Jan 282013
 
A US hospital ward during the Spanish Flu epidemic, 1918-1919.

A US hospital ward during the Spanish Flu epidemic, 1918-1919.

You probably know that these days few retail stores maintain much inventory, and neither also do the wholesalers and distributors or even the original manufacturers (who also don’t keep much inventory of raw materials, either).

This was most recently shown in an unexpected form – the surge in demand for firearms and ammunition subsequent to the Sandy Hook school shooting on 14 December.  As of today, six weeks later, most firearms and ammunition remains either unavailable or only available in very limited quantities, and at prices that have more than doubled compared to what they were on 13 December.

Even though you can surely bet that the manufacturers are scrambling to increase production as much as possible, and even though it is six weeks since the Sandy Hook shooting, and even though surely a lot of the demand for guns and ammo has already been soaked up in the first six weeks, everything remains somewhere between scarce and totally unavailable, and the prices remain ridiculously sky-high.

We also see this on a regional basis, too.  A power outage – or sometimes even simply the threat of a likely one in the future – is enough to cause the disappearance of generators from store shelves, for example.  Or, in another form, currently (at least here in the Pacific Northwest) bad weather in some parts of the country have resulted in vegetable shortages.  Broccoli that used to sell for about $1.40/lb for the heads at our local supermarket is now selling for $3/lb, and there’s a lot more stalk on the ‘heads’ than there used to be, too.  A nicely printed notice explains that cold weather has affected the broccoli crop.

The ‘more efficient’ practices that are being universally adopted in every facet of commerce only work as long as nothing occurs to upset the projected smooth lines for demand and supply, and the very narrow range of values/variables where supply can adjust to reflect chances in demand.  As soon as something happens to upset the demand projections, the supply process struggles to adapt.

This doesn’t matter too much when it simply means that the price of broccoli more than doubles, so as to encourage people to stop eating broccoli and switch to frozen peas instead.  Even the disappearance of most guns and ammo from retailers is hopefully not a life and death matter for most people.  But what about when something truly is a life and death matter – when a medical emergency occurs?

The Problem :  A Lack of Surge Capacity for Medical Emergencies

When any sort of biological event occurs, the flipside of the problem becomes the lack of ‘surge capacity’ in our hospitals.  These days, even the annual flu seasons can be enough to overwhelm medical resources – for example, this article reports on some hospitals being overwhelmed with flu patients and having to turn people away and (on page two of the article) how Boston declared a health emergency, due to there being 700 confirmed cases of the flu.

Now just think about that.  The article doesn’t indicate over what period of time these 700 cases of flu occurred, but if we consider that the flu usually affects a person for less than a week, and if we say that maybe the flu outbreak started in early December, then the 10 January article might imply perhaps a worst case of 250 flu cases a week, not all of which resulted in the victim being hospitalized.

The population of the greater Boston area is 4.5 million, and of the central Boston city area alone is about 670,000.  To have 250 flu cases – not all requiring hospitalization – is surely a teeny tiny blip in the overall health statistics of either the central city or the larger metroplex, but is apparently enough to trigger a medical emergency.

Now think about what would happen if 5% of the population were simultaneously afflicted by a serious disease that did require hospitalization.  That’s far from impossible.  It might be the result of a bio-weapon attack on the US by a hostile power, or it might be simply the result of a new mutation of the flu or other virus that becomes more virulent and more readily communicated from person to person.  The famous Spanish flu outbreak of 1918-1919 saw, in total, 25% of the US population infected (and a 2.5% death rate).

Let’s continue to use Boston as an example.  It is neither unusually better nor worse than any other city/region in the country, and seeing as how we started with a Boston example above, let’s continue with Boston into this future projection.

In the case of Boston, a 5% infection rate would be 225,000 people, and in the central city, about 33,500 people.  If something as ordinary and predictable as the annual flu season, with 250 people all affected at the same time, is enough to trigger a medical emergency, what would happen when the 250 people increases not by ten-fold, but by 100 fold or even by 1,000 fold?

To view this from another perspective, the ratio of hospital beds to population is currently at a level of about 2.5 beds per 1,000 of population, as a national average, and even though we have an aging population, this ratio is declining significantly (it has dropped 13% in the last decade, as can be seen in this article).

So, continuing the Boston example, and assuming they have close to the national average ratio for hospital beds, the greater Boston region probably has about 11,250 beds in total.  That sounds like a lot, but compare that to 225,000 people all afflicted with a disease at the same time.  That’s one bed per 20 patients.

The Three Limiting Factors

So, the first limiting factor is that these days there are fewer hospital beds as a percentage of the population as a whole.  The US has fewer than half as many beds, as a percentage of the population, as does most western European nations (see, for example, this table).

There’s more.  First, those hospital beds aren’t empty and waiting for sudden unexpected patients.  Most of them are full with ‘normal’ patients that come and go all the time.  The number of empty beds available for unexpected extra medical requirements is massively less.  That’s just guess that, by rescheduling some elective and non-urgent surgeries and other procedures, hospitals could free up half their beds.  So we have half of 11,250 beds for 225,000 people – one bed per 40 patients.

Second, it is a truism that many doctors and nurses are already overworked.  Even if hospitals could surge to beyond 100% capacity for accepting patients, where would the extra staff come from to care for and treat these extra patients?

Don’t forget – the doctors and nurses will be as likely to be victims of the epidemic as any other sector of the population, so there might be fewer of them available due to some percentage being afflicted by the illness too.

Third, what about medicines, equipment, and other related supplies?  The country has been in the grip of a largely under-reported shortage of an increasing number of medicines for several years already – for example, look at this FDA list of medicines currently known to be in short supply.  What happens if suddenly the demand for medicines skyrockets ten or twenty-fold (or, more likely, one hundred fold or more)?  Where will these medicines come from?  The answer – nowhere.  What say the care and recovery process involves blood transfusions?  Blood banks never have an abundance of additional blood – where will that all come from, too?

