Feb 252013
 
A beautiful country scene, for sure.  But is it also a viable source of water for your retreat?

A beautiful country scene, for sure. But is it also a viable source of water for your retreat?

We are writing this on Oscar night 2013, so let’s use an Oscar linked concept for this article.

Did you ever watch the Oscar-winning movie, Chinatown?  It was nominated for 11 Oscar awards in 1975 and won the best screenplay award.  The movie starred Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, and – yes, here now is the segue to this article – featured a plot to do with the struggle for water rights in California.

Access to water is a very contentious thing, both in modern times and historically.  A Google search for ‘water right disputes’ brings up 39 million pages.  Depending on where you are, your ability to use the water on your land – indeed, in states such as Oregon, even your ability to use the rainwater that falls freely from the sky – is almost certainly restricted by a mess of state and federal statutes.

While many of these restrictions may seem overly onerous and interfering, at least they provide some sort of certainty and guarantee as to what we can expect with the water that passes through our properties.

And perhaps because of the comfortable certainties we sometimes take for granted, we’ve often had people proudly tell us about their retreat, and how it has a river or stream or creek running through/alongside their property.  This, we are told, guarantees them all the water they will need, and perhaps also promises them a rich bounty of fish too.

They are more or less correct, but only in terms of today.  But what happens WTSHTF and the rule of law crumbles and disappears?  What happens when people still need water, but their other sources of water (perhaps an electrically pumped well, or city water, or whatever else) are no longer available?  They have no choice but to turn to any nearby river or stream and start taking water from it, surely.

So, depending on where you are along the flow of the river, stream, creek, or whatever you wish to call the body of water moving through your property, its normal flow of water, that is currently protected, with any offtakes and uses controlled, restricted and limited, could change drastically if people simply start taking whatever they believe they need.

That’s a problem, but it is only part of the problem.  What also happens when people lose their sewer service too?  Will they start feeding sewage into their stream?  Will they start washing their clothes in the river?  With the loss of electric pumping, will they take their herd of cattle to the river to drink, rather than having water taken up to cisterns and troughs, with the cattle defecating, urinating, and disturbing the water while there?

Maybe the person upstream from you will even throw dead animals in and generally use ‘your’ stream as ‘nature’s automatic trash removal service’?

All of a sudden, you find yourself either with no water at all, or with polluted water that’s not safe to drink.

Oh – and the fishing?  How well is that going to work when the guy upstream from you, and the guy downstream from you, both throw nets across the entire river, preventing any fish from getting to your stretch of water?

Now – don’t get us wrong.  We like water, and there’s nothing more scenically enhancing than having a ‘safe’ water flow through your property year round.  If there’s a chance to use it for hydro power generation, then so much the better – but note our careful use of the word ‘safe’.  You don’t want a river that has such a volume of water that it is changing its path, eroding its banks, and possibly prone to flooding your fields on occasion.

When evaluating any water that flows through your property as a suitable source of water and possibly fish, you need to very carefully understand what happens to every foot of that water flow from where it first starts, and all the way along its journey to where it enters your property, and some distance beyond as well.  Maybe the guy upstream might build a dam and divert the water’s flow entirely.  And if there’s any danger of someone downstream of you building a dam or in some other way blocking the water flow or causing the river to burst its banks and spill out over your land, that’s something you want to know about too.

It isn’t just your immediate neighbor upstream of you.  Each person from the water source to you can impact on the quality and quantity of water available to you.

And your problems may not only relate to ‘good’ uses of the water.  Maybe the guy upstream from you – or the guy upstream from him – wants to force you (or your neighbor, or both of you) off your land and so they will simply block the river upstream of you and suddenly what was fertile land and easily irrigated becomes neither.

Go watch some more movies.  There’s a dozen or more westerns involving disputes over water rights.  Should we also point out that, at least in the movies, the disputes were seldom peaceably resolved?

There’s another flip-side to this issue too.  If you are planning on being able to help yourself to water from the stream WTSHTF, how do you think the people downstream of you will feel if the water that they too may be relying on diminishes in flow?  Someone, somewhere, is not going to passively accept the change from a healthy flow of water to a muddy polluted trickle of effluent, and is going to start going upstream and ‘persuading’ people to ensure that he can get ‘his’ ‘fair’ ration of water, too.  Note the quotes around those two terms; water rights are truly a contentious subject and people have very different perspectives as to what is right and fair, depending on their situation and needs.

Our point is simply this :  You can’t rely on the current state of water flow on your property, with the underlying assumption being that everyone who potentially could do something to the state of the waterway will continue to abide by every one of the sometimes annoying and restrictive regulations that attach to the rivers and streams that may flow through our land.

If you are in an area which needs supplemental water, and if it is realistic to expect that people will turn to the water source flowing through your property for their water needs (which, after all, is actually exactly what you may be planning to do yourself, too!) then you need to be sure that there’ll be enough water for everyone, including the people downstream of you, because if everyone doesn’t get enough water, disputes will break out, and with people’s survival at stake, the disputes won’t merely involve writing nasty letters and filing law suits to be litigated through the courts over the course of many years and many appeals.  They will get violent.

This also points to another thing.  After TEOTWAWKI, people’s use of the land they are on will surely change.  In some cases, land will be abandoned, but in other cases, land will start to be farmed more extensively and, as best possible, more intensively too.  It is not enough to only understand what might happen to the water flowing through your property today, you also have to guess how this might change in the future.

Some of these future changes could be entirely unexpected.  What happens if someone starts some sort of factory that either consumes a significant amount of ‘your’ water, and/or discharges waste into the stream?

The more you think about that beautiful stream currently flowing through your property, the more you should come to realize that you can’t take it for granted in a Level 3 or even Level 2 situation.  In other words, even if you have what seems to be a perfectly good river/stream providing water to your property today, check out alternate sources of water so that you’re not relying on a single water source in the future.

