Jul 132012

This NASA image hints at the awesome power of the sun – power which could potentially destroy our electricity grid.

Up front disclaimer – we don’t think that our power grid will fail this coming weekend.  But – and here’s the thing that applies to all prudent prepping – we don’t know for sure, one way or the other.  Anything that is unknown but possible is exactly that – a possibility, and we need to keep all possibilities in mind and assign varying degrees of priority to the risks they represent and the appropriate way to mitigate their potential risks.

As we pointed out on Wednesday, the sun is entering a period of potentially peak cyclical activity, and additionally is experiencing some unusual changes to its underlying magnetic poles.  Underscoring our comments, on Thursday an ‘extreme solar flare’ erupted on Thursday (reported here and elsewhere).

And as we pointed out a couple of months back, experts predict there is a 12% chance of a catastrophic failure of our national electricity distribution grid, as a result of solar storm induced issues, some time in the next ten years.  It seems reasonable to assume that this risk will be concentrated more on the next two or three years of maximum solar activity, rather than the years after that as activity drops down again.

So, there’s a real risk, and it applies to the next few years.

Now for more worrying news.  The experts themselves don’t seem to understand exactly what might happen, when, how or why.  This article points out that NOAA and NASA can’t get their stories straight about the strength of current solar storm headed our way, or when it might arrive.

That is worrying.  They both start off with the same source data, but can’t reach similar conclusions.  Are they experts or amateurs?  It is like they were both given the same problem ‘If two boys have ten apples between them, and A has four apples more between them, how many apples does B have’ and come up with different answers.

The reason for the confusion is that there’s a lot less exact science in the field of understanding solar flares than we’d hope for.  The math problem perhaps reads, instead, ‘If two boys have something kinda sorta like ten or so apples between them, and if A has a handful more than B, how many apples does B have’.  And they are given a blurry photo of the two boys but it is hard to make out the shapes of the apples.

So here’s a risk that we know too little about, but which we do know could destroy our modern world, and not only do we know it could do this, we accept there’s actually a measurable significant chance that it will do this.

Amazingly, most of the world finds this level of ignorance reassuring.  That’s a bit like the ostrich that buries its head in the sand, isn’t it.

More prudent people find such uncertainty alarming, and choose to focus on somewhere between a realistic and a negative outcome to plan what to do.

If you’d like to know more about the very complicated field of solar conditions and ‘weather’ here’s an interesting starting point on NASA’s site.  And here’s an article from 2010 that presciently says that solar storm behavior can surprise forecasters.

The bottom line?  Well, no-one really knows for sure.  But you’d be well advised to prepare for trouble.

Jul 122012

It looks real. But this is Iron Pyrites. However, is true gold really any more valuable?

What is the real difference between ‘real’ gold and ‘fool’s gold’ (Iron Pyrites)?  Sure, real gold is very expensive and iron pyrites is close to worthless, but why is gold so expensive and why are so many preppers so fixated on gold?

We can’t really answer the latter question, but we can provide reasons why you should ignore anything to do with gold as part of your preparations for an adverse future.

In short, real gold is indeed much more expensive than fool’s gold, but – for our purposes – perhaps they are of equal (and minimal) value.

Which Would You Prefer?  Gold or….

Perhaps the best way to discuss the relevance of gold to preppers is to look at three alternatives that we might likely encounter.

One that is a for-real alternative we all have to consider today, and the other two are hypothetical alternatives in a possible adverse future scenario.

1.  A Present Day Choice

So, you’re a diligent prepper, and you’re building up your supplies and establishing your retreat.  Let’s say you’ve just won a lottery prize and suddenly find yourself with an unexpected spare $630,000.  Lucky you!

Which would you rather do with this money?

(a)  Buy a single standard sized 400 troy ounce gold bar (based on today’s gold price of $1575/ounce this would cost $630,000).  Keep it somewhere safe and secure, and worry about it being stolen.

(b)  Complete work on your retreat, expand it a bit, upgrade some of its systems, add extra tanks for fuel storage (and fill them with fuel), buy more supplies, do some landscaping to optimize your future use of your land, and buy extra supplies for future trading or unforeseen emergencies.

Which use of the $630,000 is going to be most beneficial to ensuring your comfortable survival?

The same question applies if you have $63,000 or $6300 or any other sum, large or small as well.  There’s no limit (for most of us who are not on the Forbes 500 list!) to the investment you can make in your retreat and your supplies – and neither is there any limit to the investment you could make in gold either.

But – we suggest – buying gold will never be as useful a strategy as would be investing your cash in additional resources and supplies and materials.

2.  A Future Choice

Let’s say you’re a year or two into a Level 3 situation.  You’ve been surviving, but you’ve pretty much burned up all your stored diesel and propane, a hailstorm smashed some of your solar cells, you had a disease wipe out a lot of your crops last season, and while you’ll survive, you’re hurting a bit.  But on the plus side, you’ve been untroubled by any lawlessness or looting, and you’re starting to wonder if the million rounds of ammunition you stockpiled will all be necessary.  Maybe you might sell some of them.

Word gets around and three people come to see you, each offering to buy some of the ammo you don’t need from you.  Which of the three offers do you accept?

(a)  The first guy offers you payment for the ammo in gold.

(b)  The second guy offers to swap ammo for solar cells and diesel.

(c)  The third guy offers you food.

Now some of you might decide you’ll take option (b) and others might choose option (c), and we’ve deliberately left this hypothetical question open by not specifying actual quantities, because we are trying to point to the underlying principle.  Choosing either option (b) or (c) is each equally valid.

But who would choose option (a)?  You can’t eat gold.  You can’t generate electricity from gold.  You could freeze and starve to death in a house that was full of gold.  Gold has no intrinsic value to people focused on survival.

3.  A Stranger Rides Into Town

Two strangers ride into your prepping community.  They are from two other communities, and each are seeking to trade with your community, wanting to acquire your surplus of crops that you grew during the last season, and which you now have to trade with.

(a)  The first person offers to buy all your spare crops, and will give you gold in exchange.

(b)  The second person offers to buy all your spare crops, and will give you his community’s surplus of bio-fuel and meat in exchange.

Which offer do you accept?  Which offer is best for your community, improving its quality of life and ability to continue surviving into the future?

Hoarding Gold is a Low Priority for Preppers

Note that we deliberately make these three examples into ‘either/or’ choices, and that’s perhaps where so many people might make a mistake.  Sure, in a perfect world, of course we’d love to have lots of gold.  And diamonds.  And silver.   And warehouses full of food.  Our own oil/gas well and a working refinery alongside.  A luxury yacht with nuclear powered engines that will never need refueling.  And so on, and so on, and so on.

But in the real world, we have too little money even to buy all the things that are on our ‘Absolutely Must Have’ list.  We all need to be rifle-focused on checking off the items on our respective ‘Absolutely Must Have’ lists before we then start to add less essential and luxury items to our inventory and preparations.

Shelter.  Water.  Food.  These are the three priorities in our lives.  Gold is neither shelter, water, nor food.  And we have to choose between either gold or some combination of shelter/water/food.  We can’t have it all.

If we can’t have it all, clearly, the gold is the item best left behind.

Gold Will Not Keep Its Value in a Level 2/3 Scenario

Let’s also look at what might happen, if – and that’s a huge if – but let’s just say, if gold does end up having some sort of currency value in a Level 2/3 scenario.

