The Foolishness and Fallacy of Not Making Your Retreat Defendable
An awkward issue that preppers have to confront when planning for a possible problematic future is what to expect from other people.
Will people peacefully unite and work together effectively to create win-win examples of mutual survival? Or will some group of society (maybe only a small minority) take advantage of a possible collapse of law-enforcement and in an anarchistic manner run amok in an orgy of looting, pillaging and plundering?
Opinions differ greatly as to what might occur. But the simple fact that there are credible concerns about a general decay into lawlessness is enough to require prudent preppers to plan for this. Whichever outcome might happen, a prudent prepper must necessarily consider not only the best case scenarios but also the worst case scenarios, and for sure, roving gangs of violent people who simply take anything they want by force is an unpleasant situation and some type of preparation for this must be considered and provided for.
A central part of the planning and preparing process revolves around one very big question : Is it practical to make your retreat fully secure against determined attackers? Is it even possible to do so? When (or if) you find yourself confronted by an armed gang of looters, what should you do? Shelter in your retreat? Run away, leaving everything behind? Fight to protect yourselves and your possessions?
There are many different opinions on how to respond to such an event, and you should form your own decision after having carefully considered all perspectives, all opinions, and – most of all – all facts.
It is certainly true that it is difficult to build a totally safe and secure retreat, especially while trying to keep the cost of construction to an affordable level. Modern munitions have enormous power and can destroy very heavily fortified structures. Besides which, if the first explosive device fails to blow a hole in your outside wall, an attacker may simply repeat a second and third time, progressively weakening your external fortifications until they eventually fail.
So, if any structure can potentially be defeated by a well armed and determined attacker, is there any point in spending potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars to strengthen it, in a case where such strength will always sooner or later be insufficient? This is clearly a very important question and concept, and one which demands consideration.
A letter was posted on the Survivalblog website recently that raised some of these often discussed issues. It is short, so to save you clicking to the link, this is what it said
A comment on the dual ring village concept. If it is advanced as a defense tactic, I would urge remembering that the walled-town versus siegecraft dynamic is thousands of years old, and the survival of walled towns and cities is only possible if they are:
- Provisioned to last longer than the besieging force, which is of course free to forage and be resupplied
- Relieved by a friendly force from outside.
They are also utterly obsolete since the development of artillery bombardment, still more so since the airplane and missile. Sad but true.
IMHO, safety today must rely on:
- Invisibility or insignificance to possible enemy
- Effective surveillance of a wide perimeter
- Mobile defense force to engage potential enemy at a distance
War is not only Hell, but quite expensive!
We don’t disagree with the writer’s first three points, although in truth there is a great deal more than just three factors that apply to considering the dynamics of siege situations and their likely outcomes. While the walled-town vs siege dynamic is thousands of years old, it is only in the last 500 – 1000 years that the relative safety of the walled-town has diminished compared to the ability of attackers to broach the fortifications. Furthermore, it is less than 200 years ago when fortified positions were still being used to good effect, here in the US, to protect against Indians and outlaws – a reasonable analog of the situation that might be expected WTSHTF.
Indeed, the decline of forts in the US came not due to their failure to protect the people within them, but due to the peace and stability and stronger law enforcement that made such forts no longer essential.
If we were to look at history for lessons – and this is always a valid thing to do – we’d suggest that history has actually validated rather than invalidated the concept of fortified dwellings.
But let’s put the writer’s introductory comments to one side, because that’s not the main problem we have. Keep reading on past his first three points and the conclusion he draws from them.
Now comes the trap. We’re sure this writer didn’t deliberately adopt this well-known technique of demagoguery, but see what is happening here, and be aware when it is used to try to persuade you of other things in other situations.
The process is simple. First you get the person you are trying to persuade to agree with you on some points which may range from ‘obviously’ true to probably true. In the process you establish yourself as a credible expert in the person’s mind and get them in the habit of agreeing with you. Salesmen are taught the same thing – you ask the prospect a series of questions to which the answer is ‘Yes’ then you ask him the big question – ‘Will you buy my used car’ and before the prospect has thought fully about it, he has reflexively answered yes again.
So, after the series of obviously true statements and agreements, second, comes the ‘sucker punch’. You use the agreements on the initial points as a launching platform to adduce the apparently incontrovertible validity of some other points which superficially seem to be related to the points you’ve agreed upon, but which in truth may be completely unrelated and not directly linked.
Now, as we said, we’re sure the writer of this letter was well-meaning rather than trying to trick us, but – in our opinion – the net result is that he offers up three uncontroversial facts about a complex topic, and then slides from that to three opinions which are far from universally accepted.
Let’s focus in on his three claims.
