosing how many levels to design into your retreat structure.

Note that the local zoning and building codes may have restrictions on how high your dwelling structure can be.

1.  Less External Wall Perimeter

Your external walls are your most important walls and most expensive to construct.

Any attacks will almost invariably be directed against your external walls.  The only other notable point of attack would be to your roof, and with a multi-level structure, not only will your exterior walls be shorter, but your roof area will be less too.

Keeping your perimeter as short as possible allows you to concentrate your defenses along a shorter perimeter line, and simultaneously slightly funnels your attackers into a narrower line of attack.

Going from one level to two levels will reduce your building perimeter by 30% – 40%.  But (and perhaps counter-intuitively), it will also increase the total area in square feet of exterior wall by anything from 10% – 35%.

Going from one to three levels will reduce your building perimeter by 40% – 45%, but will increase the total square feet of exterior wall by anything from 25% – 60%.

As you can see, as you add extra levels (while keeping total internal square footage the same) the reduction in perimeter becomes successively less, while the increase in total wall square footage becomes successively more.  If this were the only consideration, you’d probably want to keep your retreat one or two levels.  However, there are other issues to consider which we feel argue convincingly in favor of going to three levels.

2. No Need for Heavier Construction Materials

One downside to multi-level construction of typical dwellings is that you need to build your supporting structures to a higher loading capacity to support multiple levels of dwelling.  That becomes an appreciable offsetting extra cost.

But you’re building your retreat dwelling ‘over-spec’ anyway.  You already have stronger than necessary external walls and load bearing supports, so all that this means is that the extra strength you have designed into the structure is now being put to some actual purpose.

Remember when people start to talk to you about the extra costs of constructing multi-level structures that these extra costs are not extra in your case; they only apply in the case of people seeking to build the least robust structure they can get approved by local building codes.

3.  Roof Impacts

Going from one to two levels will reduce your roof area by half.  Going to three levels reduces the roof area to one-third of its original size.

The reduced amount of roof probably goes a long way to compensating for the cost of extra exterior walls.

But there might be two situations where less roof is not a good thing.  The first might be to do with water collection.  If you are in an arid area with little rainfall and few convenient other sources of water, you’ll surely be using every square foot of roof area for rainwater collection, and reducing your rainwater collection area by 50% (or 67% for three-level construction) might be an undesirable outcome.

The other circumstance relates to solar energy sourcing (either through photo-voltaic solar cells for electricity or through solar heating installations).  You certainly should have those parts of your roof with appropriate southerly facing aspects close to completely lined with either solar cells or solar heating devices.  Even if you have abundant other energy sources, prudence dictates that you want to have multiple sources, each sufficient in and of itself, so if something happens to one source, you still have at least one other energy source to fall back on while the other source is (hopefully) being returned to service.

Energy, more than anything else, is life in a post-TEOTWAWKI situation.

If the loss of roof area for solar energy collectors is a problem, there’s no reason why you can’t create another structure that is primarily a support/protective structure on which to mount additional solar energy collectors.  The same structure could of course do double duty as a water collector too, and could be constructed very inexpensively.

4.  Energy Losses

Continuing on the energy theme, not only is energy your most vital resource in a Level 3 situation (and lesserly so in Levels 1 and 2) it will become very expensive and precious.  Anything to reduce your energy needs becomes of paramount importance, and this is a factor that needs to figure into your building design much more than at the present where energy is abundant, affordable, and assured.

A building loses energy (ie heating/cooling) through its exterior – its outside walls, its roof, and also its flooring.  A rambler has more external surface (ie wall area plus roof area) than a two level building, and about the same as a three level building.

Adding in an allowance for floor heat losses too and it is clear that both two and three level structures are more energy-efficient than single level structures, although when you move on to a fourth level, the energy saving becomes neutral, tending negative.

This is another reason why three level structures are an ideal compromise.

5.  Functional Convenience

We’ve lived in ramblers, two-level, and three level dwellings – perhaps you have, too.  We love the convenience of no stairs in a rambler, but in reality, in a well designed multi-level structure, there are not a huge number of occasions during the day when you need to go all the way up or down from the top to the bottom level.

We would suggest a general design strategy that has storage on the lowest level, living areas on the middle level, and bedrooms on the top level.  That means that during the day, you are mainly in the middle level, occasionally going down to the lowest level and to the outside, and rarely going up to the top level, and almost never needing to go all the way from top to bottom and back again (or vice versa).

This strategy would also allow you to have the lowest amount of heating/cooling on the bottom level, cutting down the effective heating/cooling volume of your structure.

Some countries have traditional multi-level buildings in which livestock are kept in the lowest (ground) level.  This is a great idea too, but if you choose to do this, be aware that animals and their excrement can be smelly.  You’d have to think carefully about the implications of this!

6. Defensive Issues

There are several benefits offered by a multi-level building compared to a single level building.

As mentioned in passing above, a multi-level building has a shorter perimeter to defend, and by implication, people inside the structure can more quickly travel from one place to another – if you are being attacked on several fronts,  it can be easier to shift people from one side to another and to generally keep in contact with each other.

A multi-level structure with primarily storage on the bottom level can forego most of the windows on that level that would otherwise commonly be found, making it much more secure against physical intrusion.  If you have windows on the upper half of the second level, then the distance from the ground to the bottom of a window will be in the order of about 14 ft, making it difficult for intruders to quickly scale up and gain access through a window.

So by having living spaces on the second and third levels, you have the security of no windows at ground level while still having the lifestyle benefits of windows in the living areas.

A person on the third level will be close on twenty feet higher up than he would be on the first level, giving him a better view down to the surrounding ground around the retreat structure and making it harder for attackers to find cover.  Even better still would be a rampart or parapet at the roof level, giving still more height advantage.

7.  Communications

If you have a taller retreat, it is easier for you to maintain visual contact with people in your group who might be working on the land surrounding the retreat.  You can see them and they can see you, making for better security, and if necessary, some type of sound alarm (bell, whistle, siren, whatever) could be sounded at the retreat to call people back.

Lower level trees, bushes, shrubs and other things that would block your view if you were at ground level become less obstructive if you are another 20 ft up from the ground.

Being higher up can also greatly improve your radio communications.  If you have a three level structure, then your roof will be almost 20 ft higher than a one level structure.  This will extend your radio line of sight coverage (and also visual horizon) from about 4 miles to 7 miles.

Yes, of course you can mount an antenna on a mast above your rambler to get extra height, but you can do the same thing from a tri-level dwelling too.  No matter what you do, you have an extra almost 20 ft of height advantage.

8.  Land Saving

If we are considering the difference between a 3000 sq ft rambler, or a two-level equivalent structure (with a 1500 sq ft footprint) or a three-level equivalent structure (with a 1000 sq ft footprint) it might seem that the saving of either 1500 sq ft or 2000 sq ft of land is negligible, particularly if your total lot size is maybe 500,000 sq ft (ie about 11.5 acres).  You’re looking at a saving of less than 0.5%.

But the saving is actually more substantial than this simplistic calculation would appear.  Your residence will have a low productivity zone around it – an area which is kept reasonably undeveloped for security and convenience/access/maintenance reasons.  Maybe that zone extends out 25 ft, and if that is the case, the smaller footprint is magnified into a smaller overall surrounding zone, and you’re maybe saving not just 1500 sq ft of land, but 4500 – 6000 sq ft of land.  That’s becoming appreciable (0.1 or more acres).

Another Perspective – Multi-Family Dwellings or Multiple Retreat Buildings

All the preceding analysis has been based on the assumption of a single retreat structure, with the same number of square feet, but split over one, two, three or more levels.  In such a case, there is some benefit in going to two levels, less benefit in going to three, and probably no benefit in going to a fourth or more level.

But let’s consider not just your retreat structure, but also other buildings and structures at your retreat, and/or a second retreat structure for a second family.

If the choice is between two or three separate free-standing buildings, or one two or three level structure with the three separate structures in effect stacked on top of each other, the math changes completely.  Instead of getting reducing benefits, you now get increasing benefits.  There is no offsetting increase into total external wall square footage, but there are instead increasing savings in total roof area, total perimeter, total land footprint and energy efficiency each time you stack another formerly separate building on top of the others you have already combined.

When does the benefit of building up rather than building out cease to apply?  There comes a point when climbing stairs just becomes too much of a hassle.  Conceivably you could grow to four levels, by concentrating your living on levels two and three and using levels one and four for supplies and other infrequently needed/accessed items.

If you went to five levels, with levels two, three and four for main living, you could attempt to have younger and fitter people in level four, but clearly you are now starting to compromise general livability issues.  We know people who live on the fifth floor of apartment buildings, in apartment blocks with no elevators, and it isn’t much fun going up and down the stairs – not just alone, but having to schlep all one’s food (and often, all one’s water, too) up the stairs.

So we continue to feel that three or at the most four levels is the best compromise point.

If your consolidated building represents a number of otherwise freestanding dwellings, that is the best scenario.  But if you’re simply consolidating barns and sheds, that is not quite as cost-effective, because you are switching from a presumably low-cost construction method for a barn or shed to a ballistically resilient construction method as part of your main structure.  So there are less likely to be appreciable cost savings, but there are still other advantages.

Security Benefits of Building Consolidation

Consolidating multiple buildings into one tall building also offers an improvement in security for three reasons.  The first is that the easiest structure to defend is the one you are already in.  You don’t need to be patrolling other buildings.

The second reason is that if your property has, for example, a main retreat dwelling, together with a nearby barn, workshop and vehicle garage, then attackers could use these other buildings as cover and concealment; they could shelter behind them when attacking you in your retreat.

But if you have just one structure, you have no obstructions preventing you from having a clear field of fire (especially from your upper levels) to anywhere around you.

The third advantage is if you have consolidated two or more households into one structure.  You have a larger stronger group of people, all equally invested in protecting the one structure.  We touch on this in our article ‘Designing and Building a Retreat – The Bigger, the Better‘.

