Retreat Security and Other Observations, by Chino

In a world where everything normal has been turned up-side-down and chaos and anarchy may be the order of the day, we will have to adopt a “security first” attitude.  Where our attitude today may be “trust but verify”, our attitude post-TEOTWAWKI should be “verify then cautiously trust.”  Whether it’s dealing with a stranger in person or talking over the radio, we should exercise extreme caution and be on guard against providing information that someone with ulterior motives can use against us.

In a situation where a few people have provisions to sustain life but most people do not, there is a ready-made hostile environment for those who are prepared.  As soon as people consume what food and drinkable liquids they have in their homes and whatever they can manage to get from grocery and convenience stores, they will begin to realize the gravity of the situation.  And when they realize that the government isn’t going to come to their rescue, they will begin to panic.  At that time, many people will feel justified in stealing and even killing to obtain food and water.  Desperate people who have never experienced hardship and who have always had everything they wanted can quickly become treacherous and ruthless in their pursuit of life’s necessities.  Even people who were formerly your friends may be willing to do whatever is necessary to take what you have, whether by stealth or by force.

Many people will gather all of their guns and camping gear and head to the nearest lake or river where they will set up camp and stake out a “piece of water” and hope they can find food somewhere.  Others will just prowl around looking for someone who has what they want.  They will beg, trade, steal and eventually kill to get what they want.

It then becomes a matter of intelligence (information) gathering; to figure out where there is food and water and what it would take to get it.  The more intelligence that can be obtained about a target, the easier it is to take it down.

It may very well turn into a virtual “fox hunt” with you being the fox and the Golden Horde being the hounds trying to find the fox and his stash of supplies.

In that sort of environment, security is paramount.  An integral part of overall security is intelligence gathering.  Every bit of information your foe can gather about you enables them to formulate a plan to take what you have. If they can learn details about your “retreat”, your level of security, your habits and your capabilities then they have a better chance of defeating you with the least amount of risk to themselves.

A sobering thought is that if people know that you have food, water, fuel for heating, lighting and cooking and they have none of these things, they will be willing to risk everything to get them.  They will also discover, sooner or later, that they cannot carry all of that stuff to their house, if they even have a house.  So, ultimately, the conclusion they will come to is to eliminate the current occupants so that they can just move in to your house.

You may not think of your house as a retreat.  That’s because we currently don’t have anything to fear from those around us.  If that changes, then our natural reaction is to withdraw from our surroundings and become wary and defensive.

A retreat compound is defined as an enclosure containing a house and outbuildings etc.  You may or may not have a fence surrounding your property.  If you do, your fence probably is not the type that would keep people out if they were determined to enter the property,  Whether you property is already fenced or not, a minimalist compound can be created by defining the perimeter of your property with a fence of other obstacles or with early warning devices and by “hardening” your defenses.

In military terms a “hard” target is one that has tight security and substantial defenses and a “soft” target is one that has neither security or defenses.

A hard target is one that would be difficult to successfully attack and a soft target is one that would be easy to successfully attack.  For example, as  it relates to terrorists, a hard target would be a nuclear power plant and a soft target would be a school or shopping mall.  The nuclear power plant has security measures such as a high, electric fence with razor wire on top and flood lights lighting the fence and perimeter and, defense measures such as armed guards with attack dogs patrolling the interior.  Schools and shopping malls have nothing to deter or to impede terrorists.

In order to harden your retreat you would strive to make it impossible or at least difficult for intruders to enter the property.  Since that isn’t possible for most of us, the next best solution is to have an early warning system to at least alert those in the retreat of an intrusion.  There are commercially made systems available if money is not an issue.

The most expedient and economical solution is the old “wire and tin can” method.  This is simply small food cans or aluminum beverage cans strung on a wire and suspended a few inches above the ground. Large pebbles or marbles placed in the can.  When someone trips over the wire, it shakes the cans and the marbles rattles in the can.  Aluminum beverage cans  may be the best choice since they have a smaller opening in the top which would help to prevent the marbles from bouncing out.  You could also run the wire under the hole to make it even less likely that the marble would bounce out. punch a few small holes in the bottom of the can so that rain won’t be caught in the can which would muffle the rattling sound.

The time to begin planning your defensive measures is now.  Don’t wait until Schumer knocks on your door to start making plans because at that time there will be many other things to attend to and it will be difficult to concentrate on things like that.

Make a diagram of your retreat including all outbuildings, trees, pump houses, raised bed gardens, retainer walls etc.

After you have your diagram, the first thing to do is to walk the perimeter of your property and study your retreat from all angles.  Put yourself in the place of an attacker and think about how you would lay siege to that retreat.  Then think about measures you could take to thwart such an attack.  

