By Ol’ Tennessee Ridgerunner
This is the third in a series about the vital “must-haves” for individuals with a preparedness mindset who are considering an off grid retreat lifestyle. These articles are written as a primer for would-be homesteaders contemplating their first rural property purchase. They can also serve as a refresher for long-time retreat owners who, due to age-related or medical issues, are developing their documentation and inventory of features in order to showcase their off grid property for sale. Retreat defense is the topic du jour.
After reading my first two posts on this topic, some of you might be getting an idea that I’m trying to dissuade folks from considering the rural off-grid lifestyle. My intent is quite the opposite. Self-sufficient homestead living is a special reward unto itself. You can’t put an adequate value on the independence and confidence that self-reliance can bring by living off grid. But it can be a real challenge and a steep learning curve for the inexperienced. Many first-time off grid homesteaders report the biggest challenge they deal with is the absence of most modern conveniences and city services they took for granted before they adopted self-reliant living.
The retreat lifestyle has become a dream and a mission of a great many more folks who now recognize that serious dangers, such as nuclear attack, EMP, virus epidemic or financial collapse, that are on the horizon. Many have read a book called The Fourth Turning, and are wondering what global tragedy the year 2020 may hold. A growing number of US citizens have also become aware that their government cannot protect or assist them in a major disaster and are making their own contingency plans to protect themselves and their families from harm in a grid down environment.
Self-reliant individuals understand that if the power grid is disrupted, mass chaos would soon present itself. We have become so reliant on electricity that a prolonged blackout could quickly lead to a loss of food stuffs, water, fuel, banking, transportation and communications. Modern civilization has an alarming vulnerability to disruption where, in the absence of law and order, people transition to rioting, looting and absolute barbarism overnight. Many fear that conditions would replicate the Stone Age. This realization is a driver for preparedness-minded people to seek a secure, defensible redoubt far from the potential savagery that has become common in many disasters around the globe.
What I want to convey is that the off grid lifestyle is not all wine and roses. It’s a hard “do-it-yourself” way of life. For those unaccustomed to manual labor, hand tools and often doing without some modern conveniences we’ve all become used to enjoying, it can be a major lifestyle change. We suggest that the uninitiated not jump into it on the advice of some back-to-nature expert who writes a green living magazine article. Instead, research it; prepare for it; practice your skills and work up to it before you commit your hard-earned dollars to a rural property purchase that you or your family could regret later.
Now that you’ve had your reality check for the day, let’s move forward. We’ve discussed inertia and how to overcome it. We’ve covered how critically important retreat location is.
After your remote location is confirmed, the next critical question is: Can you protect your family and your resources at this location? In a post collapse environment, one of the most difficult tasks you may face will be securing your retreat property.
Seclusion is one of the best defenses. Do the natural features of the property help you or hinder you? How close are the nearest neighbors? How many lines of sight are there to your retreat and will they work to your advantage or someone else’s? Is your homestead on the top of a wide open mount and visible for miles around? Will evil-doers exhaust themselves attempting to reach you? How much warning will you have if someone is approaching your location?
Curb appeal is the last thing you want to look for in a retreat property. Look for property with topography that offers cover and concealment, such as contours, rock formations and outcroppings, ridges, caves and ravines. Parcels of land with natural obstacles can prevent vehicles from getting onto your property, slow down refugees who may approach on foot, and delay ATVs from getting too close undetected. Avoid areas that have an overlook to your retreat that might offer height and cover for sharpshooters. Forget beautiful views and a gazebo for a hot tub. Is the retreat actually protecting you or not? If this issue is not considered and resolved, it can end very badly for you after the balloon goes up.
Avoid ornate monumental entranceways, designer gates and paved driveways. These structures scream, “I’m loaded. Come help yourself to my stuff.” The ingress/egress on your property is a serious concern for defense. Is there a tear=-round creek that has to be forded in order to get vehicles access onto the property? If there is a bridge, could it be damaged enough to prevent passage? In a grid down disaster, you don’t want an inviting entrance for looters and refugees to invade your retreat. You want to be able to see someone coming onto your property without them seeing you. Are there one or more locations on your property where you can construct a listening post/observation post (LP/OP)?
Is there roadside timber that can be felled to block vehicle access? Is there an alternate way to leave the property, like a two-track trail, if you need to escape?
Defense in a post apocalyptic world doesn’t necessarily mean your retreat has to have fortifications and gun ports like Fort Knox. It means you’ve got to be a hard target – a less tempting target - than other people in your surrounding area. Where do you start and how much defensive construction is enough?
If possible, start your retreat defense plans with no dwellings, just raw land. This is the best way to design your retreat for maximum protection of family and resources. Some people avoid building their own retreat from the ground up because they believe it may take too long or be overly expensive. If you properly plan the retreat construction around off-grid living strategies, and utilize native building materials (stone, timber, etc) already present on your property, a scratch build can be very affordable. There are lots of options depending on your budget. Do you want to purchase and bury reinforced shipping containers or build an underground bunker? Will you use adobe-like mud walls for ballistic resistance around your retreat or pour 8 inches of reinforced concrete as a ground floor parapet? Overall, it’s good to keep your plans modest and simple so construction can be started and finished within months.
When building on raw land, you can place your living quarters in the most advantageous position for defense – usually high ground is best. For an existing residence, adding defensible construction can be more challenging. Additions must be planned carefully to adapt to the framework of the building. Weak areas will have to be strengthened using fences or walls to frustrate approach. High points in the terrain should be used to establish LP/OPs.
Remember: in a grid down situation, someone must be on guard 24/7 to keep an eye on the surroundings. How many people will it take to accomplish this? A minimum of two families seems to be the rule of thumb. What force multipliers can you deploy to support a small number of retreat dwellers? Dogs, ducks and trip wire alarms are useful. Use of closed circuit TV cameras is one answer as are wireless driveway alarms and IR sensors similar to those on most all automatic garage door openers. Many of these are economical and use very low wattage or rechargeable batteries which most solar power systems can readily accommodate. When times get really desperate, you may need to be diabolically creative in defending your dwelling and property so think this through in advance. These are some of the key considerations for first-time retreat buyers. Everyone’s wants and needs may be different so do your own research way before you commit to a specific property.
Advice for sellers
For aging retreat owners (reluctant sellers), one of the key attributes of your property is its defensibility. How this advantageous feature is demonstrated and marketed to potential buyers is important. At a minimum, careful documentation must be created and maintained to describe the defensive and other unique aspects of the retreat property construction. Otherwise, no one (including 99.9% of real estate agents) will ever recognize how much money and effort you put into defense at your retreat – and your final sales price is very likely to reflect that. So pull your receipts and operations manuals together. Be sure to document details about the dwelling’s resistance to small arms fire and how you made your retreat flame proof. Ask yourself questions like: How thick is the concrete in the retreat walls and how well is it reinforced? What is the thickness of the ballistic film covering your windows? How does the trap door that you built for escaping through the floor in an emergency work? Defensive modifications you’ve made should be a significant part of your overall retreat inventory prior to offering the property for sale. More information about how to organize and develop a detailed inventory of your off grid retreat’s attributes can be found here. Press on and good luck. With persistence and good preparation, you can find an appreciative and experienced retreat buyer for your property.
In the next article, we’ll look at water availability for your retreat property.