That is without even thinking about the astonishing fact that at present, medical science is losing the battle against bacteria.  Our compulsive over-use of antibiotics is causing most bacteria to evolve into resistant strains more quickly than we can develop new antibiotic agents.

And what about all the equipment needed to monitor patients?  It is easy enough to quickly add extra beds and to place them anywhere space exists in hospital wards, but what about the patient monitoring equipment?  Drips – and drip holders.  Even such mundane things as needles – how much spare inventory of needles do hospitals keep on hand?

Summary

It is wonderful that for most ailments these days, we can be in and out of hospital in only a few days, whereas just a few decades ago, we’d have been spending a similar number of weeks.  But this has caused a massive reduction in the number of hospital beds as a percentage of the population, and has reduced the ability of hospitals to accept a sudden surge in patients as a result of some type of medical emergency.

We’re not only lacking in spare ‘surge’ capacity for hospital beds.  Adding new beds into existing hospital rooms and even into corridors is simple.  But we lack the related medical equipment to support each of those new patients, we lack the trained staff to care for them, and we either already have shortages or will quickly run out of medications and even such trivial things as bandages and other assorted hospital supplies.

A prepper community is less at risk and can better respond to epidemics due to the reduced population density in the community to start with and the ability to cut down or even eliminate social contact within the community for a period of time.  But a prepper community should also ensure it has sufficient basic healthcare/nursing facilities and equipment to handle a demand surge in the event of unexpected medical emergencies.

Jan 222013
 
Lush crops on fertile land - and massively enhanced by good weather.

Lush crops on fertile land massively enhanced by good weather.

This is the second part of a two-part article on retreat weather issues.  Please click to visit the first part, What Sort of Weather to Hope For at a Retreat Location.

Growing Degree Days

Growing degree days (GDD), and sometimes referred to as Growing degree units (GDU), add an extra layer of sophistication to the growing season measurement that was discussed at the end of the first part of this two-part article.

Growing season measurements don’t distinguish between a season marked by glorious warm to hot days and cool evenings on the one hand, or cool to cold days and cold nights on the other hand.

But, for sure, plants definitely grow at different rates depending on the day’s warmth, and so the GDD calculation is designed to reflect the time it will take for crops to be ready to harvest, expressed in GDUs.  Areas with more GDDs will have faster better crops and more opportunities for double crops.

The calculation for GDDs is not difficult – basically you average each day’s maximum and minimum temperature and subtract it from a ‘floor’ temperature.  For example, if a day had a minimum temperature of 55° and a maximum temperature of 85°, with a floor or base temperature of 50° would calculate to (85 + 55)/2 – 50 = 20 growing degrees.

The concept is explained more in this Wikipedia article.

Growing degree days are another rule of thumb approximation, but the approximation gives a useful measure of the weather related fertility you can expect from an area (while ignoring soil fertility issues, water, pests, etc).

There’s no reason – in theory – you couldn’t get even more sophisticated, tracking growing degree hours instead of growing degree days.  But a practical limitation for this is that most locations don’t have hourly temperature records stretching back many years so as to give you the hourly information you need for each day of the year or season.

Temperature – Heating and Cooling

The last couple of factors have all been to do with growing crops.  But there’s another important weather related factor – your own comfort.

Clearly, you want your retreat to be able to maintain a reasonably comfortable temperature all year.  Even if you economize as much as you can, you’ll still want to keep inside temperatures somewhere in the 60s during the winters and somewhere in the 70s during the summers.  When temperatures go above or below that range, your personal comfort, health, happiness, and productivity starts to severely decline.

Equally clearly, the colder it is outside, and the more of the year it remains cold, the more heating you’re going to need to keep your retreat warm.  Sure, you’ll super-insulate the building structure, but even so, you’ll need some amount of supplemental heat during the winter – and possibly some sort of cooling capability in the hottest parts of the summer too.

You can get an immediate idea about the temperature range simply by looking at monthly temperatures.  Don’t just look at the average for the month, look also at the average high temperature and the average low temperature.  Sometimes it is possible to also see the maximum high and low temperatures too.  If you have all five of these numbers on a graph, you get a sense of the likely, typical, and unlikely best and worst case scenarios, month by month, and that information on its own will be enough to clearly indicate how some places are better or worse than others.

If you’d like to be more scientific about this, you can look variously at heating degree days, and/or cooling degree days.  Some sources of weather data show only heating degree days, some show both or combine the two of them into one single number.

This calculation is very similar to the Growing Degree Day calculation for plants, but uses different baseline numbers (most commonly 60° or 65°) and instead of considering what is best for horticulture, considers what is best for us.  Note that if you are comparing HDD values from different sources, you need to check they are using the same baseline numbers or else you’ll not be fairly comparing similar data.

Wind

Wind can be both a positive and a negative factor.  A propensity for wind-storms is clearly a negative factor, requiring stronger construction techniques and more careful agricultural policies.  Strong winds combined with a hot dry climate can also magnify the rate of water loss on the ground and in reservoirs too.

Strong winds also make it harder to insulate your dwelling.

On the other hand, mild cooling winds can be a blessing and can aid in natural unassisted ventilation and regulation of temperatures inside your dwelling, saving you energy.

Winds that are reasonably steady in nature may also be possible to be harnessed for electricity generation via wind turbines.  But whereas solar power works both in bright and obscured sunlight, albeit at different rates of power generation, wind power requires a steady stream of wind with a minimum of about 10 mph in order for it to be feasible.  Some wind power cynics say that there’s a rule of thumb you should use – if a place is suitable for wind power generation, it isn’t suitable for living or for much else.  That’s an exaggeration, but only a slight exaggeration.

Wind turbines can be both expensive and maintenance intensive, so generally we prefer solar cells (with 40+ year lives and no moving parts) as a primary source of energy.  But if you have suitable wind patterns, there’s no reason not to take advantage of them.

