May 102014
 
Will the police protect private property WTSHTF, or will they take it?

Will the police protect private property WTSHTF, or will they take it?

This is the third part of a three-part article series on how everything we’ve saved and stored could be – lawfully – taken from us in an emergency.

If you arrived on this page from a search engine or website link, you might wish to first read the first part of the article, which talks about how our society has evolved to the point where the majority already feel no shame in taking property from people who have it and appropriating it for themselves, and then move on to the second part, pointing out some current legal support for the capricious taking of our personal property, before continuing on with this third part.

As preppers, one of our concerns must be what happens WTSHTF, and 95% or more of the people around us are starving and dying, while we’re ‘sitting pretty’ in our retreat, surrounded by shelter, energy, food, and many of the creature comforts we’ve become used to.

Some preppers anticipate that the unprepped majority of the people in the country will attempt to take their provisions by force.  Others worry that the unprepped majority will attempt to take everything they’ve carefully accumulated and stored through some sort of abusive but semi-legal process.

In many respects, the abusive but semi-legal process is the more threatening.  That’s not to deny the danger of an armed gang of marauders, roaming the region, looting and plundering any which way they choose.  But at least that is something that one can lawfully defend oneself against, and as long as one observes proper protocols, one doesn’t run the risk of breaking any laws in the process.

But what does one do when the local sheriff turns up at your door with a court order compelling you to surrender all your ‘illegally hoarded’ supplies?  You surely can’t shoot the sheriff!

We’ve written before about some of the semi-legal ploys that may be used to try and talk you out of your provisions, and of course, when the judge, jury, and sheriff are starving themselves, your chance of getting a fair hearing is not very great.  Please see our articles ‘The Present Legal Support for Seizing our Food and Other Supplies‘ and ‘Preppers Beware :  Our “Hoarding” Can be Deemed Illegal‘ for more on these issues.

We’ve never suggested that these two articles represent the totality of legal risks we must consider.  And, even if they did, how quickly could a starving local town council, county board of commissioners, or even state/federal legislature pass new laws giving the authorities more ‘perfectly legal’ rights to take more things from people who had prudently prepared?  A day?  A week?

However, it is appropriate to understand the current range of legal ‘threats’ that exist, so today we’re revealing another one.  This is something that – like so many laws – started off with the best of good intentions and then somehow evolved and extended itself to a point now where few people could fairly defend it at all.

You might remember back when laws were being passed that would seize the proceeds of crimes from criminals.  In addition to whatever other punishments a convicted criminal might have imposed on him, he’d also be deprived of his ‘ill gotten gains’.  This made sense, sort of.  What was the point of jailing a drug dealer for a year or so if he got to keep the several million dollars he’d made in profits?  Many people would consider a several million dollar payment more than compensated for a year or two in prison!

This process is called criminal forfeiture.

Civil Forfeiture

We have nothing against criminal forfeiture.  But, we described that process merely as background to what we now are bringing to your attention.  Please read on for the really worrying part of this article.

Something happened, the criminal forfeiture concept evolved and extended way beyond their initial concept and justification.  Nowadays we have laws that allow ‘the authorities’ to take anything – real property, personal property, cash, anything at all – from people when the police or prosecutors suspect the person of wrongdoing.  This is called civil forfeiture.

Whereas in a criminal case, the authorities have to convict someone by going through the due process of the legal system, using a high standard of proof – ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’; in these new scenarios, it seems there is no need for any due process at all, and not even much need for proof.  All that is required is for the police/prosecutor to say ‘we think you’ve done something bad’ and based on that thought, they can then proceed to deprive the person of pretty much whatever they choose.

That sounds impossible to believe, right?  It sounds beyond un-American?  It sounds like only something you’d see in the most corrupt of African republics.

Well, don’t just trust us (and don’t trust anyone else, either).  Do your own research – you could search for civil forfeiture laws on Google, or for civil forfeiture abuse if you preferred (the links take you to the Google searches).  Read any of the articles returned in the search results to get the confirmation of what we’re saying.

Or you could simply read this news item, published yesterday, about a recent case and its implications.

You’ll see in the article that even though some states have legislated against civil forfeiture, there is a loophole whereby federal agencies can still use this concept, and they can (and will) conscript state, county and city authorities to assist them by ‘splitting the winnings’ with the local authorities.

Whatever happened until ‘innocent until proven guilty’?  One could also suggest such actions fly in the face of the Fourth Amendment of our Bill of Rights (unlawful seizures), the Seventh Amendment (a right to jury trials for all matters in controversy exceeding $20) and the Eighth Amendment (prohibiting excessive fines and unusual punishments).

This is appalling law and public policy.  But when you have a situation where bad laws directly benefit the law makers and the law enforcers, then – as the article above points out – it can be very hard to overturn them.

Back to the implications of this to us as preppers.  Do we need to spell it out?  We risk having an officer of some authority confront us, and while struggling to hide the smirk as he says it, tell us that he suspects us of some wrong-doing (and for sure, with so many regulations and requirements these days, we are all guilty of breaking some law or regulation, knowingly or unknowingly) and because of that suspicion, he is taking all our stored food and fuel.  He doesn’t even need a court order.

Police officers we know claim that everyone is always guilty of something, and, if they choose to or need to, they can validly arrest anyone at any time.  They generally consider this a good thing, but should we agree with them?

What Can We Do?

So, if the authorities (meaning way too many people from way too many different government groups) can pretty much take anything they want from us at any time, with little or no due process in the middle, what should we do?

We don’t have a whole heap of suggestions in answer to this problem.  But we can point out that it would be wise to distribute your provisions and supplies over several different locations, so that if you do end up being forced to give up ‘everything you have’, this means that you only have to give up everything you have at your main retreat location, and can then switch to your backup resources.

