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Most survival strategies and related tactics today draw upon the methods that worked in much smaller disasters and will likely work to some extent today in similar small scale disasters. However, large-scale (continental-sized disasters) are quite different in many ways.
Some people assume that all disasters are created equal and that one-size fits-all when it comes to survival strategies and disaster preparedness and response, however that is not the case by any stretch in a large-scale disaster. And when this assumption is proffered to others, it ensures that there will be many more casualties than need be.
As if this writing, FEMA is still proffering a “72-hour” disaster survival kit.
I guess the sixty-four dollar question is; what do these people do in a large-scale disaster after their 3-days worth of food and water are exhausted?
Even the psychological impact of a local disaster is quite different from that of a continental or global scale disaster. In local or regional (small scale) disasters (tornado, hurricane), survivors know that help will be coming and that affects morale and how most survivors react; there is order and cooperation.
But in the case of a national or ’continental scale’ event, many survivors will within a few days realize that nobody is coming to the rescue, because everyone is suddenly thrust into the same desperate situation. This latter situation is a game-changer and will certainly create a level of desperation seldom seen.
The current failure by FEMA to properly instruct Americans as to ‘a more realistic level of preparedness‘, such as, having several weeks of supplies (as a minimum), will in the event of any large-scale disaster lead to enormous masses of desperate people in the short-term. If people had enough supplies to weather a few months, there might be a chance for people to organize and form a cooperative effort for some level of recovery. But currently that is not the case. Sadly, most Americans have less than 3-days worth of supplies.
Recently I was debating with another disaster preparedness author on the differences between the conditions that existed during the Great Depression (~1929-1940) and the conditions that would envelop a serious disaster situation today.
There are many possibilities when it comes to the potential causality of large-scale disaster scenarios that are statistically relevant. Some are man-caused, while others may result from the forces of nature, such as a severe geomagnetic storm. Regardless of the causality, there would likely be a complete breakdown of society and resulting large-scale lawless chaos.
When you read some of the survival blogs, papers, books and other speculations on ‘what if the SHTF’, you quickly realize that many people haven’t fully considered the existing environment in which any massive crises will develop. We now have over 300-million Americans living within the United States, and that’s more than double the number during the Great Depression (~127-million). And many more people are armed today compared to the 1930’s; approximately 80% of all American households today now have firearms.
Today, our society is living on the top floor of a ‘house of cards’ due to the fact that almost every facet of our daily needs and current level of living, literally our daily survival, is based upon an integrated supply chain system that is highly leveraged and quite fragile.
That means that everything we depend upon and probably take for granted each and every day, including the simple things like; water, food, fuel, clothing, medicine… almost anything we can think of, depends upon society and its intricate systems operating in perfect harmony. Any major interruption of these systems or the failure of any key element will lead to a catastrophic failure of the entire system due to the inter-dependencies of these symbiotic systems, which due to high-level efficiencies operate on a ‘just-in-time’ basis. This phrase (‘just-in-time‘), which is used by supply-chain managers refers to the fact that, unlike in the past, inventory (food, parts, supplies, fuel, etc.) are no longer inventoried on-site at wholesale and retail locations. Instead, product is essentially distributed directly from producers and manufacturers just as it is needed to supply the retail and wholesale outlets serving consumers. This system allows more money to be made, which is why it is done.
One of several potential catastrophic failures in society would result if we lost a major portion of our national energy grid. The fact that even the U.S. government has been seriously looking at this probability should send a chill up and down your spine, since they are sometimes a day late and a dollar short on important projects, and as of this writing, they haven’t affected any of the corrective measures mandated by the recognized experts in these matters.
Like an 8-cylinder engine that requires all eight cylinders to run properly, we absolutely need and use the full capacity of our current electrical grid as well as many other systems to support our society. In fact, the demand on many current systems (water and electrical) actually exceeds what is available on a regular basis. Of course assuming everything continues to run optimally, we can to some extent, continue this delicate high-wire act, and scrape-by with one work-around after another.
The United States is essentially already over-populated because we have according to experts exceeded the ‘carrying capacity’ of our own natural resources, where as examples, our soils are being heavily depleted as is our water supply. As a nation, we can no longer live on our own resources alone and we are drawing-down the natural resources from outside the U.S. by way of very large, complex and fragile supply chains.
