A period of lawlessness may prevail after any major interruption of services. We all know this and try to plan. But have we really realistically faced what this means? Once the food trucks stop arriving, US cities and towns have less than a week before food riots and general looting begins. If things get really bad, there are going to be literally millions of people starving, thirsty and sick, willing to do whatever it takes to survive. The simple math points to a huge die-off unless the government can maintain control and re-institute some emergency measures. In the worst case scenarios, almost any preparations you can make seem woefully inadequate. The challenge may come down to surviving the die-off and not becoming one of the unmarked graves.
Face facts, this throng of hungry, desperate people are going to be heavily armed, just like you. Many of them are going to have military and law enforcement experience. Also, remember that every piece of military equipment in the government's arsenal is going to be owned and used by someone. Those machineguns and rocket launchers and mortars are not going to just evaporate. [JWR Adds: It is noteworthy that with very few exceptions, National Guard and Reserve units have not stored live ammo at their local armories since the 1960s. Looters might eventually cut their way in to arms room vaults, and they'll indeed find mortars, machineguns, and grenade launchers, but not mortar rounds, grenades, or belts of machinegun ammo. Their ammo is stored only at active duty installation Ammo Supply Points (ASPs).] The point is, the teeming population is not just going to die off quietly and go away until all of the food they can locate is gone.
Whether these hungry people come at you as small gangs of thugs or as ad-hoc governments equipped with arm-bands, they are going to systematically look for food and supplies. If you are anywhere near a population center, you are going to be looted and perhaps killed. No matter how many buckets of nitrogen packed wheat you have cleverly stored in your basement, you are almost certainly going to lose it all when the local "committee" searches your house for "contraband" or "hoarding".
Single family dwelling homes and apartments without power are nothing more than inconveniently located caves. They are impossible to hide and very difficult to defend. Any determined group of raiders (or whomever) are going to pick your bones if you try to "Custer" inside a modern American home. The very fact that you are living there will be proof that you have something they want. If it looks deserted, they will still search the place thoroughly looking for food. When that happens, you will either have to fight to keep your possessions or you will have to evacuate or "bug out". Where will you go? What will you need to carry? Most "Bug out Bag" plans that I have seen don't measure up. A planned evacuation is a lot better than a "grab stuff and go" emergency. Your current home can be expendable if you plan for it.
For folks with military training, or the willingness to learn, a compromise can be to set up a semi-mobile encampment. This concept is based on a Long Range Surveillance (LRS) "Hide site". Sort of a patrol base for extended stay. For an explanation, see the Wikipedia page on LRS. Most LRS hide sites are used for a maximum of two weeks, but their occupancy can be extended for months with additional supplies. If you use your head setting up a hide site, you can avoid having to fight to keep your things. It's much better to hide than fight. Setting up a site is relatively simple if you follow sound tactical principles. With a little luck and discipline, you can stay invisible for extended periods.
The reference document for LRS hide sites is US Army FM-7-93. Appendix E contains a lot of good source material. While most of this field manual will not be appropriate for simple survival, it contains a lot of good ideas if you have no experience and have never considered this topic. You don't have to create a site as extreme as the FM describes to have a survivable hide site.
The location you select is the most important factor. Ideally, you need a patch of wilderness that offers nothing that anyone wants. Parks and national forest lands are good choices. The only resources there are firewood and perhaps game animals. If you can find an area that has neither of these, you are better off still. The point is this: Find a place where nobody is going to go looking for something they need. Desperate people are not going to walk randomly, they are going to drive if they can and walk if they must. They are going to follow lines of communication that have a reasonable chance of taking them to resources. If you can find a place that is isolated away from roads and undeveloped, you are half way there.
You need to choose an area within half a tank of gas to your home, but a mile or so from the nearest road or anything most people would want. It needs to be close enough to a creek to carry water and as rough and remote as you can find. At such a site, you could conceivably remain for months without being detected. With a little planning, you can build a hide site in a matter of hours and it will be stronger tactically than any normal dwelling. Plus you can make it as undetectable as your imagination and discipline will let you.
