Jun 272013
The effects of the bomb at Hiroshima were greatly magnified by the flimsy construction methods used in the city.  The few buildings constructed to western standards proved comparatively robust.

The effects of the bomb at Hiroshima were greatly magnified by the flimsy construction methods used in the city. The few buildings constructed to western standards proved comparatively robust.

This is the first part of a two-part article about surviving nuclear blasts.  In this first part, we look at the immediate effects of nuclear blasts, in the second part, we will look at longer term effects.

Few things are more horrific in many people’s minds than the thought of being close to a nuclear explosion.  Some people have gone to great lengths, constructing massive bunkers/shelters in their basements, to do what they believe may be necessary to optimize their chances of survival in such cases.  But – two questions :  Are such things really necessary?  And, if they are necessary, will they truly protect you?

Sure, we agree that ground zero would not be a nice place to be at, but the horror and the power of nuclear weapons are often overstated and misunderstood – especially by the ‘anti-nuke’ campaigners; oh yes, and by bunker salesmen, too!  So, let’s first investigate the question – how survivable is a nuclear explosion, and then in a subsequent article series we’ll evaluate the best type of bunker or other shelter structure that would be appropriate for most of us.

The survivability of a nuclear blast depends on several variables (of course).  In particular, it depends on how powerful the nuclear bomb is – and that’s the first variable most civilians fail to account for.  A second variable is how far you are likely to be from the blast (and we consider some of the surprising unexpected considerations related to determining that in the second part of this two-part article).

Other variables include the weather (obviously wind has a massive impact on fallout patterns, so too does rain), the time of day (the nuclear flash will blind more people at night), topography (you might be sheltered by a hill) and ‘urban clutter’ (buildings and other things that occlude and slow down a blast wave more quickly than most theoretical models allow for).

One more huge variable is whether the blast is an air blast (most likely), a surface blast (less blast effect but massively more fallout) or a sub-surface blast (effects depend on how deep the blast is).

How Powerful Are Nuclear Weapons?

Nuclear bombs are measured in terms of the equivalent amount of TNT required to create a similar blast.  Actually, due to various imprecisions, these days they are measured in terms of total energy released which is converted to a theoretical equivalent amount of TNT to make it sound more scary and also more meaningful – if you were told that a bomb had a power of 4.184 petajoules you’d have no idea what that meant, but most people can vaguely comprehend that a one megaton bomb is awesomely powerful.

The 1 MT rating is equivalent to the 4.184 petajoule rating.  You might not be familiar with the ‘peta’ prefix – a petajoule is  1000 terajoules, or 1,000,000 gigajoules or 1,000,000,000 megajoules, or, in the ultimate, 1,000,000,000,000,000 joules – a very big number indeed!

But, back to the usual common measurement of nuclear weapons.  The power of such weapons is usually measured either in kilotons (kT) or megatons (MT), being respectively 1000 tons or 1,000,000 tons of TNT equivalent.

Nuclear bombs range in size from a few kilotons of TNT equivalent power to possibly over 100 megatons of TNT equivalent power.  The smallest that we are more or less aware of were the (withdrawn from inventory more than 30 years ago) W54 series of warheads, with explosive blasts measured in the mere tons or tens of tons of TNT equivalent.

The biggest ever exploded was a Russian bomb, called  the Tsar Bomba, which created an estimated 57 megaton blast, in 1961.

To put these sizes into context, conventional ‘high explosive’ type bombs range from some tens of pounds of TNT equivalent up to the largest GBU-43/B bombs with an 11 ton yield.  Russia might have an even larger bomb with a 44 ton yield.  Most conventional bombs have an under half ton yield.

So that’s the first take-away point.  A ‘nuclear bomb’ can range from something less powerful than a conventional technology bomb, to something of hard to comprehend power and magnitude.

There’s as much as a million times difference in power between a small nuclear bomb and a huge one – that’s like comparing the tiniest firework cracker with a huge 6000 lb conventional ‘bunker buster’ bomb.  Except that, of course, even the smallest nuclear weapon is sort of like a huge 6,000 lb conventional bunker buster bomb, and they just go up from there in scale!

Nuclear Bombs Are Getting Smaller

A related piece of good news.  Although the first decade or two of nuclear bomb development saw a steady increase in size/power, that trend has now reversed.  The two bombs used against Japan were approximately 13 – 18 kT for the Hiroshima bomb and 20 – 22 kT for the Nagasaki bomb; and then for the next fifteen years or so after that, bomb sizes got bigger and bigger.

The largest bombs ever tested were the US Castle Bravo test in 1954 (15 MT – this was actually a mistake, it was planned to be only half that size) and the Russian Tsar Bomba test in 1961 (57 MT).

Since that time, the typical warhead size has gone down again rather than up.  Happily, bigger is not necessarily ‘better’ when it comes to nuclear weapons.  There are several reasons for this.

Due to the increased accuracy of the delivery systems, there has become less need for a massively powerful bomb – a smaller bomb delivered with precision would generally have the same or better effect than a bigger bomb that arrives some distance off target.  Earlier missiles were only accurate to within a mile or so of their target, the latest generation are thought to be accurate to 200 ft or so, so there is no longer a need to have a weapon so powerful that it will be capable of destroying its target, even if it is a mile further away than expected.

Secondly, the evolution of multi-warheaded missiles means that instead of a missile delivering one big bomb to one target, they can now deliver two, three, or many bombs to many different targets, but this requires each warhead to be smaller and lighter (ie less powerful) than otherwise would be the case.

With a single missile having a limited amount of space available and weight carrying capability to transport warheads, and with a fairly direct relationship between a bomb’s power and its weight (and lesserly space), there has been a general favoring to the smaller warheads, although Russia still has a few enormous 20 MT warheads in its inventory.

There is also the surprising and counter-intuitive fact that the effects of a nuclear explosion do not increase directly with the increase in its power – that is to say, a bomb with twice the rated TNT equivalent explosive power does not also have twice as much destructive power; it has more like perhaps 1.6 times the destructive power (the actual relationship is x0.67).

This means it is better to have two bombs, each of half the power of a single bomb (and better still to have four bombs, each of one-quarter the power).  In terms of maximizing the total destroyed area, if you have a single missile that could have, say one 8 MT warhead, two 4 MT warheads, or four 2 MT warheads, generally this last option would be the most desirable one.  It also means the attacker can choose between sending multiple warheads to one target, or being able to attack more targets.

Furthermore, having four warheads all splitting off from the one missile gives the enemy four times as many objects to intercept.  It is much harder to safely defend against four incoming warheads than one.

So, for all these reasons, multiple small bombs are now usually the preferred approach.

Bigger Bombs Don’t Have Proportionally Greater Destructive Ranges

This statement needs explaining.  There are two factors at play here – the first is that if a bomb is eight times bigger than another bomb, it doesn’t destroy eight times as many square miles (due to the power of the bomb not increasing linearly with its TNT equivalent, as explained in the preceding section).  At the bottom of this page it says that eight small bombs might cover 160 sq miles of area (ie 20 sq miles each), whereas one single bomb, eight times the size, would only cover 80 sq miles.

The second factor is to do with the difference between a bomb’s destructive area and its destructive range.  A bomb’s destructive area spreads out more or less in a circular pattern, but the area of a circle is proportional to the square of its radius.  In other words, for a bomb to have a radius of destruction twice as far as another bomb, it would need to be four times more powerful, not two times as powerful.

So, continuing this example, 80 square miles require a circle with a radius of 5.0 miles, and a 20 sq mile circle has a radius of 2.5 miles.  In other words, to double the distance within which a bomb will destroy everything, and after allowing for both the square relationship between distance and area, and the less than doubling of explosive effect when you double the power of a bomb, you have to increase its explosive power not twice, not four times, but eight times.

This is presented visually in the following diagram, which shows the radius of the fireball created by bombs of different sizes, ranging from small to the largest ever detonated (sourced from this page).


Don’t go getting too complacent, though.  This is only the close-in fireball – the blast and temperature effects would extend much further than this (although subject to the same proportionality).

Actual Effects and Safe Distances

Now that we start to talk about actual damage and death, it is important to realize that these things are not clear-cut.  Apart from extremely close to a bomb’s detonation, where everyone will be killed, and everything destroyed, and extremely far from its detonation, where no-one will be killed and nothing destroyed, in the range between ‘very close’ and ‘safely far away’ there is a sliding scale of death and destruction.  There are zones where 90% of ‘average’ buildings will be destroyed, and other zones where only 10% of average buildings will be destroyed, and the same for where varying percentages of people may be killed or injured.

As can be seen from pictures taken after the explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even very close to the blast centers, some buildings remained standing, while other buildings, relatively far away, were destroyed.  There’s a lot more to whether buildings and people survive than just distance from the blast, and one of the factors is best described as ‘luck’.

So the numbers we give below are very approximate.

To be specific, a 20 MT warhead (the largest in Russia’s arsenal) would send lethal radiation about 3 miles, almost all buildings and many people would be killed by blast effects up to 4 miles away, and third degree burns (the most serious) would be inflicted on people in direct line of the blast up to 24 miles away (see the table below, taken from the Wikipedia article on this page).



Explosive yield / Height of Burst

1 kt / 200 m

20 kt / 540 m

1 Mt / 2.0 km

20 Mt / 5.4 km

Blast—effective ground range GR / measured in km

Urban areas completely levelled (20 psi or 140 kPa)





Destruction of most civilian buildings (5 psi or 34 kPa)





Moderate damage to civilian buildings (1 psi or 6.9 kPa)





Railway cars thrown from tracks and crushed (62 kPa; values for other than 20 kt are extrapolated using the cube-root scaling)





Thermal radiation—effective ground range GR / measured in km






Third degree burns





Second degree burns





First degree burns





Effects of instant nuclear radiation—effective slant range SR / in km

Lethal total dose (neutrons and gamma rays)





Total dose for acute radiation syndrome






With most bombs likely to be 1 MT or less, the column in the table for 1 MT devices is perhaps most relevant.  If you have a well-built retreat, then as long as you are, say, 5 miles or more away from the detonation, your retreat will remain standing.

As for yourself, it would be nice to be a similar distance away to keep your own overpressure experience to a minimum (ie under 20 psi, although the body may survive up to 30 psi according to page 4-5 of this FEMA document).

There is also a need to avoid the lethal radiation, which will reach out about 2 miles, with diminishing degrees of lethality as you get further away from the blast – for example, you’ll have a 50% chance of dying from radiation (but not so quickly) if you are within 5 miles.

But your biggest worry (ie the threat reaching out the furthest) will be the flash and temperature effects.  If you are outside, you don’t want to have the bad luck to be looking at the bomb (especially at night), and ideally you’d be more than 13 miles from it to avoid even first degree burns.  At 10 miles, you’ll start to get more severe second degree burns, and while normally survivable, in a situation with diminished medical care available, these would be life threatening.  However, if you are inside, you can safely be closer, because the walls of the structure will insulate you from the heat and flash.

So, to summarize, with a 1 MT bomb, you’ll die from either burns or radiation or blast if you are within 5 miles of the blast.  If you’re not sheltered from the direct heat flash, you’ll die from burns if you’re within about 13 miles of the blast.

If you are indoors, then your structure may collapse around you (and on top of you) if it is within 5 miles of the blast, and if it is constructed from flammable materials (ie wood in particular), it might catch fire if within 7 miles.

There is one more immediate risk to be considered.  The blast is going to transform all sorts of things into dangerous flying objects.  You might survive the initial blast itself, only to be skewered by a flying telegraph pole a minute later, or be cut and bleed out from splinters of flying glass.

Here’s the thing – the blast wave travels more slowly than the initial flash.  So if you perceive an enormous flash, you should urgently take cover away from windows or weaker external structures, and wait several minutes until the hail of debris has subsided before venturing out.

Lastly for this part, here’s an interesting web program that shows the estimated ranges of the various effects of a nuclear explosion.  You can choose the power of bomb and where it is detonated, and see its coverage effects accordingly.

In our opinion, the ranges it shows are slightly over-estimated and fail to consider topography and other real-world factors, but it is probably acceptably accurate for the purposes it was created for, and on the basis of ‘better safe than sorry’ it does no harm to consider its results carefully.

Read More in Part Two

This first part of our two-part article has covered the immediate dangerous effects of a nuclear explosion that will occur within the first five minutes or so of a bomb blast.

