I’m 62 years old and live in the suburbs of a large town in Georgia (not Atlanta). I think of myself as an intermediate prepper. I’ve studied a lot and have plans in place for myself and my family should events turn sour. I’ve got all the survival manuals in place and have prepared to defend my family should the worst happen. My family is prepped and ready to go. Though I’ve not bought much in the way of food stuff, I have all the hardware and I know where to get the food stuff on short order. I keep an adequate supply of cash on hand.
I already know that unless there is a direct threat to my family or my home I will not be bugging out irrespective of what may happen. Neither my or my wife’s health will support a bug out on foot. However we do have bug-out bags ready just in case we should have to leave. We live in a community of like-minded individuals. My home is well prepped and a supply of water and other essentials is nearby.
I have a backup location (second home about 80 miles away) that I can go to if there is a direct threat to my family or my home. I have the capability to load my gear and supplies and make my way there without traveling major road or towns. My backup location is actually a better physical location (more remote, better water and game, better for gardening) for a long term event. However I do not have the community support (like-minded neighbors) there that I have at my home. My backup location is ready should I need it.
I am a mechanical engineer by education and a nuclear engineer by trade. My principal function at work is overseeing the analysis of risk at nuclear and chemical facilities in the US and other industrialized countries. This brings me to the point of what I want to discuss.
As we prepare to survive in the unknown world, a world where there are no support systems to keep us aware of what is going on outside our immediate neighborhood, we need to know a lot about what surrounds us. As we enter into a situation where there are no utilities, everyone will be busy taking care of themselves and their families as they try to survive. So who will be minding the industrial facilities around us? My answer is no one. Everyone will be minding their own retreats and families. No one will be reporting to the nuclear and chemical facilities to make sure that they are in a safe and stable condition.
As we have become more and more industrialized, our industrial processes have become more complex. We rely on computers and embedded processors to ensure that nuclear and chemical facilities are in a safe and stable condition. Granted well trained employees are there to oversee the automated process and to take action if things do not go as programmed. Without power to monitor and control the nuclear and chemical facilities and no one reporting to work to do the same, many of these facilities will become unstable over time. Chemical or nuclear releases will become likely.
As I’ve made my plans one of the things that I have done is to take a map of my surrounding area and drawn a 50 mile ring around my house (this is true for both my home and backup location). Within that ring I have identified the facilities that may pose a hazard to me and my family should the power and employees not be available to monitor and maintain stable conditions at the facilities that use or maintain inventories of hazardous materials. This is not easy even for a trained professional. It involves knowing the inventory of hazardous material stored at each facility and the effect that those materials may have on humans and the environment. Learning the material and quantities is the hard part. The hazards can be learned from Material Safety Data Sheets which can be found on the web.
As you may expect I was surprised at what I learned. Even in a semi-rural area in Georgia, away for any large cities like Atlanta and in an area that we don’t typically think of as chemical ally, I found a very large number of facilities that use or process large quantities of chemical that are hazardous and / or deadly to humans and the environment.
A lot of the chemicals housed in these facilities are fairly stable while in storage without much attention needed. But when left alone for prolonged periods of time, and in a post event period when looting and mischief may abound, they may not be contained and stable for the long term.
Another factor in my analysis is the weather and the prevailing winds. Most of the facilities where the worst offending materials are located are to the south and east of me. This is also true of my backup location. That is good because where I live the prevailing winds tend to be from the west or southwest. Seldom does the wind come directly from the south and almost never from the east. I would hardly ever be in the direct path of a wind-blown release of material from one of these facilities.
An additional factor in my analysis was knowing when there may be a release of a hazardous material. As I said before a lot of the chemicals housed in these facilities are fairly stable while in storage without much attention needed. If we ignore for a minute the potential of a release due to mischief, then weather, time, and the properties of the material (corrosive, stability over time) come into play. Harsh weather such as severe cold, heavy rains and flooding, and severe winds can lead to early failure of storage facilities. The corrosiveness of a material may require constant stirring, cleaning, and maintenance. Some materials may volatize and give of harmful or explosive vapors while remaining in there containers. Some chemical are susceptible to becoming unstable when mixed with other chemicals or water. Some chemicals and processes give off heat which may lead to the early failure of a container. A lighting strike on a chemical or fuel container may lead to a fire or explosion which can involve other materials and produce toxic vapors and heavy smoke.
In addition to the chemical facilities, within my 50 mile ring are two nuclear facilities. One is a nuclear power plant which is due south. The other is a government facility which is southeast of me. They are both close to the 50 mile ring.
The government facility is mostly shutdown. It is in the process of being decommissioned and closed, although some new, less threatening facilities are being used and constructed. It houses large tanks of radioactive waste that self-heat and evolve hydrogen. If left alone, the hydrogen will build up in the tanks. An ignition source or lighting could cause a large explosion that would result in a significant release of radioactive material. Because it is so far away and the prevailing winds are in my favor I don’t worry about this facility.
The nuclear power plant is somewhat different. It is due south and sometimes the winds are from that direction. If a slowly evolving event were to occur then the reactor cores would probably we off loaded and all of the nuclear fuel would be stored in the spent fuel pools. Assuming all power is lost and the employee are minding their families then over time the heat generated by the spent fuel would boil off the cooling water and a release of radioactive material would occur. This process would take weeks to develop. Again, because of the distance and direction I am not concerned.
Due to both facilities being near the ring and the unknown factors (you can’t smell, taste or see radioactivity) I would not travel very far to the south or southeast of where I live after the SHTF.
My analysis has allowed me to understand that I am not at significant risk of a secondary chemical or radiological event. Dealing with the new conditions that follow the SHTF event that took away our way of life will be difficult enough without the fear of these types of surprises.
Everyone who expects to survive a SHTF scenario needs to understand the secondary threats around them. In addition to the issues of no utilities, non-friendlies looking for food and shelter, no health care or support, and an unknown future, we need to know that we will not be blind-sided by a chemical or nuclear release that we are not prepared for.
If you think you are ready but haven’t looked at the surrounding chemical and nuclear facilities then you are not fully prepared. If you plan to hold up in an industrialized area you must know what the surrounding hazards are.
Take out a map of your retreat area and draw a 50 mile ring. Go to Google Maps and look at the area particularly on the upwind side of you (look at the Weather Channel and you can understand where your prevailing winds are coming from). If you find industrialized areas, find out what types of chemical and nuclear hazards are close by. Make a determination of whether you want to be downwind of a release of these materials. Bugging out after a chemical or radiological release envelopes you may be too late (remember Bhopal). Good luck and God Bless.