If you already have a well stocked retreat or working farm with dozens of acres, consider pre-positioning most of your goods in hidden caches on your own property, and setting up a hide site in advance. When (not if) your retreat is attacked, you will have someplace to run and supplies that remain available. You can even use your existing well or water supply if you plan well. Remember, if you make your retreat too comfortable, someone may take it from you and keep it. Try to make it look like any other house without water or power and looters will probably just move on once they sack it. You can move back in later and tidy up the mess instead of having to fight. Hide your comforts and supplies well.
I recommend "digging in" three different sites, within rifle range of each other, all of them concealed and preferably booby-trapped. (LRS teams always carry a lot of mechanicals, like Claymore mines. Finding them is hazardous to your health and killing them is even harder). The basic hide site is low and hidden. Any tarps you use must be as close to ground level as possible and well hidden from view by covering them with dirt and debris. Setting up inside stands of scrub brush is a common tactic. Digging most of it underground is also common. The goal is to make the site as invisible as you can make it, even from close range. You want a casual intruder to walk right by it without noticing anything.
1st site. A kitchen area/living area/kill zone with fighting positions dug-in for emergencies. Make it as hard to find as you are able. Use brush and natural terrain features to mask it from casual view. If attacked or discovered, the guard post (described below) will be your ace in the hole. If your site is discovered or someone approaches, dive for cover and wait them out. If your kitchen area remains undiscovered, all is well, but If you absolutely have to fight, being dug in with a real fighting position will give you a major edge and your guard post will come as a very nasty surprise.
2nd site. A Guard post/sleeping area/fighting position well hidden. It should overwatch both other sites and have a good field of view covering likely avenues of approach. These two sites should be able to provide supporting fire for each other. You also need to provide a covered egress route of some kind in case you have to evacuate the site. Radios to communicate between fighting positions are very handy and so are night optical devices of all kinds. During hours of activity, this site remains manned by a guard with a rifle. At night it is the only manned site. One person stays on guard and everyone else can sack out.
3rd (or more) sites. A cache for most of your stores within rifle range but completely concealed. If you lose your entire hide site, you can always double back in a few days and pick up your stuff. The third cache is a life saver if you really have to run for it. This site should be completely undetectable. That means buried and carefully camouflaged. A good reference for establishing a cache is Army TC 31-29/A
A Fourth site for the truck(s) and other vehicles should be established about a mile away. Make your vehicles look abandoned and drain them of fuel. Make no mistake, they really are abandoned. You may be able to recover them, but you will probably lose them. Once you occupy your main site, you must not keep visiting your vehicles. [JWR Adds: It doesn't take long to remove their batteries. This further disables the vehicles to discourage theft, and those batteries could come in handy. And even more elaborate measure os putting vehicles up on blocks and removing their wheels to hide them separately. That will truly make them look abandoned, and make it very difficult for the vehicles to be stolen. ]
You should be able to carry water to the kitchen area and purify it, do all your cooking and eating and living there. Generally do anything there that is hard to hide. Sleep off-site at the sleeping area in case the main base is discovered and attacked at night. If you have at least three adults, you can keep a guard at all times and still get all the chores done. Fewer people means you will only occupy your sleeping site at night. Six or more adults would be needed to make a hide site into a fortress, so you are depending on stealth for most of your protection. If you are alone, stealth is all you really have.
Cover your tracks. Don't wear a path between your sites. You don't want discovery of one site to lead to discovery of the others. This goes double for your water source. There should be no way to tell someone is using the creek, well or pond. This takes a lot of discipline.
Your kitchen area is the hardest to hide. Smoke from cooking fires is the biggest danger. You can avoid detection by using a propane or other type of cooking stove and cooking only non-smelly foods. (Odor from grilling meat can carry for miles, but simmering cracked wheat is not so bad.) If you plan to cook something smelly, consider cooking it up to a mile away from your hide site to avoid detection. In any case, no food should be eaten or prepared in the sleeping area. The sleeping area and guard post must remain undetectable at all times.
If the kitchen area is discovered while you are sleeping, you can either choose to fight or give them the kitchen. You may be able to lay low and avoid detection even if a whole gang shows up and discovers your kitchen/living area. They will only get a portion of your stocks and everybody gets to live another day. If you have access to Claymore mines and/or M16 bounding mines, you can probably use the kitchen as a kill zone and wipe out many times your number in bad guys, but remember, stealth is your biggest defense and any fighting entails a lot of risk.
