Jul 142012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Scary Facts About Gangs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gangs Are Now in Rural Areas as Well as Cities

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is Winning the War Against Gangs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Implications for Preppers

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

In particular, consider the following points :

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

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

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

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

Jul 012012

The speed and path of the derecho windstorm.

Struggling to bump the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes split-up off the front page has been the unusual ‘derecho’ storm that hit the nation’s capital and nearby states on Friday evening, resulting in at least 22 deaths, widespread damage, and over 4 million residences losing power.  MD, OH, VA, WV and DC have all declared states of emergency.

At the time of writing this – Sunday morning, some 36+ hours later, things have stopped getting worse and are now slowly recovering, and some understanding is evolving about the overall magnitude of what occurred.

Perhaps the most significant challenge remaining is over a million households are still without power.  Many are still also without water and/or phone service (either or both landline and cell phone).  Many gas stations lost power and were unable to provide fuel, and panic buying quickly emptied out ones which remained open.  And while we often associate storms with cold weather, the area is sweltering under a heat wave, aggravated by high humidity levels, making the lack of power for air conditioning a further inconvenience.

Utility companies are working as fast as they can to restore power, but are predicting that some people will be without power for up to a week.  One utility (Pepco) estimates that over 35,000 households will still be without power next Friday at 11pm.  At least six other utilities also have customers currently without power.

This is something approaching a Level 1 type event, albeit on a limited regional nature, and so offers us some useful lessons.

Update Monday :  It is now 2.5 days since the storm, and there are still more than 2 million households without power all the way from IL in the west to DC in the east.  This article reports several utilities as describing the damage to their power grids as ‘catastrophic’ – clearly a bit of rhetoric designed to excuse their slow restoration of power, but nonetheless, some millions of people would probably currently find themselves agreeing with the statement.

Update Tuesday :  It is now 3.5 days since the storm, and media reports are saying ‘millions remain without power’ and adding they are likely to remain powerless for several more days.

Update Wednesday :  Happy July 4th to everyone, but not so happy to the more than one million customers (ie many million people) who remain without power, 4.5 days after the storm.  See this article, for example.  We’ll stop the daily updates because we think the point has by now been well illustrated.

Some Lessons

Perhaps the most interesting lesson of all is that not even people living in the nation’s capital and the extremely affluent adjoining counties are guaranteed uninterrupted utilities.  Disasters can strike anywhere, and while it is true the derecho type storm was unusual, that is the whole thing about prepping.  Prepping is all about preparing for unusual events.  Everyone prepares for normal common frequent events.  Only people with foresight concern themselves with abnormal, uncommon and infrequent events.

Let’s put the strength of this derecho storm in perspective (if you’re unfamiliar with the term, here’s an explanation of what a derecho is).  While destructive, it was far from overwhelming in its power.  It was equivalent to a Level 1 hurricane.  Wind speeds were gusting over 70 mph and occasionally peaking over 80 mph in places.  Our utilities don’t design a huge degree of resilience into their networks, with the largest culprit of all being, of course, trees falling over above ground power lines.  One has to assume the utilities simply find it cheaper to occasionally repair outages than to invest more heavily in preventative maintenance up front.

There is also the fact that the storm was not well forecast, meaning people were ‘unprepared’.  On the one hand, claiming to be ‘unprepared’ is a fairly meaningless statement by many of the utility companies – being as how the only preparation they can do is to pre-position additional repair crews to work on the damage.  On the other hand, it is another reminder that even the United States, arguably the most technologically advanced country in the world, we are far from perfect at both predicting/forecasting significant bad weather events and also in withstanding their effects.

There should be something very humbling to everyone about how a glorified windstorm can do this much damage and catch us unawares in the process.

Although most outcomes were regional, one outcome that was more nationwide were outages to some computer ‘cloud’ services.  Amazon’s cloud services suffered a regional failure that caused various companies (most notably Netflix) to lose some services for periods of time.  This was the second Amazon cloud failure in a month.  As we’ve said before, computer cloud services are very appealing in many respects, but the reliability of cloud computing continues to be proven to be less that what one would hope for.

Clearly, to withstand something like this you need to be able to survive in place for a week or more without needing external resources, although in this particular event, community support shelters were available, and due to the geographically restricted nature of the event, people always had the option of simply traveling out of the affected area.  You need water, food, and energy as your number one, two and three priorities.

Energy is in two forms.  First, energy to power your household’s energy needs (probably in the form of gasoline, diesel or propane to fuel a generator).  Second, and more optionally, energy to power your transportation.

Beyond that point you can start adding increasingly less essential but still nice to have services such as bi-directional communications capabilities – to tell people you are safe, and to ask other people if they are safe, to communicate with emergency services if needed (oh – 911 service was down in many areas, although sometimes it was possible to call police and fire departments on their non-emergency numbers – make sure you have these for your local services), and to get updates on when normal services and utilities will be restored.

An increasing number of people now have only cell phones, not landlines.  It is true that sometimes cell phones are more reliable than landlines, but it is also true that sometimes the opposite is the case.  For the most resilient communication capabilities, you should retain a basic landline service as well as cell phone service.  Also keep in mind that when cell phone networks are overloaded, it is usually easiest to get text messages sent and received, even when you can’t place or receive voice calls.  Make sure your phone is capable of texting, and that you (and the people you’ll want to keep in touch with) know how to do this.

There is also the matter of, ahem, bathroom facilities.  While the news reports didn’t make such a big thing about this (one wonders why not) it is a fairly safe assumption that the municipalities that lost power for their water systems probably also lost power to their sewage systems.

It was also interesting to read about people who were torn between staying in place or ‘retreating’ to some other location.  They didn’t know when they would get power restored, and so didn’t know whether they should attempt to wait it out or go somewhere else until power was restored back home.

This is in line with the projections in our earlier article about when people will decide to bug out.  Our expectation is that most events will result not in a flash sudden decision by everyone at the same time to leave an area, to ‘bug out’, but rather by a gradual process, which means that the roads shouldn’t all jam up instantly and suddenly – and, most important of all – very quickly after an event occurs.

Useless Advice Awards

Some public officials love to offer advice, even if the advice is not necessarily very helpful.  Here are two examples of useless advice.

An award must go to the people who offered this advice – boil all water and let it cool before drinking it.

That’s sensible advice, ordinarily, but for people with no power and 100 degree temperatures, it does beg the two obvious questions – how will the water be boiled, and how will it then cool down again?

Better advice would have been to recommend people either boil their water if they have power, or treat the water, if they have water treatment chemicals or UV water purifiers or other specialty equipment.  But of course, the public officials making these comments realize that very few people have planned and prepared to already have such equipment, and the people who do have such equipment probably don’t need to be advised about its use.

The second award goes to the person who first cautioned that gas-powered generators create a lot of carbon monoxide.  He said that, to be safe, the generator should not be inside either your home or garage.  Okay, we can understand that.  But he also said that you should plug your electrical appliances directly into the generator if possible.

We are trying to understand how a generator, safely located in the open, some distance away from your house, can also have your household appliances – typically with two or three foot cords – directly connected to it.

Better advice would have been to recommend that people install a cut-over switch and run an appropriately rated connecting cable from the generator to the cut-over switch, but that advice doesn’t do much good to people who don’t have such things already pre-installed, and the people who do have such things pre-installed don’t need to be told to use them.  But the official could at least have said ‘run multiple extension cords from the generator to the house, use as heavy a gauge wire as possible, and keep their lengths as short as possible’.

Instead, the official wished to avoid all liability for his ‘helpful advice’ and so offered nonsensical advice that, while – in abstract theory – is correct, in the real world is useless and totally unhelpful.


The derecho storm that impacted on the DC region on Friday night created a minor, localized, and relatively brief Level 1 event for millions of households, some of whom will remain without power for at least a week.

None of what occurred should surprise us as preppers, although non-preppers are probably dismayed to see how vulnerable even the nation’s capital remains to the raw forces of nature.

It is helpful (for those of us who do not live in that area) to mentally put ourselves in the place of people there and quickly run through our checklist of how we’d manage without power and water, and with no gas at the local gas station either, for a week.

