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.

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 acres 875
150 yards   24 acres 1190
200 yards   37 acres 1505
250 yards   55 acres 1820 (1 mile)
300 yards   75 acres 2135 (1.2 miles)
350 yards    99 acres 2445 (1.4 miles)
400 yards   126 acres 2760 (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 acres 1180
150 yards    37 acres 1495
200 yards    54 acres 1810 (1 mile)
250 yards    74 acres 2120 (1.2 miles)
300 yards    98 acres 2435 (1.4 miles)
350 yards  125 acres 2750 (1.55 miles)
400 yards  155 acres 3065 (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 172014
 
This spread of shot shows the shotgun to be at the outer limit of its B zone range.

This spread of shot shows the shotgun to be approaching the outer limit of its B zone range.

A key consideration when evaluating the suitability of a shotgun for any particular purpose is to understand its range.

Unlike rifles and pistols, where range is a simple concept (closer is better, further away is worse), shotguns have three different ‘zones’ with three different sets of considerations applying.  Few people understand this.  Let’s explain these three zones and what they mean.

First, it is important to understand that the length and distance of each zone varies depending on the type of shotshell you are using, the shotgun barrel length, and its barrel profile or ‘choke’.  It is helpful to appreciate the interplay of these factors before moving on to consider the specifics of shotgun range issues.

In general terms, a shotgun’s range is a function of the likely target coverage by the pellets or shot balls that you are firing – ie, the spread of the shot.  Once the shot has spread to the point where insufficient of the individual shot balls/pellets will land on the target, then the shotgun’s range can be considered to have been exceeded.  Note that this distance is probably shorter than the range from the perspective of accuracy or from the perspective of the remaining kinetic energy and stop-power of the load you’ve just fired.

Shot Spread Issues

The spread of the shot can be influenced by three main factors.  The first relates to the specific cartridge you are firing, and what type of cupping and wadding is inside it.  Some shells are designed to maximize the spread of the shot within them, others act to hold the balls more closely together for longer.

The other two factors relate to the shotgun itself – the length of the barrel and its choke.

In general terms it is fair to say that the longer the barrel, the less spread there will be.

As for a barrel’s ‘choke’, this relates to whether there is a taper inside the barrel or not.  Some shotguns have no taper – they are the same diameter at the breech end of the barrel as at the muzzle end.  This is said to be a ‘cylinder’ bore, and is well suited if you are shooting solid slugs.  We have also read about some barrels offering ‘reverse’ or ‘negative’ chokes – where the muzzle is wider than the breech (think of a blunderbus as an extreme example).  We’ve never seen one of these, but believe they might exist.

All other tapers are of the type where the barrel diameter gets narrower from the breech to the muzzle.  This tends to slightly funnel the shot elements together and make for less dispersal of shot subsequent to it emerging out of the muzzle.

In addition to barrels with a choke built-in to them, some barrels also have a variable choke adapter at the end, so you can simply rotate the choke setting to quickly give yourself more or less choke depending on the dynamics of the target, the range, and what you are shooting at it.

There are a number of different standard chokes, all with rather non-intuitive names.  Perhaps the most complete list we’ve seen is this, in order from the least amount of choke to the most amount of choke :

 

Choke Name Constriction       Net Diameter for 12 ga  
Negative -0.005″    0.735″
Cylinder   0.000    0.730
Skeet   0.005    0.725
Improved Cylinder   0.010    0.720
Light Modified   0.015    0.715
Modified   0.020    0.710
Improved Modified   0.025    0.705
Light Full   0.030    0.700
Full   0.035    0.695
Extra Full   0.045    0.685
Super Full   0.055 +    0.675

Most shotguns with chokes are intended for sporting or bird shooting.  Self defense purposes usually sees cylinder bores only.  For that reason, our discussion of the three zones assumes a moderately shot barrel length and no choke (ie a cylinder bore).

Are Nine Shot Balls Better or Worse than a Single Rifle/Pistol Round?

This is an interesting issue, with points both for and against.

On the one hand, you’ve all seen the movies, where a single shotgun blast takes a huge solid circle out of a door or something else.  Now, of course, that is what you see in the movies rather than real life, but the concept of having nine 00 balls (the typical load of a 00 buck shot shell), each similar in size, weight, velocity (and therefore energy) to a .32 pistol round, hitting the target close to each other is obviously an exciting thought.

But a .32 cal pistol round isn’t exactly a highly lethal round.  And this energy calculation is at the shotgun muzzle.  The 00 buckshot balls quickly lose speed (and their energy drops off with the square of the speed, so a 25% reduction in speed means a 63% reduction in energy).

The lethality of the shotgun round rapidly diminishes with distance.  Furthermore, its lethality is spread over nine individual balls.  When those balls strike more or less as one, they also deliver their energy more or less than once.  But by the time you are 10 yards or less away from the shotgun, you are now delivering nine individual balls, each with their own 1/9th share of energy, and already diminished appreciably by the 10 yards of distance.

To put this in context we’re aware of one situation where a ‘low recoil’ shotshell’s load of 00 buck wasn’t even able to penetrate a bad guy’s jacket at 40 yards!  A round obviously needs to be able to penetrate through clothing, and then potentially through skin, flesh, bones, and so on if it is to have any noticeable effect on a target you are trying to stop.

Think again to movies.  We now they are a terrible source of bad information, but just think of all the movies you’ve seen where a person was shot by a shotgun, and the net result is the doctor picking out pieces of shot from the guy’s butt.  That’s probably more realistic than the sudden total destruction of the door images seen in other movies!

So quite apart from accuracy issues, there is an ‘ability to stop’ issue which is massively more limited than many people consider.

Now let’s look at the three different ‘zones’ of coverage offered by a shotgun and their tactical implications.

Zone A – Very Close In

A shotgun’s A Zone is considered to be the distance from the shotgun where the pellets or balls are all traveling together, in a bunch, with very little spread between them.

This is typically about five to seven yards.

Within this range, you need to aim your shot much as you would need to aim a rifle or pistol shot, although of course, at this distance, many people can instinctively point-shoot with acceptable accuracy, when shooting at man-sized targets.

In other words, in the A Zone, a shotgun is no more or no less accurate/easy to aim than any other type of firearm, while being at least as lethal as most rifles and much more lethal than a single pistol round.

Note that there’s no clear transition point between where the A zone ends and the B zone begins.

Zone B – Medium Close

The B Zone for a shotgun is from the vague point where the balls/pellets start to separate and out to the point where they have spread so much they will no longer all hit the target.

Clearly this zone depends to an extent on the size of the target.  But generally, it is thought to be about 20 – 25 yards.  At 20 yards, 00 buckshot  has probably spread slightly more than a one foot circle.  Think about that – this means that some of the balls will go 6″ to the left and some 6″ to the right, etc, of your aiming point.  That means you have to aim accurately to within 6″ of the ideal aiming point so as to be sure of getting at least half the balls onto the target area.

That is hardly a ‘magic’ spread of shot that avoids the need for careful aiming, is it.  Furthermore, the less accurate you are, the fewer projectiles that will land on your target.

There’s nothing wrong with having one or two of perhaps nine 00 buck shot balls miss your target.  The remaining half dozen or more may still create an effective stop, although see our comments above about if nine balls are better than one bullet.  When you combine a reduced number of balls landing on the target with the ballistic fact that shot balls lose their energy much more rapidly than pistol and rifle bullets, and as you move out in the B zone, the shotgun’s effectiveness starts to massively decline compared to a rifle, and by the end of the B zone, is probably no better than a pistol, but without a pistol’s ability to be fired rapidly and to have a magazine holding 15 or more rounds.

Zone C

The C Zone for a shotgun is from the point where the projectiles have dispersed so much that they won’t all land on the target, and from there out to a practical limit to the shotgun’s effective range, a point defined either by accuracy or ballistic effectiveness, and probably somewhere in the 50 – 100 yard range for most people and most shotguns and their loads.

But, there’s an important consideration in the C Zone.  Because you’ve now passed the point where all the individual projectiles will land on the target, it increasingly becomes sensible – and, the further out you go, essential – to switch from shotshells to solid slugs, at which point, you’re now shooting single rounds and need all the accuracy of a regular rifle.

So in the C Zone, if you’re shooting multiple projectiles from a shotshell, you’re rapidly losing effectiveness, and if you’re shooting single slugs, you need the same accuracy as a rifle, while probably lacking the same quality of aiming system.

It is possible to hit targets with a shotgun, even at 50 – 75 hard ranges, if you are sufficiently skilled and practiced with your shotgun.  But it is greatly easier to do this with a rifle, and causes us to ask you ‘why bother with a shotgun when a rifle is so much easier in this scenario’.

The Three Zones, Summarized

Now think about what we’ve analyzed for all three zones.  In the A zone, the shot dispersal is minimal, so there’s no benefit in terms of ‘not needing to aim’.  In the B zone, the shot dispersal is still fairly small and because the range is opening up and the target getting effectively ‘smaller’, you still need to aim a shotgun almost as well as you would a regular rifle or pistol.  By the time you get to the C zone (which is still actually very close range in rifle terms – only about 20-25 yards out) you should consider switching from multi-pellet shotshells to solid slugs, and unless you have something like a dual barreled Keltec KSG, you probably have the wrong load in your shotgun, while not having a tactical opportunity to empty it out and reload.

So – and without considering any of the other factors/issues associated with shotguns, let me ask you – at what particular range do you feel the shotgun to be superior to either a rifle or pistol?  It seems, to us, that there’s no clear advantage at any range.  Sure, there’s some extra stopping power in the A zone, compared to a pistol, but nowhere is there any need for less accuracy, and always a shotgun is more unwieldy, has massively greater muzzle blast and recoil, is slower to bring back on target for a second shot, and carries fewer rounds than most pistols and rifles.