1. Safety relies on being invisible or insignificant to a possible enemy
Well, for sure, if you are invisible, your problems are reduced. But – ummm, which aisle of the local store sells invisibility cloaks? If you don’t have an invisibility cloak – and also the ‘absorbs all smells’ cloak and the ‘blocks all noise’ cloak, and if they are not large enough to cover your entire retreat, cultivated lands, wells, driveways, fencing, etc, then you’re not going to be invisible.
So saying that safety relies on being invisible is impractical and unrealistic. You may as well say ‘safety relies on being invulnerable’ – and that’s about as likely as becoming invisible.
We do agree that it is prudent to observe ‘opsec’ and to minimize one’s profile to the world around one. But we believe it is wildly improbable that you’ll remain undetected, longer term, and when you are detected, you need to have plans in place for how to now resolve problems.
The other half of the writer’s first point is to be insignificant. But is this what you want, and is it possible, and even if it were, does it guarantee you a successful outcome when being confronted by a group of bad guys? We think not.
Firstly, insignificant opponents are easy opponents. Who would a theoretical enemy rather engage – a strong substantial well prepared force, or an insignificant small group of unarmed survivors?
Secondly, who wants to prep to be ‘insignificant’ in a future without rule of law? Doesn’t the very fact that we have prepared and have supplies of food, shelter, energy, and everything else automatically shift us from the ‘insignificant’ to the ‘tempting’ category? Is he saying ‘become starving and homeless and you’ll be okay’?
We should also think about the opposite to what he is saying – when he says that insignificant groups of people are safe, is he suggesting that marauders are drawn to making kamikaze type attacks on much stronger groups of well prepared communities? That sure sounds counter-intuitive!
We’d suggest that in a future adverse situation, roving marauders will be opportunists, and will go after the ‘low hanging fruit’ – they’ll pick fights with people they know they can dominate, while leaving stronger adversaries well alone.
There’s one more thing as well. This being insignificant thing – were you ever bullied at school (or, perhaps, were you a bully)? Whichever you were, who were the people bullies would most pick on? The highly visible popular students, or the less visible loners? The lettered sports team jocks, or the puny weaklings?
How well did being insignificant work against bullies at school? So tell me how being insignificant would work against bullies in a future dystopian world where bullies are running amok, free of any negative consequences?
There is never safety in weakness. Only in strength. So, this first claim seems to be in part impractical/impossible, and in other part, completely the opposite of what is more likely to occur.
2. Safety relies on effective surveillance of a wide perimeter
There are a lot of assumptions wrapped up into this statement. First of all, it seems to contradict his first point – an insignificant group lacks the resources to keep effective watch on a wide perimeter. We’re not sure how wide a perimeter he is thinking of, but let’s say he is suggesting a one-quarter mile radius from your central retreat dwelling. That makes for an 8300 foot perimeter – more than a mile and a half of perimeter.
For another measure, let’s say you have a ten-acre roughly square-shaped block of land, and you establish your perimeter on the boundary of your ten-acre block. That perimeter would be probably about 3000 ft (a mile is 5280 ft), but that’s not a ‘wide’ perimeter. It means you will see your opponents more or less at the same time they see the first signs of your property and the give-away indicators of fencing, cultivation, crops, animals, or whatever else.
It may not be practical to have a forward perimeter beyond your property – if you have neighbors, do they want you running patrols and maintaining forward observation posts on their land? But if it is possible, and you have a perimeter another 150 ft out from your boundary, then you now have a 4,000 ft perimeter to patrol.
How many people will be required to patrol somewhere between 3000 and 8300 ft of perimeter? That depends of course on the terrain and what type of vegetation you have. Best case scenario might be eight people (say one in each corner of the 3000 ft ‘box’ and one in the middle of each side); worst case scenario could be 28 people (one every 100 yards with an 8300 ft perimeter). You might be able to get away with fewer people during the day, and you’d probably need more people at night.
Now, even with ‘only’ eight people on duty, and let’s say that each person works eight hours a day, seven days a week, that still means you need a total team of 24 sentries to guard your perimeter, plus some additional staff for supervisors, central headquarter coordinating, and so on. And that’s your best case scenario. With the larger perimeter, you could end up needing 100 people for your total sentry/observation team.
So with somewhere between 25 and 100 able-bodied members of your community who are full-time tasked with doing nothing other than effectively surveilling a wide perimeter, one has to ask – how practical is that?
But let’s wave our magic wand over this part of his statement (you know, the one we used for our invisibility cloak too) and now ponder the next thought – what happens when an enemy force is detected approaching our invisible and insignificant community? The writer answers that question in his third and last point.
3. A Mobile Defense Force is Required to Engage Potential Enemies at a Distance
This is another very complicated concept that is not adequately conveyed in a short statement. While it may be good military doctrine in the normal world to engage in such actions, in a Level 3 situation in particular, very different rules apply. In a normal (or historical) military conflict, both forces are willing to accept casualties as part of furthering their cause, because they are assured of a vast to the point of almost limitless resupply of soldiers and munitions from ‘back home’ and because the commanders who make such decisions are not the fathers, brothers, and close personal friends of the soldiers they are willingly sacrificing.
