Storage Spaces Category

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Hoping you could answer a quick question. I put two jars full of silica gel packets in a glass jar and set them in a oven at 200 degrees over night to dry them out. I noticed that a couple of the bags broke open and the silica gels were brown. Does that make them non effective. I thought they were white to start with.

Thank you and may God's blessings be upon you and your family.

P.S.- I liked your comment on one of your interviews where you stated your prayer is for God to put you in the right place at the right time with the right people. Very nicely said. - G.

HJL Replies: I had to ask one of our long time readers, and he had this answer for you:

Cobalt chloride (incorrectly called Silica) will usually turn blue when reactivated. It is pinkish/purple or just light blue when "wet" and is a heavy metal salt that is toxic. Brown "silica" (which isn't silica at all) is usually "chippy" and turns dusty with age. I guess it depends on what color they started life out as.

Actual silica gel is a porous granular form of a synthetically manufactured product made from sodium silicate, which is indeed a very high capacity adsorbent. Capillary condensation is the process involved in adsorbing moisture. It is non-toxic and is food safe. Most gel is labeled toxic and is in the cobalt chloride form. Real silica gel turns a very dark green when exhausted, but there may be some iron salts in a high capacity version which may turn from a deep orange to a pale yellow when saturated. The orange MIGHT be construed as brown. It can adsorb up to 40 percent of its own weight in water.

The container they are in is usually tyvek, which has a melting point of 250 degrees F. It is indeed important to check the oven's temperature with a thermometer. I recommend heating to 235 degrees for at least 3 hours and certainly no more than 250 degrees. Caution is in order because the fluctuation of oven temperature is pretty wide in most ovens. Other materials such as plastic and metals are also used for a silica container.

Long story short, it's probably old stuff and the toxic version of "silica". - F.B.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Captain Rawles,
In response to the excellent article regarding hidden wall caches I have some feedback. I work in the tiling industry for an unnamed mid-south distributor. As a distributor for Schluter Systems I have sold many of this kit for installers / homeowners to use for concealed access panels. Schluter Rema is the trade name. They come in quite handy for whirlpool tubs wherein access is required for frequent pump maintenance.

I have sold many of these and have had no complaints. Best wishes, - Matt in Ohio

Thursday, October 24, 2013

I hope all is well. I Was reading the reply to the post on "Constructing In-House Caches." I have been thinking on this one lately and working on solutions to the problem of attachment, actually came across the solution while working for a contractor on a client's high end project and trying to build false panels to hide a security control panel.

The solution we came up with was rare earth magnets found here or elsewhere on the net as well. you can google it!
If you have plywood paneling you can attach the magnets with a screw to the surface of the paneling and then countersink the magnet on the framing side into the studs, you could also if your paneling is thick enough countersink a larger magnet into the ply panel and use an epoxy similar to the Simpson SET-XP® 10 that can be found at most home improvement or hardware stores, this stuff is sticky and will adhere to the back and sides of the magnet if you rough it up with an abrasive wherever you want the epoxy to adhere. (NOTE: You must countersink the magnet below flush in the panel and use a generous amount of epoxy, or it will not hold.) We used a combination of larger flat magnets drilled through and fastened with screws and epoxy to the ply panels and large cylindrical magnets press fit into holes in the studs, easily retained the large 3/4" plywood panels, as for a way to remove the panels we put a couple of false electrical and cable outlets on the wall panel, the one outlet was actually live but it gave us a grasping point after removing the face plate and then the panel was easily plucked from the wall. I would suggest making up thickened ply panels at least 3/4" or thicker to make them appear to be firmly fastened, they will make a different noise when thumped if you just use the 3/8" wood paneling. Will not be convincing, and will not hold the magnets sufficiently. These magnets are real strong, but don't skimp on them and you won't be unhappy, and in this case if you go too big, you may not be able to pull them apart, so don't get too carried away. - Tom R. in Hawaii

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

I have just finished listening to the audiobook of your novel Expatriates with great enjoyment. Eric Dove does a great job voicing the various characters and, to this yank's ear, a credible "Aussie" accent was required.

I wanted to add a bit to the account of Chuck's rifle hide behind wall paneling. I am a cabinet maker and have spent more than a few hours puzzling over the various problems and pitfalls of concealed storage. Several are present in Chuck's solution.

While I do not like Velcro (as it wears out, accumulates litter and makes noise) if dots are to be used,  (a) raw wood tends to shed self adhesive material such as is common to these dots and (b) one needs to account for the thickness of the Velcro hook and loop sandwich which will cause the removable panel to be proud of its neighbors. Finally we need some way to grasp the panel easily to remove it once it is all setup, since repeated prying or levering can scar it.

To accommodate the Velcro thickness, gently pry out and shim the adjacent wall panning sufficient to match the thickness of the Velcro hook and loop. Pieces of thin sheet plastic won't swell or attract moisture. let the shim extend so that it will back up the removable panel between hook and loop dots. If the panel nails are sunk as a result of this adjusting, use a furniture repair stick or putty of the appropriate color to fill the holes.

To ensure that firm attachment of the Velcro, the panel back and studs should be sanded  enough to produce a smooth, whisker free surface. Apply one or more coats a good contact adhesive to seal the surface fibers. Allow to dry tack free and then apply the dots.

For removal of the panel a "handle" can be as simple as a hook for a picture. Ideally located near an corner or at least an edge of the panel (between vertical studs). Glue a block on the back side and screw a hook into it through the panel's front. Hang a picture on the hook.

As an alternate solution, flexible magnet tape and short sections of steel angle could be used. The angle can be screwed to the sides of the studs and set back from the stud's front by the thickness of the magnetic tape thus avoiding the need to shim out adjacent panels. - Dollardog

Thursday, September 19, 2013

I work for a large, three-letter computer manufacturer with a penchant for Blue.

Joe Ax's comments about the problems with maintaining a digital library are right on the money. When I worked in our Storage Division (hard disks, tapes, etc.), this issue came up during a talk on medical systems' storage needs. There is a requirement for medical records to be maintained 100 years, and yet no computer data storage system has been designed to do this.

So what is the 'solution'? 

It seems that doctor's offices are cajoled/required/encouraged to upgrade their office systems on average of about every five years. In so doing, all of their old records are transferred to the new system. This side-steps the problem without actually solving it.

While I am a big fan of digital libraries, I think that every book/document which is  absolutely essential to a prepper be 'backed up' by keeping a print copy on high quality  paper. At the present time, this is the most practical solution I am aware of.

Best Regards, - Bear

As the author of the original article I wanted to wait for a while to try and address several of the issues (all good points) raised, and clarify why I made the various choices I did in my suggestions.

Some responses seem to have missed my main thrust which was bringing this concept in at the best matrix between cost, accessibility, usability, longevity, and availability of surplus gear. Obviously this type of matrix has some degree of subjectivity.

The reason I chose XP was because of the recommendation I made for purchasing older, obsolete laptops which probably will not be capable of running Windows 7 or Vista. This met my criteria for cost, usability, and availability. As one response noted correctly, the original activation can be done offline using a telephone. Copies of XP that are not pirated can still be purchased online cheaply. Also may of the surplus laptops may already come with an activation sticker (license key) still attached which obviates the need to even purchase a copy. Activation should be done ahead of time. In a grid down or disaster situation there are a variety of (relatively) easy methods to bypass the activation should the laptop decide it needs to be reactivated.

At least one response mentioned the lack of updates and age of XP as an issue. This is the primary reason I stressed to never connect these laptops to any network. It didn't have anything to do with backdoors or NSA access, it is purely to remove issues related to having the information on your digital library laptop leaked out to internet and remove the need to frequently update and patch the systems. The second simplest system to secure is one that is never connected to another system. The simplest system to secure is one that doesn't exist. (Yes, that's rather zen-ish but I like it. =)

Another letter addressed the changes in technology making backup media obsolete, and failure rates. I believe this response failed to read my entire article. This is why I stressed rebuilding the backup media every 24 to 36 months. It allows reorganization of your digital library as well as alleviates the issue of age related data corruption. Also keeping as many spares as practical, and supplies of backup media.

Several users mentioned Linux. While Linux is my personal preferred operating system, I have spent a certain amount of time doing end user support, development, and security for Linux/Unix and Windows operating systems and I would put a 95% chance that there isn't a single person on this forum who has not used Windows, and most will have used (or are still using) XP.

I would be surprised if more than 10% even have heard of Linux. Having taught a number of classes involving both Windows and Linux over the years, I will tell you there is a significant learning curve between the two environments, not the least being conceptual rather than technical. And for the Apple fan-boys out there, I'm lumping MAC OS X in with Linux at the conceptual level -- and yes, I know it is a BSD derivative. =)

Another response mentioned Calibre for a digital library organizer. This is an excellent program, and I do use it. If you are careful to tag (add index keywords to documents) that you import, it makes an excellent resource tool for organizing documents. However as a different respondent mentioned, I also primarily rely on a simple folder structure. This allows me to also include other document types (blueprints, schematics, etc.) in related folders. Also don't be afraid to have multiple copies of the same document. For example I have copies of documents relating to making charcoal in folders under 'Consumables/Smithing', 'Food/Smoking', 'Fuel/Wood', and several other locations.

All of this aside, ask 10 geeks how to preserve a digital library and you'll get at least 20 answers. As presented mine is only one of many approaches that are all workable, cost effective, and can be implemented by someone without a ton of technical expertise.

Go with God, - H335

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In "Letter Re: Advice on Firearms Caching", Mark J. wrote "Should I simply use a Hot Hands hand warmer inside the mylar bag and then another one inside the PVC tube? I should not have to worry about moisture if it is vacuum sealed? right? "

Well, no--regardless of the chemicals in the heater. Putting any temporary heat source in a sealed container may actually cause corrosion or water damage that wouldn't have happened before.

This is why:
Heating air does not remove moisture from a confined environment; it simply increases the air's ability to absorb moisture from other objects in that environment. That sounds exactly like what we want--except, this only lasts as long as the air stays warm. If the warm, moisture-laden air isn't moved out of the environment, when that air cools back down it will no longer be able to hold the extra moisture, and the moisture it was holding will condense back out of the air--probably as droplets on the surfaces within the container. The galvanic action that causes corrosion is especially strong on the edges of formed water droplets, and is often why we see pitting of metal surfaces.

When using heat to remove moisture, either the heat must stay on, or the moisture-laden air should be able to circulate away from the item(s) being protected before the air can cool. Folks often think of the warming dehumidifiers used in gun safes--these work for two reasons: much of the warm, moisture-laden air is circulated out every time the door is opened, and when the door stays closed, the heater keeps the environment constantly warm.

These principles are true for any sealed environment, whether its a PVC tube or a CONEX shipping container.

Thanks, - Britt (A Mechanical Engineer with experience in the HVAC industry)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Did you ever wonder just how waterproof your ammunition is?  Over the years I’ve seen ammo stored in everything from cardboard boxes in the attic to sealed ammo cans in the basement, to fruit jars in the refrigerator.    Case corrosion and propellant degradation can occur as a result of exposure to elements, oxygen, and extreme fluctuations in temperature and humidity.  Think of the times when both you and your ammunition were exposed to the elements…wouldn’t it be nice to add one more layer of reliability to your primary weapon system – by ensuring waterproof reloads?  Okay, I’m not going to go into the basics of reloading…just going to talk about a few of the evolutionary steps I’ve taken to ensure that my reloads work as intended.

Being a re-loader of metallic cartridges for some time, I finally decided to conduct an un-scientific experiment of various ammunitions’ ability to remain viable after being underwater for 48 hours.   From a long-term storage and use perspective the military has some of the best ammunition around.  U.S. Military small arms ammunition is mostly produced today in the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Liberty, Missouri.   M193 55 grain Full Metal Case (FMC) 5.56 ball, M855 62 grain FMC ball, M85 7.62, 9mm ball, etc – all have bullets and primers sealed during manufacture.  Further, the primers are ‘crimped’ to ensure a better seal and avoid any possibility of the primer dislodging during firing and potentially injuring the operator, damaging or ‘jamming’ a weapon.   A spent primer in the lower receiver of the AR-15/M16 family of weapons can find its way under the trigger group, and prevent the full range of trigger travel required to fire the weapon.  In a serious situation – this could be a life-ending malfunction.  

Since most of us can’t afford to purchase the full amount of military grade small arms ammunition we might like to stock for future ‘famines’ or any other reasons,  we’ve turned to reloading.   Or, it could be that you have non-military calibers in your fleet that you re-load and wish to maintain.  All center-fire rifle and pistol ammunition can be reloaded as long as it’s ‘boxer’ (not Berdan) primed.  Boxer primed simply means one priming hole in the center of the cartridge base.  Berdan primed cases have two or more small holes (off center) and standard reloading dies can’t ‘punch’ the spent primers out through the bottom of the case.  Most steel cased ammunition from overseas is Berdan primed.  It varies widely in performance and quality, but generally it’s decent for long term storage, probably water-proofed to some degree by sealer or total case ‘lacquering’.   When you can find it cheap it’s fine for long term storage and ‘shoot it and leave it’ applications.   One of the hazards commonly associated with lacquered cases is build-up of the lacquer material in the weapons chamber.  This usually occurs only when the weapon gets hot through rapid-fire sessions.  The lacquer can melt in the chamber, then cool and harden – potentially causing a fail to chamber, or more likely, a failure to extract.  This is more common in weapons that don’t sport a chrome chamber, but it can occur with any of them.   Accuracy of overseas military surplus ammunition is generally man-of-angle but nothing close to what a determined re-loader with some patience can achieve.   I’ve stored some of the mildly corrosive Wolf and Norinco ammunition for well over 30 years, with no degradation to reliability.  Is it as good as brass-cased, US military grade ammunition?  Absolutely not – but it beats the heck of throwing rocks and falls into the ‘good enough’ and ‘grateful to have it’ and ‘serviceable’ category.  However, the vast majority of military ball is just that – full metal jacket – and if you want to load hollow points, match bullets, etc you can exercise this option and still build reliability into the products.

Moisture and oil are the two biggest killers of smokeless powder and primers.  Avoid any exposure of oil to the inside of the cartridge case, powder and especially the primers.  The more cautious reloader keeps all primers in sealed ammo cans, with desiccant, in a cool and dry environment until loading time.    When I purchase primers and powder, I mark the year and the month of purchase, loading the oldest first.  During reloading I only handle individual primers with tweezers – never my greasy fingers, lest I inadvertently contaminate the primer with traces of oil.  This author has also started sonic cleaning his brass (after tumbling and de-priming) to ensure that no foreign substances are lucking inside the case.  For this I’ve settled on a cheap cleaner from Harbor Freight Tools, and about 3 tablespoons of Citranox per load.   I can usually get two to three baskets of brass cleaned before switching the cleaning solution.  After I pull them from the cleaner, I rinse twice in clean water.  Two successive 5-gallon buckets of clean water do the trick.  Then I dry on 170 degrees on a cookie sheet in mom’s oven until good and dry.

Many of you out there reload military brass, and have encountered the crimp around the primer.  After de-capping, that crimp must be removed in some fashion to ensure that a new primer can be seated without deforming or catching on the remnants of the crimp.  It can be removed through reaming – removing case material in the priming hole at about a 45 degree angle until the little rim left from crimping is removed.  Hand reamers and electric reamers are available from a variety of resources.  However, I’ve over-reamed a few cases in my day with a Black and Decker Drill and large bit.  Due to the lack of precision in my process I learned about primer venting, and sacrificed an AR-15 bolt in the process.  It slowly became obvious to me by looking at my once fired brass.  There were small black holes where gases escaped by the primer.  Shoot an entire 1,000 rounds like I did and you’ll notice a small recessive furrow melted in a perfectly concentric pattern around the firing pin hole on the bolt face.  This was caused by a majority of 1,000 primers venting and melting small pits into the face of the bolt.  I noticed it after the first 30 rounds or so, but decided to just sacrifice one bolt rather than many. It was either shoot them all – or pull all those bullets.

Currently, I prefer the Dillon’s Super Swage 600 for rolling back the crimp on military brass.  It bolts to the bench and simply removes the crimp by pushing it back with a tapered, hardened rod.  It appears more consistent to me and doesn’t weaken the pocket by removing case metal.  Once you’ve done this you now have a slightly tapered pocket just like you find on commercial loads.  However, the lack of a crimped primer makes it easier for moisture to contaminate the primer and powder.  The hotter your loads and the more your load your brass, the looser these primer pockets become.  If you don't want to take the time to prepare all that brass yourself a source I do recommend is  Send an e-mail to Aaron and he'll get back to you with prices on brass preparation.  He's very reasonable, fast and honest. 

After a bit of research on the internet I found Midway was carrying Markron Custom Bullet and Primer Sealer in ½ liquid oz packages.   The product information claims that an application of this “will keep moisture out up to 30 days of complete water submersion.”   In order to test my reloads I took 12 rounds of Lake City 5.56 brass, swaged and reloaded them with 55 grain bullets.  I also took 12 rounds of .45 ACP that I’d reloaded with at least once-fired commercial brass and Montana Gold 185 grain hollow points.   I then applied the Markron sealer to the primer as well the exterior of the case where the bullet meets the case mouth.   I was careful not to apply too much around the bullet, especially with the .45 ACP since these rounds head-space off the case mouth.  Although drying time is specified as 5 minutes, I let them dry overnight.  For the ‘control group’ I used the same batch of 5.56 and .45 reloads but without the primer sealer.  I also included 12 rounds of Lake City M855 ball that have been carried a bit, but were as good as new.   All these rounds went into separate coffee cans full of water. There they stayed for 48 hours.  

The results of this layman’s experiment follow:





.45 ACP Reload 185 JHP

Not Sealed



.45 ACP Reload 185 JHP




5.56 LC Reload 55 FMJ

Not Sealed



5.56 LC Reload 55 FMJ




5.56 LC M855 Factory

Sealed from factory



What was surprising to me was that fully 25% of my small sample of .45 ACP and 8% of the 5.56 that were unsealed failed to fire.  Just to be sure, I went ahead and re-hit all of these primers at least twice.  They were dead as a doornail.  Collectively that’s a 16.6% failure rate for unsealed ammunition.  Placed in a more positive light – that’s a 100% success rate for primers sealed with Markron Primer Sealer.   As expected – the M855 Lake City ball was as tight as ever and never failed to fire.  At this point I decided to test the limits of this primer sealer, as well as search for a ‘local option’ that might be cheaper and still fit the bill.   I settled on Spar Urethane, which seems a bit thick for the application, but dabbed on with a small paint brush and excess removed with a clean rag seemed like a logical choice.  I sealed 15 rounds primer only, and another 15 both primer and bullet. After application I let the rounds dry 48 hours, then submerged in water for 48 hours.  With 30 test rounds of 5.56 reloads, it became apparent that this stuff indeed keeps the water out.    Be advised that all these bullets were also crimped with a Lee Factory Crimp die.  Results were very positive. 





5.56 LC Reload with FMJ

Sealed Primer



5.56 LC Reload with FMJ

Sealed Primer and Bullet



Conclusions:  For water resistance and reliability this author is going to start sealing all reloads, and all factory ammo that isn’t visibly sealed, prior to placing it into storage.  This will help ensure reliability under adverse conditions, less than ideal storage, hunting, or whatever environment you might find yourself in. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Hi James,
After a firearm has been oiled up with RIG grease and vacuum sealed, I want to put it into a rifle length mylar bag as well and then put into a 6" PVC tube.  Should I simply use a Hot Hands hand warmer inside the mylar bag and then another one inside the PVC tube?  I should not have to worry about moisture if it is vacuum sealed? right?  I do have some silica gel packs but did not know if you can mix the two together.

I tried to do a search on your site but could not find the right information.

Thanks Jim for all your research and God Bless all your efforts. - Mark J.

JWR Replies: DO NOT use hand warmers or oxygen absorbers for storing guns, ammunition, or tools!  Use only silica gel.

Here is quote from the Hot Hands web site:

Q.  What’s in a pack? What makes it work?
A.  Our HeatMax® family of air activated warmers all contain a mixture of natural ingredients that when exposed to air react together to produce heat. This is accomplished through an extremely fast oxidation (or rusting) process. Ingredients include: iron powder, water, salt, activated charcoal and vermiculite. HeatMax® has perfected the process so that our warmers, depending on the individual product, produce heat anywhere from 100°F to 180°F for duration of 1 to 20+ hours.

Putting rust, water, and salt in proximity of your stored guns is a potential disaster. Again, use only silica gel. To be sure that the silica gel has the full desired desiccating effect, dry the packets in an oven overnight on low heat (175 degrees.) That will drive out any accumulated moisture.

Concerning the recent posts (all good) about a digital library:

I admit I didn't read every word, but as a fairly long time (23+ years) IT professional for the same company, I would be remiss to not identify the problems we have had.

First off understand, technology always marches on! And whiles many times I have successfully restored rewritten 20+ year old data, there have been many failures. As densities of storage medium grows the physical size of the actual stored information shrinks! So the actual stored magnetic 1's and 0's are written is in smaller and smaller spaces, becoming ever more susceptible to corruption. And this is but one of the dangers of data storage. Technological advances are probably even more troublesome.

During my 23 year tenure we have changed the backup medium at least 4 times and densities at least 3 times. Each requiring a different piece of hardware. Many requiring a re-reading from the old format and re-writing to the new format.  From 1/2" reel to reel type tape, to 1/4" cartridge tape, to low density 8 mm VCR type tape, to high density 8 mm tape, and now on to several different densities of the newer LTO format. We literally have several thousand tapes in our digital backups, but currently I can only read the last three generations. If you do not transfer your data to the current medium in a timely manner then your data stands at risk!

Optical technologies are a bit more stable, but I believe the DVD gold standard medium is only good for about 20 years. Assuming you have hardware that can read a DVD 20 years from now! And if the markets decides DVDs  (reference the old VHS or Laser-disc!) are no longer valid, then poof they are gone. These changes don't happen overnight, but rather in months to a year or so. You need to stay vigilant.

Understand that there is no guarantee that the IDE / USB drive you have backed up onto will be readable in the future. The old (late 1980's to mid 1990's) MFM interface (modified frequency modulation) drives are ancient and you would be lucky to find anyone who knows of them or to find a working interface for current PC's! The USB (2.0) 3.0 interface of today may well fall to the OMLITNNFIITW (Oh my Lord its the next new fastest interface in the world) syndrome. For example, there are few IDE interfaces available on the motherboards of today, most are SATA. Almost no serial ports to be found on the motherboards of today. A parallel port is a dinosaur. And it's next to impossible to find a floppy interface on today's motherboards, though you can still find USB floppy drives. For how long? Your guess is as good as mine!

The current SATA drive interface may last for decades, or just until they find something better. And the newer incredibly fast PCI-SATA interface is hitting the market as we speak. How long will either last? After 23 years the only thing I know is, is that change is constant!

In short computers are a dynamic and ever changing medium. As is your backup medium.

See you on the FALFiles, - Joe Ax

Friday, September 6, 2013


Regarding the article "Preserving a Digital Library" written by "H335": Windows XP requires [remote] activation [from a Microsoft server]!

If XP runs at all after a fresh install, it'll only be for a few days.  If you find yourself reloading XP on a computer in any sort of a grid-down situation, you're not going to be calling up Microsoft to get your fresh install of XP activated.  Without activation, you can't even log in to Windows XP.

If you want to run a Microsoft operating system, I'd suggest Windows 7.  I've been running a copy unactivated on a laptop for well over a year just to see what it will do. It complains a bit, but has yet to stop me from using it in any way.  I have no experience with Windows 8.x yet.

Or, use an operating system that doesn't require any sort of activation. Just my $0.02. - F.C.

I wrote about the tin "whisker" problem a couple of years ago and you published it on your blog, but it merits bringing up the subject again. As an electronics design engineer in the space environment and high reliability systems it is worth nothing that since the RoHS initiative that caused the lead to be removed from solder in modern consumer electronics the MTBF is reduced by an order of magnitude, even if the equipment is stored unpowered the tin will still grow whiskers.

Since modern electronics has very close spacing, especially laptops and the such, the whiskers can grow and short pins in a matter of months in some cases. Please have your readers research this for themselves. NASA has done the best job in this area I have seen. I have experienced first hand failures due to this phenomenon, I will see if I can get you some SEM
pictures. Old desktops will last longer due to the larger size components and component spacings in some cases. If you have old pre RoHS computers keep them even if you are stuck with Windows 98 SE or Windows 2000, in the long term of 10-20 years after TEOTWAWKI it may be the only hope. I personally back up data on different brands of CD's once a year and keep the old ones too. Please see the following listed web sites. Note that the wikipedia link will
not paste correctly due to the trailing ")" at the end of the link.


- Jimmy in California

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I have some of the larger military surplus ammo cans and would like to build my own Faraday cages to store my spare electronics [to protect them from EMP or a severe solar storm]. Do you have any sources to guide me?

OBTW, I just finished reading your novel "Patriots". That was a great read and I could not put it down. Regards,- J.L. (Former NYPD Officer)

JWR Replies: What you plan to do is is pretty simple, since the can and lid are already great Faraday shields. The only issue is the gap where they join. That joint needs to be conductive, in order to create a fully protective cage. I recommend that you:

1.) Remove the can's rubber gasket. (Save it, in case you decide to restore the can to water-tightness, at a later date.)

2.) Wearing eye protection, use some coarse sandpaper or a rotary wire brush to remove the paint on at least a 3-inch section of both the top lip of the can and underneath the lid where the gasket was attached. This bare metal will provide a good electrical contact between the lid and body of the can.

3.) Replace the gasket with a continuous thick "fuzz" of stainless steel wool that will just barely allow the lid to to be clamped shut. (Selecting the correct thickness to use takes a bit of experimentation.) The steel wool can be glued in place so long as you do not insulate the short section(s) where you sanded off the paint.

Store items inside wrapped in plastic bags or in heavy duty cling wrap, to insulate them from the can. Use additional padding (bubble pack or gray foam) inside if the cans will be transported loaded with fragile gear.

Do not add an external grounding strap.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Captain Rawles,
I have a question about military wall lockers. I have searched high and low trying to locate some military wall lockers for gear storage but have been unable to find any as you mentioned in your novel "Patriots". I was just wondering if you had any ideas where I might be able to find some. Thanks for any help you can give me in this area or any alternatives you can suggest.  Thanks, - Tony from Texas 

JWR Replies: Any large steel lockers or cabinets with solid backs and tight-fitting doors will do.  The crucial thing for storing your food and field gear is that they be mouse proof.

Check Craigslist and Freecycle first, for local bargains. If you can't find any individuals with lockers or cabinets for sale then do a web search or your local Yellow Pages for any nearby used office furniture or used industrial shelving companies.

Reader Tom K. mentioned that the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office (DRMO) has sales to the public at many locations around the world.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Hello Mr. Rawles
, I enjoy your site. A good idea if you are in the market for a used CONEX shipping container would be to take a container inspection form that you could get online from numerous sources, American Bureau of Shipping to start. A proper inspection form could help you to assess your container. Thanks, - Ed B.

JWR Replies: Thanks for that advice. I just found this detailed inspection guide available online. I also found a more brief Army inspection procedure in FM 55-17.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

I have read over every article with the term CONEX in it on and have determined that we need to find a CONEX container that we can pack stuff into, get moved to a new location and store things in.

How do you evaluate potential sellers of CONEX boxes?  I followed the links on this SurvivalBlog article,

...which led me to:

...which led me to a container company in Kansas City, Missouri.

I have now found this site that sells containers closer to where I need one:

My question to you: How do I know if they are reputable, trustworthy and all the other things I should know about them?

Thanks for all your work and this site that is an education place for many of us.  You know, this site may be one of many blogs that really are a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC.)

Blessings, - H.A.

JWR Replies: You really need to ask around with former buyers, locally.  Most companies have a reference list that they can hand you. If not, then ask: "Who are some if your regular customers? Also do a BBB check.

It is also very important to buy a CONEX built with Corten steel construction for the longest life. (Corten steel is also known as "Weathering Steel.")

Some dealers will let you "hand pick" from among several CONEXes.  If so, then carefully inspect the door hardware for good function and a tight seal, and also have someone shut you in for just a minute to check for light leaks--especially in the top.  Also look and sniff for signs that anything toxic might have spilled. Write down the marking numbers of the one you approve and insist that only that particular one be delivered.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Last week I returned home, after being away for a few days, to find a good portion of my preps under 30 inches of scuzzy water due to a flash flood that hit my neighborhood.  They were stored in my unfinished basement that also housed a permanent sump pump installed in one corner which was supposed to prevent such flooding.

When I started down the stairs to the basement I was met with a really strong musty smell.  I couldn't get down the last 3 steps due to the high water.  I noticed a couple of my #2.5 cans of freeze dried food floating nearby and fished them out of the water.  The cans were slimy and smelly but the labels were still somewhat intact.  I sat down on the step and used a powerful flashlight to illuminate the room. 
Floating in the water were a lot of my canning supplies, #2.5 & #10 cans of freeze dried food, vacuum sealed bags of food, pieces of cardboard boxes and some trash bags that stored other prepper type items.  A good number of boxes & Tupperware containers at the back of the room had tipped over with the contents now in a huge wet, mushy amorphous pile of gunk.  It looked like the wooden shelves they were originally on were broken or had become unhinged.  The heating unit for the house was 3/4 of the way under water.  Good thing its July and not January.
Tears of despair started to well up in me but I quickly started doing some deep breathing and was able to push them back down.  I knew immediately I wouldn't be able to afford to replace the items let alone a new heating unit.  I was laid off a few years ago from corporate America and had not been able to find a full time job yet.  I had gone from making $40 an hour to $10 an hour part time with no benefits.  My 83 year-old mom had been sending me some money to help me keep the bills paid and food on the table.  There was no extra anything.  I had bought the food and preps years ago while I was gainfully employed and they had given me some sense of security these last few years. 

I made myself get up and start working the problem.  I went to the shed and grabbed a couple of small submersible pumps but only had garden hoses to put on them.  I then started moving some furniture out of the way so I could run the hoses up the stairs and out the back door.  I laid down towels to protect the antique oak wood floors and started pumping.  I only got 6 inches pumped out before I had to pull the pumps and hoses in order to shut the back door for the night.  24 inches to go.

Next morning I set everything back up but noticed that the water level was back up to 28 inches.  I went and talked to a good, like-minded neighbor and he came over to look at it.  He gave me a quick education on water table levels and sump pumps, specifically the difference between pedestal (which the old one was) and submersible ones.  He told me the 2 smaller submersible pumps I was using could handle a much bigger hose than the 5/8 garden hoses.  A trip to Home Depot and quick installation of bigger flexible hoses allowed me to start pumping larger amounts of water out. 

After a day of pumping I got the water level down to 6 inches and could see that the old pedestal style sump pump had come up out of the barrel sunk into the floor of the basement and was sitting on the floor.  Which, of course, meant the motor was trashed and a new one was needed.  I shut everything down for the night and took another 1200 mg. of Tylenol.  My back was seriously hurting from moving the furniture and lifting sump pumps with long hoses attached in and out. 

Next morning started out with me walking around fairly bent over from back spasms so I switched to Advil and headed to Home Depot for a new submersible pump with a float.  Back at home the water level had risen over night to 19 inches so I put the two small pumps back to work.  I almost took a header into the water while trying to wrestle the old pump out which was to the left of the staircase.  I was standing on the stairs bent sideways trying to get the old pump out so I could put the new one in the barrel.  Lost my balance, whacked my head on a floor joist (which kept me from doing a face plant in the water) and did a wicked twist to my ribs but I got it out.  Installed the new pump and started to really move some water out.

Did I mention I am a small frame woman and sump pumps with big hoses attached are heavy and awkward?  I was sitting in a lawn chair watching the water pump out into the irrigation ditch, nursing a wicked headache and spasms in my ribs, neck, back and shoulders when another good, like-minded neighbor I had told about the "event" came by.  He walked up and handed me a hamburger, root beer and a big bottle of Aleve.  A hamburger never tasted so good and I am now totally sold on Aleve.
The next day, with the new pump working and the water level down, I put a couple of big box fans in the basement to start drying things out and shut the door to the basement.  I landed on the couch for the rest of the day with my new friend, Aleve, and gave my aches and pains a break.  The following day I had recuperated enough to go down and start hauling stuff out.  More heavy smelly stuff up the stairs and out into the yard.

Some good news, some not so good.  The Mountain House #10 cans had already started to rust so they went into a separate pile to research later.  The AlpineAire, Rainy Day Food from Walton Feed and the Gourmet Reserve #2.5 & #10 cans did not rust and still had their labels attached.  The Yoder's canned meats did not rust but the labels had come off so they went into the pile with the Mountain House cans.  Nothing like a can of mystery meat to look forward to.  Canning jars, lids, and pots were dirty, smelly and slime encrusted.
All would need to be washed and disinfected but I don't want to start that process until I research the best way to disinfect stuff.  My initial thoughts are one bucket of hot soapy water, then a bucket of Lysol and water, then a bucket of Clorox and water.  I don't know if the Clorox will fade the writing on the labels and I know I probably only have one chance at this since the labels would all be getting wet again.  I don't want more mystery food to contend with. 
I had broken up other items such as rice, oatmeal, noodles, beans, etc. into smaller serving size bags using a food savers vacuum sealer.  I had written expiration dates and general instruction on each bag.  Did I mention that writing with permanent markers is not so permanent when submerged in water for days?  A lot of the writing is now a very light purple.  Thankfully, I have a full inventory with expiration dates and should be able to piece the puzzle back together.  Most of these bags faired fairly well, other than the handwritten notes on the outside, but would have to be thoroughly cleaned.  A number of them had been poked by something and water got in.  Those went into the trash.

The pressure cookers and food dehydrator had been under water for days and I put them in the pile to do more research on.  Then I got to the pile that had been in the Tupperware containers.  Took more Aleve and started to dig in.  Some of the contents had come completely out of the containers and others were just drowned in the Tupperware.  Items such as Ace bandages, slings, Israeli bandages, bandanas, cloth flour bags, parachute cord, bungees, and ropes went into a pile to be washed and hopefully salvaged.  Other items such as books, paper products, feminine hygiene products and band-aids had turned to mush and went into the trash.

In the Tupperware containers I had put a good number of the items in Zip loc bags or vacuum-sealed bags.  I found some had been poked with something that put a hole in the bag and scuzzy water had got into them.  I got to looking at the contents and think I found the culprit.  The bottom of tubes such as toothpaste, antibiotic ointment, sunscreen and various other first aid ointments have very sharp edges to them.  I think these sharp corners poked holes in other nearby items.  I made a mental note to self to duct tape the bottom of tubes in the future to hopefully prevent this.  I also think some of the loose items such as screwdrivers, utensils, tent stakes and various other tools had done their fair share of hole poking.  Another mental note to self to look for small Tupperware type containers such as those used for food storage to use for housing sharp items in the future.  I found the vacuum-sealed bags can have really sharp corners to them when they are fully filled.

Items in bottles and jars such as vitamins, over the counter medications, creams, spices and the like had label problems.  I opened a couple of them and found that the safety tab under the lid had kept the contents dry.  The cotton at the top of the containers of vitamins and medications was dry and did not smell.  I think they are okay....just have label problems.  I never really liked all those safety tabs in the past and thought they were a pain in the butt.  Now I'm thinking I like them. 

Construction items such as tools, wood, nails, screws, saws, nuts & bolts, hinges and the like had water damage and had started to rust and bow.  I put them in a pile by themselves to be gone through later.  All the cardboard boxes that the nails, screws, nuts and bolts were mushy and had pretty much disintegrated.  I know you can get rust off tools and I think it is steel wool you use.  Added rust elimination to my list of items to research.  I know some of these items were responsible for hole poking and would need a different type of container in the future.

Items such as first aid, fire starters, survival type stuff, etc. were a mixed lot.  Some were mush that went into the overflowing trash, others went into a pile of possible salvageable and another pile of OK but needs cleaning and disinfecting.  With items such as gauze, bandages and the like, it would depend upon whether the item was packaged in plastic with a paper label slapped on.  Also depended upon whether they had gotten holes poked in the packaging.  Did I mention that there are all kinds of sharp stuff that can poke holes in things if they get all shifted around?  Cloth type items went into a pile of their own to be run through the washing machine numerous times. 

I discovered items such as dish soap that has a pull top opening don't always stay closed.  Items such as shampoo and lotion that have the lid where you push down on one part of the lid to get the other side to pop open also doesn't just magically stay closed if they are shifted and tossed about.  They leaked out onto items and created their own kind of mess.  Fortunately, the guns, ammunition, scopes, cleaning kits, and other expensive vital items I had stored in a spare bedroom and were spared.  Yea!!

My neighbors are awesome.  A good number of them dropped by in the days of hauling, sorting, throwing out and brought homemade baked goods, quick meals, soda, words of encouragement and hope.  I had set up the yard in the back of the house for laying things out to dry, for sorting and for making piles of stuff to figure out.  OPSEC was definitely blown but the good, like-minded neighbors were the only ones allowed into that area.  The nosy neighbors were headed off at the front of the yard.  Some of the good neighbors noticed my trash cans were full to overflowing and I had begun putting stuff in large black contractor bags.  They offered to take the trash in the contractor bags and put in their trash cans.  Did I mention I have some awesome neighbors?

All the old Christmas decorations had been submerged and needed to be pulled out to be dried.  I found this to be kinda depressing because it reminded me of better times when life was good.  Back then I was making plenty of money and a high electric bill in December wasn't a problem.  I used to go all out and decorated both the inside and outside of the house with festive lights and decorations.  I had stopped celebrating the season after I got laid off and just couldn't find the spirit to decorate anymore.... not even a tree.  I wound up throwing the majority of the lights and decorations in the trash.  The small indoor nativity scene got me though.  My mom had given it to me years ago and it was trashed.  I saved the wise men, sheep, a camel and the star that went over the scene. 

The last Tupperware container to go through was one I had been avoiding because it contained all the Christmas tree decorations...some which held sentimental value to me.  The container had been knocked over and rattled a lot when I brought it up out of the basement.  I opened the lid and my heart sunk.  Scuzzy water had gotten in and most of the items were trashed.  The ornaments were crushed and broken.  I sifted through the mess and found a couple of special ornaments that had not been broken but had crusted scum on them.  Tears started pouring down my face and I tried to suck it up but I couldn't stop the flow.  I just sat there crying silently thinking of times past.

I picked up a few things and added them to the small pile of items I had put on my desk.  The pile now contained a canning jar full of rusty nails and screws, some bailing wire, a can of Yoder's mystery meat, a bottle of Aleve, a tube of Neosporin, 2 wise men, a scuzzy Christmas ornament, and a camel.   As I sat there trying to stuff my emotions back inside I found I had taken one of the bigger nails and a smaller one out and was turning them over and over.  I grabbed the bailing wire and fixed the smaller nail 1/3 of the way down the bigger nail.  I then attached a bailing wire loop at the top and put the rusty nail cross around the camel's neck.  I don't know why I did it, I just did.  There was something appropriate about my rusty nail cross-held together by bailing wire. 
I wish I had something poetic or profound to say at this point but my thoughts and emotions are like the jumbled piles of stuff sitting out in the yard.  I feel like I am sitting in the transition zone between the good times of the past, the current challenges and the possible future SHTF scenario.  The 10 years working at Outward Bound gave me knowledge, skill, courage, toughness and strength.  The 12 years at corporate America challenged me intellectually, gave me financial security and showed me how cold the world can be.  Now I am financially poor but happy.  A little down but not out.  I recovered my true spirit that had led me to work and teach people about nature and the outdoors.  Some things were gained and some things were lost.  Along the way, much was learned and much is still to be learned.  Even though I am human and my emotions come out occasionally I do have the ability to suck it up and continue on.  The sun does come up each day and life does go on.  I don't know what it all means yet but I think I will be keeping my cross made of rusty nails and bailing wire with me for some time to come. 
Keep your socks and powder dry (and out of unfinished basements).  Take care and may you be surrounded by good, like-minded friends, family and neighbors.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Twenty years ago in 1993, I had already been collecting paramilitary style firearms for over 15 years. I remember purchasing my first HK91 rifle in the late 1970s and being so excited about the Galils, Uzis, Valmets, FN/FALs and the other varieties of collectable rifles that were available to a firearms enthusiast in that period of recent American history.

Being a collector of arms also made me interested in collecting the ammunition that was abundant in that era. Shortly after getting married in the 1980s, my lovely wife asked, “Why do you need to keep all this ammunition?” I responded that it was like a savings account and that I was gathering it because it was, “still cheap.” I guess I had a premonition of what might someday happen to ammunition availability. I remember buying .223 ammunition to fuel my AR-15 rifle, and paying around $110 per thousand for the stuff.

Like minds seek each other out and it was at a gun show that I met and became acquainted with an older and financially successful firearms collector. This man owned more than a few Class 3 registered firearms. He had the things that I had only dreamed of and I respected his wisdom in collecting and preparing.  After our friendship grew, he introduced me to the concept of ammunition caching.
This man had already placed multiple ammunition caches, when he allowed me to know that he was doing this. I was intrigued and asked him about his methods.

He was making each of his caches about the same. His caches consisted of 10 Krugerrand one-ounce gold coins (at this time gold was about $375 per ounce), a Ruger factory folding stainless Mini-14 rifle with five magazines and 1.000 rounds of ammunition. He also placed a cheap nylon backpack in the cache to aid in transporting the contents from the site. This gentleman claimed he preferred the stainless Mini 14 side folder, because with the pistol grip removed, he could make his cache to fit inside a 3 inch piece of PVC pipe. He then capped both ends and voila, you have a pretty handy cache for the future. I asked him how he remembered where these caches were located, and without going into too much detail, he told me he had a pattern, based on section lines. He stated that any friend of his only knew where two or less of the caches were. He buried his caches near steel cattle guards, culverts, or other large metal objects to discourage the use of metal detectors in compromising the cache locations. He explained to me how he preferred fresh plowed fields (not his own) and that he used a sheet of plywood with a hole in the middle, along with an auger to make the placements. He would search for location matching his “pattern” and the aforementioned criteria. He would place the plywood in the field and auger cache burial hole through the hole in the plywood. The plywood allowed him to control how the site looked after he finished, by containing the excess dirt, with the excess being distributed away from the site. When the cache was in place, he would remove the plywood and make the plowed field look as if he had never been there.

Needless to say, I was envious of his provisions, but sadly I was nowhere near as financially capable as this man, to make caches containing gold and rifles. What did happen; however, was that the seed was planted and I began thinking in earnest about the concept of caching.

The 1990s were an eye-opening time for me. I remember how horrified I was at the news of the federal siege at Ruby Ridge. The shooting of Randy Weaver’s son and wife caused me to wonder just how far the “powers that be” in this country could act against citizens and also to wonder what might be ahead as far as an out of control federal effort that seemed squarely against something as basic as the Second Amendment. Then in 1993 came the Waco siege. I remember watching on television as military tanks were used to smash holes in the church compound. This is the first time in my memory, on U.S. soil that I had seen military tanks used in an operation against U.S. citizens!  When the whole church compound went up in flames, the tanks and dozers kept pushing the rubble together to burn everything rather than extinguishing the flames to preserve evidence. I began in earnest to think how it could be that we had come to this in America and what the future of freedom would look like in the coming years.
By this time I had piled up a fair amount of ammunition.  As I hefted one of the wooden cases I struggled with the logistics of having to move ammunition in time of emergency. I remember thinking, if I had to leave my home under an emergency (I had not yet heard of the term “bugging out”) it would be next to impossible to include very much ammunition in my vehicle’s payload…  I made up my mind that I would locate at least some of my ammunition offsite to a remote location.

The following is what I did and how it turned out after I returned to open the cache this year, some 20 years later.
Once I decided that caching ammunition was a goal, I began keeping a lookout for various types of materials to construct containers to use for my caches. I did not have the extra money to make the acquisitions all at once, so I kept looking over different materials and possibilities.

I was also trying to think how a cache might be designed to allow retrieval quickly and without a large amount of effort as far as digging. The idea of a container that would hold another, removable container began to form as my design. This has been the pattern for the development of my caching system. I do not believe that I read about or heard others describe this type of cache. It is a design that was born of my desire to be able to quickly retrieve cached items. By its very design, the cached items have a double wall layer of protection from the elements. Time has proven that this is a viable method of creating a cache.

To get my project started, I discovered some heavy duty green sewer pipe at a second hand store. There were two pieces; one of eight inch inside diameter and one ten inch inside diameter. Each had some damage to the ends and so they were fairly inexpensive. I made an offer on the pipe and returned home to hack saw the cracked portions off of the pipes. Next I purchased caps to seal the ends. I did not find threaded caps, but only simple slip on caps. On one end of the pipe, I fiberglassed the cap in place to make a permanent seal to the pipe.  The other cap was left to simply slide onto the pipe to make the seal. The removable slip on cap fit so tight that it took more than a minute to remove the cap due to suction.  The next component came about because I often visit “Army Surplus” type stores. I remembered seeing plastic tubes that were U.S. Navy surplus sonobuoy shipping containers. A quick search of the Internet will show you what a gray plastic hexagonal sonobuoy shipping tube looks like.  As luck would have it, one of these sonobuoy tubes fits exactly inside an eight inch inside diameter pipe. The sonobuoy containers were selling for less than ten bucks apiece, so I could not pass up adding these to my project. The ten inch inside diameter pipe turned out to be the perfect size to hold the remainder of the eight inch pipe perfectly.

So, picture the design as being a permanently placed outer container (in this case pipe) as a “shell” to contain the smaller removable container, which I refer to as the “pod”. The outer shell will remain embedded in the ground (or concrete, or whatever you can imagine) and be placed so that the pod could be relatively easily removed.  One design possible with the materials I had gathered used the smaller sonobuoy as the pod inside the eight inch pipe (as the shell) to complete one cache.  The other used the larger ten inch pipe as a shell and an eight inch capped pipe inside as the pod. In either case the design uses a tube inside a tube. I termed this design an “encapsulated cache” which should allow the relative rapid withdrawal of the cached material. The encapsulated cache, uses the internal removable pod container, surrounded by the fixed protective walls of the outer shell container. The outer shell container in this concept is not excavated (other than to expose the cap) in the retrieval of the removable cached pod with its valuables.

The materials I had collected, had come together to give me what was needed to complete my idea for a cache concept that had formed in my mind. My plan was for a vertical cache, with the end (of the shell) that could be opened, hidden just under the surface for a quick retrieval of the contents. The cache would have to be located in such a way that I could quickly uncover it, remove the cap on the shell container and retrieve the inner pod containing the ammunition. The more likely the chance of people being in the area, the deeper or more creative you would have to be in the placement to conceal the removable outer cap of the shell. If need be the whole cache could be buried deep, but that begins to defeat the need for the “encapsulated cache” as time and effort to remove the pod would negate the “quick extraction” feature of this method. A variation in the encapsulated cache placement could involve the shell being placed horizontally. A horizontal placement of the shell could be included in the construction of a concrete basement wall for example and sheet rocked over. The retrieval would only require the breaking of the sheet rock veneer to expose the “shell” cap underneath. Rebar in the concrete might thwart the use of metal detectors to locate the cache set in such a wall.

Most of the remainder of this description will focus on my actual experience in placing and using the cache made from the eight inch outer pipe (for the shell) with the sonobuoy inner container (for the pod), but the concept would work the same whether you could obtain sonobuoy tubes, or made your inside pod tube from other material such as a smaller diameter pipe. I envisioned the cache design that I was going to place to be oriented vertically, and with the removable cap for the outside shell container only slightly underground or under a random large, discrete object.

As a side note, I have also made this type of cache by using a five gallon bucket as the permanent shell container with an ammo can as the interior pod container. I have had one such “bucket encapsulated cache” in place for over two decades. It is buried about six inches underground. I have returned to the bucket cache many times over the years to retrieve and add items from/to the “pod” (ammo can). At times I have found a very small amount of condensation in the “shell” (outer bucket), but never any inside the removable “pod” (Always protect the “pod” with desiccant where possible). This bucket encapsulated cache survived a logging operation that skidded trees directly over the placement. It survived one hundred percent undetected and unscathed.

In the placement of the encapsulated cache that I made with the sonobuoy pod, I used Mylar (metalized) bags to hold the various calibers of ammunition for the cache. I had one of the old “seal-a-meal” bag sealers and I began to collect the small bags of desiccant that came with various items I had had purchased. When the day came to load the interior container, I heated the many desiccant bags to recharge them, just prior to sealing the Mylar bags with varying calibers and quantities of ammunition.  I took a marker and labeled each bag to identify what it contained.

I found that my sonobuoy tube could hold all of the following:
Four bags containing 250 rounds each of 223 ammunition for a total of 1,000 rounds.
One bag containing 500 rounds of 9mm ammunition.
Six bags containing 100 rounds each of 308 ammunition for a total of 600 rounds.
One bag containing 120 rounds of 45 auto ammunition.

With the bags sealed, I arranged them in the sonobuoy tube, placing a large commercial bag of desiccant that I had scrounged from a snowmobile shipping crate and recharged in the oven, on the top of the pile of individually sealed bags. I screwed on the plastic cap of the sonobuoy pod and applied a silicone sealant gasket to provide an additional barrier against moisture.

When you put something like this together, you will notice is that the cache tube is very heavy.  To assist in the removal of the pod from the shell, I decided to construct a harness out of ¼ inch nylon rope for the pod, so that once uncovered, I could grab the rope harness and remove the inner cache from the vertical burial tube with more ease than if I had to try to pull the inner tube out by the cap alone.

With all this constructed, I now had to decide where I would place my cache. My concept was that this might have to be accessed by me in the event that I had to leave my home…what has become known today as bugging out. The different scenarios I envisioned all centered on the possibility of having to leave home and venture to a remote location. This is the most important consideration that anyone making this sort of preparation has to consider. You do not want to return to your cache after an extended absence and find that a new highway had compromised your efforts. How about a new housing development, and then there are logging operations and so on. In the end, I chose a remote location that I had spent some amount of time in my younger days camping and exploring. I choose public land far from civilization. I went camping and looked for “my spot”. The location I chose was in the high plains, above 6,000 feet elevation. I choose a location that gets about 20 inches of moisture a year; much of it in the form of snow.

Since I planned on leaving the upper cap on the vertical shell where I could access it quickly, I had decided that I would find a location with abundant rocks in the hope of locating the cache under a large boulder. My idea was that this would help water proof the cache, hide the cache and make the cache quickly accessible by simply moving the large rock “cap stone”.

After much searching, I found my location. I moved my materials along with two 4 foot by 4 foot pieces of plywood (to keep the surface of the ground pristine) to the location. With a digging bar, and a shovel it took most of the afternoon to place the vertical shell tube in position. It should also be noted that I picked a location that was well hidden from curious eyes by vegetation. With the shell tube in place I removed the dirt that had been dislocated in the process of digging the hole, away from the site to keep the site looking natural. I took the larger rocks that had been unearthed and used them to line the area directly around the removable shell cap. I did this so that upon retrieval of the ammunition, I would not have to dig, but could just pull these loose rocks from the area immediately surrounding the shell cap. With a great deal of effort I rolled the cover rock, which was a large mostly flat rock, into place over the cap of the cache shell.

One thing that I worried about when I initially placed the cache was the possibility of disturbance by bears, as bears often move rocks in search of moths, grubs, and ants to feed on. In this case I chose a cap rock that was very large. I also was careful not to use any container or material that had been used to hold food that might attract a curious scavenger.

Over the next twenty years, I made many efforts to revisit the area. I often went with friends, never mentioning the location of the cache, but lingering in the area to see if anyone might notice anything out of the ordinary. No one ever did. As time went on, a tree grew a branch directly over the cap stone adding to the security of the location. Sometimes I would leave a branch or twig lying on the cap stone to alert me if the stone had been tampered with. Over time, pine needles, leaves and debris continued to build up over the area and I became certain that the cache was safe for the foreseeable future. On some visits I observed four feet of snow covering the cache site. Other times the air temperature was nearly 100 degrees.

This year, being the twenty year anniversary of the placement of the cache, I decided I would test my design and see how the cache has fared. I approached the cache and observed that everything was as I had last left it.

I was careful not to break the tree branches that have grown over the stone as they add a level of natural camouflage to the shell cap stone that I cannot reproduce artificially. I slid the cap stone off of the cache cover (the stone weighs about fifty pounds). There, just as I had left it, was the plastic cap of the shell. I carefully, but easily removed the larger rocks around the perimeter of the plastic cap. I held my breath and began to work the cap up and off of the shell. When it came off, I was greeted with the view of the sonobuoy tube and its rope harness. Within three minutes of approaching the site and without any tools, I had extricated the pod containing the ammunition from the larger shell. I peered into the bottom of the larger, now empty shell and saw that the larger tube was indeed as “dry as a bone”. I was overjoyed as I often wondered if moisture had been seeping into the cache. In retrospect, I might have opened the cache a couple of years after the initial placement to assure that everything was staying dry, but in this case it all worked out just fine.

I put the plastic cap back on the now empty vertical shell and returned the cap stone to its place. Next, I anxiously opened the cap of the sonobuoy tube to reveal the contents after twenty years. I sampled the bags and found the ammunition dry and shinny. I took a 10 percent sample and test fired the ammunition. I had 100% reliability in firing the test ammunition. It should be noted that much of this ammo was surplus ammunition to start with and some is now more than forty years old.  I replaced the quantity of ammunition that I used in testing, recharged the desiccant by heating it and again sealed the bags and the sonobuoy tube. I did take advantage of a small unused space inside the tube to add an additional 750 rounds of .22 long rifle ammunition, to top off the space in the sonobuoy tube. I returned to the cache site and replaced everything as it was before the cache was opened.  The replacement of the cache took only minutes and no special tools.


I can’t tell you how much peace of mind I have knowing that this cache is in place and functioning as I had hoped for two decades. I do not see any reason that it might not survive many more decades into the future.  When the time is right I hope I can show my children the cache and pass it on to them.
At the time I buried the cache, I would have been somewhat embarrassed to tell anyone that I would make such preparation. Now, twenty years later I believe there are many more people who would not think the placement of such provisions is at all eccentric.
I have written this description to encourage other kindred spirits to pay attention to the materials that you may come in contact with that could be used to construct a similar cache and to motivate you to make such a preparation for you and your associates for the day when such provisions may be needed.

My guess is that some will scoff at the idea of the cache being only slightly underground, or being covered by a removable rock. The weakness is that the cache may be found; however, the location that I placed this cache in is so remote that humans seldom even walk near the location. Also, large boulders are common in the location, giving the “cap stone” a very inconspicuous look (I would NOT recommend placing the cache under the only prominent rock in an area). These factors give this type of cache the security that has allowed it to be successfully placed these twenty years.
I know of another individual who has placed a cache of ammunition in a totally different way. His cache is buried more than ten feet underground! It certainly is secure, but how long would he have to work to remove the contents?  

In the end, your choice of materials and designs are endless. My “encapsulated cache” is really one that came together by imagination and luck in finding the materials I used to construct it. The secret is being ready and available to make use of what is around you and then being motivated to do something, rather than spending your precious time “getting ready to get ready” and in fact doing nothing.
Lastly, I want to state that I consider myself a patriotically motivated individual. My cache is in place as a last resort to preserve the ideals of the Constitution of the United States, and especially our God given rights. I consider it my responsibility to be prepared to personally keep the Minuteman mentality that I came to admire as I learned our nations history.  I pray that it does not come to the point where freedom is so curtailed that patriots are again force to fight tyranny on this North American continent  in order to preserve the concepts that made this country great, but the fact is, that it is looking more and more like that is our situation.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." - United States Declaration of Independence

Monday, June 17, 2013

Todd Savage of Survival Retreat Consulting is developing two secure storage projects in the American Redoubt--one in north Idaho and one in Northwestern Montana. The facilities will give private members access to several storage options to store their preparedness gear until they can relocate. The undisclosed locations will feature various sizes of climate controlled vaults and safe rooms, featuring underground bunker construction and redundant security features. These facility can eliminate a prepper's quandary: having all their crucial preps stored in one location with no ability to move it to their safe haven quickly.

A retrofitted facility should be available for occupancy in September of 2013 and a larger newly-constructed facility should be available for storage in August of 2014. These facilities will be bonded. For security reasons, the exact locations of the facilities will only be revealed to clients once they have signed a contract. These high end security and climate-controlled units will cost more monthly than typical commercial storage spaces. (Which are typically not climate controlled and offer only marginal security in locations that are widely known to the public.)

If you have interest in short or long term secure storage options for some of your gear, then please contact Todd Savage through his web site. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Hey Mr. Rawles,

So I'm stuck in The People's Republic of California. I can't get out. We would basically have to walk away from a business we have been running since 1978 with nothing. As I've noted in the past, I do have a mountain retreat that is ready to go.

But here is my question - With all these new California laws which will surely be passed and signed by the governor, I'm obviously a little concerned about my semi-auto long guns. I know folks talk about burying them in tubes and such. But would this be a viable option - I live about three hours from Yuma Arizona, and have someone out there I believe I could trust to hold my guns. If the authorities every came sniffing around asking where the weapons were, would I be able to legally say they have been taken out of state for safe-keeping until such time as the laws are repealed or changes, or whatever? Or not say anything at all, let them tear up the place and find nothing (except my bolt actions and revolvers)?

I mean, it seems like they'd have no jurisdiction in Arizona. Any thoughts you might have on this would be most welcome, thanks - Mountain Man Virgil

JWR Replies: I'm not an attorney, so don't take the following as legal advice and consult an attorney licensed in your state for definitive answers. But I can mention, in general terms that a state's jurisdiction ends at its state lines. Imagine that you mysteriously received an income tax bill in the mail from the Czech Republic, even though you've never worked there or had any business dealings with anyone there. Would you have to pay it? Could they come and arrest you or seize your bank assets for not paying it? Of course not.

If you transport a gun out of California before a new law goes into effect then you will be immune from prosecution by the State of California (the once fine but now sullied California Republic). Now, if that same gun were formerly registered in California then you might be asked to prove that it is now out of the State, but you are not bound by law to do so. And be advised that warranted police searches can be time consuming a and destructive, and you will have limited legal recourse. So maintaining a signed and witnessed affidavit from a friend or relative in Yuma would be wise.

Anyone who attempted to indict you without physical evidence of a crime would be laughed out of court. This is part of the long-standing corpus delicti requirement. The onus probandi (burden of proof) in any prosecution for a state law violation rests upon the state. ( "Semper necessitas probandi incumbit ei qui agit.") Without substantive evidence that you had a proscribed firearm or magazine in your possession inside the state's boundaries after the law went into effect, there could be no prosecution of a case, and not even grounds to arrest you. And mere suspicion--without a statement from a witness--would be shaky grounds at best, to secure a search warrant. (But again, we are talking about The People's Republic of California, where in some cases they search homes with impunity, so who knows?)

It bears mention that there are a few firms in Las Vegas, Nevada that specialize in private vault storage of valuables (such as documents, precious metals, jewelry, gemstones, and guns.) It is also notable that some guns, such as AR-15s, a gun can be quickly disassembled, so that just the banned parts (namely the lower receiver and magazines) can fit in a safe deposit box. The remaining parts could legally be stored elsewhere. (Again, consult your state and local laws.) The beauty of doing business with these firms is that because they are not FDIC-insured "banks", they would not be affected by a national "Bank Holiday" situation, which would otherwise limit access to safe deposit boxes. Another storage option for Californians might be buying a membership and renting vault storage space with a well-established firearms training academy in Oregon, Arizona, or Nevada.

Storing guns with friends and relatives out of state can be problematic, but if your alternatives are surrendering your guns for destruction, or selling them at a loss, or facing prosecution, then in my opinion it is well worth the risk. By the way, even though Yuma has a very dry climate, you should consult the many articles in SurvivalBlog's archives about long term gun storage, as well as the copious advice on wall caches, door caches, hidden rooms, and some"hidden in plain sight" options.

And the unspoken bottom line is: Vote with your feet. The history of the western world is replete with tales of families that strategically relocated to escape tyranny. But there are also plenty of stories of families that did not. Go ahead and put your business on the market. If it is God's will for you to move, then you will find a buyer. Jehovah Jireh!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

(Why I prep, and how I do so in a family that thinks I’m crazy.)

In the summer of 1977 my mother dragged me to see my older brother’s Cub Scouts meeting.  I was closing in on my sixth birthday and she informed me in no uncertain terms that I would be joining.  My mother was one of the multitudes of single mom’s in my part of Brooklyn.  A neighborhood where at the time crime was high, money was tight, and involved dads were few.   The only place for many boys to find any kind of positive male role model was in Scouting.  So off to the basement of the local savings bank I went, passing along the way many other kids whose parents weren’t making them go off somewhere that required stuffy uniforms on humid July evenings. 

Shortly after arriving, “Signs Up” was called and the scouts were ordered into their Dens so the meeting could open with The Pledge of Allegiance.  When that was done and all outstanding business concluded I watched in absolute amazement as the older boys (the Webelos) proceeded to learn how to treat shock and minor wounds on one side of the large room while the younger boys (Cubs) were learning how to lash branches together to build a tripod for use as a camp table complete with seats.  Those relatively simple things spoke to me on a level I still can’t comprehend.  I was “all-in” right then and there.

From that night until I turned six I was at every meeting.  I became a mascot of sorts, treated as a member of the team but not quite in the game.  It was a big deal for me when I was finally able to wear the uniform.  At the time (I believe it has changed now) the neckerchief had a picture of a bear cub and the logo: “Be Prepared”.  Words that still echo in my mind and a philosophy that continues to permeate everything I do.

The Modern World:

So here I am: A full grown man, husband and father both, having grown up hearing some variation of “Be Prepared” on a regular basis…  “Make sure you have a dime for the pay-phone”, “Make sure you have extra pencils for your test”, and “Make sure you check your engine fluids before you drive that far”.  The list of recommendations of how and why to be prepared just keeps going and going. 

In a modern world a fully charged cell phone has replaced the dime for the pay phone, but otherwise little has changed with regards to what we tell our children on a daily basis.  So you can imagine my surprise when upon building an emergency kit some year’s back, my wife looked at me with “that look”. 

You know the one you get… it sort of says: “Poor fool just doesn’t know any better”, the visual equivalent of a condescending pat on the head.  I guess I just didn’t realize that being prepared was somehow strange.  So my wife and I proceeded to have a conversation where on one side was the feeling that you can’t ever be too careful (especially in light of how many times we lose power in Upstate N.Y.), and on the other the assertion that I’m paranoid; backed up with the ever so logical “what will the neighbors think?”  I was astonished.

Having grown up about five cents below the poverty line and being raised with Scouting at my side, I had learned to always hedge my proverbial bets.  To find out that according to the people who loved me preparedness was considered crazy…  that most people truly believe the government can and will take care of them in a crisis… just confounds me. 

Had these people not been watching the same news I had?  Do they not remember any of the natural disasters over the last ten years?  Katrina, Irene or Sandy anyone?  Were all of my tidbits of wisdom thrown out like the mornings coffee grinds?

After several discussions about the topic of preparedness I realized I was alone.  I would not receive any assistance in gathering, organizing, storing or in any other way getting my stuff together for an emergency of any kind let alone for TEOTWAWKI.

I had no choice but to become: “The Secret Prepper.” (Cue ominous music.)

Logistics of a dual identity:

Deciding on where to begin is kind of like being an eight-year-old with a $100 bill in a candy store: Overwhelming in its possibilities.  So in looking at the logistics of fulfilling the requirements of my shadow-self, I decided to create 3 basic (but in retrospect woefully inadequate) categories to manage the tasks:

  1. How to pay for it?
  2. What to get and where to get it?
  3. How and where to store it?

The most difficult of these three options, for me, was how to pay for it.  Having a stay at home parent raising a child, in my humble opinion, far outweighs the negative financial effect resulting from only one income.  The problem I came across is that my wife wears so many hats.  I make the money, take care of the yard, kill the bugs and protect us from things that go bump in the night while she does pretty much everything else.  This includes balancing the checkbook.  (Remember, she’s not on-board because I’m nuts.)

How was “The Secret Prepper” to accomplish any of his preparedness goals while not tipping his hand to the one-woman oversight committee that thinks he’s insane?  Not to mention maintaining Operational Security (I will make references to where I adhered strictly to OPSEC.)  Over time it became a game to me.

Getting ready for the Schumer on the cheap:

Finances came from good old-fashioned sacrifice.  I’ve found that when money is tight you have an obligation to stick to what you feel in your gut is important.  As such, sacrifice is an imperative.  At that time, when all was said and done I could allot myself $25 each Friday for the following week.  This money was to pay for my lunch, coffee or anything else I wanted while I was at work. 

I realize this doesn’t sound like a significant amount of money, but once you learn how to squeeze blood from a stone you’d be surprised how much those suckers can bleed.  So I thought back to my childhood and how my mother managed to feed us and came up with some practical solutions as well as some that were foreign to me.

Two things that I did were start a vegetable garden and learn how to jar/can.  This was a completely foreign world to me.  Growing up in an apartment building, the only reason I wanted a good-sized property hours from the city was to get away from people.  I didn’t realize what could be done until I bought a homesteading book.  The amount of money I now save on produce is astonishing.  This has served to help my entire household and not just “The Secret Prepper”.

Otherwise, I spent the first few weeks stocking surplus goods in my locker at work.  Nothing too big mind you, just the basics for the purposes of masking my future purchases.  Ferreting away an excess item from home here and there and bringing it to work, I managed to stash several days lunch in my locker and needed less money the following week.  My surplus cash went into an envelope there as well.  I made it a point to only use cash so as not to create any kind of a paper trail (OPSEC).  It was good practice for my later and larger purchases.

I soon had a sizeable bankroll and a grocery store in my locker with none the wiser.  Some of this food was moved to buckets in the basement and some was consumed for lunch but all of it served to free up $100 a month in cash.  This process took several weeks but once I had it down to a science there was no stopping it.

Saving about $100 a month, I was able to start prioritizing the next objective: What to get and where to get it?

I decided on what my most immediate need would be in the event of the most likely emergency in my area: Nature’s fury and her prolonged power outages.  So with that particular goal in mind, and the knowledge that needs are similar in many emergencies, I proceeded to spend my hard saved money.  Candles, matches, water purification tablets/canteens, solar blankets, first-aid kit, tent and sleeping bags, walkie-talkie’s, batteries, MREs. Thus, all of the basics.

My cup runneth over:

Pretty soon my work locker, my car and my super-secret-hidey-hole were near to bursting at the seams.  It was time to consider task three: How and where to store it?  The problem was, I was still working on what to get.  It became clear to me that a two-pronged approach was in order.

I went to a “mom-and-pop” hardware store in the next town and bought two footlockers, paying in cash (OPSEC), making sure that they could fit into the trunk of my car in case I had to bug out rather than in.  One I labeled camping gear and proceeded to fill it with pretty much anything that fit the bill, storing it where I keep all of the other things my family has no interest in. The other one I left unlabeled and filled with surplus goods.  I added to them some large desiccant packs that I got for free at a piano store and hid the unlabeled one in a dark corner among the spiders.

With room at my outside locations freed up, I went back to my list of necessities.  After buying and waylaying various supplies, I started looking into the next phase of purchase and storage: Mylar.

Nowadays there are a lot of good videos on YouTube about the use of Mylar bags.  Not so just a few years back.  I’ll tell you what I believe to be the most important piece of information I learned about Mylar bags after I had started using them.  I have decided (once again my humble opinion) that I prefer to fill smaller bags.  I can then use these bags to create a variety of items in a single storage bucket.  If I had to grab just a few buckets and bug due to an emergency I won’t have to think about which ones to grab.  Each has a little of everything.  But I’m getting way ahead of myself…

I bought some 5-Gallon 5mil Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers through a dummy persona from an Internet retailer that accepted money orders (OPSEC).  Then, to save money I went to a bunch of grocery stores out-of-town (OPSEC) and basically trash-picked or asked for some food-grade buckets.  When I had a good bucket to Mylar ratio I proceeded to fill my dried stores.

Filling Mylar bags is a simple thing to do.  It’s pretty much a 3-step process:

1. Put bag in bucket and fill with dry goods.
2. Add Oxygen Absorbers.  I use 300 to 500cc absorbers per pound depending on how much “dead air” is left in the bag. For instance ziti leaves more air than rice.
3. Fold the bag over, squeezing all of the air out and run a hot iron across the open end to create a seal.  I usually iron the outermost part of the bag, near the opening, and an extra two inches to create a bigger seal.  By leaving a lot of the bag below the seal you can re-use it.

My dried stores consisted of what you’d expect: Beans, rice, pasta and various grains totaling a paltry five buckets-worth.  To supplement them I proceeded to add cans of various meats like tuna, sardines and the like.  Anything with a shelf life extending out for a few years that I could and would eat over time was collected and stored away.  After a while my secret stash, which was in plain sight, was becoming noticeable (definitely not OPSEC).

It was about then that I read on a blog about how a couple in Manhattan with a considerable shortage of space managed their preparedness needs. 
While I couldn’t follow their example strictly I did learn a lot from it.  Here are three examples of what I did with this wisdom:

  1. I made a workbench using stacked buckets for the legs and camouflaged it on three sides with storage shelves. (They had made a kitchen table camouflaged with a table cloth,)
  2. I stored food in Mylar bags under (my side) of the bed in those under-the-bed storage containers, surrounding them with out-of-season clothes.
  3. Started using 1-gallon Mylar bags to fit a greater variety of items per bucket.

Now it bears note that following number three is a less efficient use of food-space. When you seal the items this way and put them into a bucket there is a lot of dead space between the bags.  What I do with those spaces now is add things like: ammo, toilet paper, water filters/tablets, basic first aid supplies and pretty much anything else I can cram in there.  [JWR Adds: Never include anything on a food container that might exude toxic vapors such as lubricants, paint, Sterno, cans of lighter fluid, hexamine tabs, or Trioxane fuel bars.] So long as I can lift and carry them without straining myself I fill the buckets as much as I can.

Now, instead of having to open a 5-gallon bucket of rice and risk spoilage, I can open smaller amounts as needed and preserve freshness to greater quantities of supplies.  Plus, I have the added benefit of knowing that a single bucket is roughly equal to a full month of a majority of my supplies.  I’ll delve into this momentarily as I know it sounds like a ridiculous estimate.  Just bear with me.

Hiding in plain sight:

Over time my stores grew and my available space was shrinking.  I needed to find a new way to hide my stores in plain sight.  One of the way’s I’ve done this is to put storage buckets next to the items they resemble.  What I mean by this is that I have a bucket with a re-used label stating “Activated Carbon” next to my house’s water filter.  I have a bucket with a manufacturer painted fertilizer label on it among my garden supplies. The variety of things that now require buckets for “organization” in my house is amazing.

All of my buckets have been cleaned and sterilized, and the use of Mylar goes further to ensure the supplies are safe.  Plus, the buckets are among the items they are pretending to be.  This adds a level of camouflage that I otherwise wouldn’t have achieved (OPSEC).  If you think about it, you can find many different ways to not-camouflage your hidden stuff.

Like pulling a rabbit out of a hat:

So now that I have some experience in this, what do I fit in my magical, invisible buckets?  I’m glad you asked.  It takes some creative packing but here’s a typical inventory:

-8 Lbs Rice                                               
-5 Lbs Beans
-5 Lbs Pasta                                               
-5 Lbs TVP (taco, beef or chicken chunk)
-1 cup Sugar                                               
-1 cup Salt
-1 cup Italian Seasoning                       
-100 rounds .22 Long (for small game or ballistic wampum)
-4 Bottles of Water Purification Tablets in a wide mouth quart jug (totals 50 quarts)
-25 each of Chicken and Beef Bullion Cubes (also in the quart jug)
-1 roll of compressed/vacuum sealed toilet paper (cardboard removed)
-50 (ish) compressed/vacuum sealed napkins (can double as kindling after use)
-200 strike anywhere matches in a sealed plastic tube
-2 solar accent lights removed from their stakes
-Whatever first-aid supplies I can get in

Coupled with my jarred stores, garden and chickens (see below), these supplemental items should do just fine.  And if something should go wrong what buckets I may need to bring should I have to evacuate/bug out will still have a solid variety of supplies.

Subterranean Supermarket

I will touch briefly on canned goods.  We can all agree on the fact that they last a long while and offer up a variety of ways to supplement protein and calories as well as ways to avoid Food Fatigue

Food Fatigue is basically getting so sick and tired of eating the same things repeatedly over a long period of time that you slowly starve yourself because you choose not to eat them anymore.  Please feel free to look up a literal definition.

Setting up a rotational stock system should be high on your list.  Canned goods must be stored in such a way that they can be rotated with every purchase.  Optimally you can set up a shelf that lets you put new stuff directly in back and allows you to easily take from the front.

Just imagine that the Schumer has hit the Fan.  You’ve used everything in your refrigerator first and now are going to your stores.  You open up a can of tuna and it just doesn’t smell right.  So you open another… same thing.  As the fear sets in you realize your mistake.  The best way to avoid this is to rotate your stock and stay on top of it. 

Rule of thumb: One in, one out. [Quickly replace everything you use, and use your oldest stocks first.]

Other things you need to keep along with your canned/jarred stores are:

  1. Bleach: You can’t beat it for keeping things sanitary, especially if you have a designated area for butchering game.  It can also be used for treating water, but I’m not entirely comfy with that.
  2. Vinegar: It’s a great non-chemical cleaner that can be used where food is prepared/consumed.  You’ll also need it for jarring foods, post-SHTF.  Store different types of vinegar.  White for cleaning/jarring, apple cider for poultices or treatment for conditions like Gout.
  3. Alcohol:  The drinking kind.  I do not partake often, but if there is any kind of prolonged crisis you may need it for tincturing medicines.  It’s also a great barter item.  Make sure you have vodka and high proof rum.

An old dog learns new tricks:

So to address the obvious shortcomings in my monthly supply estimate, I did after all say it was a rough estimate, I had to learn a few new skills.  Under the guise of boredom (OPSEC) I decided that I wanted to enter the magical world of keeping chickens.  I had to think long and hard about this one.  There are a lot of reasons not to do this.  Among them are:

  1. Chicken coops require maintenance.  If you can’t keep up on things you have no place having them, especially when it comes to living creatures.  They may only be chickens, but their still Gods creatures.
  2. Space is a factor.  If you have a rooster and your neighbors are as little as an acre away, you won’t be friends for long.
  3. Town ordinances.
  4. My limited experience with animals of any nature.

If you look on YouTube there are a lot of instructional videos dealing with coop construction.  I strongly recommend watching them.  Also, though my acreage is small I’m surrounded on three sides by state land.  As for town ordinance, the clerk told me that, though illegal, if there were no noise complaints from my nearest neighbor then there weren't any chickens in existence on my property. 

After about six months, I decided that all was well on the chicken keeping front.  The next thing I had to learn was how to jar and can the produce from my ever-expanding garden. 

I firmly believe that it is my duty not just as a Christian, but also as a human being, to give charitably whenever possible.  I have found that a garden can go long ways towards helping others when needs are great.  As unemployment in my area exceeds 15% at the time of typing this, I am finding more and more people within five miles of my home who are in need of food assistance than I ever though I would see.  Having gone to bed hungry many times as a child I find this to be an affront to my very existence.

As such I keep producing as much as possible.  Along with this, I have found that it has become a simple matter to jar foods like pickles, salsa, tomato sauce, chutney and bean salad.  I give my surplus to the food pantry run by my church versus direct giving (OPSEC) and I’ve managed to streamline my process and make better quality stores for myself.  I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve always believed that you learn best by doing.

The best offense is a good defense:

I’ve now spent the last couple of years secretly creating my cache of supplies.  While doing so I’ve come across a like-minded individual who brought me to my current phase of preparedness: Security and Defense.

I had come to realize that there is a giant hole in all of my preparation.  I did not have the ability to defend it.  I have a fairly decent ability to fight hand-to-hand and with knives.  I honed this ability growing up in a rough neighborhood.  My biggest problem was that I didn’t want to end up being the fool who died because he brought a knife to a gunfight.

To that end I sought to get my pistol permit.  During my journey to permit-hood I met a firearms instructor who, as it turns out, lives not too far from my home.  My gut told me we were kindred.  After my class we got to talking and our belief systems seemed to be in sync.  So I decided to break operational security and divulge my preparedness.  I have not had a single regret about it yet.

My newly discovered partner-in-preparedness is a retired SWAT-experienced police officer.   He has helped several people on the road to “Emergency Security” and has decided to not only teach this to me, but to train with me.  I have been introduced to the world of the “three gun” philosophy and am currently taking steps to hone my skills along with others like me.

A man’s home is his castle:

When it comes to home defense, it’s not enough to just know how to shoot.  I had heard numerous times about “Hardening your home”.  Hardening, in general, is a very simple concept: Don’t make it easy for the bad guys to get in and win.  Use things like thorny plants below but not overgrowing your windows, security system, motion lights etc.  But what about when the Schumer hits the fan?