One thing we can be sure of, with no if’s at all, is that an ounce of gold, costing us $1575 today, will buy us a lot less in that future situation than we could have bought with the $1575 today.  For sure, absolutely and of course, everything will shoot up in price, because it will become scarce and either hard to replace or irreplaceable.

Well, yes, everything will shoot up in price, except for gold and other forms of abstract money.

If you have spare money at present, after having bought everything on your ‘Absolutely Must Have’ list, we suggest you use that spare cash to stockpile things of real rather than abstract value – the things that will shoot up in value.  Extra fuel.  Extra solar cells.  Extra food.  Extra fertilizer.  Buy more land.  Plant more trees.  And so on, and so on.  These are all things that will either be valuable to you in the future, and/or will be valuable things you can sell/trade with other people.

But what would you do with gold?  Remember how you answered the second and third question above.  You didn’t choose to exchange your spare ammo with the guy offering you gold, did you.  You didn’t swap your town’s surplus food production for gold either, did you.

What say the situation were reversed – you now have only gold, but nothing else, and you’re having to persuade someone to sell you food or whatever, and the guy with the goods you need is choosing between your gold or another person, offering to swap food for bullets or fuel or something else – anything else – useful.  What do you think he will choose?

The Gold Standard, How Much is Gold Really Worth, and Other Economic Issues

Some people and preppers believe it was a mistake when the US and other countries abandoned the gold standard, and they further suggest that a lot of the problems in the world since that time have been due to leaving the gold standard behind.

Frankly, and although we came top of the Economics classes in our Masters degree, we have no dog in that fight at all, and neither should you.  We have no opinion as to the validity/error of abandoning the gold standard (like much of economic theory, it is a complicated issue which calls for value judgments as much as for dispassionate calculation), and, more to the point, no interest in the topic.  What’s done is done, and nothing we can do will change it, and neither will embracing gold personally make us any richer, or more attractive to the opposite sex, or anything else either!

Gold has only been a good investment if you bought and sold at the right times.

Nothing to do with gold has anything to do with being a better prepper.  Gold is a distraction that takes our focus – and potentially our funds – away from matters of much more essential importance.

As you can see on this chart, and more clearly on its related website, it is true that if you look only at the last six or so years, gold has been a great investment.

But it is also true that it has dropped 15% in the last six months, and 19% from its peak at the beginning of September last year, and it is also true that for twenty or more years prior to about  2004, gold did not go up in price at all.  So, as an investment, gold is far from a guaranteed sure thing.

Let’s circle back to the question we asked at the start of this article, and slightly rephrase it.  Why is regular gold so expensive, compared to other bright shiny metal?  Why has it gone up in price so much over the last few years?

The answer to this surely simple question is awesomely complicated, and probably has to do with complicated international speculation, hoarding, and things close to price fixing.  But the real true answer is that there is no underlying intrinsic reason why gold should be so expensive.  Gold is like the emperor’s new clothes – it is an unreal artificial thing that only has value as long as everyone agrees it has value.  As soon as people start to turn away from gold, its value could plunge again, just like it did in the early 1980s.  After briefly going over $800 an ounce, it crashed down to less than half that price, ruining a lot of people in the process, and did not return to $800 for almost 30 years.

Because of major players with vested interests in sometimes protecting and sometimes manipulating the value of gold (not just individuals, but also banks and entire nations) the value of gold is and will remain an artificial thing, and we ‘ordinary people’ play in those markets at our peril.


Maybe gold might return to a form of commonly traded currency in a Level 2/3 situation.  But, even if this were to happen, we do not suggest you ‘invest’ in gold at present in anticipation of it becoming a valuable item in the future.

If you have spare cash at present, your highest priority is to enhance the level of your preparations.  When you feel that is fully optimized, if you have remaining cash, we recommend you put that extra money into more supplies to be used as future trading goods.

Future trading goods will massively increase in value in a Level 2/3 situation.  The relative purchasing power of gold will therefore decrease.  Future trading goods are both a better way of carrying forward wealth, and are also something that may directly impact on your own ability to survive comfortably and well.

You can’t shelter in gold.  You can’t drink it.  You can’t eat it.  For us as preppers, it therefore should be of no interest or relevance.

Jul 112012

The sun is entering a period of peak solar storm activity, with an associated measurable risk of destroying our entire electricity grid for 4 – 10 years.

Solar flares interfere with radio communications to a greater or lesser extent (depending on the magnitude of the flare), and potentially to other electrical and electronic equipment as well, including causing the loss of power to all of Quebec in 1989.

With our increasingly connected world, the potential for greater damage from solar flares seems to be increasing.

And talking about increasing, solar activity follows an eleven year cycle.  We are nearing the peak of this current cycle, which will hit the maximum in May 2013 (assuming that the world doesn’t end in December 2012!), before dropping down over the 5.5 years that follow before then rising up again.

July 4 this year was notable not only for our usual fireworks, but for additional fireworks courtesy of the sun – a solar flare eruption that registered max on the solar flare scale (it has five level – A, B, C, M and X, with each level being ten times greater than the one before, meaning an X flare is 10,000 times greater than an A level flare.  This was an X level flare, although note the largest X level flare recorded.  That distinction might possibly belong to one in 1859 – what is often referred to as the Carrington flare and which was many times more powerful than the 1989 flare that disrupted Quebec’s power grid.

Some disruption has been experienced by some radio services.  More is expected.

Here’s an interesting article on the recent eruption.

New Solar Instability Too

You probably know about the earth’s magnetic field – it has a magnetic north and south pole, slightly away from the geographical ‘true’ north and south poles.  The magnetic field is what allows compasses to work, and also helps protect us from solar radiation.

The sun too has a north and south pole, and part of the reason for its 11 or so year cycles of activity is due to the magnetic field flipping (when this happens corresponds to times of maximum solar activity).

But something happened, and the sun has now been observed to have two north poles and two south poles – it has become a quadrupoled object.

The sun’s magnetic field influences the frequency and intensity of its solar storms.  This new quadrupole configuration (first reported here) has unknown implications for what we can expect, but Murphy’s Law being what it is, the chances are that this is not a good development.

Interestingly though, it may lead to a period of lesser solar activity, which would also have harmful effects – less solar activity would mean a period of global cooling here.

So, what does all this mean for us?  In an earlier article about solar disruptions, we reported that experts predict there is a 12% chance that sometime in the next 10 years we might suffer a ‘super sun storm’ that could potentially wreck our entire electricity grid, cause $10 – 20 trillion in damage and take 4 – 10 years to recover from.

With the cyclical nature of these things, most of that 12% risk would seem to be concentrated in the next year or two, as we get closer to this cycle’s period of maximum activity.

Stay tuned for more updates.  Unless, of course, the power goes down!

Jul 112012

How many people do you need in your community in order to ensure its viability and safety? The answer will surprise you.

As we’ve several times detailed, to create a secure retreat, you need some sort of community defense program – either in the form of a suitable sized group sharing your retreat with you, or by forming a local ‘neighborhood watch’ program, albeit on steroids and armed for bear.

If we calculate the minimum size of security force we need, we can extrapolate from that to get an ideal of the minimum size that a group as a whole can be.  Clearly, there’s probably no upper limit that would be a problem for most of us, but – as we calculate in this article – there is indeed a lower limit that may be a challenge in some situations.

