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.

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.

Aug 082013
 
Coordinating and controlling a group of people in a high-stress bug-out situation will be difficult.

Coordinating and controlling a group of people in a high-stress bug-out situation will be difficult.

This multi-part article series follows on from our series about a group using a bus as a bug-out vehicle.  We have written this article series so it applies both to a group traveling together in a bus, or to a group traveling together, in a convoy, but in separate vehicles, individually.

If you are planning to bug-out as a group with other people, – maybe all in a bus, or maybe all in private cars, then it is good that you will have other people to support your bug-out process, but the new group dynamic exposes you to some new potential problems.

It is close to accurate to say that the complexities and challenges of organizing a group of people increases with the square of the number of people in the group.  In other words, if you double the number of people, you multiply four-fold the challenges; if you triple the people, you make the problems nine times larger!

But your challenge is not just the added complication of ‘herding cats’ – or, in your case, getting a group of probably fairly independent self-willed people to work in unison; your problem is also that the group will ‘think’ and decide issues on a very different basis to what you are used to either in a family or work environment.

Group Dynamics and Decision Making is Very Different to Family Type Scenarios

In your immediate family/personal social group, you have, over the years, established unspoken but understood roles and processes for resolving issues.  Maybe the wife generally handles some parts of the family’s life, and the husband focuses on other aspects, and the children know what they can and can’t do and when they need parental permission.

Furthermore, the family has both a history and a future.  That means that, for example, a married couple creates a series of ongoing compromises and swaps – ‘I’ll agree to this thing you want, because you agreed to the thing I wanted last week, and I know you’ll agree to another thing I want next week’ – that sort of thing.  So each conflict or decision/compromise is not a ‘stand-alone’ issue, it is part of an ongoing process.

It is also fair to say that most decisions or conflicts in a family environment aren’t of huge massive life-changing importance.  Do you paint the bathroom green or pink.  Do you eat chicken or beef tonight?  Do you want channel 45 or 76 on television?  Do you vacation in Mexico or Florida next?  You could probably live with either choice in all these scenarios.

Now compare these dynamics to your group deciding when to bug-out.  This is a huge high-stakes decision, almost literally a life and death decision, and also a one-off decision.  The thought of ‘I’ll compromise about this and let the other guy get his way, because he did a favor for me last week/next week’ doesn’t apply at all, and the perceived downside ‘cost’ of accepting a ‘wrong’ decision is huge.

So when you and some other people all get together to discuss and debate things as an amorphous unstructured group, you invariably get one of two different, but both dysfunctional outcomes.

The first outcome has everyone being painfully polite, and deferring to everyone else, with the group ending up in what seems to be happy and consensus agreement on an issue, with some sort of middle point compromise.  That might seem like a good thing, but studies of group dynamics suggest that this compromise is probably an outcome that no-one actually wants.  This is best encapsulated in the fascinating and amusing story of ‘The Bus to Abilene‘.  If you’re involved in any type of group decision-making, you need to guard against your group taking its own ‘bus to Abilene’.

The second outcome is quite the opposite but still ends dysfunctionally.  With the second outcome, people ‘stand their ground’ and refuse to compromise or consider other perspectives at all; vociferous arguments fly around the room, and people almost come to blows.  Either the group ends up agreeing on nothing at all, or the group splinters with people saying ‘You do whatever you want, but I’d doing this’ for their respective preferences.  Sounds a bit like Congress, doesn’t it.

Neither of these outcomes is acceptable when you’re trying to get agreement on when to bug out.  In the first case, you end up ‘agreeing’ on a strategy that no-one actually supports and which is probably inappropriate.  In the other, the group fragments with people doing their own thing their own way, and the underlying premise – ‘we all bug-out together for mutual safety and support’ is destroyed.

So we know that families can usually (but not always) agree on things, whereas ad hoc groups often (but not always) can not.  There’s one other form of group to consider, and you’re familiar with it already – a workplace type group – a structured group with a clearly understood hierarchy, authority, responsibilities, duties, accountability, obligations and consequences.  It is in its clearest form in a military organization of course, but just about every workplace, unionized or not, ’employee owned’ or not, still has a clear hierarchy and all that goes with it.  While we know plenty of cases of companies (and armies) making colossally bad decisions – there’s no guarantee that a corporate or military hierarchy will get things always fully correct – at least they can and do make decisions, and at least the members of the company or force then comply and implement the decision.

In your case, you want your group to be able to make an appropriate decision, in a timely manner, and to have the group members then accept the decision and comply with it.  An amorphous structure clearly won’t guarantee this, a family structure is not feasible, and so that leaves the concept of a hierarchical structure as one which the group should adopt.

Your group should create a structure that delegates decision-making authority to a designated leader, rather than requiring amorphous consensus style decision-making.  When TSHTF the last thing you want is a lengthy existential debate about should you/shouldn’t you be bugging out yet.

Create a consensus list of parameters for what constitutes a bug-out event, and then designate one, two, or three people to be the committee who decides, on behalf of the group, when to pull the trigger and initiate a bug-out, and, most of all, get all group members to solemnly agree to then abide by that decision, whatever it is, and whenever it is made.

When People Allow Another to Decide For Them, They May Switch Off Their Common Sense

There is another important factor to appreciate – one we have way too much personal experience of, and if you’ve not been in a leadership role in the past, you might not yet have encountered it.  We’re not now talking about decision-making, but rather about how the people in the group behave when implementing the decisions.

