I design and operate databases for a living. The newest of these are assembled on analytic platforms structured to “draw conclusions” for clients in a wide (and formerly random) variety of scenarios. One of my developers is an analytic tools assembly expert who also works for some “security, emergency, and enforcement” government agencies in Washington, DC – all formerly separate agencies, and because of advancements in the technologies -- now “interoperating”. I am also a prepper with a Bug Out locale that fulfills my “survival vision” and inherently has most of the natural survival essentials on site, but one which needs some structural work that would be visible to aerial mapping when implemented. Another prepper colleague of mine who is part of our group has skills that I will generally classify as “ravine and bluff engineering”. Together we have tried to develop plans to address the visibility problem, and in doing so have hit a “snag” and have come to a conclusion that might be useful to many readers. So, it is with some expertise and some insight that I pose some thoughts for you today, with the hope that, if you are already knowledgeable on this subject, you might use these to simply update your information, or if you are not, that I might help to guide some of your decision making as I understand that your survival is at stake.
Two ideas: Presume for the moment that databases have already classified you as a threat or even a likely insurgent. Presume that your resources and assets are already known and well-catalogued, and that access, use, seizure, and in a worst case scenario, potential counter-insurgency plans are in the “system” that can be implemented against you -- precisely directed at what you have been “certain” all along are the excellent and generally secret attributes of your plans in rural and remote areas.
Most readers might agree somewhat with the first proposition, as previous military experience, FOID cards, post office signatures for receipt of gun parts and ammo, on-line purchases of water treatment, first aid gear, food storage etc. might be among a thousand other data points on-file somewhere with some kind of classification about you suitable to draw this conclusion. Fair enough. However, most preppers I have talked to argue that the second of these presumptions defies logic because they are so invested in how they see their retreat and in their belief that their “survival vision” is correct – a vision which can be generalized to be dependent on remote, defensible, small, self-sufficient, off the grid, and stealthy living. On the surface such strategic plans seem great. These might be the product of years of thinking, investing, and hard labor. The location is likely to be vast and rugged or heavily forested. It’s far from town. Nobody’s around. The prepper just wants to be left alone, poses no outward threat, and although he or she can and will defend themselves, they mean no harm to anyone. These plans are defensive and to be successful, they rely on distance, infrequent communications, and private activities. “Hard to find and not worth the effort” to take your stuff when TSHTF is the basic assumption. This is the snag we have run into. This may be a very false conclusion as I will detail below.
The facts are that local, county, regional, state, and federal database engineers, their supervising bureaucrats, and the analytic tools that they use every day have things sorted out quite differently. On the basis of regulations and new standards for inter-operability, the whole system may operate on the basis that your “resources” are “not yours” and, when associated with other large scale “emergency planning” scenarios, that your resources may be classified as public resources that can be and are likely to be acquired and controlled.
At the local level, this assumption is embodied in a concept now well developed into legal reality that the bureaucrats call “custodial responsibility” of your land. Because in times of crisis some natural resources may become scarce and thus more valuable (you did choose your retreat well), and because they have granted you a “permit” to occupy and use the land, and because you do, then you are more vulnerable to an “intervention” than you may have thought. And, worse, because this land information data is “integrated” and now “shared” and, in some instances, already merged with other personal data (perhaps your “threat” status?), when TSHTF, emergency management measures may go into effect that allow, and may even direct, emergency access to and use of your land. Like opening river floodgates with the knowledge that whole communities will be inundated and destroyed, geographic information system (GIS) data often drives decision making and therefore, regardless of property rights, the gates will open and the torrent will roll out across the countryside. The analogy is apt. Rural and remote geographies may deliberately be used in emergency management situations to absorb some of the impact of civil disaster, to provide material resources, to disperse the energy of the unrest, and to reduce as much stress as quickly as possible on more densely inhabited areas and infrastructure.
This is a tough scenario for preppers, as it runs counter to much of our planning, and therefore this idea of public access and use may be dismissed by those who are betting that they are safely out of the way and that the riots and mayhem will be contained in urban areas. But it is one which can be more easily understood and perhaps accepted after a cordial and scheduled visit by you to your county zoning office (or web site). More on this in a moment. First, some additional and quite prepper-sympathetic context.