The Mythical ‘No Need to Aim’ Claim about Shotguns

Have you picked up on something else?  One of the urban legends about shotguns is that their spread of shot is such as to make it unnecessary to aim.  Just point the shotgun in the general direction of the bad guys, pull the trigger, and try not to flinch too much while tightly closing your eyes, and according to this legend, by the time you open your eyes again, all the bad guys will be down and dead.

But carefully look at our analysis of accuracy needs in each of the three zones.  In the A zone, the shot travels in a single solid group, giving you no real benefit at all compared to a rifle or pistol.  In the C zone, you really need to switch from shot to single solid slugs, and a shotgun is harder to aim than a rifle.  As for the only zone that might bring a benefit – the B zone, the spread of shot is hardly enough to balance out the growing distance and the need to carefully aim at an ever smaller target.

These considerations are very different when you’re shooting at clay targets or at ducks.  In those cases, the C zone is still a lethal zone, because the clay or bird only needs to be hit by a very few of the perhaps 100+ pellets in order to be effectively shot down.  But when you’re defending against attacking people, you need to get most and ideally all your balls onto the target, bringing you back to an effective range closer to the end of the B zone.

The Implied Maximum Defensive Range of a Shotgun

There’s one more consideration as well, and in this case, we’re focusing on the key word ‘defensive’.

When you transition from the A zone to the B zone, you start to move out of the ‘legal self-defense’ range.  A person at 5 – 7 yards is a deadly threat, even if they ‘only’ have a knife (and possibly if they only have a hammer, or even just their bare hands).  Somewhere past that point however, unless the person is also armed and is actively shooting at you, it becomes hard to plead essential self defense if you end up shooting an adversary.

Bottom Line :  The Effective Range of a Shotgun

If we were in a defended place inside a house or somewhere else where the lines of sight and shot were very short, we’d love to have a shotgun with us.  Because we’d not be moving ourselves, we’d have no need to be concerned about weapon retention issues, and we’d love the awesome firepower of a shotgun with 00 buck shotshells.  But if we were having to sweep a building ourselves, we might prefer a pistol or maybe a rifle, especially if we were concerned about possibly multiple adversaries such that we could not be sure that a single tube full of shotshells would be enough to deal with the problem.  Having to do an emergency reload of a shotgun is no fun.

The effective range of a shotgun – considering accuracy and lethality – is very short, and probably no more than 25 – 40 yards.

Aug 162014
 
These young gentlemen probably missed the Sunday School lesson about two wrongs not making a right.

These young gentlemen probably missed the Sunday School lesson about two wrongs not making a right.

We wrote an article, ‘Five Prepper Lessons from the St Louis Rioting and Looting‘ on Tuesday of this week, after the first two nights of unrest following the police killing of a youth in Ferguson, a suburb of St Louis.

The first night of looting was relatively uncontained, while the second night saw a massive police presence that largely kept order throughout the area.

We thought/hoped that would be the end of the uncontrolled senseless violence part of the response and reaction to the police shooting.

Based on that first night of rioting and looting, we formulated five (or perhaps six) lessons.  They are :

1.  Don’t judge and anticipate other people’s actions based on your own views and values.  Other people will act unexpectedly and irrationally, in ways that can potentially be enormously harmful to yourself, your family, and your possessions.

2.  In an adverse scenario with normal social order disrupted, other people will feel justified in taking everything from you, including definitely your dignity and quite possibly your life, even though there is no possible logic to this.  Do not expect a breakdown in society to bring out the best in everyone.  It will bring out the worst in sufficient numbers of people as to pose major problems.

3.  If you actively protect your property and yourselves, you’re likely to deter all but the most determined or desperate of looters during the early stages of any civil breakdown.  Later on, when looters are no longer motivated only by greed, but instead by fear and the need for survival, the situation will become more extreme.

4.  We never know when rioting might suddenly break out.  The trigger events and the degree of response can be unexpected and disproportionate.  But don’t underestimate the rioters.  They include organized gangs of roving opportunists who are coordinating and communicating among themselves to plan their actions.

5.  Rioting can spread through a region, and reach into unrelated communities, because the rioters aren’t only on foot.  They have cars, too.  When a metro area becomes infected by rioting somewhere, the entire metro area becomes at risk.

And, lastly, at the risk of stating the obvious, a bonus sixth point.  When things go seriously wrong, you can not count on the police being there to protect you or your belongings.  It truly will be every man for himself, and every small neighborhood watch group or strip mall business owners association for themselves.

Now that we have had four more nights of experiences, do these lessons need to be revised?

For sure, since that time, the rhetoric has escalated several notches, and what appears on the face of it to have been a totally justified police shooting is being painted as anything but.  Let’s first look at what is currently known about the initial encounter.

Tragic Accident?  Justified Shooting?  ‘Suicide by Cop’?  Or a ‘Racist Execution’?

As best we understand the circumstances, a single police officer stopped two youths who were walking down the middle of the highway and interfering with traffic.

The youths matched the description of two people who had just robbed a nearby convenience store, and one of the two youths may have had a box of (stolen) cigars in his hand.  The officer decided to arrest them and take them back to the station.  At least one of them resisted arrest, a struggle ensued with the youth trying to take the officer’s gun from him.  Fearing quite appropriately for his life, the officer shot the youth.

Much has been made of the fact that the youth was shot apparently six times.  But if you know anything about self-defense, you know that when you are struggling for the control of your weapon, when you’re outnumbered, and when the other person is coming on to you, you don’t just fire once, then stop and see what happens before carefully considering a second shot.  You also know that pistol bullets are woefully inadequate and some people have continued in a fight after being hit a dozen times.

So, you fire as quickly as you can until ‘the threat has ceased’.  Those six rounds were probably fired in little more than a second.  This wasn’t a cold-blooded execution, it was a panicked act of self-defense against a gratuitous attack, by an officer who credibly was in fear of his life.

It is important to also appreciate that the assailant was 6’4″ and 300 lbs.  Based on published photos, the officer appears to have been of average height and something under 200 lbs.  It seems he had already suffered appreciable injuries from his struggle with Brown.  He had no choice but to resort to his firearm in this scenario – but these facts are not interfering with the public outcry blaming the police officer.

Furthermore, the autopsy shows that four of the rounds hit the assailant in the arm.  They would not have stopped him.  The officer needed to continue firing.

None of this needed to happen, if the youth had simply cooperated with the police officer.  The event was as much ‘suicide by cop’ as anything else.  The youth brought the consequences completely on himself.  Even the stupidest of gangbangers knows that if you resist arrest and attack an outnumbered police officer, and particularly if you try to take his gun from him, then you’re almost guaranteeing a lethal response on the part of the police officer.  End of story.

However, our point is not about what to do when you are stopped and subsequently arrested by the police, because there’s no need to write that story.  It is dead simple – you cooperate.  By all means stand up for your rights, but don’t inflame a situation that is always tense for every police officer.

Even if the police are in the wrong, you cooperate during the interaction with the patrol officers and then you have a chance subsequently, through the legal system, to right any wrongs that occurred.  If you don’t cooperate, you will definitely have some valid additional charges added to your charge sheet by the police, and your own reciprocal complaints will be tainted by your inappropriate actions, making you a less sympathetic victim.

Oh yes, and if you really misbehave, you have a good chance of being tasered, or possibly even shot.

Back to our five lessons.

We’d like to amplify two of the points we made before.

People Become Venal and Self Serving in a Stressed Situation

Our first lesson was to be aware that people around you may act unexpectedly and irrationally, and not in ways that mirror our own views and values.

When we stated that on Tuesday, our focus was on opportunist mobs who would gratuitously attack and destroy your property.  But there’s another part to that risk which has become increasingly apparent as the week has continued.

Not only have the mobs continued their reprehensible looting, whenever they think it to be safe and they can get away with it, but their actions are being justified by other groups in society, and the initial event that started everything, rather than being a somewhat sad example of a stupid lawbreaking youth suffering the inevitable consequences of his actions in fighting with the police officer, the story is now being painted as a racist cop gratuitously ‘executing’ a harmless young lad.  The local community is up in arms (almost literally) about this, they are defending the undefendable, and they are being encouraged and joined by all the usual professional agitators and disruptors.

What does that mean for us preppers?  We’ve written before about how, in a level two or three situation, we need to fear not only gangs of lawless looters who might attack us and our retreats and try to take everything we have.  We also need to fear the ‘law abiding’ people around us.  They will also gang up, but perhaps not violently, but instead in a civilized way, and rather than attempting to attack us ‘just because’, they will send duly appointed officials to deprive us of everything we have, the same way a gang would, but under the color of law.  Court officers, bailiffs, and any/all police and other law enforcement and emergency agencies may create, validate, and then enforce mandatory sharing of ‘vital resources’.

We write about the very real danger of this in a three-part series – Preppers Beware :  Our Hoarding Can be Deemed Illegal.

Fortunately, it is possible to fight off the occasional ‘one off’ lawless band of looters who attack your retreat.  But we’re not so sure how possible it will be to attack the FEMA/HSD/etc officials who come to effectively do the same thing.

If people can delude themselves into believing that the police officer was in the wrong in this recent event, how hard will it be, when they are starving, to delude themselves that you are in the wrong by seeking to protect yourself and your fellow retreat members, and demand you share your supplies with them.

