Jul 292014
A single EMP pulse can cover the entire country with destructive EMF radiation.

A single EMP pulse can cover the entire country with destructive EMF radiation.

Paul Singer is CEO and founder of the Elliott Management hedge fund, looking after some $25 billion of client funds.

A self-made billionaire, he has a personal net worth of $1.5 billion, and his hedge fund is notable for only having had two down years in the 37 years he has been operating it.  It has averaged 14% annual return, compared to 10.8% for the S&P 500 as a whole.

He publicly warned about the housing crash and global financial crisis as early as 2006 and in 2007 met with the G7 finance ministers to warm them of the coming economic problems – a warning that was ignored by the politicians.

Clearly he knows a thing or two about managing and protecting assets, and about accurately predicting future risks, and people everywhere would be well advised to listen to his advice.

This week, in his standard investment update letter to his clients, he wrote

There is one risk that is head-and-shoulders above all the rest in terms of the scope of potential damage adjusted for the likelihood of occurrence.

You’ve probably already guessed what this risk is – this article headline gives the show away.  He tells his subscribers that a man-made EMP attack would be worse than nuclear war, asteroid strikes, or even a solar storm. :

It would not cause any blast or radiation damage, but such an attack would have consequences even more catastrophic than a severe solar storm.  It could not only bring down the grid, but also lay down a very intense, very fast pulse across the continent, damaging or destroying electronic switches, devices, computers and transformers across America.

He went on to call for a bipartisan push to make the country and the world safer from such risks.  He wants to see stockpiles of spare parts to repair/replace the key components of the electrical grid and other essential elements of our electronic society, and says the government and other groups should prepare emergency plans for how to respond to such events.

We’ve been writing about and worrying about EMP for years (check out our EMP articles here).

We’re not billionaires, and we don’t manage billions of dollars of other people’s money, either.  But, whether you’d rather listen to billionaire Mr Singer, or plain ordinary David Spero, the message is the same from us both :  A single EMP event could destroy most of the electrical and electronic functionality in the entire United States.

You need to plan and prepare for the possibility of an EMP and the destruction of our society that would surely follow.

One last comment.  It can be difficult explaining and validating our views and concerns when explaining prepping to other people.  You may find it useful to allow Mr Singer to ‘speak’ on your behalf.  Maybe your friends will find his advice more compelling.

Here’s the article that quotes from his investment newsletter.

Jul 262014
You might be looking at a foot soldier - maybe the only foot soldier - in our next war.

You might be looking at a foot soldier – maybe the only foot soldier – in our next war.

Our notions of modern war and warfare are, in largest part, hopelessly outdated and dangerously inaccurate.

When you ask most people to describe how they would expect any enemy to attack the US – whether a nation/state or an amorphous terrorist group, you’ll probably get responses ranging from nuclear missiles to crashing more planes into buildings or other sensitive areas.

But the most likely future attack may not involve bombs, and may not even require our attackers and their invading force to come within a thousand miles of our shores.  The notion of a gratuitous attack is, after all, not so much simply to kill some people and destroy some things, as it is to harm the enemy as broadly as possible.  War has sometimes been described as ‘An extension of economic bargaining by another means’ and in its ultimate analysis, most wars are either about economic issues, or, if ideologically based, are still about changing each side’s economic status.

Here’s an interesting thought to help explain that thought.  More of us probably suffered more direct harm/cost/inconvenience through the ‘Global Financial Crisis’ that unfolded in 2008 than we did when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on 9/11/01.  And, for those of us inconvenienced by 9/11, our inconvenience was probably a derivative effect of the 9/11 attack rather than a direct attack – because our flight was canceled, or the flight of someone coming to see us was canceled, for example.

We say this not to belittle the horror of 9/11, nor to overlook the deaths of the approximately 3,000 people directly killed on 9/11.  But more harm was done to more of us through the bloodless global financial crisis – an event that involved no spectacular events, attacks, explosions or casualties.

Furthermore, our enemies know that if they can harm our economic strength and our infrastructure, they directly harm our military and our ability to project power and influence around the world, and – in particular – in the areas that our enemies are most directly interested in.  The size of our military is of course directly related to the ability of our economy to support it – if our economy can be destroyed, how long will it be before our military is reduced still more in size because we can’t afford it at its previous level?

For an answer to that question, look at the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of their military.  It is only now that Russia is becoming economically strong once more that it can afford to revitalize its armed forces.

Or, if you prefer, look at China.  Its military might is increasing in direct proportion to its economic might.

Or, for the reverse, look at Britain.  Once the proud possessor of the world’s largest navy and most mighty military forces, but its military has imploded in step with Britain’s economic decline.  Make no mistake.  There is a very direct link between economic and military strength.

Okay, enough of that as introduction.  So what will the next attack on the US look like?  This article suggests it will be a cyber-attack on our economy, rather than a classic soldier based attack on our military.  The article says that Al Qaeda are already probing and seeking ways to uncover and exploit any computer system weaknesses, anywhere in our society.

This is not new.  We‘ve written about our vulnerability to cyber attack before.  But this is the first time (that we’re aware of) that the authorities are now worrying about a targeted cyber-attack by Al Qaeda (you know, the terrorist force that President Obama assured us was broken and on the run in disarray a few years ago…..).

Do a thought experiment and wonder what would happen to your world if even only some computer systems went haywire and stopped working.  It would be a bit like the scenario that was much considered but happily never occurred on January 1, 2000 – do you remember all the concern about the ‘Y2K bug’ lurking in outdated programming code?  (If you don’t remember or didn’t understand what the Y2K bug was all about, it was because many computer programs only used two digits for the year, and so when the year (19)99 because the year (20)00, there was concern that some computer programs would crash because they might misinterpret 00 as meaning 1900 rather than 2000.  It is explained more here.)

The Y2K bug was averted in large part because the world planned and prepared for it.  Almost a third of a trillion dollars were directly spent urgently rewriting software, and who knows how much more was spent less directly on simply dumping old software and old microprocessor hardware and replacing it with more modern products that had four digit dates.  A similar problem is not now expected until 10,000, when there may be another problem due to date fields only having four rather than five digits!

One could argue that it is a shame that the Y2K bug didn’t materially impact our lives back then, because it has made us more complacent about computers and their potential to wreak havoc in our lives.

But, never mind problems 8,000 years in the future.  Please keep reading.

The Next Massive Attack on the US Will be a Cyber Attack

Much more pressing is the stated intention of Al Qaeda to attack our computer systems just as soon as they get resources in place to mount a massive coordinated strike.  We’d not notice it if one or two computers failed, but we’d sure notice it if the nation’s entire banking system crashed, or if the power grid went down, or even if the internet backbone jammed.

As the other articles we’ve written about cyber-vulnerabilities, there are weaknesses in computers and control devices everywhere we turn (for example, this article about 11 million computers at risk from one type of attack), and with the internet, these devices are increasingly accessible remotely, even from other countries.

But – and here’s the worrying thing.  Although there was a high level of public awareness about the potential impact of the Y2K bug, and a worldwide campaign to eliminate the risk prior to 1/1/01, where is the similar global action to harden up our computer systems?  It is just not there, is it.

Think about this the next time you are in an elevator and push the button to go to your chosen floor.  You are relying on the elevator’s control computer to do the right thing – to take you to the correct floor, to stop there, and to open the doors.  What say it gets reprogrammed and jams you, with the doors shut, between floors?  What would happen if almost every elevator in every building failed, simultaneously?  That might not sound life threatening, but if you live or work on the 20th floor of a building, how will you now get up and down those 20 floors?

Okay, so maybe you can struggle up and down the 20 floors.  But what say the building’s HVAC system goes haywire too.  Instead of a nice comfortable 70 degrees, the temperature goes up to 100 degrees.  What do you do then?  Smash the glass of the sealed windows to let some fresh air in (which at some times of year might be still hotter, anyway!)?

Now let’s make the traffic lights malfunction too.  Maybe they’ll just simply fail.  Or maybe they’ll randomly go green and red, encouraging accidents.  Surely you know, on the occasional times when a single traffic light is out of service, how that can back up traffic for some blocks around.  Now imagine if the entire city has failed traffic lights.  How does your daily commute sound now?

With traffic jammed up, what say a building’s heating furnace or something else misbehaves, causing a fire to break out.  How will the fire trucks get to the building to put out the fire?  The sprinklers will activate and do the job for them?  Well, maybe, but that assumes the sprinkler control system hasn’t been made inoperative too, and the water supply pumps haven’t also failed.

What about simpler things such as food and water?  Well, as we’ve already mentioned, stop the water pumps and you stop the water.  Now cause supermarket freezers and coolers to fail, and also disable their computerized re-ordering systems, and they’re down to dried good only with impaired means of resupply (particularly because the trucks will be snarled in the same traffic jams).

In truth, these are difficult and indirect ways to create chaos in our nation.  A much simpler way is just to directly attack our electrical grid.  This attack could either be via the switching control circuits, causing transformers to overload and explode, or it could (also) be via the power generating facilities.  Have the power generating plants control systems fail, or program them to dangerously overload the machinery so the hardware itself fails.  Can a nuclear plant be programmed to explode?  We don’t know, but we bet it could be.

Why not make the computers that control Wall St and our stock exchanges go crazy.  While you might think that the loss of the stock exchanges would not really matter much, the loss of liquidity would see businesses unable to fund their purchases of raw materials, and in turn, be unable to sell their finished goods because their customers also were losing access to their credit facilities.  This would be a slower failure perhaps than just turning off the electrical grid, but if you have some of your retirement savings in any form of electronic/intangible holding (and, unless you have gold bars underneath your mattress, the chances are that most/all of your savings are in electronic abstract form) you’ve lost access to them.  Not just businesses would be harmed.  People could no longer buy and sell houses, cars, or much at all.

More immediately and with much greater direct effect, take out the banking system’s computers, and you can no longer use credit cards for payment, and you can no longer withdraw cash from your bank account.  What happens then when you next go to buy groceries, or gasoline, or anything, anywhere?

The possibilities for harm via attacking our nation’s computers are without limit.