Slightly more robust are traditional windmills, capable of working with lower wind speeds, and typically used to pump water up from a well to a holding tank – the ones still being made by Aermotor being perhaps the best known.

It is also relevant to understand both surface and upper atmospheric wind patterns so as to understand your potential risk from up-wind radioactivity releases (that sounds confusing – we mean, radioactivity releases where you are downwind of where the radioactivity is released), whether in the form of accidents at power stations and other facilities, or deliberate in the form of nuclear attack.

Ground bursts tend to release the greatest amount of radioactive material, and much of that into the lower atmosphere, so surface wind patterns can give you a clue for your risks there.  Surface winds vary of course, as you know from personal experience, but most areas have predominant directions for their winds, and in determining your risk you need to understand surface wind flows both at the point of radiation release and also more or less along the path to your location.

Air bursts tend to send more radioactivity up into the jet stream, which can carry the radiation long distances – the good news part of this is that the radiation is spread far and wide and is distributed in a more even and less concentrated form than with the radioactive material from a ground burst, which not only generates a huge amount more radioactive material (hundreds of times more) but also dumps it in a much more concentrated and localized area within a few hundred miles of the event.

Unlike ground winds which might be northerly today then southerly tomorrow, jetstream flows change only moderately and, for the US, flow predominantly in an easterly direction, with the western part of the US having a SE direction, the middle region more or less directly E, and the eastern states a NE direction.

Snow, Ice, Severe Cold

The amount of snow you might receive impacts on several issues.

The first issue is roof design for your retreat (and all other structures on your property).  The greater the snowfall, and the greater the depth of snow that lies on the ground, the more weight of snow that can be expected to lie on your roof – at least until you modify your roof design for a steeper slope.

The second issue is one of transportation.  Without an ongoing program of snow plowing and silting roads, it is entirely possible that you may find yourself snowed in for months at a time each winter.  In a Level 2 scenario, you might choose to use a tractor powered plow for some local snow removal, and a snowmobile for traveling to nearby towns, but longer term, in a Level 3 scenario, you need to consider how you’d manage ongoing winter transportation.

We suggest that year-round access between your retreat and any local population centers is desirable, not only for trade but for support purposes too.  What say, for example, you have a medical emergency.  How would you get to a doctor (or the doctor get to you)?

This is not a problem with an obvious or easy solution, and requires some research to uncover not just the snowfall patterns for your region, but how the fallen snow will translate variously into solid ice and/or hard packed snow, compared to deep drifts of snow, and the type of route you’d normally travel to a nearby community.

Depending on the severity of the snow fall and winter in general, you might need to have shelter – and maybe even some heat too – for your animals to winter-over in as well.

One more thing to do with extreme cold.  Your water supply.  Will you need to invest in additional design considerations in order to protect your water supply and piping so that it doesn’t freeze in the winter, and remains capable of still assuring you a reliable supply of water as needed?

Summary

Weather is close to impossible to predict, and its normal variations can sometimes exceed those anticipated by people who have not adequately allowed for random and cyclical variations.  This is an inconvenience in normal times, but can cause starvation and worse in a Level 2/3 situation.

Anything that can be done upfront to optimize the weather issues as part of choosing a retreat location will be enormously beneficial.  Better weather will allow for a more product retreat community, creating more ‘wealth’ (ie surplus food) while requiring less ‘cost’ (energy and time) to produce.

Use the weather categories in this and the first part of this two-part article to compare and rank different locations and to help you select the best location for your retreat.

Jan 192013
 
This map expresses US population clusters by showing one white dot per 7500 people.

This is not a ‘lights at night’ type map.  It expresses US population clusters by showing one white dot per 7500 people.

Preppers have a love/hate relationship with nearby groups of other people, especially residents of towns and cities.  If the nearby people are friendly and also prepper types, then it is generally good to have supportive people nearby.  But if the people are ill prepared, then they are almost certainly going to present problems WTSHTF.

Some proximity to people is a good thing, but too much proximity to people of unknown values is not so good.  Indeed, even the nicest of people may pose problems if they are not capable of being self-sufficient for an extended time period, and it is almost an unavoidable truth that city dwellers can not be capable of supporting themselves beyond whatever amount of stockpiled food and energy they have at the start of any adverse event.

So, in choosing an ideal retreat location, a prudent prepper wants to be away from larger population centers, while still reasonably close to smaller groupings of people.

How far away from larger population centers should one locate?  There are lots of factors that go into creating that answer, which simply stated can be considered as ‘the larger the group of people, the more difficult to reach you wish to be’ – difficulty being a measure not just of distance but also of accessibility.  For example, maybe there is some sort of geographical obstacle such as a river or mountain between you and the population center you wish to avoid.

A related factor is that – at some distance – there are population centers all around you – to the north, south, east and west.  In avoiding one population center (for example to the north), you want to be careful you don’t get too close to the population center to the south, and so on.

Our point here is that in some parts of the country, no matter how hard you try to avoid too large groupings of population, you’re never going to succeed.

Shown at the top of this article is a downscaled copy of a US Census Bureau map that features one small dot of white for each cluster of 7500 people in the continental US.  You can see a larger and clearer version directly from their website, here.  And, for a finer degree of display, here’s a much larger map that shows a dot of white for each 1000 people in the country (you’ll need to expand it considerably to get the full effect).

Don’t confuse these maps with the images you might sometimes see that shows the US by night from a satellite.  While it is true there is a correlation between lights at night and population, these US Census maps are very much more accurate indicators of where people live than the ‘US from space by night’ maps.

Even the smallest map example at the top of this page clearly shows two things.  The first is that almost everywhere in the eastern half of the country has such a dense population concentration that you’ll be struggling to find anywhere to locate a retreat at a  prudent distance from population concentrations.