Preppers often wonder what to expect when TSHTF.  We can never know for certain, but we can look at analogous events and try to see possible parallels.  The St Louis riots, and the way large portions of the population have rationalized things, ignoring the reality and instead bending the facts to fit their self-serving viewpoints (or ignoring the facts entirely) does not encourage us to support the idea of mankind’s inner nobility and higher values asserting themselves in a high stress situation.

In Extreme Situations, the Police Will Not Come to Your Aid

The sixth ‘bonus’ lesson we offered was that you can’t rely on the police (to come to your aid, that is).

Now, possibly, it could be said, in an attempt to excuse the lack of police presence on Sunday – the first night of rioting – that the police were unprepared and didn’t know what to do.

But how about later in the week, such as on Friday?  What excuse applies then when you read about situations such as this, where store owners dialed 911 but couldn’t get any police resource of any sort to come to their aid, and where other store owners saw squad cars driving by looters who were actively in the progress of looting?

The lack of response wasn’t due to the police being overworked and with too many different emergencies all calling on them simultaneously.  It seems the police made a political decision to do nothing and instead let the riot ‘burn out’ on its own, without adding new ‘provocations’ and inciting the rioters still further.

Don’t be surprised by this.  A passive non-response, limited merely to efforts to contain the worst of the lawlessness, seems to be the standard approach adopted by police departments in most parts of the western world when rioting rages around them.  Maybe it is even the right response.

We can simultaneously understand that position, while also being outraged by it.  A passive non-response for all but the most egregious acts of violence may indeed allow for a de-escalation of tensions and a return to ‘normalcy’ (whatever that actually is).

But how do you think the individual store-owners feel about this, finding themselves being sacrificed for the hopefully greater good of the region as a whole?  Did they agree to that?  Are they not entitled to protection and for the impartial enforcement of the laws?  And what message does that send to the rioters and looters?  Doesn’t it affirm the validity of their actions, and encourage more lawlessness in the future?

Is this the new standard of law enforcement :  ‘We’ll enforce the laws, but only as long as doing so doesn’t anger the criminals’?

And what does this mean?  Do we give in to acts of domestic terrorism?  Yes, you’ve not heard the riots described that way, have you, which is in itself a telling omission.  If it were right wingers complaining about blacks, don’t you think they’d have been smeared with every racist epithet known to our left-wing press.  But because it is predominantly blacks rioting against whites, we have to ‘cut them some slack’.

If you or I threw a brick through a shop window, and a policeman saw us, we’d be in the slammer faster than we could spit.  But if 100 or more of these lawless rioters do the same thing, the police hold back.

Now ask yourself what will happen if a more lawless situation engulfs not just a couple of suburbs of St Louis, but instead, an entire county, state or region of the US, and if there is no obvious source of immediate help.  Do you think the police will come to your aid if your home and business are attacked, or will they hold back?  Especially if they know they do not have a nearly inexhaustible supply of reinforcements available at the other end of their radios.

So, we see three clear lessons from the extended St Louis situation.

  • It only takes a small spark to start a large conflagration, to cause lawlessness to break out across the board.
  • People will act in selfish self-serving manners without any rational constraint, and will readily justify to themselves everything they do, no matter how extreme it may be.
  • The police will capitulate.  They may concentrate on writing parking tickets in any remaining safe districts, while entirely abandoning lawless regions and leaving the people in them to save themselves.  Or, if things turn really grave, they may well take off their uniforms and join in the looting.

Summary

If you are a prepper, you have decided to plan and prepare for possible adverse future scenarios, in a manner so as to ensure your own continued survival.

We all have different views about what these possible adverse scenarios may be, and how best to plan and prepare for them.  We can’t know for sure how any specific circumstance may unfold.  So the best thing to do is to learn from past events, and the more recent the past event, the more valuable.

We’ve set out the lessons we’ve drawn from the St Louis situation, here and in our earlier article.  You might agree with us, or maybe not.  But don’t ignore this entirely.  Carefully consider what has happened, and what it means for possible future scenarios, then make sure that you modify your own preparations accordingly.

As for us, we’re going to double down on getting to know our neighbors, and very gently encouraging them to a point where if things become dire around us, they are more likely to stand beside us to enhance our shared best interests and mutual survival.  On the other hand, the tree-hugging aging hippies on one side?  Well, that’s a story for another day…..

Aug 132014
 
You can see the stripes on the ground in this very clear 20" resolution image.  New commercial satellites have four times better resolution.

You can see the stripes on the ground in this very clear 20″ resolution image. New commercial satellites have four times better resolution.

Today marked a watershed moment in our privacy.  A new commercial satellite was launched with four times better than before imaging capabilities, further reducing our privacy.

There was a time when getting privacy in our retreat was an easy and simple concept.  Choose a location away from the main roads, and you knew that as long as the parts of your retreat that you wished to keep private were not visible from any other property or public land or vantage point, you could enjoy privacy.

Ah, for the good old days!  The situation these days is enormously different, but perhaps you don’t realize just how different it has become.

Sure, we’ve known about ‘spy satellites’ in vague terms for a very long time.  The U-2 and SR-71 spy planes are now matters of public record.  But we’ve sort of assumed that these military/intelligence resources would not be deployed to snoop on what we were doing in our back yard, but would instead be solely focused on our actual and potential enemies.

For the last several decades, if you think about it, there has also been available commercial imagery and aerial mapping taken by planes that would be engaged to fly over an area and take ‘birds eye’ photos – such a harmless and appealing term.  This type of resource was expensive and, as best most of us knew, little used for ‘general purposes’ (whatever those might be!).  Our backyards were still reasonably private.

More recently, we’ve been treated to products such as Google Maps and Google Earth, and a number of other similar services, and we’ve noted with interest and excitement how we can see pictures of pretty much anywhere on the planet, typically taken sometime in the last five years or so, and of varying degrees of quality.

This has started to gently sound alarm bells, although the thought of having one’s retreat fuzzily photographed once is perhaps not a heart-stopping fear.

But have you kept track with the evolving capabilities not just of the Google products, but of all the other providers (and, even more alarming, perhaps, users) of aerial imagery?

For example, the chances are your county has a Geographic Database or Information System (GDS or GIS) that includes aerial mapping of the entire county.  Sometimes these services are ‘in-house’ only, for county employees, sometimes they are publicly published on a website for anyone, anywhere to access.

Usually these services reveal no more data that you can already see on Google, but think about the implications of this.  Many counties now have their tax assessors using the GIS and associated aerial mapping images to check the validity and completeness of their records of building structures and improvements.  If you add a new structure to your lot, they’ll see it and may come knocking on your door, enquiring where the permits are for its construction, and adjusting your property valuation to reflect the new additions.

Indeed, if you even do something relatively minor, like adding on to your deck, they’ll see this too and that may also trigger a visit and inspection.

Of course, the ‘good news’ part of this was that the overhead imagery was only taken infrequently.  If they take one picture every five years, that means there’s only one chance in 1826 that on any given day your property might be photographed.  So if you are working on a project that you’d rather not share, and if it is a five-day project, at the end of which, your site will be returned back to looking pretty much the same as always, you have one chance in 365 of being photographed during the process.  Those are reasonably favorable odds.  And even if you were photographed, the reasonably fuzzy picture and the lack of any evidence subsequently could allow for various different interpretations as to what happened and why.

That is no longer the case.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and first look at the two – increasingly three – types of aerial photography collection systems.

Note also that this article primarily focuses on visual – photographic imagery.  There are many other types of overhead data collection such as infra-red, radar, and so on.  Some weather sites offer examples of some of these other types of capabilities.  There are also satellites that can analyze the type of vegetation in an area, satellites that can make educated guesses about what types of minerals might be underneath your ground, and satellites that can detect if the earth has been disturbed.  So, ahem, if you were hoping to grow something that might otherwise embarrass you, or hoping to dig and bury something unnoticed, or if you’ve created some sort of underground structure, all of those things too might be detected by some of the other types of overhead monitoring satellites.

There are two main types of overhead photo imagery.  The first is that which is collected by a satellite, and the second is that which is collected by a plane.

Spy Satellites

Spy satellites – more properly generally called ‘Earth Observation Satellites’ and indeed these days, being a mix of both military (spy) and commercial (public) satellites – are generally located somewhere from about 250 miles above the earth up to about 1,000 miles above the earth.  Higher up satellites see more of the planet at any time, and stay in orbit longer (due to less friction from the outer fringes of our atmosphere).  But lower down satellites see things more clearly, because they are closer to the ground and don’t have as much atmosphere obscuring and blurring their vision.

Spy satellites do not hover over one spot.  Satellites need to be way high, at about 22,000 miles up, to ‘hover’ over a spot and that’s clearly too far away to be able to get clear photography.

Instead, they are all the time traveling in orbits around the planet, typically taking two hours or less to do a complete orbit, and because the earth is rotating beneath them, they see a different ‘slice’ of the planet each time they go around.  By having multiple satellites in complementary orbits, it is possible to have most of the planet within view of a spy sat for much of every day.

Spy satellites have military value because they can ‘safely’ overfly anywhere on the planet to get imagery.  We use quotes around the word ‘safely’ because in theory they are vulnerable to anti-satellite weapons, but to date and with only a very few rare exceptions, no country has deliberately shot down overhead satellites that pass overhead, and instead they seem to be allowed to overfly without interference.

Although satellite orbits can be changed, doing so uses up valuable fuel, and the useful life of a satellite is in large part limited by how long its onboard fuel lasts, so the military is reluctant to reposition satellites too often.  This means that even only moderately sophisticated countries can track and anticipate when overhead satellites will be passing and plan their activities around such passes.

