Letter Re: Hunkering Down or Storing Gear in a Commercial Building

Mr. Rawles,
As always I enjoy the site and the support you provide. I would like to mention a few items that have come up lately here in South Florida with regards to survival in an urban area. This may be of particular concern to any of your readers that live in urban areas or for those that are not yet at a point in their preparations, or lives, to be able to move to a better, less populous location.
First, as has been mentioned on this web site, in your novel Patriots, and by every credible “prepper” in the world, a person retreating to a safer location must have a primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency plan. The method of getting out of urban areas during an emergency is problematic, particularly if you did not leave when you could (i.e. Hurricane Katrina). This can lead to your routes being miles long roadblocks. However, if you live near a coast, inlet, canal, interior waterway, river, creek, or major city (above ground) drainage system, you may be able to use them in a boat, canoe, kayak, zodiac, dingy, on foot, or with duck-waders to find better routes. Obviously in the case of inclement weather these may not be options on the worst days, but may be excellent routes during the ‘lemming run’ to get out of the area. Many concerned people in my area include these routes of escaping the city and urban sprawl in their plans.

Second, the wide availability of commercial property for use (particularly in the current economy) is staggering. A simple examination of the properties available for use by your close friends and family may surprise you. Over several planning sessions and field trips we found many urban cache locations, significant shelter options, and overwhelming amounts of storage space in places that were rented, leased, and sometimes owned by members of our group. With these locations it is always good to fully understand the government restrictions on use, function, zoning, storage, and occupation of commercial property. That being said, some commercial sites offer significant security advantages over homes in neighborhoods (not to mention apartments!), can easily be ‘hardened’ without letting the nosey neighbors knowing, and are often full of useful storage space, accesses, exits, entries, storage space, subterranean layers, and did I mention storage space? One of our associates has a commercial building with a separate ‘hidden’ space inside in which a fully stocked “bug out vehicle” waits for action in a regularly maintained state. This vehicle has its own locked bay which can only be opened from the inside after a trip into the basement or via a large air duct to gain access to the room. His regular business operates on the other end of the building so none of his road-crew employees spend enough time to even know the building has a bay on the other side. The other end of the building faces a small maintenance path for the phone company box and is fenced in and has plenty of “junk” camouflaging its true purpose. Other examples of commercial property use is in the planning of cache locations and in situations where you may need to bunker down with your family or “prepper” network during trying times. Warehouse districts that are not contiguous to shopping, tourist, entertainment, or government buildings offer potential safety during riots, looting, government action, or general unrest. These warehouse districts often see little or no activity during even the most destructive of riots. If one has access to these types of areas, it is a relatively simple operation to put up an innocuous name on the fence and receive deliveries (or just bring stuff yourself) and have no one bat an eye. The districts may even have enough 24-hour traffic to mask late night movement if you are only using the warehouse space as a pre-positioning and construction site for your burial cache boxes, tubes, and such, since the neighbors may get a bit nosey with you burning the midnight oil in your workshop/garage with your ‘survivalist nonsense.’

Third, unless you are have never heard of OPSEC, commercial properties can allow you to hide in plain sight. If someone has a TEOTWAWKI need or economic-depression reason to operate in an urban location, you can easily blend in with local traffic and business populations if they exist. If you are in a manufacturing or construction area wear some roughed up ‘Dickies’ work clothes and have a dirty pickup truck. In an office complex, have some light business attire with a jacket/blazer so as not to stick out. If you happen to be in a meat packing district or medical complex, have some ‘scrubs’/lab coat or coveralls available. As long as no one is looking for you, visit the local ‘roach coach’, ration station, trading post, or gas station so you can keep aware of local government, gang, crime, or quisling activities and be able to be ‘seen’ as a local (if being seen is an option or necessity). You should be able to move any vehicle inside buildings to hide them or work on them and to keep them out of view from outside observers. You may be able to set up extensive security systems, passive/active surveillance, power devices, and even communication systems. Some locations even offer the ability to tap into sewage, storm drain, and other access points.

Fourth, if you have some property available you may be grow food (this must be carefully done if industrial chemicals are in the area). If outdoor growth is not a viable option, try indoor crop growth with lamps, skylights, or mirrors. As growing things indoors can be difficult at first, it may be good to practice this well in advance of the need to do it for your life.

Finally, let me say that none of the aforementioned tips can replace a move to less populous, rural locations, far from those who will become mindless mobs in an emergency. These ideas/tips are only presented as limited alternatives for those, like me, who are months or years away from realistic retreats to safer environs and for those unlucky few who may get caught up behind the wrong side of a line during hard times. Regards, – I.S.

JWR Replies: That is an interesting approach. I might add just one proviso: If you plan to hide supplies (or even yourself) behind a “blank” roll-up door in a chaotic situation, then do not leave the ignition key in the company forklift, or leave a pallet jack outside of your storage space. Either of those could be used by goblins to quickly use leverage to their advantage in prying-up the door!