The second is that much of the west is relatively empty, once you avoid the I-5 corridor and the obvious population clusters around major cities and the coast.

But there’s a trap inherent in this representation.  Not all of the black space is the same.  Some of it is rugged mountain that no-one could support themselves in.  Other large parts are desert.  There’s more to choosing a location than simply looking for low density population.

The Census bureau has plenty of other interesting population density maps.  For example, here’s a very useful map from the 2010 census, showing population density by county.

That map expresses density in terms of people per square mile, which begs the question – how many people can live on one square mile?  Well, that depends of course on whether it is a square mile of lake, of desert, of mountain, of city, or of high quality arable land with plenty of water and a good growing climate.

So the answer is a big fat ‘it depends’.  But we can make some guesstimates.  Firstly, it is more helpful to think in terms of acres – a measure most of us are more familiar with – than square miles.  There are 640 acres in a square mile.

So that immediately puts this population density map into more helpful context.  All the four lighter color/lower density segments have fewer than one person per acre.

If you accept the rule of thumb that is sometimes used –  you need at least one acre of reasonable quality land for each person, plus some extra space for roading, dwellings, other structures, and miscellaneous ‘non productive’ uses – it seems that even the upper limit of the fourth zone (499.9 people per square mile or 0.8 people per acre) may be almost a sustainable population density, but only if one can establish that the effective land quality is average to good.

A clue – although a very limited one – about the quality of the land per county can be gleaned from this 1992 map, which shows how much of each county is used as farmland, and is made somewhat more helpful when matched with this partner map showing the dollar value of agricultural products sold.

When you want to start looking at data in smaller sized chunks than entire counties, that is possible too, with population data by zip code also available.  When you match that to the land area per zip code, you can work out the population density for zip codes too.

But maybe that’s getting a bit complicated.  Here’s what we do when helping people compare areas.

Firstly, we’re seldom looking outside of the American Redoubt states, and most commonly, Idaho and western Montana only.

So we look at the counties of interest and their respective populations and population density.  Most of them are already suitably sparsely populated.  But if we need to work out further data, we then subtract from the total county area and population, the areas of the cities within the county and their populations, giving us a net county area and population for the rural part of the county, and if we need it, the applicable population density.

We’ll sometimes draw circles or even irregular shapes around the population concentrations in a region to show the areas to avoid, and maybe also shade out other unsuitable areas, and then what’s left is the area to focus on for finding/building a retreat.

But, and as we hinted at before, the major use of this analysis is not so much to find suitable areas within the Redoubt, but rather to disprove people’s claims of suitable locations elsewhere in the country.

Whether you’re hoping to find a good location elsewhere, or simply seeking to confirm your choice of location, you’ll find some simple analysis using these tools very helpful as giving one perspective on your location choices and the issues associated with them.  If you need more help, you can always engage us to provide more detailed analysis and recommendations.

Jan 072013
 
Fun for all the family with your own M/T-114 armored personnel carrier - this one costs $74,000.

Fun for all the family with your own M/T-114 armored personnel carrier – this one costs $74,000.

If you found yourself suddenly gifted with several million dollars, and assuming you had some left over after spending money on all the usual things, maybe you might choose to treat yourself to a really neat vehicle to stick in your retreat’s garage.

The issue of successfully defending your retreat against armed attackers post-WTSHTF is one of considerable debate.  Some people choose to ignore the issue entirely, and claim they have no need for serious preparations and defenses, either because their retreat is well hidden, or because they are in a region with plenty of like-minded folks, or because they don’t believe that people would actually come after them and attempt to steal from them by force (and – we fear – do much worse than that too).

We’re not going to re-debate those points.  We’ve discussed them before, and might again in the future, and suffice it to say for now that we feel it an essential component of the prepping mindset to consider not just best case but also worst case scenarios, and to prepare (within reason) for both.  What sort of prepper allows themselves to be caught out by something that they say weakly in excuse about ‘Oh, gosh, we didn’t think that was likely to happen’?  Isn’t prepping all about preparing for less likely things which, if they do happen, will seriously destroy our lives and our lifestyles?

This article is simply looking at some unusual types of defensive vehicles.  And, yes, clearly these ‘defensive’ vehicles could be used just as well by someone else as an offensive vehicle – to bring the battle directly to your front door.

That thought of course begs the difficult question – what would you do if a bad guy turned up on your doorstep in a tank?

Unfortunately, that’s a far from impossible scenario (depending on how close your retreat is to a base with armored vehicles on it at present).  When the rule of law crumbles, there will be many thousands of tanks and other armored vehicles on bases around the country that will be liable to being ‘repurposed’ by people with evil intent.  We can only hope they run out of fuel (or ammo and/or spare parts) for their armored vehicles before they reach your retreat.

But what about the lawful availability of armored vehicles, today?  Did you know there’s a reasonably extensive market that trades in older armored military vehicles.  Of course, the main guns have usually been ‘de-milled’ and made inoperable and close to impossible to repair back to working order, but as a secure platform that would resist small arms fire up to and probably including the .50 BMG round, they are very interesting.

Some of the older vehicles also have fully analog type engines that are probably about as sure to survive an EMP attack as anything out there.

Of course, a heavy armored vehicle is going to give very bad gas mileage, and so you don’t want to use it as a daily driver.  Tracked vehicles can also be very maintenance intensive.  But as the ultimate all-weather and all-terrain vehicle that you can use hopefully in almost any type of weather and ground condition, and with a secure protected compartment that you can either escape within or fight from, an armored vehicle gives you a new level of tactical options that hopefully the bad guys ranged against you can’t match.

Remember that not all tracked vehicles are armored, and of course, general purpose ‘military’ trucks and other vehicles are probably not armored either.  And not everything with impressive looking tracks or really big wheels will manage to proceed in deep soft snow or bottomless mud.

