Monday, February 21, 2011

What If It All Goes Smash? --The Short Answer

You're going to die.

Joe addresses it in more detail but the 30-second read is, if technological civilization went belly-up tomorrow, unless you're Amish or a very serious survivalist, you're going to die (and they're going to be on short rations and will face lifestyle changes; note all the "low-tech" factory-made goods!). If you're a Prepper or a good LDS member (etc.) and relatively lucky, it might not be for a long time -- a year, maybe two. Most of us less-ready types will be toast within six months and the remainder will go like mayflies in the first Winter.

Thoreau in his cabin was dependent on technological civilization -- his axe, his clothing, the means to make fire. Even assuming you are as clever and resourceful (not to mention fictional) as the boy in My Side Of The Mountain, he wasn't competing with several thousand other hungry survivors. (Short-term advantage goes to the meanest.)

Most of the human race lives in climates that will kill us if we lack adequate protection from them and we do so at population densities that are insanely unsustainable for hunter-gatherers. And the really low-level skills that will keep you housed and clothed, fed a sufficiently-balanced diet to prevent malnutrition are not widespread. Depending on how things go -- how bad the die-off is -- there's a fair chance the second year will start with a better availability of salvaged goods; but I wouldn't count on it, as there are a lot of ways for a few fools to destroy a city, starting by being foolish with fire.

--Of course, that's not especially realistic, barring EMP from natural or man-made sources or something similarly unforseen; most of the really big TEOTWAWKI events result in widespread death along with the destruction, which takes us back to "See first paragraph" land.

So what's realistic to plan for?

-Economic Collapse. Something like what happened in Russia, only without the localized booms. Or we're all in Cuba, only the "classic car" you're gonna have to keep running forever is a Prius. Good luck! This calls for Depression-era coping skills and starting with a very full larder will help (in fact, it's never not a help, unless persons inclined to take it from you find out about it). Personally, I rate this the most likely and figure I'm likely to spend my retirement in a third-world country without having to move to one. Slow collapse is probably better than sudden and, horribly enough, may actually be what the market-regulators are really aiming for. (I'm lookin' at you, Ben Bernanke).

-Terrorist Activity. From "dirty" bombs to chemical or biological agents or just exploding bus stations, this would be horrible but also tends -- mostly! -- to draw people together. Coping skills would be more like the Home Front skill set for the U.S. or Canada in WW II. OTOH, regional/political violence would be differently polarizing and, Tom Leherer being too good a prophet, what do you do if the Crips or Bloods have The Bomb -- or weaponized smallpox? I guess we might as well lump "civil unrest" at the low end of this category; a good-sized riot can have very much the same effect, only on a smaller scale; and that's the most probable one you'll encounter.

-Natural Disaster. New Madrid Earthquake, anyone? Aw, why stop there -- Yellowstone? Okay, those get close to the "high probability of death" level but they're outliers; smaller quakes and eruptions, flood, hurricane, tornado, big fires and so on are a lot more common.

Dean Ing talks about the need to consider all the higher-probability events and map out what you'd do -- including literal maps, marked for the likelier scenarios. If things get bad enough you need them, don't count on your ISP or smartphone to be able to dig 'em out -- and you may want to be discreet about that GPS.

The big, flashy possibilities are the "sexiest" to plan for (sheesh, lookit even my "smaller" examples) but they're outliers; the littler ones are more likely to be the ones you'll face. And by a happy coincidence, they're also the ones with the best return on investment, too. If it goes Mad Max, you may be better off with a colander than canned goods; but if it goes LA riots or blizzard of the century and you need to hole up for a week or three, that stack of MREs will come in handy.


ViolentIndifference said...

Feeling better? That was nice writing - I hope you did it without the brain lightening.

ViolentIndifference said...



D.W. Drang said...