There’s another part of having a larger group of people in the one structure.  In our article ‘Community Mutual Defense Pacts‘ we point out that while it is all great in theory to have an agreement with your neighbors, a mile or two away, to support each other in the case of attack, the reality is that your neighbors are probably too far away to come to your aid quickly enough if needed, and the even uglier reality is that if you’re under attack, there’s a better than 50/50 chance that rather than risk their lives by coming to your aid, they’ll instead simply hunker down in their own retreat.

Clearly, if the other family is living in the same structure, neither of these constraints apply.

There a downside to putting all your structures into the one building, and that is the concept of putting all your eggs in one basket.  If something were to happen to your main structure, then you would have lost everything, whereas if you had two or three structures, you could lose any one of them and still have one or more remaining structures – that would not be a good thing, but it wouldn’t be a total disaster, either.

Summary

There are compelling reasons to switch from a rambler to a two level design of retreat building.  Going from two to three levels is not quite so clear-cut a decision, but probably makes sense for many preppers.

It also makes sense to build up rather than out when it comes to consolidating additional structures on your property.  It is generally more convenient and secure to integrate them all in the one multi-level building.

Apr 282013
 
A computer reconstruction of the 19th century Fort Laramie, WY.  Do the 'wild west' forts validate or invalidate the concept of defending your retreat?

A computer reconstruction of the 19th century Fort Laramie, WY. Do the ‘wild west’ forts validate or invalidate the concept of defending your retreat?

An awkward issue that preppers have to confront when planning for a possible problematic future is what to expect from other people.

Will people peacefully unite and work together effectively to create win-win examples of mutual survival?  Or will some group of society (maybe only a small minority) take advantage of a possible collapse of law-enforcement and in an anarchistic manner run amok in an orgy of looting, pillaging and plundering?

Opinions differ greatly as to what might occur.  But the simple fact that there are credible concerns about a general decay into lawlessness is enough to require prudent preppers to plan for this.  Whichever outcome might happen, a prudent prepper must necessarily consider not only the best case scenarios but also the worst case scenarios, and for sure, roving gangs of violent people who simply take anything they want by force is an unpleasant situation and some type of preparation for this must be considered and provided for.

A central part of the planning and preparing process revolves around one very big question :  Is it practical to make your retreat fully secure against determined attackers?  Is it even possible to do so?  When (or if) you find yourself confronted by an armed gang of looters, what should you do?  Shelter in your retreat?  Run away, leaving everything behind?  Fight to protect yourselves and your possessions?

There are many different opinions on how to respond to such an event, and you should form your own decision after having carefully considered all perspectives, all opinions, and – most of all – all facts.

It is certainly true that it is difficult to build a totally safe and secure retreat, especially while trying to keep the cost of construction to an affordable level.  Modern munitions have enormous power and can destroy very heavily fortified structures.  Besides which, if the first explosive device fails to blow a hole in your outside wall, an attacker may simply repeat a second and third time, progressively weakening your external fortifications until they eventually fail.

So, if any structure can potentially be defeated by a well armed and determined attacker, is there any point in spending potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars to strengthen it, in a case where such strength will always sooner or later be insufficient?  This is clearly a very important question and concept, and one which demands consideration.

A letter was posted on the Survivalblog website recently that raised some of these often discussed issues.  It is short, so to save you clicking to the link, this is what it said

A comment on the dual ring village concept. If it is advanced as a defense tactic, I would urge remembering that the walled-town versus siegecraft dynamic is thousands of years old, and the survival of walled towns and cities is only possible if they are:

  1. Provisioned to last longer than the besieging force, which is of course free to forage and be resupplied
  2. Fireproof
  3. Relieved by a friendly force from outside.

They are also utterly obsolete since the development of artillery bombardment, still more so since the airplane and missile. Sad but true.

IMHO, safety today must rely on:

  1. Invisibility or insignificance to possible enemy
  2. Effective surveillance of a wide perimeter
  3. Mobile defense force to engage potential enemy at a distance

War is not only Hell, but quite expensive!

We don’t disagree with the writer’s first three points, although in truth there is a great deal more than just three factors that apply to considering the dynamics of siege situations and their likely outcomes.  While the walled-town vs siege dynamic is thousands of years old, it is only in the last 500 – 1000 years that the relative safety of the walled-town has diminished compared to the ability of attackers to broach the fortifications.  Furthermore, it is less than 200 years ago when fortified positions were still being used to good effect, here in the US, to protect against Indians and outlaws – a reasonable analog of the situation that might be expected WTSHTF.

Indeed, the decline of forts in the US came not due to their failure to protect the people within them, but due to the peace and stability and stronger law enforcement that made such forts no longer essential.

If we were to look at history for lessons – and this is always a valid thing to do – we’d suggest that history has actually validated rather than invalidated the concept of fortified dwellings.

But let’s put the writer’s introductory comments to one side, because that’s not the main problem we have.  Keep reading on past his first three points and the conclusion he draws from them.

Now comes the trap.  We’re sure this writer didn’t deliberately adopt this well-known technique of demagoguery, but see what is happening here, and be aware when it is used to try to persuade you of other things in other situations.

The process is simple.  First you get the person you are trying to persuade to agree with you on some points which may range from ‘obviously’ true to probably true.  In the process you establish yourself as a credible expert in the person’s mind and get them in the habit of agreeing with you.  Salesmen are taught the same thing – you ask the prospect a series of questions to which the answer is ‘Yes’ then you ask him the big question – ‘Will you buy my used car’ and before the prospect has thought fully about it, he has reflexively answered yes again.

So, after the series of obviously true statements and agreements, second, comes the ‘sucker punch’.  You use the agreements on the initial points as a launching platform to adduce the apparently incontrovertible validity of some other points which superficially seem to be related to the points you’ve agreed upon, but which in truth may be completely unrelated and not directly linked.

Now, as we said, we’re sure the writer of this letter was well-meaning rather than trying to trick us, but – in our opinion – the net result is that he offers up three uncontroversial facts about a complex topic, and then slides from that to three opinions which are far from universally accepted.

Let’s focus in on his three claims.

1.  Safety relies on being invisible or insignificant to a possible enemy

Well, for sure, if you are invisible, your problems are reduced.  But – ummm, which aisle of the local store sells invisibility cloaks?  If you don’t have an invisibility cloak – and also the ‘absorbs all smells’ cloak and the ‘blocks all noise’ cloak, and if they are not large enough to cover your entire retreat, cultivated lands, wells, driveways, fencing, etc, then you’re not going to be invisible.

So saying that safety relies on being invisible is impractical and unrealistic.  You may as well say ‘safety relies on being invulnerable’ – and that’s about as likely as becoming invisible.

We do agree that it is prudent to observe ‘opsec’ and to minimize one’s profile to the world around one.  But we believe it is wildly improbable that you’ll remain undetected, longer term, and when you are detected, you need to have plans in place for how to now resolve problems.

The other half of the writer’s first point is to be insignificant.  But is this what you want, and is it possible, and even if it were, does it guarantee you a successful outcome when being confronted by a group of bad guys?  We think not.

Firstly, insignificant opponents are easy opponents.  Who would a theoretical enemy rather engage – a strong substantial well prepared force, or an insignificant small group of unarmed survivors?

Secondly, who wants to prep to be ‘insignificant’ in a future without rule of law?  Doesn’t the very fact that we have prepared and have supplies of food, shelter, energy, and everything else automatically shift us from the ‘insignificant’ to the ‘tempting’ category?  Is he saying ‘become starving and homeless and you’ll be okay’?

We should also think about the opposite to what he is saying – when he says that insignificant groups of people are safe, is he suggesting that marauders are drawn to making kamikaze type attacks on much stronger groups of well prepared communities?  That sure sounds counter-intuitive!

We’d suggest that in a future adverse situation, roving marauders will be opportunists, and will go after the ‘low hanging fruit’ – they’ll pick fights with people they know they can dominate, while leaving stronger adversaries well alone.

There’s one more thing as well.  This being insignificant thing – were you ever bullied at school (or, perhaps, were you a bully)?  Whichever you were, who were the people bullies would most pick on?  The highly visible popular students, or the less visible loners?  The lettered sports team jocks, or the puny weaklings?

How well did being insignificant work against bullies at school?  So tell me how being insignificant would work against bullies in a future dystopian world where bullies are running amok, free of any negative consequences?

There is never safety in weakness.  Only in strength.  So, this first claim seems to be in part impractical/impossible, and in other part, completely the opposite of what is more likely to occur.

2.  Safety relies on effective surveillance of a wide perimeter

There are a lot of assumptions wrapped up into this statement.  First of all, it seems to contradict his first point – an insignificant group lacks the resources to keep effective watch on a wide perimeter.  We’re not sure how wide a perimeter he is thinking of, but let’s say he is suggesting a one-quarter mile radius from your central retreat dwelling.  That makes for an 8300 foot perimeter – more than a mile and a half of perimeter.

For another measure, let’s say you have a ten-acre roughly square-shaped block of land, and you establish your perimeter on the boundary of your ten-acre block.  That perimeter would be probably about 3000 ft (a mile is 5280 ft), but that’s not a ‘wide’ perimeter.  It means you will see your opponents more or less at the same time they see the first signs of your property and the give-away indicators of fencing, cultivation, crops, animals, or whatever else.

It may not be practical to have a forward perimeter beyond your property – if you have neighbors, do they want you running patrols and maintaining forward observation posts on their land?  But if it is possible, and you have a perimeter another 150 ft out from your boundary, then you now have a 4,000 ft perimeter to patrol.

How many people will be required to patrol somewhere between 3000 and 8300 ft of perimeter?  That depends of course on the terrain and what type of vegetation you have.  Best case scenario might be eight people (say one in each corner of the 3000 ft ‘box’ and one in the middle of each side); worst case scenario could be 28 people (one every 100 yards with an 8300 ft perimeter).  You might be able to get away with fewer people during the day, and you’d probably need more people at night.

Now, even with ‘only’ eight people on duty, and let’s say that each person works eight hours a day, seven days a week, that still means you need a total team of 24 sentries to guard your perimeter, plus some additional staff for supervisors, central headquarter coordinating, and so on.  And that’s your best case scenario.  With the larger perimeter, you could end up needing 100 people for your total sentry/observation team.

So with somewhere between 25 and 100 able-bodied members of your community who are full-time tasked with doing nothing other than effectively surveilling a wide perimeter, one has to ask – how practical is that?