The classic example we’ve seen is on group tours.  You get a group of sensible, capable, aware and experienced travelers, all of whom have traveled by themselves in the past, but now they are on a tour bus with a tour leader, they seem to switch their brains off.  They become like helpless little children, needing to be told everything (repeatedly!) and not thinking for themselves or for that matter, thinking about the others in the group.  The tour leader needs to shepherd them from the bus to wherever they are going, keep them together, and make sure they all get back to the bus before it leaves – the individual people seem to lose their ability to plan for themselves, to find their way, and definitely lose all sense of time.

The thing is that their thought process – whether consciously or unconsciously – goes ‘I don’t need to pay attention, I don’t need to be focused, because I now have someone who is responsible for ensuring that nothing bad happens to me’.

When you add the truly mind-numbing shock of TEOTWAWKI, you’ll find that the people in your group will require a high degree of ‘hand-holding’ and you’ll need to reduce your assumptions about the degree of self-responsibility and initiative your people will display.

Even if you were counting on people ‘fending for themselves’ you need to assign duties and responsibilities and coordinate things.  Otherwise, you’ll find clusters of too many people all choosing to attend to some tasks, while other tasks go largely ignored and overlooked.

Things will improve once people create a new comfort zone (ie at the retreat) and a new routine and everything else, but for the bug-out process, you’ll need to provide a carefully structured process for them, where everyone understands exactly what they should and should not be doing and what is expected of them.

Summary

Group dynamics and decision-making can be very different to those in corporations and families.  You need to understand these differences and then structure your group so as to minimize the pitfalls and maximize the efficiency of the essential decision-making processes associated with initiating and managing a bug-out procedure.

You do this by structuring the group in advance, anticipating what issues will exist, and creating agreed upon procedures and a hierarchical system of leadership.

Traveling as part of a group can be great, but only if the inherently anarchistic elements of such a group are tamed and controlled.

This is the first 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

Jul 242013
 
Do you want your retreat to be in a small town, on its outskirts, or some miles away in empty countryside?

Do you want your retreat to be in a small town, on its outskirts, or some miles away in empty countryside?

Choosing a retreat location is the hardest thing you must do, because there are so many variables, issues, and choices to make.

Furthermore, many of your choices are far from clear-cut.  They depend on things uniquely to do with you, your circumstances, and to do with the areas you are considering, and require you to make difficult value judgments where a choice for something might then impact on your ability to also optimize some other important feature.

This all makes it difficult for you, and of course, difficult for those of us who try to write on the topic too!  But write we do; indeed this article means we now have over 90,000 words already published about choosing a retreat location (more than a full-sized book), and there’s plenty more still to write.

This article can be considered as a follow on from several other articles that directly or obliquely consider the choice between an in-town or out-in-the-country type location.  See, for example, our two-part series, Identifying Good Towns and The Robustness of a Town’s Services, plus articles such as Where to Locate Within a Town, The Importance of Good Nearby Neighbors and Will Your Nearby Town Thrive, Survive or Fail.

In this article we identify some of the respective good and bad points associated with living either in a rural area far from other people, or in a more concentrated population cluster such as a small town.  You can decide on the relative importance of these things, we simply offer them up for your consideration.

Positive Aspects of Town Living Negative Aspects of Town Living
  • You become a member of a local community, and with a group of people in the town, can select your friends and fellow community members from a larger group of people to choose from
  • If the town groups together constructively, there is better mutual security – ‘safety in numbers’ and with help closer at hand in an emergency
  • Probably have some community services such as medical, law enforcement, fire, water, sewer
  • Probably have businesses providing all sorts of commercial services – eg electrical and mechanical maintenance, plumbing, etc
  • Most places you need to go to will be within walking distance
  • A group of people in one location aids effective trading – buying, selling, exchanging, bartering
  • It is harder to quality control your neighbors (and their neighbors, too) and you are more impacted by them and their actions
  • Some locals may pose present threats, others may become troublesome WTSHTF
  • An unknown number of people will be truly prepared, and an unknown but greater number may become dependent on you WTSHTF
  • A greater population density and more frequent interactions with other people makes it easier for epidemics to spread
  • A town is unlikely to be self-sufficient for food, and unlikely to be able to become so in the future (too many people, too little land)
  • You have much less privacy of any type in a town
  • The desirability to be discreet about your resources and capabilities and the lack of privacy will pose problems, for example, with antenna arrays, making your dwelling structure bullet proof, etc
  • Smaller sized lots make it more difficult to use them for many different purposes
  • Land prices are higher, limiting the amount of land you can buy in a town
  • Land taxes are probably higher than in the country too
  • Local city bylaws are probably going to be more restrictive in many respects (some possibly unexpected).  In particular, you can forget any opportunity to use firearms for any purpose on your town lot, and may have major restrictions on the fuel you can store
  • City laws (and laws in general) may be more aggressively enforced with a city police force and less ability to do things unobserved
  • A town’s services may fail WTSHTF and make the town less viable without the services than the countryside would be (never having the services in the first place).  For example, most country folk have their own septic systems, what do townsfolk do when their town sewer system fails?
  • You probably can’t hunt or fish or raise livestock on your town property; even if you could, just how much game do you expect to find in your back yard?
  • Might not even be allowed/able to collect rainwater from your roof.  Where else/how else would you get water in a town?
  • Less space for solar arrays, probably no chance of hydro, probably little/no chance of wind power
  • Impractical to consider activities that generate significant noise or smells
  • Towns are more likely to organize formal food sharing (ie confiscation) type programs in an emergency.  They have an additional level of government (city govt) and a significant concentration of people needing food.