But unlike a conventional bomb, don’t think that if you survive the first five minutes, then you’re safe.  There’s much more to consider, starting from perhaps about thirty minutes after the blast first occurred.  Please now turn to the second part to learn about the secondary and longer term effects of a nuclear explosion.

Jun 272013
A Civil Defense map from 1990 showing likely fallout patterns after a moderate intensity nuclear war.

A Civil Defense map from 1990 showing likely fallout patterns after a moderate intensity nuclear war.

This is the second part of a two-part article about how close you can be to a nuclear explosion and survive.  If you arrived direct to this page from a search engine or link, we suggest you first read the first part which talks about the immediate effects and dangers of a nuclear blast (covering the first five minutes or so) and how close you can be and still survive those.

Once you have survived the immediate effects of a nuclear blast – the fireball, the flash, the heat, the radiation, the blast wave and the flying debris, you have no time to relax.  There are two more dangers still to consider.

The first danger is that this first nuclear blast may not be the only one.  In a full-out nuclear war, all significant targets will likely be targeted to receive multiple bombs.  We’d suggest that if a first blast occurs, you anticipate that additional blasts may follow, and potentially over a period of an hour or two.  There could be several blasts within ten to twenty minutes from the first wave of missile attacks, and then there might be a second wave of attacks that follow an hour or so later.  Assuming you are in a moderately appropriate place to shelter, stay there for an hour or two in case of additional bombings.

Unhappily, the concern about additional bombs following the first is only one of the reasons to stay sheltered (or to urgently get to shelter).  There’s another major factor that will start to come into play, about 30 minutes after the explosion.

The Danger of Fallout

This is where some type of shelter facility becomes essential.  The bad news part of the immediate effects of a nuclear blast is that you might not have a chance to get to your shelter in time to be protected from them; the good news part is that they are lethal only over a surprisingly short distance (see the first part of this article for a discussion on the range of the lethal initial effects of a bomb blast).

But the fallout from the blast may start arriving at your location as soon as a few minutes after the blast, and might continue arriving for hours or even days afterwards, depending on issues such as wind and rain (see our series on Using Wind Data to Estimate Fallout Risk).

You have two problems with fallout.  Firstly, you don’t want it falling on you or getting in to your retreat/shelter.  Secondly, it will remain ‘out there’ – on the ground, on exposed surfaces, and anywhere/everywhere dust can settle – for a very long time until either washed away, removed, or radioactive levels subside.

Even though the radiation levels from the fallout may be low, they will be continuous and the effects on your health will be cumulative.  Controlling your exposure to fallout radiation is essential.

We talk about fallout in detail on our page Radiation and Fallout Risks.

There is a new concept to introduce to you now – and that is the difference between early and delayed fallout.

Depending on the particle sizes of the fallout material, some fallout will rise further than other fallout.  The heavier pieces go up a shorter distance and come down more quickly – this is termed early fallout.  The lighter pieces will go further up into the atmosphere – some objects may even be shot out into space, happily never to return.  The lighter pieces may get caught up in the jetstreams and be whisked away from where you are.

The immediate problem for you, if you are reasonably close to a bomb blast, is the early fallout.  This will start landing on the ground within 30 minutes of the explosion in the immediate vicinity of where the explosion occurred, and closer to an hour later by the time you get 20 miles away.  By the time you are 100 miles away, it may not start landing until 4 – 6 hours after the event.  These distances are largely determined by the wind speeds and directions, the fallout will not land evenly in neat concentric circles, but will skew strongly in some directions and might not appear at all in other directions.  We can be reasonably sure about the time it will take for the early fallout to come back down again, but we can not guess as to the specifics of where it will land.

All of the early fallout is usually deposited within 24 hours.  The remaining lighter particles can take months before they return to the ground, and may do so anywhere in the world (information taken from p 14 of this excellent 1961 guide).

So even if you survived the initial blast from the bomb, you still need to quickly get to shelter to avoid the fallout.  Depending on how far you are from the explosion, you can expect fallout to start arriving some time from 30 minutes after the blast, and to continue for a day.

How Long to Shelter For

The next part of the process is sheltering until the radiation from the fallout has reduced down to an acceptable level.  How long will this take?  That depends on how much fallout is surrounding you, and also on its rate of decay.

You probably should plan to stay inside for several days before even thinking about what is out there, then at that point, warily stick a radiation meter out a door and see what it says.  If it starts chattering away at an alarming level, quickly retreat back inside and wait a few more days before repeating.  The two readings will also give you a feeling for rate of decline, helping you get a feeling for how much further you are likely to need to keep waiting.  We have a page here about detecting and measuring radiation and will shortly be releasing an article about how much radiation is safe and when it instead becomes dangerous.

Realistically, you should be prepared to shelter for as long as a month or more, and as we discuss in our article on detecting and measuring radiation, if after a month, radiation levels remain dangerously elevated after a month, and show only low rates of reduction, then maybe you are unlucky and have had a particularly large deposit of fallout around your retreat, and maybe you need to consider abandoning your retreat entirely.

Note that while you might choose to shelter for a month or more, you can almost certainly venture outside for very short periods of time during your period of sheltering, although you need to be very careful not to bring contamination with you back into your shelter.  Shoes/boots in particular will have fallout on them after walking around outside, and your outer clothes may too.

While outside you should cover up as much as possible, and we’d suggest breathing through a mask as well, particularly if there is wind and dust outside.  You’d want to remove your footwear and clothing outside the shelter, and shower outside, before coming back into the shelter.

What Is Your Likely Distance From a Nuclear Blast

So we have established that as long as you are inside a strongly built structure and 5 – 10 miles away from a 1 MT blast, or outside and 15 – 20 miles from a 1 MT blast, you will probably survive.

This of course begs the question – how close to a blast are you likely to be?  This is the second of the two key variables to consider (the first being the strength of the blast).  Your distance from any possible blasts is clearly a very important question, but answering it with exactness is difficult, for two reasons.

The first reason is we can’t accurately guess exactly where any possible enemy may choose to target and attack.  But we can probably guess some places they won’t attack – rural locations with no significant industry or airports or harbors or major transportation hubs or other economic or industrial or military objects of value.

The only difficult part of making that prediction is not knowing for sure if there isn’t some super-secret government installation, or similarly secret commercial installation, something/anything of relevant strategic value, and known to the enemy but not to you.  Maybe there’s a huge big data-center or internet resource somewhere in the fields, or who knows what, where.

And even if there isn’t, maybe the enemy mistakenly believes there is!

The second reason is that no-one really knows what would happen in a high intensity nuclear attack. In addition to the unknown reliability and accuracy of enemy missiles to start with, there are three interesting complications.

The first complication is what might happen to the guidance systems of missiles as they go over the north pole.  Depending on how the missiles are guided, this could possibly cause errors to occur.  There have been no missile tests over the pole, so this is all untested theory.

The second complication is what might happen when our defense forces try to counter any incoming missile attack.  Alas, our anti-missile forces are pitifully weak and very few in number, and no-one would suggest they would have any tangible impact on a major attack featuring tens or hundreds of missiles and hundreds or thousands of warheads.

But even if we managed to deploy five or ten ABMs, they might possibly knock some incoming missiles off course rather than completely destroy them, causing the warheads to go and explode in the ‘wrong’ locations – and ending up hundreds or thousands of miles away from their original target.  What if the wrong location they arrived at was, by a bad turn of fate, directly above our retreat?  That’s definitely a consideration, albeit a very unlikely one.

The third complication is similar to the second.  It is not clear what happens to incoming warheads when one that arrived a minute or two or three before the later ones, detonates.  Will the incoming warheads immediately behind still operate, or be destroyed in the blast (a concept known as ‘fratricide’)?

That’s a question of little relevance to us if we’re hundreds of miles away, but a more relevant question is whether the force of the first warhead’s blast might not knock other warheads off course and cause them to veer off target and again end up detonating closer to us than was intended.

Such course deviations are probably not likely to push warheads hundreds of miles off course, but it is certainly conceivable they might deflect a warhead ten or twenty miles.  This is because whereas the ABM attacks take place earlier on the missile’s trajectory, where a small deflection ends up with a larger movement at the end of the journey, the effects of other explosions would impact only on the last twenty or so miles of travel.  Depending on your location, that might be relevant.

So, with a reasonable but not absolute degree of certainty, you can probably determine whether you are in a location that has a high or low ‘appeal’ as a nuclear target.  If your retreat is located in an area that has anything other than a very low degree of appeal, you’ve made a bad location choice!


We don’t mean to understate the potential devastation and catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons.  They are beyond terrible.  But, none of us should overstate their effects, either.  The anti-nuke campaigners, in a manner very similar to anti-gunners, have chosen to magnify the public perception of the outcomes of nuclear explosions, and while many people will die and many buildings will be destroyed, the good news is that very many more people will live.

This is a two-part article.  In the first part we looked at the deadly immediate effects of a nuclear explosion and how far they reached from the explosion’s center; if you have not yet read it, you should probably now do so.

We have a great deal of additional resources on nuclear issues and responses here.

Jun 252013
People observing the nearby Small Boy test in the NV desert, 1962.

People observing the nearby Small Boy test in the NV desert, 1962.

This is the first part of a three-part article that looks at how to calculate the potential impact on your retreat location of the release of radioactive material somewhere else.  In other words, if a nuclear explosion goes off, or a nuclear power plant has an accident, some distance from you, how will that affect you at your retreat?

After you’ve read this first part, please follow the links on to parts two and three, including some worked examples and links to the resource materials you need to do your own calculations and planning.

Once you have started to zero in on an area for your retreat, you then start considering reasonably local issues such as the potential risk of radiation/fallout from nearby nuclear power plants, in the unlikely event something might go wrong with them, and similarly from any probable nearby targets in the event of nuclear war.

Sometimes you can just simply look at a map showing potential risks and guess as to if you’re safe or not.  You don’t need to do too many calculations to understand that downtown DC is probably at great risk of some type of nuclear event, if/when TSHTF.

Unfortunate, there’s no opposite situation where you can instantly tell by a quick glance at a map that any given area is clearly completely safe.  Plus or minus a hundred miles or so, nowhere in the US is more than 250 miles from either a nuclear power station and/or a possible nuclear target in a high intensity conflict.

Although 50 miles is more than enough distance to survive the immediate heat, blast and radiation effects from a nuclear explosion, the fallout radiation implications can be very different indeed.  As we mentioned in our article about the safety of nuclear power stations. dangerous radiation levels as a result of the Chernobyl disaster occurred in what seemed to be a semi-random manner as far as 300 miles away, and radiation from the Fukushima disaster made it all the way across the Pacific to the US.

Note our italics for the phrase ‘what seemed to be’ – because, of course, there is underlying scientific sense that applies to the observed fallout pattern from Chernobyl.  This article series talks about these issues.

Radiation – A Quick Refresher

We discuss the five most common types of radiation in detail in our article on Radiation and Fallout Risks.  Radiation itself is generally both extremely short-lived and also usually only capable of traveling short distances and easily blocked by most things (quite the opposite of public perception).  There is one notable exception to the easily blocked issue – neutron radiation, which while limited in distance to several miles, can penetrate quite a lot of shielding during the course of its travel.

The initial release of radiation from a nuclear explosion is very intense, but only harmful to people within a few miles of the explosion.

The bigger problem is that as part of the nuclear explosion, some of the radiation released will react with non-radioactive materials, and make them become radioactive in the process – that is, they will then start steadily emitting radiation for some time into the future – maybe only hours, but possibly also days, weeks, years, or even centuries.

The second part of this problem is that the heat and blast of the nuclear explosion will turn whatever these things are into finely powdered dust/sand/dirt type particles and then, via the blast wave, propel them long distances.

These tiny particles of now radioactive dust are what is known as fallout and represent the biggest problem that most people will encounter as a result of a nuclear explosion.

So for us, hopefully having located ourselves safely away from the immediate effects of the initial heat, blast, and radiation burst from the bomb, our concern is to do with the fallout.  As you know, normal dust can go anywhere and get anywhere, and if there is radioactive dust falling in your area, it will have the same ability to spread out and cover surfaces, to hang suspended in the air, to be kicked up into dust clouds when the wind blows, and so on.

Furthermore, while the radiation it releases might be weak, there’s one huge danger, and one more insidious danger.

The big danger – if you ingest the dust – by breathing, or if the dust gets onto food or into water – you then have radioactive substances inside you, where there is no distance and no barrier protecting you and your organs from the full effects of the radioactivity.  Even the weak radiation that can only travel a few inches and be blocked by a sheet of paper is now hitting and harming your internal tissues and organs.