Many of us have our remote retreats ready or almost ready. Most of the money has been spent. We have completed our “lists of lists” with some degree of satisfaction (there’s always more to do). And now we are increasingly confident that we were “right” and that our efforts make sense. Economic, political, and violent events are reaching crisis status worldwide and many of these now occur much closer to home. We find ourselves in a departure mode, just trying (before we leave) to encourage previously skeptical relatives and friends to understand the inevitable outcome of these events; to join us, and to answer the call to perpetuate and perhaps defend our God-given freedoms. We have come to a “final” acceptance that the world is going to cataclysmically change and that TEOTWAWKI is upon us.
However, we may be quite mistaken about this. TEOTWAWKI has already occurred! And not in a way that we might have expected with the lights going out and cities on fire. It happened in a small office in a rural or remote American county when the final little corner of a gridded digital foundation layer within an ArcGIS® and ArcView® database was scanned in and added after 30 years of data development – one that finally incorporates (perhaps) your own remote parcel of land.
Unaware (perhaps “untroubled” says it better) of the long-term “land planning” effort to complete of ubiquitous federal, regional, state, or county “mapping initiatives”, preppers have worked to gather their resources. We may have even used GIS tools in order to acquire our land, set up our survival plan, and implement our survival vision. And now, because all the indicators of genuine conflict are imminent, preppers feel that it is finally time to finally occupy and use their land – to retreat from people and events – to fortify and guard those second homes, retreats, and redoubts. Thus, operational or tactical (rather than strategic) conversations about high ground, fields of fire, virtual and physical moats, sensors, buried propane tanks, sentry duty, and keeping marauders at bay more frequently occur.
Our final preparation discussions may go further (now that most resources are in place) about how to care for other family members and trusted friends who may be ill or disabled, and how to provide assistance to elderly parents. Yet, because some tiny bit of data was added to a database (even as far back as 1980 in some counties), the implementation of some of our own acquisition, defensive, and operational plans may be too late, and even unnecessary for reasons outlined below. Building and burying concrete bunkers may not actually be a good idea… and setting up “tank traps” and defensive barriers may be a waste of time and resources and best put aside while we turn to more collaborative strategies and address more immediate needs such as tending woodlots, raising chickens, planting square foot gardens, networking with like-minded neighbors, and perhaps learning to do dentistry in case there are no dentists (Yikes! Unlikely, but you gotta have some sense of humor in all this.)
The facts are that there are present in county offices in many small towns “experts with plans” that may surprise and even shock many preppers. When you meet them on a friendly and professional basis, you will conclude that they are generally well-meaning and think their work for various government agencies is vitally important for the common good (think of rapid responses to 911 calls or management of hazardous waste disasters). But, after all the good will, legal argument, and fuzzy feelings are expressed, they will tell you and may even show you what they have been doing and what they can actually do under the common rules for zoning: referred to in some states as Land Information Planning (LIP).
LIP can be summarized as integrating and sharing data in “layers” of GIS data about the precisely-located Bug Out Place you think is your own – all of which is designed to fulfill and support the afore-mentioned custodial responsibilities by authorities. The GIS digital system works by assembling “foundational” and common data elements, by establishing inter-agency government agency training, communications, and education programs, and by facilitating “technical assistance” for all kinds of authorities at the local, state, and federal level.
The simple truth is that they know where you are. They know who you are. They know what you have. They may already know what you are doing or may be capable of doing (think of all the county departments that have your records digitized -- Deeds, Tax Rolls, Land Records, Surveyor, Planning, Zoning, Sheriff, Emergency Management, Agriculture, Forestry, and IT just to name a few).
Among the GIS layers (some scanned-in and digitized decades ago) are “new” and very sophisticated GPS-controlled geographic reference frameworks developed for parcel mapping, parcel administration, public access (including back roads and even footpaths if well used via Regional Road Directory (RRD), soils mapping, wetlands mapping, land use mapping. (Got a garden? Hobby farm? Spring? Pond? Shoreline? Serious acreage?, then “natural resources”, infrastructure and facilities mapping may already have you mapped. (Think in terms of electric grid, phone and computer services, gas and oil pipelines, water, septic, sewage, pumping stations, dams, bridges, etc.) There is also something called Forestry Reconnaissance, and “institutional arrangements and integration” (think police and emergency access). Much of this foundational data across the USA has been completely compiled -- and nearly all of it is now updated by aerial observation on a semi-annual or more frequent basis. You can’t hide what you are doing. And, if you can’t easily do it now, you may not be able to do what you want to do later when TSHTF without a lot of help, time, and energy.