But let’s wave our magic wand over this part of his statement (you know, the one we used for our invisibility cloak too) and now ponder the next thought – what happens when an enemy force is detected approaching our invisible and insignificant community?  The writer answers that question in his third and last point.

3.  A Mobile Defense Force is Required to Engage Potential Enemies at a Distance

This is another very complicated concept that is not adequately conveyed in a short statement.  While it may be good military doctrine in the normal world to engage in such actions, in a Level 3 situation in particular, very different rules apply.  In a normal (or historical) military conflict, both forces are willing to accept casualties as part of furthering their cause, because they are assured of a vast to the point of almost limitless resupply of soldiers and munitions from ‘back home’ and because the commanders who make such decisions are not the fathers, brothers, and close personal friends of the soldiers they are willingly sacrificing.

But in a Level 3 situation, you only have the people with you in your community, and no replacements.  Plus, they are not strangers.  They are your friends and family.  What father will happily send his son out on a risky mission that might simultaneously see him lose his son and also see his community lose one of their precious able-bodied members?  Keep in mind also, with a collapse in health care resources, even small battlefield wounds will become life threatening.

There’s a terrible imbalance in this, too.  Although your community will have a small and irreplaceable resource of manpower – and a similarly small and irreplaceable resource of weaponry and munitions – it will be confronting a seemingly limitless number of roving gangs of aggressors.  Sure, you might successfully fight one gang off this week, but what about next week, the week after, and so on?

As we point out in our article about gangs being your biggest security threat, there were 1.4 million gang members in the US in 2010.  Now, of course, not all 1.4 million of those people are going to singlemindedly attack you, if for no other reason than geographical distances and the sure fact that many of them will lose their lives doing other things, elsewhere.  But how many more gang members will they recruit, and how many new gangs of all types will spring up when the rule of law evaporates?

So our first point is that in a future Level 3 situation, you are going to want to do all you can to protect your people and to avoid risking their lives and wellbeing.  You’ll not want to gratuitously start any firefights that you couldn’t otherwise avoid.

There’s more to critique in the writer’s third suggestion/statement, too.  If you are going to engage potential enemies, as he recommends, you need to surprise and ambush them.  So you’re going to have to have prepared ambush locations and defensive positions all around your retreat and wherever else you might choose to initiate contacts.

This strategy also links in to his earlier comment about a wide perimeter.  If your sentry perimeter is your property line or just beyond, or only one-quarter mile from your retreat, it will be impossible to ‘engage at a distance’ when you might not detect enemies until they are almost upon you.

Remember also you need to allow time from when your sentries have sounded an alarm to when your reaction force can group together and travel to the point of encounter.  This is indeed another reason for wanting to set your perimeter out as far as you can.

But if you extend your perimeter out to, say, 1 mile, you’ll have all sorts of issues with patrolling on other people’s land, and your manpower requirements will increase enormously.  You could quickly end up needing 500 people for sentry duty, and much more sophisticated communications systems to control and coordinate them all.  So that’s not going to work very well either, is it.

There’s also the simultaneous moral and tactical issue about what do you do when encountering – to use the writer’s term – a potential enemy?  If you do as he advocates and engage them at a distance, does that mean you’re opening fire on people who may have been quite peaceful and having no intention of attacking you?  Does that mean you’re killing people who didn’t even know you were there (remember, you’re also supposed to be insignificant and invisible)?

Or, if you’re giving them warnings, haven’t you just revealed your presence, and ceased to be both insignificant and invisible?  And, having given them a warning, you’ve now lost the initiative – they can decide, after making a show of retreating away, whether they’ll stay away, or if they’ll circle around and attack you unawares from another side.  (Oh, right, yes – your effective surveillance of a wide perimeter is keeping you safe.  Maybe.)

We could go on – for example, we could wonder how mobile the mobile force the writer advocates would actually be in a Level 3 situation.

Are we talking horses, or vehicles – if the latter, just how much gas do you have to burn on roving mobile patrols, and how complete an inventory of spares for the vehicles you’re using all day every day?  What type of roading will be required?  And how invisible/insignificant are you being with motorized patrols?

Alternatively, if you’re going to use horses, they aren’t a free source of mobility.  Horses require feeding, stabling, training, medical care, and so on.  You’ve just added yet another layer of complexity and cost and overhead to your retreat community.  Not only do you now have some hundreds of people full-time on sentry duty, but you now need a mobile force of, shall we say, 50 cavalrymen, and they in turn require how many extra people to care for their 50+ horses?

Remember the concept of a ‘horse acre’ – each horse requires almost an acre of farmland to be supported.  So the first 50 acres of your retreat are required for the cavalry horses, and the first 500 adults in your retreat are all either sentries or soldiers, and if we say you need another 1000 people to do productive work to cover their own needs plus those of the 500 strong security group, and if we say that these 1500 adults have on average at least one other family member, your retreat community has now grown to 3000 people.

Is that still small and insignificant?

Actually, we are probably being conservative about the proportion of ‘support people’ and civilians that are required to underpin your security force.  It is rare to find a country with more than 5% of their population in the armed services.  Even in the gravest parts of Britain’s struggle in both World Wars One and Two, with the entire country locked in a life and death struggle and every part of the economy devoted to supporting it troops, and with the civilian population suffering rationing of everything – food, clothing, energy, you name it – the largest force that Britain could field was only about 10% of their entire population, and that was for only a brief part of the war.

With possibly less automation in your post-WTSHTF community, and with the need to have a sustainable allocation of resources to defense compared to simple food production and survival, it is unlikely you could have much more than 5% of your total retreat population tasked with defense duties, and/or no more than 10% of your adult militarily fit (generally considered to be 17 – 49) population.

So there’s a rule of thumb – multiply your defense team numbers by 10 to get the total number of 17 – 49 year olds in your group, and by 20 to get a minimum total group size of all ages.  Or, working backwards, divide the count of adult able people in your group by ten and that’s about how many you can afford to spare for defense duties.

Some Alternative Thoughts

Okay, so the three ideas proposed by the letter writer don’t really make much sense, do they.  But we do probably all agree that being besieged by an opposing force is not a good situation, either.

So what is the solution?

This brings us to another trick of demagoguery.  Are the initial three statements, the statements we agreed with, actually applicable to our situation?  As we hinted at before, we suggest not.  We’re not talking about medieval wars between states, when brightly colored knights on horses jousted in a chivalrous manner with each other, and armies mounted sieges against lovely crenelated castles surrounded by moats, located obligingly on open fields.

We are talking about a roving group of marauders, probably numbering from a low of perhaps 10 up to a high of probably less than 50.  For sure, if they encounter us, they would be keen to take whatever they wished from us, but if they can’t do that, will they devote the next many months or years of their lives to mounting a siege?  Or will they give up and move on, because for sure, some miles further on will be some other small community who perhaps truly is insignificant and easier to plunder?

If fortified settlements worked well in the wild west against similar types of bandit groups, wouldn’t they work well again in a future Level 3 situation?

Our point is this – a strong well fortified central retreat is more likely to discourage rather than to encourage attackers to press on with an attack.  Sure, they might start off by attempting to overwhelm your group, but if they fail at the easy stuff, are they then going to risk losing more of their people and sweating the hard stuff?  We suggest not.

While it is true that modern artillery and air delivered munitions are beyond what we could realistically build defenses against, how likely is it that a roving group of marauders will be towing field artillery pieces, or have an airforce at their command?  Even if they did have some military grade munitions, do you think they would have many of such things, or maybe just one or two that they were reluctant to squander?

So what level of protection do you need to build into your retreat?

Realistic Construction Standards for Your Retreat

We suggest you design a retreat that can withstand being shot at by heavier caliber rifles, and which is fireproof.

It is certainly conceivable that attackers would have rifles, and it is certainly conceivable that their rifles would be in full size calibers such as 7.62×51 (ie .308) rather than in lighter calibers such as 5.56 (ie .223) or 762.×39 (ie Soviet type AK-47 calibre).

So your retreat should be built to be able to withstand multiple hits in a single location from .308 and similar calibers, and be constructed of a material that you can readily repair at the end of any such attack.

It also has to be strong enough to resist physical assault – in other words, if attackers get to your retreat’s exterior walls, you don’t want them to be able to break windows and climb in, or to knock down doors with a battering ram.  You want to physically block them by your exterior wall while you pour defensive fire down on them from protected positions on the top of the wall.

Talking about fire, it is certainly conceivable that attackers could somehow get incendiary devices to the walls and roof of your retreat.  The strongest walls are useless to you if you have a shake roof which the bad guys set on fire.

If you have wood on your walls or roof, then you’re vulnerable to this type of attack.  But if you have stone, adobe, metal, or concrete, you are safe from the threat of fire, too.

There’s a lot more to this topic – a lot more on both sides of the discussion – and we’ll come back to it again in future articles.  But for now, can we suggest that it is possible to envisage a viable future that doesn’t involve 500 sentries and soldiers, invisibility cloaks, and contradictory and morally unsound strategies.

Summary

The question of how to optimize one’s ability to survive against attacking marauders is a key and critical issue that you need to consider.  We’re not saying that every day will see you battling afresh against new groups of attackers – such events may be very rare indeed.  But, rare as they may be, they are not unforeseeable and may occur.

The problem becomes of how much resource to invest into anticipatory defenses.  A text-book perfect solution would require an impossible amount of manpower and resource.  You will need to compromise, accordingly.  But we don’t think there is safety in weakness; surely there is only safety in strength.

We’re reminded of the story about how to survive a bear attack if you’re unarmed.  You don’t need to be able to outrun the bear.  You just need to be able to outrun the people you’re with.

In our case, to survive an attack by marauders doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be either invisible or invulnerable.  It just means you’ve got to be less tempting a target than other people in the surrounding area.

Don’t get us wrong.  The best case scenario of all would be for your neighbors to be similarly hard targets, so that word gets out that your entire region is best avoided.  But first make your own retreat community strong; and only after that, work to help your neighbors on a basis of mutual support, too.

