Aug 312012

Imagine this scene, repeated a million times across the country, all within five minutes. Here’s how it could happen.

Let’s mix together a couple of known vulnerabilities and see what might happen.

The first known vulnerability is the ‘just in time’ system whereby no supermarkets or pretty much any other business keeps a reserve stock of goods, relying instead on deliveries timed to arrive just as stocks are about to run out.  This is very dependent on the smooth predictable operating of our transportation system.  Ordering new supplies of a product that are three trucking days away involves the assumption/expectation that the trucks will indeed cover the journey in the three days anticipated.

The second known vulnerability is for viruses to infect computers and other computer controlled devices.  We’ve written about this several times – you can see a list of relevant articles about the vulnerabilities in computers and control systems here.

Now, let’s join these two risks together.  Did you know that just about all modern cars and trucks are computer controlled?  A modern vehicle has a dozen or more computer subsystems within it, controlling just about everything the vehicle can do.  These days, even the gas pedal isn’t an ‘analog’ control device such as it used to be.  In the past, when you stomped on the gas pedal, a series of link rods or a cable transferred your movement of the gas pedal to eventually a movement in the carburetor valves, increasing the flow of the fuel/air mix into the engine proportional to your gas pedal movement.  Sure, the cable could break, the link rods could stick, but there’s no way that some other person, in another country, could do something to interfere with your car (and everyone else’s car simultaneously) to stop it accelerating when needed.

But these days when you move your gas pedal, a rheostat sends an electrical signal from the gas pedal to the engine management computer.  The engine management computer interprets that signal and decides what to do in response.

We sometimes now have situations involving mysterious things like unintended acceleration.  The real cause of these is hard to establish, but one of the factors that is a possibility is a glitch in the programming that runs the engine management computers and how they interpret and respond to things in different scenarios.  We all know there’s no such thing as bug-free software, after all.

But let’s move beyond that to a less benign thing.  What say hackers deliberately infected the engine management computers of as many vehicles as they could, loading in a secret bit of code that would instruct the vehicles to maybe simply just die at a specific time.  More malignantly, they could instruct the vehicles to switch to full throttle acceleration at that time, and also make the vehicles ignore any attempts to kill the engine by turning off the ignition switch.  Depending on the sophistication of your vehicle, it might also be able to interfere with your attempts to brake, and it might even lock all the doors and roll up the windows, trapping you inside.

Such a sequence of events would either destroy the vehicle engine or the vehicle entirely, and possibly both.  It wouldn’t be very good for the people in the vehicle at the time, either!

How could this be done?  How could a hacker in, for example, Bulgaria or Turkey or anywhere somehow load a virus into your car, and into many millions of others, too?  Unfortunately, that isn’t as impossible as you might think.  Sure, your car is probably not connected to the internet.  But it regularly connects to devices which are connected to the internet, such as diagnosis computers when you take your car in for servicing.  You probably don’t realize that many times, part of a routine servicing will be uploading new patches and fixes to your car’s computer systems.  If the hacker has managed to get into the General Motors (or any other manufacturer’s) system and infect that with his virus, it will get transferred to your car as part of the update.

Alternatively, another way into your car is to infect the computer programs that run the diagnostic machines.  If the hackers can’t get into the auto manufacturers’ computer systems, maybe they can instead get into the diagnostic machines and attack your car that way.

There are lots of other ways to achieve the same objective, even loading bogus software onto a CD or DVD that powers your sat-nav system, or which simply runs in your car-stereo might do the job.

Let’s say the hackers do succeed in getting some virus code into several of the major car manufacturers vehicle lines.  Then they just program the code so that it will simultaneously fail all the vehicles at very close to the same time.  One minute, traffic is flowing smoothly across the nation, then over the course of ten minutes or so, cars and trucks start careering wildly across freeway lanes, running off roads, having multiple vehicle collisions, and blocking major freeways and arterials with the wreckage caused.

How long would it take to clear the roads – remember that the vehicles used for road clearing may be affected and inoperable too?  How long would it take to replace the disabled vehicles – either their control systems or the vehicles entirely?

There’s just not the inventory of spare vehicles or spare computer controls ready to be deployed.  Sure, we’d all rush to the nearest second-hand car dealer to get a replacement, but many of these vehicles will also be infected, and there isn’t enough inventory of second-hand cars (and, more importantly, second-hand trucks) available to quickly resupply our needs.

How long would it take to urgently build millions more control computers?  That could be somewhere between months and years.

And that three day delivery time for fresh food?  That ain’t gonna happen, is it.  Not in three days.  Not even in three weeks, and even three months is probably way too optimistic a hope.

Such a scenario is far from impossible to put together and create, and even if it only disabled one half or one third of all the vehicles out there, the effects would be much greater than a one half or one third diminution from normal.

Let’s also remember that emergency service vehicles would also be disabled.  As soon as rioting breaks out (which it inevitably would) neither the police nor fire services will be able to adequately respond.

And next time a power line goes down, will the utility company’s truck be working to go repair it?  Will it even be able to get there due to stalled vehicles blocking the road.

Sure, some food supplies could be air freighted around the country – but think through the entire process involved there.  The food and other essential goods would first have to be taken from where they were grown or made and trucked to the airport – how’s that going to happen?  Then, upon arriving at their destination, they still have 10 – 100 miles from the airport to wherever they ultimately need to get to.  So that’s not going to be an adequate or effective solution.

Let’s say that freight capabilities drop by two thirds.  What would you do if you could only get one third the food you need?  And what will your neighbors do?  Don’t say ‘we’ll live off the food in the freezer’ because the power might fail, and with tankers not being able to deliver adequate fuel to your local gas station, your generator has a problem too.


People often like to ask us ‘So what all are you worried about?’ and it isn’t always an easy question to answer, because the short answer is ‘everything’ – a response which sounds foolish to someone how hasn’t really thought through the terrible vulnerabilities that are rife in our current system and society.

We know about and can list the ‘big’ deals that could destroy our society in a flash (literally in the case of nuclear war, figuratively in other cases) but the thing is the list of risks is very open-ended, and it doesn’t just include the things we can easily think of.  It includes all sorts of other things too – things we can’t conveniently think of today.  (Maybe just point them to our entire vulnerabilities section.)

A hostile nation hacking the vehicle management computers of our nation’s vehicles, and then commanding them all to fail at the same time is a viable attack that could be conducted, and a great example of a risk that few people ever stop to consider.  How many other obscure risks are also out there?  Ten?  A hundred?  A thousand?  It is anyone’s guess, with the short answer being ‘too many’.  Prepping is essential.

