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When I started writing this, I was reading an article in the Westchester County, NY Journal News. It disclosed how the local governments in the area were not cooperating with FEMA by not providing data needed for the re-certification of the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant emergency plan. The consequence was that the plant owner, Entergy Nuclear Northeast, and FEMA would invoke the Reagan-era Presidential Executive Order 12657 that lets FEMA and Entergy create evacuation plans without any input from the locals, and later bill the locals for the cost. Executive order 12657, interestingly enough, came about from New York State’s refusal to participate in the emergency planning for the Shoreham (Long Island) Nuke Plant in the late 1980s. According to the story, New York State hired former FEMA Director James Witt to analyze the current Indian Point plans. Witt concluded that the plans were ineffective. As a result, the four counties in the Indian Point Emergency Planning Zone (Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, and Orange) refused to state that the plans were workable and up-to-date. One county, Westchester, has also refused to let FEMA officials have access to county records that would "allow" FEMA to rubber-stamp the plan as workable.
This story provides a good lesson for the survivalist. Only YOU can be responsible for your own safety and preparedness. While the county, local and federal officials in Southeast New York (mostly Liberal Democrats) played games with each other, the people who live near Indian Point remained without an effective emergency plan. Should something happen those people will be absolutely screwed save for the few who had the foresight to make their own plans. Proper planning prevents pitifully poor performance. Unfortunately, many often overlook the planning aspect of their survival preparations. I have met some otherwise very intelligent individuals whose planning never went beyond "If the shit hits the fan I’m heading for the hills." While "bugging out" can be a viable strategy in many instances, the espousal of "crisis relocation" by government planners will ensure that in a disaster situation there will be large amounts of sheeple on the road with nowhere to go. If you think rush hour is bad, just wait.
The first step for the survivalist is to perform a hazard analysis of his locale. This should focus on his locale's disaster history, frequency of severe weather, geography, and proximity to high-risk areas. The following questions should be asked:
Has the locale experienced past disasters?
Is the locale prone to severe weather?
What are the prevailing wind patterns in case of nuclear fallout or a hazardous materials incident?
What is the geography of the locale?
Is the locale near the coast or a river?
Is the locale near a fault line or active volcano?
Is the locale urban or rural?
How large or vital is the locale?
Is the locale a seat of government?
Proximity to High-Risk Areas:
Are any major cities or industries located nearby?
How are the ethnic/race relations in the locale?
Is the locale near a major military installation?
Do major highways or pipelines pass through the locale?
By and large, the most likely problem you will have to contend with regardless of where you live is a natural disaster of some sort possibly compounded by government incompetence. Think Hurricane Katrina. Every locale has its own particular quirks. If you have been living in your locale long enough, you remember all the times things became interesting. If you are a recent arrival, you can find some long-time resident to give you a local history lesson, or check the newspaper archives at your local library. Natural disasters and severe weather occur just about everywhere, and it’s just a matter of knowing whether you will have to eventually deal with earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, floods, or whatever.
Generally speaking, you are best situated to deal with a natural disaster in a rural area of a predominately Republican state, although rural areas tend towards Republican attitudes even in Democrat states. The worst place to be in a natural disaster would be an urban area in a Democrat state (as many residents of New Orleans can attest). This alone should be enough for any of you living in a big city to relocate to greener pastures. Ideally you want an area where people have an attitude of “Leave me the hell alone and I'll do the same for you.”
Behind natural disasters, urban areas and transportation corridors will next need to be concerned about hazardous materials (hazmat) incidents. You will be interested in when that railroad tank car, tractor-trailer, or pool supply store has an accident or fire, and whether or not that smoke plume is going to become a concern. The wind speed and direction will become very important to you. Whereas in a rural natural disaster a properly equipped and sturdily built homestead along with the proper attitude will see you through all but the very worst natural disaster without necessitating a bug-out, you may have to temporarily relocate in a hazmat incident in order to avoid breathing that smoke plume going your way. Plan accordingly.
I'm going to talk about one survival situation that is very controversial and receives a lot of play in survivalist circles, and that is the possibility of a totalitarian government tyranny in the United States. I concur that certain actions taken by recent previous administrations certainly point in that direction. I have also noticed that the demographic of individuals who become concerned about this changes with whatever political party is currently in charge.
During the Clinton administration, there was an increase in unorganized militia units whose members were politically right leaning, and it was they who decried the unconstitutional acts of the administration. When the Republicans held the executive branch, the cries of alarm were taken up by left-wing activists. With the Democrats back in the White House the Republicans are now becoming political activists and taking up the cause of fighting totalitarianism in the government. Being a libertarian I have found this circus to be quite entertaining over the past twenty years. Political cartoonist Matt Bors1 coined the term Partisan Civil Liberties Disorder which is when an individual only cares about the nasty stuff a government is doing when his or her political party is not in power.
