Note from JWR:

Today we present the final entry for Round 17 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The writer of the best non-fiction article will win two valuable four day "gray" transferable Front Sight course certificates. (Worth up to $4,000!) Second prize is a copy of my "Rawles Gets You Ready" preparedness course, generously donated by Jake Stafford of Arbogast Publishing. Round 18 (which runs through the end of September) begins tomorrow, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entries. Remember that articles that relate practical "how to" skills for survival will have an advantage in the judging.

Preparing for a Dam Breach, by A.B.S.

Many of my fellow Tennesseans awoke to headlines the other day that two of the Corp of Engineers dams in our area that are supposed to protect the people from floods and provide water and electricity are in danger of failure. Built more than 50 years ago, the Wolf Creek Dam and the Center Hill Dam overlook several hundred thousand people in central Tennessee, and are leaking significantly. The Wolf Creek Dam has been classified as being at high risk of collapse.

The Wolf Creek Dam is located on the Cumberland River 190 miles up stream from Nashville. The dam has had problems for more than a year and last year, officials determined repairs would need to be made to the dam because of leaks in and around it. The dam holds back 100+ miles of the Cumberland River, near Jamestown in south central Kentucky. Now, the dam is weakening and immediate action is being taken to stop what could be a catastrophic flood. The water level was dropped and more testing was done on the dam. It is the results of those tests that caused officials to put the dam at high risk of failure, though they state failure isn’t considered eminent. A gentleman I know that works for the Corps has stated that large chunks of masonry the size of small cars fall off the dam weekly, so I choose to remain skeptical about the Corps position.

If the Wolf Creek Dam were to break, starting 100+ miles up the Cumberland River in Jamestown, Kentucky, the town of Celina, Tennessee would be flooded first and most likely wiped out completely. Then, water would flow downstream toward Carthage and Old Hickory Lake impacting the towns of Gallatin, Hendersonville, Mt. Juliet and Old Hickory before flooding downtown Nashville’s riverfront area under as much as 30 to 50 feet of water. While Nashville would have some warning, many of the smaller towns mentioned would be impacted so quickly that warnings would be ineffective. The area impacted would be massive.

This has been a wake-up call for many citizens in our area. For many the threat of a major catastrophe was what it took for them to finally learn they need to be prepared for potential emergencies. What was startling for many of our citizens was that these are major impoundments maintained by the Federal government. While this was a wake-up call about the possible threat from major impoundments, most people still are not aware of smaller private and municipal impoundments that potentially pose a threat every day. Many of these small dams have ruptured in the past century leading to death and destruction on a massive scale. Some examples are the Johnstown, Pennsylvania flood of 1889 that killed an estimated 2,300 people, the Baldwin Hills Reservoir in California in 1951, and the privately owned plantation dam that broke near Kilauea, Hawaii in 2006. So what can be done to better protect you and your?

First, make a point to become aware of any and all dams that may pose a threat in your area. Even small farm pond dams can cause significant flash flooding if they breach. Floods, especially flash floods, whether from rain or dam breaches, kill more people each year than hurricanes, tornadoes, wind storms or lightning. About 60% of all flood deaths are people in vehicles that moving water sweeps away. Experts advise you not to drive or wade into flood water at all, especially if you can’t see the bottom. Water over a road, no matter how deep, can hide washed-out pavement. As little as six inches of moving water is enough to float a small car and carry it away.

Always prepare for problems before they happen. When possible build your home on high ground, and if possible never downstream from a dam. During the winter of 1991 a dam on a five acre impoundment ruptured a few miles from my home. Luckily the people a couple of miles downhill were warned and escaped harm, but their homes were washed off their foundations and across US Highway 70, which was a couple of hundred feet away. These homes were on high ground, but someone built a relatively small pond on even higher ground that had a devastating effect.

Get a copy of the 500 and 1,000 year flood zone maps for your area. These will tell you the most likely route the water will take following a catastrophic breach. They will also point out the likely flood areas from heavy rainfall or snow-melt. These are useful tools, but as shown in the previous paragraph, don’t get overconfident. When possible don’t build in these areas. It still amazes me how many people will build in the same location after floods have wiped out their homes on multiple occasions. I know some may not have a choice, but this isn’t always true.

