Identify And Secure Your Retreat Like An Engineer, by JAD

Area assessment and planning is a key component of determining where to establish your secured retreat location. Establishing a retreat is not enough; you need to have clear objectives for what that area will accomplish for you or for those in your network. In order to establish your secured area and to determine the objectives necessary to allow it to function, you must assess and plan. Your planning must consider varying threats, uncertainty in threat duration, and likely enemy strength. Effective planning requires beginning at a macro level and reducing the scope until all details are captured.

The work in determining areas for a retreat has already been done by people with a higher level of knowledge than myself. An example is Joel Skousen’s book Strategic Relocation. His analysis is extremely in depth and is a wealth of knowledge, but it does not offer much information below the State level. The following principles are used by the United States Army Corps of Engineers to assess the feasibility of locations for FOB site selection.

I will be breaking these tested principles down to assist with retreat site selection. The following can be referenced in a multitude of U.S Army field and technical manuals, but I will direct your attention to USACE publication EP 500-1-2, which is open for public distribution. My favorite resource is GTA 90-01-011 (JFOB 6th Edition). This publication is For Official Use Only but is an amazing resource for everything referenced in this article, blast wave mitigation, tower construction techniques, and much more.

PMESII Assessment

An effective assessment must be one that is multi-disciplined and balances security, protection, and survivability. Security requires a constant assessment of political, military, economic, social, information, and infrastructure considerations (PMESII). Each of these is an “operational variable” that requires detailed planning and mitigation. This can be applied at the local level to allow you to gauge the factors that will affect your retreat area and to develop metrics to compare locations.


You must consider politics at a local level to ensure that your objectives can be met with minimal resistance or issues of legality. County or city regulations may make it worth while to look at other areas. Are there any circumstances that may deny you access to a key avenue of approach or a sustainment node? If this is the case, is there an alternate route that will provide you the same traffic-ability? What are the effect of laws and agreements in the area on your retreat property?

Military and “Militarized Civil Functions”

You must consider the impact of military and civil functions in your area on your ability to secure yourself. This is especially applicable in communities where the police force has become highly militarized. In a catastrophic event, how will local agencies respond? Are you near key terrain that may be advantageous to them? What is their capability to employ obstacles? What are the capabilities of local and state authorities and is there any reason to believe that Other Governmental Agencies (OGA) will respond to your area?


Does the economic condition of the local area have a substantial impact on your ability to establish security? What is the forecasted growth of the area? Are materials and resources available or produced locally? What is the potential for new or improved production facilities in the area? Are there any current or future economic variables that will aide or limit your security plan?


What is the cultural and religious makeup of the area? Will you encounter any issues assimilating with the local populace? Is there currently any conflict between different demographic groups?


How does information flow at the local level? Are local news outlets biased in any particular direction and how “free” is the press? Is there a local amateur communication network?


How does the existing infrastructure aid or harm your area? Is your location completely dependent on any type of infrastructure and how can you mitigate these issues? Are there any large projected changes to the local infrastructure?

Note: The Army Engineer also utilizes a SWEAT-MSO assessment to look at area infrastructure capabilities. While I think this is outside the realm of applicability for a retreat, it may be interesting to others.

Site Selection Considerations

Once you have completed an area assessment to determine the feasibility of a geographic area, you must look at site selection. I think of this as determining a build site on a piece of property. While I understand that build site locations are influenced by factors like the ability to support well and septic, you must assess each location from a security perspective as well. Site selection and layout are both controlled by competing demands and considerations. A design with protection measures already in mind will greatly reduce the materials, time, and energy required to enhance the defensive posture when threat levels increase.

Site selection is determined by many factors to include tactical situation, proximity to the surrounding population, terrain, weather, and protection considerations. To assist in your site selection, evaluate your mission, enemy, terrain/weather, troops (support available), time, and civil/military considerations (METT-TC).