Note that while we rate our risk of cyber-attack as high, most of our adversaries are not similarly at risk, because they are either low-tech nations with less reliance on computers, or alternatively, they are amorphous organizations with no physical territory or computerized infrastructure that could be targeted.

The Benefits of Cyber-Warfare to an Attacking Force

Now, think about it as if you were an attacker.  What would you rather do?  Go to boot camp, endure three months of basic training, learn to shoot, and then be shipped off to invade the US, where you’ll be shot at, likely injured, and possibly killed?  Or take some programming classes, and from the comfort of your own living room, in pyjamas and slippers, with a coke in one hand and a burrito in the other, write a computer program and insert it into a far away computer in another country, totally free of discomfort or personal risk?

There’s another benefit for an attacking force, too.  If you are talking soldiers, obviously a platoon of 12 men requires, yes, 12 people.  A battalion of 900 people similarly requires 900 people, and so on.

But, in cyber warfare, one single person can ‘enlist’ thousands of computers by infecting them with viruses that will, at a particular time, take over the computer.  That one person can then instruct all these thousands of ‘zombie’ computers to attack simultaneously.  An entire massive cyber-invasion can be planned and executed by a single person.

Now, what if you were a defender.  It is one thing to see a line of advancing enemy troops, and as part of your force, to defend your territory against them and to repel them.  But what good are ‘boots on the ground’, aircraft, tanks, guns, night sights and everything else when your enemy is not physically present, but instead is somewhere else, but you don’t know exactly where?

There’s another issue, too.  How do you fight back against a computer virus?  You don’t know where in the world it came from, and even if you did find out, by the time you’ve located the source of the virus, the person has moved, and initiated another attack from another city (or even another country).

As we started off saying, anyone who plans to fight a war with guns and bullets these days is short-sighted and crazy.  Why go to all the hassle and personal risk when you can simply unleash a computer virus that will do more damage than all the bullets and bombs you could carry?

The flipside of this is also relevant.  Anyone who plans their nation’s defense on the assumption that the enemy will only be using bombs and bullets is also crazy.  Sure, we need to keep a national military force, but our most likely attack is going to come through a computer circuit, and rather than being aimed at our troops, it will be aimed at the soft underbelly of our society – its vulnerable and unprotected computer systems.  That’s where we need to be placing the most focus and defensive resource.

Our enemies have told us they want to cyber-attack us, and our enemies are trying, on a daily basis, to infiltrate our computer networks.  The war has already started.

Bottom Line for Preppers

A cyber-attack could bring about an instant disaster, but may instead create a ‘boiling frog’ effect in society.  Our social support systems and structure would slowly degrade, rather than instantly fail.  This would engender tolerance of the problem and hope that it will be resolved, but if the attack is staged and ongoing, instead of improving, more systems will go off-line and problems will get worse.

This makes it very difficult to know when you should evacuate your city area and move to your retreat.  We discuss this in our article ‘Why slow disasters may be as serious as sudden disasters‘.  We urge your to (re)read that article and create your own ‘lines in the sand’ that will trigger your decision to bug-out and switch from every-day mode to TEOTWAWKI mode.

Jul 262014
A solar storm such as this, if it hits the earth, could destroy much/most of all our electronics.

There’s a 50/50 chance that a massive solar storm will hit the earth and destroy most/all our electrical and electronic equipment some time in the next 42 years.  Are you prepared for this?

We’ve written many times before about the vulnerability posed to much/most of our electrical and electronic gear by a major solar storm.  Indeed, noting the expert opinion that suggests there’s a 12% chance of this type of disruptive solar storm destroying most of our modern life and lifestyle within the next decade, a solar storm and its effects should be considered one of the greatest risks of all to prepare for.

There are two issues to consider when thinking about solar storms.  The first is how strong it will be.  The second is whether it will reach the earth or not.

That second point is a bit of a saving grace, because solar storms don’t radiate out equally in all directions from the sun simultaneously.  They flow in a specific direction, and if the earth isn’t in the path of that flow, it has no impact on us.

Here’s a fascinating story of two solar storms that erupted in close succession a couple of years ago (why are we only finding out about this now?) and which had the potential to “disable everything that plugs into a wall socket”.

Fortunately, the direction those two solar storms traveled did not take them past where the earth was at that time.  But imagine if they had come directly to us.  How would your life change if everything plugged into a wall socket was disabled?  Remember, it isn’t just everything plugged into your wall sockets, but everything plugged into everyone’s wall sockets that would be disabled.  Oh yes, to say nothing of the electrical grid and the transformers and switching circuitry that routes the electricity around the country.

The article points out one impact – you’d no longer be able to flush your toilet, due to the city water supplies suffering from electric pump failures.  But not flushing your toilet (oh yes, the sewage lines would back up too, because the sewage pumps would also fail) would surely be the least of your worries.  How about also no fresh water to drink or cook with?  No heat (or cooling) and light for your home.  No food in the stores.  No internet or phones.  Pretty much no anything at all, and potentially for somewhere between weeks, months and years (the super-transformers in particular would take many years to replace).

The good news is that a solar storm would not destroy our retreat or current dwelling structure, and would not instantly emperil ourselves.  If we were quick, we would have time to respond to the event before the general population as a whole realized what had happened and started to panic.

A response (and panic) might actually take longer to occur than you think.  If all radio, television, phone and internet services are down, it would take some time before what people would instinctively assume merely to be a pesky short-term power cut became to be appreciated as a more severe, more global, and longer-term event.

Even as that awareness slowly developed, there would still be a huge passive expectation that ‘the government will help us’ – although of course, the flipside of that expectation is very ugly.  As people realize the government isn’t going to help them and can’t help them, that encourages a feeling of outrage and betrayal and a perception that all normal rules and constraints have been abandoned.  That’s the point when people start rioting, looting, setting fire to things, and becoming mindlessly violent at anyone who they feel deserves to be the focal point of their anger – in particular, anyone they see as being more fortunate than themselves.

It would definitely be a good time to be getting out of Dodge!

Bottom Line for Preppers?

Massive solar storms that could destroy everything plugged into a socket have occurred before (the Carrington event in 1859, and probably more in the past that didn’t matter so much when we had nothing electrical or electronic to be affected by them).  Not quite so severe solar storms have occurred more recently (Quebec in 1989).

It is more a case of when rather than if another solar storm will hit the earth with severe – unimaginable – consequences.  Statistics say there is 12% chance of this happening in the next ten years, which means it is almost sure to happen every 83 years, and there’s a 50/50 chance every 42 years.

Solar storms are survivable because they don’t destroy structures or injure people.  But they require you to be well prepared and able to become fully self-sufficient for probably a decade or more.

One last comment.  Our sense is the authorities underplay this risk.  We feel they prefer to under-rate the chances of this happening, and to under-rate the impact if it does happen.  Even in this most recent article, the example of the disaster that would follow is limited to ‘your toilet won’t flush’!  But think about that – if your toilet won’t flush, you’re in a dozen other worlds of hurt that are much more life threatening, at the same time.  The authorities prefer to downplay this rather than alarm the masses and expose their own inability to protect us the way so many people expect, demand, and assume.

Jul 222014
The Tsar Bomba's 35 mile high mushroom cloud, as seen from 100 miles away.

The Tsar Bomba’s 35 mile high mushroom cloud, as seen from 100 miles away.

An interesting new study predicts that a limited nuclear exchange between warring powers would result in a ‘nuclear winter’ scenario.

The study says this would create global famine, cooling, drought and massive increases in UV radiation (due to damage to the ozone layer), lasting some 20 years, and with between hundreds of millions and billions of people dying (the total population on the planet is about 7 billion).

The full study is available here, and there’s a more easily read paraphrase/summary of it here.

This scenario is based on a hypothetical possible war between India and Pakistan, and assumes each side fires 50 nuclear warheads at the other side (ie 100 total), and each of a moderate 15 kiloton yield.

On the face of it, this sounds apocalyptic.  On the other hand, we have major concerns about the underlying assumptions of this computer model, and our email to the study’s authors requesting clarification, which they quickly opened and read, has gone unanswered.  Just like the old computer adage ‘GIGO’ (Garbage In, Garbage Out), if the model’s assumptions are wrong, then its conclusions are also flawed.

It is interesting to look at the study and see where the assumptions may be invalid, and also to draw some lessons for preppers from its projections, whether valid or not.  Although we don’t believe a ‘limited’ 100 warhead exchange would have the apocalyptic results forecast, other events might bring about these effects and so it is helpful to understand what to expect and prepare for in such a case.

The study is based on what would happen if 5 Tg (Teragrams, the same as 5 million metric tons) of ‘black carbon‘ (a fancy way of saying smoke soot) was released into the atmosphere, and suggests this is a likely result from the detonation of 100 15 kiloton nuclear bombs.

We can’t comment on the validity of the model’s projections for the impact of 5 Tg of BC into the atmosphere, and will assume that the model is correct about this – although note that most climatological models are somewhat controversial as the ongoing debate over global warming indicates.  But we do have concerns about the suggestion that 100 typical nuclear explosions, such as might occur in a limited nuclear exchange between warring powers, would have this effect.  Let’s have a look at what we see to be flaws in the model’s underlying assumptions.

The Problems With This Study’s Underlying Assumptions

The first reason for doubting this is that in total 100 15 kiloton explosions would seem to total to about the same as a single 1.5 megaton explosion (there are reasons for and against suggesting that 100 15 kiloton explosions create either more or less effect than one single 1.5 megaton explosion).  Let’s put that in context, to appreciate how ‘trivial’ (on a global scale!) that actually is.

During the days of above ground nuclear testing by both Russia and the US, nuclear explosions of much greater than 1.5 megatons in magnitude were regularly detonated, with the largest ever nuclear explosion, the Russian Tsar Bomba, being estimated at between 50 – 58 megatons in destructive power.  Yes, this one single explosion was almost 40 times greater than the amount this study says would be sufficient to create a 20 year ‘nuclear winter’, but created almost no measurable impact on local, regional, or global climate at all.

So clearly there is more to consider than just the size of the explosions.  There are several other factors built-in to the study assumptions which the authors have not clarified.  Some are described in some of the supporting studies they are relying upon, others are not clear to us and regrettably the authors have chosen not to reply to our queries.

