Pulling from the fortress concept and the family of Anne Frank, who hid in an attic for two years, I am considering an idea of an urban fortress in the event of SHTF. My idea is based upon the construction of a multi-story commercial building, where the top floor is unmarked on the elevator and unknown and inaccessible to those who do not have a passcode. The idea is creating a large area that is totally overlooked because the construction is such that people cannot identify from the outside how many floors are within the building since there will only be windows around the lower level front entry.
The space must truly be sustainable also. Below are my thoughts regarding options for shelter, water, power, food, sanitation, and security. I look forward to your feedback on any flaws in my thinking.
During the “happy path” days, the 10,000 square foot “office space” on the upper floor would be the headquarters for my family-based small business (with very attractive commute). In addition, it will also provide a heavily subsidized permanent “penthouse” residence for my wife and me. Though devoid of “curb appeal” of most homes, the center courtyard could become a very pleasant and secure living space. In time of duress, it could easily morph into an accessible bug out location for my extended family and close friends. It would include living space with kitchen, laundry, and private sleeping and bathroom facilities for between 10 to 30 people.
I will first seek to get a permit to drill a well within the footprint of the building. If the area is served by municipal water source and/or zoning will not allow this, I would look for alternatives like a well for “irrigation” purposes.
If none of this is possible, I will get creative. I am considering the use of a ground water heat pump to reduce the cost of “happy path” cooling purposes. This technology involves drilling a series of closed loop “wells” to serve as a heat sink or heat source, depending on the season. During this drilling, however, I would also include a wellhead that would include all the requisite hardware for water sourcing, including pressure tank, solar pump, and manual backup hand pumps. This well could be “capped off” to avoid violating local codes, but then it could be activated in times of duress. In addition, the 10,000 square feet of rooftop and 5000 square feet of courtyard will be specifically designed for rainwater collection, which would be funneled to large water holding tanks.
The 10,000 square feet of rooftop (exclusive of courtyard) could be used for a relatively large solar farm. Power could be harvested to provide for “happy path” power for the building, but it could also be isolated for the top floor usage exclusively in times of duress. With the recent advent of battery storage, I would, of course, place the batteries on the top floor, closest to the panels. In addition, I would strongly consider a top floor (sound deadened) emergency rooftop diesel generator to ensure that I can provide “happy path” backup for my tenants’ power needs, with obvious applications in times of duress. Of course all these expenses would have to be considered tax deductible business expenses supporting the “happy path” service to my commercial tenants. There is nothing like allowing the government to subsidize our preps by making them tax deductible business expenses,
The top floor ‘office spaces” would be designed with adequate storage space that could be used to warehouse storable food. For sustainability purposes, I am following a company called Gotham Greens. This company is placing greenhouses on the roofs of commercial buildings, creating commercial farms. Of course, they are working with tens of thousands of square feet, so my “company” would be only “exploring the feasibility” of several rooftop farm options that would be set up in our courtyard. We would offer up 500 to 1000 square feet of the 5000 square foot courtyard to explore a variety of prototype farming variations. I would consider “experimenting” with micro greens, aquaponics, hydroponics, growing towers, drip irrigation, and other “alternative” farming options.
There is a group selling a design for a “portable farm” with claims to have created a ~250 square foot aquaponics design with fish tanks and raised bed planters that claims to feed 8-10 people in perpetuity. I would use this courtyard space to gain experience with the various concepts and consider purchasing and storing the “infrastructure” required for one or two additional “portable farms” with the intent to bring them online should the need arise.
Add low volume experimentation with chicken coops, rabbit hutches, and/or beekeeping on the top floor that can be expanded if needed and you have a variety of protein options. This top floor “greenhouse” option, especially located in a top floor open courtyard, becomes the only viable, secure agriculture option during a TEOTWAWKI scenario.
I would love to have a site that allows a septic system drain field. Even if the structure were connected to city sewer, I would consider spending the money to create a “gray water” drain field that could also be “converted” during times of duress.
The concept here is to remain stealthy rather than tactical, totally hidden from outside world. The top floor would be specifically designed to remain hidden. Things like light and sound discipline would be critical. Of course, the lower floors would be secured with beefed-up security doors and use defense-in-depth concepts. But, even as the lower floors are eventually breached by looters, there would be no obvious telltale signs of a higher top floor.
When societal tensions rise, stairways to the top floor could be hoisted up via chain falls and ceiling tiles placed to obscure the existence of a higher top floor. Without obvious access points to indicate the existence of a higher top floor, the interior ceiling heights could be easily confused with the exterior building height. Wanting no obvious signs of occupants, cameras could be used to monitor the threats to the top floor perimeter. The building would be tall enough and designed in such a way that access via ladders would be a very challenging process and most would keep moving on to other, easier targets.
Gunfire is antithetical to the idea of stealth and in the interest of remaining hidden and would be avoided at all costs. To avoid detection, whenever possible, use of defensive weapons should be limited to the lower floors, consisting of booby traps of untraceable origins and/or use of suppressed or silent weapons whenever possible. Defenders, if required, would encounter invaders in the lower floors under the guise of being “squatters” living in the lower floors and would not necessarily reveal the presence of a more comprehensive living arrangement above.
The biggest advantage would be the urban location of this retreat. It would be advantageous at the time when the prevailing movement of the population is away from building when the “golden horde” moves out of the city and into the countryside.
The Ultimate Shelter-In Location Should Bugging Out Become Necessary
This design would provide the ultimate “shelter-in” location. But taking things one step further, the addition of a bunker shelter under a commercial building would provide a totally unexpected, totally hidden retreat inside a hidden retreat, serving as an easily accessible “bug-in” destination should “bugging out” become necessary.
