David Spero

Feb 012015
 
The new Baofeng BF-F8HP looks very similar to the UV-5R, but is a genuinely different and improved model.

The new Baofeng BF-F8HP looks very similar to the UV-5R, but is a genuinely different and improved model.

For several years, the small-sized and even smaller priced Baofeng UV-5R has been the most popular budget HT ‘walkie-talkie’ radio transceiver.  Although primarily intended for licensed radio ham operators, many of them have been purchased by people to use as ‘super’ FRS and GMRS radios, a (mis)use that is notionally illegal but almost never enforced by the FCC.  We’ve written several articles about this lovely radio, see, for example, ‘The Best Radio for FRS/GMRS‘ and also read through our articles on Communications in general for a lot of resource.

Baofeng have released a somewhat confusing variety of other models of radio (in particular, the UV-82 series), none of which have been compelling ‘upgrades’ to the core UV-5R radio.

Confusing the matter further, their various distributors have often rebadged and repackaged the UV-5R and given it new names, or implied it to be a new, improved, updated, enhanced subsequent model.  As far as we can tell, none of their claims have any foundation in truth at all, and no matter what the outside case of the radio, and no matter what its alleged model number, all such versions of the UV-5R are almost exactly the same, other than for occasionally updated versions of the firmware inside them, and all perform essentially identically.  Resellers also make varying claims about being official and sometimes the only official dealers for ‘real’ Baofeng radios, and these claims are also to be taken with a degree of open-minded skepticism – as best we can tell, Baofeng will happily sell their products to anyone who will buy them, and will slightly alter them as major customers may request.

To make it more confusing, the Baofeng radios are also sometimes called Pofung radios (this spelling more closely indicates how the underlying Chinese word is pronounced).  Again, there is no difference.

But now a truly new model has been released, and it truly is better than the standard UV-5R.  This is the model BF-F8HP.  Already, we are seeing a confusing diversity of model numbers surrounding this new radio type, as well.  The F8HP designation seems to be the official default designation, but there are other variants such as F9-V2+ (which seems to attempt to imply it is a later model than the F8) and the F8+ (which is actually a UV-5R).

There are three key differences between this new radio and the earlier UV-5R series, and one very important similarity.

1.  The new F8HP has three power settings rather than two.  The UV-5R had two power settings, and on high power was nominally claimed to be outputting 4 watts of power, and typically was closer to 4 watts on the 2 m band and 3 watts on the 70 cm band.  The F8HP has a low power that is similar to the UV-5R low power setting, a mid power which is similar to the UV-5R high power setting, and a high power which nominally gives you 8 watts and has been tested to give about 7 1/2 watts on 2m and 6 watts on 70cm.  That’s an appreciable boost in power, and may give you a slight increase in range in some settings.

2.  A new battery with more capacity.  The UV-5R typically had a battery claiming about an 1800 mAh capacity (and more realistically giving you 1500 mAh).  The new F8HP has a battery with a rated 2100 mAh capacity and good for about 2000 mAh.  The battery is the same size, but uses newer cells that have higher capacity.  You can never have too much battery, especially if you’re now using it at a much greater rate on the high power transmit setting.

3.  The new F8HP has a greatly improved antenna provided as standard.

baofengantennas

The new style antenna is on the left, the old style is on the right.  This truly does make an appreciable difference to the radio’s ability to both send and receive signals a longer distance.

4.  The similarity :  All accessories that work with the UV-5R series also work with the F8HP.  That includes batteries as well as external microphones and speakers, and of course, antennas too.  So whatever you’ve bought already can be repurposed for the F8HP.

There are a few other minor differences too.  The new radio has some slightly improved internal circuitry, and a much better written 76 page manual.  Oh yes, it is also more expensive (but still great value), and currently can be found on Amazon for around $63, which is almost exactly twice the price of the UV-5R (which remains available for sale, too).

The F8HP operates on the same frequencies and has the same wide range of features and options, and can also be programmed through the same programming cables and the excellent free CHIRP software.

So – should you buy F8HP radios or twice as many UV-5R radios for the same amount of money?  We’re always keen to get the latest and greatest and best of everything, but the truth is that many times, the UV-5R will be all the radio you need.  If you get clear and reliable communications when using UV-5R radios, and especially if you are using them in low power mode, then there’s not really any need to get the F8HP.

If your UV-5R radios are struggling to connect to each other, then a better investment might be improved antennas on the UV-5Rs, rather than junking them and buying F8HPs.  A UV-5R with a good antenna (a Nagoya 701 or 771, for example) will generally give you comparable performance to a F8HP with its standard antenna.

But if you still have range issues, then, yes, you should get the F8HP.  A F8HP, on high power, and with an improved antenna, will beat the UV-5R every time.

As for us, we’re not junking any of our collection of UV-5R radios, but future purchases will all be of the F8HP.  Who knows what evolving needs and scenarios might come to pass, and you can never have too much range or battery life in your radio (although note that the UV-5R can also accept the same battery, and both can also use the extended battery or battery eliminators too).

Jan 202015
 
This 7.62mm rifle will 'automatically' sight and shoot accurately out to 900 yards.  No skill required.

This 7.62mm rifle will ‘automatically’ sight and shoot accurately out to 900 yards. No skill required.

We have written before about the problems we have protecting our retreats – see for example ‘How Many Acres Do You Need for Your Retreat – Defense Considerations‘ and our broader category of Retreat Defense in general.

A new development, announced at the Consumer Electronic Show in January this year, adds a new factor and concern to the mix.

Until now, it has been realistic to assume that in most cases, a ‘reasonable distance’ kept clear between your retreat and where attackers could shelter was sufficient as to give you reasonable protection.  We’ve always been a bit vague about how much that distance should be, because in truth, there’s no single magic answer and instead, it is more a case of having to make a compromise between what is practical and possible in the real world and what would be desirable in a perfect world.

We sort of suggested that you should try to achieve a 200 yard clear zone between where your retreat and farmed land would be and where attackers could shelter and attack you from.  That type of range would give you a little warning – note the emphasis on little – if attackers attempted to overrun your retreat, and you could buy yourself a bit more time by having some disruptive landscaping to prevent attackers from coming directly to you on a good surface well suited for vehicles, horses, or even just plain sprinting on foot.

But the really big problem is long-range sniping.  In skilled hands, even a .22LR rifle might remain reasonably accurate and definitely dangerous at 200 yards, and in a Level 2/3 situation, what should be simple survivable wounds become much more life-threatening than they do today when the local Emergency Room and state of the art medicine and antibiotics and painkillers is probably no more than 15 – 30 minutes drive away.

Being able to accurately get rounds on man-sized targets at ranges of 200+ yards starts to become a fairly demanding skill.  Hitting – well, let’s be polite and talk about, perhaps, 8″ or 12″ plates, at 100 yards is something that most adult shooters can readily master, particularly when firing from a supported/prone position.  But once ranges start to go the high side of 200 yards, you’re more into ‘precision shooting’ than regular shooting, and from our perspective as potential targets, our chances of suffering a first round hit/kill start to measurably decline.

Unfortunately, a new device looks to replace skill with technology, and promises (threatens!) to give even unskilled shooters an almost super-human ability to get rounds on target at long-range.

A weapons technology company, TrackingPoint, demonstrated two new sniper-type rifles at the Consumer Electronic Show.  It is very rare to see weapons technology at the CES – not only because of the slightly off-topic concept, but also because just a couple of weeks after CES is the annual SHOT Show which is the typical venue for new weapons technology.  But perhaps because the TrackingPoint product was more a technological solution than a weapon solution per se, they decided to release their products at CES.

They offer two new weapon systems with computerized targeting and fire control.  One is on a 5.56mm rifle platform, and claims to give accurate shots out to 0.3 miles (528 yards) and with the target moving at speeds of up to 10 mph.  The other is on a .338 Lapua Magnum rifle platform, and claims to give accurate shots out to 1.0 miles (1760 yards) and with the target moving at speeds of up to 20 mph.

To be fair, TrackingPoint define ‘effective’ differently for the two products.  For the 5.56 rifle, they say it means being able to consistently hit a 5″ target, and for the .338, they refer to an 18″ target.