We’ve spent much of this article critiquing the letter we quoted.  But hopefully through the critiques, you can see implied positive strategies and approaches, and we’ll write more on how best to protect your retreat in further articles.

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

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

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

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

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

But.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

Aug 272012
 

This World War 2 poster equates silence with security. We’re not so sure the concept applies to modern-day WROL retreats.

Many preppers love to boast about their Opsec.

Sometimes they capitalize the term to give it (and them) even more (self)importance.  They particularly love to boast about how no-one for many miles around knows of their retreat location and their presence there.

Some people simultaneously boast of the resilience of their retreat and then turn around and refuse to disclose even the state it is located within.  Why?  What are they scared of, with such a self-described resilient retreat to start with?

Excuse me if I feel a bit like vomiting when I see people quoting military terms but not necessarily knowing what they really mean and misapplying them, or using them in the wrong context, or as a ‘magic spell’ invocation to give them powers of invincibility – as if merely saying the term is all they need to do.

Let’s think about just four implications of someone who obsessively hides their retreat away.  None of them are positive.  Oh – and we’re not even going to number the most important consideration of all – in this day and age, no-one is truly hidden away.

Everyone can be found, and every dwelling leaves fingerprints and footprints in many different public records, private company work records, aerial photos, and so on.

Even if you’re not found by people deliberately searching you out, it is reasonable to expect a lot more people will be roaming around the currently empty woods in a Level 3 situation, and Murphy’s Law mandates that they’ll accidentally discover you.  See our earlier article ‘Is it Reasonable to Expect Your Retreat Will Not be Found‘ for more discussion on this point.

1.  The Need to Hide Away Implies (or Creates) Vulnerabilities

If you have a strong secure retreat and true ‘op sec’ (which doesn’t mean operations secrecy, it means operations security – an important difference of meaning) then you do not need to be so secretive.

Sure, it is never appropriate to brag about things, and to make your retreat a tasty tempting target for all and sundry.  But if you need to be totally hidden away, that implies your retreat is otherwise vulnerable, and therefore, was/is probably a bad choice to start with.

If you start building an expectation, an assumption, and before too long, a reliance on no-one ever finding you, then you’re basing your survival on a terrible risk, and on something you have much less control over than you might think.  Every day you are playing Russian Roulette against the odds of being discovered.

It is important to understand where and when the constraints of Op-sec should apply.  Disclosing that you live ‘over there’ need not be a breach of Opsec.  Revealing the access code to the main gate would be.

You also need to weigh the pros and cons of keeping an ultra low profile.  Are the trade-offs acceptable?  For example, see the next point.

2.  If No-one Knows About You, Who Will Help You

If you’re secretly squirreled away somewhere miles from anywhere, what happens when you inevitably need help?  Best case scenario, bringing in someone or some people to help with whatever your emergency is will destroy whatever secrecy your retreat might have formerly had.  Worst case scenario is you’ll be on your own, without any support and without any community goodwill.

And if the nearby community does discover you, they’ll not see you as a friendly ‘one of us’ – you’ll be an outsider and not entitled to any special treatment.  See our article about becoming part of the solution, not part of the problem, after the collapse of society.

3.  Do You Still Have a Defensive Posture

If your plan revolves around no-one finding your retreat’s location, do you still maintain a defensive posture for the inevitable time when someone does?

Do you still have sentries (or at least some form of remote sensing/monitoring) 24/7?  Did you make your retreat’s exterior walls bullet-resistant and fire-proof?  Or have you allowed your hope that no-one knows where you are lull you into a false sense of security?

This consideration points out one of the weaknesses of the entire opsec advocacy.  You can’t plan your retreat’s security based on the hope that it will never be found.  You must assume it will be found, and by adversaries, and have a plan to respond to that situation when it inevitably (and probably repeatedly) occurs.

So if you are planning for discovery, why delay it?  Why not have the discovery on your terms, rather than on the terms of unknown others?

4.  Who Are Your Neighbors

As part of creating your own secretive retreat, have you been able to spy on and identify and analyze all your neighbors?  If you’re keeping a very low profile yourself, that might be difficult.

For all you know, the next valley over might be the home of a group of domestic Muslim terrorists, or white supremacists, or an outlaw gang.  For that matter, your own valley might also be home to an illegal drug factory or growing operation.

It is difficult to thoroughly identify your neighbors without revealing yourself, and remember also that the same things you are doing to identify your neighbors are techniques that might be done, and possibly to an even more sophisticated level, by your neighbors to you.  Or, for that matter, by federal agencies, who seem to be more than a little interested in secretive groups of people in the American redoubt states.  It is sad but true that the things that encourage us – lawful good ordinary citizens – to move to American redoubt locations also encourage bad people to move there, too.  And it is even sadder, but still true, that some of the values we treasure are misperceived by some as being anti-American, whereas they are in fact totally pro-American.

It seems only fair to acknowledge that if you believe you have managed to obscure your own retreat, then it is possible you could be immediately adjacent to someone else who has similarly disguised their retreat, too.  And while your own motivation for obscuring your retreat is positive and good, theirs may not be quite so positive.

Of course, if you believe you have absolutely uncovered details about all your regional neighbors, isn’t it incredibly myopic of you to simultaneously believe that you’ve managed to simultaneously avoid the prying eyes of other folk around you?

Plus, wouldn’t you rather be friends with your neighbors, so you can call on them for help if ever needed, plus enjoy a better life in normal times – socializing with them, occasionally swapping or sharing or lending things, and so on?

Fighting Against the Inevitable

Here’s an interesting comparison.  It seems that no matter how convoluted an approach our schools and other self-appointed moral leaders adopt, teenagers find out about sex and then experiment with it.  No amount of abstinence advocacy seems to have much effect; indeed one study showed that girls who joined a group pledging to remains virgins until marriage ended up with higher out-of-wedlock pregnancy rates than did other ‘normal’ girls.  You can make contraceptives freely available or withhold them, you can educate teens about every aspect of relationships and physical relations, adopting any type of advocacy perspective, and still teenagers have sex and still teenagers get pregnant.

Our point, in case you are wondering, is that opsec, particularly in a civilian and less controlled environment such as you would be planning with your retreat, is very limited and not very controllable in nature.

It isn’t a case of if your opsec will be punctured and destroyed, it is a case of when.

Just like the teenagers, somehow ‘the truth will out’ – through any one of many dozens of different vectors – and all of a sudden, your secret will be revealed for all to see.  Complete opsec is unachievable to start with, just like keeping all teenagers chaste.

Much better, we suggest, to accept this reality, and to instead manage the release of selected information about yourselves.  Some studies suggest that households that take a matter-of-fact approach to sex end up with teenagers in turn adopting a more restrained view of the topic, rather than being consumed with curiosity about an apparently special super secretive aspect of being an adult.  It is the same with alcohol – families that treat alcohol as a functional normal part of their world have fewer binge drinking teenagers and alcoholics.

So too can it be the same with your retreat.  If you act casually about who you are, and where your retreat is and why, then the locals will accept it in the same low-key ordinary way you present it.

A key part of opsec is not eliminating all information flowing outside of your operation.  It is instead controlling and shaping the information release, and adopting appropriate internal measures to anticipate the outcomes of the information that has been released.

You don’t need to place a public notice in the local newspaper boasting of your new retreat and all the stores you’ve stockpiled, of course.  But you can tell people where you live, and if you’re not there permanently, you can describe it as a vacation home, a hunting/fishing lodge, or whatever else you like.  This changes you from being a subject of speculation and gossip, and instead you become a known normal quantity, and no longer worthy of ongoing discussion.

If you do succeed in clamping down on the release of all information, that actually becomes significant.  As a comparison, these days, one of the ways to find a submarine in the ocean is to look for an area of unexpected silence – the most sophisticated stealthy submarines now create areas not of detectable noise, but of unusual silence.  It is the same with your retreat – if someone is checking off property on a map saying ‘Oh yes, this lot belong to Bill Smith, that lot is forest land, John Jones grows crops here’ then they come to your lot and say ‘Hey, what’s going on here?  We better go see.’

Even some of the least sophisticated counties have adopted very complete and detailed GISs – geographical information systems that plot every square inch of land in their county, showing who owns it, recording the location of easements, utilities, wells, rivers, streams, lakes, mines, septic systems, buildings, and all manner of other details.  Sometimes this is even publicly accessible online.  It is also used, perhaps with greater detail revealed, by emergency services, by county valuers and assessors, health inspectors, building inspectors, and so on through a huge long list of departments and bureaucracies.

Here is an example of one such database – it covers every property in the entire state of Montana.

If your retreat isn’t already captured in your county’s GIS, it is only a matter of time before it will be, because the state and county agencies revisit and re-inspect properties to update their records on an occasional basis.  You might have managed to create your retreat on land the county thought to be undeveloped forest, but sooner or later, they’ll discover your presence, and then you’ll find yourself in an embarrassing situation – un-permitted improvements, non-standard construction, back taxes, penalties, and you’ll transition from being obscure to being very visible.  Maybe you are already on several different federal GIS databases (not just police and security ones).

It is much better to take control of these matters up-front, and to manage the release of information.  As we said before, you don’t necessarily need to fully share all information about everything, but you need to disclose enough to explain your presence and to make it seem ordinary and normal.

Summary

Right from the minute you buy your retreat land from someone, you are starting to create a paper trail and record of your presence.  Don’t fight it.  Accept it and take the initiative, positively creating the impression you wish to convey in the local community.

The best opsec is not to adopt an unrealistic attempt to hide away from everyone, always.  It is instead a managed release of information on your terms to neutralize potentially harmful speculation and to replace unknowns and curiosity with the impression of whatever semi-normal concept you wish to convey.

Aug 232012
 

When your local community decides how to respond to TSHTF, make sure you are viewed as part of the solution, not part of the problem.

In our article about the most dangerous ‘fourth wave’ of threats against your retreat and its members after a societal collapse, we talk about the risk and problems you’ll encounter from regional ‘power groupings’ and gangs; some of which may be true lawless gangs, others of which may be groups of people cloaking themselves in the mantle of semi/pseudo legitimate authority.

Yes, you can resist such power groups, but we make the point that such resistance is likely to be more harmful to you than to them.  Wherever possible, you want to co-exist with such groups rather than to be in conflict with them.