There are a number of different national sources of military vehicles.  Ebay Motors has a section for military vehicles.  Here’s another website that features online classified ads (and interesting magazines too).

Let’s not forget our own government – they sell off just about everything imaginable, including through this site.

Perhaps the best site for armored vehicles is this one.

In addition, who knows what you mightn’t find locally as well.  Ask around, do some Googling, and the chances are, if you want to indulge yourself in such a vehicle, there’ll be exactly what you’re looking for, somewhere in the country, and priced from the low tens of thousands up to the middling hundreds of thousands, depending of course on all the usual things such as market appeal, practicality, and condition.

Jan 042013
 
The food we eat is increasingly produced further and further away from where we live.

The food we eat is increasingly produced further and further away from where we live.

One of the greatest problems that encourages us to become preppers is that the overwhelming majority of people no longer provide/create/grow their own food.

These days, over 80% of all Americans live in urban/suburban areas, meaning only one in five people are in the countryside, and not all of these rural dwellers are involved in food production.  Barely 100 years ago, the situation was almost exactly the opposite – for every one person in a city, there were four in the countryside, most of whom were involved in agricultural production.

So, in a worst case scenario back then, only one in five or one in six people were reliant on the other four or five people for their food.  But now, maybe ten people are totally reliant on each rural/farm worker for all their food.

If anything occurs to stop the flow of food from the one person who grows/provides it to the ten or however many who rely upon that food to survive, we clearly have huge problems.

In addition, we have problems because the one person who makes the food for the ten others is reliant on all sorts of machinery and productivity aids to enable him to grow so much food so efficiently.  If something happens to the productivity aids, he’ll be struggling to provide food just for himself and his family, and won’t have any left over for the other ten people who are relying on his ability to grow food productivity for them.

Our article on Urban Drift discusses some of these phenomena in more detail.  And here’s an interesting chart that shows that growing urbanization is not just a US trend – it is a worldwide trend.

Our Rural Infrastructure is Being Neglected and Abused

Our point in this article is to show how no-one seems to care about the decline in our rural infrastructure.  That’s actually understandable, in a way.  Back when almost everyone lived very close to the land, it was the central part of the entire country’s consciousness.  But today, some people who live in cities have never seen a farm or a farm animal, and don’t know anyone in the circle of family and friends who lives/works on a farm either.  Our rural foundations are no longer a core part of our awareness.

The reality of rural neglect is reflected in these comments by former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack – now US Secretary of Agriculture.  He says that rural America is becoming ‘less relevant’.

He is simultaneously right and wrong.  Sadly, safeguarding, securing, and boosting our rural economy getting less attention than it needs, even though our reliance on rural America increases steadily in line with our greater and greater concentration of agricultural production in the hands of so few.  Rural America is still relevant to us, but we don’t seem to accept that so willingly now.

And so we have city-dweller idealists writing up new legislation and new restrictions on farming operations, based not on a real world understanding of farming requirements, but on a ‘don’t confuse me with the facts’ idealized way of how food production should operate.  Some of these burdens are ecologically based (such as the famous threat that plowing fields shouldn’t create dust), and others are financial attacks, such as the provision to tax farm estates valued at over $1 million at a 55% rate.  This article exposes the threat to farm viability from the new death tax.

A death tax is perhaps appropriate, because it exposes society’s clear death wish – ie, to destroy our local sources of food production, making family farms less viable (and/or increasing their costs and thereby our food costs too) and either concentrating still more farming potential in corporate megafarms (companies don’t ‘die’ so aren’t threatened by death taxes) or forcing us to turn to increasingly distant food sources in other countries.

So we are changing from eating the food we grow ourselves, to eating the food our neighbors grew, to eating the food that farmers grew less than a day’s horse and cart journey away, to eating the food less than a day’s truck journey away, to eating the food less than a day’s plane journey away, to eating food grown by farmers in some other country, thousands or even tens of thousands of miles away from us.

In the past, when four or five farmers were growing food for each city dweller, if anything failed or went wrong, it was no big problem.  The food was largely being grown locally, and by hand.  Indeed, what could go wrong?

But now we are relying on farming operations totally out of our control, thousands of miles away.  If fuel supplies become restricted, how will that food travel thousands of miles in only the very few days it has before it perishes?  It probably can’t and won’t.

Implications for Preppers

The implication for us as preppers is starkly obvious.  In any type of disruptive event, we’ll lose our access to the food supplies we currently rely upon.  Three implications :

  • First, we need to be more aware – and supportive – of rural issues and infrastructure within the US.
  • Second, we need to have a sufficient supply of food on hand to allow us to survive a loss of third-party food supplies.
  • Third, we need to have a way to transition to growing all our own food before our stored food is exhausted.

The second issue is fairly obvious, but the need to be able to grow all our food is one with major implications – particularly if you live in a central city apartment.  Your balcony won’t be big enough to grow enough food.  You need a rural retreat with sufficient arable land to allow you to grow the food you need.

Ideally, that retreat should already be in operation as a farm.  That way, there are fewer unknowns and already existing routines and processes and procedures, and less to go wrong if you need to move there in a hurry.

Jan 042013
 
This online gun supply resource shows a steady stream of zeroed out inventories.

This online gun supply resource shows a steady stream of zeroed out inventories.

On December 14, 2012 – some three weeks ago – a crazed gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

It is hard to say which happened most quickly immediately thereafter – calls for the banning of just about all firearms, or people rushing to buy guns and ammunition due to fears they might be banned.

The media (which is predominantly anti-gun) has been full of stories, almost every day since then, about soaring gun sales, and within a very few days of the start of the rush on guns, of soaring gun prices and disappearing inventory.

It is true there has been an uptick in gun sales.  And it is also true that most gun stores have sold almost every gun and spare magazine they have, as well as every round of ammunition.  It is also true that there are unknown leadtimes and backlogs for more guns, accessories and ammunition to get through the system and become available.

