In this article, I will describe my search for a bugout location (BOL). I would consider it typical for someone living in the eastern United States. I closed escrow on that property last May and have been working on the place every weekend since then.
If you search the Internet and you will find multiple articles about the perfect bugout location. Most articles will contain a standard list of recommendations that require tradeoffs and sacrifices most of us don’t want to or can’t make while staying within our value systems and life constraints. I would argue that “the” perfect bugout location is a myth, that even our personal perfect bugout location is likely to be unobtainable for most, and that what we should seek is the best location we can obtain that balances tradeoffs. What follows is my thought processes, search, and final results. Your results, your analysis of the risks, your constraints are likely to be different and that’s ok because the key is to develop a plan that works for you.
I’ve been a prepper since I was a kid, but I didn’t seriously start thinking about a bugout location until about 12 years ago when I read one of JWR’s books. Prior to reading that book I lived in the Midwest near New Madrid. [Anticipating an earthquake that might make my house uninhabitable,] I kept sufficient survival supplies in the garage to survive for a month living in my backyard.
I was transferred to the east coast. My supplies expanded a bit, but now I was preparing for a hurricane. Both my worst-case scenarios were regional with the rest of the country available to supply aid over time. I just needed to survive on my own until the aid arrived. JWR’s book introduced the idea that the whole country could go down, that there would be no rescue from areas unaffected and my planning needed to expand. At the time my son was in high school, I was being transferred for work, and I didn’t have the income to buy a bugout place. I started with a bug-in plan. I began with accumulating food, supplies, water filters, books, knowledge, tools, guns, ammunition, and a long list of materials that would be useful if the stores closed and commerce collapsed. I read SurvivalBlog, I read books, I read other Internet websites, and I just started thinking, doing “what if?” drills, connecting dots, saving money for a bugout location down payment, and doing the mental preparation and analysis.
I grew up in the Midwest, but now live on the east coast, not by choice, but by job transfer. I have a job I enjoy in public service that provides the income for a comfortable life, free time for hobbies and family, and a flexible work schedule that allowed me to raise my son as a single father. My job and income would be impossible to replicate in the west. All my close friends are still in the Midwest 1,000+ miles away, so I don’t have any friends close to bug out to. I come from a very small family, now down to a brother/wife who live 1,500 miles away in the Rockies, my wife, and a son who is married. Not much help there for a bugout location.
I have a brother-in-law who lives in upstate New York. It’s a beautiful area, land is affordable, plenty of water, lakes and trees, its sparsely populated for the east, but that’s 6-to-7 hours through horrendous traffic to a location too close to NYC and millions of people. Plus, there are the harsh gun laws that apply to New York state, high taxes, and a short growing season. My wife and I looked at properties up there, but the state has been ruled out, even for a vacation retreat. If I wanted a bugout location I would have to find it somewhere else.
I’m not quite old enough to retire and that job is funding the purchase of any place I might buy, so no immediate moves to a rural area in the west. My next constraint is my son. He is fixed on the east coast by job, friends, and his wife’s roots/family. I’ve been curious about how everything works since I was a kid, but my son didn’t inherit my curiosity. I’ve had a terrible time passing on my preparedness mindset, though I have some new hope.
Before the Pandemic reached public consciousness (just watching the news gave me about a 6-week warning before the toilet paper hysteria), I warned him to stock up on food and supplies and asked him if he wanted me to pick anything up for him at the warehouse store. He said no, he was finding what he wanted and if the stores really did run out he would come over to my house because I was well prepared and would have extra of what he needed. He does have a plan, though not what I expected. He’s never been interested in helping me with repairs and improvements around the house, but he recently purchased a house and now he is calling me with questions about the house. I now believe his disinterest in learning was based on an assessment that he didn’t need the knowledge at the time, but once a need arises he is ready to learn. If the SHTF I need to be close by because there will be quite a bit he needs to learn quickly. Not ideal because many skills need practice, but still encouraging and it fits with Multigenerational family life being important to me.
My grandparents were important in shaping who I am today even though I didn’t get to see them that often. I believe kids benefit from growing up with both parents and grandparents taking active roles in their lives and the parents and grandparents can benefit too. My prepping solution must support the extended family, including the future grandkids I hope to have. My son and I both have good jobs and houses near each other, so any bugout location must start from my current location.