Jun 212012

The popular 1960s tv comedy Green Acres told of a city slicker couple’s challenges adapting to the countryside. Don’t let it put you off considering a similar strategy.

Most preppers seek to cling to their current lifestyles as long as possible.  This is as true of the surgeon with his $500,000+ income as it is an office or blue-collar worker with a $50,000- income.

So people prepare for an alternate life and alternate world that would greet them if/when they ever needed to respond to a Level 2/3 scenario and evacuate to their carefully prepared retreat, while maintaining their current vulnerable lifestyle.  Their preparations embody a mix of anxious concern and desire to retain as much of life’s current experiences and perceived benefits as possible, for as long as possible.

Don’t get us wrong.  This is understandable.  We all have many ties that bind us to our current lives and communities.  There are our jobs, of course.  Maybe we have children (or, for that matter, aged parents) who also cause us to want to stay in an area.  There is our established network of friend and contacts, our current reasonably optimized lifestyle and residence, and, of course, there is inertia, resistance to change, and fear of the unknown.

There is also the fact that most of us currently live in medium/large sized cities, which for all their vulnerabilities and challenges also provide great convenience in terms of a wider range of shopping opportunities, entertainment, health-care, education, and just about everything compared to what we’d experience in the typically much smaller communities we’d move to if bugging out to our retreat location.

We repeat.  These are all valid points, and for many people, it makes sense to continue to lead their present life as best they can, while also prudently preparing for a possible future breakdown in current lifestyles.

In these cases, you of course also need to consider how you’ll get to your retreat WTSHTF and what the ‘trigger events’ are that would cause you to start such a process.  There’s no point in having a retreat waiting for you if you can’t get to it; and if an EMP disables your vehicle, or if an earthquake or other natural disaster closes the roads, or if a mass exodus of fellow citizens clogs the roads to the point of impossibility, the issue of how to get to the retreat suddenly changes from already potentially challenging to a massive problem (but not one without solutions).

We have an entire section of this site with helpful articles about ‘bugging out’ and evacuating to a retreat.

There is also the consideration that if you did suddenly need to withdraw to your retreat, you’d be arriving ‘cold’.  Sure, you might have a supply of long-life seeds to make a start on gardening whenever the next growing season begins, and sure, you probably have plenty of dried and other food stored to tide you over until you get closer to self-sufficiency, but the fact remains that you’re suddenly jumping into the deep end of the pool, with perhaps untested skills, untested resources, and untested just about everything.

This is a bit of a worry.  If you’ve not had some seasons of crop planting, you really don’t know what to expect in terms of water and fertilizer, soil quality, bugs and diseases, yields, and so on.  You don’t know which crops will grow best and which don’t really work as well as expected.  You’re not sure if your projections and assumptions are valid or not.

You’re also appearing ‘out of nowhere’ and hoping to be accepted into whatever local community exists in the area at a time when all such communities will become very inward looking and resistant to welcoming in more outsiders – unless, of course, such outsiders bring with them definite skills or resources that will clearly benefit the community.

There are strategies and approaches to managing these considerations.  None of these issues are ‘fatal’ or without solutions.

For example, some people have caretakers already residing at their retreat location, with the caretaker or caretakers managing the farming of the land and other aspects of the retreat, so that you’d arrive to find successful ongoing sustaining operations underway, and an established history and knowledge of what grows and how to grow it best.  If a location is well-chosen and being well farmed, these caretakers will pay their own way and maybe even generate a bit of profit too.  There’s no downside and a lot of upside to that type of situation.

If you choose the lower cost option of joining a Code Green Community, you’d also be moving to an area that was already underway with farming operations, and you’d simply help ramp up those activities (and possibly also compensate with more manpower due to the use of machinery becoming more constrained).  This addresses many of the problems of moving to an area ‘cold’, with no contacts, no community, and no experience and knowledge of what to expect.

Even if you do simply arrive ‘cold’ to your own retreat, that’s not the worst outcome, particularly if you are well stocked with supplies and have been careful in how you’ve projected your future sustainability activities so as to protect yourself from any nasty surprises.

But there’s another alternative too – the one we hint at in our title above and discuss below.  Bear with us as we set the scene, then reveal the solution.

A Growing Economic Vulnerability

Many people have never really stopped to question the assumptions that have defined, driven, and constrained their lives to date.

Certainly, our modern society is a self-sustaining and self-reinforcing concept, with huge vested interests urging us to conform and consume.  Imagine what would happen if people stopped buying new cars as regularly as they currently do.  Imagine what would happen if people stopped eating out as often as they do.  If they stopped buying designer clothing and up-market brand accessories.  If they downsized their home.  If they stopped wasting so much food that is thrown out uneaten.  And so on.  If they abandoned the siren-call of fashion and wore generic clothing for multiple seasons, repairing as necessary, rather than changing wardrobes every year.

Our lives have become trapped in a spiral of diminishing returns.  We have to work harder to pay for the time-saving indulgences we both enjoy and also need due to working so hard.  The economy as a whole relies on people continuing to spend, spend, spend way more than they actually need to.  If we – and everyone else – stopped spending so much, the economy would collapse like a popped balloon, and rather than all being better off, we’d find our jobs disappearing and we’d end up being worse off.

We don’t wish to sound ‘counter-culture’, and indeed, we engage in many of these activities ourselves.  But when we talk about the vulnerabilities of cities and modern society, there’s this underlying economic vulnerability too – our economy, in the US more so than just about anywhere else, is built on this assumption of ongoing conspicuous/unnecessary consumption.  We have more retail stores per head of population than any other country in the world, we eat out more than any other country, we have more, newer and larger cars than any other country, larger houses, and so on.

Some of this is benign and good and is a happy result of our nation’s extraordinary economic success and strength over the last 100+ years.  But some of it is the result of careful marketing and social manipulation, subtly encouraging us to view things as ‘must have’ items when in reality they are very optional, and then creating huge economic drivers (like the auto industry) which rely on people continuing to embrace the unnecessary levels of expenditure and consumption.

Few people have stopped to question the assumptions that are automatically made about their lifestyles.  Whether it is social pressures (‘keeping up with the neighbors’) or personal indulgence or whatever else, we happily follow in step with the rest of society, spending more and working more to pay for the extra and unnecessary expenditures we make.

But all of this points to a growing economic vulnerability – our nation’s overall economic activity these days seems to be in largest part either the government deliberately spending money it doesn’t have or else our own spending money we don’t really need to spend.  Things of real value are being neglected, while things of abstract value are being worshipped (Is/was Facebook really worth $100 billion – a website that actually contributes nothing to our essential lives?).

We’ve built a house of cards, and there is a growing risk it could all come crashing down.

Confronting the Uncertainties in Our Current Lives

As we prep for the unknown future, we are thinking primarily in the terms of disasters that are national – or at least, extensively distributed over a number of states – in scope.  A complete loss of the power grid.  An EMP.  An influenza pandemic and the breakdown in society that could follow.  An asteroid strike.  Or whatever else.

But there is another type of possible disaster, too.  A personal level disaster that impacts only on us.  The loss of our job, and possibly the inability to get a replacement job.  This could happen for any number of reasons, most outside our control.

All of a sudden, we’d find ourselves with the lifestyle that assumes ongoing oversized paychecks every month, but without the paychecks.

Sure, we’d cut back, but we still would be obliged to make the payments on any debt we have (car loans, credit card balances, etc).  We’d still have the monthly costs of our primary dwelling.  And if we’re no longer working, once the unemployment benefits ran out, we’d have no income source at all until such time as we could land another job.

Can you see where this is going?

Bugging Out Very Early

We’re merely inviting and encouraging you to think about the implications of making a major lifestyle change, on your own terms and timetable, not after it is too late, but when you still have options and can fully optimize what you’re doing.