These basic precautions would likely not be enough to fend of a few hungry people let alone stand up to a full-on assault by looters.  With that in mind I spent a good amount of time walking the perimeter of my property looking for places where my property, as well as my home, could be compromised or used against me.

My property, which borders hundreds of acres of state land, is heavily wooded.  I don’t expect to be set-upon by a fast moving vehicle based force from any of the sides facing forest.  Any approach on foot from these directions would have plenty of cover, but only after traversing 12 acres of swamp on one side, and hundreds of densely forested acres on the others.  I have made good use of a chainsaw and thinned out the woods for a hundred feet in each direction past my property line.  This wood will do a lot of good in my fireplace.

Additionally, I have taken the liberty of re-populating the now thinned areas with low growing vines for ground cover.  These will serve to entangle all but the most dexterous foot thus slowing any approach, and even offering up targets should they get stuck on approach.

With three of four areas of approach taken care of I then needed to contend with my homes three weakest points.

  1. My proximity to the road.
  2. The gaping hole in my home created by my glass deck doors.
  3. The gaping hole in my home created by the Bay Window facing the road.

There isn’t much I can do about how close to the road my home is.  Here are a few solutions I have applied or am in the process of at the time of typing:

  1. The digging of a “Water Run-off” ditch along my road frontage will do considerable damage to smaller vehicles.
  2. A six-foot privacy fence, using concrete in the pillars running the length of my property.  On the “Yard Side” of the fence, concrete “Planters” with decorative brick facing have been added at intervals that will make it impossible for anything to drive between (should my fence be rammed).  Plus they look nice and are the future home for my medicinal herb garden.
  3. My glass doors will be removed when SHTF.  To take their place I have constructed a ballistic and fire resistant blockade that I refer to as “The Portcullis”, though it doesn’t really look like one.


Building The Portcullis

2x8 pressure treated lumber was used to frame out the door opening.  The framing was done in such a way as to allow for the installation of a steel fire door in the center.  The outside of the structure will be closed around the door by screwing plywood to the framing and allowing it to overlap the house by one foot in all directions. 

This plywood is then covered with sheet metal, which when needed for actual use will be coated in barbecue paint.  The whole effect, with the steel fire door installed, is to create a standard door opening that offers protection from nasty things like Molotov cocktails and bullets. 

The additional ballistic protection comes from gravel.   Once the outside of The Portcullis is installed, the inside will go up in sections.  The bottom four feet will be covered with plywood.  At which time gravel, cleverly disguised as additional parking on the side of my driveway (OPSEC), will be used to fill in the space between the outer and inner plywood. 

When I reach the top of the first section, three additional feet will be added in the same manner.  The final foot will be filled this way but with a bit more difficulty as there is little room remaining for the shovels of gravel to be manipulated.

The final product results in excellent ballistic and flame protection.  The same process will be used for the Bay Window with the addition of two gun ports.

The beauty of this assembly is that all of the parts can be stored unassumingly in my basement, shed or anywhere else such things seem ordinary (OPSEC).

It all comes full circle:

As I type this I am still living this secret life.  I have learned how to raise chickens, grow crops, jar and can, purify drinking water, store food, use multiple weapons and harden my home.  I am surveying my land for an area suitable for fuel storage and I have even signed up to take “classes” on battlefield medicine.  But I have yet to re-visit the topic of preparedness with my family.

To an extent I am a coward.  I know how I will react in an emergency.  We’ve had multiple hurricanes and nor’easters. We’ve had a “gas crunch” which saw people fighting on long lines.  I have stared-down armed assailants and fought violently to clear a path through harm’s way. And worse, I have performed CPR on my dying child, and failed, while others either panicked or froze in fear. I know exactly who I am.

I’m just still trying to find out how to be him.  Until then I am shrouded in Operational Security in my own home.  I am “The Secret Prepper”.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Many Uses of Vacuum-Sealed Bags

Late spring and early summer are the times to buy the Seal A Meal or Foodsaver machines. They are both made by the same parent company and can be found at any major grocery or department store in the kitchenware section-the Seal A Meal is the less expensive version that can be found for under $30 on sale, and the bags to go with it will cost you about the same again. You can make this a game or a family activity like an assembly line, just have all your items stacked in little piles, and start sealing--it's actually fun to use it-I feel like a squirrel storing up nuts for the winter. See below for the myriad uses I have made of my unit. These also make wonderful gifts to your church for emergencies if they are given food items that may go stale.

1-Batteries-as we all know, moisture and air are the enemies of batteries, buy in bulk when they are on sale and seal them up airtight and watertight and keep them in your fridge.

2-Ammo--seal up your ammo/bullets in their boxes in individual sealing bags labeled with the date of purchase, that way if you have to ford any bodies of water (rivers, swamps, canals etc) or are caught in deluges, your extra ammo will stay nice and dry and untarnished.

3-Precious Metals--your silver coins and bars and gold coins and bars can be portioned out and individually sealed in similarly valued amounts. I haven't tried burying them to see how long it would take the heavy plastic to degrade but it should be good for a few months at least, unless rodents get into it or its in very wet or alkaline earth--you could try burying them inside a jar or can. One good side effect is that vacuum sealed items do not clink and clank as they are packed solidly together so they make no noise when carried.

Medicines-I sealed up individual pouches containing baby aspirin, Pepto Bismol chewable tablets, chloraseptic cough lozenges (the heavy duty ones that really numb your throat), over the counter allergy pills like generic claritin, sinus pain and pressure pills, Lanacane or Neosporin cream for insect bites and scrapes, insect repellant wipes, tooth and gum numbing gel for toothaches, moisturizing eyewash to help with dust, soot and gunpowder grit, small jars of Vicks and Noxema and aloe sunburn gel, and advil or tylenol. I also throw in a small bottle of Thompson Labs Fish Mox Forte which is the same as human grade 500 mg amoxicillin (antibiotics) that you can buy online without a prescription (it's a shame we cannot locate a family preparedness-friendly doctor who would be willing to give out prescriptions for tranquilizers or anti-anxiety meds for those individuals who will undoubtedly freak out big time after a week of no gas and no grocery deliveries). If you put together several of these as your finances allow, they make great trading items. You can also add condoms, or bag them up separately, as after the existing supply of condoms and birth control pills goes away, expect a flood of pregnancies as nature tries to naturally replenish the ranks. You can also bag up your medicinal marijuana separately if you anticipate needing it later.

Clothing Repair Kits--needles, thread in 4 basic colors, small scissors from the dollar store, buttons in half inch and three-quarter inch sizes (these are standard waistband and shirt front sizes, if the button holes are too big you can sew the holes partially shut so the buttons will not come unbuttoned.

Surgical Kit-a basic surgical kit containing over the counter items such as tweezers, silk suture thread and suture needles, a couple pairs nitrile gloves, gauze and medical tape, a couple surgical masks if you can obtain them, wound clotting powder or gauze saturated with same (expensive but may save a life), small bottle of silver solution or betadine wound area disinfectant, a small X-Acto knife, and a basic pair of dental pliers for extractions. Salt could also be included for rinsing mouths after extractions.

Children's books and small toys--bag up a couple of those old beanie babies and some Lego or Playmobile toys and a few standard children's books, they can be a great comfort and distraction to anxious small ones.

Fire Strikes and Sharpening Stones (and small pocketknives)--these are messy to carry loose in your bag but sealing them up minimizes the marks and grit, worth their weight in gold if unable to obtain later. I also buy the multi packs of bic lighters when they are on sale and keep a few in every location along with several cheap flashlights that I test semi-annually and replace batteries if needed.  

Coffee, Tea bags, Creamer and Sugar packets--I bag up sets that include a small bag of good brand ground coffee, a couple dozen individual sugar packets and some individual creamer packets, and do the same with tea bags. Don't combine coffee and tea as one will absorb the smell of the other. You can buy the individual packets in bulk from any restaurant supply store or from

Newborn Gift Sets--use a larger size seal a meal bag that you can make yourself from the endless roll you can buy, you can cut it to any size, seal one end, fill it, and seal the other end. About half a dozen good thick cloth diapers, a few diaper pins, a baby bottle with nipple, a few packets of powdered infant formula and a flannelette baby gown will be a welcome gift for all those unprepared mothers with babies.

Sugar, Salt, Seasoning Packets--I buy the cheap seasonings when on sale for .99 cents, I get Lite Salt, Coarse Ground Pepper, Dried Onion Flakes, Cinnamon, and I buy the individual packets of salt and sugar online and throw in a big handful of those. You can add vanilla extract and garlic powder as well if you enjoy those flavors. I also include the strips of 6 quick rising yeast packets for "just in case". You can also throw in a couple packets of jerky seasonings or rubs if you make your own jerky. I also like to add a packet or two of uncle dan's dill dip as a seasoning for fish.

Important ID Papers--open your passport so the page with your photo is visible, then right below is, put your drivers license face out so it's visible, the on the reverse side, put your birth certificate face out so the details can be seen, that way you can show it without having to remove the documents.

Jerked Meats-you can seal up your own venison or salmon jerky, it will last for quite a while.

Local Honey--Honey has been known to last indefinitely if well preserved, I get local organic honey at the farmers market in glass jars, and then wrap the jars in bubble wrap and seal them up. Glass will break if dropped or clinked against something so make sure to bubble wrap the jar well.

Dried Fruits and Nuts-I especially like pecans and cashews so I buy cans of those and portion them out in seal a meal bags--they have the good fats in them. I also like dried cherries and strawberries and papaya, a spear or two of dried papaya every week will make your poop the consistency of mush and you will never be constipated-stands to reason, papaya is a natural tenderizer that breaks down food fibers. You can get a large bag for under $2 in the bulk foods section of any major grocery store

Photo Albums--if you are going to seal up any kind of paper goods they have to have stiff corners as the sealing process will crumple them all up otherwise.

Clothesline rope and clothespins--good to have for when you get to where you are going. Any good man can build the end supports for the clothesline and attach the rope for you--may take a pie or two to persuade him though.

Emergency Toilet Paper--as we all know, TP is a very fragile item if not stored properly and the most desirable in an emergency. The sealing process will flatten the roll but you can bend the internal paper tube back into shape once you open the bag. I bag up one roll per bag and throw a couple in your car trunk. Also to put it delicately, tampons and menstrual pads pack up easily and would be a great comfort to a female who may be embarrassed when her period begins. [JWR Adds: They also make good wound dressings.]

Clothing--a pair of clean socks, a pair of gloves and a clean pair of underpants can make a world of difference when yours are soaking wet and smelly. I keep a bagged set in the trunk-doesn't take up much room.

Laundry detergent--I pre-measure 2 heaping cups of powder type laundry detergent and seal it up. I do not like the liquid as the lids on the jugs are not tight and the liquid will leak out all over your other goods. One bag should be good for a small load of heavily soiled clothing when hand washing in a bucket or washtub if you don't have access to a motor driven washer. This way the powder is protected from absorbing water and spillage.

Soap and Washcloth--seal up a bar of your favorite soap and a washcloth or small hand towel. I make up several of these and keep one at work, one in the trunk, one in the go-bag at home--you never know where you will be when the smoke, dirt etc, will land on you. Throw in a handful of individual wet wipes if you like.

Make your own Breakfast and Lunch packets--I buy the boxes of high fiber oatmeal packets when on sale, and bag up 8 at a time--if watered down, that is enough for a family of 4 to have a nutritious breakfast for a couple days. I also make up emergency group lunch packets by combining 2 cups of instant rice with an envelope of the cheap brown gravy mix. You can do the same with stuffing mix or instant mashed potatoes, the goal is to get as many carbohydrates into you as possible if you are on the march and these items will not create much of a cooking smell to attract predators.

I will not mention liquor or cigarettes as those are wants, not needs, And if your adrenaline is pumping hard you won't need any further stimulation.

Another suggestion: Once the SHTF, if you are near other humans and will be cooking anything that has a smell, like baking bread or frying meat or making coffee, wait until full dark, and keep lights from being seen. That way another person may smell what you are cooking but will not be able to see the smoke or follow the scent exactly.

And one closing suggestion: Every time you have an empty mineral water bottle or juice bottle, rinse and fill with water and add a couple drops of food grade hydrogen peroxide, and cap tightly and put up on the top closet shelf or under the sink, there's always a little room, and the worst that will happen is in a year you may need to empty and refill them. As a test, try going for 8 hours without drinking any liquid and you will appreciate the necessity of having clean drinking water on hand.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A good friend who has own three acres at the end of my dead end road rented two 40 foot-long shipping containers eight years ago, paying $250 a month for the pair, and filled them completely up with stuff that he moved from Ohio.  I recently built a two-storey barn for him. When we opened the containers, which had been sealed for eight years [to shift the contents to the new barn] we found that holes had rusted through the top of the containers and everything inside of them was totally ruined.  Nothing inside was salvageable.  He is depressed and heartbroken. He had spent $24,000 in rent but yet he had to haul everything to the dump.  So if you use shipping containers make sure they stay sound and waterproof. - Jim W.

JWR Replies: Over the years I have heard from many readers about issues with Continental Express (CONEX) containers. While they have their advantages, there are substantial risks involving moisture--both rain leaks and condensation. It is essential that the contents of CONEXes be stacked on horizontal pallets and that no boxes are allowed to contact the walls or ceilings, which could be damp with condensation.

When buying, or renting a CONEX, I recommend that you get CONEXes made from Corten (or "Cor-Ten" steel. This is a weathering steel with a specially formulated metallurgy that will last many years longer than standard steel if comparable gauge.

Regular inspection (inside and out) is a must. In most temperate climates, moisture absorbers (such as DampRid tubs) must be replaced frequently, or continuous power must be supplied to several GoldenRod or Everdry electric dehumidifiers.

The other risk that I often hear mentioned is security. It is not unusual for CONEXes to be pillaged by burglars. Even the very best padlocks will not stand up to attacks from cutting torches or abrasive cutoff wheels. And if the locks themselves are not attacked, then it is often the hasp loops or other door hardware to that are attacked. The bottom line is that there is NO sure substitute to having a watchful eye on your property. So in the case of absentee landowners, you need neighbors who you can trust.

The archives of SurvivalBlog have many articles about CONEXes and their many uses. And for anyone who is toying with the idea of burying a CONEX, we have posted many warnings about the potential for CONEXes to collapse. (They are designed to take heavy weight only on their corners.)

Coincidentally, the editor of Prepper Resources recently posted a good summary guest article that was written by one of the owners of

Saturday, April 6, 2013

James Wesley:
A thought about securely storing valuables:

Have several hidden storage areas/caches with the bulk of your valuables and some smaller “bait” caches.  If ever overwhelmed by thieves or the government, give up the smaller stashes to satisfy the varmints.  In the case of registered firearms, a government grab will expect to find all the registered weapons and some associated ammo so it is imperative to acquire (legally) never registered weapons and ammo for the long term if you do not already have “free” weapons.
Of course in the case of thieves, the best option is vigorous self-defense.

Thanks much for SurvivalBlog. - Ed, The Lone Prepper

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

We have had cash on hand since Y2K, which became 9/11 cash, then 2008 crash cash. I agree with the author to be careful, because depositing/withdrawing or spending large amounts of cash can trigger a report to the authorities due to the Patriot Act, or cause other problems.

My own example is: In 2008 I withdrew $7,500 and closed an account at a failing bank. This money sat "under the mattress" so to speak, until just  a few months ago when I decided to purchase a small second home, using this cash as part of the down payment. I had about $5,000 left of the cash and put it in my current bank account so the mortgage company could "see" the money to be used for the down payment. (The teller indicated that $10,000 was the reportable level.)

However, since my cash deposit was within three months of its planned use for the down payment, the mortgage company would not let me use it!  All funds must be completely trackable, not cash, due to the Patriot Act. Even though I had banking records documenting my old bank closure and withdrawal, they would not accept this money in down payment. I was forced to obtain a money gift (completely documented as to the bank it came from,etc.) from a relative to get approved for my mortgage.

I don't know what would happen if I tried to buy a vehicle from a dealer with cash over $10,000 - it likely would be reportable.

Cash purchases, even smaller amounts, are becoming more restricted in Europe. And the Cyprus great depositor rip-off  increases the risks of banking your money. Credit card purchases are set to be mined and monitored by the US government, I have read. We are between a rock and a hard place.  

Here is some of what I have done for financial preparedness:

1. Transferred all of my IRA in 2009 from a big institution to a Self-Directed IRA (Unless you are very savvy, you must get a custodian - Entrust is a well-known one.) This enabled me to put my IRA into rental real estate, with an associated small bank account to receive rents and pay for expenses. I have chosen not to have precious metals in this IRA, because you cannot have custody. There are many other investments you can make through a self-directed IRA.

2. Junk silver. I do not trust that any recent purchases of gold will not be reported and later confiscated ala FDR in 1931.

3. Small amounts of money in my bank account, and small amounts of cash secured outside of the bank.

4. Purchase tangibles when I can. Next purchase is a truck. I have a whole list of things such as water storage, to spend any extra money on. Nothing is going to get cheaper in the future. I am a physician, so when I can I am also stocking up on medications.

Thank you for your great blog. - Colorado Doc

Mr. Rawles,
The other day I visited my local bank. I asked what the rate was for a certificate of Deposit (CD) or their various interest-bearing [passbook or checking] accounts. I was told the best rate they offered was .7% (Seven-tenths of one percent!)   That surprised me. Then it got me to thinking: What is the advantage of keeping my currency in the bank?  There, it is subject to being stolen by an identity thief or withdrawn from my account using fraudulent means. It is also within reach of the government (Think: Cyprus.)  If, for some reason, the bank fails my currency will be tied up for months as the FDIC pays the claim. So I reasoned it would serve me best if I withdrew my currency and kept it hidden on my property. I have a retreat of 80 acres that we now live full time on. I have over 850 [1-ounce] Silver Eagles and I may buy more. I don't feel comfortable putting all my eggs in one basket.  What do you think of my reasoning? - Tim P. in Oklahoma

JWR Replies: Your reasoning is sound. I recommend that folks keep just the minimum that they need in the bank for their monthly expenses. Cash and precious metals kept at home should be in a fire-resistant box that is hidden in a well-camouflaged wall or floor cache, or better yet in a concealed vault room.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

To follow up on chicken coop design article "A Newbie's Perspective on Raising Chickens", please consider: 

My first coop had chicken wire all the way down to the ground.  The possums would get one on each side at night, bounce the chickens from side to side (chickens are stupid at night) and then they would grab one through the wire and extrude them through the wire eating as they went.  Within a month they were all gone.  The whole thing was very disturbing.

My new coop has plywood sides with hardware cloth (1/2" squares) on the upper part.  As in the article, mine is closed in with plywood siding on three sides (1/2 way on the ends) and open at the top on the remaining sides with siding on the bottom part (all the way around)  The closed in area has the nesting boxes.  I did a closed in room behind the nesting boxes so I can access the boxes by lifting a small door in each box on the rear wall.

In the chicken run area, I used chicken wire at the top and roof but I used hardware cloth for the first two feet off the ground.  Raccoons and possum are proficient climbers and will easily access the coop mentioned yesterday.  There is also nothing to stop an owl or chicken hawk.  We have panthers and I am sure an open top will not stop them.  if you put a pressure treated wood piece at the bottom perimeter in the dirt as a nailer, it will be very difficult for an animal to dig in.  I have not had any problem.  I did use cypress fence lumber in the beginning and that has rotted out.
Additionally, I put a thin stainless floor over pressure treated plywood in my coop, sloped it slightly towards one wall, left an small 3/4" gap under the wall bottom plate which is what the studs are fastened to  (supported on short 3/4" wood blocks every two feet) and I put a 3/4" piece of wood in the gap (loose)  to keep the snakes out.  Removing the wood plug allows me to wash down the floor.  If you taper the wood block and point the taper to the inside, it will funnel the waste out.

I am having a problem with something getting my larger birds during the day while they are free range, mainly the turkeys but the loss is manageable.  A fake owl has stopped most of my chicken hawk losses during free range.
In my garden area next to the coop, the chicken wire buried in the ground has rusted away and this weekend project is to put another wood nailer on top of the first one to refasten the shorter wire.

And regarding the recent article on underground caches I must mention you need to put a hard secondary cap over a rubber cap or a plastic bucket that is buried at a shallow depth.  This protective secondary cap can be made of thicker hard plastic, aluminum, steel, or pressure treated plywood.  I have cows (and they would collapse a rubber cap or a bucket.  A metal cap prevents that.  Of course metal will show up with a metal detector which would be good for you if you are caching so that would be bad if you have unwanted people searching.  With a cap, you can also use a probe to help relocate your items if the soil is not rocky. If you bury deep enough, you could use a dummy scrap metal piece above the cap to fool a coin shooting metal detector.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Dear JWR:

Like most of us I am storing food in preparation of something bad happening. I have some super pails along with regular grocery items as well as some freeze dried items. I have a pantry which has long since been over run with supplies, so I built a couple heavy duty cabinets in which to store my overflow. When the great SEE (Society Ending Event) comes about I am quite sure our government won't just shrivel up and go away. Quite the opposite, they will go from house to house looking for stored supplies. If they come to my house and search they will rejoice in the cash of supplies they will retrieve from my family. Not to be selfish but these are my supplies that I made personal sacrifices to acquire. They Are Mine! What can I do? If I hide them in my attic the heat will destroy them in the summer and the cold could possibly freeze the can goods in the winter. Under the house is a decent place to hide my stores with an even temp year around, but who are we kidding... this location is difficult to get to and under most houses there isn't a lot of crawl space. More importantly the men in the black suits will probity take a long and hard look under the house anyway. And what can You do if your house is built on a concrete slab?

I have read several articles about burying your supplies. I am ashamed to admit I currently have 65 pails in my supplies and more on the way. I have an old barn on my property and over the years I have given serious thought to tearing it down. I am so glad I didn't. In my stall area I have dug a hole 4 X 8 that is four feet deep. I built a simple box from plywood. On the outside I sealed it with [asphalt emulsion] the same sealant used on the outside walls of a basement (this can be purchased at your local hardware store). This tar-like coating will protect moisture from reaching my stores for some time. I am able to store 63 buckets inside. When I am done I lay plastic over the lid and cover and conceal everything. If you don't have a convent barn then a small metal shed will suffice as possible cover. I have plans to install a second one for my can goods which I will use old milk crates for easy storage and access of any can goods inside.
Cool! This idea has some merit... but if I don't have an old bard or the space or even the time to build this vault what is another option? I have 5 gallon buckets buried around my place. With this the problem lies in finding your bucket later without digging up half the yard. One cool way to remember their location is take a photo of the exact spot with your kid or dog in the photo for subject matter. One minor problem is finding the exact spot again. While this is a good idea I have another thought, a map. I already hear your grumblings about this idea, if the men in the black suits find my map then they find my food. Not If It Is Coded.

I live in the sticks, I have a lagoon for my sewage needs. The county requires a fence built around this to keep unwanted animals out. I have numbered the corner post 1-4. On my "map" I write 1S (this tells me to go south from that post) 1S 65 + 2S 53. I measure from post 1 on the south side 65 feet. I also measure from post number 2 53 feet. Where these two points intersect there is my bucket. I also have color Gamma Seal lids for the buckets. Red is for dry goods like beans and rice and noodles etc all mixed together. This is enough food in each bucket for my family to eat on for a week. Yellow is used to store different types of can goods. and Green is for meat items like stew and ravioli etc. Blue is bullets. A typical entry for my 'map' would be R 1E 73 + 4E 25. From this I know what it buried in the bucket and the precise location of it as well. If I need more can goods I go to the yellow location and dig. Any reference point can be used as long as you remember the points, such as a flag pole and a mail box or the corner of your house. Use your imitation.
This won't do you a lot of good if the whole neighborhood watches you dig these holes in your yard while you have your bucket siting next to you ready to place in the hole. I have a small 2x4 tee, this is the depth of the hole needed and how wide it needs to be. Once my hole is dug I can come back under the cover of darkness to place it in the hole and cover it up quickly and quietly. This needs to be done early enough in the spring to allow the grass to grow back over the top of this bucket. An easy place to put your 'map' is on the inside of the breaker box cover, if the map is discovered it is a bunch of meaningless numbers. I personally don't store this info on my computer in the event of a power down situation. My stores are in a safe location from the elements and any one who wants to come and take them from me. Happy Digging.

In His Service, - WKR

Friday, February 15, 2013

Dear JWR:
After reading the post this morning on buried items, I would like to share a thought.

If you bury items in PVC pipe and use threaded fittings, you will have to use a pipe dope to seal out moisture.  If you do this, unscrewing the fitting is going to be an ordeal.  You would have to dig out an area big enough to swing a very large wrench if you have one.  Or you would have to dig out the pipe and put the pipe in a large vise if you have one.  Or cut the pipe in the ground or out.  Not the easiest thing to do.

I used a neoprene rubber cap manufactured by Fernco Inc. with a trade name of Plumbquick.  It is a plumbing item that a plumbing supply or hardware store should have or be able to order.  Mine is 8" and I think they go to 10".  I did glue a PVC cap on the bottom.  The Fernco cap fits over the pipe and is tightened with a hose clamp.  The 8" has two clamps.  All you have to do is dig out enough to get a wrench on the hose clamp nut and dig down about three inches around the cap to keep the dirt from falling into the pipe and be able  to put a shovel under the cap to pry it up.  Any small pry bar would work.

I inspected mine recently after being buried since 2008 and it appeared to be very dry except for a small Ziploc bag with a few coins that had some moisture in the bag.  We even had a small flood that had covered the pipe with water while buried.

When they start the gun confiscation, your readers are going to be looking for a way to hide their guns.  They may want to put the cap on their prep list along with the pipe, PVC cap and glue.  Obviously the metal items would have to be protected and apparently plastic bags are not a good idea. - T.M.


James -
When my beloved pet decided to pass on in the middle of winter, my secretary showed me a neat trick for winter digging fro those of us who live north of the 40th Parallel. 
1. Go home for lunch. 
2. Get a bag of charcoal from the shed, lay it on the ground where you're planning to dig.
3. Cut it open on the side and douse briquettes with lighter fluid. 
4. Light.
5. Go back to work.
6. Come home to a patch of backyard that's thawed well below the frost line.  I was digging up steaming dirt from two feet down.
My pet is resting well four feet under ground in a hole that was dug relatively easily in December. - B.F.B.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I recently found an old issue of American Survival Guide magazine (now defunct), with an article that described a cache that had been buried 20+ years earlier, and how well it had fared. Extremely well so the article went, but the land and landmarks had changed over that length of time and it almost wasn't recovered.

For long-term storage like that, remembering where you stashed your cache could be a concern. You might find that a fire has removed all of the trees, and erosion removed any other landmarks you may have used for a benchmark. Or the area has since been developed and you arrive to find a strip mall/parking lot right on top of your valuables.

There are many ways to cache your stash, and different ways to make “X” mark the spot. You just have to remember where that “X” is, and never, ever forget. During the Spring, Summer or Fall, you may only have to worry about heat, rain, insects, poison ivy, or other preppers looking for their stash. That is not the point of this article.

It's February up here in my part of the United States. And it's cold. Very cold.

Which brings up the reason for this article - Winter cache retrieval considerations.

The temperatures for the past couple of months in my area have averaged right around the freezing point. In late January we had to put down a beloved family pet, and we wanted to dig a nice, deep hole in the back yard and give her a proper burial. I went and got my dependable old shovel out of the shed, but it wouldn't even make a mark in the frozen ground. I went back to the shed and brought out my post hole digger. Same result. My grandfather's old pick/mattock worked some, but it seemed like it was going to take days with that old tool!

At this point I was wishing for a motorized ice auger, something that would break through the ice without it breaking in the process. I went back to the shed and brought out an ax and a hatchet. It took two of us in fair physical shape 3½ hours to dig a 3' x 2' x 3½' hole. Turns out that there was 8" of frozen topsoil that we had to painstakingly chip through.

Where have you buried your cache, and in what part of the country? If you're down South and it's a mild Winter, you might not have a problem getting your goodies out of the ground. In nearly all of the Northern states, unless you're having a very mild Winter, you are going to have a problem.

If it's a cold, hard Winter like most of us up here are having now, and you find yourself in an extreme, immediate-need situation to access your cache, will you be ready? Do you have an ax, a hatchet, or whatever tool that will work for you, in your “at the ready” supplies so you can chop out that frozen ground if need be?

Are you in good enough shape to break through and access your carefully-hidden supplies? Will you have enough time to dig that hole and retrieve your (name your life-saver) before the rotating-oscillator-contacted Schumer blows your direction? Do you have the right type of transportation, clothing, footwear, and most important, tools to go and get your stuff in a safe manner without risking health, limb or life?

Since only you know what supplies you have on hand, and what you've saved for that fast-approaching “rainy” day, I suggest you rethink what you are doing, have already accomplished, or what you're thinking of starting.

No one knows when the balloon will go up, the hammer will fall, or the Schumer starts flying your way, so make sure you have the right tools and other equipment to access your hidden treasures where, and especially what time of year the need should arise.

Hopefully this is enough information for you to re-evaluate any preparations you may have made. I hope I've left out enough information so you will start thinking about your own personal situation as it stands right now and any possible scenario you might have to overcome when Mother Nature and circumstances throw that curve ball at all your plans. Get ready while you still have time. - Steve in Iowa

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I am a law enforcement officer by trade. The area I work, as more and more areas often do nowadays, has an unfortunate problem with Meth. Most often, Meth is carried in 1.5”x1.5” plastic baggies that are usually folded up. As you can imagine, people get awfully desperate when trying to hide them.  As you can also imagine, a large portion of my time is spent trying to find them. If you imagine something about the size of a postage stamp or SD card that will give you a pretty good idea of the size we are dealing with. I also have investigated countless burglary calls, so have seen firsthand not only the patterns that thieves follow when searching for loot, but the patterns people follow when hiding things. I also happen to be a prepper, so in addition to needing to find stuff in my job, I understand the need for discreet storage in my personal life. I will approach this article from two ways: First, I’ll go over some of the more imaginative places I’ve seen things hidden, and hopefully share some tips and tricks that will open up more storage/hiding places for you. Second, I’ll go over some steps and methods to help you find things if you are the one looking. The better you get at finding things, the better you get at hiding them. Whether it’s hiding something quickly on your person or finding something on someone you are searching, or creating a long term cache, I hope this helps open up some new avenues to you.

Part 1- Hiding things-
So what are you hiding? I agree with JWR whole-heartedly that it is a lot harder for people to steal (or seize) what they cannot find.  Gold/silver, guns, ammo, USB drives, documents, etc. Anything of value to you.  Maybe you just need more room for your food storage.  Hiding places are truly only limited by your imagination. Shape, Shine, Shadow, Silhouette etc still apply when hiding objects as well as yourself.  This article will mainly focus on hiding areas and compartments.  So let’s begin…

ON YOUR PERSON: From the bottom up, let’s start with the shoes. Many of the new skate style shoes have a thick tongue. This tongue can be cut (along a seam) and items inserted in this. In addition the insole can be removed and items placed beneath. On crocs or even sandals, the sole can be split, filled, and glued back. On regular shoes, the sole (think where the air pocket on Nike’s is) can usually be cut and hollowed out. The heel of a shoe tends to have a lot of padding, and this provides some area to work with.  Shoes can be bought with both tongue and heel hiding places already constructed.

Obviously, anything can be tucked into a sock. For pants, the bottom cuff of pants can store items. You can also fold the cuff internally and sew or Velcro shut. Hidden pockets can be sewn anywhere on pants.  Seams are good places for these, as the thickness of the material will provide support and break up any imprint of the item, and if being patted down, the hard seam may hide the object from touch.  The edges of cargo pockets are also viable options, as well as the flap of the pocket. Most pocket flaps are double thickness, and can be opened, filled, and resealed easily. If you are doing this, make sure the objects are silenced and cant jangle against one another. Hidden storage belts are very common, and easily missed during a quick pat down.  Likewise with the back of a belt buckle or one with a removable object on the front. The same hiding places for pants also apply to shirts, with the addition of under or inside of a collar or thicker sewn in tag. For hats, inside of the sweat band, or tucked into a slit in the underside of the bill. Foam front hats can be altered in this way as well.  Belts also do not just need to be for holding your pants up.  You can tuck a gun into a belt that is worn up closer to chest level (up to your arm pits) on your body in a pinch, or have a knife taped to your inner thigh or upper hamstring area. Both the Keltec P3AT and the Ruger  LCP have available belt clips for them. The clip extends higher than the back of the pistol, so all that appears in a pocket is a clip that looks like a knife.

BICYCLES: Obviously, tires can be used as storage places.  The frames on bikes are hollow, and can be accessed from the seat, handle bar, or even crank area on some brands. Seat stems quickly remove and provide hollow storage, especially on newer bikes with quick adjust seats. You can tape items to the underside of the seat. Or buy a seat cover and keep items between the cover and the seat. On bicycles with straight grips, you can make a thin lit in the flat distal end of the rubber grip. Items can be inserted, and the hole is self-closing. Bicycle helmets are also options, with both padding that can be removed and foam to work with. Bicycles are also stolen, so be sure to guard against this and keep this in mind when using them to store items..

VEHICLES: A whole book could be written on this, and smugglers are coming up with some pretty ingenious methods. Cars are stolen, so I don’t advocate storing long term items in them (IE Guns), but there may come a time and place. Every vehicle is different. Anything with padding can be stuffed, and any dead space can be taken advantage of.  I strongly encourage you to look through your vehicle, both inside and out, top and bottom. After market tube bumpers can be filled with items. Stock  bumpers can have things tucked inside. Speakers can be removed. Again, tires can be filled. In the engine compartment, you can remove the air filter or fuse box. Or install a false fuse box. With all of the aftermarket items inside of cars now, it’s hard to tell what is stock and what is not (think about the K and N cold air filters). Get some large radiator hose and attach it to random spots in the engine compartment for some pretty secret storage. Anything that has to be bolted down is highly unlikely to be unbolted during a search, and provides a good starting point. Engines also have a lot of undercarriage armoring or protection that can be removed and used. Wheel wells usually have some storage space, and most vehicles have body panels that provide a lot of room to work with. Under a dash board, you can access vents as well as a lot of empty space. Door panels can be removed, as well as seat cushions (or slit and stuffed.)  In the glove box, there is an area under the box on the door, as well as below the dash if you remove the glove box/door fully. If you have a sunroof, the area between the glass piece and the interior padding can store things. In the console area, you can remove the plastic housing. Most ashtrays remove to empty, and provide access to a dead space behind them. The soft boot on a parking brake or manual transmission can be removed and filled. Airbags can be removed.  Dome lights can be removed and have the headliner accessed. The actual trunk portion that lifts up provides a lot of room, as do most light housing areas. Under any carpet in the vehicle.  Behind a license plate. Under a truck bed liner. Under a false floor in a tool box in the bed. Between the tool box and bed.  People can go so far as to install a smaller gas tank with a hidden compartment in the unused space.  In general, the more you can return the appearance to standard, the better. If you slit a seat, install Velcro or stitch it back up. If you lift the carpet, glue it back down. Do not leave pry marks on the dash board or door panels. Old vehicles are somewhat easier to work with, as they do a better job of disguising things as minor wear and tear.  If you have a rundown vehicle in the yard, you have more options. Park it on a buried 55 gallon drum. Remove the valve covers, hide things there, and replace them.  If the vehicle is not running, any hoses can be filled.  You can remove the wheels from a car, jack it up, put stuff where the gas tank was, then lower it down.  Let your imagination guide you.  Anything in the engine compartment will get hot and dirty.

THE YARD: With anything stored outside, be sure to weatherproof your container. Underground storage areas are very difficult to find, especially if you conceal them well. Metal detectors are becoming more commonplace, so be mindful of this. If it is a long term cache, leave it. Don’t check it every month and leave telltale signs or a path in the grass or freshly dug dirt. If you are concerned about metal detectors, place some old pipe fittings in the dirt above your cache and below the ground level. Fence tubing can be used. If building a wall, you can fill a cinder block with goods for long term storage. If you need easier access, remove a specific cap piece on top of the wall. Like wise with a 4x4 fence post.  These can be drilled nearly hollow then capped with a decorative piece.  Bird houses can be filled, or built with a false floor.  If building a raised bed garden, filled PVC tubes can be laid in the bottom. How many times have you seen people searching/looting a house dig up a garden? On a deck or play structure, any number of compartments can be fitted to the cross beams of the flooring. Don’t overlook a child’s sandbox. If you build your own, it is very simple to simply install a double floor for your goods, then fill with sand.  Old cars (see above), garden hose rolls (the roller), decorative yard art or sculptures, junked appliances, again let your imagination guide you. You can remove a brick from a wall, construct a fake brick out of floral foam that can be hollowed out, and paint to match your wall. Buy an outdoor speaker rock, and remove the guts. Hide something under your wood pile.  Be creative. Think like a kid again. Ask your kids where they would hide things.

HOME EXTERIOR: This is one of my favorites. Most people overlook the exterior of a home for any worthwhile goods. People know that spare keys are under mats, plants, etc, by the front door. On a patio/porch cover, if you have exposed beams, install new paneling pieces in the space between them. If you use spacers, you can still have exposed beams and hide the appearance of your cache. If you have a flat patio cover, you can hide a great number of items on top of it, against the roof. Have you ever looked behind the bird blocks on your roof? There is space there as well. Look at all of the pipes, vents, chimneys, etc, coming off of your roof. It would be very simple to construct a false vent pipe, sand to fit, paint to match, and no one would be the wiser.  Likewise with the random cable, phone, sprinkler controller boxes on houses now. How many does your house have? If you can’t name the number, someone looting won’t know either.  Buy an extra, set it up, and store away!
You can also landscape for success here too. Plants that drop a ton of leaves can hide a lot of ground work, and if you do bury something in a garden, it’s a great spot for your cactus collection.  Hide something inside your dog house when you build it. Or your chicken coop.
HOME INTERIOR: This is where it gets interesting.  Most burglaries I have seen people go through all of the usual hiding places. Drawers, cabinets, closets, nightstands, mattresses, under beds, behind pictures on the wall, book case. If something can get pushed over, its going to. So don’t hide things there. Let’s get wiser.
Let’s start with the laundry room. Do your cabinets go all the way to the ceiling? If not, consider a fascia piece and Velcro or screws to hold it in place. Now, they look like they go to the ceiling and you have a lot of storage. The same with a toe kick piece on the bottom of cabinets. Remove it, and reattach with Velcro, magnets, or screws.  Most cabinets also have an overhang on the bottom and top. You can fit a flush (horizontal) top or bottom and have a lot of storage. On washing machines and dryers, especially older models, there is a lot of dead space that can be accessed by removing the paneling. Obviously, be careful of what you are storing there, and the machine’s effects on it and its effect on the machine.  How many hoses and vents come off of your washer and dryer? Would a looter notice an extra 6” vent piece on the back of your dryer?  Do you use powdered laundry detergent? You can hide a lot in the bottom of a five gallon bucket of powder or large box of tide.  Same thing with bleach. Empty a bleach container, wash, dry, and fill with goods. Store in the back behind a couple other full bottles of bleach.

THE KITCHEN:  How many decorative containers do you have on the cabinets in your kitchen? Try putting food storage in them. How about under your stove?  How about in the warming drawer? What about the vent above your stove?  Remove the fascia piece on the bottom of your dishwasher? Do your cabinets have dead space around corners?  Do your counters have an overhanging lip? Could you flush mount a thin veneer under them? Some of the more amazing hiding places I have seen constructed involved water filters. One was a screw in water filter in the fridge that was hollowed out.  The other was an under the sink water filter, again, that was just the shell and had been hollowed out.  It is easy to overlook these, and if the power and water is off, its easy to excuse them not working. It Is also easy to install an extra piece or two of PVC pipe under a sink that are going nowhere. Unless you take the time to look, most will not notice an extra pipe.  How many chemicals do you keep under your sink? Can you store something in your ajax container?  How about where you store all of your plastic bags?  Be careful of hiding things in food (IE bottom of rice bucket.) Depending on how bad things are and who is doing the looting, that may be what people are looking for.  How about your pantry?  What about installing a 2 inch shelf above the door jam on the inside? How many times have you seen the wall above your closet door from the inside? Exactly….that is what makes it a great place to hide things. Depending on how small the pantry is and how high your ceiling is, you can go so far as to install a false ceiling. Because the lighting is usually different or non existent in the pantry/closet, false ceiling are a lot harder to pick out. Put a 2x4 so the 4” side is vertical on either short edge of the ceiling. Cut a piece of plywood to fit, and screw into the 2x4. 3.5” of storage space will fit most guns. Paint and texture to match. This works very well for a long term cache, when you can tape/caulk the seams, etc, and just leave it alone.  How about a decorative backsplash behind a sink or stove? Can you use one to hide a between the studs cache in the wall?  How about the inside of chandelier glass? Or screw in light covers? Add lots of dead bugs to hide any shadows cast.  How about where your ceiling fan attached to the ceiling? Or your smoke alarm? If you take them out, you have access to a lot of space under your ceiling insulation, and can put back a functioning item to hide your entrance point.  How about the dishes you have stacked up? How many coins could you tape to the bottom of your plates?

Moving on to the living room/dining room…Couches make great, but obvious places to hide things. But how about a lamp base? How about a curtain rod? How about sewn into the fold on the bottom of a curtain? Can you install a false bottom on your dining chairs? How about your dining room table? Coffee table? Are there angled support pieces in the corners?  If you do store stuff in a chair, be sure to pad the contents to keep them quiet, and do it to all of the chairs so it looks factory. How about speakers?  When looking at furniture, try to figure out where the dead space is.

Then, figure out how you can build a compartment to take advantage of it. Indoor plants are great too.  A nalgene bottle will hold a lot, and is waterproof enough to put in the bottom of a plant pot and leave under a plant and soil.

File cabinets are usually opened up, gone through, and tipped over. Most drawers are not removed. If you do remove the bottom drawer, you have some pretty good space below the drawer. An even better spot is secured to the inside of the top (above the top drawer) if the item is small enough.

Beds are common places to hide things, usually under them or in the mattress. So be different. Hollow out a bed post or leg if you have a wooden bed. Install a second piece of wood to the back of your head board to create a spot.  Dressers drawers will get pulled out and dumped out. If you must hide in a dresser, build a spot above the top drawers on the inside of the top, or to the side of the edge drawers. Take advantage of your dead space.  For bookcases, most have with a decorative fascia on the top shelf or below the bottom shelf. Don’t just hide things there. Screw a sheet of board onto it to really secure it.

Bathrooms are great too. Does your bathroom have two sinks? Use one and convert the plumbing in the other to storage. Tampon/Pad boxes are good for hiding things. How about a spare trash can with opened feminine products on top? Have a shower or bath you don’t use? What can you fit in the drain? What about in the faucet/water fixture. How about that costco sized bottle that used to have shampoo in it? What about your shower or bath itself? Do you have a seat in your shower? How about the entire frame of your bath? All of this is dead space waiting to be used. What can you attach to string or wire and put down the toilet? What about fitting things in the float ball in the toilet tank? Is there a brick in your toilet tank? Can you hollow out the bottom of the brick?
What about the closet? People look behind clothes hanging in closets. People don’t look in the pockets of clothes hanging in the closet. Or pinned under the collar of a jacket. Do you have shelves in the closet? Under the bottom shelf, up against the wall is a good place. Closets are great places to remove the base board and create a cache. You can attach it back with Velcro or magnets, but screws work better.  If your closet is wider than the door, can you build a partition against one wall? Again, if you take the time to finish it right, the lighting and presence of things in the closet will help to hide it.  Will 4” of wall space missing stand out amongst old clothes and Christmas decorations?

Attics make great places too. Under insulation is always a great option. If you have spray in insulation, it is very hard to make it look untampered with. Roll insulation is easier. With the amount of venting going around, is the searcher really going to confirm where each duct is going to? Consider adding a false duct for storage.  Bury one end in the insulation somewhere, and have the other go off into a dark corner.  Get to a corner of the attic, and screw a sheet of plywood between (not to the beams, but between) two beams to create a compartment against the roof. Basements are great places also. Think of structural dead space, and choose the nastiest, darkest corner you have. Put a cardboard box of water damaged magazines in front of it.

For true cache type hiding places, you need to think construction.  Install a new shower with a seat and take advantage of the dead space. When framing a wall, door, or window, put an extra few 2x4’s on the base plate. Drill out a space big enough for coins, USB drives, etc. Understand these are not going to be accessed easily. When installing flooring, think about a floor safe. I helped a friend build an addition onto his house. When pouring the foundation, we sank a tube safe in the concrete. It got filled, covered with Thinset, and tiled over.  Do you have a bay window? Build a seat to fill in the angle, but have the seat lift for storage. You can frame out a rectangular storage area under the hinged seat, but will still have the triangular areas on either end the are accessed by taking the whole thing apart.  Have an interior wall where insulation doesn’t matter? Replace the drywall with plywood on either side and have a great storage area between the studs. Any electrical outlet, surround sound speaker, phone jack, cable hook up is a great access point. Or install a few fake ones. Newer houses have drain access points on opposite walls from the plumbing, and these make excellent spots also.

In the garage, make things look boring. No one goes through a bin of old newspapers. Or looks in the bottom of a bucket of rusty bolts.  Or looks under the salt pellets in a water softener. Or looks under the wooden shelves you built to see the double plywood layer with storage space between.  Or dumps out the 5 gallon bucket of off color paint on clearance at home depot to find the Nalgene bottle in the bottom of it. Most commercial metal shelves have a lip on the bottom front, and you can store things under them.
One last thing is your safe. I assume you have one, it is bolted down, and kept locked. Better yet, you have a cheap throw down safe in your closet and the real one in a hidden room.  What about storing stuff under the carpet in your safe? Or on the inside edge of the lip in the front frame piece around the door, on the sides and top? If the safe is bolted to the concrete, did you put a cache in the wall it is up against? How about in the ground under it?

Another option is hollow core doors. The top can be removed, and lots of things stored inside. How about inside the decorative crown molding on the ceiling?
There is a thought that you can build armor to defeat any bullet, and can build a bullet to defeat any armor. Hiding things is like this. Someone can find any hiding spot you have given enough time and effort.  You want to make it as boring and horrible a process for them that they stop well before they find what they are looking for. If you have something hidden in the yard, put the trash can with the dog poop by it. And get a skunk to spray it. And plant a cactus by it. Make someone searching take one look at it and mentally give up before they start. People often look IN things, but rarely look AT the thing itself. Take advantage of this. People also look in places where they themselves hide things, and you can learn a lot by watching someone search. If you alter something, repair it as close to original as you can. Or alter everything the same way. Once you hide something, LEAVE IT THERE. Every time you check on it, you are creating an opportunity to leave a trail or alter something that will make it show.  Maybe today is the day your hand is dirty and will leave a hand print, or you will break a branch on the plant.  Maybe you will be in a hurry and not put things back right.

Part 2 Finding things-
Let’s start with a little on human behavior. Police are not trained to find criminals. We are trained to look for patterns, and notice when something breaks a pattern, or follows one we have already recognized. When I stop a car and the driver instantly lights up a cigarette and starts puffing away like a steam engine going uphill, I instantly think of two options. One, the person has been drinking and is trying to hide the smell of alcohol. Two, the person has a warrant, and is trying to get in a last bit of nicotine before jail. This is just from watching people over a long period of time. Next time you are carrying a gun, pay attention to how often you subconsciously touch it. When you get out of your car, when you go into a business, when you stand up, or sit down. Some people want to keep their drugs as close to them as they can. Others will do their best to stay as far away from them as they can (IE drugs are in the car, and they meet you at the trunk of the car when you stop them they are out their door so fast.) People are creatures of habit. People also tend to be lazy by nature. These two things come in handy when looking for things. When hiding things, people tend to want somewhere quickly accessible, and within reach.  When searching, people tend to get lazy, and look where they would hide things. You must be methodical and systematic. Don’t be afraid to take a break during a search for something if you find you are losing focus.

SEARCHING A PERSON:  So you are manning your LP/OP and you contact someone. In the course of the contact, they need to be searched. First, have a minimum of two people to search anyone. Safety and awareness are paramount. While one is doing the tactile portion, the second should be looking at the person’s body language, etc. A third and fourth person would ideally be providing cover.  The safest way is to have the person undress, and to go through their belongings inch by inch. This is not always possible. First, look at the person. Do you see any obvious bulges, or unevenness anywhere?  Have them interlock their fingers on the back of their head, with their pinkies up. Grasp their hands, and pull them backwards, so they are off balance. If you have the manpower, have one person hold them like this and have another search them. To search, you must touch everywhere, with enough time and pressure. You are looking and feeling or anything out of the ordinary. Go Slow. You are looking for a handcuff key under a seam of their pants or something of the like (In the academy, we were taught to look for a handcuff key. It’s the smallest thing that can kill you. Spend time with your spouse hiding a hand cuff key and trying to find it. Truly believe the person has a handcuff key or a mini SD card on them every time you search. Actively search. DO NOT GO THROUGH THE MOTIONS) IF ANYTHING FEELS OR LOOKS DIFFERENT, INVESTIGATE FURTHER! Did something crinkle? Did it not bend how it should? Go all the way up the inner thigh. Check inside the waist band. When going through clothes/shoes away from the person, look over and touch every inch. Look at the seams. Look at the thread used, the stitch pattern. Bend the item in your fingers. Take the insoles out of the shoes. Compare the two in weight.  Compare the two or the left and right side in feel.  Look at the belt buckle. Look at the belt. Look inside the hat. GO SLOW.  They sell handcuff key zipper pulls, as well as paracord bracelet clips that have them in them. VERIFY EVERYTHING, AND DO NOT ASSUME.
When searching a car, a good place to start is to sit in the driver’s seat.  Remember, people are lazy. What can you reach? Where do your hands go to when you reach under the seat?  To the visor? Under the passenger seat? Account for the dead space in the car. Look in all of the places mentioned above. Turn the wipers on. Turn the AC and heat on. Does it all work? Is the head liner loose? Are their pry marks on the door paneling? On the Dash board? Is the ashtray full or was it recently emptied? Is the CD holder full of CD’s? Look in the trunk. Look where the spare goes. Look in the actual trunk portion of the car that lifts up.

For the purpose of this article, searching means after the fact, when any gunplay is done, and you have ample time on your hands. This does not pertain to any area that is not fully secured and under your control.

As mentioned , you can see that is is nearly impossible to search every rock tree and bush. So you play the odds. Try to look, listen, and feel. Look for patterns of travel. Look for dead grass, or trimmed bushes. Look for disturbed dirt. Look for loose bricks. Look for missing cobwebs.  Listen for footsteps that sound different, or for the section of fence that sounds hollow. Or sounds dull if everything else sounds hollow.  Feel for the floral foam brick, or the loose capstone.  Divide the yard into a grid. Go through methodically and systematically. DO NOT ASSUME ANYTHING, VERIFY EVERYTHING. Open the lawnbird control panel on the house. Turn the sprinklers on. Turn the hose on.

Inside of the house, account for every inch of space. Look for things that don’t fit, are not original, or were recently or frequently moved. Look for grooves and wear patterns in paint. Listen. Knock on walls, Knock on floors. Get out a stethoscope. Feel the wall texture. Turn on the sinks. Feel the pipes below while the sink is on. Is water draining where it should? Feel the ductwork with the AC or heat on.  Is air moving? If not, VERIFY why not. Do not assume.  Imagine objects are made of 1” cubes. You need to verify what each cube is or is not either by touch or sight. By both if possible. Think of a book case. This means everything within the edges of that book case is on a 1” grid. The books. The space behind the books. The shelves. Under the shelves. The wall behind it and the floor under it.  Open each book, not just one or two. When looking at containers of things, do the same thing. 1“ cubes. You can’t verify them all by looking at it from the outside. Dump them out if need be.  The person playing mouse went to great lengths to make everything as boring as possible, as disgusting as possible. They forgot to flush the toilet intentionally. They clean all their fish in the same pile for a reason.  Coincidences do not exist when you are searching for something. Get out a tape measure. Measure the ceiling height. Measure the wall length. If something doesn’t ad up, VERIFY it. Account for all structural dead space both in the house and in the objects in them.

Be mindful also of what people are searching for and what looters need. Right now, the bottom of a bucket of rice may be a good spot to hide a few coins. Food theft has not started yet. Likewise, a computer printer that may be stolen is not a wise place to hide said coins. But six months post-crunch, when the printer is a paper weight because the grid has been down and rice is as valuable as gold, the priorities for hiding places may be reversed.

I hope this article helps open up some new thoughts for you on hiding places, and finding them. When you look at your house from a different perspective, you will find limitless storage. And the better you get at finding things, the better you will be at hiding things. Search objects, not just in them.  If you are the deer hunter, look for deer from the moment you open your eyes in the morning, not just when you are in your tree stand in the woods.  If you are the deer, don’t just hide in the woods. Hide in the bushes by the front window of the hunters house, where he will pass you by before he even realizes he should be looking for you.

Friday, November 16, 2012

We decided that our family needed a root cellar for maintaining root crops, cold storage and for more extensive water storage, here is our story. Hopefully, others can learn from us and not make the same mistakes. One Sunday afternoon, we went out to the yard and sized up the area we wanted, and marked our spot. Our property borders Federal land that occasionally has people lingering around, we have even caught people in our other shelters on the back of our property, so I wanted to keep this one as close to the house as possible. When we purchased our property it was all woods and we bulldozed a small area for our home. We know where every well water, electric, cable and septic line runs, we knew the area we had chosen was clear. In the back of my mind, we had saved this spot from the beginning to bury a secondary propane tank or water cistern. However; in our state it is mandatory to call “Holy Moley” a specific number to locate underground lines and cables prior to digging anything, even a garden spot. So we called, and waited for them to come out and mark all existing underground elements. We were told we did not need a building permit because it was just a ‘root cellar’.

We have found over the years that there is a little magnetic anomaly on our property, so all the compasses and detectors in the world will be off anywhere from a little to a lot. A kid that looked like he should still be in high school came from the electric company and ended up marking three lines wide, saying “It could be here, or here, or here. It’s somewhere between these lines.” I thanked him and was thankful that I knew where they were. We also noticed others marked the location of the Texas pipeline almost six foot from where it is on the Federal land and across the very corner of our property.  On the opposite side of our land, about six feet from the property line, lies a forced sewer main from the hotel lodge two miles away. They marked it 7 feet off target--we know because we found it very unexpectedly when we planted new cedar trees five years ago. Bottom line, I’m glad we know where everything is located because those who are ‘supposed’ to know don’t always know, and their instruments are not always accurate. NOTE: Always know exactly where your utility lines are on your property, measure from a point that does not change.

Having worked some years of my professional life in architectural design, I had made notes on our set of blueprints exactly where everything is located, measured from the SE corner of the house. My personal notes let us know that the area we wanted to dig in was clear.   We knew the water table was low in our area, as years ago we had to go down 120 feet for our well.  NOTE: Know your local water table and local frost line. We figured we wouldn’t hit water when we were digging the root cellar, nor would there be a need for a perimeter drain as our soils type was good for drainage. Now that everything was officially marked, and materials were gathered, it was time to start digging. We chose to dig by hand as the area we were working in was in the woods, surrounded by mature trees close to our home. We weren’t sure we could get a backhoe in between the trees, and we didn’t want to disturb any tree trunk-roots. Our area was about 12 x 16 feet, hoping after the concrete was poured and the stairs were in, it would end up about 10 x 12 feet finished.

We squared off our area and started digging, all of us, but it seemed to go slowly, so we had a dig party, everyone brought shovels and we started in again. Then the kids shoveled daily after school and the next, and so forth. The ground was much harder than we had considered. NOTE: use a Bobcat or backhoe and pile extricated dirt in area out of the way if at all possible. So after the two weeks we were down about 16 inches on half of the area, so we brought in pickaxes, as we had broken three shovels. We could only work one at a time with the pickaxes so we didn’t hit each other in the head while we worked. Working one at a time slowed us down considerably. We intended to go down about 6 feet, and according to our plans, that would be about 5 feet below ground level and 2 feet above ground level. That would get us below the frost line and above the water table. We also had not planned where we were going to pile the dirt we took out, so initially we all started putting it on ‘our side’ as we were digging, till we realized what we were doing. Then we stopped and cleaned up our mess, and re-piled all the excess dirt in one area and all the rocks in another area.  Telling this makes us sound like  a segment of a ‘Three Stooges’ movie, but we did all have fun with this project and now have precious, priceless family memories. Note: family projects of any kind can strengthen family bonds.

We were coming in contact with some large stones we had not thought about, so we had to devise a way to remove them without giving us all hernias.  After about 6 weeks to 2 months we hit a snag, literally. We were about 3 foot to 4 foot down when we uncovered metal pieces and bones that looked like human remains. I will not desecrate a grave site because I am part Native American, and understand the Grave Repatriation Act, and we understand the historical significance of our area and what we had possibly found. So we called the State Archeologist, and waited another two weeks until he could come. Meanwhile, we were on a ‘stop work’ order. In my heart I knew I had saved that area for some reason. HINT: Obey federal laws, someone will find out, some way at sometime anyway, consequences are much worse after-the-fact. While we were stopped, we revised our plans and decided to use this as a tornado shelter also, since it would be easier to access in our older age than the one we currently had, that was if we could go ahead with our project. There are different requirements for tornado shelters than for root cellars, the concrete walls needed to be stronger, the entry door needed to be different, etc. We incorporated these changes into our plan, since it was only half dug.

After the State Archeologist finally came, he identified the metal parts as being from an early buckboard wagon, as were the wooden fibers. However; it took weeks to get the results of the tests on the bones that in the end tested out to be animal bones. So the ‘stop work’ order was lifted and we could get back to work. At this point we were considering revising our plans again so we could finish quickly as it was late in the fall and we wanted to have the root cellar in by winter. No such luck, an early snow and the seasonal flu knocked us all off schedule. So the deep square filled with fall leaves and snow. People who visited us over the winter could see our little experiment from the house, and constantly asked what we were doing. Our favorite answer was digging a ‘water feature’. When we told someone the truth, that we were building a root cellar/tornado shelter, everyone started laughing at us.

Come spring, we noticed the ground was so very hard that the sides had actually held up very well, even down to the squared off corners. Also it had never collected any water, so it was draining well, even though the ground was very hard. Looking back, it’s a good thing we left it over the late fall and winter into spring, as that gave us vital information about the ground performance that we needed. HINT: In retrospect; leaving the ground gaping open over the winter gave us vital information and hardened the ground. Come springtime we resumed our project, but changed our plans. Instead of pouring concrete for it all, we decided to lay brick for the steps, as we needed the steps to finish digging. Our initial plan called for poured concrete, but we did not wish to pay for poured concrete twice with two delivery charges. We needed the steps at that time, to be able to get down into the ‘hole’ to keep digging, so we used old bricks instead. We gathered together all our spare bricks and used them on the steps. It didn’t match, but it was cute and we made designs with the odd colored bricks in concrete. Our use of brick steps ended up working well, because in the dark you can feel the difference between the brick steps and the concrete flooring.

We put up our concrete wall-forms close to the smoothed dirt, arranged the supports and were ready to have the concrete poured. Then, with a site check from the concrete company, we found out the concrete trucks could not get close enough to the site to pour the concrete. This was like a punch in the gut. With everything in place and ready we decided to make our own concrete. Working with friends, we mixed and poured homemade quickcrete walls, we kept the concrete constantly coming and of consistent value. We had enough help to pour the walls all on the same day. We poured the floor last, then built shelves from 2 x 4 s and ½ inch plywood. We used ½ inch plywood for shelves to support the weight of glass jars without bowing. We put a 110 gallon water cistern in the corner. We realized we were very close to an outside water outlet so we ran a water line over to the inside of the root cellar to the water cistern. Being 32 feet from an electric pole, we had an electrician drop an electric line, so we could put electricity in our root cellar. HINT: We love our water and electric that was spur of the moment decisions, plan for them. Our neighbor is a brick mason, so he volunteered to lay the three rows of concrete brick on top of the concrete wall to bring it up above ground. We laid our beams to support the flat roof. As we replaced the dirt on top of the flat roof, and up the sides, we found since it had been almost two years since we started, that much of the pile of dirt we took out had washed away, even though we had it under tarps. We ended up having to haul two loads of dirt (and transfer it to our site in a wheelbarrow) to cover the sides and top. We had to chose an entry door and now set it in concrete. Our experience of shoveling the dirt out was not near as fun as shoveling it back, we even covered the sides with dirt too, till it was completely covered into a little ‘mound’ then we sowed grass seed. 

In the end we are very glad to see it finished, even though the grass is not growing yet. Our ‘bare minimum’ budget was stretched considerably as the finished cost was almost twice as much as what we had initially projected. The majority of that cost was in the steel reinforcing rods used in the concrete when we moved from plain root cellar to root cellar/tornado shelter, and in the type of door we used. We are glad we ran electricity, for a dehumidifier as well as lights. The running water came in handy for clean-up when we dropped some glass home canned jars of peaches. We have not yet put doors on our shelves as was suggested to us by someone who had been in a tornado. They suggested plywood doors over all the canned goods that lock so the cans and jars do not become airborne during a tornado. We are going to listen and install them over Thanksgiving when all the family is here. In the end we are pleased with our new little spot, but if you plan to do this yourself here are our suggestions; have friends willing to help, don’t modify your plans in mid-stream, double the cost your expect and be prepared for any surprise when you are digging.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Great site, thanks for a wonderful resource.

My tip of the day for hidden in plain sight storage, is a hollowed out heavy bag. I mean one of those ubiquitous kickboxing bags languishing in so many garages, covered with dust, and often stuffed into a corner and unused for years. These can be found used and cheap and have minimal resale value, thus a low likelihood of being taken in a burglary, especially as they are usually quite heavy. If there is no food or anything inside attractive to a dog or a bear, that is good of course, so nothing leads an intruder to it.

So, if you have some padding around a large tube hidden in this bag, it still can be punched, but can hold rifles, ammo, etc in a fairly large amount, and in fact should be so heavy, that its a pain to move from its dusty spot in the garage. Just re-lash the top (or perhaps re-stitch it, depending on the design), put the hanging chains back on and it hides in plain sight! Happy Trails - Eugene

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Basically this product is a flush-mounted interchangeable decorative panel for kitchens and possibly other areas in the home. The panels can be purchased pre-made or created by the customer; the site shows options such as artwork and more substantial-appearing materials like ceramic tiles and mosaics.

The panel has a push-to-release mechanism behind it, and the idea is that a homeowner can swap one panel for another as desired.

The installation instructions explain the details.

It isn't designed as a hiding place, and there isn't much room behind it as it is, but it would be fine for smaller items. It would also be pretty easy to adapt the design to be more difficult to discover, for example by using a magnetic release.

Seems to me that something resembling a permanently installed inlaid mosaic wouldn't draw a second glance from most burglars. Just a thought.

Best Regards, - P.N.G.

Monday, August 20, 2012

James, to follow up on the recent article, here is some additional info your readers might find valuable on shipping containers for storage and housing....  We have over a dozen at our ranch that we use for storage, so I'll share a bit about that use for containers.  These containers are the cheapest space you can "build".  They are weatherproof, earthquake proof, will probably make it through tornados and hurricanes, in short, they are excellent all around space.

If you can afford them, you should stick to the "one trip" containers because they will be in near perfect condition -- you can always convert these to housing in the future, too, because they will be in the best condition.  Even if you bought a new container from China, they would still have to ship it to you -- therefore these are also "one trip".  When you first get the container, you should inspect it to be sure it wasn't used for hauling some bad chemical or nasty smelling thing.  You should also check for dents and dings and even punctures from fork lifts.  The vendor we used would allow us to return the container and swap it out (we'd have to pay the freight charges.   You can also go to the dock and inspect them prior to delivery, but this isn't always practical.

It's also possible to get containers with double doors, though you might need to special order these.  Color selection is usually limited to gray, tan, olive drab (OD) and occasionally blue and red.   We've opted for the darkest green we could get and in fact had to paint most of the containers with a spray gun setup as they were tan or gray, the most common one trip colors.

If your roads are at all windy or steep, you might not be able to get a 40 foot container into your location.  We could probably get one up there with some extra work, like using a backhoe to move the tail end around the corners, but we haven't tried that yet.  You can also helicopter these things in, but that's just prohibitive and puts on quite a nice show for your neighbors to see what you're doing.

We built flat pads for containers with roadbase gravel prior to setting the containers in place.  Be careful to choose your 1-2% grade for drainage as to where you want the water to go, but also be mindful that rollable items will move inside the containers.  A single backhoe operator can easily move around an empty container and place it within 1 inch or less of where you want it to go.  Make sure you also include a pad in front of the doors to keep the mud under control.

New containers should be painted on the outside, if you want to change the color, and then aired out.  We usually leave the container open and empty for 30-60 days before doing any modifications to the interior, you might also want to seal the wooden floor as it can be quite attractive when finished.    Cargo containers aren't the most attractive thing in the woods, so paint and location, or camo netting are recommended...  Lately, we've been getting dark green factory painted containers, so we don't have to paint them, but you'll still need to peel off the numbers for aesthetics.  In our area, a new, one trip 20 foot container runs about $4,000 delivered.  Doors on both ends are a bit more and for some purposes like housing, you may want to consider this option.  That's definitely a special order item.

If you are using containers for food storage, you will need to insulate the inside of the container with 4 inch foam panels and metal ducting tape to get a good seal on the corners.  This keeps a container comfortably below 65F in the summer even when it's over 100F outside and above 45F in the winter in the temperate climate we have here.  Your mileage may vary based on the interior thermal mass provided by whatever you are storing and your local weather conditions.

We've also installed sliding doors on several of the containers so we can leave the metal doors open and keep critters out.  I highly recommend this, especially for containers that the ladies need access to, say a pantry or nice walk in "closet".  Some of the doors can be "tight", so it's an issue for people who aren't used to wrangling heavy items to open the doors, but my 13 year old daughter is getting pretty handy with these.

Lighting and some power outlets are also a good idea, depending on what you'll be using them for.  You can also install a fan controlled by greenhouse type controllers to blow in cool or warm air to keep the container close to a certain temperature.

Be sure to check your county's zoning ordinances.  The collectivists won't want to miss a single chance to tax something or issue a permit that can be revoked at some time in the future for any reason.  Even though they are considered "temporary", some counties don't allow them, others charge a per year permit fee (I've seen $75 in one place), while others have zero restrictions.  If you are concerned about this, paint the containers to match the environment, place the containers under tree cover and/or cover with camo netting, which makes them nearly invisible from the air and also keeps them much cooler.  It's a little extra work to put a pad under the trees, but it's worth the effort as it will provide mud free winter access and keep the container from rusting, as water will drain away.  In the trees you could have a fire issue, so never store flammable items in these containers. Best, - C.K.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

I would like to shed light on the convenience, structural soundness, and affordability of ISO shipping containers [commonly calles CONEXes] as potential add-ons, storage, or primary structure for your retreat or year-round compound. As an individual of efficiency, I am writing this article with the intent of casting out some research I have done on these containers; what they are capable of in a capacity form, and their versatility as a livable space. I hope many find this informative in its purist sense.

Availability: Due to the nature of our global economy, especially in reference to the U.S. and its desire to import more than it exports to the Asia Pacific, domestic shipping yards are in excess supply of such containers. Because shipping containers are simply boxes, when empty they exercise little function and merely take up space. Shipping containers, especially when being shipped from China, are more expensive to return empty then if they were to be recycled on domestic soil or reused in other applications. But before scrapping them, many companies attempt to sell them in their intended form to the public. In a sense, these containers are like a pound puppy that needs to be saved…and should be.  A quick search via the Internet will show you large numbers of containers in various conditions from here and there but because the shipping industry does not stop at sea ports, any major city even inland will have a healthy supply to choose from. For a ratty container (20’) expect to pay between $800 and $1,200. This would be in less than ideal condition but still a good option for say material storage on your retreat property. Typically this means that the cube may no longer be perfectly cube-like say a slight dent or impression on one or more corner or has more than just surface rust on its exterior. Always check the double doors and see how well they close, whether with ease or with some finesse adjust your offer accordingly. The next level of quality will come in at a price of around $1,400-$1,800, again for a typical 20’ standard container. This is the price range that should exemplify a structural soundness that will be suitable to live in with certain modifications. The seaworthy paint should still cover 95+% of the container and it should be structurally true. Remember what these containers where built for. They hauled 50,000 pounds of goods through open-ocean, many times during storms. They should be watertight. Ask all of these questions to the seller at the very minimum so that they know you know what you are looking for. Hard for one to prove water tightness but you can go based on the sellers reaction and your best judgment from this article and further research. Be a smart shopper now, this may become your last line of defense. Finally, you can buy a brand new shipping container from companies that specialize in building them. Here you’ll find different sizes with different options like the garage style door or pre-insulated units for refrigeration. Expect to pay around +-$5,000 for a new box.

Dimensions: Two or three major size potions will be found most commonly although other odd sizes due exist. These all have corrugated sidewalls.

20’ standard shipping containers
(Interior dimensions) 19’ 4” long, 7’8” wide, 7’10” tall.
 Tare Weight 4.900 lbs
 Total cargo capacity 45,000 pounds

40’ standard shipping container

(Interior dimensions) 39’5” long, 7’8” wide, 7’10” tall
 Tare weight 8.100 pounds
 Cargo capacity 59,000 pounds

40’ High cube standard shipping container

(Interior dimensions) 39’5” long, 7’8” wide 8’10” tall
Tare weight 8.700 pounds
Max cargo capacity 58,000 pounds

Some general info that applies to all standard containers.
*Seaworthy steel alloy with saltwater and air resistant exterior paint
*Class D rating for storage of explosives (with this rating a high tolerance to fire)
*Pest resistant (many have a wooden floor that has been treated for pest resistance. This should be removed and disposed of properly.)
* Water tight but not water proof.
*Stackable to 7 high at full load (yes one will hold upwards of 200,000 pounds stacked on top). Note that cutting into the corrugated sides will lessen the overall strength. Reinforcing whenever taking away steel is common sense I’d hope.
*Insulated units do exist although interior dimensions will likely be even tighter. R-value 15-20?

[JWR Adds: Containers made of low carbon Cor-Ten steel (aka "weathering" steel) usually bring a premium. They have the longest life. Be sure to inspect wood floors for any signs that toxic chemicals might have spilled from cargo. But keep in mind that the wood used in the floors of almost all CONEXes are deep-treated with some nasty insecticides and fungicides.]

Getting Started: My suggestion with using shipping containers as habitable structures starts with completely ruling out the use of the 40’ containers. This prevents one from absolutely paying a delivery fee and/or a crane rental to remove it from a semi trailer. That said I have put all of my focus into utilizing the 20’ containers (Finding a 20’ insulated container would be most ideal). Here’s why. First, if you own a full size truck, you can haul one of these things empty on your own, either with a trailer you have or from a friend. A twenty-foot flatbed, or car hauler with a winch is not too hard to come by. It will likely be loaded on your trailer at the yard if you buy directly from a shipping company so all you have to think about is sliding it off your trailer in place. My theory has always been to own the trailer I go to pick it up with and leave it on in my drive way until I build out the interior at my leisure. Then it’ll be ready to haul to sight. Depending on your neighborhood or city ordinances this may or may not be an option but I’ve always felt that if people have a 35 foot camper trailer parked on the street in front of their house why not a 20’ shipping container for a few months? Either way, look up this info before hand as well as your states DOT regulations.  Second main reason I like the 20’ size is its weight.  At just shy of 5,000 pounds add a 3,000-pound trailer, an ,8000 pound haul for most diesel pick-ups ain’t no thing.  Lastly, due to the 20’ container weight and size, it is much easier to maneuver in mountain terrain by trailer as well as when off the trailer on site. If you start with an empty container on site, a clever hoist system, a winch, and a block and tackle set up opens up the door to many possibilities. I’ve read about a couple that actually hoisted a container on top of another in a piggy-back fashion with two tree trunks joined and reinforced in an a-frame configuration and a 12,000 pound winch and pulley. They hauled their’s by trailer to site with a Toyota T-100. (An early Tundra.) Be creative with this. Egyptians built the pyramids thousands of years ago!  Enough said.

[JWR Adds: Because the secondary market demand for 20-foot CONEXes is stronger than that for 40-footers, they often sell for about the same price. Go figure.]

Now you need a friend to teach you how to weld. Get an oxy-acetylene torch set up. You’ll cut as much as you will weld when building with these. I’ve seen used setups in safe working condition with tanks for $300 bucks. If you’ve got a weighty wallet then grab a new or used generator/ welder for $1,500-4,000.  Stick with the Lincoln or Miller brands. They are equally as good at the end of the day and it really comes down to the Ford or Chevy argument. Power options are gas, natural gas, or diesel and most of the units will run a continuous 7-10 kw. The gas-powered is the least expensive and the N.P. or Diesel are substantially more expensive but better in my opinion for an unstable world. The U.S. has plenty of N.P. and is responsible for much of the world’s diesel refinement, not to mention ones ability to potentially run bio-diesel or appropriated veggie oil.  But in a grid-down pinch, a diesel will reign.

I’ve always felt that a retreat built in phases would be the most feasible simply because of the advantage to make time and monetary “payments” on it. After owning the land (which is certainly a big step), one can start with a small but functional 20’ container cabin they have built in the driveway and then hauled to site. Keeping it in your driveway assuming you live in a more urban environment keeps you from hauling material out to your site. Build out the plumbing and windows and other comforts. Again, if the company you purchase from has not already, be sure to remove the chemically treated wooden floor and dispose of properly. Thoroughly scrub out the interior of the container for safe measures. Round up with your weight estimates as not to overburden or risk accident while hauling the container i.e. hold off on the spray on concrete or stucco siding until at your site.  For the time being, use a cistern on site for water or haul it in each time you visit until a well is dug or a spring is utilized on the property. Photovoltaic panels are good in combination with the aforementioned diesel powered welder/generator to get things off the ground. All depends on where you are. Inline hot water heaters are great for low use and tight spaces and can be run on propane. Build a shower toilet to conserve space. In other words your entire bathroom is water-tight and its foot print is essentially a big shower pan. Utilize RV and camper galley components that run on propane and could eventually be converted to run on methane that you could capture on site through livestock and human waste methane converters. Use a fold down bed or bunks to be space efficient.

Example Build-out: My ideal set-up would likely be two 20’ containers, one stacked atop the other. I’d pick a south-facing hillside and cut into it just as one would do if building a conventional home. Before placing the container in its little nest, I’d dig a root cellar into the cut in and fashion a hatch in the floor of the bottom of the container for access. Build a retaining wall around the cut in and possibly use a local clay or concrete to form a basin next to the root cellar to act as a cistern for water storage if a well is too pricey initially. For remote applications, I’d resist using a septic system and resort to an outbuilding away from the main house. [Some deleted, for health and safety concerns.]

After the cistern is sealed and the root cellar dug, place the first container into the dug out. Stack the second container on top to use as a living quarter. A hatch could be cut to the roof to make an observation post. On the south-facing downhill wall of the two containers, build a sloped glass room to act as a green house or a room to gain. Use old windows from someone replacing theirs or check all the Freecycle type sites and Craigslist for deals.  This would create a little bubble that would extend the growing season as well as act as a passive solar heater for the house whereas building into the ground a bit would assist with cooling in hotter months via use of the ambient geothermal temperatures. Be sure there is good ventilation for airing out the cabin in the summer months. Use gray water from the shower and sink to feed your small garden.  For insulation I would use a spray on insulation to fill in the negative spaces of the corrugated walls. Do this on both the inside and out covering the interior with sheetrock and the exterior with a stucco like material.

Warning: As a final and important note on building with shipping containers, never bury them without proper structural support. Shipping containers were designed to bear a vertical load [on the corners] and be stacked atop one another. They perform this task very well but they were not designed to take a load from the sides (laterally). Burying a container without proper support around its perimeter such as reinforced concrete, the construction of which should be handled by a licensed engineer, could result in collapse. Not something you want to deal with after society has collapsed. Please note I am neither an engineer nor a contractor and that most of my research has been conducted over the Internet. I am simply sharing some of my findings and offering suggestions. Most states require a general contractor for home construction and many states now require a certification for that so not anyone can build away.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hello Mr. Rawles,
Regarding the man who found his canned food rims rusting in his basement. I can recommend OSPHO, which is a liquid which will upon application changes the rust to a more stable compound. I was in the Merchant Marine and we used it on the ships and it works very well. You can get OSPHO through or at a ACE hardware store. It is basically phosphoric acid [suspended in a coating.]
He may also want to invest in a tabletop buffer or wire wheel to quickly remove surface rust before applying the OSPHO which improves the effectiveness.
Thanks so much for your site, I read it each morning. - Robb M.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Greetings Jim,
I hope you can help me figure out if much of my preps are imperiled. I had water leaks in my basement a few months ago after major storms overran my roof's gutters and caused water to seep down
into the front half of my basement. So I turned on the dehumidifier I keep in the basement and let it run until the basement floor was dry, then let it run an extra 24 hours just for good measure. Well, there appears to be a bit of residual moisture in the air in my basement, and when I went down into my basement a few minutes ago after being gone for a couple weeks, I glanced over at a shelf of canned goods and noticed that just about all the cans on that shelf--more than 300 cans on that one shelf, plus a couple thousand other cans of items--are showing rust on their rims. I've got a huge investment in canned goods in addition to hundreds of pounds of dry goods, and I'm really worried now about losing well over 1,000 pounds of canned goods if this rust poses a risk. Any advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

God bless, - Chad

JWR Replies:
Once rust starts on bare steel it is very hard to stop.

