Acquisition of a safe retreat is a major commitment on the part of a survivalist. Much careful consideration should be given to the factors which go into its selection. These factors are variable from individual to individual, and depend in part on the location and lifestyle of any particular survivalist.
For many, the retreat is a site apart from the place where day-to-day living and working take place, and constitutes a safe haven in the event of major upheaval. Unfortunately, the ideal retreat is seldom found ready-made, and usually requires much hard work to make it suitable for use.
Preparations may run the range from a careful reconnaissance to the actual construction of suitable shelter, and may range from the very simple to the very complex. The methods used to accomplish these preparations may be equally varied and range from the use of simple hand tools by the survivalist to the contracting of major construction work.
However, many of the tasks involved in improving the suitability of a particular site as a safe retreat are fairly simple and can be accomplished with only the expenditure of time and effort on the part of the survivalist. It is these tasks which will be primarily addressed here.
Reconnaissance of the area for your safe retreat
Of the various sources of intelligence data available to the survivalist, reconnaissance is probably the most valuable as a planning tool, and, coincidentally, is also the easiest to collect. There are two general types of reconnaissance efforts of value to the survivalist, route reconnaissance and area reconnaissance, and they can be powerful planning tools in the selection and preparation of a retreat.
Lack of up-to-date intelligence about the access route and the retreat area itself can cause the failure of an otherwise well-planned retreat. A thorough reconnaissance of the planned withdrawal routes and of all the possible alternates might very well avert a disaster and at the very least can substantially improve one’s ability to foresee its possibility.
Route reconnaissance, as applied by the survivalist, differs somewhat from the purely military application, in that the survivalist has no interest in bridge classifications, weight limits, or other intelligence items that apply only to a given road’s ability to handle military traffic.
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For the survivalist, the possibility of a given route not being available or useable in the event of emergency is of more interest. Of particular importance to one who lives any distance from the selected retreat, a thorough reconnaissance of the primary and all possible alternate routes to the retreat should be high on the list of things to accomplish.
This should be one of the first tasks undertaken by any survivalist and can be done concurrently with the preparation or construction of the safe retreat if a site has already been selected.
Objectives of this reconnaissance should be the complete documentation of all possible restrictions which might block access to the retreat. Bridges, blind curves, narrow passes, and any other natural or manmade obstruction which might, in time of crisis, block access to the retreat should be carefully reconnoitered to identify bypasses for the possible eventuality that either man or nature should make them impassable.
The identification of alternate routes around each potential obstacle ahead of time greatly enhances the chances of reaching the safe retreat intact. Each area that might cause problems at a later date should be closely inspected on foot and extensive detailed notes taken.
Traffic-ability is another important aspect of route reconnaissance for the survivalist. The mere fact that a given road is trafficable in good weather is no guarantee that it will be passable in bad weather. This can take on major importance in certain parts of the country, such as the desert southwest, where relatively minor rain-showers can cause flooding many miles away, or in mountainous regions, where roads can be suddenly closed by rock or mudslides.
Accessibility to the general public should be noted. Is the road likely to be jammed with traffic in the event of a general panic? How heavily is the road normally travelled? The amount of support along the road, i.e., availability of food, gas, repair facilities. etc., might play an important part in its selection, especially during the preparation phase of building a retreat.
Alternate routes need the same careful scrutiny as the primary route, because in the time of crisis, access along the primary route may be nonexistent, and alternates may, of necessity, become primary withdrawal routes. Alternate routes should be checked on a regular basis to maintain awareness of the routes’ condition and any changes in their status. Access to the safe retreat in time of crisis will be heavily dependent on the route chosen.
Area reconnaissance, on the other hand, should be undertaken with many of the same objectives that a military reconnaissance effort would seek to accomplish. As applied by the survivalist in retreat planning, area reconnaissance should be concentrated in the immediate vicinity of the retreat.
Of the various types of reconnaissance techniques suitable for the survivalist, the fan technique and the box technique are probably of most value, with the fan technique as the most efficient for a small party.
The fan method
The fan method comprises operating from a fixed base and making a series of large loops out from it, enabling the reconnaissance party to cover large areas of terrain in a hurry. Using this pattern, areas of interest can be quickly identified for later detailed study. Items of interest are possible cache sites, water sources, game signs, indications of the amount of use the area gets by other people, areas which can be easily defended, etc.
The box method
The box technique, as the name implies, consists of establishing a large box-shaped area and conducting a series of parallel sweeps across it. While this technique provides more detailed information about a particular area, it has the disadvantage of being more time consuming.
To recon very large areas, another technique, known as the successive sectors technique, can be used. This method breaks up a large area into a series of smaller blocks which can be reconnoitered one at a time. Large areas can be reconnoitered effectively with this method by allocating one or two days per sector over an extended period of time.
Probably the best compromise for the survivalist is to conduct the initial reconnaissance using the fan technique, and to use smaller box patterns around any areas of interest uncovered. Whatever pattern is used to scout the area, it should provide complete coverage of the area and furnish enough detailed information to enable the survivalist to complete a comprehensive analysis.
Keep notes during the reconnaissance for your safe retreat
The memory is a very poor storage device for the amount of information needed to prepare a detailed analysis of the retreat area. Therefore, extensive, detailed notes should be made during the reconnaissance, and they should be precise enough to be clearly understood under stress at some indefinite future point in time, perhaps months or years later.
The survivalist should acquire accurate topological maps of his area of interest and they should be on hand so that points of interest can be accurately annotated on them. Photos are an excellent way of gathering intelligence data, with the advantage that later study may reveal details which might have been missed by the reconnaissance team while on the ground.
