On Wednesday I published an article titled 'Emergency Preparation, Part 13: 'Bug-out' locations and alternatives'. It attracted a number of comments and e-mails. I'd like to respond to two points in particular.
1. Travel trailers.
Reader Rova (whom I've known for many years, both in cyberspace and in meatspace) e-mailed concerning travel trailers. She lives in an area where sudden evacuation due to forest fires and other natural hazards is a real concern. My thanks to her for permission to republish her advice and photographs.
Check out Carson travel trailers, specifically toy haulers – we bought one (explanation follows).
The advantage of a toy hauler is the ability to carry an ATV, motorcycle, and with the entire rear being a hatch, ease of utility expansion.
For the tow vehicle, think 7.3l Ford Super Duty 4WD now selling for around $10K with under 175,000 miles. Buy one with dual tanks and add an external in the bed. Get a garage to add a PTO and you’re good to do with a simple genny head and voltage controller.
We decided to go with a nos that the Carson factory rehabbed to as-new for just over $11K Carson is durable – I researched the marked and all brands for several months, and then it took a few more to locate and negotiate the final deal: we plan on using it for recreation as both of our German Shepherds are rescues and wouldn’t endure a pet hotel/commercial kennel at all, so now we can take them with us for simple overnight camping. Too, the Carson functions as an evacuation facility, with the ease of loading both dogs and their crates, hooking up to the Durango and going. Total evacuation time (rehearsed) under 20 minutes. Stand-alone sustainability without shore power: 3-5 days comfortably.
I’d caution folks considering buying a bunkhouse or toy hauler to do their due diligence and research the forums for known issues with contemporary manufacturer lines. There are horror stories out there that are thoroughly documented. I’d recommend older Jayco’s and Dutchmans, as well as Airstreams. Be cautious in the extreme with newer “ultralight” designs/lines!
Be knowledgeable if the travel trailer comes with a pre-installed diesel generator – these DO NOT function well above 3,000ft elevation! Likewise, gasoline generators derate as elevation increases – plan accordingly.
Food for thought.
. . .
(Added in a second e-mail): I researched and we purchased an Anderson weight distributing, anti-sway hitch: a spectacular re-engineering of the weight-distributing hitch that is completely effortless to attach and remove – and works in reverse as well as in off-road unimproved road applications ( a necessity as home is some distance past the end of the pavement).
Thanks, Rova! Useful information. I've added links to make some terms easier to understand for non-US readers.
I'd like to second what Rova says about the effect of altitude on engines. I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, which is on the coast - i.e. at or near sea level. When I moved to Johannesburg in the 1980's, the altitude change was immediately apparent in its effect on my vehicle. The Highveld is at 5,000'-6,000' elevation above sea level, and it felt like my car was suddenly about 20% less powerful! That's certainly something to consider when choosing a towing vehicle. What might work just fine for you in a low-lying area might be significantly underpowered if your 'bug-out' location is at higher altitude, or if you have to cross the Rockies to get there.
Another point is the size and bulk of your travel trailer. See Point 6 of the first post in my 'lessons learned' article to learn how some evacuees from Hurricane Katrina discovered that over-large trailers and/or towing vehicles were not very maneuverable in confined spaces or heavy traffic. This may make the difference between 'getting out of Dodge' and being stuck on the road, unable to move, at the mercy of the locals (who may not be very merciful in some parts of town). Your need for space must be balanced against practicality when considering a trailer as an emergency 'bug-out' vehicle. (I think Rova's choice is extremely practical from this perspective.)
Finally, if you may be moving off major routes during your evacuation, the ability of your travel trailer to cover poor-condition or unpaved roads, or even cross-country travel, is a consideration. No civilian trailer is truly able to handle off-road travel for very long - they're simply not as tough as military trailers, which are built for such uses. On the other hand, something small and well-built can withstand a fair amount of bumping and bashing, and if it comes with raised suspension, can get over many small obstacles. If this is something you need to consider, I recommend (from personal experience with a friend's vehicle) the Aliner Expedition fold-down camper (which comes standard with an off-road package) or a similar compact trailer. Suffice it to say that if I could afford one (I wish!), I'd buy one!