Linked to Bill Quick's Survival Preps forum.
Cuz you're right, and most people either ignore the possibility of something going even a little bit "smash"--i.e., my co-worker who says her family plan is for them all to wash some sleeping pills down with vodka, cuz life isn't worth living without hot running water and clean sheets--or assuming that The Secret To Surviving will be to have a few cases of MREs and a few more of ammo.

Stretch said...

The Society of Creative Anachronism may also have a high percentage of survivors.

Mr.B said...

Being prepared is never a bad thing. Most folks won't be.

You can't prepare for everything, but preparation gives you more options and time to figure out how to adapt.

Most folks are sheep, and don't have the meanness to survive. I might not have enough of it, but I can be a sheepdog, if not wolf. It's mostly a matter of mindset.

And after the first 6-10 weeks, there will be a lot of good stuff to pick up, if you have food.

But if a Yellowstone type event happens, all the meanness in the world won't help you.

Nowayoutbutup said...

To paraphrase our deceased friend Bill S.

"I think you under estimate the crowd to which you speak."

Accurate statement if you were addressing the masses however.

Anonymous said...

I think you're looking down from the bubble we're all perched upon, and it is a long way down if it pops (for any number of reasons, as you've shown).


Roberta X said...

I hope I'm underestimating more than just this crowd -- but there are an awful lot of basic skills to maintain even a very simple, late-18th Century lifestyle and some of them have nasty learning curves.

perlhaqr said...

And people think I'm crazy for learning how to do all kinds of stuff truly from scratch. :)

Anonymous said...

Insulin & dialysis. I am going to die.

Wayne said...

Actually, the item most people don't think about is access to potable water. If nothing comes out of the faucet, where in Indianapolis are you going to find it? And treat it? Every open source of water in the US is contaminated with Giardia, even the most remote spots in the Sierras and Inyo Mtns. The other problem is you have all the gear, now you have to be mobile, and be mobile in a way to not call attention to yourself. If there's no gas you half to carry it all.

Carteach0 said...

All the other issues aside, a down and dirty way to find out just how dependent you are on society.....

Walk downstairs, find your electrical service, and trip the main breaker off. Leave it off for 24 hours.

The result is only the beginning of a clue.

Roberta X said...

Anyone in ice-storm county gets to do the "no electricity" thing at least every other year. It's a good reason for having a gas range; even the electric-ignition ones can still have the burners list manually (don't try it with the oven!).

Wayne, I'm glad you mentioned potable water; it's certainly a much bigger issue than most people realize.

Frank W. James said...

Let's see; the well is in the front yard and it can be pumped by the gas generator in the outside car garage. There is 300 gallons of farm gas in the tank by the corn crib. The neighbor has 25,000 head of hogs under roof so I'm sure we can eat pork for awhile. The chainsaw has several new sharp chains in the case and my cousin has over 100 acres of woods for the wood burning stove in the sunroom.

And oh yeah, I have a GOOD supply of small arms and ammo; what's the problem?...

All The Best,
Frank W. James

TBeck said...

@Farmer Frank: Where did you say you lived, again? ;)

aczarnowski said...

Economic collapse is the one I'm betting on. God help us.

tickmeister said...

Got a barrel of flour, Lord I got a bucket of lard.
Got a barrel of flour, Lord I got a bucket of lard.
ain't got no blues, got chickens in my back yard.

Jimmy Rodgers, approx. 1931

Joanna said...

Short-term advantage goes to the meanest.

Agreed. I have seen several relatives who lived well past their expected Sell-By date due to sheer orneriness, and I like to think it runs in the family. All the beans and bullets in the world won't do you any good without a heaping helping of "Oh HELL no" to go with them.

Nowayoutbutup said...

Plus one Mr. James.
Spring fed 10 acre pond in the front yard with a documented 200+ year history.

mikee said...

2" of snow in the midatlantic states makes DC into a Mad Max wonderland of insane drivers, and Baltimore into the Donner party dinner, already. What would a week of non-stocked gracoery stores do there?

Eck! said...

TEOTWAWKI, to me means I cannot depend on the already unreliable
government and less so on the businesses (power, water, sewage, trash and fire/police).