There are some ways in which you can make yourself, your retreat, and your resources, an asset to some types of more realistic lawless gangs.  For sure, there will be some situations where you have no choice but to ‘fight fire with fire’ and resist with all means available to you when roving gangs of looters and marauders seek to take over your retreat.  But this is your last resort and least desirable strategy.

There is nothing much you can do about lawless gangs prior to WTSHTF.  But the other category of fourth wave risk/threat is one which you can take advance precautionary measures to minimize.  We are talking about the effects of semi-legitimate seeming groups who assert control over an area, using some thin legal basis for their actions – a legal basis doubtless enhanced by including the local judge and sheriff as part of their group.

Let’s come back to the scenario we posed in the earlier article where the local judge, mayor and sheriff turn up on your doorstep, themselves all ‘needy’ and demanding, under the authority of ‘law’ which they’ve granted to themselves, that you surrender your supplies of food and share your shelter with other locals.

Complying with their demands would destroy the viability of your retreat.  You’d lose the inventory of food that you had amassed, and all that would happen is the many other people would have their food needs met for a short time, then all of you would starve together.  Hardly a win-win outcome.  But not complying to their demands would see them return with a posse of equally hungry and heavily armed locals, using the authority of the law to evict you from your retreat, and possibly imprisoning you too (and that is assuming that a rougher form of ‘frontier justice’ hasn’t already taken hold of the region).  The local SWAT team would descend upon you with their automatic weapons, their armored vehicles, tear gas, and who knows what else.

What would you do?  Give in up front, or have your food taken from you by force and your retreat destroyed as part of the process?  The question is partly rhetorical, but also completely serious, because it is a situation you quite likely may face.

Fortunately, is a question that may have some possible answers – there may be a third option, beyond the two we’ve just mentioned.

The Third Option

What you want to do is when the three leaders appear on your doorstep, to be able to say ‘Good morning, John, Bill, Paul.  Great to see the three of you today.  You’re all looking good, which is surprising after the late night the four of us had yesterday.  That moonshine really does pack a kick, doesn’t it!  How are things going, and can we do anything more together to keep the town ticking over?’

In other words, you don’t want to passively hideaway and only encounter ‘the other side’ when it has become too late and they have already committed to a course of action, without any inputs from you as to what it may be.  You want to be part of the community and thought leadership, right from the get-go, so you can influence and shape what happens.  You don’t want to be seen as an impersonal ‘one of them’; you want to be thought of as ‘one of us’.  You want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

How to do this?  Rather than isolate yourself from your local community (something many preppers instinctively feel to be best ‘Opsec’), you want to integrate yourself into it.  You – or some member(s) of your group – need to be volunteer deputy sheriffs, volunteer firemen, volunteer paramedics.  Is there a local Civil Defense group?  Join it.  Become a leader of it.

Indeed, why limit yourself to being volunteers?  If some of your group have chosen to move permanently to your retreat, they can become fulltime members of local organizations and businesses.  Even become the barman at the local watering hole – sometimes people like that occupy a more key role in ‘thought leadership’ than do elected officials!  Teetotalers might find a similar opportunity at the local library.  If your community doesn’t have a local library, why not coordinate the creation of one.

You should belong to the local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club or Lions or whatever else.  Women can join local women’s groups.  Is there a sports team to belong to – or at least support?  Maybe coach little league baseball.  For the less physically active, how about a bridge club?  A local historical society or something else?

Join a church or other social group, and as broadly as possible, generally be a respected member of the community.  Maybe you don’t have a lot of money to throw around, but you can contribute your time and provide positive inputs into these essential parts of your community as well as simply money.

If resources allow, consider establishing a business in the community.  It may employ other members of the community, and provide helpful services to the community as a whole.  It needn’t be extraordinarily profitable, but if you have members of your group with time on their hands, this could be a good way of getting established in the community and even making a small return on the time you invest.

You need to be part of the community.  Get involved in local politics – indeed, if some of your fellow retreat members get involved in the Democratic side and some in the Republican side, you’ve covered your bets both ways.  Don’t think of this as being tricky or underhand – every large company in the country gives to both sides in election campaigns.  In reality it is our country’s approach to paying protection money, but in a different way and by a different name.  Consider running for elected office – although this risks polarizing your support, with some people now liking you and others disliking you.  However, in addition to such positions, maybe there are other public service roles you can take on – become an appointed member of the local arts commission (if there is one!) or some other committee or grouping.

You also want to consider deliberately ensuring you have some surplus resources, so that when pressed to do so, you can contribute some support without harming your own viability.  To contribute nothing would be a modern-day response similar to that which sparked the French Revolution when Marie Antoinette’s response to the starving people who complained of having no bread to eat was ‘Let them eat cake’.

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

When you are integrated into the community, you’ll be plugged in to how the community responds to a societal collapse.  You’ll be able to be present at the meetings where people gather and discuss what they can do to ensure their safety and survival.

People are less likely to say ‘Let’s go take all Bill’s supplies’ if you (ie Bill) is present at the meeting.  Instead, you could stand up and volunteer ‘Look, I’m in as difficult a situation as everyone else, but I can probably spare some food; it won’t be much, but I’ll share all that I can’.

If you can be present when policy is being formulated and plans are being made, you’ll be better able to slightly shift and deflect the meeting’s focus from going after you and your resources, to instead seeing you as ‘part of them’ and also being in need of assistance.

It is always very much easier to influence policy in its earliest stages of being formulated.  But after policies have been established, they take on a rigidity and life of their own, and it becomes very much harder to then get them changed or cancelled.

If you’re hiding out in your retreat, you’re not able to help shape the policy positively.  But if you’re in town, attending the public meeting, and if the other people in the meeting vaguely know of you and understand you to be ‘one of us’ then you’re going to have a much greater chance of controlling the outcome.

If nothing else, you can switch the tables on the group – instead of having them deliver a fait accompli to you and have them tell you to go protest it to no-longer-existing appellate courts and distant authorities, you can at the meeting point out that the meeting’s authority to resolve whatever it is considering is questionable and uncertain, and it needs to get the approval of these higher authorities before it implements its actions.

Plan to Incorporate the Local Community Into Your Future Survival Activities

A danger is that if you offer the local community a conciliatory olive branch and give them some spare food and supplies, you are almost certainly not buying an undisturbed future, free from their ongoing requests (and demands) for more and more support.

Rather, you can be creating a dependency cycle.  You give them food and supplies which they passively accept and consume, then they come back to you for more.  During the extra time your food and supplies has given them, they’ve done nothing about creating any self-sufficiency, they’ve merely done what they’ve done all their lives to date – eaten the food that comes to them without giving any thought about where it came from, or how it was grown, or what they could do to create their own food in the future.

Adopting this strategy of appeasement will be no more successful to you than it was to Britain’s appeasing of Hitler prior to the eventual collapse of that policy that saw a much stronger Germany then embark on World War 2.  Appeasing will not buy you much time and will definitely not ensure your future survival and safety.

Instead of simply giving food and supplies with nothing in return, you should offer to exchange their labor for your support on a fair basis that is win-win.  Have a plan for how you can grow your farm production if you suddenly get a large growth of manpower.

If you say ‘Sure, I can help out; I’ll create jobs for the local people and pay you all in the food and energy we create together’ then you are a positive part of the solution, and you’ve shifted responsibility for caring for these people from yourself to themselves.  They no longer simply passively take from you under a banner of entitlement.  Instead, they work with and for you, and earn support directly proportional to their efforts.

People can no longer say ‘You should give us more (and more and more)’.  Instead, they can see, from their work each day, how much food and other resources they are creating, and their only remaining negotiation should be one about what percentage of the food and other resources they create is theirs to keep, and what percentage is yours.  As long as the net result to you is that your net personal productivity is at least as great if you are supervising other people compared to if you are doing the work yourself, you don’t really care too much if the split of food produced is 50/50 or even 90/10.

You have placed the responsibility for providing for themselves onto the people who are now working for and with you.

This is like the concept of ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’.  Help the people in your community to fend for themselves and to become self-sufficient; either completely independently or integrated and coordinated with your own activities.

You will benefit from this too.  You’ve in effect helped these other people to become fellow survivors.  And the larger group of you is now united with a common shared goal of self-sufficient surviving.  You can also now spread your risk – by having two potato fields on opposite sides of town, maybe one might have a good yield and the other a poor yield, but you’re no longer now in an ‘all or nothing’ situation with only one potato field.  You can also diversify into more crops and activities.  This is definitely a win-win for you and everyone else.

Use the Collapse of Current Laws Positively

As we details in our article on urban drift, our society is now dominated by city dwellers.  Many of these city dwellers are affluent and influential, and they have very little comprehension of the ‘real world’ outside of the cities and what it takes to produce the food that conveniently appears – as if by magic – in their neighborhood supermarket.

For puzzling reasons that we really can’t guess at, these people have caused a growing number of laws to be passed, laws that restrict and interfere with the normal prudent use of our land and its resources.  Although the history of mankind and its evolution and advancement to date has been built on the concept of productively using the planet’s natural resources for our gain and benefit, these city-dwellers seek to turn that around.  Spotted owls and other obscure species that may or may not even be present are now considered more important than our own welfare.

We’re not allowed to drill for oil in places that people never visit, for fear of destroying the claimed natural beauty of such places.  Rational people would point out that who cares what a place may look like if no-one ever visits, and they might also point out that when carefully managed, oil drilling does not measurably harm the environment anyway, but these city dwellers are more emotional than rational.  They’d rather pay dollars more per gallon of imported gas than allow us to drill for our own.

They complain about power plants that burn fossil fuels and demand we shift to ‘renewable’ energy sources, but then they also demand that hydro-electric power stations – the ultimate in renewable energy sources, and which have been in place for 50+ years – now be destroyed because they interfere with fish migration patterns.

Okay, enough of such griping!  Our point is simply this.  Your ability to create a viable sustainable existence in the harsh reality of a Level 3 situation is constrained and compromised by laws passed by people who never had to suffer the impacts of the laws they passed, in a world that was much kinder and gentler.