The first thing to appreciate is there is a huge difference between an air burst and a ground burst nuclear explosion.  A ground burst throws up a lot more material into the atmosphere than an airburst.  Most nuclear weapons are designed to be detonated as air burst rather than ground burst devices, because an air burst has a greater blast effect, destroying more buildings for a greater distance than a ground burst.

Ground bursts are only used to destroy ‘hardened’ targets such as missile silos.

We don’t know what the model assumes about air vs ground bursts.

There are two assumptions that are detailed, however.  The first is that all explosions occur over built up areas, meaning there is a lot of combustible material (ie buildings) within the blast radius, making for much larger fires and smoke and black carbon release.

The second assumption is that none of the explosions overlap with the locations of any of the other explosions, meaning that each explosion is assumed to have a complete fresh supply of material to destroy and set fire to.

In other words, these two assumptions create a maximum ‘worst case’ scenario to build upon.

How likely are these two assumptions?  We rate them as unlikely rather than likely.  Nuclear targets tend to first be military installations, secondarily industrial, and only as a very distant lowest priority do we see population concentrations targeted.  Of course, often the industrial and sometimes even the military targets overlap with population clusters, but equally, many times they do not.  Strategic military bases are not in the centers of large cities, they are in outlying areas, and tend to be sprawling over hundreds of acres with a low concentration of buildings and little combustible material.

Furthermore, it is standard military doctrine to have multiple warheads targeting each priority target so as to ensure that if one of the warheads is intercepted, or fails, or goes off target, the backup warheads will still destroy the target.  Alternatively, if attacking a large population concentration, it is still likely that multiple warheads would be set to have overlapping regions of destruction rather than being evenly spaced out such as happens when you use a cookie cutter to cut cookies out of a sheet of dough.  The problem with the cookie cutter model is that it leaves parts of the city unharmed entirely, and other parts with only moderate degrees of harm.  When designing an attack to create maximum harm, it is more common to have overlapping explosions.

Seven Possible Problems with the Study’s Assumptions

So, we see at least seven problems with the study’s underlying assumptions :

1.  No nuclear tests, including some up to 40 times the magnitude of this complete 100 warhead scenario, have resulted in any significant climate change at all.

2.  We suspect the model assumes the ‘worst case scenario’ for air vs ground bursts, a scenario which is unlikely to be reflected by actual ‘best practice’ military doctrine.

3.  We do not believe that all of the 100 explosions would be over high density population centers.  Many – maybe even most – would be over lower density militarily or industrially significant areas with much lower BC release as a result.

4.  We do not agree with the model assumption that there would be no overlap in blast effects and that each and every one of the 100 explosions would occur over high density buildings that had not yet been partially or even completely destroyed by preceding blasts.

5.  There might also be some significance in the study’s choice of India and Pakistan as a location.  These two countries are closer to the equator than most other potential future nuclear battlegrounds, meaning that there will likely be more efficient and rapid transportation of the BC from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere than if the nuclear explosions occurred further away from the equator.  In other words, this is another aspect of the study that might overstate the global implications of a nuclear exchange.

6.  If we are to accept the opinion that current industrial activity is causing global warming and adverse climate effects (and we’re not saying we do!), the depressed effect on the global levels of industrial activity caused by the predicted enormous famine and associated probable social and economic collapse will result in the reduction of other manmade carbon emissions and may therefore provide some counter-balancing relief from the effects of the BC release and accelerate the earth’s recovery.  There is no sign of this being factored into the study model.

7.  It appears their model assumed that all the BC was shot up into the atmosphere in a concentrated area of either 50 or 100 nautical miles in radius.  This is unlikely to be the case – India in particular is an enormous country with many different potential targets for nuclear attack, meaning a more realistic model should have a series of much more diffuse and smaller BC sources.  We also suspect that the model anticipates all 100 explosions occurring more or less simultaneously, whereas in reality, there is likely to be some spread of time during which they occur – possibly only minutes, maybe hours or days.  We don’t know what impacts this would have on the model, but we guess it may slightly soften the outcomes.

Is 5 Million Tons of Black Carbon a Lot?

One more thing.  The study is talking about the release of 5 Tg of black carbon, or 5 million tonnes.  How does that compare to current annual black carbon emissions?

We did some research and found wildly varying figures – for example, on this page almost next to each other are two contradictory claims, one suggesting about 7.5 million tonnes a year are released from all sources at present, and the other claim saying that forest fires alone release between 40 – 250 million tonnes a year.

According to this page, forest fires represent about 40% of total black carbon emissions, so if forest fires contribute 40 – 250 million tons a year, that would suggest in total between 100 and 625 million tonnes are released each year.

The significant part of the 5 million ton release from the nuclear war is that most of it is propelled up very high into the atmosphere and stays there for some time, whereas much of the ‘normal’ black carbon doesn’t go so high and more quickly falls back to earth.

But, at the same time, we have to note that if total black carbon emissions each year are as much as 100 times more than the amount released by this hypothetical nuclear war, is 5 million tons actually a significant amount to consider?  The study also does not put this size release into any sort of contextual perspective.

Prepper Implications of the Study’s Projected Outcomes

So, we think we can confidently state that this hypothetical 100 nuclear bomb scenario is unlikely to release 5 Tg of black carbon, and therefore, a nuclear winter scenario is unlikely from this.

But, maybe a larger scale conflict between major nuclear powers could indeed cause the 5 Tg release, and even a more limited black carbon release will still cause some modification to the global climate.  We also asked the study authors if the effects were linearly proportional – ie a 2.5 Tg release having half the impact of their modelled 5 Tg release, but, yet again, they didn’t reply.

So, while we are dismissive of the study’s basis and assumptions, there are still some valid lessons to be learned for preppers if we simply ask ourselves ‘what if some type of event caused a massive climate change?’.

1.  We often think about the impacts of a nuclear exchange as being one that is an attack on American soil.  It is easy to understand how nuclear explosions close to us would have some direct effects, but harder to realize that nuclear weapons going off on the other side of the world can still impact on us here.  Clearly, the risk is more global than we might first think.  A war between two far away countries can still upset the climate, globally.  From this perspective, the studied model provides more cause for concern than relief, and should encourage us to realize why it is such a bad thing, for, eg, Iran to be allowed to continue down its steady path to becoming a nuclear power.

2.  A probable outcome will be less solar energy for our solar cells.  Although UV levels will rise, these are not efficiently used by solar cells (which are most sensitive to red light, ie the part of white light that is red).  So we should allow for this loss of solar energy and increase our solar arrays accordingly.

3.  The cooling effect and shortened growing season means that we should consider locations that currently have sufficient growing season as to still remain productive with a 10 – 40 day reduction in season length.

4.  Substantial increases in UV radiation levels mean preference should be given to growing UV-resistant crops.

5.  While temperature changes don’t directly threaten our society or its industrial base, the loss of food production does and will threaten much/most of society, particularly when famine starts to cause the death of substantial percentages of the population.  In addition to slower acting famine, there is reason to fear that as the black carbon falls from the sky, there will be a fast and massive rise in respiratory diseases and deaths.

6.  The effects of famine will likely be of greatest impact in third world countries.  Hopefully, in the US, urgent attempts at creating hothouses, hydroponics, and other ‘high tech’ solutions, and simply changing our food habits to waste less and eat less, and buying in more food from other countries (assuming it is still for sale) will cushion the impacts on US society.  If we reduced our food intact to a more appropriate level and if we cut down on waste, we’d instantly halve our food requirements, and if we shifted our food production to most effective yielding crops, we’d probably bring about a doubling in net food production.

7.  It seems we should plan for less rain and – in areas currently short of water – more drought.  Ensure your location has sufficient water access, even in adverse conditions that – worst case scenario – may see rivers dwindle in size and creeks dry up entirely.  Rainwater collection systems will become less effective, and underground water table levels will drop due to reduced rates of replenishment (and possibly accelerated rates of offtake due to increased reliance on wells).

8.  This scenario shows an immediate impact on crop production (depending of course on what time of year the nuclear exchange occurs) and lasting effects extending 25 years or more.  On the other hand, if there are massive population losses in the first few years, it might be possible that the smaller sized population could more quickly balance the reduced agricultural capabilities and allow for a faster return to an industrialized self-sustaining society.

9.  The model shows that global temperatures drop over a five-year period.  This means that maybe the result is less a sudden apocalyptic transition and more a gradual deterioration in weather.

10.  The  climate change effects seem generally more extreme, the further away from the equator you go, and less extreme closer to the equator.  Perhaps this argues in favor of establishing a retreat in a southern rather than northern part of the US.

11.  Damage to crop DNA from increased UV levels will be passed from generation to generation, probably getting worse each time.  It is prudent to have sufficient stocks of seed to enable you to used undamaged seed to restart your crops several times during the period of increased UV.

12.  Air-borne fine particulate black carbon is harmful to health.  It will be beneficial to have filtration systems in your retreats to filter out the particulate matter before air is circulated within the retreat.  HEPA type filters will address this need, and if you get washable ones, that will extend their life (which will probably be much shorter than anticipated due to the much greater concentration of black carbon in the air).  If you’re going outside, you might want to use a respirator to give you protection while outdoors too.

13.  Although also impacted, the southern hemisphere seems to not be as severely affected as the northern hemisphere.  Because this type of climate based calamity would take some days/weeks/months/years to fully develop, it would give you time to fly to your choice of southern locations and set up your retreat there.


Although this study suggests an apocalyptic outcome of a relatively minor nuclear war, we disagree.  We think that the study may possibly overstate the direct results of a 100 warhead nuclear exchange, and we further feel that the western world – and in particular the United States – may be able to adapt its food sourcing and consumption fast enough to minimize the widespread famine and death projected in the study.

On the other hand, the increase in harmful particulate matter in the air is something that you do need to be able to respond to.

Depending on the importance you attach to this type of sudden climate change risk, you may want to factor it in to your choice of retreat location (ie issues such as water sufficiency, growing season length, and perhaps more generally, closer to the south than the north of the country).