Get a weather radio. If a large dam breaks, warnings will be broadcast through the emergency channels, but don’t count on this when dealing with smaller dams. If a warning comes down that a breach is about to happen, get out. I know many of us including myself don’t really trust the “authorities”, but I think in these cases the wise thing to do is “bug out” and get to a safe location, then assess if it was the proper mode of action later. To do this, plan and scout several potential escape routes. Most people will take the route they are most familiar with, and it always seems to be the same route, which turns the road into a parking lot. Often smaller less well known roads can get you out of the area faster. In my area the local emergency personnel are encouraged to learn the local off road trails in case something happens to the main roads. This would also be advisable for the general public, as this may be the only way out. Set up a meeting place that all the members of your family or circle know about as a rally point. It is also a good idea to designate a family member or friend in another county or state as a contact person. This is so anyone who can’t arrive at the rally point can check in with their status and location. We saw this happening many times after the tsunami in Indonesia as many tourists became separated from their parties. Make sure everyone has the number, email address, or whatever. This information should be memorized in case they become separated from their wallet, date-book, etc.

Sometimes the opportunity to evacuate is lost through hesitation or just bad luck. In these cases one should try to find an area to “evacuate vertically”. In many cases this means sturdy built, tall buildings, towers, or hopefully a mountain or hill. If the water approaches too rapidly, this may simply be a tree. Again, scout around to see what would be available if something were to happen.

If you have to escape a flood or any situation it is a good idea to have a emergency pack with sufficient supplies ready. This may include food and water, first aid gear, medications, a change of clothes, communications gear, fire starting supplies, and in my case a spare set of eye-glasses. I also suggest having a cache of supplies in a secure location, just in case you need them.
Hopefully nothing like this will befall you, but being prepared could mean the difference between life and death should the worst ever happen

Letter Re: Converting Gas Engine Vehicles to Propane

I haven’t seen much discussion to date in SurvivalBlog on Propane-burning vehicles as a retreat / bug out / EMP-proof vehicle. From what I understand, Propane combusting vehicles are not as popular in the USA as they have been in Canada, not to say we have a large amount of them running on streets, however, they are here and they are available. I’m looking at a EMP proof vehicle right now which happens to be a 1985 Chevy, 4×4, 1/2-Ton which has been converted to propane. Are their any issues with this that you may or may not be aware of as an EMP proof convertible vehicle?

Propane is currently cheaper [per gallon] than gasoline and as you know stores much longer than that of Gasoline or [even] Diesel. If it can be done, others should start looking that way. Aside from the small amount of loss in power, the pros could far out weigh the cons providing they can be EMP-proofed, which I don’t know anything about when it comes to propane vehicles. Please advise. Thanks in advance. – Dan S.

JWR Replies: Because propane might be hard to come by "on the road", I don’t recommend propane for bug-out vehicles, unless your retreat is within range of one tank of fuel. But propane is ideal for trucks and tractors that will not often leave your retreat property. I prefer converting pickups rather than SUVs, since propane fuel tanks are relatively large. For some details, see this blog piece that I posted in June.

A 1985 Chevy will have an electronic ignition system. But it is not too difficult to retrofit a traditional ignition system (with rotor, points, and condenser) at the same time that the fuel and Carburetion systems are converted to propane. (Owners of newer vehicles should be advised that there are other microprocessors present in critical subsystems. (Most notably solid state voltage regulators and components in the fuel and transmission systems that should also be retrofitted to make a vehicle "EMP proof").

There are some issues involving payment of road taxes, in some states, when converting to propane, If it were not for that, I believe that propane conversions would be much more popular. (Consult your state and local laws before doing a conversion.)

Propane or "GNC" (Gaz naturel comprimé) conversions are popular in many countries. For the sake of versatility and flexibility, I highly recommend that one of the vehicles at your retreat can be run on propane. With today’s soaring gasoline and diesel prices, you will have the added benefit of buying fuel that is less expensive, per BTU. (At least at the present day.)

Odds ‘n Sods:

Andrew Hankinson, a journalist at FHM magazine in the UK, e-mailed us to mention that he is looking for a survivalist in the US to spend a few days with. There would also be a photographer. He’s looking for someone who lives somewhere remote, hopefully in a survivalist community. The idea is to sample life as a survivalist. It is a serious piece coming on the back of much Peak Oil debate in the UK. If anyone could help – it would need to happen sometime in early August. lease contact him via e-mail.

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Cheryl N. flagged this from The Telegraph: Bigger Than Roosevelt’s New Deal: The Fannie and Freddie Bailout, as well as this from The Mogambo Guru: The Problems-Solving Paulson Package

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Reader KT mentioned a mobile "under the hood" arc welding generator made by Zena Corporation.