Though representing a significant financial investment, commitment of time, and resources, if society remains on the “happy path”, this commercial development could potentially provide an inflation-adjusted income stream, “management” residence, and flexible “retirement employment”. Occupancy by multiple families would allow extremely flexible hours and easy retirement travel as long as society remained peaceful. It would also allow our family to live close enough to remain engaged in our church and our community, as long as things went well.
If things go south, however, the site could be sealed up and altered to become a hidden, stealthy, “urban fortress” providing a safer, more secure, and perhaps the only truly sustainable option in many TEOTWAWKI scenarios.
I was hoping that I could get some feedback on this proposal and would sincerely appreciate comments from you and your readers.
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been another entry for Round 78 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- 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.
- A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
- 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,
- 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),
- Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
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- A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
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- A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
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Round 78 ends on September 30th, 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.
I have a few comments:
1) I like the idea of an urban / suburban bug in shelter. Many of us in high tech industries don’t have the option of living in remote sparsely populated locations.
2) I think the rooftop generator might be problematic. You have to get fuel to it. Fuel lines are fire hazards. And the fuel needs to keep coming post SHTF. Diesel deliveries probably won’t be an option. Natural gas might be an option but will require the NG distribution system to remain functional. Not likely in a long term event. I think the photovoltaic array idea with battery backup is probably the best option. Make sure the high electrical demand uses occur during peak generation times and reduce electrical demand after dark.
3) You might want to consider solar hot water heat. This is very cost effective and does not require a large footprint to provide sufficient domestic water.
4) You might want to consider rain water capture as a source of potable water. You would need to be able to control whether or not it was used in case of airborne contaminants. You should probably filter it just to be safe. Of course, this requires regular rainfall. In urban areas drilling wells is sometimes prohibited. Also, ground water in urban areas might be contaminated due to the over development of the area. Rain water is naturally soft and likely to be healthier for you.
People just love setting things on fire. After all, watching stuff burn is entertaining when they’re isn’t much else to do and the structure is striped of the rest of its value
Some group of folks would likely try to use the lower floors as their (more obvious) fortress and the hordes will burn them…..and you out.
If someone doesn’t just burn it for entertainment.
We need more articles like this. You mentioned having bees. I once paid (in mre’s) a local farmer to put his bee hives on the small access road to where my platoon was bivouacked. No one bothered us for three days. My point is, most people will avoid bees at all costs. An outside the box deterrent/ early detection system.
Something underneath a burned out building, with lots of yellow caution tape streaming in the wind around it, and quarantine warning signs posted conspicuously. Lots of skeletons around the perimeter, and a few dead dog carcasses here and there, far enough away to minimize contamination possibilities within. Who in their right mind would even want to probe such a location?
Meanwhile, 20 feet below, life goes on.
You mentioned having tenants on lower floors. How would you keep them from knowing about upper floor as you come and go ?
Rain catchment/ Cisterns weight has to be considered. A 500 gallon plastic cistern full of water weighs how much? Yeah crash in your roof in if you’re not careful.
Water weighs about 8 pounds per gallon. The standard rule for required water is a minimum of 1 gallon per day per person. Half of that is for sanitation and half is for drinking. Most of us would probably want a lot more than that. You would need to determine the number of people to be provided with water and the amount of water per person you want to provide.
Most commercial buildings have flat roofs that are structurally substantial. I would suggest spreading the stored water out across the roof and using smaller containers to minimize the point loads at any one point.
I also want to point out that many of the older buildings in NYC have large water tanks on their roofs so the weight of water is not an insurmountable problem.
Just my 2 cents.
Have you considered any way to make the “regular” part of the building unattractive during times of duress? A solid, almost windowless, building could be attractive to those that end up staying in town for a long time.
As benjammin commented, being under a mess (dead dogs, etc.) would make people look elsewhere. The trick would be not making it so bad that you couldn’t stand it either.
I don’t have a suggestion for it. I’m not an original idea guy, like you. My talent is taking other peoples’ ideas, and improving on them.
Keep aerial reconnaissance by drones in mind too.
Problem with solar panels is they are visible from above. Any significant amount of them would be likely to be confiscated by the PTB for the “good of the community”.
What about friends and church acquaintances during the good times? I and mine are somewhat antisocial but we still have folks from church over occasionally and the kids have friends over pretty frequently.
Also the building inspectors, zoning folks and all that would have advanced knowledge of this being there.
An array of panels on the roof would be an awfully inviting target post-SHTF; desperate people can become pretty resourceful.
Biggest initial problem is funding. Start as a limited partnership, selling shares to a group of limited partners (families, groups, etc.) Use the funds as base, borrow the rest and fund out of rents on first floor. Probably want to establish criteria for who to sell shares to, etc. You will need a good accounting and legal team! You also want to keep this quiet and out of the media. Zoning regs will force some publication of info but you can probably keep it relatively quiet. Ideally you would design a basic model with potential upgrades you could provide or the limited partners themselves.
This is a very creative idea and potentially very profitable.
I think the term “fortress” does not really apply to this concept. In modern times no building is impenetrable. It might keep out zombies with pitchforks for a while, but not firebombs or any weapon the government might employ. Rather, this plan appears to be more like a “gray man” approach – under the radar. Such a plan works until it doesn’t. If the horde gets wind that you have food or water or young girls, you better have a plan B, and C, and so on.
Further comment: You might include a concealed escape route for potential use in an emergency. Also, once you have the design down, think about licensing it to others so you don’t have to do it all.