Feb 242013
 
Your mom knew what she was saying when she told you to eat your vegetables.

Your mom knew what she was saying when she told you to eat your vegetables.

You already realize that once TSHTF, food will no longer grow on trees.

Well, okay, to the literal-minded of you, of course, apples etc will still grow on trees.  What we mean is that food will no longer be cheap and plentiful, requiring no more effort on your part than a drive to the local supermarket and paying a relatively small amount of money for a relatively large amount of food.

Instead, for most people, providing food for their family will become pretty much their primary activity for most of most days, and they’ll have little spare food left over from their labors.

So, obviously enough, if you waste, say, 10% of the food that comes into your house and kitchen, that means you have to work 10% harder than if you didn’t waste that food.

But there’s another issue that might be more subtle, but which is almost as important.

Saving on Food Means Saving on Water and Energy Too

Yes, food will become very precious and in short supply.  But one or two other things will also almost surely become very precious and in short supply too.  The first of these is water.  Depending on where you live and your water sources, you may find that at some times of the year (or, worse, at all times of the year) you do not conveniently have as much water as you might wish.

The second of these is energy – particularly in the form of electricity, but also more generally in the form of heat and fuel.

So let’s think about the first of these things first, and the second thing, second.  If you have a water shortage, you probably do things like take shorter showers, right?  You’re probably also careful to not flush the toilet more than necessary, and perhaps go easy on washing dishes and clothing too.  Maybe with some care, you can reduce your domestic daily water consumption from 75 – 100 gallons per person down to 50 – 75 gallons, and if you are fastidious, you could get as low as 25 – 50 gallons.

But the greatest need for water is outside your retreat.  It is in the fields, where you water your crops and feel your cattle and other farm animals.  You will probably use 100 times more water in the fields for agricultural purposes than you do in your retreat for household purposes.  So here’s the thing – if you can cut down your food waste by even 2% or 3%, then if you don’t need to grow 2% or 3% more food, the water saving from this will allow you to take long showers whenever you like.

Perhaps the extreme consumer of water is growing cattle.  Depending on your preferred study and analysis, it takes anywhere from 440 gallons to 2500 gallons of water per pound of beef that ends up going in your pot.  If we take a half-way point of 1500 gallons, and if we say you use 50 gallons of water a day, each pound of beef represents a month’s water supply.  That’s not a problem if water is plentiful, but if it is scarce, then it is a massive constraint.

A pound of chicken requires ‘only’ 500 gallons of water.  A pound of corn requires 110 gallons, a pound of wheat 150 gallons, a single egg requires 400 gallons, and a pound of potatoes only needs 10 gallons of water.  (Go to this page, guess at the values, then submit the form for the correct answers and data sources.)

Although your food savings may allow you to take longer showers, they will probably be cold.  Because there is the other constraint that you’re sure to be facing – energy shortages.

You can probably guess what we are about to say.  Growing your food requires a lot of energy – either your energy, or energy from horses and other animals that are helping you, and/or energy from farm machinery if you have fuel for them.

Indeed, you can get locked in a nasty cycle – growing crops to convert into bio-diesel and ethanol to power the machines you need to use to grow the crops you need to power the machines.  That’s a nasty loop to get into.

The bottom line for energy however, is the same as it is for water.  Small savings in the net amount of food you require and consume will translate to bigger savings in the energy you need to produce the food.

Almost Half of All Food is Currently Wasted

Currently, we live in an extremely wasteful society.  At present, estimates suggest that 40% of all food in the US is wasted, uneaten.  Waste occurs at all steps of the process – in the field, in distribution, and in the supermarket – not just in your house of course, but household waste is still a large and controllable part of this.

One could even say that at present, with food costs low, it makes sense to waste food.  It can be more of a hassle, and more of a time cost, to not waste food.  For example, carrots cost $1/lb or less, and potatoes maybe 20c/lb.  If you earn $30 an hour, taking five more minutes of time to save a pound of carrots or potatoes doesn’t make sense.  The five minutes of time is sort of worth $2.50, whereas you are only saving between 20c and $1 from an activity that has a ‘time cost’ of $2.50.

This is a far from perfect calculation, however, many people perceive, and more or less correctly so, that currently the time costs of being frugal outweigh the savings involved.

The present reality is reflected in other forms too.  For example, if you have a choice between making some vegetable soup from scratch, or opening a tin of Campbell’s soup, many people will reach for the Campbell’s.  Making it yourself might save you $1 in ingredients, but might cost you half an hour or even an hour in extra time.  Ignoring issues such as the quality of the final finished soup, most people understand the value of saving an hour of time and will choose the commercially prepared soup.

But this will all change when the food you eat is not grown by low-cost labor and high levels of mechanization, with no appreciable shortages of anything, probably thousands of miles away and speedily/efficiently flown from their field to your front door, but instead is grown with little mechanization and probably by yourself and your immediate neighbors only.

You are more likely to find that it takes you much more than five minutes of time, as well as lots of resource, to grow a pound of carrots or potatoes, and so if you can save a pound by spending five minutes doing something, it is time well spent.  And as for those cans of soup – they won’t exist at all.

So, how to reduce food waste?  It is easier than you think.  Here are four simple considerations.

1.  Change how you prepare food to minimize waste in preparation

Try to change your cooking style to minimize the waste.  For example, scrub rather than peel potatoes, and the same for carrots.  This will not only reduce your waste, but will increase the nutritional benefits – much of the vitamins and minerals in vegetables are closest to the outside.

If you trim the stalk off broccoli or cabbage or whatever, consider using that for a soup base.

The same thing for the water you boil your vegetables in – that is now a rich nutrient broth of vitamins and minerals.  Reuse it the next time you boil vegetables, then use it for broth or soup too.