In planning your security needs, there are two main factors to keep in mind.  The first is you’ll need some type of 24/7 perimeter security on watch to give you warning of the appearance of any marauders, and the second is you’ll need a team of armed people to help you fight them off.

What Perimeter Do You Need to Patrol and Secure?

The first issue is to decide what your patrol zone will be and what your secure zone will be.  The two may not necessarily be identical.

Obviously, your retreat building itself will need to be patrolled and secured, and if you are part of a community, their retreat buildings will also need to be patrolled and secured.  This points to the benefit of a small cluster of retreat dwellings close together – it is easier to patrol all buildings and the common areas between them if they are close together.  (See also our article on Community Mutual Defense Pacts and the situations in which they will or won’t work for more discussion on this important topic.)

One of the key things about a perimeter is that everywhere inside it is reasonably secure – the perimeter encloses an area such that people can not cross the perimeter without being detected.  For this reason, perimeters usually have some sort of physical barrier so as to require people crossing it to make a conscious decision to do so (meaning that if you find an intruder inside your perimeter, you know they are not there by innocent mistake) and also to make it easier for you to detect them while they are crossing the barrier, meaning you can patrol your perimeter with fewer people.  The barrier hopefully also provides you and your fellow sentries with some security so you can’t be ambushed or picked off by distant snipers.

Establishing a secure perimeter can be a problem if you have a geographically distributed group of retreat dwellings.  You can patrol/secure each dwelling, but you can’t patrol the land between them, which also makes it dangerous for people from one dwelling to travel to another one, whether it be for social purposes or to provide reinforcement in time of attack.

Note that the area you patrol – your perimeter – need not be the same as the area you defend.  Maybe you have obscured listening/observation posts around your property, but when the sentries at such locations detect people coming towards them, they merely sound the alarm and then stealthily withdraw back to the main defended location.

Another situation could have you needing to patrol your fields to protect your livestock from rustling and possibly even to protect your crops from being stolen too.

Clearly, the more area you need to patrol, the more people you will need on patrol.  Which leads to our next point.

How Many People as Sentries

Even if you are only patrolling/protecting your own retreat, you can’t just share sentry duty with your spouse during the day, and lock the front door and bolt the windows when you both go to bed at night.  You need to be actively looking for threatening people, and you need to intercept them before they get dangerously close to your dwelling.

Note that ‘dangerously close’ is actually quite a long way away – a person can sprint almost 100 yards in ten seconds.  How much warning do you need to suddenly be ready to defend your house and loved ones from a surprise attack – almost surely plenty more than ten seconds.

You don’t want to be woken up late at night to the sound and other sensations of attackers already attempting to crash through your front door, and pouring burning liquids in through any openings in your retreat walls.  You need to have sufficient people on sentry duty, at least during the nights, and ideally all day every day, as to ensure you can never be attacked by surprise.

At the very least, you need three people to do lookout duty.  This would allow for duty cycles of four hours on, eight hours off, every day (56 hours on duty every week for each of three people).  Three people means one person always on duty.

But there’s a problem with that – and we’re assuming that the area you are patrolling is small enough and laid out so that a single person is all that is needed to adequately patrol it.  If you have only one sentry, what happens if that one person is taken out in a sneaky surprise attack?  You then have nothing and no-one between you and your attackers.

So perhaps you need two people on duty all the time, in the hope that one of the two will survive long enough to sound an alarm – and also doubling the chances of the sentries spotting the bad guys before the bad guys launch their attack.

So this means you need six people at a minimum to keep two people on duty all the time.  And that is assuming a well laid out retreat and patrol path that allows for one two-man team to effectively patrol the entire perimeter.

You might think that in a survival situation, people won’t mind working longer shifts.  Union and state/federal labor laws probably won’t apply in such a scenario!

That is true, but the reality is that you can’t keep people fresh and alert for more than four hours on sentry duty at a time; indeed, two-hour or three-hour shifts would be vastly better than four-hour shifts.

You also need to allow people a chance to be well rested (ie at least one break of at least 8 hours) and to give them a measure of time to just ‘live their lives’ as well.  Maybe you could work a schedule with three three-hour shifts, a nine-hour break and two three-hour breaks, but that would be about the absolute maximum for ongoing ordinary operations, and all you’ve done is get one extra hour per sentry per day.

In reality, you’ll need to have more than six people on your sentry duty roster.  You need someone to coordinate the schedules, you need to allow time for sickness and other special events, and so on.

For sure, the six or more sentry personnel can also be contributing to your retreat in other ways when not sleeping or standing sentry duty, but this number – six – represents one measure of the minimum size group of people you need for a secure retreat in a Level 2 situation.

This number probably surprises you.  Just to stand sentry duty to detect the possible approach of bad guys will require six people, each working 56 hours a week minimum.

The good news is that one of the two sentries on duty at any time need not be an adult with skill at arms.  One person could be a child – with probably better eyesight and hearing than an adult, a child could be a good sentry, although they need to be old enough to have sufficient concentration span to remain alert for their shift.

How Many People as Defenders

It is fairly easy to do as we just did, to work the numbers and to decide you need at least six people available to rotate shifts as sentries.  But what happens when a group of marauders approach and attack you?

Clearly at that point, everyone who can aim and shoot a rifle will be doing exactly that.  There’s no such thing as having too many defenders.  But there is definitely a problem about having too few.

As an awfully absolute bare minimum, you want at least two people able to be your primary fire team engaging the attackers.  You then want to still have some sentries, scanning around the rest of your perimeter, looking for additional attackers suddenly appearing from the sides or rear.

You also need a support person bringing additional ammunition supplies and anything else that may be needed to the active shooters.  This person might also do double duty as a corpsman/medic, in the event that you suffer casualties among your own people.

You need at least one person in a ‘ready reserve’.  Best case scenario, they do nothing.  Neutral case scenario, they are called upon to successfully defend against an attack from a new zone (but this will be one person on your side, and probably two or more attackers – a ready reserve of one is very few, especially when you can’t afford to take people away from your primary fire team either).  Worst case scenario, they have to replace an incapacitated member of the primary fire team.

So, add that up, and you need 2 on the primary fire team, one support person, at least one lookout, and hopefully plenty more than one person in your ready reserve – five people altogether as a terrible minimum, better six or seven (or eight or nine…).

Yes, five people is adequate to successfully defend against one attacker.  You might think that you only need two people to successfully defend, from your somewhat fortified position, and while that is sort of true, you need to be alert and able to respond to additional threats that suddenly appear at the same time.  So you need five people to be reasonably sure of winning against one attacker (in part because you can never be sure there is only one person).

The good news is that you don’t need five more people for each additional attacker.  But it would be nice to have at least as many people shooting back as there are people shooting at you, and you do need the support resources too.

You’ll probably be faced with many more than one person attacking you.  How many should you anticipate?

How Many People as Attackers

How many people do you think might attack you?  That’s a tremendously unknown but important number.  It depends a bit on the makeup of the group of people attacking you.  Are they an ad-hoc group of people joined together in the common cause of stealing food, or are they members of a traditional gang?

Ad-hoc groups are probably going to be at least five in number – any less than that and they’d not feel secure at attacking a defended position and would either leave you alone or join up with other individuals or groups.

On the other hand, smaller groups of 2 or 3 or 4 might adopt a stealthy approach and subterfuge – appearing initially as harmless helpless refugees or whatever, getting close to or even inside your retreat, and only then surprising you and overwhelming you in your unprepared state.  Anyone who approaches your retreat is a potential threat.

