“In this world you’ve just got to hope for the best and prepare for the worst and take whatever God sends.” – Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne Of Avonlea
Today, I begin a series of articles that compare 19 states in the western U.S. for their retreat potential. I hope that you find this useful. I would appreciate your comments and suggestions to balance my admittedly subjective assessments.
If nothing else, Hurricane Katrina has verified my long-held belief that we live in a very fragile society with just a thin veneer of civilization. And it is evident that it doesn’t take much to peel back that veneer. A “must read” article recently ran in USA Today.
And consider this from yesterdays’ Daily Reckoning: “Katrina was the rainy day for which people are meant to save. But Americans of the Greenspan era saw no need to save. The latest figures show them saving in July at the rate of MINUS 0.6% of income. Oh la la…laissez les bon temps rouler!” (“Let the Good Time Roll!”)
The data in this series of posts describes 19 western states. (Note: Much more detailed retreat locale recommendations will be provided in subsequent blog posts, following this series of articles.) After much consideration, all of the eastern states were intentionally excluded from this analysis because they are either downwind of nuclear targets and/or are in areas with excessive population density. (See my post on population density, back on August 5th.) This wasn’t just the result of subjective bias. I try to use the dispassionate mindset of an actuarial accountant.
As evidenced recently with Hurricane Katrina, population density is perhaps the most crucial factor to consider when selecting a safe haven. The big cities on the Gulf Coast are hell holes, whereas the small towns are getting by fairly well. I know that this will cause acrimony with a lot of my readers who live east of the Mississippi River, but the plain truth is the East has too much population! Unless you are among the uber-rich and can afford to buy an elaborate fully hardened bunker with HEPA filtration deep in the Smoky or Appalachian Mountains with a five year food supply, I firmly believe that you will be safer west of the Mississippi. That is just my opinion, so your mileage may vary (YMMV). However, before you write me a tirade about how wrong I am and how safe you’ll be in upstate New York, please re-read my August 5th through August 10th posts. Also, take a long hard look at the “Lights of the U.S.” photo maps at: www.darksky.org. A picture tells a thousand words.
When thinking about where you’d prefer to buy your retreat and/or retirement home don’t just look at climate. Look at all the factors. Depending on your age and interest in true independence from “the system” you might also consider factors like home schooling laws and home birth laws.
Here is my overall Retreat Potential ranking of 19 western states, which I will explain in detail in forthcoming blog posts:
7 South Dakota
8 North Dakota
15 New Mexico
As a point of reference, here is an excerpt from Boston T. Party’s Gun Law ranking (for the 19 states on my list), from Boston’s excellent book Boston’s Gun Bible.
6 New Mexico
12 South Dakota
17 North Dakota
And as yet another point of reference, here are the same 19 states, ranked by the length of their growing season (in the warmest part of each state):
12 New Mexico
18 South Dakota
19 North Dakota
Why not Alaska?
A year ago, I heard one “expert” on the radio recommend Alaska as a retreat destination because it has the lowest population density of any State, and low taxes. IMHO, he couldn’t be more wrong! The biggest problem is that from an economic standpoint, Alaska is essentially a big offshore island. Many essential items are shipped or flown in. What happens when the ships and planes stop arriving? It won’t be pretty–at least not in Alaska’s cities. (Ironically, although it is the most lightly populated state, Alaska has the second highest crime rate in the country!) Coastal Alaska is also earthquake prone. Further, you may think that because of the North Slope oil that the state will have plentiful fuel. Bzzzzzt! Wrong answer! There is insufficient refinery capacity of meet Alaska’s “domestic” needs, and insufficient transport to get refined fuels where they are needed. (Current transport is geared to distributing fuel and lubricants brought in from the Lower 48–not locally produced fuel and lubricants.) So the little fuel left in Alaska post-TEOTWAWKI will be jealously guarded–doubtless saved for critical tasks like running farm tractors and chain saws. So there will be virtually none available for fishing boats or between-town commerce.