Jul 202014
Shotgun shotshells come in all different shapes, sizes, and even colors.

Shotgun shotshells come in all different shapes, sizes, and even colors.

Unlike shotguns, once you’ve chosen a rifle or pistol, you have few choices for the type of ammunition you shoot.

Okay, maybe you can choose between hollow point and solid, and a few other tweaks like that, and maybe you have a few choices of bullet weight, and (at least in theory – in practice most cartridges are loaded at close to standard maximum all the time) the amount of powder used in the cartridge, but you’re almost certainly going to end up with one or two ‘favorites’ – a cheap round for plinking and practicing, a hunting round, and perhaps a third round for self-defense.

It is very different with shotguns.  Even after selecting a particular caliber shotgun (and we hope you’ll choose 12 gauge) you now find yourself with an enormous variety of ammunition choices.

It could be said that one of the ‘fun’ things about shotguns is the variety of different types of loads you can shoot through them.  You can choose from a dozen or more different sizes of pellet/ball, and even after choosing the size pellet/ball, you can then get to choose the quantity.  That’s not all – you can change completely to solid slugs, or you can get some of the more exotic loads, ranging from flechettes and bolos to explosive rounds and ‘Dragon’s Breath’ type miniature flame thrower devices.

Note that, as ‘fun’ as these novelty loads may be, and as lethal sounding as their descriptions read, generally they are less effective than good old-fashioned lead shot.  There’s a reason these are rare and ‘exotic’ – because ‘real’ experienced shooters have found them to be not as useful and effective as regular rounds.

It isn’t just a case of getting ‘nastier and nastier’ loads, either.  You can also get ‘nicer’ loads – less-than-lethal loads – bean bags and rubber balls, for example.

One of the considerations few preppers think about is having an ability to have a graded level of responses to situations.  Having some non-lethal ways to assertively respond to and control a threatening situation can often be very useful and avoid minor confrontations escalating way too far on both sides.

On the other hand, these less than lethal loads can be dangerous, potentially crippling, and possibly even lethal.  If fired at an adversary at too close a range, or if hitting them in an unlucky place, you might create as many problems as if you’d used a regular round.

Furthermore, in a curious twist in most states’ criminal law codes, while it may be lawful to use lethal force in self-defense when you are in immediate fear of your life and have no other realistic choices/responses, it is seldom legal to do anything such as ‘fire a warning shot’ or ‘shoot to wound, not to kill’, and this would also apply to these less than lethal rounds.  From the law’s point of view, there are only two scenarios – when you’re in fear of your life and authorized to use deadly force, or, when you’re not, and in such a case, you are not authorized to use lesser force.

This is perhaps not good law, but it is the reality in most of the country, and assuming you’re in a situation where the rule of law applies or can be expected to retroactively subsequently apply (and as you’ll know if you read through more of our site, we urge you to observe all laws at all times, no matter what is going on around you), you need to keep that in mind.  Yes, this means that it is more lawful to kill a person than to wound or scare them, and that’s truly stupid, but the law is the law.

Talking about legal issues, note that not all these exotic types of loads are legal in all states.  Be sure to check.

Anyway, with that as a lengthy introduction to the topic, let’s look at some of the factors surrounding shotshells and which ones you should choose.

Shotshell Length

12 gauge shotshells come in different lengths – most commonly 2¾” and 3″, and less commonly in giant-sized 3½” size.

Which is the best length of shell?  It is fair to say that generally the longer the shell, the more powder and shot inside it.  But more is not always better – more powder also means more recoil, and if you’re in a situation where the power and payload of a 2¾” shell is inadequate, something is very wrong.  Maybe the best alternative is switching to a rifle or simply running away, rather than pulling out your 3″ or 3½” shells!

The larger and more powerful shells are not only more expensive, they also have appreciably greater recoil, and this makes them harder to shoot.  You’re more likely to flinch when shooting, and it will take you longer to bring the shotgun back on target for follow-up shots.

Generally we shoot regular 2¾” shells, and don’t feel the need for larger shells and greater loads of powder and shot.  There’s also another consideration – it is common that if you go over the ‘standard’ 2¾” length shell, then the capacity of your magazine tube might reduce down by one – perhaps from six to five rounds, or whatever.  Sometimes growing the shell size still further to 3½” might see you lose one more round, and now you’re down to only four rounds.  I’d rather have six rounds of 2¾” shells than four rounds of 3½” shells – wouldn’t you?

Shotshell Load

Just like, with regular rifle/pistol cartridges, there are variations within a caliber, with varying amounts of powder and varying weights of bullet, the same is true of shotshells.

Of course, there will probably be more powder and more weight of shot in a longer shotshell than in a shorter shotshell, but beyond that, there can be quite substantial variations in the amount of powder and the weight of the shot in shells of the same size.

This is usually explained on each box – telling you the weight in ounces of the load, and sometimes also the amount of powder, or, if not, it can at least hint at the amount of charge by indicating the muzzle velocity of the load when it exits your shotgun barrel.

The load weight is usually from slightly less than 1 ounce up to about 2 ounces of shot.

If you have a higher load of shot, you also need more powder so as to still be sending the shot out the end of the barrel at a decent speed.  So look also at the weight of powder or the muzzle velocity to make sure that the load is a balanced mix between shot weight and powder weight.

There’s an interesting concept to keep in mind.  Although the total force of a shotgun blast is awesome, that power gets split and shared by all the separate pieces of shot now flying towards the target.  If each individual piece doesn’t have sufficient power to penetrate sufficiently, it becomes useless.  So the more shot in a shell, the more powder you need to ensure each separate piece of shot still has its ‘fair share’ of energy.

Note that the amount of powder is sometimes described in terms of drams.  A dram is 1/16th of an ounce, or 27.3 grains.  But – and here’s the tricky thing.  The dram weight of powder in a shotshell is not a measurement of the actual exact weight of powder.  It instead relates to the equivalent theoretical weight of old-fashioned black powder.

Different equivalences apply for steel instead of lead shot, and for different calibers.  So while more drams implies more powder, you can’t really use it as an absolute measurement of the powder in the shell.


In the last some years, there has been a growing popularity for ‘low-recoil’ loads.  We all know that a shotgun can have a fearsome kick when fired, so low-recoil seems like a great innovation, and its popularity is understandable.

But what is ‘low-recoil’?  Expressed in the simplest terms, it simply means that the shell has less powder in it.  There’s nothing magic about low-recoil, and the underlying physics (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) can’t be overturned.

Low recoil shells typically have less powder, less weight of shot, lower muzzle velocity and less energy.  How much less?  Well, because there’s no standard weight/charge amount/velocity, it is impossible to answer, but some examples we’ve seen suggest that in total there’s as much as a 50% reduction in the energy exiting your barrel.

On the other hand, at very close range, a full charge shotshell is arguably ‘overkill’ (if there is such a thing), so losing up to half the energy might be thought acceptable by some people, and still represents more energy that from a single pistol bullet.  This justification for low-recoil applies to short-range scenarios only.

There can be other possibly valid reasons to consider using low-recoil ammunition.  If you have less of a flinch response to the lowered recoil, and if that means your first shot is more accurate and your second shot follows more quickly, then that probably is plenty of justification.  Plus, if it means that instead of getting a mix of 20 gauge and 12 gauge shotguns for the men and women in your group, you can instead get all 12 gauge guns and merely adjust the ammo being used, that keeps things simpler, too.

So while – for many of us – we instinctively feel that more is better and less is worse, and are focused more on getting super double ultra magnum 3.5″ shells, perhaps we should be more in tune with the ‘zen’ of shotgun practice and discover that sometimes less can be more effective than more!

Shot Size

Shotshells can contain individual pieces of shot that vary in size enormously, from large balls as much as a third of an inch or more in diameter to tiny little pellets very much smaller.  A single shell might hold as few as six or seven large-sized balls, or the better part of 1,000 or more tiny pellets.

There are two categories of shot that go into a shotshell.  Smaller sized pellets are called ‘birdshot’ and larger sized pellets are called ‘buckshot’.  They each have numbered sizes, and the lower the number, the bigger the size of each piece of shot.

Confusingly, a #1 piece of buckshot is not the same as a #1 piece of birdshot.  For #1 buckshot, you are looking at a ball 0.30″ in diameter, and weighing 0.1 ounces each.  For #1 birdshot, you are looking at a pellet 0.16″ in diameter, and weighing seven times less – 0.0139 ounces.

If you are shooting birds, you should use birdshot, and usually somewhere between number 2 to number 8.  The bigger the bird, the bigger the size shot.

If you are shooting rabbits and squirrels, you’ll also use fairly small birdshot.  But for larger animals, you should switch to buckshot (ie ‘buck’ as in deer), and particularly for defensive purposes, the most commonly used round is the 00 (‘double ought’) buck round.

Don’t think you can effectively use birdshot against a person.  Okay, you’ll hurt them some, especially on exposed skin, at short-range, but you’re unlikely to disable them or take them out of the fight.  While we’ve read some interesting studies that argue in favor of smaller sized balls than 00 size (ie maybe 1 or even 4 size buckshot) there seems close to universal agreement that birdshot is, well, for birds, and only for birds and other tiny critters, not for defensive use.

Solid Slugs

In addition to traditional shotshells that contain many small pieces of shot, you can also get solid slug type shotshells.  These, as their name implies, have a single solid slug in them, the same diameter as the barrel.

Slugs typically have external rifling on them.  But this is not so much to put a spin on them as they travel down the smooth bored shotgun barrel as it is simply to reduce the friction between the slug and the barrel.

Slugs come in different weights.  The lowest weight commonly found slug is about 7/8 oz, or 383 grains.  Compare that to the typical weight of a .308 bullet – 150 – 175 grains.  A slug is more than twice the weight, and, of course, more than twice the diameter too (a .308 caliber bullet is .308 inches in diameter, a shotgun slug is about 0.7″ in diameter).

Other slug weights are commonly found up to 1.25 oz, and less commonly, heavier still.

Some people feel that a shotgun slug tends to generate a bit more recoil than the equivalent weight of shot.