We guess ad hoc groups of attackers would tend to be around 8 – 20 people in number.  More than 20 gets complicated to manage/control, and becomes vulnerable to ‘splinter groups’ forming and breaking away, while less than 8 and the group will still be keen to recruit more participants.

Furthermore, if ad-hoc groups get much larger, they’ll start to delegate duties, and it is reasonable to expect that any initial foraging teams will probably be only eight or so people – this is more than enough to overwhelm unprotected or lightly protected retreats.

So for these type of newly formed ad-hoc groups, we guess you’ll be encountering at least five and probably more people attacking you.  But, the more secure and impressive your own retreat, the greater the size of the attacking group, because smaller groups will simply pass you by while looking for easier pickings and larger groups will apply more of their force to the assault.  Maybe the first team sees your retreat and security, then goes back to the main group and suggests that the initial approach/attack be with a larger attacking force.

As for more traditional street gang type groups, that’s a much bigger worry.

Organized Gangs

Way back in 2005, a Department of Justice report estimated there were 21,500 gangs in the US, and 731,000 active gang members.  There’s an interesting piece of information in this data – it seems the average gang size, in 2005, was 34 people.

A second set of statistics in 2007 claims 30,000 gangs and 800,000 gang members.  This works out to a lower count of 27 per gang.

Another set of statistics, in 2009, claims 900,000 gang members plus another 147,000 gang members in prisons, but doesn’t provide a count of the number of gangs.

A 2011 FBI report estimated 1.4 million people in gangs.  We can only guess what the count of gangs and gang members may be now.

None of these numbers are exact, but two things are apparent.  First, gang membership is increasing at a dismaying rate.  Second, it seems likely to expect that most gangs will have between 25 – 40 members.

If we look at this number of 25 – 40 people per gang, it seems reasonable to assume that if it is a gang type group of people attacking you, there could be as many as half their members in an attack force, and certainly eight or more people.

Perhaps the initial attack might be about eight people, and then after you fight them off, the survivors go back and bring the rest of the gang back for round two of the battle – maybe the second time around you find yourself up against 30 attackers.

We feel the gang threat may be the gravest threat you face – see our separate article that analyses gang issues in more detail.

Realistic Sized Security Force

There are many other factors that go into determining the size of security force you need.  But for this overview, let’s simply say that you need at least ten people who can effectively fight to defend your retreat, and if you can scale this up further, so much the better.

Of course, in an emergency, most adults will be pressed into service to defend the retreat, so we’re simply saying your group needs to include at least ten able-bodied arms-bearing adults at a minimum and preferably more like twenty, so as to be able to defend itself against occasional attacks.

If your retreat is unusually large, you may need even more people, just so you don’t have any exposed undefended external walls.

Not Just Able Bodied Adults

The chances are your community will not just be exclusively able-bodied adults (and we’re also assuming that all adults, both male and female, will be able to and will agree to bear arms in support of the community).  You’ll for sure have some children too, and maybe also elderly people less able to contribute significantly to the defense of the community.

If you have 15 able-bodied adults at a minimum, what does that mean for the overall total community size?  Will there be another 10 children and elderly?  Or another 20?  You can of course influence the answer to this question by selecting who you choose to bring in to your community, but the chances are that at the very least, 15 able-bodied adults will mean a total community size of 25.

Let’s run the numbers some more about what the minimum size community could effectively be.  You’ll be surprised.

What is the Minimum Sized Community

So, to successfully patrol your retreat, you need at least six people working as sentries full-time (ie 56 hrs/week each).  If your retreat or patrolled perimeter is larger than what can be adequately monitored by one single two-man team, you might need 12 people (for two teams) or 18 (for three teams) or some other multiple of six.

If your retreat has six adults as sentries, people who are full-time diverted from ‘productive’ duties such as caring for livestock, growing crops, and so on, clearly it needs to have perhaps another six adults who can do productive duties to provide the food and ongoing shelter and energy needs for the group of 12 as a whole.  These other six people could double as part-time members of the defense force in the event that an attack eventuates.

Remember also that a community will typically have some people who are less productive – retirees and children.  Indeed, younger children are not only less productive themselves, but will also drain productive adult resources by needing to be cared for and educated.

So we start with six adults, minimum, just for sentry duties.  Then another six adults to produce food for the group, now totaling 12.  Maybe these 12 people are joined by 8 less productive children or adults, who need another four adults to care for them directly or to indirectly add to the community’s overall food and energy production.  And now the four extra adults bring additional less productive companions with them too, and so on, over and over.

It is easy to see how the practical minimum size of a single retreat/contiguous community can rapidly swell to way more than 25 people in total, and ideally more like 30 or even 40.  Which probably means you split into two or more dwellings (but see our article advocating a multi-unit condo block rather than free standing dwellings), and may need at least one more set of six sentries, plus the support people now needed for them, and on it goes.

Before you know where you are, you’re looking at 50+ people, and wishing you had more.

Implications for Preppers

We’ve several times pointed out the need to join or create a community so as to establish a viable sized group – not only for defense, but for other purposes too.  However, this is the first time we’ve put a number alongside the claim.  Depending on the physical layout of your retreat(s) and the make-up of your group (as between fully productive adults and less productive seniors and children) you need somewhere between 25 and 50 people as a minimum viable sized group.

Chances are you’ll be as surprised at this as we were, the first time we did the calculation.  But check our logic, and if you can see some other way of working the numbers, let us know.

We started out, probably like you, planning our own retreat for just our immediate family members.  Then we decided to invite in a few selected and trusted very close friends, because we sensed that there was safety, security, and strength in numbers.  But now that we’ve seen how many people we really need to be more certain of securely surviving a Level 2/3 scenario, we’ve evolved our thinking and are now offering the Code Green Community concept, inviting you to consider joining with us as part of a larger more viable group.

Consider joining us by all means.  Alternatively, of course you can do your own thing – either close to us or anywhere else in the country.  But whatever you do, make sure you do it as part of an integrated group; don’t plan on only yourself, your spouse, and immediate family members going it alone.  Whether it is a security problem or something quite different, it is just too risky to attempt to survive in a very small group.

Jul 112012

London’s 2011 riots yet again demonstrated the ugly streak of evil that lurks close below the surface of modern society.

(Note – it might be helpful to refresh your understanding of what we define as Level 1, 2 and 3 events.)

The main challenge you will have in a Level 2 situation is security.  While you probably will have food and energy supplies for a year or two (or three….), most ‘normal’ unprepared people have no energy stockpiles and little food.  Within a week, most people will be increasingly forced to ‘forage’ for their food – and we use this word ‘forage’ as a euphemism for more than simple ‘stealing’, because stealing is a familiar and non-violent sounding term.

Interestingly, we see the greatest problems being in the early days of any Level 2/3 scenario.  There is probably an evolutionary process that society will shake down through – we discuss this in our article on the security/lawlessness cycle here.

In that article we lightly touch on the concept that people will be forced to choose between starvation and forcibly taking such food and shelter as they can, by any means necessary.  Let’s look into this in some more detail both in terms of the types of risks and threats you’ll face, and how you need to prepare for them.

Level 2 Risks :  (a)  Lawless Gangs

We have regularly seen, both in the US and elsewhere in the world, the propensity of some groups of society to degenerate into violent lawlessness any time society hiccups and normal law enforcement activities pause.