What say you sold off your current house (if you own one) and moved to your retreat.  What say you quit your current job, or at the very least, downgrade it to a limited amount of part-time tele-commute type work from your retreat.  What say you cut down or eliminate entirely much of the unnecessary extravagances in your life.  Take a zero off your clothing and shoe budgets, for example.  Take a zero off your eating out and entertainment budgets too.  Swap expensive nights out at restaurants, shows and clubs for inexpensive nights in with good friends and family – the pleasure you’ll derive will be the same, but the cost will be much less.  Keep cars for 150,000 miles or more.  Borrow books and videos from the local library.  Cook food from raw ingredients, rather than buy it pre-processed and pre-cooked.

And what say you become a Code Green community pathfinder now.  Or perhaps take up or create some sort of small country business type activity in the nearby town or village your retreat is close to.  Or become a farmer and start working your land; maybe growing crops, maybe raising animals (or both).

Your outgoings would massively collapse down, so you wouldn’t need to earn nearly as much to keep ahead of your bills.  You could choose to adopt a more leisurely, relaxed type of lifestyle where quality of life becomes more real and possible.

What we’re suggesting you evaluate is creating a sustainable quality lifestyle now – a lifestyle that would change only somewhat if TEOTWAWKI should occur.  You’d not only be fully prepped with very little at risk or vulnerable, but you might discover a peace and contentment that has been lost sight of in many people’s lives and lifestyles.

There’s nothing revolutionary about this suggestion or this lifestyle.  You don’t need to become a hippy, grow a beard, and wear a peace symbol round your neck.  You simply switch from being a city-dweller living a city lifestyle, to becoming a country resident living a country lifestyle.

People have been living semi-self-contained and semi-self-sufficient lifestyles for hundreds of years.  It has formerly been the norm that a farmer grows enough food for his own family and some surplus to trade with at the town market for the other things he can’t grow or make himself.  It is only in the last 150 years or so, since industrialization and mass production, that people have shifted from directly making the essentials for their life and sustenance, and now working in ‘derivative’ jobs removed from the actual farm land or factory floor.  It is still possible to lead a good life with a ‘real’ rather than ‘artificial’ job, creating real goods or providing real services, rather than being some sort of abstract ‘knowledge’ type worker.  Oh, we’re not knocking knowledge workers per se (guess what we are!) but merely pointing out that much of our society these days is involved in jobs that don’t actually ensure the strength, security and success of the society.

A Huge Change – But Don’t Dismiss it Outright

We’re not expecting you to stop at this point and say ‘Oh my gosh.  You are so right!’ and immediately chuck in your job, and move tomorrow to the countryside.  That would be foolish.

But we are asking/suggesting you don’t do the opposite – you don’t instead sneer and say ‘That’s the stupidest thing I’ve read today’ and click away from the site, never to return.

Instead, think about the concept.  Let it settle and develop.  Occasionally think about how you could change or restructure your life, and then, on a planned basis and on your own terms, you can make the changes in your life to enable this shift of life style.

This could be the best type of prepping at all – changing your life now, on your terms, so that whatever happens in the future, you’ll not be as massively affected by it as you would be with no changes.

This is the ultimate in prepping.  It will take time to master.  🙂

Jun 052012

The next attack on the US may be via cyber-warfare rather than traditional means.

Here is an interesting two page article on the CNBC website.

It is interesting and also has some irony in it.  The irony is that one of the best known ‘virus hunter’ companies out there, Kaspersky Labs in Moscow, is rumored to be associated with the Russian intelligence services.  Are they really friend or foe – good guys or bad guys?

And even if not controlled by or working in cooperation with Russia’s security services, note also the comment about its passive non-activities when confronting Russian originated cybercrime – and the huge $12 billion a year value of cybercrime at present.

Kaspersky’s call for an international treaty banning cyber-warfare seems naive and would disadvantage us if passed.  Cyber-warfare is, by definition, discreet and obfuscated; and if successful one never really knows what happened, how, or why, and – most to the point – one never knows which nation originated the attack.

An international treaty against cyber-warfare would only constrain ‘honest’ countries – the countries we have the least to fear from, while doing nothing at all to discourage dishonest countries from pressing forward with their cyber-warfare plans.  Unlike the complex industrial processes needed to research and built a nuclear weapon, cyber-warfare research leaves no clues of its presence.  All the attackers need are a few computers.

However, when Kaspersky points out that a cyber-attack could disrupt power grids and financial systems, and wreak havoc with military defenses, he is echoing our concerns, and when he says cyber weapons are the most dangerous innovation of this century, he is exactly correct.  He goes on to explain that a growing array of countries and shadowy other entities (terrorist organizations, organized crime groups, etc) are using ‘online weapons’ because they are thousands of times cheaper than conventional armaments.

He doesn’t say, but could, that cyber attacks are also thousands of times safer for the attacker.

Implications for Preppers

The main reason for our several mentions of cyber-threats recently is simply to point out another area where society is vulnerable to a massive failure that could mean the end of Life as we know it (LAWKI).

As Kaspersky points out, a computer virus could disrupt/destroy our power grid or our financial system, and that’s just the start of a long list of vulnerabilities.  As we’ve said before, we challenge you to mention any essential part of our life today that doesn’t rely on computerization.

The bottom line is clear (at least to us as preppers).  Many people, with both eyes tightly shut, like to think of modern society as invulnerable, or at the least, as ‘fault tolerant’ and resilient.  If something fails in our modern society, these people like to think that it would only require a few minor adjustments to return life pretty much back to ‘normal’.  We disagree.

Modern society is not fault tolerant.  It has a growing series of interlocking dependencies, and with ‘just in time inventories’ and with much less underlying industrial capacity and longer lead times to retool up and create productive capacity to manufacture just about anything and everything, it only requires the failure of one seemingly small part of the total structure of our society to result in the entire edifice crumbling and crashing to the ground.

Many of these vulnerabilities are subtle and are things that we’ve never even stopped to think about – for example, the fire in a single small factory in Germany that now threatens the global automobile industry.  While that is hardly a society-destroying failure, it indicates how small things have unexpected and much larger consequences, and who knows what the next failure or consequence might be.

We can’t prevent such failures from unexpectedly occurring, and neither can we predict what they are and when they might happen and what the outcomes might be.  All we can do is prepare for the consequences.

Our Retreat Systems Are Vulnerable Too

One more thing.  It is wise to maintain a general distrust of all computerized equipment.  Computer viruses don’t just attack what we think of as computers – devices with a screen and keyboard which we can browse the internet on.  They also attack computer controllers – the internal control circuits that are becoming an essential part of almost everything, from automobiles to elevators, from home automation systems to industrial machines, from credit/debit card readers in a store or gas station to stop lights and other traffic management systems, from airplanes to telecommunications, and for sure, the network hubs and routers that are the glue that binds the internet together.

All of these computer controllers can be infected with viruses to disrupt how they control the device they are installed inside, and with many times a very wide range of different devices all using the same internal controllers, the potential for widespread havoc and disruption is magnified.

For example, at your retreat, you may have some electricity generating equipment – maybe a generator, maybe solar panels, maybe even a wind turbine.  And you probably have a bank of batteries to store electricity.  Which means you also have some sort of charging and battery management control system, which almost certainly is managed by a computerized controller.  What happens if the computerized controller starts misbehaving?

It is probably impossible to build an effective efficient retreat without using some computerized controllers, and the risk is that for all you know, the computerized controller has within it a hidden line of code that says ‘On Dec 21, 2012, stop working’ (a terrorist with a sense of humor!).  Of course this is just one example of how a virus could be activated, there are many other ‘trigger’ events that could apply too.

All we are saying is that after you’ve built your first layer of preparations, start to think about ‘what if’ events that could impact on them.  In the case of computerized controls, you need to consider a double vulnerability – not just cyber-warfare, but also to EMP effects too.

May 302012

Could an airplane's computers be tricked into misbehaving and causing the plane to crash?

In our recent article about the implications of a war with Iran, we mentioned the potential of Iran to mount a bloodless cyber-attack against us, with their hackers attacking our infrastructure’s computers from the comfort of their homes and offices in Iran, rather than soldiers attacking us more directly.

It is our feeling that few people appreciate the dangers and risks of a cyber-attack, and in the last couple of days there have been a couple of interesting news items that help to put this in context.  We discuss these below.