1. Keep that dehumidifier running! Even though a concrete floor appears dry, it can still hold a lot of moisture. An accurate Air Humidity Monitor is a good investment.

2.  Buy a quart or two of clear lacquer.  At this point, even though it is laborious, you need to lacquer the tops and bottoms of all of your steel cans, and the metal lids of your home-canned jars to arrest the already started oxidation process.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

We have been volunteering at the remains of a home of a prepper here in Ohio for the past two weekends.  Their home was destroyed by a tornado.  I have some simple suggestions that you might incorporate into your future work.
                1.  Store / Organize photos and documents in Ziploc bags.  In this case, they had the preverbal box of pictures stored on the second floor of a three story 1860 brick home with brick interior walls located flood plain.  The tornado remove the upper story plus half of the second floor.  The box of pictures was found in the remains of a closet.   The subsequent rains degraded the condition of the photos and other documents.  If they had simply used Ziploc bags as a means of organizing their photo they would have been in good condition even after ten days in the weather.
                2.  Recovered clothing needs to be washed as soon as it is recovered.  They really wanted as much of their clothing back as possible...  We sorted  through piles of rubble (bricks, plaster and mortar) looking for clothing.   The recovered clothing was bagged and taken to a laundry facility to be washed.  The learning here is that you need to have a means of washing all of your clothing in a mass grid down situation.  Washing by hand in a galvanized tub would have been unmanageable.  Lehman's in Kidron has some possible solutions...all of which would be major work - assuming you had time you could devote to it.
                3. Recovery tools need to be stored somewhere other than in the structure you intend to work on.   The list is long of tools used to recover items from a home.  First off you need to be able bodied, then you need tools and knowledge of how to use them. The tool list needs to include - bolt cutters, spud bars, wonder bars, a Hi-Lift jack, chains, wheel barrow, saws, 5 gallon pails, plastic bags, shovels, gloves, dust masks, hand tools and lots of tarps.  If these tools are all in the basement of your home you will be at a huge disadvantage. 
                4. Food storage - We recovered less than 1/8th of the year's supply of food that was on hand.  The storm took most of it and the rest was in poor condition due to exposure the weather and falling building materials.  Lots of dented cans, ruined bags, broken glass and wet paper goods.  Items that faired the best were dog food, can goods and bulk bagged items.  If here were 5 gallon pails they were lots along with the 3rd floor.
                5. Security -  the home owners were very concerned about looters.  No one can watch a destroyed property 24/7.  A community fire watch needs to be established.   On the second weekend we heard nothing about actual looting taking place.
Lastly, I would encourage your readers to go and work disasters in their area.  There is a lot to learn about tools, recovery, helping people in real need, understanding what damaged is possible, how that damage can affect everyday goods and understanding that it is enough to simply prepare.  The government has professionalized the first responders.  There may be a day when the professional first responders are busy with their own families and you will be the only responder that will ever be on hand.  - Stev

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The world is on now on the brink of a global credit crisis that could be far worse than the tumultuous events of 2008. The ongoing sovereign debt crisis in the southern reaches of the Eurozone indicate that bank runs in the region will continue, and that more bank closure "holidays" will be declared. Under a bank holiday, virtually all deposits could be frozen and irredeemable for days, weeks, or even months. The key question is: Will this crisis spread to the rest of Europe and then even to the United States? I urge SurvivalBlog readers--particularly those in Europe--to be proactive, to stay "ahead of the power curve." While the Generally Dumb Public (GDP) wakes up some morning to hear news of a bank holiday, you will have long hence prepared yourself.

Digits Lost in the Ether--Redeemable Mañana?

Most people don't realize that printed U.S. currency and minted coins amount to less than $800 billion, worldwide. That is just a small portion of the aggregate Money Zero Maturity (MZM) money supply that now exceeds $7 Trillion. So what is in your bank account is just electronic money, and there is absolutely no way that even a fraction of depositors could get physical cash to redeem the digits in their accounts. If there is a bank holiday declared, there will undoubtedly be severe restrictions on cash withdrawals when banks re-open. Given the precedent of the limits on withdrawals of a few institutions during the Savings and Loan crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, I predict that withdrawal restrictions could go on for many months.

Here are 20 Reasons why America's next bank holiday will be a nightmare:

  1. A bank holiday will create a virtual blackout of information on not just checking and saving accounts, but also automated mortgage payments, CDs, and more. Our presently quite transparent banking system will suddenly become opaque. Your bank balance will become invisible. Your handy-dandy online banking web page will be replaced by a "Service Temporarily Unavailable" notice. The willingness to accept checks will evaporate in less than a day. The FUD factor (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) will be overwhelming.
  2. Most businesses will no longer honor personal checks, corporate checks, or bank money orders. Showing a merchant your most recent bank statement isn't likely to sway him. Again, the FUD factor will rule.
  3. All checks in the U.S. are cleared through the automated clearinghouse (ACH) network. Most of this network is inside of banking system firewalls. Many Federal, State, and local tax payments are also handled through ACH. (A similar network exists for European banks--the Pan-European Automated Clearing House (PE-ACH), under the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) system).
  4. Credit cards might not be accepted. The FUD factor will dictate that anything even peripherally related to the banking system will be suspect. (Even though the credit card companies have their own credit clearing mechanisms that are only attached to the banking milieu.)
  5. Except for a few grandfathered recipients, Social Security payments are now made exclusively via bank direct deposit.
  6. Military monthly pay, housing allowances, and ration payments are now made exclusively via bank direct deposit, in CONUS. That is true virtually across the board (Active component, Reserve, and National Guard.) Ditto for monthly military retirement payments.
  7. Many State and Federal employees no longer get physical paychecks. They too, are trapped in the "direct deposit only" world.
  8. Many Americans are now very dependent on bank debit cards (also known as a bank cards or check cards.) In fact, many people don't even carry more than a few dollars in their wallets. If our world suddenly goes "cash only" most people will suddenly be out of cash.
  9. ATMs, debit card transactions, and online banking can be shut down in minutes. This huge vulnerability of banking customers has already been evidenced by a few minor glitches.
  10. Online payment systems like PayPal will be sharply degraded, because they rely on their ability to move funds to and from banks. More importantly, online payments are inextricably tied to credit card processing. If credit card processing is suspended, then online payments will be "dead in the water."
  11. Many regular monthly payments such as mortgages, insurance premiums, and some utilities are automatically debited from checking accounts. These will all come to a screeching halt.
  12. SWIFT wire transfers will probably be suspended, freezing a good portion of global commerce. Similarly, International ACH transactions (IATs) will also be shut down, since they access the U.S. ACH network.
  13. The ability to process credit card payments will be dubious, at best. Many merchants will wisely "just say no" to credit cards, even if their countertop POP terminals are still functioning and show available credit. And the fact that many credit cards are now just debit cards in disguise will only add to the reluctance of merchants to take any credit cards.
  14. Point of purchase (POP) processing of credit and debit cards at gas stations has become ubiquitous. Nearly everyone now uses the "pay at the pump" option. Gas and diesel could become "cash only" transactions.
  15. Most American families keep less than $300 in cash at home at any given time, including their kids' piggy banks. For most families, that wouldn't cover even one month's rent.
  16. Formerly distributed as "Food Stamps", the USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), provides benefits to low income families through Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card payments. These cards look much like credit cards. And like checks, EBT payments are all routed through the ACH network. Again, this is a network that is inside banking system firewalls. If the banking system goes into holiday mode, then it may take days or even weeks to get EBT processing back on line. If the EBT payments stop, we can expect riots in metropolitan areas in less than a week.
  17. Gift cards will be "iffy." There are now two types of gift cards: "open loop" (or "network") cards and traditional "closed loop" cards. Open loop cards are issued by banks or credit card companies and can be redeemed many places. It is likely that only closed loop cards will be honored by the issuing stores, because merchants will fear that open loop cards might have been zeroed out elsewhere. (If they can't confirm the available balance, the card will be refused.)
  18. Most Internet vendors are almost entirely dependent on credit card processing. If that processing system is disrupted, then mailorder firms will either have to cease operations, or have them slow to a snail's pace, and be restricted to only non-bank money orders.
  19. Reversion to U.S. Postal Service money orders (commonly called "PMOs") will only be partially viable solution. This is because many small town and rural post offices don't keep enough cash in their tills to be able to hand you $1,000 when you go to cash a PMO. You may be thinking, "Oh well, I'll just ask them to write me a blank PMO, in exchange. Nope. A recent change to postal regulations designed to curtail money laundering banned money order-for-money order issuance. Bummer. And if you are considering using "Forever" postage stamps, hold your horses. Under a hygiene regulation published in the Domestic Mail Manual (DMM), postal clerks are not allowed to cash out ("buy back") stamp booklets unless they are still in their sealed clear plastic master packages. So it might take decades to use up your Forever stamps, or you will be forced to liquidate them on the gray market at a slight loss.
  20. Bank safe deposit boxes will probably be inaccessible. Plan accordingly.

Some Observations and Mitigation Steps:

Because so many pay and retirement benefit systems are now handled via bank direct deposit only, we could easily live through a frustrating "Roach Motel" period of several months when "Dollars check in, but they don't check out." Be prepared to ride through that period.

If the European credit spreads to the United States, then immediately visit your company's payroll office, and ask to be removed from their direct deposit system. This change might take a couple weeks. With a paper paycheck, you can probably cash it elsewhere, even if you own bank closes its doors--perhaps even at your local grocery store.

Keep plenty of well-hidden cash at home. Since it won't be earning interest, some of this cash might as well be in $2 rolls of nickels. That method will also give you a hedge on inflation, and also serve as insurance against a currency reform. (Where a zero could be lopped off the Dollar, overnight.)

Be prepared for times for when anything other than greenback cash or perhaps silver coins will be eyed with suspicion, or rejected outright. Even USPS PMOs and drug store money orders may be refused. In the era of bank holidays, cash will talk. Keep plenty of it on hand. Oh, and needless to say, don't store your cash in a bank safe deposit box. You probably won't have access to it during a bank holiday.

Be wise and circumspect in storing cash at home. Don't tell anyone other than your spouse about that cash. See the SurvivalBlog archives for suggestions on building secret hiding places, like this one.

A good portion of your "stash of cash" should be in the form of $1 and $5 bills. This is because during a banking crisis, many people will not be able make change for small transactions. And if your local power, water, and phone companies refuse checks, then you will need to be able to pay them the exact amount of your monthly bill. (They probably won't have much "change", either.)

Apply for at least one gasoline station chain charge card. In turbulent times when they won't take your check or your VISA card, they might still take their own chain card.

If you have to pay your utility bills in in cash or by PMO, do you know where their business offices are located? And consider the sort neighborhood where those offices are located. (Unless you live in a free state for open carry or Constitutional Carry, do you have your CCW permit, and plenty of pistol practice?) For safety, it might be wise to form a neighborhood posse to go pay those bills in a group of of six people once a month.

Your local supermarket may declare "cash only." This is yet another reason why it it is vitally important for every family to have a comprehensive food storage program. By the same token, fuel storage also makes sense, if your local fire code allows it.

At the tail end of a banking crisis--when the bank doors do re-open--the Federal Reserve will certainly have to crank up the printing presses. Even people that never had "mattress money" will want some. All this new cash will increase the velocity of money, locally. This will be inflationary, even at the same time that a the macro level, we will witness a huge dollar deflation. (This is because the multiplier effect of every dollar on deposit will work in reverse, as withdrawals are made.) These will be strange times, indeed. If you start to see any evidence of mass inflation kicking in, then be ready to spend your dollars as quickly as possible to parlay them into practical, barterable tangibles. Don't be the last one standing in the game of Dollar Musical Chairs.

The threats of credit crunches, bank runs, and bank holidays are not new. No society is immune from them. We've been fortunate here in the United States to have not suffered any limits on bank withdrawals since the Savings and Loan crisis of the 1980s and 1990s. But don't expect this stability to be permanent. We live in a dynamic world with rapidly changing threats to our lives and livelihoods. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Prepper fever has gripped the nation!  While I can find no exact numbers on how many of us there are, public awareness is gaining momentum. The National Geographic Channel has a television show on the subject, which showcases some of the most colorful preppers in the United States, and their approach is as varied as their personalities.   You Tube is full of videos teaching old time skills that were a way of life for generations before us, such as cooking beans from scratch, making fire with a bow drill, or raising and butchering rabbits for meat.  With a little spare time, one can learn handy new skills in minutes and a few hours practice, for a lifetime of application.

I have been a prepper in the making since my earliest memories around age six, and I am now in my fifties.   The Great Depression left indelible marks on my parents and grandparents. I grew up watching them save rubber bands into giant balls, reuse tin foil and little bits of soaps were treated as valuable as a new bar. “Waste not, want not” was more than a cliché in our home.  

Stories of how folks survived by bartering with neighbors, hunting for wild berries, keeping a garden and caring for livestock, were told by my grandmother with the flair of James Herriot, the resourceful country veterinarian who authored the best-selling book All Creatures Great and Small.   Granny loved to recount how she could catch and dispatch a chicken, de-feather and put it in the pot, all by the time she was eight years old!  Sadly most of us wouldn’t know how to do that if our life depended on it…and one day soon, it may.

 While I have never had to endure that kind of “work or don’t eat” ethic growing up, the lessons were not lost on me. My ancestors had survived a colossal event and I was acutely aware of that possibility in my own life as a result.  Like Scarlett O’Hara, in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, they would “never be hungry again”, and I didn’t want to either. The ‘seeds’ of survival had been planted in my young impressionable mind.

About four years ago those ‘seeds’ started to sprout in my imagination; I developed a keen desire to start an emergency supply of foods and necessities for my family. Concerns gleaned from watching news of a changing and suffering world prompted me to action…it was time to reap what I knew.   It started with one five shelf rack in a corner of our four car basement garage...then I had a wood platform built over an open dirt area to support a supply of water.  Added a few more rack systems here and buckets there, it would be alarming if it wasn’t so wonderful!  Everything kept growing until Hubby realized just how serious it all was when I announced I wanted to become a one car family to "make more room."  

Three quarters of our four car garage later, we have finally run out of room to add many supplies.   One of the characteristics of Prepper fever is that symptoms continually evolve. One rarely recovers once you catch it, the condition is progressive.  And so I looked into developing farming skills, keeping chickens, gardening, dehydrating food and canning. Stores of supplies won’t last forever; I will have to grow my own food to be viable for any long term event.  Granny would be proud!

You Tube is now my favorite story hour showing how to prepare for uncertain times.  I love to watch as preppers take me through their basements, closets and homes, displaying neatly stacked rows of every variety of canned goods, homemade preserves, pickles and gleaming jars of golden applesauce.  From Spam and Top Ramen to the gourmet food prepper I saw on the National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers, I soaked it up.  Everyone has their own idea of what food and items to store.    And that's fine, personal taste and pocket book size will come together to create a food supply as unique as the individual who stores it.  

One day while reviewing some of my favorite food storage videos, I noticed a common pattern emerging.  All those neatly organized rows of jars, bottles and cans were sitting right up to and on the edge of disaster, literally.  Nothing between them and the hard floor below and it dawned on me, what would happen if there was an earthquake? 

In this day and age of escalating earth moving events, earthquakes are predicted to become more common place than ever.  From Bible prophecy to web sites that update world-wide seismic events daily, they are poised to become a reality to be reckoned with.  The problem with earthquakes is that they aren't a problem, until they are!  Suddenly, unpredictably so!   And we are told they can happen anywhere!

People that have never lived through an earthquake don't have it in their minds to consider the havoc that can be created in less than a minute.   I lived through the Northridge, California Quake on January 17, 1994, which lasted 20 seconds and left damages of nearly $20 billion. Our best friend had to vacate his now leaning “tower of Pisa” condo, which took nine months to restore, and he had to pay the mortgage the whole time!  My mother lost two irreplaceable antique glass birds off her piano, and every dish and tumbler we had crashed to the floor, most were broken, and all from behind closed cabinet doors!  It was a mess...but nothing we lost affected our survival...we were lucky. 

I went back and reviewed my favorite videos with a whole different thought in mind.  All of these precious stores of food, along with the time and money poured into their loving procurement and placement on shelves could be destroyed in mere moments.   What then?   Aside from the obvious, cleaning up the mess and taking inventory, stalwart preppers would go back to work and try to replace what was lost. 

But, what if we couldn't?  What if supplies were no longer available? What if inflation had taken hold and canning jars are now $12 each, instead of $12 a box?   Or maybe gasoline prices had gone sky high and there is no longer a budget to buy extra food for storage.  What if the season to grow fruits and vegetables was still months away?   Or what if hard times have already brought rationing?   All of these things are expected to happen at some point, to some degree, by those who prepare.  Maybe our supplies might not be replaced, to our liking, if at all.

So let's reverse the projector movie image of crashing jars and cans, in our mind, and have those smashed jars and dented cans now fly backwards onto the shelves, pulling themselves back together again!  Your goods are safe!   There's still time for you to take precautions against just such an event.   

In this article my wish is to inspire you to join me!  I didn’t want all my efforts go to waste, by way of an earthquake, for want of a few precautions.  Here are some of the solutions that that I have implemented in my own situation.  Not having many tools or skills to match, but handy with an electric drill, I have met my goals with minimal expense and effort.   I was also limited by having to work with the space configuration I had created...there was no going back and starting over.  

The first thing I did was tackle my six foot tall heavy steel shelf racks. We emptied and re-arranged them, placing them back to back to each other, so products would butt up against one another in the middle, and keep the inside items relatively safe.  This type of freestanding steel shelf system can be bolted to the floor, for added stability.  We did not do this, as we also have water issues in the basement with heavy rain of more than a week’s duration, but it is an option for those who don't have flooding problems. 

On the open side of each steel rack unit, I put up cross bars to block items from flying off.   The corner posts of the shelves have V shaped openings through which bolt heads can be attached.  I measured and purchased long boards, 2.5”x .75” x 6.5’, the width of the shelf from frame to frame.  I drilled two holes at the end of each board to correspond with the V slots in the corner posts, to allow for different positions.  Slip the four inch bolt through a hole in the board and spin the wing nut onto the threaded end.

Now position the board across the food items on the shelves to the desired position, and slip the bolt’s nut head into the V slot on the outer frame.  Because of the V shaped grooves, the bolt head sets in securely.  Spin the wing nut to tighten, and voila!  I had a secure stopping point in front of my valuable goods.   You can raise and lower the bar to any level and even put the boards at an angle, by just setting the bolt head in a higher or lower V slot, and adjusting the bolt in one of the two holes drilled in the board and securing the wing nut.  

Permanent blocking bars can be added instead, but the wing nuts make this system extra serviceable.  They spin off and on quickly and the boards swivel up or down to add product, or remove completely if needed. Even if you don’t have the metal type shelves that I do, placing long bars across book shelf style cabinets or wood shelves works just as well, just measure and drill accordingly.  Add more boards if needed, to accommodate tall products or stacked boxes. 

Blocking bars should be placed high enough that items cannot tip over them in an earthquake, but low enough to keep things from slipping through under the board as well.   Double boards usually fill most requirements for holding goods back.  I am still delighted with the design every time I use them, no carpenter skills needed and a very affordable solution.

I had a few areas where I could not use these boards, due to foundation poles and walls being in the way.  For these areas I tried bungee cords.  These do a marginal job and will hold things like toilet paper and paper towels back, but even stretched taut, they did not have the holding power of the boards.  Still, I do find them handy for temporary applications.  Multiple bungees can make a difference. The bungee ends are re-useable, so pick up a spool of the bungee cord, and you can tie your own later when they fray, which they will with time. I have found with one year of use outdoors, and about two years indoors they need to be watched or replaced.  

After the boards and bungees were in place, we simulated earthquakes, shaking and moving the shelves and decided keeping things from falling to the floor was just the first step.  I had originally stacked canned goods three or more high, as they do in grocery stores.   It looks nice and stays just fine, when not moving!   So I decided to box all cans and jars.  This also had the added advantage of preventing mold on some of the paper labels, as well as keeping like items together.  Marking the exteriors of the boxes with product, number and dates also makes a handy reference system for rotating boxes, as needed.   And they slide out like drawers (I remove the box lids), when I take down the wood bars holding them in place.  It’s still as easy to grab an item off the shelf as it ever was.

Take advantage of Club Stores bins of free boxes and use these for sorting your cans.  I like boxes that are double folded and have a nice polished finish on them, for example, the boxes that hold olive oil are great for stacking. This type seems to hold up well against moisture, which can be a problem in humid areas.  There are sizes to fill most needs.   Once you have identified boxes that fit and work with your products and spacing, fill and place them on the shelves. Select all of the same size, and you can stack them more easily. Test shaking these newly arranged boxes we decided glass items would need a little insulation from one another.  While most bottles and jars would probably survive a modest shaker, it would still be possible to lose glass to a long or serious earthquake, as they clinked repeatedly against each other.  

 Earthquakes can last a long time.  The Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964 had strong motion that lasted four to five minutes, with reports up to eight minutes.  With this in mind, I repacked all glass with a plastic grocery bag around each, twisting the top around the sides, to create bulk between them and close out dust and moisture.  Grocery plastic bags are still free at most markets, so start collecting them while they are available.  Some areas are actually starting to charge for them, I have seen added fees as much as ten cents a bag. I plan to recycle the bags in the future, for a variety of uses.  A simple inexpensive solution, no more clinking glass! 

Earthquake straps proved to be the solution for one tall wood cabinet holding miscellaneous goods.  At nearly seven feet tall, it was a concern for human safety as well as my supplies.  There are several styles of these straps on the market.  I didn’t want to drill holes in the cabinet, so I selected a design with peel and stick Velcro® brand hook & loop straps on one end to attach to the cabinet and a steel bracket that I mounted to a stud in the wall.  The straps are connected by a buckle in the middle that is adjustable for a snug fit.   I used child safety locks to secure the four doors, which could easily fly open, even if the cabinet would no longer fall.  I finished the whole project in less than an hour.  These two solutions I installed throughout my entire home, for added security and peace of mind.   

For smaller glass items and spices, I purchased zip style sandwich baggies, and sealed each container inside and arranged them in suitable sized boxes.  The baggies act as buffer for glass against glass, and will also come in handy for reuse.  Smaller boxes of spices were nested in larger boxes by type and use, so they could be organized behind the safety bars.  No shake, rattle or roll, with heavy handed rocking tests. Socks also work great, instead of plastic bags.   The jars won't clink and the socks can be recycled later for feet or rags.

 Taking inventory of my cooking oils, I was pleased to see I had amassed quite a supply by picking up a bottle each trip to the market.  If these were damaged in a shaker, I would have a mess I didn’t care to imagine.  I also realized I had a small fortune in future liquid gold here, so these needed some serious attention, quickly!   Each bottle was wrapped in adhesive bubble wrap (it's a wonderful product, sticky like post it notes, re-useable and tears to fit the size required) and arranged to fit snuggly in a five gallon plastic bucket.  I added oxygen absorbers to the bucket, and sealed with a gamma lid (screw top lids) so I could get to them easily, adding new oxygen absorbers each time I took out a new bottle.  There is also the added advantage of keeping them protected from light and air, which are time enemies of oil.

Buckets were also my choice for extra supplies of syrup, jam and other delectable glass jar delights whose loss we would mourn.   But to keep costs down, as buckets can add up, a more frugal method would be to store in boxes by alternating a plastic jar with a glass jar, to prevent clinking glass.  Peanut butter mostly comes in plastic jars, and jelly mostly in glass, although there are exceptions.  I rotate my peanut butter and jelly jars this way, and they are perfect "moving buddies" should things start to shake.   We tested vigorously, with no alarming sound of glass.  

When I first started storing bulk food in buckets, I had not yet discovered mylar bags.   I had put up quite a bit of Jasmine rice this way.  So I opened one of these buckets after three years of storage. The rice was still fragrant, dry and perfect, even though I stored it directly on concrete, which I have since learned is not a good idea due to moisture coming up through the cement. I now stack all of my buckets on pallets.  For the budget minded, free buckets can be had by asking at your local market bakery, and there are free pallets on Craigslist for the vigilant watcher.

I decided to repack my rice in mylar bags, inside their buckets.  This way if they should tip or fall in an earthquake, and the buckets crack open, the product is still intact inside.  If the bucket does fall and break, but just slide the mylar bag into another bucket with no serious loss of food. 

My spices and jars of dehydrated foods are kept in a book case type cabinet, with dowels as blocking bars.  I worried that some of the taller jars could topple over the dowel, and smaller spice jars could slip under, if they tipped over. I fixed this problem by adding small bits of quake hold to the bottom of each jar.  It is a brand name for museum putty, a non-toxic dough that secures the jar to the shelf.   After my experience with the quakes in California, I tried this product on decorative items I had around the house and it works great!  NOTHING with the Quake Hold fell in any earthquake after that, and I have been through several.   It is re-useable, just stick the jar back where you got it, push down and it holds, again and again.  Museums use it, it works! 

Since most of us don't have the luxury of unlimited space to make everything ground floor, some stacking may be necessary with buckets.  I arranged mine five high, before I started thinking safety and loss.  But I needed to know how they would survive a crash to the ground.  I set up an area with four by four buckets, stacked five high, there were 80 buckets.   Knocking them down I had a moment of hesitation, as it’s like sticking a balloon with a pin, awaiting the dreaded pop.  

To simulate how they might fall in an earthquake, we used six individuals to push some buckets with long handled tools from a distance and the rest of us pulled lines tied to handles, to get all to fall in the most spectacular fashion possible.   It’s not easy to knock that many buckets down, we discovered, and only the upper most fell, from the fifth and fourth level.  I was amazed that not a single bucket cracked or broke open!  I did gain confidence in their ability to do the job.  Even if some do break, if a real test comes along, the mylar bags are like a second line of defense that will hold things together.  

 Based on personal experience, I no longer stack gallons of water more than two high!  Water is heavy and I have lost some to eventual leakage, just from the weight of the top bottles over time.   I now only buy my bottled water still in boxes.  Grocery stores will order and hold them for you this way, if you ask.   The water you buy in gallon jugs on the shelf arrives from the shippers boxed, but are removed to be put on the market shelves.  

One item I will only keep on ground level is powered milk.  Mine came in six gallon super pails, with no mylar bags.  I chose not to repackage them, as they have oxygen absorbers in them, and the lids were all sealed.  If they fell from a high position and cracked, the milk powder would be flow freely.  Beans can be swept up and used after a good rinse, but powdered milk is fine and sticky, and at least some would be lost.  If you have canned milk at the LDS Canneries know what a mess it is to clean up, even when you are careful not to spill much.

Assess your supplies, and a logical order will dictate your storage needs.  If you have to stack higher than you like, consider placing soft landing items next to areas where taller buckets would fall.   Blankets, sealed in plastic vacuum bags, toilet paper and paper towels, bundled in large 55 gallon bags.   Also  the same bags full of market grocery bags.   I have one whole row of soft items stored next to my only six high stacked wall of buckets.  If they do fall, their landing will be softer and items below will also survive.

I feel my storage is now measurably safer than before I implemented these simple and inexpensive ideas.  Like food prepping, safety prepping is addictive. I will continue to imagine the worse, so I can prepare the best.  I look forward to viewing new You Tube videos showing some of these ideas, as well as others I didn’t use. The prepper community is resourceful and clever.  Whatever the skill level and budget one has to work with, I hope I have demonstrated that taking a little time and effort will pay off if and when the ground starts moving in a town near you!  . 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hi Jim,
To follow up on the recent letter on Commercial Storage Space Thievery, I had a very similar experience with my storage locker.  I have a locker from Public Storage in Saratoga, California and had the very same thing happen.  I checked out my unit one night and another lock was on the unit.  I had the Sheriff come by and they did the usual.  The problem I am having presently is the insurance company hasn't really done much and its been three months [since I discovered the theft.]  I had all the receipts from and so that isn't the problem.  They keep dragging their feet while I still pay for insurance on the unit.  To add injury to insult, Public Storage just raised my rent. Best Regards, - Martin in California


Mr. Rawles and Steve S.:
I am a Resident Manager of a storage facility.  Many of my tenants are preppers.  We have not had any trouble in the seven years that I have been manager.
The secret to having a secured facility is to ask questions.  Here are some tips on selecting a safe place for your preps
1.        Does the manager live on property and is the resident close to the gate.
2.       Security – what form does it take
3.       Are the camera recording 24/7 or are they for show
4.       Entry into the facility – coded box and log
5.       Own lock – case hardened – round locks are the best as it takes a long time to cut and usually requires some type of cutting tool
6.       Limited Gate hours – 24 hour facility is just asking for trouble.  Thieves come in the night
7.       Fencing – easy or hard to climb
8.       More than one gate – how is the second one monitored
9.       Does the facility have alarms on the doors – newer places  have this. 
10.   Not a lot of corridors as the turning can keep someone from seeing
11.   Neighborhood/location –ask local police if there is a history of trouble. 
12.   How long has the manager been in charge – long term managers are usually the ones that have a secure facility. 
When putting preps/guns or such make sure it does not look like you are placing important items inside the unit.  If you are going to be out of the area find a family member or friend that you trust and have them check the unit at least once a month.  Units that are visited by the people who rent them are less like to have trouble.
If you, personally, don’t feel comfortable then do not rent there. 
Yes, both myself and my security/maintenance guy are preppers and we have learned many good lessons from this web site
Thank you for all you have taught us. - Texgalatheart

I was dismayed to read Steve S.’s letter about thieves chopping locks off of multiple storage units. Like Steve, I chose a gated facility with cameras. However, there is an additional layer of security available at some storage facilities that your readers may wish to know about. The facility I chose has individually coded entry alarms. When I visit the facility, I must swipe an uniquely coded electronic key in order to open the gate. That key is coded to my individual storage units. If I do not unlock and open either of my specific storage units within ten minutes or so after entering the gate, an alarm goes off. Similarly, if either of my units are unlocked and opened without me first entering the gate, an alarm goes off.
Obviously one pays a price for the additional security (my facility also has on-site resident managers). However, my facility always has a waiting list so the price must be right (it was for me!). Just thought folks might want to know this technology is available and commercially feasible for storage facilities to implement! - David in Pleasanton

Monday, May 14, 2012

Not to share my misery, but this is a warning to anyone that has items in a climate-controlled rental storage unit.  My unit was hit and no one knows when it and all the others were hit until one guy noticed some items missing and filed a police report.  The facility owners chopped off all the locks to all of their climate-controlled units and put their own locks on it.  Then they started calling the owners and verified what was in each unit.
Here is what happened: The robbers chopped the locks off, burglarized many items, and then placed their own locks on the doors, so that nobody knew that they had been burglarized. 

Since I was living overseas, I had thought that a gated community unit along with the cameras would be a safe way to store my materials.  I was told that their has been a rash of burglaries of these units, with several located in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Obviously I was wrong and am at ground zero again.  Of course the law enforcement probably won't catch them.  I have all the serial numbers of all my weapons, which I will provide them.  I did have some insurance, but I will never again have the quality of guns that I had with that stash.
I really don't know what to do. An idiot would start over and do the same thing again. This is a quandary, since I plan to continue to be overseas for many more years. - Steve S.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

James Wesley:
For use as an unobtrusive and inexpensive alternative to purpose-built weapons safes, I recommend finding an old, non-functional soda vending machine. Remove the guts (we call it the 'stack') and refrigeration system, but leave the lights in the door. (Be careful, the light ballast wiring will bite: 5,000 volts).
Tap into the 110 Volt AC wiring on the vending machine to power your Goldenrod Dehumidifier.
Store your valuables inside where the guts used to be.  Lock the door and keep the key.  [If it will be at your private business but in a location that might ever be in view of the public,] you can leave the machine plugged in, with the lights on, and an 'Out Of Order' sign taped on the front. Consider this instant stealth storage. - Tom K.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My husband came up with a great idea to store more items out of sight. He is slowly placing our buckets of storage food in the ceiling of our basement in between the floor joists. He cuts a couple 1x6 planks the proper length, and bolts them down securely [with lag bolts] them a few inches apart on the lower "lip" of the joist which is about 1/2", and places the bucket on top of the planks. Once he completes the drop ceiling, all food storage will be safely tucked away out of sight. Should we need the food, we simply need to remove the drop ceiling. Just make sure you create a cheat sheet of where everything is located! - T. from Pennsylvania

JWR Replies: That is a good idea, but I must mention one proviso: What goes up can come down, unexpectedly. To provide earthquake protection it is important to add a threaded eye bolt on each side of every bucket. Then select heavy rubber bungee straps of just the right length to provide a snug fit around the middle of each bucket.

Monday, April 9, 2012

You’re a prepper and you’ve got tons of “stuff”. Food storage, fuel, first aid kits, bug out bags, the list seems to go on and on. And regardless of a prepper’s dream of unlimited storage space, there never seems to be enough room. At least not for me.

Most living accommodations make storage the final priority; putting style above all else. Regardless of your living situation, I’m here to tell you there is more space! We’ve just got to get a little sneaky and creative.

Just as a disclaimer: Some of this stuff might sound crazy. But aren’t you used to that by now… doing stuff people think is crazy. J Another note to add, when storing food it is best to keep it in the coolest place possible. If any of these rooms are in a place that gets a considerable amount of heat, use these sneaky storage places for your non-foods items.

The Bedroom

Under the Bed – This one’s the obvious one here but still commonly forgotten. Raise up that bed and get a pretty bed skirt to hide your bounty of emergency preparedness goods. With WaterBrick’s you can store upwards of an additional 50 gallons of water under your bed.

Top of the Closet – Almost every closet has that top level that never gets used. Reach up there and get stacking.

In Your Pillows – Let the craziness begin. While I don’t expect you to store food in the pillow you actually sleep on, how many of us have a hand full of useless throw pillows accompanying our bed spreads? Stuff them with freeze dried food, boxes of matches, garbage bags, medicine, etc.

In Your Box-Springs – Most box-springs use a lightweight cloth as a cover so you’ll have to store lighter emergency supplies in your box-spring. Box-springs are usually so open that you’ll only need a few cuts in the cloth to access the entire area for storage.

The Living Room

Coffee Table – If you are short on storage space, please don’t waste your money on a coffee table that offers no storage. As beautiful as some of those glass topped, claw-footed tables are, they are equally useless. Instead, buy an ottoman coffee table with deep storage containers. These are available in many attractive styles while still giving you the storage space you need.

In Your Couch – It’s not such a weird idea when you think about hide-a-bed couches. If they can conceal a mattress, you can make a couch conceal some emergency supplies. While this one might take a little craftiness, there’s some great tutorials out there for making your own storage couch.

The Entertainment Center – Your DVD Player will look fine on top next to the television. Save the unseen space for supplies. I’ve seen some entertainment centers big enough to store a month’s worth of food. Make the space count.

The Kitchen/Dining Room

Above the Cabinets – In most newer homes, the cabinets are kept several inches from the ceiling. Simply store your supplies in boxes that are aesthetically pleasing and put them on top of your cabinets. You’d be surprised at the amount of space available in these little nooks and crannies.

Seating – If you have the option, replace your dining room chairs with benches for seating. These benches can be built similarly to the storage couches I referred to above and have plenty of room for additional supplies.

The Rest of the House

In The Walls – As long as there’s no wires or vents going through any given space in your wall, you can use that area to store stuff. You can add cupboard doors for easy access, or leave the walls open with shelving. Either way, your walls can be the jackpot of overlooked storage space.

The Backyard – Don’t be afraid to dig a few holes if it means making space for your necessities. In your backyard you can make a root cellar. Or how about burying water tanks or other containers that store food?

I’m sure there are plenty of other sneaky places many of you have utilized for your storage purposes. - Jessica Hooley is the author of Salt n’ Prepper and contributor to the Army Navy Store Blog, PX Supply.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

First of all thank you for running SurvivalBlog as it is has been a valuable source of information. Years ago, you mentioned Zanotti Armor as a high quality gun safe company, I'm glad you did, as I am now a very happy customer! I ordered the ZA-3 6-foot--the largest safe available from the company--and it fits my needs perfectly. It only took two of us to move all the [modular] pieces to the basement and assemble the walls. It required two extra pair of hands to assemble the top and door. I ordered the safe in June and received it in March. The customer service was excellent throughout the whole process and even after the safe arrived. At the beginning when I asked for a quote they steered me in the right direction and even when asked for certain features, such as lighting, they let me know that I could get what I wanted locally and for less money.

After installing the safe I contacted the company to ask what paint I should use on a couple of scratches in the front due to our hurried assembly they sent me a small bottle of touch up paint at no charge. Great safe and a great company. I only have one issue with the safe - it makes my gun collection look small! I guess I'll just have to start filling it up soon! Thanks, - John in Wisconsin

Sunday, April 1, 2012

In How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It, you missed mentioning one of the great uses of "bypassed areas" -- that of an en route cache.  There is no question but that it would be plain stupid for any family to wait to leave the big cities and urban areas until the very last moment when TSHTF, urban riots have broken out, and the freeways have become one big parking lot full of shooting and looting.  But many families will want to hang on in the cities as long as possible because of employment, family commitments for the care of elderly relatives, and other reasons.  When they do leave, it would be much safer for them to quickly exit along the back roads with only the clothes on their backs and half a tank of gas than to take the time to stuff their vehicle full of survival goods and become a visible target of great interest to looters along the road. 
Their first destination would be their own unimproved wooded one acre lot in one of the "bypassed areas" within an hour's drive of their urban home, with only a small, used, stripped down camping trailer on it and maybe an outhouse.  It is not going to draw much interest from potential looters.  By stripped down camping trailer, I mean an old one with the wheels removed and sitting on concrete block.  Its propane tanks and battery would also be removed.  To an outsider looking in the window, it would look very Spartan with no supplies or anything useful.  There would be no source of water there.  So what good is such a property?
Somewhere on the property would be a 20 foot long metal CONEX shipping container completely buried under about a foot of soil (deep enough so you can cover it with plants and its location will not be obvious) and a specially constructed entrance to the back doors of the shipping container that is also buried under the same foot of soil and plants.  It might take an hour of shovel work to dig out the entrance to your buried shipping container.  This is your supply cache with the important supplies and gasoline that you will need to safely travel the rest of the way to your permanent retreat.  It also contains the wheels to your trailer along with the propane tanks, battery, generator, and plenty of gasoline for your vehicles and what ever else.  It contains food and water, and pre-positioned supplies that you would need for safe travel or to remain at that site for a few days or a little longer.
The advantage of such an arrangement is that there is little that is visible from the road to tempt thieves.  And if they loot an old, empty travel trailer - so what?  Your real cache is buried underground and is well out of sight.  It is also out of danger from forest fires that would likely burn your trailer to the ground.  In such a forest fire, you will not have lost anything that is not easily and inexpensively replaceable.   The best part of all -- such an acre of worthless ground that is covered with brush, stumps, and scrub trees should not cost very much.  The general impression that people will have of it will be, "This guy is really hurting if that is his retreat."
The disadvantage is that [in northern states] it is only likely to be accessible about nine months out of the year with snow closing the roads during the other three months.
Hope this helps and adds something to your work - Paul O.

JWR Replies: As has been discussed several times in the blog, CONEXes cannot be buried without concrete reinforcement. This is because they are designed to take loads only on their corners. With the weight of rain-soaked soil, their walls and roofs collapse. So, when all is said and done, it is actually more expensive to buy, reinforce, and bury a CONEX than it is to build a dedicated reinforced concrete shelter. From a practical standpoint, I'd instead recommend burying a much less expensive poly water tank with a man hatch cover just below the ground surface.

As for the camping trailer: Why have anything above ground at an unattended property? That just attracts junkies and assorted lowlifes. Storing a wall tent inside an underground cache makes more sense, to me. If you need to store a trailer, then make it a simple box trailer, with the wheels and lug nuts buried nearby. The advantage is that an open box trailer won't prove to be an attractive place for drug addicts to use as a recreational cabin.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How would you recommend that I store the many salt blocks I have been stocking up on  (cattle type - various kinds of salt and mineral blocks)?
I was out in the shop today and did a brief walk through and noticed a bunch of moisture (water/liquid) developing around the blocks. Some of them are noticeably deteriorating. A few are on card board, others are stacked on back of a parked trailer. Am I setting myself up for disaster? Will these salt blocks eventually corrode the metals nearby? Where is the best place to store them? 
I have a two bedroom farm house from the early 1920's. There is literally no more room for supplies that do not have to be in the home.
While I am on the topic, my order of 500 plus pounds of culinary salt is waiting for me to put up. They are in bags now. I have three large plastic drums coming soon (40-50 gal size). I plan to put the salt in them. Do I need to find room in the house to keep them? There are a lot of moisture troubles/humidity where I live in northwestern Kansas. 
BTW, in case you are wondering why salt, --- well, it's a God thing I guess. I felt a very strong feeling to purchase large quantities. I now have pink salt (Himalayan), iodine salt, and sea salt. 
I don't want this to happen! (Advance the player to 2:40 if you are in a hurry).
Thank you for your time, - Tess of Kansas

JWR Replies: Yes, storing salt can be a challenge, but nothing insurmountable. Salty air (salt molecules suspended in water vapor) can be controlled by keeping humidity low in your storage area and by keeping your salt supplies dry and airtight. Use sealed plastic containers as much as possible. But if you lack the requisite containers, then at least use multiple wraps of plastic around all salt blocks, bags, and boxes. And regardless, always store your salt in a separate building from your tools, hardware, and canned goods. (Id est, store your salt storage buckets in a wooden cabinet in your hay barn, not in your garage or shop.)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

We are survivalists who live on a hobby farm within The American Redoubt. In the 23 years we have lived in this region I have yet to feel the ground shake beneath my feet. That’s welcome news speaking as a former Californian who has been through two “big ones”. Yet, for whatever reason (the Holy Spirit, possibly) I began thinking about earthquakes two months ago. Because of this mind set, when three earthquakes, southeast of us, occurred in Utah around the 13th of February and the next day a magnitude 6.0 quake hit off the coast of Oregon. That got my attention.
The Oregon coastal quake had Seattle news outlets airing special segments about the possibility of a “big one” along the “ring of fire” that could cause substantial damage to cities like Seattle, Portland Oregon, Vancouver B.C., etc. They asked one seismologist about this prospect and his answer was, “the good news is that large scale earthquakes on this fault over the last 10,000 years have occurred on average about every 300 years”. “The bad news?” The reporter asked. “The last 'big one' on this fault was 329 years ago." Oh, that’s reassuring.
But we don’t live in earthquake country, we are hundreds (thousands?) of miles and a couple of large mountain ranges between us and “the ring of fire” so no worries right? No, I don’t think that is correct. We have never experienced TEOTWAWKI but we are preparing for that. I lived through an epic ice storm in an area not know for such things also. In fact, portions of the region were without power for 13 weeks from that ice storm. We also had a “fire storm” where none had ever occurred previously.
In the remainder of this essay I will:
1) Describe what an earthquake audit is
2) Review some of the findings of our earthquake audit
3) Review some of the mitigation steps we took to resolve our “audit deficiencies”
4) Share an analogy that I think is fitting
1) What is an Earthquake Audit?
I believe I coined the phrase “earthquake audit”. My version of an earthquake audit was to take a clip board, note pad and marking pen and go room by room; house, shop, outbuildings, everyplace. Using my experience being in quakes plus video’s I have seen of them and trying to visualize what would happen; what would go flying and what would be okay in a modest earthquake. My main focuses were looking “up” to identify things that could fall down with force and looking with an eye to the protection of mission critical items versus lesser important assets. For example having your AN/PVS-14 and Night Vision compatible EO-Tech sight go flying would be much worse than if that large pile of firewood gets scattered. This is mostly common sense it’s just a matter of actually doing it. I made a list of things that I observed to be problematic and then prioritized that list into actionable items.
2) What were the results of our own Earthquake Audit?
Frankly, we failed miserably. Here are three examples among dozens.
Our preparations are extremely organized and inventoried. We have eight of the Gorilla Rack shelving units to store items. I could not believe my eyes (although I should have because I am the one who put them there) when I looked up on the top shelf of one of the shelving units and saw all three of our pressure canners sitting side by side, not in boxes, resting nearly seven feet off the ground on an unsecured shelving unit.
The next “finding” was when I went into a food storage location (with a cement floor) and again could not believe my eyes. We purchase raw local honey from a vendor who sells them in half gallon glass mason jars. We love it as the honey is excellent and you get a half gallon jar to use when you’re done. Also the jars are temperature stabilized in case you need to heat the honey to liquefy it. There on the shelf at eye level was 18 half gallon glass jars of honey on an unsecured shelving unit with the jars right up the very edge of the shelf.
With even a minor rumble in addition to having no honey could you imagine the mess of nine gallons of honey and 18 broken half gallon glass mason jars in one big pile on the cement floor?
The last example was when I walked into the fuel shed. This was an accident waiting to happen. The fuel shed building is built over the top of an underground gas tank. The riser off the tank, 12 volt pump, filters and filler hose are inside the shed. Also inside the shed are shelves and items stacked on the gravel floor. There are metal gas cans, metal 5 gallon kerosene cans, plastic diesel containers a couple of metal 55 gallon drums and a dozen or so propane cylinders. The riser coming up off the underground tank was not protected at all and things were staked up all around it. It wouldn’t have taken much for things to have fallen on the riser likely breaking it. Wouldn’t it have been lovely to have gas cans and propane cylinders flopping about inside a metal walled shed with a severed riser attached to a large gas tank!
3) Mitigation Steps
All of these “deficiencies” had to be fixed. The pressure canners got put in boxes and moved into cupboards with locking doors. For the honey, I secured the shelving unit to the wall and purchased nice plastic totes with locking lids that would hold six half gallon jars each. A couple of layers of bubble wrap on the bottom of the tote then each jar individually wrapped in bubble wrap that was taped in place. The jars were placed in the tote and then shipping “popcorn” was put between the jars. Two layers of bubble wrap on the top then the lid of the tote was securely attached. The totes then were “strapped in” to the secured shelving unit.
The fuel shed got gutted and redone. The fuel tank riser and pump are now completely protected and everything in the shed is strapped down. This was done with 3/8ths x 4” eye bolts and six foot locking tie down straps.
This clearly isn’t rocket science its just taking the time to get it done. Generally speaking; Shelving units need to be secured to something. If not an adjacent wall, look up, is there something above to secure to? On one occasion I had two shelving units at a 90 degree angle to one another. One of the units could be secured to the wall but not the other. So, what I did was attach the units to one another where they met. At the opposite ends I ran a tie down strap to create a triangle from the end of one unit to the end of the other unit, this gave some good strength.
Watch for items that could fall on your head while you are in bed. And some items, there is not much you can do but pray. For example we have a river rock chimney that runs up 25 feet from the main floor through the ceiling of the second floor. I have not idea how strong it is but there is not much that can be done other than building some kind of cradle for it. So if it comes down in a quake it comes down. I guess that’s why you have wood stoves in the shop, master bedroom and back patio as backups. Guns and especially ones with optics need to be protected. My main battle rifle and main defensive shotgun are in metal hard shell cases strapped to something solid. Cushioning inside gun safes are a good idea. Are there items that could fall down behind a closed inward-opening door and block it closed?
4) One way to think about this.
The analogy to this line of thinking is nautical: Sooner or later we are all going to take a journey. Hopefully your journey will be on the good ship “Faithful Survivalist”. We don’t know when we will be leaving on that journey, where it will take us and what the conditions are going to be like along the way. Our sense is though that we are probably going to be leaving sooner rather than later and with the storm clouds we see developing off on the horizon we are not expecting “smooth sailing”. As with any wise captain heading off on a journey of unknown conditions, lets be sure that everything is lashed down; “Everything has a place and every place has a thing”. Because, if the going gets rough we don’t want important items sliding around on deck or falling overboard. Batten down the hatches, mates!
I don’t have a crystal ball and don’t pretend to know the future. I do know that the Holy Spirit put it on my heart to look at our survival stores with a new set of eyes and it was eye opening. I hope you do also and I hope this was helpful.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I think I'm the the position of many out in the real world. I'm strapped for cash. Feeling the time crunch that I must do something soon or be caught up with the unprepared masses and get overrun. I'm also feeling the responsibility for my immediate and extended family whether they are preparing or not. It's a huge burden to bear when you have been raised to be the "man" of any situation that might affect you and your family.

That being said, I'm also a logical, common sense person. I approach things like this:

1. Look at the situation
2. Determine the problem
3. Find the solution
4. Implement the solution

I think this fits most of my generation who were raised by parents born before, during, or shortly after the Great Depression. A "can do" type of attitude that never finds a way to quit or give up.

I also have a fairly typical family makeup of people ranging from one year old to mid seventies with the majority being thirty to sixty and most being in good to excellent physical condition.

So let's look at the problem most of us are stuck in, the "imperfect retreat."

I think we can all agree that the generally accepted ideas of being hidden from view, off the main road, 100+ miles from heavily populated cities, etc, all are the best case scenarios but not something that many, if not most, of us can or will be able to attain.

First let's look at the situation: We own or are renting a home. Can we change our situation or not? If so, how drastically can we change it with what we have available to us right now. Most of us will find ourselves in one of two or three different situations. We can stay where we are, we can move a short distance to another place, or maybe combine with other family members at one of their homes, hopefully in a better situation than our own. Let's take each of those individually.

I won't go into all of the preparation requirements since those have been and are covered in greater detail that I could cover here. I mainly want to concentrate on the decision making processes and how to hopefully arrive at a suitable solution. So here we go.

First, staying where we are. In most cases, this is probably the worst and most difficult situation to make work. I personally could easily be caught in this situation and I don't look forward to trying to make it work but let's assume that is our only option. I know this is the case for many so let's make it work.

I'll take my situation as an example. I live on a main street in a small town of 2,500-3,500 population. What are my challenges? To me, first and foremost is security. The reason I put that first is that if I can't protect what I do, build, stash, grow, or otherwise prepare, then I've wasted my resources and time. So the first step is to honestly assess your situation based on what you expect to happen in a worst case scenario. Where are the threats most likely going to come from? What direction and in what form? Can you slow them down and/or stop them? What can you do to aid yourself in being able to accomplish these things? Fences? Gates? Window and door bars? Think through the situation based on your individual situation and resources.

You have to form some sort of defensive plan and come to some understanding of how successful you feel you can be, based on the number of people you will have helping defend the site. I would include some thoughts about quickly deploying traps, tanglefoot wire, or anything else to make you place not worth the effort in hopes that they will just move on to easier targets. By doing that you cause them to expend precious and sometimes irreplaceable energy, on someone other than you. By the time they finally return to you you might be even better prepared and they will be most likely less prepared and easier to deal with.

So in this situation, I feel defense will be extremely crucial. This will of course include multiple weapons and a large amount of ammunition to last through a siege type situation. You can take these thought and translate them on out to the logical end with the other supplies you will need to survive, such as food and water since you will most likely be very confined and unable to scrounge and forage safely for some period of time.

This situation will be extremely hard to survive with only a couple of people so you must work towards having as many as possible to help rotate the duties of keeping watch, preparing meals, sanitation, etc. My speculation would be that you would need to look at a 30-60 day siege until you will be able to begin to move somewhat freely and to get outside for other activities such as gardening or tending animals unless you can have those things attached to your main house through some protected passageway.

Obviously, this is a huge hill to climb to make this work in any populated area even in the suburbs. Can it work? Yes, I believe it can but you will have to be brutally honest with yourself and also prepared mentally and physically to do what will be necessary when the time comes. Remember, I'm a logical, common sense, realist.

Now let's look at the other two situations together since they are basically the same. I'm assuming that if you move to another family member's home then it would be at least farther from a populated area than the situation I've just described. Otherwise. it's then just a matter of which city home is the most defendable and then building on that together.

So assuming that the location you can move to on your own or to another family member's home is outside of a populated area to some degree, let's say 10-15 miles out into the country. So let's talk about the differences of the situations.

With the city situation I said security needs to be job one. With the semi-rural situation security is still job one but in very different ways. In the city, the house becomes your "fortress" and you build on that. In the semi-rural to rural situation the area around you becomes much more important to your security than in the city. This is because you have much more area to control the access to your home and therefore your supplies. Concentrate more on your avenues of approach. Where will the threats most likely come from? Are there main roads nearby? Are there any natural barriers that you can use like ridges, lake,s rivers, etc?

Again, I'll use my situation as an example. My choice has been to use my parents home as the gathering place for our family. It is approximately 15 miles from a population area of 30,000 people. It sits back off the road a short ways with good view from the house to the road and some wooded area and a pond 75 yards behind the house.

Again, in a defensive sense, this is not an extremely easy to defend area. However, there are many more things that you can do in this situation than in the city because you have room to maneuver. The downside of that is that you also have more area to watch and control.

In that situation you have to make the terrain and surrounding situation work for you by constructing traps, digging ant-vehicular ditches, digging concealed fighting positions in various places to allow as much movement between them as concealed as possible, etc. There are many good available information sources on the Internet for accomplishing these things. Be inventive and read, read, read.

Have a good stock of sandbags and the sand needed to fill them on hand. Many of these final preparations will be done once everyone has assembled. Everyone will be anxious and will need something to keep them busy so put that energy to work. But have the plan laid out in advance and ready to implement. This is absolutely critical. If you don't have it laid out you will be flailing around and losing the confidence of all the others that are depending on you to lead them.

Again, approach things in a realistic and honest manner. The people that you will most likely be having to deal with will not be trained in the arts of stealth and [militarily precise] attack, so just put yourself in the average person's shoes that will be trying to rob you. Doing that makes it pretty easy to understand where you will most need to protect and focus your attention.

Being removed by a few miles from a populated area will most likely buy you some time unless you are on a major thoroughfare between two populated areas where people might be traveling from one city to another. If you are in a direction not directly toward another city that will buy you a little additional time before you have to confront the hordes leaving the city. Maybe a couple of extra days which could be extremely significant in your final preparations. Take advantage of that delay, as it very well could save countless lives.

Now that I've got you thinking through some possibilities, then let's look at some of the other issues that I an many others will have to deal with.

We see the term OPSEC used all over the place these days. Basically what that means is keeping quiet and staying as hidden as possible. In the city that's almost impossible. Hordes will be going from house to house looking for the easy targets. (So, as we discussed we're going to make it hard for them.)

Let's take a generator for example. How do we run a generator when everyone else has no power without saying very loudly "COME TO MY HOUSE!" This is something that will have to be thought out and planned for in advance. My plans are to bury my generator in a root cellar of sorts with a well-muffled [but fully externally-vented] exhaust pipe. This could be done in or out of the city to hide what you have. The area could also serve many other uses to include as a root cellar and storage for all types of things. [JWR Adds: A Carbon Monoxide (CO) detector is a must!] If done in the right way it could possibly even be hidden enough to avoid being found by all but the most observant looter. You can apply this concept to many other things too.

I try to use items that can be easily hidden and/or moved if needed to another location. A good example of that is portable solar panels for charging batteries. It will cost you a bit more up front but they are also easier to hide and, if necessary, to move. Further, if you have to bug out you can grab one or two to take with you. Nothing is permanent.

This does require some planning but again the cost is mostly in labor as far as the preparation goes. That is my mindset, spend as little money as possible but get as prepared as possible.

All of the aforementioned thought processes can be and should be applied to the entire gamut of preparing. It does not matter what area it is, the process is still the same, observe the problem, identify the problem, weight the alternatives, find a solution to the problem, and apply the solution.

One final note that I think is probably the most important of any of this. This is all about one thing in the end, SURVIVAL--continuing to exist on the planet. Hopefully with some semblance of our existing comforts--at least with the basics.

That being said, once you have whatever preparations you have in place at you perfect or imperfect retreat, what's left?

What's left is the assurance of your continued survival. You absolutely must have a plan B, C, D, and so on, to keep you and your family surviving. I'm in the process of doing all that I have mentioned above. Are my preparations complete? Absolutely not. But one thing that is very high on my priority list is the ability implement those contingency plans.

My additional planning goes something like this. I figure [that in a worst case] at some point I will be forced from my retreat. What then? Well, if you haven't planned for that eventuality then you become one of the dispossessed horde. So what should you do to avoid this?

First, you should never, ever store all of your supplies at your central retreat location. Depending on the situation, store enough to get through the initial siege. More in the city and less in the rural area. Establish caches, preferably buried or at some reasonably secure, hidden location. Notice that "caches" is plural. Don't place one cache with any certainty that it won't be found. Also, when you do place them be sure not to follow any recognizable pattern. Also be sure that numerous trustworthy people in your family are aware of the locations in case something happens to you. You could also, as time and situation permit, dig some larger "foxholes" for temporary shelter and cover to move to and avoid being caught by the hordes. It gives you a place for a hasty retreat and also a place to fight from if that is necessary or just a place to hide until things blow over and you can return to your retreat.

Next, think about what you will need to store in the caches. When you are initially forced to leave your retreat you will mainly need water, guns, ammunition, fire starting equipment and possibly shelter related items. Some non-cook foods would be helpful too. This cache needs to be reasonably close by and easy to get to to resupply you with what you had to leave behind at the retreat.

The remaining caches can be more fully stocked in the hopes that you will find another shelter to move into until such time as you can eventually return and retake your retreat.

Even in the city you can find somewhere to bury a small cache of items like this to keep you equipped and on the move to the next cache, then the next cache, etc. It takes a little planning but not a huge outlay of resources. But again there some outlay in the form of labor. If nothing ever happens you dig them up and use the items for daily use. Nothing lost but lots gained if they are ever needed in extremis.

As I said at the start, this was not meant to be all-inclusive. My intent was to get you thinking, and to possibly help those in situations like mine--where I realize that I cannot put my family in the "perfect retreat" situation. What I can do though is give them the chance, with some luck and God's help, to survive.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mr. Rawles,
I read with interest the blog today and then clicked over to the link suggested by Brittany K.: Deconstructing a Safe Room (infographic)

I appreciate all the information your site gives. I wish the writers of the Allstate Blog had consulted your site and listed it in their sources. One glaring item in their graphic is that the door opens outward. If debris falls in front of the door a person may not be able to open it. [As has been mentioned several times in SurvivalBlog, inward-opening shelter doors are the norm,]

Another point worthy of mention: In their “What Should Be In Your Safe Room” section they list that there should be a generator. I can just envision someone without much knowledge or experience trying to start and run a generator in their safe room and not have any ventilation whatsoever; a carbon monoxide death trap.  God Bless, - John in Ohio

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mr. Rawles,
I was running a detail earlier today when I noticed that we were loading items into an all-steel QUADCON. As we were, I remembered the letter from the other da, asking about the possibility of using a CONEX as a Faraday cage. The dimensions aren't as big as the 40' CONEX are, but four of them put together equal the space of a 20' MILVAN container. The downside to this container is the two openings, one on each end. However, a good solid weld on one side could do the trick. The RF gaskets that you mentioned could work on the door. However, in my experience, more gaps and possible openings make it that much easier for unwanted things to gain entry. Another good thing about the size is that it would be easier to manage moisture in the smaller space. Just a thought.
Thanks for all you do, - Z.R.

Hello Mr. Rawles,
I just wanted to add something about using a CONEX container as a Faraday cage. Unlike most CONEXes, which have wooden floors, the insulated refrigerated containers almost always are a solid aluminum box (with a full metal floor). Only the gasketing and bonding of the doors [and plating or screening over the refrigeration ducting apertures] would have to be addressed. To make it 100% safe, a second interior wall and door (all metal and bonded gasketed) would need to be put in place, and then only one door should be opened at a time. (This is similar to dark room doors.)

I would also suggest looking at these web pages at the Future Science web site to get a better idea of what can happen in an EMP or solar storm , and their similarities and differences:

Thanks, - Solar Guy

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Creating hiding places for items can be a challenge without handyman skills, a large budget and the need to hide stores in sight. Fortunately, there are some options that are easy to implement without a lot of cost without looking odd to anyone passing through your home.

Many Uses for Chest Freezers

Chest freezers have the benefits of being common, heavy, cheap to get used and not a big deal to own. How does this help when you want to store things or hide them?

  • Chest freezers are commonly locked to keep young children from climbing in and becoming trapped. A lock on a chest freezer, even if not plugged in, does not arouse suspicion. This increases the security of items stored inside.
  • Chest freezers can be kept in a corner of a laundry room, a storage shed, sun room or detached garage. Owning several is not strange.
  • Chest freezers are large and heavy. Even in the unlikely case that someone wanted to steal it, the large size and weight of many units deters this.
  • If a thief enters your garage or storage space, he’ll steal items of value or immediate use. Frozen food rarely fits either of these categories. The result is that a freezer chest will be ignored in most cases.
  • Unplugging a unit and letting it sit in a corner does not garner attention.  If asked, just state it was unplugged to save on electricity. If asked why it’s locked, simply state that is done for “safety reasons”.


What can you do with several unplugged chest freezers?

  • A large stash of freeze dried food stored inside of one is less obvious than a set of cans in the pantry.
  • Guns and tools kept in a locked chest freezer are safer than those left on a work bench while blending into the background. And foot prints and signs of handling do not indicate a stash there, since no one will think it is strange that the freezer is opened and closed periodically.
  • Canned goods kept in a chest freezer outside are protected from the elements, in a secure location.
  • Store bug out bags or valuable supplies in the chest freezer without a lock for quick and easy access. Lay a stack of towels or dirty rags on top to make. it look like the appliance has been turned into a work surface. 
  • Unplugged chest freezers can be used to hide bottled water stashes that might otherwise garner attention.

[JWR Adds: "Dead" chest freezers are often available free for the hauling. Just be sure that the freezer comes with at least one key for its lock before driving to pick it up. BTW, be sure that the owner has a "clear path" available for you to wheel it out on your furniture dolly. (As an aside, I once spent at least two extra hours helping a friend extricate a "free" chest freezer out of the back of a very crowded garage. That was a bit of a nightmare.) Also, keep in mind that upright freezers take up less floor space, per cubic foot of volume. Those lock, too. Older freezers should be washed out and scrubbed thoroughly, using a strong baking soda solution. Be sure to let them dry and air out well, before filling them.]

Where Will the Water Go?

Water is a bulky item to store if building up a long term supply. If you do not live near a lake or stream and lack working well, the space to store a long term water supply can be difficult to find. Hiding it is even harder. What can you do in the interim?

  • The water stored in a hot water heater can be consumed if filtered of sediment. However, a hot water heater in good condition can store up to eighty gallons.  Buy a used hot water heater fro someone that is installing a tankless hot water heater or [that is replacing] a hot water heater with burned-out elements. Then flush it out thoroughly and set it up in a closet, corner of the garage or even next to your main hot water heater. It stores the water in an accessible manner, since the water is available once you drain the unit. And this manner of water storage doesn’t garner attention the way a closet full of one gallon water bottles would.
  • Purchase a water cooler and accompanying large water bottles. Set the entire stack in a section of a garage or shed. While a large selection of soda bottles with water may seem odd, several water bottles with a cooler are not seen as such. One of the benefits of business closures is that these items can be purchased cheaply during going out of business sales.  If asked, simply state you got it cheap on sale or a discount for buying several at once. When water does become scarce, set up the dispenser with water coolers to use in the home. The size of the water bottles deters theft. Rotate stock by donating water cooler bottles to churches or charities that use them.
  • If you are installing a rain catchment system, install a separate back up tank for water storage. If installing a sprinkler system, bury a water storage tank at the same time.
  • Do you have a tub in a bathroom with a separate shower? Fill up a “WaterBOB” or similar water storage system and leave it in the tub. Then place a fitted lid over the tub or padded wood. The tub then appears as a converted seat, hiding the water storage inside. 
  • Do you have a decommissioned hot tub? “WaterBOBs” and related water storage devices fit there, too.


Where to Store Toiletries and Valuables

Household supplies are on many lists to stock up on. But where do you place them for easy reach and minimal inconvenience?

  • Clear out beauty supplies. Shed a lot of beauty appliances. Use the space under your sink then to store toiletries like bar soap, shampoo, razors and Kleenex. If someone looks in that space, the storage there makes perfect sense. They simply won’t know or think of the similar stocks in the other bathrooms under those sinks.
  • The cabinets above the toilet are frequently used for storing towels. Review how many towels you actually use and where they may be better placed (on racks, a stack on top of the toilet, etc.). Then use this space to store toiletries.
  • A side benefit of the discovery of a wall of toiletries is that few people will dig beyond them. Valuables can be hidden behind them.
  • Laundry hampers are rarely considered anything but holding bins for dirty clothes. Consider placing a plastic laundry hamper in a corner of a bedroom closet. Then store items like handguns, coins and heavier items wrapped in a towel at the bottom. Stack sheets and towels on top. If anyone picks it up, the weight is explained by the contents. But be careful not to accidentally dump this hamper’s contents into the washer!  
  • Remember that decorative items can serve as hiding places. Money clipped behind picture frames is well known. What about hiding cash inside decorative vases and jars in the corner of the bathroom? Keeping a spare cell phone and batteries also works. Place a wreath of fake flowers on the top of the vase so that a casual viewer doesn’t see what is inside.
  • Thieves often check under the master bedroom bed for hidden money and guns. They don’t check under the stack of towels in the master bathroom as often. For even better concealment, leave a copy or two of magazines pushed in among towels to appear as if that is what is hidden in that stack of towels. 

Storage Boxes

Using stacks of nondescript cardboard boxes and plastic bins to hide items in plain sight has been thoroughly discussed on SurvivalBlog. Large boxes labeled “Christmas decorations” can contain that or contain a layer of Christmas items and hide a small generator underneath. Boxes labeled “receipts” or “recipes”. What else can be done?

  • Label the boxes “genealogy papers” or better yet, label the box “VHS tapes”. No one will think of touching it.  
  • Actually store old encyclopedias and other books you won’t mind burning in cardboard storage boxes. This is a back up solution in case of a fuel shortage. Elderly British pensioners have actually resorted to buying old books by the pound to keep their homes warm since carbon taxes drove up the cost of heating oil and firewood alike.
  • Boxes labeled “cooking stuff” can as easily hold freeze dried food as it can recipe cards. However, be careful not to store items that will emit odors of food (like spices).
  • A foot locker or box labeled “duffel bags” can hold just that. Underneath can be bug out bags or camping gear. However, it is wise to avoid storing important items in luggage that looks like standard Samsonite, since each bag is easily mixed up with another and holds value if sold. However, you should never label a box “camping supplies”, since this could easily become a target for desperate thieves. “Boy Scout stuff” might be a compromise in identifying camping items without looking tempting.

Data Storage

USB drives provide a mobile and easy to use method of backing up files. Hiding them is easy. Hiding them where you can quickly find them is more challenging. Fortunately, the market has already come up with many solutions to make it easy to find your USB drives.

  • Buy a USB drive holder that looks like an industry logo toy. The Linux penguin and a Microsoft type memento come to mind. You can also buy industry logo toys and carve out space to store the USB drive. Set on a shelf near the computer and place it as if it were a decorative item.
  • There are thumb drives built into toys for the sake of novelty. If you are a fan of a toy line or could get away with the item sitting on your shelf while blending into the environment, buy a standard such thumb drive holder. Just be certain to place it where curious children won’t get it to play with.
  • Use a large, solid plastic case used to hold obsolete floppy disks and store USB drives in them instead.   

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Captain Rawles,
 As most of your readers would say, we thank you for your ministry.  My question is weather a 40' Continental Express (CONEX) shipping containers would work as a huge Faraday cage, and thus we would be able to store most of our sensitive electronics, such as communications gear, battery chargers, e cetera.
Thank you again, - R.L.S.

JWR Replies: There are a few problems with that concept:

1.) The vast majority of CONEXes have wooden floors. Wood is fairly transparent to radio frequency (RF) waves, including electromagnetic pulse (EMP). A metal Faraday enclosure needs to be an integral box. (Polygonal or spherical.) No windows, and no wooden floors!

2.) Creating a good "gasketed" RF seal at the doorway would be difficult. But RF gaskets might do the trick.

3.) CONEXes tend to "sweat." In a full Faraday enclosure, there would be no ventilation available, so the moisture buildup would likely be excessive. (Depending on your local climate.)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

I just wanted to drop an alternate product use suggestion. In my gun closet I have a mesh over-the-door shoe organizer that mount to the doors by hooks. When I swing the door open to get to the gun safe I have loaded magazines in easy to grab and recognizable rows in the shoe holder. I also keep other small parts like extra scopes, bipods, and other detachable items in the compartments.  It is four pockets across and six down, for 24 total pockets. Each pocket will easily hold two loaded AK magazines or three AR magazines.  This gives a ready reserve of 72 loaded AR-15 magazines that are taking up essentially zero [floor] space. - M.A.T. in Virginia

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Mr. Rawles:
I really enjoyed L.N.'s small spaces article and her suggestion to get a mason jar vacuum sealer is right on the money.  Another suggestion your readers may want to consider is a non-power way to vacuum seal.  The Actron CP7830 Hand Vacuum Pump can also be used to create the vacuum using the FoodSaver Wide-Mouth Jar Sealer.  Total purchase for both items is less than half of the powered food sealers.  When the grid goes down, you will still be able to seal your jars and get a arm workout at the same time

Thanks, - Jen G.

Mr. Rawles:  
I found the article by L.N. in Texas quite interesting and would like to add my two cents.  I live in a small house with my wife and two kids, so storage for longer-term preparations can be a challenge.  However, I have found two spaces to be of great value that most homeowners may overlook.  For one, my house sits on top of a stem wall foundation that has a small crawlspace underneath.  This crawlspace was only available from an outside hatch, and therefore was less than desirable as a TEOTWAWKI storage due to its visibility and location.  Gaining access to it from the inside of my house was as easy as installing a simple trapdoor for the cost of two hinges and some time with a Skilsaw.  I simply pulled back the carpet in my closet and located the nails that indicated where the studs ran.  I pulled the nails from two adjacent joists along a two foot strip.  Then I set my Skilsaw blade to the approximate depth of my subfloor and cut out a square.  Making a trapdoor was as simple as cutting the removed piece of subfloor down slightly more so it didn’t catch, screwing down some hinges on the backside, then placing the carpet back over it.  Obviously, make sure before doing any of this to make sure the trap door leads to an open area, not a pipe or electrical line.  Below this trapdoor I have about 3-to-4 feet of vertical storage space.  I made a pallet to one side on which I store about six months of freeze-dried food and several gallons of water in 5 gallon jugs. 

Nobody has seen me haul the stuff in, nor will they see me hauling it out when the time comes.  I have used none of my living space and the air below the house is considerably cooler and drier than my usual storage spaces, such as shed or garage.   The second spot to consider is the intake registers for your HVAC system.  Most HVAC systems blow out the cool or hot air out of floor registers, then take the air back to the heater/cooler through registers near the ceiling.  The air running through there, as a result, is room temperature.  While I wouldn’t recommend storing anything heavy, bulky, or edible up there, removing a vent cover exposes a nice bit of unused space for storage of cash and guns when I leave for the weekend.  - Andy in Arizona

One challenge I have encountered in my survival preparations is the lack of concealed storage space in my 800 square foot house. I recently purchased a king size mattress, being on a tight budget (spending most of my disposable cash on survival preps) I couldn't afford a king size bed [frame and box springs]. In order to fill both needs of more storage space and a place to put my new mattress I decided to use 5 gallon buckets and 3/4in  plywood to construct a simple platform for my mattress. I purchased two sheets of plywood at the lumber yard, and thirty of food grade 5 gallon buckets with lids.

I had them cut both sheets of plywood to 38x80 inches (one half of the size of a king size bed). I placed the buckets 6 across and 5 wide where I wanted my bed. In order to remember where they are, I drew a diagram and labeled each bucket with the contents. I used sheets from my old smaller mattress as skirts to cover the buckets. With the mattress, plywood, and buckets the bed is taller than normal but my wife and are both tall and I feel it is justified in the amount of storage that is gained. The size and number of buckets can be adapted to any size bed. Good luck to all in your preparations and I hope my experience will help with your storage needs. Sincerely, - Northeast BoomTruck

Mr. Rawles,
I completely agree with L.N. about survival prep in small spaces. I increased the storage space under my bed by raising it [and additional] six inches off the floor. I used commercial available bed risers that cost under $20.00 for a set of four. A riser is placed under each of the four bed posts. Just search on “bed riser” or visit local home store. - Larry D.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I live in the country and so I am used to gardening, canning, saving and preparing.  However, when I talk to many people who live in the city and live either with minimal land and perhaps apartments, they do not seem prepared or not as prepared as they could be.  When I ask if they store or grow any food, they just sort of look at me.  When I tell them they should either grow some food or store food not only in case of natural disaster, but even due to inflation and rising prices, the looks become bewildered.  They’ll say that they have no place to grow or store food or they may even act as if that is not important to them.  But, in this time and day, everyone should prepare some food and essentials.  There are reports that crops are being destroyed by elements of drought or floods or freezing and as we can all see, prices are rising and companies are becoming creative at giving us less for the dollar when we buy items.  The world we knew or thought we knew is changing and survival is a key for everyone.  Even in a small space you can prepare for the worse while you continue to hope for the best!

Before we begin talking about how, lets talk about things that are helpful in storing food.  Of course you can go with large buckets and Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers which you can find online at Survival web sites, but what if you do not have that much room?    

You are still in luck!  Invest in a FoodSaver vacuum sealer and get the jar sealer attachments online.  Food Savers will help you store food in either the bags they sell or if you get the jar attachments, you can store food in Mason jars!  We tested the jar attachment by putting dry beans into a mason jar and using the Food Saver jar attachment.  When the machine turned off indicating it was ready, we tried to open the flat metal lid on the Mason jar.  It wouldn’t come off.  When we took a butter knife to the edge to help open it, we heard that vacuum seal pop as we opened it.   So right then and there, we knew we were getting a nice vacuum seal on our jar.  This now allows us to store beans, rice, pasta and other dried foods in jars such as this.  Store trail mix for example in the Food Saver Bags.  These bags are sealed and are easy for you to put into a bin for later consumption.  You can look for Mason jars at local grocery stores, some hardware stores and we also found some really large jars at our local pharmacy of all places!  If all else fails, you can always order them online.   By putting things in the Food Saver bags, it also saves a lot of space rather than bulky boxes and such.  The Food Saver bags are also something quick you can grab if you need to evacuate and put in a back pack.

So you space is small - where can you store?  Start opening your eyes and look around at where you can add space.  A bin on a bookshelf is one more than what you had before!  Get creative and utilize any open spaces you may have.  When the earthquake happened in Japan, many people did not have food stocked up in their apartments and then found they were empty handed and grocery store shelves empty as well!  Remember, grocery stores only have about three days worth of food.  If there is a disaster, that food will disappear quickly.  What if trucks cannot get to your area?  Are you ready to be self-sufficient for a few days, a month or so?  And, when storing, think about climate control.  Do not store anything near heat such as a fireplace, hot water heater or any place that heat can deter the value of the food.

 The following are some ideas of the kinds of places you can store – even in small places!

  • Under the bed – with under-the-bed storage bins or boxes.  This is a lot of space that you have available right now that you can utilize!  You can even get some bins on wheel
  • Your closet – what about bins under the hanging clothes?  On shelving?
  • Install shelving in your rooms and buy nice storage bins--which can even look decorative--to hide items.  If you have no wall space, then what about above the doors?   Put an extra shelf in the laundry room.
  • Use a storage tote bin for storage next to your bed, couch etc. and cover it with a cloth turning it into a night stand or small table.  If you have an end table that is open underneath, again, you can put items in the open area, then cover it with a cloth to hide the stored items.
  • Place or build storage behind your couch and again, cover it with a cloth and place décor on top of it.  No one will ever know!
  • Look in your cabinets – try to consolidate items out of bulky boxes and containers and once you get more room, utilize that space.
  • Purchase an armoire or storage unit with doors on it and use it completely for storing items.  You can use an old entertainment cabinet that has doors on it. Where the television would have gone, you can stack cases of food, put medicines or smaller food or items in the drawers.
  • Plant patio gardens in whiskey barrels or other large planters.  You can grow onions, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and any dwarf variety of fruit this way.
  • Plant herbs in window gardens or in planters among the house. Herbs can be nice house plants and will offer you spicing to your food than an ordinary house plant so begin utilizing planters in the house as well.

