Five Letters Re: Escape From (Fill in Your City Here), 2009

I live in a rural farming area east of the Mississippi and can tell you that cutting a gate or fence would be a very bad choice (in this area).  In 99% of the cases you would already be on private property, so cutting the fence or gate would be considered a “hostile” act.   Most of the folks I know would shot first and ask questions later . . . these folks all hunt, so they are not likely to miss . . . and trust me they know when someone is on their property.   When the police are called, you will find they are a relative or friend of the local (we are very rural) . . . and the “strangers” will be just “bagged and tagged”.    If you must cross a gated or fenced area, stop, honk your horn, jump up and down, o anything to get the property owners attention, he is probably watching anyway . . . who knows you might turn out to be an asset to him instead of a liability.

I do not want to make this sound all negative.  We all know that living at your retreat full-time is the best option, but circumstances may make that impossible for you; your job or just the finances to make that kind of a move.   The real question is do you believe bad things can and will happen?    If so what are you going to do that is practical and realistic?    “Borrowing” a plane might be a cool idea, but it is far from realistic. Several have already commented on this point and I happen to be a retired Naval aviator with more hours and experience than I care to remember, and flying to my retreat would be the last option I’d consider (we live at our retreat full-time, but do travel).    If “your” plan involves some exotic way of escaping the metropolis you live in then you are planning to stay too late (that includes having to take back roads)!   You will have to establish “trigger events” that make the decision to execute “your” depart plan (what those trigger events are up to you, based on your analysis and understanding of events.) If you wait until it is obvious to everyone then you are “way too late”.   And that is the rub: are you willing to give up your comfortable city life for a survival existence, on a “chance” that “this is it”?   If the answer is “no” then best of luck to you, you will need it.  If the answer is “yes” then you had better figure out a way to preposition your items, at a location that involves more than just your family . . . and then maybe you will have a fighting chance to survive the transition.   None of this is easy, but if you really want to provide for and protect your family then what other options do you have. You can rely on the government to see to your basic needs (it’s called being a refugee), or you can do all within your power to provide realistic options for them yourself. The choice is yours. – RH in Virginia

Dear SurvivalBlog Readers:
I want to preface my comments by saying that I have the utmost respect for JWR, his work, and all the readers and contributors to this site. I understand and hold close the essential tenets of independence and preparedness, living as I have my whole life in the heart of Southern California earthquake country.

That said, the recent string of essays about escaping a city when TSHTF is complete nonsense. The thought that if you get out early you’ll leave everyone else behind is fantasy thinking. The fact is that in such a situation just about everyone will be thinking about getting out and many will act on that impulse. That means that EVERY freeway, EVERY back road, EVERY intersection, and EVERY town will soon be filled with hoards of roaming people, all of whom will be unprepared, scared, and desperate. You might – MIGHT – actually get a jump the situation and beat the hoards out of the city but a human tidal wave will be right behind you, spreading out in all directions, many thousands of which will be heading right to wherever it is you’re going.

Further, a good percentage of the roaming hoards will be street criminals and gang members. Many will be military vets who had advanced training in tactics and equipment and they’ll all be heavily armed – in many cases, better equipped than the local law enforcement. In the short-to-medium timeframe, these groups will be the most dangerous threat and sooner or later they’ll be coming to your hideout. I don’t care how many rounds of ammo you’re carrying on the way or how much you’ve got stashed if you actually make it to your refuge. No matter how much you’ve got it won’t be enough, especially if you get in a firefight with a group that’s shooting back with high caliber, armor-piercing ordnance. And let’s not forget about the really heavy stuff – RPGs or plain old dynamite that they’ll find along the way. If you look like you’ve got equipment and food, you’re going to be a target, simple as that.

JWR is right – the safest strategy is to move away now and get established long before the crisis hits, preferably far enough away that it’s just too difficult for city hordes to get to you. (A tip of my hat to Frank B – 15 miles from the nearest asphalt road.) You’ll still be in danger from unprepared locals and groups that do make it out to the frontier but the farther away and better prepared the better.