This article takes a positive approach to the challenge – it tells us how Intel (and others) are trying their hardest to close vulnerabilities and make it harder to get viruses into cars.  But if they succeed in making a virus-proof computer, that would be one for the record-books – to date every virus-proof computer has always been proven to be vulnerable.

This is another reason why, in choosing bug-out vehicles, we need to favor vehicles that are as low-tech as possible.

Sure, all the modern computerization does wonderful things for our vehicles, their fuel economy and reliability, and everything else.  But they add new risks and wild-cards, and make it harder for us to manage and maintain our vehicles, by ourselves (in an emergency).  They force us to become more reliant on uncontrolled and uncontrollable third-party sources of support, which is the exact opposite of what we seek to do as prudent preppers.

Aug 292012

Sometimes a motorbike will get you to your retreat more certainly than a car. And sometimes, not.

If you are as fortunate as to have a retreat location somewhere, one of your concerns is how you might get there at a time when everyone else is leaving the urban region you normally live in, too.  If you don’t already have a retreat, one of the factors that will influence where you choose to buy/build/join one will be how practical it will be for you to ‘bug out’ (also termed GOOD – Get Out Of Dodge) to your retreat WTSHTF.

Happily we generally predict that you will not encounter a terribly congested crush of people all rushing to leave your city at the same time, for the simple fact that people won’t all simultaneously choose to evacuate, and even once they’ve chosen to do so, they’ll take varying amounts of time to get prepared, into their vehicle, and to start driving.  If you act swiftly, you’ll have anywhere from an hour to a week of head start over the main crushing exodus of people.  We discuss this in detail in our article ‘Bugging Out – Easy or Hard?’.

None the less, you didn’t become a prudent prepper by only hoping for the best.  You are a prudent prepper because you consider less than optimum conditions and outcomes, and for sure, one of these would be traffic congestion that interferes with your ability to conveniently get where you need to be.

For example, if for whatever reason you end up delaying your own departure until the crowds have all started to leave, you can be sure to expect all the roads away from the center of the urban area will be clogged full of traffic, no matter where the roads go to.

The main roads out will be clogged by people heading for the major highways.  The secondary and tertiary roads will be clogged by people thinking themselves to be clever and avoiding the primary routes, but they’ll almost certainly find traffic just as bad on the secondary/tertiary roads as on the major routes.

Unless you follow our earlier advice and consider a (float) plane as a bug-out vehicle, you’ll be stuck in the same ‘parking lot’ traffic as everyone else.  Not only will this be frustrating, but it will be dangerous too.  What will people who are fleeing for their lives do when their own car runs out of gas?  What will they do when the nighttime temperatures drop way low and they’re only in shirtsleeves?  What will they do when they are hungry and thirsty?  And there you are, stalled on the road right next to them?  Or perhaps, there you are, driving slowly past the stalled traffic, a tempting target for people who have had their own transportation fail.

Furthermore, what will happen to the traffic as cars gradually run out of gas while stopped in the center lane of traffic.  Stalled vehicles – even if pushed to the sides of the road – will further block traffic and make the process even worse.

People have come up with all sorts of imaginative alternatives to using the regular family car, or even a seemingly more capable 4WD vehicle.  But few of them are practical, depending also on the weather, the terrain, and the distance you must travel.  Assuming a worst case for weather, and hoping you’re putting at least 100 miles between you and the urban area you formerly lived in, and you’ll know yourself about the terrain issues you’ll encounter along the route, it is probably the case that for most of us, walking or pedaling are not going to be appealing or feasible solutions.

SUVs and 4WDs

Many people believe they can best ensure successfully bugging out to their retreat by using a SUV/4WD vehicle.

Let’s quickly consider the popular myths about SUVs and 4WDs.  They are not go-anywhere and go-everywhere vehicles.  They’ll get bottomed out in soft snow.  They’ll slip on the ice.  They’ll get stuck in mud.  They can only travel through a foot or two’s depth of water.  They can only climb over a certain limited height of obstacles on the ground (probably less than 10″ – even a Hummer H1 only gets 16″), and they need sufficient width of clear track to drive on (seven feet, plus or minus a bit – try finding that in the bush or forest).

Most of the time, they can’t drive through fences or even knock down fence posts and gates.

Some type of 4WD/SUV can be helpful if you need to make brief excursions off the sealed road such as driving on the shoulder around a crush of stalled cars, but for true off-roading, forget it.  You need some sort of specialty vehicle, and even if it has good traction, it still needs substantial width and clearance to get around obstacles, between trees, over boulders, and so on.  Even the mighty M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank can be stopped by a tank-trap.

But there is a vehicle that suffers from very few of these constraints, and costs very much less than an M1 – less even than a well used 4WD.

Motorcycles as a Bug-out Solution

And so, after all that build up, our suggestion.  How about using a motorcycle.

The obvious downsides to a motorbike are the limitation on the stuff you can bring with you, and your exposure to the elements (and possibly to hostile nearby citizens too).

But there are two huge upsides.  The first is the ability to get through stalled vehicular traffic.  The second is to engage in some reasonably extensive off-roading if there is no easy way to get where you need to go via regular surface streets and routes.

In this first part of our series on motorbikes, we look at some of the key things to consider.  Subsequently we’ll look at some innovative ways to make motorbikes more practical and useful.


You don’t need nearly as powerful a bike as you may think you need.  You’re not going to be wanting to set any speed records while bugging out (and you’ll probably not need to worry about being chased as part of the process).  Getting a more powerful bike does not mean you are getting a more reliable or useful bike – in fact, it means quite the opposite.

A more powerful bike will have a bigger engine, which means it will be a heavier bike.  If the bike falls over, it will be harder to pick up.  If you’re having to man-handle the bike to maneuver over and around obstacles, this will be more difficult.

A more powerful bike probably has more cylinders, and from our perspective, added cylinders don’t add to a vehicle’s redundancy and make it more reliable, they add to the vehicle’s complexity and make it more likely to have a maintenance issue at the very wrong time.

More powerful bikes might need a reverse gear (another complication) and an electric starter (another complication).  Oh, they’ll also cost you more money, too.

The more powerful bike will probably also have lower fuel economy, which leads to the next consideration.


This can be a constraining issue with a motorbike.  Whereas with a car or truck, you can load up the vehicle with extra fuel and not greatly impact on the vehicle’s driveability, it is harder to add extra petrol tanks to a motorbike.

Assuming you have a smaller sized bike and moderate sized engine, you can realistically expect, after exercising a bit of care in model selection, to find a bike giving you 40 – 65 mpg.  Some give even better performance, including, strangely enough, the classic old British Royal Enfields (now made in India) which offer about 80 mpg.