This is frequently designed into blue-water sailboats. Without dipping into their petroleum reserves to operate the onboard power-plant, sailors allow the early rain to rinse decks, then they open cocks to drain later rains into their fresh-water or ballast tanks.
Drill-and-cap prior to building construction. Within the building footprint.
Lower-level commercial ala European urban density
In forward-thinking building departments, city planners encourage this multi-use. Instead of gobbling rural farms and forests laterally, they are growing their urban-growth upward. Although I strongly disagree with population density (Detroit, Atlanta, san Angeles, nuevo York…), I can see the ‘urban castle’ as singularly viable. Design in agility, allow space for enhancements. Today’s needs may not meet tomorrow’s requirements.
b) shop / industrial
c) restaurant / sidewalk cafe
Septic switchable from city sewer
Although not insurmountable, septic system(s) for thirty souls would be massive. Multiple acres.
Part of the fish tanks or dedicated, snails are easy-keepers… and they are delicious.
Rabbits / chickens / or?
Here in Oregon, we are over-run with the rodents known as ‘nutria’. As big as a raccoon, they eat anything. They reach reproductive age at a couple months, they are born as miniatures of the parents. Within minutes of birth, they are grazing with the herd. And they eat anything.
A twelve-pounder nets nearly nine pounds of meat. A better ROI than cattle or hunting elk or geese. This isn’t re-inventing the wheel… nutria are farmed in Africa, south America, and Asia.
Recovery / Re-Building post TEOTW HTF
Existing beyond a disaster makes sense only if the prepper community can contribute to crafting a better environment for younger generations.
Without youts to carry forward our vision, the purpose of prevailing during a collapse seems short-sighted. This one aspect of ‘bugging out’ never made sense to me. Why live another day if the only goal is merely to live another day?
I like old stuff. Antiques, rat-rod vehicles, Steampunk and diesel-punk. Old paintings from the masters. Bach, Brahms, Mozart. I can appreciate their contributions, thinking aloud “They did good.”
Seventh Generation. What will they say about us?
I haven’t been able to find info on farming nutria, yet.
However, I did find this:Nutria also serve as hosts for tuberculosis and septicemia, which are threats to humans, livestock, and pets. Additionally, nutria carry tapeworms, a nematode that causes a rash known as “nutria itch”, and blood and liver flukes.
Forewarned is forearmed.
How would you prevent people from taller buildings or from surrounding hills or from overflying aircraft from seeing what you have? Don’t forget to camouflage from above.
Good point. Especially with the advent of so many drones being out in the general public there would be a possibility of someone being able to at least take still pictures to see what is going on. They might not have live, real time video to see what is going on, but having just pictures would give them enough information to work with and know where things are, and who is doing what. That will be a consideration for most everyone.
Perhaps look for a location in an industrial area contiguous to city limits, but actually in the county where zoning/building restrictions may be less. A location in a state with lower building restrictions would also be advantageous. Obviously, the septic design requirements and restrictions are going to be a major hurdle. Underground reservoir for rainwater storage could be utilized with 12v solar powered pressure pump system.
Stealth is good. Hibernation, enclosed shell, self-contained seed pod, however labeled. Eventually some access to the outside is needed, if for patrols, trading or disposal of waste or diseased bodies. Granted a catapult comes to mind but then if yours is the only building without poo on it, it will stand out.
There can’t be people being seen coming in and out. Tracks will be left. A Cu Chi tunnel system might be considered either to other buildings or debris heaps. Respectually named the Rawles Heap in honor of his first novel. An interior wall tube connects the penthouse to the tunnels with built-in security traffic checkpoints.
If under attack a possibility would be the tunnels exit behind the attackers/siege personnel for escape and/or a rear flanking attack. A sort of extended corners of a castle. And just like in the movies persuading the attackers to enter the lower floors of your building. And of course the obligatory preset fire ball explosion follows. It seems to work in Hollywood screenplays. It’ll give a nice ambient burned-out decor complete with charred bodies.
Seriously, fire needs to be addressed. The penthouse floors should be extra fired rated along with the structural supports if only to allow time to escape. Being discovered requires contingent plans.
(Just guessing, outward sloping ceilings below the penthouse floors might divert some energy of a fire or explosion up and out similar to the chassis bottom of a weapons/personnel carrier.
Also, rather than depend entirely on main support columns an isotopic support building system, ie. honeycombed latticed walls, that if a hole is put into it the surrounding structure would take up the load.
At the least, and this is my one practical suggestion, don’t forget grounded lighting rods. From experience it’s my opinion using electrical appliances during a storm attracts lighting. And you will be a high point.
And if as hoped for you outlast the golden hoardes, then what? Granted that’s another article or book similar to “How the Irish Saved Civilization”. Mind you not all monks survived. Some tried to hide in the top of slender towers but it took less than a minute for the attackers to figure out: “Heck let’s make a bonfire.”
On the hand a tower design worked for Pope Clement VII during the Sack of Rome 1527. But … we can’t all be the Popa.