Indeed, with the wonders of the internet, you too can now tell when at least some of the spy satellites are overhead – there’s an iPhone app that will tell you.  But note the two limitations of this app – first, it only includes officially acknowledged satellites.  It does not report on any of the more secretive satellites, and neither does it alert you to the most detailed type of photo reconnaissance of all – that done by airplane.  Second, although it tells you when a satellite is approaching, it can’t tell you if the cameras on board are actually pointing at you or not.  The cameras on some satellites can be remotely controlled and pointed in specific areas, and also zoomed in or out.

How good a picture can a spy satellite take?  The short answer is ‘more than good enough’, at least in terms of their ability to reasonably accurately capture the private details of what we’re doing in our own backyards.

A more detailed answer has to consider a number of factors.  An obvious variable is the weather between the satellite and the ground.  On a clear day with no haze, the satellite camera can capture a better image than if there is smoke, dust, smog, or natural effects such as clouds and rain.

Assuming a best case scenario, the resolution quality of spy satellite imagery is a closely guarded secret.  Early satellites could only make out details greater than 40 feet in size.  That would not pick up people or even cars, and struggled to pick up smaller sized houses.  But a lot has progressed since then.

This webpage (and many others) claim that some current satellites can resolve details as small as 5″ – 6″ in size, and they seem to be relying on a 1998 news item to base that claim.

Rumors have long existed of satellites being able to read the number plate on a vehicle.  We don’t know if this is true or not, but it seems reasonable to assume that the state of the art in spy satellite imagery is much better than the state of the art in commercial imagery, and it also seems reasonable to assume that whatever is public knowledge is a generation or two behind the current state of the art capabilities.  One more reasonable assumption – technologies have improved from that which the military agreed to disclose in 1998 to what it is keeping secret today, 16 years later.

On the other hand, it isn’t always necessary for spy satellites to have an HDTV type resolution quality of the entire world and to not only read the registration plate on your car but also the writing on the document in your hand.  For military purposes, it is usually sufficient to be able to identify equipment, understand their locations, and get reasonable estimates of manpower and other related functionalities.  More tactical intelligence gathering however can be enormously enhanced if you can track specific vehicles (and more so again if you can track specific people).

So perhaps, after reaching a certain resolution sufficient for strategic imaging and analysis, the R&D effort backed off some.  Furthermore, there are some ‘can’t be broken’ limits on the quality that can ever be obtained from a camera moving at 20,000+ mph, 200+ miles above you.

But if we had to make a wild guess, we’d guess that the best state of the art satellite imagery currently up there is probably capable of a 2″ – 2.5″ resolution, and maybe even better, particularly when enhanced with computer enhancing, averaging of multiple images, and the use of stereoscopic pictures.  That’s probably enough for a satellite picture to tell if you have a 16″ or an 18″ barrel on your rifle, but not quite good enough to tell if it is all barrel, or part barrel and part silencer.  They’ll be able to tell if the lady of the house, if sunbathing, has had a ‘Brazilian’ or not, and so on.

This type of resolution isn’t quite good enough to read your license plate, but it is very close and quite possibly a computer enhancement could recognize that certain types of blurs were more likely to represent some characters whereas other blurs might represent other characters.

Spy satellites do a lot more than ‘just’ take photos, but the photo imagery is the part of greatest interest to us.

Commercial satellites are now launching that mimic many of the capabilities of the spy satellites, and indeed the military has started buying imagery from commercial satellites in addition to its direct capabilities.  Until June 2014, commercial satellites were not allowed to take ‘good’ quality images, but now they are allowed to take images with resolutions down to 10″.  The previous 20″ limit has been a ridiculous restriction – the ‘other side’ almost certainly has imagery abilities comparable to our own, so the only people being restricted from access to good quality satellite imagery was ourselves – US civilians.  Why restrict our access when potential enemies already has good access through their own resources?

The first of this new generation of high quality commercial imaging satellites launched today, successfully, from Vandenberg AFB in California.

Now for a key point.  If the restriction is now set at 10″ (actually, 25 cm), then the very fact that there is a restriction limiting commercial providers from capturing better quality imagery clearly shows that there is a readily deployed technology to do so.  How long will it be before the commercial providers get approval to start doing 5″ imagery, or maybe even still higher quality?

Spy Planes

Of course, just as how the reference to spy satellites these days has to be widened to also encompass a growing number of commercial satellites, the same is true of ‘spy planes’.  Commercial aerial photography has been around for a long time; the main distinction between it and spy plane based photography is that the latter tends to be done over territory where the plane shouldn’t be, and so is generally done higher and faster than is the case with civil/commercial planes and photography.

Commercial aerial photography can be done from as low as 1,000 ft or, (at least in the days of the SR-71), as high as probably about 100,000 ft (a comment at the bottom of this article claims 120,000 ft).  The U-2 has a maximum altitude somewhere in excess of 70,000 ft.  100,000 ft is the same as 19 miles and 70,000 ft the same as 13 miles, so clearly spy planes, even when at maximum altitude, are much closer down to the ground than satellites, and so are capable of taking much more detailed pictures.

Because commercial flights are at the lowest altitudes, they can offer the best resolution of all, but only when overflying authorized areas.  This makes them great for regular purposes but not so good for military reconnaissance.

However, from our perspective, any and every type of overhead imagery may reveal more details of what we have on our land than we would wish to be public knowledge.  There’s no such thing as a better or worse type of aerial photography.  It is all equally intrusive.

Drones Too

It seems you can’t open a newspaper these days without reading another story about someone and their drone.  The original drones – the large-sized bomb toting remote piloted aircraft used by the military – are of course enormously expensive and require very specialized support resources.

We have seen the military transition from large-sized expensive drones to now having tiny ‘personal’ type drones which individual squads can deploy for immediate tactical information on the battlefield around them.  You launch them by simply throwing them into the wind by hand.  They are small, affordable, and easy to operate.

The same is true of civilian drone technology.  These days you can buy a ‘drone’ yourself, typically a multi-element helicopter type unit with maybe four, six or eight sets of rotating helicopter blades.  These units come complete with a high quality gimbal/gyro-stabilized HD video camera and realtime video downlink, are priced at about $1000 – and some models are available for half that price.  They are usually battery-powered and have an operating range, standard, of about half a mile or so.

Their operating ability is limited by their battery life and the radio reception between them and the control unit.  If you boosted the remote controller and the onboard receiver’s radios, you could increase the distance they’d operate from you and the controller substantially, but their ‘loiter time’ – the total time they can be aloft on a single charge – seems to presently be limited to about 20 – 30 minutes.

These wonderfully low-cost and very sophisticated devices can take high quality high-resolution aerial photograph pretty much anywhere you wish.  They can be used for ongoing surveillance and aerial mapping type projects, and can also be used, the same as the new small military drones, for tactical intelligence when confronting an opposing force.

You not only have to be aware of the potential presence of drones in your skies, you should also consider buying one (or several) for your own present and future use.  They can help you manage your crops, they can help you see into forests to understand their tree cover and density, and in the future, if you find yourself challenged by unwanted visitors, they can help you safely scout out their location and numbers and capabilities.

While there is a morass of legal issues surrounding drone use, that doesn’t seem to be slowing down anyone from rushing to buy and use these devices.

The Evolving Capabilities of Google and its Competitors

Google keeps getting ‘better’ in terms of the vast store of information it compiles, collates, and publishes.  The first version of its Maps and Earth products had limited and low resolution aerial imagery.  But now, the imagery has become much better quality, can be manipulated (for example, you can look at objects from four different angles), is updated more regularly, and you can even see a historical time series of data.

The historical data series can be very revelatory.  Rather than just seeing a single image, you see a time series of images which helps you understand if an area is being increasingly developed, or increasingly abandoned, and you can spot the shifts of things from one image to the next.  Sometimes simply seeing no change is also a significant data point.

This historical time series is about to become extraordinarily more detailed.  Google has bought a satellite company (Skybox Imaging) and intends to launch 24 of its own satellites, which between them all will be able to photograph everywhere on earth, three times every day.

The satellites also have video capabilities as well as capturing traditional still images.

That’s not to say that just because the satellites could take three pictures of your property every day, that it will be done, and that’s not to say that historical timelines will now have up to 1000 images per year.  But you can be sure that pretty much the entire US will be re-photographed several times each year, and the entire country will now be captured in best quality resolution rather than selectively in standard or low resolution as has been the case at present.  It sort of makes sense to have summer and winter pictures, and maybe spring and fall too.

So, within a few years, anyone will be able to see highly detailed time series of pictures of practically anywhere on the planet.  That will not only allow them to see the changes to your property, but it will also enable them to see how much cropping you are doing, how many animals you have in your pastures, and even how much washing you are hanging on the line to dry.  It will be obvious if a place is occupied or not, and possible to make some reasonable guesses as to how many people are living there.

Summary

These days it is necessary to accept that we have no privacy.  Sure, we might be obscured from the nearest road and neighbor, but aerial photography will reveal pretty much everything about our land and retreat that can be seen from the sky.

Opsec?  We never thought it was possible to start with (for example, see our article written back in May 2012, before the latest profusion of satellite technologies, ‘Is it realistic to expect your retreat will not be found‘).  Nowadays, hoping to conceal your retreat is impossible.

You need to plan your future based on the expectation that everyone who you’d wish not know anything about you will sadly know everything about you.

Aug 122014
 
Locations of riot events in St Louis.  The original police shooting is on the left, in the middle, in green.

Locations of most of the riot events in St Louis. The original police shooting is on the left, in the middle, in green.

A white police officer in Ferguson, MO (a suburb of St Louis) shot a black youth on Saturday 9 August.  On Sunday, during the day, there were some protests by members of the local community and a vigil.