See also our articles about the essential importance of becoming part of the community so that you can anticipate, influence and moderate such negative actions rather than be blind-sided by them.

May 082014
 
The TYT TH-9800 sets a new high-water mark for excellent value feature-filled two-way radios.

The TYT TH-9800 sets a new high-water mark for excellent value feature-filled two-way radios.

We’ve written before about how wonderful radio repeaters are for extending the range you can communicate with your two-way radios.  No matter what you do to your portable and in-vehicle radio transmitters and receivers, sooner or later you will probably have to consider using a repeater to extend your communications to reliably cover the region you need to be able to keep in contact with.

But maybe you are very fortunate, and your terrain/topography is such that you have reliable radio comms all over your retreat and adjacent areas.  Does that mean you don’t need to think about repeaters any further?

Maybe.  But also, maybe not.  There are two other applications for repeaters that you might want to consider.  Please read on and see if either (or both) might apply to you.

Vehicle Range Extenders

This is something that could be of value to many preppers.  Maybe you have a heavy-duty high-powered radio in your vehicle, and a fully optimized antenna mounted on it as well.  Maybe that gives you the range you need to be able to communicate reliably everywhere you are likely to be, and with everyone else who you might need to communicate with.  But what happens when you step out of your car and switch from the 50 watt (maybe more) unit in your car to a 5 watt (probably less) unit in your hand, from a full size antenna on top of the vehicle roof to a short stubby little thing in your hand?

Quite likely you will find yourself unable to punch out or pull in the signals you need, and you’re now in a position of dual vulnerability.  Out of your car, you’re less protected, and you’re also out of contact with the rest of your community.

You’re not the first person who has struggled with that problem.  It used to be an issue for police officers, the world over.  Now, not so much, because there is a solution that they’ve widely deployed, and which you might wish to consider, too.

This is an in-vehicle repeater.  It uses the high power, high quality circuitry, and optimized antenna on your vehicle not only to send/receive messages to far-away contacts, but it also retransmits the signals it receives, on a different frequency, to allow you to pick up the repeated transmissions more clearly from a hand-held transceiver.  Yes, it is also simultaneously ‘listening’ for the signals you send it from your handheld radio, too.  For you, out of the vehicle, you no longer need the ability to receive signals from people far away, and to be able to transmit back to them.  You only need to be able to receive transmissions from your vehicle, and send back to it.

These days, when you see a police officer talking into his chest microphone, that radio is probably not transmitting all the way to wherever the main receiver tower is, but only to his nearby cruiser.  He is now safely in contact, as long as he is in range of his vehicle.

If you seek a similar capability, and have the appropriate FCC ham or commercial license to operate the radios and repeater, you can do the same.  Many mobile (ie in-vehicle) type two-way radios have what is termed a ‘cross-band repeater’ capability – it is generally easier and less expensive to have the signal that is being repeated to be retransmitted on a very different frequency to that it was received on, which is what ‘cross-band’ means.

These amazing units can be very expensive, but do not need to be, and don’t really cost much more than a normal dual band transceiver.  For some time we have liked the Anytone AT-5888UV dual band mobile radio , currently showing at $313 on Amazon (update, June 2016 – now down to about $250), but we’ve now got a new favorite, the TYT TH-9800 .

This latter radio is not only slightly less expensive, (currently showing at $278 on Amazon – update :  now about $210 in June 2016) but also has four bands in it rather than two.  It has the same 2M and 70cm bands that the AT-5888UV offers, plus also the 6M and 10M bands too.  The 6 meter band is an interesting addition, and – with the right antenna connected – can give considerable extra range compared to the short-range on 2M and 70cm.

Currently the AT-5888UV does have one advantage over the TH-9800.  It is compatible with the CHIRP programming software, and from our perspective, if you can simplify the management of your radios by using the same software interface for multiple radio types, that is an enormous plus.  We hope the TH-9800 will be added to the list of radios CHIRP supports, and because the TH-9800 is relatively very new, it will probably take a while for this to happen.  Update – yes, all good things come to those who wait.  The TH 9800 is also now supported by CHIRP.

Note that you need a radio that has the capability to transmit and receive ‘in both directions’.  If it could only repeat in one direction, you would be able to listen but not transmit (or vice versa) – you need the radio to support the repeating both ways.  The two radios mentioned above would be good choices and have this capability.

Comsec

This is an interesting consideration.  As you know, it is very easy for anyone with a scanner to monitor your radio transmissions, but if you are transmitting on one frequency and listening on another, maybe it becomes harder for a casual person listening on a scanner to hear your complete conversation.

That’s a definite ‘maybe’ because if they pick up the repeater signal, they’ll get both sides of it.  But depending on their location and settings, maybe they’ll only get one side or the other of the conversation.

There’s another side to this coin, however.  If you adopt this approach, you are now doubling the frequencies that are carrying your signals – and the repeater is probably sending them over a wider area.  So is it a good idea or bad idea?  Frankly, we’re unconvinced of its good sense, and mention it here more for the purpose of rebuttal than recommendation.

This concept can be made more ‘semi-secure’ (if there is such a thing) by splitting your transmit and receive frequencies more broadly, perhaps having one in one frequency band and the other in another.  But whatever you do, the repeater signal will be carrying both sides of the conversation – find that, and anyone monitoring can hear the entire conversation.

If you are going to do this type of split transmitting/receiving, you of course need to use a repeater.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Models for Sharing Your Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Suggested Issues to Record in an Agreement

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

May 042014
 
This Avometer advertisement appeared in 1953, and offers the meter for £23.50, twice the average weekly wage at the time.  Similar meters today can cost only $23, closer to the average hourly rate.