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D.A.B. found this article about DARPA’s Big Dog robotics program.

Note from JWR:

The high bid in the current SurvivalBlog Benefit Auction is $500. This auction is for a big mixed lot: a NukAlert radiation detector, donated by KI4U–a $160 value), a DVD of 480 E-books on Alternative Energy (donated by WK Books–a $25 value), and the following package of survival gear all kindly donated by One case of MREs, one pack of water purifications tablets, a bottle of colloidal silver, a fire starter, a bottle of potassium iodate tablets, an emergency dental kit, a pack of "Shower in a bag" bath wipes, and one messenger bag to pack it in. The auction ends on August 15, 2008. Please e-mail us your bid.

Letter Re: Advice on Versatile Pasture Fencing

Mr. & Mrs. Rawles,
Following the guidance in your "Rawles on Retreats and Relocation" book, I. recently bought a 20 acre retreat in southeastern Oregon that backs up to BLM land, with some good ground for pasturing [livestock].(But most [of it] is too rocky for cutting hay.) There is an old fruit/nut orchard with some amazing big trees. (It is half of what was originally an 1880s homestead.) There is both a well and spring. The spring only puts out 1.3 gallons per minute, but I plan to have it fill a big cistern that I’m soon to be building. We might be able to get a [grazing] permit on the [adjoining] BLM land. I’m not sure what sort of animals we will be getting (sheep, cattle, or whatnot). We might also get a horse.

The property has some old falling-down fences (three strands of old rusty barbed wire). I’m planning to rip that out and start fresh. What would you recommend for fencing that’ll "do it all"? What kind of posts, and [at] what spacing? What is the best way to stretch a fence [to proper tension]? Do you like tube-type gates?

Thanks for your blog and books. They’ve put me on the true path to self-sufficient style living. Enough skating, on my part: My 10 Cent Challenge [voluntary subscription] payment for three years will be arriving soon, in silver coins. You’ve earned it! Thx and God Bless You and Your Family, – Phil in Oregon

JWR Replies: My personal favorite for versatility is 47" tall variable mesh woven field fencing, tensioned on six foot heavy duty studded T-posts that are spaced 10 to12 feet apart. This will give you a fence that will hold sheep, some breeds of goats, most cattle, llamas, alpacas, donkeys, horses, mules, and more.

In my experience, used, creosote-soaked railroad ties work fine for H-braces, anchor braces, and corner braces. To tension the diagonal wires for the H-braces, I prefer to use ratchet tensioners, rather than the traditional"twisting stick" windlass arrangement. Be sure to wear gloves to avoid skin contact with the creosote, which is toxic

When building a fence in rocky soil, a seven foot long plain digging bar with hardened tips will be indispensable.

If you get into an extremely rocky portion of ground along the intended fence line, you can construct above-ground "rock boxes"–the type that you’ve probably seen in eastern Oregon. These are cylinders of woven wire between 30 and 40 inches in diameter and four feet tall that you will fill with rocks anywhere from fist-size to bowling ball-size. Because the fence will have to be tensioned, make sure that side of the rock box that will contact the main fence wire has no rock tips projecting through the wire mesh that might hang up the main fence wire as it slides by, during tensioning.

Horses, in particular, tend to be hard on woven wire fences. Especially in small pastures, they’ll often lean their necks over them, reaching for grass on the other side. You can add a "hot" wire at the top of the fence that is energized with a DC charger. (Such as those made by Parmak–like we use here at the Rawles Ranch.) In anticipation of grid-down situations, a solar-powered fence charger is best.

I do like steel tube gates. If you strap on (or weld/braze on) some woven wire or a hog panel, the gate will become "sheep tight."

For the best security, you should mount the hinge pins with at least one pointing upward and one pointing downward. Otherwise, an intruder can simply lift a locked gate off of its hinge pins. You can also tack weld the nuts onto both the bolt threads and the gate’s hinge sleeve assemblies to prevent them from being disassembled.

Tensioning a woven wire fence can best be accomplished with a 48" "toothed" bar to hold the woven wire. These can either be bought factory made, or custom fabricated in your home welding shop. But for those without welding equipment, here is a simple expedient that can be made with wood, carriage bolts, and chain: Cut a 52-inch long pair of 2x4s, and install a row of protruding screws down the length of one of the wide sides. Drill a row of shallow holes in the other board, to accept the screw heads from the other board. (Like the teeth on a commercially-made bar, these screws will evenly distribute the stress on the full height of the woven wire.) Drill through holes and position 6" long 3/8"-inch carriage bolts through both boards at both ends. Sandwich the woven wire between the two boards. Attach chains to the carriage bolts, and then connect the chains to a "come-along" (ratchet cable hoist). If no large trees are available as an anchor for the tensioning, then the towing hitch receiver on a parked large pickup truck will suffice. Proviso: All of the usual safety rules when working with come-alongs apply!