So, their one mile range claim can be considered optimistic rather than realistic, and also the moving target concept requires the target’s movement to be consistent.  If you’re semi-randomly zigging and zagging, the computer fire-control would not be able to predict that, and with it taking two or more seconds for a round to travel from rifle to target, if you’re not staying still during that time period, you’re probably in fairly good shape.  (But, remember, it isn’t a case of hearing the shot and then ducking – the round, traveling at supersonic speed, will arrive on target before the sound of the shot does.)

The good news is that you’re not very likely to find yourself staring down one of their .338 caliber systems.  Why?  The price is $50,000 (and each round costs $8).  On the other hand, the 5.56 system is a more reasonable $7,500, and for sure, this price is likely to drop as other companies start to adapt similar technology to their rifles, too.

Here’s a rather terrifying review of how easy it is for a non-shooter to land rounds on target with the 5.56mm system, and here’s a review of the .338 system.

If we were looking at deploying the technology as a defensive measure for our retreat, we’d probably choose their $15,000 system, based on a 7.62mm rifle.  At longer ranges, we much prefer the extra stopping power of the 7.62 round compared to the light 5.56 round.  Oh yes – their claim that it is good for out to half a mile (with an 8″ target as the objective) is another point in its favor, too!

To come back to the actual point of this article, the ugly bottom line is that the long-range accuracy and capabilities of attackers is likely to improve over time.  We’d guess that within a decade, the cost of these super-sniper-rifles will reduce almost ten-fold.  Well, the $7500 5.56 system might drop to $1500 – $2500, the $15,000 7.62 system might go down to $2500 – $3500, and the .338 system might reduce to $7500 or so.  Or, to put it another way, ‘intelligent’ fire-control systems will replace ‘unintelligent’ telescopic sights and cost no more than today’s best telescopic sights.

There was a time when any type of telescopic sight was rare and exotic and expensive, and most people did most shooting with open iron sights.  Nowadays, telescopic sights are abundant and on just about every rifle that its owner plans to use at any sort of range at all; our prediction is that the expensive rarity of these fire control systems will evolve and we’ll see them as common on rifles in ten years time as telescopic sights are today.

What to do about this?  We suggest two things, because in selecting and developing your retreat, you need to have an eye to the future as well as the present.

It further reinforces the value/need to cluster together with other retreat owners, having a central core where you all live and farm, and then an extended safe zone outside your core – perhaps for cattle grazing, or perhaps not.

And, secondly, the topography around your retreat and its perimeter becomes more relevant.  If there are natural features that obscure/block your retreat or limit the longer range threats, whereas previously they might have also acted as cover for shorter range attacks, now they might be considered more desirable, particularly if you incorporate responses to such features into your defensive plan.  Remote monitoring of such locations and the ability to surreptitiously and/or safely move people around your retreat become helpful considerations.

Nov 282014
 
Think carefully before revealing your preparations, even to apparently like minded fellow preppers.

Think carefully before revealing your preparations, even to apparently like-minded fellow preppers.

Conventional wisdom maintains that preppers need to group together so as to have better odds of surviving in a future challenging situation.  We don’t disagree, indeed, quite the opposite – we strongly urge you to do exactly that.

At the same time, we also anticipate that should the rule of law and society in general, break down at a future time, then some of the quickly starving and deservedly panicked vast majority of the country are going to have no choice but to come after us and our stocks of food and demand we share with them.  Indeed, a demand that we share our food is probably close to a best case scenario!  Roving gangs of marauding looters who selfishly take all they can carry with them, and senselessly destroy anything they leave behind, is a far grimmer but also realistic future to consider.

Let’s think about the group of people who will pose the greatest threat to us in such a future situation.  They will be people with firearms, some skills, and who know to quickly evacuate the major cities and head out into the countryside.  These people will have the ability to survive at least to the point where they can then start to look at somehow creating a new living environment for the future.  These people – and while we don’t like it, we have to understand the motivation and accept the reality of it – will not hesitate to demand and require us to share what we have with them.  They might even demand we share our shelter as well as our food – they might say ‘there’s plenty of room in your retreat for us to join you’, and that’s assuming they’re as kind as to allow us the option to stay in what was formerly our retreat and share it with them!

Now think some more about the profile of this type of person.  While hopefully the truly lawless members of roving gangs who will gleefully and wantonly rape, pillage and plunder their way through the countryside are not people we come into daily contact with, this other type of person might well be people we already know.

If you think about it, we are describing ‘wanna be’ preppers, aren’t we.  People with a few spare cans of beans, an extra container of gas for their vehicle, some outdoor clothes, a firearm or two, and several boxes of ammunition.

We were guiltily reminded of that, ourselves, when a neighbor was proudly showing us his basement wine cellar.  To get to his wine cellar, we walked through a walled in semi-finished extension of his sub-grade basement, and at the end of it, we went through a door and into the wine cellar.  All the way through this extension, he had built shelving and it was reasonably full of stored food and assorted other things.  A great suburban prepper set-up, enough to get him through a week or two or three of problems – a Level 1, trending towards a Level 2 situation, in other words.

Good for him.

Two thoughts flashed through our mind.  The first was one of delight – ‘Aha!  A fellow prepper.  Wait till we impress him with what we have in our house, next door!’.  Sure, he had us beat when it came to wine collections, but we figured we were far ahead of the game with stored food and other supplies.

The second was a wry naughty thought ‘We’ll know where to go if we run out of supplies ourselves or if they’re not at home WTSHTF’ and accompanied by a subtle scan of what he had, looking also for any evidence of self-defence capabilities.

But then, the mirror image of the second thought hit us, and we realized ‘We have more stuff than him, and if we now show that all to him, he’ll know where to go when he runs out’.

We also realized that if we tell him about what we have, then the next time he proudly shows someone his wine cellar and they say ‘Wow, John, we never knew you had so much food stored down here’ then what will he say?  In a sense of false modesty, he might say ‘Well, if you think that’s a lot, you should see what Dave has next door’.

Not only will he know about our stored supplies, but so too, over time, will any number of other people, unknown to us.

So we held our silence and said nothing.  If things go bad in the future, we can group together with him – or not – on our terms, and in a controllable manner.

The same is even more true if you have a rural retreat.  You probably can’t and don’t want to obscure the fact you have a nice countryside second home, but have it planned so that if (when) you invite friends to come stay with you for a weekend, it looks like a generic regular country home, not a hardened retreat stocked full of supplies of every possible type.

Don’t boast about your ‘off-grid’ capabilities.  Play down how effective your solar cells are, and make them seem like a grid-tied system – ‘Yes, they help a bit, but they’re older generation and don’t make much power, and only do anything in the brightest sunlight anyway, plus the crazy way it is wired up, if the utility’s power goes down, ours goes down too’.  Have your storage rooms locked off and not obviously taking up lots of space.  Talk about how cold it gets in winter because it is poorly insulated.  And so on.

Another thing not to show would be any firearms you have, or perhaps, at least don’t show more than a normal number of firearms and a limited supply of ammunition.  If someone does decide to pay you a ‘surprise visit’ subsequently, it is better they think you are reasonably defenseless, unaware, and easy to surprise and overpower.  That way, they’ll be less stealthy and more overt when they appear on your doorstep.  But if they think you’re fully equipped with firearms and have the skills to use them effectively, they’ll seek to surprise you, or pick you off, one by one, in the fields.

Your plan should be to identify like-minded people who you might wish to invite to join you in the future, and to identify people who have some degree of preparedness.  But think carefully before revealing too much about your own situation any sooner than you must.  In a future chaotic collapse of everything, you just don’t know who your friends will be, and you want to be able to select such people on your terms, not on their terms.

Unless you have people who are equally invested in the success of your retreat, you don’t know what to expect from others.  People with greater capabilities than you might decide they want to grow their supplies by picking off smaller less strong retreats and their inhabitants, and for sure, people with less resource than you will be desperate to beg/borrow/steal whatever they can from wherever they can.