These people violently riot and loot (and attack and murder) for the sheer devilry and ‘fun’ of it, and because they are laboring under some bizarre view of reality that makes them feel entitled to behave that way, and also for the opportunistic chance to enrich themselves by carrying away color televisions and other home electronics from stores they are looting.

How much more aggressive will they be in a Level 2 situation?  It seems realistic to accept that normal law enforcement will be massively reduced in a Level 2 situation.  Even if all the police and other law enforcement personnel still report for duty, the same as normal, they’ll be overwhelmed by the number of problems suddenly dropping in their lap.

As we saw in, for example, the Los Angeles riots in 1992, normal law enforcement numbers can be completely inadequate for any outbreaks of mass violence, and in a Level 2 situation, not only will there be even greater disorder, there will not be regional and national reserves of manpower to call upon, because every other region will also be struggling to keep ahead of their own problems.  The inability of local law enforcement to deal with rioting is the flipside of the coin to do with the police relying on the general consent and acquiescence of the communities they police – when this starts to fail, so too does the policing, whether it be as we say in Los Angeles in 1992, or more recently in London in 2011, or anywhere else.

Add to that the fact that such roving gangs of people won’t only be looting for fun and for personal enrichment, and they won’t just be seeking things such as computers, iPhones, and suchlike.  They’ll be as threatened with starvation as anyone else, and they’ll be looting for food and survival, too – just more vigorously and violently then everyone else.

Level 2 Risks :  (b)  Organized Gangs

A much greater threat is the presence of organized gangs – bikers, drug distribution networks, street gangs, and such like.  While there aren’t as many of these people as there will be, initially, of lawless gangs, they are organized, disciplined, and totally amoral.

They are also determined.  Whereas lawless groups of people – ad hoc gangs – are opportunistic and will attack easy targets and avoid hard targets, organized gangs will be willing to attack all types of targets – weak targets because they can, and hard targets because they pose potential threats to the organized gang that will otherwise seek to become the new power structure in a region.

Even worse, many of these gangs are vaguely prepping for the future, too.  They’re poised, waiting to attack society as soon as it becomes feasible to do so.

Level 2 Risks :  (c)  Starving People

We don’t need guns if/when a person politely comes up and knocks on our door and asks if we can spare any food.  If we are unable to help out, they thank us for our time and leave again.

But do you really think that is what will happen?

Let’s say 50% of the population only has food for three days or less, another 25% for about ten days, another 20% for about twenty days.  And let’s say it becomes obvious to everyone that the Level 2 situation will take not days or weeks, but many months to be resolved.

In three days, half the population will be looking at empty pantries.  What will they do?

Within another week, 75% of the population will have no food, and there will be a growing realization by everyone, whether they still have food or not, that there is no hope of any arriving any time soon.  What will all these people do?

Over the next ten days, they’ll be joined by just about everyone else.  In less than three weeks – probably much less – more than 95% of the population will be starving.

Will these people politely knock on your door, and then just shuffle off and die quietly on the street if you refuse to share your own limited supply of food with them?  It is possible that a pacifist single person might do this, but what about a man (or woman) with a spouse and children to feed?  Will they just passively let their entire family die of starvation, while watching you and a very few others continue to eat almost normally?

Here’s the logic they face :

You can threaten to shoot me with your gun, but if I don’t take your food from you, I’ll definitely die of starvation, so it makes sense for me to risk being shot while doing anything and everything necessary to take your food from you.  If I have to choose between you dying, or me and my family dying, you will be the one I prefer to see die.

You need to understand this.  If you refuse to feed your best friend in a post Level 2/3 situation, then he, just as much as any stranger, has no choice but to use whatever means necessary to take your food from you, because it is essential tp the survival of himself and his family.

You also need to remember how people are so brilliantly good at justifying any actions to themselves.  The same people who laughed at you for stockpiling food will now be demanding it from you as their ‘right’ – ‘You have no right not to share your food with us, you can’t just leave us to die, you selfish so-and-so’.  That’s only one small step removed from ‘You are trying to kill us by withholding food from us’ and ‘You’ve more food than you could possibly need yourself, there should be a law against such selfishness’.

After they’ve demonized you in their own mind, and played up their own deserving victim status, they’ll feel totally justified to shoot you in your doorway, and then to clamber over your dead body and to loot your house of all its supplies.

We are deliberately writing this in vivid shock terms, but you need to understand and accept this.  If it sounds impossible to you, ask yourself – and answer the question – what will starving people do instead when they see you with plenty of food while they have none?

Some people might find it unlikely that their friendly next door neighbors will turn around and use any and all means up to and including lethal force to take food from them.  We agree this is unlikely, but we realistically fear that it is much more likely that your neighbors (and, of course, strangers too) will do this than it is that they’ll just peacefully and calmly resign themselves to die of starvation and lie waiting for death to occur in their own homes.


No matter where you have your retreat located, sooner or later it will be found by groups of starving marauders and/or opportunistic gangs (see our article on ‘Is it Realistic to Expect Your Retreat Will Not be Found‘).  The only three things you don’t know is how long it will be until you are first confronted by starving/looting marauders, how often such confrontations will occur into the future, and how many people you’ll encounter on each occasion.

The one thing you can be sure of is that these people mean to take your food and other supplies and resources from you, and if they have to do it by force, they won’t even pause to think twice.  Indeed, their resentment at you being well prepared is such they’ll feel you ‘deserve to die’ – this is about as warped as illogic can get, but do you want to bet your life that this is not how people will end up thinking?

You will have become the evil ‘1%’ that has recently been demonized by the ‘Occupy Wall St’ protesters.  We’ve seen, over the last year, people trying to wrap themselves in the righteous mantle of being part of a supposed 99% of the country, using this supposed ‘moral majority’ empowerment to advocate violence and sanctions against the remaining 1% of the country – even though the supposed 99% group are – quite obviously to those of us who truly are mainstream – anything but representative members of the majority.  They’re as much a 1% minority group as are the people they claim that their ‘majority status’ empowers them to act against.

We make these points not so much to criticize the Occupy Wall St people (although we definitely don’t support them) but rather to point out how people readily make completely ridiculous claims about themselves so as to give themselves a self-claimed mantle of legitimacy that then empowers them to do whatever lawless and wrong acts they wish.

The same people who are keen to live off government handouts today, and who believe that rich people should be taxed and then taxed some more so that they (the ‘99%’) don’t need to do any work themselves, will of course now resent you for doing the very thing they will have laughed at you about before the Level 2 event – preparing prudently and storing food.

They won’t now consider it to have been prudent preparation and storing of your food.  They will claim it to be immorally selfish hoarding of food that should belong to the community (and, in particular, to them).  Your refusal to give all your food to them means that you are denying them the right to live.  So, of course, they’ll feel totally morally empowered to at the very least take all your food from you, and if they have to shoot you in the process, so be it.


You need to plan your retreat not just from a perspective of weather and suitability for agricultural purposes and everything else.  You also need to plan to make it defendable against people keen to rob you by force, even by lethal force if necessary.

The most important adage is ‘safety in numbers’.  You need to become part of a community to share the burden of defending your properties, and to have the strength in numbers necessary to prevail against attacks by evildoers.

Jul 112012

Weather will have a much greater impact on our lives in a Level 2/3 situation.