It is also true that prices of guns and ammunition have skyrocketed – more than doubled, sometimes more than tripled.

So what has this to do with prepping?  To answer that, we first need to correct the media misinformation so we truly understand the current situation.

Gun Sales Have NOT Skyrocketed

So, let’s pierce the illusion of an apparent ultra-humungous sudden surge in gun sales.  Fortunately, we can track what has happened to gun sales through the FBI NICS reporting data – this is the count of calls in to their instant check hotline.  All new guns have to be sold through gun dealers and the gun dealer has to get a NICS approval before completing the sale.

The NICS count isn’t exactly the same as the total number of guns sold in a month, because sometimes one call to NICS is for a purchase covering multiple firearms being sold to the same person at once.  On the other hand, sometimes one transaction requires two or more calls to NICS.  And some calls to NICS are for other reasons (some states do NICS checks as part of issuing concealed weapons permits).

But these various factors are more or less steady, so that one can more or less say with confidence ‘If the NICS calls are up, so too are gun sales’.  In general it seems that the monthly count of NICS calls is somewhat higher than the actual count of new guns sold.

You can see the FBI’s NICs stats here.  As you can see, the monthly NICS calls have been steadily increasing, and the yearly totals have been going up for the last ten years in a row.  More than twice as many NICS calls were made, and probably therefore, more than twice as many new guns were sold in 2012 as were sold in 2002.  Increasing gun sales is nothing new, it has been going on even prior to Obama winning his first term.

Now look at the numbers for December 2012.  2.78 million, up 39% on November 2012.

But – a 39% increase?  Excuse us for being underwhelmed, but that is all?  That’s sure not what you’d think from all the newspaper reports of mass panic and huge increases in guns being sold.  To read the media stories, you’d think that gun sales had increased ten fold or twenty fold.  But no – they didn’t even manage to double.

Furthermore, it is common for December sales to be up on November sales, anyway (hello, Christmas!).  Last year, December sales were 21% up on November’s sales for no specific reason at all, the year before they were up 17% and the year before they were up 15%.  So between 15 – 20% of the 39% increase was something everyone sort of expected might occur anyway – the actual extra and unexpected increase is maybe only 25%.

So what is this telling us – a mere 25% increase in gun sales, over and above what was more or less expected anyway, is enough to totally destroy the gun sales marketplace?  It seems that just about every new gun in the country has been sold, and gun prices have doubled and even tripled, with waiting lists and lead times now of an unknown duration but possibly months?  All because of this small increase in sales?

We can’t track sales of gun accessories or ammunition the same way, but we do know (because we, ahem, ordered some ourselves and have yet to get any sort of confirmation about when they’ll ship) that magazines have disappeared completely, and so too has ammunition.

That’s also an amazing thing – how many millions – probably billions – of bullets do you think were out there in retailers’ stores, in wholesale warehouses, and in factories?  They’ve all gone.  How many bullets a day are being made?  How many more are imported?  They all disappear faster than they come out of the machines.  Can’t the entire world’s extra ammunition manufacturing capacity keep up with US domestic demand at present?

This is the message for preppers, and it doesn’t apply only to guns.  These days, there is no ‘surge capacity’ in our supply chain.  The slightest blip in demand – or the slightest interruption in supply – and you suddenly find yourself stuck with the twin evils of shortages and panic buying, with the inevitable result that prices soar sky-high, encouraging more panic, more hoarding, and a total breakdown of the marketplace.

The Same Happens with Other Products/Situations Too

We see this every time a storm threatens gas supplies.  A region might have gas on hand good for 7 – 10 days of regular demand, perhaps, but as soon as a disruption is threatened, everyone rushes to fill their vehicles and any additional storage containers they have, emptying out the supply chain in a day or two.

Or – do you remember the Japanese nuclear power reactor radiation leaks after the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011?  Due to concerns about the radiation plume traveling across the Pacific and to the US, people rushed to buy Potassium Iodide tablets.  But you couldn’t find a Potassium Iodide tablet, anywhere in the US, remaining available for sale.  And the last few that did sell were going for ten (or more) times their earlier price, just a few weeks previously.

Lessons for Preppers

The message to us is simple.  These days, even mild disruptions to any supply chain can totally destroy the normal ‘rules’ of that product’s availability and pricing.  This is due to ‘just in time’ ordering and shipping/delivery, and a carefully projected future demand that is synchronized to production.

If that calculation gets out of alignment with the market, then drastic shortages will quickly result.  And it may take a long time for extra production to come on-stream to provide more product to meet the elevated demand.

These days, most things are produced in a complicated process with multiple dependencies.  For example, a new pistol isn’t built by only one company, with the company ordering in slabs of solid steel as their raw material and shipping out finished pistols after doing all the processes in-house.

Instead, a typical firearm manufacturer may do little more than assemble firearms from the finished parts which are ordered from a dozen different suppliers.  One company might specialize in barrels.  Another might do frames.  Another might provide some types of springs, and a fourth company might provide other springs.  A fifth company might provide screws, a sixth might provide some small castings, and a seventh might provide grips.  An eighth company might make the magazines, and a ninth company will print all the instruction manuals and materials, while a tenth company will make boxes/cases for the finished firearms.  An 11th company will provide oils and lubricants, and a 12th company will provide who knows what else.

And – wait, that’s not all.  Each of these providers of subassemblies and components are in turn dependent on their suppliers for sub-sub assemblies and other raw materials.  And so on, all the way back to the mining company that digs the iron ore out of the ground and the oil company that pumps the oil that ends up as plastic, and the forestry company that grows the trees that becomes paper.

You only need any one of these 12 or more suppliers to have a supply constraint with any of their, in turn, who knows how many more suppliers, and the ability to create a complete finished firearm fails.

You only need one of these many different suppliers to be working at maximum capacity to mean that the rate of final production of completed firearms is limited to the speed of the slowest of the suppliers.