Soups (and stews) will become your friends.  They are both great ways of using up leftovers, and reducing the amount of waste that would otherwise occur.

Okay, you can still trim some fat off your meat, but in what is almost certainly a more active lifestyle, maybe you can leave a bit more fat on the meat than you normally would.

2.  Change the type of food you grow

Oh – one more thing about meat.  Beef is by far a more energy and resource intensive type of meat to raise than pork or poultry.  You know that pork is cheaper than beef in the supermarket meat case at present, but the real difference in cost, when you have no subsidies, is much more than double.  Plan to raise pigs, and go easy on the beef.

You’ll of course want (need!) to do a similar thing with the fruits and vegetables you grow as well.  The crops you raise will be determined of course in part by the climate and soil conditions you have, and by the need to rotate crops, but also by which items will give you the greatest yield for the least amount of effort and energy.

At present, with home gardens, people have the luxury of growing the vegetables and fruits they most enjoy, but in a survival situation, you need to switch to those items which return the most nutrition per unit of energy, water, and time expended on your part, and which yield the most output from the smallest amount of ground.  Sure – you might have 10 acres around your retreat to cultivate, but the less distance and more compact your gardening, the more efficient its management becomes when you are more likely to be walking than driving everywhere.

You want to consider seasonality of when foods need to be planted and can be harvested, and also storage issues.  A fruit or vegetable that doesn’t last long and can’t be easily stored for extended time (eg lettuce) is not nearly as sensible a choice as something that can be stored and consumed over the winter season.  Chances are you’ll be growing plenty of potatoes, which are not only a high yielding crop but also a crop that can be stored for an extended time.

3.  Change what you do with cooked food to minimize leftover waste

Adjust the quantities you cook so you don’t end up with too much leftovers that eventually get tossed out, uneaten and spoiled.  Sure, it makes sense to cook in moderately bulk quantities – that can be both time and energy-efficient, but don’t overdo it, and also remember you always have to guard against appetite fatigue setting in.

Be careful at ensuring that you properly store and eat any leftovers you create – for example, quickly cover and refrigerate leftovers after cooking them.

There is nothing worse than leaving a pot of something, especially uncovered, on the stove and allowing it to naturally cool.  As the item cools, it goes through a temperature band which represents the ideal temperature band for bacteria, yeasts and molds to grow, and anything that might land in the item from the general air, or perhaps be introduced by handling, will find itself in an ideal environment to grow.  Keep all pots covered, and once you’ve finished serving out the food, quickly cool them then prepare them for storage, ideally in sealed containers with little or no headspace for air.

At present, with plentiful cheap energy, it is fine to cool things in the fridge, but in an energy scarce situation, you will probably choose to cool them with a water bath before then refrigerating them.

Depending on the item, cooked food may last longer than raw food, so plan what you have in the way of raw food and how/when you cook it.  As we said in the preceding paragraph, stews and soups will be your friends.  Don’t let appetite fatigue set in – you must vary your meals, but you also will find that some types of food preparation work better for you than others in terms of the ‘yield’ of edible food compared to raw food you start with, how much energy it takes to cook the food, and how long the prepared item lasts and can be eaten.

4.  Don’t throw away any food items – use everything in some way or another

Disable the waste disposal unit in your sink and instead place a filter over the drain so that no food goes down the drain and all is salvaged for some purpose.

This will help you two ways.  It will salvage a lot of food scraps that otherwise would disappear, and it will reduce the biomass inputs into your septic system (we are assuming your retreat will almost surely have a septic system).  Remember that pretty much all the solid that goes into the septic system will sooner or later need to be cleaned/cleared out of the tanks, and when you consider that after TEOTWAWKI, you can’t just call the local septic pumping service and have their truck come up and do it all, as if by magic, in an easy simple procedure.  You’ll have to do it yourself.  It will be smelly, dirty, and nasty; definitely something you want to do as infrequently as possible.

Any truly waste food unfit for humans should be fed to animals if possible.  And if that still leaves some items left over, put them into your compost bins.

Summary

Your life in a Level 3 situation will be defined and constrained by two related factors – the amount of energy available to you, compared to the amount you need; and the amount of food available to you, also compared to the amount you need.

Because growing food is an energy intensive process, anything and everything you can do to minimize your food needs will be beneficial, and help you better manage both your food needs and your energy needs.

With food, the adage ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ is very true.  Every reduction in the amount of food that goes into your kitchen will greatly pay off (maybe nine-fold, maybe more) in reducing the inputs you need to grow the food in the first place, giving you a better lifestyle overall and/or making you hopefully food ‘wealthy’ rather than food ‘poor’.

Feb 222013
 
The red states are the states with the least restrictive firearms controls, according to the Brady Campaign.

The red states are the states with the least restrictive firearms controls, according to the Brady Campaign.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is not a resource many preppers would expect to be helpful when choosing where to locate their retreat, but maybe if you flip things around, it can become useful.

Sadly, like many other presumably well-intentioned folk who simply don’t like guns, the Brady Campaign distorts the truth in their attempts to push their anti-gun advocacy, and right-thinking people doubtless find it easy to be offended by their myopic half-truths and distortions.

The Brady Campaign publishes a more or less annual report that scores each state based on the gun laws in that state, awarding a score from 0 (actually, it is possible for a state to get -4) to 100.  California scores top, with 81/100.  Arizona, Alaska and Utah are at the other end of the scale, all three getting a perfect 0 (but let’s hope a state manages to dip into minus territory in the future!).

Here’s a link to their interactive state map.  Click on a state to get a detailed scorecard for the state.

The data the Brady Campaign provides for each state is interesting and seems to be reasonably accurate.  While it is far from a complete evaluation of all possible firearms related laws and restrictions (for example, although of perhaps less general interest, it doesn’t talk about things such as restrictions on silencers or full-auto weapons, or whether one can have loaded long guns in a vehicle, or whether it is necessary to volunteer you have a licensed concealed weapon on you when interacting with a law enforcement officer) it still provides a good overview of each state’s approach to gun laws.

