Friday, October 19, 2012

Follow-up to my bug-out article

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.



Anonymous said...

After the NYC July power outage I remember seeing on local tv a shot of a woman coming out of a smashed storefront with an armload of goods, jubilantly declaring "It's Christmas in July!"

Joel said...

Can't see anything here to disagree with. I get a laugh from thinking what post-crash looters would have to go through to get anywhere near our homestead. 200+ miles from the nearest city of any size, 50+ miles from the nearest freeway, hazardous terrain w/no water the whole way. Don't run out of gas because it's Navajo country and they'd find wannabe looters amusing.

When you finally drag your parched, exhausted looting carcass to the small town nearest (about 10 miles) where we live, your troubles have just begun. I've got five words for would-be post-crash looters: Do NOT screw with Mormons.

Our chosen location is problematic in some ways, but I don't worry too much about looters. :)

Leatherneck said...

I'd be interested in your thoughts regarding the moral issue of helping the less fortunate in such circumstances.

Our retirement home is in a rural county (population 11,000)in the Northern Neck of Virginia. The local residents range from genuinely poor--and black--through capable watermen and farmers, to us relatively affluent "come-heres" with waterfront homes.

I've built a large shop and a small apartment in addition to our "big house" that we live in.

I'd be tempted to offer shelter in the shop or apartment if a family showed up and convinced me that they were without other recourse. How dangerour would that be?


Peter said...

Tom, I'm of the same mind as you when it comes to helping others: but I also have to bear in mind any possible risk, not just to myself (which I'm free to accept as I see fit), but to my family and/or others in my vicinity (neighbors, friends, etc.) I can't morally expose them to greater vulnerability through my acts of altruism.

I'd therefore suggest that helping others is, indeed, a Christian duty - but one that should be exercised in such a way that it minimizes risk to others. I'd try to assist a community support effort that opens up church and school halls, government buildings, etc. to those less fortunate, and contributes food and clothing to support them. I'd hesitate to allow people I didn't know into my 'safe zone'. (Of course, if you do know them, or if people whom you'd trust with your life or your wife's life can vouch for them, that's a different matter.)

You'll note that in other articles, I've mentioned the value of having more supplies than you need for yourself, so that you can help others. This isn't just to 'fend them off', it's also (in my opinion) something we should all do. After all, if we found ourselves destitute and helpless, we'd hope to receive assistance from others, wouldn't we? That's the essence of the 'Golden Rule' - do to others what you would want them to do towards you, if roles were reversed. This may even extend to allowing them to use your shop building . . . but I'd be hesitant about allowing that under circumstances that might expose my loved ones to risk. YMMV.

I hope this answers your question.

Will said...

One of the problems that will exacerbate the gridlock effect is the proliferation of sound walls along freeways in urban areas, especially in CA. No idea how widespread they may be in other states, but CA built lots of them. They can run for many miles, with only on/off ramps to allow escape of vehicles. Major wrecks can totally shut down traffic movement at some points with narrow or no shoulders, which is quite common!

These walls are constructed of typical hollow building blocks, normally. A heavy truck can punch a hole through the the walls, but lighter vehicles can't.

There may be walk-through access doors in some of these walls, but they may have padlocks.

Even in places where there are no paved exits close by, a 4x4 can often utilize the slopes/hills that border the freeways to maneuver around blockages. This may require pushing a vehicle or fence out of your way.

One vehicle that most people never think of using for trailer towing is a small/medium towtruck. I'm talking of F-350/450/550 size, with a boom/winch and wheel-lift. Also the Mitsubishi and Isuzu type cab-overs with turbo 4 and 6 cylinder engines. I think Mitsu even has a 4x4 version. These trucks even come in 4 dr crewcabs.

These tow trucks handle off-road use fairly well, although they probably won't fit on jeep trails, as the width is greater.

The wheel-lift allows you to raise/lower the trailer tongue to best suit conditions. The winch(es) give you lots of options for moving things, along with the hydraulic boom for lifting/moving. Plus a full width push bumper to safely shove vehicles/objects out of your way. Not only useful in getting to your destination, but very useful once there.

Frankly, if I needed a tow vehicle for a trailer, that would be my first choice! (drove one for years) If you get a turbo, altitude is not a problem like a normally aspirated engine.

Rova said...

We call them "18ers." Flatlanders pick up and move into the mountains from a desire to live the mountain experience/execute their first step to prep for their zombie Apocalypse and reality begins to set in: the nearest hospital is a minimum of an hour away. There are no streetlights -and if you install a high-pressure light in your yard to keep the fear of the dark away, a local kid will take it out in short order with a slingshot or BB gun (as often as you replace it, too). There is no night life except stargazing. The nearest bar is over 20 miles away and the patrons have been drinking since the Nixon administration. We get lightening storms the likes of which you have to see to believe, regular as clockwork, Spring and Autumn. And there most definitely are things that go BUMP in the night: the reintroduced moose are flourishing nicely, thank you. Elk and mule deer far outnumber cars. They feed the mountain lion and coyote population handily - and said predators will find little Spot and Fluffy a tasty snack if left unattended.

And if you actually need emergency services and dial 911? The average response time is half an hour when evening temps are above freezing. An hour isn't unusual the rest of the year - even if your house is burning down, or a local tweeker (or four) has broken down the door. Need to run to the hardware store for a simple plumbing repair, or a leak in the roof? It's next door to the bar.

Domestic violence is prevalent, as is alcohol abuse - and the 18ers are a guarantee in +95% of the calls. And the fun really begins when they realize the County does NOT plow their rustic, unpaved road albeit for 8" of snow, or racoon-sized potholes! By the time they return to the cities they've found their unibody AWD mini-ute won't hold an alignment, the hybrid that was supposed to make the long commute economic wrecked on unexpected black ice (or tangled with said elk, mule deer, etc - badly) and often more than one family member is in counseling, with one on probation.

There was an enormous construction boom in the last years leading up to Y2K: these cracker boxes turn over as regularly as flapjacks at the VFW hall. They have minimal insulation, little if any off-the-grid capability and if there is a garage, it's attached to the house (think of the heat loss when that door opens. . .and it's -20F ambient outside). We've become familiar with dozens of these houses that have turned over as often as twice a year! Long-term folks (anybody over 10 years a resident) bought homes constructed in the '50's and '60's and upgrade the good bones of the structure as an ongoing process. If someone doesn't have a large hot tum, they have a larger cistern under their house for spot fires and the local master welder routinely builds/modifies dollies to carry large deep-cycle batteries with an inverter to run a stand-alone pump when the mains go down and the dry winds roar through at +90mph for days.

Peter's admonitions are brutally accurate: it's more complex, and more physically difficult than you may imagine even with careful research, living near the edge of the grid, past the end of the paved roads. The Rocky Mountains are an Alpine Desert. The beauty hooks you deep. And like every other truly beautiful place on earth, Mother Nature kills in little more than the blink of an eye without hesitation.

Speak softly, move slowly, think before you do anything and remember: Murphy never Ever takes a day off.