Letter Re: Remote Rural Retreats Versus Living in a Small Town

Dear Jim:
I found an interesting article that argues against a remote, rural retreat for an urbanite.

He reasons:
1. local kids with time on their hands will sniff out your retreat in their exploring
2. Any road to your place will get checked out eventually by kids, a utility employee, a hunter, etc., etc.
3. A remote place gives a thief all the time in the world to break into a cabin or recreational vehicle, pre-disaster.
4. When you are at a retreat, post-disaster, you are on the defense, the offense (potential looters) gets to choose the time of attack; you are vulnerable to long range sniping

His solution, a la Mel Tappan, is to live in a small town and get integrated into the local community. Your profile of buying, and growing, and helping out locally should be high, but your wealth profile, and preparations profile should be very low. Have lots of folks looking out for you, rather than relying on remoteness.

For a slow slide, grid-up situation this makes a lot of sense. I question how well this strategy would work if it is a true TEOTWAWKI situation where starvation is widespread…
But he brings up serious issues about how to keep your retreat unmolested – how likely is it that local kids would ignore fences? What measures can you take to prevent burglary?
Regards, – OSOM

JWR Replies: I concur that “in town” retreats make sense in a Grid Up situation, where law and order are maintained and there is still a functioning economy that keeps store shelves stocked. But in a Grid Down societal collapse, a mutually-defended cluster of farmsteads will probably be far more viable. With too many mouths to feed, even small towns may have their citizenry quickly degenerate into the worst sorts of savagery.

My position is that remote rural retreats can be quite viable, provided that:

1.) Your retreat has a full-time caretaker for the present day circumstances

2.) Your retreat is occupied by three or more families, immediately after the Schumer hits the fan (SHTF), and you are prepared to man a 24/7/360 defense. (24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with full 360 degree perimeter coverage.)

For any readers that do decide to opt for “in town” retreating, I highly recommend that you set as key criteria a town that has reliable rainfall, preferably in a “truck farming” region, and

As I’ve stated many times, isolation just by itself will not protect you and your family in a time of lawlessness. In Schumeresque times it will take trustworthy friends and vigilant security to survive. I firmly believe that looters will not pick on well-defended retreats. They simply won’t want to risk taking casualties. Few would be that suicidal. Instead, they will prey on those that show no signs of an organized defense. Why would they want to try cracking a “tough nut”, when they could pick on granny, down the road?

I posted the following in SurvivalBlog back in August of 2005. Since many readers haven’t worked their way through the Archives, it bears repeating:

Not everyone is suited to tackling the tasks required for self-sufficiency. Advanced age, physical handicaps, lack of trustworthy family or friends, or chronic health conditions could rule that out. If that is your situation, then you will probably want to establish an inconspicuous “in town” retreat rather than an isolated “stronghold” retreat.

If opting for “in town,” buy a masonry house with a fireproof roof and on an oversize lot. (Make that wood frame construction if you live in earthquake country.) Carefully select a town with a small population—somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 if it has a true “end to end” gravity fed water supply, or from 200 to 1,000 if the water system is in any way dependent on the power grid. (The 1,000 upper limit is for fear of sanitation problems.)

IMO, towns any larger than 3,000 lack a cohesive sense of “our community”, and any town with a population smaller than 200 would lack a sufficient mix of skills and the manpower required to mount a sufficient defense in the event of a true “worst case.” I believe that it is best to avoid larger towns. At some point over the 3,000 inhabitant threshold, the “we/they paradigm” will be lacking, and in a true TEOTWAWKI it could be every man for himself.

The late Mel Tappan wisely opined that if your house is at the end of dead end of a road at the edge of town with no close by neighbors, then it might just as well be five or ten miles out of town–since it will be psychologically outside of the invisible ring of protection that will constitute “in town.” Post-TEOTWAWKI, the “we/they” paradigm will be forcefully if not painfully obvious. If you are “in town” you will benefit from a de facto Neighborhood Watch on Steroids. Make sure that your retreat is either clearly “in town”, or not. A property that is halfway in between will have none of the advantages and all of the disadvantages.

Tappan championed the concept of “small town” retreating: owning a mini-farm that is physically and psychologically inside of an existing small community. This approach has several advantages. Before making your decision, consider the following pro and con lists:

Advantages of “In Town” Retreats:

Better for a slow slide scenario or a “grid up” depression wherein the local agricultural and industrial payrolls may still be viable.
You will be a member of the community.
You will benefit from local security arrangements.
Ready access to local barter economy.
Ready access to local skills and medical facilities.

Disadvantages of “In Town” Retreats:

Privacy is very limited. Transporting bulky logistics must be done at odd hours to minimize observation by neighbors.
Fuel storage is severely limited. (Consult the local ordinances before you buy a home.)
Poor sanitation in the event of “grid down” situation, unless your town has a truly “end to end” gravity fed water system. (More on this in a subsequent post.)
You can’t test fire and zero your guns at your own property.
You can’t set up elaborate antenna arrays or your house will look out of place.
You can’t hunt on your own land.
You can’t keep livestock other than perhaps a few rabbits. (Consult the local ordinances before you buy a home.)
You can’t make substantial ballistic and anti-vehicular barrier retreat upgrades.
Greater risk of communicable diseases transmitted by casual contact.
Greater risk of burglary.
Greater risk of having your “hoarded” supplies confiscated by bureaucrats.

Advantages of Isolated Retreats:

More room for gardening, pasturing, and for growing row crops.
Lower house and land prices. (More for your money.)
Better for a total wipeout “Grid Down” scenario when virtually everyone will be out of work. (Hence the local payroll will be a non-issue.)
You can stock up in quantity with less fear of the watchful eyes of nosy neighbors.
You can test fire and zero your guns at your own property.
You can build with non-traditional architecture (earth sheltered, for example.)
You can set up more elaborate antenna arrays–and other things that would look odd in town.
Better sanitation in the event of a “grid down” situation.
You can hunt on your own land.
A place to cut your own firewood.
You can keep livestock.
You can make ballistic and anti-vehicular upgrades. (As described in my novel “Patriots”,.)
A “dog run” chain link fence around your house won’t look too out of place.
Virtually unlimited fuel storage. (Consult your county and State laws before ordering large gas, diesel, heating oil, and propane tanks.)
Much lower risk of communicable diseases. Particularly important in the event of a biological warfare attack—but only if the bug is spread person-to-person rather than airborne.

Disadvantages of Isolated Retreats:

Impossible to defend with just one family.
Cannot depend on much help from neighbors or law enforcement if your home is attacked by looters or in the event of fire. You will likely be entirely on your own to resolve those situations. If and when a gang of looters arrives, it will be you or them–no second place winner.
Isolation from day-to-day barter/commerce.
A longer commute to your “day job”, shopping, and church.

A careful analysis of the preceding lists (plus specific localized considerations) should lead you to concluding which approach is right for you, given your family situation, your stage in life, and your own view of the potential severity of events to come. Pray about it before making a decision of this gravity.

These issues (and many other related ones) are discussed in my nonfiction book “Rawles on Retreats and Relocation”