Letter Re: Retreat Locales in the Eastern United States

Mr. Rawles:

I see that [in your Recommended Retreat Areas page] you only list information for retreat selection in 19 western states. Do you not think other states are worthy of retreat locations?

We live on 300 acres in southwestern Missouri (Polks County). Not totally ideal I am sure, but it is home, children and grandchildren are here and more over we feel placed here by our Lord over 35 years ago.

I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts pro/con on the state of Missouri so that we might be better prepared. — Paulette

JWR Replies: I consider Missouri marginal as a retreat locale, primarily because of it population density. The state of Missouri is on the safer (lower population density) side of the Mississippi River but it is still far from ideal, since the state is bisected by the Missouri River and the dramatic drop in US population density is west of the Missouri. (As I will discuss later in this reply.)

My choice of reviewing retreat locales in just 19 western states has been discussed a few times before in SurvivalBlog, but for the benefit of the many newcomers, I will reiterate:

After much consideration, all of the eastern states were intentionally excluded for my recommendations because they are all either downwind of nuclear targets and/or are in areas with excessive population density. This wasn’t just the result of subjective bias. I try to use the dispassionate mindset of an actuarial accountant.

Take a look at The Lights of the U.S. photo maps. These montages of satellite photos make it clear that most of America’s population is east of the Missouri River and is highly urbanized.The population density of the U.S. is dramatically lower in the west. In troubled times fewer people means fewer problems. In the event of a social upheaval, being west of the Missouri River will mean a statistically much lower chance of coming face to face with lawless rioters or looters When The Schumer Hits The Fan (WTSHTF).

The other startling thing you will notice when looking at the Lights photo montage is that even in the western states, Americans live in a highly urbanized society. Roughly 90% of the population is crammed into 5% of the land area, mostly within 50 miles of the coast. But there are large patches of the west where there are virtually no lights at all–particularly in the Great Basin region that extends from the back side of the Sierra Nevada mountains to Utah and Eastern Oregon. The average population density in this region is less than two people per square mile.

As an example of the low population density in the west, I often like to cite Idaho County, Idaho: This one county measures 8,485 square miles–bigger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. But it has a population of just 15,400. And of those residents, roughly 3,300 people live in Grangeville, the county seat. Who lives in the rest of the County? Nary a soul. There are far more deer and elk than there are people. The population density of the county is 1.8 people per square mile. The county has more than three million acres of U.S. Forest Service land, BLM land, and designated Federal wilderness areas. Now that is elbow room!

The northeastern states depend on nuclear power plants for 47% of their electricity. South Carolina is similarly dependent. This is an unacceptable level of high technology systems dependence, particularly in light of the emerging terrorist threat. You must also consider that virtually all of the eastern states are downwind of major nuclear targets. In a full scale exchange, the eastern US would be a bad place to be. See the target lists, fallout projections, and other data at Richard Fleetwood’s excellent SurvivalRing web site. Not only are there lots of nuclear targets in the east, but easterners will also get considerable additional fallout carried on the winds from strikes farther west–including SAC bomber bases, the strategic missile fields (in Montana, the Dakotas, and northern Colorado), Cheyenne Mountain (Colorado), Offutt AFB (Nebraska), and others. The majority of the military targets are expected to be hit with ground bursts, which are the type that produce fallout. Because of the Coriolis Effect, the prevailing winds in most of the United States are from west to east, so the farther east you live, the greater the accumulated fallout that you are likely to receive. Sorry!

My general advice for easterners: If for one reason or another you are stuck in the northeast, then consider New Hampshire or Vermont. They are both gun friendly and have more self-sufficient lifestyle. But unless you have some compelling reason to stay in the East, I most strongly encourage you to Go West!

With all that said, there are some areas in the eastern US that will be safer than others (like parts of Tennessee and Maine), and there are ways to mitigate the risks that I mentioned.:

Risk Mitigation

The risk posed by the higher population density of the eastern states can be mitigated by both carefully choosing your retreat property (look for bypassed areas that are far from “channelized areas” and lines of drift“) and by having heavily-manned 24/7/360 armed and vigilant security at your retreat. (See my novel “Patriots: Surviving the Coming Collapse” for a detailed description of what might be needed to mount such a guard.) This will of course mean extra mouths to feed–which in turn dictates the expense of extra storage food, extra gardening space, extra housing, and extra stored fuel. But this could be viable, especially if you are wealthy.

The other obvious risk mitigation is to construct a blast/fallout shelter with a forced-air HEPA filter. If your house already has a basement, and you are willing to do some of the work yourself, a retrofit can be done for under $5,000. Constructing a new, dedicated shelter can be a $15,000 to $70,000 proposition, depending how large and elaborate you want to make it. The folks at Safecastle have extensive experience in building such shelters, tailored for all budgets. They specialize in combination storm/nuke/gun vault shelters. I highly recommend them.