But in a Level 3 situation, you only have the people with you in your community, and no replacements. Plus, they are not strangers. They are your friends and family. What father will happily send his son out on a risky mission that might simultaneously see him lose his son and also see his community lose one of their precious able-bodied members? Keep in mind also, with a collapse in health care resources, even small battlefield wounds will become life threatening.
There’s a terrible imbalance in this, too. Although your community will have a small and irreplaceable resource of manpower – and a similarly small and irreplaceable resource of weaponry and munitions – it will be confronting a seemingly limitless number of roving gangs of aggressors. Sure, you might successfully fight one gang off this week, but what about next week, the week after, and so on?
As we point out in our article about gangs being your biggest security threat, there were 1.4 million gang members in the US in 2010. Now, of course, not all 1.4 million of those people are going to singlemindedly attack you, if for no other reason than geographical distances and the sure fact that many of them will lose their lives doing other things, elsewhere. But how many more gang members will they recruit, and how many new gangs of all types will spring up when the rule of law evaporates?
So our first point is that in a future Level 3 situation, you are going to want to do all you can to protect your people and to avoid risking their lives and wellbeing. You’ll not want to gratuitously start any firefights that you couldn’t otherwise avoid.
There’s more to critique in the writer’s third suggestion/statement, too. If you are going to engage potential enemies, as he recommends, you need to surprise and ambush them. So you’re going to have to have prepared ambush locations and defensive positions all around your retreat and wherever else you might choose to initiate contacts.
This strategy also links in to his earlier comment about a wide perimeter. If your sentry perimeter is your property line or just beyond, or only one-quarter mile from your retreat, it will be impossible to ‘engage at a distance’ when you might not detect enemies until they are almost upon you.
Remember also you need to allow time from when your sentries have sounded an alarm to when your reaction force can group together and travel to the point of encounter. This is indeed another reason for wanting to set your perimeter out as far as you can.
But if you extend your perimeter out to, say, 1 mile, you’ll have all sorts of issues with patrolling on other people’s land, and your manpower requirements will increase enormously. You could quickly end up needing 500 people for sentry duty, and much more sophisticated communications systems to control and coordinate them all. So that’s not going to work very well either, is it.
There’s also the simultaneous moral and tactical issue about what do you do when encountering – to use the writer’s term – a potential enemy? If you do as he advocates and engage them at a distance, does that mean you’re opening fire on people who may have been quite peaceful and having no intention of attacking you? Does that mean you’re killing people who didn’t even know you were there (remember, you’re also supposed to be insignificant and invisible)?
Or, if you’re giving them warnings, haven’t you just revealed your presence, and ceased to be both insignificant and invisible? And, having given them a warning, you’ve now lost the initiative – they can decide, after making a show of retreating away, whether they’ll stay away, or if they’ll circle around and attack you unawares from another side. (Oh, right, yes – your effective surveillance of a wide perimeter is keeping you safe. Maybe.)
We could go on – for example, we could wonder how mobile the mobile force the writer advocates would actually be in a Level 3 situation.
Are we talking horses, or vehicles – if the latter, just how much gas do you have to burn on roving mobile patrols, and how complete an inventory of spares for the vehicles you’re using all day every day? What type of roading will be required? And how invisible/insignificant are you being with motorized patrols?
Alternatively, if you’re going to use horses, they aren’t a free source of mobility. Horses require feeding, stabling, training, medical care, and so on. You’ve just added yet another layer of complexity and cost and overhead to your retreat community. Not only do you now have some hundreds of people full-time on sentry duty, but you now need a mobile force of, shall we say, 50 cavalrymen, and they in turn require how many extra people to care for their 50+ horses?
Remember the concept of a ‘horse acre’ – each horse requires almost an acre of farmland to be supported. So the first 50 acres of your retreat are required for the cavalry horses, and the first 500 adults in your retreat are all either sentries or soldiers, and if we say you need another 1000 people to do productive work to cover their own needs plus those of the 500 strong security group, and if we say that these 1500 adults have on average at least one other family member, your retreat community has now grown to 3000 people.
Is that still small and insignificant?
Actually, we are probably being conservative about the proportion of ‘support people’ and civilians that are required to underpin your security force. It is rare to find a country with more than 5% of their population in the armed services. Even in the gravest parts of Britain’s struggle in both World Wars One and Two, with the entire country locked in a life and death struggle and every part of the economy devoted to supporting it troops, and with the civilian population suffering rationing of everything – food, clothing, energy, you name it – the largest force that Britain could field was only about 10% of their entire population, and that was for only a brief part of the war.