Positive Aspects of Rural Living

Negative Aspects of Rural Living
  • Free of direct/immediate issues from neighbors, who are probably sufficiently distant to give you much greater privacy and to have less mutual impacts on what you and they do
  • Lower population density and fewer interactions with other people reduce the spread of epidemics
  • Your neighbors (and you too) are all more likely to be already self-sufficient in terms of food production
  • You may even have a chance to start growing food surpluses to trade with others
  • Because everyone was not relying on city services (eg water, sewer) to start with, WTSHTF you will all be less impacted
  • Land prices are lower – you can buy more land for the same money as less land in a town would cost
  • Land taxes are probably lower than in the city too
  • More land gives you more space for everything, and a greater amount of land spreads your risk of unexpected events over a broader area, hopefully making such events less impactful
  • With more space, costing less money, and more private, you can set up all sorts of things ranging from private gun ranges to antenna arrays to more extensive cultivation of many different crops to safety and privacy zones
  • You have the space for extensive solar arrays, might possibly be able to implement a micro-hydro system, and maybe add a wind turbine too
  • You can consider activities that are noisy or smelly or in some other way would be too attention-getting or objectionable in town (eg methane gas generation from cow dung)
  • You’re more likely to have a solution already in place for water
  • Fewer (or no) restrictions on hunting and fishing and livestock raising on your land
  • Easier to build structures with non-standard construction eg for fire-proof and ballistic protection and to erect obstacles against vehicular assault
  • Less likely to have as much county government interference as city folks do with both city and county government, and more able to live your life discreetly
  • Larger lots allow for inefficient but beneficial land uses such as forestry and harvesting trees for both construction materials and firewood/energy
  • Your nearest neighbors are probably too far away to be able to provide immediate urgent assistance in an emergency
  • Even communicating with neighbors may become difficult if cell phones and landlines fail
  • Might not have high-speed internet and state of the art cell-phone and data service
  • Although neighbors are far and few, you are more dependent on additional people to manage and secure a larger lot than you are in a town
  • There is probably less of a community spirit, and a smaller potential community anyway, at least within a few hours walk/bicycle/horse ride
  • There is a lack of convenient local services.
  • Nothing will be a short walk away, and if liquid fueled internal combustion powered vehicles become impractical in the future, distances will become a major problem

Towns Aren’t All Bad

Wow – looking at the imbalance between the pluses and minuses of town and rural life would seem to suggest that everyone should choose a rural location for their retreat.

But not all the bullet points are of equal importance, and you need to do more than just count bullet points.  You need to decide which are the most important factors for you, and whether you can minimize the negatives that inevitably are associated with any set of positives.

We provide considerable more detail on the brief bullet points we offer above in other articles on these topics.  We linked, above, to some of our other articles about town vs country living, and you can also visit our complete collection of retreat location themed articles here.

Summary

The difficult art of choosing an ideal location for your retreat involves trading off the pluses and minuses of each issue you need to consider.

To help you understand and evaluate the consequences of your choices, we’ve listed almost 50 different factors to consider when trying to select between a town or rural retreat location.

Jul 172013
 
How do you know what makes a town a good location for your country town retreat?

How do you know what makes a town a good location for your country town retreat?

You already know that your retreat should be far from a big city, but what about small towns?  We’ve written before on the subject of being close to a suitable ‘good’ small town (see ‘The Importance of Good Nearby Neighbors and Small Towns‘ and ‘Will Your Nearby Town Thrive, Survive or Fail WTSHTF‘, but we’ve not really considered the issue of actually living in a small town.  Hence this article.

In this first part of the article, we talk about the differences between what we view as ‘good’ towns and those we view as ‘bad’ towns’.  In the second part of the article, we talk about the measuring a town by the robustness of the services it provides.

There are several issues to consider when deciding if you want to live in or close to a small town.  The first issue of course is identifying suitable small towns.  But what makes a town suitable?  In the second of the two articles above we lightly touch on one measure of suitability – whether a town is likely to remain a viable and close to self-supporting entity in a future Level 2 or 3 situation.

That is indeed an important consideration – a town that will collapse when society collapses is nothing more than an instant gang of marauders inconveniently living right next to you; whereas a town that can survive with only moderate impairment is a positive resource that can add to your own chances of surviving.

There are other considerations too.  Two very obvious additional considerations are :

Location and Size

Similar considerations that apply to your choice of a location for your (possibly remote/rural) retreat apply to your choice of a town to live in.

You don’t want the town to be too close to a major city, indeed, if anything, you want a town to be further away from a major city than would be the case for a rural retreat.  This is because towns are like beacons, calling to people.  They are names and places on maps, whereas individual retreat properties are vague amorphous things with nothing to identify themselves on a map (unless it has aerial photography!).  It is conceivable that refugees will think ‘I’ll leave my big city and travel to this small town – I remember driving through it once and it seemed like a friendly nice little place, I’m sure they’ll welcome me and look after me there’.

So, more distance than for a rural retreat and/or some geographical barriers are definitely called for when considering a town’s location.  We discuss this further in our article on Transportation and Roading Implications of a Retreat Location.

You don’t want the town to be bisected by a freeway or in any other way be part of a major throughway that you can expect refugees and marauders to be traveling along.

You want the town’s population to be bigger than very small but smaller than very big.  Let’s try to be a bit more specific.  You want a town to be at least a couple of hundred people in size.  Any smaller than that, and it isn’t so much a ‘town’ as it is a semi-random grouping of people living close to each other.  There are less likely to be existing town services, and less of a feeling of belong to a specific township in the minds of the residents.

In somewhat irrelevant support of that, in Montana cities can’t incorporate unless they have more than 300 residents.  In case you’re wondering how it is you’ve seen some much smaller incorporated towns and cities, that is because they don’t have to automatically disincorporate if their population dwindles below 300 – the smallest incorporated town in Montana has fewer than 100 residents.