Don’t know what type of building construction system is being envisioned, probably pre-fab steel columns with bar-joists and a sheet metal facade. If using steel columns, consider instead of a large main column, smaller columns of a lesser cross-section that together would carry an equivalent load or greater. Catastrophic failure design is the concept to be researched. If a smaller column goes due to a fire or explosion the damage is not as great as the collapse of a main support. The connection from column to lateral girth member supporting the bar-joists must give if the column fails rather than pull adjacent members down with it. This minimizes damage. Also columns with smaller cross-sections have shorter spans. While not so great for open floor plans they offer possibilities for later adaptive structural renovations for a more defensible floor plan, concrete block infills for example on the bottom floors and behind the fashionable sheet metal facades. While the metal facade blends in contextually with the industrial park look it doesn’t stop bullets. While a concrete masonry block wall filled with sand and/or one-quarter gravel doesn’t either, it will slow down even a larger round. Be careful of fragmentation of the round exiting the c.m.u. wall. Smaller woven metal mesh or plywood might help? Also, extra layers fire preventive gypsum board and foam will allow more time to exit. Instead of an hour to two, maybe two and a half.
Miscellaneous detail for a gunport or a quieter cross bow port was that was used in castles was the cross aperture opening with beveled edges for verical and horizontal sight lines.
At this point, gonna say, if anyone is not familiar with Selco of Survivalschool.blog it would greatly give an idea what maybe coming down the tube. Your time will not be wasted. Also, not meant as a plug, Organic Prepper carries his more recent articles. Selco in his achives tells of an elderly man who survived the Sarajevo Seige by living stealthy on the top floor of an abandoned building by creating obstacles going up the building. It took twenty minutes or so to navigate these “barricades” but he survived three years till the end of the seige. Floor mazes slow down intruders as well as concentric passageways for ambushes. Even a kid with a pike is formidable at blind right angles. Ask any tunnel rat.
Hats/baseball caps/helmets off to Selco.
I believe the underground bunker is a better idea than the described above ground building because the underground option offers a lot more protection from radiation should a nuclear event occur.
Unfortunately, when trying to prepare for any kind of a worse case scenario, there is no one size fits all.
The best you can do is to decide on what you think is the most likely sort of scenario that can happen and prepare as best you can for it.
Unless you are a billionaire, you can’t prepare for everything. In reality, even if you are a billionaire you can’t prepare for everything simply because you will either forget something, over look it as unimportant, or the scenario that does play out is something you never considered.
Do what you can with what you have.
Adapt as needed.
Adjust as needed.
Read Sun Tzu.
If I was a billionaire, I would hire plenty of security.
But who protects me from my security!
Enjoyed reading the article and the comments. As one who has worked in both bunkers and office towers, I don’t think either are suitable for individuals or small groups due to the cost of construction and maintenance. Unless you can afford a decommissioned Titan site or AT&T comms bunker, or have a multi-millionaire willing to underwrite the effort, you wont be able to build a secure facility that you can defend against all comers.
You might, OTOH, be able to buy sufficient land to hide in plain sight, which for most would mean a Bug Out situation, unless, like me, you are retired.
when the plans for this building are submitted for approval the bureau personnel are going to notice that its features vary from what they see every day and they’re going to ask themselves, “what is this? what is this guy doing?”
“biggest advantage would be its urban location”
(grin) good point. instead of a commercial zone, perhaps you could put it in an industrial park.
Disastrous. After looters or gangs or drug addicts , homeless, etc are done with the interior ,buildings will be burned to the ground. You would be trapped with your family on the rooftops. There simply are no feasible methods of remaining hidden in a city of thousands, tens of thousands or millions. It would make an interesting book but reality would judge this decision harshly.
Further further comment: I believe retrofitting will be more cost effective than building from the ground up. It will also take less time. You just need very good specs on what you’ll be looking for. In addition, I believe you’ll have an unparalleled opportunity coming up in the next 3 years. Lots of companies, particularly in retail, are going to go bankrupt due to the extreme level of debt they’ve accumulated. There will be lots of buildings available! It will be faster and more cost effective to retrofit. Many malls, for example, are going to go broke and will ultimately be torn down or converted to other uses. Think about warehouses owned by bankrupt companies.
All of this means: 1. You better get moving, and build a team: you will need an architect, a good construction engineer, and a creative lawyer. 2. You need to get something formalized and decide how you’re going to raise the money for this. You could be a nonprofit or for profit entity. You could sell the properties and walk away, or have an ongoing management agreement for the lower floors just like other commercial property.
As an excercise, sketch on tracing paper the plan you have in your mind for the retreat. On another sheet of tracing paper sketch what is required by the local Building Code. At first draw loosely and then after much research for both types of building plans begin to sketch both to the same scale, say one quarter of an inch equals a foot or whatever scale you’re comfortable with.
Then overlay one plan over the other. Pin down the points they have in common so the paper doesn’t move. A make shift light table would help along with clear tape. Or if you know how to use any design software, good.
Now sit back and compare the two. What works, what would be the least amount of work and money to adapt the first building code plan to the second plan?
You’re have a better idea what is in your head and is feasible.
Some people are good at models which helps since it’s a vertical structure. Using the “wonder bread” approach of only using floor plans is asking for mistakes since things won’t line up. The most common mistake is the stairs are forgotten to be draw in. It was someone’s job.
BTW: And that is the gist, I believe, of these articles, people are NOT trained to visualize in 3-D. They may know their compartmentalized floor plan, what they do daily, inside out but not realize how it relates to what goes on around them. The same goes for visualizing a building. When they walk into a building they already have a ‘mental map’ where they are to go.
And this is where ‘stealth’ comes in. Help them along with directional “signs” to their mental maps and some people won’t notice if there’s an elephant in the room.
Sorry for the digression.
Present the first plan to the building code department. Let them have their two cents of input even if your plan is 100% correct, take out a few items to make them happy. Some planners are frustrated builders. Remember, if they disapprove it the first time and you have to resubmit, time is money and critical to your goal.