When Timothy McVeigh allegedly bombed a Federal Building in Oklahoma back in 1994, I watched all the unorganized militia groups vehemently disavow him and in many cases shut down completely in fear of being harassed or arrested by the Feds. Despite my distaste for their political views, I must say from a philosophical warrior standpoint I have far more respect for the left-wing protesters who aren't afraid to get pepper sprayed, have their heads busted by riot cops, and get hauled off to jail fighting for what they believe in.
I don't know for certain whether it's a statement of belief that political issues will eventually resolve in a peaceful manner or simple apathy that the increasing number of disaffected Americans haven't resorted to armed revolution in response to increasing government totalitarianism. I do concur with survivalist fiction writer John Titor2 that all most Americans are really interested in is maintaining the status quo, won't act in a manner that endangers it, and that the people with the most to lose if the status quo changes should be considered the least trustworthy. With that said I feel that a more likely scenario would be a slow gradual collapse much like what Ayn Rand wrote about in Atlas Shrugged. Should you feel that the totalitarian Amerika scenario is a likely prospect, the most important thing you will need to figure out is, as John Ross said so eloquently in Unintended Consequences, “when the state is standing by the van with the handcuffs out.” Until that time occurs, I advise readers of that slant that the soapbox and ballot box come before the bullet box.
The big question all survivalists have to answer is "When should I bug out?" Only you can answer that question based on your survival plans and current situation. When I’m asked that question by novice survivalists, my immediate answer is "Now." If you feel that where you are living right now could become so dangerous that you would rather flee your home than ride it out there, then you should move to a potentially safer location. If you cannot maintain a resilient sustainable lifestyle at your current residence, then you should move to where you can. If you have a job that entails a long commute into the city via public transportation, you should try to find something closer to home. Like everything else in life, you will probably wind up working out some form of compromise. Anything you can do however, to improve your self-reliance, preparedness, and resilient sustainable lifestyle is a step in the right direction.
However during certain contingencies, you may have to temporarily leave your primary residence for an alternate location. A severe natural disaster may damage your residence enough to make it uninhabitable, or a severe hazmat incident may make your neighborhood too dangerous to be in. Rural residents fare better in both contingencies mentioned. Disaster response entities in rural areas generally acknowledge the sustainability and resiliency of the people in their area, as country folk are usually prepared to handle situations that leave urban dwellers in dire straits. Severe hazmat incidents are for the most part an urban problem unless there is a nearby interstate highway, railroad, or industrial park.
You will be making extensive use of maps. A good set of maps is probably one of the most important tools any survivalist could own. Having the ideal number of maps can get to be an investment, especially considering one state topographic atlas can cost $20. You should start by concentrating on your local region first, as you’ll first be doing a hazard analysis. Then expand to areas you find yourself in regularly. If you are bugging out to another region, you will want the appropriate maps for that area as well. Ideally you should have the following for every area of operation:
7.5 minute series USGS Topographic Maps of your area, and adjacent maps. These are the basic essential maps you should get first.
Road maps for every state you may find yourself in
DeLorme3 topographic atlas for your state, and neighboring states. I highly recommend these maps.
Street maps for your town/county and surrounding ones. You can often get these for free from local businesses or your town hall/county office building.
There is one thing about maps to be aware of: Sometimes what is on them doesn’t correspond with the real world. Roads are always being worked on, and the one that appears to go from point A to point B may be washed-out as a result of a storm last year, or turned into a dead-end because some local big-shot didn’t want all the through-traffic on "his" street.
When planning routes, always confirm that they will work by making a practice run. Ideally, you should have at least three different routes thought out. This way if one becomes impassible, you still have at least two others to use. Natural disasters can flood out roads and bridges. A hazmat accident on the highway can not only block the road, but also the areas around and downwind from it. You might have to go way around the problem area. In a case like that, detailed street and road maps will help you get home.
The new generation of mobile GPS units with mapping and route generation capabilities have helped me out immensely since I first started using them. These devices will not only show your location, but also generate a set of travel directions to whatever location you desire either by the fastest or shortest route, and can help you detour around problems you encounter while traveling. I would suggesting having one for your vehicle. The better ones also feature a database of gas stations, parks, campgrounds, retail outlets, and other locations of interest and will show you what is near your location, any other given location, or along your route.
Besides side roads that may get you to the same place as your primary route, you may find other byways that may come in handy. You may need to get off a highway by means other than the normal exit. You may have to travel via an alternative route such as a railroad, rail-trail, or utility right-of-way. There may be a railroad right of way that will get you out of the city, or an abandoned rail line that has been turned into a rail trail for joggers and bicyclists. A utility company right-of-way for high-tension lines may have a dirt road on it for service vehicles.