The mission seems simple. It’s to develop a location that is defensible and will sustain you through a catastrophic event. While this may be the primary mission of your retreat, you must plan for any other tasks that you plan to undertake. Will you be providing support to other families around you or will you remain isolated? Does your mission require easy access to the local transportation infrastructure?

Enemy (Threat)

In considering your proposed site relative to enemy threats, here are some steps to take:

  1. Identify specific enemy threats, both current and future for the proposed site.
  2. What are the characteristics, capabilities, techniques, and tactics of these threats? Will the identified threat have an effect on your site?
  3. What are the enemy’s tactical, operational, and strategic objectives and intentions as they relate to site protection? A note for clarity, the Army uses the terms tactical, operational, and strategic to define levels of Army operations. Tactical is the lowest level. Operational focuses on a large scale, and strategic focuses on overall strategy for a conflict.
  4. What is the organization, size, and composition of enemy forces in the area?
  5. Do you know the enemy intelligence capability?
  6. What is the local support for the enemy?

Terrain and Weather (OCOKA)

Terrain and weather impacts must be considered from both the friendly and enemy perspective. To accomplish this, utilize OCOKA.

  1. Observation and Fields of Fire
    1. Does the site limit the enemy’s ability to observe friendly forces?
    2. Does the site offer friendly forces the opportunity to observe the surrounding terrain and potential enemies?
    3. Is the site elevated?
    4. Does the site limit possible enemy fields of fire, assault positions, and ambush points?
    5. Does the site limit or block an attack by direct fire weapons (line of sight) from potential enemy vantage points?
  2. Cover and Concealment
    1. Does the site offer cover and concealment to friendly forces?
    2. Does the site provide cover and concealment to an attacking force?
    3. Have potential enemy vantage points and hiding places been considered?
    4. Can vegetation, topography, and natural or man-made barriers be used as protective measures or similarly used by the enemy?
    5. Does the site provide unobstructed clear zones?
  3. Obstacles
    1. Can natural terrain features be used as barriers to obscure enemy vantage points or prevent, block, or disrupt an attack?
    2. Can terrain features be used by an attacking force to launch an attack?
  4. Key Terrain
    1. Is control of key terrain on or adjacent to the site critical to mission accomplishment?
    2. Has the site been selected away from terrain such as natural vantage points?
    3. Does the site avoid low lying topographic areas that can aid the effects of enemy weapons or capabilities?
  5. Avenues of Approach
    1. Does the site limit likely enemy avenues of approach and limit enemy ease of movement?
    2. Will weather and visibility conditions have an adverse effect on the proposed site?
    3. Can adverse weather be used to exploit advantages over enemy vulnerabilities?
  6. Troops and Support Available
    1. Does the proposed site provide adequate space for planned tenants (and support mechanisms)?
    2. Do planned tenants have specific requirements or constraints that may affect site selection?
    3. How close are adjacent sites from the proposed site?
    4. Will the proposed site be part of a base cluster (a collection of sites geographically grouped for mutual protection and ease of command and control)?
  7. Time Available
    1. How much construction time is required to establish your desired baseline capability? How much is required for full scale TEOTWAWKI improvements?
    2. Is the proposed site located in a remote location that will cause delays in construction material support or security forces?
  8. Civil/Military
    1. Does the local civil/military/political situation influence site selection, design, layout, or land use?
    2. How close is the site to the local civilian population?
    3. What is the disposition of the surrounding populace?
    4. Will site selection affect adjacent land owners?

Protection Considerations for Site Selection and Layout

Once you have completed your PMESII assessment to find your retreat location and have completed a METT-TC analysis to determine a securable build site, you must begin identifying and implementing protection considerations. These are a few protection considerations, but it is not a complete list by any means:

  1. Standoff. While explosive threats are unlikely, standoff is still something to be considered. Providing yourself a cleared area between you and an avenue of approach gives you time and space to react to a threat. The distance between the perimeter and any inhabited structures should be maximized unless it impacts your ability to deny observation.
  2. Does the proposed site support or enhance defense in depth? What personnel requirements will defense in depth require, and is this worth the logistical work to maintain?
  3. Do the natural barriers on the site assist or impede your protection plan and security posture?
  4. Does the site provide secure access to necessary utilities and your water supply? Does it allow the ability for redundant or contingency utility systems? Are your utility systems protected or hardened in any way?
  5. Does your layout minimize the number of roads that provide direct vehicle access?