Shotgun slugs leave the barrel at velocities in the order of about 1800 feet per second (depending on their weight and the amount of powder charge), but because they are not aerodynamically efficient, they quickly lose their weight and energy.  They probably have a maximum range of about 400 yards, but a maximum effective range of 75 – 100 yards.

The Best Shotgun Ammo for a Prepper

If you plan to use your shotgun for hunting birds, get the appropriate sized birdshot shells for the types of birds you expect to be shooting.

If you plan to use your shotgun for defensive purposes, we first suggest you think twice about that decision!  But if you insist on using a shotgun for defensive work, then for close in work, you should use 00 buck, and for longer range, solid slugs.

Generally, we suggest the best shotshell for defensive use is the 00 buck.

Jul 192014
This fortunate retreat owner has a walk in safe full of rifles, supplies, and much more.

This fortunate retreat owner has a walk-in safe full of rifles, supplies, and much more.

Rifles are perhaps the least glamorous of the three major categories of firearms (the other two categories being handguns and shotguns).

Many people over-inflate the value of both pistols (in terms of range, accuracy and lethality) and shotguns (again in the same three categories) and many people overlook rifles, or consider them too specialized.

But, in reality, if you were to have only one firearm at your retreat, it should be a rifle, which is probably the best multi/general purpose firearm of all.  Another rifle might be your second weapon, and perhaps then a pistol would be your third.  There are very few uses for a shotgun, which is why you don’t often see shotguns in any normal military organization.

Rifles are essential for two purposes.  They are of course ideal for hunting anything except birds and fish, and they are excellent self-defense weapons.  The only main limitation on a rifle’s value as a self-defense weapon is your ability to carry it everywhere and deploy it quickly.

This is why those people in the know refer to their pistol as the weapon they only use to fight their way to their rifle.

We suggest you should have at least two rifles in your retreat.  One for big game and longer range defense, and the other for smaller game and shorter range defense.

1.  A Long Range Precision Large Caliber Rifle

The longer range rifle should probably be chambered for either the .308 or the .30-06 cartridge (these being the two most common calibers of larger sized rounds).  There are a dozen or more other excellent calibers for long-range precision shooting and big game hunting, too, but we suggest you limit your choice to either the .308 or .30-06 because these two calibers are the most common, and if there is a negative situation in the future, will probably remain the easiest calibers to find and get additional supplies of.

Furthermore, because these two calibers are so common, there are lots of rifles chambered for them, too.  Some of the other calibers, which might have better ballistics on paper, have only one or two or three rifles chambered for them, and all of them are extremely expensive.  Rifles for .308 and .30-06 can also be very esoteric, high-end and expensive too, but they can also be found for under $500.

We’d suggest the rifle you choose for this purpose does not need to be semi-automatic and it does not need a high-capacity magazine.  It does, however, need to be of the highest possible accuracy (ie being able to group less than 1″ at 100 yards and less than 2.5″ at 250 yards) and to have the necessary optics on it to help you get close to the theoretical accuracy offered by the rifle and the ammunition you’re feeding through it.

Oh – one related point.  When you’re looking at long-range ultra-accuracy, your choice of ammunition becomes almost as important as your choice of rifle.  Once you’ve become comfortable with the rifle, you should then research (ie online and in reviews) and experiment with different types of ammunition until you find the one that works best for you and your rifle.

This rifle is not intended for squirting off dozens of shots in rapid succession.  It is intended for long-range precision, hopefully on the basis of ‘one shot one kill’.  Oh yes, the ‘one kill’ part of that concept is a function not just of its accuracy and being able to deliver rounds where you wish them to go, but also of having a highly effective round that has single shot stopping power.

The last thing you want is a wounded animal running off, or possibly a hostile intruder who is not taken out of the fight with the first round you send his way.

Because this rifle is all about precise aimed fire, we see no need for a 20 round magazine or anything like that, and neither do we feel the need for a semi-auto action.  If anything, quite the opposite.  A semi-auto is always more complex than a bolt-action type rifle, with more to potentially go wrong, and more to clean and maintain.

In terms of an ideal rifle for this purpose, maybe you couldn’t do better than a Remington 700, the civilian version of the popular Army and Marine (and Police) sniper rifle.

The Remington 700 was first released in 1962 – over 50 years ago – and has become the best-selling bolt-action rifle of all time.  More than 5 million have been sold, in an astonishing variety of 40 different calibers.  They typically have a four round capacity in their magazine plus potentially one extra round chambered.  If five rounds isn’t enough to bag a deer or improve a tactical situation, then probably your problem isn’t so much the rifle as it is the shooter.

We’d choose the best bolt-action rifle we could afford, and with at least a 22″ barrel, 24″ being better, and possibly 26″ being better still (if not now becoming too heavy to carry reasonable distances).

You’ll note we’re carefully not talking in detail about the ideal caliber for this rifle.  We like .308 due to its ubiquity (and that’s our primary caliber we use ourselves for this type of purpose), but we also accept that beyond about 250 – 300 yards, it is not as good a choice as some other calibers – see for example, this webpage.  On the other hand, as this webpage points out, while there might be better calibers for longer range work, the .308 can still ‘get the job done’ out to maybe even 800 yards, in good conditions.

If circumstances allow, maybe you might add a third rifle to your collection as well for ultra-long range and ‘specialty’ work.  See our suggested third rifle choice, below.  Maybe it is acceptable to have the .308 for ranges from about 100 – 400 yards, and a different rifle for ranges further out than that.

If your target is within 100 yards, you might want to consider a rifle that can deliver rounds more rapidly – especially if it is the type of target that can shoot back.  A person can sprint 100 yards in 10 seconds – you’re at the point where ‘quantity of fire’ starts to become as important to you than ‘quality of fire’.

You’ll have an idea for the maximum ranges you are likely to need based on the topography of your area.  Thick bush and uneven ground of course mean you won’t have the visibility and unobstructed opportunities for longer range work; open prairies mean that longer range considerations become more relevant.

2.  A Shorter Range Tactical Rifle

If you’re seeking smaller game, or if you’re anticipating a closer range problem with attacking marauders, your requirements change and the first rifle is possibly no longer your best choice.

You no longer need perfect accuracy, and you probably want a rifle that is lighter, easier to carry and deploy (this also implies a shorter barrel) and the ability to sustain a higher rate of fire.

On the other hand, it is easy to get carried away with these considerations.  Maybe you’re imagining yourself having to single-handedly fight off a zombie horde of hundreds of attackers – if this is the scenario you are planning for, then you just need a pistol and one round.  You’re going to lose, and you may as well save everyone a bunch of trouble and simply shoot yourself!

Look for example at the main battle rifles that the US has deployed up to the Vietnam War (and consider also how disliked the M-16 and its derivatives have been ever since their introduction).  Until the Vietnam war, most troops were equipped with bolt-action heavy caliber rifles or relatively low capacity semi-auto and equally heavy caliber rifles.

The solution to whatever your need is under this category is not only to increase your ability to shoot more rounds downrange in less time.  Aimed and effective fire still remains a high priority.

However, having said that, we recommend you should have a semi-auto AR-15 type rifle chambered in 5.56mm, and with 20 or 30 round magazines, and a bayonet if at all possible too.

There are other potential calibers and rifle designs too – most notably the AK47/SKS family of weapons chambered in 7.62×39.  These are fine weapons, and can perform reliably in adverse conditions.  We don’t dislike them, but we opted for the AR-15 family due primarily to what we anticipate may potentially be a more readily available ongoing supply of ammunition for the AR-15.

You will also find ‘carbines’ – a concept which we’ll define as relating to fairly short-barreled rifles that fire pistol rounds.  The good news is you only need to carry one caliber of ammo, and you can feed both your rifle and your pistol with the same ammo.  The bad news is that you’ve almost certainly ended up with a massively underpowered cartridge for your rifle, and we feel that’s too much sacrifice for the small improvement in reliability.

One possible exception to this would be the 5.7x28mm cartridge, but this is an ‘exotic’ and rare cartridge and there’s really only one manufacturer of pistols and rifles for this cartridge.  We like the FN firearms chambered for this amazing cartridge, but we’d never base our retreat on this rare cartridge, and (based on personal experience) we’re unconvinced how robust the firearms are that feed it.

In terms of barrel length, then our first choice is around 18″ of barrel.  Below that and the muzzle blast starts to increase perceptibly, above that and the weapon starts to become less portable and more unwieldy.  But we know people who prefer longer barrels, and others who prefer shorter ones.  This isn’t an essential parameter.

This is a weapon you’d typically use for ranges from zero to perhaps 200 yards.  Sure, it remains accurate further out, but it starts to lose appreciable energy and ‘one shot stop’ effectiveness, and when you are considering targets more than 200 yards away, many times you can enjoy the luxury of careful slow aimed fire rather than needing the ability of a semi-auto AR-15 type rifle to shoot many rounds quickly.

The main benefits of an AR-15 style rifle are that it is light, the ammunition is also small and light, and you can shoot many rounds quickly.  It is a great ‘take anywhere/everywhere’ rifle.

That is not to say that they are not also potentially very accurate, particularly at relatively short ranges (ie under 200 yards).   Good sights for such rifles would have low rather than high magnification, and a wide-angle of view making it easy for quick target identification and acquisition.

Many different companies make AR-15 clones, and most of them are good.  There are two basic design styles – those that use gas blowback to cycle the action, and those that use a piston to cycle the action.  The piston operated rifles tend to be ‘cleaner’ and slightly more reliable, but are also slightly more expensive.

Barrels are available either with a chrome lining or not.  Chrome lined barrels are probably not quite as accurate, but are more resistant to heat.  Regular steel barrels are more accurate, but will wear out more quickly, particularly when they get hot.  We’ve seen some incredible claims for barrel life, but realistically we suggest you try and limit yourself to under 20 rounds a minute if firing for an extended period of time.

And maybe keep an extra barrel or two in your spares.

3.  A High Powered Specialty Rifle

If you anticipate confronting threats at long ranges, or threats that are well protected, then for sure your AR-15 becomes useless, and the value of your .308 starts to diminish as well.