What happened next was unfortunate, but also educational to us as preppers, and it behooves us to learn the lessons inherent in the events that followed.

(Note :  The riots initially filled Sunday night, Monday night was fairly quiet, and we wrote this piece on Tuesday, thinking the matter was essentially done.  Not so.  There have been continued relevant developments during the week, so after reading this article, please then click to read our follow up piece, written on Saturday, ‘More and Updated Lessons from the St Louis Rioting‘.)

There’s, alas, nothing particularly unique about police shooting black youths (or for that matter, shooting people of any race or age) and neither is there anything surprising about the transformation of youths who were deservedly shot as a result of their own inappropriate actions, now suddenly being beatified and described as saintlike creatures who were victimized and totally innocent of any and all charges.  Normally, people on both sides of the equation go through the ritualistic utterances that these events require, and then life goes back to normal, sadly with nothing changed.

But the unpredictable and unforeseeable lottery of life threw out a joker this time.  Sunday evening and night saw rioting and looting break out in the broader area around Ferguson, with the lawless perpetrators quite unashamedly and aggressively justifying their actions.  As is invariably the case there was no logic to the wanton gratuitous destruction – for example, in this article there is a video clip of a couple of rioters attempting to smash a bus shelter.  A bus shelter?  The destruction of public transport facilities disadvantages the very social sector of society that is rioting, not the vague aspects of society they feel they are protesting about and against.

But who ever said that logic or sense needs to apply to such actions?  Although, and please understand this, the rioters and looters actually think what they are doing is both sensible and appropriate!  This article quotes one person as saying

This is exactly what is supposed to be happening when an injustice is happening in your community.  You have kids getting killed for nothing.  I don’t think it’s over honestly, I just think they got a taste of what fighting back means.

There’s so much to disagree with in those three sentences.  How does a police action against someone justify someone else, somewhere else, looting another person’s store?

And that’s actually the first lesson for us as preppers.  We can not judge people and predict their actions based on our own standards of common-sense, rationality, fairness and justice.  Here’s something to live by (the closing line of this excellent article on a very different subject) :

What you find utterly unthinkable may prove quite thinkable, even reasonable, to your enemies.

One of the problems of the west in general, the US more specifically, and the people around us in particular is that they expect the people, groups, and nations they deal with to act predictably, sensibly, and in a manner and adhering to values similar to themselves.  We’ve two words to offer anyone who thinks they should predict how other people will act and behave based on their own values :  suicide bomber.

It is unthinkable to us that we’d become suicide bombers, and hopefully it is also unthinkable to us that we’d go off and riot/loot/etc based on something we knew little about and which neither directly involved ourselves or the people/businesses we were then gratuitously attacking.

But, right here in the US, just a couple of nights ago, hundreds – possibly thousands – of our fellow citizens gleefully set about doing exactly these things, and feel totally justified in what they were doing.

So, please consider this.  If these people feel entitled and empowered to loot stores with this ‘justification’, how do you think they’ll feel in any sort of broader breakdown of society?  Do you think they’ll hesitate, for a country moment, to loot not just stores, but then to turn their attentions to ordinary people in their ordinary residences, and continue their gratuitous looting without pause?

Even worse, when the food runs out, what will they do then?  Won’t they feel doubly empowered and justified to take by destructive force any food they can find from anyone?  Indeed, isn’t it likely they’ll come up with some more pseudo-justification as to why what they are doing is perfectly moral and correct?

One last part of this second point.  Don’t you think that as social order progressively breaks down, the initial core of looters and rioters will quickly be joined by more and more people?

That’s the second lesson.  Lots of people will quickly start acting irrationally and harmfully.

As seems to typically be the case, when the rioting and looting broke out, the lawless groups went after the easy pickings.  Sure, we got to see examples of armed local business owners protecting their businesses, but there’s another aspect of this that is worth considering as well.

This report is very interesting.  It tells how 10 – 15 cars with nearly 30 people pulled in to a strip mall, and the people then set about smashing into a shoe store and looting it.  Right next to the shoe store was a Radio Shack, and you just know that the electronics in a Radio Shack would be ultra-tempting to the looters.

But there was a single security guard at the Radio Shack, and his presence was enough to deter the 30 looters.  Like all bullies, they are essentially cowards.  When someone stands up to them, they usually slip away rather than confront a determined opponent.

We suggest that the one security guard was very fortunate in this case, and wouldn’t count on one person consistently being able to turn away 30.  But probably you don’t need to have 30 people on your side to defend against 30 attackers, because only one or two of the attackers will be seriously motivated.  The rest of the people will be ‘going with the flow’ and believing that they can do so with impunity as part of a larger group.  As soon as their safety is directly threatened, their enthusiasm will fade.

Update :  This article, several days later, about the ongoing rioting, includes the delightful line

Early in the evening gunshots were heard near the gas station sending crowds of protesters screaming and running away.

We think that proves our point!  It seems no-one was shot, and we’re guessing that some people defending their business simply brandished their weapons and fired a few rounds in the air.

We are not sure that this would be all you need to do in a truly dire situation with all of society crumbling around you, but in this lesser scenario, it was obviously more than sufficient.

So our derivative point and third lesson is that you should group together with your neighbors, at work and at home, to have at least a small group of people to back you up and create a more credible defense when confronted by rioters.

Our next point and the fourth lesson is that this rioting was entirely unexpected.  It came out of nowhere and erupted like wildfire in a seemingly unpredictable manner.

But although it was unexpected and unpredictable to the victims, that is not to say that it wasn’t also planned by the rioters.  For example, think about the implications of the 10 – 15 carloads of rioters that drove to the shoe store and Radio Shack.  There was nothing spontaneous about that.  Those 30 people got together and carefully coordinated making a special journey to those two stores.  See our earlier article about flash mobs and social media for more discussion on this growing phenomenon.

So don’t underestimate your adversaries.  Although on the surface, rioting looks spontaneous and haphazard, underneath there is a mix of the truly spontaneous but also darker forces eagerly seeking a ‘free ride’ and exploiting and aggravating the situation as best they can.

Our last point and fifth lesson is that the geographic locations of the rioting and looting is not necessarily directly related to the location of the trigger event.  Rioters and looters can travel to targets of opportunity, as long as they feel that the umbrella protection of the rioting/looting will protect them.

The two maps in this article are interesting.  They show the spread of riot related events, some far out of the local community.  Just because you might think you live in a ‘good’ or ‘safe’ area, in terms of the demographic makeup of your community and local crime levels, does not mean that it will remain good or safe when rioting breaks out in the region.

Summary

1.  Don’t judge and anticipate other people’s actions based on your own views and values.  Other people will act unexpectedly and irrationally, in ways that can potentially be enormously harmful to yourself, your family, and your possessions.

2.  In an adverse scenario with normal social order disrupted, other people will feel justified in taking everything from you, including definitely your dignity and quite possibly your life, even though there is no possible logic to this.  Do not expect a breakdown in society to bring out the best in everyone.  It will bring out the worst in sufficient numbers of people as to pose major problems.

3.  If you actively protect your property and yourselves, you’re likely to deter all but the most determined or desperate of looters during the early stages of any civil breakdown.  Later on, when looters are no longer motivated only by greed, but instead by fear and the need for survival, the situation will become more extreme.

4.  We never know when rioting might suddenly break out.  The trigger events and the degree of response can be unexpected and disproportionate.  But don’t underestimate the rioters.  They include organized gangs of roving opportunists who are coordinating and communicating among themselves to plan their actions.

5.  Rioting can spread through a region, and reach into unrelated communities, because the rioters aren’t only on foot.  They have cars, too.  When a metro area becomes infected by rioting somewhere, the entire metro area becomes at risk.

And, lastly, at the risk of stating the obvious, a bonus sixth point.  When things go seriously wrong, you can not count on the police being there to protect you or your belongings.  It truly will be every man for himself, and every small neighborhood watch group or strip mall business owners association for themselves.

Update Now Published

Further to this article, written on Tuesday (the rioting started on Sunday night) we have added a second article on Saturday.  Please now go read More and Updated Lessons from the St Louis Rioting.

Aug 092014
 
A secure entrance to your safe room is essential, and buys you necessary time if your retreat is overrun.

A secure entrance to your safe room is essential, and buys you necessary time if your retreat is overrun.

We sometimes amuse ourselves reading properties for sale advertisements that describe themselves as being prepper properties.  We particularly like looking at the dwelling structures – what they proudly term the prepper retreat – on such properties.

Nine times out of ten (maybe even 99 times out of 100), the ‘retreat’ is nothing more than a generic house with nothing at all that would enhance its role as a sturdy building, reliably protecting the people inside it from the outside elements and threats.

We see huge picture windows, insubstantial wooden construction, shake roofs, and standard architectural practices that make no sense when designing a sturdy survivable structure that could reasonably required to remain comfortable in a grid-down situation for an extended period of years.  They are totally vulnerable to any type of attack, also to fire, and often show little sign of being either energy-efficient or energy independent.

Okay, so maybe it is a lovely building, maybe even a rambling rustic cabin or a classic ‘A frame’ log home, and qualifies as being in the general sense of a ‘nature retreat’ or a ‘country retreat’ or a ‘lifestyle retreat’.  But these are definitely not prepper retreats in the sense that we understand.

Most recently, we saw a so-called house on one of these listings that boasted having a ‘safe room’ inside.  They thought this made it a more bona fide prepper retreat.  We think completely the opposite!

Let’s talk about safe rooms and whether they add to – or detract from – the prepper functionality of a retreat building.