But, first, as a quick summary about cyber-vulnerabilities, do you remember back to the fuss about the Y2K bug?  This concern happily did not translate to a nightmare reality – but not because the concern was unfounded, but due to enormous efforts (and many billions of dollars) at rewriting and updating software in the several years prior to that date subsequent to people realizing that there was a problem that otherwise would occur.

The concern back then was what would happen if all sorts of computers started to malfunction due to date logic errors – computers as diverse as those that operate lifts, those that operate food refrigeration facilities, and so on.  Think of anything you do in your life today, and you’ll quickly find some sort of computer/controller is directly related to the smooth experience you expect and usually enjoy.  Indeed, we challenge you to think of something that is moderately important in your life which could work if the ‘behind the scenes’ computers malfunctioned.

The invidious nature of cyber-attacks is that to defend against them, the computer systems being attacked must be 100% invulnerable and bug-free.  As you surely know, the 100% perfect, bug-free,.computer program or operating system does not exist.  Such paragons of computing perfection may have existed, decades ago, when computers were very much simpler.  But nowadays, with millions of lines of programming in modern computer programs, and many more millions of different combinations of scenarios/events, it is close to impossible to make software bug-free.  As proof of this impossibility, a decade or two ago, software developers rewrote their guarantees and they no longer warrant their software to be bug-free and for sure they disclaim any liability for any problems arising from bugs in their software.

Because we don’t know what, where, and how such bugs exist and can be exploited (if we did know, the bugs would presumably be resolved), it is very hard to safeguard computers from cyber-attack.  Even if we completely disconnect computers from the internet, they are not truly isolated.  The underlying operating system and the even lower-level firmware and BIOS type programming built into the actual hardware all had to come from somewhere – there are plenty of examples of infected distribution disks that people have used to load computer operating systems onto fresh new computers, or infected software direct from a manufacturer, or of actual hardware with ‘back doors’ (see below) deliberately engineered into them.

The vulnerabilities continue.  Every time a person shares a file, there is a chance that there is some sort of infection in that file.  Even a simple safe seeming word processing document can contain programs these days.

An Example of a Current Cyber-Attack

With that as background, it is helpful to see the latest real-world example of a military style cyber-attack.  As we mentioned in our earlier article about Iran, while Iran is one of only five nations known to have a cyber army, Iran is – to date – more notable for having been on the receiving end of cyber-attacks rather than of generating them.  The Stuxnet virus was the highest profile (but not only) example of a cyber-attack on Iran when our article was written, but now news has come out of a newer more sophisticated attack, using what is termed the Flame virus.

Here’s a good article about what Flame is and be sure to look at the graphic that sets out some of the things this virus can do as well.  Amazingly, it seems that the Flame virus has been ‘in the wild’ – ie, out there, infecting computers, and collecting/distributing data – for between two and possibly five years, and only now is being subject to public disclosure.

At present, the big difference between Stuxnet and Flame is that the former was used to destroy equipment controlled by virally infected controllers (here’s an explanation), whereas the latter is currently operating in an intelligence gathering mode.  But who knows what else Flame might be capable of, and also, who knows what other independent infections Flame hasn’t subsequently created in the machines it now inhabits.

Our point is simply this.  If a country as ‘closed’ as Iran, a country that has been subject to past cyber-attacks, can be re-infected again and again with viruses, and if it can take up to five years for these infections to be discovered, who knows what is residing on key computers here in the US already, let alone what might infect them in the future.

Planes Falling From the Skies – An Example of a Potential Risk

Now for something a bit closer to home.  Until recently, all planes were controlled mechanically.  The pilot would turn the control column in the cockpit, and a series of wires would then carry that movement back to the ailerons, elevators and rudder and make them move in direct response to the movement on the control column.  Similarly, moving the throttle levels on the quadrant in the cockpit also directly controlled the engines.

It used to be the same in our cars, too.  In nearly all cases, our brakes are still directly controlled, albeit with ‘power’ boosting systems, and the same with the steering, but most modern cars these days no longer have a physical link between the gas pedal and the carburetor (of course, most cars don’t even have a carburetor now, they use fuel injection instead).

The reason our cars still have direct links between the controls we operate and the wheels is for safety.  There’s much less that can go wrong with a mechanical series of levers and rods and wires.

With planes as with cars, the increasing complexity of modern jet or car engines saw the mechanical linkage between throttle levers and the engines now replaced with computer controls.  Your foot on the gas pedal or the pilot’s moving the throttle lever merely sends a signal to an engine management computer that you want more or less power, and the computer then decides how to interpret that control, not just adjusting the fuel flow but also adjusting timings, compression levels, and possibly gear selections too.  This makes our cars (and planes) run more smoothly and fuel efficiently, and is generally a good thing.

For a plane, moving the flight controls – the control column – also have interactions with the plane’s speed and need for engine power, in a complex and changing relationship depending on many factors, so airplane manufacturers are replacing the previous mechanical linkages to the flight control surfaces on the plane’s wings, rudder and elevator with computerized controls.

Now, when the pilot moves the stick back and to the right, the computer thinks about that instruction and decides how best to interpret it with an optimized combination of engine setting adjustments, and movements to all three primary flight control surfaces, as well as to secondary control surfaces too (trim tabs, air brakes, etc).  The computer is supposed to be more clever than the pilot, and won’t allow dangerous flying commands to be accepted (although usually there is a command mode that can be manually selected where the computer is told to obediently do everything exactly as instructed, even if the computer thinks the command is wrong).  The flying control instruments on a modern Airbus plane are almost exactly the same as the joystick and throttle lever you can buy at a computer store to connect to your computer to play a Flight Simulator game.

Fly by Wire Introduces Vulnerabilities as well as Conveniences

This new type of airplane control is called ‘fly by wire’ in the sense of flying by computer control rather than by direct pilot control.  It is usually considered to be a good thing, although there are possible cases where a ‘miscommunication’ between the pilots and the flight computer may have resulted in airplane crashes (most recently the Air France flight AF447 that crashed in the Atlantic en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in June 2009).

However, what happens if the computer that interprets the pilot’s requests and decides how to translate a movement of the pilot joystick into changes in the airplane’s control surfaces and engine power settings deliberately does the wrong thing?  What say the request to the computer to just do exactly what the pilot is asking is ignored?  Or maybe the computer misunderstands exactly what the pilot is asking.  This sounds like the HAL 9000 computer from the movie/book 2001: A Space Odyssey and indeed, that is a great example of the possible outcomes.

The famous ‘blue screen of death crash’ in Windows could be a literal blue screen of death crash on a plane – with a misbehaving computer causing the sea to fill the pilots’ windshield as a plane plunges unstoppably out of the skies and into the ocean beneath (as was what happened with AF447).

It is rather scary that we now risk our lives on planes controlled by computers when we know, from personal experience, that computer ‘crashes’ are common events.  The number of fly-by-wire airplanes is increasing, not only with every new Airbus plane sold, but now with new Boeing planes also being fly-by-wire.

We have been talking about inadvertent errors and logic bugs.  What say the computer controllers were deliberately infected with malicious code that was designed to cause planes to unstoppably crash?  What say, for example, these controllers had a virus in them that said ‘at exactly a particular time on a particular day, move engine power to maximum and set the plane in a crash dive’.  So that at the same instant, all around the world, hundreds (more likely, thousands) of planes all simultaneously went into nose dives and crashed into whatever was below, and of course, in all cases, killing everyone on board.

That could never happen, right?  Wrong!  It is all too easy to see how such a thing could happen.  Maybe while we are protecting our airports and airplanes with metal detectors and scanners to check the passengers, the real threat to our aviation system is something very different indeed – an ‘invisible’ passenger – a cyber threat that the airport security guards have no way of detecting.

For a specific example of a specific vulnerability, please see this article about how one of the control chips in modern military and civilian planes has a ‘back door’ written into it – a way for instructions to be secretly inserted into its control code, bypassing the normal way of doing so and the controls/restrictions placed on that normal way.