The more insidious danger is that low levels of radiation being emitted from fallout may also be fairly long-lived, and so over a period of months (or years) their effects will start to accumulate and cause problems.

So you really want to avoid being in an area with radioactive fallout.

Three Types of Nuclear Explosion

When evaluating your fallout risk, you need to know whether the initial ‘event’ that creates the radioactive fallout will create a little or a lot of fallout, and whether this fallout will be propelled way up into the jetstream or if it will stay closer to the surface.  The ‘jetstream’ is (are) fast-moving bands of air, situated somewhere between about 22,000 ft and 52,000 ft above the ground, and traveling at speeds of anywhere from about 60 mph up to sometimes in excess of 250 mph.

How do you determine the answers to these questions?  You need to decide if the nuclear blast will most likely be an airblast, a surface blast, or a sub-surface blast.


Airblasts are the most common sort, and happily create the least amount of fallout, because the fireball from the blast is mainly above the surface of the ground, and doesn’t impact on as much ‘stuff’ to vaporize and transform into radioactive fallout.  Even more happily, the fallout they do create tends to go up into the upper atmosphere, where it might get caught in the jetstream.

If the fallout gets into the jetstream, this will quickly whisk it away from the site of the blast, and by the time the particles start to drop out of the jetstream again, they may have traveled anywhere from a few hundred miles to many thousands of miles.  The good news is this means the fallout gets dispersed over a very wide area.  The bad news is that while you might not be at risk from a nearby blast, you may get a small amount of fallout from far away blasts (for example the jetstream took fallout all the way from Japan to the US after the Fukushima power plant problem).

Even if the fallout particles from an airblast do not mix into a jetstream, the simple fact of throwing them up a long way means they’ll spread out over a greater area than if they were not thrown up as far to start with.  You can see this for yourself with a simple thought or real experiment.  Take a handful of rice, hold it a couple of inches above the floor, and then drop it.  See where it lands and how it spreads out.  Now, after cleaning up your mess, take a second handful of rice, toss it as far into the air as you can, and see where it lands.  It will be much more spread out, won’t it (good luck with the cleanup!).

Surface Blasts

These are the nastiest of the three types of nuclear explosion.  The initial fireball from the blast is, by definition, right on the ground (or within 100 ft or so of the ground), and will be vaporizing literally tons of material – buildings, dirt, people, anything and everything.  A massive amount of fallout is created.

Much of this fallout does not get thrown as far up into the atmosphere, and will fall back down to earth without reaching the jetstream.

So a surface blast has two severe consequences (compared to an air burst).  The first is the creation of massively more fallout material; the second is that this material is not distributed thinly (and almost safely) over a wide area, but is concentrated in a dense and potentially lethal area, within a few hundred miles of the explosion.

Subsurface Blasts

If the enemy is trying to destroy hardened bunkers, and possibly missile silos, they may use bombs that are designed to penetrate a distance into the ground before exploding.

The best case scenario would be a bomb that traveled so far into the ground before detonating that the earth above it contained the full effects of the blast.  This is what happened most of the time with underground testing of bombs – sure, you’d see the surface rise and blister some, and the shockwave would cause dust to rise from the surface, but it would be non-radioactive dust, and if the calculations were correct, the covering of earth above the bomb would contain the force of the explosion.

However, it is unlikely that missile penetrators would go that deep.  A shallow subsurface blast might actually be even worse than a surface blast, because more of the fireball will interact with material rather than the top half of it less harmfully going upwards into the sky.  A bit deeper and the effects would be similar to a surface explosion, and deeper again and the amount of fallout sent up into the air would start to reduce, as would the height it reaches and therefore the distance it travels.

Nuclear Power Plant Failures

In the case of a nuclear power plant failure, it is likely that the failure will not be akin to a nuclear explosion, but rather it will be some sort of secondary effect caused by runaway heat causing fires and steam buildup (which might possibly then burst through a containment external barrier with explosive force) and the effects of fire and heat and steam releasing radioactive material.

This is most likely to mirror the effects of a surface or subsurface blast, although we again look at the Fukushima event and learn from it – the explosions it experienced sent some radioactive material all the way up into the jetstream.

At the risk of massively oversimplifying, we’re going to say ‘forget about radioactive material that makes it up into the jetstream’; because most of that material goes anywhere and everywhere.  Having happily forgotten about that, we still have to face the remaining reality – ie, that nuclear power plant failures risk releasing potentially large amounts of radioactive fallout type material that will be deposited in the several hundred miles around the plant.

What Type of Blast to Expect

As a quick rule of thumb, attacks on civilian structures will be air bursts because they create the most blast damage over the greatest amount of surface area.

Attacks on hardened (ie military) structures are more likely to be ground or subsurface blasts, because an airburst may not be sufficiently strong to destroy them.  If it is simply an attack on a place with massed troops or equipment, it will probably be an airburst.  Only if the target has unusually strongly constructed buildings will an enemy feel the need to transition from an air burst to a ground burst.  Unusually strongly constructed buildings might include ammunition bunkers (especially if likely to contain nuclear munitions) and some types of airplane protective hangar.

Attacks on bunkers and other underground facilities will definitely be sub-surface.

Continued in Parts Two and Three

Please now click on to the second part of this three-part article series.  Part two explains how the two different types of winds will interact with the fallout and how we can calculate the effect they will have on our retreat location.  The third part then looks at sources and types of wind data you can obtain to work out the impact on your retreat from radiation releases in other places.

Jun 252013
Part of a diagram explaining how jetstream winds are formed (full size here).

Part of a diagram explaining how jetstream winds are formed (full size here).

This is the second part of a three-part article series on using wind data to evaluate the risk of nuclear fallout at your retreat location.

If you arrived here directly from a search engine or link, you should probably go to the first part of the series that discusses the different types of fallout patterns and read that first before reading this second part (and of course, then following the link at the bottom on to the third part of the series).

Jetstream Considerations

If your nearby potential nuclear target is one which you deem likely to receive an airburst, then your calculation becomes fairly simple.  Sure, there will also be some local fallout too, but most of the fallout will be swept up into the jetstream and then distributed pretty much everywhere the jetstream travels.

There are two main jetstreams to consider in the United States.  In the northern part of the country, there may be a polar jetstream, and in the lower states, there may be a subtropical jetstream.  Both of them have their wind blowing generally from the west to the east, but they can also rise northwards or dip southwards, with such movements varying from day-to-day.

In general it is possible to say that while the winds are predominantly flowing from west to east, they start off, on the west coast, with a slightly southerly direction added to their movement, and by the time they reach the east coast they are flowing in a slightly northerly direction.  You can see the current form of the jetstream here.

Here’s an interesting series of four charts showing how much the jetstream can move, with its location plotted over the course of four days.


What this means for us as preppers is that, in general terms, we want to be mildly concerned about airblasts that might occur to the west of our location – whether they are directly west, to the northwest, or the southwest.

But in reality, jetstream carried fallout is not a great concern, due to it being distributed so widely.

An exception to that is if you’re downwind of the potential jetstream plume from many nuclear blasts – this is of course the case in much of the eastern United States.  Due to the potential distance between the source of radioactive fallout and where it lands, this is about as accurate a statement as one can make – the further east you go, the greater the fallout from the jetstream you might get.

Closer to the Surface Wind Patterns

If you need to evaluate the likely effect of closer to the surface fallout, ie from a surface or subsurface blast, or from a nuclear power plant mishap, then you have a much more complex – and much more important – calculation.

First of all, to show the degree of variability of fallout from a ground burst, have a look at this map of remaining contamination from Chernobyl (as of 1996).  As you can see, some areas close to Chernobyl are looking fairly safe, while other areas, a much greater distance away, are looking still very dangerous.

A much more dramatic view of the fallout from Chernobyl can be seen in this animated graphic which shows how the fallout traveled over time.  It isn’t clear exactly what the colors represent or what the time frame is, and an email to the person who posted the animation on Youtube went unreplied.

We guess this is showing lower atmosphere winds, and in total, probably over a ten to twenty day period.  Another way of ‘calibrating’ this animation is to understand that it took two days for fallout to reach a point in Sweden just out of Stockholm, 700 miles away (in other words, the fallout cloud was traveling at a rate of about 15 mph).

Another example of fallout distribution is shown in this chart, reporting fallout from the largest ever US nuclear explosion – the ground burst of the Castle Bravo device in 1954.  Fairly consistent winds, and less ‘friction’ caused by the sea, rather than the interference and disruption to smooth wind flows on shore (buildings, trees, hills, etc) saw high levels of fallout as much as 280 miles to the east of the explosion, but barely ten miles to the west.

The blast scooped out a crater almost 1¼ miles in diameter, and up to 250 ft deep.

The 15 MT Castle Bravo outcome can be considered a ‘worst case’ scenario.  Currently Russia has some 20 MT warheads on its SS-18 missiles, but most of its missiles are armed with warheads ranging from about 100 kT up to 1 MT.

Learning from Volcano Eruptions Too

More information about how fallout would travel can be obtained, in general, by looking at ash distribution from volcano eruptions.  Volcano ash distribution is interesting, and needs to be considered in light of the height the ash rises to in the atmosphere – sometimes it reaches well up into the jetstream, and sometimes it doesn’t.

The Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption in Iceland in April 2010 disrupted air traffic over much of Europe for a couple of weeks, due to the enormous amount of ash thrown up by the volcano (about 130 million cubic yards), and its wide spread around much of Northern Europe.  Some of the ash made it up into the jetstream.

Here is an interesting series of maps showing the fallout spread as it evolved during the period of major activity by this volcano, and this page has an interesting discussion of how clouds of volcanic ash (or fallout) are swept along by winds).

Understanding the Relevant Wind Patterns in General

To appreciate your degree of risk from lower level fallout (ie fallout that only rises a limited distance into the atmosphere and then drops back down to ground, missing the jet stream) you need to ‘join the dots’ between wherever the radioactive fallout might be released and where you are.

By this we mean you draw up a series of charts showing the prevailing winds at your location, at the point where the release would occur, and at relevant points in-between.

The first point to focus on are the prevailing winds at your planned retreat.  If your retreat generally has winds blowing towards the possible release location, that’s a very good thing.

But there’s a bit of a trap to consider, which requires you to look at more data to better understand things.  For example, let’s assume you are at Point R and the nuclear fallout comes from Point X, and you ascertain that the wind at your retreat (Point R) is blowing towards Point X, where the radiation release occurred.  So that means you’ve nothing to worry about, right?

Not necessarily.  Let’s also see where the wind at Point X is blowing.  You do that and you believe you’ve found more good news – the wind isn’t blowing directly towards you, instead, it is blowing at right angles to you.  Here’s a sample picture showing this – we use red arrows for winds carrying contamination from the release point, and green arrows for ‘safe’ winds.


So that looks close to optimum, don’t you think?  We’ll agree that you’re a prudent person, and so you obtain some more wind readings, and now you see a more detailed view.


This looks even better, yes?  But let’s not stop, let’s be obsessive and get as much wind data as we can.  You do some more research, and now you see this as a wind flow model.


This would seem to confirm all you need to know, right?  However, with so much information on the internet these days, and remembering just how far fallout can be carried by even mild winds, let’s grab some more data.


What do you think now?  Could it be…?  Let’s get a few more data points, and all of a sudden :


This now shows a very different scenario, doesn’t it.

As you’ve already seen in the real world examples linked to above, winds – and whatever they carry can travel on irregular paths, like a meandering river delta, with lots of crossing and inter-twined threads.  The winds that start blowing down the image in the first example then looped around and started blowing up again, taking the contamination and dumping it directly on you, even though your first data points seemed to suggest completely the opposite.

Clearly, this was a staged example, not a real world one.  But it teaches us two things.  First, we need to trace not just where the wind blows to, from our retreat, but also where winds are coming from prior to getting there.  Second, we need to follow the wind flow from the contamination release point for at least 200 miles to get a feeling for what twists and turns they might take.

Okay, so that’s an easy enough concept to be aware of.  But there’s a complicating factor that you’re probably already thinking of.  Winds don’t blow steadily, all day every day (and all night) and always from and to the same directions.  How do we factor in the variable aspects of wind flows/currents?

Read More in Part Three

To answer the question about understanding and applying the wind data information you have collected, please now click on to the third part of this three-part series, Available Wind Data Sources and How to Use Them.  Also, if you’ve not yet read it, the first part of the series, Using Wind Data to Estimate Fallout Risk, is also, of course, helpful and relevant.