You can only plan on the support of people who are mutually invested in a shared success in the future where what is good for you is good for them and vice versa.  This might be adjacent retreat owners – by grouping together you create a stronger community and a shared regional defense force.  It might be selected friends and family who would have nothing if they weren’t a part of your group – but you always need to be careful, when inviting such people to join with you, that they don’t in turn bring along their friends, who in turn bring their friends, and so on, such that you’re not only overwhelmed with additional guests, but it becomes ‘their’ retreat by simple weight of numbers, rather than yours.

In the case of my neighbor, he’s sadly an unrealistic liberal.  Doesn’t like firearms, and if there’s a problem, he’ll probably not only volunteer to share his food, but will then of course insist that we volunteer to share our food too.  Would he fight to save himself, his family, and his provisions?  Almost certainly not – I can just hear him and his wife proclaiming ‘Nothing is worth sacrificing a human life for’ without realizing that by allowing their provisions to be taken from them, they have just sacrificed their own lives for no good purpose.

So now I know where to go if I run out of wine.  But he doesn’t know where to go when he runs out of food.  That’s the way I like it.

One other quick example.  The people several houses over are very like-minded folks, although they have little stored up as preps.  But WTSHTF, they’ll be the family I turn to for mutual support, not the neighbor with the wine.  The other family has what it takes to survive and win – they’re tough-minded realists who would be prepared to fight to protect themselves and those they are allied with.  But they don’t know we plan to invite them to come join forces with us if we’re somehow stranded in the town rather than able to get to our retreat.  We’ll tell them that if and when it becomes necessary and appropriate, and not before.

Until that time though, we’ve done a few things together – we’ve taken them to a local gun range and helped them with their skills, and we’ve discussed, over a few beers, what would happen if things went wrong.  So we’re laying the groundwork, but not revealing anything that would limit our options.

You should do the same.

Oct 242014
 
The eleven different sub-nations within the US.  Click image for a larger image.

The eleven different sub-nations within the US. Click image for a larger image.

One of the fictions foisted on us in the name of greater federal government is that the US is a collection of 50 similar states, and that national/federal laws of a ‘one size fits all’ are both appropriate and necessary.

The reality is very different.  Indeed, there are massive social discontinuities within single states, let alone across all 48 lower states, plus Alaska and Hawaii (which still seems to half regret having joined the rest of us).

I travel some around the western part of our great nation, and it always strikes me that not only are there huge differences between, for example, CA and its neighbors, OR, NV and AZ, but also with each state.  In California we have the Mexican dominated south, the formerly hippy and now high-tech Bay area, but also, if you go inland, there are some conservative counties with gun friendly policies, including some where the county sheriff is happy to issue concealed carry permits to anyone who asks.

In WA, the state is fractured by the Cascades – a very liberal western group of counties, and a much more conservative eastern group of counties, who feel terribly disenfranchised.  Political matters are decided in the left-wing metroplex stretching from Bellingham down to Olympia, leaving the greater part of the state – geographically but not economically or demographically – out in the cold (quite literally so in the winters!).

These disruptions within our nation and within individual states come as no surprise to us.  We see it every presidential election, for example, and we consider it painstakingly if we are choosing where to locate a retreat.  It is reflected in the repeated and unlikely to ever succeed moves to split states into two, or to blend parts of two states and make them into three or more new states.  Most recently, in late 2014, a petition for a ballot measure in California to split the state into six separate states narrowly failed to gain enough signatures.

A recent article in the Tufts University Alumni magazine suggests that the US as a whole can be segmented into 11 different clustered subgroups, with each subgroup sharing generally similar values and views.  The article includes a fascinating map showing, county-by-county, where the groupings are.  We could point out that even some counties are far from uniform in nature, but for the purposes of a general vague mapping of these different value groupings, that is probably as close as one can get – leastways, without a multi-million dollar federal grant to research it further!

The most interesting point, for me, was that the increased mobility of our population was actually making these groupings more extreme, rather than mixing everyone up more.  Because it is easier to relocate these days than it was in the past, people are choosing to relocate to areas with like-minded folk, and when you think about it, that’s one of the core concepts in choosing a retreat location.

The area of greatest interest to us is essentially an extension of the region sometimes referred to as the American Redoubt, and in this article, termed ‘The Far West’.  Of course, the article did not adjust its regions for considerations of how best to survive TEOTWAWKI, so for us, their Far West region is a starting point to then refine and narrow down.

The author’s point is not so much to show and map these different regions, but to consider the implications of their existence.  He says that as long as there is such a pronounced lack of homogeneity in our country, it is difficult for consensus driven federal government to effectively address the often opposite wishes of different parts of the country.

Think for example about abortion.  That’s something most people have an opinion on, and it is pretty much an either/or issue – you’re either for or against ‘a woman’s right to choose’/’the rights of an unborn child’.  There’s not really a compromise that could be created that works for everyone in the nation.

The same for gun control, and for all manner of other moral and value related issues.

Unfortunately, the author uses his findings as a base for a long discourse on violence and, by implication, how it should be controlled, but for our purposes, simply look at the map, read the descriptions of the eleven different regions, and then follow the national trend – relocate to the region that feels most like ‘home’ to you.

Chances are, when you do, you’ll find us already there!

Sep 032014
 
Imagine our cities with no power.  Now try to imagine how you could survive in that situation.

Imagine our cities with no power. Now try to imagine how you could survive in that situation.

The new Islamic terror group, ISIS or ISIL, is only slowly appearing on the radar screens of the mainstream media, and indeed is so fresh to the public eye that there isn’t even yet agreement on what to call it.  But if you cast around, you’ll see plenty of ‘buried’ news stories quoting senior military and political leaders who describe ISIS as now the most dangerous threat to the US and the West in general (most recently Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel).

If we take their desire to attack and harm the US at face value (and what possible reason would we have not to believe them when they say this) then the question becomes simply one of understanding what they might do, and when/how they might do it.  Well, yes, there’s another question too – how to stop them!  But that’s a question few people are asking, and outside the scope of this article in any event.

The Texas Dept of Public Safety believes they have found evidence that ISIS plans to orchestrate an attack on our power grid, and it has been speculated that ISIS might not even mount the attack itself, but could instead pay one of the Mexican drug cartel gangs to carry out the attack on their behalf.  Dr Peter Pry, head of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, said that a gang such as the Knights Templar (no relation to the middle ages religious order!) has experience in destroying grid infrastructure in Mexico and could readily black out much or all of the US for an extended period.

His gloomy predictions were supported by Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.  At a joint press conference with Pry, Gaffney quoted sources as suggesting that a twelve month power outage would see 90% of the US population wiped out.

More details here.

We definitely agree that a grid attack could see the grid down for at least 12 months, and quite likely very much longer.  For more on this, we’ve written regularly about the vulnerabilities and difficulty in repairing the nation’s electricity grid.

We’re not so sure that a 12 month power outage would see the death of 90% of the population, however.  If we assume that the grid outage did not extend to Canada and Mexico, then we would expect many people close to the borders would simply move north in typical classic refugee manner, and considerably more than 10% of the US population is close to the Canadian border.  Plus it seems reasonable to assume that the Red Cross and other relief organizations would come to our assistance, because hopefully the rest of the world would still be functioning.

However, we do agree that the sudden loss of electricity across the nation, and extending for a year or more, would be extraordinarily disruptive and would involve in massive loss of life.  This is a classic example of what we refer to as a Level 2 type scenario.  It is something we should plan and prepare for, and with appropriate planning and preparation, it is something that we and other appropriately prepared people could survive.

Whether there would be a 90% casualty rate or ‘only’ a 50% casualty rate, or whatever other number is in some regards a relatively ‘minor’ detail (and we’d also point out that most/all of the unprepared survivors would live a very miserable existence while the nation struggled to recover and restore power.  Furthermore, when the grid went live, a year or two or three later, what would the country then look like?  We’d not all then return back to our normal jobs and resume our lives and lifestyles as if nothing had happened.  The economy would be destroyed.  Much of the infrastructure would be destroyed, many cities would be burned out looted hulks of their former selves, and people would have moved away, out of the cities and to places where life can be sustained.

The recovery would be as difficult as the outage, and would take much longer.  This is something few people focus on.  There is an understanding that when the power goes off, things get very bad, very quickly.  But it seems that some people are assuming that when the power is restored, the problems are solved and everything snaps back to normal.  Not so.