This Avometer advertisement appeared in 1953, and offers the meter for £23.50, twice the average weekly wage at the time. Similar meters today can cost only $23, closer to the average hourly rate.

As we imagine and plan for a difficult life in the future, we realize that we will need to learn more skills than we currently have, because when things go wrong, we can’t simply go out and buy a replacement, and might not be able to find anyone conveniently nearby to fix the problem, either.

Hopefully you’ll continue to have at least some electricity at your retreat, and will be able to enjoy the extraordinary benefits that electricity has given to us all.  If you want to get a taste for just how extraordinary, beneficial, and essential those benefits are, treat yourself to a weekend with no electricity.  Turn off the main breaker in your fuse box on Friday night, and don’t cheat by using any batteries.  Go totally electricity-less for a weekend, and do it not when the weather is comfortable outside, but when it is either impossibly hot or impossibly cold.

Okay, now that you’re back reading the article again, and fully convinced about the essential role electricity has in your life (how long did you last before turning the breaker back on?) there’s every chance that at some future point, you’re going to have to become an amateur electrician, and maybe even an amateur electronics repair tech too.

You’ll not be able to repair anything if you can’t first troubleshoot to find out the problem.  Ideally, you’ll also want to be able to test the repair before making the fixed device ‘live’ once more, too.  Now the good news, particularly with electrical (as opposed to electronic) devices, is that many problems can be troubleshooted using that most sophisticated of instruments, the Mark I Human Eyeball.  You’ll spot breaks in cords, blown fuses, burned out plugs, and so on, just by looking.

But whether it is for troubleshooting, or for checking the correctness of repairs before plugging the devices back into your main power circuits, you’ll find everything you do will be immeasurably assisted by what is termed a ‘multi-meter’ – a device that will show you various things about electrical circuits – in particular, both amps and volts for AC and DC circuits, and also ohms for resistance, and with multiple scales ranging from fractions of a volt/amp/ohm up to tens of amps, probably thousands of volts and millions of ohms.

The first ever multimeters came out in 1923, and were the result of a British Post Office technician getting exasperated at having to carry so many individual test meters with him (and back then they were all big, bulky, and heavy, too).  His creation was the Avometer (Avo being an acronym for Amps, Volts, Ohms), and when first released it had seven different functions (three DC voltage ranges, three DC amperage ranges, and one resistance range).  When the Avometer finally and sadly ended production in 2008, it had 28 ranges, also now including AC volts and amps.

In the past, Avometers often cost more than a couple of weeks wages for the technicians using them, so they were hardly a commonplace device that people would have ‘just in case’ they might need it in the future.  But in time, more manufacturers started making similar devices, and with less robust but more automated manufacturing methods and standards, and so prices dropped amazingly.  I remember buying one as a teenager, very many decades ago, and at the time never gave thought to how such devices once cost hundreds of times more than they did then – and today, they are even cheaper still.  You can buy a reasonably multimeter from somewhere like Harbor Freight, or on Amazon or eBay, for under $20, and an excellent one for under $40.  So there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have one.

What To Look For When Choosing a Multimeter

A typical multimeter will be able to test at least five different things – DC and AC volts, DC and AC current, and resistances.  There are differences between meters, however, in terms of the minimum and maximum values it can read for all five of these scales.

Needless to say, you’d like a meter that has the broadest range of scales, but in terms of what you really need, if you are using your meter mainly for testing electrical devices, you probably need to be able to read DC volts from a minimum of maybe one or two volts (ie perhaps a 10V scale) up to a maximum of less than 1000V; DC amps from perhaps a 1A or 0.1A (100 milliamp) scale up to maybe 10A; AC volts from perhaps a 10V up to a 1000V scale; AC amps from perhaps a 1A scale and up as high as possible; and resistances from as sensitive a scale as possible (maybe a max of 10 kOhm on the scale, and showing individual ohms at the low-end of the logarithmic scale) up to showing maybe a 10 MOhm maximum scale).

If you will be using your meter for electronic troubleshooting as well as electrical troubleshooting, you might want to have some additional scales to show lower values for DC volts and DC amps, and probably a lower AC amp scale too.  You might also want to be able to read higher current flows too – this will likely require a specialized device (see below).

If you need other ranges beyond these, you’ll probably know about your special needs already.

A nice feature is a continuity buzzer.  This is useful when you’re doing mundane tasks like checking to see which ends of which wires relate to the other end of the same wires, or checking for breaks in circuits.  Instead of having to watch your meter, you simply touch your probes to things and if there’s a clear connection between the two things you are touching, the meter will buzz or beep.

It helps to understand, for the AC measurements in any meter, what range of frequencies the AC measurements are accurate for, and what types of waveforms it will accurately read.  If you’re just reading mains power type frequencies, then most meters will work well for that, but if you have unusual wave shapes or are wanting to measure audio or radio frequencies as well as mains frequency, then you will need a specialized meter that measures true RMS and higher frequencies.

Some meters have additional functions, including the ability to measure frequency, capacitance, inductance, temperature, diodes and some functions of transistors.  You’ll of course pay extra for such extra features, but if they have value to you, then why not get the ability, particularly because these extra functions don’t necessarily add much more to the price of the meter.

See further discussion in the section on analog or digital meters, particularly for some features that are unique to digital meters.

A meter should have at least one fuse in it to protect its circuitry from overload.  This is particularly essential in analog meters, where the meter’s integrity relies on you, the user, selecting the correct scale to start with whenever you connect the meter to anything.  Old hands know the rule ‘always start with the highest value range setting, and then switch down as needed’ from bitter experience.