In a long term collapse, the residents of Alaska’s densely populated coastal cities will likely starve and/or freeze to death. Meanwhile, those in inland towns, albeit better fed, will be geographically isolated so that commerce with the coast will be difficult if not impossible. Bush pilots will eventually be grounded due to lack of fuel, lubricants and spare parts. The only people I foresee surviving are a few seasoned Sourdoughs and native tribe members that still have well-honed outdoor survival skills and are still capable of reverting to a self-sufficient mode. The best set up for this would be a small settlement on a clear water (non-glacial) stream with an active salmon run and a couple of productive “fish wheel” salmon traps.
Another consideration is that the Alaska Pipeline is vulnerable to frost heaving and rupture if the power grid goes down. (It is not widely known, but grid power is used to run thousands of refrigeration elements that keep the permafrost frozen around the pipeline supports.) My prediction: In the event of TEOTWAWKI, the Al-Can highway will have heavy traffic with heavily-laden pickup trucks carrying beau coup gas cans, going in both directions: Greenhorns from the lower 48 thinking that Alaska is the place to be and Alaskan Citizens who realize that Alaska is not a viable place to stay in a long term Crunch.
Just as in Alaska, what happens when the ships and planes stop arriving? Too much population (1,250,000 and growing!) and too little self-sufficiency. Lousy gun laws, too. The only thing that Hawaii has going for it is a mild climate and the fact that each island produces its own power—albeit with imported fuel. If and when the North American grid goes down, it will be something that Hawaiians will see reported on the evening news. Yes, I know, fish are plentiful and you can walk through the jungle and forage enough fruit in just an hour to feed your family for a day. But the two-legged predators will be out in force. It won’t be safe to go out fishing or foraging. Perhaps the residents of some of the smaller islands will pull through a Crunch. Certainly they might on Ni`ihau–the small western island reserved for natives only and their traditional lifestyle–subsistence agriculture, and fishing. But of course: “Haoles need not apply…”
Population: 5.1 million.
Population Density: 44.7 per square mile (Rank 7 of JWR’s top 19 states).
Area: 114,000 square miles (rank 6 of 50).
Average home insurance cost: $438/yr. (rank 30 of 50).
Crime Safety Ranking: 48 of 50.
Boston T. Party’s State Firearms Laws Ranking: 91%.
Per capita income: $24,988 (rank 37 of 50).
ACT & SAT Scores Ranking: 25 of 50.
Plusses: Mild winters at lower elevations. Has the nation’s top rating in “education freedom” (the state is at the forefront of the charter school movement.) Open carry of handguns is legal and perhaps the most commonplace in the Lower 48.
Minuses: Intensely hot summers at lower elevations. Fairly high population density (by western states standards.) Water is scarce in much of the state. Very high crime rate! Expensive car insurance rates. Nuclear targets. Proximity to the Mexican border. Some northern parts of the state are recommended (with provisos). Has a high ratio of illegal aliens. Note: I probably should have given Arizona a higher ranking, due to its favorable gun laws and long growing season. However, its very crime rate, high insurance costs, and proximity to the Mexican border pushed it down the list.
JWR’s Combined Retreat Potential Ranking: 9 of 19.
Note: Details on 18 other states will be posted on a daily basis. Stay tuned.
Rite in the Rain is truly waterproof paper. You can even write on it underwater! I tested their Field Binder. They also make binders and paper for many other uses. The paper comes in several templates: Universal Grid paper, CAS Briefing Form (9 Line), Standard Range Card, Call for Fire, Warning Order, Soldier’s Personal Data, MEDEVAC (9 Line), and UXO/IED Report (9 Line). The grid paper is useful for writing and graphing/mapping.