There are two general types of safe rooms.

Weather Related Safe Rooms

The first type of safe room is a well constructed part of a structure that is designed to withstand extremes of weather.  The rest of the structure may fail but the safe room will remain intact and the people inside will remain protected from the outside conditions.

A tornado cellar would be an example of a safe room under this category, for example.  FEMA write about these types of safe rooms here.

We have nothing against these types of safe rooms, and agree with the value of having them, in normal houses.

But for your retreat, we would hate to think you deliberately designed your retreat so that if some sort of foreseeable extreme weather event came along, it would be destroyed, all but for the one safe room somewhere within it!  Your entire retreat must be built to withstand weather extremes, because if it fails, there will be no team of builders turning up the next day to repair and rebuilt it.  Even if there were builders available, there’d probably be no building materials available for them, and even if there were building materials, maybe there’d be no way to transport them to your site.

Remember – we’re planning for a Level 2 or 3 situation where all the usual services and support features of our modern-day life have failed.  We only have what we have at the start of such a situation, and if something breaks or fails, we must either ‘make do or mend’, all by ourselves.  Every part of our entire retreats need to in effect be a safe room and resilient to the worst that the elements can throw at them.

Defensive Safe Rooms

The other type of safe room is one where you can go and hide/shelter if your home is being attacked/invaded by intruders.  The concept of this type of safe room was popularized in the Jodie Foster movie, ‘Panic Room’.

For sure, it is a sadly realistic thing to anticipate and plan for being attacked in our retreat in the future.  But there are two obvious problems with this type of safe room in a retreat as a solution to this scenario.

The first problem is that if you retreat to your safe/panic room, you’ve abandoned the rest of your retreat, allowing the attacking intruders to help themselves to whatever is in all the rest of the structure.  Is that really wise?

You might be protecting yourself, but when you emerge from the safe room, what will you do if all your food and other survival essentials have been taken?  What will you do if the attackers damage/destroy the rest of the building?  They very likely would smash windows, maybe even just set fire to the entire structure (although hopefully you’ve been careful to build your retreat out of non-combustible materials).

The second problem is that a safe room assumes either that you can summon help from within the safe room, and/or that within a reasonable period of time, the bad guys will give up trying to break into the safe room, leave and you can emerge.  But what say instead, the attackers merely seal your safe room door shut and allow you to literally rot inside?  How is the safe room benefitting you in that respect?

If you have a nice retreat, maybe these roving marauders will decide to stay there for a few days or weeks or indefinitely until they’ve eaten their way through all your supplies.  You’re stuck inside your safe room and unable to do anything about this, with your choices being either running out of food and water in your safe room, or emerging and being taken prisoner – at which point, you really don’t want to think too carefully about what is likely to happen next.

Let’s just say that a universal consequence of civil disorder, particularly when the bad guys are already attacking and looting, extends to such other terrible things as rape, torture, and murder.

Just like your entire retreat must be weather resistant, you must also be able to defend your entire retreat from marauders.  Do we need to state the obvious – after TEOTWAWKI, and with a break down in the normal rule of law and social support structures, you can’t sacrifice anything you have in the expectation that you can recreate it subsequently, or in the belief that appeasing attackers will buy you safety.

Totally different rules apply and you must defend everything that you have and need.

An Altered Safety Design Concept for Your Retreat

We urge you to protect your retreat and to repel marauders.  But we will concede there may be occasions when that becomes impossible.  If you have only a small group living with you, and if you are surprised by a large determined group of marauders, and if your retreat isn’t sufficiently solidly constructed as to give you physical protection, then you will surely be overwhelmed.  Maybe not in the first five minutes, and maybe not the first time that marauders attack.  But some time, and more likely sooner rather than later, you will be disabled and your retreat will lie open to the attackers.

Would a safe room be appropriate then?  We don’t think so, at least not in the traditional sense of a temporary refuge.  In part, we’re reminded of why the British were slow to adopt parachutes in their World War 1 aircraft.  They were concerned that parachutes would encourage the pilots to give up the fight and simply jump out of the plane when confronted by enemy planes aggressively attacking.

It could be argued that you need to take an ‘all or nothing’ approach to defending your retreat.  Without your retreat, you lose your shelter, your supplies, and your ability to survive into the future.

On the other hand, parachutes are now universally accepted, and so we see no harm in having a ‘worst case scenario’ plan for you in your retreat.  But we suggest this should not be limited to just a safe room, because there’s every chance that your attackers will emulate the attackers in the Jodie Foster movie and seek to break into your safe room, believing that to be the ultimate repository of your most valuable supplies.

Some people advocate having a hidden safe room – a place where you can hide that the bad guys can’t find.  That’s a good idea, but there is a problem with it.  Think it through – there you were, just a few minutes ago, mounting a furious defense of your retreat.  Then you all go and hide in your hidden safe room.  The bad guys break down the front door, go through the house, and don’t find you.

What happens next?  Do the bad guys say ‘Wow.  They must have a Star Trek type transporter, and got Scottie to beam them out!’.  Do they stop looking and just loot the rest of your retreat, then go on their way?

Or do they say ‘Wait a minute.  They were all here just a couple of minutes ago.  They must still be here somewhere; and if they have hidden themselves, I bet they also have a hidden cache of supplies and other goodies too.  Let’s rip the house apart until we find them and it.’

The thing about most of the hidden safe rooms is that they rely on the house structure remaining more or less intact, and they also assume that a safe room needs only to withstand a temporary home invasion, because the bad guys will need to act moderately discreetly for fear of alerting neighbors, and will need to leave at some point for fear of the police arriving.

That’s obviously not the case after TEOTWAWKI and if the bad guys start punching holes in the dry wall, they’ll soon enough find your hiding place.

We’d much rather have a safe room with an obvious entrance that can’t be broken into than a safe room with a hidden but insecure entrance.  Of course, a safe room with both attributes would be better still, but keep in mind you can never guarantee how long a safe room remains hidden.  The most important consideration is to be able to keep the bad guys out.  You (hopefully) have more control over that.

The Only Effective Type of Retreat Safety Strategy

The previous paragraph starts to give us a clue as to the most effective type of hiding place, should you indeed be determined to create one.  Rather than creating an obscured part of your above ground retreat, how about an underground cellar.  If you have a sufficiently camouflaged/hidden entry into the cellar, then the bad guys could level the entire building and never find it.  And if the entry is sufficiently sturdy, even if they do find it, they won’t be able to get in for sufficiently long to give you valuable time to pursue other options.

On the other hand, if they do level the entire house, and if some heavy beams fall on top of your cellar entry/exit portal, how are you going to get out?

By having multiple entry/exit points, you might say.  Yes, that’s correct, but there’s a particular thing to keep in mind here.  Don’t have multiple entry/exit points within your retreat.  If you do that, you’re simply increasing the chances that the bad guys will find one or more of them.  The other access point should be somewhere outside your retreat, and indeed, as far outside your retreat as you can realistically tunnel.

In such a case, you’ve transformed your ‘safe’ room from a no-exit trap into an escape route, allowing you to either (or both) hide from the attackers or (the preferred response) exit out of the occupied area and regroup, either to continue your retreat, to wait out the attackers’ eventual departure, or to mount a surprise attack from outside the retreat.

We talk about prepper issues to do with tunnels here.

Needless to say, your safe room – perhaps better to say, ‘staging area’ needs to have reasonable physical security so that if you have to abandon your main dwelling structure and move to your safe room, while preparing to then exit through the tunnel, the bad guys can’t quickly follow you into the safe room.  You need it to buy you enough time to make your exit safely and to vanish away, rather than having the bad guys in hot pursuit.

From this perspective, it is more important that the safe room access be secure than for it to be hidden.  As long as it can keep the bad guys out for a reasonable period of time, it doesn’t matter so much if they find it or not.

Only in this case – where a ‘safe room’ has become an emergency exit path out of your retreat, has it become truly valuable and truly contributing to your safety.  All other types of safe rooms bely faulty assumptions and create only a dangerous illusion of safety.  Don’t be fooled by such things.

Aug 092014
 
It is essential to skillfully conceal your tunnel exit.

It is essential to skillfully conceal your tunnel exit.

We’ve seen very little written about adding an escape tunnel to your retreat, and what has been written has not necessarily been practical or prudent.

First, of course, do you need an escape tunnel for your retreat?  That’s something you have to decide for yourself, and probably also something you have to do a cost/benefit calculation on.  Most of us have our retreat designs limited first and foremost by our budget, and we have to compromise between the ideal retreat and the achievable retreat.  You need to make a list of all the features you’d like to have, approximately cost out each feature, and then based on the importance and value and need of each feature, balanced against its cost, decide what you will spend your money on and what you won’t.

It would be ridiculous, for example, spending money on a deluxe tunnel while overlooking the need for a good solar cell array.  But we suggest there will come a point, somewhere on your priority list, where an escape tunnel becomes a prudent consideration, and of course the first part of that evaluation is understanding what form an escape tunnel would take, and what its approximate cost might be.

In considering the need and value of an escape tunnel, there are several issues to look at.  The first of course is your evaluation for how likely the circumstances of needing an escape tunnel, the second is the practicality of building such a tunnel, and the third would be the cost involved.

Let’s quickly look at all three points.

The Need for an Escape Tunnel

Is it possible that your retreat might at some future point be attacked by a lawless group of marauders?  In a Level 3, and possibly even a Level 2 situation (defined here) – at a time when society has broken down and there is no longer any ‘rule of law’ – it is definitely foreseeable that you’ll be visited by outlaw bandits of some form or another.

