Update: In-Town Versus Isolated Retreats

This feature article is an update to a SurvivalBlog article that I wrote back in August of 2005:

There are two distinct modes of fixed location survival retreats: ”In Town” and “Isolated.” The former depends on some local infrastructure while the latter is designed to be almost entirely self-sufficient and self-contained. Isolated retreats are also often termed “remote” retreats.

Not everyone is suited to tackling the tasks required for self-sufficiency at an isolated retreat. Advanced age — with the inevitable loss of muscle mass — physical handicaps, lack of trustworthy family or friends, or chronic health conditions could rule that out. If that is your situation, then you will probably want to establish an inconspicuous “in town” retreat rather than an isolated “stronghold” retreat. Generally, isolated retreats are more suitable for folks under age 60.

In-Town Retreats

If opting for “in town,” then buy a masonry house with a fireproof roof on an oversize lot. Make that wood frame construction if you live in earthquake country. Carefully select a town with a small population—somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 if it has a true “end to end” gravity-fed water supply, or from 200 to 1,000 if the water system is in any way dependent on the power grid. (The 1,000 upper limit is for fear of sanitation problems.) In my opinion, towns and larger than 3,000 lack a cohesive sense of “our community”, and any town with a population smaller than 200 would lack a sufficient mix of skills and the manpower required to mount a sufficient defense in the event of a true “worst case.”

For more about the importance of having a sense of community, see my September 2008 article titled: Finding a Mineshaft or a Gemeinschaft.

I still believe that it is best to avoid larger towns. At some number over the 3,000 inhabitant threshold, the “we/they paradigm” will be lacking, and in a true TEOTWAWKI, it could be every man for himself.

The Mel Tappan Approach

The late Mel Tappan wisely opined that if your house is at the end of the dead-end of a road at the edge of town with no close-by neighbors, then it might just as well be five or ten miles out of town–since it will be psychologically outside of the invisible ring of protection that will constitute “in town.” Post-TEOTWAWKI, the “we/they” paradigm will be forcefully if not painfully obvious. If you are “in town” you will benefit from a de facto Neighborhood Watch on Steroids. Make sure that your retreat is either clearly “in town”, or not. A property that is halfway in between will have none of the advantages and all of the disadvantages.

Tappan championed the concept of small-town retreating: owning a mini-farm that is physically and psychologically inside of an existing small community.

Technology and Isolated retreats

Several technology trends and societal trends in recent years have made isolated retreats much more realistic for a wider cross-section of survivalists and preppers. A lot has changed since 2005. For example:

  • Far more people telecommuting, especially since the Wu Flu pandemic.
  • More families are homeschooling.
  • The advent of Starlink high-speed satellite Internet service.
  • Cellular phone coverage expanding into rural regions.
  • Improved photovoltaic power systems, with a much lower cost per watt and far more battery options, including Nickel-Iron and Lithium-Ion.
  • The proliferation of inexpensive drone technology. In most weather, having drones greatly reduces the need to conduct short-range security patrols.
  • Electric ATVs (such as the Textron Prowler) and e-bikes are now available. These can be paired with off-grid photovoltaic power systems.
  • Improved electronic intrusion detection systems and inexpensive webcams to help with retreat security.
The Pros and Cons

Before making your decision, please consider the following pro and con lists:

Advantages of “In Town” Retreats:

  • Better for a slow slide scenario or a “grid-up” depression wherein the local agricultural and industrial payrolls may still be viable.
  • You will be a member of the community.
  • You will benefit from local security arrangements.
  • Ready access to local barter economy.
  • Ready access to local skills and medical facilities.

Disadvantages of “In Town” Retreats:

  • Privacy is very limited. Transporting bulky logistics must be done at odd hours to minimize observation by neighbors.
  • Fuel storage is severely limited. (Consult the local ordinances before you buy a home.)
  • Poor sanitation in the event of “grid down” situation, unless your town has a truly “end to end” gravity fed water system. (More on this in a subsequent post.)
  • Unless you construct a basement range, you can’t test fire and zero your guns at your own property.
  • You can’t set up elaborate antenna arrays or your house will look out of place.
  • You can’t hunt on your own land.
  • You can’t keep livestock other than perhaps a few rabbits. (Consult the local ordinances before you buy a home.)
  • You can’t make substantial ballistic and anti-vehicular barrier retreat upgrades.
  • Greater risk of communicable diseases.
  • Greater risk of burglary.
  • Greater risk of having your “hoarded” supplies confiscated by bureaucrats.

Advantages of Isolated Retreats:

  • More room for gardening, pasturing, and growing row crops.
  • Lower house and land prices. (More for your money.)
  • Better for a total wipeout grid-down scenario when virtually everyone will be out of work. (Hence the local payroll will be a non-issue.)
  • You can stock up in quantity with less fear of the watchful eyes of nosy neighbors.
  • You can test fire and zero your guns on your own property.
  • You can build with non-traditional architecture (earth-sheltered, for example.)
  • You can set up more elaborate antenna arrays–and other things that would look odd in town.
  • Better sanitation in the event of a “grid down” situation.
  • You can hunt on your own land.
  • In many parts of the country, a place to cut your own firewood.
  • You can keep livestock.
  • You can make ballistic and anti-vehicular upgrades, as described in my novel Patriots.
  • A “dog run” chain link fence around your house won’t look too out of place.
  • Virtually unlimited fuel storage. (Consult your county and state laws before ordering large gas, diesel, heating oil, and propane tanks.)
  • Much lower risk of communicable diseases. Particularly important in the event of a biological warfare attack—but only if the bug is spread person-to-person rather than airborne.

Disadvantages of Isolated Retreats:

  • Impossible to defend with just one family.
  • Cannot depend on much help from neighbors or law enforcement if your home is attacked by looters or in the event of a fire. You will likely be entirely on your own to resolve those situations. If and when a gang of looters arrives, it will be you or them–no second place winner.
  • Isolation from day-to-day barter/commerce.
  • A longer commute to your “day job”, shopping, and church.

A careful analysis of the preceding lists (plus any specific localized considerations) should lead you to conclude which approach is right for you, given your family situation, your stage in life, and your own view of the potential severity of events to come.

Be sure to study this well and pray about it before making a decision of this gravity. – JWR