Our point here is to identify the type of fuse used and to lay in a small supply of spares.  In the worst case scenario, if you blow the fuse, you can replace the fuse with regular wire or any other sort of fuse as well – the meter will continue to work, but it will no longer be protected, so your next mistake will probably fry it.  We’ve only once ever blown a fuse, so you probably don’t need to have too huge a supply of spares.

Accuracy Issues

Different meters make different claims about their accuracy, and some digital meters display more digits than others – indeed, they’ll probably display a more detailed number than their underlying accuracy allows.  By this we mean a meter that has an accuracy of +/- 3% might have a three or more digit display, so it could in theory show, say, 97.2 volts, whereas the actual voltage could be anywhere from 94.3V up to 100.1V – so what is the sense in telling you about the 0.2V when even the 7 volt part of the reading can vary widely from 4 up to 10.

Don’t get too hung up on accuracy issues.  Most of the time, the required value and tolerance of anything in typical electrical (and electronic) circuits is fine if it is within about +/- 5% of the optimum value, and sometimes you’ll find that +/- 10% is still perfectly acceptable.

Better analog meters will have a mirror on their scale.  This enables you to directly line up the angle between yourself, the needle, and the scale and avoid any parallax errors when reading values from the scale.  The bigger the scale on an analog meter, the more accurate the readings you can get from it.

A possible exception to our suggestion you don’t need a lot of accuracy would be reading the voltage of your input power supply.  Noting that power varies according to the square of the input voltage, if your voltage varies by only 10% from specification, the power available to your device will vary about 20%.  That can lead to not-obvious problems that end up burning out motors and frying electronics, so you probably want a meter that has reasonably good accuracy on whatever scale you’ll use to measure input voltages into devices.

One type of accuracy is important.  Whenever you connect a meter to a circuit, you actually change the nature of the circuit, and so the reading you get from the meter will be influenced by the fact that the meter has been connected to the circuit.  This is not really a worry when working on mains level voltages and multi-amp currents, but it can become significant when working on very low voltage and very low current electronics.  Most digital meters are very much better than most analog meters in this respect; if you are getting an analog meter, make sure it is rated at 20 kOhms/volt or higher (a measure of the impact of the meter on the circuit it is testing).  Digital meters should have an impedance of at least 1 Megaohm, and 10 MΩ would be better.

Analog or Digital Multimeters?

A great value analog meter, the Mastech YX360.

A great value analog meter, the Mastech YX360.

The big question you need to answer is whether you should get an analog or digital meter.  Analog meters have an ‘old fashioned’ dial and needle that moves across it, and digital meters of course have a digital digit display.

For an uncertain future, you should use as low-tech a product as possible.  An analog meter would be the best way to go in such a case, because it has almost no electronics at risk of being ‘fried’ by an EMP, and it does not require any power to read volts and amps (but it will unavoidably need a battery to be able to read resistances, due to the way that resistances are tested).  On the other hand, digital meters are very much nicer and more convenient and flexible, all of which is dangerously tempting!

Talking about batteries, make sure your meter uses a typical/common battery and voltage.  Don’t be tempted to go out and buy a lovely old antique Avometer, for example.  Although we have one ourselves, it is more as a museum/display piece than an everyday part of our test gear, because it uses a unique type of 15V battery that is, for all practical purposes, no longer available.

The higher the meter’s battery voltage, by the way, the better it will be able to measure high values of resistance.

A great value fully functioned digital meter, the Mastech MS8268.

A great value fully functioned digital meter, the Mastech MS8268.

Digital meters of course need power (usually from their battery) for everything they do, but their power needs are very low, and we find that the batteries in our digital meters last years at a time.

Interestingly, whereas analog meters are possibly more electrically and electronically robust, digital meters are more physically robust.  If you drop your analog meter, you might destroy it (the indicator needle is on a very sensitive bearing), but if you drop your digital meter, you are much less likely to harm it.

Digital meters have a lot going for them.  Better ones have auto-ranging, so you don’t have to worry about frying the meter by setting it too sensitively for whatever you are measuring.  They are generally a bit more accurate than analog meters too, but see our comments about accuracy above.  On the other hand, some people like to be able to see the swing of a needle which can sometimes help you better understand exactly what you’re seeing when troubleshooting, and of course this is only possible with an analog meter.

Digital meters usually have auto-polarity, so there’s no need to hassle over connecting the positive lead to the positive side of a circuit, and the negative lead to the negative side.  Better analog meters will have a polarity switch so you can simply slide the switch rather than reverse the leads if you get it wrong.

Some digital meters will have added functions such as ‘hold’ which locks in the display the value when you pressed the hold key.  That way if you forget it, you don’t need to remeasure because it is still on the display.  Sometimes you might also see the ability to capture minimum and maximum values, too.  This can be helpful, particularly if you are not staring nonstop at the meter, and have a problem you think might be due to occasional spikes or drops in power.

An auto-off feature is really nice – it saves you if you forget to turn the meter off; you don’t have to worry about running your battery dead.

If you are getting a digital meter, make sure it has a light switch on it so you can turn on a backlight and read the LCD display if you are somewhere with low ambient light.

So, yes, there are lots of benefits to getting a digital meter.  Our suggestion, noting how inexpensive both digital and analog meters are these days, would be to get one of each.  That also allows for the adage that a well prepared prepper has at least two of everything essential and important.

Which One to Buy?

Here’s a listing of analog multimeters from Amazon.  We’d probably choose the Mastech YX360 as a great value analog meter.  It seems to also be sold under different names by other companies, too, but generally at a slightly higher price.