One hint, don’t pick up a pencil or pen when first conceptualizing your idea or you’re lock yourself into what you think is the final plan.
And more important when readapting your building, think about leaving construction trash on the curb for a building code enforcer driving randomly by to see. Use proper procedures. The same goes SHTF looters.
Question: How are the smells coming from the building during SHTF be covered up or avoided. During Viet Nam some people on patrol could smell the enemy due to their different diets. Something to think about since your concept is a ‘soft target’ and the fifty or so people will be your responsibility. Hope you see it like that and not a design.
I think your idea of hiding in plain sight is brilliant. It covers over 90% of all probably events and includes many of major events.
And you will be making money in the here and now.
The self contained idea of solar power with rain basins is also excellent in long term grid down.
As to the idea you will have to defend your place from the hordes is not logical since in 72 hours the massive chaos will burn itself out very quickly. Just the mere lack of food will cause it.
Your building out in an industrial area will not look like a “store” with food or other supplies. The idea of placing bio-hazard signs would go a long way to keep people out.
The building can be fireproof with steel outer shell with brick interior walls.
I know the advice the man in Argentina that has gone through a real collapse lived in a urban environment and his only regrets was not buying a generator and more food.
Anyway, excellent article in thinking outside the box. Lastly, Ann Frank hid from the most evil and efficient rule since the Romans and she did it for years. A good concept to follow
I like the idea of a temporary retreat. A long term retreat in the city, not so much.
I can see setting up a sort of a “safe room” that would keep you supplied and protected right after the start of a SHTF scenario. Many people that don’t actually live at their home retreat 24/7 might be caught at work, in an urban setting, etc. and need this type of thing.
This might be as simple (and cheap) as getting a 10×20 space in a rental storage facility. Load it up with supplies that would keep you going for a week or two (food, water, ammo, medical supplies, a bike or motorcycle and fuel… more stuff than I could carry in my trunk). You could even bullet proof the interior with some stacked bricks or an oversized safe. A storage facility is about as anonymous as it gets… No one would know what you had in there… All the places I’ve seen have a fence around them which would deter at least the amateur looters. Most people might assume the storage facility was a repository of crap you’d find in an attic … furniture, old magazines, broken lawn mowers, old clothes, etc. If a you were the average starving “n’er do well”, you might just forget about ransacking grandma’s Elvis memorabilia collection and by pass it for another search of the Quickie Mart, hoping that previous looters overlooked a can of dog food.
The question is, how long do you think you might have to live there? Are we talking about a short term Rodney King riot scenario (5 days of looting, arson, random violence) or a months long EMP “grid-down” situation without lights, electricity, fuel, food? Or a years long scenario of civil war and social disintegration? In either case, I’d prefer to get the heck OUT of Dodge ASAP.
I’m always looking for the solution I can afford. I know I could afford the monthly rent on a storage room. Not so much building a massive secret squirrel, self sustaining bunker. If I had the money for that, I’d rather buy a 20 acre ranch in the American Redoubt. But different strokes for different folks…
Another thing comes to mind: be aware of a situation that creates a false sense of security…
Example: the Maginot Line
The French thought they had figured out the best defense to keep those beer swilling, sausage eating Huns from invading. Its was a fantastic and expensive system of underground bunkers and tunnels, retractable gun turrets, observation posts, emergency shelters, etc.
The Germans just went around it. The French had bunkers, the Germans had Blitzkrieg.
You can’t rely on any passive system like walls and bunkers to save you. Ultimately you need active, quick thinking, smart adaptable people, neighbors and allies to be truly safe.
Regarding Urban Fortress
M. H. the success of your “Urban Fortress” concept depends completely on stealth and secrecy; once discovered all or most of your preparations are undone, useless or with little that can be salvaged. This makes the large scale of your plans the most significant problem. Bigger means more likely to be discovered and all the eggs are in one basket. Still there are good possibilities in the idea.
A lot of what you want to do would be violations of local land use regulations, building codes, or fire safety regulations in many jurisdictions. The reason most violators get caught is because someone else who knows or is involved in your illegal activities informs on you. The more people who have knowledge the more likely you will be discovered or “ratted out”.
Specifically, using the Grey Man concept a large rainwater cistern for landscape irrigation and a rooftop covered with solar panels would probably be approved and considered “Earth Friendly” if not very cost efficient. But, because they are unusual staff in the permitting office, the Insurance agent/inspector, the installers, the maintenance personal will all notice and remember when they are out of water and power. Anyone with a “birds eye view” (Google Earth viewers, the people in the Police or News helicopter, drones operated for real estate salesmen) will see and notice the solar array and many will remember when they are out of power.
You do need a well and septic system. If zoning regulations do not allow them they must be installed illegally. If you can convince someone to put them in they will wonder why and remember. Installing an elevator control that doesn’t identify a floor is probably a violation. If you can get someone to do it or anything that is a violation his knowledge makes you vulnerable.
Petroleum powered generators can have sound reducing enclosures but none can be run without being heard, sometimes for a great distance. Crank that thing up and you are discovered! I think you will need to rely on solar pumps and power.