Four-stroke bikes are more economical than two-stroke bikes.

The second issue that determines your bike’s range is how many gallons of gas does its tank hold?  Many bikes seem to hold something like 2.5 gallons or so; some bikes will hold as little as a gallon, and larger bikes will hold 4 – 5 gallons.

It is usually possible to have the standard tank on motorbikes with small takes replaced with a larger sized tank, which will typically increase its capacity up to 4.5 – 5 gallons.  And if you wanted to pay for a custom designed tank, you can probably increase this capacity even further.  A gallon of gas takes up 231 cubic inches – think of a cube measuring 6″ on each side, and that holds about a gallon inside it.  So even adding just an inch or so in some of the dimensions of the gas tank can have a significant impact on its capacity.  Another way to think of a gallon is to think of the large 2L bottles of soda or water in supermarkets – they are almost exactly half a gallon.

You can of course carry external extra tanks of gas, either in a backpack or attached to the bike in some appropriate form.  A gallon of gas weighs just over 6lbs (plus container weight); so a 15 lb container will hold about 2 gallons of gas.  Carrying 2 – 4 gallons of extra gas with you is neither too bulky nor too heavy, although of course, if you are carrying extra petrol, you probably should transfer it into the bike’s tank at the first opportunity so as to unburden yourself from the extra bulk and weight of carrying it.

So, with 4.5 gallons or more in the bike’s tank to start, and another say 4 gallons in additional fuel carried with you, you’ve conveniently got 8.5 gallons of gas, which at somewhere from 40 – 80 mpg will get you 300 – 650 miles.  In theory.

But note that, for most bikes, the fuel economy figures assume driving down the highway, at a nice constant untroubled 50 – 60 mph or so.  Struggling up hillsides in first gear will get you massively less economy than cruising on the seal.  Being jammed in stop and go traffic (not such an issue on a bike) will also drop your economy appreciably.  In the case of a bike, you’ll not be so much stuck in the stop and go traffic as very carefully driving between cars at maybe 10 – 20 mph, and that’s usually a less economical speed than at 40+ mph.

So you’ll need to adjust your theoretical perfect fuel economy and range for the reality of what you think it will take for you to get where you need to go.

Which leads to the next point.

How Far to Cover in a Day

Driving a motorbike is much more physically stressful than driving a car.  In a car you are in a comfortable air-conditioned and quiet vehicle, you’ve no wind or rain blowing in your face, few bumps, and you can turn up the stereo and relax away the miles for a full day.

On a bike you’re experiencing some degree of discomfort at the best of times, exacerbated by the wind pushing back at you, flying things getting in your face, mouth, eyes and everywhere, possibly rain and mud, loud noises, and temperatures that are inevitably too hot or too cold.

You’re also working much harder mentally as well as physically.  On a bike, you become magically semi-invisible to regular motorists, and you need to always be in a heightened state of alertness, ready for the cars around you to do incredibly dangerous things because they just didn’t notice you.  The motorcyclist’s mantra is that ‘On a bike, you pay for other people’s mistakes’.

If we further assume that you’re riding your bike in otherwise stalled traffic, you’re going to be slowly passing between stalled vehicles, terrified of doors suddenly opening in front of you (either by accident or deliberately by jealous frustrated annoyed motorists who hate to see someone else enjoying more success leaving the city than they are).  When you’re not doing that, you might be doing some uncomfortable, difficult and physically stressful off-roading to detour around impassable or dangerous groups of cars.

So you can’t go nearly as far as you think you can in a day when riding a bike.  Even in the most optimum of conditions, you should plan on riding less distance than you’d drive ‘normally’.  In a G.O.O.D. situation, perhaps you might find that 200 – 300 miles a day is close to realistic.

If your retreat is 400 miles away, we’d probably encourage you to try to get all the way there in a single day, depending on time of year/weather/traffic.  But if it is 500 miles away, you may need to plan on spending a night somewhere – even out in the open – as part of your journey.  Such a consideration has suddenly massively increased the inconvenience of traveling by motorbike, if you need to carry with you not only extra fuel but also equipment to camp out overnight, too.

On the other hand, see your glass as half full, not half empty!  You’re using a bike rather than car because a car might not be able to make it at all.  At least the motorbike will get you where you need to go, whereas the car might fail totally.

Note – the preceding comments are generalities.  You should adapt them to reflect the reality of the driving conditions you anticipate experiencing.  If you have a couple of difficult mountain passes to cross, and if you have several major cities you’ll have to drive through on the way, then by all means low-ball your daily driving.  If it is mid-winter with snow, drop your estimate still further (see our discussion on weather in part 2 of this series).  But if you expect to be racing along nearly empty and flat straight warm desert roads, then you can push out the amount of driving you will do to a much greater distance.


This is the first part of what will be a three part series.  You should read on to parts two and three (when published) to get further advice and suggestions as to how to plan to use a motorbike (or motorbikes) as part or all of your bugging-out strategy.

Aug 272012

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

Many preppers love to boast about their Opsec.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.  Do You Still Have a Defensive Posture

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

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

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

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

4.  Who Are Your Neighbors

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fighting Against the Inevitable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Aug 272012

Your foreign language skills – or interpreter – may end up as being literally a life or death choice.

In thinking about possible international bug-out locations, an obvious variable is the degree to which a foreign location is filled with English speakers (or not!), and the degree to which we might already be or could become proficient at the language of the destination we are considering.

We in the US are either blessed or cursed by being born speaking English.  English is not the most common mother tongue in the world – it is actually the third – Mandarin/Chinese is of course the first, and Spanish is second.  After English in third place, there is Hindi (India) and Arabic to round out the top five.

But when you factor in the number of people who speak English as a second language, English starts to catch up with Mandarin and may even overtake it.  Some studies suggest a total of about 1.15 billion Mandarin speakers (first or second language) and about 1 billion English speakers; we feel this probably understates both languages and the number of people who can speak them to some degree or another.  There are over 1.3 billion people in China, and while not all of them speak Mandarin as their first language, many speak it as a second language to some degree or another.  And as for the number of people who speak English, that is a very definitional thing.  In addition to the mother tongue countries, there is almost all of Europe who speaks it as a second language, then countries like the Philippines where it is an official language, India where it is widespread, and so on around the world.  It is easy to add up more than a billion English speakers.