Your site layout should also address the following areas and should be notated on one document. This can be accomplished through many different techniques. Although my military mind pains me to say this, no one format or technique is best for each location.

  1. Positions of critical internal assets, external coordination points, and no fire areas
    1. Ensure that any area that is a no fire area is well known and published. Ensure you know where your critical assets are in relation to the rest of your security plan. Think sector sketch/range card.
  2. Locations of any obstacles
  3. Locations of target reference points
  4. Final protective fires
  5. Clear fire zones
  6. Locations of defensive positions

Protection Concepts

Protection is defined as “the preservation of the effectiveness and survivability of personnel, equipment, facilities, information, and infrastructure.” To achieve this, you must apply the five protection concepts to your location and security planning.


Deterrence provides your enemy a reason not to attack you. This can be accomplished by denying the ability to observe your location or by selectively allowing observation of clearly hardened areas. Applying randomness to your daily operations may assist in providing the appearance of a higher level of security.


Prevention is your ability to stop, delay, or mitigate an attack. The key areas for your retreat to focus on are information security and operations security. (“Loose lips sink ships.”)

Active Security

This security involves activities that allow you to “detect, interdict, avert, disrupt, neutralize, or destroy threats and hazards”. This is accomplished by exercising access control, patrolling, and having a response plan in place.

Passive Defense

Passive defense requires measures that are taken to protect yourself from expected threats. Examples include clear zones, standoff, physical barriers, defensive positions, concealment, and dispersion of critical assets.


Mitigation helps you to reduce your vulnerabilities by improving the areas listed above. This concept is the action item of any lessons learned or best practices.

Threat Analysis

JP 3-0 defines a threat as “any opposing force, adversary, condition, source, or circumstance with the potential to negatively impact mission accomplishment or degrade capability”. Threat analysis is the metric against which all of your protection planning must be measured against. The process is continual and consists of four things:

  1. Define the operational environment – What are factors around your location that influence your day-to-day operations?
  2. Describe the impacts of your operational environment.
  3. Evaluate your adversary.
  4. Determine and describe courses of action, the most likely course of action (MLCOA) and most dangerous course of action (MDCOA).

Threat Levels

The military defines a threat by one of three levels. This technique can be beneficial to provide the people at your retreat location a standardized way to communicate an enemy forces composition and disposition. While the 3D’s (distance, direction, and description) are a great tool, applying a threat level can change how you respond or execute your security plan. I have attempted to take the threat level concept and provide an example of how these may be used for retreat security. Here’s what I developed:

  • Level I Threat – Generally consists of sabotage, subversion, or theft but can also include individual attacks.
  • Level II Threat – Includes small irregular forces. The military definition is smaller than company sized, but the size you attribute to a level II threat will be dependent on the security posture of your location. These threats can cause a significant disruption to operations.
  • Level III Threat – A force that has the potential to match or exceed your force projection ability.

By No Means An Exact Science

Finding, selecting, and developing a security plan for a retreat is by no means an exact science. Your site and security plan must be tailored to fit the objectives that you define. I hope that the principles outlined above provide another perspective and methodology for you to determine your goals.

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been another entry for Round 72 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

First Prize:

  1. A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
  2. A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
  3. A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
  4. DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
  5. An infrared sensor/imaging camouflage shelter from Snakebite Tactical in Eureka, Montana (A $350+ value),
  6. Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
  7. A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
  8. Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of (a $180 value).

Second Prize:

  1. A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
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  3. A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
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  7. A pre-selected assortment of military surplus gear from CJL Enterprize (a $300 value),
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Third Prize:

  1. A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
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  3. A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
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  6. Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances,
  7. Montie Gear is donating a Y-Shot Slingshot and a $125 Montie gear Gift certificate.,
  8. Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from (a $240 value), and

Round 72 ends on September 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.