The three key credible messages from this press conference are :

  • Firstly to point out the growing risk of an attack on our power grid
  • Secondly to point out that if our grid was attacked and disabled, it is likely to remain down for at least a year
  • Thirdly, the consequences of an extended grid failure would see massive deaths, obviously from lack of food, water, and climate controlled shelter, and less obviously from disease due to the failure of plumbing and sewage treatment services, and also from the lawlessness that would result.

How well prepared are you for a sudden loss of power for say two years?

One last point.  Maybe it is unrealistic to expect the government to ‘harden’ our power grid and make it resistant to such threats.  But couldn’t they at least be directing some of our enormous defense budget to neutralizing the ISIS threat?

Aug 292014
 
A bizarre approach to dispensing toilet paper.

A bizarre approach to dispensing toilet paper – sighted at a rest stop somewhere between SD and MN.

A little known side effect of the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant problems in Japan was a shortage of toilet paper that affected the entire country.

Japan has had toilet paper shortages before, back in the oil crisis of 1973 (you never thought that expensive and scarce oil would create a toilet paper shortage, did you!) and so the nation has become particularly sensitized to the potential of future shortages.  As a result, the Japanese government is now urging the public to stockpile toilet paper, and has even arranged for a special type of toilet paper roll (without the inner cardboard sleeve) that allows more toilet paper to be stored in less space.  You can read more about their public promotional campaign here.

We see two interesting things about this.  The first is the government’s determination that it could take a month for any disruption in supply to be resolved, either due to factories returning to production or by way of importing supplies from other countries, and so they are recommending everyone keeps at least a one month supply in their homes.

Depending on your point of view, a one month supply is either a generous amount or woefully inadequate.  A lot would rest on the type of disruption to local manufacturing, of course, and if it was a broader global disruption (such as another oil shock) then even a one month supply might be exhausted long before new supplies were on hand.  Of course, this is a Level 1 type preparation only, not a Level 2 or 3.

The second interesting thing is the focus on stockpiling a month of toilet paper.  We don’t disagree with this at all, of course, but how about other things, too?  Like, ummm, water and food?  If toilet paper is liable to disruptions in supply, surely food supplies too have to be considered as being at risk of some future disruptions, and if we had to choose between no toilet paper and no food, well, that’s an easy choice, isn’t it!

Don’t get us wrong.  It is great to see a national government advocate a one month stockpile of anything, but we see this as begging the question – why do we need to maintain a one month supply of toilet paper, but not a one month supply of everything else, too?

Aug 262014
 
We love traditional printed books, but storing them all is becoming an ever greater and more costly problem, demanding we switch less essential titles to eBook format.

We love traditional printed books, but storing them all is becoming an ever greater and more costly problem, demanding we switch less essential titles to eBook format.

Are you building up a library of prepper resource materials?  You definitely should be.

If you’re like us, you probably already have somewhere between hundreds of thousands and literally millions of pages of resource material, spanning tens or even hundreds of gigabytes of data on your hard drives.  It is very easy to download and save material from many different sites and sources.

If you’re like us, you’ve maybe also bought some CDs or DVDs filled with prepper type content, adding still further to the vast resource of material you have.

Indeed, our biggest ‘problem’ with our data is not knowing what we have.  We’ve so much of it, indeed we just counted and we have 137,000 prepper files, including some zip files that have in turn hundreds more files within them, and we know we have sometimes downloaded things twice, and if we had to find information on a specific topic, well, that could be a time-consuming problem!

Again, if you’re like us, not much of this is printed out, and most is sitting in abstract electronic form on your hard drive(s).  It is easily to download a five hundred page manual that you might never need – it costs you almost literally nothing to download and save onto a hard drive, for a ‘just in case’ future use – maybe sometime, probably (hopefully!) never.

Now think about the future that you’re saving all this material to help you with.  What happens if we suffer an EMP and most of our electronics are fried?  Or what happens if your hard drive simply dies – how thoroughly backed up is the material you downloaded?  Or, even worse, if your computer fails.  Never mind the data backup – how many spare computers do you have, too!

Did you know that CDs and DVDs have finite lives?  Sooner or later, the data on them will start to corrupt and eventually become unreadable.

And even if the data remains secure and readable, sooner or later, your electronics will die.  Maybe they will die quickly, through an EMP or power surge or something.  Maybe they’ll just slowly fail as the natural lifespans of the electronics passes, or maybe they’ll die quickly of ‘infant mortality’ (electronic devices tend to either die quickly, or else last most/all of their expected lives before failing).  For that matter, did you also know that some electronic components age and expire whether they are being used or not – specifically, electrolytic capacitors, which have about a 20 year life and at some point subsequently, will start to become ‘leaky’ (in an electrical more than physical sense) and fail.

Our point is simple.  A printed out book is a remarkably long-lived device, and while it has some vulnerabilities (eg to water and fire, also to dogs and small children) you’ll usually find books are more reliable and guaranteed to ‘work’ in adverse situations than is the case with modern electronics.

Should you therefore be printing out everything you download and save?

The answer to this question is a modified ‘no, not really’.  We’ll wager that probably 95% of everything you download is stuff you’d never look at, no matter what happens WTSHTF.  But, and here’s the catch – can you be sure which of the many things you’ve downloaded will be in the 95% unnecessary and which will be in the 5% of necessary/essential reference resources?

But what do you print out, and what do you leave in electronic format?  Furthermore, there are more downsides to eBooks than ‘just’ the concern that the electronics will fail.

If you can only read eBooks and other electronic files on your computer, how truly convenient is that?  Your computer – even if a laptop/portable rather than desktop unit – still weighs many pounds, needs power, and is somewhat fragile.  You probably don’t want it sitting out in the field alongside you as you work out how to construct something.  If you drop a book, you pick it up again.  If you drop a computer…..

You can’t have your computer or eBook reader in more than one place at once – you can’t have someone in the kitchen using it for cooking, someone in the workshop using it to repair something, someone in the living room using it to read for relaxation, and so on.  Sure, each physical book can only be in one place too, but you can have each of your many books in a different place.

Call us old-fashioned, but we see a clear role for hard copy printed books in our retreats.

However, let’s also look at some of the upsides of eBooks, as well as their downsides.

We keep coming back to the gigabytes of downloaded ‘just in case’ reference material we have here.  We’ve no idea how many hundreds of thousands of pages of content there are in all of these, but even if we say there is ‘only’ 100,000 pages of key content, how much paper/space/cost would that require to print it all out?

You can partially answer that question with a visit to your local office supply store.  Look at the size of a box of ten reams of paper (10 x 500 sheets = 5,000 sheets).  Now look at the size of a pallet full of those boxes of paper.  That’s quite a lot of space, isn’t it, particularly if neatly laid out on bookshelves rather than stacked on pallets.  100,000 sides, (if you can print double-sided, and if you can’t, you’d probably be well advised to buy a duplex printer prior to this enormous printing project) would require 50,000 sheets, or ten of those boxes, plus extra space for covers and whatever else.

That’s an appreciable amount of space, and we’ve not started to address the question of how you’d bind the printouts together (probably either in ring-binders or, more space efficiently, by simply stapling short works and using re-usable fold-over binding posts for larger works).  Plus there’s the cost – the paper cost is minimal, and less than a couple of cents a sheet, but then add additional for the ink or toner to print onto them (get a low cost per page laser printer rather than a high cost per page inkjet printer), and all up, 100,000 sides/50,000 pages of content probably end up costing you $2,500 or more.

Now you need a way to store and index all this material, too.  So you need some shelving and space to put it, and some sort of indexing system so you can find it in the future.  That’s more time, more money, and more hassle.

If you have a million pages of material (we’re sure we have at least that much, ourselves) your $2,500 project has become a $25,000+ project, and you’ll literally need a library room in your retreat.

So, much as we love traditional physical books, it seems there is clearly a need for balance, with some content in hardcopy form and much more remaining in electronic form.

Our suggestion is to invest in some eBook readers – not just one, but several.

However, don’t necessarily rush out and buy an Amazon Kindle type dedicated eBook reader.  There’s one huge problem with all Kindles (and some smaller problems too).