Note:  Craft stores sell photo boxes that are usually decorative. These are perfect for putting in small Food Saver bags or making a box for emergency supplies for children.

If you live in the city and have a little land, do all of the above plus:

  • Build yourself a raised bed garden – even a 4 x 4 will give you lots of growing space.  If you have room build a larger 8 x 4 or as many that you can fit on your land.
  • Plant fruit trees if able.  Find out what trees grow in your area and plant trees that bear some type of food for you and your family.
  • Plant berries or small bushes that produce food. 

What items should you think about storing besides food?  Think about everyone in your household, including young children and pets.  When storing things like water and food, be sure to do your homework and research either in books or on the internet on best practices for safe storage. 

 Besides food, think of places you can store:

  • Water    
  • First Aid and Medicines
  • Toiletries 
  • Paper goods    
  • Wet wipes in case you lose water
  • Baby formula and other baby needs for babies in your family.  If small children, think about snacks for them as well as items that will keep them occupied if there is no electricity and no TV.  Colors, coloring books, books, games, and so on.
  • Coin or cash to have on hand
  • Seed for planting
  • Store some “comfort” items.   Comfort can be some candy for example, but whatever comfort means to you, you may want to store that so you have it – especially at times you may want it.
  • Bartering items – Think along the lines of the old days where people would trade one good for another.  If there is a disaster, you may not be able to go to work, drive your car and so on.  What could you trade a neighbor for something they have you may want?    Some people say to buy ammunition for bartering and that just happens to be something I wouldn’t buy as a bartering tool.  That ammo may be what you need for food and they could in turn, use that ammo on you to get the rest of your stash!  Think items like razors, tooth brushes, alcohol, coffee and such.

Right now you may be thinking – this is too much to store.  Wouldn’t you rather have it and be prepared than not have it when you need it?  These items are important to your survival.  Our economy could change overnight by one ruling of say not using our currency as the reserve or some solar flare or EMP that affects our electronics.  Preparedness is key right now. 

The next complaint I hear is, "I have fruit or vegetables, but we can’t eat all of it and some goes to waste."  What you need to do is start thinking along the line of storage again.  You can freeze or can most vegetables and fruits and you can dry your herbs.   There is vast information on the web about freezing, canning, storing and drying food you produce.  This means you may need to look into a water bath canner and pressure canner.   I’ve made for example, homemade salsa, jelly, and pickles and am researching more information on canning and freezing my vegetables.   Making jelly may take you and another person a day of work, but you will quickly find your shelves filling up.  You can use the under-the-bed bins for other items and use shelving for your canned items.  If nothing else, home-canned foods make great gifts too so never think you would not know what to do with it all. 

By now, most people know that rotating their stored food is important.  But, what if you ran across cases of food that will expire in the next month?   Most people without thinking will say they cannot possibly eat all that or do not want to.  Think of others at this time.  Donate it to a food pantry, a large family and so on.  Just do not wait too late and never donate food that will expire within a few days or that is expired!

Of course, all of the above is just a small list of ideas.  Start researching survival items and you will find many more you should be considering right now.   Never think your space or yard is too small.  You will be amazed once you start looking around at all the opportunities you truly have to store or grow food.  And when you shop at a plant nursery – always look for plants, shrubs and trees that will bear food.  It may be what you have to survive on one day!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Hi Jim.  
Dry wall is made of Gypsum, which is composed of Calcium Sulfate Dihydrate, with the chemical formula CaSO4·2H2O. It is found naturally and also made Synthetically by Flue Gas Desulfurization at some coal-fired electric power plants. Synthetic Gypsum can be used interchangeably with Natural Gypsum in some applications. There was a problem with drywall from China which contains too much Sulfur probably from the flue gas desulfurization process. When Water is absorbed by the bad drywall, Hydrogen Sulfide is formed which induces corrosion in some metals. I would not trust using drywall as a desiccant for ammo storage. Just think about opening your ammo boxes, finding the contents corroded! That would be "Penny wise and Pound foolish." - Chuck M. from the Northeast Kingdom

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mr. Rawles:
Most herbal supply web sites (San Francisco Herb Company, for one)  offer heat-sealable tea filter paper bags (large size, empty 'tea bags' that are used for making tea bags, bath salts bags etc).

You seal them with a regular clothes iron. These are perfect for making the silica packets for putting in with stored ammo. - Paulette

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hi Jim,  
I wanted to share with others of how I make my own desiccant packs. Go to a craft store like Michaels and in the flower department you can buy a box of silica gel that is used for drying flowers. I then get a box of family sized tea bags (these are twice the size of regular tea bags but any size will work) Use needle nose pliers to remove the staple that holds on the little piece of cardboard used to squeeze the bags, empty out the tea and use a spoon to now fill the empty tea bags with the silica gel. Re-staple. They are now ready for ammo cans, food buckets etc. [The loose tea can of course be saved to use is a tea-steeping ball.] - Just a Jarhead

We don' need no steenkin' silica desiccants!

Go to most any building site or building supply store and ask for some wall board (a.k.a. gypsum board or "sheet rock") scraps.  For various reasons, there is almost always some pieces around.  The builders or store owner will be happy to get rid of them for free.

Peel the paper off one side and cut the wall board into pieces to fit the containers that you're using.  A piece about the size of a 3x5 index card will protect a .5 0cal ammo can or #10 can with capacity to spare

Bake the wall board pieces in the oven at 150 degrees F for a couple of hours to dry them out, and put them warm into your containers and seal.

Gypsum is extremely hygroscopic, and will suck every every bit of moisture from the air in a sealed container.  This can be used to protect stored electronics, optics, books, etc as well.

This approach is low tech, extremely inexpensive, and easy.  My kinda solution. Cordially, - John N.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Hi Jim,   For some time now, I've been using spare food-grade oxygen absorbers with my long-term ammo storage in regular ammo cans. I keep a regular supply of O2 absorbers in a Mason Jar that I re-vacuum each time with the now famous Alvin Vacuum sealer / Tilia Mason Jar Adaptor.   Being able to stack ammo cans is also good. Seeing the sides of the cans squeeze towards the center (and hard to re-open): Priceless. This is one of the reasons why 5.45x39mm Russian is my favorite MBR round: The surplus Soviet ammo is already delivered that way! They knew how to package their ammo for the long haul. - J.E.

Capt. Rawles,  
I read the letter from John S. about using #10 Cans for Ammunition Storage and wanted to let you and my prepper brethren (and Sisteren) know that they can “Check Out” a can sealing machine from the LDS Home Storage facilities for free when they are buying their cans and lids.  As you have mentioned before, the LDS church home storage facilities are open to the public, not just members, and they won’t send the 4th Mountain Bike Brigade (Missionaries)  to your home because you visited.  I have been frequenting the one near our home and have checked out the machines so my family can seal up wheat at home.  They typically give you a couple of days to use it, and can show you how to work it.  It is very simple.  They also sell the oxygen absorbers, plastic lids for after opening, and boxes to make stacking the cans easier.  If people don’t have the time you can even buy some prepackaged cases (6 cans) of food storage.  They have had a couple of price increases since January 1, 2011 due to cost increases, but their prices are very good, and they try to make getting your family prepped easier.   I hope this information is helpful. - Brad M.

I had no idea I could reuse and reseal the cans! I had a "Duh!" moment when I read this. Also, clarify please,  Is it safe to put an O2 absorber in with the ammo that is canned sealed to counter any dampness?   What about Berdan primed ammo? Can I can seal it up too? - K.A.F.

JWR Replies: As I mentioned once before in SurvivalBlog, oxygen ("O2") absorbing packets are not the best choice for ammunition storage. Silica gel desiccants are much more reliable, especially in disaster situations, when replacement )2 absorbers might not be available. The formation of rust takes two ingredients interacting with ferrous metals: moisture and oxygen. Ditto for oxidation of copper and brass. Without moisture present, corrosion will not occur with typical atmospheric oxygen levels

Both types of packets will work in protecting guns or ammunition is fully-sealed containers, but desiccants have far more reliable efficacy. The biggest problem with typical food grade O2 absorbing packets is that there is no easy way of insuring that they were handled properly before they came to you. The O2 absorbing packets that I have seen all have gas-permeable coverings. If the seal on the outer package that the packets were shipped in was compromised, or if they were removed from their original packaging and later re-packaged, then they will have virtually no usefulness. They are effectively "used up" when they come in contact with a large volume of air for more than a few hours. And once used, these packets cannot be reactivated at home. You have to buy new ones.

But unlike O2 absorbing packets, if you use silica gel desiccants, you can reactivate them by simply putting them in a food dehydrator (or in a kitchen oven on a 150 degree F setting) overnight. Using this method, they can be used over and over. This is vastly superior, especially in the context of a survival situation where regular commerce is disrupted. And, as I've mentioned previously in SurvivalBlog, in the present day, desiccants are often available free for the asking. Just make a few phone calls. Piano shops often get musical instrument shipments that include large desiccant packs. Most of these get thrown away.

So if you are going to depend on one of the other for firearms and ammunition storage, in my opinion you should choose silica gel desiccants rather than O2 absorbers. OBTW, beware of re-using any packets that you find in jerky packaging. These sometimes include an integral moisturizing packet, to prevent jerky from becoming too dry. Those packets would of course be counterproductive, for ammunition or gun storage!

Again, only use O2 absorbing packets that are factory fresh, and preferably that come vacuum shrink wrapped. Otherwise, with most of them, you have no way of knowing whether or not they have already been chemically neutralized. (A few brands have pink-blue indicator dots, but most do not.)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Mr. Rawles,  
I have searched your site and others for detailed information on long term storage using sealed #10 cans.  Are there any drawbacks?  I can buy cans from the LDS cannery for around 1.00 a piece, which is much cheaper, by volume, than regular ammunition cans.  Any information you or your readers could provided would be greatly appreciated. - John S.

JWR Replies: The #10 steel can is awesome! For food storage, they don't suffer from the gradual oxygen transmission (permeability) weakness of HDPE buckets. For ammo storage, they work nearly as well as military surplus ammo cans. But be advised that they don't stack well, and they are thin gauge steel, so they must be protected from dampness. The only major drawback is the cost of a can-sealing machine. They are scarce and expensive, unless you luck into a used one on Craigslist. (Normally, $300+)  Without one, you cannot re-seal cans. You can re-seal a #10 can several times, although it loses a bit of height each time.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Metal work has always appealed to me, so I weld as a hobby and a creative release and it brings in extra income. In so doing over the years I have welded various projects for any number of people, known and unknown. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, I was referred by a friend in a nearby city to a small group of people looking for some anonymous welding. These people struck me right off as ‘survivalists’ who took OPSEC fairly seriously, so I accepted their geo-caching explanation without questioning and proceeded to cut and weld various pipe and plate to spec, creating a dozen or so rifle length 8” tubes with bolt on flanges as lids. The customers paid and left never to be seen or heard from again.

The experience got me thinking that I wanted to try it for myself. I decided to try a relatively long term (10 year) test. What follows is my experience.
Involving my then college aged daughter we undertook the task as a combination time capsule/cache. In almost all of my welding I end up with most of the scrap material, so using materials on hand I assembled a relatively small steel box with a slip fit lid. The final box dimensions were about 6” square x 16” tall all welded up from 1/8” x 6” flat steel. The slip fit lid was made of the same material which allowed a huge 6” overlap. I was undecided as to the best method of sealing the cache, so I first sealed all the weld joints with silicon and then improvised a rubber seal in the slip fit lid to be secured with 2 large stainless steel hose clamps compressing the rubber seal. It turned out to be fairly heavy stout steel box.

We filled our small cache with a small bag of desiccant, several pictures, a folded up local newspaper, my daughter’s old charm bracelet, a rap music CD, some silver eagles, some pre 64 silver coins, water proof matches, a new Bic lighter, an old small .25 automatic pistol I had purchased in the mid 70’s and rarely used with a box of ammo, toothbrushes, floss, mirror, combs, flint and steel, scissors, tweezers, 50’ of para cord, a Buck folding Hunter, Gerber Multi-tool, sharpening stone, a box knife with several spare blades and a few 9 hr candles. It was fairly full with the newspaper taking up most of the excess space. (Note, I didn’t originally make an inventory, this list comes from after cache retrieval.)

Once our cache was assembled with the slip fit lid clamped down I was still a bit worried if the cache was sealed. Being my typical overkill self, I finally hit on using candle wax. Luckily we had a large supply on hand due to our largely forgotten candle making hobby. Using a slightly oversized cardboard box, I poured about a half inch of hot wax into the bottom of a duct tape sealed cardboard box, After the wax had hardened I set the steel cache in the box and filled the annulus with hot wax until the steel cache was covered by approximately a half inch of wax and then let it harden.

We decided to bury the cache in the backyard and worked out a ‘foolproof’ system for the ideal location.  We walked straight out the back door following the edge of the house directly to the block fence and marked our spot at the base of the fence. It was the north side of the fence, so not only were we working mostly in the shade; the cache would remain in the shade for the duration of the test.

Living in the southwest we are blessed (cursed?) with an over abundance of caliche "soil". Caliche is actually a type of sedimentary rock that passes for dirt here in the southwest. Digging our cache hole and its subsequent recovery involved specialized digging tools which some may be familiar with but I will attempt to describe them for those who aren’t. When digging holes in caliche many times we use a tool we call a ‘wonder wand’. A wonder wand usually consists of a 3’ (or longer) ½” galvanized pipe nipple coupled into a tee fitting with 6” pipe nipples on either side. One 6” nipple is capped off and the other side is fitted with a garden hose bib. Then you flatten the free end of the 3’ nipple with a hammer, which creates several small openings that work like high pressure cutting jets once a hose is connected and the water pressure is applied. Once water pressure is applied, you hold the two 6” nipples in your hands and place the flattened jets against the ground. With slight hand pressure while rotating the wand the water jets easily cut through the toughest ground. Once you get to your desired depth, you usually pull back and let the hole dry up for a day or so and the rest is relatively easy digging. It’s also useful for finding septic tanks and in general probing the ground. Messy but very useful!

Using our wonder wand, we sank our hole near the base of the fence. I sank the wonder wand the full three foot as I wanted our cache buried deep to preclude accidental discovery. The next day I dug the hole out and buried our cache with the top a full 18” below grade. At the time I wasn’t really too concerned with OPSEC, but our backyard is fairly secluded so it wasn’t really an issue.

Well that all took place in the latter part of 2001, so here it is 2011 and not quite a full ten years. I often thought about it, but had no fixed date when to dig it up. So a few weekends back my 7 year old granddaughter was visiting for the weekend and after playing every video game available and flipping through 300+ cable channels she declared herself bored.  Figuring now was as good a time as any other I broached the idea of a treasure hunt; she of course was totally unaware of the proceedings 10 years before and was quite eager!

So playing the game I broke off a ‘divining rod’ from a tree and proceeded to direct us to a ‘likely’ treasure spot, which was of course my ‘foolproof’ cache location. She, being a smart child was pretty skeptical of the whole ‘divining rod’ until I broke out the same old wonder wand and during my initial ground probe I promptly hit a hard solid object about 18” deep into the ground. I honestly thought I had found my cache in its foolproof location, which just proves there no fool like an old fool! So Papa looked more than a little foolish after digging for 20 minutes and only recovered a large rock. I made probably three more such probings and dug up three more rocks. Granddaughter was again getting bored, and Papa was confused and frustrated, scratching his head and getting fairly muddy. At that point I seriously doubted my fool proof location and was beginning to suspect my cache had been compromised. Repeated probing brought little satisfaction. Finally I decided to excavate the whole muddy mess. Twenty minutes or so later I finally found the cache. At that point I had about a 3’ diameter mud pit, and a 6” square box 18” deep is ridiculously easy to miss! It took another 10 minutes or so to extract the cache from the muck. There was nothing to grasp, it was heavy and slippery and I ended up mostly prying it out of the hole. Hindsight being 20-20, I wished I had added a handle.

We hauled our booty to the patio and hosed all the mud off, and then using a box cutter and a masonry chisel it took about 30 minutes to remove all the wax and cardboard. The steel cache was perfectly intact and exhibited no rust. The hose clamps were intact and were still functioning perfectly if a bit gummy from the wax. We used a small hammer to tap off the slip fit lid, the rubber seal still intact. My granddaughter was beside herself as we dumped our booty on the patio. She couldn’t believe we had actually found treasure! Worried that my deception may ruin her for life I confessed that her Mother and I had buried it many years before. My confession didn’t lessen her excitement at all. While I quickly secured the pistol and knives, my granddaughter pawed at all the other ‘treasure’. She proudly wore her Mother’s old charm bracelet from the booty for the rest of the weekend. And she had a great [heavily redacted] tale to share at school the next week.

Lessons Learned

I never made a real map of my cache as it seemed ridiculous at the time, but I spent quite a bit of time finding my cache in my own backyard! And while it was all fine and worked out for a time capsule, as a cache that your life may depend on, a map is better than your memory ten years later! I’m sure a metal detector would have helped but you might not be able to count on having one come SHTF. I can’t imagine trying to find a cache out in the boonies in only a slightly familiar location. A map is a must. Coordinates would be nice, but you can’t necessarily count on a GPS in SHTF. I also spent an inordinate amount of time actually opening my cache after retrieval. Not acceptable if your life is in jeopardy. And definitely some decent digging tools will be required!
I definitely should have welded/attached a handle to the top of my cache; it would have been so much easier to extract from its hole!
Next time I will attach some light cables to the handle and spread them about laterally in the hole, once you find a cable you could quickly locate your cache.
An inventory would have been nice and should probably be mandatory. I had only the vaguest idea of what I put in the cache all those years ago. I was pleasantly surprised by a US Mint container of 20 silver eagles that I had totally forgotten that I had even purchased let alone cached. An extra 20 ounces of silver at today prices is a nice surprise indeed. [JWR Adds: You did well, and your timing couldn't have been better. From March 2001 to March 2011, spot silver has increased almost nine times!

In examining the cached items, a few lessons learned. One, the new Bic lighter didn’t work. It would spark, but it was totally empty of gas. I’m fairly sure I would have tested it before I added it to the cache. I assume something must have been jamming the lever when I buried the cache. There was no off odor in the container, and I’m not sure there would be after 10 years. Second, the hot wax I used to seal the cache while totally effective as a seal also softened and deformed the 9 hour candles. They were still usable but barely. Third, it occurred to me that all that sealing wax could be very useful in a true SHTF situation. Fourth, the cached pistol and ammo functioned perfectly later at the range, though the pistol seemed very dry and stiff, in spite of my cleaning and oiling it before caching. I’m not sure of the long term viability of caching gun oil, but it might be worth a try or at least some research. Of course you could use cosmoline, but that would preclude immediate use of the firearm as well.

Lastly, if you are caching in the southwest, find something other than caliche in which to bury your cache. You almost need power tools to get it out later.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

One of your readers emailed you regarding using a $38 tool box in lieu of funds for a "great professional" military or civilian aid bag.

I would highly recommend to Big Mike to seek out flea markets, garage sales and the like (also Craig's List) in his area. I recently attended a local flea market and purchased a great COMPACKTEAM compression pack for $25 that's larger than my $130 military pack! Way bigger and with more support than my US Army issued assault pack (the new age kind that hook to one's ruck sack).

Sometimes you luck out, but always remember to seek local gear sources before buying anywhere else! - Cole B.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mr. Rawles,
I thought you might want to mention a product with your readers. I must admit that I am kind of a gear head and am constantly trying  to come up with better ways to organize and store my preparedness supplies. The one storage issue that I have always been indecisive about was how I wanted to store my medical/trauma/surgical supplies. There are lots of great professional bags and military medical cases out there, however their cost just didn't seem reasonable to me or my budget.  One day while checking out the latest and greatest tools in my local home improvement store I came across what I feel to be a great, economical solution. The Stanley "FatMax" 28-Inch Toolbox. A "Eureka" moment!

Although the idea is not new and I have kicked around the idea of using tool boxes in the past, none really seemed to fit the bill. This tool box is constructed of what seems to be a heavy plastic polymer, is large, deep and has a handy tray which spans only half the storage space allowing the placement of large bottles of alcohol, betadine, wound irrigation solutions etc on the open side. There is enough clearance under the tray for 4x4 pad boxes etc. I will use the handy tray for surgical instruments, syringes, etc.

Although these boxes may be a little large and heavy for a bug out by foot, they would be very manageable for a bug in, vehicle/wheeled bug out or pre-established retreat. In fact, I am getting a second to add the remainder of my supplies. Some great features of these boxes are that they have a tough integrated waterproof seal, heavy duty lockable metal latches (for those with children), comfortable rubberized handle are stack-able and extremely heavy duty. The latches area a bit stiff due to the tight waterproof seal (watch your fingers) however I believe they will become smoother over time. (Be aware when under noise discipline because they due tend to make a significant snap if not latched slowly)

These tool boxes are manufactured in the USA. Mine retailed for only $37.07 including tax which to me is an acceptable cost considering the value of the contents within. I will add identification medical stickers to the boxes and also hang tags from the handles with content expiration dates so I can easily rotate the contents as need be. Keep the fire burning. - Big Mike

Friday, March 18, 2011


Here's my story. I built a heavy duty cache tube consisting of a 6 inch diameter white PVC pipe, about 4 feet long with end cap on one end, screw top on the other. Cost about $100 to make.

I'd already found a hidden spot near a tree grove in my county park (public land) about a 100 feet off a hiking/bike/day use trail, and about 200 feet from the county road. I wanted both well hidden and easy access. Early summer everything was in full bloom so plenty of natural cover for my stealth operation. Before sunrise, I hid my shovel, post hole digger and empty cache tube in the tree grove. I went back in the late afternoon and buried my tube, the top of the tube being about 6 inches below grade. I didn't get too close to the trees as I knew it would be too hard to dig because of roots. Took me about two hours to finish the job. Luckily I didn't hit too many large rocks or roots, mostly dirt. Of course I spread a small amount of forest dander, leaves, branches, rocks, over the top of everything to give a undisturbed natural look then left with my tools after dark. I was very satisfied.

I went back about a month later and everything looked great. Nothing disturbed. I filled the bottom of the empty tube with a cloth bag containing a pound of silica gel (to keep my cache items moisture free). Then I filled the tube with cloth bags of stacks of well packed cash (paper money), then a pistol with 1 box of ammo, and at the very top I put emergency food consisting of a few power bars. I re-covered everything up and again, all looked great and I was again very satisfied.

Last weekend, driving by on the county road I looked up the canyon towards where I hid my cache and saw a huge white object. We are now in the middle of a wet winter so the trees are bare and all the foliage is gone. I quickly parked the car and headed up the trail. From the entire trail I could see that white object and my heart sank. I hiked to my spot and there wasn't any natural cover this time of year. There was my huge white PVC pipe sticking up 1 to 2 feet straight out of the muddy ground. I thought: "Oh crud. Somebody found my cache and stole it."

Nope. It was nature that caught me. With the heavy winter rains, obviously the ground water level raised at some point floating the tube out of the ground like a boat floating on a pond. My cache tube wasn't heavy enough. I got lucky, even with hoards of people that hang out in this area (including the homeless that probably camp around here at night), nobody had found my cache and it was still sealed and intact. I grabbed the muddy tube out of the ground threw it over my shoulder and headed quickly and directly for my car. I passed a few people on the trail but I just kept walking fast and never looked back.

I learnt from this experience and you'd better learn too. From now on I will do the swimming pool test. I will never hide a cache tube that will float in a swimming pool. It will have to contain lots of ballast like heavy gold, silver, or as a last resort lots of rolls of nickels. 6 inch PVC pipe wants to float and I guarantee you it requires lots of ballast. Is it possible to have a cache tube that is too large? Yes!

Is your cache tube sticking out of the ground?

My new hobby will be searching parks for cache tubes after heavy rains. - Don X.

Friday, January 21, 2011

My wife and I own  a 50 acre place in Northern Maine that was originally intended to be a home-building site.  It is remote, quiet  and off-grid.  Along with an outbuilding/bathhouse I constructed,  there is also a 40 foot shipping container I set up as a  secure storage building/shelter.    The land  has  plenty of water nearby  and the entire property is wooded in White Cedar (weatherproof/rot-proof) Balsam Fir , Birch and Spruce.  Unfortunately over the years the location has became less ideal for us.  The  political climate (until very recently) is unfavorable ( taxes, government regulation, overall policies).   The economic situation was bad before the current recession, now parts of Maine  remind me of what I saw in East Germany after the wall came down.   Because of this, I abandoned the project about four  years ago and moved most of our  belongings to the Western United States. 

Why We Went Back

I work as an independent contractor  all over the US.  This year I managed to get  a short contract within a 2 hour drive of the Maine property.  My wife and I were carrying minimal gear with us from  Montana  (See Survival Trip, a 10% Test, archived in Survival Blog).   We planned to stay on the acreage part-time during the work assignment, then remain there afterward for at least a month. 

We wanted to make no major purchases during our stay, so the big question was:  would we be able to live there (essentially camping out) with what we brought with us as well as what was 'left behind' on the property?  After a  three to four  year absence,  I could not remember exactly  what equipment and supplies were there.   Considering this, I began thinking:  what would happen if we  had to return to this place to try to survive in  an unplanned emergency? I knew I did not have a complete survival set-up in Maine.   I also knew the high taxes and poor  (anti-business)  economy made it a bad  retreat choice.   However,  if we were 'stuck' in the northeastern US during a crisis, returning to the 50 acre property seemed the logical solution.   The land  was paid-for, and it did have natural resources.   We also had friends there we could trust.    Plan A in a crisis would be to get back to Montana, Plan B called for returning to my home state of Missouri.  Maine was plan C.  With our travel lifestyle, maybe Plan C would be all we had to work with, someday. 

 My return to the property last Summer could not be defined as a 'Survival Emergency'.  We had enough resources to return West.  In Summer 2010 it was still relatively safe (but expensive)  to travel across the US.  I decided to think strategically and  look at things  as if I had  to  remain in Maine  for an indefinite period of time.  As per  my previous article, we had already loaded our trailer with survival gear and attempted to travel from Montana to Texas during the blizzard of 2010. Now having  left Texas to work  in Maine, I saw re-occupying the land as another type of  'Test'.   Anyway,  despite the economy the fishing is pretty good in Maine, lobster was $4.50 per pound  and we were technically on vacation.  We also had good friends living there, or should I say trying to live there, suffering under the heavy taxation and oppressive government.  There was one final practical reason:  The property had not been occupied in four years.  The road and  existing structures needed maintenance.  

Doing Business in Maine

Four years ago I moved to Montana.  Returning to Maine, my first regret was that I had transported  some of the heavy, easily replicable items out west four  years ago.  About  10% of the 'stuff' I moved at that time:  pry bars, hammers, chains, shovels, and splitting wedges could have been left behind in Maine and duplicated in Montana for probably less cost in both time and money.  Now I needed the tools that were over 2,000 miles away.  I had other things I owned (and needed), but were impossible to carry around.  For example:  my  5000 watt generator, the clothes washer,  the bench grinder, and the welder were all  sitting idle in Montana.  In Maine, it has been my experience that  new (or even used)  tools are relatively expensive compared to the Mid-west or West.  .

When you try to buy used stuff,   people in the Northeast don't tend to bargain at sales, often refusing to sell an item on a whim!   For  example, I saw a beat up circular saw at a garage sale for $20 (firm).  In Missouri, one would have been embarrassed to put $5.00 on such an item.  One person refused to sell me some of the scrap wood he had piled in his yard in preparation for burning.  On the retail side,  the nearest lumber store claimed to be out of chimney parts  (even though the computer said they were well-stocked).   They did not look very hard to find the items, or offer to order what I needed.  The clerk at the lumber store told me that people don't buy stove parts 'during this time of the year'.  'When do they start thinking about heating with wood, when the first  snow falls?' I thought.  There were other such personal experiences occurring on an almost daily basis.  My prior visits to  the Northeast prepared me for such 'customer service' but,  returning 4 years later, I could see things were getting worse.   

Another war story:  A friend of mine tried to pay cash in advance to get a large  propane tank filled (he owned the tank).    The company refused to fill it without my friend completing a credit application (social security number, Drivers License Number, etc.)   for the cash-up-front fill! This and other experiences  proved to us  that it was expensive and troublesome enough to get what we needed in a non-emergency (on a 'good' day), what would have happened if I we were really stuck with  no reliable transportation,   and needed additional  tools or supplies in a collapsed economy?   We won't count on it  in the Northeast!

  To be fair, there are some bargains to be found in the Northeast.   When I was in downtown Boston MA, I loaded my pickup with Craftsman hand tools a lady had put on the curb to throw away..     Apparently a relative died and she was cleaning out the basement.   I had just been passing by at the right time

  We found good, used furniture just by driving around an getting what was left at curbside.   Watch out taking stuff  from a dumpster, I was almost for arrested picking out a sheet of plywood that was being  thrown away.  I also almost cried at the sight of #2 2x6x8 lumber in another dumpster  at a construction site (they would not give me permission to take these boards that were destined for the landfill). 

What I Stored in Maine

Fortunately I did leave some basic things on the property. Here are some of the following items I was pleased to find 'left behind' .  These were stored in the 40 foot shipping container.  :

  1. Bow Saw (2, one over 30 inches)
  2. Ax (1)
  3. Dual-fuel gas lantern (2) (the generator on one lantern failed-I had no replacement part)
  4. Cast Iron Cookware (cheap china stuff, but better than nothing)
  5. Plates, knifes and forks.
  6. An old hammer.
  7. Chain Saw cutting oil (two jugs)
  8. 5 gal Gas Can (2)
  9. Propane Cylinder, full (!) (2)
  10. Log chain.
  11. Rope, various lengths. 
  12. 5 gal Kerosene Can ½ full. 
  13. Large inventory of Screws, Nails, Paint, wire, hinges.
  14. Loping sheers (anvil loppers).
  15. A hand Scythe.
  16. mouse traps (a very welcome find)
  17. rat poison
  18. Strike Anywhere Matches in Plastic Bucket
  19. 5 gal buckets, food grade
  20. Plastic Mixing  Bowls
  21. Splitting Maul (2)
  22. Hatchet
  23. Various Books and Magazines (However, No reference materials or dictionary, no owner's manuals)
  24. sharpening stone.
  25. Cleaning supplies: bleach, tri- sodium phosphate, soap and shampoo. 
  26. Electric/Electronic parts:  copper antenna wire, power cords, replacement plugs, outlets conduit
  27. Co-axial cable, connectors.
  28. Sledge hammer, small hand sledge.
  29. Garden Rake
  30. Broom
  31. Leaf Rake
  32. A mattock. 
  33. Carpentry Saw, rusted and dull.
  34. An Anvil, made from a piece of rail road track. 
  35. Coleman Fuel. 
  36. Some 8 foot lengths of ½ inch concrete reinforcement bar.  Some angle iron, and misc. scrap metal.
  37. 30 ceramic-wire-closure type beer bottles and gaskets (more on that later)
  38. Wheel barrow
  39. 50 gallon water container for water transport from a spring nearby. 
  40. Two Plastic barrels for rain water collection. 
  41. Contractor Grade garden hose. 
  42. Gas Camper Stove

Along with the above list, we had left a gas stove/oven, a propane heater, and a hand washing device plus clothes wringer. 

We  did not arrive empty-handed.  I use a four-wheel drive Toyota towing an insulated 5 x 8 foot cargo trailer (modified for camping use).  We travel with firearms, carpentry tools, 700 watt generator, sleeping bags, cold weather gear, wet weather gear, auto mechanic tools, come-along, SW radios, first aid and medicines, propane heater,  computers, weather radio, gloves, insect repellent, chain saw, electronic repair kit, head lamps, spot light (LED), Sure-fire light, mosquito net, extension cords.  

Among the food items 'left behind' in the shipping container were  the following:

  1. Lentils, beans and rice.  Some wheat. 
  2. Small jar honey.
  3. A fifth of Ever-clear.
  4. One 2-liter can Olive Oil, unopened. 
  5. A few miscellaneous items: salt pepper and ramen noodles.
  6. One standard container of salt, iodized. 

The Olive Oil was in good shape, considering that it was 3 years old and had been exposed  to extreme heat and cold.  Based on this experience, I feel Olive Oil in metal cans store well.  I plan to stock up with greater confidence. 

Ramen Noodles did not store well in the open.  They had a petroleum after-taste when cooked, the probably absorbed fuel smells from being stored  in the closed shipping container.  The lentils, etc seemed okay and even sprouted. 

The salt turned into a solid cylinder after three years in the humid environment.  In the future I will be more careful to store in three or four plastic bags with a roll of toilet paper in the outer bag. 

I was very surprised at what I forgot I had.  For the future, I took  a detailed video of the interior to better plan what I need if I return.  

First Priority:  Reclaiming the Area

The  Leaf Rake, Loping sheers (anvil loppers), mattock  and Bow saw were necessary tools.  Our first job was to get  rid of the three-year accumulation of leaves and saplings efficiently.  This work helped  prevent fire damage, rodent infestation, and, most importantly clears the area where one can see  (not to mention find lost items).  It was a psychological boost  getting the area cleaned up.  I plan to always make sure these tools are in good working condition and may duplicate items in case of breakage.  Anywhere we go, they will be high priority.  Why use an Ax to cut brush  into burnable pieces when one can use the anvil loppers?  It's not 'mountain man' but I found it safer and more practical.  Sure, I used the chain saw a lot to cut firewood, and brush but these hand tools worked just as well, especially close to places where one risked damage to structures or plastic drains. 

A Note On Cutting Wood

The long, 30 inch bow saw was used extensively to cut standing dead  firewood up to 4 inches into usable lengths about 50% of the time. Except for camping I never thought much about the routine use of a bow saw  until observing the German Wood-Cutter.  The German woodsmen  are masters of the Bow Saw.  Gas is expensive in Germany, over $8.00 per gallon and they can't run a chain  saw during certain times of the day due to local noise ordinances. Thus, they plan their work and are careful to not waste fuel.  During chain saw work I have observed a German step over marginal wood and say “Not worth the fuel.”  I learned to use the technique of reversing the Bow Saw and holding the wood with two hands-working the wood over the saw instead of the normal method.  You put one end of the saw on the ground and brace it with your foot, steeping on the inside of the saw so your knee projects through the opening between the blade and the handle.   You can cut short pieces of wood without a saw horse using this technique.  It seems to go faster since you are using both arms.  It is more dangerous. 

In Maine there were no noise restrictions (yet) but sound carries for miles around here.  I could hear someone hammering at least two  miles away.  I don't like the idea of calling too much attention to my location even in a non-emergency.  A local official investigated my operation when he heard my generator (I had to pay for a building permit after he showed up).   The skills and tools necessary for a 'low key'  means of cutting wood such as the bow saw could prove essential in the  future, even if one owns  a chain saw. 


I had brought an 18 volt battery powered circular saw, drill and LED light (all using the same battery) as well as a car charger,  three AC chargers, several 18volt batteries and a small (700 watt) generator.  With the generator, I  charged three batteries at once.  The 18 volt circular saw for me  was one of the most convenient off grid carpentry tools  to have.   A regular AC powered saw would have been okay, but it would require running  the generator at the same time.  I kept trying to buy a used A/C saw, but they proved too expensive.  The saw, drill and work light batteries can be charged anytime one is running the generator for other uses, such as at night with the laptop computer or radio.  I have used solar and wind in the past, but this was not practical in our situation, at that time. 

Small Problems Add Up

I ended up buying a good chalk line and new chalk.   My 25 foot tape failed  and needed to be replaced.  The hand saw (rusted after improper storage)  was taken to a re-sharpening service about a two-hour drive away (they took forever to get the job done. What would have happened in a collapsed economy?)  The lumber store told me they get few orders for re-sharpening.  I thought:  'What are people doing, buying a new saw when the old one gets dull?' .  Doing without  measuring tools would have slowed  things down too much.   I plan to duplicate them.  Sharpening saw blades was an unforeseen problem and must be addressed in the future.

After I built a couple of saw horses, The carpentry work went pretty smooth for the most part.  I  re-learned that protective eye wear and clothing are a must in a remote location after a few 'mistakes in judgment'.     I could see how the use of protective equipment, including boots and gloves would be a strict rule in a collapsed economy with a lack of medical care and increased risk of infection, not to mention being unable to work due to injury (or worse). My chain-saw helmet, Kevlar chaps, and ear protection were critical. 

We had barrels to catch the rain, but needed to be covered with screen wire.  It was not pine needles or sticks that caused trouble it was the mice that my wife found floating at infrequent intervals.  I don't think the wood mice will contaminate the water if removed in a timely manner.   We don't drink the rain water.  But,  my wife is from South America where all rodents (and lack of sanitation/medical care)  mean life-threatening disease. 

What I Really Regret Not Having Left at the Maine  Property

Moving 'stuff'  is heavy, slow and expensive.  Fuel was relatively cheap during this trip, but what  if gas were to hit European prices of  $8.00 per gal? What about No Gas Available?  One has to weigh the risk/return of transporting 'stuff' vs. stocking in place and risking theft or vandalism on an unoccupied property.  I now will adopt the strategy of stocking things that, if stolen, the loss would not be monetarily or psychologically devastating.  Things such as a prized firearm, stored data,  expensive short-wave radios are transported.   Cooking and eating tools, gardening tools, even some guns are, to me worth the risk.  I have to keep in mind the extensive snow fall, and the possibility of having to walk  the 2 mile private road to the property.  This list is both what I had mistakenly  removed, as well as items that I wish that I had on the property that I would need to purchase. 

  1. A hunting rifle.  A cheap one would have been better than no rifle or  trying to transport one's best rifle all over the country.
  2. Extra ammo.  I had only a small amount of ammo at the property.  A large store of ammo could have been hidden somewhere. It's way too heavy to transport. 
  3. A large selection of tools, including a complete socket set.  I had one with me, but I would have felt better  with another set at the property.  Harbor Freight stuff would be better than no tools at all and I like high quality tools.  Again think: Walk-In. 
  4. Spare Bow Saw Blades. Buy many!
  5. Two or three circular saw blades.  Metal cutting blades. 
  6. Motor Oil and Air and Oil Filters. 
  7. A grease gun, and supply of grease.
  8. Chain saw engine oil.  A dedicated spare chain saw gas can.
  9. Spare Chain Saw Chains and extra parts.  (Again, I brought these heavy items with me to Montana.)
  10. Chain saw files, at least 10. 
  11. Spare parts for the Gas Lanterns. (as previously mentioned I did not have an extra Coleman gas lantern generator. I did have a few mantles.  I will buy more.  
  12. A kerosene heater.
  13. More propane tanks, at least four.
  14. Malt Extract, yeast and hops. For making beer.  Hops do not store well without refrigeration. 
  15. Wheat, Beans and Rice.  
  16. Canned Meat.  We brought a supply of dried elk meat from Montana. 
  17. Vitamin C (However there are plenty of apples around during the right time of year) A root cellar would be a "Must-Build: just to get a supply of fruit during the winter. 
  18. Garden Seeds.  
  19. Extra Work Clothing
  20. Work boots  (I had at least two older pairs in Montana) 
  21. Extra Kerosene Can, 5 Gal.  Tip: have your non-preparedness-minded friends give you all their empty charcoal lighter fluid plastic bottles. Store extra Kerosene in those. That way you wont have your eggs in one basket if a 5 gallon container gets punctured. BTW, the same principle applies to fifths versus half gallon liquor bottles.


What I Had to Buy or Have Shipped (What I Could Not Do Without)

I had a high quality (Montana Canvas) canvas wall tent (12' x 12') that I really missed not bringing.
A friend of mine did a huge favor boxing the canvas-only and shipping it to me from Montana.  I built an exterior frame out of white cedar and spruce poles. I bought locally a plastic tarp for a rain fly and sewed-in a spare stove gasket.  This allowed the 5 inch stove pipe to project through the existing stove gasket of the canvas (through the roof) , then out of the rain-fly forming two seals.   It rains a lot more here in Maine than it does in Montana.  The rain fly is a must.    The stove was a cast-iron second-hand model bought for about $50.00 (one of the few good deals I found in Maine). I built a raised floor out of chip-board and shipping crates.  This made a big difference in giving us a warm, sheltered  living space.  

Notes on wall tents:  1.  get a good quality tent (  2.  Use a big stove and make sure you use sheet metal screws at each stove pipe section.  Screw the pipe to the stove as well.  The high wind will balloon the tent, and pull your stove pipe apart if you don't do this.   If you stare at the stove pipe during the highest wind it will not come apart.  When you leave, that's when it will come apart.  Put an aluminum shield around the stove. 

Another tool I bought was a 18  volt angle grinder.  The property is three miles from the ocean and even that far one gets excessive rust corrosion.   One day I was reading the fine print on some exterior grade wood screws that recommended rust-resistant screws within 5 miles of the ocean. That recommendation mirrored my experience.  The angle grinder allowed me to wire brush corroded parts, saw blades and other metal tools.  I used a lot of silicone spray and Liquid Wrench and rust resistant primer.  These are stock-up items  I will add to my list, as well as preventative measures. 

I hate to admit this but I failed to bring a good carpenter's hammer.  This was a serious error in judgment.  The hammer I had left on site was probably 50 years old and the handle broke after a few weeks of heavy use.  I bought an East-wing with the stainless handle during a trip to  nearby (sales tax free) New Hampshire.  I feel extra tool handles will be important in Maine, there are no hickory trees even to make one with.  Even Oak is hard to find. 

I also neglected to bring heavy work boots.  I will always carry this essential item in the future.  It was amazing how fast jogging shoes fell apart after a few weeks of  work. I purchased a good pair of steel toe logging boots, but winced at the Maine  sales tax (Montana has no sales tax). However:  I  also can't afford an injury (who can?).     Again, I have no one to blame but myself for this oversight. 

I ordered off eBay two propane lanterns (used-reconditioned) at a good price.  I refilled the small propane cylinders myself. 

Beer Making

On a lighter note, I did bring beer making supplies.  The beer bottles mentioned earlier can be re-used forever.  The replacement gaskets are re-used many times.   One word of advice:  making beer on an open fire requires a bit more planning.  Be sure the wood is dry, or your final product will have too much of a 'smoky' flavor.  If I stayed over the winter, a root cellar would be necessary to keep things from freezing.   Come to think of it, staying over the winter would require insulating the container and installing a wood stove. 


Good friends were our greatest asset.  My best friend living close by  is a master gardener who provided us with plenty of fresh vegetables.  A propane powered refrigerator or freezer would have allowed us to take full advantage of the surplus, not to mention a root cellar, even if we did not start a garden.    The other good friends we have cultivated over the years gave use moral support, great dinners (and dinner conversation), books and plenty of friendly advise.  Our friends in Boston loaded a hard drive full of excellent home building and survival documentaries for our evening's entertainment. 

Getting Cleaned Up

One of the structures I built on the place was a well insulated bath house. It is heated by propane and also has served as an emergency shelter.  I know outside campfires are and inefficient use of wood, but we used the stainless steel basket out of a washing machine supported on rocks.  With a large supply of dry brush, scrap wood or wood not 'worth' burning in the stove we heated 10 gallons of bath water much quicker than using the stove in the tent, especially on hot days.  We used a separate fireplace  for grilling steaks and outdoor cooking.  Again, I cut small branches with the Anvil Loppers.  You don't have small sticks flying up in your eye as  with an ax or hatchet. 


Lessons Learned About Retreating

  1. Don't assume you can carry everything with you.  Pre-position supplies and hope they don't get stolen or otherwise destroyed.  The shipping container is completely vermin proof as long as you keep it closed.  Have plenty of toilet paper, plastic bags (the 2-gallon size for maps and books when using under wet conditions), soap, rice, beans, oil and bleach.
  2. Have at least one or two 'working guns' stored, it may be all you have to use  in an emergency.  I use Mel Tappan's definition of Working Guns.  This is admittedly hard to do in a humid, coastal environment. 
  3. Really think about what you want and need for an extended period.  Be honest with yourself.   It's better to get it now if you think you will need it rather than think you will  improvise or do without. 
  4. When you provision your retreat, don't forget to oil and grease the tools. We live three miles from the Atlantic Ocean.   I spent too much time removing rust from tools.  Before leaving three years ago I could have greased the tools and upon return,  used Coleman Fuel or gasoline to wipe off the grease, then use the rags to start fires later (or in a real pinch re-use the grease soaked rags later to wipe down the tools again.  For this reason I also (plan B) stored the used motor oil (in plastic oil bottles marked 'used') when I changed the oil in my truck.   A very good friend suggested cosmoline, which is apparently still available.  [JWR Adds: Since used motor oil is carcinogenic, if you must resort to using it, be sure to wear plastic or rubber gloves when apply or removing it!]
  5.  You still need friends. I can't emphasize this enough.  
  6. I really, really need to purchase the necessary tools to sharpen drill bits and hand saws.  In a real emergency there is no way one could have the time or money to 'outsource'.  In fact, getting it done via  a sharpening service in New England 2010 was time consuming and expensive.  I believe a saw sharpening shop would be very valuable in a collapsed economy, as well as bulk saw blades for bow saws,  hack saws, etc. 
  7. There are many things one can make out of wood, but now is the time to experiment.  If you have an electric drill, a  chain saw  and a few boxes of wood  screws it's amazing what one can put together out of pieces of scrap wood, saplings  and standing dead lumber.  This  includes drying racks, chairs, benches, temporary scaffolding  etc.  If you can't afford exterior screws, get the interior ones, they seem to  last quite a long time.  If you can't recover the screws from the wood burn it in the fire and sift out the screws later (This approached is based on a  story my grandfather told about people in the mid-west 100 years ago,  burning down houses when they moved to recover the (more valuable) blacksmith nails) I tried this with scrap, broken  furniture that   I did not want to disassemble.  It worked. The fire often does not seem to affect the screws, unless already bent or abused.   
  8. Everyone who reads survival blog  probably realizes you can't store regular automobile gas for any length of time (how long will  fuel stabilizer work anyway?) .  This is a weak link when one depends on a chain saw for firewood and yet also   would like  to prepare for shortages.  I mentioned this problem to one of my German  Friends who happens to be a Forest Ranger and expert woodsman.  He said  they have a dedicated chain saw gas (pre-mixed or regular)  over there that will store for about two years. He said it was an 'alkylate petrol'. Brand names are: Green Cut, Motomix, Aspen, Oecomix, Clean Sprit, CleanLife. I contacted Stihl which sells the Motomix brand.   At this writing, the Stihl representative said it was 'unavailable' in the USA  (then I found out you can buy it in Canada).   My German friend  told me it is about $18.00 per gallon (pre-mixed).  I could see storing  about 20 gallons per year in the most extreme circumstances.  The 20 gallons per year figure assumes no gasoline available on the market for mixing with the stored oil.  I would sure sleep better at night with a supply of this 'special stuff' around.  In addition to this 'special chain saw fuel' they use  cheap Vegetable Oil for routine chain lubricant instead of regular Chain Bar Oil.  
  9. The canvas tent and stove combination worked well  until the weather stayed below freezing day and night.  It then became very hard to keep the tent warm under these conditions.  I made sure a supply of split, dry white cedar was available each morning.    I will need to build a permanent structure if we plan to stay during  winter (or return in the winter).  A possible solution is to insulate part of the shipping container, and modify it for a 'efficiency apartment'.  An advantage to this approach would be that no one would know for sure what was inside the unit, once the doors were closed.   With insulated chimney pipe being $100.00 a section in Maine,  I would camouflage the  pipe with a ventilator fan during our absence). 
  10. I ended up buying a lot more rope.  We  also would go beach combing,  which was a source for free short lengths of usable cordage.  Would there be intense competition for this 'trash' during a period of hyperinflation or material scarcity?   I have made rope out of the white cedar bark here using primitive weaving techniques.  It does work.
  11. Finally, I want to say something about 'camping' stuff'.  Many Germans, by tradition,  discourage talking at the dinner table, with the saying 'Eating is Eating and Talking is Talking'.  This strangely reminded me of  Camping equipment!  Camping is Camping and Survival is Survival. If I visit the place for one or two days I will be camping.   For real in-place retreat survival  I found few recreational camping supplies or equipment practical.  Cast Iron, Canvas, Big Heavy Lights, Heavy Work Clothes, Full Size Shovels, Leather, Thick Goose Down Comforters and 30+ inch bow saws (you get the idea) were the rule for us.  We did however depend on the $1.00 fold up toaster quite often. 

How I Spent My Summer Vacation  on the Maine Property

The shipping container had originally been placed on a foundation of crossed  logs (cribbing).  Over the 5-6 years since placement,  it had sank about 8  inches on one end.  I decided to level the container and place a more permanent treated post and beam foundation under the structure.  I first hired a backhoe (a reliable  neighbor who moved there from New Hampshire)  to dig holes 4 feet deep  on 4-foot centers under the container.  I then rented a 20 ton jack.  After two weeks of careful lifting and shimming, it was ½ inch above level (I had brought a survey instrument).

A Safety Tip:  Don't try to jack up a shipping container all at once,  to avoid a crush-injury (or worse) lift maximum 1-2  inches (3+ cm)   per day and redundantly reinforce everything. Rope the jack so it won't fly toward you if it springs out unexpectedly.  I know this from experience.  This was my second shipping container project.  Poor judgment lifting a 40 foot container in Missouri nearly cost me my leg. 

 When the container was completely lifted to spec,  I then placed 6x6 treated posts in the holes and used rail road ties as cross-pieces.  Again, this was all done off-grid with the available hand tools.  The survey instrument was a restored model from the 1950s (no laser).  The only thing that really bugged me about the project was that if the container fell on my arm or leg (or worse) it would be a long time before someone came to check on me in that remote part of the woods.  Carry a cell phone or radio within reach if you try this alone.     

Summary and Conclusion

There are a lot of problems in the Northeast.   I don't want to have to retreat there long-term. But things changed, bringing me back  due to work opportunity.    My wife and I at least had a place to go to that was paid for, relatively secure and had a small network of friends.  Most importantly,  it was close to where we were working  at the time.  I did not go to the 'retreat' as well prepared as I wanted to be,  and the retreat was not as well equipped as it should have been.  However, I learned a lot about what I needed, and what I 'thought' I could do without .  I can use this information no matter where I go.   For me this experiment was a worthwhile set of lessons that I had to re-learn and reinforced what I already knew.  It gave me the experience to set (or re-set) priorities.   The project  reminded me of how important it is to always be asking oneself the questions:  how can I  be more prepared?  What obvious things am I missing in my preparedness program?  I learn more from these real-world experiences than reading a ton of books  after I make the mistakes then read the books  it is much better understood for some reason).    Anyway,  will one ever have the perfect conditions to travel to one's refuge  in an emergency?  Conditions for finally moving to one's retreat are never ideal.     We  can only try to do our best, improve our condition and learn from our mistakes---while we have the time and resources to make them. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Three Letters Re: Question on Burying a CONEX

I have buried a CONEX for cold storage.  I put a 6" thick reinforced concrete slab on the top to ensure the 3-4' of dirt on top would be supported. Also the shelving inside has a support post every 4' on both sides of the CONEX and this helps support the roof.   It takes a lot of waterproofing to ensure the metal sides and bottom won't rust out.  The only advantage of the CONEX is the excellent doors and locks.  After finishing the project I would agree with you on simply building the room with poured reinforced concrete walls.  I would do this using insulated concrete forms (ICFs).  Using ICFs will allow anyone to be able to build an insulated storage room themselves [without having to hire a crane.] - Gary

Regarding the recent post on burying a container to moderate the temperature.

I have extensive personal experience with using shipping containers for long term storage in adverse environments. I've run year long tests on containers with hourly data logging, so these comments are actual results, not speculation or parroting something I've read. Note that containers tend to amplify external temperature excursions. On a hot sunny day, inside temperatures can reach 150 degrees F and on cloudless nights, the interior temperature can actually drop below outside air temperature due to thermal radiation. Basically, the worst of both worlds.

The roof can support a layer of wet hay bales or 3-4 feet of snow, but that's getting close to the limit. The roof and walls are not designed to handle large forces that push towards the inside of the container. However, the walls do give significant torsional and vertical strength to the container. If you cut openings in the walls exceeding 12" or so, do not stack containers on top of each other or attempt to move the container when it's loaded.

The internal temperature can be kept under control in the following ways, ordered by effectiveness;

1) Keep sun off the container. A wooden / cloth shelter with 1-2' of space around the container for airflow will dramatically cut down the temperatures inside. If that is not an option, hay bales or almost any similar material can be stacked around the outside to insulate and shade. Use trees of other natural sun blocks if available. If no shade is available, try and orient the container so the front or back faces south to minimize surface area exposed to the sun. A cover for the container will also limit thermal radiation at night and thus provide additional warmth.

2) Glue 1" foam insulation into the inside of the container. Cost will run around $500. This will keep interior temperatures reasonable pretty much anywhere in the USA. Expect temperatures under 100F in full sun, on a 90 degree day. Winter temperatures will be within 10 degrees of the average of daytime high and nighttime low,. If you need to prevent freezing, you will need burial to just under the frost line. In very cold locations like the northern midwest or Alaska, you will need some form of heating to keep the temperature above freezing.

3) Having the container full adds thermal mass, thus evening out the temperature excursions. If you have space, adding 55gal drums full of water can also help. However, if the drum leaks, the water will flood the content of the container, as they really are almost 100% water tight.

4) Partial burial (under 25% depth) is OK and helps with moderating temperature.

Combining methods 1, 2 and 4 will allow you to keep the interior temperature around 50-70 degrees year round.

I recommend buying two 20' containers instead of one 40'. This limits the empty weight to under 5,000 lbs. Movable by most medium sized forklifts, cranes and trailers. 40' containers are much harder to move. Two 20' containers can be places side by side, with an air gap between them, thus providing shade to each other for 1/2 of the day. 3 or 4 containers can be arranged to do the same or one of them can be used as the "temperature sensitive" container and be placed such that it is 100% shaded by the other units.

Burial and hay bales trap water, so they may present long term rust issues. Come containers are made out of rust resistant steel. None of them are rust proof in the long term. Expect 15-20 year lifespan in a typical US environment and a non-burial application. In a marine environment, life can be as short as 5 years. With upkeep every 4-5 years (painting, gaskets, hinge lubrication) they will last virtually forever. - Cactus Jim



My husband and I where close to being in the same boat as Karla. Do something, or not anything. We did something, I never thought was possible. We had looked into similar things, but realized they wouldn't work.

We live in southwestern Missouri. It is flat land with no hills. It seemed impossible to have buried food storage. Until we researched. It was a daunting task, but it's doable.

It took us the better part of a year, some favors, and some luck, but we did build a root cellar/tornado shelter. We built it for less than $3,000. I understand that seems like a lot. But we now have a concrete 8 foot x 12 foot structure that is buried four feet underground, and houses our potatoes, apples, melons and provides us with some needed tornado protection.

We laid each concrete block by hand, planned out each detail, laid every air duct and sealed it up. We did hire a back hoe operator, but he was a friend, and didn't over charge. It was the longest year I remember but the reward is, peace of mind.

We've had a great deal of success over the past few years storing food.

One of the best books on the subject in my opinion is Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables. It is available through Amazon, and written by Mike and Nancy Bubel. They have plans, instructions on how too, and some amazing root cellars of the past. The advice is spot on too. If I remember correctly six chapters are dedicated to what foods to store. - Pam

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dear Mr. Rawles,  
My husband and I live in rural North Central Florida.  We have been working on our food storage and supplies for years.  I keep everything in my house but my husband and I are frugal and we keep the air at 80 degrees in the summer and 68 - 70 in the winter.  Not ideal for long preservation.  

We have been discussing a storage shelter for years and I would like your readers and your input on an ideal that I've been kicking around.  I was thinking of purchasing a steel freight CONEX container, coating the outside of it with tar and burying it underground. 

This particular part of Florida is higher about sea level so a rising water table would not be an issue.  I would pack gravel or sand around the unit after setting it on a cement foundation.  I would ideally pack about 2 feet of soil on top and eventually build a shed over the entrance.  These particular containers are stacked on ships so the reinforcement of the structure would allow vehicles to drive over it without impact.  I am interested in is an insulated refrigeration container that no longer runs.  This would give me the insulation to keep the underground temp.  Some of these containers are 8 ft wide by 10 ft high by 40 feet long.  If this idea would work we would have plenty of space for food and emergency items.   What are your thoughts on this particular approach? - Karla D.

JWR Replies: Yes, it can be done, but the short answer to your question is No. This because CONEX containers are designed to take tremendous loads on their corners, but not on their sides or tops. Two feet of wet soil would easily crush the middle of a container! You could add a lot of extra bracing, but with the amount of material required you are better off building a reinforced concrete structure from scratch.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A fellow citizen of the Great White North is building his house, off-grid, out of CONEXes (commonly called sea cans).

Check his web site out, and his YouTube videos (from local television news channels).

My understanding is that he's only 75% done, but what an effort!  (I'll bet that having two metal towers on your house would be good for a couple of LP/OP positions..)

God Bless, - J. in the Great White North

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Mr. Rawles;
I see all the news of the economic chaos (bursting budgets, Ireland debt crisis, unemployment, QEII, etc.), just like you showed in your novel ["Patriots"]. (Was it prophetic?) This has me scared spitless, and I'm overwhelmed with all the preps that I have to make, yesterday. My budget is small, since I don't want to use my credit card for any of this. I really need to get started.

Where can I buy food cheaply, in bulk? The supermarket prices seem too high for rice and beans. There is a Sam's Club [membership] store nearby, and they have much better prices. At least I was able to find buckets and lids at my local bakery, for free, like you mentioned in your blog. They were very nice, even apologizing that the buckets hadn't been washed. I can get more in a couple of weeks. (They are saving them for me.)

The one bucket that I sealed was very hard to re-open. Is there some tool for that?

Can I stock up everything I need, right in town? How about [protecting my stored food from] insects? (Both already hatched bugs and eggs).

Last thing: Do you have a list of shelf lives for different kinds of foods?

Thanks for your wonderful blog. It is amazing. - Margaret I. in Colorado

JWR Replies: Good luck with embarking on your food storage program. You can source nearly everything you need at your local Sam's Club store.

Both square and round plastic buckets are easily opened with a bucket lid wrench. These are usually available in the paint departments of Lowe's and Home Depot stores, as well at some restaurant supply stores. They are also inexpensively sold via mail order. (Usually under $7.) Further, I recommend that any round buckets that you need to access very frequently should be retrofitted with a screw-top Gamma Seal Lid. Here at the ranch, we use these lids on the buckets for our wheat, sugar, rice, corn meal, pasta, and even our dog food.

Details on insect-proofing your food stored in buckets (including a method with dry ice) and some comprehensive food shelf life charts are including in the Rawles Gets Your Ready Course. It is currently offered at a discounted price. Coincidentally, the course is specifically geared toward stocking up at "Big Box" stores like Costco and Sam's Club.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

First , to tell you a little about myself.  I was a prepper in anticipation of Y2K, had the property, cabin, most of the works and of course nothing happened. (my family thought I was nuts) We all went back to our living.  Unfortunately sold our property, because of an illness.   I never thought of continuing on for future problems.  I was awakened by talking with my brother earlier this year when he told me about SurvivalBlog.  So needless to say I am a prepper once again, but this time my whole family is. 

I am preparing my parents home to "shelter in place" because they are too old to move now or when the SHTF.  It’s a concrete block home, my dad built plywood covers (I know, he needs metal) to fit over all windows when a hurricane comes through.  The property is only one acre but in a very rural area.  We have started a garden and trying to talk him into chickens. He grew up on a farm so he has an idea of what to do. 

My father is a builder of furniture, homes, or anything you can think of.  I knew that because of the humidity and area we needed a safe place to put our food storage, we called it an "above ground root cellar". But it is really just a controlled temperature pantry room--a heavily-insulated shed.

So last summer dad drew up the plans and got it built.  We have a barn/shop with a lean-to. It is a a two car garage type building. We built "above ground root cellar" adjoining the barn under the lean-to but didn’t go all the way up to the roof, so that we could double insulate it.  Inside, it measures approximately 6’x10’. It is insulated on all the walls, including the roof.  Two of the walls already existed from the barn which were constructed of 2x4s. We also used the same 2x4 construction for the other 2 walls.  We used R-13 batting on everything because 2 - 2" solid poly foam pieces would not fit between the 2x4s.  For the outside walls - we put 15 pound roofing felt on the 2x4s, then 7/16" oriented strand board (OSB) on top of the felt.   All the inside walls were sheathed in 1/2" plywood. On the ceiling we used 1/4" plywood and with a double layer of R-13 insulation -- that ended up being 6-to-8 inches deep.  The insulation inside the door is 3" and again we used R-13. 

Just a note:  Because my dad is a carpenter, we used what he had on hand, without buying much of anything, so you could substitute here and there.)  My father used to build freezers back in the 1940s (when they had wooden doors) so he knew how to build a freezer door out of wood with rubber around it with insulation.  The walls are lined ceiling to floor with storage shelves. We were originally going to leave the floor dirt but decided to lay down a floor of concrete patio steps. 

We placed a small room size air conditioner near the floor. We leave it running, set to 62 degrees at all times.  Initially, we had problems with dampness, then we placed some charcoal on tin plates, that cured our dampness.  If we have more problems we thought of a dehumidifier; not sure if that would work.  We place everything in there right now but will have to divide it up later as we get more items.  At present we place our potatoes, apples, and onions on the floor in crates. These last us two months or more.  So we are extending our fresh food shelf life, so we can buy in quantity or harvest large quantities from our garden.

You can’t easily see the cellar door in the barn/shop; but we are planning to build shelves in front so it will be hidden.
We are also looking for a solar backup for the cellar because we don’t want to depend upon the air conditioning if and when grid goes down.  There was only about a $20 difference in our light bill, so not bad. 

We only have a six month supply of stored food, but we are buying a little more each month, gradually building our stocks.  I know it’s not enough but it is more than most people have stored. 

If anyone could help us out with some information on a solar system to run small room size air conditioner, we’d appreciate it.  I’ve read some books on it, but I'm confused on what we need, besides panels.

JWR Adds: Air conditioners draw a lot of current and are hence some of the biggest power hogs of any alternative energy system. The key specification for a refrigerator, air conditioner or other device that includes a compressor pump is is the locked rotor amps (LRA) rating. The LRA rating is the peak load (expressed in Amps) that the air conditioning unit will draw from your inverter, right when the compressor starts up. Even a small air conditioner can have a high LRA. A typical air conditioner might draw only 30 or 40 amps in the middle of a cycle. But on start-up it may have a LRA of 70 amps. Multiplying this by 117 volts, this means that the inverter must be able to supply a peak load of 8,190 watts. Yikes!

Unless you have a strong background in math and electronics, the process of "sizing" and specifying the components of an alternative power system is best left to professionals. Your key part of the sizing process is adding up all of the loads. Each electrical or electronic device should have a rating expressed in either Watts or Amps. You will provide an aggregate Amp figure, a brief description of your daily routine (how many hours per day each device is used, and seasonal differences) and an estimate on the number of direct sunlight hours available for your solar array's location. A system designer can then determine your system requirements, namely: how many PV panels, what size and type of inverter, and how large a battery bank is needed. In the hopes that you will buy system components from them, the folks at Ready Made Resources offer free consulting on alternative energy system design. You can reach them at: 1(800) 627-3809.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I am sure many of you have planned for the possibility of a wide scale disaster, but you cannot carry all of your equipment when you get out of dodge. So caching is the best option however your cache cannot just go anywhere. Obviously certain locations experience heavier traffic, so in time of natural disaster, large scale riots, or terrorist attacks, it is good to choose locations away from this traffic. These caches also need to be on your bug out route, so if you have not prepared an escape route, do not plan your cache locations yet. These locations should be marked with things that most people would overlook. For example you can mark your cache site with a cross, giving it a resemblance to a grave, or a memorial. Depending on the location most people might overlook this. But in certain areas this may draw attention to the site. So work with what is in the area and use your best judgment.

Next is the actual location of the cache. When choosing it, as mentioned above, remember to choose a site on your bug out route or a place you will visit long after you bug out. As a hunter I have come in contacts with hundreds of private and state forests where the area is perfect. One example is Rock Rimmon State Park, only 400 acres; the park is heavily wooded and located near a pond. On top of this consider the land elevation; is there a hill that you could observe from? The site you cache needs to be secure without showing how secure it is. Other areas that can work are the back wooded edges of cemeteries, while this is consecrated land I believe God will understand the situation at hand. Your first cache should be within a five to ten day hike of your home or current location. This should equal out to somewhere between fifty to a hundred miles. What seems like a long distance, but in the events previously mentioned all you want is distance. While I recommend this it is also possible to place your first cache in your backyard, however if you keep a well stocked G.O.O.D. Kit this shouldn’t be necessary.

Preparation of the storage container
First and foremost your container needs to be large enough to carry all of the supplies you have selected for the cache, a .50 caliber ammo can might be enough to fill your needs, but a twenty-five gallon tote may be more your  size. Either way you need to properly prepare the canister. With the ammo can you can simply use a tar sealant, or similar waterproof sealant along the outside because it is made of metal, but the tote is much more challenging. First everything you put inside the tote should be in either ammo cans sealed against water, or double bagged in heavy duty black trash bags. Then you should fill the empty space in the tote with some kind of insulation, whether you just fill it up with paper scraps or pink panther, it is up to you. Then take the tote seal the edges with duct tape or spray foam. Finally end by double bagging the tote and insulating the inside bag. The insulation should prevent freezing of the supplies inside the newly made cache container.


Supplies need for preparation:
1 Tote (25 gallons or up)
2 Fifty Gallon trash bags
10-20 Five to Ten gallon trash bags
1 small insulation roll
1 small spray foam tube, with applicator
1 container tar or water sealant
# any number of fifty caliber ammo cans (as you deem necessary)

Supplies for your Cache
The supplies you place in your caches are very important, especially your first cache, they can easily determine if you live or die. Now you can have different caches that specialize in certain supplies so you can visit reload and rebury, but I suggest that you stay away from that because chances are the one item you will need the most just won’t be there. Everyone you talk to will have a different list for you so I settled down to give you just a couple examples. The following includes comments from one of my writing collaborators.







Combo .22/410 (Allows greater variance then a straight .22)



.22 rounds

(1) I think since this is a buried cached, I would tend to up the ammo a few rounds. .22 is not large, and a few more boxes may fit in when it is all said and done.


.410 Shells #4 Shot

(1)Here is your 'bulk' in ammo, but I think you have the .410 ammo dialed in there. Maybe a few more slugs would fit later on. Definitely would work for emergency defense against most Earth creatures. The slugs would be really nice to have a few more of.


.410 Shells Slug



.410 Shells 000 Buckshot



Leatherman type tool (Gerber Multi-Tool)



Bowie Type Knife (K-Bar)



Sharpening Stone



Flexible Saw

(1)Try a 'Sven' saw as they pack small and do not easily break, but they will still allow you to cut large trees. Wire saws simply break after 5 minutes of use.


Bottle multi-purpose (3 in 1) oil



Flashlight, AA (Mini-MagLite)



Batteries, AA

(1) Ok I think I would do the same with the batteries. Add a few more to the cache.


Bulbs, Flashlight, Mini-MagLite

(1)I noticed you have two extra bulbs and I know the bulbs are small, but you don't have enough batteries to really be worried about burnt out bulbs.


Candles (plumber type)



Small Radio (AA)

(2)On the subject of radios. I have a very small one that uses little headphones that plug into the ears. I wear a single earphone and have an ear open to hear the environment. A radio speaker can be heard quite a ways off in a quiet woods. If you need the magnet, you can snip off one of the ear plugs and still have one that works.


Spare Flints for Zippo type lighter



Bottle Lighter Fluid



10' Duct tape (wrapped around water bottle)



25' Para Cord

(1) I might up the length of the para cord as well. I know cause I just ran out yesterday, and had to get more. Definitely had what I thought was enough, but its incredible what you can do with that stuff. Make sure you get the type with 7 to 10 individual fibers in the center of the core.





Local Area Map (Waterproofed)

(1)You might want to throw in a few common highway maps or State or USA map.


Generic Dark Colored Nylon Shoulder Bag (waterproofed)


2Large, lawn type Trash Bags (Black or green)
1Sheet of plastic 10' x 10'
1Emergency Blanket
1Bar Soap
1Bottle Bug Repellent
1Bottle Foot Powder
1Roll Toilet Paper






Pair boots/Spare Socks

(1) Triple up on the socks. No feet, no move. I suggest natural wool actually, even in the summer. Good place to throw in some moleskin or mole foam too. Small and fits anywhere. Spenco second skin is small too and great to have for emergency hot spots on your feet.


Set of clothes (Dark colored [not camo])



Hat (Bush type)



Mess Kit



Water Bottles (1 Quart)



Metal Cup (Sierra)



Spoon (Large)

(1)Trust me on this one, throw in several extra disposable spoons.


Roll Aluminum Foil



Bottle Water Purification Tablets



Rice small bag (in mess kit)



Dried Split Peas small bag (in mess kit)



Packages Raman noodles



Salt (in mess kit)



Sugar (in mess kit)



Bottle Multi-Vitamins



Tobacco Can with Tobacco

(1) Definitely think before you light up. I can smell tobacco a long way in the wilderness. I agree in packing smokes though. We don't need a nicotine fit now do we? I think stress should be combated with familiar practices.


Spare pack Rolling Papers






Bag of Hard Candy

  • Ahh, here is the sugar for that long walk. Its amazing how much longer you can travel while eating a peppermint or a butterscotch.






First Aid Kit



Fishing Kit



Snare Kit



Fire Starting Kit



Sewing Kit


First Aid Kit


Military Trauma Bandage



Triangular Bandage



Roll Gauze 1 1/2"



Band Aids



Tube Neosporin



Bottle Iodine






Razor Blade's



Female Hygiene Pad (Great Trauma dressing)



Roll Medical Tape



4x4 Gauze Pads






Bottle Aspirin



Ace wrap 3"



Safety Pins


(1) Few suggestions, throw in some butterfly bandages or cat gut. Also see above about moleskin or second skin. One last suggestion would be some antibacterial soap like Phisoderm or similar and a wash cloth or two. Then you could ditch the bar of soap from above.
(2)In your med kit, pack a tube of Ora-gel. Not just for a toothache. The stuff works on any wound or blister. If you ever have a gash that needs stitches, the Ora-gel can be used to numb the area while you sew yourself up.

Fire Starting Kit (Film Canister)


Small Lighter (Bic)

(1)Once again, I would get several of these for the Cache. It will set you back a big $3.00, but its nice to have several lighters in your equipment.


Set of Matches (waterproofed) and Striker



Small Piece of Sandpaper

(1) Waterproof the sandpaper as well or use wet/dry paper Automotive sanding paper)


Small Magnifying Glass



Cotton balls



Piece of Steel Wool




(1) How about a few trioxane bars? Or Hexamine tablets? Wet rotten wood that you will find is not easy to get going with cotton, or a candle. The lighter fluid or Everclear would help, but you really need a prolonged heat source.


Snare Kit


Small cable Snares with lock tabs



Large cable Snares with lock tabs



Spare Lock Tabs



Length Piano Wire


(1)I like this idea. Snares make a lot of sense. Piano wire can be bent right? Or is it like spring steel? If it can be bent, I could find a lot of uses for it.
(1)Maybe you could drop in a length of surgical tubing, for both a solar still drinking straw and an emergency slingshot.


Fishing Kit (Film Canister)


Hooks varying Sizes



100' fishing line 15lb



Small Bobbers



Plastic Worms (no time to dig for them)



Sewing Kit (Film Canister)


Needles varying sizes (Leather Needle)



Roll heavy thread



Roll light thread (Sutures)

(1)I see you have though this through. ;) Cat gut or Ethilon comes with the Curved needle attached and in small foil packets as well as being sterile.


Razor blades






Piece of Silk (to magnetize needles)


The List shown above is a perfect example of a large and extensive cache that will supply you for a small time until you can get longer lasting supplies. Now obviously when it comes to ammo if you are packing a .45 and a larger caliber rifle or shotgun (.308, 12 gauge, .30-06) then pack that ammo and other specific needs you may have, adjust and overcome. Good luck on the making of your caches.

JWR Adds: I do not recommend using plastic tote bins for cache containers. They are very difficult to seal and they are not rodent proof. If you want something that holds nearly the same volume, then buy 20mm ammo cans. These have a time-proven seal design. Paint the exterior of the can with either two coats of Rust-Oleum or one coat of asphalt emulsion. But first attach a sacrificial zinc anode, to minimize corrosion. (Be sure to leave the zinc unpainted)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Greetings Jim,
I am finally closing on my house next week and have been putting together a plan (on paper) for turning the back half of my basement into a secret room accessible via a hidden staircase from one of the main-floor bedrooms. The basement is currently accessible only via a door in the floor of a utility room on the back side of the house and I plan to build a closet over the door to conceal it. However, making another hole in the floor to add a staircase leading to the basement will require far more skill than I am capable of if the structural integrity of the floor beams around the secret entrance is to remain intact.

At the same time, I'm concerned about any would-be construction workers knowing about the very project I'm seeking their help on--how many home-construction workers have enough knowledge about certain homes and homeowners that they could be an OPSEC risk to the homeowner?

So what's a homeowner to do in an instance like this? My fiancee is disabled and uses a wheelchair outside the house, so I could frame the issue from that perspective, but that still doesn't address possible OPSEC problems.

It's an old house--built in the 1890s--and I'm guessing that there would have to be some kind of steel support structure around an added stairwell leading into the basement. But I'm neither an architect nor even much of a handyman at this point, so I certainly wouldn't want to try something like this on my own. Any advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated. God Bless, - S.C.

JWR Replies: I recommend that you simply hire a carpentry contractor who lives at least 40 miles away to do the job. At least that avoids any local talk. Then hire a different contractor to construct the closet and/the basement partition.

Tell the first carpenter that you want a "framed laundry chute hole with a 24-inch square opening", since your wife-to-be is disabled and cannot walk up and down stairs. You should be able to handle much of the rest of the work yourself. That should include the ladder that leads down from the "laundry chute" aperture, the partition in the basement, and a secret door between the two halves of the basement.

Build the ladder and the concealed shelf unit/door last, after the carpenters have finished all of their work and won't be back in the house

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I’ve enjoyed the site and articles for some time now, but I never thought I would contribute an article! I have been prepping for a few years, and my husband and I have secured enough food, guns, ammo and other necessities to care for ourselves and a few relatives for at least 12-18 months. We live in the country, have spring-fed ponds, gardens and lots of game in our immediate area.  Still, we can never get cozy with the idea that we are fully prepared.  Prepping, I am finding, is a lifestyle and life skill that continues as long as we are able to keep it going.

Recently, my activities in the area of organization have prompted me to share some ideas  on this subject.  Fall in the northern United States requires a level of prepping that most people here understand and undertake, without reference to TEOTWAWKI. Heating fuel and wood must be procured and stored, gardens “put to bed”, winter clothes and bedding aired and installed in closets, extra food and water stored for snow storms.  We put away the garden tools and bring out the snow removal equipment, stash emergency supplies in the car in case of being snowbound, check winter boots and replace, if needed.  Life is just a little more difficult at -10°, with snow on the ground measured in feet.  Those who fail to prepare suffer this more than necessary.  In fact, my first experience with prepping came from notion of storing enough staples so that I did not have to lug lots of grocery bags from the garage, uphill to the house during the winter.  (Our previous homes had attached garages, but we no longer have that “luxury”.)

The term “nesting instinct” is sometimes used to describe the peculiar drive, sometimes more prevalent with women, to secure one’s home for the winter months.  I’ve talked to many people who recognize this drive to prepare and organize for the winter.  This year I’ve been feeling an even stronger drive to organize and prepare than in the past.  Perhaps it’s from a sense which many of us have, that more than just winter is coming.

I’ve always been somewhat of an organizer, (I hate messiness and clutter) but just recently started to really enumerate the values of organization when it comes to prepping.  I hope this article will show how good organization of your home/retreat/supplies can:

  • Save money
  • Improve safety/security
  • Improve efficiency

So part of my fall cleaning to-do list included cleaning out parts of the house that we all have that tend to get cluttered: junk drawers, garage and basement, closets, etc.  This led me to looking at organization as an important part of prepping.  Let me give you an example:  While going through these cluttered areas I started collecting things into groups.  I found spools of thread in my craft closet, my bathroom drawer, the junk drawer, the laundry room, etc.  When all collected, I found I had over 50 spools of thread!  I had recently bought some because they were on the "100 Most Sought-After Items after TEOTWAWKI". Now, all the thread, needles, safety pins, sewing supplies are gathered in one box.  Not only do I know what I have, I know whether I need more, or how much I might barter off, if needed.  Not only that, anyone in the house can quickly find these items when necessary.