There’s another element to the importance of English.  While there might be more Chinese speakers in the world as a whole, most of them are in China.  But English speakers can be found in just about every country in the world (including an official 10 million in China too, but the generally accepted number of Chinese who either speak it well, poorly, or are currently learning it is believed to be more like 300 million).  Although other countries have been keen to have their language become the international ‘lingua franca’ the reality is that English is unassailably the dominant second language that people learn if they want to be most likely to be understood everywhere in the world.

Learning Other Languages

The bottom line is that due to the prevalence of English all around the world, we as Americans have seldom felt the need to learn a second or third language, and if we as adults are now to start learning a second language for the first time, we will find it very difficult.  Language learning ability is something that drops off steeply as people age, and if you’ve never learned a second language before, you’ll find it difficult to do so as an adult.

In other words, we suggest it is very beneficial to consider primarily countries that have a good level of English spoken in them; and/or if not so good, you absolutely must start learning the foreign language now.  We’ve found the Pimsleur language tapes and CDs to be the best way for us, but you need to go through all three levels (a total of 90 lessons) to have even a basic level of ability.

You might want to try one of the short, sampler versions of a Pimsleur language to see how easy they make it.  They are not very expensive (usually under $30) and give you a good feeling for their style of natural learning.

Beyond the Pimsleur system, you also need to start reading (and ideally writing) in the foreign language, and also listening to the foreign language and learning to recognize the words as much as possible.

There are any number of easy ways to start reading a foreign language – just go to the internet and start browsing websites from the country in question, in their own language, for example.

As for listening to the foreign language, we recommend getting DVDs of movies from that country that have subtitles in English.  The subtitles won’t necessarily be a perfect one to one translation of what is being said, but it will help you during the course of multiple playings to get the sense of most of the words.

It is important to regularly practice your developing language skills so as to shift what you are learning from your short-term memory into your long-term memory.  If you don’t do this, you’ll be forgetting stuff as fast as you learn it.

Some people recommend a full-immersion approach.  Go to the foreign country and just start speaking the language.  If you are adventurous and willing to make lots of mistakes, this could work.  But we’ve found, when traveling to countries where we speak only a little of the local language that sometimes our language skills drop off while we’re in country!  The reason for this unusual outcome is that the locals all want to speak to us in English to practice their English, and when we use their local language, we of course only use the words we know and are comfortable with, and so aren’t really extending or developing our vocabulary and skills at all.

Some people also advocate getting a native speaker to help you learn the language.  We think this is a bad idea.  The reason we make this unintuitive comment is because native speakers of a language have never formally been taught how to speak the language – they’ve just grown up, learning the language ‘organically’.  So when it comes to teaching someone how to speak, they have no experience in learning the language the way we would learn it, and so can’t do as effective a job at helping us learn it other than as an infant.  It is better to have a professional teacher, whether they be a native speaker or not, teach you.  The key thing is to find a person skilled in the methodology of teaching the language – this is more important than a person who is 100% fluent.

Some languages are easier or harder to learn than others – if you have a choice of where you go, you would be well advised to give preference to countries with easier to learn languages.  Here are some of the issues to consider in judging if a language is easy or hard.

Unfamiliar Alphabets Add to the Difficulty

Are we stating the obvious by pointing out that not all other languages use the same 26 letters that we do?  The good news of course is with languages that use fewer than our 26, and it is also acceptable for languages that add a few accents over some selected letters.  At least if the basic letters are the same, they are familiar and easy for us to instantly recognize, even if we have to give them different sounds.

But how about languages with totally different letters?  Not just ones which look the same, albeit slightly different (ie Greek and Russian) but ones which look totally utterly different such as Arabic and Hindi?  Languages that go from right to left, or vertically, rather than from left to right?

That makes things much harder to learn.

Furthermore, when we learn one word, we get clues from the word as to what other similar words might mean, because they have the same ‘root’ components.  For example, in English, if you know the word ‘build’ you can maybe guess at the word ‘builder’ or ‘building’.  It is the same sort of concept in most other languages too.  Once you know some words, you can guess at the meaning of other words.

But wait – there’s more.  At least most other foreign languages use the same concept as we do with English – they use words which are made up of letters, just different shaped letters.  How about languages such as Japanese and Chinese that instead use a different character for each word?  Instead of learning just a foreign alphabet of 20 – 40 letters and how to pronounce their words based on the letters contained within them, you need to learn thousands of different pictures, one for each word, and you have no real clue from the picture as to the word’s meaning or its pronunciation.

That massively complicates the learning process.

Unfamiliar Grammatical Concepts

In some respects (but not all!) English is easy for non-English speakers to learn, perhaps because it has been formed, over the years, from a combination of many elements of many other languages, becoming a sort of ‘lowest common denominator’ for many of them.  It seems the more that a language ‘evolves’ the simpler, rather than the more complicated, it becomes.

As a result, English no longer has some of the more complicated aspects of grammar and syntax which other languages still have.  For example, our nouns do not have a sense of gender, unlike almost all other languages.  In most other languages, all nouns have a gender – for example, the word for building might be a masculine word, but the word for garage might be feminine.  There is no consistency or easy way of guessing whether a word should be male or female.

It is necessary to match the gender of the noun to related adjectives and verbs.

To make things more complex, some languages have three genders – masculine, feminine and neuter.

You are familiar with the concept of singular and plural, but some languages have two forms of plural – one form for a few more than one, and a second form for many more than a few.

Then there is the concept of tenses.  In this respect, English is actually more complicated than many other languages, with many different tenses, but the concept of tenses in other languages is something to be wrestled with as it is not always intuitive or structured the same as in English.

A much bigger deal though is the concept of the ‘sense’ of a noun.  At least with tenses, we understand the difference between the past and future tense, a perfect or an imperfect tense.  But our nouns are usually unchanging, no matter how they are used in a sentence.  We build the meaning of a sentence based on the word order.

For example, the two clauses ‘John shot Bill’ and ‘Bill shot John’ clearly mean very different things, and we know who was shot based on the order of the words.  If we want to say the name of the person shot first, and the name of the shooter second, we have to add extra words – ‘John shot Bill’ and ‘John was shot by Bill’ give us the two meanings without changing the names of the two people.

But most other languages are less focused on the order of the words, and instead add different endings to the nouns to indicate their role.  For example, the ending ‘-a’ might mean ‘this is the person who is doing something’ and the ending ‘-en’ might mean ‘this is the person who had something done to them.  So, in that case, you could say ‘Johna shot Billen’ and ‘Johnen shot Billa’ and you know in each case who did the shooting and who was shot, by the endings rather than by the word order.