  1. I find articles like this completely worthless. No offense to the author but a retreat plan based on a FOB which gets regular replacement of consumables, including men, is hardly a sound plan for a sustainable family retreat in SHFT.
    This article is like wanting to know how to catch Walleys and the author starts by writing find a lake.
    Some of the guidelines are directly opposed to others and none are weighted in terms of priority.
    A clear line of fire means 1,000 yards and it’s a two way range, which makes it hard on your teenage guard. You might get that out West in the desert on a hill where water,fertile ground and other materials are nonexistent but nowhere you’d actually would/could live. You’re also unlikely to be unobserved out there on that open hill.
    What I find useful are articles by people who have actually done what they write about and give specific guidelines as to what works and what doesn’t in the real world we live in, not some ME combat zone.
    In my opinion, and I have a retreat, we preppers give too much thought on that zombie biker gang down the road and not near enough time on what’s really important, water, shelter, food, sewage, power and keeping it all working day in and day out.

  2. Oh yeah, cool. (not) If you aren’t already living at your site you’re doomed. You aren’t going to “bug” anywhere when the SHTF.
    All the above article is economically impossible for 99 % of the population.
    Here’s the best advice I can give. Get out of town. Become self sufficient. Be ready, but don’t let this stuff completely take over your life.

  3. After looking for many years, we have finally moved to a more rural area. We decided on southern Oregon due to it’s mix of climate and low population density and access to water (we don’t want snow measured in feet).

    Now we are looking for a ranch. Our main priorities, can we afford it, access to water, and enough usuable land to homestead if needed.

    It’s hard enough to find a home that meets those considerations…

  4. Why would anyone want to live in a bunker and have a bunker mentality that everyone is out to get me.
    I agree with the other comment about having shelter, water, food and ability to defend your life.
    But ultimately just have faith in God, let Him guide your steps

  5. Hate to pile on, BC writing these is difficult enough, but I have to agree with most of the other commenters. This is not a very useful article, and is not at all related to any situation one is likely to face. Sometimes we can find ourself far too preoccupied with the “Rambo” mentality. I suspect that may have occurred here.

  6. Sir,

    Your research and knowledge are appreciated.

    In the future, please use your talents that can be practical to the least prepared,

    Assist the least prepeared after you have provided for yourself, your family and so on.

    If you have the retreat property you have described please let readers know how to contact you.

    If not a bottom’s up approach would be appreciated.

    Your efforts will greatly assist all levels of peppers, if you choose to do so.

    God bless,

  7. This article IMHO is a little too involved for the common prepper or even a smaller prepper group. To use military manuals is fine for general material but the material must be able to transition to the small scale. Everyone’s need are different in most things- retreats as well. Isolation or close neighbor support. High ground, fields of fire, etc are all well and good but worthless if this site has no available water or cannot handle septic tanks. Most of us I think have a feel for what is good for our individual situation.

  8. BLUF: The article is well written and a useful primer on a procedure to securing what cannot remain secure in bad times. To USExpat and Brooksy – while this information may not be what you’re looking for, I would say that it’s premature to think that it wouldn’t be useful to someone who has to provide regional security yet still live at home when their watch is done.

    How many people consider the hard reality behind redundant security layers? Very few, but if you are law enforcement, or go in harm’s way, you must. If you think that you’ll be anything but the gray man in a WROL scenario – anything but someone who shuffles off at the sign of danger to neighbors or your community – you first must make your own homestead buttoned up.

    Adhering to a standardized approach works in physical security. This type of post is very much what those who would assign the term ‘Sheepdogs’ to themselves. If you’re not a sheepdog, you’re a wolf. If you’re not a wolf, you’re a sheep. Sheepdogs have their home lives in order before they take the risks because the wolves always want to catch them unaware, off guard. Sheepdogs are public because they’re guarding the sheep. Wolves cannot win a confrontation, but backing down doesn’t make them any less of a threat. It makes them the threat that you lost sight of.