What do you think might happen when such people do come ‘visiting’?  They’re unlikely to limit their visit to a polite knock on the door, an even politer request for some free food and supplies, and a most polite of all acceptance of your refusal and a peaceable departure!  Sure, it is likely that individual beggars might adopt this approach, but it is also likely that some organized gangs – either new gangs that will spring up from the ruins of our society, or extensions of the current ever-increasing number of gangs in our society – will come and be prepared to use any amount of deadly force to secure whatever they wish from you.

So, what do you think will happen when an armed battle-hardened gang attempts to shoot their way into your retreat?  Assume, for the sake of this discussion, there are 20 of them, and they’ve surprised you, unawares, either at 2am when you’re sleeping, or, if you prefer, at 2pm when some of you are out in the fields working and others of you are attending to chores inside.

There are several outcomes from such a surprise attack.  The first outcome is sadly quite likely, and that is that you’ll be immediately and totally overrun.  If that happens, there’s of course no need for an escape tunnel!

The second outcome is that you quickly rally around, you have a quick response force who immediately returns fire, and after a harrowing time, you win and they retreat.  Again, no need for an escape tunnel.

The third outcome is that as many of you as can make it back to your retreat, you secure the retreat, but the marauders continue to press their attack, rather than giving up and going away.  They either set siege to your retreat, or they manage to break into the retreat and overrun it.

This is the scenario where an escape tunnel might come in very handy.  A secure retreat is all very well and good, but it is also a ‘prison’ that confines you in one place, while your attacker is free to come and go, to resupply, and generally do as they wish.

Opinions differ as to if marauders would be ‘casual’ in attitude – ie, if they would selectively pick off only the easy targets, and leave harder targets well alone.  Or maybe, particularly after all the easy targets had been plundered, then they might become more fixated on taking anything they come across, even if it requires some time and patience to do so.

So, how likely do you feel these different scenarios could be?  Should you be considering an escape tunnel?

The Practicality of an Escape Tunnel

There are several things to consider when looking at the practicality of building an escape tunnel.  Clearly, if your retreat is built on bedrock, it will be close to impossible to tunnel through solid rock.  (Note that, in the other extreme, it is actually quite easy to build a tunnel through sand or marshy ground.)

So the first part of considering the practicality of a tunnel is to understand what you’d be tunneling through.

The next consideration is how long the tunnel would need to be, and where it would finish?  The tunnel exit needs to be out of the field of view of your main retreat structure.

If you are using the tunnel exit, it seems reasonable to assume that your retreat has been overrun, and there are bad guys all around, in a moderate state of alert.  If they look behind themselves, or through a window of your retreat and see you climbing out of a manhole just 20 ft from the front door, well, you can guess what will happen next.

This obscured visibility also needs to extend to a continued above ground escape route on away from the retreat.  The problem with this is that if you’ve designed your retreat well, you’ve made sure that you have excellent views for all the approaches around your retreat, so people can’t sneak up close to it and surprise you, and so people have no cover if attacking you.

If you have nothing but open ground, enlivened only by lawn, concrete, and vegetable gardening, for 100 ft or more all around your retreat, then you might have to consider a scenario where you will hide in an obscured basement safe room until nightfall and then make your retreat at that point.

That’s a far from desirable scenario, but so too is running across open ground in broad daylight!

The other consideration is just how long a tunnel you can afford to build – generally, the longer the better.  Which leads to our third point.

The Cost of an Escape Tunnel

The cost of your tunnel of course depends on the method of tunnel construction you adopt, and if you do some/most of the work yourself or not.

We’ll look at those issues subsequently in this article.  For now, let’s just assume an all up cost is $200 per foot of tunnel, which of course means that even a ‘short’ 100 ft length costs you $20,000.  Obviously, the longer the tunnel length you can put in place, the more secure your eventual exit and escape (or regroup and return) will be.  But this cost has to be balanced against all the other needs to spend money on hardening your retreat and ensuring your survival (not just in this quasi-military sense, but also in things like energy independence, food supply, and everything else).

Clearly, the longer the tunnel needs to be, the more expensive it becomes, and the lower the cost/benefit becomes compared to other risks that might be equally life threatening and probable and which require less investment to optimize and solve.

Let’s now move on and consider some of the issues associated with constructing a tunnel.

Another Tunnel Purpose/Benefit

So far, we’ve been considering tunnels for one purpose only – as an escape tunnel for you to abandon your retreat and hightail it away.

That’s a sad but essential purpose, but there’s another more positive use for a tunnel as well.  Depending on where it exits, maybe a tunnel can be used to move part of your defensive team to a second unexpected location, and to suddenly engage the enemy from its rear or flank, in addition to your continued defense from the retreat itself.

If this thought appeals, its practicality is somewhat terrain dependent.  You don’t want to be at a point where you are yourself caught in the own cross-fire between your in-retreat team and the bad guys.  You need to be able to guess at likely locations where attackers would base their attacks from, and then work out suitable points to have a defensive team appear.

If doable, the benefits of this tactical resource could be enormous.  Indeed, don’t just trust to chance with this.  As part of your total retreat design, you might even choose to skew the odds in your favor with some judicious landscaping and creating of some apparently better and worse locations for attackers to base themselves.

Tunnel Design and Construction

Your tunnel doesn’t need to be particularly deep, and neither does it need to be large enough for people to stand up and comfortably walk along.  You’ve probably seen pictures of the Gaza Strip tunnels, or even our own tunnels leading in to the US from Mexico – enormous things and put to terrible misuse in both cases.  You don’t need anything like that.

A relatively small tunnel is all you need, and here’s the trick.  You don’t need to worry about claustrophobically crawling through it.  There’s a much better way to travel through a small tunnel.

Our recommended tunnel would be a pipeline with a circular or oval profile, and rather than walking or crawling through the tunnel, you’d have creeper/trolleys –  boards you lie on with wheels on the sides, like mechanics use when going underneath cars.  You’d then propel yourself through the tunnel by using your hands and legs on the sides of the tunnel, or possibly you’d have a rope along the top of the tunnel that you could haul yourself along.  In both cases, you’d lie on your back on the board.

One of the benefits of using these boards is that you’d never be on the very bottom of the tunnel, so if there was an inch or two of water on the bottom of the tunnel, it would not be an issue.

Depending on the size of the people in your retreat, you might find a 24″ inside diameter sufficient, you’d probably find 27″ more than sufficient, and 30″ would be starting to become expensively spacious.  Yes, it sounds very small, and if you were crawling through it, you’d hate it.  But scooting along on a wheeled creeper board would be easy, quick, and not nearly as unpleasant.

Needless to say, this type of tunnel could not have any sharp corners or kinks in it, because the boards wouldn’t be able to turn around tight corners.  But also, needless to say, you’d not want your tunnel to be anything other than the straightest shortest distance needed.  It shouldn’t have corners in it.

As long as the tunnel is deep enough to be undetectable from the surface, and as long as there is no danger of what is happening on the surface harming the tunnel or causing a cave-in, then your tunnel is clearly deep enough.

You need to consider, when digging a tunnel, drainage issues and also the potential for tree roots impacting on the tunnel over time.  It is easy enough to make sure there are no large trees close to the tunnel (although keep in mind that any tree which is currently small may potentially grow to become big in time).  As for water, if that is likely to become a challenge, it is entirely possibly to make your tunnel tubing waterproof, and we’d also suggest provision for some sumps and pumps just in case water subsequently starts to leak in.

Probably the easiest way to dig a tunnel is to use a ‘cut and cover’ approach.  You’d use a backhoe/excavator/JCB to dig a trench, put in preformed piping, then fill up the trench over the tunnel structure.

Most dedicated backhoes can easily dig a trench 10′ – 14′ in depth.  Smaller machines that are a combination loader/backhoe and built on a glorified tractor frame can usually go down 7′ or so.  If you consider a 12′ depth, that would give you say 2.5′ for your tunnel tube, and 9.5′ of cover over it – an enormous amount of cover and almost certainly much more than is really needed.  Better to have less depth – it will be easier and quicker and less expensive to dig/construct, and there would be less weight of soil on top.  A 7′ deep trench would still have 4.5′ of cover over a 30″ pipe.  That’s way more than enough so that no-one would accidentally dig into your tunnel from above, and to keep vegetable and small plant roots away from it.

If you are worried about having a third-party contractor come in and construct your tunnel for you, you could buy a backhoe second-hand, use it as needed yourself, and then sell it when you’d finished for probably close to the same price you paid for it.  If you are doing this, you’d probably want a combo backhoe/loader unit.

Concrete pipe is much heavier and thicker than polyethylene (plastic) pipe, but also more robust and long-lived.  It can weigh in the order of 400 – 500 lbs per foot, and have side walls of 4″ in thickness or more (depending on pipe diameter of course – here’s a useful table).  Figure on a cost of about $100 per foot of concrete pipe, and you’ll be close to right.  Plus an unknown amount extra to lay the pipe – depending on the land and soil conditions, etc.

We mentioned in a preceding section using a rule of thumb of about $200/foot all up for tunnel construction.  We hope that’s on the high side, particularly if you are running a reasonably long tunnel over easy ground and doing much of the work yourself, but best to start off with a high guess and then improve on the real cost as you progress through the exercise.

On the other hand, modern high density polyethylene (HDPE) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic pipe is about 20 times lighter than concrete, has much thinner side walls (which makes for easier trenching and allows for smaller outside diameters), and is claimed to be about as reliable in use as concrete.  Price-wise, there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference, although the plastic piping is less expensive.