For your purposes, you can probably simply flip their study around.  The lower scoring the state, the more you’re likely to feel at home there.

The information on the Brady site also appears to be somewhat out of date.  We rely on an excellent site, www.handgunlaw.us, whenever we need to research a firearms related issue.  The site is fastidiously maintained and usually amazingly up to date, and whenever we’ve interacted with the site’s curator, he has been fast to respond and helpful.

The handgunlaw.us site also has links to each state’s specific legislation and other related information.  Recommended.

Can we observe one curious thing.  If you look at the most restrictive states for firearms ownership (below) these states also seem to be the states with the most firearms manufacturers.  The current gun craziness is actually forcing some companies to now consider moving.  If you find yourself talking to a manufacturer in a firearms-unfriendly state, ask them to move, too.

Summary

According to the Brady campaign, for our purposes the states with the least amount of onerous restrictions on firearms ownership are :

1= Alaska (perfect 0 score)
1= Arizona (perfect 0 score)
1= Utah (perfect 0 score)
4= Idaho (2/100)
4= Kentucky (2/100)
4= Louisiana (2/100)
4= Montana (2/100)
4= North Dakota (2/100)
4= Oklahoma (2/100)
10= Florida (3/100)
10= Wisconsin (3/100)

And the states with the most restrictions on firearms ownership

50  California (81/100)
49  New Jersey (72/100)
48  Massachusetts (65/100)
47  New York (62/100)
46  Connecticut (58/100)
45  Hawaii (50/100)
44  Maryland (45/100)
43  Rhode Island (44/100)
42  Illinois (35/100)
41  Pennsylvania (26/100)

Feb 192013
 
High capability remote controlled drones can be purchased for civilian use and costing as little as $1000 or less.  But be careful how you integrate such capabilities into your retreat's defensive strategies.

High capability remote-controlled drones can be purchased for civilian use and costing as little as $1000 or less. But be careful how you integrate such capabilities into your retreat’s defensive strategies.

I was reading an article on the comprehensive Survivalblog website – an impressive site that should be on your ‘must visit’ list.  It has a huge compilation of content, albeit some of it user-contributed and occasionally overlapping and repetitive in nature.

This particular article was about using radio controlled planes/helicopters (ie what are commonly now being termed ‘drones’) for reconnaissance and security purposes at one’s retreat.

The author of the article was talking about how these sorts of devices (possibly augmented by fixed wireless remote cameras too) provide excellent security and surveillance, and can even send live audio and video feeds direct to his cell phone and tablet, wherever he was.  It all sounded wonderful and appealing, and I could understand the author’s enthusiasm for the concepts he was proposing.

But.

This is the part which gave me pause, and served as the inspiration for the article you are now reading :

The other clear benefit to employing drones to keep watch, is that even if the device is spotted, and even engaged and disabled, it’s much better than risking losing a member of your team, or family. Machines are expendable, and replaceable, while people clearly are not.

A much better scenario would be to be sitting snuggly in a central command area equipped with CCTV monitors, powered perhaps by a genset, or re-chargeable solar/battery banks. Or even streaming into your laptop, I-phone or I-pad, regardless of your location relevant to the drones area of observation.

This is all great stuff, and as a high-tech gadget lover myself, music to my ears.  But there are three huge assumptions inherent in his recommendations.

The first assumption is not one to be discussed here – and that is the assumption that glorified ‘toys’ can provide an effective and secure observation/security/surveillance system, saving you from needing to have ‘boots on the ground’ out there, in observation posts and walking patrols.  That’s an assumption I’m very uncomfortable with; and so much so that it should be the subject of a separate post all on its own.

Suffice it to say that any type of security system is best with multiple layers of sensors and sensing, and that there’s still nothing out there that can entirely replace the good old Mark 1 Human Eyeball and Ear.  And whereas people and ‘human sensors’ are moderately all-weather capable and can be deployed for some hours at a time, most drones costing less than five or six figures are very limited in their weather handling, their range and their endurance.

The other two assumptions are what we wish to discuss in this article.

His second assumption – when he says that machines are expendable and replaceable, yes, that is definitely true today.  You can order spare parts or complete new machines online or over the phone today and expect them delivered a day or two later.  And probably you’d keep at least one spare for such a mission critical capability on-site, too.

The third assumption – when he talks about streaming video into a laptop, iPhone or iPad, regardless of location, that too is largely true today, as long as you are within a Wi-Fi or wireless data coverage area.  Of course, many of our retreat locations suffer from poor cell phone signals at the best of times, and very few also have good fast data service, but that is a known variable that can be factored in to one’s planning.

But – and here’s the huge, enormous, overpowering but.  What happens in a Level 2 or 3 situation (defined here)?  Even a Level 1 situation will pose problems.

What happens when the grid goes down, and society suffers a short, medium, or long-term collapse?  How do these assumptions withstand this type of adverse scenario, which is, after all, the scenario we are planning for?

You can’t then go online and order things, because the internet will be down.  Within a few days, landline phone service will become increasingly fractured too – where will the phone companies get electricity from to power their exchanges, their repeaters, and everything else needed to drive the wired phone system?  Sure, you probably understand that if you have traditional ‘POTS’ (Plain Old Telephone Service) at your home/retreat, you don’t need power for a wired phone to work – but that is because the phone company is powering the system at its end.  What happens when they lose power?

How will you then order a replacement drone?  You can’t, can you.  All of a sudden, that ‘expendable and replaceable’ item has become precious and irreplaceable.