As you think of things that you want to incorporate into your security system, write them down in list form.  If six months pass before it happens, you will not remember everything you thought about doing.

Things to consider:

1) Visibility:  What can you see from the various parts of your perimeter? Could people in the house see you; could you approach the house without being seen; what can you see inside the house; can you see exterior doors; can you see beyond the house on one or both sides; can you see outbuildings and can you tell what they are being used for.  You should also go through your house and look out each window to determine the parts of your retreat that cannot be seen from inside the house.  These blind spots will require additional attention.

2) Cover and Concealment: “Concealment” is defined as any obstacle that conceals you from view but would not stop a bullet from hitting you if you were hiding behind it. Examples of concealment would be weeds, a bush or even a thin wall.  “Cover” is defined as anything that provides a measure of protection from bullets.  Examples of cover would be a rock wall, a large tree or even a ditch.

Are there any items of cover or concealment on your retreat that an attacker could take advantage of i.e. weeds, brush, trees, old vehicles, farm equipment, raised bed garden, unused structures; what could an attacker see from behind each of these.

Consider removing weeds and bushes that provide concealment.  Also consider removing old vehicles and unused structures from the property and moving farm machinery to an area where it would not benefit an attacker.

Write down, in list form, your observations and ideas for hardening your retreat.  

Once you determine where your strong defensive areas are and where your weak areas are, draw out on your diagram where you would put your early warning systems.  Your early warning systems should first be located in the most likely avenues that an intruder would take to get to the house and also the most vulnerable sides of the retreat.  You may want to draw those in red or otherwise indicate that those are the most important.  After that, draw in other early warning stretches to construct if you have enough wire and cans.  Avoid simply running a straight line of wire around your property.  Take advantage of existing objects to attach the wire to such as fences, power poles, clothes line poles, etc.  If you have enough wire and cans,  consider running staggered and overlapping stretches.  Be sure to draw out each one on the diagram so you have as little as possible to think about when the time comes.  Cans can also be wired to bushes and existing fences to provide additional coverage.

Next, identify the areas of cover that an enemy would likely utilize.  Determine what advantage he would have in taking that position.  Also determine what action you could take to defeat him in that position.  For example, if he is taking cover behind a tree, is there a position of cover that you could move to where he would be exposed?  This information will aid you in determining the defensive positions for you defenders.  In the case of a tree, where the tree is barely wide enough to conceal his body, he will be partially exposed if two defenders can move to each side far enough to form a 45 degree angel to the tree.

Consideration can be given to rendering a position of cover untenable or at least uncomfortable.  A wooden stand-off can be made of old lumber and secured to the back side of a tree to prevent some body from being able to get close enough to the tree to be concealed.

In the case of a berm or low wall where an attacker would have cover only when laying or kneeling behind the object, broken bottles could be strewn in that area.

If you have a wood pile, consider moving it (when the time comes) into you back yard or other position near the house.  This will help prevent it from being used by an attacker as a position of cover or for a means of ambush on a group member retrieving wood.  The wood pile could also be used to construct defensive positions or to camouflage their purpose.

If you have blind spots (areas of your retreat that cannot be seen from inside the house) give special consideration to how you can make it difficult for an attacker to take advantage of that.  One possibility is to mount a mirror or a wide angle rear view mirror on the outside of the house next to a window so that you can look out the window at the mirror and see down the side of the house where the blind spot is.  Mount it as high as possible so that it isn’t as likely to get knocked off.

If you have places in the outer part of your retreat where you don’t normally need to walk, you could dig random holes about a foot wide and a foot deep.  If an intruder manages to get past your early warning system at night, he may step in a hole and fall, making a noise. [JWR Adds: All defensive measures on your property that might cause bodily harm should be taken only after a complete societal collapse. Otherwise, you might be sued by an injured trespasser. We live in a litigious society!]

Determine where your defensive positions will be on all sides of the house.  Do not use windows as defensive positions because you don’t want your windows broken out,and you don’t want to frame yourself as a target. Your defensive positions should be outside of the house.  Ideally, each position should be such that the defenders can be re-supplied from the house and also to enable them to retreat into the house if necessary.  Ideally, each defender should be able to see and communicate with at least one other defender.

Assign each defender a permanent position so that there is not confusion about who is going to what position.  A cache for each position should be maintained in the house near the closest door leading to the respective positions.  The cache should consist of the firearm assigned to a given member, ammo for that weapon, a hat or cap to shade the sun and a tactical flashlight.  In cold or rainy weather it should also include appropriate attire.  The idea is to minimize the time spent getting people to their assigned positions and to ensure that they arrive with everything they will need.