Field Binder Design: The green plastic binder measures 7 3/4″ x5 3/4″x 1″ with six snap rings. It has an inch ruler and a standard/metric conversion table inside the front cover. The back cover has a centimeter ruler and a clear plastic storage pocket. The paper measures 7″ x 4 3/4″. The binder provides 1/4-inch protection around the sheets, but is open at the top, bottom, and sides.
Performance: The paper will accept writing from ballpoint pens, pencils, and “space” (pressurized) pens when underwater, wet, and dry. New paper dries nearly instantly, the water beading and running off. After being soaked for12 hours the paper is slightly weaker and stays damp for half an a hour, but still works fine. The grain is vertical so it does not rip out of the binder easily. The loops on the binder are sturdy, although they might be jammed by coarse sand.
Recommendation: A highly recommended product, especially if you live in a damp climate or on the water. It is ideal for field tactical operations, or for something as mundane as leaving a note on someone’s car window (pinned under their windshield wiper). If you can afford to, buy one for each of your vehicles and each tactical or G.O.O.D. pack. Rite in the Rain field binders and refills are available from Ready Made Resources and several other Internet vendors. (Reviewed by #1 Son–A 13 year old Home schooled kid.)
Reading through the reams of articles and blogs concerning New Orleans, this AP piece stood out. Notice that the person profiled is apparently a Vietnam veteran who had stockpiled food, fuel and firearms, lived in the war zone, and seemed to be just fine without bugging out. And it made me think…
Yeah, we all want a ‘retreat’ – but this may be possible for less than 1 percent of Americans. Are we as survivalists ignoring the efforts of the folks that are prepared to sit in place in an urban setting? What training or informational resources would be appropriate to their situation? I realize it’s just about the same as for those of us who can buy/stock a retreat – but are there any specific things an urban dwellers needs to do differently? Just a few thoughts on this matter:
Generator noise reduction (if used)
Disease risks with sewage/garbage system failures
Plans for an urban privy
Rooftop or backyard cisterns
JWR Adds: Don’t forget a method for drawing, transporting and purifying water!
Just a side note… I have attempted to volunteer to work as a police officer in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish providing my own food/shelter and doing so without pay. I have not been rebuffed, but even FEMA has/had NO IDEA what to do with my offer or suggestions on a point of contact. I am a peace officer in Colorado, and can get the time off. Telephonic attempts, e-mail, all without answer.
Nobody seems to know who would coordinate these things. It had been suggested to me that I simply show up to volunteer – but this didn’t seem to be the best course – I kept telling myself that SOMEONE would contact me. Apparently there is no administrative infrastructure left at these two police agencies.
Contrast this attempt with that of a buddy of mine who contacted Gulfport PD in Mississippi – got asked by a deputy chief to ‘come on down’ the same day he contacted them to volunteer. – L.D. in Colorado
You might want to have a section dedicated to the lessons we can learn from this. If you do, my two cents worth would be:
1-The authorities may cut off the water and phones-even if you are a politician. The Feds want you to go to an approved shelter-and they want control of all information. Your life is not really that important to them.
2-The shelter may lock you up for five days or so with no water, food, or medicine. And you can’t get out-and charities won’t be allowed to come to you.
3-The shelter may have druggies in need of a fix or even stray prisoners let out from a local jail.
4-Charities, the police, or just relatives may be prevented from coming across the only road into the area. Your need for water is not that important to the authorities.
5-You may or may not be allowed to leave on that one road depending upon how soon you try. It may become impossible once the Feds get there and declare that they are going to put down an insurgency. Your need for water is not that important to the authorities.
6-Your neighbors may save your life.
7-Stock up with everything, and store it well. Make that water-proof.
8-Have an extra water filter or two for your neighbors or friends.
9-Don’t count on the government, at any level.
Best Regards, – “Patrick Henry”
“Along the debris-choked Mississippi River, pharmacist Jason Dove watches as people scramble in the parking lot of the downtown convention center for cases of airlifted water and shakes his head. ‘We created this Frankenstein,’ he says. ‘It’s showing how fragile this society is.'” -as quoted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, USA Today, Sept. 2, 2005.