Kindles have a limited degree of on-device storage, and for more than that, they need to be synched with Amazon’s cloud service.  That works well at present, but in a ‘grid down’ situation, there’ll likely be no internet and so no way to synch your Kindle with Amazon.  This is, obviously, their very big problem.

Their smaller problem is that they’re not as ‘open source’ as a regular Android tablet, and try to lock you into the Amazon ‘eco system’, making it harder for you to view other eBook formats and files.  You don’t have this problem on a generic tablet that would conveniently allow you to view all common eBook formats.

You should get tablets that can accept SD or micro SD cards, as well as being able to be connected to a computer and to be directly synched that way.  Almost unavoidably, these will probably be Android based.

Sure, you’ll be spending money for each tablet purchase to do this, and more to buy up a supply of memory cards, but that is all probably both essential and also much better than spending some thousands of dollars printing out all those slightly weird and very out-of-date manuals and scanned pdf copies of things.

You’d be astonished at how inexpensive tablets can be, these days.  While Apple still charges way over the odds for their iPads, you can now get competing products for astonishingly great values.  Amazon have tablets for sale that cost less than $100 each,.  You don’t need the most modern state of the art super-tablets when all you need them for is reading books.  Just make sure they have a version 4 or greater of Android, and a micro or full size SD card reader on them.  A rare and not really essential bonus would be a replaceable battery.

When you have your tablets, you need to load a PDF reading program onto them, and also probably Amazon’s Kindle eBook reading software.  That way you have the best of both worlds – you can directly read your own PDFs, and can also download – and store – any Kindle books you buy through Amazon as well.

We suggest you keep your electronic library resources – the tablets that are designated as primary readers, and the removable media (micro or regular SD cards with the files on them) in a Faraday cage type storage unit.  This doesn’t need to be anything fancier than a lined metal container (lined with foam or something, keeping everything inside the container away from the metal sides) with a securely fitting metal lid and a good electrical seal between the container and its lid.  That makes everything reasonably secure against both EMP type attacks and other external environmental threats (extreme weather, rain, and animals/insects) too.

You’d want to take the units out and discharge/recharge their batteries once every quarter or so, and of course from time to time you’ll update your inventory of data files on your memory cards.

If you do this, then whenever you need to be able to access your electronic library, and in a grid down situation with your normal electronics no longer available to you, it becomes an easy thing to open up your cookie tin/Faraday cage and start using your eBook readers.

We’d be sure to have two copies of everything on memory cards, and at least one hard drive full of the files too, giving you plenty of backup and options for accessing your files in the future.

Currently (ie Aug 2014) the ‘sweet spot’ for micro SD cards is to get cards holding 64 GB per card.  You probably only need a few of these.  If you were buying 128 GB cards, your cost per GB of storage goes up.  If you buy 32 GB or lower capacity cards, you’re still paying the same cost per GB, and end up with more of the cards to keep track of and not lose.

Summary

If you don’t already have a huge collection of prepper files and texts, you should work on growing it as best time allows.

While some clearly essential titles should be purchased in print form, or printed out if purchased electronically, we encourage you to get as much material in electronic form, and to keep this on micro SD cards and view the files on inexpensive (ie less than $100 each) tablets.

Oh yes.  Do we also need to say – be sure to keep backup copies of all your files!

Aug 262014
 
You need good lines of sight all around your retreat property.

You need good lines of sight all around your retreat property.

So you’re about to buy yourself a rural retreat?  Congratulations.  We hope you’ll never need it, but how wonderful it is to know it is there and available if things should go severely wrong.

In among all the other things you need to consider when choosing a retreat is its lot size.  There are a number of different factors affecting how large a lot you need, including the soil type, what sorts of crops you plan to cultivate, the animals you might also raise, and, oh yes, some defensive considerations too.

Some of these considerations vary enormously (ie, the number of people each acre of farmed land can support), but the defensive factors are fairly constant.  So let’s make this an easy read for you, and an easy write for us, and talk about them.

We’ve written at length, in past articles, about the need to design your retreat to be sturdy and able to withstand rifle fire, that’s not actually the risk that keeps us awake at night worrying the most about.  Ideally you want everywhere you’re likely to be on your retreat to be safe and not at risk of enemy attack.  Most notably, you not only want to be safe inside the strong walls of your retreat, but also while outside, exposed, and vulnerable, working in your fields, too.

The Biggest Risk of Violent Takeover/Takeout You’ll Face

We see the greatest risk as being picked off, one or two at a time, while we’re working in the fields.  It is conceivable that we might be some distance from our retreat, and we could be bent over, planting or picking some crop, when all of a sudden, a sniper’s bullet slams into our back, even before the sound of the shot reached us.  Talk about literally no warning – it doesn’t get any more sudden than that.

By the time the people around us heard the shot and started to react, a second round might already be meeting the second target.  And then, all of a sudden, nothing.  Well, nothing except a thoroughly panicked remainder of the people we were out in the fields with, all exposed in the middle of the crop, and one or two dead or nearly-dead bodies.

Even if everyone always carried weapons with them – and even if they were rifles rather than short-range pistols which would be useless at these sorts of ranges – by the time anyone had responded, grabbed their rifle (try doing some type of ongoing manual labor with a rifle slung over your shoulders – chances are everyone in the group will have their rifles set to one side rather than slung over their shoulders), chambered a round, and hunched over their sights, where would they look and what would they see?  Possibly nothing at all.  The sniper would retreat, as stealthily as he arrived, his job well done for the day.

Rinse and repeat.  Have the same event occur again a day or two later, and you’re not only now down four people (and any sniper worthy of the name will be carefully choosing the most valuable of the people in the field each time), but you’ve got a panicked group of fellow community members demanding ‘protection’.  Except that – what sort of protection can you give against a faceless guerilla enemy – someone who picks and chooses the time and location of their attacks?  Furthermore, you’re now four people down, and you have to choose what to do with your able-bodied group members – are they to be tasked for defensive patrolling duties or working your crops.  You don’t have enough people to do both!

No smart adversary will attack your retreat in a full frontal assault.  That would be a crazy thing to do.  Instead, they’ll act as we just described, picking you off, one or two at a time, taking as long as is necessary to do so.  Your retreat is no longer your refuge.  It has become the bulls-eye on the attacker’s target map, and all they have to do is observe and bide their time, taking advantage of the opportunities and situations they prepare for and select, rather than being taken advantage of by you and your tactical preparations.

Don’t think that defensive patrols will do you a great deal of good, either.  How many men would you have on each patrol?  One?  Two?  Five?  Ten?  Whatever the number, you’d need to be willing to accept casualties in any contact with the adversary, and unless your people are uniquely skilled and able to use some aspect of tactical advantage, all your enemy needs to do is observe your front and rear doors and wait/watch for patrols to sally forth from your retreat.

This scenario is similar to how the Allies ringed the German U-boat bases with anti-submarine planes and ships (and how we and our adversaries monitor each other’s subs these days too).  While a U-boat might be very hard to find and detect in the middle of the North Atlantic, they all had to leave and return to their bases through obvious unavoidable routes.  Why hunt for a U-boat in thousands of square miles of ocean when you know to within a few hundred feet where they’ll be departing from.

If you do deploy a patrol, they are at the disadvantage.  The enemy will be in a prepared position while your team will now be exposed on open ground.  The enemy will have set an ambush, and your team will find themselves in it.  Depending on the size of the enemy team, and on the respective skill levels, you just know you’re going to lose some team members (and, more likely, all of them) when the ambush slams shut around them.

One more sobering thought.  Call us cynical if you like, but we suspect an attacking force will be both more willing to risk/accept casualties among its members than you are, and will also find it easier to recruit replacement manpower.  The leader of the attackers probably has no close personal relationship with his men, whereas you’re with your friends and family.  The attackers can promise new recruits a chance at plundering stores and supplies and ensuring their own comfortable survival, and if recruits don’t join, they are probably facing extreme hardship or starvation as an alternative.

