This is the second part of a two-part article about choosing an appropriate town to live in as a retreat location. If you’ve arrived directly here from a search engine or website link, you might wish to read the first part ‘Identifying Good Towns‘ before then continuing on to read this second part.
When you’re choosing a rural retreat, you have little expectation of having much in the way of utilities available at the retreat. Ideally you might be able to get some electricity run to the property, but that is about all. But when you’re in a town, you have a much greater expectation of available services. Furthermore, depending on the robustness of the services, the town – and its other, less well prepared residents – may be able to cope with a collapse of society to a better or worse extent.
There are several key services a town may provide its citizens, or, if not directly providing, may provide the focal point to encourage some outside provider to participate.
The most important services would be water, sewer, electricity, gas, phone, internet, and transportation. Let’s briefly consider each of these.
Does the town provide water or does each house have to make its own arrangements? If the town does provide water, does it require electricity for any part of the process?
If the water comes from a stream/river/reservoirs ‘up there’ and is gravity fed all the way to your tap, then that is hopefully (but not definitely) able to continue operating if the power fails. But if the water comes up from a well, then goes through a processing plant, you have electric motors driving the pumps to lift the water from the well, to send it through the processing plant, and then on to your house.
If the town does provide water, are you able to also store rainwater on your property, or dig your own well, too?
Smaller towns probably require everyone to use septic tanks, and that’s a very robust solution. If you buy a property with an existing septic system, we’d consider extending it, and then pumping it more regularly than needed, so if society collapses, you’ve got a good many years out of your system before it needs to be attended to in the future.
There are different types of septic systems. Some are gravity fed, others need pumps to distribute the sewage. Ideally you’d want to have a system that does not require electricity to operate. Not only does this reduce your dependence on electricity, it is one less thing to go wrong and need maintaining. If you do have an electric system, it would be ideal if you had a holding tank that could be filled and then the pump activated to process/distribute the contents on an occasional basis – that way you could run your generator briefly to power the pump once a day or whatever, rather than needing power 24/7.
If the town does provide sewer services, you should again understand what happens if the power fails. Maybe you want to have your own septic system (if you are allowed, of course) even though the town provides a sewer service.
Some towns and counties have their own PUDs that provide electricity to the community. That is maybe nice, but largely irrelevant; what is more important is where does whatever utility provider you will be relying on for electricity get their electricity from?
Ideally, they have a hydro-electric power station all of their own, that provides all their power and more besides (which they sell on to other utility companies). Less ideally, they buy hydro-electric power from some other company. Very unusually, they might have their own nuclear power generating facility. Still less ideally, they generate their own power, but from oil, gas, or coal. Least ideally, they just buy power as a commodity on the open market from whoever, wherever, they can get power from.
The reason for the variation in desirability is the degree of independence/dependence this gives the utility. If they buy power from somewhere else, then when the grid goes down, they’ll be out of luck and so too will you. If they generate their own power from oil/gas/coal, then they’ll again be out of luck as soon as their supply of fuel is exhausted (and that could be in as short a time as a few days, even less with natural gas coming straight from a pipeline).
If they contract with another nearby utility to take some of their spare hydro-power, then that may possibly continue, although we’d expect to see the state or federal government take control of any surplus power generating and repurpose it as they see fit. Of course, if the national grid fails, then the nearby utility could hopefully still provide power to your utility and wouldn’t have other competing utilities across the country competing for the power.
If the utility has their own hydro-power, then that will hopefully continue more or less intact, at least until such stage as the turbines can no longer be maintained. That option gives you the best chance of ongoing electricity.
Natural gas is great stuff, and for the foreseeable future is likely to be the cheapest energy source available in much of North America. If your town has natural gas available, you are fortunate, and should make full use of it during normal times.
But in a Level 2/3 situation, we expect that the natural gas pipelines will quickly fail. They rely on computer controlled switching and pumping, so if the computers fail or the electricity fails at any point from well head to your home, the gas supply will either massively degrade or fail too.
So you can’t rely on gas in an emergency, but you can enjoy it during the good times.
It would be really nice if your town had its own ‘central office’ or telephone exchange. That way, even if the broader telephone network fails, maybe your local central office can continue working and can provide phone communications within your local town. The older fashioned it is, the better. Wires strung on poles (or underground), and stepper/rotary switches in the exchange would be our idea of perfection.
Of course, you’ll also want cell phone service too, and hopefully with fast data, but that’s something for modern-day living while society continues to function, and will quickly fail when society fails.
Of course you want internet service for the present, and equally of course you have to expect to lose it when society fails.
If your town has bus service, then it is too big! You want to be able to walk from where you would live to the downtown area, and to anywhere else you’re likely to want to go in the town, too.
Ideally your town is also fairly flat, so you can not only walk, you can also cycle.