Jun 252013
A NOAA map showing average wind speeds for the month of May.

An NOAA map showing average wind speeds for the month of May.

This is the third part of a three-part article series on using wind data to evaluate the risk of nuclear fallout at your retreat location.

If you arrived here directly from a search engine or link, you should probably go to the first part of the series – Using Wind Data to Estimate Fallout Risk – and read that first, then continue on to the second part – The Two Types of Wind Effects to Consider – before returning to read this final part.

We are fortunate to have a great deal of information available to us which can be used to help us understand which way the wind blows.

But before we look at the data sources, we need to consider four additional issues when interpreting the data.

1.  Use Data Averaged Over Many Years

We know that winds vary by the season, month, day, hour and even sometimes by the minute.  We know that some days are unusually windy, and others are unusually calm.

Clearly we can’t base our expectations for future wind patterns on only one day of observations and history.  Instead, we need to average the data – but not by taking the average of many days together, but rather by taking an average of the wind on the same day of many different years.

You want the wind data for, eg, 15 July, to be the average of the winds on the 15th of July over each of many previous years – the more previous years, the better, although there comes a point where adding more years no longer really adds much extra value to the data.  An average of ideally ten or more years will give you a better feeling for what the general probability will be for the next 15 July.

It would help also to understand the ‘SD’ or standard deviation of the averaged number.  This is a statistical term (click the link for a detailed explanation if you’d like) that simply measures whether most of the data points that you are averaging are close to the average number or not.

For example, if you had seven numbers  1 5 9 13 17 21 25, and another seven numbers, 10 11 12 13 14 15 16, in both cases, the average of the numbers is 13.  But the spread of values is much wider in the first series than the second series.  In the second series, the average is 13, and the maximum is only a bit more, and the minimum only a bit less, but in the first series, the maximum is almost twice the average, and the minimum is 13 times less.  All values are close to the average in the second series, but only a very few values are close to the average in the first series.

In the case of the first series, it has a standard deviation of 8.6, in the second series, a standard deviation of 2.2.  The smaller the standard deviation, the closer the individual data values are to the average and so the more accurately the average predicts the reality of individual days.

2.  Use Monthly Wind Values, Not Annual Wind Values

Sorry, but you’re going to have to do these calculations twelve times (or use data already calculated for you).  As the seasons change, so too can wind patterns – not only wind speeds, but also prevailing wind directions, too.

While ideally you’d do the calculation for every day of the year, you’ll end up drowning in data, and with wind being variable and unpredictable at the best of times, probably it is good enough to simply look at monthly data.

We suggest you create 12 maps, one for each month, and then plot wind directions at your retreat location and other close weather stations to it for each month, and also, as per the examples in part two, also ‘walk back’ the wind to see where it is coming from.

If there are nuclear targets or power plants within 200-300 miles or so of your retreat location, you want to add them to your maps and add wind directions to their locations too, plus then move forward to follow those winds from the possible fallout release points.

3 & 4.  Consider All the Varying Speeds and Directions that Wind Blows Each Month

Okay, now it is time to start to use the understanding you’ve developed and to look at the specifics for what to expect.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind now that you are looking at actual data.

Understanding wind direction descriptions

The first point is very important.  When you are looking at wind direction information, is it telling you the direction the wind is coming from, or the direction that the wind is going to?  Some data will provide information one way, other data will provide data the other way.

To explain, say there is a wind that is moving its air in a direction such that air to the south of you blows past you and then continues traveling north.  This is what is traditionally called a southerly wind – wind is coming from the south, from a 180° direction on a compass heading.  If you had a traditional weather vane, it would swing and point to the south.

But if you were flying a flag, the flag would extend out to the north of the flagpole – the opposite direction to the weather vane.  The wind is blowing to the north (ie 0° or 360°) (as well as from the south).  If you were talking about a car instead of wind, you would say the car was going in a northerly direction.

How should this wind be described.  Is it a wind from the south, or to the north?  It could be either, and it is both!  So be very certain to understand which descriptional method is being used.

Wind height measurements

Wind speeds are slower, the closer to the ground they get.  At 1/10″ above the ground, they are close to zero, and then they increase up from that until reaching a point of maximum speed, then they start decreasing again above that.  It is even possible to have winds traveling in different directions at different heights above the ground (balloonists use this to help them steer their balloons).

When you are comparing wind speed measurements, you need to know at what height the measurement was taken.  Clearly if you are comparing a measurement at one location that was taken at 3 feet above the ground with a measurement somewhere else that was taken at 30 ft or 300 ft, you’re not comparing like with like.

These days the standard measurement height for wind speeds is 10 meters (about 33 ft), and if you are reading official wind data from a weather service, that is probably what is being provided.  Often the actual measuring device is not at exactly 10 m above the ground, and so the speed it displays is then converted to display the theoretical/probable speed at 10 m.

But if you are using data prepared for siting a wind turbine, that will have data on wind flows at much greater heights.  This is useful information too, but be careful not to mix together data from different sources at different heights.

Data Sources

To get you started, here’s a nice simple map showing annual average wind directions and mean speeds.

But this map – while giving you a nice overview, is potentially very misleading.  The national averages can mask huge differences from season to season.  You need to drill down from the annual information to monthly information, and ideally, you want to get information from more locations, too.

First, however, to compare like with like, here’s a series of maps drawn from the same source for each of the twelve months.

January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December

(If the links no longer work, you can hopefully recreate them from this page.)

Here is an alternate series of monthly averages for wind speeds and directions, calculated for the period from 1930 (or later) until 1996 here.  That gives you another perspective for monthly variations, and has been provided for a much larger number of locations.  Hopefully the data you see here is sort of consistent with the data in the previous links.

The National Climatic Data Center and its US Climate Reference Network has a lot of data, but only from a few reporting stations, and while it gives wind speeds – typically measured at a nonstandard height of 5 – 15 ft above ground, it does not report wind direction.

If you’d like to see the wind information in a more visual manner, albeit slightly abstracted, here’s a fascinating series of maps.  It seems they only provide monthly data, without averaging the same month over several years, but if you click the link for any given month/year, it then provides both information on the specific month/year and also shows you the 30 year average for the period 1971 – 2000 and thirdly shows you how the specific year’s monthly average varies up or down from the typical month.

But wait, there’s more.  These first maps just show wind speed, not wind direction.  There are two more sets of maps, which between them show direction.  One shows what the call the U component, which is the east-west direction of the wind, and the other shows the V component, the north-south direction.  This is very interesting to see split out.

Wow.  Are you starting to get overloaded with data, yet?  Well, there’s one more wonderful source of summary data for many different locations.  That starts from this page here, and you can then choose the locations you want data about and the data you wish, either from their map interface (perhaps the easiest) or from data searching and other options.

One more resource.  If the previous resources have not had sufficient information for you, go to the appropriate regional climate center (choose from this main menu/map) and you’ll find an enormous amount of extra data for very many different reporting stations in the region.

But, wait – we’ve still not finished.  There are two more things to show you.

Leaving the best until last, remember when we spoke in the previous part of this series about wanting to know not only the average speed and direction of wind each month, but also the range of actual values?  Here’s a totally marvelous site which does exactly that.

Zoom in to the region of the map you are interested in, and you’ll see little wind roses appear for each reporting site.  Click on one of the wind roses, and that brings up a page showing you detailed information.  You can then click on the months in the circle as you wish.  Note if you keep clicking months ‘on’ you get averages of all the months clicked ‘on’; you need to click months off again so as to see the single month patterns.

And, lastly, some eye candy which gives you a fascinating feel for how it all ties together.

You can click to zoom in on any part of the map you wish, and when you start clicking to zoom in, an ‘unzoom’ button appears on the left.

The ‘problem’ with this map is that it is limited to showing you only the wind patterns right now.  It doesn’t give you a feeling for average flows.  But just seeing the ‘right now’ flows is still fascinating and helps you to understand how winds don’t flow consistently in straight lines for long distances.


Nuclear fallout may be transported from the location it was generated to your retreat either by high atmosphere jetstream winds, or lower down ‘regular’ winds.  The jetstream winds move swiftly and in doing so, tend to thinly disperse fallout over a wide area, while the lower down winds, moving much more slowly, tend to drop more concentrated fallout patterns within 200 – 400 miles of the nuclear release.

If you are within several hundred miles of a nuclear power station or a nuclear target, you should understand the degree of risk associated with fallout traveling to your retreat.

Winds are unpredictable on an hourly basis, but they follow certain trends and are more likely to be blowing in some directions than others on a daily and monthly basis.  There are lots of online resources to help you understand exactly what type of wind flows to expect at your retreat, and at potential fallout release sites too.

This was the third part of a three-part series about using wind data to estimate your retreat’s potential risk of being affected by nuclear fallout.  If you’ve not yet done so, we recommend you also read parts one and two of the series.

We have additional information on nuclear power related vulnerabilities in its own section too, and lots more information on weather related topics also.

Jun 252013
The stunning Tesla S has a best-case range of over 300 miles between battery charges.

The stunning Tesla S has a best-case range of over 300 miles between battery charges.

One of the big problems we all have to consider is what sort of motorized transportation we can use in a Level 2/3 situation.

The problem is that modern-day fuels – gasoline, diesel, liquid propane and compressed natural gas – are all vulnerable to disruptions in supply, processing and distribution such as would occur in any sort of emergency situation, and so we’ll largely be forced to rely on such stored fuel as we may have, and when that runs out, our options become difficult.

Sure, you could look at ways to make your own bio-diesel, and that might become a necessary option.  You could also look at modifying a vehicle to run on wood gas.  And some people, by choice or necessity, will allow themselves to settle for horses or oxen.

But there’s another option worthy of consideration, especially in Level 2 and early Level 3 scenarios.  An electric vehicle that you can recharge from solar or wind power.

This is of course not a cheap option, because the first thing you need to do is buy an electric vehicle.  But if you have the budget to consider such things, and depending on the amount of surplus renewable electricity you expect to be generating each day, it might be your best option.

How Much Electricity Does an Electric Vehicle Use

Just as with any other powered vehicle, the range you get depends on your speed, driving style, and the terrain.

There are some major differences in how battery mileage is tested in the US, Japan and Europe, so we’re generally using US EPA quoted figures, which may or may not be exactly realistic, but which tend to give the lowest claimed ranges, so they are probably better than the other tested range claims.  If you are evaluating electric car ranges, make sure you understand how the range figure was established – the latest US EPA test is a ‘five cycle’ test and more complete than its earlier two-cycle testing.

Their range also depends on how much of the battery’s full charge is used.  Generally it seems to be considered best practice not to 100% deplete the batteries.

  •  A Tesla Model S has either 60 kWhr or 85 kWhr batteries, and can get you 350 miles or more on a single charge in optimum conditions.  We are not certain how much of the total stored charge is used.
  • A 2013 Chevrolet Volt has a 16.5 kWhr battery and a 38 mile range, during the course of which it depletes 10.3 kWhr of its total battery capacity.
  • A Nissan Leaf with a 24 kWhr battery gets 84 miles on a full battery charge, or 75 miles on an unstated lesser amount of charge.
  • AA Ford Focus Electric with a 23 kWhr battery gets 76 miles per EPA figures.

Looking at these and other numbers, it seems fair to say that each mile driven in an electric vehicle takes somewhere in the order of 250 – 300 Whr of electric energy.

To translate that to other terms, you could run a 20 watt LED/CFL lightbulb for 12 – 15 hours with the same amount of power required for an electric vehicle to drive one mile.  You could run a 1600 watt heater for 10 minutes with the same power that takes the electric vehicle one mile.

More Electricity is Required to Charge the Car

Say you have a solar panel setup that gives you 5000 W of power when the sun is shining on them.  You might think that you can connect the solar panels up to your electric vehicle, and if the vehicle has, say, a 20 Whr battery, then a simple calculation suggests that you just need to charge it for four hours and you’ve put 20 kWhrs of charge into it.

Unfortunately, that’s an over-simplification.  You need to adjust for the various inefficiencies and conversion losses you’ll experience from when the power comes out of the solar panels until when it ends up stored in the vehicle battery.  You should figure on as much as 30% of the power from your solar cells being lost in the process of taking them from the original low voltage DC solar cell output to a high voltage input (often in AC) to the charger unit for the vehicle, and through that and in to the batteries themselves.