Back Doors

Think of this back door as being like a secret passage in an old house.  If you know exactly where to press the secret opening lever, all of a sudden, a wall in the study/library swings open, and you can then roam around the house at will, using secret spy holes to peek in on what people are doing in other rooms in the house, and using other secret doors to appear in other parts of the house unexpectedly.  Other people in the house might suspect there are secret passages, but if they don’t know exactly where and how to press the hidden lever, they’ll never get into the secret passages.

It is the same with computers.  There might be an entire set of instructions hidden inside a computer chip, but when some trigger event occurs, these extra instructions will suddenly start executing.  A similar thing is relatively common for benign purposes – what are called ‘Easter Eggs’ – hidden extra routines in programs that if you know exactly what set of key strokes to enter, you can trigger.  Here is one such list of computer easter eggs to give you examples of what they are and how they appear.

The article also obliquely and delicately points out a vulnerability that impacts on nearly every piece of computer control circuitry these days.  Although the chips may be designed and developed in the US or other ‘friendly’ country, they tend to be manufactured in a third party country outside of our direct control.

What is to stop the chip manufacturer (in this particular case, in China) from deliberately changing part of the specification so as to create an obscured ‘back door’ for future exploitation?  With millions of transistors and other devices on a single chip, and space for thousands/millions of lines of built-in programming, how can such vulnerabilities be completely tested for prior to deployment of each batch of chips?

Implications for Preppers

We’re not saying don’t fly on modern planes.  And we’re not saying turn off every computer controlled device in your home, office, car, retreat, wherever.

We’re simply pointing out that there are unseen and unthought of risks and vulnerabilities in our lives that could suddenly create major havoc in our world as we currently know and enjoy it.  A Y2K bug type scenario might be unleashed upon us by a foreign power, and with even a small part of our computer controlled lives destroyed, our entire lives could be destroyed.  Kill the computers that manage our water system.  Or the computers that manage oil refineries and pipelines.  Or the computers that run the electricity grid.

What would you do if water no longer appeared by magic every time you turned on a tap or flushed a toilet?  What would food processors do without water, too?

If we lost the ability to refine and transport bulk oil/gas products, how would you get to work each day?  No cars, no buses.  If your business has to close down, how will that impact other businesses that rely on its products/services (assuming they haven’t already had to close down too)?  And how would food get to the supermarket without trucks to transport it there?  Even if it got there, how would you go to the supermarket to get the food and bring it home?  And all those oil and gas-fired power stations?  Take those away and our electricity supply starts to crash, even without needing to infect computer control systems for the electricity grid.

Modern society is an example of the old rhyme ‘For want of a nail, a kingdom was lost’.  With all the layers of interlocking dependencies that go into every part of our lives, if a single one of those dependencies should fail, the whole lot might fail.

There’s nothing we can individually do about this. But we can, individually and in our families and communities, prepare for the consequences of a failure.

May 272012

The Iranian Flag

The war drums are beating ever louder in prelude to a possible war with Iran.  What will this mean for us back in the US?

Although it might seem at odds with our current President’s world-view and values, it is hard to overlook the increasing amount of news stories that are being released or strategically leaked, all of which seem to indicate that we may be initiating war with Iran shortly.

For our part, we don’t understand how it is for year after year after year Iran has so successfully played us for the fools that, alas, our State Department so often truly is on the world stage, while at the same time, inexorably getting closer and closer to having a credible arsenal of nuclear weapons, and research facilities so hardened and so far underground as to be impregnable to anything we might bring to bear.

It is a bit like blackberry bushes in spring.  You can cut them back when they first start to spring up, this being an easy simple process that takes but a few minutes.  But if you delay, each extra day you do nothing makes the eventual task so much harder when you subsequently reach your wife finally insists you attempt to recover your yard and garden from now dense infestations of blackberry bushes.  Iran is getting stronger and more resilient with every passing day.

It is hard to know what Iran’s capabilities are at present.  They’ve been lying to everyone for years, and most countries (many of which would prefer to see Iran succeed than the US) and UN organizations have been happy to accept the lies at face value rather than to confront the ugly and deepening reality of Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Just because we’re being told various stories, some contradictory, about the lack of threat Iran currently poses does not mean this is so.  It is interesting to contrast all the publicity surrounding Iran’s nuclear program with the silence with which other countries have developed nuclear weapons.  It seems other countries successfully completed nuclear weapons programs in less time and with less fuss or commitment (for example South Africa, India, Pakistan, North Korea, even Israel).  If these other countries can make nuclear weapons, and can secure support from more advanced nations in their efforts, why not Iran, too?

Until now, our various misadventures in the Middle East have been against countries with no nuclear weaponry, and no ability to project power much beyond their own borders.  And so while we’ve been able to swamp them with our high-tech weaponry and resources, they’ve not been able to fight back, and most of all, they’ve not been able to bring the battle back home to us.

A Quick Backgrounder on Iran

Those issues do not apply quite so directly with Iran.  Iran is the 18th largest country in the world (in terms of its landmass size – slightly smaller than Alaska), and is overwhelmingly Muslim (89% Shia, 9% Sunni).

Iran – formerly known as Persia until 1935, has a population of 79 million.  Since its revolution in 1979, it has a complicated government – think of it perhaps as having way too many checks and balances.  It has a steadily growing albeit somewhat troubled economy – largely oil based – but not much wealth, and an official unemployment rate of at least 15%.

Iran produces 4.3 million barrels of oil a day.  Iraq, in comparison, produces 2.6 million and Kuwait produces 2.5 million.  It is the fourth largest oil producer in the world – Saudi Arabia produces 10.5 million, Russia 10.3 million and the US 9.7 million.

Iran has the world’s second largest proven natural gas reserves, and the world’s fourth largest proven oil reserves.

In part because of its oil production and exports, Iran has a massive positive balance of payments and steadily increasing reserves of gold and foreign exchange – $79 billion in 2010, rising to $110 billion in 2011.

The Iranian Military

Iran has a strong military, with 20 million males 18 – 49 fit for military service (and, theoretically, another 19 million women).  Men are required to spend 18 months of military service, and each year, another 715,000 males reach the age of military service.

Leading US generals have described the Iranian military as the strongest in the Middle East.  However, they probably were not talking about its Air Force, which is made up largely of older planes (many of them from the US) and only a few of which seem to be airworthy.

But Iran does have a moderately capable navy, and indeed, in the confined waters of the Persian Gulf, and the Straits of Hormuz in particular, their ships could fire their anti-ship missiles at US naval targets without leaving port.  The ability of US aircraft carriers to withstand any type of missile attack has never been tested in real life, and there have to be real concerns about their survivability in the event of a massed attack of multiple missiles launched for a simultaneous time on target strike.

As well as surface ships, Iran also has three Russian Kilo class submarines.  These are diesel-powered, but are typically quieter than most nuclear powered submarines when operating on their batteries.

One wonders if the US military command are willing to risk the loss of one, two, or more of their 11 aircraft carriers, particularly when you consider that each aircraft carrier has almost 6,000 personnel on board.  While aircraft carriers are great for effective force projection, their vulnerability is a matter of concerned debate, and the US has been fortunate not to have deployed them – so far – against an enemy with credible anti-ship missile capabilities.

If the US can not use its carriers, and with difficult relations with countries that border Iran (ie Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq – not even Iraq seems to like us much even more) and an always complex relationship between Saudi Arabia and both Iran and the US, the US would not have a lot of places for forward bases to support any operation.  Turkey is another uncertain ally, and Israel – the country with apparently the greatest vested interest – is too far away for practical support purposes, and would require over-flight permission from Jordan and Iraq or Saudi Arabia.

That’s not to say the US couldn’t prevail.  It would almost certainly follow the standard pattern of an initial high intensity surprise attack with cruise missiles to disable as much of Iran’s air defenses as possible, supplemented in this case by an attack on naval targets too.  Once it had control of the skies, it could have ground attack aircraft patrolling the country with impunity, and taking out targets as and when they wished.

But how it could move from there to a ground war is less clear.  Where would it pre-stage 100,000 or more troops, and all the tanks, trucks, and other equipment needed to occupy the ground?