All that said, I think a plan similar to your fortress idea could work if it is a much smaller project in which you or a couple of family members or included friends personally do all of the illegal work after the final inspection and approval is complete. I think it might be ideal for an office suite (two or three offices, a bathroom, and a kitchenette) which opens unto the roof which has a seven or eight foot high parapet (wall) all around. Most of your post SHTF gardening and living could be done there using supplies that only you and family bring to the roof. Rooftop activities could be somewhat concealed by a covering of shade cloth (mesh) like that used by plant nurseries to grow plants that don’t thrive in direct sun, or maybe some sort of Venetian Blinds adjustable slat covering you design. The real approved door to the roof located at the end of the hall could be hidden with a false wall. Solar panels could be stored in one of the offices (shielded from magnetic pulse?) and deployed by you after SHTF. A small septic system for one bath and kitchenette could be installed after final inspection by you on a long weekend using rented equipment. With this type of arrangement you could have a real paying tenant that would be unlikely to discover your secret, especially if you used the office regularly (or irregularly) for your business or hide away from wife (think of a reasonable cover story) just don’t let the space appear abandoned or non personal, that way tenants will be unlikely to intrude when you are gone. Making the idea smaller saves a bunch of money that you can use to buy escape methods and those Plan B and C alternative locations, what ever or where ever they might be. Unless is it is a nuclear event I hate the idea of burrowing deeper into an inescapable basement safe room. I want to be able to “run Forest run!” remaining a-gile, mo-bile and if necessary hos-tile! Don’t want to be taken out by ten gallons of gasoline or a fertilizer device.
any contractors and there help will certinaly make note of this construction and possibly want to come back at the worst possible time
Remember the movie “Blast from the Past”? Use various out of state contractors, none local, for the construction/renovation. That’s what the dad did in the movie when building his bunker.
I would suggest installing a Sampson Option .Maybe a root cellar dug out of a basement wall with a steel and concrete reinforced room where the family could shelter in safety if the system is breached and you know you are over powered . When all are safely inside you can let Sampson out twixt the pillars for one last great spectacle . Use your imagination here .When the word got out the opposing forces would hesitate before biting that next apple .
Maybe an urban “Prepper Embassy” concept? ICF construction, strong and fire resistant. Rooftop solar, lithium battery bank. Office space for like-minded businesses. Top floor living space, because it’s the hip urban thing. Maybe upper two floors. Subterranean storage/bunker/fallout shelter. Stormwater retention tanks under the parking lot that double as cisterns, or in the basement if there’s no other choice. Dig two floors down if budget and geology allows. Could have first floor retail or restaurants if it’s appropriate for the neighborhood, the latter giving a good excuse for having commercial freezers for food storage. Could have underground secure parking if that’s appropriate. You were going to have two underground parking decks but changed your mind and will use the bottom deck for “storage”. Maybe natgas generator too for power while the gas lines still work. The electric grid where I live is iffy already. The point would be to have enough living space and stored food for a significant number of friendlies to shelter in place until the riots die down, rad level drops, etc. Go with the “Rooftop Korean” model of security, because stealth after things go bad is iffy regardless. Expect the ground and second floors to take damage. Long term collapse? I’m skeptical that anything’s going to work well, but a good aquaponics setup would help as would composting toilets.
Your using the Anne Frank experience as a working example of your idea is false. The Frank’s did not hide. They were hidden by others. Without the help and support of the house holders, the Frank’s wouldn’t have lasted a day.
Something I find quite surprising by so many of the commenters is their underestimating of city people. Certainly many of them will die. The old, the stupid, the drug addled, the lame will die. And many that manage to leave for the countryside will be so out of place that they will also die. But, the cities also have well organized gangs, which will quickly evolve into small (or large) armies. And they know their ground.
Back in the 60’s/early 70’s the Black Panthers had very complete plans of every building they had interest in. They knew every roof vent of every gun shop/grocery store in town. “Come the Revolution” they knew exactly what to do and where to go and how to take it. And now with computers and online and satellite photos and drones, there is nothing in a city that the well organized gangs don’t know. You won’t be hiding in plain sight, you’ll be rich pickings come the day. They will know you are there, and they will take you.
They will take your easy to see solar panels. They need power too. They will take your food. Because even though there is a ton of food in cities if you know were to look (food banks, produce docks, train box cars, semi trucks), it’s always good to have more. They will take any of your people to work as slaves in order to build their own “castles’. And if they feel like it, they will take your castle for their own castle. ~~Because their gang will always be bigger than your gang.
But, just for arguments sake, say you do manage to survive by hiding, then what? Sooner or later you will have to head for the country. To do so you will have to travel through a burned out landscape ruled by particularly vicious well organized gangs who will much rather eat you for dinner than look at you (because after all, you are the other white meat).
Then, if you do make it out of town, there’s the country folk who are equally well organized (they would have to be or they wouldn’t have survived either). Most country people aren’t likely to need a brand new influx of city people to care for/feed. You would just be too much of an unknown. And you simply wouldn’t have the skills to make yourself helpful or needed.
But, hey, put all that aside. The actual biggest problem with your idea is that it really only deals with survival. And that’s a terrible plan. “Preppers” have got to stop thinking about survival of themselves. They need to think about “survival” of their grandchildren and great grandchildren. Their “survival” will not/can not happen in the city. There is simply not enough resources in town to live the agrarian life that will naturally evolve from any sort of total collapse.
You will need land, you will need water, you will need tools to build and garden, you will need seed, you will need to have skills, you will need to know how to forage and hunt, you will need to know which tree gives you maple syrup, which tree makes a good wagon wheel, which tree is best for firewood. Hiding like a rat in the city will give you none of that.
So my advice to you? Stop daydreaming crazy ideas. It will not work because of building inspectors. It won’t work because you will never be able to actually “hide”. It won’t work because at best it can only be temporary. It won’t work because it has no future for your descendants. It won’t work because not being a part of a larger community will never work. So get yourself to the country, get some land in the back country. Learn how to be self-sufficient. Get to know your neighbors. Go to Church and picnics with them. And hope your grandson will marry the farmers daughter next door.