In an earlier part of this article series – Weather Considerations When Choosing a Retreat – we explained how weather is probably the most important issue to consider and optimize when selecting a favorable location for your retreat.  Hopefully you’re now persuaded of that fact.

So, given that choosing a ‘good weather’ location is vitally important, perhaps now we need to consider what exactly ‘good’ weather is.

This might seem simplistic.  We know good weather when we experience it, right?  A nice sunny day, little or no wind, no rain, low humidity, and clear blue sky.

Well, this is undoubtedly a nice day for us to enjoy, but if this was the type of weather your retreat could anticipate, year-round, you’d most likely have major problems.  Sunny weather and low humidity means that soils dry out, and no rain means no water comes naturally to replenish the water being used by crops and evaporated by the sun.

Here’s a list of weather related factors to consider.

We suggest you create spreadsheets, with the various factors ranged in rows across, and different destinations in columns down, so you can tabulate the pluses and minuses of first general regions and then secondly specific locations within those regions.

No Extreme Weather

You want a place that never gets tornadoes or hurricanes.  Not just rarely – never.

Even if a tornado or hurricane doesn’t destroy your main retreat building, it might rip through your crops and other structures, destroying your year’s harvest.  And the same weather event would rip through your neighbors’ properties too, so you’d have no people to readily turn to for assistance.

No Flooding

We suggest you look at a flood plain map for your area and see the limits of any nearby 100 year flood zones, and make sure that your location is either or both a considerable distance away and/or some feet further up in elevation.

Just like the extreme weather mentioned above, flooding isn’t just bad for you.  It is bad for your crops and livestock too.  You can’t afford the risk of flooding.

Rain and Water Issues

Don’t just look at the annual rainfall for your location.  Drill down and have a look at the monthly figures – and look at the average numbers, both annually and the ten-year (or longer) highs and the ten-year (or longer) lows.

Longer period highs and lows are better than ‘only’ ten year periods, because there are some 50+ year cycles of climate that impact on rainfall, making peaks and troughs in annual rainfall cycle through 50 year and longer periods.  See our article on evaluating weather issues and vulnerabilities for more on how to assess likely annual rainfall and its variations.

Ideally, you want some rain just about every month, although depending on the crops you plan on growing, there might be some that need a period reasonably rain-free around harvest time.

The amount of rain you want/need depends on the type of agricultural uses you’re planning on, and also on the type of ground, and other weather issues like heat (more heat = more water evaporates), humidity (less humidity = more water evaporates) and wind (more wind = more water evaporates).

In addition there’s your own personal consumption of water too, of course, but this will be only a very small percentage of your total water needs.

Another issue is how much rainwater you plan to collect from the roofs of your various structures on your site.  Remember the rule of thumb that an inch of steady rainfall on 1000 sq ft of roof represents almost 623 gallons of water (less some which may evaporate off or remain on the roof or soak into the roofing material – the slower the rain falls, and the warmer/windier the weather, the greater your evaporative loss will be).

Ideally it would be great to have at least a couple of inches of rain every month (other than for any period of time you or your crops need to be dry).

Be careful also of how what appears to be a single rain-free month can actually be concealing almost three solidly dry months.  If you are looking only at monthly data, and you see three months with rainfall of 0.3″, 0.0″ and 0.4″, for all you know, the rainfall in the first month might occur in the first few days, leaving three weeks of that month without rain, and the rainfall in the last month might occur in the last few days, adding another 3+ weeks of dry weather at the other end of the officially dry month.

You need to get a feeling for daily rainfall patterns as well as monthly patterns to more accurately project possible rainfall.  We discuss rainfall analysis in some detail in our article on how much rainwater you can store.

Of course, anything is possible with irrigation, but irrigation can be an added layer of cost (in equipment, in time, and in energy) and complication (more things to maintain), and any way you can minimize your reliance on irrigation, the better you’ll be.  Nonetheless, if you need more water, you’ll need to be assured of being able to get it (this is more a derivative than a direct weather issue).


Sunshine is important for several reasons.  It provides heat and growing energy for crops.  It also can be a source of energy for you and your electrical systems, via photo voltaic (ie solar) cells.

In addition to the general rule of thumb zones the country is divided into in terms of average hours of sun a day, you want to drill down and get more specific information for your county and as close to your potential site as possible.

The sun at your exact site will of course be based on regional weather and also on any local unique modifications, either to the weather, or the presence of blocking obstacles that obscure the sun for part of the day (especially in the winter, when the sun is lower in the sky).

Some obstructions you might be able to clear (ie trees) but others you’ll have to accept (such as mountains/hills).

You can compensate, to a certain extent, for diminished sunlight by simply adding more and more PV panels, but this of course runs up your capital costs still further.  PV cells still generate current in partial sunlight, in a more or less linear fashion – half as much sun ‘brightness’ means half as much power generated, but shade compared to bright sun means a massive fall-off in power generated.

Growing Season

The ‘growing season’ is a rough rule of thumb way of getting a quick indication of how successful you’ll be at growing crops in any area.  It counts the number of days from the last frost in spring until the first frost in fall.

However, this number can be overstated, because from a point of view of when you can start growing crops, you want to have ground that is unfrozen and no longer covered in snow.  It is possible, particularly on the northern side of slopes where no direct sun reaches, for pockets of snow to sit on the ground well past the end of overnight frosts and for the ground to remain frozen for some time after the final frost.

The benefit of the Growing Season measurement is that it is fairly widely reported and tracked, so it is an easy number to obtain without needing to do a lot of calculations or research, and within certain broad tolerances, all other things being equal, a location with a measurably longer growing season will allow for more bountiful harvests than a location with a shorter growing season.

Growing season length can also indicate if you have a chance of using your garden space for two crops or only for one each spring/summer/fall.

There is another measurement that in some ways is more exact and helpful.  We discuss that in the next part of this article series.

Read More in Part 2

This is the first part of a two-part article on weather issues at your retreat location, and of course, part of the broader series on weather related issues in general.

For the second part of this article, please now click to Evaluating Likely Weather at a Retreat Location.  And please click this following link for a complete listing of weather related articles.

Jul 112012

Short term randomness in weather patterns mask longer term repeating cycles. We need to base our calculations on extended time periods to factor in cycle peaks and troughs.

At the time of writing this, parts of the midwest (most notably Wyoming) are suffering major agricultural/economic impacts due to suffering the worst drought in ten years.

Excuse us?  The worst drought in ten years?  The worst drought in 100 years – they could be excused for being tripped up by that.  Many of us would even allow a person the benefit of the doubt for the worst drought in 50 years.  But to be blindsided by something that happens once a decade?  That’s imprudent planning and greed on the part of the farmers, who simply gambled that they’d have a good year this year, and so over-extended their water consumption, and now have had their calculated gamble, based on greed, turn around and bite them.

It is hard to feel too sympathetic for such people.  But at least they may qualify for various assistance programs, and if they have to end up selling off livestock, they have people to sell the livestock to (potentially located thousands of miles away), and will be able to buy new livestock next year (and potentially source them from a considerable distance).  The current infrastructure of the country, its economy, and even its social support mechanisms all act to minimize the still unfortunate impacts on these farmers at present.