From their point of view, if things go well for them, they get something they didn’t have before, and if things go badly, they suffer the same fate they are likely to suffer anyway.  But from your point of view, the best that can happen is that you keep what you currently have (at least until the next such encounter) and the worst that can happen doesn’t bear thinking about.

Or, to put it another way, for the attackers, heads they win and tails they don’t lose.  For you, heads you don’t win and tails you do lose.

So, what does this all have to do with the size of your retreat lot?

The most effective tool you have to defend against attack is open space.  If you have a quarter-mile of open space in all directions around you, wherever you are on your lot, then it will be difficult for a sniper to sneak up on you, while being easy for you to keep a watch on the open space all about.  If the sniper does open fire from a quarter-mile away, you’re facing better odds that he might miss on the all important first shot, and much better odds that the subsequent shots will also be off-target.

Compare that to working in, say, a forest, where the bad guys might be lurking behind the tree immediately ahead of you.  At that range, they couldn’t miss and could quickly take over your entire group before you had a chance to respond.

You need to consider two things when deciding how much land you need for your retreat lot.

Topographic Challenges

The first issue is specific to the land you’re looking at.  What is the topography of the land?  Is it all flat, or are their rises and falls, a hill or valley or something else?

If there are natural sight barriers, you need to decide how to respond to them.  Some might be alterable (such as moving a barn, cutting down some trees), and others you’re stuck with (the hill rising up and cresting, not far from your retreat).  Depending on the types of sight barriers you have, you can determine how close adversaries can come to your property boundaries – and, indeed, some types of sight barriers will allow them to get into your property and potentially close to you, while probably remaining entirely undetected.

Don’t go all fanciful here and start fantasizing about patrols and observation posts and electronic monitoring.  The chances are you don’t have sufficient manpower to create an efficient effective system of patrols and OPs, and if you don’t have sufficient manpower to create a secure network of patrolling and OPs, you have to sort of wonder what value there is in a partial network.  Won’t the bad guys be clever enough to plan their movements and actions to exploit your weaknesses?

As for the electronic stuff, this is typically overrated, and provides a less comprehensive set of information than can be gathered by ‘boots on the ground’, and of course, only works until it stops working, at which point it is useless.

Our first point therefore is that some lots are just not well laid out for defending, and while everything else about them might be appealing, if you feel that you’ll need to be able to defend not just your retreat building itself, but the land around it – the land on which your crops are farmed and your animals raised – then you should walk away from the deal and not buy the lot.

What is the point of buying an ‘insurance policy’ to protect you against worst case scenarios, if your policy (your retreat and lot) only works with moderately bad rather than truly worst case scenarios?  That’s an exercise in futility and wishful thinking, and as a prepper, you’re not keen on either of these indulgences!

Lines of Sight – How Much is Enough?

Okay, so you’ve found a lot with no obvious topographic challenges, and unobstructed lines of sight out a long way in every direction.

Let’s now try to pin a value on the phrase ‘a long way’.  How far do you need to be able to see, in order to maintain a safe and secure environment all around you?

Some people might say ‘100 yards’.  Others might say ‘1000 yards’.  And so on, through pretty much any imaginable range of distances.  There’s probably no right answer, but there are some obviously wrong answers.

Let’s look at the minimum safe range first.

Is 100 yards a good safe distance?  We say no, for two reasons.  The first reason is obvious – a bullet round can travel those 100 yards in almost exactly 0.1 seconds, and even a person with limited skills can place a carefully aimed shot onto a slow-moving man-sized target at that range.  You are a sitting duck at 100 yards.

But wait – there’s more.  A bad guy can probably sprint over that 100 yards in 10 seconds.  Even if he has nothing more than a machete, he can be on top of you in ten seconds.  Consider also that he’ll wait until you’re not looking in his direction before he starts his run, and add 0.75 seconds reaction time and maybe another second of ‘what is that?’ and ‘oh no, what should I do!’ time, and by the time you’ve identified him as a threat, reached your rifle, and got it ready to fire, he is probably now at arm’s length, with his machete slashing viciously down toward you.

A 200 yard range is very much nicer.  You’ve become a smaller target, and the bullet aimed at you takes over twice as long to reach you; more important than the extra tenth of a second or so in travel time however is that it is now more like three times as affected by wind, temperature, humidity, manufacturing imperfections, and so on.  A skilled adversary can still have a high chance of first shot bulls-eyes, but regular shooters will not do so well.  The bad guy with the machete will take closer to 25 seconds to reach you, and will be out of breath when he gets there.

We’re not saying you’re completely safe if you maintain a 200 yard security zone around yourself.  But we are saying you’re very much safer than if you had ‘only’ a 100 yard security zone.

So, if 200 yards is good, 300 yards is obviously better, right?  Yes, no disagreement with that.  But at what distance does the cost of buying more land outweigh the increase in security?  Most of us will be forced to accept a smaller buffer zone than we’d ideally like, and perhaps the main point in this case is for you to be aware of how unsafe a small buffer zone truly is, and to maintain some type of sustainably increased defensive posture whenever you’re outdoors.

In the real world, you’ll be compromising between lot size/cost and security right from the get-go, and few of us can afford to add a 200 yard buffer around our lot, let alone a 300 or 400 yard buffer.  To demonstrate the amount of land required, here are two tables.  Both assume an impractically ‘efficient’ use of land – we are making these calculations on the basis of perfect circles, with the inner circle being your protected area and the outer circle being the total area with the added buffer zone space.  But you can never buy circular lots, so the actual real world lot sizes would be bigger than we have calculated here.

For example, where we show, below, the five acre lot with a 200 yard buffer zone as requiring a total of 54 acres if in perfect circles, if the five acre lot was rectangular, and the buffer zone also rectangular but with rounded corners, the total lot would grow to 57 acres, and when we allow for the impossibility of rounded corners, the total lot size then grows to 64 acres.

So keep in mind these are best case numbers shown primarily to simply illustrate the implications of adding a buffer zone to a base lot size, and showing how quickly any sort of buffer zone causes the total land area to balloon in size to ridiculous numbers.

If you had a one acre area in the middle of your lot, and wanted to keep a buffer zone around it, the absolute minimum lot size would be

Buffer zone in yards  Minimum total lot size in acres  Minimum perimeter in yards
100 yards  13 acres875
150 yards  24 acres1190
200 yards  37 acres1505
250 yards  55 acres1820 (1 mile)
300 yards  75 acres2135 (1.2 miles)
350 yards   99 acres2445 (1.4 miles)
400 yards  126 acres2760 (1.6 miles)

 

If you have a core area of 5 acres, the numbers become

Buffer zone in yards  Minimum total lot size in acres  Minimum perimeter in yards
100 yards   23 acres1180
150 yards   37 acres1495
200 yards   54 acres1810 (1 mile)
250 yards   74 acres2120 (1.2 miles)
300 yards   98 acres2435 (1.4 miles)
350 yards 125 acres2750 (1.55 miles)
400 yards 155 acres3065 (1.7 miles)

 

Clearly, it quickly becomes wildly impractical to establish the type of clear zone that you’d ideally like.

On the other hand, there’s one possible interpretation of these figures that would be wrong.  You can see that with a 1 acre core lot, you need a minimum of 37 acres in total to establish a 200 yard zone around your one acre.  If you grow your lot to 5 acres, your total lot size grows by a great deal more than five acres.  It goes from 37 acres up to 54 acres.

But – here’s the thing you should not misunderstand.  The bigger your core lot, the more efficient the ratio between protected space and total space becomes.  In the example just looked at, you had ratios of 1:37 and 5:54, with 5:54 being the same as 1:11.  This is a much better overall efficiency, even though adding the extra four acres required you to add 17 extra acres in total.

If you had ten acres of core land, then your 200 yard safety zone would require 68 acres in total, and your ratio now becomes 10:68 or 1:7.  Still extremely wasteful, but 1:7 is massively better than 1:37!

This improving efficiency for larger lot sizes hints at two strategies to improve your land utilization.

Two Strategies to Manage Your Clear Zone Risk and Requirement

Our two tables showing the amount of space you need as a safety/buffer/clear zone around your land embody a subtle assumption that perhaps can be reviewed and revised.

