Letter Re: Thoughts on Static Retreat Defense

Mr Rawles,
Before I start, I must congratulate you on your remarkable and down to earth approach to informing your audience of both the practical ins-and-outs and theory of preparedness. I’m a mid-20s town planner with a minor in building design, living in Western Australia. I share many of the same concerns regarding the status and direction of society as your audience. I came across your site in the last four months, and have then spent a great deal of time searching your archives. I recently ordered your “Rawles on Retreats and Relocation” book, and await it eagerly. My town planning occupation has granted me various edges on location viability, design versus aspect, map interpretation, cut and fill techniques, earth engineering standards and natural hazard assessment – which I might add is imperative in initial design (landslide, flooding and bushfire hazard) and maintenance (also very importantly for bushfire hazard).

Being a city dweller, I’m at the initial stages of designing our rural retreat, and am meticulously working on the best design for retreat ballistic protection (small arms) and safe and strategic return of fire in the event of TEOTWAWKI against unwelcome and potentially harmful trespassers. I will be implementing the Vauban principles through corner build-outs [a.k.a. corner bastions or “Cooper Corners”] to allow observation of all lengths and aspects of the retreat. However I’m eagerly seeking your opinion on the design of the openings or ‘ports’ in which to station arms, observe and return fire where necessary. The retreat walls will be steel reinforced Besser Block (cinder block) concrete filled (although I did watch your referenced video on urban warfare and the effects of arms on standard building materials – and was quite concerned), I feel concrete filled Besser block is probably the safest option available to me in terms of funding at this point. I have over a thousand sand bags to implement in the event of a worst case and consistent/prolonged attack. So, I have a 200 mm thick wall, with an opening of any size I design. The weapons for these build outs will be SMLEs and other bolt action high-power rifles. I believe it is bad habit to have a barrel extend out of an opening for various reasons, primaries being visual detection of the defender’s location, weapon damage probability factor, and manipulation by undetected enemy at close quarters (although retreat’s [avenues of approach] observation design will nullify the later’s impacts), so therefore the weapon will be positioned back just behind the wall, however this will limit the portal of observation given the opening would be small to restrict incoming fire. I believe half inch steel reinforcement ‘around’ these gun ports would be ideal given the position of these ports, in an unpleasant scenario, would probably sustain significant ballistic hits in comparison to other non-strategic defense positions. I do plan to have half inch steel slide shutters for these openings when not in use, and for a myriad of other reasons, however I am struggling with the setup of weapon position versus wall opening size versus wall opening shape/design for observation and for safe return fire.

This also leaves my current design issue of ‘standard window’ design – for habitable room ventilation, access to daylight and sunlight and for a ‘taste of the norm’ feel. I envision half inch steel sturdy shutters welded to deliberately exposed reinforcement of the retreat walls (as I have for the primary ‘airlock’ style entry door hinges and lock studs to the retreat) is the finest option given a SHTF scenario, but openable on days of ‘no threat’. I do however, believe it is an important element to ensure the retreat does not feel like a jail which, as in the event of TEOTWAWKI, would adversely impact on the retreater’s morale given the world/nation status and general situation. If you have any information on ‘standard window’ design also sir, I would be most appreciative.

In terms of retreat security, I have designed this retreat in response to the ideals of two mindsets, 1.) myself as a defending retreat owner and 2.) myself as an marauding woodsman intent on conquering that retreat. The latter may sound odd to some. However, to catch a thief, many say, is to think like a thief. How would I disable my own retreat? Would I, if I were the rogue woodsman, position myself in a temporary camouflaged OP and snipe on the retreat from 300 meters at vital retreat hardware, such as downpipes to rainwater tanks, or solar panels? Perhaps my response to that would be – by location, design and security mechanisms, not allow the woodsman into those positions in the first place, however you cannot stop all contact, as if you can view a landscape from your retreat, someone can view your retreat from a landscape. I believe that is how one must design a retreat or harden an existing one. The solutions for these examples are many (internally fed downpipes, or clever roof design and visually ‘hidden’ solar panels), however I believe it will come down to thinking like the ‘woodsman’ to mitigate the majority of the adverse conflict situations that may reduce the lifestyle and longevity of you and your family.

I leave you now in peace and gratitude with a many and true thanks for your significant efforts in the survival niche, and am only certain you will have guided many thousands to a better standard of preparedness and significant increase in their survivability. Thanks, – Shamus

JWR Replies: Retreat architecture and self-sufficient retreat design involve a number of tradeoffs, including:

Security and ballistic protection versus construction expense.

Unobtrusive siting (such as behind a screen of trees) versus clear fields of fire

Permanent security features versus aesthetic design and resale value of your house

Ballistic protection versus visibility of potential attacker’s approaches

Ballistic protection versus ventilation and solar exposure (windows and PV panels)

Self-sufficiency versus security. (For example, livestock and their associated outbuildings are needed, yet they add complexity and some risk to defensive arrangements–most importantly by blocking line of sight. Tending to livestock will necessitate greater exposure for retreat residents. The same applies to gardening. A stove chimney is necessary, yet it represents an exploitable weakness.)

Convenience versus security (A single, very stout “castle door” is great for security, but inconvenient in normal times. Ditto for sharp s-turns in your lane.)

Security features versus “blending in” with the more mundane neighboring homes

How you rectify these tradeoffs depends on a number of factors, including your retreat locale (and the ambient population density/proximity to major cities), how heavily manned your retreat will be, and your most likely envisioned scenario.

I agree with your approach of laying in a large supply of sandbags. These can be filled and set up in a variety of configurations after times get hostile, yet can be unobtrusively stored in the interim. (Ditto for rolls of razor wire or Concertina-type defensive wire.) Buy plenty of extras. The excess will be ideal items for barter and charity.

While setback from a shooting port is normally desirable, it requires a much larger shooting port, to avoid accidental near-muzzle bullet impacts and ricochets, in the stress of defensive shooting situations. My approach is to place muzzles nearly flush with the armor plate. I’ve also laid in supplies of some “junk” barrels, including some de-militarized scrap M16 barrels (complete with flash hiders) that I plan to employ sticking out of false shooting positions, with the intent of having them draw fire.

I describe my standard ballistically-reinforced window and door designs in my novel “Patriots: Surviving the Coming Collapse”.