But in a Level 2/3 situation, and with any farmer’s market being reduced to a very local region, there’d not be such broader resources to rely upon.  Quite the opposite – the market for cattle would become massively depressed, and next year, there’d be precious little in the way of breeding stock to make up the shortfall.  This begs the question – how much weather risk is it prudent to accept – not so much in the present day situation, but with an eye to a less forgiving future scenario?

The answer is obviously that we can’t accept any risk that would threaten our ongoing viability.  So how much weather risk is too much risk?  This is very hard to establish, in large part because weather isn’t a ‘constant variable’ (a concept that sounds like an oxymoron to start with).  Let us explain.

Short Term Randomness in Weather

There are many factors impacting on the weather we experience each day.  For our purposes, most of these factors can be perceived as semi-random in the medium term.  For sure, in the very short-term, we can make a reasonable guess about tomorrow’s weather based on what we know of the weather today, what the barometer tells us, the direction of the winds, and how we read the sky.  We can make a somewhat less accurate guess about the day after tomorrow’s weather, too.  But the degree of accuracy continues to erode with each extra day into the future we look.

Will it rain on Tuesday in five weeks time?  Maybe, maybe not.  Will next year’s growing season be shorter or longer than normal?  And so on.  Apart from making a statistical guess based on past rainfall patterns, it is hard for us to otherwise give an accurate prediction based on any factual modeling of how the weather will act between now and then (although weather forecasting services, with super-computers and data inputs from weather stations all around the world make attempts to answer these types of questions, and with varying and not always impressive results).  So, for this purpose, the weather becomes more or less random, within the constrains of certain probabilities.

Another way to think of this is like rolling a dice.  You are playing a game where the rules are that for the first 15 minutes of each hour, you’ll win if the dice shows a 1 or 2.  For the second 15 minutes, you’ll win if the dice shows a 1, 2 or 3.  For the next 15 minutes, you’ll only win if the dice shows a 6.  And for the last 15 minutes, you’ll win if the dice comes up 1,2,3,4 or 5.

So depending on the time of each hour, while you still have a totally random chance of winning, your overall chance of winning changes from very favorable to very unfavorable.  You can think of, eg, rainfall in a similar manner.  While there’s no guarantee about levels of rainfall on any day, the chance of rainfall goes more or less predictably up and down depending on the season.

This randomness applies in the ‘short-term’ which in this context we consider to span periods of five to ten years, more or less.

Longer Term Cyclical Variations in Weather

Now that you understand the random nature of weather on a short-term basis, we can now move on to considering other factors that also impact on weather, but in the long-term.  There are various cycles that see regions go through periods of predominantly ‘good’ and ‘bad’ weather, cycles that can last for ten, twenty and even more years.  Indeed the length of these cycles from the start of one complete cycle to the start of the next can extend out as long as 50 – 75 years or so.

Here’s an interesting web page with a fairly bewildering array of charts and graphs, but if you scroll much of the way down (and you don’t really need to read or understand everything that is being presented), you’ll see an interesting graph headed ‘The PDO + AMO cycles are not in phase:’ and immediately below that, four fascinating maps of the US showing drought conditions over the course of the cycles, and right at the very bottom, a 500 year time series based on tree growth and clearly showing cyclical variations.

These longer cycles are creating part of the uncertainty about alleged global warming.  Was the observed warming trend of a couple of decades ago the result of manmade activities, or was it a normal cyclical thing?  And is the lack of global warming for the last 15 years also cyclical, or is it significant?

These graphics give a very good indication of how weather is not only random in the short-term, but also follows longer term cycles.

These long cycles can create a major trap for people trying to understand what type of weather to expect in the future.  If people only sample years that are at one part of the overall cycle, they get an erroneous impression of the future.  What should be obvious and predictable based on a long enough historical time view so that you can clearly see the cyclical nature of the weather variations, instead is perceived to be unusual, unexpected, and exceptional, even though in truth it is none of those things.

Clearly, in understanding the weather, you need to understand not only the short-term semi-random variations but the overall longer term cyclical impacts on the range of short-term variations.

Working With Long Term Data to Set Acceptable Risks

We said above to steer well clear of even a conservative 100 year flood plain – the good news part of that is that someone else has already calculated what the 100 year flood plain area is likely to be.  But for some other measures of possible weather extremes, you’ll probably have to do your own figuring.

Clearly you need to be conservative in assessing the acceptable level of risk for weather extremes like droughts, because if you guess wrong, you could be endangering the livelihood and survival of you and your entire community.

There’s no sense to setting yourself a ‘less than once every hundred years’ target for flood avoidance, but accepting a ‘once every ten years or so’ level for drought avoidance.

Our point, however, in this context is that in order to make such decisions, you must have more than five or ten years of historical data.  There are statistical techniques that can analyze shorter periods of data to project the probability of what longer data series would reveal, and maybe you need to get an expert to do such things for you (we offer these types of services ourselves), but this analysis can not factor in the presence of cyclical impacts.

The best thing to do is not guess, but instead to use as many years of weather data as possible.

But be careful in doing so.  As the whole climate change controversy indicates, weather data is subject to interpretation.  Maybe, over an extended period of many decades, the weather station location was changed.  Or maybe other things changed around the weather station – maybe it went from being in the middle of nowhere to now being in the middle of a medium-sized city.  Maybe it changed its sampling methodology so that the same weather now results in different numbers being recorded, compared to some years previously.

And, whether due to man-made causes, the influence of the sun, regular cycling, or just random variations over time, most people will accept that climate conditions have changed over the last 50 years or more – there was a steady period of increase, and then – at least through 2011 – temperatures started trending down somewhat again.

So if you can’t get a full 100 years of weather data, that’s perhaps not a great loss; and indeed, if you did, you probably should attach less statistical weight to old data compared to new data.

See also our analysis in our water storage calculations article about combining the worst year’s results, month by month, compared to the worst year’s results for multiple months in a row, as a way of further stressing your projections.

So, while the historical numbers might seem very exact and certain, interpreting them for probable and worst case future outcomes becomes a very subjective undertaking.  However you do it, you’re sure to arrive at better final numbers if you have more raw data to start with.

To summarize all of the above, don’t, for example, base your rainfall expectation for a location on only the last two or five or ten years of data.  Maybe the region was going through a very rainy cycle, and maybe, as soon as you move there, it will flip over to a very dry decade, making the land you thought to be fertile and well watered suddenly become dry, arid, and expensive/impossible to work.

The more data you have, the more informed your decision will become, and the less risk you’ll be confronting in the future.

Jul 102012

It is a lovely looking country residence, but totally unsuitable as a retreat.

Modern housing is built to a reasonable standard, but embodies a number of design compromises and choices which will not be optimum in a Level 2/3 situation.

Let’s look at some of the underlying assumptions that are embodied in modern housing design, and how these assumptions – while perfectly valid for normal house construction and normal situations – do not stand up to the special needs we have for a retreat.

After understanding why normal construction is not appropriate, we’ll then look at some of the special considerations that apply to a retreat structure, and in a future article, list out the design considerations of greatest importance to retreat construction.

Modern Housing Design Limitations

Modern housing assumes many things, including a low presence of risks, and a low series of personal consequences to the structure’s dwellers if risks occur and failures eventuate.

Modern housing also assumes that energy to heat or cool the house is abundantly available.  As it happens, there is an evolving appreciation of making homes more energy-efficient, although this is more for oblique environmental concerns rather than due to any anticipated energy shortage in the future.