Want a visit from an “inspector”? Then dig a hole. Clear a field. Add a roof. Cut a fence line. Plant. Irrigate. Mound dirt from an underground excavation. Drive across dusty open land. These visual and sometimes thermal “changes” on base layer information clearly appear on the GIS updates. They are computer-compared and professionally observed. They are automatically evaluated then flagged. The flagging may prompt “interventions” at any time (think EPA) and may prompt other more unexpected activities once TSHTF (and possibly much more importantly and nasty) once these GIS databases are hacked and the core information is distributed to “unfriendlies” who are smart enough to want it and get it.
This observation on our technological vulnerability suggests that building our “castles and moats” and spending our energy and money in hopes to hide out, get off the grid, and live peacefully in small tribes is not nearly as rational as we might wish, and that a secondary strategy should be adopted which recognizes that they can easily “see us”, that well-established, redundant, and hardened technology is our enemy, that TEOTWAWKI has already occurred, and that for some very good reasons we better rethink about what our “survival vision” really should be.
Since our assets are easily observed and already ranked and prioritized by “value”, our survival preparation may more effectively depend on revealing and then linking these resources among ourselves, and by establishing new networks and creating closer relationships with others in our geographies with whom we can communicate, get to quickly, and achieve the advantage of mass in either defensive or offensive actions. An understanding (maybe acquisition and use?) of GIS technologies and mapping can enable preppers to make more flexible plans and be much more “mobile” and responsive to threats. With LIP as a controlling factor, using the information and technology may be more valuable than barbed wire and bullets to stem the tide. More like-minded people must easily be gathered when authorities may be overwhelmed or when those authorities bring their own action against us as we are flagged as perceived or real threats.
Summary and Conclusions: We may reluctantly concede that as individuals we may already be digitally classified as threats and therefore potential insurgents. The bigger issue is that we may also have to agree that our hide-out survival vision may be incorrect and need substantial modification. It is a fundamental mistake to think we are not “visible” in our retreats in the mountains or the woods. Knowing that even small local governments have generally completed LIP initiatives, that the data is transferable and shared with other databases, that authorities have assumed or have been legally granted “custodial responsibilities” for our property and our resources, we must contemplate modifying our vision from one where success is no longer entirely based on distance, infrequent communications, and on trying to create and carry out “invisible” private activities to one where closer proximity, more frequent communications, common use of data tools and technology, and more open and direct action can hold back the tide when TSHTF.
A personal note and an excellent example: Throughout history there are countless examples of successful survival strategies and tactics, but one family story comes to mind that is worth telling as it relates to the use of geography and local resources, and to the development of a perception and a reality for an enemy that a fight they wanted was not worth making – where the battlefield was well understood by the defenders, where communications and mobility were key factors, and where the outcome was a great conflict successfully avoided and everyone survived.
The setting was Cincinnati in 1862. Confederate General Kirby Smith had arrived on the scene with a formidable, well trained and well equipped army, capturing Lexington Kentucky. Smith ordered his junior officer, General Henry Heth to cross the Ohio River and capture Cincinnati. With a real battle looming, Ohio was in an uproar. Defensive resources were slim. The Governor and Union Officers called for volunteers. Riders went out to the surrounding counties and armed men responded to their call. Nearly 16,000 civilians would come into town carrying “antiquated” weapons, and this body was properly and proudly referred to as the Squirrel Hunters. These men had no military training, but “they could shoot the eye out of a squirrel at 100 yards”. My own great-grandfather was among them. The name and size of the group said it all, and within a few days, the Confederate forces withdrew and left the area. Crossing the river under the fire of back country sharpshooters was not an option. Well-understood geography, quick communications, and responsive people saved the day.
Citations, Locales, and Sourcing: [Deleted by the Editor, for OPSEC.]