It would probably be prudent for you to talk to the car manufacturer about a direct DC input to the vehicle’s charging system.  If you can go straight from DC to DC, this might give you a considerable improvement in efficiency, but depending on the vehicle and its DC charge voltage (which could be very high), this might not be feasible.

There is another electricity need as well.  You can’t leave a car with a dead battery.  You need to keep the battery with a certain minimum amount of charge, and because the batteries self-discharge at a slow rate, you need to be topping the vehicle up every week or so whether you are using it or not.

One more thing to consider is that charging your vehicle will probably take considerable time.  If you can provide, say, 5 kW of power, then you’re looking at probably a full sunny day of solar power for a Leaf or Focus to be charged, and two or three days of this to charge a large capacity battery (but longer range) Tesla.

And if you thought you’d pack a portable solar kit in the back of the vehicle and charge it at your destination prior to returning home, that is probably impractical.  If you had a 200 W solar array (uncommon, but here’s a site selling 150 W and 300 W portable panels), then it would take about two hours of charging for each mile of range added to the car.  If there were 8 – 10 hours of sun in a day, that would give you 4 – 5 miles of extra range.

What is the Service Life of a Battery Powered Car

Unlike the lead-acid starter battery in a regular vehicle which works until, one day, it no longer works; electric vehicle batteries don’t usually catastrophically fail.  Instead, they slowly but surely degrade, meaning they hold less and less charge with each successive discharge/recharge cycle.

Their rate of deterioration depends on various things, with the two major issues being the simple passing of time, and the number of cycles of charge/discharge they experience.

Chevrolet warrant their Volt batteries for 100,000 miles or 8 years and estimate that the battery will have lost 20% of its ability to hold a charge by the end of that time.  Its battery warranty is a slightly complex consideration though because the vehicle is dual-fuel; it will be running on its gasoline engine for an unknown percentage of the warranty period, as well as sometimes off its batteries.

Tesla warrant their batteries for eight years and unlimited miles, and will replace them if their capacity diminishes by 30% during that time.

So it seems that we can expect probably ten or more useful years from a battery pack, no matter how much we do or do not use it.  That’s both good and bad – what say TEOTWAWKI occurs just a month or two before you were planning on (needing to) replace your battery pack?  As long as you have a reasonably new battery pack, you’re good for up to ten more years of battery life, but otherwise, you’re going to have a much shorter useful remaining life, and because the batteries slowly decay even if sitting unused, you couldn’t keep a supply of spare batteries to extend the total life of the vehicle.

Needless to say, there’s no way you’ll be able to build your own high-tech lithium ion battery.  Once the one in the car is no longer functional, that’s it until – if/when – the high-tech world we luxuriate in  is restored again.

Uses For an Electric Car

So why would you even want to consider an electric car in a Level 2/3 situation?  After all (at least per our standard definitions) a Level 2 situation is all about living off stored resources until such time as normalcy returns, and a Level 3 situation assumes normalcy won’t return any time in the foreseeable future and requires you to fully transform to a sustainable ongoing lifestyle.

In a Level 2 situation, you’d simply run normal vehicles off stored fuel.  In a Level 3 situation, you’d be reliant on animal power or a low tech type of wood gas burning car – maybe even a steam-powered car.  (Yes, we’ll write about both these concepts in future articles.)

But there may still be room for an alternate technology in both situations.  An electric car reduces your reliance on stored fuel while you still have any (a Chevrolet Volt type solution – a vehicle that will run on either battery or gasoline would be ideal), and in a Level 3 situation, an electric car gives you additional capabilities that animals don’t have – the ability to travel an extended distance at speed, at least for as long as there are passable roads, and to the limit of your battery range.

Unless you spend a lot of money on a Tesla, the present selection of electric vehicles all have limited range – about 30 – 70 miles, depending on driving conditions.  There’ll be no recharging stations for you en route WTSHTF but if your retreat is within 10 or so miles of a local community, making roundtrips between retreat and community possible on a single charge, then in a future Level 2/3 situation, the electric vehicle can be useful.

Clearly, it is not an essential item that you must have as part of your basic core prepping supplies, but if budget and circumstance allows, it might be a valuable additional option.

A Warning Note About Range Claims

It goes without saying that ‘your mileage may vary’ in terms of the actual range you get out of your vehicle.

In addition to all the usual range-affecting factors that you are familiar with when driving a regular gas-powered vehicle, an electric vehicle’s range also varies significantly if you need to use its heater or a/c unit (headlights don’t make such a big difference).

But there’s another factor to also keep in mind.  Every time you discharge and recharge the lithium ion batteries, their capacity diminishes slightly – maybe by less than one tenth of one percent, which sounds like nothing until you think forward to what happens after the 100th or 1000th charging cycle and then all those tiny reductions in storage capacity have become significant.

The chances are that the useful life of your vehicle’s battery system will be determined not by its sudden complete failure, but by its gradual reduction in driving range below the point that you need.  For example, if your retreat is 12 miles from the nearest town, and you have a vehicle with a 35 mile range, you start off, with a brand new battery, needing to drive 24 miles with a 35 mile charge.  That’s easy.

But after some years, the batteries have lost 20% of their storage capacity and you now have to drive 24 miles on a battery that holds a 28 mile charge.  That’s getting to be ‘touch and go’, isn’t it.

Then, in another year or two or three, the batteries reduce down to having the same range as you need to drive, and what happens then?  Remember where we commented, above, that recharging the vehicle away from a heavy-duty high current source of power will take almost literally forever.  In other words, the vehicle has essentially become functionally useless, unless you can arrange for some source of recharging in the local township you make your roundtrip visits to.

Our points here are three-fold.

First, take all range claims with a grain of salt.  They’re probably not as inaccurate as some of the claims made for regular vehicles that you drive ‘normally’, and in the future, you’ll almost definitely drive an electric vehicle as super-economically as possible, but even so, allow yourself a margin of error between the claimed range and the actual range you might get.

Second, if your typical roundtrip distance will be close to the claimed range capability of the electric vehicle when new, you’ll only have a limited life before the vehicle’s range has reduced below that you need.

Third, because the effective life of the vehicle will most likely be limited by its gradually reducing range, the longer the range it has when new, the longer its effective life will be before that range has diminished down to useless.

Benefits of an Electric Car

An electric car offers several benefits compared to regular gasoline powered vehicles.

The first benefit is that, as surprising as it may seem, an electric car should be more reliable than a regular internal combustion engine powered vehicle.  It has many fewer moving parts, and many fewer stressed parts.  With the local dealership no longer being available to fix your vehicle any time it develops a problem, a reliable vehicle becomes much more essential.

The second benefit is that electricity is an easier fuel source to create and replenish than petrol.  This might also seem counter-intuitive, but the chances are your retreat will have multiple ways of generating electricity but no ways of making petrol.  At a stretch, you could come up with a bio-diesel or a wood gas type system, but complexity issues start to increase in such cases.

The third benefit is that it is quite likely you will simultaneously be desperately short of energy in general, but also have occasional surpluses of electricity.  An electric car provides a way for you to store and use any surplus electricity you are generating, rather than have it go to waste.

What About the Prius and Other Hybrid Vehicles?

Do not buy a Prius or other hybrid electric vehicle.  These cars essentially have no ‘stand alone’ or independent electric power capacity.  They are designed to recover, store, and re-use power from the vehicle when it brakes, so their batteries have very limited capacity and their electric motors are primarily boost or assist motors, capable of powering the vehicle only at low speeds.

These are great cars, for sure, but they are best thought of as super-efficient gasoline powered cars.  Without available petrol, they are useless; indeed, most of them have no provision for external charging.  They also have very low capacity batteries – a typical Prius has about a 1 kWhr battery, of which only about half is available for use in powering the vehicle.  This is a perfectly sensible design for its prime purpose – recovering and reusing energy that would otherwise be lost every time the vehicle brakes, but it is clearly totally insufficient to allow for fully electric-powered travel for more than a mile or so.

The plug-in version of the Prius has a larger battery – 4.4 kWhr – which gives it about an 11 mile range.  This is great when you have gasoline in the tank to fall back on as soon as the 11 mile range has been used up, but not so great as a purely electric vehicle in a future scenario where gas is no longer available.

Electric Car Models

There are quite a few different models of electric cars out there, although most sell at best only a few thousand units each year, so you’re not likely to find one on the local used car lot any time soon.

Furthermore, it is our sense that the technology is steadily evolving, and with the batteries having a finite life, there are definite costs associated with buying a second-hand electric vehicle.  It is good to delay buying an electric vehicle as long as possible – but if you decide you can afford one and can justify one, be careful of this strategy.  You might find you leave it too late!

Rather than list the vehicles currently available – a list which risks being incomplete and quickly going out of date, we suggest you look at these two Wikipedia pages – a list of electric cars currently available and a list of production battery electric vehicles, to see whatever is currently out there.

Most of the electric vehicles are solely electrically powered.  But there are a few (most notably the Volt) which combined both a regular petrol engine with a battery/electric motor, and while these might have shorter electric ranges, they open up an interesting possibility for the future.

First, their shorter range (ie about 35 miles for a Volt) might be sufficient for short runs between your retreat and the nearest township.  And, second, you might be able to modify the petrol powered engine to run on wood gas.

This would require considerable effort on your part, of course, but by making a hybrid electric/wood gas vehicle, that would seem to give you the best of both worlds for the future.


In our wonderful modern world, with gasoline prices amazingly low (even $4.50 a gallon is ‘low’ compared to the true replacement/alternate technology costs of energy) and petrol freely available at gas stations open 24/7 just about everywhere in the country, electric cars make no sense for most of us.

While it is true you save money in per mile fuel costs when running on electricity; overall, and for most of us, the up-front extra cost of the electric car outweighs the per mile savings.  Even if there is an eventual saving to be had, the inconvenience of the range limitations of electric vehicles, and the time it takes to recharge them, reduces the use of electric cars to essentially around-town runabouts.

But in the future, when gas disappears from the gas stations, and other liquid fuel replacements become massively more expensive than petrol even at its highest current prices, electric cars may become much more useful for shorter range transportation.  Most of us will find it easier to generate electricity (to power a vehicle) than to create petrol or diesel.

Jun 242013
This map shows the maximum posted daytime speed limits on rural interstates.  TX is fastest at 85, the grey states are all 75.

This map shows the maximum posted daytime speed limits on rural interstates. TX is fastest at 85, the grey states are all 75.

What would life be like without cars and other forms of motorized transportation?  That’s a question we’ll almost surely find the answer to in a future Level 2/3 situation, but until such time, having convenient transportation is an essential part of our lifestyle.

Actually, convenient transportation will become even more vital in a Level 2/3 situation in the future, in a scenario where you might be more reliant on horse or other animal power rather than gas/diesel power.  These new constraints will completely redefine what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable transportation issues/constraints, and some of the present day issues (eg congestion) will probably disappear entirely.  We’ll also see the gradual decay and diminishing of our amazing current national roading system, bridges will fail, and so on.

But the future issues and challenges are a matter for other articles.  In this article, we mainly look at many of the issues associated with present transportation.  These issues impact on the desirability of potential locations as retreats, because hopefully for the indefinite future, life will continue as normal, and our experiences will be shaped by present day issues rather than by the challenges of TEOTWAWKI.

There’s another reason for looking at such issues as well.  How a state legislates for traffic matters gives you an oblique perspective of how intrusive and controlling the state wishes to be in the lives of its citizens.  The more traffic laws, and the higher the penalties, the more likely there are to be too many laws on too many other things too, and draconian penalties for all sorts of other minor offenses too.

Here are a number of criteria to consider when choosing retreat locations.  Our map graphic at the start of this article touches on one consideration – the freeway speed limits each state allows.  You can see a larger size map here, and this page has a more detailed table of data for each state.

If you are like us, you’ll probably equate being able to drive faster with a better state in general to live in.  🙂

Driving Safety

Of course, the justification for lower speed limits is usually safety.  Dubious data suggests correlations between traffic speeds and traffic safety.  We’re not going to argue the point about how fast is too fast, but we will definitely agree that there are very large differences between states in terms of vehicle accident rates.

The most relevant measure of the safety (or danger, if you prefer) of driving in each state is to look at the deaths per 100 million miles traveled.  This is more relevant than the deaths per 100,000 of population, because some states have people driving much greater distances than others.  Here’s a table that shows this data both ways.  The safest state was MA, while the most dangerous state was MT, with nearly three times the rate of fatalities (1.79 per 100 million vehicle miles in MT, 0.62 in MA).