It is helpful to keep in mind that in the war with Iraq, the US was facing a country with less than half as many people and only one quarter the land mass.  In the war with Afghanistan, the US was (is?) facing a country with one third the land mass and 40% the population.  Iran is very much larger in every respect.

On the other hand, the chances are that the Iranian army would be no more effective than the Iraqi army was when faced with the modern capabilities of US forces.

We’re not saying a war with Iran is not winnable at all.  It almost certainly would be, inasmuch as you can consider our war with Iraq was a ‘success’ and the same with our war against Afghanistan.  We could overwhelm the country’s armed forces, for sure, but what about the peace that follows?  That is the bit we’re not quite so good at optimizing!

While there are some opposition elements in Iran, it is hard to see any truly pro-western factions rather than merely different elements but still Muslim oriented and primarily anti-western.  It is appropriate to remember that the 1979 revolution was a very popular uprising by the country as a whole against the US supported previous regime; there is little evidence of any broad base of opposition to the present regime and even less evidence of any pro-western sentiment among the opposition forces that might be present.

Although we probably could win a war with Iran, we do make the point that there may be more damage inflicted on US forces than we’ve experienced in other recent conflicts, and the logistics of supporting an Iranian conflict look to be more complex than supporting the wars with Iraq and Afghanistan.  (The US has lost 2000 people in the Afghan conflict so far, and 4500 in Iraq).

Anyway, these issues are secondary to the main topic of this article.  The implications of a war with Iran for us, hopefully safely located back in the Continental US.

Other than a possible increase in ‘one off’ type terrorist attacks that might be regrettable but hardly life changing for most of us, we see three areas of risk to LAWKI.

Risk 1 :  Nuclear Attack

We’re going to go out on a limb here and say that we’d be totally unsurprised to learn that Iran already has nuclear weapons.  It probably hasn’t tested them yet, but we’re going to say that, other than tightening down the last few screws in the cover and charging up the batteries, Iran is probably in possession of 98% completed nuclear weapons.

This report suggests Iran sort of has enough materials for five weapons already.  Let’s take that number and instead of ‘could build five weapons in the future’ change it to ‘has five weapons now’, just for the sake of this discussion.

The bigger issue, as we see it, is one of delivery.  How would Iran get nuclear weapons to the US?

It seems that its longest range missiles currently can reach no further than 2,000 miles.  So we’re safe, right?  The shortest distance from Iran to the US is 6,000 miles.

Wrong.  Go play on Google Earth and see what places are within 2000 miles of the US.  For example, Washington DC is less than 2,000 miles from the closest parts of Venezuela, and with a dying President there who hates the US, is it impossible to foresee a situation where he agrees to go out in a splash of shared glory with Iran?  The two countries are becoming increasingly friendly and cooperating on a range of different projects.

Alternatively, what’s to stop Iran from forward positioning missiles on freighters and simply sailing the ship to within 2,000 miles of a US coast.  There’s no shortage of tempting targets on either coast.

One other possibility is to smuggle the weapons into the country in shipping containers, or, for that matter, as airfreight cargo in an airfreight LD-3 container.  Isn’t this the ultimate ‘cruise missile’ – a civilian passenger or freight jet, flying on a regular approved flight plan.

So maybe Iran couldn’t conveniently use traditional intercontinental ballistic missiles to deliver its warheads.  But it has plenty of other choices.

How/Where to Target Five Missiles/Bombs

What would a country do as part of a ‘suicide’ mission to detonate five nuclear weapons on US soil?  Where would it send the missiles?

A good answer to that question can be seen from the actions of the 9/11 attackers.  While we don’t know if the urgent landing of all airborne planes forestalled other pending attacks (probably not, but who knows for sure) what we do know is that with four ‘weapons’ (ie planes) the terrorists decided to send two to New York and two to Washington DC.

It is almost certain that these two cities would be the prime targets of a nuclear attack, too.  And while one nuclear explosion above DC and Manhattan would be more than sufficient, we’d expect that due to the unreliability of both the weapons and the missiles taking them to their targets, the attacking force would at least ‘double up’ and send two to each target, which would leave a single ‘bonus’ fifth weapon.  That too could be sent to NY or DC, but it might perhaps instead be sent as a ‘bonus’ to a third target; most likely to be another major US city chosen for its iconic status and economic impact rather than for any strategic/military value.

An attack on the US would not be designed to win the war.  It would be designed to inflict maximum civilian and economic damage in relation.

Risk 2 :  EMP

This is the risk that really has us worried.  Instead of sending five bombs to DC and NY, which while having a devastating impact on these two population centers, would have little impact on the rest of the country; why not just send one for a high altitude airburst with an EMP that will destroy much of the entire nation’s electronic and electrical infrastructure.

Indeed, with five weapons, why not detonate one, then a second one two days later so as to take out much of the backup systems that may be held in protective storage, then a third one two weeks later to zero out any remaining backed up backups, leaving two more for ‘bonus’ attacks in the future.  Or perhaps, the two spares to Europe to take out the rest of the western world at the same time.  Imagine that :  No US and no EU – two continents instantly reduced to a non-mechanized farming level of subsistence.

With all due respect to New York and DC, and the people living there, the country would survive their loss.  But a staged series of EMP attacks?  That would plunge all of us back to the near-stone age.

Many of us have prepared for some degree of EMP response, although none of us really know how protective our ‘do it yourself’ Faraday cages may be, and even if we did survive the first round and start deploying our backed up equipment, what happens when the second EMP takes out our backups?

This, we feel, is the greatest vulnerability of all – a second EMP strike several days after the first.  It is hardly an innovative idea.  World War 2 saw the use of delayed fuse bombs, with the concept being that the first wave of explosions would destroy buildings, and the delayed explosions would then take out the responders, leaving the area vulnerable to a future bombing attack, due to having killed the firemen, paramedics, etc, and having destroyed their vehicles.  There is every reason to believe that any nation planning to launch one EMP device would choose to launch others subsequently to take out whatever level of backup equipment was being taken out of protective storage and deployed.

We can not overstate the danger of EMP attacks.  They are ‘low tech’ and easy for an attacking nation to stage (assuming it is nuclear capable), and at present our country is massively vulnerable to such an attack.  Using nuclear weapons merely as high explosive devices these days is old-fashioned and no longer the best use of the weapons.  Much better to reprogram their missile delivery systems to activate them at high altitude for maximum EMP effect with a 1,000 mile or greater radius, rather than at relatively low altitude for a blast with a lethality radius of ‘only’ five or so miles.

Risk 3 :  Cyber Attack

Iran is one of five nations known to be developing a ‘cyber army’ – soldiers who do battle not with a gun and bullets, but with a computer mouse and datalink.

This is perhaps only fair, being as how Iran has been on the receiving end of a shadowy cyber-attack itself – the Stuxnet virus intended to destroy its centrifuges that are used to separate Uranium 235 from the regular mix of primarily Uranium 238.

Our nation’s increasingly fragile infrastructure is largely computer controlled.  Real people aren’t standing watch in power stations, pumping stations, distribution points, and so on, with their eyes locked on a battery of gauges and dials, and their hands ready to spin control levers in response to changing indications on the readouts.  Indeed, even if that were the case, the chances are the readouts are digital rather than analog – that is, they have gone through microprocessors prior to appearing on displays, and the controls too are probably ‘fly by wire’ type controls that would just control a computer rather than be physically linked to huge big valves and switches and things.

Anything that harms the control computers can destroy the structures that are being controlled.  It is all too easy to mis-direct control system computers so that they send the wrong instructions to the equipment they are controlling, destroying the equipment in the process (this is, simplistically, one of the things the Stuxnet virus did to Iran).  It is possible to reprogram the logic of the controllers, causing nuclear power stations to melt down, for example.  To overload transformers in the national grid.  To allow turbines to overspeed and break in our hydro-electric power stations.  To over-pressure and rupture our gas and oil pumping lines (or just to open the wrong valves and pump oil or gas into sensitive areas).  To open up floodgates on dams, sending tidal waves of water downstream (and also then emptying the dams of the water needed for regions and their agriculture and people to survive).

Truly, there is no limit to the mischief one can create.