Doctrine says I want to be as far from people as possible because too many of them are not prepared for even routine natural disasters. If a major disaster happens what I call The Halloween Principle kicks in. On Halloween kids tend to go to the houses that are closest together because this increases the candy received in a given period of time while minimizing the walking effort and distance. As the distance between houses increases the number of trick-or-treaters becomes fewer. The Redoubt fairs well because the distance between houses is high creating more work traveling per opportunity for pillagers and because the number of trick-or-treaters (pillagers) will be smaller because of lower population density.
The exception to the Halloween rule is that big houses in rich neighborhoods that gave out the big candy bars still had trick or treaters because the candy bar payout was worth the longer distance between houses. Translated, if pillagers know you are a prepper and have significant supplies or wealth even in a rural location you could be a target for the pillagers. So OPSEC matters. Applying the Halloween rule to my search I want land away from the big cities and population densities that doesn’t have too many neighbors or neighbors too close together. I can still apply the principles that make the redoubt a good place to survive TEOTWAWKI, but the results won’t be as good because there really are too many people on the east coast (actually any coast). Being on the east coast the grey man principal becomes more important too. I don’t want my bugout location neighbors to think I am the rich house on the block with a house full of prepping supplies, guns or other valuables. I want to live and look like the neighborhood.
My house is in between two major population centers on the east coast. This is a compromise I chose to make to be close to my son and my employer. I can still apply the Halloween rule in an effort to reduce the number of people that might be overrunning my bugout location. I ruled out rural areas on the far side of either population center since traversing the population centers would take time and miles that don’t increase my distance away from the masses. I drew a perpendicular line from the highway that connects the two population centers and started looking there.
From my younger years and a vacation cabin on a lake I know that 3 hours is a distance that I can drive on Friday night and Sunday night 3 weekends a month without getting tired. A 3-hour drive is also short enough that my son will be more inclined to come up for a weekend. I’ll need his help for certain projects around the property and I want to spend time with him and his family. If my bugout location was 6 hours from home he wouldn’t be visiting often. Yes, it would be nice and more secure to be farther from the masses, but I can’t live at my bugout location and be near my son, so my location needs to be close enough to maintain, visit often, upgrade, improve and reach in a SHTF scenario. This starts me about 150-180 miles from the masses.
In the east you are never that far from another big city, or maybe a smaller city, so I also had to consider and look for the pockets between population centers that could be in any direction. I set 5 hours as the maximum time I wanted to drive. A five-hour drive feels long, and is tiring which would reduce the number of weekends spent working on and visiting the remote property. A couple of the areas I liked within my 3-5 hour range very rarely had properties for sale at all with even fewer properties over 10 acres. Significant portions were state-owned (steep mountains) leaving fewer properties for private owners. The land for sale constrained what I could buy. In addition to distance, I looked at where the nuclear plants were and tried to avoid being downwind (I can’t avoid being downwind from the plants in the Midwest, but at least there is some area for dispersion after an accident).
I looked at where the fracking wells were and avoided those areas (chemicals leaking from drilling sites have made people in Texas sick, water wells have been contaminated with methane, and I don’t want a clear-cut path through my woodlot for some gas line to the city). I tried to avoid the areas with old coal mines (potential well contamination, subsidence, potential fires in mines that aren’t filled with water.) I also looked for land at a higher elevation. Each 1000 ft. of elevation typically drops the temperature about 3.5 F. If the SHTF grid electricity is likely to disappear. How do I keep cool, especially as the summers become hotter and I age? Neither my wife or I handle heat as well as we did in our younger years. Trees and shade lower temperatures. Water (ponds, streams and rivers) can be used to cool the body. Going up the mountain helps too. We only considered properties with at least one south-facing hill after looking at a very dreary shaded house on a north-facing hill.
Wildfires really aren’t a risk in my area, but I would be looking at that if I lived just about anywhere else. My brother has a place in a small Colorado mountain town. He’s putting in AC because the smoke has been so bad the windows couldn’t be opened and he’s looking at keeping a small place in the big city after retirement to evacuate to. Many states offer maps of fire risk and I found this recent article with an interactive map. Map: See where Americans are most at risk for wildfires – Washington Post
(To be continued tomorrow, In Part 2.)