Strangers that stumble upon your site can be dealt with in several ways. Simply hiding is a good approach if you can pull it off. If hiding is out, you will either have to talk to them or fight. If they are hunters and seem fairly well provisioned, be friendly and show them as little of your site as possible. Under no circumstances, show them your main food cache. Everyone has limits, so don't tempt them. They should not see anything they are willing to fight to possess. A couple of buckets of food are probably not worth getting shot over. If they are a small group and desperate, consider adopting them. Most people are pretty decent and if they see a good reason to team with you, they will do it. If you are all trying to survive and they see you as an ally, you are probably fairly safe. The added security of a few extra people could be a real plus. If your site has been compromised, remember, you can always move. You can even leave your cache in place and simply move your other two sites a couple of miles and you may be safe again.
You will need some supplies and equipment to hide in relative comfort. The suggested bug out bag for this scenario is a whole pickup truck load of stuff: Even if you wind up going to a shelter or a community center, you won't be showing up hungry with your hand out.
Weapons: In order to fight realistically, you will need a good rifle and of course ammunition for anyone in the group with skill. I personally prefer an old scoped Ishapore 2A1 [Enfiield] chambered in 7.62mm NATO, but almost anything will do as long as it is robust and you are skilled with it. Also a pump shotgun with lots of buckshot can be a real killer in a night fight. Night sights of some kind on the rifle are really useful. Modern thermal sights can be devastating. With luck and discipline you won't ever need to shoot anything, but having any firearm is much better than having none at all, and a rifle always beats a pistol at long range.)
An extra rifles to cache, with ammo, might be handy if you can keep them weatherproof.
Lots of buckets of storage food (Keep it all cached except one or two buckets at a time). 10 or more 5 gallon buckets of food per person is not excessive. The more food you have with you, the longer you can stay.
A case of MREs for each person, stored in the sleeping area. Also, your packs need to be wherever you are at all times. Remember to store water in the sleeping area. More than you think you need.
A main kitchen and backup stuff to keep cached. (in case you lose the kitchen).
When you are setting up your site, you will have to make multiple trips from the vehicles, but the more food you have, the longer you can stay hidden. Multiple caches can be strung out along an escape route or the route back to the trucks. Also, you will need basic camping gear and water purification, field sanitation supplies etc.
For each adult:
Backpack with frame : This is your last ditch bag and should be near you at all times.
Water filter (PUR backpack model) is a good one
polar pure Iodine crystals in every pack. They are light, cheap and essential.
Several plastic garbage bags. These have multiple uses. You can't have too many.
2 x canteens with cups. This allow you to carry some water and cook if you must.
6 x MRE in the pack (12 more at the cache or sleeping site)
P38 can opener
2 butane lighters
2 camping candles or other heat source
Box of self striking fire starters are sometimes handy
* LED light and spare batteries (rechargeable) can come in handy
*Someone should carry a 4 watt solar battery charger. These are important to have along [to charge batteries for night vision, communications, and intrusion detection gear.]
Generator radio AM/FM/Weather (with cell phone charger and LED light) This is a critical piece of equipment, so have two of them, but be careful not to play it out loud. Ear buds or head sets will keep you from giving your site away. Boredom is your biggest enemy and a radio can be a great way to stay entertained and silent [when not on a watch shift.]
A good sleeping bag is a must. It's cold underground or when you aren't moving.
Insulating ground pad is also a must.
1 emergency blanket/poncho
1 poncho liner (Army. Great piece of gear!)
1 x large drop cloth and a roll of heavy plastic are handy for underground living.
1 hat and wool glove inserts
1 set of thermal underwear (tops and bottoms)
An extra set of clothing. BDUs or other outdoor wear and a spare pair of boots (Clothing can be rolled up inside a plastic sheet and put into a laundry bag and carried outside the pack). Remember, extra socks and underwear are always needed!
Ka-Bar sheath knife (7 inch) or equivalent.
Leatherman Multitool or a Swiss army knife
Small machete (at least one in the group is very handy and has multiple uses).