One word about the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.  We’ve used their data for many of the elements we look at in this article, but we also understand them to be funded by a group with a massive vested interest in the matter – insurance companies.  What is the vested interest that insurance companies have about road safety?  That’s a good question, and there are two possible answers.

The first answer is that by making the roads safer, insurance companies can lower their premiums and also make more profit from lower premiums, because they don’t need to pay out on accidents as often.  That’s obviously the positive view.  But there’s a second answer, too – by encouraging states to penalize more and more types of driving, the insurance companies create opportunities to raise insurance premiums based on a driver’s ‘safety record’.  Some cynics feel that this may be the stronger motivation.  We make no statement, but we do point out that there are both these issues driving the apparently laudable promotion of safety issues by the IIHS.

What about the role of alcohol in fatal accidents?  Less is known about this than you might think, because not all drivers involved in fatal accidents have their blood alcohol tested.  Furthermore, the total numbers of cases by state are surprisingly low, so statistically, the answers are not always very significant.  You can see a table here, however, and most of the states score very similarly to each other.

These days all states have a limit of 0.08g of alcohol/100ml of blood, but penalties vary.  This table shows how severely different states treat DUI/DWI.

Driving Costs

The cost of driving varies appreciably from state to state.  The main variations in cost are insurance, gas prices, and registration costs.

This table lists typical insurance costs by vehicle, ranging from the most expensive states (LA, MI and GA – $2699, $2520 and $2155) to the least expensive states (NC, IA, ME – $1085, $1028, $934).

This table shows the cost for a vehicle title and annual registration by state, although it seems to us that some states have additional fees imposed by city and county authorities in addition to the state fees shown in the table.

Fuel taxes hit you every time you go to the pump.  This table has 2010 data by state, including not just a simple statement of how much is taken in state and local gas taxes out of every gallon, but some additional data too.  Page 8 probably has the best table, highlighting the huge range in tax levels, from a high of 58.1c/gallon in IL to a low of 8.0c in AK (or 14.0c in the lower 48 states, in WY).

Depending on where your retreat would be located, and where you might regularly drive, you might find yourself up for turnpike fees too.  Here’s a list of toll roads in the US and here’s some more data on the fees they charge.

Seat Belts, Helmets, and Phones

A difficult compromise that all states, counties and cities have to wrestle with is where to draw the line between allowing their citizens the freedom to make wrong/foolish decisions on the one hand, and insisting on proper/best behavior on the other hand.

We make no value judgments about these issues, but you might find the different ways that different states respond to some of these bellwether issues to be illuminating.

The first of the big three issues is requiring people to wear seat belts.  Although all states except NH now require front seat passengers to wear seat belts, there are different approaches to enforcing the law, and a wide variation in terms of special child restraint laws.

This map distinguishes between states that have seat belt laws as a primary enforcement item, and those with it as a lesser secondary enforcement item.  This map shows the age below which children have to be in an appropriate restraint system, and this table has detailed information on state seat belt and child restraint laws.

A related topic is requiring riders on motorbikes and bicycles to wear safety helmets.  Only 19 states require all motorbikers to have helmets, and 28 more require helmets of some riders (eg younger riders).  As for bicycles, 21 states have bicycle helmet laws, although none apply to all riders, state-wide (but there may be county or city laws applying to all riders).

This map shows motorbike helmet laws by state, and this map shows bicycle helmet laws by state.  Here is a table with information on the applicability of such laws.

The third of the ‘big three’ things is the use of cell phones while driving.  Hand-held cell phone use while driving is banned in 11 states, and text messaging is banned in 41 states.  This map shows state laws on hand-held cell phone use, and this map shows state laws on texting while driving.  Here is a table of information about these two issues.

Traffic Enforcement Issues

Depending on your perspective, states that are less aggressive at traffic enforcement either show a wanton disregard for the importance of human life, or perhaps, alternatively, are less intrusive and obsessive at controlling every last detail of our lives.

In particular, we have a strong dislike of states that aggressively use photo-radar and red-light cameras.  Again, opinions differ, but there are credible concerns widely expressed that suggest such devices primarily exist to make money for the local authorities (and for the companies that operate them under contract).  Too often we’ve read about cases where traffic lights have their timings changed (ie shorter orange light times) when red-light cameras are installed, and speed cameras are as likely to be located where normal average speeds are high as they are in areas where accident rates are significant.

This table on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s website lists state and local policies on the use of such devices.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has an interesting summary table of state policies and penalties for speeding and ‘reckless driving’ (a concept which is very subjective) and more detailed information on each state from this menu.

We really don’t like states which potentially can jail first time speeding offenders.  Of course, that almost never happens, and if you’re speeding truly fast, then even in a non-jailable state, you can find yourself locked up, because the officer who stops you will simply upgrade your ticket to reckless/dangerous driving or some other more serious charge.

Traffic Congestion

No-one likes getting stuck in traffic, but it seems to be an unavoidable part of living in any moderate to large-sized city.  For many reasons, all ultimately being, of course, based on money, few if any roads are built to a traffic handling capacity such that they can conveniently handle not only average volumes of traffic but also peak surge volumes.

However, your retreat is unlikely to be anywhere near a big city, so we’ll ignore those issues (but here’s a good starting point if this is relevant to you).

Instead, let’s look at more rural parts of the country, and traffic flows there.  Here’s a map showing freight traffic movements across the country (we think it dates back to 2010 or earlier).  It provides an interesting perspective on where commercial traffic flows across the country.

Looking ahead, here’s a second map that shows only the extra amounts of freight traffic expected to be added in addition to the freight traffic already shown in the first map, above.  That gives you a good impression of where future traffic will be appearing.

Both these two maps were taken from this report.

Here’s a more forward-looking map, showing projected truck traffic in 2035.

In addition to simple traffic, how about congestion?  This map shows the predicted level of congestion on freeways and other major roads in 2020, and this map adds more secondary routes to its 2020 congestion display.  Both are taken from this report.

Other Transportation Issues

There are many other considerations that you might want to also evaluate.  For example, here’s a map that ranks states by the quality of their bridges and what percent are deficient and in need of priority repair/replacement.  PA is the worst state, FL the best.

This map is part of a fascinating website that gives you detailed information about all the road bridges in your area.  That’s a relevant issue to understand, because it gives you a clue to what may happen in the future WTSHTF and road maintenance stops – how long before the essential bridges in your area start collapsing?

A related, but more difficult to get hard data on, issue is that to do with road maintenance needs in general.  For example, do you have roads along hill-sides that are subject to landslides falling onto the road, or slips/floods washing the road away?  Do you have roads lined by large trees that could fall over and block the road?

Another issue to consider is snow removal in winter.  If you’re in an area with appreciable winter-time snow, what happens to the major and minor roads in your area?  Will you get snowed in, and if so, would it be for a few days or might it be for many months?  As for WTSHTF, there’ll of course be no snow removal in that type of scenario.  What will you do in that situation?

A related part of these questions is to consider what the potential seasonal problems could be if/when you need to bug-out to your retreat.  How much of the year might the roads be impassable?  Are there any major risks on the routes you would have to take that may interfere with your bug-out plans?


The quality of our roading system, its reliability, and the associated costs of traveling by private vehicle are essential aspects of our present normal life.  At the present, they are factors to consider in choosing a retreat location.

In the future, if a Level 2/3 situation does eventuate, some issues will become irrelevant, but other ones will become vitally important.  You need to consider both present and future issues when weighing transportation considerations as part of your retreat selection process.

Jun 182013
Might the government be able to legally take your food supplies from you?

Might the government be able to legally take your food supplies from you?

This is the first part of a three-part article about the risk of having everything we’ve stored taken from us – not by force by a gang of armed violent looters, but by color of law, by local or federal law enforcement agents or the National Guard or even regular Armed Forces.

This is one of the most important articles we’ve published.  Please read it carefully, because if you don’t understand these issues now, you’ll surely be sadly surprised when they become relevant in some future emergency.

In the first part, immediately below, we talk about how such ‘un-American’ acts like taking one person’s possessions and ignoring concepts of private ownership (what we used to call, with revulsion, Communism) are becoming the normal accepted situation, and we talk about how such a seemingly flagrant breach of the Constitution could in fact occur.  It is important to understand this, because too many preppers – while open to the possibility of so many different types of future disasters – are insufficiently open-minded about the type of response from the rest of society when such a disaster occurs.

The second part switches from talking about what might occur and instead focuses on what laws are already on the books.  There are already laws that empower the President to command the Armed Forces to take almost everything we have, in an apparently lawful manner.  These are laws, in effect today, that have been passed and approved by (of course) both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and which have not been constitutionally challenged.

The third part introduces you to an appallingly un-American concept, civil forfeiture.

The first part is dismaying, but the other parts are terrifying.  Please do bravely read on.

We call ourselves preppers, and we stockpile food and other essentials in case of a breakdown in the normal functioning of our society and an inability to continue to live as we normally do.  We feel this is a sensible and prudent thing to do, and something to be encouraged.

But not everyone sees things the same way we do.  Instead of what we consider to be prudently stockpiling in good times, then carefully conserving and using up our resources in a future emergency, some people will describe us as selfishly hoarding.  Of course, such accusations will never be made in the present day times, not while our consumption-driven economy benefits from people buying as much of everything as they can afford, and then some more too.

But what about in the future, when all of a sudden, things which were formerly commonplace become rare, and even the most basic essentials of life – food, water, shelter – become precious and scarce?  Will the people who sneered at us for prepping simply ‘suck it in’ and say ‘Our bad, you were right, we were wrong, so we get to starve while you get to live’?  Or will they say ‘It isn’t fair that these selfish people have more food than they need, while we are without food – it is only right they be forced to share their food fairly with us’?

Historically, America rose to greatness on the basis of the first response – people were responsible for their own success or failure.  If they worked hard and did well, they got to enjoy the fruit of their labors and the flowering of their success.  If they made bad choices, or were lazy, then they suffered the consequences.

But at some point in the last 50 years or so, that has flipped around.  Successful people are no longer praised and respected for their success, and failures no longer feel humbled and embarrassed by their failure.  Now we see successful people viewed suspiciously, while people who have failed in their lives through laziness and lack of work now are proud of their failure and demand to be supported.  Our entire ‘progressive’ tax system penalizes success right from the get-go, and we increasingly hear the mantra being chanted ‘The rich must pay their fair share’.

But how much is ‘their fair share’?  Certainly, we agree that everyone should pay tax, but is it fair that some people should pay five or ten times more tax than some other people?  Is it fair that some people should pay one hundred times more tax than the average person, and is it fair that half the country should pay no tax at all?  Increasingly, it seems that many people believe these scenarios to be true.

There has been a steady shift from the overall tax burden being broadly and equally shouldered by all, to more and more of the taxes being paid by fewer and fewer people.

Here’s a fascinating chart that shows this steady trend over the last 30 years, taken from this article.


Is it truly fair that 1% of the country pays almost as much in taxes as the other 95%?  Indeed, the people who clamor that the wealthy are not yet paying their fair share seem to think that the 1% should pay even more and more.

Furthermore, the government’s role in the nation’s economy is expanding.  Our economy is increasingly revolving around government activity rather than around private enterprise, and that’s a recipe for economic disaster – just ask any of the failed communist regimes.  What that means is that increasingly people rely on the government for their income – they either work for the government or work for a company that contracts to the government or receive benefits from the government – this is a growing mass of people who have no history of making a living in the private sector; people who have learned to view the government as the source of everything they need in their lives.

This article here has a series of charts that shows how our economy is becoming increasingly a government based economy, but it only covers the last ten to twenty years in most cases.  It still provides a terrifying read of where our economy is headed.

But to look at a longer series, look simply at this chart which shows – in inflation adjusted dollars – the growth of the annual federal budget from 1962 through until 2015.  The chart was taken from this article.


One last point on this topic.  We’ve shown you the growth in federal government.  Now match that with growth also in state government, county government, city government, and all sorts of pseudo-government organizations.  The transition of our economy from one predominantly featuring private industry to one now made up of government organizations is even more widespread than you might have thought.

So what does this commentary on our nation’s tax system and growth in government have to do with the main theme of this article – the risk of having our stockpiled supplies taken from us?

We have looked at the nation’s evolving attitude towards ‘compulsory sharing’ – another name for taxation – to show how there is a growing belief, and maybe already one held by the majority of voters, that wealthy people have an obligation to sacrifice the wealth they have created and to give it to less wealthy people.  If you agree with us at this interpretation of our changing tax collection policies and social expectations, then you understand the first point we are going to make.