P.S. I could actually write a book about all the ways your plan won’t work. But heck, this is enough for tonite. Because tomorrow will be a long day cleaning stalls and working in the fields. Being self-sufficient is a lot of work, and I need to get on with it. Good luck.
While it sounds great on paper, I agree with the comments that this is a dead end. There a few reasons for this.
1. Everyone knows that every building must have roof access from inside. When looters can’t find it, they’ll know you’re there.
2. Canines used by govt staff will find the hidden location.
3. When a rioting group can’t access the hidden floor or takes casualties trying to force entry, they’ll just burn it down.
4. Even if you survive the initial chaos, eventually people will come to scavenge and will detect the dead space/lack of roof access and we’re right back to burning you out.
5. I know you are planning for stealth, but you don’t always get to choose the battlefield. Stealth won’t help if you are tied to fixed location.
6. Scenario…You’ve avoided contact with a scavenging gang, but they’ve detected the dead space. They surround the location and set a smoky fire in a lower level. Smoke travels up. How do you get out without exposure to fire outside or to a stay-behind ambush on the lower level?
7. Even if you stay holed up and a group doesn’t immediately detect your space, what do you do when they either leave an ambush behind, or worst-case, MOVE IN to the lower levels?
The plan is a good one. Hiding, Fleeing, and Fighting (AKA Freeze, Fight, or Flight) are the three main choices in a bad situation, and any one of them can work depending on the situation. Making a plan to hide is not wrong and is no different from making a plan to bug out or fight it out. If your plan is feasible and you are able to carry it out, then by all means try it. Most people in a long term crisis are going to be stuck hiding in their homes. May as well have a home designed for it.
What you are describing is comparable to the place Osama Bin Laden was found. He was found eventually, of course, because everyone in the world was hunting for him. But if you are a nobody you could hide a lot longer in a place like that if you were as careful as he was. He used a combination of hiding in plain sight and extreme caution. Your plan is dead in the water if you are seen, no matter how well your home is disguised.
Since your plan is based on stealth, you will need a plan for preventing people from hearing you above them. Thick floor below you, lots of insulation, probably carpeting, etc… can help. You can’t be seen on the roof working on stuff. You can’t be seen making weird contraptions with hidden staircases and a crazy elevator that disappears upwards. You can’t be seen, heard, smelled, etc…
You will need to get a contractor to build it and employees to build it. You will need engineers and architects and a local inspector. These people will know what is there. You could of course try to get it built without local inspectors, but this would put you afoul of lots of laws, at least in the USA. The property tax man would find you out in a heartbeat. I don’t know of any way in the USA to hide a project you are describing from the property tax man and the code inspectors. The likelihood of finding a place suitable for a commercial building like yours in a setting you describe that also does not have code inspectors and property taxes is about 0.0% in the USA.
In addition you need to deal with what is above you, specifically google earth, highrises nearby, hobby drones… These days virtually every county in the USA has a free, publicly available aerial parcel viewer that lets people zoom in and see the property from above, and provides ownership information, sale dates, etc… Point being you need to disguise your location from above. If you are putting your eggs in the hiding basket, then make a plan to hide from the above. This will be pretty hard. Bin laden did it by having a lot of grape arbors and always staying underneath them. In your situation, anything growing on the roof is going to attract attention. It may be wise to keep the courtyard filled with fishtanks and animal cages that can be disguised as air conditioning units or other industrial rooftop equipment. Look at a commercial building’s roof and try to figure out what all the stuff up there is. Most people don’t give that stuff a second thought. If it looks like it belongs there, they won’t notice it.
Chickens are noisy. Rabbits, fish, and muscovy ducks are quiet.
Plants will be harder to disguise. Perhaps you could grow them inside? Or at least have them in portable planters that can be moved inside?
Also, you need an escape hatch. Sooner or later you are going to want to come out, and using the front door may not be the best way. Or someone is going to find you, and you don’t want to be trapped on the roof with nowhere to run. Some sort of concealed slide/tunnel that slides all the way to the basement, with a tunnel coming up somewhere on the edge of the property under a fake rock or a junky car or a bunch of bamboo or something. Point is you want some way out, even if it is the last resort. Better to have a last resort than not.
It may be wise to do this in a country other than the USA. I live in the USA and I believe it is the greatest nation in the history of the world, but it isn’t the greatest nation for hiding. We have more tech and spy equipment in our hands than most other governments. Our government has invented virtually all the spy equipment there is. Google drives down every road in this country and maps our streets and zooms in on our roof, and updates nearly every year, and everyone here has multiple smartphones and laptops. There are property tax adjusters coming around, code inspectors especially for facilities that rent to tenants, and all sorts of nonsense. There are entire facebook communities dedicated to “Urban exploration” where they break into buildings, poke around, and film it for the general public. That stuff is happening now, in peaceful times.
If you want to hide, hide in a country that doesn’t do stuff like that. You will probably cut your cost of living significantly also.
I have a friend that lives in an area which most people making over say over 24 thousand a year would NOT want to live there, It is filled with men who have spent time in jail, prison and currently are members of various street crews which make they coin illegally. The people are used to slum lords and police harassment, my friend looks like he’s homeless, due to his unkempt beard and hair, his clothes are ill-fitting and his shoes are paint and tar covered one size too big tennis shoes with laces undone. 98% of his neighbors are African American he is of European White heritage. He lives in a once abandoned mansion which he picked up for pennies on the dollar and being a carpenter all-around handyman he’s made it a living place which he offers cheap room rentals to others “down on their luck.” He tries to get these guys (mostly whites) to work with him on other handyman projects and he has his supplies stored inside the house even though he has a garage. He shows the non-white neighbor the “golden rule” and he maintains a low profile. Some of the older people tell him who to look out for and what to look for that would compromise his safety. Only recently has he asked me where might he buy a rifle or gun.