Furthermore, our infrastructure is also increasingly networked and linked up through public internet channels.  Anyone who believes that utility companies and government departments have adequately secured their computer systems to make them invulnerable to cyber-attack needs to do some internet surfing to disabuse themselves of such notions.

For example, look at the case of Gary McKinnon, the eccentric English guy and Asperger’s victim who allegedly penetrated to the highest level of NASA and DOD computer networks.  If one single amateur UFOlogist (ie McKinnon) can gain access to the tightest security computer networks and do damage to them inadvertently, what can military teams of dedicated opponents do?

A cyber attack could be almost as damaging as an EMP in terms of massive widespread disruption to our support systems and infrastructure.  It could not just knock out our power grid and our oil and gas pipelines, but it could also damage their physical structures such as to take years to repair.

Best of all (from Iran’s perspective) the attacking nation doesn’t need any nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles.  It just needs a regular computer and a connection to the internet.  Indeed, it is possible to disguise the location where the attack originated from – Iran (or any other country with national hacking capabilities) could destroy our nation’s economy and we might never even know for sure it was Iran who did it.


Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan had nuclear weapons, and neither did they have much in the way of cyber capabilities.

On the other hand, Iran may already have nuclear weapons, and definitely has cyber warfare capabilities.  It also has an extremist leadership who views not just our armed forces and our politicians as their enemies, but who views the entire American value system and way of life as an evil to be exterminated and replaced by their Muslim ideologies.  We are all the enemies of these people, whether we are soldiers or not.

It seems likely that if Iran’s leadership felt its future was being credibly threatened, they’d have no hesitation at all in inflicting the maximum amount of damage on the US civilian population and economy.  They wouldn’t even care if this resulted in us abandoning our attack on Iran or not; all that would matter is that they managed to inflict maximum damage on the US.

In our long time stand-off with Russia/the former Soviet Union, the doctrine of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ worked, because neither we nor the Soviets wanted to risk the certain destruction of our own world as a cost of destroying the other country.  We both feared MAD.

But Iran shows no fear of the concept of MAD.  It almost seems to welcome it.

Iran may or may not be able to mount a nuclear attack or to detonate an EMP device in the US, but it does seem to already have capacity to bring cyber-attacks against who knows what broad range of vulnerable computer control systems across the nation, disabling our supply lines and support systems as a result.

A war with Iran is a high-risk venture, accordingly – not just to our military, but to ourselves back home, too.

May 222012

One can only guess at the primary, secondary and tertiary effects if a PHA collides with the earth.

NASA announced this week that it has recalculated the number of PHAs – ‘Potentially Hazardous Asteroids’ for those of us who aren’t rocket scientists (your humble writer included!).  Its earlier estimate of 2350 objects has been doubled, and now NASA says there are probably 4700 PHAs out there.

A PHA is an object larger than 110 yards/330 ft across, and which come dangerously close to the Earth from time to time.  This size means that they would survive passing through the Earth’s atmosphere.  Most objects (which are smaller than this) will burn harmlessly up, leaving nothing more than a brief flash in the sky for their passing, and perhaps a lump or two of space rock as is the case for most asteroids that collide with the earth at present.  But these larger sized objects can be enormously destructive.

Look up the Tunguska meteorite which exploded over Siberia in 1908.  This is believed to have been a few tens of yards (meters) across, and it is estimated to have had the explosive effect of a 10 – 15 megaton hydrogen bomb (1,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima).

So this count of 4700 potentially threatening objects out there starts off with objects three times larger than the Tunguska meteorite.  What would the number be if objects down to ‘only’ the size of the Tunguska meteorite were included as well?

Due to various issues, it is not possible to predict with precision if or when any of these objects might strike the earth, due to their orbits being somewhat irregular, and the objects themselves changing in mass, for example, if a journey around the sun causes frozen gases to be melted and evaporated away.  All NASA can say is these PHAs might, just possibly, hit the earth, and if one of them were to hit the earth, NASA says it would cause damage on ‘a regional or greater scale’.

There’s probably nothing we can do to protect ourselves from having an asteroid land fair and square on our head, any more than the witch could protect herself from Dorothy’s landing on her at the start of The Wizard of Oz.

However, those ‘regional or greater scale’ damages mean that the consequential effects of an asteroid threaten to be massively more than just a few squashed citizens.  And we need to think beyond the immediate effect of the meteorite’s collision with the planet to the secondary and tertiary effects.

For example, if a meteorite landed in the ocean (and 70% of the earth is water, after all) that would be the primary event, and apart from a few bucket loads of fish and any nearby ships and submarines and planes, it wouldn’t be too big a deal.

But, wait.  This would likely trigger an enormous tsunamis that would plunge much further inland than anything experienced so far, on countries all around the ‘rim’ of the body of water.  This would be a devastating secondary effect for people in the path of the tsunami.

Keep waiting.  We’re not done yet.  How about the tertiary effect on people safely removed from the tsunami impact.  We can’t even start to guess what the tertiary effects would be.  However, in most countries around the world, both the population density and the level of industrial development is greatest around the oceans.  So, for sure, there would be huge swathes of industry and agricultural production wiped out by the tsunami.  Maybe a bunch of nuclear power stations would duplicate the problems in Japan after their 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and the fallout effects from that can travel for hundreds or even thousands of miles.

There’s another thing that tends to be close to the coast as well.  Oil refineries.  As this article is being written, most of the west coast of the US is seeing their cost of gas escalating, even though the price of gas is dropping around the rest of the country, due to the unexpected closure due to fire of just one of the west coast refineries some months back.  What happens if a tsunami wipes out a bunch of refineries, and the docks/wharves/rail lines to get raw crude to the refineries and finished products from the refineries and on to their consumers?

Alternatively, what say the primary event is the meteorite landing on a populated area inland somewhere?  The secondary event is clearly the death of everyone within maybe 50 – 100 miles of the meteorite impact (depending on its size).  A large-sized event could take out New York City, Washington DC, and everything in-between.

What about a tertiary event?  Think of all the dust – much of it toxic and some of it radioactive too – that would be created by this impact.  We sort of know about the toxicity of the World Trade Center buildings after the 9/11 event; how much worse would it be after an event thousands of times larger in scale?

All that dust would have a tangible impact on the world’s climate.  Whether it precipitated a ‘nuclear winter’ or just a more vague ‘global climate change’ it would sure do something.

In all probability, an asteroid impact would be survivable by the planet as a whole (although it is thought by many that an asteroid impact massively altered the planet’s ecosystem so as to kill of the dinosaurs way back when).  But in equal probability, some of our delicately balanced and finely stretched supply and support systems would be totally fractured, causing for breakdowns in unexpected things in unexpected ways.  Read again the amazing story of how a fire in a small factory in a small town in Germany is now leading to a worldwide problem in auto manufacturing, and ask yourself how many other single points of failure with wide effect there might not be that would be impacted (perhaps even literally) if an asteroid hits the earth.

Modern life is a bit like a set of stacked dominos.  It only takes one or two well placed shoves to knock many of the dominos over.  It is hard to tell how many of our dominos would be toppled by a meteorite.

Depending on the nature of the asteroid strike, and depending on where you currently live would depend on if you were able to survive in place, or if you needed to move to your retreat and hunker down.  However, we’d classify most asteroid strikes as probably being some type of Level 2 event.

We also don’t really know how much risk there is of a large meteorite colliding with the planet.  Smaller ones do so all the time, usually unnoticed (I can relax out on the deck in the countryside and on average will see a ‘shooting star’ pass by once every 20 minutes if the sky is clear and dark).  But a PHA?  Hopefully not in our lifetimes, and not in the lifetimes of our children, either.  But if one does collide, hopefully you’ll be prepared.

May 152012

A graphical representation of the concept of the internet cloud.

Do you even know what cloud-based computing is, and do you know how much of the things you do on your computer rely on cloud computing?  More to the point, do you appreciate the potential downside to using cloud resources?

If you use a computer for anything (and you’d not be reading this if you didn’t) you need to understand the downsides and risks associated with cloud based computing.  We’ve written this in reasonably non-technical terms, so please do continue reading.