US Society Now Condones Compulsory Taking From the Wealthy

Our point is simply this.  Today it is now normal and accepted to take from the ‘haves’ and distribute to the ‘have nots’, through an increasingly unbalanced tax system and via an ever larger and larger governmental process.

People say it is ‘fair’ that wealthy people should pay more and more, and people say it is also ‘fair’ that not wealthy people should pay less and indeed be actively subsidized – not only do such people not pay taxes, but they become net recipients of welfare support.

We’re the first to acknowledge that there is truly a small percentage of the country’s population that needs support and assistance through no fault of their own.  But we don’t believe that this ‘small percentage’ is actually half our entire population.  Our definition of fairness, and our view of the obligations of citizens in general, is that all people should pay taxes, albeit to a varying degree.   If only a small section of society pays taxes, our democratic process becomes perverted whereby the majority can impose whatever taxation policies they wish on the minority – all cloaked in the nebulous concept of ‘fairness’, of course.

There’s another element to compulsory taking as well.  We’re not just talking about the taking of abstract money from people who have ‘too much’ money.  We’re also talking about the increasingly aggressive use of ‘Eminent Domain’ powers for public bodies to take private property and to repurpose it for ‘public good’.  Eminent Domain is when the council takes your land to build a new road, for example, and compensates you ‘fairly’ for the taking (if it is land that has been in your family for generations which you don’t want to lose at any price, the council’s view of ‘fair’ may not coincide with your own).

But the concept of ‘public good’ has insidiously expanded – there have been examples of councils taking land for commercial developments such as shopping malls.  The most celebrated example of eminent domain abuse – Kelo vs New London – was contested all the way to the Supreme Court, which, alas, approved the taking of the land – here’s a short and easily read article on this particular case.

There are many other dubious and arguably unfair uses of eminent domain – a search for “abuse of eminent domain” on Google brings 1.28 million results.

Our point is simply that society’s respect for private ownership – whether it be money or land or pretty much anything else – is dwindling.  And that is happening during good times – imagine now, if you can, how quickly the last remaining elements of respect for private personal ownership will disappear in difficult times.

The Social and Practical Basis for Taking Our Food and Supplies From Us

There are several things to think about when it comes to considering what would happen WTSHTF.  We of course discuss these things regularly with other people, and a significant number of people refuse to accept that anyone would wish to take anything of theirs.  Much as we wish their views to be correct, we sadly disagree.  But it is interesting to see the full spectrum of opinions and denials offered to us.

Some people will acknowledge that a very small minority – unlawful gangs of ‘bad’ people – might wish to do that, but that the overall forces of law and order will prevent such things from happening.

Some people will acknowledge that there might be pressure to take our supplies from us, but that the police would never enforce an unlawful order.

But let’s look at past experiences and events to see if these two denials are founded in fact.

For the first point – the police and other agencies will protect those who ‘have’ from small groups of unlawful gangs, we have three words to offer.  Los Angeles riots.

Look at what happened during the LA riots in 1992.  During six days, large swathes of Los Angeles were in total anarchy, a known 53 people were killed, and more than 2,000 were injured.  More than 3,600 fires were set, more than 1,100 buildings were destroyed, and total damage probably came in at about $1 billion.

The Los Angeles police were supplemented by thousands of other local, state and federal law enforcement officers, and by the California National Guard and regular US Marines and other Armed Forces too.

All of this happened due to protests about the Rodney King Police Officers trial and verdict.

Now ask yourself.  If a mere court case can cause this, which takes six days to get under control, and requires the airlifting of tens of thousands of additional public safety personnel to bring the lawlessness under control, what happens when a more major event occurs, and when tens of thousands of police reinforcements are not available?

Note also our article by a police veteran, where he clearly says ‘the police won’t be able to cope and cities will collapse stunningly quickly’.

For the second point (the police would not enforce unlawful orders), we’ll again offer up three words, although one would be enough.  New Orleans Katrina.  The local police and sheriff’s offices seemed to take more pleasure than expected, and to use more zeal than is common for the Big Easy’s finest at doing anything, when it came to seizing people’s firearms – a blatantly illegal act, and carried out in an area where firearms ownership is generally positively viewed.

If that’s not enough, how about another three words.  Boston Bombing Manhunt.  Thousands of law enforcement personnel, dressed in full combat gear like they were each about to singlehandedly go to war against the entire muslim world, went door to door through Boston suburbs, carrying out house to house searches.  They had no search warrants.  They had no reasonable cause or suspicion.  And, furthermore, their searching was all to no avail – the two bombers were not detected as a result of this house to house searching.

Make no mistake.  People weren’t being politely asked if they could have their houses searched.  Their houses were being searched at gunpoint, and refusal was not an option.

Now add to this the fact that after TSHTF, police officers will be as hungry and needy as most other non-prepared people.  They will have a vested personal interest in complying with orders to search and seize food and other valuable supplies.  Maybe they’ll even get a ‘finder’s fee’ bonus based on how much food and supplies they seize.

We’ll be generous and accept that a small percentage of police officers might refuse to go along with any such orders.  But for every police officer refusing to comply, there’ll be a dozen volunteers willing to take his place.

All of the preceding has assumed that taking our food and other supplies from us would be illegal.  But that’s not necessarily a valid assumption.  Alas, quite the opposite.  Please keep reading.

Future Legal Support for Seizing our Food and Supplies

There already is probable legal support for having our supplies taken from us, but we’ll leave that for the second part of this two-part article.  Let’s assume, for the moment – as most of us naively do – that there are no laws or regulations authorizing the authorities to take our food and other supplies from us.  So let’s think – how could such laws be created, and what would we do?

Don’t get on a moral high horse and say ‘It is unconstitutional and so could never happen’.  Unconstitutional laws are enacted every day, and constitutional laws are applied in unconstitutional manners – that’s why we have the legal system, all the way up to the Supreme Courts of our state and of the entire US – to protect us from either inept or wrong-thinking law makers.  Every day, courts throughout the country find laws to be badly written and unenforceable (and also, every day, courts also choose to enforce badly written laws that should not be enforced).  So it is plenty possible that an unconstitutional law could be enacted (and far from certain that the courts would toss it out, even in good times).

And, think about it.  Politicians are not renowned for either their high moral principles, or their own foresight and preparedness, are they.  When things go bad, they’ll be among the first to be starving, and among the first to be demanding that we share our food with them.

So, there’ll be an emergency session of – you name it.  Maybe even your homeowner’s association.  Your local city council.  The county council.  And/or the state legislature.  There will be legislation drafted in double-quick time, and passed almost unanimously even quicker.

The legislation will probably have at least the semblance of fairness associated with it.  It will offer you compensation for the food and other supplies taken from you.  You’ll probably be given a check for some fair value for your food based on what it would cost in normal times, or possibly you’ll be given a voucher that can be used to get replacement food at some future time when food becomes plentiful again.

But how much value is a check, when the banking system has failed?  For that matter, how much value would cash be, when there’s no food for sale at any price?  How much value is a voucher, when you can’t redeem it for anything and will have starved long before normalcy returns?

The stark reality is that you’re likely to find yourself confronted with a properly enacted law that ostensibly empowers other people to take just about everything you have from you.

Now, as for the judicial review of this law and the takings carried out under its authority, how well do you think that is going to go for you?  Whether you are liberal or conservative, you’ll probably concede that judges no longer impartially enforce the law (always assuming that they ever did!), but rather, they selectively and actively interpret the law based on their own personal beliefs and values.

Keep in mind that the judge is being asked to decide if he, too, should be able to share in your food, or if he too will starve while you survive.  How impartial a judgment do you expect to get if/when you can get your case heard in a court?

And there’s the other problem – will the court system still be operating?  Even if it is, if you get a hearing in a month, and a judgment in two months, what will you do for the two months (or more, especially if you lose and then have to appeal) while you’re waiting, having already given up your food?  One thing’s for sure – the way this will work is ‘take first, argue about it in court later’.

Our prediction is that if society’s collapse occurs slowly enough for legislative bodies to continue to meet, there will definitely be high-minded seeming emergency laws passed to make ‘hoarding’ illegal.  But you’ll quickly discover that the definition of hoarding makes you a hoarder.

If you think that is unlikely, people were arrested and prosecuted for ‘hoarding’ when they attempted to get ‘too much’ petrol during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in the New York area in 2012 – even in cases where one person was the ‘designated driver’ going to get petrol for multiple families.

All fairness, all reason, all logic – all these things will be abandoned in the panic that will follow TEOTWAWKI.

Continued in Part Two and Three

Our point in this first part of the three-part article series is that a large part of society – perhaps even the majority – condones taking from other people and transferring their wealth and even their property so that other people can benefit.  You probably consider this immoral and wrong, but the 50% of the country who pay no taxes seem to have no difficulty with their consciences while all the time demanding that the rich pay more and more, which the takers ludicrously describe as ‘paying their fair share’.

Even people who might find this an uncomfortable situation at present will get a very different perspective when they see your house as the only one with power, heat, and light, and smell the rich smell of food cooking, in a scenario where they have none of any such things.  Some people may respond by simply trying to steal food from you at gunpoint, others will throw themselves on your mercy and beg for food.  But the biggest threat will be the people who pass a new law to force you to share everything you have.

But wait.  There’s more.  Please now turn to part two (and then subsequently on to part three), where we stop considering future possible scenarios, and instead focus in on the actual laws that are already on the books, and how they give close to unlimited unrestricted power to the President to take anything he wants from anyone at all, for close on any reason.

We know that sounds impossible to believe, so we back up everything we say with links to formal proof of each statement we make.

Jun 182013
In just over ten years since it was formed, the Homeland Security Department has grown to employ 240,000+ people, including FEMA.  This massive army of people are surely all there to help us, right?

In just over ten years since it was formed, the Homeland Security Department has grown to employ 240,000+ people, including FEMA. This massive army of people are surely all there to help us, right?

This is the second part of a three-part article series on how everything we’ve saved and stored could be – lawfully – taken from us in an emergency.

If you arrived on this page from a search engine or website link, you might wish to first read the first part of the article, which talks about how our society has evolved to the point where the majority already feel no shame in taking property from people who have it and appropriating it for themselves.

Perhaps because preppers tend to be fair-minded people, they find this concept hard to accept.  Please read through the first part, and force yourself to realize just how possible this is.

These Future Scenarios Are Real, Not Hypothetical

Now for the really vital part of this two-part article series.  In the first part, we’ve been talking about hypothetical future scenarios, and like all such things, maybe we are right, and maybe we are wrong – you need to selectively pick and choose what you feel to be most likely and to base your own plans accordingly.

But what would you think and what will you do, if/when you learn that there are already laws on the books to empower the ‘authorities’ (ie everyone else) to take our carefully stockpiled food and other supplies from us?

There are indeed federal laws/regulations/orders on the books to cover exactly this type of scenario.  There may be other federal level plans as well.  In addition, there are probably state level provisions you need to be aware of as well.  Let’s start with a look at state level issues, then move on to the federal level.

This is Real, and Documented, Not Just Scare Stories to Sell You Something

We often come across sales pitches trying to sell us something that have a detailed presentation including a lot of assertions about a lot of things, but their assertions are light on the facts and heavy on the fiction.  So we’ve learned to discount and ignore much of such stuff when we encounter it.

But we’re not trying to sell you anything.  And we will give you links to everything we tell you about in this article.  See for yourself, confirm for yourself, and be prepared to be astonished and dismayed at what you find out.

State Level Emergency Provisions

You need to know what emergency powers the governor of your state has.  You might be astonished at how extensive they could be, and some of the ‘better’ states actually have some of the most unrestricted powers available for their governors – the ‘frontier days’ thinking of those states’ constitutions still flows through, and such laws have not been rewritten for a more cautious and legally constrained present day scenario.

If a governor declares an emergency – either in part of the state or all the state – he can then do all sorts of things.  You probably know about ‘martial law’ – a vague concept that means different things in different cases, but which essentially means that many of your constitutional rights are suspended during the period of martial law.  Most governors have their power to declare martial law validated by the state constitution.

Here is a useful discussion about martial law, including examples of its misuse and abuse – sometimes resulting in judicial action overturning the martial law, but not always.

Some states might have no specific provisions for declaring martial law as such, but they may have provisions for other types of emergency declarations such as a ‘Public Health Emergency’ or a generic ‘State of Emergency’.  The same can be announced at a national level by the President as well.