The example we just gave is a very simple example.  There can be as many as six different senses for nouns (well, actually, some languages such as Finnish have a dozen or more!), and different endings not only for each different sense (they are officially known as ‘cases’) but also for if the noun is masculine, feminine, or neuter, and also for if it is singular, slightly plural, or very plural.  How many different possible endings is that for a noun?  The answer is ‘Way too many’ and with us not having an instinctive sense of such things, it can get terribly confusing.

Oh – if you do end up needing to wrestle with cases and noun endings, here’s a trick.  Speak the first part of the noun clearly, and then just mutter the ending.  Many native speakers will automatically ‘hear’ what you said as if you said it correctly.  And, in using this trick, you’ll be doing the same thing that many of the locals do, too – even they often have difficulty with matching endings and cases for nouns.


There are two elements to pronunciation.  The first is whether the foreign language uses similar sounds in similar ways to English or not.

Many do, but some are very different.  Some languages place great importance on the stress in each word, others less so.  And some languages not only have basic pronunciation issues, but also pitch issues too – rising tones, falling tones, steady tones, and so on (eg Mandarin).

Clearly, the easier a language is in its sounds to English, the easier it will be to speak it clearly and be understood by the locals.

The other element of pronunciation is whether you can guess at how a word is pronounced by simply seeing it written down.  Some languages are excellent at being ‘self pronouncing’ and you can usually work out how to say the word simply by seeing it written.  This is actually one of the huge problems for people learning English – due to the mixed roots of English, there is no rhyme nor reason to how English words are pronounced, with the much-loved example being the made up word ‘ghoti’ – how would you pronounce that word?  There are of course lots of answers, but the one which confounds people is when you say ‘Well, actually, you could also pronounce it as “fish”‘!

A self pronouncing language is much easier to learn.

A slightly related point is that of dialects.  If you are learning a self-pronouncing language, it probably has less of a range of dialects, due to the self-pronouncing rules more or less forcing people to say words the same way.  But if it is a more free-form language, be sure you are learning an appropriate dialect, and that you can also understand other dialects you might encounter.  (This is another challenge for English students – imagine trying to learn how to understand someone from the Deep South and also someone from the Scottish Highlands both as part of one single language.)

Translation Programs, Dictionaries, etc

These days there are amazingly clever translation programs, available either as computer programs or as internet based applications (most notably Google Translate) that will translate not just single words but entire sentences and paragraphs and complete documents from one of many different languages and to another of many different languages.

But as good as these programs and automatic ‘machine translators’ are, they are far from perfect, and while much of what they translate reads clearly and appropriately, if you start to use special terms, words, and phrases, they may colossally fail.  If you are translating from a foreign language to your own language, you’ll usually notice the failures when they occur, but if you are translating in the opposite direction, you’ll have no idea if what you are ending up with is sensible or nonsense.

Furthermore, these programs increasingly rely on the internet and distributed/cloud computing.  In an EOTWAWKI scenario, such resources will probably be absent – and might not be available to you while on the street in a foreign city, even now.

These services can help, but they will not make you self-sufficient.  They might help with emergencies and when you have time to read and write replies, but they are no good for interactive conversations, real-time, face to face.

Subtle Problems as well as Obvious Problems if You Don’t Speak the Local Language

As you may have realized from your own possible impressions in the past when reacting to a foreigner who can’t speak English here, when a person is confronted with someone who doesn’t know the local language, there is more a feeling of alienation and a temptation to view the person as stupid, just because they can’t speak the language well, rather than a feeling of sympathy and support and admiration for the fact they can at least speak a few words of English.

You may have also felt frustrated and annoyed – ‘Why can’t this guy speak better English, and understand what I say?’ you might think.  ‘He has come to my country and is trying to deal with me, why is he so lazy/stupid as to not speak better English?’

Assuming such people are stupid is almost always a very incorrect assumption to make, but human nature being what it is, you would suffer it yourself if you went somewhere where you were not able to speak the language well.

Furthermore, it is not only harder to integrate into a foreign culture and society without speaking their language, but by not so integrating, you stamp yourself as ‘one of them’ rather than ‘one of us’, causing you to be much more the focus of exploitation and rip-off schemes.

The more disadvantaged the country to start with, the more you will be spotted as a target for exploitation.  If you can at least speak the local language, you’ll neutralize some of that prejudice/opportunism, and you’ll also be better keyed in to what is happening around you.  It has happened to us – particularly in the US but also in other countries, where people within earshot assume we’d not understand what they are saying (in some foreign language), and so they have spoken about us, in front of us, and it has amused us greatly to understand what they are saying.  Whether or not we choose to reveal our comprehension depends on the situation – sometimes it can be good to pretend to be ignorant.

There are also safety and related issues.  For example, if you are about to take a train from one station to the other, and hear an announcement over the PA system but don’t understand what it said, and then notice people starting to leave the platform, you wonder ‘Was that announcement telling us the train would be delayed, or cancelled, or shifted to another platform, or that there’s a bomb scare, or what???’.  Such puzzlements and frustrations happen a dozen times every day when you’re in a foreign country and not speaking its language.

You are also reliant on translators/interpreters to help you in your business and life interactions.  Quite apart from the cost of hiring such people, it is a difficult situation to be in – on the one hand, your ability to understand nuances and to finesse negotiations will be totally destroyed and lacking, and on the other hand, you may find that ‘your’ interpreter gangs up on you and allies him/herself with the other side in negotiations.

Problems with Interpreters

From our own experiences traveling, doing business, and living in very foreign countries where English is little spoken, we’ve sometimes found ourselves trapped with interpreters that would do the classic thing of first the other person would speak for several minutes in the foreign language, then the interpreter would briefly chat with them in the foreign language, then after all of that, the interpreter would say to us a single sentence.  What was everything else the other person said?  We had no way of knowing.  Knowing that we were getting a very filtered and summary-only version of what the other person was telling us would be a great frustration.

The exact opposite can also happen.  We’d rattle off a very eloquent commentary and then pause for the translator/interpreter to repeat it in the foreign language, only to hear our minute or two of monolog reduced to half a dozen brief words.  We’d say ‘We are very pleased to accept your much valued order for 1,000 of our finest quality widgets.  Unfortunately, due to the massive growth in global interest in our widgets, our production lead times are extending, and we would have difficulty meeting the delivery schedule you are requesting.  Can we possibly extend the leadtime to get our product to you by an extra few weeks?’.  The interpreter would translate ‘They can’t produce them for you.  You will have to wait.’

What happened to our eloquence, our flowery statements, and everything else?  All thrown out the window by a lazy interpreter.