2. The danger from criminals, looters and desperate refugees.
Several commenters mentioned the 'Golden Horde' postulated by James Wesley Rawles - mobs of gangsters and looters spreading out from cities during a major crisis. He wrote about it here, and a law enforcement correspondent added his views in correspondence with Mr. Rawles, published here.
I'm of two minds about this problem. I do agree that looting will be a serious problem in the event of a prolonged emergency. Those 'without' will do whatever they have to in order to get the supplies they need to survive - including preying on those 'with'. As a former prison chaplain, I know something about the criminal mindset, and I have no doubt that they'll do anything they think they have to do to get what they want. Many of them are ruthless, determined and predatory, particularly when they roam in packs or gangs. However, I'm not sure how far the danger will extend from major centers, or 'pockets' of those who've become accustomed to living in dependence on the state or charity for their everyday existence.
As I mentioned in the previous article, transportation systems are likely to go into gridlock and stay there if things go to hell in a handbasket. Think about it. Every vehicle that breaks down or runs out of fuel will have to be pushed to the side of the road to clear a lane for traffic - but if the shoulders are already occupied by other immobile vehicles, where's it going to go? On a multi-lane highway, with every lane clogged by miles and miles of backed-up traffic, how are you going to get other drivers to make room for you to push an immobilized vehicle out of the way? Short answer - they won't be able to do so, even if they want to. I expect and predict that during a serious, extended crisis, road transport may break down completely in major urban areas. It'll take weeks, if not months, to clear up the mess.
This will mean that the major threat posed by looters and the lawless will be to those in their immediate vicinity. If you live in a major urban area, and plan (or are forced) to hunker down and stay put, you'd better be armed and ready to defend your home and your family. The odds are very good indeed that you'll need to do so. If you don't want to believe that, look at what happened in the Los Angeles riots of 1992, or in the same city during the Watts Riots of 1965, or the New York City blackout of 1977. Here's a video report about events during the latter emergency. Note the crime wave that erupted within minutes of the lights going out.
Similar problems - and worse - occurred during the two Los Angeles riots mentioned above, and during other incidents. The same has happened in other parts of the world - I've personally experienced it in another country, as well as after Hurricane Katrina in the USA (about which I've already written). I'm here to tell you, it wasn't fun. During one emergency, I survived only because I was ready, willing and able to 'repel boarders' on more than one occasion. If you think the same thing - and much worse - won't happen on an even larger scale in this country during an extended emergency, there's this bridge in Brooklyn, NYC I'd like to sell you. It's a great investment opportunity! Cash only, please, and in small bills.
I'm not sure how far out from major urban centers this danger will extend. As previously mentioned, transportation's going to be problematic. I'd say anywhere that can be reached on foot is at risk; areas that are within one tank of fuel's range of urban areas are at greater or lesser risk, depending on how quickly transportation arteries become clogged and how many manage to escape before that happens. Gangs and thugs are present in many communities, of course, not just major urban centers, so the risk will still be there: but from my own experience, I can assure you that smaller towns in 'flyover country' and the more rural parts of many states are likely to be a lot less politically correct, and a lot more pragmatic, in dealing with such problems. In such communities, quite frankly, I don't expect gang-bangers (residents or refugees) to survive long enough to become a serious law enforcement issue. If the local law doesn't deal with the problem, the residents will almost certainly take matters into their own hands. (Proportionally speaking, many more small-town residents than big-city urbanites are likely to own firearms, hunt, and be able to look after themselves and their neighbors. They'll probably be more than capable of taking care of business.)
Those living in isolation (i.e. on farms, or on the outskirts of towns where there aren't a large number of neighbors or a strong law enforcement presence) will be at greater risk from looters and refugees. If I were in such a situation, I'd 'circle the wagons', call in my friends, and make sure I had sufficient people to mount guard and support each other in defending my home. If I couldn't get sufficient people together to do that, then I wouldn't hesitate to evacuate (with my supplies) to a more defensible location. You can't be sentimental about buildings and 'things'. Your life's worth more than any of them! If you have to abandon them, or if looters steal them or burn them down, but you and your loved ones survive (as unscathed as possible), you're still ahead in the game of life. Be grateful for that.