Governors can sometimes do things such as call people up into the state militia, at which point, you become subject of course to military command and control.  Maybe the first requirement after being drafted into the state militia will be to assemble at some make-do barracks, requiring you to leave your retreat.  What do you do – comply, or be charged with ‘desertion’?

And, guess what the next order might be?  To go around your neighborhood, requisitioning any food and other supplies you can find!

National/Federal Emergency Provisions

Did you know that we are currently in a state of emergency – indeed, for most of the time since 1950, our country has been in a state of emergency.

See this discussion for an eye-opening explanation of our current state of emergency, including the disclosure that in the 1970s, Congress discovered – to its surprise – that the county was in a state of emergency dating back to the Korean War, initiated in 1950, which people had generally forgotten about and never repealed!  Congressional oversight?  Alas, not at all!

And as for the courts applying good sense to this farcical situation, apparently not – courts have upheld sentences that were made more severe due to the existence of a state of emergency, even though there truly was no emergency present.

You probably know that the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 forbids US troops from performing law enforcement action on US soil.  So how then to reconcile events such as troops being deployed to the LA riots in 1992?  Well, it seems that there are exceptions to everything, which is a chilling thought – heaven forbid that you too should become an ‘exception’ to the normal application of justice and jurisprudence.

More seriously, as covered in this helpful discussion, there is a possibility that the Posse Comitatus Act was quietly repealed and overturned by a provision of the 2012 National Defense Authorisation Act (section 1021).  Here’s a discussion of it here.

But if the innocuous and limited seeming provision in the 2012 Act overturns the Posse Comitatus Act, it is because much of it has already been overturned.  Prior to the 2012 Act, in the 2007 Authorization Act, section 1076 massively emasculated the Posse Comitatus Act :

The President may employ the armed forces… to… restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition… the President determines that… domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order… or [to] suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy if such… a condition… so hinders the execution of the laws… that any part or class of its people is deprived of a right, privilege, immunity, or protection named in the Constitution and secured by law… or opposes or obstructs the execution of the laws of the United States or impedes the course of justice under those laws.

We can translate that lengthy statement for you.  What it means – truly – is that the President can order the military to do pretty much anything to anyone, at any time, for any reason.

Specifically, he can order the military to ‘restore public order’ – and you might wonder what ‘public order’ is.  Truly, that’s a broad term capable of many meanings, and so too is the verb before the noun – ‘restore’.  What types of things can he order the military to do to restore the public order?  There’s no limit specified, so presumably whatever he (and he alone with no need to get approval from Congress) feels to be prudent, necessary, and appropriate.

A partial clue is gathered by looking at the examples of types of things that may cause the President to invoke these powers.  An insurrection or conspiracy (a conspiracy of course can be just talking about something, even though the ‘conspirators’ don’t actually do anything) that deprives any part or class of people (which means anyone) of a right/privilege/immunity/protection – wow, with the expanded view of what a person’s ‘rights’ are these days, to say nothing of their privileges, that covers just about anything.  If that’s not enough, it goes on to add ‘or opposes or obstructs the execution of the laws of the US’ which means that anyone talking about (conspiring) or actually opposing any law can be responded to by the President calling out the Army (and the Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard too!).

There may be valid bona fide reasons why such powers are required, but do you really feel comfortable seeing how the entire rule of law and due process and habeas corpus and constitutional rights and protections can be annulled, by one person, at any time, for any reason?  Haven’t we just allowed our President to become our Dictator?  (Your instinct is to say ‘No, of course not’ and maybe to vaguely talk about ‘checks and balances’, but force yourself to think about this.  What checks and balances, what controls and restrictions, are placed on the ability of the President to invoke these powers, to use these powers, and to abuse these powers?)

There’s more.

Hoarding of Just About Anything Can Be Banned

There was an interesting Executive Order signed by President Obama in March 2012.  There’s a lot of legal stuff in it, and only when you get towards the end, do you suddenly realize ‘OMG!  What is this I’m reading?’.

Look at section 801 of the order, defining the things covered.

Sec. 801.  Definitions.  In addition to the definitions in section 702 of the Act, 50 U.S.C. App. 2152, the following definitions apply throughout this order:

(a)  “Civil transportation” includes movement of persons and property by all modes of transportation in interstate, intrastate, or foreign commerce within the United States, its territories and possessions, and the District of Columbia, and related public storage and warehousing, ports, services, equipment and facilities, such as transportation carrier shop and repair facilities.  “Civil transportation” also shall include direction, control, and coordination of civil transportation capacity regardless of ownership.  “Civil transportation” shall not include transportation owned or controlled by the Department of Defense, use of petroleum and gas pipelines, and coal slurry pipelines used only to supply energy production facilities directly.

(b)  “Energy” means all forms of energy including petroleum, gas (both natural and manufactured), electricity, solid fuels (including all forms of coal, coke, coal chemicals, coal liquification, and coal gasification), solar, wind, other types of renewable energy, atomic energy, and the production, conservation, use, control, and distribution (including pipelines) of all of these forms of energy.

(c)  “Farm equipment” means equipment, machinery, and repair parts manufactured for use on farms in connection with the production or preparation for market use of food resources.

(d)  “Fertilizer” means any product or combination of products that contain one or more of the elements nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium for use as a plant nutrient.

(e)  “Food resources” means all commodities and products, (simple, mixed, or compound), or complements to such commodities or products, that are capable of being ingested by either human beings or animals, irrespective of other uses to which such commodities or products may be put, at all stages of processing from the raw commodity to the products thereof in vendible form for human or animal consumption.  “Food resources” also means potable water packaged in commercially marketable containers, all starches, sugars, vegetable and animal or marine fats and oils, seed, cotton, hemp, and flax fiber, but does not mean any such material after it loses its identity as an agricultural commodity or agricultural product.

(f)  “Food resource facilities” means plants, machinery, vehicles (including on farm), and other facilities required for the production, processing, distribution, and storage (including cold storage) of food resources, and for the domestic distribution of farm equipment and fertilizer (excluding transportation thereof).

(g)  “Functions” include powers, duties, authority, responsibilities, and discretion.

(h)  “Head of each agency engaged in procurement for the national defense” means the heads of the Departments of State, Justice, the Interior, and Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the General Services Administration, and all other agencies with authority delegated under section 201 of this order.

(i)  “Health resources” means drugs, biological products, medical devices, materials, facilities, health supplies, services and equipment required to diagnose, mitigate or prevent the impairment of, improve, treat, cure, or restore the physical or mental health conditions of the population.

(j)  “National defense” means programs for military and energy production or construction, military or critical infrastructure assistance to any foreign nation, homeland security, stockpiling, space, and any directly related activity.  Such term includes emergency preparedness activities conducted pursuant to title VI of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. 5195 et seq., and critical infrastructure protection and restoration.

(k)  “Offsets” means compensation practices required as a condition of purchase in either government to government or commercial sales of defense articles and/or defense services as defined by the Arms Export Control Act, 22 U.S.C. 2751 et seq., and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, 22 C.F.R. 120.1 130.17.

(l)  “Special priorities assistance” means action by resource departments to assist with expediting deliveries, placing rated orders, locating suppliers, resolving production or delivery conflicts between various rated orders, addressing problems that arise in the fulfillment of a rated order or other action authorized by a delegated agency, and determining the validity of rated orders.

(m)  “Strategic and critical materials” means materials (including energy) that (1) would be needed to supply the military, industrial, and essential civilian needs of the United States during a national emergency, and (2) are not found or produced in the United States in sufficient quantities to meet such need and are vulnerable to the termination or reduction of the availability of the material.

(n)  “Water resources” means all usable water, from all sources, within the jurisdiction of the United States, that can be managed, controlled, and allocated to meet emergency requirements, except “water resources” does not include usable water that qualifies as “food resources.”

These definitions are written in to the 1950 War and National Defense Defense (sic) Production Act, and so let’s see what the act itself has to say for itself.

Go directly to section 2072.  That’s the key part from our perspective.

§2072. Hoarding of designated scarce materials

In order to prevent hoarding, no person shall accumulate (1) in excess of the reasonable demands of business, personal, or home consumption, or (2) for the purpose of resale at prices in excess of prevailing market prices, materials which have been designated by the President as scarce materials or materials the supply of which would be threatened by such accumulation. The President shall order published in the Federal Register, and in such other manner as he may deem appropriate, every designation of materials the accumulation of which is unlawful and any withdrawal of such designation.

In making such designations the President may prescribe such conditions with respect to the accumulation of materials in excess of the reasonable demands of business, personal, or home consumption as he deems necessary to carry out the objectives of this Act [sections 2061 to 2170, 2171, and 2172 of this Appendix]. This section shall not be construed to limit the authority contained in sections 101 and 704 of this Act [sections 2071 and 2154 of this Appendix].

So the President can simply say that anything more than (for example) a week’s supply of food (and all the other things listed) is an amount ‘in excess of the reasonable demands of personal consumption’ and then order the Army to impound everything you have in excess of that amount.  End of story.

Well, no, not quite the end of the story.  Let’s just look at one more thing.

The Mysterious Nature of FEMA

You’ve probably heard the occasional scare stories of FEMA camps where people will be forcibly resettled, and speculation about the extraordinary level of ammunition purchases by the Department of Homeland Security (FEMA is one part of the huge new monster that the Homeland Security Department has become since it was formed in November 2002).

Maybe you’ve wondered what FEMA is doing with the mine-resistant armored vehicles it now has.  Or maybe you’ve simply dismissed FEMA as something that gets a lot of criticism whenever there’s a real emergency but not likely to be a relevant part of any extreme emergency in the future.

You might be right.  But you might be wrong.  One of the things that really has us puzzled is seeing job vacancy postings for low and mid level FEMA managers, with the requirement that such people be able to obtain a Top Secret security clearance.  We’d like to know – what is there that would require a FEMA administrator to have a Top Secret security clearance?

Our point is simply this.  In minor regional type emergencies, we certainly agree and appreciate that FEMA is there to help out as best it can.  But in a serious Level 2 or Level 3 disaster – a situation which totally overwhelms FEMA’s ability to solve the problem – might the role of FEMA then change into something darker and more sinister?

We don’t want to get into the deeper darker conspiracy theories of what FEMA and HSD might be and do in the future, but we would like to be reassured that these theories truly are as impossible as we hope them to be.

We have no answer to these questions.  But we wish we did, because we can readily see a future scenario where the government (which, of course, always ‘knows best’) decides the best thing to do is to centralize all food and other survival resources – all the stuff listed above in the Executive Order – and then distribute it ‘fairly’ as it sees fit.

And, in case you didn’t read the first part of this two-part article, distributing ‘fairly’ is a code phrase that means ‘we’ll take as much as we can from people who have the thing, and then give it to people who don’t have the thing’.  The people without the thing doubtless feel that is fair, but how do you feel, as someone more likely to be losing your preps, while seeing people who laughed at you for being a prepper now having your preps passed over to them?

This all ignores the illogic of the concept of redistributing food and other supplies.  You personally might have enough food and other supplies to see yourself safely through the emergency situation.  But if your supplies are taken and split twenty different ways, probably the only result will be that all of you will fail to survive, albeit with the 20 people now sharing your preps lasting a bit longer than they would have otherwise done.

How is the net result improved by having everyone die, rather than by allowing those who chose to prepare for an emergency enjoy the benefit of their preparations and survive?  At least, if you got to keep your materials, you would survive.  Nothing will allow for most non-prepared people to survive an extreme emergency, but having you too share in their misery and failure doesn’t make things any better or any fairer for anyone.


There’s a lot of content in this two-part article, and it paints a terrifyingly dark possible future, where we run the risk of losing everything we’ve been going to such lengths to amass.  If you’ve not already done so, we recommend you now read the first part.

If you don’t think such a thing would ever happen in the US, please read through the linked articles – articles that expose past abuses of power and of compulsory taking in our nation’s past.  Alas, rather than making such past actions less likely in the future, the social evolution of the last 50 years seems to empower and make more likely future actions of ignoring our constitutional rights.

The laws and authorizing powers are already on the books.  All it takes is a single proclamation by the President – not even an Act of Congress – and the end of the rule of law as we know and cherish it could occur.

A prudent prepper will consider these concerns very seriously, and will be careful about what they store, and where and how they store it, and – most of all – be very selective about who knows what they have.

Please see other articles in our Legal category for more thoughts and ideas on these issues.

Please Read on to Part Three

Please continue this article series in part three, which introduces you to the totally un-American and terrifying concept of ‘civil forfeiture’.