One thing that would be nice is proximity to a rail line. When we look at the history of this and other countries, we are struck by the fact that trains preceded cars. Of course, part of the reason is that steam locomotives were developed before internal combustion powered vehicles, but another part of the reason is that train transportation is incredibly efficient in terms of energy consumption and a great way of moving large quantities of people and things, long distances.
Our guess is that if we see a long-term Level 3 disaster, train service will be restored much sooner than road service. Does that mean you should include a fully restored coal or wood burning steam loco, a couple of carriages and a couple of freight wagons as part of your preps? If you can, we’d urge you to – become a new ‘railroad baron’ in the new world that would follow. 🙂
Back to what is achievable and relevant for most of us, suffice it to simply say that it would be nice but not essential to be either on or close to a rail line that is currently in use and not slated for closure in the foreseeable future.
As for road transportation, the town should ideally be on a secondary road and it would be better if it were on a spur rather than a throughway that has more traffic on it. If it is on a throughway, it would be helpful if there were some hills on one side of the town that would act as a geographical barrier in the future, and another town reasonably readily reachable on the non-barrier side.
Other Types of Services
The preceding services were all to do with ‘things’. How about also some services to do with people. For example, police, fire, and medical.
Let’s consider those types of services too.
We’re in two minds if having a city police department is a good thing or not. Many smaller towns contract either with the country sheriff, or alternatively, with another nearby town or city.
This can save a great deal of money compared to the cost of having to establish their own department, and also gives the town access to ‘surge’ strength and a share of things that it would otherwise have to create entirely. For example, instead of needing its own bomb department or SWAT team, it would have access to such things maintained by the law enforcement agency the town contracted with. Even things like detectives might not be needed on a full-time basis by a small town, and so being able to get ‘half’ a detective is an efficient way of proceeding.
On the other hand, in a small town, the police are more directly accountable to the people they serve. Hopefully most officers live in the town, whereas if you’re contracting with a larger county or city department, maybe none of the officers live in the town, so rather than reflecting the town’s values in their approach to policing, they’re imposing their outside values.
At what size does it make economic sense for a town to have its own police department? That’s hard to say. A town of 1000 – 2000 will almost always find it better value to contract from a larger department; and perhaps we can stop at that point, because if your town is much bigger than 2,000 people, we suggest it is starting to become less desirable because it is becoming ‘too big’.
While it is nice to have your own police department in your own town, the smaller the town, the greater the probable cost of this ‘luxury’ item, and/or the more aggressive the police department may be in ticketing people for violations so as to pay their way and protect their jobs.
Many small towns will have a volunteer fire brigade, and might call volunteers by something as simple as a siren that sounds in the middle of the town.
The problem with this arrangement is that it adds several minutes to the time it takes to get a fire truck to your property and fighting your fire, and if you’ve ever seen a fire take hold of a property, you’ll know that several minutes can mean the difference between a salvageable fire and needing to tear down the ruins and rebuild from scratch.
On the other hand, of course, your retreat property should not be a fire risk to start with. You should build the exterior of it from a fireproof material; that’s not to say that your interior won’t be at potential risk of fire, but if all the fire can burn are interior furnishings, it won’t run away so severely, and if you have some decent hoses and water pressure, you can probably slow if not completely stop the fire until/before help arrives.
Insurance rates will probably be higher if you have a volunteer fire department. But land taxes may be more if you have to pay for a full-time fire department. Prevention is better than cure, though, so we’d prefer to pay a bit more for at least a core basic full-time fire department, but don’t consider it too serious a downcheck if the town doesn’t have one.
There are several things to consider under the medical heading. Where would the nearest paramedics come from in an emergency, and then where would they take you after they’d arrived – ie, where is the nearest hospital?
Some towns have regional medical centers in them. This is an enormous plus for a town, because you not only have the building and resources, you have the medical staff too. In a crisis, your town will have an abundance of medical professionals residing within it.
Remember that with a stroke your chance of survival diminishes by about 10% for each minute it takes for paramedics to get to you and restart your breathing. You want to have paramedic service in the town or not far out of it if at all possible.
If you have, or plan to have, school age children, the presence of local schools will of course be an important factor to consider. Even if you don’t have children, a town with decent education standards is more likely to have decent people than a town which places little importance on that.
On a related subject, have a look at the demographics of the town – its ‘age pyramid’. You want a town with a reasonable share of younger people, rather than one comprising predominantly middle-aged and older people. Without young people, the town has no rejuvenation and no future.
If attending church is something you wish to do, you’ll want to see the choice of churches that might be available to you in the town and its immediate surroundings.
Some people might suggest you can get a feeling for the ‘soul’ of a town by its churches, that may also be true, although it might be hard to evaluate short of spending time attending several churches to form your own direct impressions.
This was the second part of a two-part article about choosing an appropriate town to live in as a retreat location. If you’ve not already done so, we suggest you also read the first part of the article – ‘Identifying Good Towns‘.
A logical next point in your research would be our article ‘Where to Locate Within a Town‘.