So, ideally, you want to set about 200 people as the lower limit for a viable/suitable sized town.  At the other end of the scale, once you start to go over 1,000 residents, the feeling of connectedness starts to weaken.  People become more individually anonymous and therefore also less individually accountable for themselves and for the town as a whole.  In a town of a few hundred residents, pretty much everyone knows everyone else, but once you grow from a few hundred to a few thousand, that is no longer the case.

One important thing about measuring the population of a town – if there are population clusters living in unincorporated county land close to the town, those people may identify themselves as residents of the town and will of course be part of the town’s economic base, even though they don’t live in the town as such.  Similarly, two towns very close to each other tend to coalesce into one larger whole – even if both are small and there’s a mile or two between them, residents will of course happily travel to one or the other for their shopping and other needs.

The Differences between a Town and a Group of People Living Closely Together

Here’s an interesting way of distinguishing a collection of people who just happen to live closely together from a ‘real’ town.  A ‘real’ town is more likely to have some sort of public/community amenity – a park, a statue, a town hall, something like that.  Even if it ‘just’ has a church, it has some type of focal point for the population, and the people have shown themselves to recognize the township as something more than just a semi-random grouping of people who happen to be living in close proximity to each other.

Maybe the town has a 4H chapter, or a Masonic Lodge, or some other sort of social cornerstone as well.  A Chamber of Commerce is another good sign.  For that matter, even a local bar/tavern/restaurant is at least a place where locals can go and do a bit of socializing.

Something else that distinguishes a town from a mere grouping of people living close to each other – a volunteer fire department (or a full-time one), or any other type of community service like that.  Let’s also not forget a public library – ideally in its own building rather than a truck that visits once a week.

Does the town have its own newspaper, or radio station, or even television station?  If it does, that is better than if it doesn’t (although with the small-sized towns we’re most interested in, it is unlikely they’ll have their own radio/tv station; and any newspaper is probably a weekly rather than daily).

You want to find a town where there is a sense of community identity, and ideally community spirit and community pride too.  This helps to subtly make the people in the town feel accountable to each other and their community, and modifies their behavior in a positive way.  It also encourages people to ‘fight’ for their town – not in a literal sense (well, not in normal times, anyway) and encourages them to make some effort to help preserve and protect the town from problems.  Because part of protecting the town is protecting the townsfolk, in these types of town, people are likely to be more helpful to each other, and more willing to help out.

Some people might consider seeing neighborhood watch signs an indication of positive community involvement, but we don’t think they are either as relevant or as common in small towns as they are in large cities, and we’ve seen little clear evidence suggesting that neighborhood watch groups actually signify or do much at all in communities of any size.

Another perspective is that small towns tend to be more crime free to start with, and the criminals are better known – there’s less need for a neighborhood watch group, and if there is, perhaps it denotes as much overly officious nosiness as it does a sense of protective community.

A Suitable Town Should Have Some Viable Industry or Shops or Services

You want a town that has some local industry and commerce and services.  Some towns seem to be nothing more than a clustering of houses with almost no stores or anything else.  Other towns have a surprising amount of retail stores, multiple gas stations, and other service providers.

A town with some commerce is better than one with too much or too little.  You know, for example, that the gas stations will be out of business very quickly if society collapses.  The big box super-store will also disappear when it can no longer get its daily deliveries of goods to sell, leaving a bunch of employees without work.  But a small country store or butcher shop or something like that – hopefully those sorts of places can transition to become intermediaries in the new economy after TSHTF and will continue to provide valuable services to both food providers/sellers and food consumers/buyers.

A post-collapse town will need to be able to adjust to a new economy which will be much more focused on trading with local farmers, and providing services to the town’s residents and nearby rural farmers.  Some types of service based businesses (especially low-tech ones) will be able to continue as before, others might be able to adapt to provide slightly different services that will become more in need.

Quality as Well as Quantity of Residents

We don’t mean to sound elitist when we offer up this section heading, but the clear truth is there’s a world of difference between a prosperous thriving town of 500 people, with well maintained streets and buildings, and high levels of income and education on the one hand, and a moribund decaying town of 500 people, with empty boarded up buildings and those still inhabited in a poor state of repair, and a massively greater than normal level of unemployment with few college graduates, on the other hand.

Which would you rather live in?  Of course, the former.

Sometimes the difference between one town and another is massively obvious the minute you drive into the town.  We can think of one town in MT in particular where the only local resident seemed to be an aggressively prowling policeman in his cruiser, looking for revenue opportunities – understandable, perhaps, because there’s no way a town of not quite 1000 residents can afford their own police department unless the department is charged with generating as much revenue as possible, ideally from non-residents.

You want to be careful if considering a town that is also the county seat.  It will have a disproportionate number of local government employees, all desperate to do something, and not otherwise contributing to the local economy.  When TSHTF, these people will need to redefine their jobs and seek new income sources to keep themselves paid, and will instinctively want to use their government authority to ‘take control’ of the problem and manage any ‘solutions’.

With all due respect to such people, let’s just say there’s an appreciable risk that their ideas of a solution, and their need to levy other people to support themselves, may not coincide with your own ideas.

Political Leanings

We know this is a bad measure to use, but we’d try to get precinct level voting records for the last few elections to see not just how the various congressional districts and counties voted, but also in more detail, how people specifically in the town itself voted.  The problem with county level voting records is that there can often be a difference in voting in different parts of the county, the more detailed you can get your information, the better.  If there were any ballots or initiatives, that will give you a feeling about how the town feels about things, and of course, the Presidential elections are another good bell-weather measure of political feelings.