He has been living like this for nearly ten years–he’s been robbed while working in his garage, but no one attempts to roll him due to his “hobo ragamuffin homeless hippie look” — I share this because if you look like you are doing well as others are NOT–you’ll become a target in a matter of nights. Consider that at all times as you build your “fortress” inside the city or town.
Everything is temporary. You must be flexible, mobile and capable. I have prepped the dirt in two or three locations. I have stashed useful material at four locations and about to start 5th. Is it complete? Heck no! It is about options. One of those options is about storage in the unused, more or less hidden parts of a commercial building. It is about recovering from being run out or burned out of another place.
Please excuse a second reply to your original question, but when I was out milking just after dawn this morning I got to thinking. I had forgotten to mention one other reason why hiding in the city is such a poor idea.
When America suffers its inevitable collapse (as all nations sooner or later do), the people left behind, the survivors, will have an obligation to rebuild. This can only be done by standing up. Standing for what is right. Standing for what is good. Standing up for what has been so uniquely “American” these past several centuries.
We need to come together in communities. We need to come together in our Churches. We need to come together to push back the darkness that will try to infect the land. Hiding, alone, hoping the barbarians will not find you will not fix anything. It will not solve anything. You might survive. But if that is all any of us do, then we as a People and a Nation will not.
Anne Frank did not survive because she hid. She lived because so many others helped her family to live. We must do the same. Help each other. Join with each other. Make our communities strong, so we can help others to stand and be strong.
Get yourself to where you can do that. Then there will be a reason to “survive”.
Wow! Your brains are working overtime on this. You are doomed from the beginning on this project by your OPSEC. There will be at least 1000 people exposed to your building plan during the construction of this project. Also, at least one of the “family” include in the bug out group will spill the beans about this building. News of this will be everywhere before the project is even completed. People talk, loose lips sink ships. You would be better off to build an underground structure in a rural location.
BIG Mike, is pretty spot on.
If you’re building in a location with building or fire codes, there is a mandatory building plan review and inspection; especially by the local fire inspectors. You’ll have to find a way to mask the intent of your hidden floor to preclude suspicion on the part of the inspectors. Remember – they are the government – they’re here to help!
For some reason the “Towering Inferno” movie comes to mind. I don’t think the “Happy Place” concept is very viable.
Maybe keep spare construction materials to fill in the stair well upstairs so it looks like the upper levels collapsed? To be deployed after the SHTF
I am in agreement with Dave. Spend your efforts on lifestyle change and get yourself rural… I live rural, […]
But on a brighter note for the ones who take their self preservation seriously, these kinds of ideas will, at least briefly buy the rest of us enough time to reinforce and fortify our communities, while the city slickers pillage their own.
Old idea,check any urban area and you will find a lot of retail below/apartments above or newer buildings in gentrifying areas with a retail/office/residential stack. Because of zoning/building ordinances you have no hope of building this as envisioned but to remodel a existing structure(atrium type office bldg) to mixed use(office/residential stack)with the apartments only accessable by code/key secure elevator with “green” updates(roof garden,rain capture,solar ect)would be welcomed by local officials to get a empty building occupied and paying taxes. Your “offices/penthouse” would be the key to your plan with a “evacuation” and board up when TSHTF then all the improvements are there for your comfort. With the retail apocalypse underway start looking now,line up Architect/finance/commercial realestate(locate/buy/rent space) and building/zoning to find if this is feasible in the near future in desirable locations
I agree with the general consensus in these comments that hiding in a grid-down, Without Rule Of Law (WROL) scenario is not going to work. I would even postulate that the odds of successfully hiding is inversely proportional to the the number of people in your group. In other words, one person could probably successfully hide in a large building, but there is no chance a large group could do it.
However, I do like your idea for many scenarios less than total grid-down WROL. Instead of focusing on hiding, focus on fortifying your building to protect your group from night-time lawlessness, intermittent power and water outages, and food shortages. The best example is FERFAL’s experience in the Argentina currency collapse; and potentially SELCO’s experiences from the Balkan War. Both are well documented on the web. Also, if you can find a copy of “A Failure of Civility, How to Defend and Protect…” there is a chapter that describes how to protect an apartment building, which would also apply to your commercial building concept.
Finally, if you are going to build a fortress: protect your sleeping quarters from falling bullets. I used to live in Los Angeles, and every year someone would get killed in the “low income” areas from stray bullets falling from the sky.
The concept as described here (hidden floor with special water and power systems and high-security doors) would unfortunately look a lot like a clandestine marijuana growing operation to local officials.
That being said, the concept of an income-earning residential property that mitigates issues with utilities and transportation has merit as a means of weathering a financial crisis, either personal or national. Rental property near a downtown or transportation center is always a reliable income source.
One last note: I disagree that solar panels would be a big red flag or target for thieves at this point. Most American cities with good sun hours have these all over the place, thanks to grants, creative financing and other funny-money sources. Almost zero have any type of energy storage capability, and many do not work at all if no grid power is present.
If you’re planning to grow on the roof top you need to hide your atrium from above (drones, etc). You could use a dome of semi transparent poly (like they use on greenhouses) to allow light in but disguise what’s inside. Obviously light would leak at night, so don’t use bright lights at night.