In a Level 3 situation, maybe you can turn the sudden flexibility in lawmaking to your advantage.  Perhaps you could get a new law passed authorizing you to dam a nearby river, something that was formerly banned by various state environmental laws and regulations.  All of a sudden, you – and others around you – have sudden access to plentiful water, and maybe even the ability to build a small hydro-electric power plant as well.

Maybe you can get the city, county or state government to assert ownership over government lands and forests.  All of a sudden, there could be an instant timber industry, and a huge source of fuel for the community.

Maybe the zoning restrictions on your land can be lifted.

Do some dreaming based on the area you’re in, and the current opportunities and constraints, so that if a crisis occurs, you can lead public opinion with solutions that are more long-term and beneficial to all, rather than becoming a focus of a short-term temporary fix that simply involves taking everything you have.

Predicting the Future Social Evolution and Issues – Lessons from the Movies and History in General

People who don’t learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.  You don’t have the luxury to make mistakes, so you need to do all the learning you possibly can.

While it is true there has never been an event in history analogous to the sudden collapse of an advanced civilization, there have certainly been plenty of examples of new social systems wrestling with ideologies, corruption, the external elements, and so on and so forth.  Indeed, our own country has some relevant and moderately recent past to draw upon – the period from about 1850 through about 1900, primarily west of the Mississippi – what we look upon as our ‘Wild West’ era.

This was a period redolent with struggles between good and evil, between lawlessness and attempts to impose law and order, rapidly changing social values and culture clashes, fast wealth alongside poverty, hard times, and so on – many of the same things that we can expect to encounter in a future Level 3 situation.

It is common to turn to old books to learn how to grow food using ‘low tech’ methods; we should also turn to old books (ie history books) to learn about ‘low tech’ methods of social structure and order, and how to manage and govern pockets of civilization that are surrounded by modern-day ‘wild Indians’ and definitely modern-day gangsters and gunmen.

The actual reality of what the wild west was truly like is open to much debate – perhaps because if you could imagine it, then it probably happened somewhere at some time, so maybe everyone’s perceptions are right to some extent or another.  Whether accurate historically or not, the movie depictions of the wild west can have some interesting worked examples of potential social scenarios that might evolve in our own Level 3 situation, a situation not very different to the wild west of 150 years ago.

Think of some of the western movies you’ve seen with power struggles between wealthy ranchers, poor townsfolk, an under-manned local sheriff, an exploitive gang that allays itself variously with the shadier of the wealthy ranchers, out of county politicians who are either honorable but powerless, or dishonest and influential, and so on and so on.  There’s a lot to learn from and anticipate.

Remember also stories about how the villains end up running the town, electing themselves as mayor and sheriff.  Or about how the sheriff himself becomes corrupt.

If you have time, it also would be helpful to read some accurate history of the social evolution of the wild west, and in particular, how small towns formed to protect themselves against external threats from marauding bandits.

A Major Social Change

One of the great things about US society, and something very different to many other societies around the world, is that – currently – people can make money and become as wealthy as they like, while attracting little negative response from the people around them.  This is because, at present, we understand that the success and wealth of one person in no way detracts from the ability of other people to also succeed and become wealthy too.  If anything, the success and wealth of one person or company helps the people around them – they spend money in their local community, they create jobs, and so on.

But things will be very different in a Level 2/3 situation.  People who are poor will definitely resent people who are wealthy, and there will be a large push to force wealthy people to share their wealth on a much greater basis than that which is created by today’s graduated taxation systems.  This is because the people who are poor will be very poor, and will also be very aware of their massively reduced standard of living, having of course formerly been living in a much more comfortable situation.

They won’t feel they have the luxury to wait indefinitely until someone else’s wealth might trickle down and impact on their lives; they will want a restoration of their previous lifestyle as urgently quickly as possible.  Whether fair or not, whether rational or not, they will resent your success and your better lifestyle.

In other words, be discreet about your own standard of living.  Be like the people in some countries who have beaten up old doors and entry ways into their apartments, but luxurious inner interiors, carefully concealed, that can not be seen by chance from open doors or windows.

Summary

Like it or not, we all live in the society that surrounds us.  We can’t avoid it, and with each passing year and more constraints on personal privacy and more data collection, our ability to obscure our lives and insulate ourselves from the watchful society around us becomes more and more limited.

This is the reality.  We mightn’t like it, but we must accept it and plan our present and future lives within it.  Rather than either withdrawing from society or fighting against it (in the figurative rather than literal sense!) we need to become a part of it – both now and definitely in the future after TSHTF.

If we integrate ourselves positively into our local communities we can help shape and influence how the communities react and respond to the collapse of society and its support mechanisms.  We can guide them positively towards becoming self-sufficient, and we can minimize the risk of them using either pseudo-legal authority or just plain blunt brute force to take our supplies and resources from us.

We should make ourselves part of the solution, not part of the problem.  Everyone will benefit when we do that.

Aug 232012
 

A 13th century depiction of the red – second – horse and rider of the Apocalypse. The biblical prophecy of the four horsemen is eerily similar to how we see the four waves of refugees after TEOTWAWKI.

No-one really knows what to expect after TSHTF in an extended Level 2 or 3 situation, but it seems universally agreed that the starving masses will be forced to flee their city dwellings and do whatever it takes to survive, wherever they can find the opportunity and ability to do so.

It is helpful to look at the types of people who will come out from the cities as a series of different waves, each with different characteristics.  We’ve discussed the first three waves of refugees in this other article, and the good news is they will be relatively brief in duration and not necessarily ultimately threatening to the wellbeing of your own retreat community – indeed some people in the third wave could well become positive additions to your community.

In this part we wish to instead look at the last of these waves – the fourth wave.  And rather like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, this is the most threatening and dangerous wave – not only by its nature, but also because it will be the longest lived of the four waves.  (Christians will be impressed at how closely all four waves can be viewed as having characteristics similar to the four horsemen described in Revelations.)

The first two waves were fairly simple and easily understood.  In the third wave, we saw how some members were threats but others could be valuable allies.  There is a similar dichotomy to the fourth wave, but in a very different sense, and their duality is part of their danger.

Both will be organized groups, and both will probably already have their own shelter and possibly even other food sources.  They probably don’t need your shelter, and they may not even need your food and other resources.  But, taking advantage of a collapse of law and order, they want to take it simply because they can, and because all around them, other people and groups are acting similarly, just like the looter who takes items from stores in a city riot, even if they are things of no value – they just take them for nihilistic reasons.

Organized Lawless Gangs

The first of these groups will be organized lawless gangs, seeking to dominate and rule their new expanded territory.  The might possibly seek ongoing tribute and ‘taxes’ from you in exchange for their ‘protection’.

Or maybe they’ll be less formal, and will simply be roaming around as an organized and maybe nomadic gang, taking and destroying as they go.

Gangs that seek to impose their own structure and what passes for their version of order may be groups you can negotiate with.  But groups who are little more than anarchistic looters will not be people you can negotiate or create win-win outcomes with.

When encountering the former, you need to shift their perception of you from being a one-way source of goodies they can seize from you, to instead being a two-way trading source and resource they can benefit from.  Maybe you can help them maintain some of their equipment.  Maybe you have medical resources.  Maybe you can trade with them – exchanging items they’ve plundered elsewhere and have no use for, and giving them in return food or other things they do need.

When encountering the latter, you are best advised to indicate to them that you are not an easy target, and any attempt to attack you would seriously weaken or destroy their own force, while leaving you relatively unharmed.  With most of the rest of the entire continent lying helpless at their feet, encourage them to go after easier targets.

This encouragement is best done in a ‘face saving’ manner.  If you challenge the gang leader’s authority, and the overall ‘machismo’ of the gang itself, they may have no social choice but to fight it out with you – and from their perspective, the lives of their junior gang members probably has much less value to the gang leaders than do the lives of your family and fellow community members to you.

We’re From the ‘Government’ and We’re Here to ‘Help’ You

The second of these groups may be more dangerous.  They will claim to be semi-official government groups, seeking to impose their definition of emergency martial law on the region they have assumed control of.

Sometimes their intentions may be honorable and well-meaning (even if dysfunctional and dangerous to you in the process), other times they may be as corrupt and despotic as the outlaw gangs, but cleverly seeking to wrap up their dictatorial actions with an ill deserved veneer of assumed legality.

Unfortunately, whether honorable or not, it is almost a certainty that these self-appointed groups of enforcers will be primarily tasked with taking stuff from you – either to keep for themselves, or to give to the unprepared other people in the region who have empowered these people to act for their benefit.

They may attempt to claim special emergency powers that suspend all your normal legal protections and constitutionally guaranteed rights, and if they have been sufficiently clever and sophisticated, they’ll have compliant judges ready to issue court orders authorizing things that should never be authorized.

If you don’t like it, they’ll say, you can go appeal, all the way to the US Supreme Court if you wish – this being in a scenario where the Supreme Court may have ceased to exist, and even if it did, it would be close to impossible for you to go there, and may take years for you to get a case heard and resolved.  Meantime, you will be told you must comply with what they tell you is a lawful order to surrender your food, to take in refugees, or in many other ways to destroy the viability of the retreat that you built, for yourself.

Some of the people in this fourth wave will be people you might choose to reluctantly ‘do business’ with.  If they are realistic and don’t seek to ‘kill the goose that lays the golden eggs’ and understand that only if your are prosperous can they take a levy or share of your prosperity, then all you’ve done is substituted one form of previous law, order, and taxation for another.  And whether the people imposing it on you are bona fide government officials, lawless gangsters, or ‘pretend’ government officials, the net result is the same, and you simply have to matter-of-factly strike the best win-win deal you can.

But if they ask too much, and leave you with too little, you have some real problems to face.

Even a True Democratic Elected Government May Abrogate Your Rights

In particular, you know that even in the ‘best’ of our 50 states, the massive majority of the population is not nearly as well prepared as you are.  In the normal world, they might be wealthier than you and have more possessions, a fancier house, and who knows what else, but in the post-crisis world of a Level 2 or 3 event, their wealth and possessions become meaningless while yours become invaluable.