Having dealt with minor disasters and even living in remote areas pf PA I've found that I can be creative, resourceful, safe and adequately comfortable.

The priority is unchanged, shelter, water, food and fire. Add some defense
from predators and we have a good life..

I can swing an axe, better than chainsaw as gas may be scarce or more important for heating or cooking. However I can sharpen a chain by hand
for mine.

As to power, gas its costly and goes bad with time. It works for short hauls time wise. Steam, generator, and batteries a known technology and manageable. The waste steam can heat,
and even be distilled for drinking water. The alternate is woodgas
for small engines. Knowing tools and how to build and operate things is a valuable skill.

Heating, wood works. Trees, or burning the remains of the surrounding abandoned houses.

And yes, as the sheep become scarce their remaining resources are collected as well.

Food, find it, hunt it, and I can store it by various means. Ever make bread or dry biscut?

Old electronics are good for those that can construct from raw parts, I can. Might as well use that electricity for radio, maybe electric fence too.

And yes, a hell no attitude helps.
Helps to be a tough old broad.


staghounds said...

Not even Ishi could make it.

Tennessee Budd said...

Hmmm...I hunt, grow most of my own veggies, & I dive a '72 Cheyenne. I live in the woods. Throw in the weapons & ammo I have, & I might make it a year or two.

Just My 2¢ said...

The best plan I've heard so far:
1. Stock up bullets and guns. They are the means to get food.

2. Form a platoon of like-minded individuals and plan an armed takeover of Sam's Club, Costco, or other warehouse store. Barricade it and settle in early.

3. Set lawn chairs on the roof and and listen to music while everybody else deals with TEOTWAWKI.

4. Best long-term case I've heard: Society eventually recovers to a level like the 1930's midwest. Think Oklahoma, Kansas & Nebraska during the depression.

JB Miller said...

Great post. Good topic that needs more discussion. The better prepared the whole world is the safer my family and I will be.

Rule Number 2: Be prepared.

Knowledge, gear, supplies, and planning will get you through.

Someone You Know said...

Roberta X and others,

Good post. You definitely gave folks somethings to ponder


Prepping gives you time to come up with solutions to your problems. The more beans, bullets, band-aids the more time you have to figure out that problem that's trying to kill you.

Mr.B said...


Gas goes bad, true. If yer looking long term, you store diesel. If yer thinking long long term, you have a Lister type diesel as a generator. And you store 300+ gallons of fuel.

and you learn to forge, weld, and shape metal with a blacksmiths forge.

and you store seeds for 2 years (one bad harvest)

and you have 1+ years worth of food.

and you heat yer house with wood.

and you learn basic medicine and surgery 'cause there ain't gonna be no emergency clinics. and you store things like antibiotics.

and you learn to use leather for things, and learn how to tan it and make things with it.

and you learn to make bows and crossbows and other weapons

and you have the means (and skill) to defend the above.

Ed Foster said...

7+ acres out in the woods, several miles away from the nearest road wide enough for a stripe. Nearest neighbor is the farmer I bought it from, who will sell me chickens, a pig or two, and feed should I need it.

Primary job this spring/summer will be to get in a well and ditch/berm the property. Ideally, I'll be able to get the berm planted in blackthorn and the ditch in berry bushes.

Probably not all of it this year, so if things go south I hope it's not for a year or two. I hope it's not at all, but just in case....

Joe Huffman said...

I think the single most useful piece of information from James Wesley Rawles book(s) was to have your bugout destination be more than one gas tank away from a major population center.

In his book(s) the heroes chose a place about 20 miles north of my Idaho home. My bugout place is 40 miles east of my Idaho home. That is 340 miles from the Seattle area which is the closest large urban area. You need a full tank and open roads to make it without a refill.