Or else, we’ve had interpreters who were almost impossible for us to understand.  We couldn’t tell if the other person was saying ‘Yes, I love your deal’ to us or ‘No, I’m insulted by your low-ball offer’.  Truly.  We went through several negotiations with no idea if we were agreeing or disagreeing, and what it was we were or were not reaching agreement about.

The next problem is when the person you are wanting to negotiate with says to your interpreter, in their shared native language ‘Look, you and I are both (whatever nationality); we need to help ourselves.  That guy is a wealthy American, help me to get a good deal from him’.  And before you know where you are, the interpreter is actually working for the other person rather than for you, either out of a sense of national solidarity, or to protect their future opportunities translating for the company, or as a result of an out-and-out bribe.  As well as passing on your official comments, the interpreter will also be saying things like ‘I think he is prepared to pay more’ or whatever other helpful information they can.

We’ve also had interpreters who have simply refused to pass on our comments to the person we wanted them passed to.  When we have wanted to express something in strong terms, as one equal to the other, the interpreter, as a socially ‘inferior’ person, has not felt able to say the things to the other person that we wanted them to say on our behalf, because it might appear disrespectful.  So we might say ‘That is a ridiculous low offer, and outrageously unfair terms.  Unless you’re prepared to double your offer and give us a 50% deposit right now and the balance before we deliver, we’re ending the negotiation’.  The interpreter would say ‘My client appreciates your kind offer but wonders if you could slightly increase it and make a small deposit before my client ships you the goods’.  By the interpreter being submissive, you are judged to be weak and submissive too.

Which leads to a very important point.  You will be judged by your interpreter.  An incompetent interpreter, a poorly dressed one, or an interpreter with ‘image problems’ of any other sort will result in the other person attaching similar attributes to you, too.

The Spread of English

This Wikipedia page lists countries by the percentage and total number of English speakers.  We feel that in almost every case, their figures understate the level of English that is spoken – in part because the growth of English as a second language is increasing and these numbers are often five or even ten years out of date.  A lot has happened in that time (ie the growth of the internet where English still dominates).

So the information is pessimistic rather than optimistic.

On the other hand, you should also appreciate that within any given country, there are huge shifts in where and how common English-speaking ability is.  Typically the larger and more prosperous cities will have many more English speakers than the smaller and less prosperous country towns.  A country that boasts a 50% English-speaking rate might have 65% in its big cities but only 10% in its villages.  And/or it might have 90% of its school children speaking English, but only 10% of the adults you’ll be dealing with who can speak it.  Or possibly the level of English fluency to qualify as an English speaker might be very lax – you’ll find people who ostensibly can speak English, but who you can’t understand and who can’t understand you.

There’s another consideration to also keep in mind.  If a massive societal breakdown occurs in the US and possibly elsewhere in the predominantly English-speaking world, English might lose its primacy of place as the global language.  For countries that don’t yet have a clear commitment to supporting English as a second language, English could very quickly be discarded, and you might find yourself in a country that abandons English and instead turns to some other language more representative of the changed geo-political nature of the world in a Level 3 situation; or a country which simply becomes much more inward looking and gives up on all foreign language learning entirely.

Similar things have happened to us, for that matter, too.  Second language choices go in and out of fashion.  For a while, it was common to learn French, or German, or Russian, or Japanese.  Nowadays, it is more common to learn Spanish or Chinese.  Maybe in a decade, Arabic and Indian (Hindi) will be the new dominant languages – not just for us in the US, but for other people in other countries too.


Assuming you don’t already speak the native language, we suggest that the higher the incidence of English being spoken, the more suitable a foreign country may be as an international bug-out.

Not only is it much easier for you in such a case, but the greater the level of English that is spoken, then – as a very rough approximation – the more outward looking the society and the more ‘connected’ it is to the world in general and the less out of place you’ll seem.

However, you should also consider this as a first step only.  For true integration into another country and acceptance by its citizens, and to be able to live effectively and comfortably, it is essential that you learn the local language as quickly as possible.

There is another dimension to foreign languages.  Some are easier to learn than others.  If you are moving somewhere foreign, consider also how difficult it will be for you to learn the local language, because no matter how high the level of English may be that is spoken there, the better you can integrate yourself into the local society (ie by speaking their language) the more the local society will accept you as a member, and change from looking at you as a foreigner to be exploited and instead looking upon you protectively as ‘one of them’, if not by birth, at least by adoption.

Aug 242012

International migration is a long accepted concept. Could it be an option for you too WTSHTF?

When we are considering a retreat location, we are typically looking for somewhere that isn’t too impossibly distant from where we normally live.

There are obvious reasons why this makes sense, but there’s also one obvious drawback :  Whatever the event was that caused a collapse of society at our normal residence will probably be affecting our retreat as well.

So while our retreat gets us away from a dangerous and unlivable urban environment, and hopefully to somewhere where we can set about creating a low-tech sustainable self-contained lifestyle indefinitely into the future, we’re not actually escaping the loss of the previous benefits of civilization and returning to somewhere with water and electricity that works, and food that appears in the supermarkets every day.

Almost by definition, any event which causes a major collapse of society and its services in our region and which requires us to bug out, will be an event that is national in scope.  Regional disasters, like Hurricane Katrina for example, or a massive earthquake or whatever else, are quickly responded to by FEMA and volunteer organizations, and while there might be some lawlessness and unpleasantness for a short while, everyone knows that ‘the cavalry are coming’ and help will soon be at hand.  The rule of law will largely be intact and still observed by most ‘ordinary’ people.

But with a cataclysmic event, the country as a whole will be affected.  A multi-warhead nuclear exchange with another major nuclear power, an EMP attack, a collapse of our electricity grid (whether from ‘natural causes’ such as the sun or from terrorists) or a cyber attack destroying most of the nation’s control systems would be examples of this type of event.

However, most of these types of events, while affecting the US, are not global in scale.  Of course some could be global.  All out nuclear war might cause massive climate change, destroying the world’s ability to grow sufficient food for several seasons; similarly an asteroid strike could also modify the weather for some time into the future.  A nuclear exchange could see both the US ravaged, and other parts of the world too as we strike back, and as the aggressor nation takes out our allies as well as ourselves.  A major pandemic is likely to affect the entire world.

But while some events could be global in scale, many others might be ‘only’ regional, leaving much of the world untouched and unscathed.  In such cases, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to simply leave the affected region and move to somewhere unaffected by the problems we were leaving behind, and resume a reasonably normal and comfortable lifestyle, complete with flush toilets, television, and all the other fruits of modern civilization?

An option to bug out to another country accordingly has a lot going for it – at least on the face of it.  But, in reality, it may not be as easy as we’d hope if the time should come.