Medical Stuff (I recommend keeping this with your last ditch bag)
Spare eyeglasses if needed
First Aid Kit for minor wounds
Imodium for emergency treatment of diarrhea (packets of salts are even better)
burn cream (not much is needed, but if you need it you will be glad you have it)
Chap stick or petroleum jelly
emergency blanket (cheap is fine)
Scalpels or Razor blades
Large bandages (2 or 3 can be life savers if someone is shot)
small lock blade knife
ID cards, credit cards, cash on hand
A pistol of some kind. I highly recommend the Ruger SP101 in .357 Magnum and a couple of speed loaders.
Other stuff to load in your truck or large car:
A bicycle! You can load a lot of stuff on a bicycle and cut down on the number of trips required from the vehicles to the hide site. Bike tracks are a giveaway, so make sure they start at least 25 meters from your vehicles and erase them as well as possible after the last trip. Whatever you use, be prepared and willing to haul everything by hand from your vehicles to the site. Without a bike or dolly, its going to require something like 12 trips. You can improve on this by using a cargo carrier of some kind. Vary your route between the vehicle and hide site to minimize your tracks. You might want to unload and then move your vehicles to avoid anyone tracking you.
Shovel, crosscut saw, axe or hatchet and pick axe (army E tools are light, but not as good as full size tools). All tools should be loaded in a bag that you can sling or tie to a bike.
100 ft roll of repelling rope may be very handy. 550 cord is also handy.
A roll of wire for rigging noise makers and rigging brush and shelter
Food: You will want 10 or 11 buckets for each member of your group:
6 buckets of wheat, 2 buckets of beans and 4 gallons of oil.
2 buckets of rice (and a bucket of sugar if you wish). and 2 pounds of salt. Spices and bullion are
very nice to have, but beware of odors!
This will be the bulk of your provisions and will weigh something like 400 pounds per person! Don't begrudge the weight. It will get lighter soon enough.
*24 rolls of toilet paper (in a plastic bag) You will miss this if you don't have any.
At least one grain mill. Two is much better. You can hide the extr aone in your cache.
(Split between 2 Duffel bags per 2 people): (this is your kitchen/living area stuff)
24 x MRE
Sterno stove + large candle heater in a can (12 face-inches of wick makes a lot of heat)
Fuel (10lb, paraffin to recharge cooker. Each pound will burn several hours with care )
If you are going to burn wood for fuel, use a hobo stove to minimize smoke and light.
4 pots. (2 for cooking, 1 for cleaning and one left with the food cache.)
A dutch oven is really handy. You won't regret the weight long when you cook with it
Tea, Coffee, Sugar, Gatorade powder
Tobacco (2 x 6 oz cans with rolling papers) (for those with a monkey on their backs)
Water, 6 liters (12 x 1/2 liter plastic bottles)
plastic bags. 20 heavy trash liners and 20 freezer storage bags
Spare batteries (12 x AA. Mostly for charity)
Soap, washcloth and towels (2 large ones)
4 large Poly Tarps (camo) and 550 chord
Fem pads (for that time of month. Include at least one bag per female per month)
Deck of cards
Bible and other reading material. Boredom will get you killed. Depression will too.
It might be worth the weight to carry a lot of books. Reading is a quiet activity and could keep you from going out of your mind!
In a suitcase or preferably another bucket that's waterproof (keep in the sleeping area.): Hat and wool glove inserts for each person. Extra clothing is good to have.
A wool sweater and outer cold weather gear. Blankets will be handy.
If you can manage to set up a hide site with these few essentials without anyone observing you, you can probably stay hidden for up to 200 days with care. That six month breather will allow you ample time to assess the conditions of the local area and plan your next move. More importantly, if a major population die-off is going on, a well stocked hide site will allow you to miss most of it. Hiding outdoors is not easy or comfortable, but it may be your best way to keep breathing.
[JWR Adds: Even the best defended retreat can't expect to hold out against a determined and well-equipped fighting force. If you hear that the muy malo hombres (or a nearby polity with kleptomaniacal intent) is heading up the road, abandoning your retreat may be your only choice.
As I have mentioned time and again in SurvivalBlog, pre-positioning supplies at your retreat is essential. You will not have time to pack. If you are fortunate, you will have time to put on your shoes. Having a hide prepared a half day's hike from your retreat, with food and gear already there, means you could avoid having to choose between an untenable fight and starving in the woods. Having a hide prepared could give you a couple weeks in safety to see what develops. You could then return to (or retake) your retreat, or abandon the area entirely, at your discretion.]