One of the things overlooked in Rawles book(s) is depending on the time of the year that area has anywhere from a few million to hundreds of millions of pounds of food (wheat, peas, lentils, oats, barley, beans, and various other stuff) in storage ready for export to the cities and overseas. There are a fair number of cattle, sheep, and hogs too. Even if the crop yields for the next few years were just 5% of normal they could sustain themselves and probably still export a little bit.

A nearby hydro-electric facility can supply all the local needs for electricity. Oil based resources would be a problem as would pharmaceuticals. But most people in that area would get by fairly well compared to the urban centers–assuming the hoards couldn’t make it that far.

Roberta X said...

It works as long as you can get there, Joe; otherwise it's just a nice dream.

I'm betting you have some criteria for when you will cut and run. I think a cautious, intelligent person could anticipate a bit over half of the situations in which bugging out would be wise. It's the really unexpected ones that worry me -- one of Dean Ing's notions was to have a "second stage vehicle" for when you needed to go farther than one tank would carry you under emergency conditions. Even a good bicycle would do, three seasons of the year.

A lot of this is academic for me; I'm not getting out. I'm in the communications biz and if things fall apart, fast or slow, I'll need to be at work. I live too far into town to have a realistic chance of getting out anyway.

Michael Bane said...

LOL Frank J!

Damn, you'd think all you guys have been watching back episodes of THE BEST DEFENSE/SURVIVAL!

Nice to know I'm not as crazy as I was a couple of seasons ago when we launched TBD/SURVIVAL...having spent a lot of time with military and government "war gamers" and experts on major disasters, theater-wide nightmares, TEOTWAWKI scenarios, etc., all I can say is when Quinn the Eskimo gets here, better have a lot of ammo.

Heck, my Sweetie got through half of my guest appearance on History's "After Armageddon" special and said, "You mean that stuff is in your head all the time? Yeech!"

Lightly, but seriously...

Michael Bane

hillbilly said...

I live in a very rural area, far from population centers.

I grew up farming to feed the family, literally. I know how to plant and manage everything from beans to potatoes to corn to okra. I can also can my own.

I have, in my youth, kept chickens, worked cattle, and helped family and friends butcher hogs, deer, you name it.

I can gather wild foods, both animal and plant, make my own alcohol, catch my own fish, trap, scrounge and forage.

I have multiple water sources on the property where I live.

I have lots of things that go bang and boom, and neighbors with whom I share values and attitudes.

As for being mean do know a thing or two about Scotch-Irish Hillbillies, right?

Joe Huffman said...


If needed I'm pretty sure I can sit tight for a couple weeks then drive out as needed. Or, unless there was a lot of snow on the ground, I could walk it in a month. You could do the same. Have enough stores to hang out until most of the excitment has cooled down. Then take a backpack with enough camping gear to hike to a friendly farmer.

This assumes a sudden crash. I figure a slow meltdown with things gradually getting more expensive and then more and more shortages is more likely.


My wife is Scotch-Irish. And daughter Kimberly takes after her mother. I think we'll do okay as long as we can get back to the farm okay.

wolfwalker said...

One thing you leave out, Roberta: if you survive the initial collapse, you'll need to make yourself valuable to whatever new order forms afterward. In other words, cultivate one or more skills that people will pay you for -- in kind, not in cash. Such as:

* farming
* fishing
* hunting
* livestock handling
* animal medicine
* human medicine
* crafting (clothes, buildings, anything)
* metalsmithing
* organizing others to do any/all of the above
* basic accounting/bookkeeping
* teaching any/all of the above to others

HifromWY said...

All the gangs in the northwest who are counting on taking the food from the Mormons will be sadly disappointed since the LDS church figures that probably only 5% are storing food and those are mostly bare minimum to stay alive 3 months.


Firehand said...

Not that many of the SCA people would be any better off, same reason as the Amish and others: dependant on 'raw' materials that are made somewhere else and shipped in.

Yeah, a dead car or similar has a lot of metal in it; got a way to forge it? Coal handy, or going to have to make charcoal? For that matter, got the tools and knowledge to take the damn thing apart for the springs and such? And so forth.

mike g said...

