Letter Re: Hidden Retreats Versus Open Fields of Fire/Visibility

Thanks for your efforts and the structure of your blog. I appreciate the lack of flaming and demeaning commentary. Wanted to get more input on this subject ” Hiding retreat versus open fields of fire/visibility”. We are leaning towards camouflaging, as much as possible views of our home from the road. However, this conflicts with my Army provided training, where on fire bases, we have open fields of fire and high visibility. I believe we need a compromise. As a less than visible retreat will avoid [confrontation with those who are] the less observant. But open fields of fire/ visibility give us tactical advantage. I would like to see some discussion on this please. I am aware of some fast growing trees, very fast that can help with camouflage. Thanks so very much. – EG

JWR Replies: You’ve brought up one of the most frequently asked questions from my consulting clients. It is the classic contradiction: concealment versus defendabilty. The most defendable positions are on barren hilltops, but those are also the most visible from a distance.

Ideally, you could pick a retreat parcel that can provide both open fields of fire out to 50 or 60 yards yet not have a house visible from nearby roads. But of course this isn’t always possible. So you have to ask yourself: What do I expect to happen in my region in the event of a socioeconomic collapse? Will there just be an increase in burglary, or out-and-out attacks/home invasions by large organized groups of looters?

In my estimation, light discipline will be more important than line of sight issues. I foresee that a post-TEOTWAWKI world will be very dark at night. Just a few weeks into the problem, even the houses owned by people that have backup generators will go dark, as they begin to run out fuel. If you have an alternative power system (PV, wind, micro-hydro) then don’t flaunt it. It is essential that you put blackout curtains backed by black sheet plastic inside all of your windows. Be sure to check for light leaks, preferably using night vision goggles. Even heavy wool blankets and drapes tacked up inside your windows will leak light, but backing them with heavy black sheet plastic (not just black trash bags) does the trick. (Tape the sheet plastic in place over the windows, leaving no gap where the sheeting meets the window frame, using opaque duct tape.) Without proper blackout precautions, your house will be a “come loot me” beacon that can be seen for miles at night. But with proper light discipline, at least your house will look anonymously dark–like those of your neighbors, who have no power. Consider getting infrared (IR) floodlights to light the exterior of your house. They can be motion sensor activated. That way, unless your potential attackers have night vision gear, your house will appear dark, but your yard will actually be well-illuminated (as seen through your night vision goggles.)

If you can afford to buy a large parcel, I recommend a layered defense that is adaptable to changing circumstances. (All the way up to the dreaded “worst case” societal collapse.) The outer-most layer is where you should install your seismic intrusion detection sensors. This gives you early warning of approaching malefactors. Any access roads should also have a MURS frequency Dakota Alert (or similar) wireless IR beam motion detector. Then, depending on your situation you might want a screen of trees for concealment. Next, some open ground, then a tall chain link fence. Then more open ground close to your house and outbuildings. This area should be crisscrossed with tanglefoot wire. (Which I will describe later.) Lastly, thorny bushes beneath each window, and beefy steel shutters.

Even well-manned retreats should supplement their guard staff with both dogs and intrusion detection systems. Reliable night vision gear is also a must. But please note that technology by itself is insufficient. Intrusion detection, communications, and night vision technologies are force multipliers, but you still need underlying force. It takes 24/7 manpower to defend a retreat. I describe how to set up and man LP/OPs and a CQ desk in my novel. “Patriots”

Now, getting back to concealment: There are advantages in most situations in adding some “privacy screen” trees to block the view of your house from any regularly-traveled roads. Depending on the lay of the land, leaving 30 yards of open ground (for defense) and then another 10 yards of thickness for the privacy tree screen will probably necessitate a property that is at least 10 acres.

Some fast-growing screening tree varieties include Portuguese laurel (prunus lusitanica) and Leyland Cypress. In cold climates, Lombardy Poplars do well. Parenthetically, a continuous hedge of all the same tree variety will be perceived as an obvious man-made planting, at just a glance. So it is best to plant a mix of tree varieties with semi-random spacing, to make your screening grove look more natural.

Regardless of what you decide to do in terms of concealment, be sure to leave at least 20 yards (60 feet) of open ground for last-ditch “ballistic defense.” To slow down intruders, think in terms of gates, cables, and “decorative” berms to stop vehicles. Install a chain link fence. This will keep your dog(s) in and at least slow down the bad guys. Remember the old military axiom: Any obstacle that is not under continuous observation and covered by [rifle] fire is not a true obstacle–it is just a brief delay to the advance of the enemy.

Keep some concertina wire or razor wire handy, but do not install it in pre-Schumer times. This wire should be installed only after it is clear that law and order has completely broken down. At that point appearances and pre-Crunch sensibilities won’t be nearly as important as a ready defense. In fact, odds are that when your neighbors see you stringing concertina wire, they will ask if you have any extra that you can spare! You can install concertina wire or razor wire on the top of your fence, and if you have plenty of it available, some more staked-down horizontal rolls, just beyond your fence.

Both inside and outside of your “last ditch” fence, you can crisscross some tanglefoot wire (as described in my novel) This type of wire is designed to slow down attackers–preventing them from charging your house. It should be strung at random heights between 9 inches and 40 inches off the ground. This is just one of the last layers of a layered defense. Every second that your various obstacles slow attackers down represents one more second available to stop them ballistically.

All of the foregoing, of course assumes the unlikely worst case. But by being ready for the worst you can handle any lesser threats with ease.