We’ll let you decide for yourself which views are the views you’d like to be surrounded by!

If time allows, attend a public meeting or two.  Have a look on the notice boards at the library and at other public places and see what sorts of issues (if any) might be gripping the population at present and get a sense for the general feeling of people about these things.

Read back issues of whatever newspapers service the town, so you can get more of an idea about what challenges the town faces and how they confront these challenges.  It is amazing how quickly you can form a reasonably accurate understanding of a town, just by reading through a few back issues of the local newspaper.

Growing, Stable, or Shrinking?

We don’t like extremes.  We don’t like a town that is growing too fast, because such growth is usually the result of people moving to the town from elsewhere, and we’ve no way of knowing if those people will be adding to or detracting from the town’s identity, independence, political perspective, and so on.

A rapidly growing town is a rapidly changing town, and not only do we not like extremes, we also don’t like rapid change and the unknowns it presents.  Rapidly growing towns also often seem to be imbued with a desire to turn their back on their rural roots and to become ‘more civilized’ – an attribute which, to us, is not always a desirable one.

Furthermore, if you buy a lot in a growing town, you might find the density of residents around you increasing, with neighbors subdividing or building additional structures on their lots.

Rapidly growing towns also always seem to be placing pressure on their infrastructure and services, and on their roading and traffic capacities.

On the other hand, a shrinking town is not a nice place to be, either.  There are two sorts of shrinking towns – ones which have been reducing in size steadily for the last decade or two, and then there are the ones that had a single event at some point in the past which massively impacted on the town’s economy.  The closing of a timber mill or a mine; the coming of a freeway that took away all the through traffic, something like that.  A town that was once much bigger, but which shrunk in size 50 or more years ago but now is stable or slowly growing again is much more preferable than a town that is diminishing at present.

There are lots of problems with towns that are shrinking.  The town itself looks dismal and forlorn, with boarded up buildings and empty streets.  Furthermore, the last thing to shrink in any town are the municipal employees, making for top-heavy local government and greater costs together with under-employed people keen to justify their non-essential jobs.

While property prices are often low, they may also continue to go lower, which is not something you’d want.

Our favorite types of towns are ones that are slowly growing, more or less in line with the growth in the county and state and nation as a whole.  Our entire economy is based on an (often unstated) expectation of gradual growth, and if there is slight growth, then that equates to prosperity.  New businesses will occasionally start up, current businesses will see increasing amounts of business, and everyone feels pleased and happy.  They want to protect their prosperity much more than people in a shrinking town, where many people are, either openly or privately, debating as to whether and when they too will leave the town.  There’s much less community identification in the shrinking town.

Judging a Town by its Traffic Management

In our opinion, another measure of a town’s suitability is to look for stop lights.  If a town has stop lights, that either means it has more traffic than you’d be comfortable with, or an overly controlling mentality that seeks to regulate and protect its citizens from each other.  If it just has stop signs (or not even that) you’re in a town that doesn’t have as much traffic, isn’t as self-important, and which trusts its citizens to be sensible and sane.

Some towns are proud of the fact they have no stop lights, whereas we suspect some are proud that they are now big and important enough to have one (or more).  We’d prefer to be in the town that proudly delays getting stop lights as long as possible.

Okay, the presence or lack of stop lights is probably not the most important issue to consider, but it provides another perspective on the social values of the town.

Read More in Part 2

Please now continue on to the second part of this article – Evaluating the Robustness of a Town’s Services, for a discussion of twelve more factors to consider when choosing a town for your retreat.

Jul 172013
 
The proximity of fire and paramedic services is an important consideration when evaluating potential towns for your retreat.

The proximity of fire and paramedic services is an important consideration when evaluating potential towns for your retreat.

This is the second part of a two-part article about choosing an appropriate town to live in as a retreat location.  If you’ve arrived directly here from a search engine or website link, you might wish to read the first part ‘Identifying Good Towns‘ before then continuing on to read this second part.

When you’re choosing a rural retreat, you have little expectation of having much in the way of utilities available at the retreat.  Ideally you might be able to get some electricity run to the property, but that is about all.  But when you’re in a town, you have a much greater expectation of available services.  Furthermore, depending on the robustness of the services, the town – and its other, less well prepared residents – may be able to cope with a collapse of society to a better or worse extent.

There are several key services a town may provide its citizens, or, if not directly providing, may provide the focal point to encourage some outside provider to participate.

The most important services would be water, sewer, electricity, gas, phone, internet, and transportation.  Let’s briefly consider each of these.

Water

Does the town provide water or does each house have to make its own arrangements?  If the town does provide water, does it require electricity for any part of the process?

If the water comes from a stream/river/reservoirs ‘up there’ and is gravity fed all the way to your tap, then that is hopefully (but not definitely) able to continue operating if the power fails.  But if the water comes up from a well, then goes through a processing plant, you have electric motors driving the pumps to lift the water from the well, to send it through the processing plant, and then on to your house.

If the town does provide water, are you able to also store rainwater on your property, or dig your own well, too?

Sewer

Smaller towns probably require everyone to use septic tanks, and that’s a very robust solution.  If you buy a property with an existing septic system, we’d consider extending it, and then pumping it more regularly than needed, so if society collapses, you’ve got a good many years out of your system before it needs to be attended to in the future.

There are different types of septic systems.  Some are gravity fed, others need pumps to distribute the sewage.  Ideally you’d want to have a system that does not require electricity to operate.  Not only does this reduce your dependence on electricity, it is one less thing to go wrong and need maintaining.  If you do have an electric system, it would be ideal if you had a holding tank that could be filled and then the pump activated to process/distribute the contents on an occasional basis – that way you could run your generator briefly to power the pump once a day or whatever, rather than needing power 24/7.