We haven’t had a large-scale disaster in the United States that would be remotely comparable to a large-scale grid-down scenario (major or complete loss of the national energy grid). So there are no direct lessons that can be learned from our past history, even for those people who do take lessons from history to heart. There have been some small-scale grid failures, which of course were remedied only because there were nearby areas that were unaffected, from where repairs were initiated.
The combination of our current high population density with a catastrophic failure of any critical supply chain would lead to social unrest and competitive violence at unprecedented scales. And if such an event affected the continent, who will be coming to the rescue of the United States? Well, looking back in history, it seems that for the most part, the U.S. has been there for many other countries during times of disasters, as most other countries sat on the sidelines and watched. I think it may be reasonable to posit that we could expect the same in the future. In fact, the enemies of America would want to see any such disaster continue to the point where America is reduced to nothing more than another decimated third-world country.
Even in the best of times, we have witnessed (on YouTube) well-fed people trampling over and injuring each other in order to be first to get a pair of shoes or a game on sale at Wal-Mart! I can easily imagine these same kind of people killing anyone to get what they needed if they became truly desperate. In my estimation, these will be the real-life ‘Zombies’ in any serious large-scale disaster.
I realize that these postulations paint a dire picture, and it’s not what any of us want to hear or think about; that is unless you are really serious about surviving any such potential events. The U.S. Government is that serious, which is why they have built complete cities in elaborate under-ground bunkers. Survival depends upon a full comprehension and understanding of the potential challenges and risks. Clearly the government has that understanding, however few civilians do, and of those few people, most say we cannot afford such solutions.
But there are effective alternative solutions that are within the financial reach of average people, which I will discuss further into this article.
It’s quite clear that in the event of any large-scale disaster, the short and long-term competition for resources will be fatal to a large percentage of the population as a result of population density, regardless of basic training, bush craft skills, firearms, etc. If average people adopt the wrong strategy, they will perish.
There are basically two schools of thought with regard to surviving massive large-scale social chaos. Many people who have some level of preparedness (AKA; ‘Preppers’) subscribe to one these two strategies.
Again, causation is not the issue in these considerations; surviving the aftermath of any continental or global-scale disaster is of the essence. So debating what may trigger such an event is not a fruitful exercise; devising and adopting the proper survival response strategy is a beneficial enterprise.
Generally speaking: The first, and more common school of survival strategy is to hunker-down where you live, and by using a multitude of survival skills and stocks of supplies and weapons, survive long enough to get a community re-established.
Of course this plan sounds better that it really is. But as they say here in Oregon, ‘that dog won’t hunt’ in a large-scale event. People who adopt this strategy for whatever reason have failed to properly gauge the impact of the loss of the technological infrastructure combined with the immense numbers of un-prepared survivors (AKA: ‘Zombies’) who due to their own desperation, will swoop-in on the positions of the prepped like the hoards of Genghis Khan in the pursuit of resources.
Some variants of this survival paradigm (‘hunkering down‘) involve planned combat using stores of weapons, sometimes coupled with a ‘Plan B’ involving bugging-out to a secondary location, should the first location become overrun. Of course by and large in a large-scale disaster, this strategy is fatally flawed from its inception, and the fall-back location will likely be overrun as well, even if the Prepper-survivors make it to that position. ‘Heading for the hills’ when the ‘hills’ are already overrun with a mix of desperate un-prepped survivors and Preppers on the move doesn’t improve anyone’s odds of survival.
In a serious large-scale disaster, there will be incredible numbers of un-prepared desperate people, who I call ’Zombies’, and who will be flocking out of the cities by the hundreds of thousands (some cities by the million!), which is what I call a real ‘Zombie Apocalypse‘. These unorganized hoards cannot be construed in terms of what might be called ‘normal’ evacuations as we have seen during small regional scale disasters, such as during Katrina.
Keeping in mind that in a large-scale (continental-scale) disaster, there are no nearby locations from where disaster response operations can be staged; everyone, everywhere is immersed in the same pickle. Preppers need to have their disaster response well in-hand.
These Zombies (un-prepared people) numbering in the thousands, will be highly motivated by their ‘basic survival instincts’ and hunger, and they will be aggressive and desperate. Many of them will be armed and just as well-trained as many Preppers, and these Zombies will sooner or later easily overcome most facilities they encounter.