If you have a position that has only short ranges because of a solid wall or buildings close by, this defender should be assigned a shotgun since they are most effective at close range.

Use whatever materials you have on hand to build or enhance a defensive position.  Burlap sacks from pinto beans and rice could be filled with sand or dirt to enhance a position.

Your vehicles can be positioned so that they provide a defensive position.  Park them close to the house so that your position can be on one side of the vehicle.  Try to position vehicles so that they are close to a door in the house for easy access.  The engine compartment and wheels provide the best protection from bullets.  If vehicles are left a distance from the house, they provide a position of cover to an attacker.

Ensure that there is sufficient coverings over the windows to prevent light from candles and lanterns from being seen outside.  This is an indicator to potential attackers that someone lives there and that they have provisions.

A defender should be on guard duty 24/7.  This is not a happy thought, but it is imperative unless you live in a remote area where you are sure there are no other people.  It will be especially difficult if there are only 3-4 competent members to rotate shifts.  The night shifts will be the most difficult and especially in the winter.  You can’t see or hear well enough from the inside the house to be effective and therefore the night guard will need to spend most of the shift outside the house.  The ideal position for the night guard would be on the roof, however, most of us don’t have easy access to the roof without using a ladder.  Also, constant walking on the roof will damage the shingles causing the roof to leak.

The most dangerous time of day for an attack is at first light.  That is the when the attackers can see where they are going and that is when the members of the retreat are either still asleep or are thinking about breakfast and changing guards. [JWR Adds: This also explains the long tradition of pre-dawn and dusk “Stand To“, in armies around to world.]

The aluminum can cans on your early warning system will reflect moonlight.  This can be both a benefit and a disadvantage.  The disadvantage is that it might enable an intruder to see the early warning system and to avoid it.  To prevent this, spray the back side and top of the can with flat black spray paint.  Do not paint the side facing the house.  If light reflects off the cans toward the house, you will be able to see if someone walks between you and one of the cans.

When you are speaking to a stranger, never provide information about yourself, your family or your situation.  If a stranger comes to your retreat asking for help, be cordial and help to whatever extent you can or are willing, but be suspicious of them and do not let your guard down.  Regardless of how congenial they are and how desperate they may seem, don’t become complacent.  Even if they are genuine, they are still on an intelligence gathering mission, whether they realize it or not.  Like a stray dog that learns where to get a hand-out, they are making a mental note of what kinds of supplies you have and what they might expect to get from you in the future.

Never assume that what you see is all that there is.  While one person is talking to you at the front of the house, several others could be approaching the house from behind or even from all sides.  Or, others may be watching from a distance to see what your reaction is to the person approaching the retreat.

Any time a stranger approaches your retreat, all defenders should be alerted to take their positions while two members deal with the stranger.  Everyone should maintain their positions until the stranger leaves and is well clear of the retreat.

Do not allow a stranger to approach the house.  Stop them a distance from the house.  The closer they get to the house, the more intelligence they can gain.  One member should go out to them and see what they want.  Another member should observe from a short distance.  This member should be armed and capable to deal with the stranger in the event it is a trap.  If you decide to give assistance, do not tell him/her what provisions you have and do not allow them to follow you.  The  member talking with the stranger should retrieve the supplies while the other member continues to observe them.

Be on guard about answering any questions they might ask about the retreat or the occupants.

If any of the defenders see other strangers, the entire retreat should be alerted to a possible attack, including those dealing with the stranger.  If it is a matter of seeing other people observing from a distance, the stranger should be questioned to get as much information about their group and their intentions as possible.  Intelligence gathering is equally important to you as it is to an adversary.

In the foregoing situation, the person coming to your retreat could obtain a lot of intelligence about your situation such as how many people are there, if they are armed and, if so, the type and number of weapons, whether the security in and around the house is tight, relaxed or non-existent, what supplies you have and where they are stored.  They can also get a close-up look at your defenses and security measures.

The information that that person takes away from their encounter with you may make the difference between having your retreat assaulted or not.  If they noticed that security was tight and that the retreat is hardened, they may just move on and look for an easier target.


You can’t have too much wire.  In addition to lots of wire for your early warning system, you will need wire for many other projects.  It’s a good idea to have various gages of wire since different applications require different gage and strength wire.  Your early warning system should have wire that does not reflect light and that is strong enough that it won’t break if somebody trips over it.  Army surplus stores carry military trip wire that comes on a wooden spool.  Half of each spool is green to blend with grass and half if it is yellow to blend with sand or fall leaves.  It is designed to be used with booby traps and illumination flares. 