Here’s a listing of digital multimeters, also from Amazon (of course).  You’ll see some units for under $10, but we’d probably splurge and spend not quite $30 to get this truly impressive Mastech MS8268 meter.  Indeed, although we have a shelf full of meters already, we liked this meter so much that we went out and bought one while writing this article!

High Current Ammeters and Clamp Meters

The Mastech $45 AC and DC clamp meter.

The Mastech $45 AC and DC clamp meter.

A problem that is common to most analog multimeters is that they have difficult reading high amp values, because they are built around a meter that is very sensitive, rather than one which is very insensitive, to current flows.

An inconvenience that is also common to all regular meters, is that to read the current flow – the amps – in a circuit, you need to cut the circuit open and connect the ammeter in series with the circuit.  When testing volts, you simply place the voltmeter in parallel across the circuit, which is usually a much easier thing to do.  (Oh yes, as for testing resistances, that can be the biggest hassle of all, because you have to isolate the thing you are testing from everything else before you can get an accurate reading.)

There are of course solutions to these issues.  You can get dedicated high-current reading ammeters and connect those in series in such circuits.  Or, in the case of AC current in particular, you can get a ‘clampmeter’ which is a device that you simply place around one of the wires.  The clampmeter senses the magnetic field created by the flowing AC current in the wire, and so displays the measured current in the wire without you needing to penetrate/cut the wire at all.

Due to the way they work, they are not so good at measuring small amounts of current (ie under one amp) but they are excellent for measuring large currents, potentially up to several hundred amps.  They are also inexpensive, and of the ones listed on Amazon at present, we think this one is probably the best buy (ie just under $30, and with scales all the way up to 600A) for most people and purposes at present.  There are other meters costing very much more, but offering not much extra in the way of useful features for most of us.

There is one feature which some of the more expensive clamp meters offer.  That is the ability to read DC current as well as AC current through the clamp.  If you might find this worth paying only a little extra for, something like this Mastech meter is probably a good choice, and still costing less than $45.

These are wonderful devices, but note they only work when placed around one of the wires in what is usually a two and sometimes three or four wire circuit.  If you place it around both wires in a typical AC power lead, the magnetic field from one of the wires is essentially cancelled out by the field from the other wire, so you will need to somehow separate the wiring to put the clampmeter around one of them.  You might find a very short extension cord where you’ve opened up the wiring between the male and female ends, allowing you to then clamp around whichever wire you wish, will be helpful in such cases.  (In theory, of course, you’ll get the same current reading from either the phase or the neutral wire, and hopefully you’ll get absolutely no current reading at all from the ground wire.)

There is another approach to this – there are wonderful line splitter devices such as this one on Amazon that not only split the line for you, but also have an extra section of line where the current signal is amplified ten-fold, enabling your clamp meter to pick up and display lower currents (for example, a 0.1 amp current would then read as 1.0 amps on the clamp meter).  At a cost of less than $15, this is a very useful thing when testing AC power around your retreat.

Summary

We suggest all preppers should have at least one multimeter as part of their tech/troubleshooting supplies.  If you are buying only one meter, and primarily for electrical purposes, perhaps buying a simple analog meter will not only save you money but also give you the most ‘future proof’ device.  But if you want vastly more capabilities, then you’ll probably choose to treat yourself to a digital meter as well.  And don’t forget a clamp meter too.

Jan 262014
 
The giant multi-national HSBC banking group doesn't want to give Britons their money back.

The giant multi-national HSBC banking group doesn’t want to allow Britons to withdraw cash from their accounts.

Here’s an interesting story, and don’t automatically say ‘That could never happen here’.  But first, the story.

A BBC report tells how customers of the HSBC bank in Britain (HSBC operates in the US and elsewhere in the world too) have had difficulties making cash withdrawals from their accounts.  The customers have had the money in their accounts, so that wasn’t the problem, and in most cases, have been good customers of the bank and branch for many years.

Their problem is that the bank has been asking them what they needed the cash for, and asking them to prove the validity of their need for cash, turning the customers away until they can return with satisfactory proof.

Of course, the thing about cash is that, almost by definition, and as a Catch-22, you don’t necessarily have formal proof about what you’re spending the cash on.

When asked about their actions, a bank spokesman said they were doing this for their customers’ own good – to ‘protect’ them (the customers) from possibly falling victim to some sort of fraud.  They also said they weren’t obliged to tell customers in advance of this new policy, because it wasn’t a notifiable change to their previous terms and conditions  Details here.

Imagine yourself in this situation.  You sense that things are about to get truly seriously bad, and decide to withdraw your cash while the banks are still operational, only to be told that you have to prove what you’re going to use the cash for.  ‘Storing it under my bed’ would not be an acceptable reply.

Think about this.  We’ve previously written about how in Greece the citizens there suddenly found themselves with an unexpected tax on the money they had deposited in their bank accounts.  If you owned shares, and probably if you owned bonds, and if you had assets or even cash-under-the-bed, you weren’t taxed, but if you were a ‘good citizen’ and had savings in a bank account, all of a sudden you had a new tax levied on your savings.

Meanwhile, in the US, if you get 0.5% a year interest on your savings deposits you’re doing well.  And your financial dealings are then a matter of official record exposed to all, and controlled by people other than yourself.

Note also our several articles that suggest how money and cash will become of little value WTSHTF (we have a large collection of articles about how the economy will change after TEOTWAWKI and how best to prepare for such things).  Assets and tangible things will be valuable, but not abstract depictions of wealth such as cash, and definitely not bank deposits which will quickly become impossible to access – not so much due to banks failing, but due to the failure of the bank computing systems and related support structures.