There is a second and far more realistic (effectiveness) survival paradigm, but it requires that people take significant action well in advance of any major calamity. And it really involves what would be most accurately described as a change in lifestyle.
Based upon the fact that in any large-scale disaster, fuel will be unavailable and/or in very short supply (finite supply), most Zombies will only have the fuel that is in a vehicle at the moment of the disaster, and possibly, one fueling after that. Doing the mileage-math for an average vehicle, this gives most average vehicles a potential maximum range of about 500 miles. This would allow the Zombie hoards to essentially saturate the areas around metropolitan and rural areas for a considerable distance in all directions. So if you were to draw a circle on a map around large and medium-sized cities using a radius of 500 miles, the circle that is formed around those cities is what I call the “circle of risk“.
So with that information, it seems that Prepper survivors might limit their exposure to aggressive Zombies by placing some distance between large population centers and themselves; I’m thinking at least 500 miles or more.
In other words, if you pick a potential remote location for a survival homestead, and using a map, you draw a circle around that location that has a radius of 500 miles or more from your proposed homestead, there shouldn’t be any large population center within the circle that is formed.
Now here’s the hard part: By relocating now, well before any disaster, to a base of operations (your new home) that is within that ‘circle of safety‘, you will have increased your odds of surviving a Zombie Apocalypse by a significant margin.
There is yet another option that is not widely known. This option allows for much more versatility if you would like to maintain your current lifestyle and living situation, but want to have the ability to quickly and effectively relocate safely when a large-scale event occurs. This strategy, which encompasses the use of a sailboat or power-boat allows for a measured yet effective large-scale disaster response that is financially feasible for an average family. It is also effective in regional and small-scale emergencies and disasters.
Briefly, here’s how it works:
Once the disaster strikes, especially a large-scale disaster, it does take a bit of time before the majority of people realize the scale and seriousness of the problem, possibly a couple days. And that epiphany usually occurs about the same time that average unprepared people are running out of water and food and they realize that help is not forthcoming anytime soon. So, for those Preppers who have a good sense of situational awareness, they will have a window of opportunity to head to their boat, which is already fully stocked and ready to go. Ideally, such Preppers will be relatively close to their boats. Some Nautical Preppers actually live on-board their boats and work in nearby areas.
Once Preppers are safely onboard their boats, they have many tactical options for maintaining their security, including heading offshore out of harms way, as they observe the situation unfolding onshore using equipment onboard. And if things are really bad, they can easily relocate their family and friends with a substantial hoard of supplies and equipment to a very remote location, far away from the effects of any disaster and the people fighting for their very lives.
Some people don’t realize that you can buy a used boat very reasonably (maybe not for long once my book comes out).
Obtaining a boat, is cost effective given that used sailboats of suitable sizes for a family can be purchased in good used condition for less than $50,000, while smaller vessels suitable for two or three people can be acquired for under $15,000. Most boats have all the conveniences of an apartment, and many owners choose to live aboard their boats. Boats can be financed and insured, thus protecting the investment. There is also added benefit of being able to enjoy your boat during good times with all of your friends and family, as a part of your ongoing preparedness training.
This pursuit (using a boat for disaster preparedness) is what I call ’Nautical Prepping’ and the details of this unique and highly effective disaster survival strategy is the subject of my soon to be released book ’The Nautical Prepper’ (Ulysses Press). For the cost of a few beers, you can evaluate the strategy that is detailed in the ~300 pages of the book, and then decide for yourself if it makes sense for you.
Nautical Prepping is not for everyone, but, I think it will make sense to many people and their families, for many reasons.
I am told by my publisher that the book ‘The Nautical Prepper’ will be available though most booksellers sometime in August 2013.
Cheers! Capt. Bill
Capt. William E. Simpson II is a U.S. Merchant Marine Officer with decades of boating and expedition sailing experience, who has successfully survived long-term off the grid at remote uninhabited desert islands with his family using sailboats that he equipped for that purpose. Capt. Bill holds a U.S.C.G. 500-ton captain’s license for commercial inspected passenger vessels, including, power, sail and assistance towing vessels. He is also the author of many articles on sailing and the book ‘The Nautical Prepper’ (Ulysses Press) You can read more from the Nautical Prepper on Capt. Bill’s personal site at www.williamesimpson.com/