We are talking through this particular example of firearms because it is timely and easily understood, and because we’re seeing the proof of it right now, in empty gun stores, and in used firearms now doubling and trebling in prices.

But the concepts are as true for just about any other manufactured good as they are for firearms.  The same constraints and restrictions and dependencies apply, and all the companies involved in just about any/all types of manufacturing are all working on the same concept of minimizing their inventories (both of raw materials and finished goods) and running their production lines at close to capacity (so as to get best return from their machinery investments).

Here’s another example – these days, we have super-computers that can design planes or cars or just about anything else for us.  They ‘model’ and simulate all sorts of different aspects of a design, and CAD/CAM processes have replaced huge big offices full of draftsmen.  Instead of needing to build a model, test it, then analyze the results, you can input some variables into the computer program and have it do it all theoretically instead.  The earlier process could take weeks or months for each test cycle, the computerized system can take a day or two.

And when a new product is ready for production, new robotic assembly lines can efficiently and quickly reprogram and retool for the new final product and make them with much less human labor or issues.

This is all true.  So can anyone tell me why designing a new car today takes as long as it ever has, and designing a new model airplane takes many years longer than it used to?

What We Need to Do as Preppers

Now I’m not feeling personally panicked at present.  Indeed, I’m thinking I might sell a few firearms and some boxes of ammunition right now!  But there are a lot of people who are feeling panicked.  Fortunately for us all, owning an extra firearm or two, and an extra case or two of ammunition, is not essential to our survival today.

But who’s to know what the next item that suddenly surges in popularity might not be?  The only thing we can be sure of is that if we don’t maintain a sufficient inventory of everything we need and might conceivably need, enough to tide us over whatever variation of Level 1, 2 or 3 situations (definition here) we wish to plan for, then we might find ourselves in a situation where the item we need is unavailable and can’t be purchased at any price from any source.

We sort of know that in a Level 3 situation, all the existing supplies of ‘stuff’ will get used up in some uncertain period of time.  But we are suggesting that the speed at which inventory of anything will disappear is very much faster than anyone might expect.

Remember that with the gun shortage at present, this is not because there have been any reductions in new gun manufacturing and importing.  Quite the opposite.  You can surely guess that every gun manufacturer in the world is working overtime at present to make and ship as many guns as possible to the US.  But even with the same or probably a higher rate of ongoing production, a modest blip in demand has destroyed the marketplace.

As preppers, we can’t rely on outside help, or on outside supplies and sources.  We have to plan for a future where what we have is what we have, and we can’t expect any resupply beyond that.

Jan 032013
 
This graph, typical of many wind turbines, shows power output (vertical axis) against wind speed for a typical wind turbine.  There is only a very narrow band of wind speeds suitable for measurable power generation.

This graph, typical of many wind turbines, shows power output (vertical axis) against wind speed (m/sec) for a typical wind turbine. There is only a narrow band of wind speeds suitable for measurable power generation.

One of the essential requirements of any retreat has to be some type of renewable energy source.

As we’ve stated elsewhere on the site, the ultimate and paramount issue in any post-WTSHTF scenario is availability of energy.  Almost everything else in your life is or will be energy dependent – certainly shelter, definitely food, and maybe even water too.  Whether the energy comes from yourself (worst case scenario), from hoarded supplies of energy sources such as propane and diesel (which are only good until they run out) or from other sources, sourcing energy is your most important issue.

There are two or three obvious renewable (or ‘free’) energy sources – hydro, solar, and wind.

Wind has some appeal to it, particular in its abstract form, and particularly from reading the glossy brochures, and in terms of cost, the capital cost per kW of generating capacity is very competitive with other renewable energy sources.  But there is a lot more to wind power than meets the eye, and most of the added issues are negative rather than positive.

To help you better understand wind power, we look in this article at some of the less talked about downsides of wind turbines.

Hydro is easily understood, and solar is not much more complicated.  If you’ve got an accessible flow of water dropping from a higher level to a lower level, you’ve a chance at hydro, and the more the sun shines, and the bigger your solar array, the more solar power you can hope for.

Wind Power Only Works in Some Winds, Some of the Time

But wind is a different matter entirely.  With wind power, you need wind speeds that are greater than the minimum which your turbine requires, but less than the maximum.  At greater than maximum speed, the turbine blades will ‘feather’ – they will turn into the wind and the turbine will cease to spin, and no longer generate electricity.  This is different to solar and hydro – there’s no such thing as ‘too much’ sun or ‘too much’ water.

There’s also less of an issue with ‘too little’ water/sun either – sure, no water means no hydro power generated, and so too does nighttime mean no solar power generated.  But the minimum amount of water or sun needed to start the electrons flowing is truly very low, whereas most wind turbines sit lifeless until wind speeds exceed somewhere in the 5 – 15 mph range.

So that’s the first disadvantage of wind.  Wind works best in a location with steady (rather than gusty) winds that flow regularly in the 25 – 40 mph range.  Not many of us have such locations.  Most of us have insufficient ‘suitable’ wind to make a wind turbine a sensible concept under any conditions.

Even if you do have a reasonably good location, you need to have a back up plan for when you have a ‘wind drought’.  We all know that just because a place averages so much rain in a month, that doesn’t mean it is guaranteed to rain an even equal amount every day, and the same is true of wind, too.  What happens if you have no wind, or too strong wind, for an entire week and are unable to generate any wind-sourced power during that time?  At least with solar, even the cloudiest day will still give you some power, but with wind, you could conceivably end up with a ‘wind drought’ that lasts a week or longer.

That’s a very big problem to confront.  Most solar systems are backed up by standby batteries, with the idea being that during the day, the solar cells generate enough power for your needs plus a surplus to be stored in the batteries, then when the sun goes down, you switch to the batteries for the night, until sunrise the next day.  Plus, with a bit of planning, you can shift your electricity consumption so that most of it happens during daytime and less of it happens at night, reducing the amount of power you need to store.  That only requires a 12 – 15 hour or so supply of stored power.