Any sort of democratic majority based government, especially one raised on the notion that the ‘wealthy’ are obliged to support the ‘poor’, and doubly especially where the lawmakers themselves are not prepared and are faced with their own pressing life or death challenges, won’t hesitate to urgently pass any needed laws to compel you to give everything you have to them.

This may well be unconstitutional and unlawful and illegal.  But who are you going to complain to, when the local mayor, the local sheriff, and the local judge all turn up on your doorstep together, themselves all starving, and demanding by their joint powers that you give them all your food?

We don’t have easy answers to offer you about these ‘fourth wave’ attackers.  But we can tell you that the fourth wave will be an ongoing thorn in your side, and you may find it increasingly difficult to tell between the ‘lawless gang’ fourth wave members and the ‘lawful posse’ fourth wave members.

Hiding from Fourth Wave Threats

Many preppers feel that an important part of their overall defensive strategy is to keep as low a profile as possible; to obscure the existence of their retreat, so as to avoid being noticed – both before and after the onset of some type of societal collapse.

Obscuring yourself prior to social collapse is getting harder and harder with every passing year.  The ‘information society’ is finding out more and more about us, and with the increasing tendency of government drones, spotting planes, and even satellites to survey vast areas of countryside, and to create extremely detailed ‘GIS’ databases of all the land and structures in a region, your retreat structure will surely be noticed and if not officially registered, sooner or later will cause the authorities to respond.

If you have an unauthorized structure that has not been permitted and which is not compliant with applicable zoning and health and other regulations and restrictions, you risk having it seized and destroyed.  You also risk civil and possibly criminal penalties, and being labeled as another crazy group of survivalist/supremacists.  You can imagine the headlines now – ‘Anti-government supremacists arrested, large weapons cache found on site’ and so on and so forth.  Remember that what we consider prudent, and what is indeed truly lawful, can – and will – be portrayed as evidence of crazy extremism by the news media and the authorities.

Because one of the fourth wave groups you may encounter will be some form of revived local government, it is inevitable that the ‘footprints’ you have created in developing your retreat will be uncovered.  Local health department approvals for your septic system.  Utility records for electricity or internet or cable services.  And so on and so on.  Indeed, one of the weaknesses of the generally sensible strategy of locating in an area with low population density is that you become more obvious by your presence than you would in a denser region.

You may delay your discovery, but you will not prevent it.  You need to have a more viable plan to ensure the safety and security of your retreat – fortunately, we have some suggestions on this point to share.

Becoming Part of the Solution, Not Part of the Problem

Your key strategy is to position yourself, your retreat, and your community, so it can create ‘win-win’ relationships with organized ‘fourth wave’ groups.

One of the key things about this fourth wave threat is that it is longer term.  Earlier waves of threats can be repulsed or ignored or in some other way worked around, but the fourth wave will be a longer term issue that must be resolved.

A confrontational approach risks failure on your part.  And any type of exchange of hostilities can be much more damaging to you than to your opponents.  Your opponents probably have either greater manpower to start with, and/or greater ability to recruit new members into their forces.  They are willing to accept some risk to their rank and file ‘foot soldiers’.

But you have a finite community of friends, family, and colleagues.  You can not dispassionately risk their lives in an encounter.  Remember also that with a loss of the sophisticated healthcare facilities we enjoy at present, even minor wounds become life threatening, and even if the wounds can be treated and resolved, they risk depleting your precious limited supplies of antibiotics and other medical resources.

There may be times when you must respond to force with force yourself; where the potential outcome associated with giving in to a fourth wave group is worse than the potential outcome of repulsing their attack, and in such cases you must be resolute in your defense of your retreat and its community.

But in general, you want to position yourselves so that you can find ways to co-exist on a win-win basis with these fourth wave groups.

How would you do that?  Please see our article on becoming part of the solution, rather than part of the problem, for a discussion on strategies to create win-win situations for you and the community you are close to.

Summary

After an initial period of grave social disruption, during which the first, second and third waves of refugees will occur, the rate of change will slow and some periods of semi-stable social arrangements will probably follow.

Invariably, regional leadership organizations will appear, and whether they are ostensibly benevolent or despotic, you need to position yourselves and your community so that it can co-exist on a win-win basis with these other (and possibly stronger) forces around it.

Jul 162012
 

In the last four years, Mexican drug cartels have established a presence in over 1,000 US cities, in almost every one of our lower 48 states.

We wrote, a couple of days ago, about the threat posed to post-collapse retreats and communities by organized gangs.  There are over 1.4 million members of organized gangs in the US at present, a number which is growing at an alarming rate.

But our ‘own’ gangs are not the only threat we must anticipate.  Although it is difficult to know where ‘our’ gangs end and ‘foreign’ gangs start, this article reports on the spread of Mexican drug cartels into almost every part of the United States.  Over 1,000 US cities reported Mexican cartel presence in 2010.

The cartels are not only ‘doing business’ in the US, they are also setting up massive marijuana growing operations too – primarily in California, Oregon and Washington.

We spoke about an uneasy truce between gangs and law enforcement in our earlier article.  But the Mexican cartels don’t understand the concept of truces.  Some 50,000 people (that we know of – who knows how many more have never been reported) have been killed in the last six years by gang warfare in Mexico.  If they can’t bribe or bully them, the gangs don’t hesitate to shoot it out with police and other national law enforcement agencies, and if politicians or journalists start to make public complaints, they get assassinated.

Mexicans are dying in Mexico from this unofficial civil war at a greater rate than Americans were dying in Vietnam.  We lost about 55,000 soldiers in the most active ten years of the Vietnam war, compared to more than 50,000 Mexican deaths in six years.

Another comparison – in Iraq, the US lost about 4,400 personnel over about an eight year period.  Mexico has lost more than eleven times as many people, in only six years.

The US has not been without casualties either in this ostensibly Mexican war.  But most of our casualties are in the form of new addicts, their lives destroyed, and the social costs of these addicts – either in treatment programs and/or as the addicts steal to support their habits.  These days two-thirds of the cocaine and 70% of the methamphetamine comes into the US via the Mexican cartels.

These cartels won’t just go away in a Level 2/3 situation.  They’ll merely adapt and adopt to the changed circumstance, and alter the type of misery they trade in and the violence and ruin they leave in their wake.

Meanwhile, our federal government pretends that all illegal traffic between Mexico and the US is good, and is exclusively in the form of honest hardworking Mexicans desperate to build a better life for themselves in the US while conforming to all our country’s rules and social conventions – oh, apart from being illegal immigrants, not learning English, not paying taxes, not having car insurance, and so on.  And if a state should find itself with no choice but to try to enforce some of the immigration laws already on our statute books, the federal government refuses to cooperate and sues them in federal court.

Maybe the federal court rulings are correct when they say that controlling immigration is primarily a federal government responsibility, but has anyone joined the dots the rest of the way in this picture and asked what should be done when the federal government refuses to honor the responsibilities and obligations it has previously enacted and claimed for itself?

Never mind a ‘war’ on illegal immigration.  Our federal government can’t even use its self-proclaimed ‘war on drugs’ as a reason to crack down on the spread of illegal cartels throughout our heartland.

One wonders how much of a problem gangs would be if every illegal immigrant was booted out of the country, and no more allowed in.  It seems to us their membership would collapse from 1.4 million down to a massively lower number.

Opinion surveys show an overwhelming majority of Americans support tighter border and immigration controls.  But the Washington elites continue to do completely the opposite.  Is this the way democracy is supposed to work?

Bottom Line for Preppers

There is a temptation to think of the outcome of a Level 2/3 event as creating a disorderly and disorganized mob or rabble of people, aimlessly fleeing cities, while dysfunctionally and desperately seeking food any way possible.  Superficially, such concepts don’t imply great danger or risk to us.

While this projection may be true, it is not the complete picture.  The collapse of law and order will remove the constraints on organized gangs – large groups of people who are neither disorderly nor disorganized.  They will aggressively act to fill the ‘power’ gap caused by the collapse of normal government, social and policing structures, and will have both the means and motivation to ruthlessly dominate their chosen territories.

You better make sure you have a Spanish/English dictionary in your retreat.  The chances are that when the armed gang that attacks you arrives, they’ll be speaking Spanish.

Jul 142012
 

The darker the color, the greater the density of gang members in the state. Source – FBI 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment.

You know about gangs from the movies, television, and sometimes from the newspapers, right?

You probably understand them to be disaffected lawless groups of underclass urban youth, often from ethnic minorities, and while a problem for sure in the inner cities, not something you’re likely to encounter, either hopefully in your normal daily lives, or – and more to the point – if you ever need to bug out to the safety of your rural retreat.

Many people also assume that because street gangs are lawless and disruptive, and because they deal in and use drugs, and because they seem to be made up of high school dropouts rather than honor roll students, they are anarchistic in nature, uncoordinated, and poorly managed.  Their tendency to kill each other is viewed as further proof of their irrelevancy outside of the narrow geographic areas they can be found in, and outside of the drugs trade they seem to be such a part of.

Unfortunately, while some of the preceding two paragraphs is indeed correct, the most important parts are totally wrong.  Gangs are not a geographically confined phenomenon affecting only their fellow members of the criminal classes.  They have already infiltrated all parts of the US – rural and urban – and are engaged in all types of criminal activity, from ‘white collar’ crimes such as identity theft and mortgage fraud to more traditional activities such as drugs, prostitution and general violent crime.

Gangs members are also more numerous than you might think and steadily increasing in number.  In 2010 it was estimated there were at least 1.4 million gang members in the US (up from a 2008/2009 estimate of 1 million).  In four states (CA ID UT and NM) the gang members outnumber the police by more than six to one, in another seven states there are 4 – 6 gang members for every law enforcement official (NV WA MT ND NE IA MS).

As these numbers hint at, gangs are moving out of the cities and into the rural states and regions.  States with more than four gang members per 1,000 of population in general are CA, NV, ID, NM, IL (all with 6+ per thousand) and AK, WA, UT, WY, CO, NE, KS, OK, MN, IA, MS, TN, NJ and ME (all with 4 – 6 gang members per thousand).  This is illustrated on the map at the top of this article.