Meanwhile, what about the millions of us who can’t relocated and are stuck in the cities? After 30 years of survival thinking related to earthquake preparedness I determined that the only effective strategy is to stay put and lay low. Don’t fire up your generator, blast your radio, and light up your house will the oil lamps you so carefully stashed for just the very event. In fact, leave all your survival equipment stashed for a couple of days until the first big wave of refugees passes by. Camouflage your place and your family to look like you’re destitute – that you have nothing, just like everyone else. With a bit of luck, the hordes will pass you by and you can then join up with neighbors, pool your equipment and resources, and develop a defense strategy. Meanwhile, whatever governmental resources exist will be directed at the cities first so there’s a likelihood that some form of law enforcement will be imposed. It’s the rural areas that will be the most lawless and there won’t be anybody out there to help enforce the peace, at least not for a very long time. Once the peace is secured in your city you can implement your long-term strategies of off-grid living, food production, bartering, and practical skills – machinery repair, welding, auto and home maintenance – that will always be in demand.

One final thought – as mentioned so often on the site, survival skills have a very steep learning curve and there is no substitute for hands-on experience and training. Read the books but then go practice! Can you find, set up, and operate your equipment in the pitch dark at 3 AM? If you’ve had a beer of two? Can your spouse, if you’re hurt? Can your kids if you’re not home? Have you ever eaten freeze-dried food? Can you take down and repair the Coleman stove? Bake biscuits? Operate a chain saw? Jury-rig a DC power cable from the car battery to your living space? Successful preparedness means that you continually ask – and answer – such questions. – Patrick C. in Southern California

I think using an aircraft as a bug-out vehicle would not be a good idea. If you look back at the emergency following the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States, you’ll remember that all planes were grounded. I a 9-11 situation a small aircraft flying low or even flying at all would attract unwanted attention. Probably in a bug-out situation in a aircraft you would have to leave early before things got hot and and you risk being forced down in a strange location or being shot down. Both not good options. On 9-11-2001 my wife and I were scheduled to fly home on a commercial airline at 13:30 from half way across the country. Needless to say we found we were grounded before we finished breakfast. When I heard the news we headed to the nearest electronic teller and withdrew as much cash as was allowed. Since we were traveling by air we were traveling light and had little survival gear and virtually no weapons. First we checked the trains and found they were all stopped, same for busses. I next zipped over to the local truck rental and reserved a rental truck for a one-way trip home with a credit card. After the truck reservation was secured I went to a local car dealer and secured financing for the purchase of a late model used SUV and put a small deposit down for them to hold the vehicle. Had I had my own plane I may very well have considered hedge hopping home and would more than likely not been allowed to refuel reroute and maybe risked being arrested if I did manage to land of my own accord.

Because of the help afforded us as total strangers stranded in a strange town, far from home, we moved to the area the following year and have lived here on our small farm at the end of the gravel road ever since. – P.B.


I knew my letter regarding escape in a light plane would end up attracting the criticism of one or more experts on the subject… I’d like to address Larry in Pennsylvania’s response.

First I’d like to point out that I never suggested using a Cessna 172 for anything. I merely mentioned that my father-in-law recently purchased one and that’s what got me thinking about it. There are any number of light planes available, from ultralights to Cessna Caravans, and some are better suited to the task than others, depending on how far you need to go. I, for example, have friends who own a 450 acre ranch 250 miles from here. I could easily make it to their ranch in virtually any airplane without having to refuel.

I addressed some of Larry’s points in my original letter. Yes, fuel is an issue, that’s why I mentioned it. I think Larry might have misunderstood what I was saying. I was not suggesting putting autogas into any random airplane. There are a ton of light planes that have been STCed (Supplemental Type Certificate qualified) for autogas and many more with the same engines that could burn autogas but whose owners haven’t asked for an STC. In a 1998 letter to the Experimental Aircraft Association (of which I’m a member), the FAA said “Autogas use has been extensively compared, tested, and analyzed. Autogas has been shown to be an acceptable alternative to avgas for the airplanes and engines approved for such use. Airplanes and engines approved for autogas use have met the FAA certification requirements for engine detonation, engine cooling, fuel flow, hot fuel testing, fuel system compatibility, vapor lock, and performance.” More information and a copy of the letter above can be found at What I suggested and what I’m suggesting now is research. Know ahead of time what your airplane can burn and either have it on hand or have solid plans for how to obtain it.