Any information which might prove useful at any later date should be annotated. Photos should be taken showing the entire area, if possible and additional detailed photos should be taken of specific points of interest. An excellent way of gathering data that might not be acquired in any other way is an over flight of the area.
Such over flights can be obtained through friends with air-craft or by hiring an aircraft for an hour or two. Most areas of the country have rental aircraft available somewhere nearby. Many things which cannot be seen from the ground become readily apparent from the air.
Again, maps, notes, and photos should be detailed and extensive in order to make the air time pay for itself. This accumulation of intelligence data can be studied at leisure later and incorporated into detailed contingency plans.
The cheaper alternative would be to use a Full HD drone, but even so, there will be a lot of distance to be covered by foot or using some sort of vehicle.
Data collection for your safe retreat
The collected intelligence data can assist in the selection of access routes, cache sites, improvements to water or other natural resources, contingency withdrawal routes, possible terrain enhancement projects, either as defensive preparations or otherwise, and many other preparations.
The careful analysis of the collected intelligence can provide valuable insight as to the suitability of a particular area as a retreat. Such things as accessibility, adaptability, security, and all of the many other considerations that go into the selection of a specific piece of terrain can be analyzed carefully and the advantages and disadvantages weighed prior to final selection.
If the final selection has already been made, then this same information can prove in-valuable in deciding what improvements should take precedence in upgrading the retreat’s capabilities.
Water necessities for your safe retreat
Once the selection of a retreat has been finalized, efforts to improve its suitability can begin. One of the first items to be considered in improving the retreat is a reliable source of water. Water is the most important of the resources necessary for survival, and should take precedence over all other considerations.
In areas with a shallow water table, a shallow well is preferable to surface water, because of the probability of surface water contamination by any one of numerous sources. Shallow wells are also preferable to deep wells because of the relatively low cost. Deep wells are significantly more expensive to drill and equip, since they require extensive plumbing and pumps to operate, and require energy which might not be available for long in the event of a major catastrophe.
On the other hand, a shallow well needs only a length of rope and a bucket to draw water. Should surface water be the only source available, then efforts should be made to insure its continuous availability.
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A running spring should have some form of basin or pool to trap as much water as possible. This insures a water supply if the spring should for some reason stop flowing. A series of dams and pools constructed downstream will trap additional water and improve wildlife habitat, increasing the chances of finding wild game nearby.
If there are no surface or shallow sub-surface water sources nearby, then consideration must be given to trapping and storing water by some other means. One of these is the construction of large above ground or underground water catchment basins. These are used very effectively in some areas of the southwest, and consist of large holding tanks with even larger plate collectors on top.
The collectors are normally of metal to encourage condensation and shaped like a shallow inverted cone with a drain in the middle to catch runoff. Since the tanks are almost totally enclosed, evaporation is minimal, and the setups are very effective, storing water for cattle and other animals year-’round. Although such a system can be fairly expensive, it can compare favorably with a deep well without the related pumps and plumbing.
Secondary to water is the living space itself. Unless the retreat has some type of dwelling on it when acquired, then the survivalist will have to put some thought into what shelter will be required for survival.
Among the primary considerations should be making the shelter self-sufficient. This includes such things as cooking, heating, lighting, and plumbing. A source of heat and a method of cooking that are not dependent on outside energy sources are prime requisites for any safe retreat.
A good wood stove is probably the best option when normal sources of power fail. While considering energy sources, keep in mind that smaller shelters require less energy to heat. The pioneers didn’t need a room for each individual and neither does modern man.
One of the options available to the survivalist is the do-it-yourself approach to the construction of suitable shelter. If this option is selected, local building codes need to be checked to ensure compliance with appropriate laws. Some areas will require a building permit before any construction is allowed, and some areas will only require a permit for residential structures. The actual construction techniques used will be dependent on the type of materials selected.
Related reading: Housing For Off-grid Survival
With a little perseverance on the part of the survivalist, native materials can be used to make a very serviceable shelter at relatively low cost. In areas with extensive forests, log construction is a natural, and will require a minimum of prepared lumber to complete.
Used lumber from local salvage dealers can usually be found at a fraction of the price of new lumber, and can substantially lower the overall cost of constructing a shelter. A good chainsaw would be a practical investment for anyone contemplating the use of native timber for construction. Earth and rock make low cost, durable walls, and afford good thermal insulation. In rocky or mountainous areas, under-ground shelter can be a viable alternative.
While the construction of underground shelter can be extremely hard work, the actual techniques involved are within the capabilities of almost anyone. Another option which deserves consideration is one of the cabin kits available from numerous lumber yards. These kits typically consist of all the lumber and materials required to construct a shell home or cabin, with the purchaser responsible for construction.
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The lumber comes precut and, in some cases, includes prefabricated parts, such as roof trusses, etc. The purchaser is also responsible for buying and installing all material necessary for finishing the interior. Some of these kits can be a bargain if the survivalist possesses the skills and tools necessary to complete one.
While on the subject of shelter, consideration can be given to mobile homes. A mobile home might be a relatively inexpensive way to provide shelter, depending on the kind of deal the survivalist can make, but it should be kept in mind that they are notoriously energy inefficient, in addition to requiring more than average maintenance efforts to keep them habitable.
Some thought should also go into making the safe retreat as inconspicuous as possible. Camouflage is the art of making an object appear to be something other than what it actually is. A small cabin or farm is less likely to draw attention than a weekend showplace for friends to admire. The less attention drawn by a retreat, the less the likelihood that it will have to be protected from someone with less foresight.
In part II of this article we will discuss about the self-sufficiency methods to employ in order to make your safe retreat a place for thriving and not just surviving.