The same method was applied to many other needed supplies such as batteries, matches, first aid supplies, candles, winter hats and gloves, paper goods, office supplies, electrical cords and gadgets, etc.  Many of us have taken time to organize our food storage and ammo, but what about the rest of our “stuff”?  It’s really amazing how much there is in the typical American home.  If you begin to organize what you have on hand, you may find that many items that will be important for survival and for barter are already in your home. I found that I could quit buying certain items because I had a good supply (now organized in one place) on hand.  I also was able to see what I should buy, thus using my resources more efficiently.  You also will save money in the long run because items will be stored properly, thus extending their shelf life and protecting them from damage.

Safety and security is not something to consider only in relation to an uncertain future, it’s an important element for each family every day.  Having your home organized in a way that allows items to be found quickly, when needed, can go a long way toward personal and home safety.  Making sure that dangerous items (medicines, matches, ammo, cleaning products, etc) are stored where young children can not access them is also important.

For me, organization helps me feel “in control” of my home and family life.  Believe me, my home is not pristine – I wouldn’t have this massive fall cleaning project going on if it was!  But organizing helps me get rid of clutter (you wouldn’t believe how many things I found that I can sell on ebay! – more money for needed items!), make room for further storage goods, and protect my investment in goods that will help us in the future.  My home just runs more efficiently when we can find the things we need, and replace just what we need.

Organizing your home and your preps does not need to cost a lot.  I used some plastic totes I had on hand, but also cardboard boxes, labeled with a magic marker.  Inexpensive shelving can be used as well.  I generally buy shelving or storage containers if they are on sale.  At a recent auction I bought big Rubbermaid totes for $1.00 each!  Be creative – we have cases of freeze dried food in #10 cans.  The cases make good supports for simple board shelves.  This is how I store toilet paper and paper towels off the basement floor!  The cases are set on top of plastic totes filled with extra clothing, thus, only plastic rests on the floor and everything is protected from possible dampness.

I hope that these few ideas will encourage you to begin organizing your “nest” to make life easier now, and in whatever future the Lord has in store for us!  God Bless!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

James Wesley:
In the article "Keeping Secrets in Surburbia--Constructing Our Hidden Basement Room, the author describes the difficulty they had removing hard-packed dirt with the consistency of dried concrete, and using an air chisel to break it up for removal and excavation. I've faced a similar problem with an underground excavation of a basement and egress tunnel in the granite and sandstone beneath the foundation of my own retreat home in the Western US.

My answer came in the form of a good deal on a slightly used Bosch #11304 "Brute" breaker hammer electric jackhammer, suitable for use either with 115-volt/15 Amp household current or a 1,500 kilowatt electric generator. Though I picked mine up used for a bit under $1,000 [less than an ounce of gold, and well worth it!] they're available from such internet retailers as ToolBarn for $1,389 plus shipping or can often be found as rental equipment at industrial tool rental outlets for around $50-to-$75 a day.

The advantage for me in owning one rather than renting is that this allows me to minimize my use of my own tool to an hour or less a day, then moving on to other projects so as to minimize exposure to noise, jackhammer vibration and dust. I also found it much easier to remove the broken stone from my workface in two-gallon metal pails rather than the more common 5 or 6-gallon plastic pails around the place; these were both easier to maneuver in the close confines and, of course, lighter in weight. - George S.


I loved the fact that everyone pitched in on this [excavation project]. My wife puts up with my tin foil expenditures, and would help if I asked but it is reluctant help at best. My basement is a full basement and wide open and unfinished, on purpose. While we do tons of Martial Arts and I store foodstuffs downstairs, I don’t really want it to be a hang out place. I wish I could fashion a “cave” in the fashion that Andrea did, the layout of the land just wouldn’t allow it. I did however use some carpentry 101, and created a false room in the basement where I keep all of my tactical gear (four load bearing vests, shotgun bandoleers, et cetera), ammo, etc. Basically there is always space under the steps and since I have 10 ft ceilings in the basement that can add up. Basically I enclosed the walls of the steps with drywall, and cut out a non-load bearing stud and dropped in a doorway. Under the highest part of the steps I built shelves on the inside to hold ammo cans. On the outside of the doorway I built a closet space to hang all of my hunting camouflage coveralls, cold weather gear etc. On the inside of the closet it looks like an unfinished wall with plywood on the wall but there is a hidden pull string that opens a section of the plywood allowing access. Inside I have a string of Christmas LED lights to see. This cleared up a lot of space in the basement shelves for more food and provides more OPSEC for those things that people shouldn’t “run” across.

Thanks for all you do Mr. Rawles. Your words and blog site influence a lot of sheep to become sheepdogs and I for one appreciate it. I have listened to the unabridged “How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It" audio book three times now and it is worth every penny. I have it in my personal library, but I have more time to listen than to read. Thanks again. - A.J.K.

Hi Jim,
As a general contractor, one important item which was not discussed in the construction of the hidden basement is the subject of drainage.

I hope the author will have no problems with this, but given the clues regarding snow and clay I personally would be concerned. Perhaps drainage is already taken care of in some fashion with the already existing basement...I don't know details...but anyone considering such construction needs to give serious thought to how they will handle moisture. Groundwater has a remarkable knack for finding its way in. I would include a perimeter drain and a sump pump (assuming there is no way to [gravity] drain to daylight (i.e. a hillside slope)) in my plans if considering such a project.

Many thanks for the blog. - Tom in Southern California

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A year ago our preparations had grown to a point where it was becoming noticeable to the guests who visited our home. Our ability to keep our tin foil hat craziness under raps was becoming increasingly difficult. Aside from the fact that we have teenage boys and a daughter and all of their friends regularly tromping through our house, for security reasons alone, all of our assets were virtually displayed in our basement and needed to be hidden. Yes, our guns are in safes, but the last thing we need is some parent freaking about ammo cans, reloading equipment or even food storage. It is none of their business and keeping our prepping secrets was nearly impossible and privacy was becoming a high priority.

So the discussion became focused on hiding all of our stuff. Our house is of a modest size for a family of five. There is only so many places you can put things. The one thing we do have though is a sort of mish mashed house. The original house was built in 1949. It has a partial basement and a crawl space under one room. Then an addition was added during the 1970s. The addition has a large crawl space. So, we have a basement and two crawl spaces. We thought about simply putting our storage in the larger, newer crawl space, but rotating food would be extremely difficult and the door to the crawl space is obvious and ultimately we want our stuff hidden.

However, the other crawl space had an entrance from under the clothes dryer. Nobody would ever know or suspect that another crawl space was there. We are unsure why this space was never dug out during the original construction and made part of the basement. The only problem with this space was access - under the dryer is a fine entrance to a hiding place we never need access too, but that was not what we were looking for.

So, I basically resolved myself to organizing our existing small spaces and freaking out when the kids had friends over. My husband, Dan, would just have to deal with reloading in a tiny area and our guests would just magically not notice all the tactical gear, and TEOTWAWKI supplies, etc.

Then one day last September my husband said “Lets just dig out the older crawl space and make a hidden room of it.”

“Yeah, whatever” I thought.

But not long after that I came home to a 1’ x 3’ hole in the cinder block which was at chest level, right through the basement wall and just above the poured concrete foundation wall. I peaked in the dark hole with a flashlight to find a creepy, cobwebby, cold crawl space. The earth was about chest high and there was maybe 3 feet of space between the dirt and the ceiling.

Dan and I have taken on many projects together. We enjoy working side by side and since I am young and able I never like to see him do a project alone. But this time I looked at him and said “I want nothing to do with this!”

Over the next month he peeked daily into the hole, trying to figure out the best way of tackling this. He estimated there to be about 42 cubic yards of packed dirt. But, he figured with our boys’ help, they could fill up the other crawl space and that would just about empty the room.

He found a concrete guy on Craigslist to open up a small doorway. Dan first had to make his hole a little bigger, climb in and dig out the area behind the foundation wall where the door would be cut. The concrete guy needed space on both sides of the wall to get his cutter in so he could cut all the way to the ground level.

This gave my husband a taste of what the project would be like. The dirt was packed. Packed hard like concrete. You couldn’t just shovel it into a bucket. No, no. The top foot and a half was like hardened cement and below that was densely packed clay. He had to use his air chisel to break apart the top 18” of dirt. It was unbelievably difficult to dig out - especially while crawling and lying on his stomach - just trying to make space behind where the door would be. But he managed to get it done and the concrete guy was happy to work efficiently for cash. No questions asked.

Once the doorway was cleared of the neatly cut concrete wall, the real digging could begin. Dan and our boys set up an assembly line with Christmas lights for light and sleds to pull the buckets to dump in the far reaches of the large crawl space. My boys, crawling, could empty about 20 buckets in 3 hours working together. They could barely walk afterward from being so contorted in such a small space maneuvering extremely heavy buckets. 20 buckets doesn’t make a dent in the amount of earth needed to be moved. Not a dent! And my husband could only dig for 2 to 3 hours before being completely exhausted. They did this maybe four times before we had to rethink the whole project. Besides, it became clear that there was no way that e other crawl space could hold even a quarter of the dirt from the space he was digging. Not a chance. We didn’t consider how packed dirt takes up so much more area when dug and loosened.

So, a couple of months passed and the potential hidden room sat neglected. The kids were all very busy with school and our business was still in its’ busy season, so the secret room went on the back burner.

But, then the New Year came. Our business comes to a screeching halt in January for about three months. So it was decided that the room must be completed.

Because we were wanting to keep this whole thing obscure - we had a major dilemma now with what to do with 42 cubic yards of packed earth. We are friendly and chatty with everyone on our block, so there was absolutely no way we could have an ever growing pile of dirt in our yard without every neighbor wanting to know and see what we were doing. Not to mention that we were not getting the proper permission (permits) from our local government, so we had to keep this covert. Thankfully, the block tends to somewhat hibernate during the winter. The neighbors aren’t out in their yards as much, so we thought a small pile might go unnoticed. But, we would need to get rid of it frequently and discreetly.

Dan dug, filled buckets and carried them out and made a small pile of maybe 2 cubic yards of dirt. We put an ad on Craigslist for free dirt. Within a few days a couple people had come by and shoveled a few buckets worth full of dirt - but not even enough was taken to remove our small pile. At this rate we would never get rid of it. It took people too long to shovel it up into their truck beds and anyone needing a large amount would never come and remove our small piles one at a time. This process would take forever.

But then Dan had the genius idea of putting an ad on Craigslist saying “Free dirt, you bring your trailer, we’ll fill it, you haul it away.” Within a couple of days we received a call from a lady not too far away who needed fill dirt to raise up an area around her garage because her home was in a flood plain. She would take as much as she could get. So we got started - she brought a small trailer over, never asked us what we were doing and we told her we would call her when it was full.

I decided I couldn’t watch my husband dig alone, so during the days while our children were in school we dedicated two hours to digging, each and every day. At first we could only handle doing 40 buckets in about two hours time. The work area was so small at this point we would have to take turns axing the big chunks off the hard top and then I would fill the buckets and he would haul them through the basement, up the stairs, out of the garage where he would dump them into the trailer. Yes, the dust and dirt was excessive which helped motivate us to get the job done. On snowy days, there would be a mud trail through the basement to the trailer. Thankfully our basement has hard floors and not carpet. What a mess.

At first we were completely exhausted after 40 buckets, sweating profusely and totally worn out. But within a couple of weeks we were marveling at how our stamina had increased. At the start I was having trouble heaving the buckets out of the doorway for Dan to take, and his legs were exhausted from going up the stairs with a minimum of 50 lbs in each bucket, a bucket in each hand. But, our strength was growing by leaps and bounds and by dedicating two hours a day we were making incredible progress. It wasn’t long and we could do 60 buckets in two hours and that filled the small trailer. The trailer lady was great at first about coming daily and getting the trailer emptied and back the same day. But, soon we could do 60 buckets in 1 hour 15 minutes and we wanted to keep going. Her daily pickup slowly became every other day, then every 3rd day. This was not moving fast enough for us. We were starting to see a room emerge which made us want to dig all the more.

We also were getting really good at digging. We joked about how we should be miners since we had been digging in near darkness by the light of two corded mechanics trouble lights in what became known as “The Cave“. Soon I could wield the big mattock and fill buckets faster than any girl and Dan was virtually running up the stairs with buckets in each hand. We were having fun.

One day we decided after filling the trailer to go ahead and start making a pile behind a hedge in the rocks next to the driveway. That day we moved 120 buckets. We spent every day after that doing as much as we could - both filling her trailer and adding to the pile. When the pile was around 8 cubic yards big, we decided we had to get rid of it immediately. We found a guy offering Bobcat services on Craigslist for removal of dirt, concrete, rock and such. Due to the economy and his willingness to work, he gave us a very fair deal on the removal of the dirt. And because he could dump it on the Trailer Lady’s land he didn’t have to pay for disposal of the dirt. We were all happy.

We had our Bobcat guy come two more times all the while continuing to fill the trailer again and again. The last day of digging we squared the 2’ thick earthen ledges and leveled the floor. That day we moved more than 200 buckets.

Due to the fact the two most outer walls did not go down to the floor level, we had to leave an earthen ledge. In researching, we found a 2’ thick earth ledge could keep the walls from shifting, especially since the earth was so hard. So, now we had a level dirt floor, squared ledges and it looked like a room.

The digging was complete! Now it was time for real lighting so we put in 10 recessed can lights between the floor joists above our heads and electrical outlets on the walls. Ahhh, let there be light!

Okay, now we had to decide how to get concrete into this room. We have a lean to structure designed to house our trash cans. This sits on the exterior wall of The Cave. We opened up the trash house, pulled out the cans and cut a 2’ x 2’ hole in the outer wall at ground level. Because we have a raised ranch home, he was able to do this. Dan installed a fire-rated panel access door for commercial buildings he found on Craigslist for $20. The hole, not only was a secondary egress, but also a way to bring in the concrete.

The hole was just big enough to get the concrete chute through it. We called back the same concrete guy who cut the door through the foundation wall. We set up the concrete delivery, and he and his son poured and leveled 6” of concrete on the floor and up and over the earthen ledges. The room - for our purposes - was done.

After the concrete dried we spent several days moving all of our preparations into our new 12’ x 24’ room. One half of the room is dedicated to food storage, canning supplies, distilling equipment, barterable items, etc. The other half is for firearms and tactical equipment, including a reloading area, large safe and ammo storage. The temperature remains almost constant because there is no heat coming in and it is mostly underground. It is cool, dry and perfect for storage.

The room is concealed in the following ways. The opening under the clothes dryer has been sealed off. The exterior hatch in the trash house cannot be opened from the outside and is concealed behind a door and trash cans. The interior opening (the main door going into The Cave) has a heavy 5’ x 3’ steel door with a commercial non electric push code lock. Right now we have a large wardrobe/armoire in front of it which has been discretely bolted into place to conceal The Cave entrance. The armoire houses various jackets and coats which hides the false back which can be slid over easily to reveal the steel door entrance. Just picture The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe, from The Chronicles of Narnia.

The room is perfectly hidden. Nobody would suspect it is even there. Our assets and preparations are finally out of sight. We go “shopping” in our Cave about once a week to bring up food that needs to rotate and Dan spends quite a bit of time in there reloading ammunition. It is spacious and organized. We have built shelves and it is the perfect way to keep this stuff secret while living in the crowded suburbs. Ironically, our neighbors never inquired about the dirt pile or the concrete truck and I imagine they have long forgotten.

We wanted this project to be as minimal in cost as possible. It was a large undertaking for us in terms of labor, but to add almost 300 square feet, the $2,000 we spent (for concrete work and lighting, etc.) was really quite worth it. We are not engineers, but due to common sense and research [and concrete], we knew what we needed to do to keep our house from falling in on us. We were confident in our abilities and judgment to not need to involve the local building authorities to give us permission to do this. But, this is a decision that needs to be taken seriously because one can destroy the foundation of their home if they dig improperly, not to mention get themselves in a lot of trouble, both with the law and financially.

But, you never know, you might have lurking in your suburban home quite a few extra square feet to hide the things you want out of sight. Think creatively, and don’t be scared of hard work. It gets easier every day. And ladies, don’t make your husbands do all the physical work. We can do far more than just the food-related preps. Build the chicken coop with him, learn to shoot, dig out a cellar with him. It will build your marriage and you’ll get stuff done twice as fast.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hi SurvivalBloggers,
I just watched this video: Bug Out Vehicle - Re-Inventing the Car Trunk (more of a slide show) that was mentioned in SurvivalBlog. I see a couple of obvious problems.

Firstly; If he is going through all of this trouble to provide space for emergency/survival gear in case of emergency, why is he leaving the small donut spare tire in there? They are not rated for high speed, heavy loads, or extended distances. Go pick up a spare rim and tire! Yes, a full size spare weighs more, and takes up a bit more room... but in my experience, it is worth it! And you can pack items into the 'void' of the rim, so you won't be losing all that space.

Secondly; That looks glaringly obvious to anyone who opens the trunk! Why cut the carpet material? Why put a handle and hinges on it? Why not build up the floor, build a removable panel (or several for easier access to side areas), but leave the carpet in one piece. Fasten it down with velcro. If you need access to items stored in the floor (like the spare tire), you're going to have to empty out the trunk anyway. If you leave the carpet in one piece, you significantly improve your OPSEC!

And a side-note for the spare tire issue; Where I live, we have two sets of tires. One set of "all-seasons" for spring/summer/fall, one set of [dedicated studded] snow tires for winter driving. Both sets are on their own rims. Whatever set isn't on the car, one of those tires is in the car as the spare. An all-season spare tire is much better in the winter than an essentially bald 'donut' spare tire! Cheers, - D.T.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dear Jim:

Amid decisions about planning to weather the storm after TSHTF I see people dangerously narrowing their strategy options. They are putting all their eggs in one basket when conditions could require them to abandon those plans. The typical options are flight, fortress, and community and any of the three could wind up being best... or worst! Let me share a few thoughts on the flight option.

Flight usually involves bug-out bags, bug-out vehicles, defensive armaments, haste, maybe stealth, with hopefully one or more pre-stocked destinations. But what if a hazard has affected a huge region, making your pre-stocked bug-out location unusable? What if the entire hemisphere becomes too dangerous?

I bought land in Ecuador that I could flee to if needed. At 25 acres for $5,500 it was feasible for someone of very modest income. Besides being some distance from home it has good survival potential: plenty of rainfall, perfect temperature range at 6,500 ft. elevation (no heating or cooling season), year-round growing season, low population density, self-sufficient neighbors, above the tropical diseases and poisonous snakes of the Amazonian lowlands, rivers teeming with trout, good streams for hydro-power, small government, no building permits required for the countryside, almost negligible property taxes, peaceful changes in government. You can see the possibilities.

I recommend having pre-stocked bug out locations nearby, even for those who are full-time residents on a survival retreat property, as well as distant retreats in some other part of the world. Be prepared to leave at all times. My passport and other needed travel items are part of my every-day-carry kit.

What if you are suddenly driven from your home by fire, home invaders, or other calamity and you have nothing but your pajamas, slippers, and maybe a jacket? What if civil order has broken down and there is no-one you can turn to for help? In that case you would be well served by one or more secure buried caches, giving you what you need to bug out, shelter, clothe, and feed yourself, as well as a weapon or two. I chose the buried, large-diameter, hermetically sealed PVC tube with heat-sealed Mylar liners for my buried caches. I buried them away from my house but within easy walking distance, using as much stealth as possible to avoid being seen and to avoid leaving tell-tale traces of my activity. Another use I have yet to employ: a string of small food and water re-supply caches en route to my bug-out destination in case I need to make the week-long trek by foot.

A network of buried caches would enable the owner periodic access to food, ammo, etc. while appearing to have little worth stealing. This could be the ticket to escaping plunder by roving gangs or government during the first year or so of violence following a full-blown SHTF event. There are many possible approaches and anyone handy in the workshop can fashion suitable buried cache containers. Those without the time or ability can buy various-sized pressure-tested cache tubes online through SafeCastle, a trusted SurvivalBlog advertiser. - J. in New Hampshire

Monday, August 30, 2010

Lessons from Eastern Siberia, by S.P.

When I was 18, I spent six weeks in the Sakha Republic (or Yakutia) of Siberia. It is roughly three times the size of Alaska yet has a population of less than 1 million. With the Arctic Circle bordering the north of the Sakha Republic and the Lena River winding its way through it is a largely rural population of self sufficient farmers, fishermen, and reindeer herders. My time there was spent living in a soviet era apartment in either Yakutsk (its capital) or Moxogolloch (a small port town along the Lena River) or traveling to nearly isolated villages around the Sakha Republic. It was while living in Siberia that the wool began to be removed from my eyes regarding America’s imperfect government that I once though infallible. While discussing growing up under soviet rule with one person I realized just how effective the propaganda machine can be and how the methods used by Soviets were being used currently in America. But what I really want to focus on is what I learned about survival. The most important things I learned were the values of adaptability and community. The Sakha people had their religion, culture, and language almost entirely stripped away from them during the 70 years of Soviet rule and yet these three things survived. They live in a harsh and unforgiving climate with almost no growing season and manage to raise crops, livestock, and keep warm.

One example of adaptability is the extent to which they use the animals they're able to raise. There is a breed of horse that is able to survive the extreme winter temperatures and in the small villages everyone has at least one milking horse which they use for milk along with making their own butter, cheese, sour cream, whipped cream, a rather interesting fermented milk drink, etc. And when it comes to the meat of the horse, absolutely every part is eaten, some parts of the horse were a little interesting to my standard American palate but I was still amazed at how diverse each horse dish that I ate was. Even the fat is eaten, and is actually a prized part of the horse during the winter months (which lasts from September to May in most parts of the Sakha Republic). The horse bones are then carved into various tools and jewelry and the hide is used the same way cowhide is used in the US. One woman I stayed with after showing me her prized milking mare, brushed its mane and tail, gathered the hair that was brushed out, washed it, and wove it into a bath loofah for me as a thank you gift. It was much more durable than any loofah than any I've ever had. Though this specific breed of horse would be impossible to keep at mine and my husbands retreat because of the climate difference, we have tried to use some of their methods with our livestock, trying to make sure none of the animal goes to waste and trying to accustom ourselves to eating the parts of the animal that don't normally appeal to us because in the end without food there is no survival. Another thing regarding their food is the extremely short growing season combined with permafrost makes gardening difficult, but the people in the villages know that without a garden in the summer they could starve in the winter so they plant. A villagers garden isn't full of exotic vegetables because if a crop fails, they starve. They stick to the basics that they know will grow and everyone is very proud of their garden. With most people lacking electricity and running water canning is difficult so they preserve food in much more primitive ways. One thing you'll find in every Sakha garden is potatoes, they're hardy vegetables and don't need any work to preserve, just a place in the house that doesn't get too cold to store them. All other vegetables are dried or pickled. In fact one of my favorite dishes is a sort of cabbage and carrot kim chee, made by shredding cabbage and carrots, coating with salt and storing for a year.

Another clear example of adaptability is in the construction of their homes. Remember, this is a part of the world where winter lasts for 9-10 months out of the year and schools are closed once it hits -40 because of the danger of children walking to school in such a cold temperature. Along with that extreme winter most villagers have no running water or electricity. Because of this they've had to create houses that will keep them warm throughout the winter, figure out how to store food, use the bathroom etc. basic things Americans take for granted and basic things we'll all have to be prepared for in case of a long term TEOTWAWKI situation. To keep warm the house is built around a large wood burning stove. Those with larger houses will actually seal off any room that's separated from the wood burning stove even if that means moving all bedrooms into the living room/kitchen area. When it comes to refrigeration the Sakha people use the permafrost to their advantage. A simple hole dug below the house provides a well refrigerated cellar. As far as using the bathroom, everyone has an outhouse, nothing fancy, just a plain wooden stall with a wooden floor and hole carved out. During the coldest months of winter an indoor chamber pot is used and emptied into the outhouse regularly, the cold keeps down the smell. When it comes to showers most villagers have built themselves a simple banya (or Russian steam bath). I've used the lessons I learned from them on building their homes to be sure to take into account my climate when working with my husband to design our retreat property. Our retreat is located in a part of the US with extreme summer temperatures so we're looking at how homes were built prior to central air to make sure that we build a home survivable and comfortable during those hot summer months. Remember, your generator won't last forever.

An example of the importance of community I saw was at a wedding I attended, and helped with, in a small village. Weddings are done very differently in that part of the world than in America. The happy couple announced to their community that they wished to be married the following day, immediately everyone got to work. One person took the bride to find her dress while someone else took care of the getting the groom a tuxedo. Everyone else banded together to gather up food and decorations for the wedding feast. On Saturday the church was standing room only as everyone gathered together to watch the couple take their vows. It's also important to note that even though this was 10 years after the Russia's transition from communism the Christian church is still very small, especially in rural Siberia so the community of Sakha believers spans the entirety of the Sakha Republic and guests traveled from all corners of the province just to attend this wedding. After the ceremony was the wedding feast, a variety of food gathered from the pantries of the community and served off of what most Americans would consider disposable dishes (part of my duty as a new member of the community was to help wash the dishes afterward) and then once all the festivities were through everyone once again banded together gathering cots, sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows to set up sleeping quarters at the church for all the people who weren't able to travel home that night. The most incredible part is that throughout the weekend no one complained and no one panicked. Everyone saw that something needed to be done and immediately began working together to make sure it got done. Using that lesson my husband and I have made sure that when working with our retreat group we're all aware of each individual’s strengths and weaknesses and do our best to uplift each other and work together effectively.

I also got a lesson in how to make money using whatever (honorable and legal) talents you have which is very important in these current economic times, especially since our economy is steadily getting worse not better. Not a lot of people own their vehicle in the rural areas so anyone with a car immediately adds taxi driver to their resume. Handicrafts, baked goods, and produce are also sold usually by people willing to travel from their village to a slightly larger town to set up shop on a sidewalk. During the religious festivals anyone with a homemade barrel barbecue and a freshly slaughtered animal will be selling shish kebabs.

One of the most important things I learned on that trip though was being able to look at past experiences to move forward with my prep work now. I didn't really become a prepper until my mid-20s but I can still look back on that trip and glean knowledge relating to building up a retreat property that works, being able to pay the mortgage no matter what (not all of us are lucky enough to own our retreat outright), and making sure my family survives no matter what happens. It's important to realize that though you may not have been a prepper when you were in girl scouts, took that backpacking trip across Europe, or spent the summers camping with the family doesn't mean that you can't learn from those past experiences. And even if the SHTF tomorrow and you've just now stumbled upon SurvivalBlog being able to look back on the experiences you've had in life and learn from those will still put you ahead of the game.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hi Jim,

Sheila's article ["Food for Long-Term Survival"] contains a lot of good information, but seems to me to take the safety consideration of canning low acidic foods a little lightly. I've been canning for more than 30 years and even if you follow all of the rules, you occasionally get a bad jar of food. Low acid food, which include most vegetables, and all meats must be either pressure canned, or have their pH lowered (made more acid) below 4.6 by adding an acid like vinegar or citric acid. I've had good luck using a boiling water bath with pickled beets and pickled cabbage, and have done the same with beef using a German Sauerbraten recipe, which makes a somewhat different tasting pickled beef. Many Tomatoes sit just below the threshold of 4.6, but making something like Salsa which adds onion or peppers dilutes the acid and raises the pH above 4.6. Also, many modern tomato hybrids are bread for low acid content to make them easier on the stomach.

Foods with a natural pH above 4.6 have too little acid, and can allow the spores of the Clostridium Botulinum to grow and release a toxin. This toxin shuts down the communications between the nerves and muscles, and can be deadly in extremely small quantities. Boiling food containing the toxin for 10 minutes will destroy and deactivate the toxin, but this should be used as a precaution, and not as an excuse for poor canning practices. It seems to me to be akin to keeping QuikClot around for gunshot wounds, instead of avoiding being shot in the first place.

There are a lot of good books out there on canning (my favorite is Putting Food By, by Janet Greene) which I started using 30+ years ago. I'm on my third copy, and you can find a link to it on the Book and Video Shelf link on this blog. Get a good book & follow the directions, and you should have a great time putting your own food by. - LVZ in Ohio

Sheila C. mentioned a root cellar in Saturday's article, "Food for Long Term Storage". Mother Earth News put out a special summer edition entitled "Guide to Great DIY Projects". On page 84, there is an article entitled "Build Your Own Basement Root Cellar".

It looks like a fun and fairly easy do it yourself project. In our family, that means only one trip to the hardware store, and one weekend. It could take longer if you're not familiar with home construction projects. - BLW.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


With all of the talk about the so-called Internet Kill Switch, and more and more people referencing online instructional videos, it might be time for people to start downloading these videos to their local computers. An easy way to do this is with the Firefox Fast Video Download plug-in. While watching an unlicensed video on YouTube and other sites, select the Tools menu, Fast video download, and then select the video you want to save. The videos may have the name of the video or a generic name like youtube_video. The extension may be .flv or .mp4, or there may be one or more of each. Select the format that you want (I personally prefer .mp4) and save the file, renaming it if you need to. To playback either of the files I recommend the VLC Media Player, which is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. The combination of the Fast Video Download plug-in and the VLC Media Player give you a free way to build up that survival video library and use it without an Internet connection, anywhere. - LVZ in Ohio

Friday, July 30, 2010

Introductory biographical note: The author is 64 years old, father of nine children, BSAE Aeronautical Engineering, Ex-Army Infantry Training Officer (1970-1974), former Gym Trainer (1996-1997), Firefighter and EMT training and certification (2009-2010), Real Estate Broker/Owner

Phase I
I began realizing my vulnerability in 1998-1999, when Y2K-induced turmoil was a potential real possibility. I began, in all haste to find and prepare for the possible disaster that might come when the clock struck 12:00 midnight and 2000 would ring in. My first step was to find enough land that would be secure enough for my family and to design a place we could live and that would handle any disaster, whether it was of nature, man-made or God directed. My requirements were simple. It needed to have relatively high elevation (1,500ft+ above sea level), close enough to a populated city , but rural enough to not easily be found, basically within a 1 hour drive. Secluded, but not to isolated, and not to far removed from all civilization, but yet be sparsely populated and hard to find. It had to have access to running water and have soil to grow crops. 
I found a piece of property that was nearly 50 acres on the top of a ridge line, that was part of a 1,000 acre tract, with only 15 other property owners, with tracts ranging from 15 acres to 200 acres. The 1,000 acres was gated with one main, electrically operated secured gate leading in and a permanently locked gate leading out for emergencies only. The community had two 400 ft wells, with creeks running through the 1,000 acres and touching my tract. One of the wells was at the bottom of my property and had a 5 h.p. pump. The well was on a timer and delivered water to multiple tanks at different locations on the three highest elevations. Gravity feed then brought the water to the 15 property owners. I purchased an 8kw mobile generator, for standby power, to run the pump, if we were to loose electricity for any long period of time. The owner of the 200 acre tract reserved his for hunting and kept it seeded, to attract deer, rabbit, bear & turkey. The developer of the 1,000 acres paved the main road coming up to about 1,500 feet and then graveled from there to all the tracts ranging from 500 ft to 2,500 ft. My parcel sits at about 2,200 ft. ASL. All of the tracts are heavily wooded with hardwoods as well as evergreens.

My next step was to design and start construction of an impregnable home (fortress) that would withstand any disaster within the constraints of my budget. My plan was to dig into the mountain such that only one side would be open and dirt would surround the other three sides up to 12’. Because time was a factor, I knew I could only get the basement part completed before the New Year would ring in. This meant my roof would be the floor of the home that I would need to finish someday in the future, if the world was still around after Y2K.

I sent my floor plans to the engineering department of a nearby university and asked for help.
The dimensions I gave them were to be 37’X 52’ split lengthwise by a 12’ separation wall 12” thick of poured reinforced concrete surrounded by 12’ walls of the same. To handle the load of a semi-truck driving over my roof, they told me I needed  8” of poured concrete, reinforced with rebar, 10” on center and 6 by 6 [heavy] wire mesh. I added an 8’ wide X 5’ high fireplace on the open side of the basement with large racks for grilling my kill. The basement floor was 4” poured concrete that I ran one inch polyurethane tubing 4’ apart throughout the basement floor, which ran into a plenum in the base of the fireplace and back to a recirculating pump and holding tank. In addition, valving was added to reroute the heated water into the hot water system of the house. A small, electric hot water heater was added to the system capable of running from standard 120 VAC as second water heater capable running at 12VDC from solar panels via deep cycle storage batteries I purchased (4) 2’X 6‘ solar panels with frame, and a windmill.
Prior to having the roof poured I dropped in a 500 gal urethane water tank built into a frame that raised the tank from 6’ to the roof. This would allow me for gravity feed system in the basement.. I constructed two fiberglass shower stalls for two bathrooms, a work/mechanical room, two bedrooms and a kitchen on one side of the divided wall. Two metal framed doors secured this area from the large living room that is between the divided wall and the outside open wall. There are two metal doors exiting the basement. One is through a stairwell to the roof (future floor of the main house) and the other through the open side.
I also decided to add one additional piece for security, as well as escape. At the back of the basement going into the mountain I put in a 30’ X 10’ cleaned out metal fuel tank (25,000 gal to be exact). This is what I called my Survival Tank. I found the tank at a scrap metal yard out in the boonies and had a local welder cut one end out and put in a double hinged door secured by 1” X 1” sliding bars that were lockable with the largest master locks I could find. On the top of one end of the tank I had him cut out a 3’ X 3’ square and ran 4 walls, 6’ up with a latchable top, secured from the inside, as well as a metal ladder to go from the floor to the top of the latch. I then had a floor frame put in that was 30” from the bottom of the tank and added 2’ x 6” wood removable flooring. This is where I store all of the 5 gal urethane storage buckets.  From the 2”x 6” floor I built metal shelving with 2”x 6” wood shelves to the roof of the tank. That left me with about an 8’ walkway front to rear down the center of the tank. The hard part was getting the tank up the last 500’ vertical 30 degree incline to the homesite. For this I had to find the largest wrecker in the state. We had to winch the tank up the 500’ and then drop it in the ground before we poured the 12” back wall around it, leaving the welded doors as the entry from the basement to the tank. The tank was now about 4’ underground, with the escape hatch protruding above the surface. A few years later, after Y2K became a no- event, I enlarged my floor plan above the basement and added an additional 1,000sq ft and poured concrete over the entire area where the tank was buried. With all this, an oversized septic system and drain field needed to be designed. I have since changed the design of the house to have a castle look that is an additional 26’ above the basement, using split face block that is reinforced with rebar and filled with concrete. Other things that have been done are the purchase and installation of an inverter system, solar array and windmill. I have a 600 gal gas tank and 1,000 gal propane tank. I have an extra 5kva generator which has been converted to be a dual-fuel system, i.e. gas/propane. After nine years I have the walls up from the basement roof and hope to have a metal/concrete roof put on before 2012, for what I hope is also a non-event.

Phase II
This is really a continuation of Phase I, but it is the process of preparing the list of lists and then accumulating the items necessary to insure a plan A, B & C and in some areas a plan D.

  1. CACHES- I keep most of my equipment& supplies that I cannot easily replace or want to safeguard the most, in the Survival Tank. But I have also build special caches for firearms and ammo that I can bury in different locations, if for any reason any of my residences become compromised. I did this by taking 8” X 5’ sections of PVC pipe and capping each end. They are waterproof, can hold two rifles, hand guns and ammo each and can easily be buried and retrieved.
  2. EMERGENCY LIGHTING- Purchased wall-mounted LED kits that can easily be mounted above telephone jacks, thus utilizing the 2nd pair of phone wires on a 12VDC circuit wired to a single automobile battery with a small solar panel for emergency lighting.
  3. EXERCISE/MILLING/12VDC GENERATOR- I purchased a Country Living Mill and then found an exercise bike. I also mounted both the mill and a 12VDC automobile generator, pre-1975, to a board with a 12 VDC battery. I can generate 12 VDC power for my emergency lighting  or charge up the car battery or grind wheat into flour, while getting in our daily exercise.
  4. TRANSPORTATION- Purchased a customized  ’71 & ’74 4WD Chevy Blazers on the internet. The ’71 was customized for brush firefighting and the ’74 was customized as a dual fuel
  5. GARDENING- I have just applied for a subsidy grant, and received it, from a program launched in December 2009 by the Department of Agriculture, whereby I will be reimbursed up to $3,300 for materials to construct up to 2,175 sf of high tunnels for growing crops. A high tunnel or hoop house are miniature greenhouses without all the fancy bells and whistles The grants are being awarded to 38 states for the purpose of extending the growing seasons of food crops and most families can qualify if they have a small tract of land to put them on. Last month I had a bob-cat grade out about a half acre and will start planting in the fall for a early spring harvest.
  6. FOOD- Thousands of  rations of  MREs. Freeze-dried , dehydrated and raw wheat, rice, sugar, honey etc.


Mistakes I have made:


  1. I put 2-8’x10’ sectioned windows on the open side of the basement. Twice I have had ATV renegades break in, through the windows, even through the metal-doored tank, cutting the locks and thereby taking my guns and ammo and trying to hot wire my dirt bike.  I have since then boarded up the windows and put larger Master locks on the doors. I have found that there is almost nowhere safe from a dirt bike or ATV. A security system is my next step. Booby traps are illegal in most jurisdictions.
  2. Metal tanks, underground, will sweat, making large pools of water in the bottom of the tank. It is difficult to control the temperature, but since I installed dehumidifiers, everything stays dry and cool. Dampness accelerates the deterioration of metal cans making them rust from both inside and outside the can.  Mold or mildew starts to take over everything from bedding, to books to any type of paper products and boxes will fall apart over time Dampness also invites rodents you do not want, as well as insects, so use plenty of rat bait and seal up all possible points of entry. I also fog the place every time I leave.
  3. If you are going to build an oversize fireplace make sure you find someone who knows how to calculate the ratio of the flu and damper.
  4. When building a basement underground, be sure you study up on removing water from the walls created by hydrostatic pressure and have a good wall and below floor drainage system.


  1. Rotation of Food- MREs do last more than 10 years [at temperatures under 60 degrees], with a few exceptions such as high oil content foods which begin to deteriorate. Fruits break down and start to ferment or just go bad.


  1. I'm not yet sure how to handle long term supply of female monthly needs or what to substitute when supplies run out. [JWR Adds: I've had several readers enthusiastically recommend washable fabric sanitary pads. Patterns for making your own are available on-line. Or if you'd rather have someone else do the repetitive sewing work, then I recommend a small, family-owned business called Naturally Cozy. From all reports, their pads are very comfortable and made to last.]

Don’t run out of money, because your eyes are bigger than your wallet or borrowing power is.

My Belief System

For those who believe, have repented and have chosen to follow in his teachings, he has promised eternal life. Although all things are in God’s hand, and it has been ordained as to the end and how and when it will happen, as Christians, we have a responsibility to God, our families, our church and our fellow man to be prepared both spiritually and materially. We may choose that “God will provide”, “ What is meant to be, will be” or “God helps those who help themselves” attitude. Through out the Bible, God gave direction, through his word, directly and indirectly to be prepared at all times.

Most agree on at least the distinction that we live in an unprecedented time in History. Before us, cities, kingdoms and nations have been destroyed by God or God has removed his hand and blessings and they have been destroyed or have destroyed themselves. God has, through his mercy, given guidance and direction for us to be prepared for his second coming. He has warned us of upcoming famine, destruction and the wrath that will be unleashed upon the earth before Jesus Christ returns. [We've also been warned of] the possibility, if not the absolute certainty, of some form of collapse in our system, as we know it. This may come in a variety of forms - flu pandemic, economic depression, or an EMP attack, all of which are likely scenarios. Regardless of the form, the result will be very similar and our concerns are as well: How do we protect ourselves and our families and provide a living? While stocking up on beans, bullets, and band-aids is the initial response, further preparation encourages us to find a defensible, as well as productive retreat. But then what? So you have your retreat (or not), you’ve stocked up on seeds and a food mill, and “the event” actually comes. Are you prepared to provide for yourself when the food runs out or if society never returns to “normal”?

Although it may be difficult to learn and find the time for, the ability to provide for yourself provides incredible rewards. If we should need to return to a less technologically “advanced” society, many people will not have the knowledge, skills, and determination to do so. A few forward-thinkers will. Which do you want to be?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Recently, I had the opportunity to perform a long term test of goods improperly stored. A friend of mine placed his possessions in storage in a hurry in 1999, left the state, and did not arrange for anyone to
maintain them. He returned last year, and we recently opened his storage locker and removed the items.
Items stored in the Midwest, in an outside, sheet metal storage facility with no heat or AC, placed on minimal dunnage and piled in without neat packing or stacking. The interior was dark. Duration was 11 years—1999-2010. The lows near 0 Fahrenheit, highs near 100 Fahrenheit, humidity from 35-100%. The storage facility had a basic sheet metal door and roof with gypsum board walls. Here is how the various items fared:

  • Clothes: a bit musty, undamaged.
  • Books and magazines: Bent unless packed properly. Mostly intact. Pages still glued and turned freely, perfectly readable. Some by the
    door damaged by humidity.
  • Stick matches: Fine after one day of drying.
  • Strike anywhere matches: nonfunctional first day. Fizzled on second day. Fizzled then burned on third day, but would only strike on box. After two weeks, their true "strike-anywhere" function returned.
  • Clear packing tape: Functional.
  • Brown packing tape: some peeling and loss of adhesive, but functional and plenty strong.
  • Fireworks: Functional, but a little weak.
  • VCR tapes: 95% were playable, both factory and home-recorded.
  • Spam Lite: Can still sealed, contents crumbly, but edible. Taste probably normal (I don’t eat this stuff normally). Note: We conducted tests for bacteria and spoilage before attempting to eat.Do not conduct your own experiments without professional assistance. Use at your own risk.)
  • Canned sweet peas: A bit pale, but surprisingly tasty.
  • Vinegar: Stale and tasteless.
  • Cooking wine: moldy.
  • Bottled sauces (Sealed): Edible, not very tasty.
  • Bottled and canned acidic foodstuffs: Eaten through can, evaporated.
  • Aerosol cans: depressurized.
  • Bic brand lighters: Functional.
  • Cardboard boxes: Mostly intact, some un-glued or re-glued due to humidity and pressure.
  • Particle board furniture: Failed. Crumbly and bent.
  • Inexpensive couch and mattress: Intact, slightly musty, springs and foam returned to shape after several hours, despite being weighted down for eleven years. Textiles sturdy, color bright.

Obviously, varying climates and conditions will yield different results, however, minimal protection from the elements seems to be adequate for a great many items. Nutritional value of foodstuffs lacks quite quickly, but protein and calories remain good. Better dunnage and packing, a sealed environment and some careful planning should yield excellent storage of cached supplies. - Michael Z. Williamson, SurvivalBlog Editor at Large

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I found an Internet vendor who makes and sells gun racks right here in the USA! His prices are good and he publishes the dimensions of the racks on his site so anyone who is handy can build them at home.

I know you hear this everyday but I’ll say it anyway. I sincerely enjoyed your books and SurvivalBlog. I am sorting my way through the "Rawles Gets You Ready" preparedness course.

I want you to know I appreciate your attempts to open the public’s mind to the crisis which is coming to our country. Knowledge gained and then positively applied is true wisdom. You have enabled me with knowledge and I am now applying it positively.

Best Regards, - Doug T. in West Virginia

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dear Jim:
There has been such a great response to the article I wrote about using the basement in my home as a survival retreat, and I want to thank everybody for taking the time to read both parts—and to respond with some great questions. I wanted to take a moment and address a few of the questions, and perhaps give a little deeper insight into the arrangements, processes, and the solutions I have found to each of the various questions.

First, and most importantly, I would like to stress that I’m not claiming this to be the ideal solution. My intent, and the thought process I used while setting up this retreat, was to create a very short-term means to provide for the safety and security of my family. In no way do I recommend or expect this arrangement to be a long-term, permanent solution to a survival situation—instead, my goal was to create a way to lay low during the opening salvo of a major catastrophe, let things sort themselves out for a few days, and then move on to better arrangements.  Ideally, I would not hope to be confined to this arrangement for longer then 10 days, with the real intention of using this as a viable survival retreat for a period of 3-5 days, or until a time where we can begin the journey to a more permanent place set up for an extended collapse---and this may be the subject of a future article because it’s one of my current projects.

Ironically, all of the questions and issues which have been brought up are issues I’ve had to address in one form or another during this process—and when I wrote these articles I decided to focus more on the main theme to keep it at a readable length, and omit many of the logistical and technical needs, details, and solutions associated with this arrangement for the purpose of expediency.

Greg L. asked about restroom and sanitation arrangements, along with cooking scents. The restroom issue, for obvious reasons, was one of the first issues I had to address. How I decided to address the bathroom issue was by three methods. First, I have a curtained off area in the rear of the basement to use as a bathroom area. I have purchased a store of 5 gallon buckets, with lids, to use for the purpose of storing waste. Please remember, also, that we are not completely confined to this basement—so during certain times these filled buckets of waste could be moved to an upper level of the home or outside and hidden in a nearby wooded area. I have also gathered a supply of lye powder soap and sawdust to add after each use to eliminate smell and help with decomposition.
For the basic toilet set up I currently have a lawn chair with a hole cut out in the middle—eventually, if I ever get around to it, I would like to create a better solution for the seat. The area where the bathroom is curtained off also contains one of the window wells now blocked off, and I have kicked around the idea of running some PVC pipe back up through the window, rocks, and soil, for the purpose of venting—but this is going to be a major undertaking, and I wish I had thought of it before I filled the window wells.
As far as the smell of food cooking, the plan is to use MREs while in the basement; for ease of use, ease of waste disposal, and to minimize cooking smells. I don’t expect any group to set up squatter’s rights in our home in the first few days of an event, so I’m not really expecting a parade of people moving through the upper levels. Maybe I’m dismissing this issue too easily, but it’s just not something I’m too worried about right now.

Dave in Missouri asked about the furnace, A/C, and hot water heater, and how these impact the useable space. Our A/C is located outside of our home, so it’s not a problem. The furnace, water heater, and water softener are in the basement, but due to the size of the basement and the placement of these appliances they do not cause much loss of space or hinder any of the plans and preparations.

Kathy H. had some great points and issues. The issue of waste and sanitation I addressed above. The issue of CO2 buildup will not be a problem because the basement area is not completely sealed off, and the size alone, coupled with the fact I do have a hidden and secure window I can still open and use to vent gases has me pretty secure in using this basement for the short-term.
The one issue Kathy did raise that has caused me a great deal of thought is the issue of moisture or flooding. I have only had one issue of water in our basement in nearly ten years, and this was due to getting 7 inches of rain in an hour and a half one summer night long ago—so the basement has proven to be fairly impervious to normal rainfall amounts so far. We do have a sump pump, and I’m still in the process of determining the best options for a backup power source I can rig up to use should the weather during our stay in the basement be less then ideal. To find the solution I’m working by the premise of having total failure of the power grid, so battery backup or a solar powered alternative will be what is needed, and I’ve yet to come up with the ideal solution as of this point.
Water is among my greatest fears right now for the basement retreat, and if I ever need to use this retreat for the purpose and reasons it was created I would like to have this issue put to bed—so I’m open to any good ideas from anybody out there.

Dr. A.W. mentioned the need to have the basement area, or any underground area, checked for Radon gas. In our area every home is inspected, during the sales process, for Radon gas. I have also tested it myself with a home test kit that can be purchased at any hardware store—and so far I don’t have any problems with Radon. Great point, A.W., and thanks for the suggestion.

Again, I would like to stress I don’t think of this as the ideal solution---but it is a solution available to me at this time, and instead of dreaming of distant retreats, endless food stores, and the utopia of survival land I decided to use my the things at my disposal, within my budget, and in a way that presents the most realistic scenario should the worst events come to pass. I do hope to improve my plans, upgrade my arrangements, and hopefully someday create that “perfect” retreat—but for the time being, and with the current problems we are facing in this nation, I wanted to have a place I could use now—today—to keep myself, my wife, and my children alive and safe.

I hope some of you may be able to incorporate some of these ideas into your own plans and arrangements, and I’m happy to answer any question that might help.
Thanks and good luck! - Jeff W.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Since the 1950s many homes have had them. Since the 1970s many building codes have required them. What? A sump pump.

Yeah, that thing in the hole in the corner of the basement that kind of hums every once in a while. You don’t think about it much do you? But it keeps your basement floor dry.

If the electric goes out, for any reason, for very long, you may have a big problem. I have seen over a foot of water in a 30x25 foot basement after just a mild spring rain.

They make “battery back up” auxiliary pumps, and they work. But the battery is recharged with a 110 volt charger. If you don’t have the electric back after the battery is dead you don’t have either pump. Is it time to think about a PV panel on the roof to charge the battery?

But why not make some lemonade out of that lemon?

Don’t just pipe the water to the ditch. At the least send it to the garden. Maybe a “rain barrel” set-up. My grandmother did it for decades.

But if the electric is out, then your well pump is dead also. And if you are on city water, their pumps are dead too. Once the water tower is dry, the whole town is dry. Lack of water is going to be a big problem real fast.

Now time for some imagination.

That sump hole is really just a 6 to 12 deep water well. The water is just rain water that has seeped down to the bottom level of your foundation. It is then piped via some tiles or plastic pipe to the sump.

It is pretty clean water. I have used it for years to top off my swimming pool. Nobody’s ever gotten sick from it.

Reroute that battery powered pump to a barrel in the kitchen. At the least, get one of those lever handled manual pumps and fill up some pails you can carry upstairs. If can’t bring yourself to think about drinking and cooking with it at least use it to flush the toilet.

You did remember that you need water to flush a toilet didn’t you?

It is almost certain you are going to have to get that hole down there in the corner drained sometime. Make use of what comes out of it. - KBS

Everyone who reads your blog should own and read Nuclear War Survival Skills, by Cresson H. Kearny. [It is available for free download in PDF, but be sure to also get an EMP-proof hard copy!] Chapter 6 deals with ventilation, lets the air out of assumptions about the subject (couldn't help myself) and explains how to do it without electricity for when the Schumer really Hits The Fan. - R.J.W.

For those planning to use the basement for a retreat, do not forget to test for Radon Gas, a carcinogenic found in many basements throughout the county. Here is a link about it. - Dr. A.W.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

One question comes to mind, does his basement have a restroom, or is he relying on a honey bucket? Also, how does he intend to deal with cooking odors [both good and bad?] Might be a huge tip off in a SHTF situation. Thanks, - Greg L.

Most of us have furnaces, A/C and hot water heaters in our basements, and they require seasonal maintenance by outside contractors. The description from Jeff W. sounds like he may have restricted access to these devices (180 degree turn at the bottom of the steps), or they're not in the basement...

How did Jeff W. overcome this problem? - Dave in Missouri

Hi Jim,
I just had to respond to this piece. There are three glaring omissions that will turn this place into a nightmare in short order. The first is air circulation. Without an air exchange system, there will be CO2 build up that will make the place unbearable and dangerous. Cooking will be out of the question. The second problem is waste management. In a month, the smell will be bad, the flies worse and the prospect of disease a reality. It would take a power source to run a pump to push sewage into an existing system. The final problem is likely to be moisture. Even if rain does not actually run into a basement, moisture is a reality in underground living. Best wishes, - Kathy Harrison (author of Just in Case: How To Be Self-sufficient When The Unexpected Happens)

JWR Replies: The challenges mentioned are significant, but not insurmountable. A fairly small DC "muffin" fan that is powered by an alternative power system battery bank can provide plenty of outside air, but of course you'll need a corresponding size outlet. Ideally, a more sophisticated DC and hand-powered air pump (with a HEPA filter for NBC events) should be added, as your budget allows.

See my lengthy response to a 2007 letter in the SurvivalBlog archives for some recommendations on minimizing cooking odors.

Depending on your water table and time of year, and manual sump pump, or one powered by an alternative power system battery bank would be appropriate.

For most family shelters, I recommend getting a Luggable Loo Portable Toilet. These toilet seats fit on a standard 5 or 6 gallon HDPE bucket. Depending on how many people you will have in your shelter, and the expected duration, you'll need to lay in a corresponding supply of additional buckets with lids. (The inexpensive non-food grade buckets from places like Home Depot work fine.) For planning purposes, keep in mind that the accumulated volume of urine will be greater than the volume of fecal matter and toilet paper. When each bucket becomes nearly full, move the toilet seat to a new bucket, and tightly seal a lid on the full one. To cut down on odors, keep a sack of powdered lime available, to sprinkle over the feces, immediately after each use. The lime you'll need is the calcium hypochlorite type, a.k.a. Ca(ClO)2, which is made from chlorinated slaked lime. this is available from many feed stores and farm/ranch co-op stores.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Two years ago, as I began preparing for TEOTWAWKI, the first thing I did was take a real, accurate assessment of what I had and what I was going to be able to do for my preparations. One of the first issues I needed to face was the fact I would never have a true “survival retreat” located out west, far away from any major population centers, and tucked away in some forgotten corner of the country.
As much as I would love to have something like this in place, the balancing act between having a family, financial commitments and restraints, employment, and several other obligations, I needed to accept the fact that should the worst happen I was going to have to deal with it in my current location and from my current home.

I live with my wife and two small children in Ohio, in the suburbs midway between two decent sized cities. Just two decades ago our town was a sleepy little farming community, but developers came in, bought up most of the land, and began carpet-bombing middle-class homes and planned urban developments. We still have the feel, the atmosphere, of being out beyond the cities, but the tractors and combines no longer run in this area.

With these limited options, the only thing available to me WTSHTF is my home or a neighborhood effort to create a fortified, defendable position to try and ride things out—not ideal, but it is what it is . . .
At that time I decided to use our home, part of our home really, to create this fortified location to protect my family, store our supplies, and lay low for awhile. Our home is about 2,000 square feet, with lots of windows and entry points, and built by a home developer whose motto seemed to be quantity over quality---again, not the ideal home for creating a defensive position, but it’s what I had to work with.
The only thing of any value I had, as far as creating a defensible retreat for my family, was our basement. The basement is poured concrete and has around 1,200 square feet of useable room; it has three window wells and one stairway leading to the first floor for entry points.
My dilemma was how do I make this basement a retreat location---easy to defend, with adequate storage, and most of all hidden from potential looters or those wishing to do harm and steal our supplies?
How do I make this basement disappear?

With the thought of creating an invisible basement retreat, I got right to work. I have the three window wells leading into the basement from various points along the foundation of the house, so this was the first issue I decided to address. One of the window wells is actually located below our wood deck at the back of our house, behind the kitchen. At night, when the lights are on in the basement, the window was barely visible due to light leak—and only then if you were looking for it specifically. I came up with a plan for this window; since the only means of getting in and out of the basement was the stairway leading down from the first floor, I decided to make this a second means of exit, a more covert access and escape. First, I pulled out the window and replaced it with an insulated wooden panel and hinged it at the top. Now, the window well to the outside could be accessed quickly in case the basement should be discovered or overrun in a survival situation. The deck outside was already raised, with just enough crawl space for a full sized adult to be able to crawl out between the support beams. At the side of the deck I cut the boards and placed bolts on both sides of the loose wood panel. This way nobody could open up the boards from the outside.
The leaking light problem was fixed with the hinged, insulated window I had installed, so the only time I needed to worry about light was when the window hatch was open for somebody to come in or go out. To minimize this effect I purchased a carpet remnant, twice as long as the wooden window panel, and screwed it to the inside portion of the hinged window—essentially creating a light flap.
Now, the basement had an emergency exit leading out into the backyard should the need to escape arise.

The other two window wells are on either side of the house. They are standard sized window wells, with glass window panels to allow light into the basement. The wells are surrounded by a metal well grate, and at the bottom have gravel and a drainage pipe.
These windows presented a large problem due to the fact they were obvious, and they were also standard on all the surrounding homes in the neighborhood that had basements. About half the homes on our neighborhood had basements, while the other homes were simply slab homes built upon a solid concrete foundation.
To conceal these window wells, I decided landscaping both sides of the house would be needed.
First, I purchased half-inch, treated lumber and cut the panels the fit and cover the glass windows. Using Liquid Nail and silicone, I attached the wood panels to the outside the windows, completely covering the glass and eliminating light from the inside of the basement.

With the lumber in place, I gathered some larger rocks from a nearby construction site and used them to fill the window wells about half way. Next, I placed about a foot of peat moss in the wells, filling in the gaps between the stones and covering them. After the peat moss settled, I filled the rest of the wells with regular topsoil. Along the entire length of both sides of the house I built up the topsoil to completely cover the concrete foundation, sloping it outward toward the yard. Now, the walls along both sides looked like a garden plot---and the window wells were both completely invisible.
To complete the camouflage, I planted perennial flowers—being sure to intersperse plants that bloom throughout the spring, winter, and fall. I also included bushes---choosing firs for year round coverage.
Once completed, our home just looked well landscaped with lots of foliage along the entire length of our home. The home now appeared like just another slab foundation, no-basement home from the exterior.

Next came the interior, and the issue of the stairway leading down to the basement. The hallway which contains the basement stairs is a short hallway that also contains access to a half-bath, a laundry room, a coat closet, and the doorway going out to the garage. In all, this hallway is only about 14 feet long yet has five doors---it’s actually pretty goofy looking, and a major design flaw, but it’s what I had to deal with. All the doors in the hallway were matching, so I needed to figure a way to disguise the basement steps.

I decided to turn the doorway leading to the basement into another coat closet
—matching the one straight across from it as much as possible.
To do this, I purchased lumber and sheetrock, and built the back wall, top shelf, and flooring section to the same measurements as the existing hallway closet. I also created a bracket, hinge, and support system that allows me to attach all the pieces needed to complete the closet in about five minutes.
When fully deployed; with the addition of coats, hangers, and other stuff thrown in on the top shelf and flooring, the disguise is complete---I now have a second fully functioning coat closet hiding the stairs to the basement. The back wall of the closet also swings open enough to allow anybody in the basement to quickly leave the basement.
I did this closet with the thought, and the hope, that should the “worst case scenario” come true, looters will be moving quickly—looking to get in and out, strip away and steal whatever they can use quickly and without time to fully investigate, or even wonder, why there might be two matching closets in the same hallway.
Now, I have a usable, defendable, secure retreat perfect for disappearing for short periods of time.
My next project was to outfit the basement with supplies, create defensive positions, and to make a livable space for several people that could be used for an extended stay should outside events require the need to go underground.

In Part Two I will show you how I finished my “Suburban Basement Retreat”, and how you too can create a safe space for your family in case of emergency.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Dear SurvivalBlog Readers:
How do you conceal resources so an intruder won't see them? Try storing things in plain sight.

An old soft drink machine, the kind that looks like a large refrigerator and dispenses cans, makes a great weapons locker. Anyone looking through your shop or garage would walk right past a machine like that, if it's not plugged in and shows no sign of active use. The great thing about these is they are very difficult to break into and when all the can distribution stuff is removed, they can hold a lot of guns, ammo or food. A weapons safe can be encouragement for determined thieves to work harder or apply extreme measures to force the owner to open it.

How about a new plastic 500 gallon septic tank? They will hold a lot of supplies and few would ever think to pop the top of one of those to peek inside. (I borrowed this idea but it's a good one.)

Many garages and shops have open-frame walls. A 2x6 wall can hold a lot of food supply if you caulk the seams well and cover it with something like OSB plywood to hang your tools on. The caulking will keep the bugs and rodents out.

An old washing machine can store items like food or propane cylinders. Few burglars will bother to remove the heavy “something” that's sitting on the lid.

Even if your plan is to “bug in,” it's a good idea to store much of your food in small caches. If you are robbed, they likely won't get everything. - Tyler W.

Friday, May 28, 2010

CPT Rawles:
While there are many potential methods to emplacing a cache of supplies, I wanted to provide some insight into a very simple but very effective cache method that I have saw during a recent deployment to Afghanistan.

Most Afghans rely on the karez system for getting water for survival and watering plants. For an aerial view of what the karez system looks like, look at Michael Yon’s photo essay on water in Afghanistan. The lines of holes dug in the ground are the karez system. Some of these tunnels are very deep in order to get to the water. The Russians, unfortunately, did a very effective job of destroying karez systems during the denial phase of their war in Afghanistan. Fortunately, the Afghans are extremely resourceful, and have rebuilt many of the systems.

When one goes down into a hole, at the bottom there is a tunnel with water flowing through it. The tunnel becomes so small that a Soldier will have to remove all of his gear except his clothing. Armed with only a Beretta M9 and a flashlight, our great Soldiers go into these tunnels to clear them like the tunnel rats of Viet Nam. While clearing the tunnels, our Soldiers found that the tunnels often expanded into underground rooms with caches in them. We frequently found drugs and weapons cached in these underground caverns. Interestingly, the weapons were not rusted by the high humidity or dirty though it was impossible to get them into the underground cavern without submerging them in the muddy water.

The Afghan solution for extremely simple and cheap caches was to use an old [truck] tire tube like those that some Americans tube down rivers in. Cut the tube all the way through, which creates an open rubber tube. Fold one end over in a gooseneck fashion, and tie it off. Insert your supplies in the open end. Once loaded, fold the open end in a gooseneck fashion and tie it off. Once in the tube with both ends tied off, the equipment is protected from dirt and moisture. - W.J.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

I’ve learned that the best way to obtain much needed resources is to look on the ground.

We grow a large garden at two sites for my family. We can and preserve what we will use later and eat the stuff from the grocery now while it’s cheap.
The fruits and veggies we consume come from the ground. We box in one area, add proper compost, manure, sand and dirt and then till until we get the proper texture for the different plants we grow. All the while the ground is the entire reason for this. Everything we use for our gardening techniques starts from the ground.
Rabbits and chickens for meat and eggs walk the same ground we use to fertilize our gardens. We feed the rabbits and chickens leaves, stalks and any inedible bits from the garden to minimize the cost of feed. Again, it starts from the ground and ends back on the ground when the critters are done with it.

Of all the countries I’ve traveled during my military career, water is one of the hardest, if not most impossible commodities to come across. However, we all literally walk on water every day.
Our forefathers were able to drink from rivers and streams during their time. My grandfather was able to drink from rivers and streams as a boy because they weren’t polluted with chemical and pesticide runoff like they are today. However, some of that same “dirty” water is filtered with, well, dirt.
Dig deep enough and you will find water in most climb and place. The deserts of the Middle East have natural springs scattered throughout their vast terrain. The mountains of South America have water running through them. The plains of the central United States sit atop one of the largest water reservoirs in the world.
Again, look at the ground for what it is. It’s your helper for almost everything you NEED.
One thing I’ve realized, and it should have been common sense, is that if rain water is absorbed by the ground and filtered through layer after layer of sand, gravel, sediment and rock, we should be able to mimic this same natural process to help us obtain clean water to use during TEOTWAWKI.

I’ve seen nothing on the Internet to demonstrate how to do this, but the way I figure it, do it in stages. Filter water through a 55 gallon drum filled with sand. A drainage hole at the bottom would allow the first stage of water to flow into another container. Dump that container into another drum filled with gravel. Repeat process until you have sent it through multiple stages. I’m not 100 percent certain, but what you should end up with is usable water for feeding animals and cleaning. If all goes well enough you might end up with water that can be boiled, cooled and then used for drinking and cooking. The boiling should remove the final remnants of bacteria that escaped the natural filtering process.
This is just a thought but as of yet I haven’t found anything to prove it wouldn’t work. I’m sure with enough attempts someone will get it right and it will work for the benefit of others. And I’m also certain you have readers who are familiar if not experts in this field that can write something to help this along.

Food storage
We store most our canned goods underground in a root cellar. It’s a genuine cave that stays generally the same temperature year round, with the exception of winter when the cold air settles into the cellar. But nothing has frozen or spoiled since we’ve been doing this.
Our larder grows larger by the month because of our ability to keep our food fresher underground than in the cupboards in our kitchen. When we need something to feed our family, which all growing families generally do, we go underground to get it.

Alternate living spaces
During the summer months in the Midwest the humidity can sometimes be unbearable. Some families have adopted to live in their basements to stay cooler. Others have moved kitchens into their basements to avoid heating an entire house while cooking. Still others aren’t lucky enough to have this retreat built into their homes.

A place to escape
As much as I hate to admit it, I’m scared to death of thunderstorms in my neck of the woods because they generally create a few tornadoes.
I’ve lived in tornado alley for more than four years now and my home has so far gone untouched by one, but I’ve lost sections of fence and a couple windows from the high winds. When a tornado siren starts sounding its alarm we retreat to our basement. It offers us as much protection as we need to avoid flying debris and broken glass.
Also, a basement is a great place to store the first part of your G.O.O.D. supplies and anything you will need for the long haul if you bug out in place. Aside from escaping natural disasters, a basement offers protection from an intruder.
I would never flee in the face of adversity, but if I had to choose “run, run away but live to fight another day” I would haul tail to a place I can reorganize and resupply. My basement is that place for me and mine.

A meeting place
What a better place than a hole in the ground to meet like-minded individuals to discuss plans on how to defend your community. Where else can you think of that offers more protection or privacy than a cave or in modern terms, a basement. Where else can you store an entire supply of goods and materials that will last and you have easy access to. Privacy is preached on this site almost as commonly on how and why to store what and how much of any certain item. A quiet corner of your basement is a great place to invite friends to talk about what to do in these uncertain times. I’ve got few friends whom I trust enough to see my basement. It’s a secret place for me and my family because it offers us a place to live and breathe. So choose who you open your cave’s door to wisely.

Just a final thought
I’ve eaten from it, off it and slept on it. It grows the food I need and filters the water I drink. What more can you ask for?
I’m no ground dweller, but I see the benefits of using what the good Lord gave me to my advantage because one day I will return to the same stuff I’m made up of.


Regarding Lynn in Washington's pointer to the YouTube video (as representative of a "secure" lock?), I know of, and have known of, for quite some time, two 'other' locks which fit, much better, the criteria of "round" and "disk".

The first "round" lock is manufactured by the American Lock Company. (Yes, that is its real name).
Many truck-delivery companies (in New York City, and surrounding vicinity) use this lock on the back doors of their vehicles, and anyone who, honestly, believes they can open this lock with a bolt-cutter is being dishonest with themselves. Picking is also rather difficult.

The second lock ("disk") is manufactured by Abus, and is known as [the]"Discus". I owned my first one while in High School during the late 1970s, and it never failed me (amongst a dorm full of amateur-lock pickers, this was quite an achievement). As seen in the illustrations, it would be extremely-difficult, if not impossible, under ordinary conditions, to push a bolt-cutter in to cut the shackle of a Discus lock..

That's all here. You have a very nice blog. - Manatee

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hello Mr Rawles,
I have been reading your blog for about a year and truly have benefited from the valuable information.

In regards to the round or disc lock for the self storage units, I have found that these locks can be easily picked by a simple pen as demonstrated on YouTube. Here is the following link:

If anyone knows of another device/lock that can not be easily picked I sure would appreciated it.

Sincerely, - Lynn in Washington

JWR Replies: Even the best padlock should be considered only a delay--not a true barrier. Most padlocks --including disc or "hockey puck" locks can have their cylinders (typically brass) drilled out, very quickly. Concealment should be your first line of defense for your cached supplies. (As previously described in SurvivalBlog--such a wall cache or a hidden room.) Only use a commercial storage space when you don't have other secure alternatives. And of course keep in mind that high temperatures greatly decrease the shelf lives of stored foods.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Two Letters Re: Self-Storage Spaces as Caches

Mr. Rawles:
I have written before about Self Storage Facilities back in October, 2009. I am still a resident manager of a small self storage facility. I agree with Ryan in British Columbia about using self storage caches for your preps.

Recommendation on locks: the round lock or disc lock is about the best defense you can purchase for your self storage unit. They cannot be cut with the more common bolt cutters and usually take an electric disc grinder to cut them off. A hint as to the keys for this type of lock. Go to a lock smith you trust and have a couple of extra keys made. Stash one in your bug out bag, one in your wallet and one in the ashtray of your vehicle. This is cheap insurance to assure yourself of getting access to your unit.

Also if you are storing food do so in the plastic totes or galvanized trash cans. Stay away from cardboard boxes, especially ones that have had produce in them. The only food items that should not be stored is items in paper/plastic wrappers. Cans an bucket that are properly sealed are usually okay. Check your food items often.

No matter how well the facility is maintained there is always the possibility of attracting mice. You really don’t know what the unit next to you has in it or where it came from, they could have brought the mice with them. To assure yourself of no rodents find out what the best rodent bait is in your area (speak to the guys at the feed store they know what works). Every couple of months when you go to take more goods in, put down some more rodent bait and remove the old. Mice need to be within 10 to 15 feet of a water source so many sure nothing is holding liquids that the mice can access. The plastic totes and galvanized trash cans will help detour some rodents. Plus they are easier to carry.

Mark your totes with things like “baby stuff – 1990” “Pregnancy stuff” “College junk” you get the idea.

Keep an inventory of what you have stored. This will serve two purposes: 1.) You will know what you have and 2.) keep you from over buy/storing the same thing over and over.

Shop around for your storage facility. Get to know the managers . Some people go to their units at the same time, on the same day of the week these are the people you want to avoid. Go different times, different days and all kinds of weather.

In getting to know the resident manager you might be surprised to find out they are preppers also. They will protect your unit as they will probably be hunkering down where they are. Regards, - Wilson

The author was clear in spelling out that a self-storage cache is not perfect but it is better than no cache, to which I agree. I also have used self-storage unites as a “cache” but primarily when moving. Move your survival stores from the house you are leaving into a storage unit and then bring it into the new house over time without the prying eyes of nosy neighbors watching everything that comes out of your moving van. And, I am very thankful that my friends and relatives will help us move but I don’t want them moving “everything” we own. Especially in an age were you can read a story on any given day about someone arrested with “a large cache of weapons and ammunition”. Drill down in that story and find that the guy had two long arms, two pistols and 400 rounds total.

And while a storage unit cache may be better than no cache, it does have some serious limitations in addition to what the author points out.

1) The author is correct in that you will need to plan on a manual way to enter the grounds such as cutting through a fence or lock. However this is not legal! Your contractual relationship with the storage unit does not allow you to destroy their property even if the power is down and you don’t have access to your “stuff”. If you happen to be unlucky enough to have a cop or Jeep full of National Guardsman roll by as your “breaking and entering”, and as Ricky Ricardo used to say, you are going to have some “splaining” to do. And the line that you are only trying to access your personal possessions may not fly.

2) Furthermore, what if the circumstances change your proposed timelines and you happen to be at the storage unit when it is being raided?

3) In a “bug in” plan, when you leave your place to go to the storage unit, is home base protected? Do you really want to be “out in it” if you don’t have to be?

4) In a “bug out” scenario, a fully loaded trailer in a storage unit ready to hook onto and “roll” has potential viability. I would look for a gate with a lock that you can cut. If you get caught, apologize, say that its an emergency and you needed to get your personal belongings and here is some money to replace the lock.

5) Storage units that are not in big buildings with elevators and have external doors; in our part of the world are minimally (if at all) insulated and do not have HVAC and they get very hot in the summer time. Not good for food storage and God forbid that your stored gasoline would start a fire.

6) Since most likely you are the one who is going to access your storage unit cache do you really want to be climbing over/through large rusted pieces of metal and nails in an "Oh Schumer" situation? That sounds like an injury waiting to happen.

7) I have minimal experience working a bolt cutter but people who I have spoken to tell me that rather than an expensive lock or a big lock, it is better to get those rounded type of padlock with metal that protects the metal loop as a bolt cutter cannot “get onto” the lock.

Be careful out there, may God bless - Brad J.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Many self-storage caching ideas have been put forward by readers of SurvivalBlog. Generally, most people in the preparedness community do not approve of using a self-storage unit as a cache, but I think it has some great advantages. As with anything, you must properly plan and weigh your options. There are many considerations you must make, but if you find a self-storage place under the right conditions, it can be very helpful.  A main concern is that it should be walking distance from your home. Also make sure the place has rodent and insect control. Some pros and cons are listed below:


  • It is located away from your home (your eggs not "all in one basket".)
  • It is very secure while the grid is up. Semi-secure during grid-down.
  • Almost nobody stores food there, so raiders will mostly be looking for tools, clothing and things to burn [for fuel] like boxes, paper and furniture (won’t be immediately raided.)
  • If your wife / family / roommates are not on board, it’s private.
  • If you are low on space at home (apartment), it’s great for reducing clutter.
  • Nobody gets suspicious when you move 20 large containers in and out whenever you want.
  • Fire is of little concern as four-hour firewalls are common in these places, and most new storage buildings are constructed out of concrete.


  • Expensive rental fees.
  • Will eventually be raided for equipment and burnable materials.
  • May not be located close enough to your home.
  • In Canada, you cannot store firearms in these facilities, as they must be in your home.
  • These storage businesses usually have a clause in their rental contracts saying you can’t store food or flammable goods. Just make sure the boxes aren’t labeled as food, ammo, etc.
  • If you are caught breaking the contract before a collapse, you may be liable for damage or injuries.
  • Storing fuel is a BIG “no-no” in these places, so be careful. At best you’ll get one warning, and then be kicked out.

Of course you want security, but not too much security. In a grid-down collapse, you want to be able to get inside the property with some bolt-cutters and access your goods. Most of these places have chain-link fences with barbed-wire. This is perfect, because in a pinch, you can easily cut a hole in the fence. Also make sure you can access your storage unit from outside. In some of these places, you have to walk into a warehouse and go up an elevator. In a grid-down collapse, these units will be unavailable because the exterior doors to the warehouse will be locked. These places are pretty secure so good luck getting through those heavy metal doors.

While it may be nice to have a heated indoor storage unit for your cache, lack of access is simply too big a risk. Get a unit with direct access from outside, preferably heated for food and water storage. You don’t want your food and water going through many freeze-thaw cycles.

Get a good lock! You are going to be spending $1,000 to $4,000 a year on rental fees anyway, so you might as well buy the thickest, highest quality padlock you can afford. Often, these storage places provide you with a padlock of their own. Do not use it! They have their own master key, and it will be a cheap lock that they bought in bulk. A raider could easily cut those locks.

It is my opinion that these facilities won’t be raided immediately in a TEOTWAWKI event. Grocery stores, restaurants, hotels, and food storage warehouses will be first. Apartment buildings will be second, then suburban homes, and lastly rural homesteads. In my opinion, storage places won’t be picked clean until all the food, water and fuel has been secured by whoever is in charge at the time.

If possible, store your goods among a pile of the worthless things that nobody would steal. Namely, make sure it can’t be traded, worn, eaten, or burned [as fuel]. Scrap metal is one idea. It is heavy, and has no immediate value in terms of day-to-day survival. Who is going to steal a rusted 200-pound boat anchor? Nobody will, at least not at first. 

I am currently working on a self-storage cache and have been collecting scrap metal. Among the dirty, rusted heap of garbage I plan to put together, I’ll have a couple very large boxes with large labels such as “House Furnace, 1986”. Inside these boxes will be my cached items. These boxes will be at the back of the storage unit, and thieves will have to walk over piles of twisted metal and rusty nails just have a peek in the dusty old beat up boxes. Hopefully raiders will simply move on before that. Well actually, I hope I’ve emptied the cache before they raid the place!

What you should store has been constantly discussed on SurvivalBlog so I won’t go into much detail. We all know what to put into a cache... Beans, Bullets and Band-Aids!

I’ll also include tents, propane, camp stove, clothing, blankets, stabilized gas, some water, batteries, flashlights, candles, a water filter, rope, knives, chlorine powder, lighters, and a radio. I’ve also been considering whiskey for barter if space and weight don’t make it prohibitive.

A Word About Water:

It is difficult to cache enough water to survive for long, so keep more at home, along with a water filter. People can’t carry much water very far, so I will have a minimal amount of water in my caches. Without access to a replenishing water source [and a water filter, if needed], we will not survive for long, but we all know that already--thanks to Jim. Try to have access to a replenishing water source, or buy a hand-cranked reverse osmosis filter if on the coast, as I did. This avoids so much work if the SHTF, and you can concentrate on food, shelter and security.

Monday, May 3, 2010

In looking at your blog on survival it revealed to me a major problem with safes with digital combo locks. If there is an EMP, those locks would most likely be fried and one could not get to guns, funds, et cetera! Do you know of a process or method of guarding against this? Is there some shielding that can be put around the combo unit that will protect the electronics? Thanks. - R.C.

JWR Replies: This blog topic seems to pop up just as regularly as dandelions. I've mentioned the following several times in SurvivalBlog, but it is worth repeating: A steel gun vault body itself makes a decent Faraday cage. (Although a finger mesh RF gasket at the door perimeter would make it even better.) All that you really need to add is a flat steel can (such as a peanut can or Danish butter cookie tin) to cover the safe's electronic keypad assembly. Taping the can on works fine, but it will look tacky. A hinge attached with epoxy to a tin (allowing the can to swing to the left or right) might look better. Ideally, the tin should be grounded to the vault body. (Again, this looks tacky, but there is no way around it if you want a fully effective Faraday enclosure.)