For the rare occasions when you need to ‘reach out and touch someone’ who is half a mile away and wearing body armor, or when you need to disable an armored vehicle charging towards you, it is time to turn to a very specialized type of rifle – probably something chambered for either .50 BMG or .338 Lapua rounds.

No reasonably common and modern rifle legal for civilian ownership can deliver more energy a longer distance than a .50 cal.  There are some esoteric cartridges out there, and larger diameter cartridges (such as a 0.700 cartridge that costs $100 a round, but which delivers less power than the 0.50 cartridge!) but none of them are as useful or effective or appropriate as the 0.50 BMG.

Note that a rifle chambered for 0.50 cal rounds is not a portable rifle to take with you hunting.  It is a huge and heavy rifle (perhaps weighing 30 lbs) that is not really ‘man portable’ – it is okay if you are traveling in a vehicle, and perfectly fine to deploy in/around your retreat, but it is not a field weapon that you’d carry with you ‘on maneuvers’.

A rifle in either .50 or .338 will give you a solution capable of accurate fire out to almost a mile.  Our preference is slightly weighted in favor of the .50 BMG chambering – the ammunition is slightly more common, and while the extra range is not significant, the extra power (in terms of ft lbs of force) is enormous.  There is also a .416 Barrett caliber, and that is good too, but .50 remains the most common and usually least expensive.  It is also by far the most powerful.

This is a weapon you’d only deploy against armored targets and ordinary targets outside the effective range of your .308; ie, perhaps from about 300 yards and further out.

A Barrett is the classic .50 cal rifle, but there are others that are nearly as good.  All are, of course, very expensive.  But they are worth it.  In 2001, a Barrett M99 set a world record when it shot a 4.09″ group at 1,000 yards.

Additional Rifles

If you feel the need for additional rifles to fill up your gun safe, what else should you get?

Perhaps the most notable omission from our two or three rifle list, above, is a .22 cal rifle.  But we’re not sure what you’d ever use it for, apart from fun/plinking.  It might have some use as a training rifle to introduce youngsters to the principles of proper techniques and marksmanship, but that would be all.

We like .22 rifles.  They’re a great deal of fun, can be very straight shooters, and are great for small game.  In skilled hands, a well placed .22 round can be surprising effective, even on bigger game and for self defense.  But, please note the two things we emphasized in the previous sentence.  While a .22 is easy to shoot, it needs to be shot very well in order to get the critical placement of rounds on target that is necessary to ensure effective results.

A .22 delivers about 120 ft lbf of energy when leaving the muzzle.  That is not very much.  Compare this to even a 9mm pistol round, with over three times the energy, or a .223 round with more than ten times the energy or a .308 with twenty times the energy.

Our point is simple.  Unless you’re a great shot, and with easy targets, a .22 might not be a good choice.

Getting more rifles beyond the three listed above (and maybe a .22) should be done while keeping two things in mind.  Unfortunately, the two concepts are opposites, but you need to balance them out.

The first concept is keeping as much the same as possible.  You don’t want to end up with a terrible mess of different rifles and different calibers.

Each different rifle has a slightly different ‘manual of arms’, with slightly different quirks and techniques and requirements for mastery and maintenance.  It is much better to have two rifles the same, so you only need to learn one set of skills, and only need to keep one set of spares, than it is to have two different rifles.

You also don’t want to have too many different calibers of ammo.  It is much easier to keep an adequate supply of only one or two calibers than it is to have enough rounds for each and every different caliber.

So, if it were us, and using these concepts, each extra rifle we buy would be identical to the first two rifles we already have – more AR-15 clones (ideally from the same manufacturer because not all parts are totally interchangeable between manufacturers) and more .308 bolt-action rifles.  We might eventually buy a second .50 Barrett, but that would mainly be as a spare; we can’t think of any likely scenarios where we’d ever need more than two.

The second concept is, as we said, the opposite of the first.  If you are getting some more rifles, why not get them chambered in other common calibers that you don’t already have?  The ‘logic’ of this is to anticipate that possibly in the future you might come across an opportunity to acquire some ammo in a caliber for which you have no firearms.

It is reasonable to assume, in an extended Level 2 or 3 situation, that ammunition will become extremely scarce, and you’ll want to get any you can obtain, so maybe it makes sense then to keep some inexpensive additional rifles in some ‘just in case’ additional calibers.  We’d probably choose to add an inexpensive AK-47/SKS rifle so we had something that could shoot 7.62x39mm cartridges, and some sort of bolt or lever action .30-06 in case we came across some of that ammunition too.  These are two other very common rifle calibers.

So now we have perhaps two .308 rifles, two AR-15s, a .50 Barrett, and an AK and a .30-06.  Possibly a .22 as well.  Seven or eight rifles!  This begs the next question :

How Many Rifles Do You Need?

Well, we opened this article suggesting you have one or two rifles at your retreat, and somehow we’ve talked ourselves (and possibly you too) now up to six, seven, eight or more.  Many people will be rolling their eyes at the thought of any one person owning seven or eight rifles.  But there’s a logic trap in that thought – your retreat is probably not just for one person.

Your retreat – and therefore your rifles – will be for you, your family, and maybe some additional friends and relations, too.  Beyond that, it is conceivable that you might even accept in some additional people WTSHTF, growing the total community even more.

You should plan on having at least one rifle per adult member of your retreat community.  It is true that in an all-out defensive situation, you probably would not have every adult ‘manning the ramparts’ and actively defending your retreat, because you’d have some people doing duty coordinating and controlling, bringing ammo, tending for wounded, and so on, but as a rule of thumb, it makes great sense to have at least one rifle per adult.

We’d suggest one AR-15 per adult, plus another one AR-15 for every ten or part thereof AR-15s you have (for spares/emergency replacement), because these are most likely the rifles you’d use for close-in self-defense.

In addition to that, you should have at least one .50 cal rifle, and a certain number of .308 rifles too.  Maybe one .308 for every two or three people in your community, with a minimum of two, and always at least one more than this formula suggests.

Then add two or more each of some type of .30-06 and AK/SKS rifle for ‘just in case’ purposes, and possibly a .22 trainer.

Legal Issues

There are no federal restrictions on how many rifles you can own, and apart from completing a form when you buy a rifle from a dealer so they can do a background check on you, no federal licenses or registration is required.

There are some federal regulations relating to fully automatic rifles and very short-barreled rifles, but assuming you buy ‘normal’ and ordinary rifles from dealers, you’ll not run afoul of such requirements.

Each state may also have state level legislation about rifles, and, to make things even more complicated, there could possibly be city or county issues too.  Your gun dealer can tell you about these.

Some states have limitations on rifle magazine capacities, some states have limits on what calibers can be used for various types of game hunting (and plenty of other rules and regulations on hunting wildlife too!), and others have restrictions on ‘assault rifles’ – that is, rifles that look nasty and scary.

Most states have few or no restrictions on ammo purchases, and there are no federal restrictions on ‘normal’ ammo purchases (explosive rounds, armor-piercing rounds, and other specialty rounds and some shot-shell ammo can be the exception).  It is possible that there might be local fire code or other restrictions on how much ammunition you can store.

Something to be careful about is if you are sharing your retreat with someone who is not allowed access to firearms.  Simply being in the same house as firearms can constitute an offense, with either or both of you possibly being liable to charges if such a thing occurs, and possibly also resulting in the impounding of the weapons.

Spare Parts

Rifles are somewhat stressed mechanical devices.  They have moving parts, and are subjected to great pressures and temperatures.  This means – and please don’t be surprised – they wear out and sometimes have failures.

You need to have a supply of spare parts so you can maintain your rifles.  Even the most expensive of rifles can be made totally useless by the failure of a 50c spring.  Make sure you have plenty of all conceivable spares – a non-scientific approach is to simply buy one extra rifle per every so many working rifles and cannibalize the extra rifles for spare parts as needed.

The problem with this approach is that some parts will probably never fail, whereas other parts will fail more than once.  So buying a spare second rifle, while guaranteeing you have a complete set of spare parts for your main rifle, is an easy way of getting a complete set, is not the best way to get maximum life out of your rifle.

Get friendly with a local gunsmith, read up on the various firearms forums, and do as much research as you can to work out which parts you need to have two or three of, and which parts you don’t need spares for at all.  The good news is that many of the parts you might foreseeably need to replace are inexpensive.

Now for a related thought.  Have you ever been in a car that experiences a flat tire, only to find that the tire wrench is missing?  How frustrating is that!  The chances are you’ll need some special tools to do more than quickly ‘field strip’ your rifle.  Make sure you have a complete set of gunsmithing tools so you can work on each and every one of your firearms.

Now for another flat tire analogy.  Have you ever driven by a car with a flat tire, and seen the driver (dare we say, possibly a woman) sitting helplessly in the car waiting for someone to come change the tire for her?  Our point here is that it isn’t enough to just have the spare parts and the tools.  You also need to have some knowledge and training.

To be realistic, of course you can’t be expected to become a fully qualified and skilled armorer, able to do anything to any firearm.  But what you can do is get manuals and guides for how to maintain your firearms, and possibly videos as well.  The good news is that firearms are basically quite simple and very logical in how they operate, and the better the firearm, the simpler it is.  But even the best simplicity still has some tricks and traps wrapped up in it, particularly when it comes to things like what order you disassemble and reassemble parts, and how to align pieces together so they fit back together readily, and so on.

So – spare parts, tools, and gunsmithing/maintenance manuals.  Get it all.


How much ammunition do you need?  How long is a piece of string?

There’s no such thing as ‘too much’ ammo (unless you’re a gun-hating journalist writing a story for a left-wing pro-gun-control media outlet, in which even a couple of boxes of ammo gets described as a ‘hoard’ or ‘massive stockpile’ or ‘arsenal’).  Ammunition has a very long storage life (think in terms of decades) and is likely to hold its value or even appreciate.  Particularly in a Level 2 or 3 future, we think that ammunition will become an extremely valuable currency.

But be careful who you trade it with – you don’t want it coming back to you, lead first!

We’d suggest you invest in some thousands of rounds of ammunition for each caliber you have firearms for.  We know people with tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition, and none of them have yet regretted it.  If they ever did, they could sell their ammo for more than they paid for it.