We are assuming that if you don’t own the land, it will be uncontrolled and uncontrollable, and will be exploited by adversaries to mount surprise attacks on you from positions of concealment and/or cover.

That is a possibility, yes.  But there’s another possibility, too.  If the land contiguous with your land is owned by friendly like-minded folk, and if they have cleared their land for cultivation too, plus have at least some awareness of risk issues and keep some degree of access restrictions to their land, then you probably don’t need as much buffer zone on the property line between you and them.

If you and your neighbor had five acre blocks adjacent to each other, then (depending on lot sizes and shapes), you would each require about 57 acres in total to have a 200 yard safety zone, but with your lots next to each other, the two of you together need only 73 acres instead of 114 acres.  You each now have a 37 acre lot instead of a 57 acre lot, and that’s a much better value.

On the other hand, call us paranoid, if you like, but we would always want some controlled space around our main retreat structure, no matter who is currently living next to us.  Neighbors can sell up or in other ways change.

This concern – that today’s ‘good’ neighbors might become tomorrow’s bad neighbors, points to the second strategy.  Why not rent out some of your land to other people.  That way you have more control over the people around you.

You could either do this by extending your core protected land and maintaining a buffer zone around both the land you farm directly and the land you rent out, or by renting out some of the buffer zone land to tenant farmers.

If you had five acres of your own core land, and if you then added another five acres to it, and also rented out the first 50 yards of your 200 yard buffer zone, then that would mean of the total 68 acre holding, there would be ten acres with 200 yards of buffer zone, and up to another 9.6 acres around it that still had a 150 yard buffer zone.  In round figures, you could use 20 of the 68 acres, with 10 offering prime security and another 10 almost as good security.  You’re now getting a reasonably efficient land utilization (20:68 or 1:3.5) and you’ve also added some adjacent friendly tenant farmers, giving your own retreat community a boost by having some like-minded folks around you.

Lines of Sight vs Crops – a Problem and a Solution

We’ve been making much about the benefit of having lines of sight stretching out a relatively safe distance so that adversaries can’t creep up on you, unawares.  The importance of this is obvious.

But, how practical is it to have unobscured lines of sight when you’re growing crops?  As an extreme example, think of a field of corn or wheat, and to a lesser extent, think of many other crops which of course have an above ground presence.  These types of crops will reduce or completely negate your line of sight visibility.

The solution is that you need to have an observation post that can look down onto the crops from a sufficient height so as to see if people are passing through them.  The higher this is, the better the visibility and ability to see down into the fields from above.

Depending on the layout of your land, the most convenient place for this would be to build it into your retreat.  You already have a (hopefully) multi-level retreat structure, why not simply add an observation post at the top of the retreat.

If that isn’t possible, another approach might be to have a tower structure somewhere that has a wind turbine generator or at least a windmill mounted on the top, giving you two benefits from the structure.

Summary

Your biggest vulnerability, in a future Level 3 type situation where you are living at your retreat and need to grow your own crops and manage your own livestock so as to maintain a viable lifestyle for some years, will be when you are out in the fields and focused on your farming duties.

Maintaining any type of effective security of your retreat would require more manpower than you could afford to spare, and even then, would remain vulnerable to a skilled and determined adversary.  A better strategy is to create a buffer zone between the land you work and the uncontrolled land adjacent to you.  This buffer zone reduces the lethality of any surprise assault and gives you time to shelter, regroup and defend.

Because a sufficient sized buffer zone requires an enormous amount of additional land, we suggest you either rent out some of your buffer zone or settle next to other like-minded folk, giving you relatively safe and more secure boundaries on at least some sides of your retreat lot.

Aug 222014
 
A backup hand operated water pump is a great reassurance, but note that hand pumps can also fail.

A backup hand-operated water pump is a great reassurance, but note that hand pumps can also fail.

Many of us rely on wells for our water supply, and in such cases, we have an electric pump that lifts the water up and into a supply tank.

These pumps are usually long-lived and reliable, and draw little power (at least by present day standards where we have access to virtually unlimited electrical power at comparatively low cost).

But what happens in a future adverse scenario where first our power fails and then secondly our pump fails?  The obvious answers are backups and spares, but there are also some design issues that should be considered well before any such problems occur.

Operating Electric Pumps When Electricity is Scarce

The first problem – power failing – will hopefully be addressed by your on-site power generation needs.  One of the ‘good’ things about needing power for a water pump is that – assuming you have a reasonably sized holding tank above the well, the power your water pump needs can be time-shifted to those times of day when you have a surplus of (eg solar) power – use the power at those times to pump up water and to fill your above ground storage tank, and use the water from the storage tank at those times of day (eg night-time) when you have no free power.

Water pumps vary in terms of how much power they require, depending on the lifting height they need to bring the water, and the number of gallons per minute of water desired.  Obviously, greater heights and greater gpm rates require more power.  Fortunately, assuming moderate lifting heights and gpm requirements, you can get a lot of water from a pump that uses only 1000 or 2000 watts of power.  From an energy management point of view, you would probably prefer to have a less powerful pump running for longer, than a more powerful pump running for a shorter time.

This also allows you to get good use from a well with a low replenishment rate.  When specifying your well and water needs in the first place, you should give more importance to assured continuity of water supply at a low instantaneous flow rate but with sufficient total flow each day to meet your needs, rather than limiting yourself only to wells that can support rapid draws down of water via a high-capacity pump.

Chances are you can get the better part of a gallon of water lifted up your well and into your holding tank for every watt-hour of power – 1000 gallons per kWh if you prefer to think in those terms.

We discuss the energy costs of pumping water in this article.

So the first problem – loss of utility sourced electricity – is hopefully not a huge problem (and see below for a discussion on hand pumps).

Planning for Pump Problems

However, the second problem – pump failure – quite likely may be a big problem, and so we offer several solutions to consider.

The first solution is a very simple one.  If your water pump fails, simply replace it with a spare one that you’ve kept in storage, in anticipation of just such an event occurring, as it undoubtedly will, sooner or later.

Water pumps aren’t very expensive (probably under $500) and are fairly long-lived.  You’re unlikely to need to be replacing pumps every year, indeed, assuming that the duty cycle for the pump is moderate and appropriate, it is realistic to at least 10 – 15 years of trouble-free life.  With clean water and a light cycling rate, some pumps give up to 40 years of service.

When you do have a water pump problem, it is probably something you could – at least in theory – repair rather than fix by a complete replacement, and many of the problems actually relate to the fixtures and fittings and tanks outside the well, not the pump inside the well.  But, if it is a pump problem, and to keep things really simple, obviously a total replacement should work (assuming the problem isn’t somewhere above ground, outside of the well, in particular the electrical and control wiring that goes to the pump to turn it on and off as needed).

Depending on your level of skill, your supply of spare parts, and how long you can manage with the pump system down, repair would always be preferable to replacement, of course.  It would be a good strategy to talk to whoever installed and/or maintains your pump currently to find out what the likely failure points may be and to keep those appropriate spare parts, as well as a complete second pump assembly too.

For many of us, having a complete spare water pump would be all the protection and preparing we feel we need.

Here’s a useful but slightly muddled website with a lot of information about troubleshooting and repairing well based water systems.

A Large Temporary Holding Tank

These considerations point to a related point.  You should have a larger than normal above ground temporary tank, and keep it full to half full all the time.  Your choice of above ground holding tank should be such that you can live off the remaining half of its capacity for a reasonable number of days, if the pump does fail.  That gives you the luxury of some time in which to respond to the failed pump and get it fixed, before the toilets stop flushing and the taps stop running.

There’s a related benefit to a large temporary tank.  It means your pump doesn’t cycle as frequently.  It is the starting part of the pump’s operation that is most stressful; you’ll get much more life out of the pump by reducing its frequency of cycling on and off.

It is common for the well water to be pumped to a small pressure reservoir, and then to travel from there to the taps as needed, primarily by the force of the pressure in the reservoir.  In such cases, we suggest adding a temporary holding tank between the well and the pressure reservoir (rather than creating an enormous pressure reservoir).  We also suggest locating the holding tank as high above ground as possible, so as to reduce your dependence on the pressure reservoir.  A gravity fed system from the reservoir to your taps would be much more reliable.