Okay, we’re absolutely not saying you should carelessly hazard the lives of your community members instead (although a cynic might point out that replacement community members might be more readily available than replacement high-tech drones!).  We’re simply saying that basing your retreat’s defense strategy on the assumption that your main asset for observation and local intelligence gathering is conveniently available in limitless quantities and can be freely sacrificed is not a good idea.

The second of the two paragraphs we quoted above has another enormous assumption built-in to it.  While it is true that you could create your own LAN within your retreat, and you could of course use Wi-Fi routers to provide a wireless network that your portable computer devices could connect to, the range and coverage of this network will be limited and much less than the author’s expectations of being available ‘regardless of your location’.

Using omni-directional wireless hubs, you can expect a range of little more than 100 ft in the ‘best’ indoor situations, reducing substantially for every wall, floor or ceiling the signal needs to travel through.  An outside Wi-Fi antenna can radiate its signal 300 ft or maybe slightly more.

These ranges can be massively extended by using special directional antennas on both the Wi-Fi hub and the Wi-Fi device that is connecting to the hub, but an iPhone or iPad has no way of adding an external antenna to boost its range, and while a directional antenna will give you more range in its favored direction, the rest of the 360° of coverage area will have correspondingly less coverage.

Furthermore, when your device gets out of Wi-Fi coverage and switches to use the wireless phone company’s data signal instead (3G, 4G, LTE, whatever) that embodies a huge assumption – that the wireless company is still providing service, and that there is an internet connection between the device that receives the drone’s transmissions and the wireless company’s servers.  That’s just not going to happen – it only takes one link in the complex chain of dependencies between your drone’s receiver and your phone to go down for the connection as a whole to totally fail.

Don’t get us wrong.  As we said before, we love technology, and our own retreat is full of high-tech features and capabilities too.  But we’ve planned for a future where there are no external resources, and we fully expect our high-tech capabilities to degrade over time, so we have fall-back alternate approaches ready to deploy as this happens.

You must not rely upon being able to get resupply of anything.  Not food, not fuel, and definitely nothing high-tech.  You must not rely upon the continued existence of any external communications of any sort with the outside world – not data, not phone, not even snail-mail.

This is part of the differentiation between a Level 2 and a Level 3 event.  In a Level 2 event, you can plan to use your stocks and stores of ‘modern day’ conveniences (as long as they don’t require external support from sources and services outside your retreat) in the semi-confident expectation/hope that by the time you have used them all up, life will be back to normal.

But the Level 3 event – a longer term one than a Level 2 event, with a slower recovery back to ‘normal’ life – assumes that you are exhausting your accumulated inventories of everything and are having to shift to a type of sustainable life-style that you can support indefinitely, due to an extended time without the benefits of our modern world being restored.

Summary

Our point is simply this.  Examine very carefully the assumptions on which you are basing your planning and preparing.  Have you – like the writer of this article – accidentally slipped in some assumptions that the world we experience and enjoy at present will still be there to support you in an uncertain future?

If so, adapt your plan to reflect a situation where this external support resource is not available.

Feb 182013
 
The time to buy your essentials of all types is before the panic sets in.  Seems obvious, but most people fail to do so.

The time to buy your essentials of all types is before the panic sets in. Seems obvious, but most people fail to do so.

It is now just over two months since the Sandy Hook shooting caused an increase in the rate of buying firearms and ammunition due to people’s concerns about new restrictive legislation, and their hope that the legislation wouldn’t apply retrospectively to existing firearms, magazines, and ammunition.

We’re not primarily a firearms focused website, and our main perspective on this matter is to examine this real life example of our economy’s fragility and inability to quickly respond to changes in the supply/demand equation.  What happens with firearms could just as easily happen to fuel or medical supplies or food items – or anything else at all.

It is true that gun store shelves are no longer totally bare, but if you look at the price tags on the rifles and pistols now available for sale, you’ll notice steep increases in price.  Ammunition is also returning to the shelves, but in limited quantities and again at much higher prices.  Here’s a recent article from, of all places, USA Today that confirms these issues continue to be a problem.

We also can quote an interesting report that was published on a private member only website, explaining some of the constraints that firearms manufacturers are facing.

Smith & Wesson : Is running at full capacity making 300+ guns/day-mainly M&P pistols. They are unable to produce any more guns to help with the shortages.

RUGER :  Plans to increase from 75% to 100% in the next 90 days.

FNH :  Moving from 50% production to 75% by Feb 1st and 100% by March 1.

Remington :  Maxed out.

Armalite :  Maxed out.

DPMS :  Can’t get enough parts to produce any more product.

COLT :  Production runs increasing weekly but restricted by shortages of bolt carriers.

LWRC :  Making only black guns, running at full capacity…can’t get enough gun quality steel to make barrels.

Springfield Armory :  Only company who says it can ‘meet demand’ but meeting this demand sees them running 30-45 days behind.

AMMO :  Every caliber is now allocated! We are looking at a nationwide shortage of all calibers over the next 9 months. All plants are producing as much ammo as possible with 1 BILLION rounds produced weekly. Most is military followed by law enforcement, and civilians are third in line.

MAGPUL is behind 1 MILLION mags, do not expect any large quantities of Magpul anytime soon.

RELOADERS :  ALL Remington, Winchester, CCI & Federal primers are going to ammo FIRST. There are no extras for reloading purposes… it could be 6-9 months before things get caught up.

Distributors have nothing on the shelves.  What comes in daily goes out, nothing in reserve.

Confirming the comments about ammunition above – indeed, revealing the situation to be much worse, this next quote just appeared on the website for Stockpile Defense, a supplier of bulk ammunition to the Front Sight firearms training school in Nevada.  They say their best case scenario is to get only 20% of the ammo they have ordered this year.  One wonders what their worst case scenario might be!

Due to extreme shortages in the ammunition market at this time supplies have run VERY LOW. We continue to get as much ammunition as possible regardless of price. Prices have also increased as much as 50% on some items. At this time we can not guarantee an adequate supply for all students. 9mm and .223 are the hardest to come by.