In a survival situation, you may need a temporary secure place for you and your vehicle while bugging out to your retreat, so you will also look for potentially useful structures that you may use as emergency shelter. There might be an abandoned gas station on a side road that is part of your secondary bug-out route, or a public works shed that doesn’t seem to get visited too often. It doesn’t matter if your routes go through an urban, suburban, or rural area. You will find these things.
There is one warning on railroad right-of-ways that I have to share with you. Stay well away from the tracks. If you get surprised by a train you will lose the encounter! Even if you don't get hit by a train, the railroad will arrest you for trespassing. Many railways do have enough space off to one side of the right-of-way for a vehicle to go down them. Obviously abandoned railways are a different matter, and the local information you’ve collected will help you best judge that.
If you do not have an extensive knowledge of your area, navigation of terrain becomes an arduous task during difficult times. Start acquiring area knowledge by studying maps of your locale. You should have a DeLorme atlas for every state in your area of operations, and USGS 7.5 minute topographic maps for the territory your group lives/travels in. Study the maps and look for interesting places to check out, such as old railroad rights-of-way (which often become rail trails), hiking trails, parks, state hunting land, old roads, and other natural features that look interesting. Once you have found some spots, go on an adventure and check them out. One cool and interesting hobby that perfectly ties into this area exploration is Geocaching4. Besides acquiring first-hand area knowledge you cannot get by any other means, getting out and walking or bicycle riding is an inexpensive way of getting into and staying in shape. Having twenty extra pounds of unnecessary dunlap and considering walks to the refrigerator as your daily exercise routine will not cut it.
A lot has been said about alternative methods of transportation, and my recommendation is a bicycle. It represents an order of the magnitude faster speed than walking, and requires no fuel other than what you eat. In some areas, a bike is more efficient and effective than a car. You can get a decent mountain bike for less than $300 at any department or sporting goods store. There are also auxiliary motor units that can be fitted on a bicycle such as the Omni Insturments EROS Bicycle Electrification System5 and The Slipstream made by Convergence Tech6. An electric-assisted bicycle and a bike trailer would make an excellent combination. Also, and this should go without saying, the one absolutely necessary accessory you need for your bike is a small repair kit that fits in a bag that you can mount to the handlebars or frame.
One of the most ignored issues of survivalism is the period after TEOTWAWKI. People will want to rebuild, and the time to think about that process is now. An irksome trend I have noticed on survivalist forums is the lack of foresight when it comes to dealing with the so-called post-TEOTWAWKI period. Users seem to be all ready with stockpiles of guns and ammo to take on the zombie hordes, but have put little thought into the reconstruction. This is quite evident when discussions of silver and gold stockpiling come up. Many users sarcastically state that they will be stockpiling lead as their precious metal.
Kurt Saxon, whom many consider the father of the survivalist movement (or at least its patron saint), emphatically advocated an emphasis on small-scale cottage industries that could be used to establish a robust sustainable lifestyle in a suitable area that would enable an individual to successfully deal with all sorts of contingencies and disasters. As a result of this common sense philosophy towards survivalism, Kurt gets a bad rap from the fantasy types for whom this approach isn't sexy enough.
As a part of a self-reliant and prepared lifestyle, you need a profession, or at least an enjoyable hobby, that will continue to be useful after TEOTWAWKI. Someone once told me regarding jobs and work, “If it's something you would enjoy enough to do for free, then you'll make a million dollars with it.” You could take the attitude that it is simply a job, but since you have to be there 40+ hours a week, you should be doing something you find enjoyable. Even if you have gone Galt and are denying your mind to the current society of parasites, you should find something mundane that is tolerable if not enjoyable.
After the dust has cleared, there will be a lot of infrastructure in need of restoration, repair, and reclamation. Hobbies such as ham radio, computers, electronics, welding, and metalworking are very useful as they can give you important skills for the reconstruction. Medical skills will also be important. As an added bonus they are in heavy demand at present and in the foreseeable future. People will still need products and service, and that need will open up opportunities for many different cottage industries.
Many survivalists have been noting the locations of forgotten or abandoned infrastructure that can reclaimed and re-purposed after the collapse. This is a worthwhile endeavor. You might also be able to preserve these places against the ravages of time so that they will remain viable.
Once you are settled into your permanent location and established a viable trade, you should then stockpile the necessary items for your avocation. The amount of the stockpile should be enough for you to last through the reset and recovery period until you are able to reestablish a supply chain or find alternative post-TEOTWAWKI sources for what you need.