We suggest you don’t give any thought to acquiring silencers for your rifles.  While they will slightly reduce the sound level of each shot you fire, they won’t make your rifle totally silent by any means and it will probably still be clearly heard for some hundreds of yards.  You’ll still scare off game if you don’t make the first shot, and you’ll still draw attention to yourself from other people in the vicinity.

If you do buy a silencer, you definitely get your name red-flagged on any federal lists of firearm holders (you know, the things we’re told they don’t keep!).

Silencers (and the federal taxes on them) are very expensive, they add to the bulk/length of the rifle, and don’t do what their name implies they might.  Leave them well alone.


Whether you plan only to use rifles for hunting, or whether you are concerned about repelling hordes of zombie invaders, you need to have some rifles in your retreat.

Go look in your kitchen.  How many cutting knives do you have?  Probably half a dozen, maybe more.  So why shouldn’t you have multiple rifles, too – each one optimized for some specific purposes, just the same as your kitchen knives.

Jul 192014
The revised earthquake risk map published by the USGS.  Full size version here.

The revised earthquake risk map published by the USGS. Full size version here.

The US Geological Survey organization – a government department that few of us think about, but which employs over 10,000 people in over 400 locations – has now revised its earlier 2008 earthquake risk projections.

The new projection shows heightened risk in some of the American Redoubt states, but some parts of the country have their risk downgraded, so overall, there is probably no significant change in national overall earthquake risk.

The areas of changed risk do not necessarily mean there have been changes in the underlying geological structures that cause earthquakes in those regions.  More commonly, it means that in the six years since the 2008 risk projections were published, there have been improvements in the data obtained and the understanding of earthquake causes, allowing for an improved projection of likely future earthquakes.

When you’re planning your retreat location, earthquake risk is of course a small factor to consider – both in general terms from the perspective of ‘might there be an earthquake here’ and in specific terms – are there potential risk factors immediately around your retreat location if a large earthquake were to occur.  It would be useful to check local records to see the potential risk for liquefaction in your area, and also to consider things such as if you’re downstream from a major dam that might break, if there is a bridge or other vital connection that could be destroyed and cutting you off from ‘the rest of the world’, etc.

The risk is also from smaller dams and structures failing – what say you have a small dam yourself as part of a micro-hydro power station.  Or a water tower.  And so on.

Also, of course, you should be sure to ensure that your retreat is built to fully comply with best earthquake resistant building practices, and that everything stored within it be reasonably secured so as not to be at risk in the event of a foreseeably strong earthquake (ie, don’t have glass jars of produce unsecured on an open top shelf of racking!).

Here’s a map showing which areas have had their risk increased and which areas have had their risk decreased (for one of several different earthquake measurement factors).


The sixteen states deemed at highest risk of a significant earthquake are (alphabetically) Alaska, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

The full study covers nearly 250 pages and is a 113MB download from the USGS website.  The key summary information can also be found on the USGS site.

Jul 152014
Suffering a flood would be devastating, but such a risk is foreseeable and can in large part be prevented/minimized.  There's a much graver risk you should be considering.

Suffering a flood would be devastating, but such a risk is foreseeable and can in large part be prevented/minimized. There’s a much graver risk you should be considering.

You know that when you design and build your retreat structure(s) you want to ‘overbuild’ and build it (them) way above minimum code requirements, right?

Although building codes sometimes seem unnecessary and adding extra layers of cost to what should be a simple process that you are free to do as you wish, there are two parts to the reality of building codes that people seldom appreciate.

The first is that most of the code requirements represent good sense and good design/build practice, and are in place to protect the investment that you (and your mortgagor) make in your residence.  You don’t want to sign up for a 30 year loan against a building that will fail after 10 or 20 years, and neither does the mortgagor want to have the ‘security’ of a building that is not well constructed.  From this perspective, building codes protect us all.

The second concept is to realize that in most cases, building codes represent the bare minimum needed rather than the best case ‘deluxe’ option.  Whether it be the spacing between studs in the wall or the amount of foundation needed or anything else, most building codes have been written to reflect the requirements of developers who want to be able to build houses as cheaply as possible.

Yet another – a third concept to realize, is that it is acceptable to construct any sort of structure and to expect it to require ongoing maintenance, based on the assumption that materials and labor will remain freely available, convenient, and affordable.  That is why many houses and other structures have short-lived roofs, even shorter lasting carpet, fewer coats of paint than optimum, and so on.  But if/when TSHTF, those assumptions become no longer valid, and any type of repair and maintenance activity becomes challenging and somewhere between difficult and impossible.

For our purposes, it is better to spend more money up front to build a more robust, lower-maintenance and longer lasting structure in the first place.  We discuss these issues in more detail here.  In this article, we concentrate on one specific type of ‘hardening’ to make your retreat structure more long-lasting and secure.

Okay, now with that as lengthy introduction, what do you think is the biggest risk to your structure?  What is most likely to be the thing that causes it massive problems at some possible time in the future?  Is it an earthquake?  Flood?  Tornado?  Attacking marauders?  Or something entirely different?

Depending on where you live, you of course can evaluate and guess at the risks of earthquake, tornado, flood, and other types of natural disasters (hurricanes, etc).  If you’re in the American Redoubt states, then these risks are generally low rather than appreciable.

The Most Likely Risk for Most of Us

But there’s one really big risk that, for most of us, is probably the biggest potential problem of all.  Have you thought of it already?

We are referring to – if you’ve not already thought of it – fire.  Most of us have lived our lives and never had direct close personal contact with an uncontained fire, and that has lulled us into a false sense of security.  You really have to be personally threatened by a fire to understand the awesome and evil nature of a fire – there’s a reason that hell is said to be in flames, and it is easy to understand how some people view fires as living entities, possessed of a ravening destructive sense that seeks to destroy as much as it can, as quickly as it can.

Indeed, many of us think of fire as a friendly nice good thing.  In a fireplace, it brings warmth, and possibly a hint of romance to a room.  It enlivens the room with its sounds, its smells, its ever-changing light patterns, and not just the temperature type warmth but the ‘warmth’ of the light it throws off, too.

Outside, a bonfire or campfire is also associated with fun times and leisure.  But friendly fun bonfires for toasting s’mores are as different to a ‘real’ fire as is a child’s plastic toy gun to a Barrett .50 caliber rifle, or, if you prefer, as different as a candle is from a 2500 gallon napalm drop on a village, as different as a water pistol to a 250 ft flame-thrower.

Until you’ve stood and watched, helplessly, as a fire either destroys your home from inside, or approaches it unstoppably from the outside, you have little or no comprehension of the power and magnitude of a ‘real’ fire.  Unless you’ve been up close, you’ve not experienced the primal fear that lies within most animals and, at a deeper level, within us too when confronted by an out of control fire.  Please do not ever underestimate the danger of fire.

You have at least three types of fire risk.

1.  External Semi-Random Risk

We are referring here to something like a forest fire (if in a rural area) or a spreading urban fire leapfrogging from building to building if in a city or town.  You know your area and so can assess the risk of some of these events, but after you’ve done so, you then need to upgrade the threat rating for two reasons.  First, particularly in urban areas, there is a much greater danger of a fire starting after TEOTWAWKI, and secondly, if/when a fire does start (anywhere) there will be much less fire-fighting resource to contain and control it.

There’ll be no city water supply or even fire department and fire trucks in an urban area, and in a rural area, there’ll be no helicopters dumping monsoon bucketloads of water, no planes dumping even greater loads of special fire-retardant chemicals, and there won’t be hundreds of firefighters from all over the county, state and nation rushing to help put the fire out.

2.  Deliberate External Causes

The dark side of human nature seems to embrace the evil of destructive fire.  Just look at Detroit with its ‘Devil’s Night’ when arsonists go on the rampage, and suffering over 9,000 fires a year in the city limits alone, 95% of which are the result of arson.

In the future, you’ll not only have to anticipate random acts of senseless arson and how they might impact on your retreat and lands, but also, if you do encounter attacking marauders, they are more likely to be throwing Molotov cocktails at your retreat than grenades.  If your attackers want to ‘smoke you out’ then they’ll attempt to do so quite literally, by trying to burn your retreat down around you.

3.  Accidental Factors

Even at present, the risk of an accidental household fire is much greater than you might guess.  Although we’ve seen varying statistics from various sources, this page, citing the National Fire Protection Association, seems very credible.  It says that over a lifetime, we’ve a one in four chance of having a fire in our house that is sufficiently major as to require us to need to call the fire department.

When you think about an uncertain future, when we’re more likely to have open flames in our retreats, whether as a heat source, a cooking source, a light source, or whatever else, it is reasonable to predict that the risk factor will increase in such a case.


Prevention is always better than cure, right?  And particularly, in the future, there will be very little resource available to help you with fire fighting, and even less resource to help you rebuild if your retreat is destroyed, so your main focus needs to be on fire prevention.

The most important part of fire prevention is to construct your retreat from fire-proof materials as much as possible.  This means no wood on the building exterior.  Have concrete, stone, ICF, fiber cement stucco, or brick exterior, and absolutely do not have a wooden shake roof!  Use long run roofing iron or some type of slate, stone or brick/tile for your roof.

Be sure to seal up any gaps in your roofing and exterior walls so cinders can’t blow in and ignite anything within.

With an eye to being attacked, make sure that your windows have sturdy shutters (and not made of wood) that can be pulled across them so that attackers can’t break windows and throw Molotov cocktail type fire bombs into the interior of your retreat.

Your windows should also have heat-resistant glass in them, so that outside fires don’t cause them to break, and to insulate your interior from any high temperatures outside.  Steel is the best material for window framing, and of course, plastic and wood the worst.

Inside your retreat you will unavoidably have things that can burn.  But you want to keep the use of wood to a minimum, and have some firewalls within the retreat that will contain a fire within part of your structure rather than allowing it to spread throughout.  Line your rooms with fire-rated drywall rather than regular drywall and use as much metal rather than timber framing as you can.