Where is the government going to be after any of these apocalyptic scenarios pan out?(continuity of .gov) Anything too terrible will send them running to all their safe underground facilities. Even if you survive the roving gangs and such you'll end up dealing with men who still have all the fuel, vehicles, weapons and supplies they need to put you to work doing what they want you to do which is staying subservient to a ruling class. Is this too far fetched? I am just wondering because when I see these type of posts it is as if there isn't 100's of billions spent on misc. .gov security. Just wondering. Any enlightened rational thoughts to counter my idea here? Thanks. I wish you all well in any of these situations.

GreyLocke said...

My side of the mountain, was every kids dream of living away from parental or adult interference. It is also a very good book which teaches self reliance. Something which I feel is lacking in this day and age.

Roberta X said...

Mike G: well, the Executive Branch, possibly Mt. Weather; or maybe to a similar but better-hidden facility.

What's gonna be fun (not) will be infighting between the surviving Exec, their "job-ghost" siblings, the Legislative and the .mil after things settle down. They will be awhile figuring out who's in charge and who's Al Haig.

Anonymous said...

James Burke called it "the technology trap" in either The Day The Universe Changed, or Connections (I don't recall which series). He devoted an entire 1 hour episode from the series to it. And, yep, he basically agreed, you're gonna die. And so are the Amish; as people steal from them in an effort to survive.

But for a real world, recent example of what happens WTSHTF (slightly different from TEOTWAWKI), read Surviving the Economic Collapse by Fernando Aguirre. He details what happened/is happening in Argentina during their current collapse (which started in 2001). Argentina is probably the South American country most like the USA (they watch our TV, buy our brands, etc.), and with the exception of the effects of the foreign aid we sent them (since nobody will send us any), our collapse will probably look a lot like theirs (so far, it has).

Anonymous said...

Posted my first comment before reading all the existing ones. Here's what all the "bug out books" ignore: the government will maintain order. Government is made up of people who will still want to eat, and have a safe society for their family, and guess what - the police, national guard, and military takes orders from the government. The upshot for the rest of us is that the government will manage to prevent widespread, long term, violence and lawlessness from occurring. That means people with thousands of pigs will have them confiscated to feed the people in the cities, which is where the government's power base is located. You people in remote locations will be robbed/killed by those nearby who think you've got something worth taking, and there will be no police or neighbors nearby to help (think you've got enough guns and bullets when 50 thugs, also with guns and bullets, show up?). As long as the depredations in the hinterlands don't upset the city-dwelling government's power base too much, nothing will be done about the death of the small homesteader living alone in the middle of the woods in the middle of nowhere, or of the stripping of his/her home (they'll steal the furniture, the toilet, the plumbing, and the electrical wires right out of the walls to sell for money to buy food and more bullets). You won't want to leave your home empty AT ALL, even briefly, as it may be stripped when you return, or you may be faced with having to forcibly evict squatters.

Read Aguirre's book. He's been there, and is STILL doing that. The vast majority of "bug out books" are based on what the author THINKS will happen. Aguirre's book is based on what actually did and is still happening in Argentina. Here's a hint: based on what actually happened/is happening in Argentina, most of what the typical "bug out book" says is wrong. Yes, you'll want a stock pile of food - but what kinds, and why? Food will still be available in the cities, but less reliably. You'll still need a job. Unless you've paid off your house and car, the banks will still insist you make the payments. The government will still insist you pay taxes.

On the back cover of his book is (among others) the following lines: "The world is not going to end. It will just get a bit more ... complicated." Then he proves his point with what actually is happening in Argentina, rather than making up hypothetical solutions to what will hypothetically be happening.

For instance: you've got guns, right? What about a good fighting knife? He says: you do NOT want to be the only person in a knife fight without a knife. He then explains why (did you know that here in the USA, 80% of gunshot victims survive; 80% of stabbing victims die?).

He's got gobs of good information, based on real-world experience of what occurs in a western democracy/republic during a collapse.