Some Scary Facts About Gangs

While some neighborhood gangs remain informal and amorphous casual groupings of people with little interest in anything outside their own territory, most gangs are very different.  These days gangs can be multi-national organizations comprising sometimes tens of thousands of members, and involved in international trade just like many large corporations, albeit of illegal rather than regular goods.  They have hierarchies of leadership, they form alliances with each other, and generally act – in some respects – rationally and in a coordinated manner.

Rather than being made up of aimless drifters and high school dropouts, some gangs even provide scholarships for selected members to go to college to learn regular business skills which can subsequently be applied to benefit the gang.  Other gang members are recruited out of the military, while some gang members remain active in the reserves, so the gangs have the benefit of the finest weapons and training that Uncle Sam can provide.

Gangs also have the latest in military grade weapons, both legal and illegal, and not only do they have higher powered weapons and munitions, they also have the training in how to use them effectively and a complete lack of moral restraint or care of consequences for when it comes to choosing to use them.  They’re not just ‘gang bangers’ with ‘Saturday Night Special’ cheap revolvers stuck down the fronts of their trousers.  Some of them are highly trained and battle hardened weapons experts who have fought in our various foreign wars, and who now are training their fellow gang members in the same combat skills, and with the same equipment – weapons, night optics, protective clothing, and field medical care – as they became proficient with in the armed services.

Gang members also actively seek to join police departments and other government organizations – and often succeed in doing so.  Because of this, some gangs have as good or better intelligence about what the police are doing than what the police have about the gang members – it is difficult with some ethnic groupings to get police informers into gangs, and with our strange obsession about treating illegal aliens as a special privileged class of criminal these days, the determination, particularly at national levels, to give illegal aliens a ‘free ride’ and to look the other way whenever accidentally encountering one has also helped gangs preserve their own ‘opsec’.  Needless to say, significant numbers of gang members are illegal aliens – oh yes, and they’re also actively involved in bringing more illegal aliens into the country as well.

Those gangs that haven’t infiltrated members into local law enforcement might still be able to pretend to be law officers.  Gangs regularly target police vehicles to steal weapons, bullet proof vests, and police ID.

While gangs are happily involved in most traditional forms of crime, they haven’t restricted themselves to only crimes of violence.  They have opportunistically spread into just about every form of illegal endeavor.  Gangs even make use of mortgage banking and identity fraud the same as the best of white-collar criminals.

And while gang members like to flash recognition signs at each other, and to wear particular colors and styles of clothing, that’s not the only way they communicate.  They also use high-tech methods of communication for command and control purposes, including encrypted voice communications, computer to computer links, and throw-away cell phones.

Gangs also use public internet communities as a means of recruiting new gang members, with specific individuals tasked with formal recruiting duties.  Gangs aren’t growing in size as a result of randomness – they are actively – and successfully – recruiting new members, much more successfully than your local church or community group.

Gangs Are Now in Rural Areas as Well as Cities

Gangs have already spread across the country.  They’re not exclusively an inner city/big city problem.  They’re increasingly setting up in rural communities.  The crime you’re seeking to escape from, by moving to a small township somewhere, may have already moved there ahead of you.

Unfortunately, the spread of migrant agricultural workers from Mexico and other Central/South American countries into agri-business states has also had them bring their gangs with them.  And our willingness to welcome refugees has also seen us welcome refugee gangsters as well as refugees, whether they be from Somalia or Russia or anyplace else.

There’s a related consideration to keep in mind as well.  You may not recognize gang members when you see them.  Sure, some gang members are obvious, but not all gang members fit the classic profiles.  In addition to youthful hispanics and blacks, middle-aged white men are gang members too, and as you surely know, we as preppers are often painted with too broad a brush, confusing us with ‘white supremacists’ and ‘neo-nazis’ and ‘fundamentalists’.

While we of course don’t like this blurring of the lines between ordinary law-abiding folk such as ourselves who simply wish to prudently prepare for possible future breakdowns in society, and extremists who wish to contribute to the breakdown in society, there is an uncomfortable element in this confusion.  Sometimes it can be difficult for us to distinguish between fellow law-abiding and prepping ‘good folks’ and other people who while also prepping for an adverse future are most definitely not good folks.

This may be part of the reason why Idaho is shown as having so many gang members.  We’re not sure if all the so-called gang members in ID are truly gang members, or if perhaps they are merely ‘counter-cultural’ types that in the last few years the Department of Justice has been distressingly eager to categorize as either domestic terrorists or gang members.

But, whatever and whoever these folks are, it is always prudent to keep in mind that the person next to you in the store who is also buying up bulk supplies of long life food, cases of ammo, or whatever else, may not necessarily share all the same values as yourself, and may not for sure be the sort of person you’d want to invite into your retreat, either in good times or bad.

Who is Winning the War Against Gangs?

Is there even a ‘war against gangs’, and if there is, do we have any reason to believe it is any less a colossal failure than our war against drugs?

While some elements of local gangs are indeed made up of the dregs of society doing their best to eliminate themselves from the gene pool, there’s precious little evidence that even against such dysfunctional adversaries our law enforcement bodies are winning the upper hand.  No matter how many task forces and initiatives and community groups are formed, and no matter how much money is thrown at the issue, these least threatening types of gangs still seem to be thriving.

The upper elements of regional, national and international gangs are calculating, intelligent and very formidable opponents, and they are definitely growing in numbers and distribution.  As evidence of that is the ongoing growth and spread of their gangs.

The FBI/National Gang Intelligence Center issued a National Gang Threat Assessment document in 2009 (you can read it here) in which they estimated there were about one million gang members in the US.  A new National Gang Threat Assessment document was published in 2011 (you can read it here) in which the estimate had grown to 1.4 million.

The FBI say, to partially explain and excuse this apparent 40% leap in gang membership in a mere two years, that the reason for the growth in their estimate is in part due to better intelligence in 2011.  But that’s not reassuring at any level – if the FBI couldn’t estimate gang numbers to within 40% of the real count in 2009, what else were they overlooking then, and what else are they still overlooking now?  They didn’t say, in their 2009 report ‘this number might be off by 40%’; how are we to know that the 1.4 million count now is any more accurate?

There is a lot of information about gangs on the internet of course, and while the two FBI reports are more authoritative than many other sources, they have to be read in context with the FBI’s own constraints and framing agenda.  Does it suit the FBI, in cases where a judgment call could be made, to be alarmist or to be calming in how they interpret the incomplete and raw data they receive?

If you want to know more, we suggest you should do a fairly open-minded and broad review of the published literature, and most of all, make sure you accept it free of the constraints of normal civilized behavior.  Many of these gangs live a life and interact with normal people in a way that truly is (or could be) your worst nightmare, and unfortunately, it is in the rural communities these days where they are often most dominant.

At least in the inner cities, a confrontation between gang members and police can see tens if not hundreds of police rush to the location in only a few minutes, backed up by SWAT teams, helicopters, and all sorts of other formidable resources.  But what about in a lightly populated county, where there might only be half a dozen sheriff’s deputies on duty at a given time, and half of them are 50+ miles away from the other half?  This is distressingly a common circumstance in some areas these days – where one or two policemen realize that reinforcements are at least 30 minutes away and potentially an hour or more away, and even if the reinforcements all turn up magically in just a few minutes, they’ll still be outnumbered ten to one by the gang members they are confronting.

We know, from discussions with law enforcement officers and third parties, about counties where the police are massively outnumbered by gang members and where the gangs have pretty much taken over the county.  Normal residents have either moved out or been forced to adjust their lives to accept the impact and presence of the gangs around them.  The police will still happily give us, as ordinary law-abiding folks who support our local police and accept the rule of law, a ticket for doing 33 mph in a 30 mph zone, but if you’re a gang member, they’ll develop sudden selective blindness.

The police are used to ordinary criminals mouthing off when they are arrested, making all sorts of wild threats about what they will do when they get free, variously to the police officers and their families.  They also know that 99.9% of the time, these threats are empty and without any meaning.  But if the police overstep the bounds of the uneasy informal truces with their local gangs, they know that the threats are very real.

This creates for an uneasy sort of truce between the police and the gangs, with the gangs in the ascendancy.

Who is winning the war against gangs?  Isn’t it obvious?  The war is over, ended before it even started.  The gangs have won.

Implications for Preppers

We headed this article with the claim that gangs are possibly your biggest security threat.  Hopefully the article has opened your eyes to how and why this can be so.

In particular, consider the following points :

  • Gangs are everywhere, including quite possibly in the towns and countryside close to your retreat.  In other words, they’re already dangerously close to you.
  • Gangs have many members, and are affiliated with potentially tens of thousands of fellow gang members in other branches of the gang.  In other words, they outnumber you, maybe by ten to one, maybe by one hundred to one.
  • Gangs have well-developed military competencies, and the weapons to match.  In other words, expect to be confronted by battle hardened combatants armed with heavy caliber automatic weapons.
  • Gangs have no moral restraints acting on them.  They break the law with relative impunity now, and in a crisis seeing a collapse of society and its normal values, they’ll be even freer in their actions then.  In other words, what’s yours risks becoming theirs.

What can you do?  There are some small glimmers of hope.  While the gangs are not constrained by normal moral or legal considerations, they do have a moderately rational leadership.  Their future success doesn’t depend exclusively on plundering your retreat – they can turn away from you and concentrate on other easier opportunities if it suits them to do so.  They’ve shown they can co-exist alongside local law enforcement, provided that the local law doesn’t become too bothersome.  If you can create a ‘win-win’ that will result in that outcome, so much the better.  (We have some thoughts on such scenarios, and you’ll understand our hesitation in publishing them for all to see.)

On the other hand, they’ll not be fazed by the thought of a ‘lose-lose’ situation.  Particularly in a Level 2/3 event, they’ll have no shortage of people wishing to join their gang, and if they have to sacrifice 50 or 100 new recruits as part of an operation to eliminate you and your retreat, they’ll probably happily do so.

The likely impact of gangs on you and your retreat underscores, yet again, the essential need for you to be part of a medium or larger sized community, whether it be a Code Green community, one you create yourselves, or any other similar sort of arrangement.  If it is just you against 50 gang members, you know how that story will end.  But if it is 50 (or 100) of you against 50 gang members, you have a better range of endings to work towards.