And now we have to look to a future where, the same as in Britain, cash is increasingly being looked upon with suspicion, and if we seek to withdraw cash, we draw attention to ourselves and may have to explain to our bank exactly why we are doing such a ‘bad’ thing as wishing to convert our abstract electronic deposits into a slightly more tangible form.

So, you really have to ask yourself the question – why keep money in a bank at all?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communicating with Group Members On Their Way to the Rendezvous

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

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

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

Bugging-Out Ground Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coordinating the Vehicle Load Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Need to Practice, Practice, Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1 – The Group Dynamic

Part 2 – Initiating a Bug-Out

Part 3 – Communicating the Bug-Out Decision

Part 4 – Managing the Bug-Out

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

Part 5 – A Policy on Uninvited Guests

Part 6 – Traveling in Convoy

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

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

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

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

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

Layers of Communication Alternatives

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

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

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

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

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

The Burden of Responsibility for Sending/Receiving Messages

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

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

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

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

Be Careful What You Say

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Rendezvous Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1 – The Group Dynamic

Part 2 – Initiating a Bug-Out

Part 3 – Communicating the Bug-Out Decision

Part 4 – Managing the Bug-Out

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

Part 5 – A Policy on Uninvited Guests

Part 6 – Traveling in Convoy

Aug 182013
 
Perhaps the hardest part of the entire bug-out process will be agreeing on when to bug out.

Perhaps the hardest part of the entire bug-out process will be agreeing on when to bug out.

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

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

Making a Bug-Out Decision

Clearly, the first part of any group bugging out event is making the decision to do so.  That is easy when it is just you and your spouse/partner, but the more additional people you add to your group, the more complicated it can become.

You might think that the need to bug-out will be obvious and impossible to argue about, but we are certain that will not be what happens when the S truly does, for real, hit the F.  Even the most severe of scenarios – let’s say a solar storm wipes out the nation’s power grid – will still see a range of opinions about what to do and (perhaps more importantly) when to do it.

Most future problems are as likely to be of an insidious ‘creeping evil’ nature rather than a sudden catastrophic event.  And even the sudden catastrophic events have ambiguity within them – the uncertainty of whether it will prove to be only a Level 1 situation (that you can survive while staying in place) or get more severe and become a Level 2/3 situation (which you need to respond to by bugging out to your retreat).

To look at an extreme event example which you might think is obviously a Level 2+ event requiring a fast bug-out, let’s think about what would happen if the nation’s power grid is wiped out.  Most significantly, there won’t be any public announcement to that effect.  Why not?  For the simple reason that all mass forms of communication will have been destroyed or at the very least, made inoperable due to the lack of power to studios, data lines to their transmitters, and to the transmitters themselves.  Let’s not forget, also, that the radios and television sets in people’s homes will be without power, too.

All you are likely to know is that you and everyone you know has lost power, and once you get your generator up and running, you’ll see that nearly all the radio stations are either off the air or else are full of empty-headed speculation about what is happening and ‘live updates’ that substitute an endless flow of realtime nonsense for the actual valid meaningful data you desperately need.  As for tv, you probably have cable, and that will definitely be down, as will the internet, and very quickly, your cell phones will go offline, too.

You will have no way of knowing if the power will be out for an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year or a decade.  You don’t know if it is just out in your city, or in the county, the state, the region, or the nation.  Such reports as may filter through to you will start off being optimistic – we’ve all had experiences of major regional power outages, and being without power for a day or two or three or even four, and that has hardly been the end of the world, and all the officials will be talking positively about ‘crews working around the clock’ to get power restored, the same as is always promised.

So for the first day or two, there will be more annoyance than concern at the delays in getting power back – no-one will guess, at this stage, that it will take some years for new replacement transformers to be built in China and shipped to the US.

At what point will you decide that ‘enough is enough’ and it is time to get out of Dodge?  Will it be before or after law and order starts to break down?  Will it be before or after it becomes no longer safe to be on the streets?

Your Group Will Disagree on When to Bug Out

So, no matter what the circumstance, when you and your group members discuss the event, some will be optimistic and want to wait a few days to see what happens, others will want to bug-out instantly.  An unspoken undertone to the discussion will also be the group members who have other friends/relations/immediate family members who do not belong to your community group, and who they would now have to leave behind (and are reluctant to do so).  You should expect lots of misgivings and second thoughts when all of a sudden, a distant unlikely seeming possibility (the need to bug-out at some future time) becomes a sudden and unavoidable ugly reality.

How do you all reach a compromise decision?

If you are all traveling in your own vehicles in a convoy, you could simply agree to disagree and maybe go in two or three waves.  The ‘right now’ wave, the tomorrow wave, and the ‘in a few days time’ wave.  That might seem to be a simple solution, but think about what just happened.  You’ve disrupted and destroyed the entire concept of a group movement.  So much for all your previous planning and coordination, and so much for your convoy structure and collective security during your bug-out journey.

And that is the ‘best case’ scenario.  If you’re sharing a vehicle with another couple, how does that work?  And if everyone is sharing a bus, which is an ‘all or nothing’ concept, then you need to have some way of making an official determination.

There’s nothing magic to this.  You agree in advance what the requirement will be for deciding what to do.  Maybe you have a ‘bug out committee’ of two or three people who decide on behalf of the group.  Maybe you have a group vote – in which case you need to decide what percentage of the vote is needed for the decision to be implemented.