Typical domestic water supplies have pressures in the order of 40 – 60 psi, sometimes a little less, and sometimes going up as high as 80 psi.

Yes, there is such a thing as too much water pressure.  We’d recommend keeping the water pressure to around the 40 – 50 psi point so as to minimize stress on taps and pipes.  Each foot of water height creates 0.43 lbs/sq in of water pressure.  So even a 40 psi service would require the water level at the top of the holding tank to be 93 ft above the tap level – this is almost certainly impractical.

There are two workarounds.  The first is to have large diameter piping and high flow rate taps.  This will compensate for the lower pressure in all situations except showers.  If you want to have good showers, you’ll need to have a pressure booster of some type, either just for the shower, or perhaps for the entire house.

The problem with holding tanks appreciably above ground level is that they are insecure.  A vandal or attacker will see the tank, and almost certainly, rifle rounds will penetrate through the tank wall and while the holes might be readily repairable, the water you lose may or may not be so easily replaceable.  Without wishing to over-engineer a solution, our preference sometimes is for two holding tanks.  A large one that is mainly underground, and then a smaller ‘day tank’ type tank that is above ground at a high up point.  That way your main holding tank is relatively secure, and your vulnerability reduced; indeed, you could even have your day tank built into the attic/inside the roof of your retreat.

Adding a Hand Pump to the Well

So far, we’ve recommended adding a large temporary holding tank, set into the ground, and a smaller ‘day tank’ located in the ceiling/attic of your retreat.  We’ve also suggested keeping a complete spare pump and some replacement spares for those parts most likely to wear out.

But wait.  There’s still more!  We’d feel more comfortable if we also had some type of hand pump, so that pretty much no matter what else happens, we can always get water.  It goes without saying that if we can’t get water to our retreat, everything else becomes irrelevant and our entire retreat becomes unlivable.  Water is an essential part of any retreat, and abundant water allows our lifestyle to move massively up the scale.

Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind our water needs probably extend way beyond what we directly personally use in our retreat.  We have agricultural needs too, for our crops and livestock.  We might even have ‘industrial’ type needs if we have any sort of manufacturing processes.  You’ll probably find a hand pump, while able to provide the essential water for living, would be inadequate to provide all the other water you might need over and above your domestic and personal needs.  Perhaps better to say – the pump may be adequate, but your supply of pumping manpower may be inadequate!

Hand pumps come in many different shapes and sizes, and come with various types of claims and promises about being easy to operate and providing so many gallons per minute of water from your pumping actions.

There are, however, two main types of hand pump (and many other types of less relevant ways of raising water too, starting with a traditional well and bucket that is lowered down to the water level and then lifted up again).

Pumps that are designed to lift water only a short height are probably suction pumps (also called pitcher pumps) – their piston is above ground, directly connected to the pump’s operating handle, and simply sucks the water up the pipe and eject it out the other end of the piston.

But suction pumps quickly become less effective when the distance the water needs to be lifted increases.  A sometimes cited rule of thumb is that suction pumps are good for about 25 ft of lifting.  At that point, a totally different type of pump comes into its own, the lift or piston pump.

pumpoperationdiagThese pumps have their operating mechanism at the far end of the pipe, down where the water is.  Each stroke of the pump handle causes the cylinder to lift another measure of water up into the pipe.  Eventually, the water has been lifted all the way to the top and comes out the spout.

These pumps can lift water hundreds of feet, but the greater the lift height, the more effort is required to lift the water, and the more stress on the cylinder’s seals and the tubing in general.

Treat all the claims of gallon per minute (gpm) outputs and ease of use of hand pumps with a grain of salt.  There are unavoidable physical laws of nature which dictate how much energy is required to lift water from your well to your holding tank, and while a hand pump can operate with a greater or lesser degree of efficiency, thereby influencing how easy/hard it is to pump the water, it can never be more than 100% efficient (and more likely, never more than perhaps 70% efficient) so you’re always going to have to put some effort into the pumping.

Adding a hand pump to your current well system is probably much easier than you’d think.  Well, it is easy now while society is still functioning; it would be much harder subsequently!

The good news is that your current well comprises a pipe that is probably 6″ in diameter, and the pipe for the electrically powered pump water that comes up is probably only 1″ – 1 1/4″ in diameter.  This leaves lots of room for more pipes, so you simply lower down an extra pipe, and mount a hand pump on the well head.

Now for a clever extra idea.  You can have the output of the hand pump go to a valve, which can direct the water either to an outlet/tap or to feed into the water line from the electric pump (through a check-valve of course).  That way, if your electric pump fails for any reason, you can still feed water into your holding tank, your pressure tank, and your household water system.  This is a bit like having a distribution panel for your electricity, allowing your house wiring to be fed from utility power, a generator, batteries, or whatever other power source you wished to use.

What sort of hand pump do you need?  Our first point is one of warning.  Hand pumps are not necessarily long-lasting just because they operate by hand rather than by electricity.  We’ve heard of people having their hand pumps fail on them after less than a year of moderately light use.  In alphabetical order, we’re aware of Baker Monitor, Bison, Flojak, Simple Pump and Waterbuck Pump brands.  You might also find used Hitzer pumps out there, but after some years of struggling, the company finally liquidated a short while ago this year (2014).

There are other brands as well, but we’ve not uncovered as much information on them so hesitate to mention them.  We’ve not experimented with all the different makes and models of hand pumps, and hesitate to make a recommendation.  We suggest you speak to a couple of different well digging and maintaining companies and see what they recommend, and roam around online user forums and see what type of feedback the different makes and models of pumps are getting from bona fide users.

The Waterbuck product seems impressive, but we don’t fully understand exactly what it is or how it has the apparent advantage and extra efficiency it claims.  It seems to still be a fairly new to market product – maybe by the time you read this there is more feedback from people who have been using it for a while and who can comment accordingly.

aermotorbWindmill Powered Pumps

If you are fortunate enough to be somewhere with a reasonable amount of wind, maybe you can supplement your water supply with a windmill.

The classic American windmill can provide a reliable regular supply of water, ideally into a reasonably sized holding tank so as to buffer the differences in supply and demand as between the vagaries of wind powered pumping and the water draws for your various requirements.

Windmill powered pumps can lift water up to almost 1000 ft, and the more powerful pumps can lift up to 1000 gallons per hour (albeit more moderate heights).

Windmills can therefore work well, even as primary water supply pumps, just as long as there is a reasonable amount of wind to drive them.

Well Depth Issues

There’s no avoiding gravity.  The deeper you have to drill for water, the more hassle it becomes to then lift the water up to the surface and on into your retreat, the more energy it requires, and the more stressed every part of the pumping process becomes.

It would be time and money very well spent to explore widely around your retreat property to find the best location for the shallowest well.  A well digger can probably tell you fairly quickly, based on logs from past drilling projects in your area, what the typical well depths might be and if there’s likely to be much variation in the distance down to the water table around your property.

It is massively less costly, from an energy point of view, to run a water line horizontally across your property than it is to dig down in the first place.  Our point here is that if you had to choose between a 50 ft well, half a mile away, and a 200 ft well, right next to your retreat, we’d probably choose the 50 ft well (assuming there were no other risks or negative factors associated with then running half a mile of pipe from the well head to your retreat).

Best of all, of course, would be to do both wells, giving you another element of redundancy and assuredness of water supply.

Summary

Typical well water supplies have water feeding from a well to a relatively small and pressurized reservoir and then from there to the household plumbing.

We suggest a better design for a prepper has the well feeding to a holding tank, of sufficient size to store several days of water.  The well pump should be configured to deliver water infrequently with fewer starts and stops, making it less stressed and therefore more reliable and longer lived.  A second system then feeds from the holding tank to a pressurized reservoir and into the house.  This makes it easier to troubleshoot your water supply system and, in the event of the well pump failure, gives you some time to fix the pump before running low on pumped water on hand.

In addition to the electric well pump, you should have a second pump line going down your well tube, with a hand-operated pump at the top.  The pump should also feed into your main holding tank supply, plus have the ability to have water drawn direct from the pump itself.

Lastly, a backup system to feed water from the holding tank to your retreat would make sense also.