If the town does provide sewer services, you should again understand what happens if the power fails.  Maybe you want to have your own septic system (if you are allowed, of course) even though the town provides a sewer service.

Electricity

Some towns and counties have their own PUDs that provide electricity to the community.   That is maybe nice, but largely irrelevant; what is more important is where does whatever utility provider you will be relying on for electricity get their electricity from?

Ideally, they have a hydro-electric power station all of their own, that provides all their power and more besides (which they sell on to other utility companies).  Less ideally, they buy hydro-electric power from some other company.  Very unusually, they might have their own nuclear power generating facility.  Still less ideally, they generate their own power, but from oil, gas, or coal.  Least ideally, they just buy power as a commodity on the open market from whoever, wherever, they can get power from.

The reason for the variation in desirability is the degree of independence/dependence this gives the utility.  If they buy power from somewhere else, then when the grid goes down, they’ll be out of luck and so too will you.  If they generate their own power from oil/gas/coal, then they’ll again be out of luck as soon as their supply of fuel is exhausted (and that could be in as short a time as a few days, even less with natural gas coming straight from a pipeline).

If they contract with another nearby utility to take some of their spare hydro-power, then that may possibly continue, although we’d expect to see the state or federal government take control of any surplus power generating and repurpose it as they see fit.  Of course, if the national grid fails, then the nearby utility could hopefully still provide power to your utility and wouldn’t have other competing utilities across the country competing for the power.

If the utility has their own hydro-power, then that will hopefully continue more or less intact, at least until such stage as the turbines can no longer be maintained.  That option gives you the best chance of ongoing electricity.

Gas

Natural gas is great stuff, and for the foreseeable future is likely to be the cheapest energy source available in much of North America.  If your town has natural gas available, you are fortunate, and should make full use of it during normal times.

But in a Level 2/3 situation, we expect that the natural gas pipelines will quickly fail.  They rely on computer controlled switching and pumping, so if the computers fail or the electricity fails at any point from well head to your home, the gas supply will either massively degrade or fail too.

So you can’t rely on gas in an emergency, but you can enjoy it during the good times.

Phone

It would be really nice if your town had its own ‘central office’ or telephone exchange.  That way, even if the broader telephone network fails, maybe your local central office can continue working and can provide phone communications within your local town.  The older fashioned it is, the better.  Wires strung on poles (or underground), and stepper/rotary switches in the exchange would be our idea of perfection.

Of course, you’ll also want cell phone service too, and hopefully with fast data, but that’s something for modern-day living while society continues to function, and will quickly fail when society fails.

Internet

Of course you want internet service for the present, and equally of course you have to expect to lose it when society fails.

Transportation

If your town has bus service, then it is too big!  You want to be able to walk from where you would live to the downtown area, and to anywhere else you’re likely to want to go in the town, too.

Ideally your town is also fairly flat, so you can not only walk, you can also cycle.

One thing that would be nice is proximity to a rail line.  When we look at the history of this and other countries, we are struck by the fact that trains preceded cars.  Of course, part of the reason is that steam locomotives were developed before internal combustion powered vehicles, but another part of the reason is that train transportation is incredibly efficient in terms of energy consumption and a great way of moving large quantities of people and things, long distances.

Our guess is that if we see a long-term Level 3 disaster, train service will be restored much sooner than road service.  Does that mean you should include a fully restored coal or wood burning steam loco, a couple of carriages and a couple of freight wagons as part of your preps?  If you can, we’d urge you to – become a new ‘railroad baron’ in the new world that would follow. 🙂

Back to what is achievable and relevant for most of us, suffice it to simply say that it would be nice but not essential to be either on or close to a rail line that is currently in use and not slated for closure in the foreseeable future.

As for road transportation, the town should ideally be on a secondary road and it would be better if it were on a spur rather than a throughway that has more traffic on it.  If it is on a throughway, it would be helpful if there were some hills on one side of the town that would act as a geographical barrier in the future, and another town reasonably readily reachable on the non-barrier side.

Other Types of Services

The preceding services were all to do with ‘things’.  How about also some services to do with people.  For example, police, fire, and medical.

Let’s consider those types of services too.

Police

We’re in two minds if having a city police department is a good thing or not.  Many smaller towns contract either with the country sheriff, or alternatively, with another nearby town or city.

This can save a great deal of money compared to the cost of having to establish their own department, and also gives the town access to ‘surge’ strength and a share of things that it would otherwise have to create entirely.  For example, instead of needing its own bomb department or SWAT team, it would have access to such things maintained by the law enforcement agency the town contracted with.  Even things like detectives might not be needed on a full-time basis by a small town, and so being able to get ‘half’ a detective is an efficient way of proceeding.

On the other hand, in a small town, the police are more directly accountable to the people they serve.  Hopefully most officers live in the town, whereas if you’re contracting with a larger county or city department, maybe none of the officers live in the town, so rather than reflecting the town’s values in their approach to policing, they’re imposing their outside values.

At what size does it make economic sense for a town to have its own police department?  That’s hard to say.  A town of 1000 – 2000 will almost always find it better value to contract from a larger department; and perhaps we can stop at that point, because if your town is much bigger than 2,000 people, we suggest it is starting to become less desirable because it is becoming ‘too big’.

While it is nice to have your own police department in your own town, the smaller the town, the greater the probable cost of this ‘luxury’ item, and/or the more aggressive the police department may be in ticketing people for violations so as to pay their way and protect their jobs.