Some people argue that plastic piping requires greater care while being laid than concrete pipe, due to its innate lower strength and greater reliance on optimized ground loadings.  But its lighter weight makes it very much easier for you to work with it yourselves, without needing trained crews of men and specialized machinery to move multi-ton pieces of concrete piping exactly into position.

Overall, there seems to be no clear consensus on concrete vs plastic, and we suspect the price advantages of one over the other will vary depending on where you are and how close you are to sources of either, and what the associated trucking and installing costs and considerations may be.

There are also various types of metal pipe material as well.  Black iron and steel are the most expensive materials.

We don’t know enough to recommend one type of material over another, but we do note that most ‘general purpose’ tunnels and pipes are made of either concrete or HDPE.

Permits and Approvals For Your Tunnel

If you are in a jurisdiction that requires formal permits, plans, inspections and approvals for building construction, and if those requirements extend to tunnels as well, you have to make a difficult decision as to whether you get all the necessary paperwork or not.  If you don’t, there’s a measurable danger that your tunnel may be discovered, in which case the best case scenario is you are up for major fines, and the worst case scenario is that you could have your entire retreat structure condemned, temporarily or permanently.

You might think that what you do on your retreat, perhaps in the middle of a pristine wilderness and miles from any road and totally out of sight of any public land would be a secure safe secret.  But look up.  See that plane flying overhead?  Maybe it is mapping the landscape for Google Maps, or directly for the county (we understand that it is not uncommon for counties to use aerial mapping to confirm the accuracy and completeness of their records about what structures exist on the land they tax).  Look even further up – see the satellite in the sky?  No, of course you don’t, but it can probably see you, and it too may be transmitting pictures of your construction project to all sorts of interested agencies.

Update – here’s another interesting article on the capabilities of observation (ie spy) satellites – they have such fine sensors they can detect shotshell cases on the ground, and evidence of recent digging, and are being launched in ever greater numbers.

Another update – here is information that Google plans to launch its own constellation of 24 satellites operated by Skybox.  The satellites will, between them, take three pictures, every day, of every place on the planet.  They will also have video capability.

Final update :  We became fascinated by the topic of aerial observation, and so rather than continuing to add to this article, we’ve now added a separate standalone article about aerial imagery.

The other interesting thing to note from these articles is that the current 10″ resolution capability of the satellites does not represent the highest quality resolution the satellites are capable of.  Instead, it is an artificial limit that the satellites are restricted to by US law.

On the other hand, it is surely unappealing to have your super-duper secret emergency escape tunnel on the permanent public record, available for anyone to scrutinize at the county office, and even online too.  It is true that such facilities may disappear entirely in a Level 2/3 situation, but who knows how many people have found out about your tunnel already.  Even if marauding strangers don’t know about your tunnel, you can be sure the locals would, and sometimes you might have as much to fear from locals as from strangers.  Suffice it to say that building a tunnel clearly labels you, your property and your retreat as being ‘out of the ordinary’ and ‘interesting’.

Perhaps one possible approach is telling half the truth.  Have a septic line running above your tunnel, and get that permitted.

Another possible approach would be not doing a ‘cut and cover’ approach (which is obviously very visible and obvious) but instead doing a true below ground tunneling exercise, like prisoners do to get out of jail.  However, we’d urge you not to do this unless you have an enormous amount of manpower and time, and also a highly detailed knowledge of the soil conditions that you’re tunneling through.

Creating a tunnel that way would require tens of manhours per foot, plus a lot of resource for removing/secreting the dirt from the tunneling, and all the necessary wood and other materials for shoring up the tunnel from the inside, along with an ever-present risk of cave-ins if you made any mistakes in your calculations.  You’d also need to make it larger than a pipe type tunnel, because you need a work area at the tunnel face as you dig your way forward.

Hand digging a tunnel is not impossible, but it is definitely a very undesirable approach to tunneling.

Choosing and Obscuring Tunnel Exits

One of the most difficult aspects of designing a tunnel is choosing where its exit will be.  As already mentioned, you don’t want it to be in the middle of an open field, with you emerging out of the tunnel being in plain view of everyone.  Not only this would be in plain view, but so too would be your continued escape across the open ground.

Ideally your tunnel exit needs to be out of sight of both the retreat structure and also out of sight of likely locations where attackers might situate themselves.

The specific topography of your location will determine the what/where/how of this, and obviously, the longer your tunnel and the further away from your retreat, the safer your exit will be.  Note also that you might do some landscaping or plant some particular types of bushes or whatever,  to create some visual obstructions or other features to make it easier to make your escape unseen.

The other consideration is concealing the exit so it is not obvious to people, prior to your using it, that it is a tunnel exit.  Remember that tunnels work both ways – you don’t want your attacker to use it as a means of safe passage right into the heart of your retreat, and neither do you want, when emerging from the tunnel, to find a ‘welcoming party’ assembled to surprise you.

It is common to attempt to locate tunnel exits inside some sort of building or other structure.  There are obvious advantages in doing this, and if you have a barn or shed or pumphouse or any other sort of structure that could be used for this purpose, so much the better.

Another possibility would be to disguise the tunnel exit in some junk.  If you saw the movie RED, then you’d have noticed how Marvin used the trunk of a junked car as an obscured entrance to his underground hideaway.  Something similar might also work well for you, and it is far from unusual for rural lots to have some old vehicles rusting away somewhere.

If you have a large tree that you could cut down some distance off the ground (ie above eye level) and then use the tree stump, hollowed out, for egress, that’s another approach to look at.

There are any number of other ways that a tunnel could terminate.  For example, maybe you have a short storm water drain/waterway running under a road.  Anyone can look from one side of it through to the other, and can see it to be a normal simple water drain.  But your tunnel terminates on the side in the middle of this and you can simply move a panel of the drain’s side material and step into it.

Another method is to have your tunnel’s exit shaft end a short distance below the ground surface, and when you need to exit, you simply remove the reinforcing at the top of the shaft and dig through the remaining dirt or whatever.

Maybe you have a shallow pool somewhere and your tunnel actually terminates underneath the pool.  The benefit of this is that normally, the water obscures the tunnel exit.  The downside – do we need to tell you this – is that when you open up the exit hatch, you’re going to get wet.  And there’s a risk that the exit hatch might develop a leak, potentially flooding out the tunnel and making it unusable.

Keep in mind there are two types of tunnel exits, with different considerations.  There are ‘single use’ exits that you will only need to use once, and once you’ve used it, you’ll not have any need to reconceal it for future reuse.  There are also multi-use exits that you will want to be able to use on a repeated basis.

Instinctively, the thought of multi-use exits appeals.  But think carefully – how often are you likely to need to use this?  Using your emergency exit presupposes that you’ve been not only attacked, but defeated and your retreat has been overrun.  Hopefully you’ll never need to resort to this, possibly you might use it once, probably never twice.

On the other hand, you will want to occasionally do drills to practice using the tunnel, and ideally these drills should go all the way through to having your group exit at the far end, which would require opening up the exit and being able to subsequently obscure the signs of people exiting and moving around.  So, if possible, it is better to have a multi-use exit.

Checking the Security of Your Tunnel Exit

Think about this.  You’ve constructed a tunnel, with a secure exit out of view of the retreat.  You’ve been attacked and unfortunately find yourself unable to defend your retreat and so need to escape.

But, you can’t see the far end of your tunnel.  You don’t know if by chance some of your attackers are camped right on top of the exit, or maybe they have discovered it and have a couple of people guarding it, just waiting for you to emerge.

It would obviously be highly desirable to be able to monitor the situation around the tunnel exit before emerging.  We recommend you should have some type of facility to allow you to do this.

There are several ways you could check what was immediately outside the tunnel exit before emerging.  Again, the method you select will probably depend on the nature of the terrain around the tunnel.  If it is in an open field, you’ll do something very different to if it is in a building or in a forest.

The lowest tech approach would be to have a thin tube periscope that you can poke up through the ground and then survey around the area.  If the periscope also had a microphone that passed down to a set of headphones, you could listen as well as look.

A more complicated approach would be to have a hidden video camera somewhere that is pointing at the general area where the exit is located.  The downside to this is that if the camera is discovered, it begs the question ‘what is this camera doing here and what is it looking at’, so you might choose to have several cameras or to have the viewing angle set so that it is apparently looking at an obvious different place to look at, as well as less obviously at the tunnel exit.

The other issue with video cameras is how you get power to the camera and then the video signal back to a monitoring point.  We suggest this should all be done by wire rather than wirelessly, and we also suggest the wire go, buried below ground, back to your retreat rather than directly to your tunnel exit.  That way, if the camera is discovered, the wire can’t be traced to the tunnel, but instead, to your retreat, which is what a person would expect.

The chances are you will be setting up some video (and audio) surveillance around your retreat anyway, so including at least one camera to monitor the state of your tunnel exit is just part of the total picture.

Note that it would be best to have a periscope at the tunnel exit as well.  If something happens to disable the video feed, or even just so you can get an updated evaluation between when you left the retreat and were ready to exit the tunnel, this would be useful.

Summary

You’re building your retreat as a haven and safety to protect you against as many eventualities and circumstances as possible.  This means you’ll make your retreat as robust and secure as possible, of course.

But one eventuality is the possibility that, your best efforts notwithstanding, you might be forced to abandon your retreat.  A secure secret exit tunnel would increase your chances of doing so and living to fight or at least to survive beyond that.  Without such a feature, your retreat has changed from being your safe haven to instead being your prison and potentially your coffin.

We feel that adding a tunnel is an important and necessary feature of a complete retreat design.  Using a cut and fill method of tunneling and preformed concrete or plastic tubing makes it a relatively quick and straightforward process.