Law and order are still scarce commodities on the Gulf Coast. It was reported yesterday (Sunday, September 4th) that police shot eight armed people, killing at least five of them, after gunmen opened fire on a group of contractors that were traveling across a bridge near New Orleans on their way to make repairs. Meanwhile, 200 of the formerly 1,500-strong New Orleans Police department have either formally resigned or have deserted, and two have committed suicide. WorldNetDaily and other sources have reported that looting and assorted acts of lawlessness are continuing in inland areas of Louisiana and Mississippi that were spared the worst of the hurricane’s effect but that are still without power. I’d appreciate hearing some accounts from SurvivalBlog readers close to the scene that would confirm, deny, or clarify the foregoing.
If you want to donate to the relief effort, here is a fairly extensive list of relief organization contacts, courtesy of our friends of Little Green Footballs. I believe that it is best to donate to church-sponsored charities like ADRA, since their overhead is much lower than bloated bureaucracies like the Red Cross.
If and when it comes, TEOTWAWKI will certainly mean a disruption in food production and distribution. You should have enough food stored for your family to last a year, and much longer if you can afford it. Keep in mind that: you will need extra to dispense as charity, to your “head-in-the sand” relatives, to neighbors, friends, fellow church members, and refugees. So store lots of extra wheat, rice, beans, and honey. They are cheap now, but may be very expensive later.
You can “do it yourself” for nearly everything required for home food storage except canned powdered dry milk. It is messy to re-pack yourself, and because of milk’s butterfat content it only stores well for long periods with commercial nitrogen packing.
As previously mentioned, I sharply disagree with the LDS (Mormon) church on their religious doctrines, but I commend them for their food storage philosophy, practice, and infrastructure. Your local LDS ward probably has a cannery, and they will let non-LDS members use it on a “space available” basis. Members are usually on hand to train “newbies” how to operate the equipment.
Bulk wheat, rice, and beans are best stored in 5 or 6-gallon food grade plastic pails. Walton Seed in Montpelier, Idaho has excellent prices and they have top quality products.
If you use your own pails, make sure that they are certified “food grade” (buckets made for paint are not.) And if you re-use food grade buckets, make certain that they were only used for non-smelly foods. (Re-using pickle pails for rice will give you pickle-flavored rice!)
Alan T. Hagan has written an excellent FAQ on food storage. It describes some excellent methods. See: http://athagan.members.atlantic.net/PFSFAQ/PFSFAQ-1.html
Date mark all of your storage foods. Consistently use FIFO (First In, First Out”) rotation.
Buy replacement cooking oil and Crisco every two years. This will be your biggest “recurring loss” food storage expense. (Donate the old oil and Crisco that is nearing its expiration to your local food bank. If you have any vegetable oil that has gone rancid, it can be saved for use as biodiesel. See my previous posts on this subject.)
If you can adapt your diet, buy more stable oils such as peanut oil and coconut oil that have a longer shelf life. They re also more healthful than Crisco or liquid vegetable oils.
Canning lids and rings—buy plenty of extras for barter.
Salt—stock up in quantity, particularly if your retreat is more than 30 miles inland!
Sulphur for drying fruits.
Vinegar-Buy a couple of cases of one-gallon bottles.
Food storage (freezer and vacuum) bags.
Aluminum foil (Buy lots! 101 uses, including making improvised solar ovens.)
Dog Food. Note: One of my old high school buddies, Scott T. who is now an attorney once quipped “A real survivalist would eat his dog.” But seriously, if your dog(s) will be useful for providing security, then store two years of dog food. Make sure that the dog food has a low fat content (for better long term storage) and that you store it in vermin-proof containers. Galvanized trash cans work fine for this purpose. You can get away with storing much less dog food if you live in an area with profuse deer, bear or elk; or if you raise a lot of livestock. Rotate your dog food just like you do the rest of your storage food.