With possibly less automation in your post-WTSHTF community, and with the need to have a sustainable allocation of resources to defense compared to simple food production and survival, it is unlikely you could have much more than 5% of your total retreat population tasked with defense duties, and/or no more than 10% of your adult militarily fit (generally considered to be 17 – 49) population.
So there’s a rule of thumb – multiply your defense team numbers by 10 to get the total number of 17 – 49 year olds in your group, and by 20 to get a minimum total group size of all ages. Or, working backwards, divide the count of adult able people in your group by ten and that’s about how many you can afford to spare for defense duties.
Some Alternative Thoughts
Okay, so the three ideas proposed by the letter writer don’t really make much sense, do they. But we do probably all agree that being besieged by an opposing force is not a good situation, either.
So what is the solution?
This brings us to another trick of demagoguery. Are the initial three statements, the statements we agreed with, actually applicable to our situation? As we hinted at before, we suggest not. We’re not talking about medieval wars between states, when brightly colored knights on horses jousted in a chivalrous manner with each other, and armies mounted sieges against lovely crenelated castles surrounded by moats, located obligingly on open fields.
We are talking about a roving group of marauders, probably numbering from a low of perhaps 10 up to a high of probably less than 50. For sure, if they encounter us, they would be keen to take whatever they wished from us, but if they can’t do that, will they devote the next many months or years of their lives to mounting a siege? Or will they give up and move on, because for sure, some miles further on will be some other small community who perhaps truly is insignificant and easier to plunder?
If fortified settlements worked well in the wild west against similar types of bandit groups, wouldn’t they work well again in a future Level 3 situation?
Our point is this – a strong well fortified central retreat is more likely to discourage rather than to encourage attackers to press on with an attack. Sure, they might start off by attempting to overwhelm your group, but if they fail at the easy stuff, are they then going to risk losing more of their people and sweating the hard stuff? We suggest not.
While it is true that modern artillery and air delivered munitions are beyond what we could realistically build defenses against, how likely is it that a roving group of marauders will be towing field artillery pieces, or have an airforce at their command? Even if they did have some military grade munitions, do you think they would have many of such things, or maybe just one or two that they were reluctant to squander?
So what level of protection do you need to build into your retreat?
Realistic Construction Standards for Your Retreat
We suggest you design a retreat that can withstand being shot at by heavier caliber rifles, and which is fireproof.
It is certainly conceivable that attackers would have rifles, and it is certainly conceivable that their rifles would be in full size calibers such as 7.62×51 (ie .308) rather than in lighter calibers such as 5.56 (ie .223) or 762.×39 (ie Soviet type AK-47 calibre).
So your retreat should be built to be able to withstand multiple hits in a single location from .308 and similar calibers, and be constructed of a material that you can readily repair at the end of any such attack.
It also has to be strong enough to resist physical assault – in other words, if attackers get to your retreat’s exterior walls, you don’t want them to be able to break windows and climb in, or to knock down doors with a battering ram. You want to physically block them by your exterior wall while you pour defensive fire down on them from protected positions on the top of the wall.
Talking about fire, it is certainly conceivable that attackers could somehow get incendiary devices to the walls and roof of your retreat. The strongest walls are useless to you if you have a shake roof which the bad guys set on fire.
If you have wood on your walls or roof, then you’re vulnerable to this type of attack. But if you have stone, adobe, metal, or concrete, you are safe from the threat of fire, too.
There’s a lot more to this topic – a lot more on both sides of the discussion – and we’ll come back to it again in future articles. But for now, can we suggest that it is possible to envisage a viable future that doesn’t involve 500 sentries and soldiers, invisibility cloaks, and contradictory and morally unsound strategies.
The question of how to optimize one’s ability to survive against attacking marauders is a key and critical issue that you need to consider. We’re not saying that every day will see you battling afresh against new groups of attackers – such events may be very rare indeed. But, rare as they may be, they are not unforeseeable and may occur.
The problem becomes of how much resource to invest into anticipatory defenses. A text-book perfect solution would require an impossible amount of manpower and resource. You will need to compromise, accordingly. But we don’t think there is safety in weakness; surely there is only safety in strength.
We’re reminded of the story about how to survive a bear attack if you’re unarmed. You don’t need to be able to outrun the bear. You just need to be able to outrun the people you’re with.
In our case, to survive an attack by marauders doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be either invisible or invulnerable. It just means you’ve got to be less tempting a target than other people in the surrounding area.
Don’t get us wrong. The best case scenario of all would be for your neighbors to be similarly hard targets, so that word gets out that your entire region is best avoided. But first make your own retreat community strong; and only after that, work to help your neighbors on a basis of mutual support, too.
We’ve spent much of this article critiquing the letter we quoted. But hopefully through the critiques, you can see implied positive strategies and approaches, and we’ll write more on how best to protect your retreat in further articles.