Ideally, each retreat should be equipped with enough long guns to arm each person who is competent enough to handle one effectively.  Handguns should be reserved for only close quarters combat.  A shotgun should only be assigned to those members who understand the advantages and limitations of the weapon and who have had experience shooting one.  A shotgun is an ideal weapon for repelling attackers as long as the person using it understands the effective range of each type of shell and uses it accordingly.  Shotgun shells come in a variety of loads, from small lead shot for bird hunting to a 1 oz. slug for hunting big game.  Bird shot is useful at closer ranges, generally out to about 25 yards.  

Various sizes of larger shot are also available, from BB to 00 Buckshot.  The larger the shot, the greater the effective range.  The ubiquitous 00 Buckshot can be effective out to about 50 yards depending upon the brand.  A shotgun slug can be accurate to 100 yards and beyond and it is effective at whatever distance you can hit the target.  Shotguns are faster to engage a target than a rifle because they don’t require as precise of a sight picture, unless you are using a slug.  The drawbacks of shotguns are: they have a limited cartridge capacity requiring you to reload them frequently, the shells are large and bulky making it difficult to use in a situation where you need to carry a large amount of ammo, and having the right type of load in the gun at the time when you need it.

Someone using a shotgun in a defensive situation should be very discriminating and conservative about his shots.  Where it would not be unusual to go through 100 rounds of ammo with a carbine in a firefight, the same amount of ammo for a shotgun is a lot of ammo.


With no electricity, most after dark activities will be conducted by lamp, lantern or candle light.  One huge exception is security.  A flashlight is a must for night time security.  Another must is to have a flashlight with a push button on/off switch that can be manipulated with one finger.  When you are on night watch duty, you will need to be able to use a flashlight with your weak hand while maintaining a firing grip on your weapon with your strong hand.  The weak hand holds the flashlight in alignment with the barrel of the weapon while supporting the fore end of the weapon with the back of the wrist.  If you hear or see something that leads you to believe that someone is approaching the retreat, the weapon is aimed in the direction where you think the intruder may be and the flashlight is then turned on just long enough to determine if there is someone there, and if so, to determine if he is a threat or not.

In tactical situations, you need to be able to turn the light on and off quickly.  The only time you use the light is to briefly check a suspicious movement/noise.  Each time you turn the light on, you identify your location to a potential enemy and you also compromise your night vision.  For that reason, the light should not be on any longer than necessary and, after you turn it off, you should move to one side or the other if possible.  If an enemy decides to shoot at you, he will shoot at the light.  If the light goes off before he shoots, he will try to shoot where he last saw the light.

It’s difficult to imagine having too many flashlights.  I think the average retreat with 5-6 adults should have at least 10 flashlights, six or more of which should be the tactical variety since every defender should have one.  Any flashlight can be used for doing chores where a lamp or candle is not practical, but the tactical flashlights should be reserved for only security purposes.  Also, the best light for doing chores is a head lamp which leaves both hands free to work.

Flashlights often get broken or the switch malfunctions.  For that reason it’s a good idea to have enough spares to allow for some loses.  Currently, flashlights are cheap, unless you are talking about Surefire or Streamlight.  While these lights are great tactical lights, they have one drawback: they use expensive, odd size [CR-123] batteries.  And for the price of one of those you could buy 10 less expensive flashlights.

I am a firm believer in standardization and redundancy where possible.  I try to buy as many electrical devices as I can that utilize AA batteries.  That way you just buy one type of battery and it works in everything from flashlights to radios, to beard/hair trimmers.   And you don’t have to guess how many batteries you will need for each device.  For $50 at Costco you can get a lot of AA batteries and if you use a flashlight only when absolutely necessary, they will last a long time.

Tactical flashlights should always have fresh batteries in them since it is critical to be able to see as well as possible if you are being attacked at night.  As the batteries in the tactical lights begin to lose power, they should be changed to a utility light or head lamp where maximum output isn’t critical.

Now is the time to begin collecting cans.  I recommend saving aluminum beverage cans and a good assortment of food cans, especially the larger sizes food cans.  In a TEOTWAWKI situation we may find several uses for them and the availability will be limited at that time.  In addition to making improvised cook stoves as I outlined in my previous SurvivalBlog article “Off The Grid Cooking“, they may be useful for repairing or fabricating other things.  For example, I recently built a rocket stove from materials that I had on hand.  To make the outer shell of the stove I cut the bottom out of a popcorn tin and attached it, end to end, with another popcorn tin using metal cut from food cans and riveted to the popcorn tins.  With the exception of the electric drill to drill the holes for the rivets, I made the outer shell using only hand tools and improvised materials.  It would have been more difficult to make using a hand drill, but now impossible.