Date mark all perishable foods with a medium point Sharpie pen. If you have a lot of canned goods to mark, then a date stamp will work.
Rotate your foods consistently. Always place the newest cans at the back of the shelf. Keep a multi-year rotation calendar.
Long term storage multi-vitamins and other food supplements: You should plan to supplement with a good quality double encapsulated multi-vitamin, a good quality B-complex tablet, and a 500-milligram vitamin C tablet. See Vita Cost for some of the least expensive vitamins and nutritional supplements available via the Internet. They should be consumed and replaced at least every three years. Store them in a cool, very dark place. (Light kills vitamins quickly!)
Natural laxatives. (Your diet may shift heavily toward meat, and this could cause problems. Plan ahead.) Bulk Metamucil is one option.
Most families should do their own wet-pack canning and dehydrating. We also buy commercially canned (nitrogen packed) foods, some freeze dried foods, and some MREs (retort packaged.) As I will describe, some methods are more appropriate than others for certain foods.
See Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living (published by Sasquatch Books)–a MUST for every survivalist’s bookshelf. The basic guideline for edibility is 2 years for meats and other “high acid” foods, and 4 years for all others. (See Carla’s book for a complete chart.) Edible, yes, but keep in mind that the nutritional value won’t all be there in four years. So store as many vitamins as you can rotate without going past expiration dates. (Roughly three to four years worth, unless you have an ultra cold medical freezer–I’d love to find one of those, used. They cost $3,000+, new!)
Nitrogen Packing is good for roughly 8-to-10 years for most foods and much longer for whole grains. I do not recommend storing flour. It only keeps two or three years.
Whole wheat stores for 20+ years with 80% or more of its nutritional value. Buy whole grains and a hand wheat grinder.
I recommend buying commercially nitrogen-packed cans only for the items that don’t store well otherwise (e.g. dehydrated peas, powdered milk, peanut butter powder, and textured vegetable protein (TVP).
You are better off buying some items in bulk (honey, whole grains, beans, and rice) and canning or otherwise “containerizing” them yourself. Canned nitrogen-packing of these items is ridiculously expensive, and there is very little advantage in storage life. Pack bulk grains and legumes in 5 or 6-gallon plastic buckets by yourself, and you will save a lot of money! Note: Make sure that you use oxygen-absorbing packets available from Walton’s or the dry ice displacement method to kill all the bugs/larvae before you seal up each bucket. (Again, see Mr. Hagan’s Food Storage FAQ.)
Commercially canned “year’s supply type units are needlessly expensive. (Even the salt comes canned. Talk about overkill packaging!) In the instance of wheat, you are paying two to five times as much for the product because of the packaging. (My most wheat purchase was at just $11 per hundredweight! Of course, I had to re-pack it all in six-gallon buckets.)
I do recommend MREs as a supplement to a well-rounded food storage program. Because they are fairly compact, lightweight, and require no cooking , they are ideal to pack in your “Get Out of Dodge” (G.O.O.D.) backpack (or “BOB“).
My old friend who has profile under the pseudonym Mr. Tango had a round of correspondence with the U.S. Army’s Natick Laboratories in Maryland, on the potential storage life of MREs. Like all other storage foods, MREs must be stored at low temperature to maximize their shelf life. The data that they sent him was surprising. Here is the gist of it:
Degrees F / Months of Storage (Years)
120 / 1 month
110 / 5 months
100 / 22 months (1.8 Years)
90 / 55 months (4.6 Years)
80 / 76 months (6.3 Years)
70 / 100 months (8.3 Years)
60 / 130 months (10.8 Years )
Note 1: The figures above are based on date of pack, rather than inspection date.
Note 2: MRE’s near the end of their shelf life are considered safe to eat if:
A.) They are palatable to the taste.
B.) They do not show any signs of spoilage (such as swelled pouches.)