We are asking students to plan ahead and bring what ammunition you can for the class. We apologize for this inconvenience and please be assured that we are doing EVERYTHING in our power to keep everyone shooting. These are extremely volatile times and conditions are changing on a daily basis. Please check the website often for updates.

Again, we apologize for this inconvenience in these matters and we appreciate your understanding.

Please bring as much ammunition you can with you. We will supplement the rest. We are trying to supply between 500-1000 students per week and at this junction we just are not able to acquire enough ammo to supply all of your needs. We are very sorry for this.

We have 50 million rounds of ammunition on order for the 2013 year. We will not see all of this delivered. If we see 10 million that is my projected best case scenario.

The Growth in Gun/Ammo Demand Isn’t as Huge as You Might Think

It is worth repeating that these extreme shortages of both guns and ammunition are not because of an extreme increase in demand.

There have been only modest increases in firearms sales.  The FBI reports the following number of calls in to their ‘NICS’ service – every time a person buys a firearm from a dealer, the dealer has to call NICS for an instant background check.  Not all calls to NICS are for firearm sales, and some calls represent a sale of multiple firearms, but as a rule of thumb measure, the volume of NICS calls tracks the volume of new gun sales in the country.

The FBI show the following results :

Month Most Recent     Previous Year     Increase in number     Increase in percent
December     2,783,765 1,862,327 921,438 49.5%
January 2,495,440 1,377,301 1,118,139 81.2%

In particular, note that the total number of checks in January decreased compared to December.  Whether this is due to lessening of demand, or just inability to supply, we don’t know.

So these modest increases have totally destroyed the industry’s ability to supply.

Modern Manufacturing is No Longer Flexible

We wrote before on how modern manufacturing is subject to multiple dependencies – for example, a car manufacturer can’t make more cars if he can’t get more of all the sub-assemblies that go into making the car from their suppliers.  For example, the car manufacturer probably buys in its engine management computer systems from other manufacturers.  And these other manufacturers probably buy in the circuit boards, the chips, and so on that go into the units.  And the circuit board manufacturers in turn buy in the components that they then make into the prepared circuit boards, and so on and so on.

The highest profile example of this trend is Boeing.  It used to design and build airplanes from almost the base raw materials.  Originally it would make its own engines, too; but after being broken up due to anti-competitive issues, it split off its engine manufacturing (and its airline operations too) and concentrated on the airplane building.

But now, with its new 787 airplane, it has outsourced not just much of the design, but most of the building too, reducing its role to that of coordinator and final assembler of the airplane from the subassemblies other companies have made.

The good sense of that strategy is very much in question currently.  Not only was the 787 many years late in its development process, but the entire fleet have now been grounded due to safety concerns.  The plane’s electrical system – designed by one company, with batteries from another, integrated by a third company, and with control systems from a fourth company, are showing an alarming tendency to burst into flames, and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist or even an airplane engineer to understand that this is not a good thing.

Somewhere along the way, it seems that Boeing lost control of the overall management and safety architecture of its new plane development, and rather than becoming the ‘Dreamliner’ that it fancifully named its new plane, it is instead more of a nightmare for Boeing, the airlines who have bought them, and the public who may have to anxiously fly in them.

We are seeing the multiple dependencies problem play out with guns and ammo too.  A shortage of bolt carriers is limiting Colt’s production; a shortage of gun quality steel is impacting on LWRC and a shortage of all parts in general is impacting DPMS.  As for ammunition, we know there is now a shortage of primers, and who knows what else as well.

Automation Prevents Flexibility

The other key issue is that all the automation that goes into modern-day manufacturing – while a very good thing from the perspective of low-cost high-efficiency manufacturing – means that increases in production rates may require buying more machinery for the factory.

It was an easy step, decades ago, for a factory to simply hire more workers, particularly for relatively unskilled jobs that didn’t require a huge investment or delay in a training process, and of course, when demand cycles reduced, to let those people go again.  There was little up-front cost, little leadtime/delay, and no ongoing liability.

But a company can’t buy a multi-million dollar machine, and probably also need to build a new bay in their factory to house it, at short notice.  Even if it somehow could, how long would it take to build the new factory extension, and to receive the new equipment it had ordered?  And, after having done this, it would then be saddled with the machinery in the event that there was a future downturn in demand.

It also used to be that manufacturers would have reserve capacity in their factories – the ability to add a second or third shift, for example.  But more and more, manufacturers are preferring to soak up their ‘surge capacity’ rather than buying in more capacity, and so they don’t have as much reserve capacity now.

And, even if they did, remember the issue we opened with.  They might be able to double their output, but what if their sub-assembly supplier can’t also double their output to match?

Manufacturers Deliberately Operate Very Close to Capacity

It makes no financial sense for a company to invest in two very expensive machines that each run one shift a day.  Instead most companies these days would prefer to operate one expensive machine for two shifts a day, and, if demand grows further, to add a third shift too.

This makes financial sense, but what then happens if demand increases but the manufacturers are already running at close to full capacity?

The other part of this picture is what happens when all manufacturers are running at close to maximum capacity and then one of the manufacturers is knocked off-line – unscheduled maintenance, even scheduled maintenance, or whatever.  We see this happen regularly these days in the oil/gas industry, where the closing of two or three refineries simultaneously around the country (for different reasons, but coincidentally at the same time) massively drives up the price of gas at the pump.  Indeed, as we write this, we are staring at huge increases in gas prices at the pump, at the same time that crude oil supplies are abundant.

This points to an interesting related point.  Manufacturers benefit from artificial shortages.  When there is a shortage of product, the manufacturers no longer have to compete with each other, but instead they can all push their prices up and enjoy the bonus windfall profits that come their way.