I am confident that most SurvivalBlog readers heeded the advice that I gave on May 19th. Pardon me for being repetitious, but this is important:

"Of immediate concern is that the increased wholesale price of steel will soon work its way down to the consumer level. So if you are certain about any fencing projects at your retreat in the next two or three years, then buy the materials in advance. (Rolls of woven wire, rolls of barbed wire, smooth wire, T-posts, staples, et cetera.) Consider it part of your Alpha Strategy."

This same advice or course applies to tube gates and modular steel stock panels. The increased cost of diesel fuel for trucking and galloping steel prices may soon work together to double or triple the retail price of heavy and bulky steel items such as tube gates and stock panels. (And, as I mentioned before, gun vaults.) If you find that you have "missed the boat" on price increases in your local area, then shop for a used gates and panels, by placing a newspaper or Craigslist want ad. As I’ve written before, the clock is ticking.

Letter Re: Opening a Non-Dollar Denominated Offshore Bank Account

Mr. Rawles,
My wife and I have a Certificate of Deposit (CD) at 5.25% of $425,000 that will be maturing in December. She is all fired-up to travel to Canada in September, and with an interest-only withdrawal using $20, 000 to open bank account using converted US Dollars [(USDs) to another currency] as a hedge against the falling value of the USD.

I have a bad feeling about this.

From reading your site for several months, I suspect that you would suggest buying tangibles but, I fear that my wife will not agree to spending that kind of money on tangibles.

What are your comments regarding direct investment in foreign currency?

JWR Replies: Since you have that much money to shelter, an offshore account has some merit. Just make sure the grand total that you are carrying is less than $10,000 each and wearing or carrying no jewelry (aside from wedding bands) or other items such as optics, collectibles, gemstones, or flash memory cards that could be deemed "liquid/cash equivalent" assets. (The $10,000 reporting limit for Currency Transaction Reports (CTRs), I’ve been told, is practically sacrosanct, and the IRS has no sense of humor.) Also, be advised that multiple trips abroad carrying cash might be deemed to be "structuring."

Try to find a bank that will open accounts denominated in a variety of foreign currencies. In my opinion, in the long run Swiss Francs will beat Euros and Canadian dollars by a huge margin.

If you can’t convince your wife to buy practical tangibles (guns, tools, etc.) then at least try to get her to see the wisdom of buying either A.) Productive farm land, at a distressed price, or B.) Gold during a dip in what is an otherwise a secular bull market.

I must admit that the intricacies of this subject go far beyond my own expertise. For details on the wide variety of offshore accounts available, refer to the Sovereign Society’s Offshore A-Letter.

Odds ‘n Sods:

JT found us this: Bad News and Bank Runs. Talk about more “stimulus checks”, and blaming “blogs” for “misinformation” that fed people’s fears. And reader Cheryl N. found two articles that tie in nicely: FDIC Smoke & Mirrors and US National Debt Limit Raised Ahead of Budget Busting Bailout Legislation. (Cheryl’s comment: "Paulson’s Bazooka will be locked and loaded with enough firepower to blow what’s left of our economy into the dustbin of history. ")

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The WRSA has another "Grid-Down Medical Course" scheduled soon. This one will be in Everett, Washington, September 12-14. Their training is inexpensive, and highly recommended. This is also a great way to bump into fellow SurvivalBlog readers. (Wear your SurvivalBlog hat or t-shirt!) For those of you living in the Eastern United States, Medical Corps has a "Medical Response in a Hostile Environment" course scheduled for that same weekend, and they may still have a few seats available.

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Reader Michael H. recommended some economic commentary from Bob Chapman: Paper Sold To Pools Of Liquidity

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Just in time for the Olympics, Recombinomics reports an outbreak of an unidentified hemorrhagic fever in China’s Shandong Province. After reading the summary, click on the ProMED link in the article for more information. (A hat tip to "Cyberiot")

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JT also spotted this: Merrill to Sell $8.5 Billion of Stock, Unload CDOs. The article describes the shell game the banksters are playing with their worthless CDOs.