Fire

Many small towns will have a volunteer fire brigade, and might call volunteers by something as simple as a siren that sounds in the middle of the town.

The problem with this arrangement is that it adds several minutes to the time it takes to get a fire truck to your property and fighting your fire, and if you’ve ever seen a fire take hold of a property, you’ll know that several minutes can mean the difference between a salvageable fire and needing to tear down the ruins and rebuild from scratch.

On the other hand, of course, your retreat property should not be a fire risk to start with.  You should build the exterior of it from a fireproof material; that’s not to say that your interior won’t be at potential risk of fire, but if all the fire can burn are interior furnishings, it won’t run away so severely, and if you have some decent hoses and water pressure, you can probably slow if not completely stop the fire until/before help arrives.

Insurance rates will probably be higher if you have a volunteer fire department.  But land taxes may be more if you have to pay for a full-time fire department.  Prevention is better than cure, though, so we’d prefer to pay a bit more for at least a core basic full-time fire department, but don’t consider it too serious a downcheck if the town doesn’t have one.

Medical

There are several things to consider under the medical heading.  Where would the nearest paramedics come from in an emergency, and then where would they take you after they’d arrived – ie, where is the nearest hospital?

Some towns have regional medical centers in them.  This is an enormous plus for a town, because you not only have the building and resources, you have the medical staff too.  In a crisis, your town will have an abundance of medical professionals residing within it.

Remember that with a stroke your chance of survival diminishes by about 10% for each minute it takes for paramedics to get to you and restart your breathing.  You want to have paramedic service in the town or not far out of it if at all possible.

Education

If you have, or plan to have, school age children, the presence of local schools will of course be an important factor to consider.  Even if you don’t have children, a town with decent education standards is more likely to have decent people than a town which places little importance on that.

On a related subject, have a look at the demographics of the town – its ‘age pyramid’.  You want a town with a reasonable share of younger people, rather than one comprising predominantly middle-aged and older people.  Without young people, the town has no rejuvenation and no future.

Churches

If attending church is something you wish to do, you’ll want to see the choice of churches that might be available to you in the town and its immediate surroundings.

Some people might suggest you can get a feeling for the ‘soul’ of a town by its churches, that may also be true, although it might be hard to evaluate short of spending time attending several churches to form your own direct impressions.

Summary

This was the second part of a two-part article about choosing an appropriate town to live in as a retreat location.  If you’ve not already done so, we suggest you also read the first part of the article – ‘Identifying Good Towns‘.

A logical next point in your research would be our article ‘Where to Locate Within a Town‘.

Jul 172013
 
Small towns can be a viable alternative location for your retreat if you have the relevant skills to survive in a town.

Small towns can be a viable alternative location for your retreat if you have the relevant skills to survive in a town.

Maybe you’ve decided that town living is a better choice for you.  There’s nothing wrong with that decision.

Many of us have little ability or interest in a farming lifestyle, and particularly if we have some other type of non-farming/rural talent or ability we can use to survive on in the future, it not only becomes sensible for us to consider living in a town, it becomes essential, because the town contains the concentration of people needed to be your future customers.

There’s no need to feel like you’re becoming a second-class prepper by not buying a dozen acres in the middle of nowhere and becoming totally self-sufficient, because in reality, the concept of living by yourself, and being fully self-sufficient, is an impossibility to start with.  The solitary farming family will need help in many different aspects of their life, plus they’ll need people to trade with – to sell the surplus food they’ve grown themselves, and to buy other food items to supplement the diet of their own food.

That has been the historical role of towns since mankind stopped being nomadic hunter gatherers and started to settle on land.  The towns provide a focus for the farmers around them, and the supplemental services and support the farmers need.

As towns grew larger, they started to then add extra people and extra services for the existing townsfolk as well as for the farmers nearby, and then of course, with the industrial revolution, towns started to be centers for factories, and so it went from there to the mega-millions of people in some of our massive sprawling cities of today.

But, in a Level 2 or 3 situation, towns will revert back to essentially being support resources for the surrounding farmers, and you’ll want to either have something that farmers will want/need, or something that the other people in the town will want/need.  There will only be a reduced level of trade between nearby towns, and almost no trade with more distant locations, because transport will become expensive, slow, difficult and probably dangerous.

House or Apartment?  Big or Small Lot?

So, do you want to have an apartment above a store on the main street of the town?  A condo in a block of condos?  A house on a 1/8th acre lot a street back from the main street?  A house on a 1/4 acre lot several streets back from the main street?  Or a house on a one acre lot more or less at the town limits?

As a rule of thumb, the closer to the town center, the smaller your lot will be.  Of course, lot size is probably not your prime consideration, but we’d suggest you should consider this somewhat, and in particular, we’d urge you to consider having a freestanding dwelling rather than a condo/apartment/townhouse.

We’re not saying you need a large house – a smaller house would be fine, but you should probably allow for being able to accept some ‘guests’ who will want to join you WTSHTF.  A spare bedroom or two might be much appreciated by all.  Generally you want to choose an average sort of house consistent with its surrounding houses – ‘security by obscurity’ in a sense.

Having your own freestanding dwelling on your own lot gives you much more security, independence and privacy than sharing a structure and common areas and land with others, and in an uncertain future, you’ve no idea who might be living next to you.  The ability to have a buffer zone between your residence and the next residence/street gives you a very slight warning and a ‘no-man’s land’ where you can choose how to respond to unwanted visitors with less than lethal force.  When they’re breaking down your door – or, even worse, coming at you through the shared common wall with the adjoining apartment – your options are much more limited!