We see this also in the aviation industry.  As more and more airlines disappear (little more than ten years ago there were more than ten major airlines in the US, with last week’s announcement of the AA/US merger, we are now down to only three) and with the remaining airlines deliberately limiting their flights, we not only get to suffer more flights in the middle seat, but we have to pay more for the tickets, too.

Another example – the recent increases in vegetable prices, with some vegetables increasing in price more than 50% almost overnight, due to weather issues in some areas reducing supplies.  Now you could fairly say that it is very hard to match the supply and demand with a perishable product, but the fact remains that – with the entire world as potential suppliers of foodstuffs, we have seen prices for basic vegetables such as even broccoli shoot up from under $1.50/lb to around $3.00/lb.

Empty Warehouses

Another change is the lack of finished goods inventory.  In the past, it was common for companies at every step of the supply/distribution chain to hold reserves of product, so any sudden surges in demand could be satisfied from the warehouses full of finished products.  And by the time demand had persisted to the point that the manufacturers needed to increase their production rates, their sub-assembly suppliers also had reserve capacity to help them respond to increased production and offtake rates.

As we can vividly see from the above information, such capabilities are no longer commonplace.  So here we are, arguably the world’s most advanced nation and the world’s largest economy, and unable to supply even 20% of the ordinary normal demand for ammunition for the entire year ahead.

Bear in mind also that a lot of the firearms and ammunition sold in the US is imported.  Why can’t factories elsewhere in the world also supply enough for our needs?  Has a slight uptick in demand in the US overloaded the entire world’s manufacturing capacity?  As unthinkable as it may seem, the answer compellingly seems to be ‘yes, it has’.

Summary

The bottom line is obvious.  You need to at all times keep a reasonable inventory of all products you need and consume/purchase on a regular basis.  With a simple stock rotation system, this costs you nothing, and because it enables you to buy when products are at low prices to grow your inventory, and to use from inventory when prices are high at the store, you can actually ‘earn a return’ on your investment in your own supplies of food and other items.

The example of continuing shortages of firearms and ammunition shows that it only takes a small shift in demand to overwhelm the entire supply chain, meaning that most product becomes totally unavailable, and what little still passes through the distribution channels skyrockets up in price.

The time to stock up on essentials is now, when they are plentiful, not in the future after panic buying has already set in.

Feb 102013
 
No-one wants to get stuck in the snow.  But surely we do want the right to choose, for ourselves, if we try to travel in bad weather or not.

No-one wants to get stuck in the snow. But surely we do want the right to choose, for ourselves, if we try to travel in bad weather or not.

One of the major dichotomies between preppers and non-preppers is what they expect of the government in a time of crisis.

Non-preppers typically assume ‘We don’t need to do anything ourselves to prepare for a crisis, because if one ever should occur, the government will be there to help us’.  Preppers are more likely to think ‘Sooner or later a severe crisis will occur; one which will overwhelm the government’s ability to care for everyone, and so we need to be able to independently care for ourselves’.

Which is the more correct opinion?  That’s essentially an unanswerable question, but we get hints about the possible answer from occasional regional emergencies and crises.  For example, Hurricane Sandy, three months ago, saw some people without power or water and even without shelter for days, weeks, and in a few extreme cases, without suitable solutions a month and more later.

Lessons from a Level 1 Event – Snowstorm Nemo

As this article is being written, the snowstorm Nemo is dumping snow across the northeast of the US, exactly as had been predicted for some days prior to its commencement.  And this relatively minor Level 1 event (ie short duration and/or of only limited/regional impact) gives us another glimpse of what might occur when something really big and bad occurs without warning.

As reported here, the governor of Massachusetts astonished both his state and the entire country when he announced on Friday afternoon, before the storm hit, that he was banning all traffic on all roads.  Not just banning rear wheel drive cars on freeways, not just requiring ‘traction devices’ on vehicles (ie chains), but outright banning all vehicles, no matter what their snow capabilities, and on all roads, no matter how snow-covered or snow free they may be.  Freeways, highways, surface streets, minor roads, the lot.

The serious of his ban was underscored with the penalties offenders are being threatened with.  Up to a $500 fine and/or up to a year in jail.

Although an extreme and rare measure, his actions were then matched by the governors of Connecticut and Rhode Island.

How would you – how do you – feel at having your state’s governor suddenly announce a total ban on vehicular travel, for no reason greater than a shortly to arrive snowstorm?  Is the greatest nation on the earth’s best response to bad weather to lock its citizens indoors for the duration, and to cower from the storm’s effects?

Is the first casualty of an adverse event to be civil liberty and freedom?  Even a half-decent constitutional lawyer would come up with grave concerns about the constitutionality of such a blanket ban on all forms of travel (other than by foot).

Was This a Rational Act?

But, ignoring those sorts of thoughts for now (if you can) – how exactly is forbidding us from driving anywhere actually helping us?  There’s also the underlying and offensive assumption that we can’t be trusted to act sensibly in bad weather ourselves and that therefore the government needs to decide for us, and issue a blanket ban on everyone’s travel, no matter how able they and their vehicle might be to travel in the snow or not.

There is also the question, not asked by the regular media – in areas where the snow removal crews have literally given up and gone home, what happens in an emergency?  What happens if there is a fire?  A medical emergency?  Or an outbreak of lawlessness?  How can fire, paramedics or police get to the location?

What if you work shifts and were at work when the travel ban was announced?  Or were about to drive to work?

Most of all, and turning now to the question this article is headed by, can we count on ‘the authorities’ – a dismayingly long list of organizations and individuals who claim the power to control and restrict our lives – to act rationally and appropriately when confronting an emergency?  Is it sufficient for us to sit back, do nothing, and rely on the government to save the day?

Or would it be prudent to prepare for extreme and adverse situations and to be able to care for ourselves?