An International Bug Out Option Should Not be Your Only Option

Considering the comments in the preceding several paragraphs, it should already be clear to you that while there may be some scenarios where it makes good sense to relocate internationally (if at all possible) there are also many other scenarios where such a move would simply be a transition from the frying pan to the fire.  There are also many scenarios where your attempts to extract yourself from your current location and travel to a far away destination may not be feasible.

So, in case it isn’t already obvious, our point is simply this :  Relocating internationally should not be your only developed option for responding to a Level 2/3 crisis.  It should be a supplemental option, developed only after you already have a closer retreat created and able to support you if needed.

Specific Issues, Locations and Considerations

Please visit other parts of our series on international bugging out (currently being developed) for further articles on specific countries to potentially bug out to, and the considerations and constraints you would face when considering an international bug-out strategy.

Aug 232012

Many people will want to join your retreat community. You need a strategy for how to selectively respond positively to the opportunities some of these people represent and how to absorb them at low risk.

The chances are that from time to time, you will have people approach and ask to join your community, and they will be good people who you’d like to be associated with, but the space and capacity constraints of your present retreat will be such that you simply can’t fit more people in.

Some of these people might be known to you – people who, until now, have been mildly skeptical about your prepping, and perhaps also people who have said ‘I don’t need to prepare, because if something goes wrong, I’ll simply come to you’.  Others might be members of what we term the ‘third wave’ of refugees.

There is of course a degree of risk and uncertainty at opening up your retreat to total strangers.  History is full of examples of people charitably and hospitably welcoming strangers into their homes, only to have the strangers attack them when their guard was down (see for example the Campbells massacring the McDonalds at Glencoe in Scotland, 1692).

In a previous article about accepting more people into your community after TSHTF we concluded

Of course, prior to TSHTF, you also need to exercise a modicum of discretion as to who you allow to join your community, but while you are building your community during normal times, one of the greatest considerations will probably be to simply grow your community as much as possible due to the three benefits of strength in numbers, economy of scale, and diversification of risk.  [We italicize the key part now, not in the original article.]

This is very true.  But what we did not consider in that earlier article was the best way of planning and preparing to add additional members into your community after TSHTF.

Happily, there are more ways to bring new people into your overall umbrella community than simply opening your doors wide and unreservedly welcoming them into your house and life right from the start.

Strategy One – Probationary Members

Here’s a suggestion.  Somewhere on your property, and moderately removed from your main retreat, build a fairly spartan shelter.  If you encounter people who seem to be worthy additions to your community, you can invite them to live in your guest shelter.  You can subsidize their energy and food needs for a season or so, by which time (and under your direction) they should have had ample opportunity to prove their value as hard-working and productive members of your community.  In other words, they first become probationary members of your community, and with less than full rights, and with less than full trust and risk required on your part.

If it transpires that, during the probationary period, the newcomers prove themselves to be worthy additions to your community, you can then help them build a more comfortable secondary retreat, releasing the shelter to accommodate the next group of potential community members.

This admission process also defuses some of the anger and stress of dealing with people who wish to join your community.  You no longer have just the one possible response – an apologetic or aggressive ‘No’ – you now have an impersonal process that allows people to apply for probationary status and to earn the right to become full community members.

Clearly there is a limit to the number of people you can have as probationary members at any time, both in terms of the number of extra people you can fit into your shelter and the number of extra people you can support, and also in terms of a relativity between the number of people in your main community and the number of probationers – you want to make sure that your core group remains larger in total number than your probationers so as not to tempt them with thoughts of taking over from you.

Diversity Issues

You also want some diversity in who you accept as probationers.  By this we don’t mean some sort of ‘affirmative action’ program that allows people who really don’t qualify, on their own merits otherwise, to join your community.  What we mean is that you don’t want to have a large group of people, with loyalties and affiliations among themselves, to join your community and then take it over and make it theirs.

Your initial core community may possibly be a diverse group of people from different backgrounds and places, and it could then risk being overwhelmed by a large unified block of newcomers who end up socially dominating the expanded group, or forming an alliance among themselves with a view to becoming the new power base in the larger overall community.  So you want to keep your new probationary members as small groups of people who have lesser ties to each other and who are keen to assimilate into your overall community.

There’s a historical example for that, too.  Do you really think the Indians who welcomed and helped the original US pilgrim settlers, and at that first Thanksgiving, ended up being pleased with the results of their hospitality, and benefitting from it?

Another example would be the difference between US immigrants 100+ years ago – people who came to the US and who were willing to accept the new values and language and social structure of the US, and some of the more modern groups of immigrants (many of them illegal) who strangely combine a desperate desire to live in our country with a hatred of our country and a desire to preserve their own ways.

Strategy Two – Separate Communities

These social concerns lead to the second potential response for when more people wish to join your established community.  Rather than making them probationary members of your community, with a view to their eventual integration into your community, why not designate an area of your present land and lease or tithe it to the newcomers.  You’ll help them establish a second independent community on the far corner of your land, in return for which you’ll receive a fair annual rent for your land.

You can also establish reciprocal trading relationships with this new community, reciprocal support agreements (if one of you have a bad crop, the other will help out until the next season) and of course, a mutual defense pact.  Your community will be strengthened by the presence of the other community, and it in turn will be strengthened by your community.

In this case, both communities benefit from having a healthy successful nearby second community, and you reasonably isolate yourself from any potential power struggles within the other community.  A group that might have been a troublesome faction within your community has now instead become a positive life-enhancing neighbor.

Plan Your Growth Strategy in Advance

In our earlier article, we spoke about preparing a set of guidelines and rules for who you’d add to your community well in advance, so your present community members understand the way their requests to add their friends and family will be fairly evaluated.

You also need to plan how you will be able to accept additional people into your community – whether as somewhat instant ‘full’ members as discussed in the earlier article, or on some sort of probationary or supplemental basis as suggested here.

You need to have somewhere for them to live, you need to have food for them to cover the time it will take from when they join until when they start to generate enough food to support themselves, and you need to have a plan for what you can do with such extra people, and the additional equipment and other resources needed to make best use of them.  You need to have additional land which can be cultivated or in other ways made productive, and of course, additional land for new people to build houses and settle on.

Of course, your first priority will always be ensuring the viability of the exact group you start with.  But, looking into the future, your viability is massively enhanced as your community grows, so you need a way to respond positively when people who would clearly add value to your community approach you and ask to join.

So, as you plan the initial design and scope for your retreat, be sure that it can be expanded and enhanced.