You can also use the land around your residence to erect a ‘garden shed’ or two in which you can store additional supplies and materials, in addition to whatever is in your home itself.  If you have your own land, you can have your own septic tank, or at the very least, dig a privy.

Talking about such things, some distance also gives you a sanitary/quarantine gap from your neighbors as well.  High density housing combined with a failure of services such as water and sewer is a huge invitation for dysentery and all sorts of other nasty diseases to spread like wildfire; and in a situation with diminished healthcare resource and fewer modern medications, what is currently inconvenient can quickly become lethal.

It also gives you a firebreak.  With the loss of public water services, fires can be harder to fight, and spread quickly between nearby buildings.  Ideally, of course, you’ll be able to modify the house you buy to ‘harden’ it against fire, or, even better, you will get an empty lot so you can build a house the way you want it, right from the start.

When you’re very close to your neighbors, and especially if you’re sharing a common structure, you’re beholden to them and you will be vulnerable to the consequences of their mistakes.

Your own extra space does a lot more than insulate you from the mistakes of your neighbors.  You have some space to set out some solar cells (in addition to whatever might be on your roof, or perhaps instead of being on your roof, so as not to draw attention to yourself).  You also have space for a generator and can park several vehicles securely.

Talking about being insulated from your neighbors, we’d urge you to avoid any type of property that is subject to a Home Owners’ Association, and be very wary of any attached covenants, codes and restrictions.  Home Owners’ Associations can run amok and cause no end of problems to people like ourselves – people who may not be willing to conform to the most excessively politically correct mandates of the HOA.

Not only do you want to avoid the constraints of an HOA, you want to have a moderate amount of privacy on your lot – you don’t want to be looking out your living room windows and straight into your neighbor’s living room, and so on.

If you have your own freestanding dwelling structure, you also have your own roof, and so you can collect rainwater from it without any complicating factors.  You can fireproof the structure too, and – while you’re at it – also make it ballistically stronger.

Even Non-Gardeners Should Have a (Small) Garden

One more thing about having some land.  Yes, you’ve already decided you’re not going to live a life as a rural farmer, spending all days doing back-breaking work in the fields.

But we’d urge you to have a few rows of veggies in your back yard, or perhaps erect a small greenhouse (then you can even raise plants up off the ground and not have to bend over so much).  Even a small bit of food independence (or, more accurately, less food dependence) might make a lot of difference when things get really tight and really tough.  Grow some easy, resilient, fun things.

You’re growing such things to supplement your other food and income, rather than to survive from, and if you grow some non-standard food items, you might find them much appreciated by other people, too.

So, one of the framing factors in your location choice within the town will be the varying costs of having some land together with a freestanding dwelling – how much you feel you need and how much you can afford.

Having acknowledged that, you should choose a place as centrally located as possible.  Sure, convenience is a good thing, and the ability to only walk for three or four minutes to get to your nearby Starbucks store in the morning is definitely a plus – well, okay then, maybe you’ve found the one town in the US that doesn’t yet have a Starbucks or analogous coffee shop.  🙂

For sure, you need to plan your future based on walking or riding a bicycle wherever you go in town, rather than driving a car.

Security Issues

There’s another reason for choosing to be close in to the center of the town as well.  If your town gets attacked by marauding bandits, two things will happen.

First, unlike the wild west movies we see, the bad guys won’t ride into the middle of the main street, a yelling and a hollering as they come, then shoot up everything they see, then ride out of town again.  Whereas, in the movies, the center of town seems to always be the most dangerous spot, in real life, we think it will be the safest.

Just like German U-boats against convoys in WW2 that would pick off the stragglers – the bad guys will attack, by stealth, the furthest out properties – the ones in the sort of grey zone where lot sizes have got larger, houses are further apart, and if you didn’t know the official city boundary line, you’d not be sure if they were in the town or not.

The second thing that will happen is a response to the first.  Outlying residents will come in to the center of the town for protection, and at the same time, the people who live closer in will band together to protect themselves – and themselves only.

The city limits sign will have no meaning.  The townsfolk in the center of the town will band together and protect only the inner enclave of their town.  This will be the area where an attack on one building is ‘dangerously close’ to other nearby buildings, such that the neighbors feel they have to help defend.  When the population density thins out some, if one building is attacked, neighbors will either cower under the kitchen table or run away, but when the population density rises, neighbors will feel that it is safer to help repulse the attackers, because they’ll perceive the direct danger to themselves much more starkly.

We’ve also seen analogous examples of this in history too – towns where the inner part was defended by a city wall, and the outer part – outside the city wall, was on their own.

Okay, we know our advice seems contradictory.  On the one hand, you want to have a reasonable lot size, and a bit of privacy and buffer zone between you and the neighbors.  On the other hand, you want to be close in to the town center for security and safety.  Where do you compromise?  That really depends on the layout of the town (and your budget).

When we talk about town layout we don’t just mean the streets and houses and plat maps, although that is of course relevant.  We also mean the ways in and out of the town, and any geographic buffers/barriers that might provide protection – rivers and hills, for example.

Clearly, attackers will be very likely to approach from some directions and less likely to approach from others.  This isn’t a military campaign, they are looking for ‘low-lying fruit’ and will leave difficult situations well alone (because there will be plenty of low lying fruit).  So consider degrees of risk when choosing your location in a town, although the most important thing to appreciate is that if/when threatened, the town will ‘shrink in’ on itself, and only the dense central area will end up with the residents effectively uniting against external problems.

Summary

If you have a skill that can be used in a rural town after WTSHTF, then by all means plan your prepping on the basis of setting up your retreat in a town.

We discuss how to choose a suitable town separately.  Once you have chosen a suitable town, in this article we explain where in the town is best to locate yourself.