Use ‘fireproof’ carpet, and spray ‘fireproof’ retardant on your furniture and rugs (these things are in no way fire-proof, but they do slow down the propagation of a fire).

Keep vegetation, bushes, trees, etc, back from your retreat structures a way, so if there is any type of approaching fire, there is a ‘fire break’ of sorts separating your house from the closest point the fire can easily reach.

If you are adding decking around your retreat, use fire-resistant composite materials or wood that has been treated to a Class A fire rating.

If there is an appreciable chance of major forest fires getting very close to you, maybe you need to add a ‘wash down’ feature to your roof – basically this just means a way to have water trickling down from the apex of your roof, cooling the roof and both extinguishing and washing off any burning embers that might fall onto it.

You might augment this with a sprinkler system that trickled water down the sides of your retreat as well.  If nothing else, it might help to cool the interior of your retreat if there was a major fire passing by.


The easiest way to fight a fire is with water.  Lots of water, lots of flow, and lots of pressure so it can be delivered at a high rate and from a safe distance.

You need to have an onsite supply of fire-fighting water and a way of delivering the water at suitable pressure and volume to wherever the fire is located.  Ideally, the water supply should be gravity fed, because no matter what else might go wrong, you know you can always rely on gravity.  But this might pose problems, particularly if it requires an external water tower which adds a new high visibility structure to your retreat compound and which is, itself, vulnerable to attack.

Each foot of height gives you 0.43 pounds per square inch of water pressure.  A typical domestic water supply has water pressure in the range of 40 – 60 psi, and city mains water supplies are usually somewhat higher.

So to get even 40 psi would require your water tank to be 100 ft above the outlet.  In other words, you’ll probably need to have an ultra-reliable booster pump with an ultra-reliable power source – and make sure that all parts of your water supply system are themselves protected from fire impacts.

If your water comes from a well, you probably should augment this with a holding tank, unless you are sure your well pump will be able to deliver sufficient pressure and volume not just for normal household needs but for fire-fighting as well.

As well as pressure, the other important consideration is flow rate – how many gallons per minute of water can the service provide.  A typical 5/8″ garden hose usually delivers about 10-17 gallons of water a minute.  A fire hydrant can sometimes deliver up to 1500 gpm, and even a smaller hydrant can probably provide about 500 gpm.  How much water do you need to be able to deliver to the fire?  The more, the merrier.  If you can deliver 100 gpm, that would be good, and 250 gpm would be even better.  Water damage issues to one side, there’s no such thing as ‘too much’ water when fighting a fire, and just because you have a very high potential volume of water to be used, you don’t need to use any more of it than you need at the time.

This leads to the next part of the equation – how many gallons of water do you need in your fire fighting reservoir?  That’s a bit like asking ‘how high is up’, because clearly the more you have, the better.

A typical multi-purpose fire truck that carries some water but which isn’t a dedicated tanker probably holds about 1000 gallons of water (and can pump it out at maybe 1500 gpm, so in theory, could use up its entire on-board supply in merely a minute).  A garden swimming pool can have many thousands of gallons of water, and as long as you were sure to have adequate and reliable pumping capacity, might be a great way to keep water on hand for fire fighting.

If you’re having to establish a specific water tank for fire fighting, we’d suggest you have at least 500 gallons of water in the tank, and of course, it will presumably have a lower flow-rate pump replenishing it as soon as the level begins to drop, so maybe by the time you’ve used up your 500 gallons, you have added another 100 or 200 gallons to the tank, and so on.

One study (the ‘Scottsdale Report’ – a 15 year study on fire sprinklers) suggests that fire-fighters typically use 2,935 gallons of water to control a fire.  (Sprinklers used only 341 gallons.)  So the more water you have, the better.

A Stitch in Time

Our point here is that it takes very little time for a fire to go from a spark to a conflagration.  Truly, in five minutes, a fire can go from a tiny thing to a monster, raging unstoppably through your house.

If a fire starts, every second counts.  You need to detect it as soon as possible and respond to it immediately thereafter.

You can’t have a system that when you have a fire, you have to go somewhere to turn on the water supply pump, then grab a fire hose, take it to an outlet, connect it up, turn it on, and deploy it.  By the time you’ve done all of this, the fire has enormously grown.  Where possible, you should have hoses pre-deployed (but sheltered from the sun so they don’t age and crack from the UV, and also sheltered from any extreme cold), and activating the pump should be something that can be done from several convenient locations.

You also should have extinguishers at strategic locations throughout your retreat.  These will probably/unavoidably be single use devices, but when you need one, don’t stop to think about saving it for another time.  Use it without hesitation.  Almost every fire that ends up defeating multiple fire trucks, and which destroys the building it started in, could have been extinguished in the first minute or so of its life if a fire extinguisher were at hand and effectively used.

We suggest having fire alarm buttons throughout your house so that people can push the alarm if they encounter any type of fire, to alert and mobilize everyone else in the house – both to get them to assist and possibly to get them to evacuate.  A loud distinctive alarm should be sounded that can not be confused with other types of alarms you might also have (in particular a security alarm).

Smoke Detectors

You of course have one or more smoke detectors in your residence at present – building and fire codes require them pretty much everywhere these days, and good practice suggests one per bedroom, one per floor, and maybe some more in other strategic places too.

We’re not arguing against this at all, quite the opposite.  The more smoke detectors, the better.

Did you also know there are two different types of smoke detectors?  One sort detects the smoke by way of the cloudiness of the smoke interrupting a light beam, the other sort detects the ‘burning products’ associated with a fire, but not necessarily the smoke itself.  They are referred to as photoelectric and ionization type detectors.

Photo-electric detectors work better with ‘smoldering’ type fires – fires that start first with a whisp of smoke, and only slowly change to a flicker of flame, and on from there.  Ionization detectors respond to flames and ‘invisible’ byproducts of the fire.

Neither sort is heat-sensitive.  Note also that carbon monoxide detectors are not very helpful at detecting fires.

Which sort of detector is best?  They are both good.  Some units have both types of detection built in.  We suggest you have some of each in your retreat.

Oh yes – do we need to add the bit about testing the batteries?  Probably not, because most good smoke detectors also include a ‘low battery’ alarm.


This is something you normally associate with commercial buildings, but there’s no reason not to install them in private residences.  Indeed some local authorities are now requiring them in some private residences, even single family dwellings (including the entire states of CA and PA), and either supplied with water from an oversized line from the city mains or from an on-site tank.  If you do have sprinklers installed, you’ll probably get a small reduction in your insurance premiums, too.

There are many different types of sprinklers and designs of sprinkler systems.  A typical system in a low fire hazard area would be designed to provide 0.1 gallons of water per square foot per minute – in a 150 sq ft room, for example, that would require a water flow of 15 gallons per minute, and in a 2500 sq ft residence, if all sprinklers were operating simultaneously (an unlikely scenario), that would be 250 gpm.

Most sprinkler systems are automatic, and (unlike in the movies) activate one by one as they each individually detect a certain level of heat.  In the movies, it is common to see the activation of a single sprinkler result in an entire floor or building having all sprinklers start operating – looks good in the movie but doesn’t normally happen that way in real life.

There are a range of different heat-activated capsules that will be triggered by different heat levels, from as ‘low’ as 135°F up to as high as 500°F.  Perhaps the best type of sprinkler systems these days use water mist rather than water spray, and will give similarly effective results while using massively less water.

It makes sense for sprinklers to automatically activate, and on an ‘as required’ basis. But for a retreat which usually has people living in it, we’d be tempted to suggest a simpler approach.  Manual sprinklers, on a per room ‘deluge’ basis, whereby you simply turn a lever (probably by the room’s entrance, or at a central control station) and that causes all the sprinklers in the room to activate simultaneously.

The downside of this is also its upside.  The system doesn’t automatically activate, but it also won’t accidentally activate or leak water or in other ways be maintenance-prone or problematic.  If you have dual-mode smoke detectors in most rooms, you’ll have reasonably appropriate warning of a fire in an unattended room, and can then quickly react and activate the sprinklers in the affected areas.

Needless to say, you’ll probably want your sprinklers to operate from a reservoir (perhaps with boost pump) than from a city mains water supply, so as to have your water supply guaranteed.


House fires are more common than you think, and will become even more prevalent WTSHTF.

A fire can potentially destroy your retreat and everything in it.  There goes your shelter, your food, your everything – and possibly also your own lives.

In addition to accidental fires, deliberate fires will be more prevalent too when law and order disintegrates, and a common technique by roaming marauders may be to ‘smoke you out’ of your retreat by setting fire to it.

On the other hand, making your retreat at least fire-resistant and as close to fire-proof as possible is not an unduly expensive proposition and is a prudent part of generally ‘hardening’ your retreat and making it long-lived and low maintenance.

We urge you to ensure your retreat is as close to fire-proof as possible.

Jul 082014
An  interesting depiction of some of the many impacts from a major solar storm.

An interesting depiction of some of the many impacts from a major solar storm.

Here’s a rather simplistic article that talks about the potential for solar storms to disrupt many aspects of our modern-day life.

What is interesting however is their pie chart analysis of some of the derivative disruptions from a solar storm (shown on the left and more easily seen full size in the linked article).

Like so much that appears in public about our society’s underlying vulnerabilities, we feel their chart is more optimistic than perhaps is appropriate, particularly if the storm were to be a massive scale ‘Carrington Event’ rather than a more moderate storm.  But, optimistic or not, it still shows a wide and – hopefully – eye-opening range of negative outcomes and impacts from a single strong solar storm.

It is a shame this was not prepared with more care.  See, for example, the assumption that a solar storm would simply disrupt satellite communications during the (short) period of the storm, and that things would then quickly return back to normal.  That assumption implies that the satellites would not be damaged, and that’s an assumption we’re not sure is fully valid.

Some things appear  twice on the wheel as well – for example, aviation,  which is shown as having widespread outages (as a result of disruptions to the power grid) but only short-term disruption elsewhere on the wheel.  How can it be both?

There is an interesting point in the article.  It is common to plan for 100 year floods, but few if any businesses seem to be prepared for a once in 100 year solar event.

What about you?  How prepared are you for the disruptions that would follow a solar storm?