    I appreciated this article. Engineering mindsets are detail oriented, and having a procedure on force protection is well appreciated.

  9. To comment on Alpine idea the engineers mindset is a good idea but only with massive amount of money and for threats of armed enemies trying to take your position.

    If that level of security is what one wants than buy a unit in the converted missile silos at $1.5-$2.5 million.
    They can survive a full out nuclear attack.

    But for the 99.9% of the US population that level of security in a retreat is not possible.

  10. Dear Sir/Ma’am,

    This is an extremely well written article, that probably only benefits the very few.

    That is my personal belief.

    Furthermore, I believe that this author could use their great talents to assisting peppers most in need; That is those who currently live in an urban environment, with limited prepping skills,and resources. This is the majority of preppers.

    That is my personal opinion.

    I would encourage this excellent author, to explore the topics that concern the majority of “Good hearted preppers”, here and abroad. and share them with us.

    This website in fact does represent a community.

    It is unique in its ideology and articles, that are published; Amongst the many survival sites.

    I would encourage all readers to leave comments to what they might consider”,Constructive criticism”.

    By preparing only the elite peppers you might encounter a more dangerous situation, if more would have been prepared in the first place.

    Conversely, by preparing more of the bottom end of preppers, everyone would benefit.


    Thank you writing,the authors excellent skills are appreciated.

    Sheepdog and family

  11. Good article. Though many of us may never face the threats that this article hints at, that doesn’t change the fact that defense is ALL about planning. This article directs readers to time tested, battle proven methods of planning a systematic defense. And all of the cited information is applicable – at the scale one finds oneself at. One may never be placing hesco barriers and watchtowers, but the concepts apply equally to neighborhood access, privacy fences, or the deer camp. The information doesn’t lay out a defense plan for the “super rich” as some are claiming – it lays out a defense plan for anyone who is serious about holding their ground against whatever enemies or threats present themselves (and how to identify those threats). Face it, survival (whether for three weeks after a hurricane or for three years after grid failure) is the mission. It might be wise to utilize methods used to plan almost any mission worth its salt. We all need more thorough, systematic plans. Thanks for the article. I, for one, will be putting it to good use!

  12. All, I greatly appreciate the feedback. A few of the comments have hit the intent of the article. It’s all about me taking military best practices and scaling them to fit my real life situations. Those that said implementing all of these principles would result in a multimillion dollar bunker are not wrong if taken at face value. Scale them down to your living situation and they can help out. My situation is different than most on this blog. Being active duty I don’t know when or where I will move, so buying a retreat at this time is impractical. With my current career plans I have anytime in the next 15 years to scrutinize every piece of land and property to get exactly what I want. To the commenters that said have 100% security doesn’t allow for self sustainability, thank you. I didn’t illustrate the competing resources and requirements well in the article. If you are familiar with project management consider the iron triangle. In this scenario you must balance security, resources, and time.

    For those that didn’t enjoy the article, I thank you for taking the time to read my long winded rant anyway. I fully recognize that not everyone thinks the way I do.

    Happy preps!

  13. I think it was a good article to think about and use when you are looking for a retreat area…Many of the concepts I used when I picked out my area…Ive said here and elsewhere that Community is going to be a big part of your survival…If you aren’t surrounded by people that have like-minded thinking in regards to Survival, Liberty, and Helping one another then you need to think strongly about relocating…I’ve offered to help anyone that wants to relocate to my AO…

  14. JAD,
    You laid out a large amount of material and highly technical concept very well. This topic is hard to teach to military personnel whose lives depend on it. It’s harder to present to a wide audience with a varying degree of perceived need. Great job!

    1. It is an unclassified publication, but it is marked For Official Use Only. This means that a service member should not hand it out to the general public, but a quick google search yielded the 1st edition. If you have qualms about looking for it, all of the Engineer information is available in the “Engineer bible” FM 5-34. (it has since been renumbered, but almost no content has changed).

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