I know that storage space is a problem for most of us, however aluminum and steel cans can be stored in the attic where it is normally too hot to store most things.  Bottles and jars will also store just fine in the attic with the exception of canning jar lids.

In a TEOTWAWKI situation, we will not be able to run to the store every time we need something.  We will have to improvise with what we have on hand.  We may have to make repairs on the house (especially the roof), bike tires and inner tubes, clothing and anything else we use frequently.  We may also need to make something from scratch such as a holster, sling or a knife sheath.  We may even need to fabricate something completely unique.  For that reason, it is advisable to have on hand a good assortment of materials to work with.

For those of us who plan on “bugging in”, there will be a lot of work to do in a very short period of time if the bottom falls out over night.  A lot of that work will require tools and various materials.  Since we may not have electricity, I recommend acquiring some basic hand tools if you don’t already have them.

Some of the projects on my list of things to do are: 1) move the wood pile to the back yard and use what “T” posts and fencing I have to build a fence on the back side to discourage thieves; 2) put up an early warning system; 3) build an outhouse; 4) dig a small pond in a natural drainage to catch rain water.

All of these things requires tools.  I have compiled a list of items that I want to have on hand to accomplish these tasks.  I have also included other items that I think would be good to have on hand.

  • Wire (lots)
  • Hanger wire
  • Brace and Bit (old style hand drill)
  • Drill bits
  • Wood saw
  • Pruning saw
  • Tree limb loppers
  • Axe
  • Hacksaw
  • Hammer
  • Sledge hammer
  • Screw drivers
  • Pliers
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Diagonal cutters
  • Good quality tin snips
  • Vise grips
  • Pop rivet gun & rivets
  • Files
  • Crescent wrenches (2)
  • Shovel
  • Assorted length deck screws
  • Assorted nails & tacks
  • Roofing nails
  • Assorted cotter pins
  • Large hinges
  • Utility knives
  • Propane torch with extra bottles of propane
  • Paracord
  • Clothes line cord
  • Rope Lamp cord
  • Heavy weight fishing line
  • Caulking gun
  • Indoor/outdoor silicone caulk 
  • Tubes of Liquid Nails or construction adhesive
  • Heavy gage clear or translucent plastic sheeting
  • Duct tape
  • Flat black spray paint
  • Staple gun & staples
  • Assorted leather
  • Leather punch
  • Leather lacing material
  • Rivet setting punch & anvil for leather work
  • Assorted length rivets
  • Extra bicycle tubes
  • Tube patch kit
  • Foot pump
  • Miscellaneous lumber

A good place to look for many of these items is your local Habitat For Humanity Thrift Store and hardware store discount bins.  Amazon has brace and bits but they can often be found at antique stores too.  Make sure that they work well before you buy them.

If you should happen to have a window broken out, you will want the heavy gauge translucent plastic sheeting to replace it.  It’s hard to heat a house with a window out.

I fully endorse what others have said about 2 liter bottles.  I would include gallon and half gallon juice bottles.  They are great for storing sugar, rice, corn meal, black eye peas, baking soda and other things that you don’t purchase in large enough quantities to put into 5 gallon buckets.  Also food from a 5 gallon bucket can be transferred to plastic bottles for immediate use making it easier to access the food and still keeping it sealed.

These bottles are also good for giving food or water to someone passing by.  Because of the flat shape of the half gallon juice bottles they would be good for UV light sterilization of questionable water.


I have determined to stop giving old clothes to the thrift stores.  In a full grid-down situation, we here in the southwest will be hard pressed to get enough water to drink and cook with let alone for washing clothes.  I suspect that we will have to wear a set of clothes until we can’t stand them any longer and then dispose of them.  And we may only get a bath when it rains.


I have been stocking away Lava brand bar soap.  Lava soap was more common years ago.  It is impregnated with bits of pumice and was typically used by mechanics to cut grease and oil off their hands.  It lasts forever because it doesn’t generate gobs of suds like other bar soaps do.  For that reason it takes less water to rinse the soap off.  And the pumice would probably feel pretty good if you hadn’t taken a bath in months.  The only place I have found it lately is at a Dollar Store.   

[JWR Adds: The preceding article might at first glance seem to be a rudimentary approach to retreat security to folks that are advanced preppers. Concertina wire, trip flares, night vision gear, infrared illuminators, and electronic intrusion systems are all great, but just keep in mind that they aren’t in everyone’s budget. And your preparedness timetable may be shorter than you think–so those goodies might not be available at any price. So it is important to know how to revert to the “old school” approach that Chino describes.