There’s an interesting thing about deciding what percentage is needed – if you make it anything other than a simple 50% majority decision, then you’re biasing the decision in favor of either the pro or anti bugging out faction.  If you say ‘two thirds majority needed to approve a bug-out’ you’ve allowed a smaller one-third group dictate to the other two-thirds.  When it comes to bugging out, the two outcomes are both equally much a commitment – there are upsides and downsides to either staying or going, and so we’d recommend you allow a simple majority to pass the vote, or else let a special bug-out committee decide for the entire group.

One related question – will the vote be of all group members, or only of those who can be contacted in a timely manner?  Our suggestion is that if people can’t be contacted after trying all agreed methods of communication, then their vote does not count – not only because they probably won’t be bugging out with you because they can’t be reached, but also because that is again unfairly biasing the vote in favor of not bugging out.  In other words, if you have 25 people in your group and a requirement for a 50% vote to decide to bug out, then if you can only contact 15 people, your 50% is calculated on the basis of half of 15 (ie 7.5) rather than half of 25 (ie 12.5).

The Obligation of Group Members to Support the Group

One thing to consider when setting these ground rules.  Make it a part of the eligibility process to join your group – members must have a willingness and commitment to bug-out early and to bug out fast, and be willing to accept that when the group makes the decision to bug out, they either join in or become responsible for making their own way to the retreat subsequently.

Similarly, whatever the rules and timings are for meeting at the rendezvous point, when the point comes for the convoy or coach or whatever to depart, it will depart at that time, no matter who is not yet present or why.

Lastly on this point, members need to realize that if your group is traveling as a convoy, each couple/family in their own vehicle, there is still a strong obligation on all members to participate, because the whole concept of a convoy is safety in numbers and division/allocation of duties.  Each car and its people that doesn’t participate as agreed weakens the convoy as a whole, and whatever those people’s assigned duties were now need to be reassigned, on the fly, to someone else.

So people need to realize that if they wish to be part of the group community, they agree to join a group bug out event, even if they are not fully persuaded of the need to do so.  If they don’t, it becomes a loose-loose situation for everyone.  The main group convoy is weakened and the earlier assigned organization and duties of people in the group need to be re-worked on the fly, and the non-participating group members also have a much riskier bugging out experience if/when they subsequently decide to make their own way, alone, to the retreat.

We’ll let you decide how you arrange things to encourage everyone to participate together.

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

Part 1 – The Group Dynamic

Part 2 – Initiating a Bug-Out

Part 3 – Communicating the Bug-Out Decision

Part 4 – Managing the Bug-Out

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

Part 5 – A Policy on Uninvited Guests

Part 6 – Traveling in Convoy

Aug 152013
 
State by state policies on underage drinking (click link for full size map),

State by state policies on underage drinking (click link for full size map),

Maybe you enjoy the occasional drink, and maybe you’re a teetotaler.  Either way, you might agree that a state’s policies towards drinking provides another insight into its general moral and interventionist approach to how the state feels it should regulate the lives of its citizens.

Perhaps the point that we are most sensitive to is whether the state feels it should reach into a person’s private house, family customs and religious practices and forbid any underage drinking, even as part of normal family life or religious ceremonies.  The assumption that the state knows better than parents about what is best for a child is an aggressive assumption at the best of times, and while there are occasionally tragic and egregious examples of how some parents show they don’t do a good job of caring for their children, there are also statutes to cover such practices.

A ‘lowest common denominator’ imposition on a total blanket ban on any type of drinking for people under the age of 21 seems regrettable, and we’re not even going to start along the lines of ‘you can vote, you can drive, you can serve in the armed services, you can marry, but you can’t have a drink at your own wedding’, although we’re very sympathetic to the comment.

Suffice it to say that blanket bans on alcohol consumption because a very small minority abuse alcohol makes no more sense than blanket bans on firearms for similar reasons.

Let’s look at what restrictions states pose on so-called ‘under age’ drinking and on alcohol related issues in general.  But first, a bit of history is in order.

The History of US Drinking Age Laws

With the repeal of prohibition in 1933, states were allowed to set their own alcohol laws.  Most states set 21 as the minimum age to drink in public.

In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18, and at that point, 30 states lowered their minimum drinking age – perhaps to 18, or in some cases to 19 or 20.  By 1982, that number had grown to 46 states allowing a lower than 21 minimum drinking age.

But in 1984 the National Minimum Drinking Age Act gave a backdoor ability back to the federal government to regulate a national minimum drinking age.  Although not empowered to set a national drinking age, and in an attempt to avoid violating the 10th Amendment (reserving such powers to the states themselves), the federal government said ‘You are free to set any age you like, but, oh, by the way, if you don’t set the age to 21, we’ll reduce the amount of federal highway funds we give to you by 10%’.

No state wished to lose out on these large annual grants (back then, some states were getting up to $100 million annually and these days it is much more), and so all 50 states quickly revised their minimum drinking age back to 21.  This gives the United States the county in the ‘developed world’ with the highest minimum drinking age (next comes Iceland and Japan, both with a 20 age limit).  Interestingly (and we’ll let you ponder this without our prompting) restrictions on drinking alcohol is of course something we have in common with some of the most severely Muslim nations.

State by State Underage Policies

Five states have an outright ban on all underage drinking, no matter what the circumstances or situation.  These five states are Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, New Hampshire and West Virginia.

If you’re considering a move to the ‘American redoubt’ states, you should note Idaho’s inclusion on that list.  The other redoubt states are considerably less intrusive on your private personal lives, at least when it comes to alcohol.

The other 45 states all allow for one or more exceptions to their underage drinking laws.  These include on private, ‘non-alcohol selling’ premises and with parental consent, or even without parental consent, on alcohol selling premises with parental consent, for religious purposes, for medical purposes, and several other categories of narrow applicability as well.  You can see a complete list here.