But what if you’re planning to be able to withstand a seven-day period with no wind at all?  You need at least ten to fifteen times more batteries (which – trust us – is a lot of batteries), plus the excess wind generating capacity to quickly recharge them.

Now, for the further bad news.  Even if you do have reasonably suitable winds in your area, there are two other problems with wind power.  Reliability/maintenance, and longevity.

Reliability Issues

Next time you drive past a ‘wind farm’ have a look at how many of the turbines aren’t spinning.  If the ones around them are turning, then the ones that aren’t turning have failed for some reason or another (that’s not to say that all the ones which are spinning are actually working properly either, of course – some electrical failures don’t result in the turbine blades stalling).  Depending on the location, the design of turbine, and the speed with which failed turbines are repaired, you’ll probably observe anything from one in 20 to one in 10 are not turning when they should be.

Think about that – if we say it takes on average 4 days for a failed turbine to be repaired, and if you see one in 15 turbines are not turning, that suggests that on average that every turbine is failing once every 60 days, and with four days down out of 60, that is a 93% uptime rate.

Okay, wind enthusiasts, let’s take an optimistic view if you prefer.  Let’s say only one in twenty turbines is failed, and let’s allow an entire week for the turbine to be repaired – that suggests the failure rate is once every 140 days, which is still nearly three failures per turbine per year.  That is a 95% uptime rate.

And, just to be fair, wind naysayers, let’s say one in ten are failed, and they can be repaired in two days.  That means an average time between failures of twenty days – not quite three weeks.  Ouch!

You should also remember that these turbines aren’t working 24/7.  Their duty cycle might be more like 8 – 12 hours a day – in other words, they are only working a third to a half of the time, and even at that low rate of application, they are still failing repeatedly.

In a ‘grid down’ situation and with the progressive loss of high-tech componentry and high quality machining, do you really want to rely on such maintenance intensive things as wind turbines for one of the most essential parts of your ongoing survival?  What will you do when you run out of spare parts?

Longevity Issues

The other dismaying thing is the total service life that you might get out of a wind turbine.  It has generally been considered that you can expect 20 – 30 years out of a turbine before it needs complete replacement.  But what if that’s not so?  What if you can only get ten years of life from it.  What happens when the turbine totally fails?

Here’s an article which reports that the actual life span of wind turbines in Britain is proving to be significantly less than was optimistically projected.  There’s such a huge lobbying effort behind wind power generation (in both the UK and US) that this type of data is unlikely to be widely reported or commented on, but go read the article and form your own conclusions.

It is probably okay to plan for a 25 year life for your Level 2/3 retreat’s power source.  But only ten years?  That’s not as long as you might think – the human mind tends to find it hard to appreciate the time to a future date, so as a way of appreciating it, think back ten years instead.  That’s probably not such an impossibly distant point in time.  And so neither is ten years into the future, either.

As a comparison, solar cells are also often rated vaguely for a 25 year or longer life, but unlike a wind turbine, that doesn’t mean that at the end of their rated life, they stop generating power entirely.  Assuming they don’t suffer ‘catastrophic failure’ (ie someone dropping a brick on them!) the output they provide slowly diminishes over time – generally about 0.5% every year.  So after 25 years, a solar cell array has lost only about 12.5% of its maximum power generating capacity.  This article points out that some solar cell installations are still providing 80% of their initially rated power after 40 years, and show no signs of failing.

Solar cells can easily outlast their owners.  Not so, wind turbines.

Integrating Wind Power into Your Total Energy Sourcing Strategy

You’re probably getting the feeling that we don’t like wind power.  That’s moderately correct – we love the abstract promise of wind power, but we’re not very happy with the present day reality.

We could be persuaded, however, to add a wind turbine or three to provide another semi-redundant source of power to our retreat, but as a supplemental ‘bonus’ power source rather than as a critical must-be-working source.  This not only give more total power, but also adds another fail-safe level of redundancy.

Maybe a ‘once in a thousand years’ hailstorm destroys a large part of your solar cell inventory.  Maybe your hydro dam breaks.  Maybe any one of many other catastrophic events occur, in which case you’d be very appreciative to have spread your risk and to have deployed some wind power too.

If you do choose to adopt wind power, we’d recommend deploying multiple wind turbines.  That way, when one fails, you don’t suddenly lose all your wind power.  You ‘only’ lose half (if you have two), or a quarter (if you have four) and so on.

Needless to say, you’ll need to have a truly impressive inventory of spare parts, and beyond that, a high-end machine shop to allow you to repair and rebuild damaged components as well as simply replace them.

You’ll also want to also add to your battery storage capacity, or deploy some other form of energy storage so that you can take the spare wind power, when it is available to you, and put it to some good use.

Summary

Wind power is a very specialized type of power that has many constraints and concerns associated with it.  The wind speeds with which the turbine will actually generate power are concentrated in a very narrow band.  The turbines themselves are very maintenance intensive and prone to failure on a regular basis.  And their total service life may be much shorter than originally anticipated and promised.

Wind power may be acceptable as a ‘top up’ source of power, particularly in our present world where the electricity grid has multiple redundant power sources and can manage even if all wind power was to fail simultaneously.  But we do not recommend wind power as a prime source of power in a retreat/off-grid situation.

If you choose to include wind power as an energy source, you’d need to reduce the impact of turbine failures by investing in multiple turbines – at least three, so that having one turbine go offline would only reduce your power by 33% or less, hopefully giving you still sufficient for your essential needs.  You’d also need an extensive inventory of spare parts, and a much greater reserve bank of batteries to tide you over sometimes lengthy periods when your turbine can’t generate due to the wind being either too weak or too strong.