If EMP is a major concern where you live (i.e. if you live within 250 miles of a major nuclear target), and your vault has an electronic lock then you should use silica gel rather than a 120 VAC rod-type dehumidifier inside your vault. This is because the power cord for a dehumidifier can act as an unintentional antenna that might "couple" EMP to your vault's electronics. (One of the major no-no's with Faraday cages is to have any conductor that can carry RF penetrate the cage or container body.)

And, needless to say, to have a gun vault lock that is absolutely safe from EMP, the next time that you move, you should sell your current vault as an included "bonus feature" with your house. Then, after you move, replace that vault with one that has a traditional mechanical combination lock. Coincidentally, I should mention that I prefer S&G Group II locks. Oh, and speaking of moving, I prefer Zanotti Armor brand six piece gun vaults that can be disassembled for ease of transport. We have a Zanotti ZA-III six-foot tall vault here at the Rawles Ranch that we've moved several times over the years.

James Wesley:
I appreciate your survival ideas over the years. Here, in the Caribbean, we use cisterns for water recovery quite a bit.

I've had occasion to make a cache lately from one of the smaller plastic cisterns, such as this one.

The tanks that come here (Cayman Islands) are black and configured somewhat differently, but same basic idea. They employ a screw-top opening, which can be weatherproofed against all but profound water pressure.

I set mine -- a 750 gallon tank -- in the sandy loam and made sure that the bottom third was all clean fill, especially under the tank. I bedded around the upper 2/3 with fairly large, but smooth rock, and concreted around the circular opening, so I could keep it clear of dirt and grit. I used thread-seal tape and teflon pipe sealant on the threads of the lid, and it's watertight, at least until such time as it is completely underwater (future hurricane?).

I took a piece of 3-foot x 3-foot starboard (polyethylene) and cut it in an irregular shape, and glued sand and rock to it, such that when laid down over the opening, it appears uniform. I used polyethylene plastic rather than plywood, because it tends to not "echo" as badly when stepped upon.

Another idea that I'd like to mention: To prevent flour weevils in my stocked dry goods, I simply freeze each product (flour, pasta, beans, etc.) for 24-hours. That explodes the insect eggs, and they are good to go in preventing weevils after that.

Thanks again for all the time and effort. First time writing. Be safe. - B.L.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Hi Jim,
On Friday, Angus suggested downloading the different sections (Body Armor, Sanitation, etc) of SurvivalBlog for keeping on a USB drive. May I suggest that people download by the month instead of [by the topical] section. This way, when JWR has archived a months' worth of articles, you can easily update your archives on your USB by downloading the most recent month, rather than updating every different section.

I love the Blog! - Ryan in BC, Canada


When I make a backup of SurvivalBlog, I use the following command:

wget --recursive --no-clobber --page-requisites --html-extension --convert-links --restrict-file-names=windows --domains --no-parent

This will create a directory which contains everything linked on from the domain which is navigable per normal in a browser by opening the index.html file contained within.

You can get wget from

Your Mac users can then convert the directory into a compressed, mountable disk-image with the command: (Replace the YYYYMMDD with the appropriate year, month and day of the snapshot.)

hdiutil create -srcfolder -format UDZO YYYYMMDD-survivalblog.dmg

I can also convert this to a .iso if you're interested, which can be burned from most operating systems. If you have access to a Mac, the command is:

hdiutil convert YYYYMMDD-survivalblog.dmg -format UDTO -o YYYYMMDD-survivalblog.iso
gzip -9 YYYYMMDD-survivalblog.iso.cdr

Once you have the iso, you can burn it to a CD-ROM for ease of browsing if you can't mount it as a disk-image.

I only backup your site now about once every six months doing this. Please don't do so any more often, since it uses a lot of bandwidth. Regards, - Mike B.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Digital Archives and Your One and Only Mortal Life articletoday. Unable to sleep last night, I took my new 4 Gig USB ["memory stick"] drive and downloaded your entire site. It was nice to read how wise I'd been the day after! It is far easier to permanently protect a USB drive than all computers. Figure that if any of my computers are fried, there will be one available somewhere that isn't! I still print out the more salient pieces on your site for nighttime reading, though... I already have a monumental JWR library!

I've been a "prepper" since '98. It's a humbling process - something like life itself. You can't provide for every contingency; either from lack of funds or lack of information. Ergo - you play the odds and take your best shot - allocating available resources to relative probabilities. The best part is imparting certain basic skills and universal beliefs to grandchildren - without creating fear. Amazing how small abilities in little hands help overcome insecurities and result in confident young adults!

Here is how I fairly quickly made my own SurvivalBlog archives:

Open on your computer.
Plug in your portable USB drive to any available slot.
On the left-hand side of the main page, select what you wish to download (i.e.; in "Categories, select "Body Armor (41) ).
When that page has opened, right click your mouse, then left click "Save Page As".
When you've done the above, you'll get the Windows "save as" menu. Select "My Documents" at the top where it says "Save in", then at the bottom of that menu select the auto-generated file name which is in this case " Body Armor Archives."

That transfers the entire page to the Documents section of your computer.
In "Documents" on your computer, it will show both a folder icon (ignore Archives.htm). Right click on that file and select "Send to", then select your portable USB drive as the target.

Bingo - it's now on your portable drive and on your home computer (where it's taking up space that you may need to use later).
Repeat the above, topic by topic, until you've downloaded everything that you want.
To free up the space on your home computer, you'll need to delete (in the Documents folder) both the " Body Armor Archives.htm" FOLDER AND the " Body Armor Archives.htm" actual document file.
Or, you can keep it in both places if you have room or in case the dog swallows your mini USB Drive.

It took me less than an hour to download all the topics and archives doing it subject by subject. Maybe there's an easier way, but this got the job done.

You, Sir, are providing the tools for we (hopeful) remnants of society to "keep on keepin' on" during darker days. And if not us, then the younger ones to whom we both teach and pass on our attitudes,
knowledge and goods. As the only viable central clearing house for preparation ideas, you're the proverbial "cat's meow"... sorry - showing my retirement age status. Anyway, my hat's off to you: great
book; great site; great and humble man of Christ and Humanity. Thanks for all you do, and God Bless you. - Angus

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

When you finally die and I know your not eager to, the world will certainly go on. You might be so lucky to have someone cry at your funeral. Regardless of how important you thought you were, your death will not be as special to the world or to yourself. You will be dead like the billions of animals and species before you.  After a week, maybe two, life here on planet earth will be the same as before you died. Most, if not all, will not miss you in the caring ways that you would want to believe. Like many, you didn’t have a say coming in this world, and you won’t have a say leaving this world. I and most of the people in the world would like to live, this life, without the need for suffering. When your time comes, time will take you out of this life. You will not escape this certainty.  There are a million ways to go. Nobody knows how it happens, until it does. I think it and wait for it to appear. Not knowing when, is the greatest mystery. It could be in a second or a hundred years. It will come. The law of death is simple. All living things shall perish. The containment of your life force energy and/or soul is part of the law of thermodynamics, the transformation of energy.

Imagine, if you will, a tree full of leaves that has fallen to the ground. The energy it took for the leaves to fall gently is the same amount of energy to rake them up. Just displayed differently. A second instance of energy transformation is a 300 pound man losing 100 pounds. His weight was lost because he used it as energy. One third of him is gone forever in a different form--somewhat painless.
Another instance of thermodynamics is a bottle of propane ignited under a small stove heating water. The propane turns to fire transferring to heat energy thus boiling the water. The water then changes to steam. The steam evaporates into the air and/or atmosphere. The vapor then gets absorbed or diminishes and turns to rain or condensation, consumed by a living creature or living organism then used as energy
again and made whole to earth once more. (This is another transformation of energy.)

Life is quite simple in living terms. Energy can’t be created nor destroyed. Just transferred to different forms.. I’m not saying your death will be painless but I am telling you that your pain, if any, will only last a short time compared to time of existence. Some great writers have written that death is as easy as stepping out of your body. The smarter you are, the easier it will be to guide yourself through your one and only [mortal] life. I hope you read, learn, teach and guide, through the different and strange times which lay ahead. The one thing I have learned about emergency preparation is don’t waste time trying to convince anyone of their needs that don’t want convincing. No matter how much you love or care for somebody, prepare for your own immediate survival should be your top priority! You must take care of yourself in order to help take care of others.

To help keep you alive, I'll focus on one key preparedness step:

Prepare a laptop inside a Faraday Box”

You should store the following references on your laptop hard drive [or on memory sticks, CD-ROMs & DVDs that you can access with your laptop]:

To include valuable information on what people will need for survival trades and efficiency, for day to day living wants and needs.

Boots and Clothing:
How to repair boots and clothing, to include various sewing techniques, glues, patches, laces, buttons, zippers, sew kits, Velcro and items needed or stored.

Civil Defense:
Technical operation and/or procedures on how the civil authority will lead. Establish and support an authority figure during the crisis, which may mean you.

Combat Skills:
Various skills to lead and teach realistic offensive tactics and defensive tactics and positions. Don't overlook weapons training and weapons repair manuals. [JWR Adds: There are now some excellent training videos available on DVD, such as The Art of the Tactical Carbine, but of course they are no substitute for hands-on training and the hours of practice needed to create muscle memory. For some free assembly/disassembly manuals in PDF, see the manufacturer web sites, as well as Steve's Pages. (BTW, you'll also find a lot of useful military manuals at Steve's Pages, such as FM 3-105 Survivability. )

How to organize, maintain and discipline as a leader, how to give orders and create and maintain a disciplined organizational structure. See the military organizational manuals that describe Unity of Command and related topics.

Various types of radios, CB, Morse code [HF ham radio], American Sign Language (ASL). Also to include antenna fabrication and/or makeshift communications devices.

Computer Programs: 
In addition to backups of operating system and word processing/spreadsheets, include specialized programs related to radio communications, propagation, ballistics calculations, and others.

Information on how to:  Shelter building, carpentry, plumbing, electrical, welding, mold making and casting of raw materials.


How to maintain good teeth and dentistry with the correct tools when need be.

You must be knowledgeable and have key references.

Economics and References:
What brought us to this economic crisis and who are the money masters? How long has the monetary system been around? You could download thousand of pages and help teach the truth. Store your own economic data. [JWR Adds: References on the standard weight and composition of various silver and gold might be crucial.]

Encyclopedia Britannica:
The entire world at your finger tips such as, science, discovery, arts, crafts, math, English, videos, writings, and so much more.

Federal Emergency Management Agency- procedures, operations, expectations and what to expect for various disaster assistance.

MRE, freeze dried, dehydrated, stored foods, canned foods, canning, bottling, cooking, preparation, recipes, gardening, raising animals, making your own bread, sprouts, cookware, medical care with [soft] foods.

Various games to keep you [and your children] happy and keep morale up.

Health And Fitness:
Exercising, fitness, eating correctly, not being lazy - work, work, work.

Herb and Vitamin Cures:
Store massive amounts of data on herb and vitamin cures and personal treatments for all types of ailments. Don’t forget your vitamins.

Making your own soaps, bleach, laundry soaps. Learning to use household remedies. Toiletries, solutions, disease fighting techniques, and sanitary solutions to include corpse handling/burial.

Items Wanted/ Needed:
Keep notes and massive data on you need, not want, no matter how long it is. [JWR Adds: The Alpha Strategy by John Pugsley is a great starting point. The book is out of print, but a PDF is available for free download.]

Local Government Readiness:
It’s wise to be prepared. The government is a small number of people. Governments like to dictate how to, but you should learn how to, without the government.  It’s a never ending battle of learning to live and to expect the unexpected. Remember, what can go wrong will go wrong. Often, it will be something you would have never of thought of.

Maps (Road and Street), U.S. and Canada:
Collect massive amounts of data on streets and/or other geographical data for your region, to include railroads, bus systems, sewers, drains, taxi depots, bus depots. Getting lost is no fun.

Collect references on home remedies, medical and human anatomy. There are plenty of downloads out there. [JWR Adds: Start with a free download of Where There is No Doctor,and Where There is No Dentist, from The Hesperian Foundation.]

Monthly Checklist:
Include chores from every day to every month, month to month, year to year maintenance and up keep on grounds, machinery, equipment, tools, weapons and/or perimeter establishment and grounds.

Nuclear Biological Chemical (NBC):
What to do in the attack scenario for nuclear, biological, and/or chemical attack or mishap. How to recover from the NBC situation. Recovery is your only option. There are lots of references on the Internet. I urge you to figure out what works best for you. Download it now and store it. You can always read more later. You must be able to retrieve data if the power grid is down, so plan ahead for alternate power source , inverters, and DC-to-DC adapters for your laptop. [Nuclear War Survival Skills by Cresson H. Kearney is available for free download.]

Outdoor Survival: How can you survive in the woods, desert, jungle, sea, ocean, lake, mountains, brush, bush. How will you gather water and food? Get videos and download as much info as you can because you will never know where you could end up.

How to get rid of particular bugs, pests, rodents. How to attract them for your advantage and how to use them as bait.

Pets: Store food, water, medical, shelter, for your pets. Download veterinary guides to fix your pet's problems. Get antibiotics now and store them..

Pictures and Videos:
Store photos, pictures, movies and videos to look at and watch later. You will be surprised at just how much entertainment is out there. [JWR Adds: Instructional videos can also be stored--even ones found on YouTube.]

Power Heat Fuel:
How are you going to keep warm? How are you going to create power? Candle making, bio-fuel, liquor, wood, heat rocks, make a tent inside your home? Create electricity, solar, wind, hydro, Sterno, generators, steam power, Sterling engine power, making batteries, inverters, charge controllers, drawings, diagrams, schematics.

State the exact protocol or direction on how to handle the situation that just arose. Rule of thumb is to stay where you are for as long as you can safely.

Reading Materials:
Download books you might think you will like in the future. You may want to start downloading survival books, medical, nutritional, gardening, recipes, how to manuals, et cetera.

Download various Bible translations for future reference. The Grim Reaper may approach you sooner than you think. Laugh now but tomorrow may be another story. You will want the hands of God to guide you, even if you are presently a little skeptical.

Security Intelligence:
Who, what, when, why, where, how many, what are your intentions, weapons, who is the leader? What are you facing? The biggest threat are your neighbors and/or neighborhood. Where are the hideouts in your area? Is it the church or the stream bed? The best defense is a great offense.

Download various shelter building techniques-- underground shelters, bunkers, domes, ICF block construction, wood construction, adobe, rammed earth, straw bale and anything else you can get your hands on.

Invisibility is a great benefactor, ghillie suits are great, but if your opponent has thermal night vision gear, you are screwed. The best enemies are ones that will fight themselves. Camouflage is the greatest tactic.

Nuclear, biological, chemical, accidental, rail collisions, confusion, what to do and how to do it.

Buses, taxis, planes, trains, automobiles, animals, skateboard, foot/feet, bicycle, mini bike, moped, motor bike, electric skateboard, ski’s, camper, motor home, class A, B, &C, recreational vehicles, military vehicles, gyrocopter, helicopter, hot wiring, and so on.

Water filters, distilling, bleach, containers, pills, can you purify sea water? Do you know what to do if water is contaminated with nuclear fallout? How can you kill pathogens and bacteria? Water is the most vital information of all. Don’t take it for granted. What will you do if the tap stops working?

Manuals, drawings, spare parts, directions, tools needed for repairing weapons, oils, lubrications, cleaning supplies, gun safes, holsters, sights, extra ammo, extra magazines, and such.

Information and understanding of earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, summer’s extreme heat, winter’s extreme cold, fall, spring, ice storms, volcanoes, wind-driven wild fires, heavy snowfall, landslides, tsunami, thunderstorms, floods, droughts, severe climate shifts and wind storms. Are you ready for all of these?

Personally, I’m not as prepared as I should be, or would like to be. Many people that I have spoken to feel the same way. Money is presently very tight, and most people in reality are living week to week if not day to day.
Information in the United States or the World Wide Web thankfully costs nearly nothing. For me, knowledge right now seems to be the most important way I can prepare because it is free. I can help guide and teach people through their situations. Which to some may be more important than having worldly possessions.

If I had more money I would love to buy weapons, a month’s worth of  food, a piece of property, a house or a smile on someone else’s face.
For now I can only try to prepare by gathering the knowledge others never thought of, but may someday need.

JWR Adds: See the SurvivalBlog archives for a wealth of information (more than 8,000 archived posts) that will be useful in disaster situations. In addition to making digital archives as Dakota Diamond has suggested, I strongly recommend printing out or purchasing commercially printed hard copies of the most crucial references. (See my Bookshelf page, for some suggested "must" reference books.) Hard copy is the only sure way to have references at your fingertips, when the Schumer hits the fan.

Dear Mr. Rawles,
I live in Albertville, Alabama.  We were hit by a tornado Saturday night. The things that I witnessed in Albertville were very similar to that of Yazoo City [which was recently described by another SurvivalBlog reader.]

I would like to add to some things for you to consider:

The tornado in our town stayed above the ground for a large part of the destruction.  This means that if you had trees close to your house, more than likely, you are going to have damage. Do not have trees too close or allow them to get too big.           

A house with a hip-style roof will hold-up better than a gabled roof.

Asphalt shingles actually outlasted tin.  Small portions of asphalt were missing in some people’s houses as opposed to large sections of tin. 

In this region, these storms always come from the West.  Have as few windows as possible on the west side.

More people will watch you work than help you work. 

People will come in and try to take your stuff.  We piled junk on the side of the road that was destroyed.  People had the gall to pick through our stuff as we were piling more onto the pile.  They were making a bigger mess than the tornado.  I explained that if they took one thing they were taking it all.  The woman called me an expletive and gave me the finger.  An officer, who I know, witnessed the whole thing and arrested the lady for hindering a government operation.

People will loot food and vice items quickly.  Convenience stores and grocery stores will be the first looted.

Never ever store anything you will need in an emergency situation in a portable out-building.  It will be scattered all over other people’s yards.

Do not park your camper in your front yard.  It will be in someone else’s yard when you find it.

If your area is impacted by a tornado, be prepared to be hassled.  Even if you know every officer in your town, other agencies will send officers to help and they do not know you.

If the stuff you need is away from your house you might not be able to get to it for many days.  My brother lives on the other side of Albertville.  He was not able to get me the tractor he had borrowed until Sunday afternoon.

Join a Reserve Deputy Program if you can.  The badge will help you get back to your home.

Be on a first name basis with an electrician.  When utility poles are snapped, they will get your house's power lines ready to be re-connected.

The bottom line is that my family has been reading this blog for several years.  If it was not for SurvivalBlog, we might be one of the guys looking for help instead of being ready to get to work.

I took the [November, 2009] blog post regarding generator preparation to heart, so my generator was ready to work the next morning after the tornado struck.

Thank you Mr. Rawles and thank you to those who post here. I am a better person for it. - JEH

I want to thank JIR for his article and the efforts he went through showing us how to construct and supply underground caches. I just wanted to suggest an alternative to the custom made containers by using a 300 gallon spherical below ground septic tank. They are made of watertight plastic with a o-ring sealed lid and weigh around 110 pounds. (See the Tank Depot web site.) The rough size of the tank is 54" in diameter and 51 inches tall with a 20 inch manhole cover. You would also only dig 118 cubic feet for a 5 foot diameter x 6 foot deep hole versus 280 cubic ft for a 5 foot wide x 4 foot tall x 14 foot long trench. The price for one of these tanks (without delivery) is under $400 ea. - DWJ

Howdy Jim,
Its a little more expensive possibly but you can use molded water/chemical tanks for your cache. They would be much easier to use than building a culvert. These ones have a 16" diameter opening at the top which would make it much easier to load and retrieve items and come in a variety of sizes. These tanks are very heavy duty and of seamless construction.

To line the pit used for any tank or cache I would use heavy pond liner. You can get this online up to 45 mils in thickness. Home Depot sell 15' x 15' pond liner in 20 mil thickness. Just line the hole with the appropriate size, add you cache container and wrap. I would then place a sheet on top sloping away from the cache that I was burying to direct seeping rainwater away. - Ken L.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

If you are concerned about hiding a large amount of goods from looters, neighbors or other busybodies, remember that no indoor hiding place is likely to survive a determined search. If your home is the only place you have food and provisions, you may be forced to fight against very long odds to try to keep it. If you are forced to abandon your home in the middle of the night or burned out by looters, you might appreciate having a store of food and other gear in a safe, undetectable location where you can recover it. You might want to consider constructing a series of permanent underground caches. Underground is the safest place to hide something, but the most difficult to construct. There is no such thing as permanent, of course, but you can come pretty close if you follow a few rules and take a little care.

I have 3 large caches that I buried over the course of the last year. Having three redundant cache sites is pretty excessive, I know, but forgive me my excesses. I had the materials and the surplus supplies, so I used them. They cost very little to stock the way I do it and I had almost everything on hand anyway. They are cheap to construct if you can borrow or rent earth moving machinery and hey, you know what we say, two is one and one is none. Having three of them gives me more tactical options if I ever need them. I went a little overboard on waterproofing too because I was learning as I went along and found very little practical information on the web to help. I will pass on the procedures I used because they worked, and try to point out some of the stupid errors I made along the way.

The biggest problem with burying things is water. Soil is mostly permeable to water and may hold moisture year round. This will cause containers to rust away or otherwise degrade. Moisture inside your cache container can be a disaster causing rust and rot. If you can get around this problem, underground hiding places are excellent. They are temperature stable and very secure.

For containers, you need something extremely durable, and physically strong (to resist ground pressure), and completely rat-proof. You probably can't waterproof your container well enough to prevent moisture from accumulating inside it, so you will need to put it somewhere dry and allow it to stay that way by diverting water away from it. You are shooting for a sort of man-made cave where your goods can stay dry and at a relatively constant temperature for decades.

Plastic buckets can work for small, temporary caches, but are unsuitable for unattended storage of longer than a few weeks. I feel that eventually, rodents will find any container you bury and if it's not rodent proof, you will have rat damage. For long term, storage you will want something much bigger, stronger and rodent-proof. I feel that (New) Steel drums are an excellent choice for this. They are strong, water tight, and resist corrosion well. If you can get these, they are probably the easiest and best container. An even larger container can be made of road culvert if you can seal off the ends with rat-proof doors or panels. You could probably also use galvanized trash bins, or old refrigerators and other appliances, but these are less durable than an industrial drum and could collapse if driven over by a vehicle.

These containers can be buried almost anywhere the terrain and soil is suitable, but should be located in a place where nobody is likely to suspect anything of value is located. A hay field away from any public road, public grazing lands, forestry service lands, power cuts, or almost any scrub lands are ideal. There are endless possibilities. You can even bury these in your back yard or under a building if you wish. Bury it deep enough to ensure the top is under ground by at least 6 inches (a foot seems better to me and more temperature stable). Moving this much dirt around is pretty much insanity without a backhoe or other earth moving machinery, so avoid using large culvert unless you can bury them without attracting attention. If you must hand-dig, you should probably use a smaller container, like a drum. I started excavating by hand but that didn't last very long. I dug for two hours and didn't seem to make much of a dent in the ground. A back-hoe is definitely the way to go, but only if you can keep your cache sites a strict secret.

The key things you need to look for in a cache site are:

1. Deep water table and good drainage. This is a huge problem in my area and finding a good site is difficult. Your container will not be completely water tight and will quickly fill with water if your site is wrong. I determined this by testing two sites using plastic pails. The side of a gentle slope works pretty well. Avoid low ground that could collect rain run-off. If your soil is wet all the time, you are going to have to use a very large piece of plastic sheeting to divert water and protect your cache. The soil should ideally be dry year round once you get a couple of feet down. If not, you may still be ok if you use enough plastic to divert surface water around your cache. You can test your site by loading a cache drum or (perforated) bucket with a little cotton cloth (I used a couple of white bath towels), bury it using the same techniques you will use for your cache and leave it a year or at least leave it through your local wet season. When you dig it up and inspect, there should be no water damage to the towels and no evidence of water on the inside of the drum. One of my pails (buried in a flat, sort of wet forest floor) flooded in spite of the plastic sheeting, but the one buried into a slope had no sign of moisture at all. The ground water had passed over the top of the sheet and left the soil underneath dry.

Some regions have the opposite problem. Trying to cache anything deeply in Arizona, for instance hits rock-hard clay a foot deep. Even with a pick it's almost impossible to dig through. If your soil bottoms out in caliche clay or bedrock, underground storage may not be for you. Even if you manage to blast your way down deep enough, water is likely to gather there when it rains and flood your site. There, drainage is almost non-existent.

2. Remote or at least hidden location. Nobody can know you have hidden something there. Security is key. If anyone knows you have buried something, you will probably lose your cache. Your site should have a hidden approach and egress route to facilitate recovery. Ideally, it should be in an area where people simply won't go. There should be nothing nearby that could draw people to the area like water or game or even fire-wood. If you use earth moving machinery, you need to do it where nobody will wonder why and investigate.

3. Room to bury your containers between trees or other obstacles without leaving signs that you were there. You may need several drums to cache all your gear and supplies. In the case of a big cache, you will want room to move earth-moving machinery around the site. Digging through thick roots by hand is soul-destroying work. Make it easy on yourself and find a nicer place to dig, or rent a back-hoe.

Choose your sites with great care and the rest is easy. The general procedure is simple. Bury the drum or culvert laying on it's side and before you replace the sod or leaf litter, pack dirt around the drum and then lay down a generous portion of heavy plastic sheeting. Cover the sheet with a foot of soil and replace the sod or leaf litter. With the sod layer in place, the cache will be undetectable without a metal detector in a few weeks.

What should you include in your cache for permanent storage and how do you pack it?

Waterproof each item separately as if it were going underwater, if possible. All foods stored underground should be canned in enameled cans or glass jars. Glass is fragile, but won't ever rust away, even if your cache leaks. If you go this route as I did, add an oxygen absorber and dip the lids in paraffin to waterproof them and your jars should last virtually forever. To minimize breakage, you can wrap each jar in newspaper, or tie them into the legs of pants or wrap them in other clothing, like sweaters and jackets. This seems wasteful of space, but you may be glad you included extra the clothing later. Whatever you use, I recommend you pad your jars excessively. If your disaster turns out to be an earthquake, you will be glade you did and newspaper is cheap. Loading your cache should probably be done at the site if you use glass. Too much rattling around will cause breakage. If you can pack the container very tight and fill all the free space with cloth or paper, it may ride in the back of a truck, but I can't recommend this. Each drum will be very heavy when loaded.

Contents: The purpose of these caches (for me) are to be stand-alone survival kits for long term sustainment. Each one should assume that this is the only supply you will have. That way, if you need to bug-out and leave all your gear behind, you can re-supply, even if all of your sites but one are compromised. I know that's a tall order, but try to store only items that will be hard to get after TEOTWAWKI or very likely to be needed. It can be done rather cheaply if you take a minimalist approach and leave out the frills.

Food: (The most important thing to store)
All of the foods stored in this type of long term cache should be dry goods with very long shelf lives. I store mostly wheat and beans, with some white rice, salt and white sugar. I also include some garlic powder, vitamin C crystals, peppercorns and cinnamon. That's it. I don't even try to store baking powder since it won't last more than a few years. You really can't store anything in here that you will want to rotate. Digging these things up often is a bad idea. Not only could you give away your cache location, but loosening the dirt around them every year may cause them to take on water. I recommend inspecting each cache infrequently. I checked all of my caches after a year and took one completely apart to check the weapons and clothing integrity. They were all bone dry (and the weapons were still greasy and unchanged). I hike by each of them every few weeks to see if the area has been disturbed, but I doubt if I will dig them up again for several years. I don't feel the need.

Before you start trying to store a whole armory, ask yourself two questions: "If this is the only weaponry I have available, can I get by?" and "Do I really need to store this?" Your answers will be different from mine, but try to minimize your weapons. Every cubic inch you use for weapons is space you won't have for food or clothing or other vital supplies. All weapons are costly and if you spend a lot on them, you are really going to get your feelings hurt if one of them rusts solid or gets stolen by a construction crew that accidentally digs up your cache. Keep it simple, cheap and expendable. Almost any old surplus military rifle is ideal for this kind of storage, but your choice is your own.

I chose two inexpensive weapons for each of my caches and a small amount of ammunition: I chose an SKS carbine because I had several of these and like them. I bought several at $130 each a few years ago. I fired them to confirm the iron sight's zero and was planning to sell them or store them for hard times. When I decided to store them underground, I cleaned three of them well, took them apart and packed them in automotive grease in a cotton sheet and enclosed the whole thing in plastic. The bores, chambers and mechanisms including the trigger mechanisms are literally packed solid in grease. The whole assembly is then dropped into a section of 8 inch PVC pipe with a moisture absorbing silica gel pack and the cap glued on with pipe glue. It's just that simple.

In each cache I also store a .38 revolver with 6 inch bbl. I got a deal on these for $190 each, but they were almost as expensive as the food I stored. If I had it to do over, I would probably not bother storing pistols, or use ones I already had. They are all good quality weapons, police surplus, packed in grease and wrapped in cotton before sealing them in plastic bags. Are they ideal? Not even close, but they are all serviceable handguns and adequate for my purposes. This pistol will fit neatly into the PVC container with the carbine, or you can hedge your bets and prepare a separate container for it out of a short section of 6 inch pipe. The pipe container that I have checked didn't seem to change even after a year of storage. I used a quality (Quaker state) automotive grease and it looked pretty much the same a year later.

I also stored ammunition and other metal objects the same way, but my ammo is sealed by itself. I don't think exposure to grease or solvents is harmful to ammo, but why take chances? My ammo is sealed in glass jars and well padded before sealing in a pipe section. I chose to store 20 loaded stripper clips of 7.62x39 FMJ and 50 loose rounds of .38+P 158gr lead SWC hollow points. In two of my caches, I also included a couple of speed loaders and a holster, almost as an afterthought. I forgot to include a cleaning kit and need to add that sometime.

I have a sheath knife and a Machete stored at each site for chores. Both are greased and sealed with the firearms. The only metal tools I store outside of a PVC container are a short handled shovel and a small pick which I threw in after oiling them. Neither of these tools had changed much after a year, but the oil had evaporated or dried up.

Clothing and bedding:
Each cache site has 2 sleeping bags and 4 blankets, all polyester. Why? Besides being cheap, polyester can sit for years under water and still come out functional. Polyester is sensitive to sunlight, but not water. Besides that, I got a deal on them. I wrapped each sleeping bag in a 10x12 poly tarp and 550 cord to make a shelter out of if needed and seal the whole thing in a plastic trash bag. I bought the poly tarp new and I probably should have left it in the plastic bag it came with.

Each cache has some "Goodwill" clothes, new underwear, socks and a pair of my old army boots stored in plastic bags inside a couple of plastic boxes. For my wife, I bought new sneakers. she is not the boot type. These clothes are the most vulnerable part of the cache and cannot survive water submersion. So far, none of them have been harmed by underground storage.

A .50 ammo can holds a first aid kit (I know, these have a limited shelf life), Grain mill (dismantled), lighter, matches two (polyester) hammocks and a small supply of bug repellent, Leatherman tool, Polar Pur water treatment crystals, a small water filter and other sundries. I have toyed with including some cash or gold in this ammo can, since I have space, but opted instead to stuff some more socks and underwear in it. You might want to place a few silver or gold coins in the can, just in case. This can and the contents were bought new and represents a lot of the money I spent to build these caches. Just the water filters and grain mills were around $60 each. You can probably skimp a little on the sundries and still have a viable kit, but I got a little giddy while I was shopping. Be careful what you choose for water purification. Bleach bleeds through most containers in time and will rust all the metal around it and so will iodine. My Polar Pur crystals are still sealed and haven't leaked yet. Next time I open the caches I intend to remove the Polar Pur bottles from my ammo can, just in case.

Each of my caches also contain two cheap stock pots, a camping mess kit, some utensils, hobo stove and a collapsible 5 gallon jug for potable water. In my last two caches, I added a couple of 5 gallon buckets because they are so useful and I had the space. These buckets contain wheat, but I don't yet know if it will go bad. (It survived the first year).

Building the sites:
Since I was unable to easily get new industrial drums, I went with galvanized road culvert. Three foot diameter culvert is expensive if new, but you might be able to salvage something like this from a construction site. That's what I did. I got three sections of 8 foot culvert for the price of cutting it up and was able to use them all, even though one is dented slightly and a little shorter. Culvert is probably a lot more trouble than drums, but drums are expensive and you will need several per cache site. The companies I contacted didn't even want to give me a quote on six drums. I think most people who sell new drums deal in volume. So I gave up and looked for something else, in this case 3 ft diameter road culvert. Smaller diameter culvert would probably work just as well and would be a lot easier to bury and haul around. If I were doing this over I would choose one foot diameter culvert no more than 4 or 5 feet long and use a lot of them.

To prepare a culvert as a long term cache, you need to rat-proof it. I used two sheet metal panels cut from an old refrigerator and held by stainless steel 1/8th inch bolts. The panel was cut to fit the corrugation very closely and held in place by two lengths of angle iron bolted to the culvert. There are a lot of ways to do this, I just had some angle iron and sheet metal lying around and threw it together. I highly recommend you arrange some kind of door instead. A door would be much more convenient for inspecting the cache. The method I chose means I have to uncover each bolt head by digging a lot more dirt from underneath the culvert than would be needed with a door. Further, a welded on door would probably be much stronger and tighter. My panels have about 1/8th inch open space between the sheet metal and the culvert wall, not very tight. I also lined my first two culvert bottoms with mixed sand and cat litter, but I don't really know what I was thinking. This step is unnecessary and I almost broke my back doing it. To load the culvert with supplies, it's easiest to work from both ends and then close it up. On my first site, I buried one end and then tried to load it, (bad planning). Since most of my storage containers are tubes or round, I stack my supplies on their sides. Most of the space is taken up with 1/2 gallon glass jars full of wheat or other foods. Each jar is padded with clothing or newspaper.

Beware, culvert pipe weighs a lot. I was able to bury and man-handle mine into position all alone, but I used a borrowed Bobcat earth mover and a winch to do it. (Be very careful not to make chain marks on nearby trees if you use a winch. Pad the trees to avoid damaging the bark.) If you try to bury one of these by hand, you will probably die of exhaustion before you get the hole dug. Digging a 5 foot x 14 foot trench is a lot of work, even with machinery. Once you have your hole, you can load and seal your cache and then cover it over with at least a foot of dirt. Pack the dirt in tightly around your culvert or drums. This prevents the dirt from settling later and allowing water to drain in.

Lay a sheet of heavy plastic over the site, after packing in the drums with fill dirt. You can buy rolls of heavy plastic at any hardware store.
Get at least 6 mil plastic and it should hold up for many years. The plastic should be under at least a few inches of soil and positioned to re-route water under the soil surface so it won't seep into your cache. The sod should placed back over the whole thing. Replace as much ground cover as possible to camouflage the site and get rid of any machine marks or tracks. If you did a good job of choosing and sealing your site, the inside is surprisingly dry and temperature stable.

I highly recommend adding an inventory sheet near one of the ends. Without mine I would have had no idea what I was looking at or what I stored by the time I cracked open the cache.

One last challenge: Excess dirt. You are going to have to figure out how to dispose of a lot of dirt. I didn't anticipate this. I used a Bobcat [earth mover] to move a lot of it over the site and scatter it, but I still had to load a lot of it in my truck bed and haul it away. I took it to a low area and dumped it. But this is a lot of work. I did the same thing at all three sites since I had no better solution. I don't recommend leaving a huge pile of dirt next to your cache for obvious reasons. Think it through before you start and you will have more fun than I did.

Conclusion: I have used temporary underground and underwater caches for years in the military, so I suspected a long term cache could be constructed, but until I tried it, I was still a little apprehensive. After inspecting all three sites and checking one of them thoroughly, I have lost much of my trepidation. If you take care to protect everything from moisture and vermin, you can store supplies underground for extended periods. If you live in a place where you are likely to be looted, beat them to the punch and hide it first. When the looters come to call, they will find the cupboard bare. - JIR

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Survival planning can be overwhelming and a lot of the advice you get is not practical or compatible with our lifestyles. A lot of us choose, or are forced to live in the crowded East Coast far too close to cities to survive TEOTWAWKI. I dare say, a lot of SurvivalBlog readers live in suburbs just outside medium to large population centers. Many of us have jobs that don't migrate to small towns and would face a substantial loss of income if we moved away from our livelihoods. Some of us like our current lives and feel that hunkering down in a rural town is just too much like running away from life. Others (like myself) have family obligations that preclude relocating.

That can make surviving the "big one" difficult or even impossible. But, fortunately, the "big one" is much more unlikely than a lot of smaller regional disasters. You should be able to easily survive the small ones and with a little planning you may be able to increase your odds of surviving TEOTWAWKI astronomically. If you approach preparation logically, you should probably have a variety of plans in place to mitigate a whole range of possible disasters. While this suburban approach is not as safe as living in a back-woods retreat out west, it's much less extreme and more palatable for suburbanites. If you can pull it off, living debt free and off the grid in your remote retreat is the safest option. If you can't, don't give up. Prepare for what you can and mitigate the rest. At least think it through and have a plan of action.

First, what are your real goals? Survival is simply keeping body and soul together and your body temperature at 98.6 degrees. That's definitely not enough for most of us. We all want to survive in style, with as little discomfort as possible. There is a huge difference between living in a stadium with thousands of other refugees and living in your own home. Most of us want to be in a position to help others in a crisis, or at least exercise some level of control over our lives and maintain some dignity. But, don't lose sight of the real objective. You want to keep breathing, even if you lose your home and your possessions. The scale and duration of a disaster determines the amount of preparation you must have, but in every case, living in style with dignity and comfort takes more preparation than simply living through it. If you are living in a high population area, you are accepting risk and betting that society will continue in some form. That's okay as long as you realize that you are going to have to pay for that bet if the big balloon ever goes up.

Lets look at some disasters in ascending order of severity and see what you can do to live through them from your suburb home. I will share my own preparations under each heading, not because I am a super-survivor and ready for anything, but so you can see what I consider a practical level of effort (in my particular case). You can easily improve on my preparation level and should if you feel the need. I am 50 years old and basically a lazy guy with grown up kids. If I die from my own lack of preparation, I can accept that and I guarantee the world will go on without me. You have to choose your own pain level when it comes to survival planning.

1. Power outage (temporary, like would be caused by a severe winter storm). This is an easy disaster to survive. Basically everyone will survive it unless they are unfortunate enough to be on an operating table or something at the time. Surviving with style requires a generator or at least candles and maybe a camping stove. In very cold environments, you can be in danger without an alternate form of heating for at least one room. Setting up a dome tent inside your home and using good quality sleeping bags can allow you to survive sub-zero temperatures easily. Even a couple of candle lanterns can keep the inside of a small tent above freezing. Several LED lights will make your life much better and a good battery radio is a must. Rechargeable batteries are a good idea but only if you keep them charged. If you can't make that much effort, take the lazy way out and keep a large supply of Duracell batteries on hand and rotate them yearly--problem solved. Keep in mind that elevators and subways become immobile metal boxes in a power outage.

My own preparations: I have a deep cycle battery backup to provide light and recharge AA batteries for a few days. My system is on a smart-charger to maintain the charge and I rotate one of my two big marine batteries every three years for a cost of about $90. This is much less trouble than maintaining a small generator, but probably a little more expensive in the long run. I also have a 12 watt (12 volt) solar panel to top off my battery bank and a 6 watt solar AA battery charger. If worst comes to worst, I can recharge my batteries from my truck alternator. Total system cost (with a 1,500 watt inverter, charger and a hand truck) was slightly more than a generator. I don't use a freezer for food storage, so I don't require much electricity. I have kerosene lanterns and both propane and wood cooking capability. I am prepared for much worse, so, of course I have lots of food, some water, a hand operated well, several good radios, camping gear and other stuff. So a power outage is not even very inconvenient. The only thing I really miss without grid power is air conditioning and television.

2. Regional disaster (Earthquake or Hurricane). Some disasters are too nasty to face. You will want to evacuate. This requires a vehicle with plenty of fuel, a wad of cash, and a well stocked bug-out bag for each member of the family. More importantly, it requires a plan. What will your bug-out route look like in a disaster? If you haven't considered this, you probably should. Take a look at the congestion in every recent hurricane evacuation and plan accordingly. You need to know where you will go and plan your route. If you can own a well stocked retreat outside the disaster area and can get to it, you have it made. If not, make plans to stay with friends or family outside the disaster zone.

My own preparations: My area is sort of vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding, so I have a very extensive bug-out bag with basic camping stuff, two weeks of food and water, and a few basic weapons for the road. I have all my important documents in a waterproof/fireproof lock-box that I can grab and take with me. I keep my truck in good shape and consistently top off my fuel when it reaches 1/2 tank, but I only store seven gallons of gasoline (which I rotate every month or two). I also have cash on hand so I can pay for hotel rooms. I am 1/4 tank away from high ground, so I figure that's good enough. Oh, and I also carry flood insurance.

3. General economic depression/recession/hyper-inflation etc. Once we start an economic slide, it can hit you in a lot of ways. Some of us have already been crushed by the current depression. Your pension may be lost. Prices will skyrocket, while your paycheck doesn't. Losing your job or having drastically less money can be a soul-destroying disaster. There are several ways you can mitigate it if you start early enough. Debt is your biggest problem and threat. If you miss a few house payments, or car payments, the banks are not going to be forgiving. Credit card debt can crush you with interest and finance charges. Avoid them like the plague. While you still have a reliable income, you need to pay off debt, or at least build up a buffer of cash to allow you to make minimum payments while you look for a job. Many of us have fallen into the trap of having a huge 30 year mortgage and live in fine suburban houses. As the real estate market falls flat, you won't be able to sell your home to get out of debt. Buying a smaller, less expensive place or renting can give you a measure of freedom if you can manage to get free from your current mortgage. If you have a mortgage payment, you are still a renter and subject to eviction. Even if you own your house outright, you really don't. You probably still have to make a tax payment or you will be evicted.

Oddly enough, a food storage program can really help you make ends meet. The kinds of food we store tend to be not only shelf-stable, but cheap. If you start eating the same foods you store, like wheat, beans and rice for most of your meals, you can feed your family on pennies. These basic foods are actually tasty and nutritious once you get used to them. Work them into your diet gradually and you may find that you feel healthier and spend less on your grocery bills.

A small garden can cut your food costs and raise the quality of your diet at the same time. (You also get an opportunity to get a little exercise, something most of us need.) Fast food is not only unhealthy, it's expensive. The same $20 you would spend to feed your family a meal of greasy burgers will stretch to five or more healthy meals if you cook it yourself. A good cookbook can be a wonderful investment if you use it.

Get rid of all your car payments. Driving an older car that you own outright can save you a ton of money. They are cheaper to insure too.

My own preparations: Not so good. I have a fairly safe job, but almost no savings and quite a lot of debt, mostly in the form of a large mortgage. If I lost my job, I would quickly lose my home if I couldn't find another one quickly. I have a small military retirement pension, but we would have to make some drastic lifestyle changes to live on it. The thought that I could be homeless and broke within 5-6 months scares me, but there is no quick fix for debt.

As long as I have a job, I will at least have local transportation. I often ride to work or shopping on my mo-ped which gets 150 mpg. I can get around town pretty well with no other form of transportation. I store 7 gallons of gasoline and oil and have a complete set of spares. This would allow me to run my Moped for at least months, even if I were unable to get more. If gas gets much higher, I will probably park my old truck most of the time anyway. My little bike is home built from a kit. It has a 66cc engine I bought on Amazon and put together in a weekend. At first, this bike was just a toy, but I quickly saw the utility and bought a complete set of spares and bike parts to "systemize" it. It has proven reliable, economical and loads of fun. Coupled with a small cargo trailer, my bike can haul about 200 pounds of groceries at 25mph and has a range of over 75 miles without refueling the little 2.5 liter tank. Total cost counting the bike, engine kit, spares, fuel storage containers and tools was about $450. If you are interested in building one of these kits, I highly recommend a visit to With a little research, you can tell if you are skilled enough to build one and maintain it. This solution won't work for everyone, but it works great for me. It's a wonderful feeling of power to know I can repair anything that goes wrong with it.

4. Crime. The Marines have a saying I admire: "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet." These are words to live by. Being robbed, raped or burglarized is a personal disaster, but violent crime can be the most horrible thing that ever happens to you. Anyone can be a target of violent crime, so never assume you are safe, even in your own home. Your physical security should be your first concern and always at the back of your mind. There is no time to think about it while it's happening, so you will need to plan out your responses in advance. Do you have to go through life watching over your shoulder for danger? In short, yes. You do anyway. When you cross a busy street, you don't just amble across without a glance. Why should you behave that way when it comes to thugs?

Do you have a weapon? If not, you really do need to get one ASAP and learn to use it. Do you rely on the police to protect you? If you do, you are betting your life against long odds. Historically, the police have a dismal record for protecting citizens. If you don't believe me, ask a cop. Most of them will tell you that they can't protect you from violent crime and will advise you to arm yourself. Firearms are by far the best weapons, but if you simply can't own one (for whatever reason), have something and a plan to use it effectively. Even residents of New York City can own a ball bat, knife or tomahawk, so there is no excuse for being unarmed. Don't bet your life on a Taser or pepper spray. Buy something lethal and learn to use it. Just your possession of a weapon, skills and a plan to use them will calm you and allow you to think more clearly.

Defending your home. If someone wants into a house, then they can get in. No physical barrier can stop a determined person. But, barriers like solid doors and locks can slow them down and force them to make noise. The only real deterrent that works is the threat of brute force (even if you rely on the police to provide it for you). Visible barriers can also deter criminals and make them go elsewhere. But what if they ring the doorbell in the middle of the day? Do you answer your door with a pistol in your hand? Maybe you should. Or at least, stuff a snub-nose revolver in your pocket on your way to the door. Home invasions often begin with a knock on the door and a friendly smile. You may not be able to stop the Manson gang with a pocket pistol, but then again, you might. Your chances are certainly better if you expect that friendly UPS guy holding a package to suddenly turn nasty and push past you into your house with his four buddies. Look at your situation right now. Are you more than five seconds away from a loaded weapon? If so, you are not as secure as you might be.

Defending against burglary while you are away is harder. Barriers like stout doors and window bars help. Living in a good neighborhood and knowing your neighbors helps. Having a monitored burglar alarm helps if you can afford it. A loud (unmonitored) burglar alarm will make the burglar jumpy and might scare him away. You should also make it hard on him. Don't store your valuables in easy to find or easy to grab fashion. A heavy gun safe is a lot harder to carry off than loose valuables. If it's bolted down, it's even more difficult to steal. Scatter and hide your wealth and the burglar is likely to miss some of it. If the worst happens and your stuff is stolen, console yourself. It's just stuff.

A dog can be a big deterrent and a wonderful warning system (and a peerless pal!). But never depend on a dog to fight for you. Dogs are too easy to beat. Dog owners tend to overestimate the combat effectiveness of their animals. The fact is, even a large dog is not hard to kill and all of them are downright stupid compared to a human adversary. Don't count on your dog to defend your home. He will try valiantly and fail. Dogs are best used to warn you and give you time to prepare a defense. (By the way, domesticated dogs are the only canines that bark. There is some evidence that they were originally bred specifically as burglar alarms.)

If you bug out, then you should absolutely be armed. There are too many things that can go wrong on the road. You need weapons you can conceal or they may be confiscated at a check point, so I suggest a battle carbine with a folding stock. (The WASR 10 AKM, that comes with a TAPCO trigger job is a great choice). A good choice for concealed carry is a Ruger SP-101 in .357 Magnum. It's utterly reliable, powerful and as accurate as you are. My G.O.O.D. preparations include a Mossberg riot shotgun to surrender to the cops and a few other items that are less noticeable. The Mossberg is an excellent weapon and cheap enough to not weep if you lose it.

My own preparations: Not great, but better than most. I have a battery powered burglar alarm inside the house to give me some warning and 3 battery powered wireless cameras for outdoor monitoring. We have three cell phones on two different networks, so we can call the police.

I have a modest, but adequate survival battery and a moderate amount of ammunition for each weapon. I answer the door with my hand on a .44 Magnum. I am rarely more than two seconds from a loaded firearm and carry a knife even in the shower. Does this make me a paranoid? Maybe, but I figure that just because you are not paranoid doesn't mean everyone is is not out to get you. This level of readiness for sudden combat might prove too inconvenient for some people but doesn't cramp my lifestyle at all. I have lived this way my whole adult life. I am not hurting anyone and I feel pretty safe. None of my neighbors know about any of my preparations or suspect that they are covered when they come knocking at my door. My home doesn't look like a bunker and I never look like I am armed. My wife is a marginal but enthusiastic shot, and has a .45 Colt single action revolver within reach most of the time. (She has three of them and jokingly calls two of them her "speed loaders" [since Colt single action revolvers are notoriously slow to reload.] It might be a bad day for someone attempting a home invasion at my place. The bad guys will at least have to overcome an instant, determined defense. But even with all my "rational paranoia", my house is far from secure. It can be burglarized easily or burned. It's definitely not a fortress. If law and order completely breaks down, I recognize that I can't possibly defend this house from a determined group. There is no shame in running away from extreme danger.

5. Financial collapse: If there is a general collapse of the finance systems, expect banks to close immediately for the duration, or perhaps impose withdrawal limits on your accounts (check the fine print. They can do that.) If you have valuables stored in a strong box inside a bank, you may not be able to access them. ATM machines may quit working. Credit will dry up and your VISA card may not work. As hyperinflation takes hold, the price of goods will fluctuate wildly and vendors will start defensively pricing their goods. In most historic cases of hyperinflation, prices changed daily or even hourly. If all of this comes to pass, any wealth or entitlements you have denominated in dollars (like a retirement check, for instance) will quickly become waste paper. In this kind of environment, most people are going to we wary of doing business and shortages of fuel, food and other staples should be expected. Cash is king in a credit-less economy, but it's also poisonous. It loses value quickly, so you will want to hold as much of your wealth as possible in tangible goods and dump cash quickly. In hyper inflating economies, people who get paid in dollars try to cash their checks and spend the money on payday. If this kind of emergency gets really bad or lasts very long, I believe it could easily slide into a total grid-down TEOTWAWKI collapse. Our only hope is that the same government who caused the crisis can somehow maintain order and halt the crash. I don't have a clue how they will be able to do this and I suspect they don't either. The point is, they will be on a time limit. At some point, people will start to riot, loot, and evacuate cities and the whole house of cards may fall.

The Ideal way to survive this kind of calamity is to already be living outside the money economy. If you don't have any bills or expenses and are largely self sufficient, you can probably survive this without much change in lifestyle. Everyone else may be in trouble. In the event of a general finance meltdown, you really should consider executing your TEOTWAWKI plan, because things may get very ugly very quickly and you may not be far ahead of the Golden Horde. Widespread and simultaneous bank closures from financial instability is a very bad sign.

6. TEOTWAWKI plan. (Long term Grid-down emergency): This is the big one. It's what this blog is all about, and the reason you should have moved out west to a quiet little town. If you can plan for this one, you will be ready for anything less catastrophic. I see a collapse happening in three broad phases: The struggle to save society, the big die-off, and the early struggle for recovery. Let me explain what I mean. Our modern world is very inter-dependent and a breakdown of any major system can cause the collapse of the others like a house of cards. The main ones that can't stand much interruption are:

Food distribution
Fuel distribution
Finance systems (commerce)
Electrical Power Grid
Government law enforcement

Failure of any of these for an extended period could cause catastrophic failure of the other four systems. If people are starving, they will break laws to get food. If nobody can buy or sell, it can completely stop food and fuel distribution. Fuel distribution effects the power grid. Unless the Government quickly reacts to disruption of any of these main systems and props it up well enough, the others are sure to crash. There will be a period where the government (and most responsible citizens) attempt to prop up the system and put it back in order. Reporting for work even if you are afraid of violence and not being paid may be the only way the system can be repaired and the crash averted. If these efforts fail and one or more of the above support systems stay down long enough, all five of these systems will likely fail in rapid succession.

Failure of these will cause other second order failures in systems that, while critical, can stand some disruption without catastrophic results, such as food production, medical services, transportation and distribution of other goods, other government services, coal mining, Water and sewage and maintenance as well as many others. The net result of a general breakdown of services would be to shatter society beyond a return to normalcy.

Here is the problem you face: Almost everyone in western civilization is supported by this precarious web of services. Without them, these people cannot possibly maintain their current existence for more than a few days or weeks at the most. There is not enough food stored nearby where people live, also, these people don't yet own it. (check around. Almost nobody stores a meaningful amount of food in the USA or Europe). Without the electrical grid, finance, law enforcement, transportation and security, everything comes to pieces and people will start to starve.

The population of the USA (and Europe) will be hungry and desperate within a very short time. How short? I really don't have any empirical data on this. Regional disasters are not a good model for a general breakdown because there is always help available immediately from the outside, even if it's nothing more than a stable finance system and the threat of eventual prosecution for looters. The one thing we can be sure of is that without modern systems, most people are going to die in a matter of months.

Lest you think this kind of catastrophe can't happen, be warned: This massive population die-off is not without precedent. Throughout pre-history, there are repeated catastrophic die-offs where a population suddenly collapsed. The Mayans, Anasazi, Greenland Vikings, Easter Island, and several African empires probably experienced a very similar event. Each population (except Greenland) stabilized at a new, far lower, population level. But, each of these cases was the result of the collapse of societies much less complex and populous than our own, with fewer dependencies and much shorter production chains. In other words, their societies were much more robust and resilient than ours. Our collapse and die-off will be unprecedented only in scale and the speed of the crash.

Living near a population center makes surviving the die-off difficult or even impossible. People don't just sit down and starve to death. They form groups and go out looking for provisions. Put yourself in their shoes and think it through and you will see that every house, every building they can reach will be systematically searched for food. Even remote retreats may not be safe from this. People tend to organize and come up with solutions, even to tough problems. [JWR Adds: And be forewarned that they tend to apply "situational ethics."] Every city and every town will have provisioning teams out looking for supplies. Anyone who expects to stand on their rights and claim that they "own" their supplies is going to lose in the face of general starvation. Any provisions you have that can be found will be confiscated by somebody unless you can fight them off.

I would like to save you some planning time here and say that you can't fight them off. They will use whatever force they require to kill you if you try. you will be facing a modern military force determined to take you down. You simply cannot win. Expect to be approached by a uniformed policeman (or citizens wearing armbands or whatever) armed with a writ or martial law decree allowing them to search your home and confiscate food and fuel. Unless you have hidden or evacuated your goods, you will lose them, one way or the other.

You will need to make some hard choices if you plan to survive a die-off and live near a population center! If you truly believe, as I do, that you can't possibly bug out in place, you will either have to evacuate to a safer place, or hide. A long G.O.O.D. trip (IMHO) is likely to fail. There are just too many variables that are outside your control. You must have a clear route, good weather, working vehicle, provisions for the trip and ample fuel. You must also maintain security during the trip. It's not just ambush or raiders you have to worry about. Any local sheriff, anywhere on your route can block a road and confiscate your vehicle, almost on a whim. Any number of problems can come up on the road.

My own preparations: Since I have chosen to accept risk and live in the East near a population center, I will have to take extreme measures to live through an extreme disaster. My preparations are fairly extensive, but not as expensive or time consuming as buying even a meager retreat home. As with all my other preparations, I set a goal for myself that minimizes my effort and expense and still gives me a good chance to survive.

First, I have no confidence that I could evacuate to a safe place or outrun the "Golden Horde", so to live through a general population die-off, I will have to hide my family and all our provisions. This is not a fool-proof solution. It requires some preparation and it certainly isn't easy to do, but I believe this is my only real chance of surviving the die-off long enough to help rebuild.

I have chosen a remote wooded area (Federally owned pine woods) near my home with lots of ground cover and almost no game or other resources. There is a tiny stream nearby, too small for fishing, but with a year-round supply of relatively clean fresh water. I have chosen a good place for a hide site (a camouflaged encampment with a sturdy fighting position) and cached quite a lot of provisions nearby including a big box of sandbags.

With these basics and my (truck load) BOB, I can set up a LRS style hide site. This is sort of an enhanced objective rally point (ORP) with much better security than my home. I feel that my family can be preserved there for about a year, even in the event of a massive society collapse and die-off.

This plan seems extreme, (it is), but weigh it against the alternatives. The advantages of a wilderness hide-site retreat (for me, anyway) are compelling. My site is very close to my current home, so I don't have to worry about keeping a lot of fuel on hand or facing a long, dangerous G.O.O.D. evacuation. It is highly unlikely to be found by looters, hunters, loggers, or anyone else and isn't on somebody's private fact, I don't hold a deed to it, so it can't even be traced to me and located by city hall records. It's much safer and more defensible than my home and can be evacuated with little loss of provisions since the bulk of them are hidden at some distance from the site. My pre-positioned provisions are carefully waterproofed and don't require much maintenance. (I spot check some of my caches yearly, but none of them have ever required any attention). Any retreat with buildings is much harder to hide or maintain and obviously costs much more.

Building a permanent cache is an art form, so if you choose to use this tactic, think it out and research it before you do it. A good technique is to bury a large galvanized steel culvert and seal the space inside with welded (or even bolted) steel doors or bolted panels to keep out rodents. Cover the ground a few feet around with heavy (6 mil or better) plastic sheet and cover the whole thing with a foot of soil and sod or leaf litter. In a few weeks, it will be undetectable without a metal detector. An 8 foot section of 3 foot culvert provides over 40 cubic feet of usable secure storage space and can be man-handled into place by two strong men using only a pickup truck and hand tools. You still have to waterproof every container inside the culvert, but they are surprisingly dry and temperature stable inside as long as you are well above the water table. I recommend you provide some redundancy. Hide several of these and store more food than you think you will need, in case one or more of them are found and looted somehow. This requires a lot of heavy digging unless you can rent some machinery without attracting attention. But, even if you have to do it with a shovel, it might be worth it someday. And once you have your culverts in place, you can relax and go fishing. You don't have to worry about provisioning too much since the bulk of yours will be safe.

Living in suburbia in the Eastern US, you are constantly living in the shadow of a major population center, or several. This can be good and bad. Your chances of making it through most disasters are actually better than if you were living in the remote boonies since you will enjoy the benefits of the money economy, easy to find jobs and a nearby police force. Just be aware that if the worst happens, you will need some pretty extreme plans to maximize your odds of living through it.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

I have a secure retreat with a hidden cache that I visit very infrequently. I plan to keep half of my guns there. What is the best way to long term (3-5+ years between checks) store firearms? Specifically, Glock pistols and Springfield Armory M1A rifles. This system will be shared with others who have some other pieces (M1911s and AR-15s), but, as they are not the agreed upon group [standard] arms, they are less of a concern from a standard preservation system standpoint. Light, humidity, and temperature can probably be regulated to whatever is necessary.

JWR Replies: The precautions that you need to take depend a lot on where you live. If you live in a high humidity climate, then you need to be particularly vigilant with your guns, magazines, and other tools. In essence: the higher the humidity, the greater the degree of protection required, and the greater the frequency of inspection for rust.

I generally recommend wearing lightweight cotton gloves when you do your gun maintenance. This is particularly important if you have sweaty hands. My college roommate was notorious for inducing rust on guns because of this, and he has always had to take special precautions.

A light coat of gun oil such as Rem Oil will suffice in dry climate. Although exotic lubricants such as Break Free CLP. are great for lubricating, in my experience, they leave so little residue that they are actually inferior to traditional gun oils for preventing rust. In damp climates, I recommend Birchwood Casey Barricade (formerly sold under the product name "Sheath".) Rem Oil and Barricade are both available from a number of Internet vendors including and Brownell's.

For truly long term storage, all metal parts (inside and out) especially the bore, chamber, and breech face should get a coating of grease. There is always the tried-and-true USGI "Grease, Rifle". (This product name was humorously spoken "Grease Comma Rifle" by American soldiers for many years, before the advent of the M16. It is the correct grease to use on an M14 or M1A's bolt roller, and on the bolt's "hump") While "Grease, Rifle" will suffice for long term gun storage, I prefer Rust Inhibitive Grease (RIG), which is available from a number of Internet vendors including Brownell's. Even though you will know how the gun was treated before storage, someone else in your family might not. I therefore strongly recommend attaching a special warning note: "Warning: grease coating--bore, chamber and bolt face! Remove grease before firing!!!"

You extra magazines and spare gun parts should be stored inside a humidity-controlled gun vault (with a 120 VAC dehumidifier rod) or in sealed ammo cans with a large packet of silica gel desiccant. These items probably won't need more than light coat of oil and annual inspection. Any larger quantities of magazines that are stored outside of your vault in non-airtight containers should probably be rubbed down with RIG, and inspected more often. In most cases this requires disassembling magazines, to get at their innards. OBTW, even if a magazine is made of polymer and has a plastic follower and floorplate, don't forget that its spring needs rust protection!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

James Wesley:
Just a short note on the S-250 information. The original writer made an error in assuming all of these are shielded. There are several manufacturers of the S-250 and models differ in not just shielded or non-shielded, but also the level of shielding. NSA shelters (not generally available) have the highest level.

Here is a link to one of the manufacturers. My point is that a buyer should investigate the National Stock Number (NSN) of the unit they are interested in and contact the manufacturer to confirm that a specific level of EMP/EMI shielding is installed, if any.

Best regards as always, - Bob S.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Letter Re: The S-250 Vehicle Shelter

Dear Editor:
Now available from your local Federal Government through is what is commonly known as the S-250 shelter. In essence, this is a highly sought after, well constructed, insulated truck shelter used by the military as a radio shack or electronics shelter.  [They were designed to be mounted in pickup beds, but more recently have been mounted on Humvees.] When looking online you’ll find most of those seeking these shelters at auction are either military vehicle collectors or those seeking a super heavy duty slide in truck camper.  Thirdly you’ll find some hams wanting a mobile radio shack.

What is overlooked for the most part is that these shelters are RF-shielded and therefore EMP shielded as well. Whether it’s the coming of the solar storms in 2012 or the real world threat of an EMP detonation in the USA, having a S-250 loaded and sealed could be a survivalist's dream come true.
In essence this is a big Faraday box!

Last march I picked up an S-250 at auction for $800 with the intention of converting it to a heavy duty camper.   After getting it home and looking at the layout, it became clear that the best use would be in keeping the shielding.  My S-250 will be used an outpost at our retreat complete with a bunk, and outfitted with appropriate survival equipment.  It will also be a storage location for nearly any electronic device I can afford to stock here. Spare 12VDC power inverters, shortwave radios, spare vehicle electronic control modules (ECMs), extra solar panels, multiple CB radios, and anything else I can afford to stash protected from the effects of EMP.
When looking at these at auction, look for the newest models with the fewest box accessories mounted through the walls. If possible, look for the one with the fewest internal accessories as well. This will prove to be a great time saver.  As it turned out for me, I ended up with a 2001 model fully loaded inside. Of the original equipment I kept a few switch panels, rifle rack (which holds two M16s or AR-15s), and the overhead lighting. The 24 volt power inverter was missing so I am going with the commonly available 12 volt system.

Having only weekends to work on this project it took me several weeks to unbolt all the aluminum rails and mounting hardware stuffed into the shelter.  The one I ended up with was indeed a radio shack and had miles of wire routed for the 12 or more radios that it once housed.  Once I basically had the shelter gutted, I was able to better see how much room I was going to have to do the conversion. Where once there was a radio/com desk I now placed a bunk. The power supply corner was going to remain at the same location as well as the rifle rack.

I am using the original switch panel having rewired the unit for my 12v system. Using the original vented battery box holding two 12V deep cycles, I have employed an 800 watt 12VDC inverter. I picked this up on sale at a Love's Truck stop for $40. Most shelters will already have a power supply source and internal lighting.

Preserving the integrity of the shielding means installing no windows but as a camper or retreat outpost it really does not need one [and this has advantages in maintaining light discipline]. There is an exhaust fan already installed and they all have a unique door system that would prevent anyone ever being locked inside the box while clearly locking others out.

The only thing I had not yet decided is whether or not to put this on a trailer, for extra mobility. - F.J.B.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Mr. Rawles,
I read Joe M.’s article with great interest. The contributors to your site always seem to have creative ideas. I have often thought of ways to conceal a passageway, escape route or just a safe / storage room.

Here are four links to companies that offer hidden doors or panels.

Thanks again for all you do. - John G.

Two very good books contain a wealth of hints on constructing and concealing hidden compartments and entrances, covering evidence of work you want to keep concealed, and devising ways to guard against tampering:

The Great Escape, by Paul Brickhill (the book, not the movie [which is much more inspirational rather that instructive.])

Escape from Colditz, by P. R. Reid

Additionally, they're great true stories of defiance, resistance, and survival. - PJJ


Referring to the article where the writer suggested magnetic locks. Most people do not know of Assa Abloy [of Finland]. I'm not even sure their product is available in the U.S. [Many of] their padlocks are just about un-pickable.

Main Products Page

Padlocks Page

Padlocks Brochure PDF

Regards, - Kevin S.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Unless you’re lucky enough to actually live at your retreat in case of a TEOTWAWKI event, you are probably a little concerned with theft at your home away from home. Even if your primary home is your retreat, in the event of a break-in is your cache of “goodies” safe? Sure you might keep your supply of rifles, handguns, and shotguns locked in a gun vault the size of Grandma Shirley’s casket, but if thieves are given enough time they will haul the vault and anything else they find off into the night, leaving you empty handed and even worse, unprepared.

Vandals or thieves can do considerable amount of monetary damage and preparedness damage to your haven in very little time. Food items would probably just be destroyed by vandals and guns would be gone and sold probably before the police finished their reports. The likelihood of ever getting all of your supplies back and in useful condition is extremely slim.

For these reasons, when I built my retreat cabin I built in a number of “insurance” features that lessened the chance of a total loss. My retreat, chosen for its remote location is a prime example of the need to introduce safety features into your preparedness plan. The location of my retreat while remote, does not mean an occasionally person might not wander by. If this person decides to fire up a chainsaw and cut my metal front door right out of the framing, it is doubtful anyone would hear or notice for months. Like I said it is remote, but not a desert island.

So to give myself a bit of insurance against vandals/thieves, when I built the cabin I made one entire wall a “fake” wall. If you measured the width of my retreat on the exterior you would note that it is 16’ wide. However, an interior measure would yield around 14’ wide. The missing two feet is my insurance. Actual useable space is less than two feet. You must subtract the width of the actual exterior wall (about 4 inches) and the width of the fake interior wall (about 3 inches). Then you are left with 17 inches of great storage space. Be careful not to go overboard when allocating storage space. If your retreat cabin is 20 feet wide on the outside but only 15 feet wide on the inside, somebody will start wondering why.

I installed shelves in my storage space, just the metal rack types that restaurants use. They are extremely adjustable, durable, and can hold a lot of weight. I found some that were 16 inches wide, which meant they fit perfectly into my hiding place. Since the shelves are adjustable in two inch height increments, it was extremely easy to adjust them to fit my particular gear needs.

But enough about shelving let’s look at the actual construction of the wall. If you use Google, Bing, or Yahoo with the search phrase “hidden wall safe” you will find a lot of links to various types of construction methods. So I would suggest you do some research before you remodel or construct your hidey hole. Since I was constructing my retreat adding the false wall was an easy task as I could plan for window and door placement to account for the hidden wall. If you remodel your retreat to install a hidden wall make sure it makes the room look natural. For example if you add a wall and now the wall is two inches away from a window, it might look odd and cause someone to examine it closer (which is bad!). But by using new construction I was able to “center” my windows on their wall between the front wall and the fake wall, thus creating a very natural and normal look.

For my construction I chose to make my fake wall look like a normal wall, and to further conceal it we would place various items of furniture against the wall. Doing some research I noted that a few people chose to cover their wall entirely by using book cases in front of the fake wall. This really helped hide the wall completely and at the same time gave you more storage area for your “bait” items (more on that in a minute). You might be thinking that if you completely cover your wall with bookcases and then fill the bookcases with books or other supplies that this would be a huge impediment in getting to the supplies behind the hidden wall. You would be correct. However, I am more concerned with the preserving my supplies during, for lack of a better word, “normal” times and during my trip to my retreat during TEOTWAWKI times. Once I establish myself at my retreat you can rearrange furniture to make the hidden wall more accessible. A word of warning though, be careful of making it too accessible. In case of an attack my raiders or whatever, you don’t want them to walk in and find the hidden wall wide open with all your goods shining in all their readiness glory.

So keep the wall closed and concealed at all times unless you are removing or adding items to your storage. Don’t treat the storage as a daily access area. Pull a few days worth of supplies out at a time and then conceal the wall with your furniture. The wall is not meant to be something you should open in the event of an emergency. If you hear an unknown person outside of your retreat and you feel you need a weapon handy, that is not the time to open the wall and obtain a self-defense weapon. Those items should be much handier (in TEOTWAWKI times I would suggest a holster.)

Construction for the wall is rather easy. I am not a carpenter, but I managed to build a nice looking concealed wall with basic carpentry skills. In a nut shell, I simply framed an interior wall using standard 2x4 framing (16 inches on center). I ensured the base plate was firmly attached to the floor joists using lag screws instead of typical nailing. I did the same on the cap plate (top of the wall), securing the top of the wall to the ceiling joists again with lag screws. This gave my wall some extra stability. You don’t really want a bad guy to lean on your wall and feel it “give.”

I have paneled the interior of my retreat with a rough looking wood panel, often called a v-groove plank panel. This comes in 4x8 foot sheets (just like plywood). In fact if the material you wish to use is thin you can mount it to a panel of plywood using construction grade adhesive.

I framed the back side of my wood panel to give it stability and a place for the hardware. Basically this means I screwed 2x2 strips along the perimeter of the panel and horizontally every 16 inches. Then using a piano hinge I screwed the hinge to the 2x4 wall stud and to the 2x2 strip on the wood panel. This gives me a door. I built 3 of these doors and installed them side by side so I have a 12 foot-wide wall made up of three hidden doors.

There are various types of closure devices out there that you “push” to close and then “push” to open. I first used these and then realized that if someone were to lean on the wall the wall would “click and open a fraction. That was not good! So I settled on an extremely simple solution, screws. I screw my wall shut, every time. I use the same screw holes every time I close the door and I am careful not to over tighten the screws. Furthermore I replace the screws I use to secure the door when the head of the screw starts getting noticeably worn.

To conceal the seams I “finished” the cabin with vertical pieces of 1x2 strips of wood. These go at two foot intervals all around the cabin. Conveniently this covers the seams on my hidden wall. You screw this strip onto one side of the door, centering the strip over the edge of the door then when the door is closed it covers the seam and a portion of the wall next to it. Probably a design flaw on my part but when construction was finished and since I had put three of these doors side by side, I discovered the strip of wood covering the seam prevented me from opening the doors in any order I chose. Since the wood strip was attached to the left edge of the first door it covered the seam of the right edge of the next door. Therefore I could not open the second door without damaging the wood strip. So I must open the far right door first, then the middle and finally the far right door. Not a big problem, just a mild inconvenience. I arranged the gear inside the hidden wall so that the items I am most likely to need are behind the first door. If I had it to do over again I would leave some empty wall between the doors so that I could open the doors independently.

If your door is a bit heavier then you expected and sags some, you could put a support wheel on the opening side. Just be careful that the wheel doesn’t leave a track on your floor. As far as closing and locking your hidden door, look into magnetic locks, or other forms of closure such as screwing etc. Just be sure that the locking and closing mechanisms are hidden and won’t pop open at the wrong time. If some kids rough housing cause your door to come open, change the locking mechanism.

Now some personal notes on use of your hidden stash. Just like any other important secret, don’t talk about your hidden stash with anyone you don’t entrust your life and your loved ones lives too. Your drinking buddy at the lodge might seem like a good friend now but when TSHTF he might run up to the first place he knows that is fully stocked and ready to go. My wife and kids know about my hidden area and they are  all, period.

I had mentioned having some “bait” items out. I built a second concealed area, not nearly as big and not nearly as well concealed. My thought process being is that if I pull a few days’ supply out of the main area, I transfer it to this secondary area. Then if someone catches us off guard and demands supplies we can open this secondary area and give it to them, all the while begging and pleading that this is all we have left and please don’t take are last few days of supplies. It might work, or it might not. I just want to have the option. So I have the “bait” goods ready to go. If the bad guys take the bait and leave, then we have only lost a few days’ supply and not the mother lode.

Next I would build some other hidden areas to house your quick access items. This can be the picture frame on a hinge that hides a hole in a wall (not your fake wall). In the hole can be a firearm or other quick access item you deem necessary. I am not suggesting you have your entire arsenal in quick access hidey holes. But a portion of your weapons need to be quick access. Your other weapons that are only used at certain times, like hunting should be hidden behind your fake wall. Again if someone “bad” comes to visit they will most likely take your guns and ammo. Don’t leave it all just lying around, but then again don’t leave it all put away where you can’t get it when you need it.

You can get very creative with your hidden areas. If your retreat does not have a concrete floor it is very easy to cut a hole between the floor joists, attach a hinge and you have another hiding spot. You can do the same thing in the ceiling, just cut between the ceiling joists. Seam concealment, hinge, and closing mechanisms are the big challenges. Before you breakout your saws and start cutting holes, plan on how you will hide your hinge, seam, and closing device. Usually this is done with some form of furring strip. But if your seams are a “natural” part of the wall, floor, or ceiling you may not need to conceal them. Clearly you can’t leave a big hinge out in the open. Piano hinges can be mounted on the inside, they come in various lengths and you can always use more than one to run the full length of your hinge.

Remember that you don’t have to make all of your hiding areas completely invisible. If your hiding area is for daily use items hidden in the floor, then perhaps you can get by with just a throw rug covering the seams. However, if it is for the mother lode, then invisibility is required. Get creative and go hide. - Joe M.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mr. Rawles,
I hope most readers that are considering building underground shelters that are 16' by 20' with a 6" cap or roof, hire the expertise of a registered structural engineer. The design of an underground structure that have a 6" cap or ceiling as proposed by Jim O., with 1/2" rebar is not to be considered heavily reinforced by any means, and would probably be not to any CRSI design standards, unless it is braced underneath with several columns. It does not really matter if a house sets on top or several feet of earth, when properly designed.

I am not an engineer but I did hired a reputable structural engineer to design my underground room which is not connected to the house, as any fire which could occur would have the possibility of evacuating any air in the structure.This potential exists even with ventilation. My room is approximately 12' by 18' and has an 8' ceiling. The roof or ceiling is composed of 12" concrete with two layers of 3/4" rebar at 9" on centers. Concrete is of five sack [per cubic yard] design mix. The walls are 10" thick with 1/2" rebar 9" on center, the floor is 12" with 5/8" rebar 12" on centers. The ceiling is freestanding without any interior support.

Any design with 3/8" steel or even 1/2" steel for an underground shelter to support any differential movement or possibly seismic activity would in my opinion be totally insufficient in design and to proceed would be negligent without professional design. Otherwise, the result could be none other than a large concrete coffin vault.

I am a retired commercial contractor with a degree in architectural engineering. I have closed my company this year after being in business for 62 years. People please, consult with a structural engineer. I stress "Structural" as not all engineers are the same, as doctors and lawyers. All have specialties.

Otherwise, article is excellent and informative. - O.T.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

My wife and I lived in place with no underground  rooms (such as a basement of a cellar) since we have been married.  As I have matured and my desire for disaster preparation has increased, I began to realize the importance of having an underground room for storage (particularly food storage and other things necessary for survival in the event of a short term or long term TEOTWAWKI) and protection from disasters such as heavy storms, tornadoes, nuclear activity, etc.  My career in construction, specializing in masonry and excavation, made this goal one that was easily attainable and I would like to share some things that I incorporated as I built and prepared this space for those possible emergency situations.

We were in need of a master bedroom addition on our small home.  So I decided to incorporate our underground room under it.  I will talk about the stages along the way that you will face so that you (working with the people that you may need to hire) can be prepared and have a head start.

The first step is to obtain the proper permits (a step that I decided to skip, as I live in a lenient county in a very rural area).  I chose to keep my project as low key as possible.  But I thought I should include this step because life could become very difficult in some areas where building inspectors and codes are strict.  Be sure to know where all underground utilities and wires are at on the property before moving forward with excavation.  Severing gas and electrical lines will most certainly ruin your day. [JWR Adds: There are free line-locating services provided by most utilities. In the US, just call 811. See this site for "pre-dig" numbers for Canada.]