C.) They have been stored at moderate temperatures. (70F or below.)
Note 3: Not enough data has yet been collected on storage below 60 degrees F. However, projections are that the 130-month figure will be extended.
Note 4: Time and temperature have a cumulative effect. For example: storage at 100 degrees F for 11 months and then moved to 70F, you would lose 1/2 of the 70F storage life.
Note 5: Avoid fluctuating temperatures in and out of freezing level.
JWR’s Comments on MREs: The above-cited figures are for palatability, not nutritive value. You should plan on storing vitamin supplements. Again, vitamins should be stored in a cool, very dark place for the longest shelf life. (Many tablets are light sensitive—this explains why they are usually packed in dark brown bottles rather than clear glass.) I recommend rotating your vitamins every two years. The bottom line is that most of the fat, carbohydrates, and protein will still be available in MREs, even after many years of storage, but the vitamins will not. Plan accordingly.
Because MREs and other emergency foods are relatively high in bulk and low in fiber, I also highly recommend storing a bulk fiber supplement with each case of MREs. Don’t overlook this precaution! Also, get yourself some sprouting supplies, and practice sprouting before The Crunch. Sprouts are an ideal source of vitamins and fiber!
I wanted to let you know that a correction needs to be made in your statement that copper is toxic to sheep and goats. I own dairy goats on our homestead. Copper is indeed toxic to sheep, BUT COPPER IS CRITICAL FOR THE GOOD HEALTH OF GOATS. In fact copper sulfate is given as a supplement at times, especially with the darker goats to keep them from turning chocolate brown instead of the black coat color they should have. The belief that copper is toxic to goats is a common misconception and I have had nearly knock down drag-down fights with different feed store employees who didn’t want to sell me the copper salt blocks when they knew I had goats. See David Mackenzie’s excellent “Goat Husbandry” for more information, or “Natural Goat Care” by Pat Coleby. Both available from Amazon.com. – Midwest Farm Mom
JWR’s Reply: I defer to to your experience and study on the subject. I have corrected my original post. Many Thanks!
Hi Jim and Memsahib:
An overlooked area for putting meat on the table is trapping and snaring. Perhaps the reason is it is an almost lost skill because most people live in cities or the suburbs today. However, WTSHTF it may mean the difference between having meat on the table or none at all when, if the supply runs out. Those who live in cities and suburban areas normally have squirrels, rabbits, woodchucks, deer, raccoons and other edible animals available if they have the knowledge and equipment to obtain them. Many in rural areas who are preparing plan on using a firearm to obtain their meat because they too lack trapping and snaring skills and equipment. I am attracted to trapping and snaring for manifold reasons. One, it provides a means to obtain food without drawing attention by the sound of a firearm going off, thus providing an almost silent means of acquiring meat in almost any environment. Two, traps and snares can be used repeatedly year after year making them one of the cheapest investments in long term food gathering. Three, IMHO, traps and snares will be high on the list of bartering items in some areas when, if TEOTWAWKI occurs. Four, using traps and snares increases your firepower by saving bullets. “Buckshot” Bruce Hemming, one of the best trappers in North America can teach everyone in their own home by using the same videos the United States Rescue & Special Operations Group uses to teach their students. The knowledge from the videos may save your life. The professional grade traps and snares sold here were chosen for military aviator survival kits through extensive testing of several commercially available traps and snares. There is a wealth of survival information and products to check out for knowledge and ideas whether one lives out in the boondocks or in the heart of the city. See: Buckshot’s Camp – “F1”
JWR’s Reply: I agree wholeheartedly with all of the points in your letter. I have done business with Bruce Hemming for more than 10 years. He really knows his stuff, and he sells top quality products at great prices. His videos are a must for every serious survivalist.
I just checked with both Amazon.com and ABE books and there’s probably a couple hundred copies of The Alpha Strategy by Pugsley available from used book sellers around the country. I just ordered mine and thanks for a great blog! – J.K.