These types of actions reveal another reason why preppers seek a retreat location in some states but not in others.  Where would you rather be – a state which bans you from travel, whether you could safely travel or not, or a state that says ‘You’re an adult, you’re responsible for your own actions, and we already have laws forbidding unsafe types of driving.  Do what works best for you.’?

There’s an uncomfortable feeling of deja vu associated with the governors’ edict banning all road traffic.  It is both different – but also similar – to the decision after Hurricane Katrina to impound the firearms of lawful citizens.

Are the Police Mindless Automatons When it Comes to Enforcing Unjust/Unconstitutional Laws?

We’ve often had people discuss various future scenarios with us and tell us ‘Sure, the authorities may issue unconstitutional bans on all sort of things, but our police or military would never enforce them’.

Unfortunately, that is – and demonstrably – not the way the system works.  Apart from extremely egregious edicts – for example, if the MA governor had said ‘Shoot anyone, at sight, without warning, if they are driving on the road after 4pm’, it is not the role of front line police officers to question the validity of the orders they are given.  They are not attorneys and certainly not scholars of constitutional law and civil liberties.  It is their job to do what they are told to do on the basis of what seems to be, on the face of it, appropriate following of their chain of command and the assumption that their superiors know more than they do about the validity of the orders they are being given.

Typically the police take the pragmatic view that it is their job to simplistically enforce the laws as they are written, and it is the job of the courts to decide if the laws are fair, right, and proper.  Remember, although the police may arrest you and detain you, they are actually not determining your guilt or sentencing you to punishment.  They are simply stopping you doing what appears to probably illegal or harmful activity and delivering you to a court for the court’s decision as to if your actions were acceptable and – if illegal – what the consequences should be.

In that case, the police are as likely to give ‘the benefit of the doubt’ to the court as they are to you.  If they are not sure if a law is being broken or not, but if things feel wrong to them, they will probably assume the law might be being broken and proceed accordingly.

The police will of course adapt their enforcement actions based on court decisions, and sometimes their internal legal department will issue advice and guidance as to how new laws should be applied.  But whereas most normal laws and regulations occur with plenty of advance notice, allowing everyone to consider and prepare their positions for how it will be implemented and enforced, emergency regulations happen with little or no notice and no time for a careful and rational discussion about the underlying validity of the edict or how it is to be applied.

Again, the best answer to the question ‘What would happen/what would they do’ is to look at past examples.

How many police officers in New Orleans refused to seize privately owned firearms?  We’re unaware of any massive resistance at all by the police to that draconian edict.

Has there been any push-back by police at any level, or perhaps by their unions, to the ‘no-one can travel’ orders?  If there has, it sure hasn’t made the papers.  Indeed, unlike the outrage that welled, but only long after the firearms confiscation, there’s been precious little outrage to the decision to ban all traffic.

There are other smaller examples too – small to us, but huge to the people affected by them.  How about the man arrested on charges of ‘hoarding’ petrol after Hurricane Sandy – he went to the gas station with three or four five gallon containers, buying gas on behalf of himself and neighbors.  He wasn’t hoarding, he was sensibly helping his neighbors and cutting down on congestion and problems.  But his cooperating and coordinating with his neighbors got him arrested as a hoarder, and none of the people got their petrol.

All of these examples point to one last lesson.  We already know that, as preppers, we’re a minority in society today.  We need to remember that the rest of society does not share much of the same mindset that we have, and in an extreme situation, may (will) not act the way we’d expect ‘rational’ people (ie people sharing our mindset) would act.  We say this not to disparage – after all, it is a precondition and underlying tenet of faith that supports the democratic process that not only does the majority rule, but generally, the majority also rules appropriately and correctly.

When to Bug Out

There’s one more thing for people to consider as well.  This event shows that the authorities will happily suspend our civil rights before something possibly bad happens, because it is ‘best for us’ if they do so.

For those of us who consider bugging out, but who like to delay that decision as late as possible, perhaps it is necessary to rethink that strategy.  If the authorities impose travel bans or 24 hr curfews or call it whatever you like in the future, you’re clearly unable to bug out.  It would be terrible to be just about to leave when a travel prohibition takes effect.

It may be something else – maybe there will be a law passed compelling people to share their food.  Sounds unthinkable?  Not really.  Seizing lawfully owned firearms was unthinkable, banning all travel for any purpose in any type of vehicle also seems unthinkable.  You need – as a prepper – to consider the unthinkable, and to see the world not just from your logical and fair-minded perspective, but from other perspectives too.

As regrettable as it may seem, the possibility of massive changes to our rights and freedoms may make it advisable to bug out even earlier than you otherwise might choose to do.

Lessons for Preppers

Preppers generally predict and plan for a future with a collapse of government and a lack of any government response after a major impactful event.  But there’s another type of future too – where the government goes into overdrive, and rather than doing nothing, might start doing the wrong thing.  Perhaps that is an even worse future, and certainly one which also needs to be considered.

As we repeatedly see in minor Level 1 type events, when TSHTF, even in a small way, the authorities can not be consistently relied upon to always act rationally and appropriately.

Furthermore, incorrect and inappropriate decisions by the authorities are likely to be implemented and applied without any second guessing by the agencies in charge of enforcing the decisions – possibly police and other law enforcement, but maybe other agencies ranging from health to environmental to energy.

Preppers need to anticipate not only a future negative event, but they also need to anticipate dysfunctional responses by the authorities – responses that may harm and restrict the ability of preppers to benefit from their preparations and to survive quietly and unhindered by the authorities.

A plan to respond to a future emergency, while prepared fastidiously to be compliant with all ‘normal’ laws that are in place in normal times, might fail due to emergency restrictions and regulations imposed in the panic of a crisis.

For these reasons, we suggest that bugging out early, and moving to a retreat location where the authorities are less likely to inappropriately respond to problems, is an essential consideration.