I also addressed Larry’s concerns about overloading so I won’t rehash that here other than to say again that yes, payload is an issue but it can be planned out ahead of time. I thought I was very clear that leaving by airplane was for those who had pre-positioned supplies [at a retreat].

As for obstructed runways or runways cluttered by looting, etc., I seriously doubt it in any realistic situation that would require emergency evac by air. Here is a perfectly realistic situation: Terrorists bomb the nuclear power plant that sits 150 miles upwind of my (very large) city. A fallout cloud is approaching at 15 miles per hour. The authorities screw around for four hours and then declare an evacuation of the entire city. We’ve got at most six hours to evacuate a huge city and its suburbs – a feat that the Gulf Coast cities can’t pull off in two days! Interstates immediately become parking lots and before long are totally stopped by broken down cars. A mere fraction (5%) of the population decides to take state highways and county roads – that’s 315,000 people – and the same thing happens to those roads. Whatcha gonna do?

In this scenario, do you think looters are really going to head for the airports to steal gas and oil? I doubt it would even occur to them, especially in the hours immediately after a disaster. They’ll be in Best Buy and Wal-Mart stealing televisions and beer – we’ve already seen it happen!

My airplane suggestion was laced with caveats and the weather was certainly one of them. During many parts of the year, large parts of the country enjoy nice weather with only isolated storms. You don’t need forecasts and radar to avoid bad weather. God gave you eyes and the ability to make a 180-degree turn. Pilots did it for years before these services were widely available. Further, except over congested areas, there are few places where you’ll have no options for an off-field landing. Have plans ‘B’ and ‘C’ constantly in your mind. When I was flying my solo cross-countries, there was never a moment when I hadn’t identified somewhere I could land if the engine quit ‘right now’ – my instructor beat that into my head constantly. As Larry points out, an off-field landing could invite looters but remember, the emergency is only hours old and people aren’t hungry yet, and probably aren’t desperate enough that the normally law-abiding become a danger.

As for Navaids such as VOR, ADF, and even GPS… Ever heard of a chart, a pencil, a stopwatch and a compass? It ain’t rocket science. If the weather is good you don’t need any outside help to get from A to B. Again. pilots did it for years before these were available – and for many years after, since many couldn’t afford to equip their aircraft with fancy gadgets and nav radios.

Finally, once again I’ll say this is a very unlikely scenario. If it happens it depends on having good weather and solid pre-planning, at least to the extent possible. The wisest course in my hypothetical situation above would be to bug out by car at the first hint of a problem – before the full extent of the problem was revealed to the masses. But if for some reason the news was delayed or something (car problems, missing family member) delayed your departure for even a few hours, leaving by car would be impossible. At that point my “Plan B” starts looking better than radiation sickness, despite some well-identified problems and risks. It’s all about options. I think keeping options open is important. – Matt R.

An important note to remember if one plans to use an aircraft during some type of emergency is that the control of the National Airspace System may have been handed over to the military. If that is the case, and I think it would be as the government attempted to maintain control of things as the cascade of events progressed into TEOTWAWKI, something called SCATANA (Security Control of Air Traffic and Air Navigation Aids) could be implemented. This plan closes down all aircraft operations save a few fixed wing fighter interceptors under the direct control of the National Command Authority. Here’s the bottom line. Under SCATANA if you fly, without positive control from the right folks, you die. No warning, no identification passes. An example of how serious the blanket authority is enforced is illustrated by the instructions given to a USAF C-130 on 9-11-01. This aircraft, full of soldiers from one of America’s front line Divisions was over the Great Plains on an exercise. They were ordered to land at a small municipal airport immediately. These soldiers, and they weren’t just Privates, ended up renting a bus for the day long ride back to their unit. Agree desperate times may call for desperate measures but ensure you have adequate information to make the decisions. As always, planning is the key ingredient for success. Using an airplane is a possible Get Out of Dodge solution, especially if used early on in the event. Just know all the second and third order effects. Keep up the good work. Excellent site – Redcatcher21