Aug 232012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Third Option

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plan to Incorporate the Local Community Into Your Future Survival Activities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use the Collapse of Current Laws Positively

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe the zoning restrictions on your land can be lifted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Major Social Change

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Aug 232012

The waves of refugees after TEOTWAWKI will be both heart-rending and dangerous.

Shortly after some type of disaster that disrupts the normal flow of food and energy into your nearby towns, people will be forced to leave their residences and fan out into the countryside, foraging for food (and subsequently shelter too).  That is obvious – if there is no food in the town/city, people can either stay where they are and die of thirst or starvation, or they can pro-actively start looking for food.

People will initially look for food on one of two different levels.  The first level is ‘looking for food nearby and returning back to one’s normal home to eat it and continue living’.  The second level is ‘abandoning one’s former residence and moving, as a refugee, towards wherever the possibility of ongoing survival may be greatest’.  A third and fourth type of food seeking will develop later into a crisis.

It is helpful to understand the differing types of contacts you’ll have, because each poses different challenges, problems, threats, and even opportunities, calling for different responses on your part.

And while we consider our four different waves to be more or less chronologically sequential, there will be some overlaps, with some people representing some waves either earlier than most others, or later than most others.

The First Wave

The first wave will start shortly after the social disruption occurs, initially as a trickle, and then successively greater and greater as more and more people run out of food and come to realize that the government won’t magically solve the problem that occurred.

It will only take a week or two before the first type of food-seeking necessarily ends, due to people running out of gas for their vehicles, and being reduced instead to only traveling and foraging as far as they can walk or bicycle (although, on flat terrain, fitter people could fairly easily cycle up to 50 miles out and then 50 miles back home again).

We predict that people in this ‘first wave’ won’t be very threatening, because they will be more in a hurry to cover as much ground as possible to find as much easy food as possible, rather than becoming fixated on specific potential targets.  Plus, the ‘kill or be killed’ reality of tough survival won’t yet have fully penetrated, and the region will have patches of remaining lawfulness alongside areas of growing anarchy.

Furthermore, these people are primarily seeking food only, not shelter.  They’ve not yet accepted that their city residences have become unviable and need to be abandoned.

Your tactic to resist problems from the first wave of food/shelter seekers will be to maintain a low profile, so most of such people pass you by, and to positively respond to people who do come visiting, encouraging them to go find easier targets/food sources elsewhere.

Of course, the further you are from the nearby towns and cities, the fewer the number of people who might stumble upon you.  But you’ll never be 100% guaranteed to be safely far from such itinerant scavengers.  Fortunately the danger they pose to your retreat at this early stage is low, so while your location choice will ideally not be right next to a freeway exit, a mere 10 miles from the city center, you don’t need to keep yourself hundreds of miles away from any and all population concentrations.

The Second Wave

As the first wave ends and is replaced by the second wave, people’s attitudes will be hardening, because their ability to travel far and wide is massively reduced.  They have probably used up most of their emergency food stores, and now, limited primarily by their ability to walk, any source of food becomes one they must take full advantage of.  They can no longer afford the luxury of leaving empty-handed, and their lack of mobility now reduces the number of places they can travel to in search of food.  They have to make the best of every possible opportunity.

The grim reality of the ‘eat or be eaten’ concept will also be one which the survivors can no longer ignore.

If these people come across your retreat, they are likely to be a stronger and more determined adversary than people in the first wave (and people in the second wave could well be the same people who visited more peaceably in the first wave, too).

Fortunately, most of these people in the second wave will still be nomadic and itinerant.  They’ll be traveling in the hope of finding a Shangri-La somewhere that is full of food, energy, and welcoming people keen to help them, and probably won’t yet be in the ‘looking for anywhere to settle’ mode that will come later.  They might hope for overnight shelter, but they’re not yet looking for a place to settle – or, if they are, they’re probably not yet realistic enough to appreciate the value of your retreat.

People will start abandoning their homes anytime after only a very few days of the crisis commencing and once they start to accept that no magic solutions are forthcoming.  This won’t only be due to the lack of food and lack of any future food supply, but may also be due to lack of water, lack of plumbing, and lack of energy in general.  A high-rise apartment with no water, no working elevators, and no lights or heating/cooling will quickly become uninhabitable, food or not.

The second wave will probably diminish after three or so weeks, because by that point, people will have either left the city, or died, or created some sort of semi-stable ongoing basis of existence in the city.

Your strategy during this exodus stage is to be located somewhere reasonably far from the main routes people are likely to travel along.  It is as important that you are off the likely refugee routes, whether you are 1 mile or 100 miles from the major population centers, because people will potentially be traveling long distances in their search for somewhere better to live.

People may fan out slightly from the main routes as they search for food en route, but they will generally follow the major arterial routes.

Major routes will tend to be well maintained highways, and generally we expect people will move to the coasts and south, rather than inland and to the north.  People will, either by reason or instinct, seek out warm climates and water/ocean.  The warm climate reduces their dependency on shelter and energy, and the ocean has the appeal of ‘free fish’ and also some type of instinctive deep-seated lure.

The Third Wave

The third wave will be refugees, the same as the second wave, but this time it will be people looking for somewhere to settle.

These will be people who are becoming more realistic in their expectations, and now rather than mindlessly going anywhere in the hope of finding (nonexistent) salvation, they are now looking for somewhere they can settle and survive for the medium or longer term.

Your appeal to these people is not just the food you have stored, but also your retreat as a whole, the under-way food cultivation, the energy creating resources you have, and everything else you have done to prepare yourselves for this future.

Some of these people will be seeking short-term easy solutions.  They’ll want to rob you of your food, your shelter, and everything else you have.  They have no concern for sustainability, they want to live for the moment, and when they’ve exhausted everything you have, they’ll move on to somewhere else.

Others of these people will be more realistic, but they’ll still want to displace you from your property and take it over.

There will also be a very few people who will be fair and honest and decent, and who will offer to work their way for and with you.  They’ll offer their labor and their skills, in return for your shelter and assistance – probably as a ‘package deal’ for themselves and their other family members.

It would be good if you had a way of responding positively to such people, because they may prove to be valuable additions to your small community.

The Fourth Wave

The fourth wave is very different from the other three.  It is longer lasting and more potentially impactful on your retreat and community.

Due to the importance of this fourth wave, we have devoted a separate article to it – The Fourth and Deadliest Wave of Refugees.  Please click the link to continue reading.

Aug 232012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organized Lawless Gangs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even a True Democratic Elected Government May Abrogate Your Rights

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

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

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

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

Hiding from Fourth Wave Threats

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

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

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

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

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

Becoming Part of the Solution, Not Part of the Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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