After excavating, I poured the floor.   If you are not experienced  placing and finishing concrete, you will want to seriously consider hiring professional help.  If you decide you have the skills and strength to take on this task, make sure you have all the tools and adequate manpower to help.  Make sure to adequately reinforce your concrete (I always use steel reinforcing bar ("rebar") of at least 3/8” diameter).  I poured my floor approximately 6 inches thick.  You may want to pour concrete footers and lay up (or pour) your walls on the footers, leaving the floor to pour later.  I opted just to pour a thick, adequately reinforced floor, and lay up my walls on it.   Wanting to have some space for a root cellar, I left the floor in that area a dirt floor (to increase humidity, important for root cellaring).   I used standard  8x8x16 block for the walls.  You could form and pour your walls with concrete if you prefer.  I poured the cells of the block with rebar and concrete for reinforcement (making sure to leave adequate rebar extended to tie the ceiling and walls together).  Remember, concrete strength is always unpredictable without the use of reinforcement.   For the root cellar, I left lower and upper ventilation for circulation, also important.

As I planned, I decided to go with a seven foot ceiling.  I decided this because I wanted to be able to drain water without the use of pumps, and this made it possible.  Rain and groundwater can be your worst enemy, and I did not want to depend on a pump and electricity to take care of removing water.  I put a drain line in the dirt section of floor in the root cellar and sloped the concrete slightly towards the drain.  A pump may be necessary for your situation.  If it is, you may want to consider using a sump pump capable of being run by a battery backup.  Do not forget to put your sump pump pit in before pouring your floor and slope your concrete accordingly.  Proper grade around the perimeter of your  underground room will greatly reduce the risk of water problems, especially when combined with properly installed gutters (if your underground room has a room above it like ours does).   Also install  a waterproof coating on the outside of the walls and a perimeter drain.  Again, the perimeter drain would best be drained by gravity, but if this is not possible, drain it into your sump pump.  Always backfill with an adequate amount of gravel.  This will allow water to infiltrate down to the perimeter drain freely and will help keep your perimeter drain from being plugged.  I have been in this kind of work for many years, and I have seen many water problems caused by improperly  installed perimeter drains that have eventually filled with silt over time.

I decided to go with a concrete lid, heavily reinforced with ½” diameter rebar, to top off our new 16 ft by 20 ft underground room.   You will want to find out how much reinforcement and how thick the concrete will need to be in order to span the distance you need.   Also critical is the placement of the rebar in the concrete.  When spanning an open room, you will want to place the rebar towards the bottom of your concrete.   Make sure to be vigilant to make all the necessary rebar connections.  Not many different building materials do worse in an earthquake than un-reinforced or improperly reinforced masonry and concrete.  When it is necessary to overlap ("lap") your rebar, make sure that the length of the rebar lap is equal to 40 bar diameters of the size rebar you are using.  For example, if using ½ diameter (#4) rebar, your rebar lap will be 20 inches.  If you decide to go with a concrete lid, make sure to adequately brace your forms.  A collapse (or even a sag) would be a disaster for sure.  I used sheet metal roofing under the concrete, which ultimately become the ceiling of my room.  Make sure to leave some fasteners to anchor the sheet metal to the concrete, or the metal will sag when the forms are removed.

Since I wanted a dry and canned food storage (low humidity) area along with a root cellar, I built insulated walls to separate the two rooms.  I decided to build my own shelves for these rooms (you may want to buy yours).  Nonetheless, I took into consideration a few things.  One was to make them very sturdy.  Bulk food can be heavy.  Another consideration was to attach them to the walls and make a lip around the outside edge of the shelves.  That always unexpected earthquake could deplete your food supply quickly, especially glass containers.  I also liked the idea of building my own shelves so that I could build them to best suit my needs with the shelf heights and widths that were best for my particular situation.  This room would also be a great spot for your freezers.  You may want to consider a DC freezer with some solar panels and batteries or a propane freezer for those times of extended power outages.  Freezers may not be a necessity, but they sure would be a welcome luxury in those times without electricity.  This would also be a good spot to keep an adequate supply of drinking water.

Last thing I will leave you with to consider is your consideration for a dehumidifier.  You will want one for your dry storage area.  Moisture and stored foods do not go well together (not to mention moisture’s effect on guns, ammunition, other steel items, clothes, blankets, etc).  Some dehumidifiers operate better in lower temperatures, so do your research.

Since the completion of our room, this space has proven to be well worth the time and resources that it took to build it.  One day it may be crucial in the sustaining of our lives for any number of reasons.  Hope this article leaves those who read it with some helpful advice to think about.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Just in case laws change, and I must bury my collection of [modern] guns [to avoid registration or confiscation], then what do you recommend me buying for an "above ground collection" of 1898 and earlier guns? I'm assuming that they'll still be unregulated [in the United States]. That is a great exception in the law, I think!

My thanks to you in advance, sir. - G.K.B.

JWR Replies: These are my recommendations for the most practical and affordable Pre-1899 guns, at the present time:

  • Finnish Model 1939 Mosin-Nagant rifles built on hexagonal Pre-1899-dated actions. (They re dated on the tangs, inside the sock.) Pat Burns is a good Mosin dealer that usually has some Finnish M39s built on antique (1898 or earlier) receivers available. (Scroll down to the second half of the yellow table of M39 listings for the pre-1899 antiques.) Please note that most of the 7.62x54r ammo on the market is corrosively primed. Search for the Russian Silver Bear 7.62x54r ammo, which is non-corrosive. J&G Sales in Prescott, Arizona often stocks it.
  • Mauser military bolt action rifles. These include M1894 Swedish Mauser carbines, and the Ludwig Loewe-made 7x57mm Mausers. (Mostly made for Chilean military contracts.) The years of manufacture is marked on the Swedes, but not the Chileans. But all Mausers marked "Ludwig Loewe - Berlin" are antique, because Loewe ceased to exist in 1897, when it became part of DWM.
  • Early (pre-1899) Marlin lever action rifles. The only models that are certain to be legally antique are the models for which ended production before 1899 are the Model 1881, 1888, 1889, and 1891.
  • Pre-1899 Winchester rifles. In terms of ammunition availability, .30-30 and .44-40 are the best chamberings to look for. You can often find these rifles at gun shows at bargain prices, especially if you don't mind a gun with a well-worn exterior. Remember, it is the mechanical condition and bore condition that are crucial. Everything else is just a beauty pageant. Sometimes you can get lucky, and find a seller doesn't realize that what he is selling you is pre-1899, or the significance thereof. So it pays to carry a hard copy of my Pre-1899 Cartridge Guns FAQ with you, when you attend gun shows.
  • Winchester Model 1897 12 gauge pump-action shotguns made in 1897 or 1898.
  • Colt Model 1892 series revolvers chambered in .41 Long Colt. This was one of Colt's first swing-out cylinder designs. Now that .41 Long Colt ammunition is again being manufactured by Ultramax and a few other companies that cater to the Cowboy Action shooter market, it makes these guns once again practical to own and shoot. The double action models are largely overlooked by collectors, who are fixated with single actions, and Cowboy Action shooters, who are limited to single action guns by shooting competition rules. (Except, if I understand the rules correctly, for double action "Second Guns", if fired in single action mode.) So this leaves the double action models as some of the most affordable antique Colts.
  • Smith and Wesson top break revolvers. As I've mentioned once before in the my blog, I anticipate that S&Ws will nearly "catch up" to Colt prices in the next 20 years. The .38 caliber S&W top breaks are often available for less than $300 each, and .44 calibers for less than $900. My top choice would be one of the "New Frontier" double action variants, chambered in .44-40. (The .44 Russian ammo is also quite potent, and also now back in production.) These revolvers are sold by a number of antique gun dealers including Jim Supica (at The Armchair Gun Show), and Joe Salter.

As I noted in my Pre-1899 Cartridge Guns FAQ, many antique guns models span the Dec. 31, 1898 cut-off date, so you will have to do some serial number research. (I've already documented many of the cut-off serial numbers, in my FAQ.)

You can find many pre-1899 antique guns available without a paper trail by mail order through,, and Just include the word "antique" in your search phrases.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It was the summer of 1985 and I was deep in the rain forest near the ruins of the ancient city of Tikal in Guatemala. Talking over the cries of howler monkeys, the guide showed us a small cave that had been uncovered on the side of the road. He told us this was one of many caches archeologists had found around the outskirts of the crumbling city. Some had contained only empty containers, and some had been full of grain and other food items. Could some of the citizens of Tikal, preparing for what they saw as the inevitable collapse of their civilization, been preparing by caching supplies around their doomed city? Whether they did or didn’t the fact remains that caching can be an extremely effective survival tool. It is my understanding that the Apache Indians had several caches in the Guadalupe Mountains and elsewhere when fighting U.S. Cavalry units at the end of the last century. Caching allows you to spread out supplies so if any one area is hit, you have a fallback position and have not lost all of your resources. However, caches have other benefits as well. In finding and placing caches you learn your area inside and out. You can also learn how to navigate with or without a map and compass. In short it is good preparation and teaches you good skills.

I live in a small town in Central Texas (we call it "The Hill Country") near a large river. I live in an average suburban house. As a teacher I cannot afford to pay for the perfect retreat. I can only do my best to prepare for the worst right where I am. However, I know I can hedge my bets by getting to know my area of operations as best I can before disaster strikes. In so doing, I can also place caches of supplies and have fallback camps if my home becomes endangered. The best way I have found to do this is through the modern art of geocaching.
Geocaching is aptly described on the web site as follows:

“Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online.
Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups, with a strong sense of community and support for the environment.”

And that same web site is probably the best place to get started in your geocaching adventures. Geocaching is a great way to learn your area. It will also train you to effectively place and find caches around your area of operations. It does, however, depend on a high tech (global positioning system (GPS) network and satellites that may be susceptible to destruction or an electromagnetic pulse. Therefore, after learning with a GPS you may want to start using map, compass, and landmarks to locate caches. A great book and a true classic on orienteering is "Be Expert with Map and Compass: The Complete Orienteering Handbook" by Bjorn Kjellstrom.

I could go into all these skills but you really just need to explore the resources mentioned above and practice, practice, practice! What I want to spend the rest of this article on is where to cache, how to cache, and what to cache. Although caches can and are placed in the middle of cities, I prefer placing mine on public lands with heavy cover or on my own property. I also have permission from friends to place caches on their property. This avoids potential conflicts with law enforcement; the discovery by “muggles” (non-geocaching folk); and respects the rights of private landowners.

Containers should be watertight and a color that matches the landscape. I like using ammo cans. I wrap the seal with camo duck tape and add additional protection by placing my items in Tupperware or sealing them in vacuum bags. That way, if the can is penetrated by water, my items are still safe and sound. For this article, I recently went back to Houston where I placed an above ground cache along Buffalo Bayou right before Hurricane Katrina. The ammo can was still intact and everything inside looked just like it did when I placed it. I then took the opportunity to cache it in my new area of operations. Keeping caches small and portable is a big advantage!

What you put in your cache really depends on what you anticipate your needs will be. I usually place food, emergency blankets, water, and water purification systems in my caches. I have found that the Katadyn water filter systems have held up the best on my backpacking trips. A cheaper and smaller alternative is water purification tablets or straws. A good collapsible water container is also a must. Those new water purifier bottles make a good addition to any cache or G.O.O.D. pack. Make sure to write down any expiration dates on food, water, glow sticks, etc. on your cache location sheets and rotate out items as needed.

Another good choice for your cache is non perishable medical supplies such as bandages. But until the Schumer hits the fan, you should not cache anything that could be considered the least bit dangerous such as firearms or ammunition unless it is on your own property. Even then, you may want to break firearms down and cache the pieces in different locations. Boxes of ammunition store great if vacuum sealed. I don’t even presently cache fire starting materials for the sake of safety, although I sure keep them ready in my G.O.O.D. bag.
One thing geocachers don’t do but preppercachers (my own term) can do is bury your booty. This makes it almost impossible for others to find. If you do this make sure to camouflage your dig site well with natural materials until time and rain make things less obvious. Also, make sure to record your cache locations on paper. I keep a coded list of my locations in my wallet, another in my G.O.O.D. bag, and yet another in my gun safe at home. A cache is worthless if you cannot find it again. I also visit my caches once in a while to make sure I can find them and that they are still intact. Because I do this I can usually locate my caches without a GPS receiver or map and compass. I simply navigate using landmarks. A great book on landmark navigation is "Finding Your Way Without Map or Compas"sby Harold Gatty. Once again, make sure you write expiration dates on your list. That way you can rotate items out and use them before they expire.

In conclusion, I enjoy geocaching with my family, it has allowed us to learn to work as a team. We all now know how to navigate with GPS units, map and compass, or by using landmarks. We also have learned how to travel quietly through the landscape without being detected by muggles. Geocaching is not only fun but allows you to practice some very important survival skills. Also, preppercaching is a great way to spread out your resources and not put all of your eggs in one basket. But please, when you are caching remember to avoid dangerous items and respect the rights of private landowners! A carefully thought out and placed cache may very well save your life someday!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hi Jim,
I just wanted to share a quick storage tip and a bugout time saver. I'm currently in a condominium but still working on my preps and keeping my stuff bugout ready. One of the issues I've overcome is the need to keep my bugout ready but out of the way. In my condo building we actually have storage areas in the basement (fenced off partitions with personal locks) so that is where 90% of my preps stay. In order to keep these preps bugout ready I've organized them into Rubbermaid [lidded storage] tubs that I stack about four high and two wide on top of a furniture moving dolly so that I can roll them in and out if I need to access storage behind them. These can also be used if I need to bugout I'm just rolling a furniture dolly out to my bugout vehicle and loading up. Even if some of your readers don't have a storage issue I strongly recommend the furniture dollies for quickly moving their preps because they can stay dedicated to a particular stack of preps. Thus, when time counts during bugout you don't have to load a hand cart several times. Thanks for your site! - Ben in Tennessee

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I’ve been reading SurvivalBlog for almost a year.  I am thankful for the advice that I receive each day.  I have had a “be prepared” attitude for about 30 years, although the past two years have thrown several speed bumps and roadblocks my way.  Two years ago my son and his family were in a life threatening accident.  I spent almost every penny I had saved toward retirement to help my daughter-in-law recover.  This year I fought for and won custody of three of my grandchildren from my daughter.  So now, instead of planning for TEOTWAWKI for just myself, a 50 something divorced woman, I now am the proud “parent” of three elementary aged children.  Even with these changes to my situation, I am still actively preparing.  I wanted to share what I am doing with your readers, so that those who are still in the thinking stages rather than the action stage can see that it’s not too hard to begin. 

Years ago I decided to create a written plan.  I started with my basic premises.  First, I assume that I will live where I’m at forever.  I live 10 miles from a city of 100,000 and 15 miles from a city of 500,000.  While it’s really close to a lot of people, it’s not in the direction that the masses of people would head toward.  I have five acres with a good house, a good well, a great climate for growing food and lots of storage.  With that in mind I need to set up the house and yard to fully sustain me and now the three grandkids.  I also need to make some changes along the property boundary to make it less welcoming.

Second, I assume that when I retire from my government job that my pension income will exist.  That doesn’t mean that it won’t be reduced, I expect the government to steal some of my pension.  (Most people just think that we are given money but I put in 20% of my income into this pension fund) I also expect to receive some social security benefits and plan to start collecting my money as soon as I hit the minimum age.  Barring any additional family disasters, I also plan on having cash on hand.  I am working hard to cut my expenses to almost nothing.  That way I can retire sooner and live prepared rather than being in a state of getting prepared. 

Third, I assume that the weather patterns may fluctuate as they have throughout time, but I will not buy into any of the global warming and cooling as something that we can truly prevent.  If the environmentalists wanted us to change our habits and become more energy efficient, I wish they would have just come out with that statement.  Or, they should say that we can alter our microclimate (planting trees lowers the temperature around our homes, paving roads and parking lots raises the temperature in the city, lakes add to the humidity) rather than trying to scare people into believing that we are destroying the world. 

Fourth, I will practice, as I know that when you practice, the act becomes second nature. Times of trouble is not when you should be learning new things.    

Fifth, I do not panic.  Part of this is because I practice.  Part is because I do not allow myself to be influenced by the news story crisis of the day.  I behave very level headed and am rational.  I know that my attitude and my actions will influence those around me to be either calm or crazy.  I vote for calm.

Sixth, I trust God.  I know that God expects me to take care of myself…or at least to prepare myself to take care of myself.  I can not say I don’t need to be educated, or prepared, or dedicated because God will provide.  I am expected to work hard.  God will take care of me if I try to take care of myself.

The first thing I did in my quest for independence was to determine what I really needed.  The stuff.  I also figured I probably have 30 more years to live, although I hope I’m blessed with much more.  Now I have three more people in the house.  How would I figure how much I need?  I decided to keep track of what I did and what I used.  I started by going through my entire house, room by room, and making an inventory of everything. 

Let’s start with household items.  There are items that can last forever: dishes, glasses, pots, pans, furniture.  There are items that are used up daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly.  Well, how much do you need for the next 30 years?  I started keeping track of what I was using.  Keeping track of exactly how much food purchased, how much toilet paper, paper towels, soap, shampoo, etc. was used in a year gave me a very good idea of what I would need for 10 or 20 or even 30 years.  Then I just started buying extra.  It was simple.  Every time I went to Costco I’d buy an extra laundry detergent, bleach, dish soap, 409, Simple Green, vinegar, etc.  I probably have a 10 year supply on hand without any pain at all. 

I don’t have a basement but I do have a huge garage.  It holds my truck, tractor, freezer, tools, and what seems like miles of floor to ceiling shelves.  It looks like a mini Wal-Mart.  Now that I have the grandchildren, I have devoted space for bins of clothing.  The bins include the basics in every size: jeans, t-shirts (long and short sleeve), sweatshirts, jackets, socks, underwear, hats, gloves, and shoes.  I also sew and have fabric, thread, and am well stocked with sewing supplies. I keep it very organized.  I witness my friends buying things that they know they have somewhere in their homes but they are so disorganized they have no clue what they have or where to find it. 

I’m not going to discuss weapons to any real extent.  This topic is definitely best left to someone who knows what they are talking about.  I really get into this topic on this blog so as to learn more.  I do have a .22 pistol, a .22 rifle, and a 12 gauge shotgun.  The last thing I shot was a rooster who was roaming my yard and continuously tried attacking me.  I know I should have more protection and I also need to involve the children in gun use.  Maybe this summer we will all go to gun camp and then set up a practice target in the back yard. 

Change your diet! Stop eating instant boxed stuff.  If nothing else, you will save lots of money.  Learn to cook.  Learn to bake.  You can buy a pound of yeast at Costco or Sam’s for the same price as three small packages of yeast at the grocery store.  I love the 5 minute bread recipe.  6 cups flour, 3 cups warm water, 1 ½ tablespoon yeast, 1 ½ tablespoon chunky salt (kosher, sea, etc.).  Mix it together with a spoon. Let it rise an hour.  Put some flour onto the counter and pour the dough onto the flour.  (At this point I like to add Italian seasoning to half the dough) Shape into individual rolls or two round loaves.  Bake 350 for 15 minutes.  Noodles are another one of our favorites.  Flour, egg yolk, water, salt. Mix and roll out.  Cut into whatever shape you want.  We use the pizza cutter and make crazy shapes.  Boil for about 10 minutes. 

My garden is my hobby but also something that I’ve set up to feed myself, the grandkids, and my animals.  Since moving to my property 12 years ago I’ve planted fruit trees and plants with most of my spare money.  I have oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes, kumquats, apples, avocados, cherries, peaches, nectarines, pears, plums, apricots, kiwi, figs, olives, loquats, mulberry, blackberries, raspberries, almonds, asparagus, and probably some others that I’ve forgotten.  I’ve been canning for 30 years now.  If I can’t can it or freeze it we eat fruit and vegetables in season or we don’t eat them.  The only fruit or vegetables I buy are bananas, pineapple, and mushrooms.  I have lots of gardening tools, at least one for each of us so we can all work together: shovels, rakes, hoes, hoses, irrigation parts.  I also have seeds on hand.  It is crazy to spend the money on the latest fad of “non-hybrid seeds in a container for only $150.” Sure, it will grow you a garden, but is it what you like to eat?  Will those varieties do well in your area?  Go to your local nursery and pick up seeds of vegetables you eat.  Have a garden like mine.  Each year I let some of the beets go to seed in the beet section of my garden, I smash a pumpkin on the ground in the pumpkin section, I let broccoli go to seed, etc.  I don’t have to replant the entire garden each year.  The stuff just comes back.  I do replant the corn, eggplant, and peppers.  I do save seed each year to make sure I have a several year supply of all my vegetable seeds.

We have sheep and goats for meat and chickens for eggs.  Although they are easy to raise, I don’t raise rabbits or hogs due to religious dietary restrictions.  I don’t have enough property for a steer because I don’t want to have to rely on buying hay.  I don’t milk the goats because I don’t have time.  I do buy beef and chicken from the store but know that at any time those purchases can stop and we can provide all our meat needs. 

I have a 500 gallon propane tank that never has less than 250 gallons in it .  The propane is used for cooking, heating the house, and the hot water.  We don’t use much for heating the house.  I try to keep the heater turned off during the week.  Since I am at work and the kids are at school, I don’t need to waste propane heating an empty house.  On the weekends I use the woodstove.  Worst case scenario, I would use wood to cook with, heat the house with my wood stove, and at some near future point, set up a solar hot water system. 

We are on a well so we aren’t relying on city water.  My next project (with money from my tax return) will be to set up a solar power system to charge batteries for running the well.  We don’t usually have much wind so I don’t think a wind generator would work.  I’d also like to set up solar for a backup for my appliances.  I don’t need a huge solar system since we use minimal amount of electricity.  We really do conserve on electricity.  My electric bill is only about $40 a month for the refrigerator, freezer, washer, dishwasher, microwave, television, computers, and the kids leaving all the lights on.

Fortunately, we don’t get sick often.  I keep a good stock of vitamins and OTC medicines.  I haven’t been able to convince our doctor to write a prescription for extra medications but I have been able to stock up on some. I do have a large stock of supplies for injuries.  I have a rescue bag in each vehicle plus a large supply at home.  I do want to remind people that even minor injuries can use up lots of supplies.  You need lots of gauze, gauze, and more gauze.  And, gloves, gloves, and more gloves.  Rescue workers will change their latex gloves every 5-15 minutes.  Read the articles already posted about medical supplies.  Go through your cabinets and see what you use.  Buy lots of them. 

We have a great library at home.  Classic books, new books, survival books, cook books, just about all topics for all reading levels.  I also have school books: math, science, grammar, and history for each grade level.  We also have games, puzzles, and cards.  Lots of indoor activities for the kids to do.

We have tons of office supplies: paper, pencils, erasers, pens, paint, crayons and markers, tape, staples, and glue.  Whatever amount you think you need, double it, or triple it!  Take advantage of the end of summer back to school sales. 

Exercise and being active is important.  This past summer I made an obstacle course for the grandkids (and me).  We have tires to run through, a sprinting area, cones to zigzag around, ropes to climb up trees, nets to crawl under, and a cross country running track.  I also set up a tetherball pole, a basketball hoop, badminton and volleyball net, croquette, whiffle ball, and a soccer goal.  We also go hiking and bike riding.  They think it’s just for fun.  I know that being in good condition helps keep the mind in good condition.

Three months ago I purchased a 23 foot used travel trailer.  It has a stove, refrigerator, full bathroom and a tank that holds 40 gallons of propane.  This winter we took it on a trip to Colorado and Oklahoma and didn’t turn on the heater, just for fun.  Our sleeping bags (from kept us warm although I’m sure the grandkids would have liked it warmer than 30 when they got up in the morning! The trailer held all the clothes and food we needed for our two week trip.  It was great practice. I have more to do.  I plan on planting some non-inviting plants in the front along the road and along the sides and back of the property as well: probably cactus, blackberries, some itchy thistle, or even poison oak!  I really need to get backup power.  I also would like a holding tank for several thousand gallons of water.  I’d like to hire someone to dig a pond.  Our water table is 12 feet so the pond would have to be deep in order to hit the water table.  I need weapons for protection, not just for shooting roosters and possums.  It all takes time and money, but this is an example of what I have done with not too much money, just some common sense and dedication.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Mr. Rawles:
Just a quick note. For years my father-in-law used a refrigerator, stripped of motor and coils, buried in the backyard.on it’s back to ‘pit’ his potatoes

He would add some straw and store his veggies. The rubber seal was removed as was the [door latch] closure mechanism. A simple handle allowed access with no worry about children getting into trouble. A few holes allowed any water to drain. The local water table is many yards under the surface so that was never a concern. Only about one inch of the refrigerator's body was above ground.

If use of a refrigerator is not allowed in your jurisdiction, then the trash cans might work. But I would suggest adding insulation prior to dropping the can in the ground.

As always, thanks for the blog and all the fine folks who write in. Thanks, - Hambone

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What is the best way to store handgun ammo? I have a military surplus ammo can with a good rubber seal on it. However would it be a good idea to wrap it in plastic before putting it into the ammo box.
Also is there anything I should keep it away from while in storage. Thanks, - Motor Oil Man

JWR Replies: The two crucial things to remember for storing ammo in milsurp cans are:

1.) Use an ammo can with a nice soft gasket, and,

2.) Drop in a commercially-made silica gel packet (or a homemade equivalent) in the can if you live in a humid climate. This will dry the air that is sealed inside the can.

Some additional guidance:

DO NOT coat cartridges with oil or grease. This can cause a dangerous pressure condition if you forget to remove the lubricant before loading and firing a cartridge. As has been documented by the good folks at Box O'Truth, the oft-mentioned risk of "deadening primers of loaded cartridges" with oil or oil vapors has proven to be erroneous, with some recent scientific tests. BTW, I must admit that I was guilty of spreading this dezinformatsaya myself, until reading the test details.

Plastic wrapping the boxes has little utility, that is unless your expect the ammo's cardboard boxes to become collector's items in a few decades. (Wrapping the boxes will keep them looking pristine.)

Just be sure to keep your ammo cans in a fairly dry place, so that the exteriors don't rust. (For this, salty water is the worst offender.) If left in puddles, ammo cans will eventually rust through, given enough time. In a humid coastal (high salt) climate, it might just take a scratch through a can's paint bring its eventual ruin.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hello Mr. Rawles,
I am new to your blog but after reading "How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It" and currently reading "Patriots". I am an active reader of your blog. I am an Eagle Scout and by living the Boy Scout motto, Be Prepared. I have already been living the lifestyle without even knowing it. However, there are things that I still need to work on which is also complicated by the fact I am currently in the military and some of the areas are lacking due to the complex issues this create for myself. For example, moving every two to three years makes it difficult to stock pile on some things and I find that I have stuff spread across America in storage units, with family and friends.

Today, I saw something that would be beneficial for many people. Storage is a huge issue because many of us do not have unlimited funds and adequate space available but by being prepared this requires us to turn any space into storage space. If you have a garage, basement or other large storage facility you should consider installing a sliding shelf system, similar to the ones you see in hospitals for storing medical records. The shelve slide around on runners and only two shelves can be accessed at any one time however you can slide the shelves as necessary to access any of the shelves as needed. This makes it possible to maximize storage space but also allows you to maximize organization. Since the shelves slide together like books in a book case you can then post load diagrams as well as packing list of what is in stock, when it expires and even the shortages that need to be filled. I would also recommend that you also hang a note pad and pen to write notes of what is added, used, or even list of items needed.

These shelving systems are not cheap brand new. Therefore, I recommend that you keep an eye out for clinics and hospitals that are upgrading there current system and try to purchase the old shelving units. However, you could also install heavy duty, high quality caster wheels on your current, homemade or new shelving. Without having the runners it will be imperative to have handles mounted on the outside to assist with maneuvering the shelves. Do not go cheap on the wheels because a broken wheel could quickly make such a system difficult to use. In fact, as with everything else, buy some spare caster wheels so that they can be replaces as needed. If you buy the extras when you purchase the original set you know that they will fit perfect when it is time to replace them. Also, by having caster wheel installed you lift the shelving units off the floor which helps prevent moisture damage, which leads to rust and also will help reduce rodent and bug issues. You will be able to place traps and bait stations below the shelves.
Be Prepared, - S.K.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mr. Editor,
It seems that when we have to store anything it is always recommended to store in a cool dark area with low humidity. What things can we store in less than favorable spots like attics or outside sheds where the temps and humidity varies greatly? Thanks for all you have done for us. - Bill H. in Delaware

JWR Replies: Humidity can be problematic, but some items that can tolerate fairly high temperature inside a shed include salt, ammunition, paper products, and many cleaning supplies and lubricants. (But do your homework on potential leaks and fire danger, especially for items in liquid form, or that are packaged in aerosol cans!) If you live in a humid climate, then be sure to keep your eyes peeled for airtight containers--the bigger the better. Five and six gallon plastic buckets with gasketed lids have become ubiquitous. If you are creative, you can store a surprising variety of items in these buckets. For example, I found one brand of meat butchering paper that come in 10" diameter bulk rolls, that when turned on end fit perfectly in a 6 gallon bucket, with just an inch to spare at the top.
Also note that in addition to the tried-and-true milsurp ammo cans, some military surplus stores sell airtight shipping containers that were originally made for military electronics--made variously of metal, plastic, or fiberglass. I've see these up to nine cubic foot capacity! In the "Rawles Gets You Ready" family preparedness course, I describe using silica gel desiccant packets, as a well as Golden Rod Dehumidifiers. OBTW, these days, the least expensive source of bulk silica gel, is the new variety of "crystals" unscented odor -absorbing cat litter, such as Tidy Cats Crystals and the Amazing Cat Litter brand. (OBTW, these cat litters are often sold in three or four gallon rectangular HDPE buckets, which can be re-used for storing non-food items.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dear Jim,
Several years ago my wife and I were resident managers of a self-storage facility. Here are some useful facts:

Check them out first with the Better Business Bureau. The company we worked for, sad to say, was and still is rated very poorly for failing to respond to customer complaints. They operated on a model of "Get every penny they have." The rent was reasonable, and we were on site as "Security" with the usual corporate garbage that we never have anything resembling a weapon in the office or on duty.

The problem came with late fees. As soon as the doors closed at the end of the three day grace period, the computer would apply a penalty. On the 15, another penalty would apply. After 30 days, a "Collection fee," and rent, and more fees. A month late would cost a customer about $100 (in late 1990s dollars) in addition to rent for each month. Their lock would be cut to determine if the space was abandoned, and then overlooked, with a fee to have the lock removed. (All this was handled by the corporate office. We had no choice and no authority or ability to help anyone on hard times.) We were not allowed to provide any contact info except the P.O. Box number to complainants, who'd of course sometimes threaten to "inform our bosses" who made it clear they didn't want to talk to customers. They would never respond in any fashion to a customer unless lawyers were involved.

At one time they stripped and auctioned property through a local auction house, then switched to the "Bid on the open box" plan. So the result of three months lost rent, lots of filing, certified letters, late fees and loss of the use of the space in the meantime would typically be $20 or so.

Keep in mind that almost every place writes leases from the first day of the second month and pro-rates the remainder of the first month. So if you move in on the 20th and pay a full month's rent, you will owe the pro-rata for ten days (20th to end of month) on the 1st. If you miss that you will be in arrears.

Be aware that even the reputable ones do not provide trash service. If you are caught tossing trash into their dumpsters, you will be fined. Obviously, you shouldn't be paying to store trash, but it's amazing what we cleaned out of abandoned units:

A mo-ped
A laserdisc player
A new recliner (Still wrapped)
A new microwave
A case of mixed liquor, sealed bottles
Various tools
A full set of fine china
Car stereos
Construction materials
Literally tons of good clothes, shoes and books. (Which we donated to the local Goodwill.)

All of which were left in unlocked, unpaid units, often with the customer's blessing to help ourselves.

Which would be my last point: don't fall into the trap of just tossing stuff into the warehouse. Get the smallest one you need and plan for (as you mentioned) cold, heat, wet, vermin, and occasional fires. Never store anything crucial with personal value or legal value in one.

I can concur that property stored at these facilities is generally safe. Most of what is stored is not worth stealing, and what is worth it is too hard to sort. However, keep in mind that in grid down or other disasters, the facility may be closed, or wrecked by rioters. And once the first goblin figures out there's "Free" stuff, then all such properties are at risk. So I would not recommend using them except on a short term basis, while transporting your gear to a more secure location. - Michael Z. Williamson, SurvivalBlog Editor at Large

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mr. Rawles,
I have a small follow up question/suggestion to your response regarding commercial storage spaces. In my area, I have a solid 4-to-6 hour drive in good conditions to get to my safety location from my greater metropolitan area home. After having to do this drive last year with the chaos of an incoming Hurricane, I decided to take advantage of your "Doug Carlton" suggestion from your novel "Patriots". I decided to rent a small storage unit (5'x5') at what I considered the half way point between my city and my objective location. I pay $20 per month to store a small cache which consists of 20 gallons of stabilized gasoline (ventilated), 7 days of freeze dried food, and bottled drinking water. All in all, it consists of about $100 in supplies.

I do not consider this a long term solution, but at $20 a month it is an insurance policy that almost guarantees I will not have to be walking to my retreat. I'm sure you can find many testimonials online from people who had to evacuate Houston and Brownsville last year due to increased Hurricane activity in the Gulf. Many places were completely sold out of gasoline, food and water with in the first six hours of evacuation activities.

Do you consider this a good stop gap solution when it comes to utilizing self-store units? I understand that this is no excuse for procrastination or apathy. I am not diluting myself into thinking it has long term security for more than 24-to-48 hours of storage pending a catastrophic event or break down of civil service. Thank you for your time and advice. - Matt in Texas

Mr. Rawles,
I am the resident manager of a small self storage facility, and have been for over seven years. And yes I am a prepper and a woman.

Among my tenants I can count about a dozen or so who are also preppers. They consider this a safe place to store their preps while they are finding land to move to. I am always happy when one comes in to give notice that they are moving to the country (as they say).

We (my staff of two, and I) have a written plan in case of a situation and after practicing it and working out the bugs; we can lock this place down in less than five minutes. If I am here by myself it takes about 7 minutes to secure the premises and have my weapon and clipboard in hand. I realize that my tenants will want to come get their possessions as quickly as possible and that is part of our security set up, thus the clipboard with tenant info.

If any of your readers are thinking about storing their goods at a self storage facility here are some suggestions to make sure their items are secure.

1. Check out the location: in person and check with the local police force to see if the facility has had break-ins.
2. Is the property well lit and well fenced? (first step in security)
3. Only rent where there is a resident manager (a layer of security)
4. Gated with an electronic gate and limited hours. 24 hour facilities have more break-ins than those with limited hours. Electronic gates usually record the gate activity. (more security)
5. Is there video cameras recording the activity on the property? (security again)
6. Talk to the manager and staff – get to know them – you can do this without telling them what you are storing. You would be surprised how many people will tell you exactly what they are storing.
7. Does the staff make themselves present on the property?
8. Is the facility clean and well-maintained?
9. What types of locks are on the doors? Round locks for which only you hold the keys to are the best. Are the empty units locked also? (this is a sign that manage takes security seriously) Is there an extra lock on the door? Ask the management why. Most facility requires only one lock so they can lock out a tenant that doesn’t pay their rent.
10. Speaking of rent: Do you pay with credit card or can you set up a continuous pay with your bank or can you pay in advance with the Self Storage sending you an invoice the month you prepaid is up?
11. Read the rental agreement and understand it.
12. Check on your goods frequently.
13. Remember most self storage facilities do not allow food stored in any type of container that a four-legged critter could chew through. Canned goods, and round plastic food grade buckets are good. Make sure when storing food or clothing that you have clean hands. Residue of that hamburger you ate on the way will leave traces that will attract that four-legged critter.
14. Store in Rubbermaid plastic totes, well labeled on all sides including the top and bottom.
15. As far as extreme temperatures; yes it can happen, but if the units are well insulated you should not have any more of a problem than storing at home. You can do the insulation yourself by choosing the containers you store in.
16. Pallets are a great idea and I whole heartily recommend them for everyone.
17. If you don’t want people to know that you are storing your preps, choose totes and containers that will not give you away.

Mr. Rawles, thank you for being a guiding light for so many of us. You and your family are in my prayers. Blessing to you and yours. - N.J.

You have a great site, I watch it carefully.

In the recent article on storage spaces you answered a question about storage units being used to keep your food for a time. I run over 3,000 units of storage in a climate that has burning heat and freezing cold, and the answer to this problem is: climate controlled units. For only a few dollars more per month you might be able to find a unit in a climate controlled space. There temperatures will usually be held somewhere between 60 and 80 degrees. Perfect for storing food. These units are less likely to be broken into as they are interior and usually have higher levels of security covering them.

The drawback is that still just an emerging market, and hence climate-controlled units are not available in may rural areas. However, they are much more common the past few years. I just added climate control to a facility right here and though the facility in an area that is mostly farmer’s fields. I also know that the little town of Haley, Idaho has a storage company with climate controlled space. I also know of climate controlled storage scattered [in small numbers] across across Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Readers might not be able to find one right where they are going, but for the general public’s knowledge – climate control is out there and becoming more available all the time

As for losing your stuff for non-payment, yes it happens – all the time. I am constantly amazed at the valuables that people lose just because they didn’t pay their bill. But any reputable storage site is going to offer automatic payment options, either by credit card or checking withdrawals. That can make life much easier.

Yes, plan for possible water damage, and a possible rodent visit. Both are easy to handle. And lastly have some spare keys made for your lock. That one issue has tripped up too many people too many times. Thanks, - Luke H.

JWR Replies: I wholeheartedly agree about spare keys! In addition to the key that you keep on your daily-carry key ring, put one in each of your main bug-out bags, and one in the glove box of each of your vehicles! Someday, you might have to hurriedly depart for your retreat in unusual circumstances.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mr. Rawles,
Just finished reading your book "How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It. I finished it in one long sitting, and have plans to go over it again with highlighter and pen and paper to take more detailed notes. Great work!

As a member of the Armed Forces, I face a difficult dilemma in that I understand and can clearly see the need to prepare/plan ahead, but my family and I feel hamstrung by our relatively transient lifestyle. I've been in the service for just over four years, and in that time I have been relocated every 18-24 months. This makes it extremely difficult to build up a deep larder and establish a self-sufficient infrastructure and a live-in homestead. How do we work around this?

We have a few things going in our favor:
- We are debt-free, with about $60,000 squirreled away in a Certificate of Deposit (CD) that will mature next year; we intend on using that to purchase a piece of fertile land in a quiet corner out west, and are working with some like-minded family members to pool our resources for collaboration and (hopefully) get a better deal. One thing we have discussed is that there are some very good deals on land in Canada - would could by twice or three times the amount of property than we could buy stateside with the same amount of money. In your experience, do you see any advantages/disadvantages in buying in the US or Canada?
- After all the bills are paid, we have enough left over to put about $1,000 away in long-term savings and another $500 left for preparedness purchases. I have a running list of prioritized items (firearms/ammunition, long-term food/water storage equipment, etc.), and as the money comes in I purchase them.
- We are currently renting a small farm property (seven acres) in New England near my duty station. While here, we are taking the time to use it as a practice ground for growing a vegetable garden and small-scale haying for livestock. This will give us valuable experience once we do have a piece of land to call our own. We are coordinating with several friends to learn canning, cheese making, and small scale home brewing to improve our self-reliance.
- We do have two horses, mostly for pleasure riding; I intend on trading out at least one for a larger Draft cross - much more practical for farming/homesteading. My landlord also agreed to let us keep some poultry, so I will use the winter to build a coop for some chickens.
- Deer are abundant in our area, and several wander through our backyard on a regular basis. I'm going to pick up a deep chest freezer this week, and hope to put one or two deer in the freezer this fall/winter.

In summary, my two questions are then:
1) Canadian versus US land?
2) How to build a deep larder in a nomadic lifestyle?

Thanks for everything, and keep up the great work! - MPJ

JWR Replies: Yes, your situation is a challenge, but you are not alone. The good news for you is that the weight allowances for military PCS moves go up, as you gain rank.

Given an option, I generally don't encourage retreats in Canada because of their more stringent gun control laws. It is fine if you already live there, and have structured a firearms battery that takes full advantage of some loopholes. For example, buying M1 Garand rifles. (The only semi-auto that is an exception to the absurd 5 round rifle magazine capacity limit.) But to voluntarily move from a country that has fairly favorable gun laws to one that does not, just doesn't make sense to me.

For folks that move often, I generally recommend building up two stockpiles of food: A larger one with very long shelf life food s(such as hard red winter wheat and Mountain House(or similar) canned freeze dried foods) that is kept your intended retreat, and a smaller one with shorter shelf life foods that you will keep with you, as you move from place to place.

Hi Jim,

What do you think of storing food at commercial storage sites until you can get the your retreat? Do you think these sites will be targeted and vandalized when TSHTF?

We will be moving north as soon as our house sells. I was wondering if we should move preps to a storage site closer to where we will be moving?

I hope you and your family are able to find comfort in your memories of the Memsahib. Thanks, - Kimberly

JWR Replies: In most of North America, commercial "U-Stor" storage spaces with roll-up doors are not a good choice for storing your food supplies. Inside temperatures temperatures that can exceed 120 degrees F in summer months. This will greatly decrease the shelf life of most storage foods. Traditional warehouses with interior doors have less extreme temperatures, but there you are more likely to have access problems when the Schumer hits the fan. There are some exceptions, in places like Maine, but even there, you have to wonder about stored foods being subjected to repeated freezing and thawing.

Commercial storage spaces are statistically quite safe from burglary. The biggest risk that I've seen is people losing track of their storage contract pre-payments, and losing the contents of their storage spaces! (State laws vary widely. In some states, only one notice needs to be sent via mail before forfeiture proceedings can begin. OBTW, in my travels, I've seen several storage companies that are co-located with antique furniture stores. I consider that no mere coincidence. Obviously, their are a lot of forgetful, unfortunate, or just plain flaky people that have forfeited the contents of their storage spaces! In my 20+ years of doing guns shows, I've met several dealers that regularly bid on the contents of abandoned storage spaces, essentially sight unseen, with varying degrees of success. Typically, the bidders gather, the door is rolled up, and the bidding commences, with the bidders not allowed to enter the storage space. They must base their bids on what they can see through the open door.

Another risk for the contents of commercial storage spaces is flooding. Make sure that you pick a company that has their building on "high and dry" ground, not on a flood plain. But even then, there is always the risk of ruptured pipes, or a malfunctioning fire sprinkler systems. So positioning a layer of inexpensive (or free) wooden pallets under your stored good is cheap insurance.

Ideally, you should store your gear and grub in the climate-controlled home or cool basement of a trusted friend that lives their year-round

Monday, October 19, 2009

I have built a series of Hidden in Plain Sight (HIPS) bird house caches that can conceal a Seahorse Waterproof Case. These cases are similar to a Pelican brand case. The Seahorse company has cases developed for pistols, so I have built a birdhouse. It is a 4-place birdhouse.Two of the spaces are real bird houses, but the other two are dummies, with the top on hinges. The Seahorse case fits nicely inside. My thoughts on this were, for instance, say an intruder breaks into your home in suburbia, your space is compromised, you have enough time and thought to get you, your wife, and child out through a window or back door. You'd then go to the HIPS box retrieve your track phone and your Colt .45, call 911 and have your pistol in the event that the malefactors come after you. I am considering applying for a patent of sorts on this type of home security devices. They come in different configurations colors and made for different birds specified for regional "fit" for the back yard Thanks for all that you do, it is really appreciated. - Gary

JWR Replies:
That is a captivating concept, Gary. OBTW, I concur with concept of having a Model 1911 in hand before dialing 911. ("1911 before 911.")

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mr. Editor:

Like Margy, I also found myself building an 'above ground cellar' for temperature stable storage of food and other goods. Working with a detached three-car garage that had just a two-car door, I converted the extra 'bay' to a bonus room. With standard framing and insulation I noticed that that room remained noticeably more even in temperature throughout the day.

I also have warm summers, 100F and occasionally more. Winters rarely drop below freezing for more than a day or two.

I did some research once on passive temperature control and learned that water has a high specific heat and in significant quantity can stabilize the temperature of a given space. I acquired several 55 gallon plastic drums and placed them in a row along the interior wall of my room. I filled them in place with water I treated with bleach and sealed them. Within days I noticed that the temperature remained nearly constant regardless of time of day. The barrels are about 3' high by 2' deep, and it is easy enough to construct shelving above them.

I improved on this further by adding more barrels and increasing the insulation. I bought 2" thick foam panels at Home Depot, the kind with reflective metal coating. These I cut to shape for the windows and blocked them off. I also bought a box fan and some furnace filters. This I mounted in a window on a clock timer. The fan pulls cool night air into the space, pulling air through a furnace filter and an exterior screen. Now that the summer has passed I have disabled the timer and will cover the fan assembly with an insulation panel as the temperature drops. I may even use it to pull warmer afternoon air in during winter.

With these steps and no significant heat sources inside the insulated envelope I have found that with no energy consumption I have managed a cool place for long term storage.

Water is cheap and readily available. Once purified, it requires no maintenance when properly stored. - Vlad

Saturday, October 10, 2009

It’s been almost two years now since I became serious about preparing for TEOTWAWKI. In that time I’ve followed the instructions of the Lord upon the death of my husband to “shore up and seal up my house” but there was always one haunting question. That was, where would I have enough space to store adequate food for my family that I could control the temperature.

Living in a mild climate in the heart of America, we have long hot summers that sometimes kiss the thermometer in excess of 105? making outdoor storage of any kind almost impossible. I’ve always stored extra paper products and a few canned goods in the garage but due to the heat, I knew I couldn’t successfully store food there for a long period of time. Soil in our region consists of a high content of clay so digging a root cellar is not a fruitful enterprise.

Although I have a relatively large three bedroom home, I wasn’t willing to fill closets with survival food, plus I wanted it to be hidden from eyes that didn’t have a need to know. I worried about this at length, feeling that I had been instructed by the Lord to make preparations for my family of eight.

A friend of ours who is a construction person often does odd jobs around the house for me. He is someone I trust like a brother and whom I attend church with. We were standing in my garage one day as I expressed my dismay over the food storage situation when he pointed to an alcove in the garage and said, “You have a closet right there. All you have to do is wall it off.”

I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it previously, but the moment he said that it became very clear this would be “the” place. Within in a few days, I had my son in the garage with a measuring tape, pencil and paper and we figured the supplies I would need to make the closet come into fruition. He went to work and I went to Home Depot to arrange for a delivery of 2 x 4s, sheet rock, insulation, electrical boxes and wiring, light fixtures and screws and the complete list to make a well constructed, insulated closet with electrical outlets and ceiling fixtures where tool laden shelves once stood.

The process of moving all of the shelving and items stored on the shelves was exhausting, but I could see the benefit of this project and knew I would either get rid of what was stored there or find another place to put it. Luckily, most of the shelving was the heavy duty steel shelving on casters that we had bought at Sam’s a couple of years before. They were easily rolled across the garage and out of the way of the construction crew, their contents in tact.

The next weekend, my son and his friend came with tools in hand and began a long day of construction on a simple closet, fifteen feet long by five feet wide. Once their equipment was brought into the garage, the door went down and stayed there during the construction process. Although my neighbors are nice people, they are not on the same political thought process I am and I didn’t think they needed to know what was happening in the garage, nor did the city inspectors!

Two by fours were affixed to the concrete garage floor with a Ramset HD 22 single shot hammer device. Once the 2 x 4s were securely fastened to the floor where they would serve as the grounding base for the wall studs, the 2 x 4s for the studs followed and were stabilized by being attached to the ceiling. Next came the exterior sheet rock wall and insulation. I did hire an electrician to do the wiring of the closet as well as additional dawn to dusk lighting around the perimeter of the house.  In addition to the extra lighting in the ceiling of the closet, we added two outlets in the interior and one on the exterior wall of the storage closet so I would not lose the capacity to plug in extension cords for electrical outdoor tools. The closet door I selected was a metal exterior door already set with a lock and key arrangement.

We installed a silvery [Reflectix] insulation that was about 1/4" thick with bubbles sandwiched between the aluminum-looking [mylar] layers. We completely wrapped the walls of the storage closet with the insulation in hopes that it would solve any temperature problems. We  lined the room with it as tightly as if we were hanging wall paper, stapling it to the walls with an electric, heavy duty stapler. It looked good, clean and professional. My nine year old grandson stepped into the room and asked “Wow. What is this place for.” We dubbed it the “beam me up Scotty” room and have jokingly referred to it as that ever since. I put two thermometers in the room – one at each end –  and watched with dismay as the red line continued to hold at 90?. This was a problem that would only shorten the longevity of the stored food.

Once the closet was done my other son came to begin building shelves. My original plan was for wooden shelves but he wasn’t long into the project until he convinced me to buy metal shelving from Home Depot. We purchased three sets of Workforce Five Shelf Heavy Duty Steel Shelving Units that would hold up to 4,000 pounds. These free standing shelves were easily put together, very strong, and by using two units, I could make them tall enough to go from the floor to the nine foot ceiling. Each unit cost around $89 which was a little more than I had originally budgeted, but now that they are in I’m thrilled with them and very glad we went to this plan. The shelves are clean, smooth and without splinters and I don’t worry about weight loads plus the shelves are adjustable if I so desire.

My hot water tank is housed in a small closet inside the food storage room. I knew we had put the tank in almost immediately after we had moved into the house eleven years previously and it was a ten year tank. While I had not had any difficulty with the tank and found it still supplied me more than adequate hot water, I felt as though it would be prudent to have the tank replaced now, before the closet was full of food and shelving units. Also, I didn’t want to take a chance on the tank going out over a weekend or some other rushed time and I would be at the mercy of an unknown plumber to come fix it. Instead, I bought the tank and hired my construction friend to install it at his leisure, knowing full well I could trust him to be discreet about the contents of the closet.

Continuing to be concerned about the lack of control on the temperature inside the closet, my son and I climbed into the attic and put a roll of pink panther R-20 insulation in the area immediately above the food storage room and then a layer of pressed wood over that for flooring, thinking it would also work as additional insulation. Because of the layout of the roof line and the fact that the support beams for the ceiling of the garage ran crosswise instead of lengthwise, we weren’t able to get the insulation into the low lying areas under the eaves of the house. This worried me and I stuck as much of the blue polystyrene foam insulation back into the small crevices as possible.

As the weather began to get warmer, my concerns for the temperature of the closet room grew. Although my son had heavily insulated the new wall when he built it and I had a circulation fan going in the room at all times as well as the added insulation in the attic and on the exterior walls, the thermometer was showing an increasingly large red line. I knew enough about the longevity of  dried food to know this was not good and I would have to take evasive action.

My next venture was to add a stand alone room air conditioner. I did my research on line and bought one from a company in Austin, Texas. It looked like a great idea but looks weren’t enough! The information said it needed to stand near a window so it could be vented out like any other air conditioner. While I didn’t have a window in the room, I figured we could cut a hole in the wall of the water heater closet, run the venting tubing through that closet and up and out the vents in the attic.

My sister and I set about making this happen. In the early morning hours, before it got hot, she crawled into the attic with tools in hand and began cutting an opening through the ceiling of the hot water tank closet and pushing a very long length of flexible insulated dryer venting through the hole and then through the new hole we had cut in the wall of the closet. Pulling fifty feet of insulation isn’t an easy task, but we worked hard at the project and got it pulled through and affixed to the wall with metal brackets so it would be stable.

We followed the instructions on the stand alone air conditioner and attached the venting system to the flexible dryer vent and rejoiced when we turned on the unit and it dropped the temperature two degrees, almost immediately. We congratulated ourselves, went into the house and cleaned up and crashed in the family room. We were both very hot and exhausted but feeling good about our accomplishment as we drifted off to a well deserved nap.

A couple of hours later we went out to check our handiwork and were frustrated to find the room hotter than it had been before we began the project with the thermostat on the air conditioner showing 93?. We checked all points on the venting system to make sure nothing had come undone. I turned off the unit and set the fan back in the room; she went home. I thought about it over the weekend and tried to figure out what we could do to solve the problem. I had spent over three hundred dollars on the stand-alone unit that was only adding to the problem. Not only could I not afford that, it was maddening to think about.

After further research I came to the conclusion that the stand alone unit really is only a supplemental unit to be used in an area that already has some air conditioning but not enough. I’m sure it would work very well in that situation, but not in ours. On Monday, I called the company in Texas and told them I was returning the unit only to be answered by a Brian who wasn’t very nice about it and informed me that not only would I have to pay for the shipping back, which I expected, but I would now have to pay for the shipping to me as well since I wasn’t buying another product from them. That turned out to be about one hundred dollars down the drain. An expensive lesson in futility.

We were able to repackage all of the venting materials we used and return them to Home Depot for a refund, accompanied by a smile. At least they were nice about it which reinforces the virtues  of buying locally.

Several years before, I had added insulation to the attic of my home so I called that same company and had them come out to add more insulation, this time to the area above the storage closet in the garage as well as the original garage walls. To do so, they had to drill holes in the walls but I didn’t think that mattered - the idea was to keep the room cool enough to prolong the life of the food. It was an arduous task to remove all of the food, shelves and supporting items from the closet into another part of the garage, cover them with thick plastic to hide the contents from unwarranted eyes. Once the insulation project was done, I had to reverse the process and put everything back into the room.

Even with the added insulation, the room still wasn’t maintaining temperature below 90? on the hottest days. Although this was frustrating, I now knew I had to install a wall unit in the room. I decided the only acceptable thing I could do was to cut a hole in the new wall and put a small, one room, 120 VAC air conditioning unit in. I felt this was a gamble as well, but I now had several thousands of dollars worth of food in the closet and I didn’t want to gamble with losing it and not having food for my family.

Adding the 120 VAC unit was the smartest move of all. While they, too, are designed for windows and to be vented outside, we’ve been able to make this work. The condensation from the unit drains into a small plastic pan I placed on a shelf under the unit on the garage side of the wall. After a period of accumulation I pour that water into an empty recycled bottle, mark it “distilled” and set it aside for my iron. I’ve hung a small clip-on fan on the metal shelves, also on the garage side of the wall, next to the air conditioner. The fan blows across the unit and downward where the hot air is picked up by a larger fan and blown toward the garage door that I keep raised about two inches for circulation. 

All in all, the addition of the closet is amazing. I learned a lot of hard lessons along the way but knowing what I know now, I would have started with additional insulation as the second step in the entire process. The room is maintaining a temperature of 60 to 70? now, depending on how much I run the little air conditioner, which is normally shut off at night. I’m trusting by the end of September I won’t have to run it at all.

The closet has been constructed in such a way that I can completely disguise it by rolling steel shelves that we purchased at Sam’s several years ago in front of it. Those shelves are loaded with my husbands tools, chain saws, porta potty and anything else that is necessary for a normal life. In as little as five minutes, the garage can be made to look like a normal American messy garage where nothing could be found easily. Unless someone is looking for the closet with a metal detector, it would be very difficult to find.

The addition of the food storage room has cost me approximately $500 for building materials; $375 for additional insulation; $150 for wiring; $400 for shelving; $100 for air conditioning; $100 for shipping back the stand alone air conditioner, but the peace of mind is priceless.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Once you realize the importance of being prepared for coming hard times, you may ask yourself, “How can I possibly prepare for any scenario?  This is an insurmountable undertaking.”  The more you ponder this, the more the reality of this seems to be confirmed.  Let not your heart be troubled.  As with almost any endeavor, the road to success begins with the first step and continues one step at a time.  Consistent, prioritized, careful preparation over a period of time, preparation built around what your personal situation (budget, job, family, medical needs, etc.) will allow, can get you in a position in relatively short order to weather the scenarios that are most likely to occur.  The mere fact that you have considered the possibilities of what may lay ahead can very quickly put you ahead of the vast majority of the population.

Consider the possible scenarios whereby preparedness would prove to be literally a lifesaver.  These scenarios range from very geographically localized events, either natural or man-made, to the proverbial TEOTWAWKI.  The likelihood any of these events occurring generally becomes decreasing likely in a given time frame as the geographical scope and severity of the event increases.  Therefore the occurrence of a total multi-generational societal collapse, requiring the maximum amount of preparation is far less likely to occur over the next year or two or five than relatively local, relatively short term events such as tornados, hurricanes or floods, or even some major terrorist events, all requiring far less preparation than TEOTWAWKI situation previously mentioned.  This should be considered in the early stages of preparation as priorities for investment are made.

Therefore, your preparation should follow a well planned, measured, prioritized process that enables you to be positioned to go through the most likely scenarios first followed by progressively increasing severe scenarios.  Ongoing preparation will build on the past.  No effort goes wasted.  This should be encouraging to the beginning prepper.

How should you start?  Start with a careful analysis of the most likely localized events that may occur in your area or region, or events from another region that may impact your local area (remember passenger air service after 9/11).  Shutdown of transportation systems, especially trucking and rail should be of paramount concern.  What is the probable time frame that these events may cause you to rely on your own resources?  Make a list of all the items and quantities you will need to get through that period of time.  This constitutes the Phase I physical resources preparation plan.

Prioritize the list and within the constraints of your budget begin to acquire the items you have listed.  Keeping an Excel spreadsheet makes this task much easier and allows you to see at a glance exactly how much physical resource preparation you have achieved, how much you still need, the value of those resources, the cost to complete your initial Phase I purchases, etc.  Your spreadsheet should include rows listing each item with columns for:

  • Priority
  • Category or subcategory
  • Quantity Needed (for the given preparation Phase)
  • Quantity on Hand
  • Difference Needed vs. On-Hand (Calculated Value)
  • Cost Each
  • Acquisition Cost (Calculated Value)
  • On Hand Value (Calculated Value)
  • Total Value (Calculated Value)
  • Percent Complete for the Item (Calculated Value) – you can color code this Red/Yellow/Green for and at a glance dashboard view
  • Subtotals as you feel appropriate for each Category or Sub-Category

In the same way you used Excel to track your Phase I resources preparation status, use your spreadsheet to list categories, sub-categories, items and quantities that you wish to acquire for future Phases, up to and including a Phase for TEOTWAWKI.  This allows you to systematically build your level of preparedness a Phase at a time.  As you start with Phase I, you can also see how well you are gearing up for future Phases as well.  Remember, on-hand quantities, pricing, etc, can carry from the Phase I sheet to the Phase II through Phase “n” sheets so redundant data entry isn’t required!  Don’t forget to make hard copies of your files and save them in a three ring binder.

Additional Tips for getting started.

So you have determined what you need to acquire and have begun to do so.  But prepping isn’t just about acquiring tangible goods. 

It is also about skills.  It is especially about skills.  Even what I have called “Phase I” preparation should include training in the plan.  A diversity of skills within your group (which may start out as just your family) is important.  Take advantage of any relevant training available to you at low or no cost.  Programs available in many communities include CERT, First Aid, CPR and similar.  Use these opportunities to increase your skill base.  These are great skills to have in normal times and are great skills to build upon.  Even these basic courses could prove to literally be lifesavers in “normal” as well as tougher times.

Learn to garden.  Even if you don’t have a retreat with the space, perfect soil, and water supply, you should garden on a smaller scale in your city or suburban back yard.  This will give you a head start in knowledge and experience (i.e., harvesting and saving seeds for future years) when you are able to move to that retreat location.  Plus, fresh garden vegetables are healthier and taste so much better than what you purchase from the store, especially if the store bought vegetables are poured from a can!  Nothing beats enjoying a hand picked, vine ripe tomato fresh from the garden (and I confess, I take the salt shaker out back with me!).

Put away the foods you eat today.  Nitrogen packed survival foods are expensive and likely should and may be a part of your plan.  However, many foods that you eat today can be more immediately utilized to kick start your storage pantry at moderate cost while you save for other more expensive longer term options.  You can buy or easily build out of plywood a FIFO rotation canned goods rack, set it in a pantry or closet and start loading it up today with the foods you already eat.  This accumulation can be done for little perceived cost if done over time.  Simply buy a little extra of what you already purchase each time you are at the store.  You will be amazed at how quickly you can build up a 30, 60, 90 day supply of canned goods that will never go bad because they are what you currently eat so you rotate them via the FIFO system into your daily meals.  Canned vegetables, meats, soups, fruits and sauces can all be stored in this simple way.  All at very moderate expense.

Learn about your firearms.  Practice with them as much as you can afford to.  Get professional instruction.  Basic courses for novices are available at moderate expense.  There are NRA sanctioned courses for basic safety, handling and shooting skills.  Work toward completion of an NRA course or equivalent in self defense in the home and self defense outside the home.   If you are or once you get to be more advanced, get even more advanced training.  If your budget doesn’t initially allow this, do the best you can but plan for more advanced tactical training in a future Phase.  The key now is to get what you can afford and build on that.  Practice, practice, practice.

Don’t think you must necessarily purchase a complete set of new firearms right out of the gate for your survival armory.  Conventional wisdom suggests .45 ACP pistols for carry, .308/7.62 NATO semi-autos for your MBR (with expensive red-dot optics), a good .308 bolt action for long range and / or large game hunting, and perhaps a more expensive shotgun than you have budget for.  If you already have 9mm pistols, that AR-15 you bought a few years ago “because you wanted one”, the scoped .303 you inherited from Dad and an old but functional Remington 870 Express in 12 gauge, you are good to go for now, as a beginner prepper.  Make sure that adequate ammunition is part of your plan, but with this or a similar adequate set of calibers and shotgun you are set for your initial Phases of preparation.  Early on, food, water, medical supplies and the like are likely a higher priority than new firearms.  You can upgrade in a future Phase.  Focus on firearms training at this stage.  It’s about prioritization.  Besides, later phases prepare for scenarios that will be more likely to require the capabilities of upgraded firearms.

A basic principle.  Standardize.  If you pick .45ACP for your personal carry weapon, it is advantages for all members of your group to do the same.  The same principle applies for your MBR, self defense and hunting shotguns, etc.  Ammunition and magazine plans will appreciate this.  Try to standardize on 1 or 2 battery types for your battery operated devices.  Or more correctly standardize by using devices requiring only 1 or 2 battery types.  You don’t want to have to store and/or maintain charges on AA, AAA, CR123, C, D, N and CR2032 batteries, when you could be more efficient and effective with perhaps using only AA batteries.  This principle applies to anything that you have more than one of.  Radios, flashlights, etc.  Remember the axiom, two is one and one is none.  Standardization means simplicity, efficiency, spares.  There may be exceptions, but take standardization into consideration when you develop or modify your plan.  Initially, you may have to have a wider assortment of devices depending on the devices you currently have, but have a strategy to standardize.

Plan to read or more correctly, to learn by reading.  Whenever you come across a useful article, print it out and save it in a three ring binder with other useful articles you have saved.  Even if it is something you can’t purchase or do or use until a future Phase, save it now and add it to the plan now.  There is an incredible amount of useful information in  Read and save (and purchase through Jim’s site when you decide to purchase goods from one of his advertisers).  Jim helps us so we should help him where we can.

If you have relatives or friends in a rural location that you can get too and who are willing to take you in during appropriate events, have a G.O.O.D. plan.  This includes hard copy maps with routes and alternate routes.  Practice all routes before the big day.  Practice your load out plan, again, prior to the big day.  Search for loads of information on G.O.O.D.  There are many concerns related to evacuation in certain scenarios.  Educate yourself and make educated decisions.

This article is the tip of the iceberg with regards to beginning prepping, but hopefully it has a few pointers to get you thinking and to get you started and is an encouragement that this can be done, that you can successfully prepare for the future.  You don’t have to purchase all nitrogen packed long shelf life survival foods or the perfect arsenal with one of every conceivable firearm type for every circumstance (in fact limiting (standardizing) models and calibers has some clear advantages) in order to successfully prepare for the likeliest of scenarios.  Remember, methodical, prioritized preparing is the way to go for those of us on a budget.  Start small, build your knowledge base, supplies and skills, and very soon you will be in the enviable position of weathering the most likely calamities to occur in the next few years.   If you continue this methodical, ongoing process, you will continue to improve your situation and continue to put your self in a position to weather increasingly more severe and longer lasting scenarios.  The important thing for those on a budget is not to wish you could do it all now by immediately trading cash for all the tangibles and training you need, but to start and to start now and to consistently build to our plan as we can afford to do so.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dear Editor:
The suggestions of where to hide money prompted me to write about my experiences with storing cash. I keep on hand a few hundred dollars in small denominations in the event of an interruption of cash supply . I keep the cash in a small home fire/water proof lockbox from Sentry (just large enough on the interior dimension to fit an 8.5x 11 sheet of paper, and about 2 inches deep) along with other papers I want to protect from fire. The small size obviously offers no theft protection so to secure it, as well as up the fire protection, I put the lockbox into a fireproof gun safe. I always felt that this was the best way to store it until I ran into a little problem.

I infrequently open the lockbox just because the nature of what’s in it isn’t needed often. Once after a couple of months I opened it to find that the currency had molded (not mildewed) while sitting in the lockbox. It was my first experience at laundering money.

I take two steps to avoid this problem. First I place the money in an envelope and vacuum seal it. Secondly I place in the lockbox, about a half cup of silica gel desiccant, with indicating beads, in a coffee filter and check the condition every few months replacing as needed.

I’ve never had any corrosion problems with any of the firearms in the safe so I have to assume that the issue is with the lockbox. In my mind either the rubber seal allowed the currency to draw moisture from the humidity in the air, or the currency had enough moisture in it to cause problems when it first went into the lockbox.

I thought this was something that could save someone a little heartache. - Kentucky Possum

JWR Replies: If your document lock box is marked "fireproof" then it probably has a moisture-bearing insulation, typically Calcium Silicate. The moisture is part of what makes it fireproof.) This insulation BTW, will eventually induce rust on your guns if stored in the same vault, unless you take precautions. Place in the vault either a large (1/2- pound) bag or canister of Silica Gel (rotated by drying in an oven or in a food dehydrator at 160 degrees F overnight, four times a year), or use a Golden Rod dehumidifier, continuously.

The same types of linings are used in "fireproof" file cabinets at gun vaults. And coincidentally, because these linings eventually lose their moisture, their "fireproof" ratings expire after a few years.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hi Jim, Memsahib,
"Gridbeam" is a building system that's been getting some attention recently among do-it-yourselfers. I've seen references to it on Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools and the Makezine web site. Gridbeam is described as a sort of "Erector Set system for adults". It's simply a length of squared wood, aluminum or steel with precisely drilled holes [at regular intervals] along its length. Holes are drilled in both directions so that they intersect in the beam's middle. Sections are simply cut to desired length and pieced together. Additional pieces can be designed and added on to connect pieces at different angles; otherwise all of your constructions are going to have a very square shape to them.

Although the proponents of the system seem to be suggesting that all sorts of things can be made from it, I see it as being most useful for basic functional constructions and low-tech prototyping.

-Can be used for basic furniture, shelving, workbench.
-Prototyping of "ideas" for construction: build something, take it apart, re-size it. When it's put together how you like it, leave it as-is or take measurements to build a more aesthetically pleasing version.
-All pieces can be re-purposed later if needed.
-Design is non-proprietary and patent-unencumbered. The originator of it is simply trying to get the word out. You can take the idea of Gridbeam to any machine or woodworking shop and ask them to make it for you; if you're handy, you can make it yourself.
-Assembly of pieces is fairly simple.

-Most of the things you'd make with this aren't going to be especially attractive.

I haven't used this myself at all, so I can't provide any sort of informed review. Take it for what it's worth. A quick web search will show other references to it.

Keep up the good work on the site, and have a nice day. - Brian

JWR Replies: I'm also a fan of grid beam for prototyping. The basics are a stack of grid beam stock, a bucket of nuts and bolts, a socket set, and a Sawzall. (Or a hacksaw if you aren't in a hurry). Just keep in mind that because of the perforations, the lateral (bending) strength of gridbeam is a bit less than that of standard square stock of the same dimension. As I mentioned in the blog last month, the reader-generated KK Cool Tools web site has posted a review of the recent book How to Build with Grid Beam. This echoes my advice on building a very versatile stationary bicycle frame for generators, grain grinders, and even meat grinders. While welding is a great skill that I consider a "must', with grid beam you can fairly rapidly reconfigure prototypes.

Oh, and I'd also add one item to the "Cons" list: Sharp corners and protruding hardware. Be sure to file or grind down any rough edges and the protruding ends of any bolts--especially those that have been shortened!

[In response to the comment on varnish steel food cans,] I have some experience with long term storage and especially underground storage. Since there aren't any books that I could ever find on this subject, trial and error is how you learn (or maybe you get lucky and the subject is covered on SurvivalBlog!).

Metal cans eventually will rust and especially if in an underground shelter or root cellar. Moisture is always in the air, no matter how well your structure is built. This may not be true if you have the means to have something professionally designed and built, for for everyone else, expect some moisture. Sometimes cans will have a tiny dent in them and the edges of that dent will be weak and rust through right there. So glean out any dented cans, and check them periodically, just because they weren't dented when you bought them does not mean they aren't dented now. If one can rusts through the liquids inside will leak out onto other cans and provide sticky moisture that will rust those next.

The best way we found to store cans is inside food grade buckets or barrels. As long as there is no moisture in that bigger container, you will be safe. But, if you put in a dented can and it springs a leak, then all that moisture will be trapped in your bucket and every can in there is doomed if not found fast. Watch those dents. Buckets are also nice because you can grab the handles and move a bunch of cans fast. If you need to, they can be buried and hidden. If buried the metal handles will rust/rot and be ruined, so after digging them up moving them will then be harder.
Plastic totes are worthless. They are too thin and do not have a waterproof seal. When stacked with anything heavy the ones on the bottom will collapse. We stored toilet paper in these and plastic trash cans and ended up with a lot of soggy and worthless toilet paper. No, duct taping the lids on won't avoid this. Don't use totes for anything.

Army surplus medical chests are a gem if you can find them. They split into two [clamshell] sections and will hold a lot of cans (or weapons, gear, etc). They have a big rubber seal to keep them air and water tight. These are great for #10 cans. They are made out of aluminum so they won't rust, but the 4 handles are steel and will rust. If you tar those handles these can be buried for a nice cache. Or you can stack these in a shelter to protect your food or anything. Need to bug out fast? Moving these will be heavy if loaded with food, although not bad for gear, blankets, etc.. These can be moved and dumped into a forest fast. They are OD green so they blend in. There is a scenario in "Patriots" where this would be an obvious advantage. (I don't want to post "spoilers" that would ruin the book for anyone that has not read it yet.)

You can sometimes find large plastic [or fiberglass] crates that are military surplus. These are also [usually] water and air tight, but harder to find. They can be found up to 4'x4'x4' and come in all sizes and shapes. Check these for cracks and splits. Make sure that their rubber gaskets are not torn.

I've had people tell me that they store food in ammo cans. Ammo cans are great for some items, but I would avoid them for food. Some cans have a residue of gun powder [or other chemicals] inside them, and they may have been used by the military to store something else after the ammo was emptied out. A chemical in a can that touches your food or food container and ends up in you could make you sick or worse.

Metal 55 gallon barrels work well, too. Just make sure what used to be in them won't poison you and have them completely cleaned. You want ones with removable lids. They are steel so they may rust after a long time.

Watch for mice and rats, they will wiggle into any shelter you can build. They will chew up all kinds of supplies and may chew through plastic containers. I've never had them chew through buckets or barrels, but they have chewed through plastic totes. Metal medical chests will stop them.

We had metal cans of lantern fuel stored and after about 10 years every can developed a tiny pin hole somewhere. The result was once that pin hole developed, the fuel evaporated out. So while the cans looked fine, some were 1/2 full. No odors from the fuel to warn us.

Batteries should never be left installed in the item you need them for. If they get too old they will leak acid and can destroy a critically needed item. I would store batteries in a way so that if one leaks it won't contaminate all the others. You can try zip lock bags to separate a dozen or so.

If you are considering storing fuel to cook or for heat, consider coal. All oil-based fuels will eventually go bad. Wood rots after awhile (I'm talking long term here), so you can't cut a 10 year supply and have it last. Chainsaws make noise that may attract people and require gas and oil. A chainsaw cut to can be deadly or at a minimum it will take some medical care. But coal is basically a rock. It doesn't go bad, evaporate or require a noisy dangerous saw to produce it. [JWR Adds: But coal should be stored out of the rain to prevent deterioration.] You can buy wood/coal cook stoves and heat stoves from Lehman's in Kidron, Ohio. (They also stock spare parts and know about what they sell so they can answer questions) You can buy as much coal as you can afford and stockpile it. If you want to hide it you could dig a trench, fill it in with coal and bury it. If it's fine sized you might want to line that trench, but if the pieces are big you might not need to. Or you can fill big culvert pipes. Use your imagination.

If you are burying containers you will want to defeat metal detectors. It isn't practical to dig to China with a backhoe to go real deep, someday you want to dig that back up, and then you might only have a rock to scrape the dirt. So your cache may be found unless you can fool the detector. Consider burying your cache in a junk area full of scrap metal. A few junk cars with old pipes, barrels, anything strewn about will help. Bury some metal around as well. Nothing obvious, just a few pieces of junk to discourage people from looking any deeper. Stacks of old pallets, lumber, all kinds of junk can make a good junk pile as a distraction. You could even stash some old tools [hidden above ground or buried just below the surface] to help dig up your cache!

Hopefully this will help someone and save them spoiled supplies. - Don in Ohio

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hello James and Memsahib!
Greetings and prayers for you both. In the Saturday August 8th blog there was a report of damage to underground storage food, with cans rusting.

When we traveled for years on our sailboat we varnished our canned goods to prevent rusting. We removed the labels, wrote the contents of the can with a permanent marker, then varnished each can. We never had a can rust with this protection. Our cans were exposed to salt air and an occasional dousing from bilge water.
B.B. thought that waxing his cans would help. That may work but any contact against the wax may remove some protection and defeat the purpose.
We read your blog daily and have learned much. "Patriots" is being read by all family members and we are praying for your bride.
With warm regards, - Ray & Vickie

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Our prayers for you and your family continue daily.

My grandfather has six 12"x12" square wooden posts on his farm house's front porch. Each one has held various caches for over 55 years and no one has ever been aware. It was not until 20 years ago that I was painting the posts and felt the need to replace a split board that he let me in on the secret. By the way, if a cache needed changing, it was usually done every few year as the posts were scraped, primed and painted along with the porch.

For almost 16 years, our home has had PVC pipe caches inside our aluminum porch pillars/posts. Similar porch posts can be easily purchased at home supply centers or you can make them from wood like Pappy's porch on the farm.

I realize this is not necessarily convenient for frequent changes in contents and they're not perfectly secure from fire or tornadoes, but they have been effectively hidden from hundreds of people: family, strangers, etc. who have climbed, leaned, touched, and passed by them unaware, for years.

Better than a safety deposit box so far and I personally know of no one else than Pappy with a longer, successful track record of hiding and accessing caches. Please withhold my name and email as I'm giving away a family secret after much prayer for the benefit of others. Sincerely, - S. in Ohio

Here is an idea on another place to hide cash or coinage at home: Take an old coffee can or two and put your valuable in the bottom of the can, fill it about half way. Then, on top put in a bunch of old nuts and bolts and fill to the top. Put these cans on a work bench in the garage or utility room with similar cans. Most thieves will not even touch them or look twice at cans of "junk". Then just hope your wife never decides to "clean out your junk!" - Rick V.

JWR Replies: Your comment underscores the importance of letting trusted family members know the location of keys, caches, and vault combinations. The large number of abandoned safe deposit boxes each year is indicative that too any people err toward too much secrecy within their families. Ditto for caches of cash found in walls or found in attics, often decades after someone passes away. And who knows how many hidden (but undisclosed) valuables have ended up in landfills.

Monday, August 3, 2009

My gun vault down in Jim's Amazing Secret Bunker of Redundant Redundancy (JASBORR) is now full. It is a large vault (a Zanotti ZA-III modular six-footer) but it isn't big enough. For more than 30 years, I've been accumulating barterable tangibles: guns, full capacity magazines, precious metals, optics, and knives. Each of these represents a fairly compact and liquid asset. They all have practical uses, although the coins and ingots are more of a medium of exchange rather than something intrinsically useful in and of themselves. (Oh, I suppose the silver could be melted down, cast into bullets, and put to good use if the ranch is overrun by lycanthropes. What if silver someday mysteriously becomes nearly worthless? If cast into buckshot, if propelled by just a wrist rocket slingshot, as Mr. Spock once said, "they would make formidable projectiles" to slay garden pests.)

I rest well at night, knowing that the vast majority of my net worth is either in the form of productive land, or useful tools. The US Dollar could get devalued or wiped out by inflation, and yet that would only hit about 3% of my net worth. This is because I convert my greenbacks into tangibles at the first opportunity, and only keep modest bank balance to pay my monthly bills.