If you’d like to see how the US compares to other countries, you can see a list of 138 different countries and their policies here.

Sunday Liquor Sales Bans

Another area where states feel they need to mandate ‘morality’ or in some other way control our lives is by restricting our ability to buy spirits on a Sunday.

Twelve states have an outright ban on Sunday sales.  These are Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Minnesota, Indiana, North Carolina and South Carolina.

A special mention goes to Indiana – it bans all alcohol sales – not just spirits, but wine and beer too, on Sundays.

Here’s an interesting map showing state by state Sunday spirit policies.

Other State and Local Laws About the Sale of Alcohol

Some states restrict the sale of variously beer, wine and/or spirits, requiring them only to be sold through dedicated outlets, possibly state-owned.  Others are less restrictive.

And whether liquor can be sold anywhere or only through specific outlets, some states have a department that controls perhaps the wholesaling or retailing of spirits (reasonably common) and possibly wine and beer too (less common).

This page has a good summary of the relevant laws, state by state.

In addition to state-wide laws, there can also be even more restrictive county and/or city laws.  In particular, there are a number of ‘dry’ counties that may restrict and ban the purchase and/or consumption of alcohol in that county.  There are also dry towns and cities.

This page seems to have the most complete list of counties, cities and townships that are dry.

Laws about Beermaking, Winemaking, and Distilling

There are probably going to be both federal and state laws to consider when it comes to making your own booze.  Let’s start off with the bad news first.

It is illegal to distill your own spirits without a federal license.  It is also illegal to own still apparatus.  You can’t even make vinegar without a bunch of paperwork, because vinegar goes through a stage where it is alcohol rich but not yet sour enough to presumably discourage guzzling it down!

It seems fair to say that the restrictions on distilling spirits remain as strict today as they ever have been, and while there are plenty of books out there about how to make your own spirits at home, they don’t do you a service by failing to highlight just how illegal the activities they are encouraging you to do actually are.

To quote from the relevant government department’s website (The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau division of the Dept of the Treasury) :

There are numerous requirements that must be met that make it impractical to produce spirits for personal or beverage use

It is rare to see any government department admitting that their paperwork requirements are cumbersome.  Bottom line – they really don’t want you distilling your own spirits.  If you are caught breaking these laws, the penalties can be harsh and may possibly involve imprisonment.

However, the news is more positive when it comes to wine and beer.  Federal law allows you to make 100 gallons of beer per adult, up to a maximum of 200 gallons per household, each year, but for personal use only, not for sale, and restrictions may be imposed on taking the beer off your property.  Similar provisions allow you to make the same 100 gallons/person or 200 gallons/household of wine annually.  (Note that to qualify for the 200 gallon allowance, there must be at least two adults of legal age to drink in the household).

State laws can be more restrictive than federal law, but it seems all 50 states now allow home beermaking (the last two states to allow this being Mississippi in March 2013 and Alabama in May 2013).

We believe that when Mississippi legalized home brewing it also legalized home winemaking, but we are not sure if the same happened in Alabama.  We believe all other 48 states allow home winemaking, generally in line with the federal 100/200 gallon limits.

This site has convenient access to each state’s relevant legislation.  It seems this main index page has not been updated to reflect the current situation in MS or AL, but if you drill down to the specific state legislation, you’ll of course get an accurate understanding.

Summary

We make no moral judgments about anyone’s alcohol consumption, although clearly there are people with an alcoholism problem and that is regrettable.  But we have two general comments to make.  The first is that there is absolutely no evidence at all to suggest that greater restrictions on alcohol have any positive effect on the alcohol problems in a community.  There are clear regional differences in alcohol use, as shown in the data here and this more extensive data here.  But our sense is that the regional differences are a reflection of regional lifestyles and values more than they are of varying rules and restrictions.  In other words, perhaps the less that people drink by choice, the more restrictive a set of conditions they may impose on themselves, and their lower levels of consumption reflect not the legal constraints but rather personal preferences.

Our second point is to observe that we feel it is as unwelcome a state intrusion into our private lives to mandate when and where and how we can buy and consume alcohol as it is to restrict our firearms ownership or other similar things.

It seems entirely possible to us that the more active a state and county is in controlling how its citizens can access and consume alcohol (ie the more it is a ‘nanny state’ and feels it knows best what its citizens can and can’t do, and the less it trusts its citizens to make their own choices), the more empowered the governmental authorities will feel themselves to be when it comes to doing other things ‘for our own good’ too, either during normal times or during a crisis.

One further point about this, in case you care.  We are Christian, and we understand what is required to live a Christian lifestyle.  We are happy when other people live their lives and follow similar values to our own.

But we completely fail to see any authority in the Bible that empowers us to impose our Christian values on other people, whether they wish to follow them or not.  People who claim Biblical authority to constrain the lives of other people are, in our opinion, no better than Muslim extremists who claim the Koran allows and encourages them to wage their war against ‘non-believers’.  Being a New Testament Christian is all about honoring choice and freewill, not about forcing people to do anything insincerely.

While we do indeed like to be in a Christian community, we would not want to be in one which ended up as a severe theocracy, imposing some person’s opinions about how people should lead their lives.  Let’s allow us all the freedom to do as we wish, whether it be owning firearms, storing food, making/buying/drinking alcohol, or whatever else that is and should be private and personal.

So, to summarize what has become a lengthy summary, how a state (and county) seeks to restrict and control its citizens and their access to alcoholic beverages might, for some of us, directly influence where we establish a retreat, and for others of us, might provide a weak insight into how aggressive the state/county currently is and may be in the future at generally intruding into the private lives of its citizens.