It further assumes that a dwelling need not be resistant to gunfire or major physical assault.  Indeed, you’d be laughed at, or thought to be very strange, if you said ‘I need 6″ solid concrete walls all around to protect my house from gunfire’ or if you said ‘the external walls have to be strong enough to withstand a vehicle deliberately crashing into it at 30 mph’.

Other assumptions exist too – for example, modern design assumes there’ll be no problem repainting the house on a regular basis, or with re-roofing the house.  It assumes that when such periodic maintenance comes due, there’ll be no problem going to a paint store to buy new paint, brushes, and anything else needed, and similarly, it assumes that roofing material and contractors will always be readily at hand.

Many of the materials that go into the house are not designed or built to last.  They have short lives – you’ll know this if you’ve had the seals on your double paned windows fail after only a few years, or fancy plumbing fixtures also fail.  Even floor coverings are not necessarily very long-lived, but this doesn’t matter so much in a case where fashion changes and where houses are sold and change hands every 6 or so years on average, with new owners wanting to make changes anyway, and with people selfishly being concerned primarily with outfitting their houses with items that will last for their own period of residence and still look good enough when it comes to sell the place on again.

These issues are especially noticeable in builder developed spec-homes where the main consideration is to create a house that looks good as cheaply as possible.

As you surely appreciate, a retreat needs to be designed and installed with much longer lived finishes and fittings.

Modern Housing Compromises

Overall, modern housing is designed to give a lot of apparent ‘bang per buck’ up front, while requiring ongoing maintenance that has become generally acceptable and expected.  Housing is constructed to a standard appropriate to meet the likely common stresses the structure may encounter in terms of wind, rain, temperature (and possibly moderate but not severe earthquake as well), but is not designed beyond that to meet unlikely and uncommon stresses.

Part of the design trade-off for normal housing is an assumption that if something goes very wrong and your house fails, it will not be a life-threatening outcome for you and any other people living in the building.  They will simply claim insurance, and buy or build a new house while living in a nearby hotel or rental house during the reconstruction process.

People would rather pay $500,000 for a house and then spend ongoing amounts on maintenance and insurance, and additional amounts on energy for heating/cooling, than to pay $1 million or (much) more for a house up front, and lesser amounts for maintenance and energy.  For example, most people would rather pay less for a house built of wood and accept the risk of fire – after all, they have house insurance – than they would to pay a great deal more for a house built of brick or stone or concrete and have a greatly reduced risk of fire.

Some people look upon their house investment exactly as that – an investment, and they calculate payback periods for optional upgrades and enhancements, and compare the rate of return they’d get to that they’d get if they simply put the extra money such things would cost into the bank and collected interest on it.

This is acceptable when there’s no real downside to maintenance requirements in the future, and when factors such as energy costs can be more or less extrapolated into the future.  But a Level 2/3 situation completely changes these assumptions and calculations.  The consequences of failure do now become dire and life-threatening; insurance companies won’t be available to pay-out on claims – and even if they could, what use would money be to you?  You need shelter, not money.

A massive increase in energy costs, and an ever-present shortage of available energy, at any cost, completely turns around the cost/benefit equation for designing an energy-efficient house.

And so on, through all sorts of other issues and considerations and current compromises.

Modifying a Current Dwelling to Make it a Retreat

Maybe you are looking at buying a lot which already has a house on it – and maybe the realtor has even described it as an ideal retreat.  The chances are it isn’t at all ideal, and we’ve sure seen plenty of structures that, while described as perfect retreats, have been anything but.  Perhaps the politest interpretation is that the realtor means ‘retreat’ in the sense of a relaxing country vacation home, rather than in the sense of a survival safety resource.

The cost of modifying a current structure to make it suitable for our sort of retreat purposes is seldom money well spent.  For starters, any existing structure probably needs a complete new exterior, and possibly to be re-roofed as well, so as to make it fireproof, gunfire resistant, and to bulk up its insulation.

For that reason, it is usually preferable to choose a lot with no structures already on it, or, if they are present, they should be of low value (so you’re not paying too much for something you don’t need).  They can provide temporary living space for you while your new retreat is being built, or overflow space for guests in normal times.  But they almost certainly aren’t something you should rely upon as your primary retreat in the future.

Jul 092012

You don’t even need to know how to program a computer to be able to hack into it.

Power plants.  Water treatment facilities.  Hospitals.  Forensic labs.  Rail and road traffic control systems.  Flood control systems.  Wind farms.  Automatic door openers.  Building energy management systems.

What do all these types of devices have in common?  They, and many other devices are all controlled by electronic controllers – no surprise there.  But the dismaying thing is that the electronic controllers are connected to the internet.

If you know the system’s IP address, the port it communicates on, and the communication protocol it uses, you can access the device.  Maybe it has a simple password block on it, and maybe it doesn’t – in some cases, these devices are totally open and unprotected.

But – you might think – finding these devices would be like finding a needle in a haystack.  With all the gazillions of devices on the internet, how could anyone find vulnerable industrial control systems?

The answer is sadly readily at hand – you use a computer to find a computer.  You can use search programs out there that will patiently scour the internet, one internet address after the other, slowly working through every possible combination of addresses and ports, until it finds potentially vulnerable systems.

Indeed, it is so easy that anyone can do it – go visit this website which offers a public service to search for such vulnerable devices.  Pay them $19 and get special unrestricted access if you really want to have a good search.

What if terrorists could override or reprogram these industrial controllers – to make wind turbines race over speed and fly apart, to make power stations melt down, to make hospital power supplies fail, to alternate traffic lights between gridlock causing all lights red and accident causing all lights green.  To have burglar and fire alarms go off in succession, all around the cities, so that exhausted police and firemen end up forced to ignore all emergency calls – always assuming they could get there with the traffic signal chaos that would also be underway.  Actually, why limit oneself to road traffic signals – why not mess up with train switching and signalling too – get an express passenger train hurtling towards a freight train carrying thousands of tons of deadly chemicals or inflammable fuels and have them collide in a central city area – far from impossible as this article points out.

Cause industrial refrigerators to fail and bulk stocks of food to spoil, to cause buildings to go crazy hot or freezing cold, to flood entire counties or even countries (ie The Netherlands), and so on and so on and so on.

All of a sudden, our transportation gets gridlocked.  Our power grid goes down, plus many power stations get destroyed.  And so on – be imaginative.  Maybe destroy the pumps in a water pumping station, like it is alleged Russian hackers did in IL late last year.

One researcher recently reported that in the last few years, his count of known internet connected and vulnerable devices has increased from 7,500 to 40,000 units.  Who knows how many the actual true total count may be.

This is not a war we’re winning – it is a war we’re setting ourselves up to spectacularly and suddenly lose.  Here’s a sanitized recent BBC Radio report on the matter that doesn’t go nearly far enough in terms of exploring the vulnerabilities caused by these online systems.

Our biggest vulnerability isn’t merely from bored teenage hackers.  It is from unfriendly countries and government sponsored hacking attacks.  Here’s a recent example of the Chinese getting restless and testing our satellites for vulnerabilities – and finding them, too.

Update, a Week Later :  When we wrote this, we were reporting on an article that indicated how 40,000 computer control systems have been found, accessible via the internet.  That’s – for sure – a lot.  But less than a week later, a new story has come out, that discloses the existence of another 11+ million connected computer controllers, and with known security vulnerabilities.  Oooops!  Click the link in the preceding sentence for more on this.