I'll admit that I may have gone a bit overboard. Do I really need a half dozen spare Swiss Army Knives (of various models), or four spare Cold Steel Knife Voyagers? Probably not, but there they sit, new, stacked up in their factory boxes. But I don't expect their resale value to go down anytime soon. Do I truly need a stack of HK93 magazines, or Glock 17 magazines, or M14 magazines, when I don't even own any of those guns? Probably not, but they sure do make great barter items. And why do I have so many stainless Colt M1911 .45 semi-auto handguns? After all, I can only hold two at a time. But perhaps a day will come when my descendants can no longer attend a gun show and walk home with what ever they please, sans papier. And again, I don't expect them to go down in value.

I suppose that I'll soon have to buy a second vault, and bolt it down, right next to the existing one. Someday in the future, after I've joined the Choir Invisible, my children or grandchildren will have a quite a day, sorting though the contents of my vaults. And something tells me that my heirs won't be disappointed, or consider it "junk" that they are dividing up.

None of the foregoing is meant to brag. Rather, I hope that you will emulate my approach at investing diversification to prepare for the tumultuous decade ahead. Think: Tangibles, Tangibles, Tangibles!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

For those who are planning to wash clothes in case of power outage or loss of delivered water I have two suggestions.

First is the wringer to get excess water out of washed clothes. Use an industrial mop wringer, such as the kind available through Lowe's stores. It is made of heavy duty industrial plastic, and, of course, is dual use. Wring out your mops or your clothes. It is less expensive than a traditional roller type wringer.

Second, for washing clothes in small batches you might consider a foot moved (adapted to hand crank on rollers) drum cement mixer of the kind marketed by Sportsman's Guide. It is made of poly plastic and is easily cleaned. Once again, it is a dual use item. Mix your cement (60 lb. sack capable) or in an emergency use it as a clothes washer. Due to its tight seal it could also be used as a storage container if need be, instead of a five gallon bucket. If you choose, you could get multiple buckets for storage use and then after the manure hits the spreader, when the drums are empty, use them as barter items.

One final item: Sealable plastic drums with removable tops of the 55 gallon variety are a good way to store sacks of cement and keep them dry until they are needed. Bag each cement sack in heavy duty plastic bags before storage, as a "just in case", so that if one bursts it does not make a mess. Plastic drums used for soap --like that used by car washes (or auto dealers)--can sometimes be purchased fairly cheaply from the car wash owner. (They have a return fee to the distributor of between $10 and $20.) These type of drums have two small caps in the top and are easily cleaned and reused to collect runoff water for gardening, toilet flushing, or could be adapted for use as mini-septic tanks with exit holes drilled on one third of a side (properly called vaults) or cut a hole in the bottom, install a toilet seat and use it for an outhouse (but don't forget to cut out the top and set it on a base layer of large gravel prior to use).

Just a few thoughts for the "adapt, reuse and recycle" minded. - Bob W., in West Virginia

Influenza Pandemic Update:

1918 & 2009 H1N1 Similarities Confirm Recombination "...the growing list of similarities between 2009 pandemic H1N1 and 1918 pandemic H1N1 continues to cause concern."

UK: Swine Flu Vaccine to be Cleared After 5-Day Trial
(How can they eliminate the risk of pathogenicity so quickly? Your Editor is dubious.)

WHO Says Health Workers Priority for H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccine

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Last Sunday night my family drove home to the sight of a pillar of smoke that looked like it was coming directly from where my house should be. It turned out to be the next door neighbor’s home. The blessing is that no one was home, so no one got hurt. The downside is that no one was home so everything owned was lost. I mean everything – clothes, food, water pump, furniture, bedding, cash on hand, tools, toys, games, appliances, equipment, books – everything.

The Red Cross put the family in a hotel for a few days. But after that they came home with a rented shipping container that they are sleeping in. Did I mention they lost everything? The local churches have provided clothes, the neighbors are providing meals. The local funeral home director of all people is donating an old trailer as temporary housing. They will eventually rebuild. But in the short term it is a post-SHTF situation that we can all learn lessons from. Here are the top three:

#1 for me is a profound sense of gratitude and appreciation for everything I own that might have been lost had it been my home. We shouldn’t take our blessings for granted. The end of the world as we know it could happen on a personal level at any time.

#2 This is the opportunity to share supplies meant for starting over in a post-SHTF world. You learn by doing. No matter how much I thought I was ready, I failed to think through the details. For instance one of the things I gave them was boxed mac and cheese with a kettle to boil it in. They had no stove to cook it on, or milk or butter that the directions call for. My bad. I just didn’t think it through.

#3 Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I can not get over the idea that if my home had burned while we were away – they only possessions that we would have left would be what was stored away from home. If you don’t have a couple of caches. Get them in place ASAP.

Prayers for those in need are never wasted – thanks in advance for them, - Mr. Yankee

Monday, July 6, 2009

Just a comment on the bit about the sheds for bug-out retreats.
I have designed plans for a number of such shed sizes, as well as living quarters for larger barns.

A couple things to mention, one, is that if you do a sloped shed roof on your shed instead of a peaked roof...from the air, it looks like a loafing shed for your critters, this is in case it is in a
more rural farm like area, instead of timber country. Another thing, the window problem: On our barn (which we are building living quarters in right now) the front door and a nice sized window can be covered by using a large barn-type slider that covers the [man] door and window. And or you can use regular dutch doors or livestock slider doors to make it look like an outbuilding. We have two windows, one for the bathroom that is actually behind the top half of a dutch door and then the front door and window that is covered, when need be, by the barn slider.
I actually designed a 16' x 24' shed, that is really nice We hope to build it out in the middle of our fields. With a simple livestock water trough at the back of the roof line to catch run off, from a distance it will look very much like a livestock shelter. [A "loafing shed."]

And if you know someone who has a portable mill, you can have boards cut that are actually 2" or 3" thick to use like board and batten. This will help to make your shed look simple but pretty safe from bullets. At least if they are coming at you from a distance. You can go another step further and build this shed over a concrete root cellar or a square concrete cistern that can be accessed through the floor of the shed. A ladder down through the top and with all the options they build in them for knock outs for pipes (in this case vents) they can be a pretty nice underground bunker of sorts.

We read your site regularly to keep up on what is being written but hidden in obscure papers. You guys are providing a great service. Keep it up! - Toni in the state of Washington

James Wesley:
I built many quality sheds (for my business) years ago. It is much easier to build a shed in four foot (or less) panels in your shop and then transport the panels to your retreat. It takes a little planning to do this, but in this way just two people can assemble the whole thing in a day, and transporting the shed usually takes just a 3/4 ton, long bed pickup [rather than a large truck.]

In many states you can build a shed up to 200 square feet without a permit. 12'x16' is a common larger size, but 10'x20' is much simpler to build (that 2 extra feet wider is a pain with roof and trusses). I recommend that you use deck screws to screw the panels together, including the cap plate. Build your roof trusses in your shop too. See Backwoods Home magazine for a really excellent article on how to build trusses and a really strong building.

Build the floor system on site, not as panels. Build the wall panels so that your full 4x8 sheets overhang on floor system by 4" and 1.5" on the top for your cap plate (ties it all together for strength). Offset your 4x8 panel 3/4" to the left side to keep the seams centered on a stud. This keeps it weather tight, if you caulk. Make sure your roof overhangs at least 6" (12" is better) on all 4 sides or rainwater will get in.

Cut your studs to 87.5". The 96" stud minus 4" (bottom overhang) minus 1.5" (bottom plate) minus 1.5" top plate minus 1.5" cap plate = 87.5". Make sure your cap plate is one piece of lumber for each side to tie the panels together on top. Take the scraps with you to your retreat, they will be handy.

Every panel uses one extra stud. It is well worth it. For Heaven's sake, make sure the floor is level and square, and that every panel is square on its own! This is the difference between a lot of fun building, and a disaster. - Brian W.

Friday, July 3, 2009

This article is not intended to promote the Tuff Shed brand per se. Any of Tuff Shed’s products can be built from scratch. This is just one way to obtain “instant” shelter at a reasonable price. Tuff Sheds come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. For the sake of this discussion I will limit myself to the rather plain-looking Tall Ranch Tuff Shed model because, unless you happen to be short of stature, you will probably need a tall shed. In Portland, Oregon the Tall Ranch model is available in sizes ranging from 6’x6’ to 16’x24’. This idea will not be practical in an area prone to flood, hurricane, or tornado. Much of what’s in this article is just common sense. I like to think of it as food for thought.

The great thing about this idea is that many county building codes will allow the construction of a shed without obtaining a building permit, although this often depends on the size of the shed. (Of course they don’t expect anybody to actually live inside one.) So, you can put one on your “bug out” site without notifying anybody in most cases. If you purchase a ready-built shed that is only 8’ wide it can be moved on a flatbed trailer without an oversized load permit. For the purpose of a simple survival shed I would consider the 8’x12’, 8’x14’, or 8’x16’ models. These sell for around $2,500-$3,000 new in Portland, or about the same price as a good used travel trailer. The shed doesn’t come with any insulation, wiring, plumbing, or interior walls however. This is good because it makes it easy to install these features exactly the way you want them before you deliver the shed to your site. The shed is usually sold with a window, but it can be easily omitted. I would order it without any windows and, instead, I would install peepholes on all four sides. Not having any windows means that a light can be kept turned on inside without alerting anyone that passes by.

I would install three or four electrical receptacles and stub the wiring out in a corner where the inverter and batteries will go later. I would also install one low power-consumption, but bright, LED light in the center of the ceiling with a quiet DC switch located where it could be reached in a hurry. For heat I would install a vented propane heater of the type used in recreational vehicles and install it through the wall at the back of the shed. After I had done all of the wiring, and installed the heater and peepholes, I would thoroughly insulate the shed so that it could withstand the most severe winter weather with only minimal heat. All of the work would be done at my leisure in my own back yard before the shed is ever moved to my “bug out” site. For the walls I would use oriented strand board (OSB) instead of drywall because it’s tougher and lighter. Also, it’s easier to mount various accessories on the OSB later on, with screws. The OSB can be painted with interior house paint. I would use a thick rug or carpet on the floor so that it wouldn’t make much noise when walking around inside. Just before the shed is to be delivered to the “bug out” site I would paint the exterior with two or three coats of good quality house paint in an earth tone color similar in color to the “bug out” site [soil or foliage].

Ideally, I would place the shed on my site where it is surrounded by brush and/or trees or, even better, in a low spot between some knolls. In any case the shed’s foundation would have to be elevated 6” to a foot above the grade to avoid rainwater infiltration. I would be sure that the rainwater drains away from the shed. Once the shed has been set in place I would repaint the outside of it to closely mimic its surroundings, camouflaging it that it cannot be seen from any direction by anyone less than 25 yards away. The roof would be similarly camouflaged with paint and/or local vegetation. The shed would have to be well hidden to avoid detection because it’s a hideout, not a fortress! For water I would use a two-gallon water cooler and refill it from a spring or creek (with proper filtration of course.) For a restroom I would use a portable chemical toilet. A pit could be dug at some distance away from the shed for waste burial. Bathing would have to be done in a creek.

For electricity I would use a couple of deep cycle 12-volt batteries, a solar panel, and a 120-volt power inverter. The inverter need not be large. In fact a small one would help to conserve battery power. It would only need to be large enough to run a couple of lights and a radios. The solar panel would not be mounted on the roof. It would be portable so that it could be hidden inside the shed when it isn’t being used. It would be placed outside during the day when I was around to keep an eye on it. Harbor Freight and Northern Tool & Equipment both sell 15-watt solar panels for about $60. A couple of these would easily keep the batteries charged. I would spend most of my time outside of the shed during the day and only use it at night or during inclement weather.

This “bug out” shed or cabin would suffice in an emergency to provide a relatively safe hideout for up to several months. The trick would be to keep it secure when I was not there to watch it. It might make better sense to bring along most of the needed supplies when retreating to the shed. - Mr. E.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Something you may not have given much thought about in your planning for long term food storage is Pest Control. All the hard work, preparedness and money spent on stockpiling and storing food can be quickly ruined by pests. You need to protect your investment. As a former exterminator I have seen my share of these pests and can share my experience and knowledge of control measures. While some of these measures are just ordinary common sense, we all know that common sense isn't all that common.

A few things to consider:
Most infestations come home from the store with you. You would be surprised to learn what I've found in the average, clean looking big name grocery store!
Dry pet food is notorious for being infested. Pet food is not processed and packaged with the same standards as "people food".
90% of Stored Product Pest Control is not about chemical treatments. We will use poisons sparingly and effectively.
Some, but not all, pests are disease carrying.
While there are hundreds (or thousands!) of individual species of pests you could have to deal with, we will focus on the three main problem pests when it comes to Food Storage: Pantry Pests, Rodents and Cockroaches.

Pantry Pests generally include Moths, Beetles and Weevils. There are too many species to list individually, but luckily the identification, prevention and control measures are all similar enough to lump into one category. Most Pantry Pests have a similar mode of action: the adult bores a hole into the grain/kernel/meal, lays its egg and repeats. The larva hatches inside the grain/kernel/meal, then eats it's fill until ready to pupate. The pupa hatches out of the grain/kernel/meal as an adult, and the cycle repeats itself.
They usually appear after bringing home a product from the store that was already infested, however some indigenous species do infest crops, and so may infest the grain in the field first.
If you spot moths, beetles or other stored product pests in your home or food storage areas, it's already too late. As mentioned above, the adults are not what will be eating your food, it's the young inside your rice, corn or wheat that is destroying it. While it's fine to eradicate the adults you see, the real problem is in the food itself. Once cut off from the food source, the adults will die off without having reproduced.

All stored product should be removed from storage and inspected for infestation. Do not skip over anything just because it's an unopened box or what you think is an airtight container, go through it all. You may see webbing (like flat spider webs) inside a heavily infested product. You might see active adults working to lay their eggs, or holes bored through packaging like waxed paper and plastic bags. If you can afford to, throw this infested product out. While not the most economical approach this is what most homeowners will do.

Sanitation and Exclusion
Once your cupboards are bare it's time to get cleaning. All cracks, crevices and corners should be vacuumed clean of dust, flour and food stuffs that may have fallen in. In absence of a vacuum, wipe out everything you can with a wet rag, then blow out the voids and repeat until as clean as possible. You can treat the cracks and crevices with a general purpose pesticide at this point if you like, but it is not necessary. The cracks and crevices should now be filled with caulk, or something similar. This serves the dual purpose of both sealing out future food spills and pests, and sealing in anything you may have missed.

As mentioned above, throw out all known or suspected infested product if you possibly can. If that is not an option, there are things we can do to kill the critters inside without losing the grain. Please note that while these bugs might seem disgusting to us, and they are eating your food, you can eat them without adverse consequences as most are not disease carrying. How shall we cook them? Let's bake!
An oven set to 130 degrees for four hours is the minimum standard for killing the larvae and adults. No promises on the eggs as they can be extremely tough. A slightly higher heat and more time will likely net better results, but use caution not to damage the grain.
Freezing the grain can also kill the larva and adults, and again, no promises on the eggs. This method is not as effective as baking, and may be impractical.
A professional will use fumigation to treat a large amount of infested product, say a grain silo full of weevils, but it’s very expensive, and may not always be available to you. In any case, you can’t just go pick it up off the shelf, you need a Pest Control Operators License to purchase the chemical, and rightly so, it is highly toxic.

The packaging your food comes in from the grocery store is not good enough. These pests can bore a hole into the toughest shell nature can provide, do you think a cardboard box or waxed paper will stop them? Of course not. The best containers are glass or metal and airtight. Tupperware/Rubbermaid type containers are second best. Ziplocs and plastic bags are not acceptable for long term storage at all. It's not a bad idea to store bulk food in many small containers rather than one large one. Don't put all your eggs in one basket!
Check your food stuffs regularly. Periods of dormancy are a part of an insect’s life cycle. Just because you don't see them now, that doesn't mean they're not there!

Mice and Rats are some of the most damaging creatures we have to deal with. They eat what we eat, live where we live and carry parasites like lice and fleas. Because they are very similar to us biologically (one reason they are used extensively in research laboratories) it is easy for them to transmit disease to humans.
Luckily, control is actually very simple.

The only important reason to differentiate between a rat and mouse problem, is to choose what trap to use. A rat trap is just too big to effectively kill mice (something akin to killing an ant with a sledgehammer), they sometimes completely miss the mouse, and mouse traps only serve to make the rats mad.
The telltale signs of mice and rats are holes chewed into objects and food packaging, droppings, odors and noise.
As with all rodents, both mice and rats have large incisors (front teeth) that never stop growing. Because of that fact, they must constantly chew anything and everything in order to keep them ground down (I've seen pictures of a rat, not allowed to chew at all in a laboratory, whose lower teeth grew up over his head and into his skull!). You may see two parallel scrape marks in some materials from these teeth, the size will tell you if it's a mouse or rat. They will chew electrical wiring, and are the cause of a surprising number of house fires (they are actually attracted to wiring because it looks and feels like one of their natural foods, grass shoots).

They both leave droppings wherever they go, black in color, tube shaped like a grain of rice. Mouse droppings are about the size of a grain of rice, and rat droppings are naturally bigger than that, about a half inch long by a quarter inch wide. Both species also urinate everywhere they go, and so will leave urine trails and odors behind.
A sound at night like someone scratching their nails lightly on the wall indicates a mouse problem. People with rats in their homes describe it as sounding like "elephants in the attic". You may not hear anything at all, though, and still have a problem with either pest, sounds are just an indication. Rats love to nest above the water heater and furnace where it's always warm, especially in winter. There is usually a screen vent above those appliances, where you may see nesting materials like candy wrappers and snail shells (a favorite food). Rats do, but mice do not drink water, they get all the moisture they need from their food.

You may mistake a baby rat for an adult mouse, you can tell the difference by the tail, a rats will be thicker and almost as long as its body. A baby rat will have very large feet as well, all ages of mice have small, delicate feet.

Exclusion is the first step. Seal any and all openings into the house. A rodent’s skull is the only solid part of his body, if he can squeeze his head through, he can flatten the rest of his body out to squeeze through, too. A mouse's head is about the size of a dime, or you're little finger. If you can fit a finger in a hole, seal it up. The smallest rats head is about the size of your thumb, but we're going to seal up all the holes we find anyway, right?
Check and seal all vents to the crawlspace, especially around the air conditioning tubing, with steel wool, expanding foam or other inedible material. Do likewise to the soffit (attic) vents. You don't have to make it bulletproof, just enough to discourage them. The bottom of a side garage door is almost guaranteed to be a problem, it's required building code -to allow carbon monoxide gas from cars to escape. While I would NEVER suggest you break the law or bypass any safety measure, some people install a weather-stripping door sweep to keep the mice and rats outside where they belong. Trim all tree limbs that overhang, or worse, touch the house, as this is the Roof Rats favored method of entry. Anyplace two roof lines come together, climb up and seal the gaps in the soffits. Clothes lines and the like should not be attached to the house in any way. Ensure that any fences or other structures don't come within several feet of the roof, rats are excellent jumpers. Think of squirrels, they are basically just cleaner rats with furry tails. Keep ground-cover, especially ivy, trimmed back from the house, at least 2 feet. Wood piles should not be stacked against the house, you're just inviting trouble. Check the entire footprint of the house for tunnels, Norway Rats like to tunnel in, I've found many getting in that way.
Rats and mice do not live exclusively in your home, they come and go as they please.
Once the structure is sealed up, one of two things has happened: You have sealed them out, or you have sealed them in. If you've sealed them out, great, you're done! If you've sealed them in, how should we get rid of them?

Trapping is hands down the preferred method of killing them. There is no better mouse trap! The standard mouse and rat snap traps are exactly what you need, and they can be used over and over again. Use a very small amount of peanut butter underneath the trigger for best results. A big glob will soon dry up and a crafty rodent can just gently pick it off. Smear a little underneath, and he has to jump up there with both feet to dig at it and, well, you get the rest. An old trick is to use a wire twist tie to secure a nut or a snail to the trigger for an especially tricky rat. Both size traps should be slid in perpendicular to the wall (skinny end with the trigger goes against the wall), mice and rats both travel in straight lines against the wall (they use their whiskers to feel their way along in the dark). Trapping also insures that you control where the bodies will be for retrieval and disposal. You can place traps anywhere you've had activity that is convenient for you. The mice and rats sealed in will eventually get hungry enough to explore and find your trap, I promise.
Do not bother with live traps or glue traps, you risk getting bit and infected, and if released from a live trap they will probably just come back anyway.

Once you have stopped catching mice and rats, and you're very sure the problem is solved, then you can consider using baits (poisons) as a prevention measure. If a rodent somehow gets in later, he will take the bait, which are all slow acting (several days) and leave when he starts to get sick. Mice are small enough that they don't cause too many problems if they die in a wall, they just don’t have the body mass. Rats, on the other hand are horrible to deal with in a wall. If you don't follow my advice about trapping and go right to using a poison with a rat, I promise you will regret it, I've learned this the hard way. The stench of death (rotting meat in your walls), the brown goo leeching through the drywall, the flies and maggots will remind you of these words.
Be extremely careful using baits outdoors. In fact, I don't recommend it. There is nothing you can do to keep pests out of your yard, all you can control is the structure of the house. Most baits today are pretty safe, but I have had a customer kill her own dog by not following my advice and putting her own store bought bait under a wood shed. Can you imagine if a child had gotten into it? When a professional has to bait outdoors, he uses a tamper-proof metal or plastic box. These can be purchased if needed.
This last statement is going to upset some people, but cats are NOT the best rodent prevention and control measure. Yes they will kill mice and rats, and they can thin the herd, but they will never eradicate them all. Mice are a staple food to scores of predators like birds of prey and snakes, and the mice still manage to be the second most successful mammal on the planet! Have all the best mousers you like, they will help, but follow my advice above for best results.
And please, don’t leave pet food out at night! Keep dry pet food and the like in metal cans with tight fitting lids, and far from where you store your own food.

Cockroaches are filthy, disease-ridden creatures. All species thrive in unsanitary conditions. They breed incredibly fast, that's part of the problem. A male and female German Cockroach, given an ideal environment can produce 1,000,000 offspring in one year. They are typically brought home from somewhere else like the grocery store, in someone's luggage, etc.
In the old days they were extremely hard to get rid of, today, it's a piece of cake.

There are many species of cockroach, but we will gear our attack toward the German Cockroach, as he is the main culprit in ruining foodstuffs. Outdoor Roaches like the American or Oriental are not usually an infestation problem inside the house, they are just a nuisance.
The German Cockroach is about a 1/2 inch to 3/4 of an inch long. Tan or brown colored, usually with two distinct black parallel lines on its head. They will hide in cracks and crevices under a sink, in cabinets or the baseboards, behind wall paneling, etc. (in the wild, they live under rocks and tree bark). As with other pests, it's not a bad idea to fill these cracks and so eliminate their habitat. They will leave droppings that look something like black pepper, egg sacks after hatching, and their shells after they molt (shed their skin, so to speak). They avoid light, and will scatter for cover if you turn on a light while they're out.

Clean grease and spills thoroughly, especially under the stove, oven and sink. Be sure to clean all surfaces well, including the cracks and crevices. Keep your food in pest proof containers. Do not give these guys an inch. Without proper sanitation it is impossible to get rid of them, you must take away the food sources (clean up spills)!
Do not bother with any kind of spray, use a Bait Gel. It's safer and much more effective, in fact, in my opinion it revolutionized the Pest Control Industry. It will come in a mini syringe with the active ingredient Hydramethylon. My experience is that it kills about 75% of a population in 2 weeks. Then 75% of what's left in another 2 week follow-up visit. After 6 weeks, I can call a job done. For contrast, using conventional sprays, I could kill about 10% of a population per visit, and slowly make ground on them over many months.

It would be wise to stock up on pesticides just as you would medications. They are just not something you can replicate yourself. None of these products are terribly expensive, you can probably pick up everything you need for about $100. Note that these products do have a shelf life, so use them or give them away before they expire, and replace as needed.
You can see that 90% of Pest Control is not about chemical warfare, it's about common sense and cleanliness.
Here's the top ten things I recommend you stock up on:
1. General Purpose Pesticide like Malathion or Diazinon. Try to find a "Wettable Powder", it keeps longer and can be mixed to whatever strength required. It also sticks better than liquids after application. In addition to a powder, try to find a Granular product, it is applied with a seed spreader and activated by water.
2. Ant Bait Gel with the active ingredient Fipronil. Combat brand is a good “over the counter” choice. The ants will carry it back to the nest to feed the other 99% of the ants you don't see, including the queen, workers, soldiers and the "babies".
3. Wasp Spray aerosol cans. This stuff shoots a stream about 10 feet away and will drop them dead in the air. Use on wasp nests, yellow-jackets and bees. While not specifically labeled for them, it will kill just about any insect you don't want to get too close to (like Black Widows and scorpions). Any brand will do.
4. Flea Spray. Fleas are tough. Bathe and treat your pets first, clean your carpets and then treat the house.
5. Bug Bombs. These are not terribly effective, even the "prescription strength" ones in the industry are not that great. Still, I'd keep a few in stock.
6. Snap Traps for rats and mice. A dozen or two of each size should last many years, maybe forever. Try to find the ones with the big, yellow triggers. Much safer to set than the older metal ones, trust me, I've broken a finger setting a rat trap, they are no joke.
7. Rodent Bait. Decon will work, but the Combat brand (big, waxy blue blocks with the active ingredient Bromadiolone, an anti-coagulant) are better. It keeps longer and can be thrown into far corners of attics and crawlspaces.
8. Roach Bait Gel. Maxforce or Combat brand, active ingredient Hydramethylon.
9. Termiticide. A liquid will kill more than just termites and so is more versatile, but the commercially available baits (wood stakes impregnated with a stomach poison) are much more effective.
10. Building Repair Materials. Screening, caulking, steel wool, foam, etc.
Please, follow all warning labels on each product you use!

Friday, May 22, 2009

I've been working on getting prepared for about 20 years now. During that time, I've collected a large amount of information. Let's face it, there's a lot of information out there, and to this day I'm still collecting. I currently have four sets of encyclopedias (including 1947 and 1954 editions). I have a fairly good library of books that encompasses a wide variety of topics and, of course, I have lots of information from the Internet. First, I'd like to tell you why I collect it (and why you should too) and then the “what and how”.

One reason why I collect information is because the source of the information may not always be there. How many of you trust that our government will always allow information to flow about freely? Do they now? How many of you can get information about how to build a nuclear weapon? I can't, and I don't want it. That information wouldn't do me any good, but in a worst case scenario, information on building a small IED may be very valuable. What happens if that information is censored between now and TEOTWAWKI? Also, when TSHTF, the power grid and therefore the Internet may be down. Libraries and bookstores may be closed or burned to the ground. You get the picture.

Another reason why I collect information is that I may not be alive when the stuff hits the fan. Most of my preparations have been so that I can keep my family safe. If I've passed on before, or maybe while the stuff hits the fan, then having the information available (in a handy location) for my family may help them survive. Maybe it won't help my wife or kids, but maybe my grandkids or my greatgrandkids.

The third reason why I collect information is that I can't remember everything. (hard to believe, isn't it?) I try to remember the type of information that can quickly save a life and I practice those skills. The quicker it can become life threatening, the more you need to know the skill (like emergency first aid or armed self defense). However, things like how to construct a foxhole, how to make hard tack, what radio frequencies to listen to, how far apart to plant cabbage, etc., can all be documented and the information retrieved when it is needed.

As a word of caution – Just because you have the “information”, doesn't mean you are prepared. Collecting the information, and making sure it is available when it might be needed, is just a small part of the preparedness process. Remember to actually learn those skills that may instantly save lives and remember to gather the supplies that can keep you and your family alive over the long haul.
Okay, now you may want to know “what” type of information you might want to collect. I break it down into groups, just like you would with your preparedness supplies. With the supplies, you can think “worst case scenario”, but it's not always possible to be “supplied” for the worst case. In other words, most of us can't buy a 400 acre ranch, with a totally underground bunker, which is supplied with goods and equipment to keep your family and friends in safety and comfort for a year or more. It is, however, feasible to gather most of the “information” you might need for any worst case that you think you could possible survive. With that in mind, I focus my information on food, gardening, shelter, water, transportation, defense, energy, medical, and communication.
Most often, I ask myself questions about how to do something. If the answer is not very obvious (and most of it isn't) then I collect information on it. I don't just ask if the answer is obvious to me, but is it obvious to everyone. I must remember that the information might be needed and used by my children or their children.

Often, when you've gathered the information to answer your question, it will bring to your attention an additional item you may need to purchase, or another skill you need to learn. Consider the following questions, as starting points for your research and information archiving project:

FOOD – What do I need to eat to meet my nutritional needs? What type of recipes might I need? How do I make a meal from what I have stored? How do I make the very basic breads? How do I make sourdough? How do I make yeast? How about other ingredients? Can you make your own mustard if needed? What are refried beans made of? How do I make oil for cooking? How do I make jerky? How do I make pemmican? How do I make a root cellar? How do I dehydrate food? How do I trap animals? How do I hunt and fish? How do I butcher an animal? What parts can I eat? What native plants are edible? Can I plant a garden (see below)?

GARDENING – What seeds grow best in my area? What changes should I make to the soil? How do I compost? What plants are the most nutritious? How do I keep pests away? What plants yield the most food? When should I put seeds into the ground? What plants produce the food that I can store for later? What can I use for fertilizer? How do I use urine as fertilizer? What tools do I need? How do I save seeds? How long will my seeds stay viable? How do I keep weeds to a minimum? How much area do I need? What plants give me seeds that I can extract oil from? What tools do I need?

SHELTER – How do I make a shelter from a tarp? How do I make an effective Foxhole? How do I shelter from radiation? How do I build an underground shelter? How do I make a perimeter alarm? How do I build or maintain a shelter with no power-tools? What hand-tools should I keep? How is my shelter protected from fire? How do I secure my shelter from intruders? How do I keep my shelter warm? How do I keep my shelter cool? Do I know basic carpentry, welding or electrical skills?

WATER – How many places can I get water? How can I transport it? How can I store it? How can I make it safe to drink (from bacteria, viruses, chemicals, or radiation)? How do I dig a well? How can I pump water?

TRANSPORTATION – If I have a retreat, what vehicle should I use to get there? Which route should I take? What are alternate routes? How do we get there if the vehicle breaks down? Can I hot-wire a car? Do I know basic mechanics, or even how to change a tire? If I travel across wilderness, how do I find my way? Do I know how to use a map, compass and GPS? Do I know how to pack a backpack? What items should I take, given the type of transportation I have available?

DEFENSE – What do I need to defend against? What guns might I need? How much ammo do I need? How do I store it all? How much force can I legally use? Do I know unarmed combat? What intermediate threat weapons do I need (pepper spray, etc.)? Do my morals justify my use of force? How do I maintain my weapons? Do I have schematics for them? How do I make an “early detection” alarm system? How do other common weapons operate? How do I use camouflage? How do I use cover and concealment? How do I communicate? How do I make a booby-trap? How can I successfully block a road? How can I avoid a confrontation at all?

ENERGY – How can I make electricity if there is no “grid” power? Do I know how to operate and maintain a generator? Can I build a windmill? Can I make a mini-hydro out of an automotive generator? Can I construct a solar electric system? How do I maintain a bank of batteries? Can I make a solar water heater? How do I disconnect my house from grid power? How do I store extra fuel? How long will stored fuel last? Do I know how to make a small steam engine?

MEDICAL – What items should I have in a properly stocked First Aid Kit? Should I have an advanced medical kit? If so, how do I store antibiotics? How long will they last? What are the dosages for each medication I have stored? How do I suture a wound? How do I start an IV? How do I put in a catheter? How do I give an injection? How do I deliver a baby? How do I diagnose an illness? How do I sterilize instruments? How do I help prevent illness in the first place. How do I meet basic sanitation needs? What maintenance medications does my family need? What is the blood type of all my family members?

COMMUNICATIONS – Do I have written plans for my family? How do we communicate if we become separated? How many ways can we communicate? What hand signals should we learn? What Ham frequencies should we listen to? What local (police, fire, etc.) frequencies should we listen to? Do I have a written list of relatives, and their contact information, in my three-day pack? Do I have supplies to educate my grandchildren if they are no longer public schools?

Other Considerations
Think through how you will collect and store your archive of useful information. First, I'd highly suggest that you try to get your information from a wide variety of sources, so you can be more confident the information you've stored is accurate. So what sources should you use? I use just about everything but the radio.

Books are a great source. If you can buy them, then that's great. Maybe you can only check them out of a library. If that's the case, then maybe you can photocopy the parts you really need. Better yet, scan and print those parts. That way you can have a digital and a hard copy of the information. Sometimes, with some topics, the only information you can find is from very old books. Information you find in an old encyclopedia might be left out of a newer set.

Another source of information is the Internet. Not only can you find lots if it, but often it's free. If you look hard enough, you can find entire books that can be downloaded. Because some of the information you store will be in digital form, don't overlook the value of video clips. There are programs such as Replay Media Catcher that can automatically capture a video as it's being played from a web site, such as You then have a “stand-alone” file that you can play in your media player, even when the Internet is down.
If you wanted, you could record information from the television. Programs such as Survivorman have a lot of good information.

Don't underestimate the information you get from direct contact with a person. I'm lucky enough to have a very qualified emergency room doctor as a close friend, who has the same preparedness mindset as me. He has given me valuable information. If it's given to me verbally, then I go home and write it down so I can preserve it. The information might come from a hunting buddy, your mechanic, or your grandfather. There are lots of people out there who have a lot of expertise in their field. Take advantage of it.

Regardless of where you get your information, make sure you store it so it's there when you need it. My system is to try to keep as much, as reasonably possible, in a printed form, especially the important stuff. Keep the bulk of that at the location you plan to need it. For instance, you don't need printed information about how to insert a catheter or snare an animal at your home in the big city, but you will probably need it at your mountain retreat, where you have those supplies located. All printed material needs to be properly stored so rodents or moisture don't destroy it. Be sure to put some of the information you've printed into your Bug Out Bag (BOB).

Tons of information can be stored, digitally, on your computer and on a DVD. Don't keep it only on your computer or you may loose it if the computer crashes. With the information on a DVD, you can keep copies at your home, in your BOB, and at your retreat. The DVD is fairly easy to store and common sense should tell you where to keep them.
Clearly, the type of information you gather is up to you and your individual situation. Again, keep in mind that the information you don't think you'll need, may in fact be what you need in an unforeseen future. That information may not be easily available at that time, or you might not be the one who actually needs the information.

JWR Adds: Keep in mind that there are now nearly 7,000 archived SurvivalBlog articles and letters. The blog content is copyrighted, but it all available free of charge. I strongly encourage SurvivalBlog readers to make electronic copies of the posts that you find useful, or print out hard copies, and organize them by topic in a file folders. In essence, as long as it is not being sold or being re-used without proper attribution, then I am glad to see the information from SurvivalBlog put to good use. If you find it too time-consuming to delve into the archives and do umpteen "copy and paste" operations, then keep in mind that I self-publish the book SurvivalBlog: The Best of the Blog - Volume 1. That book covers the crucial first six months of SurvivalBlog, where I covered lots of "core" topics. Also, be advised that in October, 2009, Penguin Books will be releasing my new book "How to Survive the End of the World As We Know It. That 352-page book is also sourced primarily from my writings in SurvivalBlog, over the past four years. BTW, it also includes a special chapter on medical topics, most of was guest-authored by numerous subject matter experts in the medical field.

It is noteworthy that the price of non-volatile memory USB Flash Drives (commonly called "pen drives", "thumb drives", or just "sticks") has plummeted in the past couple of years. (I was recently astounded to see USB thumb drives for under $4 each). So there is no reason why you can't buy four or five 2-Gigabyte capacity sticks and store copious quantities of reference information from SurvivalBlog and other web sites, for your personal, non-commercial archive. If possible, keep three copies: One at home, one at your retreat, and one in your Get Out of Dodge (G.O.O.D. backpack.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I’m writing you today after our rural home/retreat was broken into while we were at work. I thought it would never happen to me, Oh, was I so very wrong. First things first, thank you for convincing me to purchase a safe and after reading the suggestion many times in you blog I eventually bolted it down. This is the only thing that saved me from losing the safe and all of its contents. The Sheriff told me of another burglary where the didn’t have his very large ("they can’t move it--its too heavy") safe bolted down and they took the whole thing. After much thinking, online research and discussions with the local locksmith/safe dealer with 40 years of experience, I have some suggestions that may be of use to my fellow SurvivalBlog readers:

ANCHOR YOUR SAFE!!! I cannot stress this enough. I had a fairly low end safe and they were not able to get into it (they almost did) nor were they able get it out of the house. The Sheriff's deputy estimated they worked on it for two to three hours to no avail. These thieves tore a wall out to try to gain more access to it.

I have decided that a safe is my final line of defense from a burglar.

First thing, put gates at the entrance to your retreat and lock them as I now have. Put all tools out of sight as the thieves used my hammers, pry bars to work on the safe. Reinforce the door jambs in your home. I have added 3-inch screws to the door hinges and a steel plate behind the striker plates with 3 inch screws. If your budget permits add an alarm with an outside strobe light. This may or may not help depending on where your home is located. We are on a paved county road with our retired neighbor who has a line of sight to our home a quarter mile away. If it would happen again our neighbor would be there in short order. As for dogs, I don’t know, I have three and they did not stop them. From what I have gathered unless you have a trained security dog they don’t help much, they just kick them out the door and go about their business. Don’t leave keys/combinations in your home while away. They opened every cabinet door, drawer, trunk, dresser, night stand, picture frames and closet in the house and emptied them. There was only one cabinet door they didn’t open which was the one with my truck keys in it which was in the driveway.

Don’t put anything in or under the beds, ours were all flipped upside down. Don’t leave any firearms out and loaded while away, you don’t want to come home and be confronted by your own weapon in the hands of a criminal. Do what you can now before a burglary to make your home less inviting to a thief. If they want in they will get in given enough time. I feel bad saying this but if your neighbors’ home is less secure than yours they will go visit your neighbor. My worry now is they have been in my home, will they be back since they know I may have something worth getting.

After a lengthy discussion with the locksmith/safe technician. The strongest way to secure to concrete is the Powers/Rawl brand wedge bolt +. Don’t use the lead "bullets" or drive in anchors. He told me a story of removing 16 safes for a chain of stores that were bolted down with these style anchors. If you can get a pry bar started under one corner you can pull them right out. The wedge bolts cut threads in the concrete with no inserts. He stated you will pull the floor out of the safe before the anchors pull out. If you’re anchoring to a wood floor and you have an unfinished basement you should use a steel plate. Use 1/8” or 3/16” [thick] flat steel plate large enough to catch at least three floor joists. Screw the plate to the bottom of the floor joist. Use an extra-long drill bit to drill down from the safe thru the steel plate. Get hardened bolts long enough to be installed from the bottom, cut a piece of pipe slightly larger than the bolt but shorter than the floor joist is tall and slide it over the bolt as you are installing it. This will make it very difficult to cut the bolts as the pipe will spin freely on the bolt. Be sure to "double nut" them inside the safe. The last step is to weld the bolt heads to the steel plate.

Thanks for all the good information on your blog. I hope maybe someone reading your blog my find some of this info useful and maybe prevent someone from entering their home. I didn’t sleep well for a week, the wife and I are still a little on edge and everyone who drives by is suspect! This makes you feel very insecure knowing someone has been in your home and went thru all your things. I wish I would have made our place more secure before and maybe this would never have happened! The Sheriff told me this is getting much more frequent and I agree it will get worse. God Bless, - Jason in Missouri.

JWR Replies: Thanks for that letter, Jason! Hopefully it will motivate folks to up their level of home security and vigilance. I agree that the home gun safe should be the last line of defense. One intermediate line of defense is concealment. Burglars cannot attack a safe if they don't know it exists. See the SurvivalBlog archives for a variety of articles and letters that discuss hidden rooms, such as this one, or this one, both from 2007.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mr. Rawles,
At the risk of turning on my local competition to the positive aspects of the free section of Craig's List, I thought I would mention a few of the things I've picked up in the past couple of weeks. These include:

A new round oak dining table and four oak chairs
Three boxes of canning jars with lids
A commercial fishing net (40' x 60'), to be used for keeping birds and other critters out of the garden
36 Concrete cinder blocks (approximate value $130)
Remington electric chain saw (yes, it works!)
30+ wooden pallets (can be used for the usual "pallet" stuff, or for use as firewood/kindling)
Commercial nursery went out of business; so I got more than 1,000 plastic seed starting pots in 3 or 4 sizes (filled my pick-up to the brim).
5 Commercial toilets (out of a church - they were remodeling; two for my current residence, and two for our retreat, plus one spare, for parts)
4 Large two-drawer cabinets
A 25 foot fifth-wheel insulated trailer for moving gear and supplies up to "der bunker", and subsequent use for weather tight storage. (Try to get insulated containers versus single wall, as there is almost no "sweating" inside)
The list goes on. . . .

As this current economic crisis gets worse, more and more folks are going to be displaced, and not having the money to move their possessions they either just abandon them, or place free ads on Craig's list or elsewhere.
In addition, Craig's List is a good source for many other items at very reasonable prices.

Keep your eyes open. On the more valuable items you have to be quick, sometimes responding within minutes. On many items we realize as survival oriented, most folks don't have a clue, so you might have more time.

One thought I had on the pallets for firewood/kindling is that while they are readily available now, in the future they may be less easily found. Now they can be cut into smaller pieces with a skill saw and/or electric chain saw, stored in fifty-gallon plastic trash cans for next winter, or whenever you might need them. Once TEOTWAWKI happens, going outside to hunt firewood may not be such a good idea.
So, if you have Craig's List in your area, keep checking the free section every now and then. There is no telling what you might find. - Chet

JWR Replies: I'm also a big believer in Craig's List. One important note: In the long run, Craig's List only works if folks "return the favor." Be charitable whenever you have things in profusion--even when it is just zucchini squash.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

By now most SurvivalBlog readers have gone about your preparations for your ideal home or retreat cabin, all storage food and tools acquired, fuel stored, generators ready, PV panels carefully concealed and hooked up to the battery bank. You and your family or group are ready to handle the coming collapse, but are you really? Are you ready to do without? Without that generator when the fuel runs out, or a critical piece is worn out and a new one cannot be had? At some point your supplies will be used up, storage fuel consumed and there may not be any to refill your tanks or more realistically you may be priced out, or it will be too dangerous to “run-the-gauntlet” and get more. Can you manage in your place without electricity? Can you cook with wood? Do you have space enough to process the abundant food you grow and must preserve either by canning or other means? Can you move throughout your buildings without being seen from the outside?
My point, is your place set up to function as a 19th century homestead?

My wife and I bought an old New England farmhouse many years ago, it is nothing fancy and looks like so many others in our area, it is a traditional connected farmhouse meaning that the buildings are all linked-up, yet they have different roof lines and are of different sizes. It is best summed up as a “Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn” and this is the title of a wonderful book written by Thomas C. Hubka which details the reasons for the ways structures developed. (If you want a leisurely read on the history of these buildings, I highly recommend this book.) Anyway, we bought this type of farm house and have been in the process of renovating it over many years, although the renovation could more reasonably described as going back to the future. One of the many wonderful things about an old house, and when I say old I mean over 150 years old, is the ability to reuse much of the lumber in the walls, floors, and ceilings or the masonry whether it is brick or stone, Ours is a timber frame with some masonry on the exterior and is incredibly well built and has a brilliant house plan. I realize that many people are not up to the task of going through this sort of process, but you could build your current retreat or home to some of these specs. Our home for example was built just after the War of 1812 it was fully functional for a family of eight with room for boarders/labors and or relatives. The kitchen is large while many of the adjacent rooms are small (less space to heat) all the rooms are situated around two large central fireplaces and have thimbles to allow for a small wood stove in each, the rooms can be closed off when not in use, thus not taking valuable heat from other areas. In the basement there is a large hole in the floor; it was a cistern, but was allowed to fill in with junk, perhaps it was considered a “sump hole” by later inhabitants since there was evidence of long overworked pumps in under the silt and gravel. I have cleaned this up and now have a source of water right in the house, (this water will still need to be treated since it is technically surface water being only ten feet below grade), but it still offers water for cleaning or for our animals.

There is a large “root” cellar to store food stuffs and canned goods. (It could double as safe room or vault if needed and may well have been at one point since the opening is nondescript and hidden from plain sight). Also there is a summer kitchen, at first I wondered why this was necessary, it appeared to be redundant, but further study enlightened me to the fact that this area was a vital part the home complex. First it served to allow a large un-insulated cook area that was necessary during the harvest time to allow heat to escape from the constant fire in the cook stove during the canning, it was also a place that field labors had their meals prepared and ate without having to clean themselves up much and not dirty up the regular kitchen. The buildings between the summer kitchen and barn (sometimes it is one long building divided only internally or there are up to three distinct roof lines and end walls that divide them) any how these areas were used in a variety of ways to allow a small cottage industry to occur, in-fact these were simply work areas that were sheltered from the often harsh and wild weather we experience. One could be for wood storage, for tools (a sort of machine shop), or areas for processing wool from sheep. The point is not to recreate that lifestyle but to utilize that mindset and build similar multi-purpose structures.

Our Home:
We have “renovated” our home to fully function without electricity. Now, we have multiple generators, a significant storage of fuels and food. I and am currently finishing up with the PV panels and battery bank/inverter set-up, going through all the motions to secure some sense of normalcy; but in-fact we do not “need” those items to exist here, they are an extra. We can heat with wood and with a solar hot water system connected to baseboard radiators as well as a copper coil running through the wood fired furnace [for when there is not solar gain or during a heavy snowfall]. (The hot water moves via thermo-siphon no electricity needed only check-valves to keep the hot water moving in one direction). Our kitchen is “modern” but if the power is out we can cook on our wood fired cook-stove, it is about 120 years old and with a little “TLC” is now fully functional not to mention beautiful to look at. We can also bake in a bee hive oven built into the massive central chimney which I rebuilt and lined with modern flues. I left one of the original fireplaces, installed airtight doors and an exterior air vent, while on the other side made the other fireplace into a large wood storage container.

Overall, your retreat needs to be functional without electricity, things will eventually break, or you simply run out. Focus upon knowing how to live your life with little to no electricity or “conveniences”. The primary goals must be on heating your home and preparing food without petrochemical fuels, most modern homes are particularly horrible in this area. Change your mindset; you cannot store enough for the really long haul.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I recently had the opportunity to read JWR's novel "Patriots" . As a former professional automobile mechanic with 25+ years of experience and having a similar history building, restoring and racing British sports cars (MGBs), I became intrigued with a certain aspect of his book: the preparation of a “survival vehicle." This is intended to be a vehicle rugged enough, durable enough, and simple enough to be an important part of anyone’s survival program.

My first consideration was to define this vehicle. Next, I set out to list a number of modifications to this vehicle that would increase it’s simplicity, strength, and usefulness of this vehicle as a survival tool. The following that I listed a number of tools and spares important to the operation of this vehicle.

Survival Vehicle Selection and Modification
For reasons of strength, durability and utility the vehicle needs to be a truck. For load carrying considerations I would recommend a Pickup Truck over a SUV type, such as a Blazer or Bronco.
I think the truck should be of American manufacture. Although some foreign makes might be suitable in terms of ruggedness and durability, the parts availability---both used and new--for American made trucks makes them the winner, hands-down. Also parts for “high-survivability” modifications are plentiful and cheap for American vehicles.

There is a reason that America’s largest selling vehicle for the last 50+ years has been the Ford F150 pickup truck. They may be low on creature comforts and fuel economy, but they more then make up for those sacrifices with ruggedness, dependability, ease of repair, and parts availability. Chevy and Dodge make great trucks, but there are millions more Ford Pick-up trucks out there. Parts are still available and junkyards and rural back yards are filled with them.

Older vehicles (1970 or 1980s vintage cars and trucks) with older technology are better in the survival situations than newer, lighter, hi-tech vehicles. Carburetors, distributors with breaker points, and generator charging systems may not be the most fuel efficient…but they are simple, rugged and reliable. They can be rebuilt and maintained very easily. Fuel Injection and High Energy Ignitions systems have very limited life spans, are difficult to diagnose and dead without spare parts.

One drawback is that NOS parts for really old vehicles (1960-1975 +/-) are getting somewhat harder to find, even finding used stuff is getting tough. You don’t need much…but if you can’t get it now…you won’t be able to get it later. If you can stick with an 1980s vintage +/- American pickup. As I said before, parts are still available and junkyards and rural back yards are filled with them.
Choose one with a 302 V8 (minimum), with a [traditional] carburetor! Backdate the engine by installing a distributor with ignition breaker points and condenser. No electronic ignition. The electronic ignition is a [reliability] weak link of all Ford V8s. Just look in the glove box or under the seat of most of them and you’ll find a spare “spark box” or Ignition module. Ford used points and condensers on their V8s through 1974. A little digging through Craig's List or most junk yards should yield a good useable distributor. New ones are available at most speed shops.

Make sure you get a truck with a manual transmission, and try to get four wheel drive. Avoid automatic transmissions. If for no other reason:cars with automatic transmissions can not be push-started. Also, with a manual transmission …if you can get two gears to mesh…you can keep rolling. Once an automatic transmission starts to slip, the party is over.

With a manual transmission you can adjust a clutch unless you’ve burned it up. In the middle of nowhere you can replace a burned clutch (and even reline the disc if you really had to), but the rebuild of an automatic transmission requires an expert with lots of spares and spotlessly clean working conditions. Also, with a manual transmission, were the clutch linkage give up, there are techniques you can learn to take off and shift without using the clutch pedal.

Because this vehicle should be multi-terrain and multi-use Do not put great big tires or lift kits on it. I would beef up the rear springs to carry more weight but would not raise the height of the rear. Don’t use air shocks or air bags either. These are just something else that will break and “let you down”. [JWR Adds: As is taught at executive protection driving schools, airbags should be disabled if anticipating inimical situations where you might have to play "bumper cars".]

I’m thinking of lowering my Ford a couple of inches to make it easier and faster to get into and out of. Lowering the truck will also make it handle better on asphalt…and maybe even make it a bit more aerodynamic for some fuel savings. The extra road clearance is nice but how many times are you going to use that advantage? Not as often as you might need to get in and get going as fast as possible.
You’ll want the ruggedness of 6 ply truck tires. Choose ones that have a “mildly aggressive” tread pattern allowing a good mix of on-road and off-road use. Unless you are considering moving way out in the woods then avoid strictly off-road tires. They will not give you the wear and handling needed for use on asphalt [and they are quite noisy at highway speeds].

Up grade the charging system to a 65 Amp. alternator, minimum. You’ll want the amps to power other electrical devices. Install two batteries wired in parallel (for 12 VDC, many amp. output). One battery should be a “Deep Cycle” type. This battery can power 12 VDC lights, radios, tools etc. Also, if the alternator dies while on a long drive, this battery set up can power a V8 ignition system for a long time. The batteries should have their ground wires connected with “marine” type terminals. Simply disconnecting (unscrewing the wing nut on the Marine Terminal) the ground side of the batteries [or installing a battery disconnect switch from JC Whitney] can prevent them being discharged by shorts or [unexpected] draws. It can also somewhat reduce the risk of vehicle theft.

Consider removing the ignition/steering column lock switch. If you don’t…you could loose your keys…and “hot wire” the ignition/starter circuits and get the truck running….but imagine your chagrin when you realize that the steering is locked! A heavy duty DC toggle switch will take care of the ignition and a [momentary] pushbutton [DC switch] will handle the starter. Mount them in a hidden, out of the way place.
Remove the very complicated emission control carburetor and replace it with the simplest Holley 2 or 4 barrel that you can find.

I prefer gasoline engines. Diesels are okay, but I don’t think there will be a lot of diesel fuel around. You may not always be able to get diesel or even cooking oil. Consider converting your truck to a multiple fuel vehicle using both gasoline and propane. LPG is still very easy to get and easy to store at home. A conversion to propane is very doable …and not real expensive, especially on an engine equipped with a carburetor. There are number of sites on the web that discuss this.

A good number of pickup trucks have two fuel tanks…if yours doesn’t, consider installing another tank. There is a lot of room under most trucks. Build in onboard storage for 20 gallons minimum…or and extra 250 mile range.

Remove all emissions control equipment, at least the catalytic converter. [Of course, first consult your state laws before doing so.] Remove the metal cooling fan and install electric fan for engine cooling. If you take a hard front hit, then those metal bladed fans will destroy a radiator. You can do this with a junk yard fan unit…or find something in the JC Whitney catalog, or any auto parts store. As a side benefit, you may see some improvement in fuel economy, due to the reduction of parasitic drag. Wire this electric fan with sensor and a manual override switch on dash.

Consider installing an oversized radiator and coolant overflow tank. Trucks that came with air conditioning generally have the biggest radiator. The more coolant you have in the cooling system is the further you can go if the radiator gets a hole in it and you just can’t stop to fix it right away.

Install a Class 3 towing hitch. Its good for both towing and for ramming [-- with the ball removed from the hitch extension plate, to back up and pierce another vehicle's radiator]. Make sure you carry both popular sized hitch balls. Remove the chrome piece of garbage that passes for a front bumper and install a heavy duty store bought or home built. Again, the front bumper should be sufficient for towing or ramming. Install hooks for towing on both the front and rear bumpers.

A cap or bed cover should be in place over the truck’s bed to allow space for sleeping, shelter and dry, secure storage. This can be as elaborate or as simple as you’d like but due to rearward visibility concerns, make sure that its not higher or wider than the roof of the cab. Due to weight and height considerations [adversely affecting center of gravity] I would avoid campers that install in the bed of a pickup.
You might consider finding a used tool box like the ones you see on the back of pickups used by plumbers and electricians…this would be the ones that replace the entire pickup bed and have 5 or 6 compartments on each side. The Reading brand tool bodies are well-made. These have tremendous utility, secure and dry storage and are all very strongly built. With a little ingenuity you could configure a knock down tent over the top of one of these giving you dry off-the –ground shelter. Again, the deep cycle battery can provide 12 VDC for lights and heat in this area.

Install commo [and communications scanning] gear as appropriate to your mission. At least be sure to have a good, strong basic AM & FM radio. [JWR Adds: At wrecking yards, you can sometimes find a Becker or Blaupunkt brand "Europa", "Mexico" or similar model AM/FM/Shortwave radio pulled from a European car such as a Mercedes Benz, for under $50. These are not only very reliable radios, but will also give you the opportunity to get WWV time signals and some international broadcasts.]

Install quartz halogen headlights in the front. I wouldn’t bother with driving lights but I would install fog lights…mounted in a way as to light to the immediate front and to the sides for cornering. In the rear, I would mount driving lamps or fog lamps as back up lights, work lamps or rearward spot lights. Wire all auxiliary lighting with switches on dash.

Remove all electrical systems not necessary to mission. No power windows or door locks. Remove the air conditioning system. Electric windows, door locks, fancy [add-on] heating systems and other fancy electric doo-dads are to be avoided at all costs. As I said before, automatic transmissions should be considered a liability.

Put in Bucket seats, especially in a pickup. They are easier/faster to get into and out of…and will create more storage space in the cab. Gun racks? If desired, make them solidly mounted and as far out of sight as possible.

Onboard tools will be important to keep your survival vehicle operational. All should be secure and hard-mounted.

Carry an appropriate workshop manual with wiring diagrams. Study it carefully and know how to reference its various sections.

Complete Automotive hand tool kit.
Heavy duty jack, jack stands and wheel chocks.
An onboard portable compressor, even a small 12 VDC model has a lot of usefulness. If you can afford a larger one, then you can run pneumatic tools with it.
Portable generator. As much and as good as you can afford. Its just plain worth it.
Tow Chain, shackles and tow hooks, various rope and line.
1-1⁄2 ton power winch or chain hoist or block and fall. I would consider something that is not hard mounted so you can use it from the front or rear of the vehicle…or not even need the vehicle at all.
Propane torches and solder/rosin for soldering wires and radiator repair. Learn how to solder!
Electric wiring, electrical crimp connectors, electrical tape, spare switches, heat shrink tubing, nylon wire (cable) ties.
Onboard Axe, shovel, pry bar.
12 VDC mechanic's drop lamp.
Additional fuel, lubricants, brake fluid, silicon sealant, adhesives (especially, JB-Weld and Goop), duct tape, grease gun, thread tape, emery paper (2) spare tires, potable water, fan belts, Radiator hoses, heater hoses, hose clamps and tune up parts

One properly inflated spare in good condition is good, but having two spares is even better.

Keep tire repair equipment! Six cans of Fix-a-Flat, a radial tire plug kit and about 50 plugs. Find or make tools for breaking down and mounting tires.
Fuel transfer pump for getting fuel [from one vehicle to another or from] out of in-ground tanks. A hand-operated barrel pump with extensions for both the suction side and the discharge side.
Spot light (hand held)
A volt/ohm meter and mechanics test light.

Very Important: Drive your survival vehicle regularly. Use it. Go get plywood and shrubs and groceries in it. Work it. Houses and vehicles need people using them. When either is not used they deteriorate very quickly. Hard use will keep you thinking about repairs or modifications you might want to make. By date and mileage keep good repair and maintenance records.
A rugged dependable vehicle should be part of your survival gear. As long as you can get fuel there is freedom in mobility. The above is not a definitive list or the “end all to be all” one size fits all solution.

Consider this article a starting point and add your own ideas. - The OddShot

Monday, March 9, 2009

Back during the first Gulf War we used excess shipping containers for underground storage and protection. Out first few attempts to make use of these containers met with disaster. Although they will support a huge amount of weight, in the range of 400,000 pounds directly on top, It must be place directly over the load-bearing corners. The sides and top are vulnerable to flexing, if they flex they can and will collapse. With all of this in mind let’s go through how to bury one the right way, so that it will be ready and usable when the time comes.

First let us start with container preparation. Most of these containers have spent years at sea covered with salt water. This means rust. Very simply the rust needs to be removed as best as possible. A drill with a wire brush does this well.

This is a time consuming job but it will add years of life to your container. Grind off all of the rust and then paint everything [with specially-formulated rust-resistant paint], and I mean everything. Don’t forget underneath. For safety, I have rolled these containers over on their sides to do this step, it would creep me out to jack it up and crawl underneath one. A little grinding and paint will help protect your investment. Once the container is ready be sure to let the paint dry for a couple of days before burial.

The hole needs to be 16 feet wide 55 feet long and 8 feet deep.
Think about this if you dig a hole it will eventually fill up with water.
So we either need to build a sump in the bottom or trench it out to day light. I prefer the latter, since it requires no electricity or manual labor to pump it dry.
Let’s presume we have trenched it to daylight and go from there.
Line the bottom of the hole with foundation plastic, heavy duty black plastic. At least two feet up the sides. Place French drain pipe with silt shield in bottom of hole and out to daylight. Stake it in place where it will not be directly under the edges or corners of the container. Drive a t-post every 8 feet around the edge of the hole through the plastics within 6 inches of the sides. Place 6 inches of gravel in bottom of hole.

Now comes the hard part, getting the container in the hole. .
You want the container centered to the back of the hole within 42 inches of the back wall. A big track hoe can move these containers but make sure with the owner when renting one that it can pick up at least 8,000 pounds if not you may need a small crane. I could go into many different ways to get it into the hole but the key is to get it onto the gravel with out it digging in, where it needs to be and level.

Next, we will discuss Gabions or HESCO baskets. This is basically a wire basket with a liner to hold rocks and sand that will bear the load for the sides of the container. This wire basket wall will be built completely around the containers to support the sides from both lateral pressure and water. To save time and explanation, see the Wikipedia pages on gabions and HESCO bastions.

Here is a shopping list for "do it yourself" basket materials. Please realize that this is that this is the Army way which means expensive. I will go over alternatives later.

24 - Hog panels. These are welded wire 34 inches tall by 16 feet long.
34 - Cattle panels these are welded wire 52 inches tall by 16 feet long
20 - 8 foot long T-posts which are used in the bottom of the hole
Hog ring pliers and a large sack of heavy gauge hog rings (these are to hold the baskets together).
2,240 square feet of chicken wire with 1/2" size mesh
56 - 3 ft. pieces of 3/8 rebar, with one inch bent down on each end.
28 - 3 ft. pieces of 3/8 rebar, with one end bent into hooks

The hog panels are the bottom middle and top support for the baskets the cattle panels. Place hog panels over t-post and let them to ground where panel is flat on the ground. Line them up end to end with one across the back of the hole.

Place the cattle panels in between the T-post and the wall of the hole. Use the hog rings to tie the bottom together at least one every 6 inches. Take the hooked rebar and drive into the ground every four foot between t post. Now place a cattle panel on the other side of the hog panel and tie them together along the bottom.

Do this all the way around the container. Here is where a little experience is helpful. Build the one in the back first. Put the bottom and the sides and cut a hog panel to the right length for the ends of the basket. Nest do the long side this will be 48 feet long. Now do the other side but we will do it a little different. Once you are four feet past the end of the container cut off the cattle panels and hog panels and build end for the basket. Then build another small basket that goes at a 90 degree angle to the middle of the hole forming an "L" for the doorway.

Now you have the baskets. Cover the outside cattle panel with landscape fabric to keep silt from filling between the rocks then line the entire inside of the basket with chicken wire--use the 1/2" inch mesh variety. Make sure the basket walls are straight up and down. Use the rebar with the bent ends to tie the sides together. Now fill the baskets with rocks any rocks will do as long as they are packed in and do not leave a bunch of gaps I like rocks about the size of a baseball, the key is that they have to be big enough to not go though the wire mesh. Now put the top on the basket which will be the bottom of the next row. And then build the next layer of baskets. Once the wall of baskets is built then use what ever you have to reach from one wall of baskets to the other. In Saudi we use these wood floor pieces that they made for our tents which were a sheet of 1/2 inch plywood on a 2x4 frame it took two of them to get across but once we put them in place and covered them with plastic we would pile a layer of sand bags on top of them at least three sand bags deep. Then cover the whole thing with another sheet of plastic and top it off with a layer of sand.

On the end where the door is I had you build an L shape this is a basic entrance for any bunker over this end you need to use heavy timbers to support the sand bag covering we used old cross ties from one basket to the other not sure if this is a good idea considering the creosote on the ties.

Now this would take a squad about two days to build but once completed right they will last for decades. Before rotating out of the country, we had a bull dozer drive across one, just to see what would happen. Other than crushing the wooden panels supporting the sand bags there was no damage to the container. Now, to do this the way a civilian could do it...

For the Gabion/HESCO baskets there are many alternatives, such as:

  • 55 gallon drums filled with sand and anchored together with metal strips.
  • Old tires stacked and filled with sand but keep these at least 8 inches away from the side of the container.
  • Sandbags

Sandbags are very labor intensive and again need to make sure there is a gap between them and the container they have a "slide" effect that is hard to overcome without experience. You can even just use packed sand in the basket if you line it completely with landscape material or fabric that will keep the sand in the basket.

Another point of experience: I have had people ask why not use bailing wire or concrete ties to hold the baskets together the simple answer is that rust will eventually destroy this light-gauge wire. You can use this but I would advise that paint the wire after it was twisted it together and don’t expect it to last as long as the hog rings.

Also remember that many things can happen when you are underground, so always keep equipment in the container that can be used to break your way out. Ax, saws, a pick ax, and a hydraulic jack.

To sum it all up you just have to remember three key things. Rust removal and prevention, keep it dry, and alleviate any lateral pressure.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Mr. Rawles,
We live in mostly rural northeastern Oklahoma. Our local newspaper just printed an informative editorial about FDIC changes which result in huge fee increases for member bank. Here is an excerpt from the editorial Oklahoma banks paying price for bailouts:

"Imagine paying $500 per year for your car insurance and then being told it had gone up to $4,000 even though you have been a perfect driver with no accidents, no moving violations. That’s the magnitude of premium increases local bankers are facing. The local banks I spoke to had no part in the sub-prime loan implosion and did not receive one cent from the bail out. However, they were not expecting large “assessments” in addition to huge premium increases. The first assessment, due September 30th, will likely be 4 times larger than all of the premiums each bank paid in 2008. Another assessment, half that size is anticipated before the end of 2009. To put this in perspective, a bank that paid, for example $250,000 in total for 2008 would pay nearly $500,000 per quarter this year, have an additional $1 million assessment in September, and another half million later in the year for a total of $3.5 million for 2009. So, if your bank fails, the Government takes your bank, if you operate a fiscally responsible bank, the FDIC will now take a big chunk of your bank’s money." [signed] Bailey Dabney, Publisher, Claremore Daily Progress

- Kevin A.

JWR Replies: A recent news story makes it clear why the FDIC was forced to increases their rates: FDIC’s Bair Says Insurance Fund Could Be Insolvent This Year. (A hat tip to SurvivalBlog reader "Hin" for the link.) After the much-publicized Northern Rock bank run in England, the FDIC felt obliged to double the insurance coverage for depositors. Without that grandstanding move to set people at ease, bank runs might have started in the US. But despite increased insurance and greater scrutiny of member banks, the fundamental flaw of fractional reserve banking remains: Only a small portion of your deposits is available for withdrawal at any given time. If public confidence collapses, there will be large scale withdrawals, precipitating full-scale bank runs. Be ready, folks. If bank failures spiral out of control--and there is now a substantial risk of just that---things could get very nasty, very quickly. The "final guarantor" for the FDIC is of course the American taxpayer. Promises will be kept, even if there are huge bank runs. Helicopter Ben has plenty of paper and ink. It just may take a long time to print that many greenbacks and set things back in order. But in the short term, if there is a banking panic, depositors may have to wait six months or longer, to be reimbursed.

Keep a cash reserve at home. Maintaining up to two month's wages, mostly in $20 bills, would be prudent--if you can afford it! But don't just sit on a pile of greenbacks, diversify. You should also keep some liquid tangibles on hand. By tangibles, I mean pre-1965 mint date circulated "junk" 90% silver US dimes, quarters and half dollars, and perhaps a few fractional gold coins. (Buy gold coins only after you have $1,000 face vale in silver for each family member. The silver can act as your barter reserve.) Store your coins in hidden wall and door caches. You might also consider leaving a small "sacrificial" portion of your coins in your home gun vault--just in case you are forced to open your vault at gunpoint, in the unlikely event that you are caught off guard in a home invasion robbery.

DO NOT store your precious metals in a bank safe deposit box! In the event of "bank holiday", you will not have access to your coins. I wouldn't be surprised to see all safe deposit boxes sealed, in the event that BHO channels FDR and there is another 1933-style gold confiscation. (Presumably, the box holder's first access following a banking holiday would only be allowed under the watchful eyes of authorities.) There are just a few private safe deposit companies that are not bank-owned, like this one in Las Vegas, Nevada. Those might be immune from the depredations of grabby politicians, but don't count on it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mr. Rawles,
As always I enjoy the site and the support you provide. I would like to mention a few items that have come up lately here in South Florida with regards to survival in an urban area. This may be of particular concern to any of your readers that live in urban areas or for those that are not yet at a point in their preparations, or lives, to be able to move to a better, less populous location.
First, as has been mentioned on this web site, in your novel "Patriots", and by every credible “prepper” in the world, a person retreating to a safer location must have a primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency plan. The method of getting out of urban areas during an emergency is problematic, particularly if you did not leave when you could (i.e. Hurricane Katrina). This can lead to your routes being miles long roadblocks. However, if you live near a coast, inlet, canal, interior waterway, river, creek, or major city (above ground) drainage system, you may be able to use them in a boat, canoe, kayak, zodiac, dingy, on foot, or with duck-waders to find better routes. Obviously in the case of inclement weather these may not be options on the worst days, but may be excellent routes during the ‘lemming run’ to get out of the area. Many concerned people in my area include these routes of escaping the city and urban sprawl in their plans.

Second, the wide availability of commercial property for use (particularly in the current economy) is staggering. A simple examination of the properties available for use by your close friends and family may surprise you. Over several planning sessions and field trips we found many urban cache locations, significant shelter options, and overwhelming amounts of storage space in places that were rented, leased, and sometimes owned by members of our group. With these locations it is always good to fully understand the government restrictions on use, function, zoning, storage, and occupation of commercial property. That being said, some commercial sites offer significant security advantages over homes in neighborhoods (not to mention apartments!), can easily be ‘hardened’ without letting the nosey neighbors knowing, and are often full of useful storage space, accesses, exits, entries, storage space, subterranean layers, and did I mention storage space? One of our associates has a commercial building with a separate ‘hidden’ space inside in which a fully stocked “bug out vehicle” waits for action in a regularly maintained state. This vehicle has its own locked bay which can only be opened from the inside after a trip into the basement or via a large air duct to gain access to the room. His regular business operates on the other end of the building so none of his road-crew employees spend enough time to even know the building has a bay on the other side. The other end of the building faces a small maintenance path for the phone company box and is fenced in and has plenty of “junk” camouflaging its true purpose. Other examples of commercial property use is in the planning of cache locations and in situations where you may need to bunker down with your family or “prepper” network during trying times. Warehouse districts that are not contiguous to shopping, tourist, entertainment, or government buildings offer potential safety during riots, looting, government action, or general unrest. These warehouse districts often see little or no activity during even the most destructive of riots. If one has access to these types of areas, it is a relatively simple operation to put up an innocuous name on the fence and receive deliveries (or just bring stuff yourself) and have no one bat an eye. The districts may even have enough 24-hour traffic to mask late night movement if you are only using the warehouse space as a pre-positioning and construction site for your burial cache boxes, tubes, and such, since the neighbors may get a bit nosey with you burning the midnight oil in your workshop/garage with your ‘survivalist nonsense.'

Third, unless you are have never heard of OPSEC, commercial properties can allow you to hide in plain sight. If someone has a TEOTWAWKI need or economic-depression reason to operate in an urban location, you can easily blend in with local traffic and business populations if they exist. If you are in a manufacturing or construction area wear some roughed up ‘Dickies’ work clothes and have a dirty pickup truck. In an office complex, have some light business attire with a jacket/blazer so as not to stick out. If you happen to be in a meat packing district or medical complex, have some ‘scrubs’/lab coat or coveralls available. As long as no one is looking for you, visit the local ‘roach coach’, ration station, trading post, or gas station so you can keep aware of local government, gang, crime, or quisling activities and be able to be ‘seen’ as a local (if being seen is an option or necessity). You should be able to move any vehicle inside buildings to hide them or work on them and to keep them out of view from outside observers. You may be able to set up extensive security systems, passive/active surveillance, power devices, and even communication systems. Some locations even offer the ability to tap into sewage, storm drain, and other access points.

Fourth, if you have some property available you may be grow food (this must be carefully done if industrial chemicals are in the area). If outdoor growth is not a viable option, try indoor crop growth with lamps, skylights, or mirrors. As growing things indoors can be difficult at first, it may be good to practice this well in advance of the need to do it for your life.

Finally, let me say that none of the aforementioned tips can replace a move to less populous, rural locations, far from those who will become mindless mobs in an emergency. These ideas/tips are only presented as limited alternatives for those, like me, who are months or years away from realistic retreats to safer environs and for those unlucky few who may get caught up behind the wrong side of a line during hard times. Regards, - I.S.

JWR Replies: That is an interesting approach. I might add just one proviso: If you plan to hide supplies (or even yourself) behind a "blank" roll-up door in a chaotic situation, then do not leave the ignition key in the company forklift, or leave a pallet jack outside of your storage space. Either of those could be used by goblins to quickly use leverage to their advantage in prying-up the door!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


One of your readers asked: "I want to buy a 3 in 1 machine. Does anyone have any experience with them? Perhaps a brand to recommend or stay away from?"

Having considered that choice extensively myself, my home shop amateur opinion is to recommend separate machines. Now that I see what a real mill table looks like, I realize there isn't enough table space on the 3-in-1 to set up anything. Instead, get the cheapest lathe you can stand, and the best mill you can afford. If you still want a combo for space reasons, get one of the lathes with the vertical mill attached at the back center of the bed, like the Grizzly G0516.

As one example of a machine combination, I would propose the 250 pound Harbor Freight 8x12 (8x14+, actually) lathe, and the 700 pound Enco Rong-Fu 45 clone (square column, geared head). I've found real-world machine capacities are better described by weight than work envelope.

Budget spending twice as much on tooling as you do on the lathe and mill. If you can only afford one, get the lathe. People did clever work with a lathe for hundreds of years before the vertical mill was made practical by cheap end mill cutters. Machine tools are only as clever as the user, but others' cleverness is recorded and available inexpensively in books from Lindsay Books.
Of course all this equipment is made in China. The EPA, OSHA, and the unions have made it impossible for industry to be competitive in the US. Thanks to what remains of free trade, you are better off being able to get Chinese iron than to get nothing at all. The purpose of autarky is to be able to starve a population into submission; see also
Curtain, Iron. Buy soon while you can still buy at all.

Chinese machine tools tend to be a fix-up project from the start. There are lots of little details which will want to correct, which you wouldn't be willing to pay the manufacturer to have done right.
Popular machines have deep user communities on the Internet.
Here are some suggested vendors and places to get ideas: [JWR Adds: Beware! Nearly all Harbor Freight products are made in Mainland China, and mostly junk with scant spares or warranties!]
Lindsay Books

Regards, - B.B.


Hi James,
I have had a Shoptask 3 in 1 for 6 yr's now. As far as I can tell, the Harbor Freight designs are [clones of the] older designs of the Shoptask machines. Grizzly also makes a similar machine,which in my opinion looks better, but I have no firsthand knowledge of that. My experience with any of these machine's is that out of the box, they are junk. These do not have high quality metal, hardened surface's and such. The belt drive's are poorly designed, extremely noisy, and prone to breakdown. The best thing to do with one should you purchase it,it to tear it apart, clean and adjust everything! Mine came with casting sand all over, and inside! Everything was sloppy or loose. If you have any mechanical background,these can be made into a decent machine ,but with lot's of sweat and time. These are great for making odds and end',or quick repairs,but not heavy duty stuff. They are not,and will never be, intended for 8 hour a day use. For a home hobby machine,they can be handy, but not for true business use. The switches are junk, the motors are junk, the bearings are junk, the belts are made of old rubber bands or somesuch! The milling portion of it is nothing more than a drill press, and just as inaccurate.

If your an experienced machinist, I have 30 year's worth,they can be a handy machine, given time and effort. I personally have three other older machines, two CNCs and a chucker, each one cost about the same as a new Shoptask. If room is an issue, I'd prefer to get a Harbor Freight machine, as it need's the same amount of work to be decent,and cheaper. My experience with Shoptask was less than stellar,as it took 8 months to arrive, a really slow boat from China! If shop floor space isn't an issue, I'd prefer--and wish I had bought--an older full size machine. Even an older "worn out" production type machine would have been less effort than this was! - Dean



In response to your letter regarding 3-in-ones:
The ones you see for sale are a combination machine tool that combines a metal lathe, drill press and vertical milling machine. They are used a lot by hobbyists here, and I have heard that in Vietnam and similar locales, they are the #1 machine for small motorcycle rebuilding shops.

I have been using a Smithy 1220 for about 5 years, and here are some observations:
Most of these machines are built on a pretty heavy lathe bed that uses a small milling table as the platform for bolting the lathe tooling to. As a lathe, they are pretty stout. Most of them lack a back gear for slow turning operations (such as threading) and you'll want to check on whether they have a split nut, power feeds and a thread dial. The basic 1220 I have does not have a thread dial or a slow speed, which basically means threading is done [by 'hand-spindling"] with the lathe powered off. The upgraded Smithy models have more of these features.
In general, these machines do a good job as a lathe. Be sure to get a 4-jaw chuck with the package, as you will need this for gunsmithing or any precision work. The import 3-jaw chuck you will get with most is not anything I would use on work that needs to be repeatable.

In drill-press mode, they will all work fine. They are really overbuilt compared to even a good drill press, so you will have no problems locating and drilling precision holes, countersinking, etc. I recommend tossing the import drill chuck that comes with these and purchasing a proper American-made Jacobs, as they are much better.
The main weakness in all of these machines is the milling aspect. The table is usually fairly small, most do not have a knee for raising/lowering the table, and they are not that rigid. Your work envelope will be quite a bit smaller than a full-size Bridgeport or even a tabletop mill. Get rid of the vise that comes with these and pick up a Kurt or a good import knockoff of this design.
Also, build a heavy-duty table to bolt the unit to, and it will run with much less chatter. I made a stand for mine out of 2x2" steel tubing filled with concrete. I can mill steel if I use good US cutters (pick these up on eBay) and modest feed speeds.

From my experience, I would say that the Harbor Freight model is probably the least desirable, in terms of initial quality and aftermarket support. The Grizzly is better, and they generally stand behind their products and offer replacement parts for sale. My Smithy has been okay in terms of quality, and I would say that their support is excellent (reasonable prices on parts/accessories and excellent US phone support). I do not have any experience with the Shoptask, but I hear good things about the machine and its capability.
If you want more first-person