First, a definition.  Cloud based computing is anything that uses resources that are not within your local area network.  These resources might be programs, and/or they might be information/data.  In other words, if you can’t walk across the office or from one room to another in your house and physically touch the box in which the data is located, then we’re talking about cloud based computing.

Here’s one immediate example :  Email.  Most of the free email programs (actually, probably all) are primarily cloud based.  The email interface itself is driven through a remote (ie cloud based) website, and the emails that you ‘receive’, ‘open’, read, and reply to (and the copies of replies you send) are all located somewhere else in the world rather than on your computer, too.

If you’re not connected to the internet, you can’t read, receive, or send emails if you use this type of service.  Okay, so of course you can’t send an email if you’re not connected to the internet – but what about not being able to read your older emails, too?  Did you even know that there are lots of ways that you can still read the stored emails you’ve previously received and sent, without needing the internet connection?

Cloud Computing is Growing

Software and service providers are keen to promote cloud based computing, because they can turn around and charge monthly fees for such things.  Instead of a one time selling price, they can now charge monthly fees for the use of the software, and while it sometimes seems appealing to us to accept a low ongoing monthly cost along with ‘free upgrades’ instead of buying software outright and then buying new versions in the future too, clearly the software providers are betting that, overall, they will make more money from renting software access on a monthly basis – even after deducting all the huge costs of setting up and maintaining responsive internet access for their software.

The proliferation of extremely fast and inexpensive internet makes cloud computing practical for service providers and for us as users.  It is now possible to work with programs and their data almost as quickly if they are cloud based as if they are locally based (and certainly as quickly as if they are LAN based).

Our concern about cloud based computing is not based on financial reasons.  Those are what they are, and you’re free to make your own decisions as to buying or renting, any way you wish.  It is also not based on the end-user experience.  That is perfectly good, most of the time, for most things.

Our concern is based on what would happen if/when your internet access is disrupted, and you can no longer access all the information you have stored online.  Indeed, it isn’t just a case of what happens if the ‘last mile’ of internet access to your home/office and computer is disrupted.  You are also vulnerable to what happens if the company providing the internet cloud service has disruptions to their access too, or if they have any other type of computer problems, and you’re also vulnerable if the internet as a whole has some sort of disruption (unlikely but far from impossible).

Maybe you are prudently keeping backup copies on your own local computer, but what use are those backed up copies if the program to access the data you’ve stored is an online program?

Even a Level 1 event could see temporary loss of access to your cloud data and computing programs.  A Level 2 event could see a much longer term loss of access, and a Level 3 event might see the permanent disappearance of your data.

We’re not just talking abstract theory here.  These things have already happened, and not just the occasional email outage that many of us have sometimes experienced.  Please read on.

How 100 million Users Unexpectedly Lost Their Data Earlier This Year

Here is an appalling example of the vulnerability of cloud data, and one that occurred in a completely non SHTF type situation.

A cloud storage/sharing service, Megaupload.com, grew to become one of the internet’s largest sites, with 25 petabytes of data stored (in case you don’t know what a petabye is, it is 1,000 terabytes, or 1,000,000 gigabytes, so to write it out in full, 25 petabyes is 25,000,000,000,000,000 bytes of data).

By January 2012, it was the 13th most visited site on the internet, with more than 12 billion files hosted for over 100 million users.

It seems that its users were a mix of bona-fide ordinary people storing their data on Megauploads servers, and also pirates sharing copyrighted data and people storing/sharing X-rated files too.

On 20 January 2012 Megaupload’s founder was arrested in NZ, and their servers (in the US) shut down, due to claims of copyright infringement.  Everyone who had data on the Megaupload servers were, suddenly and without warning, unable to access it any more.

The US DoJ couldn’t care less about this mass destruction it was causing.  It said that if anyone had a problem, it was their own stupid fault, because Megaupload had recommended people keep local backups of all data on their servers.  Such recommendations were buried in the FAQs and Terms of Service.

At the time of writing (almost exactly four months after the servers were all turned off) legal arguments are continuing as to if people will ever be allowed to access and retrieve the data that is stored on the now inactive Megaupload servers.  The US government has acted without any trial to deny these 100 million or more users, located all around the world, access to the data they had stored in the cloud with Megaupload, and seeks to make this denial permanent.

Sure, some of the users are probably accessing copyrighted data for illegal purposes.  But probably most users are normal people, and they’ve been penalized exactly the same as the others.

Imagine if the police came and arrested everyone in your neighborhood or apartment building, based on their belief that one person, somewhere, had committed a crime.  ‘We don’t know and don’t care who it was, we’re arresting the whole lot of you’.

While loss of data isn’t quite as serious as loss of liberty, if the data that was lost represented a person’s work materials, it could imperil their ability to earn a living, and imagine the tragedy if it was someone’s creative outpouring representing thousands of hours of creativity.  What say you’d spent the last five years writing a book, and now all your materials and the book itself have been taken from you, even though you have not done a single thing wrong, yourself?

Cloud vs LAN vs Local

It is convenient to think of computer data in three forms.  At one end is cloud based data – information that is stored somewhere and which you access ‘invisibly’ through some sort of internet connection.  We say ‘invisibly’ because, as long as everything is working well, you as the end-user probably can’t tell the difference between cloud based programs and data and locally based programs and data.

The two key things about cloud based data are that it is physically remote from your location, and that it is information that you don’t personally control the access to.  Sure, it might be ‘your’ information that you own.  But – as the Megaupload case surely shows – you don’t control your access to your data.

Being able to access cloud based information relies on many things, none of which should be taken for granted :  Your access to the internet, the internet itself, the information host’s access to the internet, and the proper operation of the internet host computers.

On the upside though, if your computer has a problem, you can probably access the cloud based information from somewhere/anywhere else.

Local data is information that is physically located on your computer.  You can unplug your computer from everything except the power cable, you can move it anywhere you like, and when you turn it on, you can access all your local information and programs.

Being able to access local information relies on your own computer working properly.  If the computer has a problem, you can’t access your information until the problem is solved (unless, of course, you have backed up the information, either onto an external hard drive or into the cloud).

Locally stored information also makes bugging out in a hurry much easier and foolproof.  All you need to do is grab your computer.  You don’t need to remember to also bring a NAS device, a router, or any other equipment.  Just your computer.

LAN based data is somewhere in the middle between cloud and local information.  It is information that is stored somewhere close to you, within your business or home network.  (Note, if in a business network, although it appears as a LAN resource it could be located anywhere.)

LAN information may or may not be externally accessible by computers outside your LAN.  But, and certainly this is the case in a home LAN, it is stored somewhere that is within your physical control.  You are not reliant on the internet or anything outside your home to access the LAN based data.  You are reliant on your home LAN, of course, and on the proper functioning of whatever device the information is stored on, but that is all.

What You Should Do

The first thing you need to do is understand where your programs are located, and where the data they work with is stored.

There’s not much you can do about remote websites, of course, although storing offline copies of helpful/relevant webpages and the data on them is an excellent idea.  You can never predict when websites might close down.

Your own data should be kept on your own computer.  By all means, have backup copies in the cloud – indeed, we’d encourage it, so that if something happens to your own computer and the location it was stored at, you might be able to access the data from other computers and other locations.

But you want to ensure that if/when there are interruptions in service, your computer can still work as a freestanding computer with all the information you consider to be ‘your’ data, so you need to keep both the software and data on your computer, not somewhere in the cloud.

For email purposes, you can still keep your Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail or whatever accounts.  You simply need a front end program that will take the email from those accounts and download it all to your computer, probably using the POP3 and SMTP protocols (IMAP4 is good too although a bit more complicated to set up and understand).

We use Microsoft Outlook, which does this very well, but there are plenty of free programs you can use too (for example, Mozilla Thunderbird).

May 132012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



What happens next?

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

First Breakdown

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

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

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

Second Breakdown

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

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

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

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

Third Breakdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Life or Death Question That Has Only One Answer

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

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

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

How Fast Will the Collapse Occur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What You Must Do

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

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

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

Are We Being Too Optimistic?

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